matociquala: (writing plot octopus)

1500 words on Seven for a Secret today. I pause now to consider the Ebil Antagonist, and ways to make him more interesting than merely Ebil.

I'm still having a hard time believing that I'm able to just sit down on work on things again, without  every word being a painful uphill battle. I suspect I could still use some time off to recover from the Great Neurochemical Upheaval of 2008, and I'm still kind of feeling uninspired and like there's a lot of toil involved in getting the words out and not a lot of joy and inspiration, but right now that's okay and I'll take it. This is normal writing-related hard work, and I'm just fine with that. I mean, it's not the most fun I've ever had, and I'm not in love wth every glowing semicolon as I lay it perfect on the page. But it doesn't always have to be on fire.

And the fact of the matter is, when you go back and revise it, you can't tell. You can't tell (with rare exceptions) which pages came on a rush of inspiration, which you put together with consideration and craftsmanship, which ones you fought every slogging inch of the way.

Right now, I am content just to not be pushing through crisis after crisis, while writing things that I am more or less happy with.

It'll do for now. It'll do.

And because I am reading books about cities and faeries, it seems....

Book Report #98: Delia Sherman, The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen (draft)

Oh, you are so jealous of me.

Book Report #99: Marie Brennan, Midnight Never Come

Because 2008 is the year of the  Volcano Asteroid Impact Alarmingly Well-Researched Elizabethan Faerie Novel. And because [ profile] swan_tower rocks, she sent me a copy of Midnight Never Come so I could enjoy it, now that Ink & Steel is safely on the way to the newstands. (We really went out of our way to keep from knowing too much about what the other one was doing, and I am pleased to note that while there are points of congruence, we managed to independently pick the alternative "London Will Never Fall So Long As X Condition Pertains" legends. Go team us.

These are not kinder, gentler faeries. Really they're not.

matociquala: (writing shadow unit chaz gravity)
Book Report #97, Elizabeth Moon, The Speed of Dark

Quite an impressive piece of work. One of the things I was most interested in was how the book itself succeeded in making me anxious, which is to say, made me feel the protagonist's anxiety as life is sort of rushing at him from all directions. At one point, I almost didn't want to keep reading, because it was too hard to maintain my separation from the story.

Also, Ms. Moon can write. I love the parallax view of Lou's view of Mr. Aldrin, and Mr. Aldrin's view of Lou.

That said, I did think the characterizations were a little one-dimensional, and would have liked people to vary from their assigned roles as heroes and villains a little more. Which I think was why I liked Aldrin so much; he's complex, and has moral weaknesses and strengths.
matociquala: (sf doctor who meant to be?)
A YA novel about a young girl who is fated to grow up Queen of the Amazons. Lyrically written in fragments, a kind of mosaic told in first person. It has just a few absolutely perfect sentences in it, and there can never be too many perfect sentences in the world.

It's dreamlike and mythical rather than grounded and historical, and I enjoyed it a great deal.
matociquala: (criminal minds hotch shades of justice)
Yet another criminology text. This one bills itself as "A standard system for investigating and classifying violent crimes."

Interesting and informative. Not a lot of stuff that was new to me, but arranged in an easy to reference fashion.

Now I need to read a book about fluffy bunnies. And chirping birds.
matociquala: (can't sleep books will eat me)
Book Report # 94: Vincent J. DiMaio and Dominick DiMaio, Forensic Pathology

Another entry in the excellent Vernon Geberth edited series of textbooks on practical applications of criminal and forensic investigation. Dense, crunchy, intended for medical professionals (I learned two new words--"cachectic" and "hemoptysis"--and my medical Latin is pretty darned good for a non-doctor), and full of the usual assortment of incredibly gross but illustrative scene photos.

There's nothing like a nice forensic pathology textbook to make you realize that we're all here on sufferance.

Also, to make you wear your seatbelt always, and give up drinking for good. In fact, I think the phrase "positional asphyxia" alone is nearly enough to turn me into a teetotaler.

I did learn a whole bunch of interesting and useful things, however. If you can hack color photos of avulsed flesh and autopsy photos, and you're not scared of big Latinate words, it's a useful writer resource.

And--hey, BONUS!--it's not nearly as nightmare-inducing as Practical Homicide Investigation or the ever-popular Sex-Related Homicide And Death Investigation, which is the single most disturbing book I own.

(I'm pretty sure that second one is the legendary Red Book that one of the Criminal Minds writer/producers locks in the trunk of his car overnight, because he won't sleep with it in the house. Yes, it really is quite bad. No, I'm not very squeamish; I worked in a hospital and I hang around with EMTs and cops. The cat nearly gave me a heart attack by jumping on my pillow one night when I had been up late researching something in that one. I woke up absolutely certain Ted Bundy was in my room.)

...and so to bed, since I have to get up in  just a few hours and start driving.
matociquala: (can't sleep books will eat me)
Book #93 (which is only #5 for the year, because I kind of suck because I have been extremely busy), Liz Williams, The Demon and the City.

Alas, I did not like this one quite as much as Snake Agent--the plot structure was a little loose for my tastes, but... you all know how I like to plot. ;-) However, massive points for the Feng Shui war; I wanted, in fact, more little mirrors everywhere, and that detail makes me want to turn this into a film. With lots of sparkling mirrors everywhere.

Now maybe I should go find another book to read. Eventually I have to pack, and bring stuff down to the car, but I always do that at the last possible minute anyway. 
matociquala: (problem cat)
Book # 92, Cory Doctorow, Little Brother, in ARC

With this book, the unpindownable Cory commences what I suspect will be a successful 92nd career as a YA author. Little Brother is a rollicking dystopia, the story of a bright 17 year old hacker who has taken it upon himself to go toe to toe with Homeland Security in an America not all that different from the one we're living in. This book has a whole bunch to recommend it: It's fast-paced, well-written, and the protagonist is engaging in a geeky way, if just a tiny little bit generic. The book is a bit didactic in places. However, since in some ways it's a fictionalized manual for how to build an underground resistance to an evil government, that's only to be expected. Really very good, and based on what I remember about my own teenage years, Cory's captured a particular element of adolescence very well--that sense of being a grownup (or maybe even understanding things better than a grownup would) without having the baggage of accumulated years of failure to tell you exactly how it is that things could go horribly wrong.

Good book, recommended. It comes out in May.
matociquala: (comics invisibles king mob)
Book #91, Warren Ellis & Ben Templesmith, Fell: Volume 1 Feral City

This is about my favorite Ellis project in yeeeeeeeeeeeeeears.
matociquala: (criminal minds garcia glam femme geek)
Book # 90, Amber Van Dyk, Red Means Go, in draft.

Another one I'm not allowed to talk about because it's not sold yet, but it has bicycle couriers, quirky Bohemian lifestyles, phobias, and Mysterious Plagues. *\o/*
matociquala: (rengeek superbard! _ strangepowers)

You know, for me, the hardest thing about writing is my ongoing suspicion that everything I write is not very good. (And, you know, this is not a request for everybody to come flock and reassure me. Honest. I have people I pay to do that.) What happens is that by the time I am done working on something, all I can see is what's wrong with it that I have no idea how to fix. La. Sometimes, I suspect my brain invents problems so it will have something to whine about.

I miss being in the headspace where writing was fun, and I enjoyed going to live with the characters for a while and learn about their adventures. All the thrashing is not joyful.

Book # 89: Amanda Downum, The Drowning City (in draft)

Fabulous. Complete with canals, Daring Hexcapes, volcanos, jungles, mer-things, bloodthirsty ghosts, and Tim-Powers-level protagonist abuse. Somebody had better buy this when she's done revising it, so I can crow about it more publicly.

matociquala: (comic tick ninjas hedge)
Book Report #88: Dennis Lehane, Sacred

There is a point this murder mystery where the protagonist says "I never saw this coming."

Always a bad sign.

Because I did, on page ten.

Also, the plot only works because the protagonists are too stupid to live, and there's one secondary character whose characterization seems sort of wildly inconsistent.
matociquala: (daffodils)
First off, it's Dust day. Yay, Dust!

Book report #87: Dennis Lehane, A Drink Before the War

Lehane has gotten better since this, his first novel. (Mystic River is, in my estimation, very nearly a Great Book.) I have the feeling throughout this that he's finding his feet, relying on genre convention a bit overmuch, and his prose is a bit rocky in places--he's leaning hard on the cliches of noir, and sometimes the resultant strain to the narrative voice makes me wince. And man, his protagonist is the luckiest Mutherfucker ever to ride the T. 

The book needs confidence, and that shows.

Also, man, that's a lot of gunfights for one week in Boston. It gets a little Hollywood after a while. However, I forgive him for having the courage to go after some rather unsavory plot developments, no holds barred, and not flinch from the nastier things his protagonists do. Nor is there an Obligatory Love Interest Plot that plays out in a predictable fashion.

However, as first novels go, it's a damned fine effort, and the thriller plot works! No handwaving, even, and no long Dashiell Hammett-esque exposition-at-gunpoint scenes--it actually all more or less comes together. The characters are fun, the plot runs like an engine, and you know it's set in Boston because it mentions an Au Bon Pain. (All books set in Boston must mention an Au Bon Pain. It's a Law.) Also, the books asks some hard questions and keeps pushing at them until it gets past all the easy facile answers and into the real hard ground of fuck man, I don't know. Which is a trait he's kept through Mystic River, and I salute him.

Recommended, though it's not a patch on his later work.
matociquala: (spies mfu glower flowers)
Book report #85: Richard K. Morgan, Thirteen aka Black Man

I have mixed emotions about this one. Thematically, I think it's very strong, and does an excellent job of undermining its own argument, turning it back on itself, and illuminating all sorts of dark corners of gender and race relations and the nature/nurture argument. Of course, I'm in sympathy with this--it's what Carnival is all about, after all--and I am deeply proud of Mr. Morgan for never allowing the narrative to buy into the characters' absolutist view of genetics.

Good job, man.

Alas, I do think that argument--that biology does not necessarily indicate destiny--gets undermined by the inescapable fact that, for plot reasons, the supersoldiers are, actually, apparently super.

Also, this book is a massive step forward from Altered Carbon in terms of characterization and prose style. Chapter one (not the prologue) is, I have to say, so damned near perfect that I was about ready to hang up my spurs as a writer, on the theory that with Richard K. Morgan in it, the world didn't need me. Many, many sentences caught my eye, but one in particular really grabbed me:

"Extensive previous experience, some of it sticky with his own blood, had taught him not to bother."

Oh, man. Nice.

Fortunately for my career and continued mental health, the massive structural problems and overuse of cheap thriller tensioning tricks in the first section of the book made me feel much better about myself. So I won't actually be gnawing my wrists open to rid the world of my leechlike presence once I finish this review. (By cheap thriller tricks, I mean the serial-killer-victim POV (character who shows up only to die), the Horrifying Revelation! (which we will tell you about after the commercial break, or in twenty or thirty or fifty pages, whenever), and so on.) Also, the fact that the entire plot is hung on the protagonist making a completely stupid decision at the bottom of chapter two kind of had me rolling my eyes.

Carl Marsalis was never really all that believable to me as a genetically engineered superman. Some of this, I think, was the author's intent--Marsalis isn't what he's painted and stereotyped, not even remotely--and he was very believable to me as a highly-trained special forces operative. I've known my share of guys who have done that work, and they in general have an air of still watchfulness around them that Morgan captures beautifully in this guy. (This is one of the things I mean when I say his characterization has improved enormously.) The problem arises, however, because the plot requires Marsalis to be the thing that his characterization undermines. In the last fifty pages of the book, the monster is there, and beautifully rendered, and beautifully rendered in how the choices he has made to use that monster rather than being it come forward.

But then either he's decided to be that monster because the societal pressure is so great, or he's failed in his attempt to fight the stereotype and biology actually *is* destiny, and I can't quite figure out which.

Also, I'm trying very hard to decide if the narrative actually believes we're breeding sociopaths and loners out of the race, and that we really need the mythic alpha male to come save us from the wicked feminizing bureaucrats, or if I'm meant to read that as satire.

(I had a similar problem with Michelangelo and Vincent--especially Angelo. It's incredibly difficult to write a sympathetic sociopath without going full-blown charismatic monster. Charismatic monster? Easy. Ethical sociopath? Hard. Anyway, yeah, I keep drawing parallels between this book and Carnival, so as I pick Black Man to shreds, please understand that some of that is self-critique and but hardcore.)

Anyway, once the book gets past the really messy first chunk (including a painfully rendered chapter 8 infodump. (Oh, Chapter 8 infodump, I know you well)) it kicks into high gear and becomes a really engaging, thoughtful, challenging read. With ambitions. And a fearless reach after all sorts of squidgy topics. (Can the next book in the world be about Royavo and Ren? I would totally read that book. Speaking of two of the charactes that beautifully undermine the genetic predestination arguments that the protagonist has accepted, although I was rather sad that all the female characters got shovelled tidily offstage at the end so the boys could have their macho showdown.)

...until the last fifty pages. Because, alas, as a thriller writer myself, I recognize this phenomenon at work. First there's the damned Maltese Falcon issue, where you have gone and complicated all the mystery-type stuff for five hundred pages (not that Hammett's book is that long) and now you have to spend 75 pages explaining everything. And then killing off everybody who needs killing, which inevitably takes a long time. And then there's the problem where you've gone and overcomplicated everything, and your double-crosses have double-crosses on top of them, and of course the bad guy has to be somebody unexpected and close to the protagonists, and sometimes, you just cannot handwave fast enough to make all the reversals you have been shoveling for the past five hundred pages look good.


I am impressed with Morgan's chops in pulling off the resolution of the Sevgi plotline (well, both resolutions, really, she said, trying not to spoiler), and the echo of Marsalis' actions in both. And you know, three hundred and seventy pages of this book are made of pure smoked awesome, so I'm not going to quibble too much about the ending. Even if he did spoiler )

Good show, man.

Book Report #86: Michelle Knudsen, Library Lion, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.

Mmm. Lions. Libraries. Subversive kid's picture books.

Very nice.

A couple of short reviews:

[ profile] hawkwing_lb likes Dust a lot.

Eagle's Path likes A Companion to Wolves just as much.

So, in actual content, [ profile] blackholly asked a really good question in this comment thread:

What do you start knowing (mostly) when you start a novel?

Talk about your basic hard questions.

Um. Sometimes I know a lot. Sometimes I only know a little. Sometimes I start with charater + situation + problem, the classic trinity of fiction. Carnival started with one sentence. So did Hammered.** In each case, it was the sentence that wound up being the first sentence of the finished novel.* And as I wrote those sentences, I had an idea of the characters who were speaking them, and I knew something about the world and thematic argument of the books, and I knew what part of the genre conversation I was interested in addressing.

The first thing I knew about Blood & Iron was the confrontation between Whiskey and Seeker, and then it was just a matter of getting there. The first thing I knew about Whiskey & Water was the scene between Whiskey and Thomas. Worldwired was Leslie Tjakamarra staring out the viewport and musing on eating starships. Undertow was Andre putting the gun in his mouth, actually, and that's where the first draft of the novel started. And then I had to go back and write the stuff before it, because I got about a hundred pages in and realized I had started the story too late. (Other writers start too early. I start too late.)

And all like that.

Funny story about Undertow. That bit with Andre and the revolver, I wrote three different versions of it to demonstrate the difference between omniscient and limited omniscient POV for a mailing list I am a part of. And then I realized that this guy needed a novel.

A Companion to Wolves started as a parody of "Weyr Search," more or less. Ink & Steel started off with a conversation with a colleague of [ profile] kit_kindred's, a ravening Oxfordian, at an otherwise very, very boring faculty Christmas party. Dust actually started with a scene that never made it into the final book, of Jacob Dust slowly and with great decorum devouring his own right hand. All the Windwracked Stars started with Muire finding a corpse is an alley, which is now the start of chapter two, while chapter one is a different time and place alltogether--well, you'll see soon enough.

And then I say that and of course none of it is quite true. Because many of these books draw from so many sources of inspiration, characters who have been with me in some cases for decades. Characters from trunk novels or NPCs from role playing games I've run come back and insert themselves into new roles. I swipe and parody and homage and remix.

But mostly, it's character in situation with problem. With thematic argument. And thing I'm cranky about. And then I keep breaking things from there.

I usually only outline when I get stuck. Then I go back and outline what I've already written. Or, you know, when I think of stuff that happens in the future, I write it down. But I don't always wind up using that stuff. (There was a great couple of scenes for Refining Fire that never got written. Alas.

*respectively, Michelangelo Osiris Leary Kusanagi-Jones had been drinking since fourteen hundred. and I never sleep if I can help it.

**But Elspeth and the Feyman AI came from a different short story entirely, one that also (not coincidentally) had Fred Valens in it.
matociquala: (muppetology animal santa claus)
Book Report #84: Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark

I'm pretty sure I read this in college, but college was a long long time ago.

It's an excellent book, a compilation of three critical essays dealing with the ways in which white American writers have historically dealt (or attempted not to deal) with the issue of race, and the final essay--explicating Hemingway, among other things--is alone worth the price of admission.
matociquala: (literature always winter and never chris)
Book Report #83: Melissa Marr, Wicked Lovely

Too much boyfriend. Not enough roller derby.
matociquala: (rengeek kit icarus)
Book Report #82: Carol Emshwiler, Carmen Dog

And what an odd mad little book it is. Surreal, picaresque, more a beautifully-written series of allegories than a novel, exactly. And yet peculiarly satisfying, in all its unresolution and fluidity.
matociquala: (writing gorey earbrass unspeakable horro)
Book Report #81: Gary L. Roberts, Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend

Wow. I have some mixed emotions about this book. On the one hand, it's solidly researched, chock full of detail, footnoted to within an inch of its life, fat with primary-source quotations, and much of a usefullness.

On the other, it's oddly schizophrenic. Which is somehow appropriate for a biography of Doc, who has been both hagiographized and villainized. legended and undermined over the years, with the changing fashions of the day. 

In the first third of the book, Roberts seems eager to find ways to reinforce the legend of Doc as gunslinger and bad man, rummaging newspaper reports for shreds of support for some of the legendary stories of Doc's murderous exploits. When the scene turns to Tombstone, though, his primary interest evolves, and at that point, he begins constructing a case for Wyatt Earp's blamelessness and "political naivete" that I find a little hard to swallow, laying the cause of the whole cow-boy/law-and-order meltdown squarely at Doc's door while maintaining that the Earp brothers enjoyed unrelieved popularity among the townsfolk before that nasty business on Fremont Street.

But then, in the final act, Roberts becomes unabashedly partisan for Doc, constructing a narrative of his time in Colorado that leaves him innocent in all particulars of any scrapes in Denver or Leadville.

Also, Roberts has an unpleasant biographical habit of presenting speculation as fact. A few instances of the phrase "may have" would have saved him a lot of sporking as I read.

How odd. And I'm not quite sure what to make of it.

Still and all, a very useful book, presenting a much more coherent and in-depth narrative than the Tanner previously reviewed.

And it does present a fabulously contradictory picture of a man who I actually find pretty consistent in his behavior, when the legendry is boiled off the bones. And maybe I can sum up what you need to know about John Henry Holliday in a couple of quotations. Which is to say, he wasn't the ruthless gunslinger and blackguard of legend; nor was he merely Wyatt Earp's loyal dogsbody.

An old friend, Lee Smith, said of him in the Atlanta Post-Appeal of July 8, 1882--decrying the mythmaking and inflated body count even as he worked to expand the myth himself: 

"[Holliday] will be credited with the killing
of every man in that section so long as he lives there,
who dies from being shot down with a shot-gun."

The irony of Roberts quoting that line when he engages in a bit of just that his own self is interesting, indeed.

And yet, as Holliday himself is supposed to have said to Johnny Ringo in Tombstone in October of 1881:

"All I want of you is ten paces out in the street."

Oh, yeah, and the huckleberry thing? Some sources report Doc saying exactly that, although under slightly different circumstances, and with a coda. *g*

("I'm your huckleberry. That's just my game.")
matociquala: (writing one-eyed jack)
Book Report #80: Karen Holliday Tanner, Doc Holliday: A Family Portrait

Yes, I'm one of the John Henry Holliday, D.D.S., apologists. He shows up in One-Eyed Jack & the Suicide King, in fact, and in preparation for revising that next year I'm brushing up on my research. Now that I've gotten the disclaimer out of the way--

Karen Holliday Tanner's biography of gambler, dentist, and occasional lawman and shootist John Henry "Doc" Holliday could be better, but overall is not bad.

She is a cousin of Doc's, and her book is marked by her access to family records that have not been made public. It's in many ways very good, especially in that it concentrates on just about everything in Doc's life other than the legendary 18 months in Tombstone, which actually get refreshingly short shrift, with the gunfight around the corner from the O.K. Corral taking up just a couple of pages. (There are entire books on that gunfight: anybody ([ profile] coffeeem? [ profile] willshetterly?) want to recommed me a good recent one with the current forensics and research in it? I wrote this book in 2003: I know I need to update it.)

What she does concentrate on is the documentable life of Dr. Holliday, outside of the legend. She chases the paper trail, in other words ,and lays it out in narrative with a certain amount of speculation and revisionism, but not too much, as such things go. The writing style is a little pained in places (three references to Ike Clanton's squeaky voice on one page is two too many) but mostly straightforward. And while she's firmly on Doc's side, I can forgive that. (I'm firmly on Doc's side, after all, myself.) Wyatt gets off a bit easy (I've always been kind of fond of Virgil, myself, but that might by the Sam Elliot connection.) but at least it's not an obscene hagiography of either man. (She is guilty of making Doc a bit taller and more handsome than he probably was, however.)

And thank god, she's not buying into the legend of the indomitable doomed gunfighter. (What do we actually know about Doc's gunslinging skills? Well, he was fast. He was also apparently fast at hitting the floor, when necessary. He's generally considered by reputable historians to be the best candidate to have killed two or four men (possibly Mike Gordon, Tom McLaury, possibly Frank McLaury, possibly--with Wyatt Earp-- Frank Stilwell); there are five more he wounded; there are several more for which he's either a reasonable candidate, or the entire Earp gang is almost certainly responsible. Reports that he gunned down 23 or 26 men are probably exaggerated. The Ed Bailey story, in particular, appears to be cut from whole cloth.)

"There was something very peculiar about Doc. He was gentlemanly, a good dentist, a friendly man and yet, outside of us boys, I don't think he had a friend in the Territory. Tales were told that he had murdered men in different parts of the country; that he had robbed and committed all manner of crimes, and yet, when persons were asked how they knew it, they could only admit it was hearsay, and that nothing of the kind could really be traced to Doc's account. He was a slender, sickly fellow, but whenever a stage was robbed or a row started, and help was needed, Doc was one of the first to saddle his horse and report for duty."

--Virgil Earp, Deputy US Marshall
matociquala: (iggy pop amazing abdomen)
Book report #79, George Nash, Renovating Old Houses.

Read on [ profile] retrobabble's unsuggestion. Full of crunchy useful information, especially about all the horrible things that can go wrong with your foundation.

I got through the fiddle-details grovel through the draft of Hell & Earth today, before I finished reading this book. So I just have the new writing to do, and I'm not doing it today.

I may be starting to internalize an essential truth of the life of the freelance writer, which is this: writing is like housework, which is to say that no matter how much of it you do, there will always be something else that needs to be done. And therefor, the proper approach is to do enough to keep it beaten back to manageable levels, and not worry about finishing everything today.

Well, that only took seven years to learn.

Now I need to go over these contracts and mail them back to people who might give me moneys, and then tomorrow I will write the bios and articles I owe. And maybe Thursday I will start work on the new writing.

But tonight I am going to go fall off walls.
matociquala: (lion in winter broken because you're bri)
book report #78, Tamora Pierce, Beka Cooper: Terrier.

This is the first book I have read for pleasure since September. Which kind of horrifies me, but there you go. I've actually started several, but mostly they haven't been singing to me.

This is a clever, plotty YA fantasy/mystery/adventure, unflinching about nasty realities of life on the street, full of juicy worldbuilding, engaging, fast-paced, with an outstanding heroine. I really enjoyed it a lot.

Also, pigeons.

March 2017



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