Thursday, September 29, 2011


An author I admire recently went on a rant on his blog about the way literature classes are taught and how in-depth analysis ruins reading, and the best way to write was to write without thought of theme or subtext - just to get the story out.

There's some merit to his points: over-analysis can make a lot of people tune out, and spending all day on one comma is an utterly ridiculous waste of time. But it's fun to insert layers of meaning deliberately. Writers can't help putting in a lot of their world view in their writing, which is part of what makes books like Lullabies For Little Criminals fascinating to read.

If a writer is used to reading analytically and approaches writing similarly, then they can insert the ideas they want into the piece, deciding themes and motifs actively as opposed to letting them rise naturally from the story if they arise at all. Neither technique is superior, but having the training in literary analysis necessary for it to be a deliberate process is not a bad thing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

By The Time You See This, It Will Be Out Of Date

But it's a fascinating speech, so you should read it anyway. Ben Hammersley spoke to the IAAC a couple weeks ago about, among other things, how we're becoming increasingly comfortable trading personal information for personal service.

I was going to post about that, but already had my blog for that week finished, and wanted to sleep rather than double-post and not have anything lined up for the next week. Which got me thinking about the length of time it takes to get a book from concept to reader.

Aside from the time it takes to actually write a book, it takes a while to produce. If it's a first book, there's finding a publisher and that whole process, but even if you have a publisher and a deal, there is the editing process, the design, the cover, any pre-launch marketing and the arranging of launches and signings, and the printing time itself. So even if a reader picks up a book as soon as it is available, there's still a lag time of, usually, several months.

This can lead to a bit of a disconnect. I find myself slightly confused when I pick up ostensibly modern mainstream fiction and characters aren't visibly using cell phones, or all their phones do is call people: and this is as someone who does not own a cell phone. That's just on the narrowest scale, though. The television show Combat Hospital is explicitly dated 2006, which gives the writers plenty of time to research what exactly is going on before trying to translate it to an audience, but also keeps the audience reminded that this is not supposed to be real-time, so there's no subconscious expectation of the things we see about the Middle East on the news to be reflected in developments on the show.

The second part of that is most relevant to what I'm trying to get at: in 2001, all the books that came out that fall that were set in New York had major discrepancies. It's a problem that authors will continue to face as the world insists on changing, and there aren't any really neat solutions. Dating everything gets tedious, and never lets the reader feel they're reading anything truly modern, and trying to push through faster publishing turnaround leads almost inevitably to more mistakes in production. Narrow scope works well, but leaves one with, well, narrowed scope. Jim Butcher's Dresden Files gets around rapidly evolving technology by having a main character who destroys technology by his mere presence, which leaves a narrative vaguely disconnected from the present. It works, as the world is full of magic and vampires and things that go bump in the night, but I think it says a lot about either technology and society or my particular technological addiction that the lack of cell phone stands out more than the rampaging werewolves.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Study of Scarlet

I recently found the 2010 BBC series Sherlock and was captivated. Mysteries! Explosions! Literary references!

Oh, right, I hadn't read the books. Should probably remedy that.

And that is how I found, which has all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, including year of release, for free.

Reading A Study In Scarlet was fascinating. I am accustomed, with classic works, to having to slip into a peculiar mindset where the odd paragraph breaks and turns of speech don't make me want to claw my own eyes out (when I do manage it, I tend to really enjoy them, but it took me three tries to get past the first chapter of Jane Eyre, and then I read it all in one fell swoop). But Sir Doyle wrote late enough in the nineteenth century that a lot of the literary customs that drive me up the wall had passed out of style, so there were no stylistic barriers between me and his fantastic storytelling.

The abrupt shift in the middle to telling a completely different story confused me at first, but amused me when reframed as the sepia-toned recreations common on crime-solving shows. His opinions of the geography of the central US aside, it was a fantastic read, and I am going to continue to enjoy the originals as I wait for season two of BBC's Sherlock.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Guest Post: Patrick Thunstrom

While I'm on vacation, my friend Patrick Thunstrom of A Digital Magician has generously provided a guest post.

Not content to focus on just the present, Patrick Thunstrom is always thinking about the past and dreaming of the future. He writes speculative fiction to examine ways to fix the problems he sees around him. When he's not lost in his dreams, he explores games with friends and family, occasionally turning his creative skills to game design.

You can follow him at his blog, or on Google+ and Twitter.

One of the most useful tools available to a writer is the writing group. They might be critique partners, dedicated beta readers, or just cheer leaders. The key point is the writing group is positive peer pressure to keep up your work.

As the world became more and more connected, writing groups have changed. Locally, I’ve had a lot of trouble finding a writing group whose goals and outlooks were similar enough to mine to be able to help me reach them. Thanks to the Internet, though, I’ve found a number of good groups that I’ve stuck with for a time and moved on when we were no longer compatible.

This evolution is great for writers, since these virtual writers groups aren’t bound by locality, they can take many different forms, and base their organization on other things.

Google+ has produced a new evolution in the concept of the ‘write in.’ Instead of meeting at a coffee shop or library, a group of writers can use the Hangouts feature to meet via video conference to chat and write.

I’ve been a participant in such a Hangout, led by Jason Sanford. The meeting is three days a week, and the writers interested log in to the Hangout and we chat for ten to twenty minutes, then it’s a collective writing session for the rest of the hour.

It’s a brilliant use of time, as it incorporates a natural task batching with breaks built in. The other thing about it, that really seems to drive everyone’s productivity, is that because it’s a video conference, you can see everyone working, and hear the sound of others keyboards flying.

In my experience, these chats have almost doubled my minute to minute productivity, which is absolutely wonderful for me!

I’d encourage everyone to try a Hangout write in sometime, whether it’s a NaNoWriMo, Camp NaNo, or just a bunch of like-minded writers doing their thing. I promise, you’ll enjoy it.