Wednesday, July 16, 2014

To Sleep, Perchance To Dream

I was talking to a friend the other day about premonitions and how sometimes I'll dream about someone I haven't seen in years, and the next day I'll run into them or hear news about them out of the blue. Not sure what's at work there, but our subconscious mind swims in a strange pool of the unknown. Always working, always processing. And sometimes, when it's not preparing us to meet up with that old high school friend we haven't seen in twenty years, it'll kick out a really great story idea.

The series I'm working on now didn't exactly come to me in a dream, but it was moments after I woke up, not quite awake, not quite asleep, when I got a vision of my main character squared off against a man. I had no idea who she was, what her background was, what the man meant to her. But I couldn't shake the feeling of tension between them. There was a story there, I just needed to flesh it out. I remember feeling almost possessed as I wrote her backstory out in a notebook that morning, not wanting to lose that connection to the dream-like vision.

Apparently this is a rather common happening among writers and other creative types. Probably the most famous story to start out as a dream is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. And there's Stephanie Meyer's Twilight. But director James Cameron also says the Terminator came to him in a fever dream. His vision was of a metallic skeleton emerging from of a fire, red eyes gleaming.

Robert Louis Stevenson is another famous fever-dreamer. While bedridden after suffering from a hemorrhage, his subconscious delivered him a whopper of a plot that would later become the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Per his wife, Fanny:

"In the small hours of one morning,[...]I was awakened by cries of horror from Louis. Thinking he had a nightmare, I awakened him. He said angrily: 'Why did you wake me? I was dreaming a fine bogey tale.' I had awakened him at the first transformation scene." (source)

I can't say I've ever dreamed an entire plot, but I wouldn't say "no" if my subconscious suddenly decided to drop one on me. Seems fevers are great for coming up with outlandish tales. The trick is remembering to write it all down in the morning.

Ever come up with a story based on a dream? Do you think dreams are just the random flutterings of an overactive mind? Or are they the doorway to something more?

Artwork by John Waterhouse

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Summer's Day

                  Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
                  Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
                  Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
                  And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
                  Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
                  And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
                  And every fair from fair sometime declines,
                  By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd;
                  But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
                  Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
                  Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
                  When in eternal lines to time thou growest;
                  So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
                  So long lives this, and this gives life to thee


The opening line to Sonnet 18 is probably one of Shakespeare's most recognizable. Many interpret it as a love poem, as if he is complimenting a woman on her beauty, perhaps wooing her while strolling through a summer garden. But some scholars believe it's actually an ode to Shakespeare's only son, Hamnet, who died at age 11 -- one year before the poem was written. When read in that context, the lines take on the somber tone of a father coming to grips with the loss of a child who died in the summer of his life. Read this famous summer poem again from that angle and see if it doesn't make more sense.

Okay, now that I've snuck in a bit of summer Shakespeare and brought everyone down, it's time for the Songs of Summer! This is a blog hop hosted by The Armchair Squid, Cygnus, and Suze. They (and I) thought it would be fun to share some of our favorite summer songs as everyone kicks back during these lazy days. For anyone not off at the pool or on vacation, here are five of my favorite summer songs for your listening pleasure.

Long Hot Summer by The Style Council (1983)

One of my favs just for the lazy summer tempo, but…oh, dear, another bummer. The song is about screwing up at love. 

Someone, Somewhere, In Summertime by Simple Minds (1982)

This one has been described as "a waltz through a mystical August haze."  Nothing to do with our new smoking laws here in Colorado, I assure you. 

1979 by Smashing Pumpkins (1996)

Not exactly a summer song per se, but it reminds me of my feral teen years, cruising the streets on summer nights with "the headlights pointed at the dawn." 

Summer Breeze by Seals and Croft (1972)

Yes, this is on my list. And, sure, I'm dating myself here, but this was a huge hit when I was a kid. I'll always associate summer with this song. And the harmony has that perfect summer vibe. 

Summertime sung by Ella Fitzgerald (1968)

Finally, I can't think of summer without this Porgy & Bess song running through my mind. For all the American Idol wannabes, this is how you do it. 

Oh, and before I wish you all a great summer weekend, I need to thank Liz Blocker for bestowing upon me the Versatile Blogger award. I'm supposed to come up with seven things about myself that I think you might be interested in. Um…that is difficult to do after more than three years of blogging. Besides, you can tell a lot about a person by the poetry and music they choose to share. That's my theory anyways. :)

What song says summer to you? Any of these songs make your list? Ever heard that theory about sonnet 18? 

Creative Commons photo of flowers by Alice Popkorn


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Insecure Writers: My Dystopian Dilemma

I should be able to wrap up the revision on my WIP this week. That's the good news. Just have a few scenes to clean up, including rewriting my opening pages again, and then it's off to find beta readers. The bad news is it appears while I was writing my novels, the dystopian genre has gone out of fashion again.

I don't really feel like this latest novel is a true dystopian -- even though I suppose it is. The trilogy I'm working on is set in the future, and there's a rebellion against a totalitarian-type government in the first novel, and questions about the balance of freedom and control in a healthy society are prevalent throughout. So, yeah, if I had to put a label on them for an agent, I'd probably have to go with dystopian. And that's not a good thing right now.

According to many in the industry, dystopian is D.E.A.D., overdone because of hugely successful novels like The Hunger Games and Divergent. Which only means it will be that much harder to find an agent yet again. Nothing new there, but it only adds to an already strong headwind -- apparently one rife with the smell of genre roadkill.

Sigh. It bothers me because I don't/didn't write to chase a trend. It's just how the story came out this time. And now all I hear is how hard it is to sell dystopian because of market saturation. Now, if there really are sales numbers to back up the idea that readers are tired of the genre, I don't know. Could be agents and editors are simply sick of working on dystopian stories, while regular readers still want them. In that case, it may just be a matter of finding the right agent/editor who hasn't worked on one in awhile and is keen to find a new one. Who knows. No, really, who knows?!

And, yes, I know Independent publishing is an option, and I'm seriously considering that. But I've always intended to try traditional publishing first. That's just me. So as I prepare to roll out the query letters, I'm feeling a wee bit insecure about any chance of success.

Now, if you would be so kind as to tell me in the comments that none of this matters and story trumps all, I would be most appreciative.*

Anyone ever been caught in a genre dilemma where you had to set something aside until it came back in fashion? Do you think dead means dead or merely sleeping? And should I go broader and refer to the novels as speculative fiction instead? Or maybe I should just call them Fred and be done with it. 

This post is brought to you via the Insecure Writers Support Group, hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Our group is going strong and nowhere near dying off anytime soon. Join us!

*Someone needs a pep talk as she begins to mentally prepare for query battle. :)

Creative Commons photo by Loren Kerns/ mangled by me in iPhoto. 


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Book Lovers Anonymous

Inevitably it happens in every book lover's life that they are forced to look around and admit there may, perhaps, be tomes teetering on every available shelf in the home. Perhaps there are also books stashed under the bed, sofa, and coffee table. Or there might be a small stack growing at a fungal rate in the nook beside the fireplace. At this point some well-meaning person, usually a cohabiter, mildly suggests to the book lover there are *gasp* too many books.

Lately e-readers have come to the rescue in combating this so-called "problem". They aren't my favorite way to read, but I agree they do cut down on the clutter need to find yet more valuable bookshelf real estate. However, if you are among those who still find themselves persecuted for their LOVE OF PAPER BOOKS, there is a possible solution.

Behold the compromise:

That's right, your books will have to start doing double-duty as furniture. It's the only way.

It might not be comfortable, but at least no one will be tripping over The Complete Works of Jane Austen anymore.

And it could open a whole new artistic side in you.

I kind of love this headboard idea actually. 

You might even find yourself thinking beyond the living room and office to discover other space-saving ideas for what to do with all those books. Obviously heavy literary books for winter and light beach reads for the summer wardrobe.

Anyone else have a problem with books taking over? I really don't need to keep them all, just the favorites. So over the years I've given them away at yard sales for fifty cents, or boxed them up and stashed them in the basement. I know some of them could go to schools or charity, but I haven't managed to find a good fit with that yet. Any suggestions?

Flikr creative commons photo by MissMayoi (top)
The rest shamelessly borrowed from the internet. I know. :(

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Wanted: Female-Led Action Stories

I was happily minding my own business yesterday, when I came across this article by Tasha Robinson at The Dissolve. After I read it I was not so happy anymore.

It's an interesting read for fantasy/sci-fi/horror writers, because in it she basically calls out filmmakers and storytellers for their half-assed attempt at including "strong" women in their stories, when all they've really done is continue to make them the same old victims, sidekick love interests, and cheerleaders opposite the "Really Strong Smart Capable Male Character"  -- who still does all the actual saving, winning, and adventure type stuff.

Robinson states that more often than not the "Strong Female Character" description has become nothing more than a marketing ploy for movies. Perhaps on some level it's meant as a positive -- hey, give the girls a character to root for, too.  But if that's the case, GIVE US A CHARACTER TO ROOT FOR! Give us a female whose actions matter to the outcome of the story, and not just by giving the male hero a reason to live through his ordeal. Ugh.

One of the characters the article references is Tauriel in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. She's such a perfect example of how this can be a problem, because she didn't exist in the novel. She was invented solely for the movie as an attempt at inclusion. The token tough female. But, as Robinson notes, here's how her character progression plays out:

"She's capable of killing approximately a billion spiders and orcs with elven archy kung-fu, but she only shows any actual personality when she's swooning over the dwarf Kili, and being swooned over in return by Legolas, in a wearyingly familiar Twilight-esque love triangle."

I know it's difficult to imagine women having interests, talents, and desires outside of attending to men, but it does happen occasionally in real life. Sometimes they even do heroic things all on their onesies.

Obviously this touches a nerve with me. But as you know, I've written two novels so far featuring a female hero, and I've highlighted several women in my Badass Women series who were real life lead characters/heroes. So why aren't more women portrayed this way? Outside of the male-dominated environment of Hollywood filmmaking being a major factor  (which I blogged about here back in 2011), Robinson acknowledges in her article that typically there isn't room for two heroes of equal stature in one story, and yet:

"…for decades, action movies have found ways to let male sidekicks drop back at the climax of a story without dying, disappearing, or waiting at home to offer themselves to the hero to celebrate his victory. Female characters don't have to dominate the story to come across as self-reliant, but they do have to have some sense of purpose."

Amen to that. But I'd go further and ask that we see more female-LED action stories where it's her mission, her agenda, and her life and death stakes on the line. Oh, and, hey, Hollywood, I just happen to have one of those stories right here in my back pocket, if you're man enough to make it. :)

Your thoughts? And tell me who's your favorite female badass on film (such as they are)? I have to say mine is Ellen Ripley in Alien. Bad. Ass. And yet a realistically portrayed woman full of flaws and weaknesses too.