Monday, February 19, 2007

Follow-up To Last Tuesday

It's a small world, and the Internet has made it even smaller. Over the past few years since I first explored the web, I've corresponded with all sorts of people I might not have met otherwise. Last Tuesday the world shrank a little more, in a good way.

I mentioned a book by William Brohaugh called "Write Tight." The next day I was greatly surprised and thrilled to see that the author had noticed the mention in this blog and responded with some great news. His comments are below in bold:

Kathy, thank you for the kind and humbling comments about Write Tight. I know the author well because, um, well, I'm the author.

Write Tight is not out of print (ISI Books is the current publisher), though availability seems a mite scarce at the moment.

Good news: Especially because of your enthusiasm for the book, I'm excited to announce (and yes, this is, to the best of my knowledge, the first place it's been annnounced) that Write Tight will be coming out in paperback soon--schedule at the moment is fall 2007.

Good luck in your writing, and thanks again for your kind nod to Write Tight.

There you go, folks; you heard it here! To find out more about this great editor and author, check out his website.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Fact Checking

I just saw a made-for-TV movie based on a popular author's romance novel. It was set in Montana on a ranch. What bothered me was the way they portrayed the people--a bunch of cowboy-hat-wearing "westerners". Why do people tend to perceive Montana as being so very primitive and hokey? Montana has relatively few stereotypical cowboy types. Sure, there are a few here and there, but you can find "cowboys" in every state. I grew up in Montana and then went to college there. We didn't speak with a weird variation on the Texas twang. Most of us didn't wear plaid or checkered shirts, cowboy hats and cowboy boots. Blue jeans, sure, but with athletic shoes and any variety of shirt, blouse or sweater. I hate to disillusion anyone, but Montana isn't the last bastion of the Old West. Most Montana citizens (or former citizens) speak with a Dan Rather accent, not any variety of a southern drawl. Our belt buckles are usually not any larger than anyone else's--when we wear belts at all. Sometimes people have similar perceptions of Idaho. But neither Idaho nor Montana is really the "West". We're really part of the Northwest region, and the culture and accent doesn't vary that much between Boise, Portland, Seattle, and Missoula. If you go as far as L.A. you'll get a vastly different culture, but L.A. is kind of a law unto itself.

When I moved from Montana to Idaho, I didn't experience any type of culture shock. Nor do I experience it when I visit Oregon or Washington. The cultures are pretty similar in all four states. But I never read stories where people from Oregon or Washington are portrayed as gun-toting, boot-wearing, twang-speaking cowboys. No, that dubious honor seems to be reserved for Montana and sometimes Idaho.

I'm writing urban fantasy set in Ireland. I've done my level best to make my portrayal of Irish people as real-seeming and accurate as possible. I don't write in an exaggerated brogue. I communicate with Irish people via email to try to make everyday details as accurate as possible. I hope to have a native Irish reader if I ever get as far as sending out ARCs for Pale. I've actually been to Ireland, which helps. I've tried hard to avoid making stupid cultural mistakes in the novel. I'd hope anyone writing about a place they don't know much about would make a similar effort.

One of the reasons Patricia Briggs's Mercy Thompson books ring so true with regard to places and life in the Tri-cities is because Patty has actually lived there. It was a joy to read in the Mercy books about places I'd visited many times and know that the author got it right. When I watched the romance novel movie set in Montana, I couldn't help wondering whether the people who'd written the script had ever even been there.

This is not to say that in order to write about a place, you have to go there. But I do think that at least a little research is in order. If you can't go to the place you're writing about, you can watch a few video documentaries on the place, read a few books, or find a correspondent who lives there and will answer your specific questions about the area and culture. The realism it gives to your book should be well worth the extra time and effort.

Culture differences are funny. Once in a while, my agent will ask a question or say something that I don't know how to answer or interpret. Sometimes I make a comment that amuses him. Most of it is simply me being a dork, though some of it is probably due to small regional differences in the language or culture. But hey, he's been to Boise! It isn't just a dot on a map. One day, I need to visit New York City because I've never been there. I have a friend who lives "back east", and she kisses people on the cheek as a greeting. We don't tend to do that so much over here, so I'm a little awkward at it, but I'm getting better. Most of this is about taking the effort to learn about other people's cultures, habits and etiquette. How hard is that? It doesn't take so very much extra effort, it makes people happy, and helps avoid offending people out of ignorance. Shouldn't it be the same when writing books or movie scripts?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

E-Prime and Writing Tight

I've seen a few discussions on various forums about the technique of writing in E-Prime. I must confess, I'd never heard of it until a couple of days ago. It sounded like the name of a planet! (Says the blonde who's not really blonde.) For everyone who's not a linguist or a sci-fi geek, E-Prime is actually a method of writing which removes all the forms of "to be". It's harder than it looks, given the many forms that "to be" can take. It also recommends against using contractions, but I don't think modern dialog sounds right without them. So how can one tighten prose while keeping that "real life" flavor and not starting to sound like Commander Data?

When I finish a manuscript--I think I've mentioned this before--I go through and try to remove as many instances of "ing", "ly", "and", "as" and "was" as possible. Over the past couple of years, I've almost broken myself of the frequent use of "ly" adverbs, so I almost don't have to check for them anymore. When I do have an "ly" lapse, it usually occurs in a cluster; I'm not sure why. I don't remove every "ly,", just enough so they're not used in excess. I'm also down to a minimal use of "ing" verbs as well. I do notice that when I take out "ing" words, I tend to reform the sentence into a compound one, which often requires the use of "and." And it really bothers me when I see "and" peppered over my page, and I feel compelled to remove as many of them as possible, which often results in a few of my "ing's" being added back into the mix. It's just like a good recipe. Too much or too little of one type of spice and you spoil the soup, so it makes sense to taste as you go along.

Bottom line: I'm picky about polish. I go through and highlight all the offending words so I can see how thickly they're scattered onto my page. Each pass nixes at least a few of the offenders so that by the time I'm done, I've removed at least a third to half of them. With any luck, I've left the ones that really help the prose flow the right way. I don't use E-Prime to such an extent that there are no "to be" verbs left in my...ah...verbiage. E-Prime might make some writing easier to read, but it can also change the original meaning of a sentence. There's a time for more active verbs, but there's also a time to simply ignore the rules and It's the writer's job to know when to do what.

For anyone looking for a good instructional book on how to tighten up your writing, I can recommend William Brohaugh's "Write Tight". Sadly, it's out of print, but you can probably still get a used copy through Amazon's marketplace. With such tough markets out there, I can't imagine why any writer--aspiring or otherwise--might not want to clean up her prose and give a manuscript just that much more of an edge. It's not about perfection (which I doubt exists anyway), but it is about being thorough, professional, concise, fast-paced and reader-friendly.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Existential Nightmare

Okay, so I'm trying to write urban fantasy. No problem so far. Then I spent three nights surfing the web for info on how an immortal might become mortal, and it snowballed into an existential nightmare. I blogged about it, using up about an hour for composition time. Then Blogger lost the entirety of the post. I can't get it back, so I'll try to recreate it, though it won't be the same. Never is, dang it! But hey, even if the post isn't here in exactly the same form, it did and still does exist. Take that.

The bulk of the information online seems to agree that most immortals wouldn't even want to consider becoming mortal, but if they did then the only method seems to be incarnation into a physical body, such as becoming a baby. Not much info there. However, there was plenty of info about the attempts of mortals to become immortal. The sticky part is that it all depends on your definition of mortal.

Enter a group of scientists who contributed to a recent article in Time magazine, claiming that every facet of consciousness can be linked to neuron and synapse activity in the brain. According to them, no brain activity = no consciousness = no soul. Personally, I believe they're wrong, wrong, wrong, but I won't know for sure until I die and I'm not in a hurry for that.

If we take the above theory but assume that souls do in fact exist, then it would follow that the traditionally accepted "immortals" like vamps, mermaids, and fae are actually the mortals since they supposedly have no souls, while the "mortal" humans are in fact the immortals since we supposedly have souls.

See what I mean by existential nightmare? And all I wanted was to find a way for an immortal to become mortal. Or rather, I wanted to find a way for a non-corporeal being to become corporeal rather than by incarnation as a baby. And immortal vs mortal is different than non-corporeal vs corporeal, apparently. Arrghhh!!!

Then I went to see Pan's Labyrinth, and it provided as many potential questions as it did answers. If you like dark fantasy, go see it but be aware that it's rated R and when I say dark I mean dark. Also, don't forget the subtitles. It's all in Spanish.

As to the prevalent historical theories: Personally, I always hated the assumption that Sidhe don't have souls. It just doesn't play well with the way I view the Sidhe. But I don't want to get into any fights or flame wars over who does and doesn't have a soul. Fortunately, we all have different neurons and synapses, and different opinions. If we didn't, there wouldn't be much of a point to existence in the first place. As far as I know, I am a soul and I currently have a body. That'll have to do for now.