Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Workshop Feedback

I workshopped "Other Side of the World" (formerly "Aya's Journal") Monday night in class. It was, as always, a rewarding experience. Everyone seemed to like it, even the people who avowed that they never/rarely read science fiction. There were some interesting reactions to the Roux/human marriage, with some people calling it "creepy" and others wanting more detail. I guess when you have equal numbers on both sides, you've struck the right balance. :)

Workshopping is always valuable because you get such different perspectives on your work. For example, everyone liked Aya's character, but had difficulty with the combination of how uninterested everyone in that world seems to be with the Roux and how dispassionate she herself seems about them. That was intentional, but obviously I didn't convey a justification for it well enough in the text. That's okay, I have some ideas now for how to get it across. The second entry (also known as "the big lump of exposition") can probably be modified to get that point across better.

I've never participated in an online workshop, but I can't imagine the energy in the room Monday night being reproducible in an online situation. People feed off of each other and follow ideas around further than they normally would. Our workshop leader did a good job of making sure that it was a very positively focused session, too. All in all, I'm very jazzed, and actually anxious to go back and edit!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Just What I Needed

We had our local convention this past weekend, and with all the busy-ness and stress that my day job has been affording me this past week or two, it was nice to get a break. Friday I was not in a great mindset, but by the end of the day, I succumbed to the environment of creativity and fun that reminded me that there is more to life. We sold a good number of "Common and Precious" at the con and I signed a few of them--thanks to everyone who bought! A couple people were nice enough to ask what I'm working on next, which is a great compliment. One of my goals for this year is to get a short story or two out there, whether to Amazon Shorts or to another publication. In any case, it was just the perfect time for me to be steeped in another world and remember the importance of these parts of my life.

There are a lot of challenges ahead of us this year ("us" here includes me, my partner, my writing group, and all of you). I think I have a few posts to come about marketing yourself, persistence, and networking, which all go hand in hand and are sometimes thought of derogatorily as "the business of writing." For now, though, I just want to make the observation I have before, which is that although writing happens as a solitary activity, it doesn't require a solitary life.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Are you overwriting the obvious again?

One of the more common mistakes I see in the writing of more experienced amateur writers is the tendency to overwrite. They write more than is needed to get the point across, often inundating the reader with the same information expressed in a few different ways (or in some cases, expressed in the same way). Most of the time, you don't need to tell the reader something three or four times. The reader is usually capable of picking up information with one or two clues, so there's no need to overwrite. All this does is slow down the pace of the story and ...

Yeah, see what I did there? It's not that there's anything particularly wrong with that first paragraph, except that it contains about three too many sentences. Try this one out:

One of the more common mistakes I see in the writing of more experienced amateur writers is the tendency to overwrite. The reader is usually capable of picking up information with one or two clues; anything more is annoying overkill.

Overwriting is not an indication of poor writing skills. It's an indication of insufficient time spent editing. A friend of mine once said that he'd read that every sentence needs to move the story forward. I thought that was a bit excessive at the time, but it's not a bad rule to keep in the back of your head. Are you writing what the reader wants and needs to see next? Or, as Frasier Crane said on Cheers, "Oh, now you're saying that I'm redundant, that I repeat myself, that I say things over and over."

In fact, overwriting is a good thing in drafts. It's not bad to have the same sentiment expressed several different ways. Then, while editing, you pick the one that works the best in terms of pacing and language, and get rid of the rest. But don't be afraid to edit. If you feel you have to mention something several times for emphasis, space it out. Let the feeling build through the story rather than being slammed home all in one paragraph.

It's not a bad flaw to find, and I guarantee you, everyone does it. Be diligent while editing, and it won't be an issue.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Review: Cheating at Canasta

Cheating at Canasta, by William Trevor
8.5/10, a superbly written collection of relationship stories

William Trevor joins the elite ranks of repeat authors reviewed in this space thanks to Rikoshi, who gave me this collection for Christmas. I liked the collection quite a bit, but most of the stories didn't have the power of his novel. Odd, because he's mostly known as a superb short story writer.

Indeed, there are a few stories from the collection that shine. It was just that I ended many of the stories thinking, "Wow, I enjoyed meeting those characters and being in Ireland, but...that was it?" The themes of the book center around relationships, whether between friends ("Folie a Deux"), families ("Children"), couples ("Cheating at Canasta," "The Room"), or an odd love triangle ("Old Flame," my favorite story in the collection). The relationships range from passive to passionate, the characters always very alive and real even if they are despondent or lethargic.

Character is a strength of Trevor's work, probably why I like him so much. His focus on relationships is interesting because he picks out many non-traditional ones. There's a woman blackmailing a man for affection ("The Dressmaker's Child"), a former child wheedling money from a priest who cared for him ("Men of Ireland"), and a sister who depends so much on her weaker brother that she controls his life ("Faith"). When I praise his writing, I mean mostly the way he's able to express character traits without stating them, how he shows you a character naturally and builds the setting around them in the same way, and the occasional turn of phrase that just makes you stop and say, "That's great."

...seen through drizzle on a pane, the sea is a pattern of undulations, greyish green, scuffed with white. The sky that meets it on the far horizon is too dull to contemplate.

I appreciated the short stories he wrote, but in many cases I wish he'd spent more time developing the characters. It seemed I'd only gotten to know them before the story was over. Still, if you want some terrific writing, Trevor is always a good choice, and this collection got finished in the middle of a fairly busy time for me specifically because it was short stories and could be read episodically. And, honestly, it'd be worth getting just for the four of five of the dozen that really do grip you, even if the writing weren't so good.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Unexpected Poetry

I got the above in my spam filter over the weekend. Rather pretty, I think, and I like that it came from a coincidental sending of two unsolicited e-mails.

Unless they coordinated it to produce specifically this effect...I think that's a lot more work, but if it happens again, I'd definitely take notice.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Vocabulary Lesson

Today's word, courtesy of the New York Review of Books: chiliastic.

It's nothing to do with superb Texas spicy beef dishes, and it's not pronounced that way (it's "kill-ee-as-tik"). It actually means "millenarian," or pertaining to the belief Christ will return to rule for a thousand years.

Etymologically, it's Greek, which you can see if you spell it more phonetically--it comes from khilioi ("a thousand")--the same root we use for "kilometer."

I don't know when you'd use this word, but I liked it and wanted to share.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Colm Toibin

I attended a reading at Stanford this week by Irish author Colm Toibin, whom I'm ashamed to say I'd never heard of until our workshop instructor recommended him to us. I am now writing to recommend him to you.

The man who introduced him recommended Heather Blazing of Toibin's published works. It's going on my list as of now. Toibin himself is an engaging, pleasant speaker, who began his talk by saying, "My father died when I was twelve." In true Irish fashion, this story leads through a few other stories about Irish funeral customs, how people would just come over to his house to pay their respects for months afterwards, to the story that leads into the work he's going to read from. A woman he didn't know well was over to pay her respects to his mother, and told his mother a story of her own, about her daughter who she found dead in her bed (two dead people already--you can tell this is an Irish story). The death prompted her other daughter to return from Brooklyn (not just "America," but Brooklyn specifically). For a time, she stayed with the mother, the mother thinking she'd returned for good, until one day the daughter said, "Mum...I'm married in America." And then it became clear that she would have to go back.

That one small story became the basis of his upcoming novel, "Brooklyn," which he read two passages from. It's funny (no dead people in either of the passages) and very lyrical, and despite the fact that I hadn't slept well the night before, my eyes didn't droop once. The first passage he read concerned his heroine's passage in third class on a boat from Liverpool to New York, much of which is spent vomiting; the second passage takes place in Brooklyn on Christmas Day, 1951.

I'm adding his books to my stack and will certainly pick up "Brooklyn" when it comes out. Though I wouldn't have discovered him without the workshop, ironically, I won't have time to read any of his books until the workshop is over.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

... Happily Ever After?

There's a line in one of my favorite musicals: "But we go on pretending / Stories like ours / have happy endings." In some of the recent memes floating around the web of "top ten signs a book is written by me" (which I have yet to complete), I saw several people write that there is usually a happy ending.

I think that's true of my own work as well, but I started wondering how much of a cop-out it is. We complain about stories being unrealistic, but we often squirm at depressing or uncomfortable endings. Myself, I like a happy ending as long as it's satisfactory. That is, the protagonist has to learn something and change somehow, but not be ruined or killed by the experience. There are some stories I've written that are a mix of the two; "A Prison Of Clouds," the first New Tibet story, has what I consider a happy ending, though people have disagreed with me on that one.

Personally, I think in order to learn something and change, the protagonist has to give something up. It may be something tangible or something emotional, but some sacrifice has to be made for the lesson to have impact. Often in amateur fiction, you get wish-fulfillment endings, in which the protagonist basically gets everything he or she wants. Those ring hollow to me, because then the lesson doesn't seem valuable.

"When Harry Met Sally," a very good movie, had many people complaining about the ending. The happy ending in this case didn't feel realistic enough to them. I'm not sure I agree with that, but I can see the point. To some extent, it does feel forced. The characters don't really make any sacrifice or change to achieve their happiness.

How happy are your endings? What's an example of an ending that was too happy for you?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Get Paid to Write Wolf Stories

Over at Wyrdsmiths, there's an announcement for an upcoming anthology of wolf stories. Occurred to me that some folks here might be interested. :)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Power of Four

I previously talked about the "rule of three." Today's post comes from a somewhat unusual source: ESPN's Sports Guy. I read his columns a fair amount, because he's an entertaining writer and offers a great mix of sports knowledge (historical and current) and pop culture.

Anyway, in a recent column about football studio shows, he brings up this theory about "the power of four":

Unless you're putting together a poker night or a group to play pickup hoops, in nearly every other conceivable scenario, you're better off with four people than five or more. Dinner always works better. Vegas works better. Cabs work better. Sporting events work better. Road trips work better. Local newscasts and morning shows work better. Rock bands work better. The most successful sitcom ever ("Seinfeld") centered around four friends, and the most popular female comedy series ("Sex and the City") did the same. If you keep the number at four, you'll always have enough people to make it interesting and everybody has a chance to shine.

Apart from the fact that I personally agree with him (especially about the dinner thing), this is an interesting concept to keep in mind when writing your scenes. Most of us tend to write scenes between two characters, sometimes branching out to three. I think you could reasonably go to four without confusing the reader. Beyond that, though, it gets difficult.

Depending on the length and genre of your work, four is probably the limit of major characters the reader can really care about, too. It's like he says: keep it interesting, and everyone has a chance to shine. If you're doing a big epic adventure fantasy where character development isn't so much an issue, then you can have a Fellowship of nine plus a bunch of supporting cast. But in Katharine Noel's Halfway House, for example, we have the protagonist, but her father and mother also have strong character arcs in the story. Her brother works as a secondary character, but doesn't get a lot of the focus. "Common and Precious" has two main characters and two major secondary characters, and that's about enough for that book as well (I did write a dialogue scene with four characters that was challenging, but a lot of fun to carry off).

Monday, January 14, 2008

When Do You Need A Good Dose Of Reality?

In trying to write a story for "New Fables", I found myself falling into my regular pattern of thinking through the reality and logic of the world, only I didn't (or may not have) done it quite enough. These worlds always have an underlying internal consistency to me, and I think the problem in this case is not that there's a big giant flaw in that consistency, but that I didn't give the reader enough of it to let them see it. So I need to work on that.

But it got me thinking about one of my limitations, which is that all of my worlds need to have a pretty strong underlying reality. I'm not so good with the wacky or surreal fantasy worlds, because I always start thinking "but where did the swarm of blue winged thockwarblers come from? And what do they eat when there aren't any yellow linen shirts around? What's their reproductive cycle?" and so forth. I can't even write fantasy stories with magic without thinking way too much in depth about how magic works. One of the things that always sort of bugged me about the Harry Potter books is that she never goes into depth about that. It seems like magic is basically a combination of an inherited ability to tap into it plus a long series of vocabulary lessons. As soon as you know the right words (and wand motions, yes) for a spell, you can do it. Harry learns the "Sectumsempra" spell from a few words in a book, for example, and carries it off pretty well the first time. Magic doesn't seem to take a lot out of the wizards, unless it's convenient for the plot to do so. Nor does it seem particularly hard to learn, unless the kids need to learn it for a plot point.

But here's the thing: none of that matters to the story. A quick Google of "harry potter theory of magic" turns up only one vaguely relevant link on the first page, which itself links to the really relevant article, a critique of Rowling's economics of magic by an economist (Megan McArdle). This is kind of how I feel as a trained engineer writing and reading fantasy. I think McArdle misses a point, however much she protests that "Children are great systemisers." Children are also able to discard systems and invent new ones. In the absence of Rowling giving us a consistent theory of magic, I'm sure most of the fans of the books have constructed some mechanism in their own minds that makes most of the facts fit.

Perhaps the spells are hardest early on, or some people just have a knack for them. Or some spells require a certain concentration component that isn't really described in detail. Maybe the DA (in book five) had an easier time with the Patronus charm than Harry did because they were able to practice it together en masse, and it's the kind of charm that requires confidence and positive thinking. Whatever your rationale, it's clear that the lack of a consistent magical system has not hurt the books.

And what I need to do, perhaps, is learn better what details can be left to the reader's imagination, and which I need to supply. There are certain things that are going to bother certain readers no matter what, but if you give the story a fabulist sort of feel, and make it work, people will be more willing to let the rest of it slide. The more realism you put into your world, the more people will demand from it. So that's what I'll try to do: give my story a bit more magic, and see if I can restrain my inner engineer long enough to let a few things slide.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"On Writing"

In our fiction workshop, one of our readings this week is a chapter from Stephen King's "On Writing." When I first read that book, a long time ago, I was impressed by how clear and helpful it was. The more I meet other writers, the more I find that people share that opinion. It doesn't matter whether they're genre writers, or graduate students, or biographers. Everyone seems to appreciate it.

I think it's pretty cool that someone whose books are so often derided as simply popular bestsellers could write a book that so many people find helpful in their writing career. Many people who wouldn't look twice at one of his novels nonetheless hold up "On Writing" as a great aid to their writing.

In this section, King talks about assembling the basic tools of writing. One of the things he stresses in talking about vocabulary is that you shouldn't force it. In other words, don't try to pretty it up by searching for a fancier word. Chances are the one you first thought of is the best one for the job. He says, let your vocabulary stretch on its own, as you read. The more naturally your words flow, the more natural they'll read to the reader. (This doesn't mean you shouldn't edit, but that's another story...)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Making Magical Realism Effective

The story we reviewed in our workshop last night, "Inheritance," by Jedediah Berry, has some elements of magical realism, falling under the mantle of fabulist fiction (a nice bridge from my last instructor-led writing workshop). One of the topics I found pretty interesting in our discussion was how to make the fabulist elements more effective.

This applies, granted, when you're introducing a few magical elements into a real world, rather than creating an entirely fabulist world (as I have been known to do). Our instructor's belief was that the magical elements are more effective when the characters in the story treat them as normal, or at least do not treat them as extraordinary or magical. In "Inheritance," the main character comes into possession of a mysterious beast, who has many human qualities and seems somewhat intelligent, though he can't speak. The beast is (of course) symbolic, and that works because the other people in the story don't say, "Wow, that's an amazing freak of nature!" They comment only on whether it will bite, or whether it will ruin the model ship it's looking at, as though it were just a particularly intelligent dog. There is some discussion at one point about where his father got it, but even that has the tone of "wonder what remote country he brought it back from" rather than "it's not of this world!"

As a result, the story is very effective in convincing you of the beast's reality. Just something to keep in mind if you're writing stories with small doses of magical realism: don't make the characters stand around and gawk at how magical your inventions are. They should be an accepted part of the world. If your characters accept them as such, your readers will too.

(Another excellent example, by the way, is in Philip Wylie's "The Answer" ... go read it if you never have, because it's pretty cool.)

Monday, January 07, 2008

New Class Starting Today!

I'm taking another Stanford Continuing Studies workshop this term. This one is "Fiction For Experienced Writers," which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. I'm pretty excited, as it's been over a year since my last fiction workshop (the wonderful "Fabulist Fiction" class). In the meantime, of course, I've been working with our New Fables group, so I haven't been lacking in workshoppy goodness, but it's always nice to be exposed to a new group of writers. We'll see how the fabulist/spec fic stuff goes over with this group.

By the way, if you're not in the area or can't spend the money/time to take a class on campus, you can download some classes from Stanford (and other universities) on iTunes U. I've very much enjoyed the lectures I've gotten from there--my favorites are the "why people do evil things" and the series on Benjamin Franklin (who might be in the running to be my new role model).

I'll keep updating as the class goes on. Meanwhile, I can't overstate the value of workshops in general to help develop both your writing and critiquing skills. Being part of a writerly community is a great way to spark your writing, and learning how to critique other people's work helps you think more critically about your own.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Review: The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature

The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, by Neal Pollack
7/10, with an asterisk, a parody of self-important American male writers

The problem with picking up a parody when you're unfamiliar with the source material, as I noted, is that it's often difficult to appreciate the humor. Hence the asterisk in the rating: the footnote would be that this is an audience-specific book, and the audience it is specific to does not include me.

That said, a funny thing happened as I read more of the book: I started enjoying it. There were points where it became so absurd that it didn't matter that I didn't know the source material. Pollack definitely has a good eye for description and detail, and if the ego-driven writing was tedious to start with, the repetition became more entertaining as the book went on. It might also be that in the essays at the end of the book, Pollack's persona is less gloriously successful, falling more into the pattern of the bumbler convinced of his own godhood than an actual accomplished writer who happens to be an egomaniac. That's inherently more amusing, and the essays reflected that.

I was tempted not to finish this book when I was about halfway through, but in the end I'm glad I did. The McSweeney's crowd has always intrigued me, and now I'm a little more familiar with their work and can feel cheerfully informed about staying away from it.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Sample Chapters Online!

You can now read the Intro/Prologue and a sample excerpt from my novel at If you're interested, please go take a look. It's eligible for an Ursa Major Award this year, so I'm putting the book online to try to get support for a nomination and, hopefully eventually, a win.

You can also let me know what you think in the comments here! Thanks for reading.

The Best Dead Humorist

If you're not familiar with the works of P.G. Wodehouse, you are missing out. Now, granted, I have a particular affection for British comedy, but based solely on shelf space in Borders, I have to believe that not only is Wodehouse popular here, but is becoming more so over the years. I saw about fifteen of his books in our local Borders today, when a couple years ago there were usually the standard four or five.

Wodehouse writes most often about class comedy, his most famous works being the Bertie Wooster and Jeeves stories. Wooster, who might be ensconced in Webster's next to the definition of "idle rich," is the smartest of his group of young British noble friends, which is not saying very much. Jeeves, his manservant, is much more competent, rescuing him from situations without ever stepping above his station. The interaction between Bertie and Jeeves would be entertaining enough on its own, but Wodehouse also manages to create the most delightfully convoluted and outrageous plots. There was a moment in reading one of his stories where I laughed out loud, but upon being asked what was so funny, I realized that I would have to recite most of the preceding book in order for the person to get the joke. The plot built perfectly to that point, and the payoff was expertly done.

My first exposure to Wodehouse, however, was in the lesser-known "Tales of St. Austin's," a collection of short stories about boys at British boarding schools. They are somewhat less accessible, being filled with cultural references and jargon like "fags" and "have an ice" and "Thucydides," but you can still get a great deal out of them. They also have the distinctive and wonderful Wodehouse voice.

Thanks to Project Gutenberg, you can read many of Wodehouse's works for free online. "Tales of St. Austin's" is included in this crowd, as are a couple of the Jeeves stories. If you have an idle moment, instead of checking out CNN or YouTube, take half an hour and read a Wodehouse story. Whether or not you learn anything about writing humor, you'll at least be vastly entertained.

Bertie Wooster even has some advice for aspiring writers (from "Right Ho, Jeeves"). Look how clearly his voice comes across just in two paragraphs:

I don't know if you have had the same experience, but the snag I always come up against when I'm telling a story is this dashed difficult problem of where to begin it. It's a thing you don't want to go wrong over, because one false step and you're sunk. I mean, if you fool about too long at the start, trying to establish atmosphere, as they call it, and all that sort of rot, you fail to grip and the customers walk out on you.

Get off the mark, on the other hand, like a scalded cat, and your public is at a loss. It simply raises its eyebrows, and can't make out what you're talking about.

Words to live by, and laugh by.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

How To Keep Your Resolution

If you're reading this blog, chances are that one of your resolutions for the new year is "write more."

If you're a human being living in the year 2008, chances are you're already behind on your resolution.

So here's a few tips to help you keep your resolution:

* Be more specific. Don't just say "write more." Say, "Finish 'A Time To Remember To Kill'" or "Write the novel about my father-figure hero in the fantasy universe."

* Break your resolution into mini-goals. Mini-goals are much easier to keep than big year-long resolutions. It's easy to say, "I'm going to write a novel this year," and then put it off 'til March, June, November, and then you're reduced to, "I resolve to resolve to write a novel next year." Break down your novel into defining your story, building your world, creating your characters, sketching your plot, outlining the novel, writing the first draft, editing the first draft, sending the edited MS out for critique, incorporating feedback and revision. If you set a small timeframe for each of those, then by April or May you should be well into a first draft, and the goal will be much more attainable. (This is the lesson learned from NaNoWriMo.)

* Track your progress. If you tend to let things slide, keep a spreadsheet or check off writing time on your calendar. Write down every day the number of hours spent writing. Then, when you get a whole week of zeroes, you notice it immediately and can tell yourself to buckle down, instead of having the vague feeling that it's been a while since you touched your outline and maybe you should get to it next week when the kids are back in school and that report at work is done...

* Use technology. Google Docs allows you to store your documents online to access from anywhere. Yahoo and Google and many others have online calendars: send yourself e-mail reminders to do writing.

* Enlist someone's help. Whether a supportive spouse or a writing buddy, have someone you can check in with to help keep you on track with your goal. Another person can not only help remind you to keep going, they become invested in your goal to a certain extent, so that when you meet it, you make them proud as well as making yourself proud.

If you have any other ideas, toss 'em into the comments, and let's get writing!

Review: That Old-Time Religion

That Old-Time Religion, by Will Sanborn
6/10, Creative story idea with too many unexplored possibilities.

Disclaimer: Will is a friend of mine, or was before I wrote this review, anyway. All criticism should be taken constructively.

In the anthropomorphic fandom, the ancient Egyptian god Anubis has become quite the popular figure through a combination of traits. I think the cachet attached to the "old god," along with the jackal totem (canids are probably the most popular single animal group in the fandom) and the dark, mysterious black color contributed to his popularity. He shows up a lot in art, but this is the first time I'm aware of him being used in a literary context.

The story of "That Old-Time Religion" is similar to Neil Gaiman's "American Gods": the old gods still walk the earth, less powerful now that their empires have collapsed, and one of them (the same one, actually, in both books) is plotting to unleash some cataclysmic event that will restore their former glory. The main character in "That Old-Time Religion" is Thomas, a rudderless young man who stumbles upon some strange characters in a carnival and gets caught up in the quest to save the world.

Anubis enters the scene a little later in the company of Thoth, fellow old god and sometime lover. They join Thomas's group's quest, during which time Anubis and Thomas grow closer, leading Thomas to explore his openness to a gay relationship. There are a few sexually explicit scenes in the book, both gay and straight (and, well, mixed).

While I liked the relationship component of the story, I think Will could have done a better job tying it in with the quest. When there are two storylines, often one slows to a crawl while the other takes center stage. Either a little more work could have been done to integrate them, or one could have been given clear priority over the other. In the end, neither felt fully developed to me. I thought that the quest could have been fleshed out earlier--it was a lot of "we know something is going on, but we don't know what" until the very end, when everything happened at once--and though the relationship aspect fared better, it still felt more like a stretched-out short story. Once the initial question of whether Thomas could sleep with a guy (or a male old jackal-headed god) was resolved, there were few conflicts.

In fact, I thought the story could've used more conflict in general. All five people in Thomas's party generally get along great (even when the carny walks in on Thomas sleeping with his wife, there's no conflict--"we have an arrangement"). Everyone is very caring and nice, which is a problem I have with my own characters at times. I would like to have seen more tension: there is some angst at Anubis and Thoth and the others losing their old dominion, but you get very little sense of what it meant for them to have those dominions, apart from a short section in which Anubis reminisces, which was a nice touch.

Thomas's big conflict in the story is "can I sleep with and care for this incredibly hot, nice, sweet, older person who likes me a lot and happens to be of the same gender?" So that sort of limits things right there. I thought it would be interesting to see some of Anubis's struggle when the plot is uncovered, that his longing for his glory days might translate into a yearning to join the other side. But he's too nice, and his friendship/relationship with Thomas is never in doubt.

Since this is self-published, it is worthwhile to take a moment to comment on the publication. Will typeset this book himself, with some lovely art by Heather Bruton, and I have to say the production looks very professional. In the text itself, another editing pass might have helped; I caught several misspellings, grammar issues, and so on. It definitely ranks in the upper tier of self-published works I've seen.

Will has a lot of creative ideas, and this story did keep me engaged and reading to the end. In the end, I felt it remained a "fan story"--the ending has that wish-fulfillment quality that is the hallmark of many fan works, and the ideas aren't as much developed in the service of the story as they are garnishes to a "wouldn't it be cool if a regular guy met and fell in love with Anubis" story. I'd like to see Will exercise his imagination a little more, to think about what it would really be like to have "exotics" in society (a facet unexplored save for some token racism), what the old gods would really be up to (though Neil Gaiman and Bill Willingham have set a rather high bar in that territory, there's no reason the rest of us can't have fun with it), and what pitfalls come about from every kind of relationship. This story shows a lot of potential, and I'm looking forward to seeing what Will comes up with next.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Year, Fresh Start

The vacation really helped. I woke up this morning thinking about the projects I wrote out to accomplish this year and immediately had a pretty good insight into one of them. I did make some resolutions about this year, but you can pretty well guess what they are generically, so I won't bore you with them.

We had a good holiday, going to extremes of nature in Colorado and of "civilization" in Las Vegas. There was skiing and shopping and eating and drinking and family and lots of enjoyment of life. Vegas in particular is a great place to people-watch. Everyone has a story, but it seems like in Vegas we wear our stories much more visibly. Either that, or there are just more people around and so there are more with really interesting stories. Plus, you couldn't ask for a more stimulating setting. Looking for the guy spinning slots for his ten-year-old daughter? The drunk guy on his one vacation of the year yelling at the craps table? The wedding party, the school vacation, the girls who are having a girls' weekend out? Just sit by a bar and watch for an hour or two.

I'm looking forward to a productive 2008--may we all make good on our resolutions, whatever they are.