Wednesday, March 25, 2015

When Mythical Creatures Come Calling

You know this is a dragon-friendly blog, even though the ones I write about these day are mostly of the Welsh variety.

Oh, but we do love mythical creatures, especially when they come visit the local museum. And it just happens to be #MuseumWeek on Twitter (March 23 - 29), which is meant to be a celebration of culture around the world, so my timing is spot on to bring you news of the latest exhibit I went to see.

"Mythical beasts are creatures of the human imagination. They make up a strange fauna, shaped from our hopes and aspirations but much more from our deepest fears. They are the wildlife of the unconscious, a zoo peopled by the shadow-creatures that haunt our dreams."    -- Introduction to The Mythic Bestiary by Tony Allen.*



Who knew a museum dedicated to science and nature would be interested in mythical creatures, but it turns out many of these beasts are rooted in reality. And it was fascinating to see how the natural world intersected with myth and imagination. You couldn't help but sympathize with our ancestors as they attempted to make sense of the unexplained world around them. 



The exhibit began with sea creatures:

Mermaids, of course, are often attributed to porpoise or manatee sightings by sailors who've been away from home for a very long time. What surprised me was how many different cultures share the myth, from Arabia to the Caribbean. 

They also had this lovely creature on display. Supposedly this is the same "Feejee" mermaid trickery P.T. Barnum used as a side-show attraction. It's actually a papermache head stuck on a fish body. 





Release the Kraken! (photo source)


And then there were the land creatures:



Evidence for unicorns comes from the physical proof of, um, well, narwhale tusks, which do look remarkably magical and convincing. 





Researchers have found a fossilized jaw bone that suggests this giant inspiration for King Kong/Bigfoot/The Yeti actually did exist in China 300,000 years ago. This model stood about eight feet tall and scared the crap out of the kids walking by it. Heh.



And not to be outdone, we have our own mythical creatures here in Colorado. Bigfoot still gets the occasional sighting, as do the fur-bearing trout (those mountains are cold in the winter!) and the jackalopes. Methinks a hoaxer's best friend is the taxidermist. 



And let's not forget the beasts of the air:




Oh, this pegasus was stunning against a stormy backdrop. I wants one. 




This giant creature of the air is a Roc. A bird large enough to carry
off an elephant -- or two hobbits and a gray wizard when they find themselves in a tricky situation. Interestingly, there is fossil evidence of very large birds having once existed. The museum had on display a model of an Aepyornis and a real example of one of its enormous eggs.



(source)




And, of course, our favorite dragons were on display. The western version shown above was 17 feet long and had a wingspan of 20 feet. They also had a great Chinese dragon snaking its way along the ceiling, the kind you see in parades. It's easy to see why so many different cultures would have a dragon myth. They do tend to explain all that smoke and fire shooting out of volcanos and why the earth shakes so violently sometimes. 


So that's a small taste of what was on display at the Mythic Creatures Exhibit. And in case you're wondering if these creatures perhaps really DO exist (and of course they do, though in a parallel wizard world, duh), I'll leave you with this popular newspaper ad making the rounds on social media. 





What's your favorite mythical creature? Do you write about them? Talk to them? Feed them? Ride them? Oh, don't we wish. 



*You know I bought this book. I'm the perfect sucker for when they make you exit through the gift shop!
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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Question Of Etiquette For Friends Of The Self-Published

I've been reading a really great book I picked up from Amazon, a physical book not a Kindle download. It's about red wine production, so kind of a niche-ish non-fiction interest. It's research for my current WIP. I love the cover, and the information inside is exactly what I was looking for. It's written in a way that makes the history and process of winemaking read like poetry, art, and magic all in one.

I was immediately drawn in to the book, but little by little I began to notice grammar errors here and there. "Effect" instead of "affect." "A old man" instead of "An old man." A misspelling, a missed apostrophe, things like that. After ten or fifteen pages I'd hit on half a dozen typos. It was then I looked up the publisher and realized the book had been self-published.

Sadly, this isn't the first time I've had an experience like this with a self-published book (and, yes, I know it happens with the big traditional publishers too. I just read Girl on the Train and found a typo. But it was just the one). With some self-publishers, though, it can often be a dozen or more errors. I don't know if it's a matter of people not hiring an editor with the right bona fides, or they're rushing the process, or, as I suspect with this book, the author's confidence in his writing ability was so high he thought he could proofread his own work and everything would be fine.

NOT.

It's rare that anyone can proofread their own writing and catch everything. The subject matter is too familiar. The eye glosses over trouble spots because the brain still reads the sentence the way we intended to write it.

But here's my question for those of you who have self-published (or any published author really). Do you want to be alerted to these types of errors after you've already hit the publish button? Would it be rude to get an email from someone pointing out typos in your published work? Or would you be grateful for the information so you could correct it for future buyers?

I have no experience with Createspace or KDP, so I don't know if it's as easy to fix errors in those files as it is in a Word document. And I'm no grammar nazi at all, but wow does this stuff bother me when I'm reading. If it were me I'd HAVE to fix it immediately. Seems to me it erodes a writer's credibility otherwise.







So what say you self-publishers? Is it rude or helpful to have these sorts of proofreading glitches pointed out? What's the etiquette for this sort of thing? Does it matter if the information comes from a friend, acquaintance, or a stranger? 


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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Dreamer's Bookcase

"A man's bookcase will tell you everything you'll ever need to know about him," my father had told me more than once. "A business-man has business books and a dreamer has novels and books of poetry. Most women like reading about love, and a true revolutionary will have books about the minutiae of overthrowing the oppressor. A person with no books is inconsequential in a modern setting, but a peasant that reads is a prince in waiting."

- An excerpt from Walter Mosley's novel, The Long Fall.

Fellow blogger M.J. Fifield recently shared some of the trials of her upcoming move, including the need to pack up many, many boxes of books. It's the penance we do as bibliophiles. Oh, but what fun she'll have when she finally gets settled in her new home and can put all those beautiful books back out on the shelf.

And, well, it had me wondering about bookshelves and why we set them up the way we do. A glance at the shelves in my living room, the "nice" bookcase set up with visitors in mind, tells me it's not just a matter of lining up all our favorite reads. Emotion can play a part in deciding what book goes on the shelf, too. And that suggests there's something to learn about a person based on the books they choose to display.

Okay, let me just get this one out of the way first. There are certain literary classics on my shelf that I have not read. I admit they are there to show I own them. War and Peace is one. I tried to get through it, I really did, but, nope, never gonna finish that one. Yet there it sits. And I can only assume I leave it there because I want you to know I know it's an important book and it should be in my collection. Yep, now you know that about me. If you ever want to borrow it, there it is. I probably won't even notice if you never return it.

And then there are my Kipling books. It's a two volume set containing Rudyard Kipling's most popular stories. These, too, are only partially read, and one might assume I have them for the same reasons as the Tolstoy. But these books are special to me. They were my grandmother's (published in 1952) and until she passed them on to me a year or two before she died, I did not know I could be mesmerized by The Jungle Book as an adult. But I was. Eventually I'll read the rest.




As I look over the remaining books I've chosen to display, I realize it is often done because they, too, have meaning to me in some way other than just being a good read. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier is my  big "aha" book. You know, the one we all have as a writer that finally convinced us it was time to stop thinking about writing a novel and actually do it. And then there is Angela's Ashes which taught me to tell the truth when I write, even when it's ugly. Neverwhere and Wildwood Dancing convinced me that whimsy is an underrated quality in most fiction. And Wolf Hall showed me that an author can possess Frankensteinian-like powers to reanimate a well-worn story merely by tapping in to the electric beauty of finely crafted words and intelligent observation.

And, of course, on the bottom of my shelf, alongside classic childhood favorites like Little Women and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, tucked beside the research books I've collected over the years on faeries, witches, and fairytales (they have the most beautiful artwork), is the plain brown, tattered cover of Shakespeare's Complete Works. It's the copy I was given on my sixteenth birthday. Not the most expensive or attractive version I own, but a favorite because it still contains my teenage irreverence:


Doodling in class!


So, yes, I believe what we choose to display says a lot about us. Our bookshelves are a reflection of who we are, what we believe in, what we hope for, and what we treasure.


What tales do your bookshelves tell about you?




*The Bookworm by Carl Spitzweg, 1850

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Hellooooo!!!!



Hmm, seems it's been awhile since I've blogged. I have no excuse other than a case of mild burnout with nothing to say paired with a dose of busy life syndrome. But I always miss blogging (and you) when I've been away too long.

So here's some of what I've been up to.

1) Yes, yes, I'm still riding the Query Sidewinder. I've posted this video before (when I had no followers and was querying another project), but it's still so apt at expressing the emotional ups and downs of the agent search:




Poor kid. I know just how you feel:

Yay, a request for a full manuscript!! This is so much fun! Let's do it again!

Damn, another f*%#!$@ rejection! I think I'm going to be sick.

Sigh. But even a roller coaster is forward motion, right? Albeit somewhat circular and on a closed track...and never mind.


2) In more exciting news, we've welcomed a new addition to the family since I've been away. Say hello to Rupert!



Rupert is a right-side drive classic Mini, born in Birmingham, England, 1981. He's named after the actor who played Ron Weasley, of course, because of that beautiful orange hair of his. :)


Rupert Grint

I've mentioned this before in a previous A to Z post, but my family suffers from a sort of Mini Mania. Can't help it. The cars are just so damn adorable.



But because Rupert is thirty-four years old, he's a little temperamental. He didn't quite pass his emissions test, so he's having his carburetor looked at. Apparently we're not the only ones in the area who like British cars, though. Luckily there's a specialty shop nearby that knows how to work on these little guys, so he's in good hands. And he'll be getting lots of TLC in the future as he slowly gets restored to like-new condition. He runs pretty good, but he's a bit of a project car.

My first car as a teenager was an orange Volkswagon Bug, and this little Mini feels very similar on the road -- which may be interpreted as being jarring as heck and perfumed with the odor of gasoline.


3) The other thing I wanted to mention was Outlander. I haven't talked about that book on this blog before have I? Ha! Oh, I was so nervous to watch this. It's my favorite novel, and to see it portrayed on screen…with actors who don't look like the characters in my head…to hear the lines delivered different than how they play in my head…


Men in kilts, ya ken?


But it's pretty good! Has anyone else watched the first eight episodes? I'm behind as usual, so I just got caught up with the series last week. The slow pace is driving me a little nuts, but the costumes and sets are SO stunning. It's captivating to watch, really. And so far it's a fair adaptation of the first book. They've done a decent job of integrating a lot of complicated plot points that go back and forth in time without creating confusion. And that theme song! So beautiful. Give it a listen:




So that's about it for me. I've been revising the second novel in my trilogy to get it and the first one as consistent as possible. And I've slowly been piecing together another Super Secret novel that I'm determined to finish by the end of the year!!!


How about you! How've you been? Any motion sickness lately? Got a favorite new show? 


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Magical Thinking

Cold querying is one of those miserable things that can take over your life, especially if you're prone to obsessing about e-mails and spreadsheets and statistics…gah!

Like anyone else, I've invested so much of myself in my last two novels, living in the character's head for years, that I really want those stories to find a home and succeed, which means I've been focusing on the query process like a fiend. But, you know, outside of learning how to write a decent query letter and revising the opening pages again, a lot of the process is out of my hands in the end.

So, to counter all that soul-sucking madness and get my mind off rejection, I decided to (unofficially) hop on the NaNo wagon. I wanted to write some new and different stuff to distract myself from myself. And, to be honest, it wasn't going very well. Three days in and I'd written the equivalent of the ingredients on the side of a cereal box, and the querying was still making me insane. Which, of course, led to days of despondency. Which, in turn, led to a purposely self-destructive Netflix-watching marathon meant to obliterate any notions of me ever writing again once and for all!!!

Except…

One of the documentaries I put on was pure magic. As I watched, completely enthralled by the subject matter and the passion of the people in it, the story elements of this new project I'd been toying with began to collide in detailed clarity with the documentary. That missing je ne sais quoi the story was missing zinged my antennae with full force, and before the show was even over I was furiously writing pages and pages of notes full of conflict and saucy characters. And, bam! Just like that, I'm in love with words again and a new story.

I am sufficiently distracted.

Finding an idea that you know has the legs to go the distance for a novel is the best feeling ever. It's the drug that keeps writers hooked on words. But it can also be a precarious moment. We have to be very careful not to let that enthusiasm rob us of our magic while the idea is still young and undeveloped. There's something very special about protecting a good idea and nurturing it until it grows the wings to fly on its own. For a writer it's a time of precious, magical thinking, and it's worth any number of rejections that may come later.



Mischief managed.


Do you feel protective of your new ideas? Do you ever feel like you'll lose the story if you talk about it out loud? Or maybe you get inspiration from talking out your ideas with others?


For further reading, here's a great BBC News article Suze brought to my attention: Top 10 Tips For Being a Best Selling Author. #4 is particularly relevant to this post. :)




Flickr Creative Commons photo by Caroline.

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