Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Reason 4,483,764 why I'm so fond of the writing community fostered by Jason Evans and his wife Aine at The Clarity of Night blog: the incredibly wonderful and thoughtful and generous writers...some of whom are hosting an After-Party in appreciation for not just this round but all the contests he's run over the years. My God, has it really been years?!

Stop by and raise a virtual glass.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Now what do you really think?

Part 1

(photo courtesy of The Clarity of Night blog by Jason Evans)

Here's my entry from the Clarity of Night "Elemental" contest. I received lots of lovely feedback, but now what I'm looking for is constructive criticism, anywhere from premise to POV to plot to language use. What are its shortcomings? What could be improved?

For instance, I know I used basic, direct language and sentence structure. Could it/should it have been more poetic? More complex in structure?

Here's another...At least one commenter noticed that I didn't clearly identify the narrator's gender. That was deliberate (and I could explain, if anyone cares), but does that work for you? Would it have been more effective if you knew the narrator was male?

Yet another...There are jumps that might leave the reader unclear about shifts in time and location. Problem?


by Precie

Without warning, the world ended in fire.

Or, at least, there was no warning for my people.

Mother correcting my brother's penmanship before school. Father ordering me to get a haunch of beef from the refrigerator to prepare for the lunch rush.

The lights go out. The ground bucks and waves. Massive slabs of meat buffet me as I try to dodge the barbed hooks clanging around me.

Even after the earth settles, the electricity does not return. When I finally find the door, it does not give. I have no way to tell how much time passes, how much time I spend screaming, pounding at the door. No way to tell how much of the fluid on my hands is blood or tears or excretion, as the smells combine with the rotting carcasses surrounding me.

“You were one of the lucky ones,” I am told over and over by rescuers, by doctors, by other survivors.

I do not feel lucky. How can such an endless nightmare be lucky? Almost nothing is left standing. Ashen remains blend into the rubble.

The emperor will not let this cowardly strike on innocents go unpunished. He will rain an answering fire on our enemies.

I do my part. The Red Cross nurses, foreign and incomprehensible, smile as I sprinkle the oleander blossoms on their desk and lay out the meager feast I have concocted from their rations. They will be the first to burn, from the inside out.


Part 2

(Photo courtesy of

Here's some explication...backstory about a few of my choices, if you will.

  • "without warning"--The first two lines were important to me because that's how the bombing started. Although the US put wheels in motion to inform Japan that the bombing would happen, there were glitches and ultimately no warning was given, certainly not to the people of Hiroshima.
  • oleander--Oleander is poisonous when injested (blossoms, bark, any part of it), but that wasn't the reason I chose it for the story. Initially, the food was poisoned in some unspecified way. BUT...oleander was the first flower to rebloom after the bombing. It wasn't until the spring of 1946. So my timing is a little off...since I intended this to be closer to the actual bombing. Some evergreen trees were only burned in parts, but I don't know if any delicate oleander blossoms would have survived. Anywhooo, you don't need me to spiral into this subject. Just wanted you to know what the oleander meant to me.
Thanks very much for reading.  And thanks in advance for any responses.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Warning: iRant ahead--Love Triangles

I have one hour. Blog or work on WIP? Decisions, decisions. Well, it's been about a week so I'm due for a post...and I am preoccupied so...words beget words, anyway.

Now then:
Why this post exists: I've been reading voraciously lately, as my GoodReads profile attests. There's something very freeing about not limiting myself to "literary" reading. But I happened to read two YA fantasies close together, and their similar use of a particular type of love triangle just plain rubbed me the wrong way. (See below for my disclaimers.)

In both, the girl is strongly attracted to two very different boys, who both have contrasting strongly attractive characteristics. She goes back and forth about who to give her affections to, until she eventually has to decide. Or in one case, she sort of has the decision made for her when one of the boys takes himself out of the equation. Note: I'm using the terminology girl and boy not to belittle but because one of the books I'm talking about actually used those terms.

I have many issues with this particular love triangle trope.

Perhaps one of the things that stands out most for me personally is that it doesn't really work if you flip the genders. A boy equally attracted to two different girls comes across as a player. (I'll grant that, in GREY'S ANATOMY, Owen's brief little triangle is okay with me, but that's because of the way he handles it. And, yes, I watch GREY'S ANATOMY--as much for the Meredith/Christina dynamics as anything else.) What the girls do in these books can be viewed as indecision...weakness. Sure, it can be excused by their youth. But it still bugs me. Relationships aren't like shoes...hmm, which one goes best with this dress? Real relationships are conscious choices, active commitments...not the kind of "Well, gee, he's swell. Oh, wait, he's peachy too. But Boy 1 is so brooding. But Boy 2 is so devoted." Back and forth and back and forth. Ugh.

Disclaimer A: I'm not criticizing all use of love triangles in writing. I see their dramatic purpose. And one of my favorite films is BROADCAST NEWS, which includes what I see as a heartachy version. I root for Man B as the worthy one, yet I'm especially pleased by the resolution in which neither man gets the girl and all live happily ever after anyway. (Sorry if that's a spoiler for anyone!)

Disclaimer B: "Well, she's just bitchy because she's never been in a love triangle." Um, it's true that I've never been the object of affection for two men simultaneously. But that doesn't make me embittered; it makes me grateful. Aside from youthful infatuations, I've been blessed with a clarity of vision in that regard. But I'll admit, maybe I just don't understand the reality of situation. Please, enlighten me. Seriously.

Disclaimer C: Yes, I'm "in a mood." So I reserve the right to disavow this rant at some future point. In fact, I fully expect that my Muse will deliberately throw a love triangle in my way so that I have to eat my words. She's so cruel. (And, in fact, as I write this last disclaimer, she is trying to insert a kind of love triangle into my next WIP, a sequel to the one I'm working on now. Dammit. But at least the heroine is clear about her affections, just not so clear about her marriage prospects.)

So...pardon my rambly rant. If you'd like to share some insights to temper my perspective, please do! And here's something to restore the balance: New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle" (Live)...sorry if there's an ad at the beginning.

"Every time I see you falling / I get down on my knees and pray / waiting for that final moment you'll / say the words that I can't say."

Friday, July 15, 2011


1) My entry in this summer's Clarity of Night contest is now up: "Oleander". Yay! It's my first try at doing a historical fiction piece for CoN, and I really enjoyed composing it. I wonder, though, if I should have woven in one or two more obvious clues to its setting. Eh, it is what it is. And the contest overall is, as usual, most excellent. CoNNNNNNNNN! (shouted in best Captain Kirk voice)

2) My wip is up to 26k (this in about 3 wks). Still fun, although I'm working out some insecurities. And, as I do more reading in the genre, I'm both encouraged by what I can do and discouraged by what I find in other work that I was thinking of for my own. (Just get the shitty first draft done, Precie, and deal with lack of originality later.)

3) And the real focus of this post...I've been thinking recently about antagonists. It's so easy to get caught up in a story that has Serious Bad Guy antagonists like Voldemort (Voldemort, Voldemort, Voldemort--just say it!), President Snow, the secret society of the Illuminati, vicious teenagers, etc, especially when the protagonist spends much of his/her time trying to avoid being killed by said Serious Bad Guys. Such villains make for grab-you-by-the-neck, hold-on-to-your-ass thrills and chills. And I enjoy them as much as anyone. (No, I didn't attend a midnight showing of the last Harry Potter movie...I'll get to it eventually.)

But when I think about the stories that really dig deep, the ones that make me think and make me come back to them again and again, the antagonists I find most noteworthy are characters (or entities--antagonists don't have to be people in the story...they can be situations, like a disease, or entities, like Big Brother) who really are, in some way, heroes. They are just as principled and honorable as the protag, just as admirable, just as committed to making the world a better place, but they ultimately fall short.

Here are two examples of what I mean:

1) Gene Hackman in the film Crimson Tide (1995)

Hackman's character is a US sub commander who receives an interrupted order to fire the sub's nuclear missiles. The protagonist is his First Officer, played by Denzel Washington, who believes they need to restore communications and get confirmation that this is a valid order before proceeding. The situation escalates quickly since the First Officer's insistence is considered mutiny. The submariners pick sides, which is difficult considering both sides have merit and many of them are already loyal to their captain. What makes Hackman's character so compelling to me is that, although the movie blurb calls him a "trigger-happy captain," he's really doing what he sincerely believes is the right thing. If the US has been attacked and that's why communications ended abruptly, then delaying a nuclear strike in the hopes of getting confirmation is futile and wastes valuable time. It's an awful order to have to follow, but he's been trained to make hard decisions. While I wouldn't want to follow that order, he's not wrong in thinking he should. He takes his responsibilities seriously; he's committed; he's highly principled. It just so happens he's wrong about the order.

2) Inspector Javert from Les Miserables

Javert is perhaps my favorite antagonist of all time. He's an officer who doggedly believes in upholding the law and punishing criminals. When protagonist Jean Valjean escapes from prison and begins a new (upstanding) life under an alias, Javert makes it his mission to recapture Valjean and bring him to justice. Like Hackman's character, he's highly principled and committed to his responsibilities. His weakness is his inflexibility--he can't see that criminals like Valjean might be fundamentally good people who were driven to desperate measures. Only when Valjean eventually spares his life (and, while saving young Marius, gives Javert the ability to recapture him after Marius is safe) does Javert have to face the fact that the world isn't so black-and-white. He believes in something bigger than himself; he believes he's doing good. He just doesn't see the complexity of what "good" means.

Those are the kinds of protagonists I want to read about. Those are the kinds of protagonists I want to write. I took an online fiction writing course a few years ago and shared a description of the antagonist from the WIP I was writing at the time--a young Victorian gentleman who, like these characters, was highly dedicated to work, family, and England...and whose primary antagonistic quality was that his ambition to be a rising star in the East India Company conflicted sharply with his wife's do-gooder, social crusader mission. He wasn't a bad person, he wasn't wrong to be ambitious, but he stood in direct opposition to his wife, who happened to be my protagonist. I still remember some of the feedback I got about his character--mainly that he should be more of a Bad Guy. (In response, later in that class, I created/shared a scene in which he almost beat some street urchins for trying to steal brass finishings off his carriage.) I've since set aside that WIP for other reasons, but when I think about that character, I still see him alongside Javert...not a Bad Guy...just one with his heart in the wrong place. And I still resist making him into a Serious Bad Guy...because he just wasn't. what makes a "good" antagonist, do you think? Who are some of your favorite antagonists?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A few announcements...

I don't care if blogs are passe. The sense of community I enjoy in blogland, particularly writers blogland, is a unique pleasure. Here are some of the treasures that I can only find in this realm:

1) CLARITY OF NIGHT - "Elemental" Contest
Jason Evans has been running the Clarity of Night blog (and writing contests) for years now. It's an amazing writing contest and the open, supportive, productive community of writers it fosters is remarkable. Many alums of the CoN contests are now published (or at least agented) authors. MANY. And the width, breadth, variety, and vision of the entries every round are astounding. The current contest opened yesterday and will accept entries for a limited time. I've submitted my entry and can't wait to see the rest.
Go see the contest rules.
Go see the outstanding entries.
Go submit your own.
Go play.

2) HELLO ELLO - Book giveaway: Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris giveaways. Free of the great joys in life. And it includes zombies! Who can resist zombies? PS--I also happen to love Ello's "writerly advice" guest spots. They're all well worth reading.

In other news, my current wip is up to 23K. For me, that's miraculous. I'm afraid my productivity will suffer a bit though because the chunks of unstructured time I had over the past couple of weeks are now gone. I will find the time, and I will be obsessed with details when I can't get my hands on a keyboard, but I'm trying to be realistic with a goal of a 60K rough draft by mid-August. I've never done NaNoWriMo, but I just might try on some metaphorical NaNoWriMo blinders.

Friday, July 1, 2011

So this is what it feels like...

A few years ago, in a flurry of exploratory creative writing, when I had three fledgling novels going in little fits and starts, I marveled at fellow unpubbed writers (like Jen Hendren and Claire Gregory, both of whom now post at the All the World's Our Page blog, and Ellen Oh, who is now rocking a three-book contract with HarperCollins Teen for a YA fantasy set in ancient Korea) whose prodigious word counts seemed almost unreal to me.

Thousands of words a day. On multiple days. In a row. How did they DO that?

I was lucky if I managed 500 words a day, tops. 500 tortured, minutely crafted words. Hence, all three of those WIPs now languish on my thumb drives at 15K or less, after 4 years or more. To be fair to myself, there have been huge chunks of time (mid-August to mid-May, every year for the past couple of years) when I get no creative writing done. But there's still a lot of time unaccounted for.

I know it doesn't help that the intellectual effort of my job functionally shuts down my creative writing for the academic year. But still, 15K in 4 years. Pathetic. (Just referring to myself and my unreasonable self-expectations, here. Anyone else with 15K in 4 years--You go! Rock on!)

So this summer, in a ____ mood, I have decided to try something different. I chose a totally different story idea and direction and genre. I'm giving myself room to only rule for this WIP is that I must finish it.

And lately, I've been granted the precious gift of time. One of the lovely percs of my job is free tuition for both credit and non-credit courses--for me and my immediate family. So Kiddo goes to "camp classes" most mornings, and I have dedicated this week's camp time to writing this shiny new WIP! And it's moving at, for me, a remarkable pace. I've written just over 9K since in 3 days. 9K in 3 days. Compared to 9K in 3 years. I'm trying not to pressure myself into keeping this pace...I'm my own worst enemy, obviously. But I'd also love to have the first draft complete before the fall semester begins...and by complete, I mean around 70K, prior to revision and editing, with a final target of 85K.

But, really, considering my track record, it will be a feat if I manage 50K with a full story arc. (The other 35K can be for minor arcs and detailing that I would deal with in revision.)

I certainly don't want to kill the magic of this little new plaything by overanalyzing, but I think it's going moderately well for a few reasons, all of which are rather inter-related:

1) Playfulness - Unlike my previous literary efforts, it's genre writing, which has some basic conventions/requirements, so when I pause in doubt, I can think about what conventions I might not have captured yet or might want to play with.

2) Freedom from judgment - Unlike my previous literary efforts, I feel I don't have to try so hard this time to be clever and deep and intellectual. This time I just want to FINISH a story and maybe, possibly have some fun doing it. So far, so good.

3) Outlining - Oh, and whaddaya know, this time, after a day of writing, it seemed fitting and sort of natural that I draft a basic outline. In this case, it really does work. I still don't think I could outline litfic well...I'd want those pieces to be more, um, revelatory (wow, that sounds pretentious). But this genre piece seemed to generate an outline all on its own..."Don't forget that this should happen. Don't forget that it needs to include...They should have a hiccup in their path here... Why would he...? What happens whey they...? How can he forgive...? How will she react to...?"

In short--
1) Just write.
2) Don't give up. Maybe just try looking out a different window.
3) Try new things.

That wasn't too "navel-gazing," was it? Carry on.