Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reading what Resonates

So, a month ago (after I finished my edits/re-writes on Project #2), I posted a list of books I had waiting on my Kindle to read while on holidays.

I finished the list and then some. Actually, part way through the list I got distracted, bought another few books, read those, then went back to my original list.

I just finished 'The Knife of Never Letting Go' by Patrick Ness last weekend. As soon as I read the last page, I hopped onto my laptop and bought the second two books in the trilogy. Until that moment, I didn't even know it was part of a trilogy. To be honest, knowing a book is part of a series or a trilogy actually kinda turns me off, for reasons I might go into at a later date.

Out of all those books I've read in the last month, only four made it onto my 'what I read and love' list in the side panel of my blog. That's a less than 40% *love*.

...and by that, I mean less than half the books really resonated with me. Sometimes I don't even know why in particular I connect strongly with a book... but I can recognize it. When I'm reading a book like that, I don't once think of the writing. I get so drawn in I just keep reading and reading. I lose track of time and if I have to put it down and go out/interact with people, I'm really only there in body... my mind is back on the book and I won't remember a single conversation until I have finished the very last page.

'The Knife of Never Letting Go' was such a book for me. I can't explain why I liked it so much, I can just recognize the intense drive I felt to finish it, to know what happened... and after my brief flash of anger at realizing it wasn't a self-contained book, I bought the last two immediately. I already know that if the second book is terrible, I will still read the third to find out the ending... that's how strong I feel the pull of this book.

I think it's easier to put a finger on what doesn't work... what technical and aesthetic points will throw up hurdles and make the word jolt and clunk and disconnect.

To use one of those classic books where that happened... 'Ender's Game', and I can point out exactly why. When the story was in Ender's perspective, I was totally absorbed, but the problem was whenever it swapped out to the generals vaguely talking about their plans and about Ender. The dialogue felt so insincere and unrealistic, specifically because it seemed to be intentionally holding information back from the reader which would make me irritated. Every single time it swapped perspectives, I would get jolted back to reality and remember I was reading a book. Just words on a page. Characters. Plot points. Growth arcs. Scripted emotion rising and falling to slowly build until the climax.

What are some of the things that bother you in books you read? Are there certain plot devices or character types that set you off? Or is it things like unrealistic dialogue, whether it seems to be not-in-character, overly snarky, sickeningly sappy or lines that make the character seem too dumb to still be alive?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Don't mock me

Okay, I admit it... I'm watching Tangled (the Disney movie) for like the dozenth time.

I re-watch movies a lot... especially animations. I love watching the sub-characters and concentrating on what they're up to in the background while the main characters are living their own tale.

Books too, I'm a re-reader. The main reason is because, not only am I a speed reader, but 'cause I'm dyslexic, I tend to miss stuff the first time around. I like to re-read, 'cause I always find something new and interesting... just like re-watching an animation to concentrate on the background things. Seriously, I'm even curious about the effects like leaves, water, grass, etc. 'cause every tiny seemingly insignificant element, movement or object are deliberate, unlike live action where there can be unexpected variables.

So that's all fine and good, but what does this have to do with writing? 'Cause you know I'll inevitably lead it back to that...

Well, I'm very interested in the re-read potential of the stories I write.

Okay, that sentence sounds a little weird, but it's still true.

Like 'easter eggs' on a dvd, I like learning about little details that authors intentionally put in their writing, 'cause it's normal for people to attach significance to certain things. It not only helps you remember facts, but it plays a large part in organizing your world-view, and therefore, the way someone writes. And it's always different for everyone.

Two things in my writing that are always more than what they seem are colours and numbers.

As a personal tidbit, I'm particularly fond of the number thirteen 'cause it's my birthdate :) month, actually, which is why I also have a special place in my heart for the number nine, outside of the fact that √9 = 3, so 9 is a square number. Thirteen is also the most classic unlucky number, which revs my under-dog spirit into overdrive. I get particularly excited/hyper when my birthday falls on a Friday the 13th.

Is it weird that a dyslexic person is so interested in numbers? Probably... because I suck at math. Yup, it's the second lowest grade I ever received in school (the lowest being French). Languages and math are the two subjects that, no matter what I did, no matter how hard I worked or memorized lectures, I could not overcome my disability. And that's why they have special significance. The two subjects I couldn't find a work-around for. French, I re-took in University. I couldn't gradate with an Honours degree without having a second language, and I succeeded at that. Well, barely. Math... well, I had to claim it in a different way. So as a result, numbers always show up in my stories.

In Project #1, everything important is tied to a prime number (sorry I'm such a nerd). Prime numbers mean the world makes sense, so when there isn't a prime number, it's like a subtle hint. Thirteen columns, five compass points, four wings in a school, all the numbers are what they are for a very specific reason. Nothing is simply a number chosen by random.

In Project #2, the main superstition of the glass city is tied to Phi (the number which is used to calculate a spiral which occurs in nature, like a spiral seashell). In Project #3, the repetition of the number two is very important to the final *reveal* (which I only figured out last week).

As for colours, grey shows up numerous times (okay, I know grey is not technically a colour), as does red... but I'm not going to reveal my thoughts on those two colours. In the strange inner-workings of my brain, yellow and green are *happy colours*, orange is calming and blue hypes me up. Black is a colour of wildness & passion. White is not a colour of purity... rather, it is a blank canvas waiting to take on the appropriate colour(s). Take that as you may, and if you've read my SSS page (or the individual SSS posts), the fact that Faith wears a white nightgown is not by chance. That the floor tiles in her room are alternating grey and red, is also not by chance. Her bedroom door is also grey. Red and grey also show up in Project #3 along with yellow. Yellow and green are of special significance in Project #1, as are red and white (in that specific combination).

A single number or a single colour can pack a huge amount of significance into seemingly unimportant line of description.

There are many key things I add into my writing, sometimes intentionally, and sometimes they just appear without prior planning. The way I view colour often determines my character's hair colours, as does my obsession with numbers plays a key role in setting, world building or significant points in a character's life. I always love it when a particularly devoted reader picks up on the repetition/importance of these things, just like I love discovering new layers when I re-read a book or watch a movie, though I doubt anyone would pick up on the prime number thing (or much of the other stuff) if I didn't mentioned it. Oh well, at least I'm having fun, right?

I'm curious, what items/things do you wrap with significance in your own writing?

...and yes, I'm aware I'm a little bit crazy.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday 11

Good morning, SSS participants! It's the last Sunday in August, so hopefully everyone is soaking up the last moments of vacation and relaxation.

Double thanks for those who leave comments, especially those who point out where I've made a poor choices in words or grammar.... c'mon, you know you want to...

So last time, things started to fall apart for our friend Simon. He touched Faith's hair, then when she freaked out, he apologized and... here's the next six:

Simon’s hands were up like a shield. Muscles taut, he shifted back and forth on his feet, fighting the urge to run and the equally strong urge to step closer, to use his hands and his voice to soothe her like he would his brother. But it was soon clear that Faith would not be calmed. As her pale cheeks flushed purple with blood and fury, Simon clamped his hands over his ears and fled. He shoved Hector into the hall and slid the door shut. Almost immediately the noise stopped.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A piece of the puzzle

Since I mentioned my progress on Project #3 last time, I thought I'd taunt tempt you with a small piece of of the puzzle. This will happen somewhere around the 2/3 point in the story. It would be important to mention that up until this time, Alexander has never touched Mari or Seth. Oh, and Seth always stutters. I have no idea if I'm formatting his stutter correctly or not.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Chasing metaphoric shadows

So, a few weeks ago, I had a brief flicker of understanding regarding Mari and Seth from Project #3.

The night I got home from my vacation, I only got a couple hours sleep because strange thoughts kept circling around. There was nothing specific, no opening of the heavens, no eureka moment, in fact nothing about this story was in the foreground of my brain.

All I know is I woke up Saturday morning and wanted to write. Had to write. Didn't even know what story I was going to work on, or if words would even come out, but there was a clog in my head and I knew if I didn't get it out, I would have an aneurysm (no, not literally). It's like there's a lot of white noise in my head... does that make sense?

So, I mulled over which story to open, and ended up choosing Project #3. Still with no idea where I was going, I just started writing and 883 words into a new scene, a jumble of pieces suddenly fell into place.

And I felt like hitting myself in the head and going, 'Duh'. Why do numbers and colours always have such significance in my stories? I *know* things are specific colours or numbers with such certainty, yet I have to trust that things will make sense later... when I write one more chapter, one more scene, one more sentence. I didn't know why Seth's glasses and Mari's pig-tails are so important. Two and two. Duh and duh. Mari's dress is red, her hair is yellow, Seth wears all grey clothes. Red, yellow, grey. Duh, duh, duh.

From the very beginning, Seth and Mari's appearances were lit up, like in Technicolor, even though I had no clue what the main character looked like, and still don't.

I feel like I'm chasing shadows in my head. The words that come out on the page are what happens when I race after an elusive silhouette and try to figure out why it looks familiar, why I feel like I should know what it is and where it came from... and only after a marathon, do I recognize it. The shape of my own head, my own brain, my own body. The numbers I see the world in, the colours that stain my own memories.


<slaps self upside the head>


Okay, back to writing. When the writing is done, the white noise in my head will stop and I'll be able to sleep again... for now...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Writers' Platform Building Campaign

How fun is this?


Rachael Harrie's starting her third Writers' Platform-Building Campaign!

Here's the short version of what it's about:

"...the Campaign is a way to link those of us in the writing community together with the aim of helping to build our online platforms. The Campaigners are all bloggers in a similar position, who genuinely want to pay it forward, make connections and friends within the writing community, and help build each others’ online platforms while at the same time building theirs."

...and since I started this blog in the first place to find like-minded people with curious and interesting things to write about, this seems like an absolutely fabulous thing!

Go check out the link and read all about it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Architecture and Scale

I'm now back from my holiday and, while catching up on my reading, I found this post not only interesting, but considering I posted a week's work of drawing related stuff, kinda fitting.

I've mentioned before I'm a pantser. I write to find the story. If I knew the ending before I started, well, then I wouldn't have to write it, would I?

Is that strange?

Well, in all my animation classwork, I was the same way. Guidelines were always pretty loose as long as you fulfilled the criteria, and often I would get so involved with a tiny, insignificant project, I'd end up running full-steam ahead (like usual) and tripping myself up with deadlines... like turning a 5 second squash & stretch (to show weight) assignment into a 20 second clip... thereby quadrupling the amount of work I had to do in the same short amount of time. Don't you think a pair of underwear dancing across a bedroom floor is way more interesting then a sack of flour simply walking across the screen?

But scale is important. Understanding the scope of the world, the story and the characters is as important as understanding which word is *appropriate* to use in a line of dialogue or description. A ten-year-old kid isn't going to be thinking works like 'effervescence' while watching a chemical (or magic?) reaction in a flask, even if that is the *correct* word to describe what's going on.

The problem with my dancing underwear animation was that I didn't understand scale at the time. Sure, my animation was like four or five times longer than my classmates, it was original and it made everyone laugh, but because I overextended myself, the overall quality was low. Some movements were too slow, some too fast, and in animation, even though every movement is exaggerated, it still has to look real or you won't get that suspension of disbelief. In a story, it's the same thing. If a line of dialogue or action seems unrealistic, the reader is going to notice it's just words on a page, just like badly timed movements will ultimately reduce a g-string doing the tango with a pair of boxer shorts to a blur of clumsy pencil lines.

That's what happens when you lose perspective and concentrate too much on one aspect... you sacrifice other parts and you end up with a lower quality piece in the end. Every writer naturally has things that come easy and things that come hard. All of us are imbalanced, and our stories reflect this.

Go read that article and think about your own story. Have you skimmed over things like setting 'cause you like writing dialogue? Do all your character's voices sound the same? Are they using appropriate words when they speak? How is your timeline, do things happen realistically slow/fast depending on the action or situation? Are there 50 references in the first ten pages describing what your two main characters look like, but do they inhabit a *white-room* world? If you can't dig into your story and find your own weaknesses, find a beta-reader who will.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday 10

I finally made it to 10!! ...despite the 2 week hiatus...

Welcome back all you SSS participants! I'm excited to go back and catch up on what I missed. If you've been following along, I've been building tension... but since it's been a while, you might want a link reminder of what happened last time (or check out the SSS tab at the top of the page to read from the beginning), this next selection is where things start to blow up in Simon's face:

As his fingers touched a loose curl, Faith whirled around, her hands clenched as she beat him away.
It was more of a shriek than a word and in an instant the breakfast tray had been flipped by her flailing limbs. Clams, broth, tea and broken dishes were everywhere and her voice was rising higher and louder until it was simply an ear-splitting wail.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry, little princess!”

Friday, August 19, 2011

Something a little different 3

Okay, this last post is going to be a bit of a hodge-podge, and by the time it goes up, I should be home from my little vacation.

By the way, if you double-click any of these (or the previous posted ones) you can see them full size. If you do that, you can totally tell which ones I kept the original pencil lines and which ones I re-drew in Photoshop (if you're interested in that kind of nerdy thing).

Since I use the black cat as my profile picture , here's a *visual interpretation* of what I look like. My hair is naturally blonde and every two-three years I get it hacked off until it's only about an inch long at the back. I do this 'cause I donate my hair to the Wigs for Kids program, and they need a minimum of 10-12" to make a wig. Right now it's nearly long enough to cut. I'll probably do it in the fall sometime before the static-y winter weather causes my hair to devour my head.

 To graduate from the Classical Animation Masters Program, each student had to complete a 1.5 minute short animation. These are some sketches from when I was working out the main character in my short. The final product looked a little different, but these are from when I was getting close. Instead of telling a story, I animated the siamese kitten playing with a catnip mouse, and the whole thing was timed to the *diva* song from The Fifth Element.
 One of the many assignments... this was from a Character Design class where we had to design a villain. Now, I'm not much for the evil-dark-lord wanting to take over the universe, so mine was a computer nerd named Kraig who would use his evil knowledge of technology to try to take over the school. I had fun. I still love his buggy fish eyes and his weird jowls. And the fact that when he stands, it looks like he's got a stick up his butt. Oh, his nemesis was a skater-chick who had similarly strange hair. I did a short animation (like, 10 seconds long) of her snowboarding, not for an assignment, just 'cause I wanted to.
Another class assignment, this time for the Digital Animation Program. This is a ship I built in SoftImage XSI, then exported it into Maya 3d to texture/animate. When you work with 3d models, you usually keep the poly count down while working on it (which is why it looks sharp/boxy) otherwise it uses too much RAM and the program can crash. You increase the poly-count just before you render, which essentially smoothes/rounds everything out. Probably this isn't a big deal now-a-days, but back when I made this, it was a major problem. My favourite part is the crazy multi-level wings.
Now this is something I made quite recently... like, last year sometime. Y'know how some books have images at each chapter break? Well, this is the chapter break image I created for Project #1.
It's based on a ribbon eel. Google it. They are awesome. And don't ever ask me about salt water fish or koi, 'cause I'll keep talking 'till your ears bleed.

'cause I'm

This is also one of the few things I've done where I love every line, every shape, every speck of negative space. Okay, there's one thing I would change... the spot where the back leg touches the body/wing is slightly too pointy.

One benefit from classical animation training is you get used to drawing the same thing over and over and over and over again, 'cause you're drawing an image for every frame, and there's 24 or 30 frames per second. Then add on all the extra layers for background/foreground, other characters, things the characters interact with... and so on, and so forth...

...see why I have no problem working hard on edits/re-writes? I know some people can't stand the refining process, but I think my favourite part of drawing is also my favourite part of writing... cleaning up the lines.

sorry, that was a bad joke ;)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Something a little different 2

So, last time I showed my fall-back drawing style for fast, fun pictures. I've also done logos for people, usually friends who want to start a company or a band that never quite got off the ground... in fact, my profile picture of the black cat is part of a band logo where the members broke up before I finished it. Basically, the logo was a repeat of the same cat but done in different colours, black, red, green and blue. I use the red cat picture on another site with another moniker (not 1000th.monkey).

I won't post anything from my marketing days, nor will I post the only independent logo that *made it* out into the wide world, because it's actually on the letterhead of a local university's Student Business Association... which I made for free as a favour to someone, and never got credit for. Also, I was like 17 when I made it, it was the first logo-type art I had done, and in retrospect, I think it's kind of crappy.

Anyways, here's a few of those that ended up as unfinished/abandoned products. You might notice I'm kind of obsessed with shapes and how they fit together, whether complimenting or contrasting.

This was for someone who wanted to start a skateboard/snowboard clothing company.
I think this was for someone looking into franchising one of those water gas stations they have in California, or something like that. Water energy? I don't know, this so old I really can't remember.

This says MASEO (they wanted this kind of mirror-look) for some kind of non-profit company that never got off the ground.

This one's pretty self explanatory. I think it's my favourite out of these, I love how the 'oga' turned out... I really spent time on that, but was never happy with the shape of the 'y'.

By the way, for all of these, I started out with a pencil sketch, scanned it into Photoshop, then worked from there. I was only using a mouse, not a tablet. Also, I design them completely in black and white (so I'm only looking at shape) before I think about colours.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Something a little different 1

Since I'm on holidays, I wanted to do something a little different. Usually I talk about writing, or something that somehow relates back to writing.

Last week I posted about reading, so this week, I'm going to talk about drawing.

I've mentioned in the past the reason I got interested in animation. When I quit university and joined a technical school for animation, I did a classical animation program (this means everything is hand-drawn) and a digital animation program (everything is created in the computer with models). I truly only loved doing classical animation, but due to the scarcity of jobs, I took the second program. I didn't love it. Well, I loved creating the models and animating them, but I hated texturing and lighting.

While I was unpacking stuff at the witch's hut, I found a hard-drive with all my old animation files. Maybe at some point I'll throw a couple of the short animations online and post links, but not today :)

In the last few years, I regret that I have not drawn as much as I would like. Writing has taken over as my major outlet, but that doesn't mean I've completely stopped. I've done a ton of quick sketches that I give a 10-minute clean-up/colour job in Photoshop (one really crappy one I posted for Dead Monkey Day). I don't spend a whole lot of time on them, so there are always lines I hate, shapes that just a little *off*, but they're just for fun, so I don't stress over it. Most of them look something like this:

Roan from Project #1 getting advice from a character in a CP's story. I was playing with softer shadows/shading, but I didn't like the final result. I prefer the sharp/strong contrasting shadows of the following ones:

Someone wanted a cute picture for their MSN profile. My favourite part is the two antenna. The hands are pretty cute too.

someone I know online posted a picture of themselves with an evil, plotting smirk... 
...and I just had to draw it... though I was scolded 'cause I originally coloured the eyes wrong, so I had to go back and change them from blue to green.

All this kind of stuff is my fast, fall-back drawing style, well, the oval shaped noses, the simple eyes, the hard shadows and exaggerated proportion of head to body. I think I spent the most time on the middle one, making the planet-pillow look cool.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Let's Talk Books 3

If you've been following along, I've been doing my own version of Vickie Motter's series on guilty pleasure bookscomfort books and books that changed her life. This is the final one, on books that changed my life.

I mentioned last time that 'Amrita' by Banana Yoshimoto fit under comfort books, but also under books that changed my life. This was the first truly international book that I read, not counting all the European stuff we grow up with, or Jostein Gaarder which I will get to later. The style of Yoshimoto's writing was so unlike anything I had ever read before that it kind of blew me away. In so much of what she writes, the action happens off-stage and her stories are about the emotional fall-out that follows. They are... very quiet, but full, like that first big breath you take after swimming underwater. This really opened up my eyes to what is possible, outside the familiar realm of European-centric literature. Besides Poe and Kafka, this author is the one who (I think) has had the biggest influence on my writing today.

Since I mentioned Jostein Gaarder, I have to talk about 'Sophie's World'. I was in grade seven when I first read this. My sister, one year older, had a teacher who mentioned this book in class and for some reason she bought it, though I think she never actually finished reading it. Our family was on a trip to Hawaii when I borrowed it from her and coincidentally, that very same teacher was on the flight with us, recognized my sister, and noticed me reading it. A few months later, he singled me out on the first day of high-school, in my first period English class. That experience shaped a lot of my high-school years, but more importantly, that was the first book that really made me think about what I was reading. It wasn't just a story.

The next on my list of life-changing books is actually a series called 'Borderlands'. I ended up giving them away a couple years after I finished them because they creeped me out so much, despite the fact that I bought all five books in the series and devoured each of them in a single sitting. They are short story collections. Horror stories, but not the slasher kind, they are psychological horror. One story, I can't remember from which book (I think the third), is told in 2nd person perspective, and describes walking through a house at night. How the furniture looks like monsters, the feel of light and shadow and what things could be hiding in the dark corners and how even the most familiar, comfortable household things appear scary and full of danger... the writing was amazing. Eerily creepy, like a childhood nightmare, you get submerged into it. Because the story is in 2nd person, you feel like you really are the main character, but it's very weird, oddly surreal, like you're hopped up on cold medication or something. The story ends with the reader realizing that the main character is walking around in the house of a family he/she has just killed... and, when you're feeling like you are that character, it's very unsettling. Again, this series really shaped the way I view limits of stories/books and what strange things are possible, though I truly never intend to read them again. I'd have to say, this particular story still haunts me... I think about it every time I get up at night to get a glass of water, and get a little shiver down my spine.

On a lighter note, the last book that changed my life was 'Thirteen Clocks' by James Thurber. My English teacher, the same one who introduced Jostein Gaarder to my sister, (and through her, to me) read us this funny little book, one chapter per week. It is the story that made me want to spin my own stories and tell my own fairy-tales. After many years of searching, my mother stumbled across a second-hand copy in a used bookstore in Hope, BC. It is one of the few material possessions that I treasure.

What are some of the books that shaped you, and why?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Let's Talk Books 2

So, while I'm gone, I thought I'd schedule a few posts to pop up according to my normal schedule. Inspired by Vickie Motter's series on her guilty pleasure bookscomfort books and books that changed her life, last time I talked guilty pleasure... so now it's time for comfort books.

Strangely enough, the first book that popped into my head was 'Dracula' by Bram Stoker. I've mentioned before that I've read this... an uncountable number of times... but for sure, it's been more than 50. I was an early reader (yes, dyslexic people can be early readers) and quickly skipped from Dr. Seuss to chapter books like 'Riverboat Adventures' by Lucy Kincaid. If you have a young child, this really is an amazing book if you can find it... my nephew has loved it ever since he was three (he is my little clone after all, right down to books, food and obsessions).

Since my mother was a literature major in university and my father a philosophy major, there was always a hoard of interesting books on the shelf, and because I was a voracious reader, I breezed through 'The Hobbit', 'Frankenstein', 'Dracula' along with Edgar Allen Poe and Mark Twain before I was ten. Though I didn't really like 'The Hobbit', 'Dracula' and anything by Edgar Allen Poe (most notably, 'The Pit and the Pendulum' since that was the first of his I read) still bring me a warm and fuzzy feeling... yes, I know how strange that sounds.

Another two books I would consider comfort books would be 'Dr. Doolittle' by Hugh Lofting and '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' by Jules Verne. Right now, they are at my parents' house, awaiting my little nephew's discovery.

As for grown-up books, the ones I return to again and again are: 'Veronica' and 'A Trip to the Stars' by Nicholas Christopher, 'The Solitaire Mystery' by Jostein Gaarder, 'Bliss Street' and 'Too Small for Basketball' by Kris Kenway, 'Angel in the House' by Kate O'Riordan, 'Beachcombing for a Shipwrecked God' and 'A Pocket Full of Names' by Joe Coomer, and 'Amrita' (and almost anything else) by Banana Yoshimoto, which also fits under the books that changed my life category.

Of the YA books I've read recently, 'Plain Kate' by Erin Bow will definitely become a comfort book I read again and again.

What are your comfort books? Are they ones from your childhood, teenage years or adulthood? Is it because of the story, or do they coincide with major events/memories?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Let's Talk Books 1

I've been following Vickie Motter's series on her guilty pleasure books, comfort books and books that changed her life.

Since I'll be on vacation and catching up on my reading, I thought this would be a fun series of posts I can write before I leave and schedule to go up while I'm gone.

So, guilty pleasure reading?

That's obvious. I love comics. Sure, sure, I could give you the old song-and-dance about how, since I was in animation school, I can appreciate the individual artistic styling, the skill of rendering life-like anatomy and poses, the cleverness of frame/panel composition... but let's be honest. I just like comics.

'Calvin and Hobbes' by Bill Watterson and 'Dilbert' by Scott Adams are two I grew up with and will re-read over and over again. Some of my favourite books (that aren't serial comics) are, 'Gunnerkrigg Court', by Tom Siddell, the 'Courtney Crumrin' seres by Ted Naifeh (both quite dark series) as well as the stand-alone 'Polly and the Pirates' book. Anything by Gabriel & Moon Ba is awesome (the most well known would by the 'Umbrella Academy' series, though I think just Gabriel did the art for that). I also buy a board-book series in French (which I can't read) called 'Wondercity' which, if I remember correctly, is drawn by some ex-Disney artists and you can really see that in the style. I also have a particular fondness of Aaron Alexovich's work as his earlier stuff is somewhat similar to my fall-back/natural drawing style, though his is obviously way better :)

So, I've already touched on British, French, North American and South American comic book artists... for a cross-over into the manga style, the 'Nightschool' series by Svetlana Chmakova is not only an awesome story, but the drawings make me laugh out loud (not exaggerating, and not an easy thing to do).

To get into the Asian comics, I read a ton of them online, but I only buy the ones that I would re-read. 'Skip Beat' by Yoshiki Nakamura would top that list. It's the only comic, other than 'Nightschool', that actually gets me grinning and laughing when I look at the drawings. I also really like 'Bride of the Water God' by Mi-Kyung Yu... and that's mainly because of the art... give me good art, and I'll forgive a lot of things like weak/poorly developed characters and recycled plots... The one downside of 'BotWG' is I actually find it extremely difficult to follow the story due to my dyslexia as the entire pantheon of Korean gods each have multiple names/titles which are all long and I end up confused as to who is doing what. But the art is amazing :)

For me, guilt pleasure means something funny and a little childish. If there's pictures, that's even better. I get a huge kick out of reading stories to my four year old nephew 'cause he seems to love all the same stuff I did (my family jokingly refers to him as my little clone) so I can re-visit all my favourite childhood books without feeling like a weirdo. And, I must confess, I really get into the funny voices, sound effects and rhyming cadence of Dr. Seuss and all that kind of stuff.

What are your guilty pleasure books?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Proactive vs. Passive

This is a lesson I learned just recently.

In fact, it's one of the major reasons I re-wrote my *blurb* for Project #2. In the previous incarnation, the emphasis was about what was happening to/around the characters when, at the heart of the story, it's about an older brother desperately struggling to protect his younger brother.

The new title reflects this as well.

Sure, the characters ended up in a bad place, but that downward spiral is simply backstory, how they climb back up again... that's the real story. I know my blurb needs to be re-written again, but at least this version reflects the real story rather than the backstory, so I figure I'm on the right track.

What about your blurbs? Do they emphasize your characters being proactive, or does it seem like they are only reacting to what happens to them?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Aniconic Nature of Speech

Sorry, I'm going to nerd out on you just a little...

Many writers connect with the idea of a *muse*, whether it's an evil, sadistic mistress who whips the writer into shape, or a laid-back couch-potato who laughs hysterically and says completely random things that end up linking together in the end. Some profess their muse will talk to them and keep them up at night with whispered stories, others say they wake up and write down their dreams, for that is their muse's chosen vehicle of inspiration.

I'm not one of those people. My characters don't talk to me either or tell me their favourite colour, the name of their childhood imaginary friend, or answer questions like in an interview.

...this is going somewhere, I swear.

When I returned to university in January, 2007, I was going for a number of reasons, but the primary one was to prove that I could do it. I have always struggled with dyslexia. Though I put on the facade of being a lazy/uncaring student in high-school, the truth is that I easily worked twice as hard as my classmates to get depressingly average grades, and dismally low grades in math and French. I was incapable of writing notes during class, so I would take in as much information as I could simply by listening and memorizing. Yup, I was that kid in the back row who never had a pen, never opened my notebook and appeared to be more interested in what was going on outside the window than the lecture... but I was desperately trying my best to absorb the material.

Each word I heard became essential. As I got better at it, I could replay snippets of lectures in my head during exams. Training my ears and my memory was really the only reason I got through high-school.

In my final year of university, I ended up writing a paper on Vac, the Indian goddess of Speech or Voice. If I truly believed in a muse, this is who it would be.

Vac is one of the first Indian goddesses. She appears in the Rg Veda, the oldest of the Vedic texts which dates to around 1500 BCE. To give some perspective, this is before Buddhism or even the earliest Hindu texts. In Sanskrit, vac is the word for speech, voice and the name of the goddess. Collectively, the Vedic scripts are referred to as Shruti, which means "what is heard", again stressing the importance of an outward expression of vocalization, or vac.

Vac is not only the personification of speech, she is the vehicle of knowledge for the creator god as well as his consort. She is the outward manifestation of the laws that govern the cosmos. Pretty important, eh? Now, here's where it gets interesting. While she is specified as a highly important individual in the earlier verses, in later texts, she disappears, becomes overlapped and absorbed by other goddesses, primarily Sarasvati.

Because of the way I trained myself to learn, I was instantly drawn to this figure and couldn't help asking, why did Vac disappear?

...and I literally exhausted every known English translated resource I could get my paws on to answer this question, 'cause, y'know, I might be a little obsessive...

(To this day, I think the library ladies were plotting to kill me if I asked them to bring in any more books or journals through inter-library-loan)

So what did I find out?

It's common knowledge that there are like a million Indian gods and goddesses. I think it's also safe to say that when people think of Indian gods/goddesses, they immediately think of the physical form (statues) which house the god/goddess so humans can connect to them.

Vac is unique in that she doesn't have a physical form, and (according to my thesis) this is why:

“The Veda, as is well known, should not be written down; when written down, a mantra is truly a ‘dead letter’; it should only be imparted by word of mouth during initiation.”
Padoux, AndrĂ©, “Introduction”, Vac: The Concept of the Word In Selected Hindu Tantras, Jacques Gontier, trans., (New York, NY: State University of New York Press, 1990) p xiv

Vac's earthly form is the Veda which, according to the quoted (yes, yes, and footnoted...) text, is transmitted verbally. In the paper I wrote, I argued that, in the same way writing down a sacred mantra strips the life from the letters, so creating an image of Vac would similarly remove her life.

But without an image, a way to tie the goddess into a recognizable form (iconography), Vac is easily forgotten.

So, why am I talking about Vac and muses?

Because words on a page are a wonderful thing, but it's not a full experience... there is so much more to them when you fit them together in your mouth and vocalize them, the cadence of sentences, or paragraphs, the natural pauses or rapid flow as the text becomes more exciting and the desire to know what happens increases. Words are beautiful, not only their shape and meaning, but especially their sound.

Read aloud to a four year old child in a monotone and see how long they'll sit still... I'm thinking maybe 10-20 seconds if you're lucky. Try reading a Dr. Seuss book without falling into the rhythm of the rhymes. So much expression can go into each word, and that changes the entire experience, gives it layers of depth and emotion far beyond the simple *meaning* of the sentences.

Think about how you write. Don't stop at choosing the correct word from your thesaurus/dictionary. Feel the words on your tongue, taste them on their own and with the surrounding words. Like seasonings in cooking, there has to be a proper balance.

If I could choose my own muse, it would be Vac, because I know the power of the spoken word.

So read aloud, not to a four year old child, but to yourself. Take that perfect paragraph you've just written and try it out.

How's the flavour?


This is what it ends up being when you don't listen to the sound of the words you are using... even though the words are 100% correct/precise.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Long Weekend's a holiday Monday, here in BC, Canada, which means a lazy morning and a late post...

My husband and I are getting ready to leave on holidays (Aug. 6-21), so it was nice to linger over breakfast, savour that extra cup of coffee and just enjoy the sunshine, the hummingbirds and the pets who are sleeping on their respective sofas. Thankfully, deer are not currently decimating my gardens...

As noon rolls (rolled) around, I finally finished reading/commenting on the last couple SSS participant sites and am now thinking of what to do next... going away for so long is unusual for us, and with the freshly planted gardens, I know I'm going to have to find a timer and hook up a temporary watering system before we leave. I have those cool blown-glass watering bulbs for my indoor plants, but I suspect some of them won't make it as they are finicky about drainage, yet they like to be watered often.

Well, I think I'll throw on some work clothes and get out there... It's a nice temperature: 20C (68F)

...okay, I spoke too soon about the deer... too bad there's reflections from the window, but this is the yearling buck from our family of four... he's got fabulous comedic timing... and it looks like he found the cosmos. Mmmmm, tasty.