Sunday, May 30, 2010

Female Characters, pt. 1: In which I blame 80s cartoons just a little

Soo, I had this craft chat thing awhile back and the first topic was Female Characters. Just a few people showed up, but we had a decent chat. However, since only a few people could come, my friend Su suggested:

"Since so many folks missed out, why don't you start a post about it? Write your opinion, maybe throw in some of those questions you were going to ask at the chat, and then all of us can respond in the comments. The exchanges may be slower, but we can still get a pretty good chat out of it, I'm sure."

Good idea, Su! =D I just had to wait until BEA craziness was over. So let's chat here. Why not. I'll ask some questions all week, at least until I run out.

First question: Is it easier for you to write female or male characters? Why do you think that is, anyway?

I have been getting praise for Nimira in Magic Under Glass for being a strong heroine, and I have to admit, this surprised me a bit because I thought I kind of sucked at writing girl characters. When I was a kid/teen, I never wanted to be a girl in pretend games or write about girls. (I did like to draw girls, though, but that is because their clothes are better.)

I think I had the subconscious idea that girls couldn't be awesome. At least, not in the way I liked. Thinking back to the girls in popular media of my childhood, there were princesses and cackling evildoers and cute little girls. I had the entire Lady Lovelylocks castle, but I didn't want to BE Lady Lovelylocks. I just wanted her clothes. I loved some of the girls in books like Ramona Quimby and Anastasia Krupnik, but I didn't want to be them. They were too much like me. I liked characters who were accomplished and awesome and maybe a little eccentric and pompous. It wasn't that girls couldn't be strong back then. It was that they rarely got to be awesome in that particular way I craved.

I grew up in a sort of age of compensation for the crimes of the past. Girls in stories before my time tended to be wimps and damsels in distress and sexy window dressing or just plain excluded. By the 80s and 90s, we had plenty of "token" girls and sometimes girlcentric entertainment. Fantasy books had started to include the bad-ass warrior woman. But it seemed to me that these stories missed the point to some degree. I still didn't want to be a girl (well, in fiction anyway), write about a girl. I was perhaps LESS interested in the bad-ass warrior woman than I was in the girly girl who at least sported a hot wardrobe.

Girls were still not quirky.

So sometime in my twenties, part consciously and part unconsciously, I decided I was going to let the ladies be not just strong, but quirky and awesome and tragic-past-y and funny. Somewhere along the way I started liking Nimira almost as much as Erris. That would never have been the case back in the day. Triumph! I hope girls of the modern era have some more fascinating characters to inspire them than I did.

However, I know many writers found it easier to write girls than boys. Please let me know which you prefer and why!

I'll also have some more reader-centric questions upcoming, so whether you're a reader or writer, stay tuned.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

BEA 2010

I was going to wait until I had photos but I can't find the cord that gets pictures off my camera and it might be days before I find it and then I'll be over typing recaps. So whatev. Here is my week:


-Am exhausted from thinking about Lost finale all night and sleeping 3 hours.
-Get off Newark airport train at Newark Penn Station instead of New York Penn Station. Cluelessly do not realize something is wrong until I step outside and see short buildings and cliche Jersey guys loitering around.
-8 hours after leaving my house, having eaten only Chik-Fil-A breakfast and JetBlue potato chips, slog to Bonobo's raw food restaurant for AMAZING coconut chai I remember from last trip only to see signs everywhere announcing a coconut shortage. Nearly break down in tears in front of apologetic lad at the counter.
-Go to crazy-busy Teen Author Carnival. Meet Kody Keplinger in the elevator. Volunteer to read the beginning of SEA during Heidi Kling's panel so she doesn't have to. Finally meet my agent for the first time in an elevator while the elevator alarm is going off because someone is leaning on it.
-Agent feeds me because I am somewhere beyond hungry. I am too tired even to think what I want so I eat whatever she orders. My agent takes such good care of me!
--Back to the hotel to meet Chelsea Campbell and Dia Reeves, who both look even more tired than I am. Nonetheless we talk until midnight. (P. S. I expected Dia to be adorable and was not disappointed.)

-Wake at 6:30 am for some reason. Set off around 8 for breakfast at a Greek diner. Challah French toast and bacon at a lunch counter with the Greek language around me and obvious regulars. So New York! <3
-Pick up badge at BEA, have custard at the Shake Shack, then to the Forbes Museum to ogle old Monopoly games.
-Heidi has finally woken up, so I have a fun lunch with her (and she has breakfast ) and her friend Laurel.
-Meet Dia for vintage clothes shopping and go to amazingly affordable store in the East Village called No Boundaries. I find a green dress for $20. Everything after that is expensive. I snap a picture of a dress made from what looks like burlap sack fabric with an orange garbage tie type belt for hundreds of dollars, proving the complete accuracy of Zoolander's "Derelicte". We stop at Veselka for a fortifying eastern European snack. Then we get chocolate hazelnut ice cream from a truck.
-Class of 2k10 debut author event at Books of Wonder. Another well-attended shindig. We can't stay for long because we're meeting the Tenners for drinks at the Algonquin Room.
-No Tenners at the Algonquin Room. Dia wants to have drinks and tell knock knock jokes but we can't think of any. It is very swank there but the staff is sooo nice and non-snotty that I manage to relax. Jen Nadol and Amy Brecount White show up at 8 and we have some excellent conversation for awhile.
-Dia goes to the top of the Empire State Building while I stay down in the lobby like a chicken and watch international tourists take photographs.
-Meet Heidi, Chelsea and Kody at a McDonalds, which was the only place they could find ice cream at 11 pm. (WTF, city that never sleeps?) I ask Kody if I can ask her research questions for a blind character in my WIP since she is legally blind but it just turns into a conversation on how awesome Po is. RESEARCH ENOUGH.
-I spent Tues. night with Heidi and we chat until nearly 2 am.

-Reach BEA around 11. I run into some bloggers and Bree Despain, who offers me the extra bed in her hotel room that night within minutes of meeting me.
-The Tenners are supposed to have lunch together. We slog through INSANE HELL-LIKE HEAT a couple blocks to find every restaurant too busy. We slog back. I am sweating in the crevices of my elbows.
-Heidi and start wandering around BEA. Heidi seems to know everyone, but some bloggers recognize me! Yay! I squee to Natalie Standiford about how much I lurrrved How to Say Goodbye in Robot, score some ARCs by following around savvy bloggers, have two different conversations with Melissa Marr and Josh Berk about inappropriate ass touching in the crowded BEA floor (I swear that was not a topic I was trying to get into)...
-Heidi tries to change her flight so she doesn't have to leave this awesomeness. Evil airline says NO.
-Heidi and I attempt to leave BEA so she can catch a cab and I can transfer my stuff from her hotel to Bree's. There is not a cab to be had. Did I mention the INSANE HELL-LIKE HEAT?
-I slog back to meet my editor and agent so we can have dinner. Of course, we must go right back out into the INSANE HELL-LIKE HEAT, but my agent manages to get a cab. I realize that I accidentally left a banana peel in my purse thinking I'd spot a trash can soon and there is banana on my signed Simone Elkeles book. I RUE THE DAY I bought that banana.
-I have a very long dinner with my editor where, among other things, I get to see a preliminary cover for Between the Sea and Sky, which is gorgeous, and get my revision notes.
-I huff many many blocks in the INSANE HELL-LIKE HEAT which is still hanging on even after dark to get my stuff from Heidi's to Bree's. I am soaked with sweat. I can't even recall when I was last this sweaty. Years ago. I take a shower and step out just as Bree gets in. She tells me a tale of getting lost in NYC which is so awful it makes my day seem completely relaxing in comparison, while I pick banana off my stuff.

-A Malaysian bookseller shares a cab with us from the hotel and pays for it. The weather is waaay nicer. Good luck is with us!!
-Am determined not to leave Javits center. I follow bloggers around and load my bag with books; Firelight, Mistwood, The Eternal Ones, etc. I seem to have a knack for running into Mitali everywhere I go. I'm terribly impressed she can wear cute heels and lug a huge bag around all day without seeming like a zombie.
-My editor wants to meet at 3:30 at the Flatiron to have drinks, which means another quest to try and ESCAPE the Javits Center. At least the weather is better but there are still few taxis. I take the shuttle bus to Penn Station, then walk some blocks, then take the subway one stop down, and manage to be only a half hour late. Pretty good by Javits standards...
-We discuss Between the Sea and Sky revisions, which I am SOO excited about, while I drink this dark chocolate frappe that is one of the best things I've ever tasted.
-I try to tell my agent she can take me out for a cheap dinner, somewhere where they don't replace your silverware during the meal, but she insists I need to get used to being a fancy author already. So we have dinner at Tabla with her friend Melissa, an editor at Chronicle. The conversation is hilarious and the food is endless and good. I feel a little ill upon leaving. So. Much. Food.
-Back at agent's apartment. She has scored me an ARC of the new Jennifer Donnelly book Revolution. I ignore the sensible idea of sleep and follow her out for drinks. We go to a sports bar where a balding man in a business suit alternates between hardcore making out with his date and doing a goofy dance to the bad 90s music for over an hour.
-We sit up telling disturbing stories about roaches and dead bunnies until 2:30 am.

-Wake before 8 am when my phone beeps with a text. I have to get the stuff I left in Dia and Chelsea's hotel room by 10 am. I hate mornings and I want to die.
-There are no frickin' cabs in this city ever. I feel incredibly accomplished when I actually manage to score one. It's only six blocks to walk but I'm so over it and my feet have the nastiest blisters.
-I get to say goodbye to Dia and Chelsea and my plane is on time. Goodbye for now, NYC!

P. S.

-Slept 10.5 hours last night. Still sooo tired.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

What makes a good short story?

No, really, WHAT??

That is the question I've been trying to answer for myself over the last week or so. For a long time, I always said I couldn't write short stories and I didn't like reading them either. But in my early twenties, I kept up a writing blog for awhile where I wrote "episodes" about my recurring Arestin characters that were fairly self-contained. I didn't realize it at the time, but they were like short stories with training wheels. They didn't really quite stand alone, but they were getting close.

Over the last year or so, inspired by some of the brilliant stories over at the Merry Sisters of Fate blog, I've started thinking that I'd like to write short stories, and reading 'em ain't half bad either.

Coincidentally, I had just created this blog to post short stories to when I was asked to contribute to a short story anthology. Okay, so this story is going to be in a real book that might lead people to my other work. I want it to be good! I picked up a few short story anthologies to analyze what makes a short story work and not work for me.

With a short story, you don't have a whole lot of time to establish character. You have to get in and get out. Since character is the most compelling part of many novels, this can be a problem. One way around this is to write a story set in a pre-established world. Still, you want it to be interesting to people who are completely unfamiliar with the world.

My favorite short stories to read seem to fall under three times (IN MOST CASES): Funny, Uncanny, or Puzzle.

Funny: Self-explanatory. Funny stories can be entertaining at any length, because it's the humor catching the reader. Just make sure you really are funny before you attempt this. Sometimes people try too hard.

Uncanny: "Strange or mysterious, especially in an unsettling way" says my quickie computer dictionary's definition of the uncanny. I think many of the best Merry Fates stories fall in this camp. These stories are immediately intriguing because they explore something that we are automatically fascinated by.

Puzzle: These are often mystery stories. The plot sets up and settles an interesting situation. Asimov was good at these. Like any good mystery, this can't just be a basic "who murdered this person with poison? oh, it was the maid!" It needs to be clever. However, it also doesn't HAVE to be a mystery. It could just be an unusual dilemma in the character's life.

In most cases, I'm going for the uncanny myself, but I've read short stories that have done all three well. (Some might even do all three well at once!) Now, what does NOT work for me as a reader? Every short story collection has a few duds. Usually the writing is good but they just don't work. I've noticed that for this, we can go back to a common novel writer's question. What makes a good first sentence? A good first page? A short story really needs these because the pages are so limited.

You often see writers trying to excite people with first lines full of action and tension but no actual INTRIGUE. Similarly, a lot of short stories present a very basic situation similarly full of action and tension without intrigue. Character needs to sneak a captive out of a house, character resolves things with an ex-boyfriend, character finally masters healing magic. These scenes might work fine in a novel, but I think they tend to be sort of boring in a short story unless the characters involved are extremely compelling in a low word count. I'm a big fan of the striking moment in a short story. The Merry Sisters of Fate are good at this. They pretty much never post a story that doesn't have a striking and unusual line in it somewhere, if not many places.

Also, for goodness sake, don't put too many characters in the story. I can't keep track of seven different named characters in a twenty-page story.

I think that is all for now. More as insights develop. ;) What do you think makes for good short fiction? And what doesn't?

Friday, May 14, 2010


I've been asked to write a story for an upcoming short story anthology called CORSETS & CLOCKWORK (I don't know if that's the final title or not, but anyway, it sounds awesome), from the same editor that brought you The Eternal Kiss and the upcoming Kiss Me Deadly, to be released in the US and UK.

I have an idea I'm really excited about for the short story, but I won't talk about it in case I change my mind. ;)

It'll be out in Spring 2011. Yay!!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Contest Winners

The winners are:

Kim Baccellia

(Clearly wanting to attend that craft chat thing gives you good contest karma because you guys were all interested in that too! Bizarre!)

Speaking of the craft chat...well, about 4 people showed up. We did have a pretty good craft conversation anyway but then...I forgot to archive it. Yeah, so that was kind of a bomb in some regards, but I might do it again sometime anyway and just try a different approach.


I am going to Book Expo America!

I hope to meet some lovely writer friends and book bloggers and whoever. I decided on this really last minute so I can't remember who is going or what anyone is doing...

It will be so nice to be in New York City with so many friends! And get out of Florida once before summer sets in.

(I will announce the contest winner later today too, btw!!)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

10 Awesome Books for Fantasy World-Building

I was thinking about this while re-reading Megan Whelan Turner's The Thief, the edition with extras in the back. She talks about how the world is based on Greece, with gods based somewhat on the pantheon of Greek gods, and yet the time period is sometime after the 1500s, technology-wise. I love that, because it's different, and it feels real and familiar to the reader, but at the same time, not quite like any place we know.

Sometimes I think of the setting for a fantasy novel before anything else, and inevitably it is based off something...I mean, if you need to invent an entire culture, maybe quite a few entire cultures for different novels, it does help to base it off something. My favorite books for my personal library, the ones that make me drool when I find them someplace like The Strand or a university library or even more rarely, at Barnes and Noble, are books that cover some aspect of civilization I can work into novels, and the greater span of time and place they cover, the better.

But more than that, I don't want the book to be BORING. Whenever possible, I like illustrations and/or photos and lively text, so I promise that while some of these books are more engaging than others, none of them will read like someone's dissertation.

Here are some of my favorites I've acquired over the years:

Architecture for Peasants!

1. Buildings Without Architects: A Global Guide to Everyday Architecture by John May. This is a fairly small yet lovely, informative, not-too-dry book that talks about houses that ordinary people live in around the world, the materials they use, and has floor plans or illustrations depicting the construction.
See also: 6,000 Years of Housing by Norbert Schoenauer. I haven't gotten this one yet, but I have the title jotted down from seeing it elsewhere.

Architecture for Royalty!
2. Great Palaces of Europe. A book from the 60s that only covers Europe, alas...but for that, it has a wide range of palaces, with interesting text, lots of pictures albeit in black and white, and sometimes floor plans. I am still looking for the perfect book on royal architecture.

Interior Design
3. I can't seem to find a good book on home furnishing around the world throughout time, but as far as European interiors go, I like An Illustrated History of Interior Decoration: From Pompeii to Art Nouveau. Paintings of homes from antiquity on, engagingly explained. (Incidentally, a wonderful book on Victorian interiors, should anyone need it, is called "The Tasteful Interlude". I found this book in a used bookstore in Sarasota while writing Magic Under Glass and it was exactly what I wanted--nothing but period photos of middle-class and upper-middle-class interiors with explanations of what I was looking at!)

4. A Worldwide History of Dress by Patricia Anawalt. I saw this at the Strand, drooled over it, asked for it for Christmas, and NO ONE GOT IT FOR ME. It's expensive, but I must have it when I get my advance for Magic Under Stone... *writhes* The title basically explains it all.
A cheapskate's alternative is Folk and Festival Costume of the World by R. Turner Wilcox.

Global Cuisine
5. The Foodlover's Atlas of the World by Martha Rose Schulman. It's a little skimpy on third world countries, which is too bad, with more of a regional overview than country by country, but for pretty much all the European and Asian countries it has the perfect amount of information to inspire me to write food descriptions: it covers the staples of the diet, and what people eat at different times of day, and has many nice photos as well.

Culinary History
6. The Art of Dining: A History of Cooking and Eating by Sara Paston-Williams. This is a history of British dining, but it is helpful to me in describing how cooking, food supplies and dinner rituals have evolved over centuries, and it's an engaging read with many pictures. I can combine it with books on regional food to evoke another place AND time. I have some other books on the history of food, but they aren't as well organized for a writer looking for specific info.

7. Material World and Women in the Material World by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio. Love these books! I've read them sooo many times. In the first one, they went around the world and had families place all their positions in their front yard and photographed stuff + family together, then interviewed the family about their lives. In the second, they interviewed women of families (in many cases, the same families) around the world. The interviews and photographs are fascinating and enlightening, heartbreaking and hopeful, and you can't help but think about the world more globally when you're done.

Festivals and Holidays
8. Sacred Festivals by Jeremy Hunter. This book is like, dirt cheap used, so that's nice. It's by no means comprehensive, but you don't really need comprehensive if you just need fantasy world inspiration. It has great photos of some festivals all over the world.

9. The Courts of Europe: Politics, Patronage and Royalty 1400-1800 by A. G. Dickens. Okay, so it's a fantasy world and you very likely may have a court, but do you ever find yourself wondering what happens in a court, besides something about thrones and curtseying and arranged marriages? Or maybe that's just me, but anyway, you get a lot of different courts described in here, which should give you idea. If you want to develop a more modern government, on the other hand, you might draw info from the rather dry but informational How Governments Work.

10. Artificial Sunshine: A Social History of Lighting, by Maureen Dillon. While this book may be a wee more specific than the others I mentioned, I'll bet you'll need it at some point. Another British history that I feel free to adapt to my purposes...

There ya go. Ten (well, ten plus) favorites from my home reference library for building your own culture. I'm always happy to find a new and even better addition, so if you have any favorites, let me know!

P. S. I linked to Amazon because it's the easiest for seeing reviews, availability and such, but as always, I urge you to support indies, used and new!!! (A lot of these are out of print.)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Craft Chat

Would anyone be interested in doing a craft chat on Chatzy (or some other chat service, if anyone knows one that doesn't suck), say, twice a month?

Here's the thing, I want a MEATY writer's craft-based chat. Not a crazy frenetic Twitter chat with a zillion people talking at once. I'm thinking a limited group (Chatzy, in fact, won't let cheapskates using free Chatzy have more than ten, so let's say ten people). Say, the first ten people who let me know they're interested.

I would announce a topic beforehand, and then work on a list of question for us to discuss relating to the topic, which I'll just throw out whenever the chat gets boring. If the first question sends us on fascinating tangents, then no need for the rest! But usually chats have periodic lulls.

For the first one, I'm thinking Female Characters and Roles. (This is a fascinating topic to me because I hated writing female characters for my entire teenage years despite considering myself a definite feminist, and now I am praised for my female characters!)

When will this chat be? Um, let's say the first one will be Friday, May 7th, 8 pm Eastern. I have to pick a day when I am not watching some manner of TV show for now, but all these TV shows will end soon and I will move the day and time around so different people can come!

OH, and one more thing, I want to summarize the discussion in a blog post when it's done, so you must be willing to be quoted (although you can be anonymous if you wish!).

I really don't know if anyone else craves intimacy and structure in a chat like I do, but I guess I'll see.

Oh, and one FURTHER thing, published and unpublished writers are okay, just be serious about it. (Not that you have to talk in a serious way all the time, but you know what I mean.)

x-posted to LJ

Edit: The first chat is full! You can still comment if you'd like to attend a future chat.

May Appearance

I'll be appearing at the science fiction convention Oasis in Orlando on May 30th. I'll be speaking on a couple of panels. The convention spans the weekend but I think I will only be there Sunday, although the schedule is still being finalized. I doubt this blog has many locals who love me or science fiction enough to shell out $20 for it....but, you never know.