Saturday, March 30, 2013

Myke Cole Talks About His Experience with Post-Traumatic Stress Disored

And opens his essay with a good point about being open with psychological struggles. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Self-Examination

That's right, it's navel-gazing time for Lesli again.

Please don't take anything that follows as a sign that I'm looking for cheering up. I'm hoping writing things down helps me figure out answers to some of the questions I've been working on.

I've been in a weird position lately with writing. I have something that I can do fairly easily, which is take a small germ of an idea and bang out a first draft story with a beginning, middle, and end and a couple of characters in it. They're not BAD little stories, though they're often pretty obvious. The ideas are often worth a smile. They're significantly better little stories than I wrote a couple of years ago.

But I'm dissatisfied with them. They're not good enough.

I had a writer friend come by the last week and we talked about process. Mine is very often slap-dash. All throughout my academic career I could write a paper the night before and run away cackling from the scene with a relatively high score. When I joined a writer's group with monthly contests (and later one with weekly prompts) I did relatively well by the same methods. I've sold multiple stories that were written fairly quickly; not terribly complicated pieces, but small quirky things that were over too quickly to be examined all that closely. The bulk of my sales are flash.

I really like quirky flash- I enjoy how much a tightly focused story telling structure lets me leave to the reader's imagination by implication and by omission. I'm very very good at the discipline/skill of saying "that information doesn't need to be in this story because that's not what this story is about" (laugh if you want, that's very hard for a fair number of people, and is the genesis of numberless info-dumps).

But I don't want that to be the only trick my pony has, and I find these days I'm much more self-aware about when I'm failing to live up to my ambitions. I wrote a story about two weeks ago and when I went back today to see what it was I'd marked down as a finished story (I keep a count of goals accomplished or not) I had completely forgotten what it was about or what happened. It's not a bad story- it has scary psychic twins, it has some fun images and some weird behavior, it has a character arc for the narrator somewhat separate to whole psychic twin bit; and of course it has a beginning, middle, and reasonably satisfying end- but I was so unimpressed by it I actually completely erased it from my mind. Like doing etch-a-sketch drawings when what you really want is to be a capable painter.

I'm worried that volume is not helping me, and trying to make sure I produce a certain volume in the interest of constant practice is detrimental because it keeps me from focusing on taking time to craft something more ambitious.

Except I also tried doing that and ended up just staring at the screen in despair when that wasn't structurally sound enough to avoid crashing into flaming ruin.

I've been trying to focus on editing these last few months; taking mediocre stories and making them good ones. I'm getting to the point where I do feel like I'm making the stories better, at least (I had an earlier period where I abandoned a lot of things because every pass at editing I did seemed to make them worse), but nothing has turned out as good as I would like.

I recognize that these are growing pains. I have improved, and I'm continuing to improve, but I'm at a point right now where I can't see what the next productive step is, and treading water feels exhausting. There are a lot of false starts, and right now I'm spending a lot of mental time on forensics of my own inadequacies- where did these things fall short of being the stories I wanted? What could I have done better?

Part of the problem, though, I think is that I want to surprise myself and lately I've been doing some pretty unsurprising things. It's possible I've run to the limit of what I can currently do intuitively. I've been trying to make sure I'm doing exercises to counter that, but training in any direction requires me understanding what I need to fix and working out  a program specifically for that.

So, yeah, like I said, growing pains. Looking for answers. If you're still reading, bless you for your endurance. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Grimdark Linkspam

Joe Abercrombie has collected a number of discussions about grit and "grimdark" (which isn't a term I love), my favorite of which is Richard Morgan's reply to it all. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Chronicles of European Heroes

Ken Liu's interview has completely sold me on the book The Chronicles of European Heroes, which unfortunately doesn't appear to be available in English, but it sounds so fun! I enjoy wuxia movies quite a bit, and it's always fun to see people take on Western history from the outside. So, I guess here's to keeping an eye out for it. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Plot Without Conflict

I keep looking for essays that help me think about different ways to construct stories. This is a very good one. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Eight Writing Manuals

Eight Writing Manuals That Are Not an Absolute Waste of Time. This is here as much for me as for you, dear reader.

This is what I have observed about writing advice in my years hunting it down: there's an almost limitless market for advice about beginning to write and psyching yourself up to keep writing early on; and a body of books and articles expanding at mind boggling speeds to fill that need. It's something a lot of people dabble in, or do as a hobby, and I'm sure there's an equivalent situation with, say, watercolors.

Once you get past that, it's much harder to find good advice, insightful breakdowns, or really interesting theory about the why.

Personally, I love this sort of thing, and if you guys have any recommendations to offer up, I'd love to hear them.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Jabberwocky en Espanol

So. I am interested in the translation of fiction and poetry, and for no particular reason recently I was thinking about the poem Jabberwocky, which has a beautiful rhythm and assonance and is made up of  about 3/4 nonsense words.

Apparently it has been widely translated. Here's a webpage with twenty-nine different languages represented (though admittedly two of the languages are Esperanto and Klingon). Also, here are two essays about translating the poem, into French and German and Russian respectively (the first is particularly good).

It's the hardest poem I can think of to faithfully translate, since the mechanics of it are so involved with both the association of words with sounds NEAR the ones used, and the rhythm of a particularly nursery rhyme style of English. I read the Spanish ones, since that's a language I can speak, and El Chacaloco was my favorite, since it seemed to capture the rhythm and whimsy, but it also takes a lot of liberties and creative leaps. Just looking between the versions available... there's almost nothing the same about them. Even the name of the monster (Chacaloco, Galimatazo, Jerigondor, Dragoban (forgive me for not doing he accent marks and n~s correctly, I'm kind of lazy tonight)).

Of course, the obvious application here is made up terms in science fiction and fantasy, which, while not as numerous, rely on a lot of the same mechanics as "'twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe". The word "hobbit" appears to have gotten an occasional workover as it's traveled around the globe.  Often there's a word in your target language that's CLOSE, but doesn't carry all the connotations you want. "Shokujinki", for example is probably easiest to translate as "ghoul", since their main foodstuff is human corpses and they look rotten and monstrous (sometimes), but they're also the souls of dead people who are punished for their specific transgressions, so they're more technically "ghosts" or cursed spirits. Or depending on whether you're trying to hold on to the feel of the original language, do you just use the original word and add a parenthetical note that didn't appear in the original.

I dunno. Case by case, I guess. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Nightmare Royale

HEY! John Skipp has a new column at Fangoria! Go and read it!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Read Like a Bizarro Author

Jeff Burke of Deadite Press has some fun ideas on how to make sure your reading is as exciting as possible. Your mileage may vary, of course; what suits "Night of the Assholes" and "The Haunted Vagina" may not apply equally to your quiet, literary story.

But it's still worth thinking about. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Word You're Looking For is "Ethnocentric"

Or the assumption that your own cultural propensities are the norm. This article is a fun take down of the largely American study samples for "universal" evolutionary psycholoy. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

SteamFunk

Chronicles of Harriet may be my new favorite site on the web. The very first article on the page when I clicked across it had a steam train on legs and a super spy kickass Harriet Tubman. You just can't beat that.

Seriously, though, this is a blog where people take the "if you don't like it, make your own" defense for racist portrayals and run with it in a way that is fun and spectacular.