08 May 2015 @ 06:53 pm

I’ve spent this afternoon Getting Rid Of Stuff. Some of this was of the prosaic “empty the trashes” nature, but the bulk of it was involved in going through boxes that have been sitting around with the intent to be gone through. The big thing to tackle was a large box of received correspondence from roughly 1990-1998. A few months ago in another one of these Getting Rid Of Stuff binges I almost threw it out wholesale, but held off, and days later realized with a shock that I was really glad I hadn’t tossed it, because the 4 page handwritten letter that AC Crispin wrote to me when I was 15 and had asked for writing advice from her was in it.

So today I opened the box with the intention to find that letter and throw everything else away.

I threw a *lot* of it away. Probably 75% of it, some of which were letters from (now) complete strangers. A few of them I remembered after a while, but others? I genuinely had no idea who they were. So those weren’t so hard to part with. Neither, as it turned out, were most of the letters I had from people I *do* remember and am mostly still in contact with.

I found the AC Crispin letter. I *also* found the letter from Anne McCaffrey, inviting me (and the friend I was travelling with) to Dragonhold, after I’d written to her before my first trip to Ireland and said I had to ask, at least, if I might be able to meet her. I didn’t think I still had that, so that was a lovely thing to discover.

I also found a number of letters from my grandmother, who died several years ago, and an old (really old, like, 6th grade!) journal, and a Beauty and the Beast short story I wrote around 1991-92 and which I’m considering posting, unedited, to my Patreon page, now that I’ve switched it over to being a short story project. :) And a bunch of other somewhat random memento-style stuff, much of which can probably be thrown away but which has for the moment gone back into the box because I’d done enough for the day.

The thing that really got me, though, in going through the box, was that I found what I had been sure would be the last pictures I’d ever see/take of a friend of mine who was very, very ill with Crohn’s, at a Christmas party in 1997. She was 5’8″ and about 92 pounds, and we all thought it would be her last Christmas.

It was not. She had surgery not very long after that, and she is alive and well and strong, and tomorrow is in fact what she calls her Phoenix Day, the 17th anniversary of her surgery, but my God, seeing those pictures. #feels

So I’m very very glad I didn’t just throw the box out.

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

05 May 2015 @ 03:03 pm

I’ve owned Kim Stanley Robinson’s SHAMAN since it came out, but hadn’t read it because I was still writing the Walker Papers, and regardless of how different his shaman and mine were likely to be (which was very, given that his book is set 40,000 years ago), I didn’t want to be reading about somebody else’s shaman while writing mine. :)

SHAMAN is one of those books that’s either going to work for you or it isn’t, I think, although a lot of KSR’s work can be summarized that way. I mean, I’m a tremendous fan of his and he still doesn’t always work for me.

SHAMAN did, though. Not because of the similarities between his shaman and mine, of which there was exactly one (Loon, our hero, is also a reluctant shaman), but because I thought he did a really nice job building a prehistoric society. Or several, rather, as Loon goes on an adventure to the North, and we also get a glimpse of Neandertal society, all of which I thought worked together as a pretty solid and believable set of societies. And having studied as much about shamanism as I have, I very much liked his depiction of the shamanic magic and duties, which are vastly more realistic than mine.

I had some problems with it. The young male narrator’s obsession with sex got a little tiring, and the nature writing didn’t sing the way I feel it does in the Science in the Capitol trilogy (although really, I think that series is exceptional in its nature writing, so any comparison is by necessity a little harsh), but the bit that really aggravated me was that I couldn’t figure out what continent it was taking place on…which I just realized is because I misplaced the origin of horses. I had it in my head they were like potatoes and tomatoes, originating on the American continents, but no, that’s backwards. Okay, it was me, not the book, and my confusion is all my own fault. Everything ELSE pointed to it being Eurasian in setting (in fact, I’m pretty sure I should be able to set it more preci–well, I can, because I know where the cave he used is, which is part of why it was confus–anyway.) Yeah, okay. I’m just an idiot.

There was a section-long chase scene in SHAMAN that was one of the best I’ve ever read. The only thing I can even think to compare it to is the chariot race in Guy Gavriel Kay’s Sarantine Mosaic, which it’s tonally completely different from, but it was genuinely edge-of-the-seat reading, which is pretty stunning in a book.

There was also a moment where I thought he was going to turn the entire book on its ear, and I confess I would have been *delighted* to see it happen. I’ll illuminate behind a cut, because it’s a spoiler, but broadly speaking it’s like that moment in Winter Soldier where the heart of every woman watching leapt with joy and then collapsed again into, “Oh. Oh, well. I mean, that’s okay too, but…but it’s not as cool as it looked like it was going to be.”

It also made me tear up a little–twice!–which I think is a first for a KSR book. I was more emotionally invested than I thought I was, which is kind of wonderful.

Overall, not easy to recommend, but I find very little of KSR’s work easy to recommend. I thought it was worth the journey, though. In the end it’s a fairly powerful coming of age story, and I enjoyed it.

Read the rest of this entry »Collapse )

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

04 May 2015 @ 10:45 pm

Picoreview: The DUFF: conflicting.

The DUFF is sort of this weird mashup of a high school makeover movie and, like, Juno, or something. DUFF stands for Designated Ugly Fat Friend, which the main character, played by Mae Whitman (who, at age 26, is a moderately convincing 18 year old), discovers she is one of. Except it appears the only person in her school who actually knows the term is the one who first uses it to describe her, the boy-next-door/jerkface/love interest, played by Robbie Amell (who, at 26, is not even slightly convincing as an 18 year old). The result of this is that Amell’s character seems like that much more of a jerk, while Whitman’s (tall, slim, classically-all-American-girl-beautiful) friends come off…way, way better than one expects in this kind of movie.

Whitman undergoes far less of a makeover than any other ugly duckling high school film character than I’ve ever seen; the thrust of the movie is clearly intended to be a much stronger be your own bad self and rock it message than anything else, and it’s almost wonderful for it. Unfortunately it’s also staggeringly undercut by the “and also you will totally land the improbably hot guy” aspect, which, I mean, okay, you expect that in this kind of movie, but it was almost so much more.

Ultimately Amell’s character is the one who undergoes the greater transformation, which is also typical of these movies–the love interest comes to realise there’s more than just a pretty face involved–but the boy-next-door thing also kind of undercuts that as well, as does his fraught relationship with the Stereotypically Mean Girl. It’s…

It’s not bad. It’s just…conflicting. Apparently it was adapted from a book written by a 17 year old, and I’m going to have to read the book now to see how it differs.

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

02 May 2015 @ 04:45 pm

Ireland isn’t doing very well at spring this year. There was a week of warm afternoons a couple of weeks ago, and it’s been clear a lot, but quite cold. Today it seems to have moved directly into November, with wind and rain and 6°-that-feels-like-0° temperatures.

On top of that, there’s a 48 hour bus strike going on in Dublin this weekend. However, it’s Free Comic Book Day, so I was determined that we were going to Get Out, and so Young Indiana and I went forth to have an Adventure In The Rain.

We exhausted ourselves, actually, hitting two comic shops, going out to lunch, meandering through one of the shopping centres to have a go on several of the coin-operated rides, and finishing up at Chapters Bookstore before staggering (well, taxi-ing) home.

Indy enjoys a drink at Lemon Jelly, our go-to restaurant in Dublin city centre:

Indy and his friend Peter, also known as “Cutie Waiter,” who is the reason Lemon Jelly is our go-to restaurant in Dublin city centre… :) (We referred to Lemon Jelly as “Cutie Waiter’s” for a long time, before we learned Peter’s name. :))

Ride ’em, cowboy!

There’s a new Cinderella’s coach ride at the Ilac Centre!

Indy climbed into the coach, then took my hand and kissed it, “because that’s what Prince Charming does!” OMG. ♥ :)

There’s also a pic of him actually with his free comic book, but I’m waiting for the lads at SubCity to post it. :)

Anyway, we were knackered by the time we got home, but we had a pretty great Adventure In The Rain.

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

27 April 2015 @ 03:42 pm

Picoreview: A Little Chaos: Entirely fictional, but charming.

I mean, entirely fictional: Kate Winslet’s character is an invention, no one like her existed at all, and…I wish they wouldn’t do that. It’s like Disney’s Pocahontas: why drop a couple of historical names on top of characters who live lives completely unlike the real story?

The answer, obviously, is because people recognise names like Pocahontas and Versailles and King Louis, which establishes the story, but…look, Belle was not an entirely accurate telling of Dido Elizabeth Belle, but it gets her story right in broad strokes. Similarly with Carrington (which, if you haven’t seen it, you ought to), both of which prompted me to go look up the real people and learn more about them. Which is what I cheerfully set out to do having watched A Little Chaos, because woman gardener in the court of King Louis XIV!

Except no, she’s completely fictional, and if you invent your main character and thrust her into the middle of a nominally real historical court and a you’re…I don’t know. Telling lies. Which is a silly thing to be offended by in a movie (and I didn’t know until after seeing it that Alan Rickman, who directed it, has been entirely frank about it being, as he said, “deeply historically inaccurate”), but it still irritates me.

None of which has anything to do with the general charm of the movie, which is, in fact, generally charming. Kate Winslet has a backstory that’s a little heavy-handed, and Matthias Schoenaerts, who plays the male lead, has one that’s a little too obscured, but Winslet (who looks gloriously un-made-up) brings her usual appealing steadiness to the character and Schoenaerts has a sort of restrained smoldering thing going on. I rather liked them together, although there were a couple of moments when I did wonder if Winslet was going to run off and have an affair with Alan Rickman’s Louis, whom he played as one of his soft-underbelly sorts, which, er, you know, works for me. :) There are several smaller roles that are especially well played. In fact, I could probably have watched an entire movie about the interactions of the secondary characters. :)

So overall I enjoyed it quite a bit and didn’t get annoyed until I found out after the fact that it was entirely fictional, which I’m sure wouldn’t have bothered me at all if I’d known it beforehand.

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

27 April 2015 @ 12:52 pm

And very excited about it too. Very clear on YESTERDAY he was not yet five, even if we had a birthday party yesterday. (“My birthday celebrated!”) Definitely not five last week when I, being old, started saying he was five. “NOT YET. NOT FOR TWO WEEKS.” (We’re still a little unclear on time. :))

But today, oh my. Today the first words out of his mouth were, “NOW I’m five years old!”

And indeed he is. :)


(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

24 April 2015 @ 04:43 pm

Okay, the decision is official: the straight-up Regency romance (no fantasy elements involved!) that I’ve written will be coming your way soon! In July or August, if all goes well!

BEWITCHING BENEDICT is (potentially!) the first of a new 7 book series about the Lovelorn Lads. Think 7 Brides for 7 Brothers meets PG Wodehouse: seven friends (not actually brothers, except in spirit!) attempt to navigate the Regency marriage market, while an interfering valet helps them avoid bad relationships and secure good ones. Hijinks, as they say, ensue. :)

It is, I said modestly, a charming little book. :) I’ve got the production team lined up for it, am working on my first-draft revisions, and will hopefully have it off to the editor by the end of April. I can’t wait to get it out to all of you. I think you’ll like it even if it’s not your usual fare!

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

23 April 2015 @ 10:38 pm

Picoreview: Age of Ultron: We saw it twice in a row.

We were going to ANYWAY, I mean that was our plan, we had tickets for the 10:15am 3D IMAX showing, which was as early as we could see it without going to last night’s midnight showing, and then tickets for a 3:30pm 2D showing, so basically we had time enough to go get lunch and come back to the theatre. And that’s what we were going to do ANYWAY.

But we were also glad we did. :)

First and most importantly, you actually *don’t* need to stay past the first teaser, because there is in fact not a second one, even though they said there wasn’t. :)

Without going into spoiler territory, Paul Bettany is perfect as The Vision. I liked Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver quite a lot, which I had not expected to. Hawkeye had a much more substantial role in this one without anybody else feeling like they’d been shirked. Nearly everybody got some funny bits. Ultron himself was just terrific.

I have some complaints, mind. Although I think Black Widow had very close to the leading amount of screentime, as she did in Avengers: Assemble, and despite the Scarlet Witch’s presence, it felt pretty heavily of Boys’ Club to me. There was a thread that although I liked everyone’s reaction to it, I didn’t like in and of itself. Also, there was not nearly enough half-naked Chris Hemsworth. (What? I think that’s a valid complaint! (In fact, so does Joss Whedon, apparently, as he says an awful lot of shirtless Hemsworth got left on the cutting room floor and will be in the DVD extras. :)))

Overall, though, I thought it was pretty damn solid. It was never going to reach the astonishing joie de vivre of Avengers: Assemble, in part because–like the first X-Men movie–it wasn’t so much a matter of whether Avengers: Assemble was good as the flat-out amazing fact that it didn’t suck. If A:A was a 5, I’d give Age of Ultron a 4; if A:A was a 4, AoU is a 3.5.

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

22 April 2015 @ 07:16 pm

My latest question from the peanut gallery was about how I write synopses. Or at least, I think that’s what it was about: the entirety of the question, actually, was, “Synopsis?” :)

I’ve talked about writing synopses before at least once, in depth, as part of the Great Plot Synopsis Project (warning: that contains the entirety of the (2 page) synopsis for URBAN SHAMAN, and is therefore spoilery). However, that was written in early 2008, and I have Changed My Process since then.

Specifically, in fact, I’ve changed it in the past couple of years. Some time ago–maybe while writing MOUNTAIN ECHOES–I had an unusually good writing go, because I had an unusually solid idea of what I was doing. The same thing had happened with the Inheritors’ Cycle books, in fact, and I began to have a sneaking suspicion that having a thorough outline might be…*good for me*.

But I used to think that thorough synopses would suck the joy out of writing the actual book. Where’s the mystery! and all that. And, I mean, I knew my process: I would write to roughly the 1/3rd mark and hit a wall. I’d go back and revise, and make my way up to the 2/3rds mark. I’d hit another wall, and revise. Then I’d finish the book, so by the time I reached “the end”, I usually had a pretty darn solid draft.

Except on those three books, that one Walker Papers novel and the two Inheritors’ Cycle books, I really hadn’t hit those walls. I’d really kinda just blown through them, because I knew where I was going. So for four out of my five most recent books I’ve gotten more serious about the process, even though frankly, I hate synopsising.

MAGIC & MANNERS didn’t have an *exhaustive* synopsis, not the level I’ll be talking about next. OTOH, I was following (in large part, anyway) the plot of one of the most successful books ever written in the English language, so, uh. I didn’t really need to break that down too much.

But STONE’S THROE, BEWITCHING BENEDICT (an as-yet un-contracted-for straight-up Regency romance) and REDEEMER have all been synopsised within an inch of their lives. In all three cases I’ve relied heavily on my brainstorming group, and REDEEMER is going to be the most interesting test of this process, because it’s going to be, by a considerable margin, the longest of the three.

STONE’S THROE and BENEDICT were both in the region of 70K and had synopses of around 3K; given that the synopses I’ve sold on and used as my jumping boards for the past decade were generally around 1500 words for 100K books, that’s quite a jump in detail.

(The one book of the five most recent that I didn’t do a really thorough synopsis on was, incidentally, a miserable writing experience. It went through five painful drafts before I got to the end, and although it seems to work I’m still not strictly convinced it does. :[)

So I’ll talk about REDEEMER now. :)

Read the rest of this entry »Collapse )

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

21 April 2015 @ 06:31 pm
I have semi-invented an easy tikka masala recipe, which is what happens when I have a recipe I've made before but discover I'm missing many of the actually-called-for ingredients. This one ends up having what I trust most people have in their pantries, which is why it's ideal. :)

Easy Tikka Masala
1-2 oz butter or vegetable oil
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp paprika
1/2-1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
pepper to taste

1 can chopped tomatoes
1 can chickpeas
1 fresh tomato, rough chopped
8 oz cream

Melt the butter in a largish sautee pan (ideally one with a lid). Stir-fry dry ingredients over a medium heat for ~30. Pour the tomatoes in before the spices burn & bring to a simmer. Stir in the cream & bring to a simmer. Add chickpeas and meat, if you're putting meat in. Simmer until the sticky rice has finished cooking. Throw in the fresh tomato at the last possible moment & serve over sticky rice.

I roasted up a leg of lamb and used about half of it in this, with a nice long simmer so it was super tender. It also works well with chicken, and presumably with beef, pork or shrimp, if them's your wish.

This can be made entirely satisfactorily without chickpeas, fresh tomato, or even paprika, but the tomatoes and chickpeas give it a nice heft and freshness.