The Best of All Possible Worlds – Review

•January 28, 2013 • 2 Comments

I just had the opportunity to read  The Best of All Possible Worlds by award winning writer, Karen Lord (Redemption in Indigo). It will be released February 12th, and is available for pre-order.

Set on a planet called Cygnus Beta, the book details the struggles of the Sadiri survivors of a terrible genocide as they attempt to gather what remains of their kind, while reaching out to groups of people with Sadiri DNA in hopes of strengthening their suddenly thin gene pool.

The protagonist, Grace Delarua, is not herself a Sadiri. She’s part Terran, part Ntshune (empath), bright, intuitive, and vivacious. Since she’s a field anthropologist working for the Cygnian government, she is chosen to assist the Sadiri in their mission to contact the groups of Cygnians with high percentages of Sadiri DNA.

Through the various adventures of the team, the book explores what psionic powers like telepathy and empathy would mean to a society, and to individuals within that framework. I personally appreciated the thought that went into this aspect of the book. I haven’t read too many pieces of science fiction that give very much consideration to the ethics of mind contact, especially in such a subtle, thoughtful way.

I also enjoyed the facility with which the book blended science fiction and romance. Lord managed to build an interesting, cohesive world with a unique flavor and background and take the reader through the process of Grace falling in love with Dllenahkh, her Sadiri counterpart, without sacrificing any aspect of the story to the different genres she was blending.

As a whole, I think this was a lovely piece of science fiction, easy to read and entertaining. It’s definintely not as hard hitting as some other pieces I’ve read, not as deep and with less emphasis on science, but it has it’s own merits, for instance, what science the author does touch on is interesting and well thought out. I certainly enjoyed it and would recommend it to both lovers of SF and romance.

I give it four out of five owls. Image by lamichaud

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Visual Character Design

•January 22, 2013 • 2 Comments

Readers like characters that they can get attached to. That’s a simple fact. The process, however, of creating a distinctive, well fleshed out, sympathetic character, is not simple. There are a lot of things involved in bringing a character to life. They need back-story, personality, flaws, virtues, desires, goals, fears, and their own way of looking at the world. They also need a description, which is harder than it sounds.

And why is that? Because, as with every other type of description, balance is an issue. Spend two pages on the description of one building and you risk your audience yawning and skimming, maybe even putting the book down. Only mention that the building has a door, and no one can be sure what the place looks like.

The same goes for your character. Listing him as having brown hair, brown eyes, and light skin begins to form a picture, but nothing concrete. Say: spiky brown hair, slanted brown eyes, a long nose, and skin that burns instead of tans, and you’re better off. This guy still isn’t very distinctive. Add a scar or a tattoo, a distinctive piece of jewelry, but don’t add them for no reason. Tie it to the story.

An example of this, Katniss Everdeen wouldn’t be the same without her mockingjay pin. It seems fairly irrelevant to the first book. It serves well as a device to bring in some back story and to set Katniss apart from the other tributes coming into the hunger games. But in the context of the trilogy, it’s much more significant as a symbol of defiance.

Another example, Atticus O’Sullivan from the Iron Druid Chronicles has tattoos on his right arm, and a singular necklace with an iron medallion and a handful of powerful charms. Both are important to the story. The tattoos are part of his magic, and the necklace is partially protective, and partially a druid’s toolkit.

One way I recommend working with the visual aspect of a character is by drawing him out. If you’re bad at drawing, like I am, you might need some help with this. Start with a body blank. Here’s a link to a male blank. Here’s one to a female. You might need to alter them in paint (or equivalent program) a bit to suit your needs. I guess you could even do the whole thing in the computer. I print them out and use colored pencils.

The one thing I haven’t found is a similar blank for a child. I had to make one myself. It’s rough and cartoonish compared to the two I linked above, but it works for both boys and girls.

Image by lamichaud

Image by lamichaud

See?

Here it is uncolored. If you share this, give credit where credit’s due. Thanks!

child body blank

Keyboards and Infidelity

•January 20, 2013 • Comments Off on Keyboards and Infidelity

Image from music123

I finally received and plugged in my new keyboard. It’s a lovely, black Kensington. Already, I can tell the difference between an hour spent typing on this new board and my old one.

My frustration level is pretty much zero, instead of being in the high thirties (out of a hundred). My old board, while not as bad as a mechanical typewriter, had really stiff keys, a few of which took concentrated effort to press. I don’t even have to think about typing on this new one. The best thing is that this keyboard doesn’t intersperse the words I type with strings of repeated nonsense.

It’s a beautiful thing.

The little bit of editing I worked on this morning was a breeze compared to the way it worked before I replaced my old keyboard. It got me feeling a bit frisky, and I cheated on my novel with another story since it felt so nice to type up new material on this lovely new keyboard.

There, I’ve confessed. I worked on a piece of science fiction (about an invasion of aliens with high regenerative abilities) instead of polishing my high fiction novel.

I don’t feel guilty. 😛

Work Space

•January 17, 2013 • Comments Off on Work Space

Image from Web Design Hot!

Recently, another writer that I really respect told me that she thought every writer should have a space devoted to their work, preferably a whole office. I liked the idea in theory, but when it came down to practice, it didn’t work very well for me. I have exactly one room to my name, no way to put together a proper office. I’m also a bit of a rover. I tend to like to write in whatever room in the house is cleanest. Sometimes that means sitting at the kitchen or dining room table, others it’s the couch in the living room or the futon in the sun room. Sometimes I sit on my bed.

Note that my desk never entered into the list of possibilities. I’m still not sure why my desk wasn’t a good place for me to write.  I have a few ideas now, but no solid facts. It didn’t matter how clean I got the desk, I just couldn’t write there for very long. It was as if the desk had been designed to stifle creativity.

I knew part of it was that I have a crappy keyboard that does this weird thing where it will randomly reproduce a sequence that I’ve already typed (I think this means that its buffer is bad). It looks like this when it happens: sequencece, , is importatant. This tic makes writing a lot harder since I have to stop and edit out the junk every few words, but shouldn’t have made me feel like my muse had left me.

This problem had been puzzling me for a long time. Then I had a conversation with a friend about the pros and cons of being left or right brained, and we had a moment of confusion where neither of us could remember which side was the “creative side.”

“Don’t people look to the right when they’re coming up with a lie?” she asked. In the end we had to look it up to be sure, but that simple question sparked an idea. Normal, right-handed people do tend to look up and to (their own) right when they have to imagine something.

My desk was set up so that the monitor and keyboard were to the left. It made me wonder if I wasn’t hindering my own creative process by forcing myself to behave in an unnatural fashion, that is looking up and left while I was trying to be creative.

Based on this one sketchy idea, I came home and rearranged my desk. The monitor and keyboard are now on the right. I’ve also finally given in and ordered a new keyboard (my computer won’t use the USB ones I found at the local electronics store).

Here it is all clean and nice. I was going to do a before picture, but forgot. Let it suffice to say that I took three boxes worth of stuff off the desk before I could do anything with it.

Image by lamichaud

Image by lamichaud

The keyboard hasn’t come yet, but I have found that I can now work at my desk. It’s not as comfy as sitting on the couch with my lapdesk and laptop, but I can do it. In fact, my desk seems to be a better location to sit and edit than anywhere else in the house. I can’t say for sure that moving the monitor was the perfect solution to my problem (I’d still rather sit and write anywhere else), but I no longer feel like the creative side of me shuts down when I sit at my desktop.

Slippery Elm Tea

•January 16, 2013 • Comments Off on Slippery Elm Tea

Image from evitamins

Just say no. Don’t do it.

I know your throat might feel like the inside of a board being gnawed out by termites. It might feel like you tried to swallow a cheese grater. Swallowing might not even be an option. But still, say no to the slippery elm tea. The profound horror of its taste will leave you longing for the clear, sharp pain, or the raw burn of your sore throat. The stuff is that nasty.

Granted, it seems to be working for me. My throat does feel better, but I can’t shake the taste and it’s really bothering me.

I can also admit that I might have made it badly,  but I followed the instructions for water temperature, so that’s not it. The only excuse I can think of for the stuff is that it might taste bad with maple syrup in it.

That’s right folks, I use maple syrup to flavor my tea. I do this because I can’t have much sucrose without having horrible stomach pain and heartburn, and concentrated forms or fructose (like agave and honey) also give me heartburn. I know that maple syrup contains sucrose, and I don’t know why it doesn’t give me stomach pain, but it doesn’t, so it’s my sweetener of choice.

I told a friend of mine that I liked tea too much to count this stuff as tea, called it a “bad potion.” She laughed and asked if I’d pissed off any witches lately. I don’t think I have. If I did, I’m sorry. I’m not in the habit of going around making people mad. That said,  if you are a pissed off person of any religion,  practician, state of life or beliefs, this product might be the thing for you. Your victim will be suitably punished by its taste for whatever they did wrong. Have fun.

No Sick-days for Writers

•January 15, 2013 • 4 Comments
Image by lamichad

Image by lamichad

I’m so sick I can barely talk, barely sit in this chair to type. Yet, I’ve been up since 7am and already written a poem, set my editing goal for the day, and begun working on polishing my rock of a novel into a precious stone.

What is wrong with me? Am I insane? Probably. Feverish? Definitely. In love with what I do? Absolutely.

You see, the only thing that could make me more miserable than I am is not being able to write. Whatever bug I’ve picked up has already taken too much away from me. I’m not going to yield my writing time into the bargain. So I sit and search out commonly overused words in my novel (that, had, was, it, there, just, anything ending in “-ly”), and I tax my poor brain for ways to make the sentences better. I already blew my brain cells on writing a poem, so this is harder than it sounds right now.

But, as I often say, persistence wins the day. I’ll keep at this until I’m healthy and I’ll be able to look back and say, “See? That wasn’t a waste of time. Now I can make the bigger edits and not worry about the smaller ones.” Which is silly since I’m doing things backwards. You should do big edits first, small ones after. But hey, I’m doing what I can, and that’s got to count for something.

It’s a New Year

•January 2, 2013 • 1 Comment

I don’t believe in New Years’ resolutions.  I think they’re a great way to set myself up to fail. I do, on the other hand, believe in looking forward to what I mean to accomplish in a year and getting started on my most immediate goals right away.

So, this year, my goals are to survive another year of my MFA, finish revising and editing my now completed first draft of a novel, and to begin the process of finding someone to publish my book once it’s all edited and pretty.

As simple as they are to sum up, these tasks aren’t going to be easy. I think I’m up to it, though!

Look out, 2013, here I come!