Friday, January 31, 2014

To Catch A Fairy

Note: this little spate of creative writing was inspired by a blog post by my friend Jenny over at  It's an awesome post.  That said, it contains strong adult language.  My own writing, below, also contains strong adult language, so if such a thing offends you then you should probably stop reading now.


Okay, so you said fuck it and continued on.  Excellent.

It was a dark and stormy night, or at least so I imagined.  I was stuck in my office for another late night of work.  I know, "I was sitting at my desk working late into the night" is second only in bad story beginnings to "it was a dark and stormy night," but hey, it is what it is, man.  I gotta begin at the beginning, and hey, at least I'm not boring you with the crappy details of my craptastic week that, to that point, was just completely fucked up.  I'm serious; everything that could've gone wrong had, and those piss-ant circumstances had been joined in their downslide by several things that really couldn't have gone wrong, but did anyway.

Just--crap.  Fuck. Damn.  Shit.

Yep, it was that kind of week.

I was almost done with the report that was the reason for my burning the midnight oil, though.  As soon as I transcribed the pencil-scrawled crap from the worksheets to my computer, to be sent to the boss first thing in the morning, I was headed home, and to hell with reorganizing all the paperwork. I didn't care; I was buzzing.  Two--no, three--maybe six?--coffs of cuppee in me, and I could hear the numbers speaking to me.  I was Flash Gordon and the pencil was my baton.

I was moving so blindingly fast, in fact, that my fuck-up played itself out in painfully slow motion.  My hand clipped the coffee cup on its way past, and somehow the damn thing tipped over.  I watched in both horror and disbelief as the vessel of tepid black liquid flipped itself through a gravitationally impossible maneuver and sprayed said black liquid all over the papers spread so carefully across my desk.

Well, fuck.  One minute I was the prophet of profit margins, and the next I was the janitor of doom, blotting up the ruined spreadsheets with other ruined, wadded up spreadsheets.  Finally I stopped, looking helplessly over my dampened intellectual domain--it was gone, with a capital G.  All of it.  Every single minute of work, lost.

The jacked up state I was in let me see her, though.  I heard, just over my shoulder, a high pitched sniggering sound.  With nearly inhuman speed I whipped my chin up and around, catching the motion of tiny wings out of the corner of my eye.

What the hell?

My exhausted brain struggled to catch up to my caffeine-turbocharged senses as the particulars of the creature I'd caught a glimpse of each came into mental focus, one at a time, like bubbles coming up out of a pot of oatmeal.  I'd seen a female, human-like body.  It had glistening wings that were beating a thousand times faster than should've been possible.  It was--she was--she looked like Tinkerbell, for fuck's sake.  A goddamn fairy, man.  Only, she didn't look exactly like Tinkerbell.  This one had red, spiky hair and fully tattooed arms.  It--she--whatever the hell it was--wore stiletto heels, fishnet stockings, and a black lace teddy.

And it--she--whatever--had just blown me a damn kiss.

I stumbled out of my office, barely managing to hit the light switch on the way out.  Fairy, my ass.  I needed sleep, and profit margins would just have to wait.  I start seeing fairies, it's all over.  It's time to go home, over-medicate myself on alcohol, and watch old episodes of Doctor Who till I pass out and then my alarm clock rings.

I have to admit, I weirded myself out entering my office that next morning.  I stopped at the door and did this hundred and eighty degree eye-flick thing as I flipped the light switch back to "fluorescent overload." 


I cleaned the now-dried coffee up, and printed more spreadsheets.  A quick e-mail to my boss to explain, in the most professional and contrite language possible, that I'd fucked up the night before and wouldn't have his report till a little later, and I was off and running.  Oh, and I also took a moment to thank whatever goddamn deity was listening that it was Friday. 

The day was pretty normal, but that night, as I tried to clean up all the little loose ends so I'd get at least a snipping of a weekend for whatever the fuck I wanted to do for that little slice of time, I saw her again.

This time she turned my computer off.

That's not easy to do, by the way.  My system is corrupted, just like ninety percent of all the computers I've ever seen are.  Sometimes I can't get my computer to shut down properly.  Sometimes I press and hold the power button like I'm supposed to, and the damn thing just sits there and gives me a gaping Windows grin for my ignorance.  Sometimes I have to reach around and pull out the damn power plug--it's that fucked up. 

She, though--and by she, I mean the little fucking flitting fairy thing--zipped by, touched the power button, and the whole thing restarted.  Right in the middle, of course, of my writing the e-mail that I'd been dreading writing all day long--the one about how fucked up my profit margins were heading toward being.

Apparently a fairy that knows it's been spotted doesn't care about more sightings.  She flew out plain as day and, as the computer restarted, held up two of the shapeliest middle fingers I'd ever seen, stuck out her tongue, and then blew me a raspberry.

I grabbed for her in anger, and she tittered as she darted away.  Damn it!

I left.  I was done.  The fucked up week I'd had was so totally screwed that there was nothing I could do to un-fuck it before Monday.  Fuck it.  That's why the good lord above gave us alcohol, right?

Saturday morning I was at my home office computer as usual, and an inspiration washed over me.  Hey, every creature has a weakness, right?  And if a fairy has a weakness, and I can find it and use it, then I can get rid of her, right?

So I--no, don't laugh at me--I Googled "how do I catch a fairy."  I know what you're thinking, and the answer is hell, I don't know.  Sometimes the solution is a simple one, though, and so I took the simplest approach.

Yes, as you probably already figured, I got some of the dumbest responses.  "Don't try to catch them," one site implored, and to that I replied, out loud, "Fuck you."  That little beast was causing me to fail at my job, and I was hell-bent on catching her.  It.  Whatever.

Of course, I read all of the gay jokes.  You can't be serious about catching a fairy without reading about gay bars, and I can't fucking believe I just said that.  Sadly, though, it's true. 

"Just make a trap with fairy food," somebody suggested, and it made me want to strangle the little shazbat.  Fairy food?  What the hell do fairies eat?

Most of the serious--um, I think, anyway--responses had to do with natural environments, but my little fairy wasn't in nature at all.  At least, I don't consider my office to be nature, or natural, or anything else vaguely resembling that word.  It's just an office.

Finally I found one that made sense, in a fantastically fucked-up fairy tale sort of way.  It involved a white and a pink lily, both made super-sticky by a syrup of honey and sugar, and both laid out side by side.  I wanted to punch the florist in the face when he grinned and winked at me over the two lilies, but I eventually got what I wanted from him and drove away, telling myself as I did that some day I'd have to look up what white and pink lilies meant.

Then again, fuck it, I don't really care.  I wanted that damn fairy gone, is all.

That night--Saturday night, it was--I blew off my poker circle and went in to work.  Quietly I turned my computer on and set everything out like I was working.  Then I put the two lilies in the middle of all of it and poured the sweetened honey mixture over them.  Leaving everything exactly the way I'd set it, I walked out and locked the door with the lights still on.

Sunday morning I flew into my office, looking forward to what I'd find.

It was better than I'd hoped.  I was ecstatic to see that right there, in the middle of my desk, was the fairy, stuck to the lilies.

She looked up at me, anger evident in her tiny features.  I looked back down at her, realizing suddenly that I had no idea what the fuck I was gonna do with a fairy.

"Hi," I said.  Okay, that was dorky, but it was the best I had to offer.

"Hi," she replied, her glare still smoldering.

"You're a fairy," I offered.

"No fucking shit, asshole," she said, and then added a whole string of colorful epithets meant for me.

"Hey, now, look, you're the shithead who's been fucking with me and my ability to do my job."

"No shit.  You do know who I am, right?"

"Hmm, no.  The tooth fairy?"

"Fuck you, asshole.  I'm the Fuck-up Fairy.  It's my job to visit people who have a lot of promise and put obstacles in their way to promote positive thinking and creativity.  You, right up to the point where you thought you captured me, showed a lot of promise."

"Thought I captured you?  But the site I read seemed so sure of the white and the pink lilies."

"Of course it did," she said, shaking off her apparent imprisonment and giggling.  "I wrote it.  I love these colors.  But now my job here is done, and it's time for me to leave."

"Wait!" I called, and nearlyl cheered as she stopped.  "Since you're the fuck-up fairy, why don't you go pay a visit to Jones, down the hall?"

She giggled, pulling the two large lily flowers through the air.  She called as she flew out of sight, "I said that I visited people of promise.  That's not Jones, silly." 

The next week, and the weeks following, were much better.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Points of View

People have this strange thing about believing that their opinion is valuable to me.  Especially, you know, when I've asked for it.

I know, I know.  When I ask for an opinion, I should want what I get, right?

Unless it's not what I want, right? 

Okay, I'm being a little facetious, I must admit, mostly for the fun of the word gaming.  Here's the deal: I sent the Elf Queen out to several beta readers.  So far, I've gotten three responses, and despite the gross oversimplification involved I'll summarize: one liked it, one didn't, and one was in the middle. 

It's like I invited the Three Bears to read my book.

Again, I take literary liberties that I shouldn't.  Three Bears is funny but tremendously undervaluing.  All three opinions, though they come from severely different points of view, will be extremely valuable in the revision process.  The two less positive are the more valuable, matter of fact. 

I'm just a little punchy, though, thanks in part to the feedback but mostly due to a stressful week at work.  It's my process, after all, and I'll poke fun at it if I want to. 

The nature of feedback is strange.  Sometimes it's gentle: "Daniel-san, remember, wax on, wax off."  Sometimes it's not; the most memorable feedback I received in my boxing class long ago was when a short guy knocked me flat with a punch to the solar plexus.  Remember that lesson on keeping the elbows in?  Yeah, I'd forgotten it.  Can you guess what lesson I never, ever, forgot again?

Here's the deal, though.  Everybody won't like this book I'm writing.  I know that.  Everybody doesn't have to like this book I'm writing.  Each installation of Harry Potter received 1-star reviews, after all.  Same for Dresden Files, a series by Jim Butcher that has several Bestseller list notches to its credit and at the same time is probably my own personal favorite series. 

So that's fine.  Everybody doesn't have to like it.  But everybody's opinion, especially those of my cherished beta readers (who, remember, I selected because of their own literary chops as well as their taste for my genre), is important.  Whether they love it or hate it, I can't wait to see what the others say.

And speaking of points of view (and still related to this topic), the first person is an interesting one.  I chose to write Elf Queen in first person.  It was a conscious decision, too, based on my desire to make it a powerful coming-of-age and coming-of-power story.  First person has its strengths, and it has its limitations, none of which I need to make this blog post longer to discuss. 

Well, maybe one of them....

Here's what's most interesting to me about first person narration: the main character has so much greater of an impact on the reader's experience than he does in third person POV.  Now, I haven't taken the time to do a serious study of this, though honestly, if I had the time and money to do so, the results would be very interesting.  But I don't have the time, or the money, and so I'll just have to surmise.

Let's take two high-performing fantasy works, Harry Potter and Dresden, and compare.  Harry Potter was written about Harry Potter, and in the third person.  Many people liked the series.  Some, though, didn't.  Most readers liked the main character.  Some didn't.  Reading the reviews, though, there doesn't seem to be much main-character-driven angst among those who disliked the series or the individual books. 

In other words, whether you personally like or dislike Harry Potter seems to have little impact on whether you like or dislike the book series named after him.

Reading the comments on Dresden Files, though, as I have when I've wondered how anybody could give that incredible series a 1-star review, yields a different result.  Because the story is seen entirely through Harry's eyes, the experience of being "with" him becomes the yardstick.  If the reviewer likes the person who Harry Dresden is portrayed to be, he's very likely to rate the story well.  The inverse seems, upon my casual observation, to also be true; most of the negative reviewers don't seem to like Harry as a person.

And no, that's not a bad thing.  Keep in mind that Harry Dresden and Harry Potter are both (fictionally created) people.  Far from a blank slate, each was granted personality strengths and weaknesses and yes, quirks also, by his author.  Honestly, were Harry Potter to come to life, I'd probably shake his hand and smile and move on.  I liked the story, but not so much the person.  Were Harry Dresden to come to life, meanwhile, I'd beg for the opportunity to pull up a seat beside him and buy him a beer. 

Bottom line: I like Harry Dresden, and so I like the story he tells.  Another first person POV narration I purchased a couple of years ago wasn't so lucky.  Though it had won several literary awards, I never really found anything worth pulling up a chair, ordering a beer, and talking about with the main character, and so I didn't enjoy the story she told. 

So back to the story at hand--you know, mine.  I wrote it to have a main character who's every bit as quirky as I am.  More so, even.  The reader who never connected with her didn't like the story, and that's to be expected.  What he gave me for ways to improve the telling of the story was invaluable, though.  The reader who did connect, did love it, and what she gave me to improve it was also worth more than I could possibly pay her.  And the one in the middle?  She gave me the best stuff of all.

Like I said--I can't wait to read the rest of the comments, nor can I wait for it to be widely available.  Got some revisioning to do before that, though....


Monday, January 27, 2014

Boob Armor and Other Anacronisms

I remember watching Xena: Warrior Princess and wondering, ever so briefly as the thought flitted past, how a woman could launch herself into battle wearing that outfit at all, much less without getting skewered somewhere in all that exposed flesh.  Granted, I didn't wonder that often, or for long; most of the time this young man in his 20's was more interested in looking at the exposed flesh than in indulging in questions of realism.  Plot?  Was there a plot to that episode?  Sorry, I didn't notice.

(Xena: Warrior Princess target market: those who have testosterone)

Recently I've seen a few articles floating around that tell of the horrors inherent in the practice of dressing fantasy women up in "boob plate."  If you're into that genre of fiction, you are probably well aware of that practice, right?  If not, here's what you do for the idea: go look Xena up, take her outfit, replace the leather with sturdy steel, and that's pretty much it.  Chain mail bikinis ain't got nuthin' on a well-formed sheet of plate metal, man.

Unfortunately, they're apparently not historically accurate.  Can you believe that?

First bit of proof, for those doubters who still prefer to imagine their busty heroines wrapped up tight in form-hugging shiny plate: no pictures exist of women wearing it from back then.  Granted, no pictures exist of women wearing what we'll just call "regular" plate back then, either.  But surely, if there were a drawing, a portrait, something--anything!--of a woman wearing that, it would tell us what everybody else wore, too, right?

Additionally, those who study warfare claim that boob plate is actually quite dangerous.  Far from drawing a skilled swordsman's eyes off of his female opponent's eyes (where they should be) and blinding him with breasts, they actually do the opposite of what armor's primary job is: specifically, deflecting his sword blows away from her center portion.  Instead, having the curves--um, where they are--is begging for his sword to, for lack of a better term, cleave right between them.

Finally, as one article I saw yesterday continues, the boob plate is quite dangerous in the event of the lady knight falling onto her chest, because that would compress a ridge of steel against her breastbone, thus potentially shattering the fragile bone and cartilage structure.  Now, that would worry me quite a bit, were I in the position to wear such, because you know how often it is that you see women falling right down flat onto their chests.

Then there's the armorsmith's argument.  See, hammering steel into armor is hard work.  (This I know; I've done it, myself.)  You want me to shape it into a leg piece, or a chest piece, fine, because those are necessary to the functioning of the armor.  But now you say that you want me to hammer D cups into it?  Ain't likely to happen, ma'am.  I don't have D cup forms, for one thing, and for another, the steel's more likely to split than to expand that much.  If it were that flexible, it wouldn't be called steel, ma'am.

No, really.  I can't make this up.  People really do argue about this.

And, I have to admit, it's a pretty sound argument.  Boob plate isn't realistic.

So now that that mess is all cleared up, I shall propose that we drop boob plate from our fantasy lore, forsooth and forthwith and all that other forstuff.  Like, as in right now.  It is, after all, entirely unrealistic, and unrealistic things--you know, boob plate, dragons, elves, walking and talking trees--you know who you are over there, Mr. J.R.R.--have no place in fantasy.

Speaking of that, the whole idea of little wrist bands stopping bullets?  Not in real life, buddy.  And a lasso that makes people tell the truth?  Nope.  Gone.  From now on, Wonder Woman can just fly Delta or United.

Finally, all that arguing is over with.  Our fantasy novels and shows will be much more normal and realistic. Now I'm'a gonna go read me a Western, okay?


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Description in Writing

A friend of mine, Carol Tomany, blogged recently about being a "food voyeur."  Well, about her husband being one, anyway.  She talked about him walking through the grocery store, staring at the lamb chops--fresh, not frozen!--and raw oysters and sashimi-grade tuna.  In her picture, she displayed luscious red cherry tomatoes, each ready to burst open with sweet-tart creamy goodness inside your mouth, in a linguini dish with clams. 

Ahh, food porn.

"Food can be quite sexy!" she exclaims at the end, and I find myself breathlessly nodding, mind swept away to my own hours spent in grocery stores.  I've been known to walk up and down the meat aisle three or four times, examining the cuts with each pass.  There's just something about the differences in texture, in marbling, in grain, that makes each different package of pork or beef call out to me:  "Buy me!  Eat me!" they seem to say.  The fish aisle is the same: you know, in your foodie's heart of hearts, that the inhabitants of each different section of the seafood counter has a subtly different flavor and feel in your mouth. 

Not that I'm prejudiced, mind you.  I do the same thing in the fresh veggie aisle.  There's nothing like a pyramid-shaped stack of bell peppers to get me thinking about cutting off their waxy green, red, orange, or yellow tops, stuffing them with goodies like fragrant jasmine rice (or a more earthy long-grain variety, whichever) and well-seasoned ground meat and then baking them in a tangy tomato sauce. 

Apparently I'm not alone.  I mean, yeah, there's also Carol's husband as described in her blog post, a guy I've never met but would obviously have an instant connection with.  But a brief interaction with the sages at tells me that "food voyeur" is a much more common--um, ailment? condition? preference?--than I would've thought.  Man--in the general, genderless sense--can be a visual creature, which is why I've often shared those grocery store aisles with other people.  Oh, we've ignored each other, each hiding in our own little world behind a mask of disinterest, but when you pass the same woman for the third time in front of the same porterhouses, there's no denying the attraction.  No, not to each other.  To food.

What does this have to do with writing, you ask?  No, really--you should ask; otherwise I'll drool over my keyboard all day.  God forbid, in fact, that they ever invent scratch and taste computer monitors, or I'll never get any work done. 

*ahem*  Writing.  Write.  Right.

So as writers we try to describe what needs describing, and only what needs describing, as fully as it needs describing, and not one word more.  Right?  I mean, I once read the first chapter of a book that went from describing a boxing match to describing a lovemaking scene in an office--I kid you not--and it spent several paragraphs in the latter--um, scene--describing the leather couch being used as a stage for the action, more or less.  I couldn't tell you what the second chapter contained, because I didn't read that far.  But all along, while pressing myself to finish the first chapter, I kept asking: why do I care about the leather couch? 

But I've done it, myself.  In the earlier editions of my first book, it started in the kitchen.  I went to great prosaic lengths to make sure the reader knew how much care and diligence the wife, soon to be known as a "protagonist," was using in creation of the family's yummy breakfast sandwiches and lunches, a matter that led to her surprise when her husband, soon to be a supporting character, turned her efforts down for a simple cup of coffee.  I thought it was a rippin' way to start a story.

I was wrong, of course.  That bit has been toned down substantially.  What you'll see now if you read Cataclysm is that the book actually starts where it should: the cataclysm.  It spends a whole lot less time in the kitchen after, though to be honest I can't bring myself to reduce the number of times I talk about my all time favorite vegetable: fried okra.  Sorry, folks, but it's important.  It's crunchy on the outside, and inside it's packed not only with flavor but also with little seed pods that pop open in--.

Oh, right.  Focus, sorry. 

Now, to a foodie, the descriptions of food make a lot of sense.  To others, they don't.  Okay, fine, many say, the heroes ate lunch.  Skip over what they ate and get to the fighting with the ogres.  If you must describe something, talk about how the female fighter's plate mail was formed so nicely and snugly about her ample bosom. 

(more on the so-called "boob plate" later)

It all boils down, it would seem, to a slight modification to an oft-repeated maxim regarding the writing process.  People--writers, would-be-writers, those who have no desire at all to write but want to sound smart about it anyway--say, all the time, "write what you want to read."  Yeah, no.  I mean, sure, write what you want to read; if you don't want to read what you've written, it'll be really hard for anyone else to want to read it either.  But once you've cleared that overall hurdle, keep your general readers in mind while you write for them.  Are you writing for the Food Network?  If so, then talking about the lusciously creamy mozzarella layered between the tart tomato slices and earthy basil leaves the heroes had for lunch is probably a good thing, but if your audience is the wider readership of, say, fantasy, then keep your descriptiveness within the bounds of what those readers have come to expect.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Writing and Marketing

So, it's been a few weeks since I was here last.


Work has been incredibly busy, for one thing.  For another, I had realized how much I still needed to do to get my latest book ready for sale.  Every night I've been reviewing, editing, working on it. 

It's done.

Well, it's mostly done.  I was ecstatic to send it out to my readers yesterday, and I'm really looking forward to their reactions.  As I sat and worked through it today, though, I noticed even more oopsies.

For example--and this one drives me nuts--you know what a manservant is, right?  It's the term for a servant for a man.  Now, more than one man are called "men."  At the same time, more than one servant are called "servants."  Thus, one might think that more than one servant for a man might be manservants, while a servant for more than one man would be menservant, and finally a gaggle of servants for a troupe of gentlemen would be menservants. 



It turns out that the plural of manservant, regardless of how many people being served, is menservants. 

Thus the review copies I sent out: Typos 1, Stephen 0 so far. 

Ah, well.  It's still a good story, I think.  But now it's funny, because the effort changes.  I went from heavy
writing in November, getting Book 2 framed out with plenty of words in it, to heavy revision in December and up till now in January.  Now, I go from heavy revision to heavy marketing, which is a whole different ball of wax.

It's also changed somewhat since I released Cataclysm, and so I have my work cut out for me figuring out how I have my work cut out for me.  Go figure.

I'll keep blogging, through, and in doing so I'll try to put some of the information here to help those who come after.

In any event, since this is the first of the year: Happy 2014!  Hope my words here find everyone happy, safe, and secure.