Sunday, 23 October 2011

Damn ghosts

I have encountered a bit of a problem with my writing. As you can see from my Works in Progress page I have recently been re-outlining my epic fantasy novel and ramping up towards writing the first draft (hopefully splicing in some of the text I wrote last time I started writing the book). But another idea I have had, Teathira Protectrix (tentative title), has been trying its best to take over my writing effort. No amount of exorcising seems to be able to quit this idea from my mind. I write at least a full page of notes to 'file for later' every day.

Why is this idea so persistent? I think there are a few factors. Firstly, the story has a title, if only a tentative one. My epic fantasy novel doesn't have one yet. Secondly, Teathira Protectrix is a YA idea, and a short one at that. The book (or the first one, rather: it is a multi-book idea) would probably come in under 40,000 words. Quickly hammering out a short novel before attempting the longer epic fantasy is appealing. Thirdly, there is not a lot of research I would have to do for Protectrix. The epic fantasy, however, needs some extensive world-building (only half of which is done) plus a fair wodge of research on random things like yamabushi, steamboats, and flintlock pistols. Oh, and M-theory. All in all, Protectrix just looks easier.

So what do you think? Should I be disciplined and keep on keeping on with the epic fantasy? After all, I would still be able to write Protectrix when the epic fantasy is done. Or should I give in to the 'Oooh, shiny' impulse and switch to the YA idea?


Okay, so I've made a decision. I'm going to continue re-outlining the epic fantasy novel. However, I will also continue to take my screeds of notes on Protectrix, and not feel guilty about how much time I spend doing so. When I have finished re-outlining the epic fantasy, I will evaluate how much work I have done on Protectrix. If I'm within spitting distance of starting a first draft, I'll use Protectrix as a break between outlining and writing the epic fantasy, so I have an early stage of 'seeing the story afresh'. If I'm still at the concept stage with Protectrix, then I will push on with the epic fantasy (and maybe even give it a name).

Right. Sounds like a plan, Stan.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Book review - Hellbent by Cherie Priest

Recently (well, OK, a week and a half ago) I finished reading Hellbent by Cherie Priest. Hellbent is the second book in Priest's 'Cheshire Red' series (the first book, Bloodshot, came out early this year).

I became a fan of Cherie Priest through her Steampunk books, which are so full of awesome that I was willing to give anything written by her a go, even if she started writing goddamn vampire urban fantasy. Which is exactly what she has done with the 'Cheshire Red' series. Bloodshot and Hellbent aren't her best books. But you know what? They really aren't all that bad, either. I quite like them, and as I'm so over vampires right now that is quite an accomplishment.

It sure helps that Priest's vampire, Raylene Pendle, is more like the vampires of old, i.e. not sparkly and really rather dangerous. It also helps that Raylene is a crook, not merely some dopey human's love interest. And another thing that helps? Her sidekick is an ex-Navy Seal Cuban drag queen. Yup. A large hulking man who moonlights as dancer 'Sister Rose' and then goes out after the moonlighting dressed in black, breaking into places, and beating shit up. What a character.

If this particular combination of elements sounds interesting, I'd definitely recommend checking the series out.

Hellbent is a book that made me ponder something interesting about writing styles. First, some background: I have a bad habit. A horrible, nasty habit. My lack of 'won't power' often makes me read the ends of books before I get to them. I know! What a stupid thing to do. You will not believe how many books I have spoiled for myself by doing this. Usually it happens when I realise that I really need to go to bed, like, right now. But I can't bear the thought that I am going to have to wait until the next day before I find out what happens next. So I glance forward a bit. Then a bit more. Before I know it, it is not only an hour past my bed time, but I have spoiled the end of the book. Again. What a dumb-arse.

Now, I did this very thing with Hellbent. And yet, for the first time in I don't know how long - years? ever? - it didn't matter. Yes, I knew what was going to happen at the end. But that didn't adversely affect my reading experience one single bit. Why not?

Most books (or most English language books, at least) build up towards the climax. The destination is the goal, if you will. I found that Hellbent is a book that doesn't follow this trend, or at least not for me. Hellbent is more of an 'enjoy the journey' kind of book. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I'd rather just say it is a Thing that I noticed, and it is interesting. Also, I sure like that I now have an example to refer to of a book that 'stops to smell the roses'.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Book review - Goliath

What can I possibly say about Scott Westerfeld's Goliath that would do the book justice? For starters, there are many people out in the wilds of the interwebs talking about this book at the moment, no doubt many of them far more eloquently than I. Secondly, what could I say that wouldn't contain spoilers for books 1 and 2 in the series, Leviathan and Behemoth?

Briefly, the 'Leviathan' series is a YA trilogy loosely classified within the steampunk genre, although I'd say it's influences are far broader than that. It is set in an alternate reality version of World War I, where the two main factions vying for control of Europe are the Clankers (Germany, Austro-Hungarian Empire, etc.) whose technology is based on machines and diesel engines, and the Darwinists (British Empire, Russia, etc.) whose technology is based on genetically engineered creatures. By machines I mean 'giant walking robot tanks' and by genetically engineered creatures I mean 'flying sky-whale dirigibles'. Um. Wow.

The story follows two protagonists: Deryn Sharp, a scottish girl masquerading as a boy so she can serve aboard the Leviathan (the aforementioned sky-whale); and Aleksandar of Hohenberg, the young son of Franz Ferdinand, the Austrian Duke whose assassination sparked World War I both in our world and in the world of the books. Alek and Deryn meet aboard the Leviathan, and proceed to tumble headlong through the events of World War I, as those events fall farther and farther away from our own history. If you want to learn more about the series, visit this page at Westerfeld's website.

Now that I've finished the trilogy (and gasped all my gasps, and squeed all my squees) the thing I'd like to talk about is a certain aspect of Scott Westerfeld's writing that struck me, particularly in Goliath. I haven't read any of Westerfeld's previous work, so I don't know if this is something he does all the time, or if it is particular to this series.

Throughout the series, the story switches back and forth between Deryn and Alek's viewpoints. Also, these two characters at various times have all sorts of secrets or pieces of information they are keeping from one another. Yet when we are reading a chapter from, say, Deryn's point of view, we the reader can tell when Alek is thinking about something Deryn doesn't know, and we know what he is thinking. Without Deryn finding out what that thing is. Without Westerfeld putting his voice into the story and telling us. Without bashing our heads with the information. If you have read the book or are meaning to read it, look closely at chapter 10 to see what I mean. We know exactly what Alek is thinking, even though Deryn clearly has no clue.

This knowledge is woven in softly, deftly, and we the reader feel like we just know it intuitively. Of course that is not the case; Westerfeld is doing it on purpose. I'd sure like to know how he does it. I would be thrilled if I could somehow add that trick to my writing toolbox.