Jul. 26th, 2016
10:04 am - Oblique specificity of description
That phrase probably makes no sense, but it’s the best I can do.
There’s a thing certain writers are capable of: Dorothy Dunnett and Dorothy Sayers are the ones who come immediately to mind, and Sonya Taaffe (she has a Patreon for her movie reviews — I’m just sayin’), but I’m sure there are others I’m not thinking of at the moment. These people are brilliant at describing characters. And what makes them brilliant is what, for lack of a better term, I keep thinking of as “oblique specificity.”
By this I mean something like the “telling detail” writing-advice books are always going on about, but leveled up. It’s the ability to find that one thing about a character, be it physical or psychological, that isn’t in the list of the top ten features that would probably come to mind if somebody said “describe a character,” but winds up encapsulating them in just a few words. And it’s the ability to make those words not the ones you expected: the line that sparked this post is from the Peter Wimsey novel Murder Must Advertise, where Lord Peter is playing a cricket match and accidentally goes to town when up ’til then he’s pretended to be just an ordinary guy. There are lots of phrases I would think of to describe how he starts showing a higher degree of power than he’s exhibited before, but “opening up wrathful shoulders” is not one of them — and yet, it works.
I want to read more authors like this. (Because I want to dissect what they’re doing until I’ve figured out how it ticks.) So: recommend authors to me?
I’d especially love to see this done in different contexts, because one thing Dunnett, Sayers, and Taaffe share is that they’re all writing from a more omniscient perspective than you’d ordinarily see in a modern novel. I think the added distance helps, because description doesn’t have to be delivered through the perspective of a character; not all characters are really suited to that kind of descriptive artistry. Though no examples are leaping to mind at the moment, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a variant of this done with first-person narrators, using the narrative voice to give descriptions more punch than they would otherwise have, but I’m not sure that’s always quite the same thing that I’m thinking of. (Since I’m kind of vague on what exactly I’m thinking of, this distinction is subject to debate.) I think I’ve seen it much less, though, with third-person limited narration, which lacks both the unfiltered individuality of good first-person narration and the analytical distance of omniscient. Then again, maybe that’s just a function of who I’ve been reading. I welcome any and all recommendations, especially if you can quote lines to show me how that author approaches it.
But do keep it limited to description of characters, rather than other things. Scene-setting and action and so forth are worthy topics in their own right, but right now it’s the evocation of character that I’m particularly interested in dissecting.This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/769502.h
Jul. 25th, 2016
Quoting just the key bits:
This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/769255.h
Brennan explores the power of memory, self-realization, and destiny in this mix of survival story and self-discovery tale. […] Brennan delights readers with this exciting, fast-paced start to a fantasy novella series.
Jul. 19th, 2016
There are many things I liked about Captain America: Civil War, but probably the best aspect of the whole movie is the fact that I keep thinking about it, and about the arguments it presents. Just the other night I got into a discussion about it again, which prompted me to dust off this half-finished entry and post it.
Let’s get one thing out of the way, first: from what little we know about the Sokovia Accords, it sounds like they’re a steaming pile of badly-thought-out crap. (Not to mention wildly unrealistic in so, so many ways; as one of my friends pointed out, the most implausible thing in this film isn’t super soldier serum or Iron Man’s suit or anything like that, but the idea that the Accords could spring into being so quickly, with so many countries on board, without three years of very public argument first.) So when I say I’m increasingly sympathetic to Tony’s side of the argument, I don’t mean its specific manifestation — nor his INCREDIBLY naive brush-off that “laws can be amended” after the fact — but rather the underlying principle that some kind of oversight and accountability is needed.
Because the more I think about the underlying principles on Steve’s side, the more they bother me.
I understand his starting point. He accepted oversight and followed orders; the organization giving those orders turned out to be a Hydra sock-puppet. Now he’s exceedingly leery of the potential for corruption — or even just so much bureaucratic red tape that nothing winds up getting done. And he’s presumably reluctant to sign a legal document saying he’ll follow orders when he already knows he’ll break his word the moment he feels his own moral compass requires him to do so. That part, I understand and sympathize with.
But here’s the thing. It sounds like he wants all the freedom of a private citizen to do what he wants . . . without any of the consequences of acting as a private citizen. Soldiers don’t get personally sued when they destroy people’s cars and houses or civic infrastructure; private individuals do. Is Steve prepared to pay restitution for all the damage he causes? (Or are the insurance companies supposed to classify him as an act of God, no different from a tornado or a hailstorm?) Would Steve accept it as just and fair if the Nigerian government arrested him for entering the country illegally? It sure didn’t sound like the Avengers came in through the Lagos airport and declared the purpose of their trip to officials there. Based on what we’ve seen, it looks like Steve wants all the upside, none of the downside, to acting wholly on his own.
And this gets especially troubling when you drill down into him acting that way in other countries. I’m sure he thinks that petitioning the Nigerian government for permission to chase Rumlow there would eat up too much precious time — and what if they refused permission? Does he trust them to deal with the problem themselves? No, of course not — Steve gives the strong impression of not trusting anybody else to deal with the problem, be they Nigerian or German or American. To him, it’s a moral question: will he stand by while there’s danger, just because a government told him not to get involved? Of course he won’t. And this is the part in my mental argument with him where I started saying, “right, I forgot that you slept through the end of the colonial era. Let me assemble a postcolonial reading list for you about the host of problems inherent in that kind of paternalistic ‘I know better than you do and will ride roughshod over your self-determination for your own good’ attitude.”
Captain America is, for better or for worse, the embodiment of the United States’ ideals circa 1942. Which means that along with the Boy Scout nobility, there’s also a streak of paternalism a mile wide.
Mind you, Tony’s side of the argument is also massively flawed. Taken to its extreme, it would recreate the dynamics of the Winter Soldier: that guy went where he was told and killed who his bosses wanted him to, without question, without exercising his own ethical judgment. And anything done by multinational committee will inherently fail to have the kind of flexibility and quick reaction time that’s needed for the kind of work the Avengers are expected to do. The politics of it would be a nightmare, you know that some countries will get the upper hand and this will exacerbate tensions between them and the rest of the world, and the potential for a re-creation of Steve’s Hydra problem is huge. Plus, how are they going to handle people who opt out of the program? What’s going to govern the use of their powers — or do the authors of the Accords intend to forbid that use, without government approval? That’s a civil rights nightmare right there.
But in the end, I come around to the side that says, there needs to be supervision and accountability. It’s all well and good that Steve feels bad when he fails to save people, but he wreaks a lot of havoc in the course of trying, and feeling bad about it doesn’t make the people he damages whole. (If memory serves, almost all of the destruction at the airport is caused by Steve’s allies, until Vision slices the top of that tower off: I doubt that was a narrative accident.) Is setting up that supervision and accountability going to be difficult? Hell yes. But there has to be some, because otherwise . . .
. . . well, otherwise we wind up with a larger-scale version of the problems we have right now with police violence. Which is a separate post, but I’ll see if I can’t get that one done soon.This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/768852.h
Jul. 18th, 2016
01:07 am - The New Ghostbusters
Last year I talked about “girlcotting” Star Wars — supporting with my money and my attention a movie that gives me a female hero. So along comes Ghostbusters, a whole pack of women kicking spectral ass: of course I went to see it, on opening weekend.
I loved it.
Not in the same way that I love the original film. They’re different decades, different flavors. It took me a little while to let go of the 1984 version, to see this one for itself; there are parallels between them (on a variety of levels), but the 2016 film is coming at those things from a different angle. You can certainly line up this crew against that one (Erin = Peter, Abi = Ray, Holtz = Egon, Patty = Winston), but they aren’t the same people in drag. They go through a different arc and arrive at a different place.
And can we just stop for a moment to talk about Holtz? Jillian Holtzmann, the Ghostbuster played by Kate Mckinnon. This movie is basically the Holtzmann Show Featuring Holtz and Her Toys — and not because everybody else is boring; it’s just that Mckinnon walks away with nearly every scene she’s in. It is also apparently canon that she’s a lesbian: Sony seems to have instructed the director not to say so, but he’s not saying so in a way that makes the message pretty clear. If this isn’t the breakaway favorite for Yuletide 2016, I suspect that will be because it’s already too big for the exchange.
If you watched the original trailer and cringed, rest assured: that trailer was a terrible representation of the movie. The best lines aren’t in there. The characters’ nuances don’t come through. Patty, the character played by Leslie Jones, is not the one-note stereotype the trailer would have you believe: when she says “I know New York,” she isn’t talking about “urban street smarts” or anything like that. She’s talking about the stack of books she’s read that make her a walking encyclopedia of New York history.
(And dear god Chris Hemsworth’s character makes fence posts look like beacons of intelligence. It’s kind of amazing.)
It isn’t flawless. Neither is the original. But I enjoyed it a hell of a lot, and if I don’t go see it again in the theatres, it will only be because I’m still busy moving house.This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/768522.h
Jul. 16th, 2016
10:00 am - Walking my butt off
[This post will include discussion of exercise and weight loss, as an advisory for those who prefer to skip such things.]
Apparently moving house is a great way to lose weight.
I’m not entirely surprised by this. If there’s one thing I believe is true about body weight — well, if there’s one thing I believe is true, it’s that we barely understand the first bloody thing about how it works, and later generations will look back at us with the same kind of horrified disbelief we currently direct at Victorian icepick lobotomies. But if there are two things I believe, the second one is that there’s at least some truth to the idea that you can sometimes make a real change just by moving more.
I don’t mean formalized, focused exercise — though that’s good, too, for a whole bunch of health reasons. I mean being less sedentary: spending more time on your feet, more time walking, more time fidgeting. Because I haven’t been going to the gym lately, or even to the dojo . . . but I’ve been packing and unpacking boxes, shelving books, spending a much higher percentage of my day up and about instead of in a chair or on the couch. My weight’s been dropping slowly and mostly steadily for the last year, since I started trying to do that “ten thousand steps a day” thing, but the only time it went this fast was when I got stomach flu last fall. (And I don’t recommend that method to anybody.)
It still isn’t that dramatic: nobody’s going to look at me and say “wow, you’ve lost weight!” In a year I’ve dropped a little over fifteen pounds, which is a pretty slow rate. On the other hand, it’s sustainable. This isn’t a thing I do for a little while and then stop once I reach my target number; it’s a change to my lifestyle — a permanent one, at least until such time as injury or infirmity puts an end to it. I’ve gone from being the sort of person who defaults to getting into the car to the sort of person who actively wants to walk to the grocery store. I’m standing instead of sitting at my desk as I type this, swaying faintly to the music coming from my speakers; once I move the wall clock that is presently sitting on the other end of my treadmill, I’ll be able to start using that again while I’m at the computer. I’m not running three miles every morning, so my aerobic endurance is still the same crap it’s been for most of my life, but “activity” has become a thing I do all the time, in small, low-level doses, rather than a thing that gets fenced off in regulated blocks that are easy to fail at.
This isn’t the sort of post where I say “and this will work for you, too!” See above re: the one thing I believe; we have no real idea why some approaches work for some people and don’t for others, and there’s a lot of stupidity out there on the topic. But I know that shifting my thinking and my behavior to this mode has been good for me, and not only because it has resulted in weight loss. It’s good for my brain, good for my mood, good for my longevity prospects.
For people like me, whose job is inherently sedentary, that’s pretty damn important.
. . . but I don’t care how good moving house is for weight loss, I ain’t doing it again any time soon. I’ll just have to get my exercise by other means.This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/768473.h
Jul. 14th, 2016
05:22 pm - And now the set is complete!
The set of cover images, that is:
To complete the set of actual books, you will have to wait a while longer — until April of next year, to be precise. But I’m about to send the manuscript off to be copy-edited, so I promise, I’m working as fast as I can!
My profound thanks to Todd Lockwood for an absolutely stunning artwork. I’ve said it before, but it bears saying again: his art in the Draconomicon was one of the things that inspired this series, and to have his work gracing the covers and pages of this series has been an honor. Tongue only a little bit in cheek, I pity my next cover artist: not only is Todd absolutely fantastic, but he and Irene Gallo (Tor’s art director) have done an absolutely stunning job of putting together the entire look of these covers, with a clean and instantly recognizable design that leaves room for enough variation to keep the volumes from all looking alike. It’s a home run on all fronts, and you can’t expect to get that with every book and every series. I am profoundly grateful to have gotten it even once.This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/768112.h
Jul. 7th, 2016
07:21 am - Another Dice Tales batch
We’re continuing the discussion of character creation, in three more installments: Finding Flavor, which talks about how the advantages/disadvantages section of the mechanics is my favorite place to generate a character concept; A Matter of Leverage, on how gaming has influenced how I think about setting a character up for a story; and Team Players, where the collaborative aspect of character creation takes center stage.
Comment over there!This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/767896.h
Jun. 24th, 2016
07:43 am - Let’s play the Genderswap Game!
Jim Hines has been doing a thing on his blog where he genderswaps character descriptions to look at how women and men get depicted. He did it first with classic SF/F novels, then with more recent titles — including his own.
It’s an interesting enough exercise that I decided to go through my own books and see what happens when I genderswap the descriptions. Results are below. I skipped over the Doppelganger books because quite frankly, describing people has never been a thing I do a lot of, and back then I did basically none of it, so this starts with Midnight Never Come.
***This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/767647.h
Jun. 23rd, 2016
03:02 am - Recommend a vegetable to me!
I’m not much of a cook, but I’m trying to change that. Which means that as time goes on, there may be more of these “help me figure out how to alter this recipe” questions.
The recipe in this instance is involves some advice about how best to arrange a pan of chicken pieces and vegetables to ensure optimal cooking in the oven. Dark meat + carrots and potatoes on the outer edge of the pan, white meat and brussels sprouts on the inside, because otherwise the white meat will dry out and the sprouts will get a little charred.
All well and good, except I loathe brussels sprouts. (They have a weird aftertaste for me that I find very unpleasant. This is possibly related to being a supertaster, though I don’t know for sure; all I know is, most other people don’t seem to notice any aftertaste.) So what can you recommend to me that would profitably occupy the center position in the pan? It needs to be less robust than carrots and potatoes, while harmonizing well with them.This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/767376.h
Jun. 16th, 2016
Many thanks to everyone who has picked up items from the Great Swan Tower Moving Day Sale! It has been a great benefit to me, cleaning out the various boxes I keep my author copies in.
In the course of packing up, I found a stash of the US trade paperbacks of Voyage of the Basilisk squirreled away in a corner. (I’d been wondering where they’d gone.) So here’s an updated list of what’s available. Same drill applies: all you have to do is email me or leave a message here calling dibs on something and giving me your mailing address; I’ll respond to let you know whether it’s still available, and we’ll arrange payment. Shipping is included for orders within the U.S. Inscriptions on request.
In Ashes Lie, UK trade paperback A Natural History of Dragons, US trade paperback The Tropic of Serpents, US trade paperback
- Voyage of the Basilisk, US trade paperback — 3 copies, $12
- Voyage of the Basilisk, US hardcover — 3 copies, $20
- In the Labyrinth of Drakes, US ARC (no illustrations) — 1 copy, $8
In the Labyrinth of Drakes, UK trade paperback
- In the Labyrinth of Drakes, US hardcover — 8 copies, $20
You have one more week to order anything that strikes your fancy!This entry was also posted at http://swan-tower.dreamwidth.org/767126.h
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