Archive for April, 2009



20
Apr
09

Diana’s Sunday Quickie: Fave reference book

I know, I know, this is totally cheating, but my most useful and favorite reference book is my address book. I’m unspeakably lucky in that I know scads of people in law enforcement, the judiciary, forensics, etc. , and since my books are are paranormal crime thrillers and are set in the “real” world I don’t have much research to do as far as worldbuilding goes. But whenever I’m not certain about a procedural or criminal issue I usually scroll through my address book and either call or text someone who knows the answer.

19
Apr
09

Nora’s Sunday Quickie: Favorite References

As an epic fantasy writer, I’m fascinated by the ways societies develop, rise, and fall, and the ways that people react to all these stages. So my favorite references include The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (I think we’re up to IV now), because it literally catalogs the vast array of psychological types and personality variants that make up the people of any society. Also, I like Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, despite some misgivings; it’s still good research, and an interesting analysis of how some societies reach technological/resource dominance, or fall apart from stupid decision-making despite this dominance. By the same token, I’m fond of A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn — not only is it the first history text I’ve ever enjoyed reading, but it’s an interesting examination of how perspective skews reality; history truly is written (and heavily revised) by the victors.

This kind of stuff is the epitomy of epic fantasy, IMO; Tolkien’s Mordor was based on the German war machine, after all. So how better to develop fantasy ideas than to examine all the ways in which reality can be interpreted and reinterpreted, individually and on the “big picture” scale?

On a more personal level, I’m fascinated by how people resist oppression within restrictive societies. This means I read a lot of books about and autobiographies of revolutionaries, but also weirder stuff. For example, I like Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden — a nonfiction collection of women’s sexual fantasies, written at the height of the Sexual Revolution (1973). Seriously racy, and controversial even today. But it’s also an interesting examination of what repression does to the human psyche — how people naturally yearn for B when they’ve been taught their whole lives to want A and C.

I ref mythology too, and have read Hamilton’s book and the usual. I’m fond of Richard Cavendish’s Mythology: An Illustrated Encyclopedia because it contains gorgeous color panels of artwork depicting the various pantheons and cosmologies of different cultures. But I’ve made a conscious effort to step beyond the usual Greco-Roman and Northern European mythologies that these books tend to concentrate on. It’s hard to find good scholarly material on other mythologies in English; unfortunately, time and experience have shown that Western scholars often “get it wrong” when summarizing and analyzing non-Western stuff, for various reasons. So when I can, I try to find the myths of other cultures as primary sources, though usually in translated form. Most recently I’ve read The Magic Orange Tree and Other Haitian Folktales, collected by Diane Wolkstein. I also seek out storytellers, even when I can’t understand them; one of my favorite travel experiences was listening to an old Italian storyteller in the common room of a quaint old medieval-looking inn, on a recent trip to Sicily. Had no clue what he was saying, but the way he said it was a work of art in itself. More recently I got to hear a storytelling competition by Navajo children “on the rez” in Chinle, AZ — and man, those kids were fierce. Hope some of them grow up to become writers.

(Why is it that I never manage to do these Quickies quickly??)

19
Apr
09

Greg’s Sunday Quickie – My favorite reference book

Being essentially lazy, my favorite reference source is my blog, where I can throw out any random question and have someone much smarter than I provide the answer in the comments. Failing that, there’s always Wikipedia.

But as for books, I relied on the Eddas for NORSE CODE, both the Younger Edda (or Prose Edda) by the 13th Century Icelandic poet, Snorri Sturluson, and the Elder Edda (or Poetic Edda). The Eddas gave me armor against any readers claiming I got the myths wrong, because even these supposedly official versions can’t agree on how things went down back when the gods were tromping about.

Right now I’m writing what I’m calling my “Los Angeles book,” and I find myself often turning to Los Angeles A to Z: An Encycolpedia of the City and County. Scored it in hardcover for $1.50! It’s great for flipping pages and coming up with ideas for settings. You really can’t come across the entry for the Angel Flight funicular and not want to have a scene set there.

19
Apr
09

Margaret’s Sunday Quickie: Reference

Well, Tim already took the book that immediately came to mind for the question of useful nonfiction: Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, though I find an older version much more useful.  The newer ones I found were all abridged — and there is nothing, nothing so frustrating as finding that the fascinating cross-reference you were caught by is one of the entries that got chucked.  The entries often serve as a jumping-off point for story ideas for me; I’ll have to go do in-depth research, but it’s good for sparking that first fragment.  I still love that it’s got several entries on famous frauds.

I’m away from home at the moment, so I can’t do what I usually do for questions like this: go and check my shelves for what I’ve forgotten.  But I do remember that the Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology — both volumes — was an excellent source not just for old theories of magic, but for how people interact in this world — the paranoia of hidden knowledge, the vying for status as who was the true possessor of the Secret, and so on. 

And then there’s the Internet as a reference tool, but I’m not sure that it counts as nonfiction.

19
Apr
09

tim’s sunday quickie: indispensable

Today we’re talking about our favorite reference/non-fiction books for doing fantasy research. I have lots of books I adore: Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (preferably an old and a new edition, since the older ones have the names of lots more obscure nymphs), Hamilton’s and Bullfinch’s respective Mythologys, Davidson’s Dictionary of Angels (which will make the heads of any devoted Southern Baptists you know explode; those people have a hard time comprehending that in most of the early religious texts “Satan” is a job title for angels, not a specific entity, and that moreover it’s a shitty job handed out by God himself). And of course many books have been useful for more specific research.

But if I had to pick one book and get rid of the others, I’d keep An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies, and Other Supernatural Creatures by Katharine Briggs. An exhaustively researched book (with an extensive bibliography), it’s the best survey/overview work I’ve read on the supernatural folklore of Western Europe (and a few migratory places like Appalachia and Australia, where fairy lore traveled and changed). I’ve gotten more story ideas from that book than I can count, and I highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in the fey.
-Tim

19
Apr
09

Martial & Literary arts

by Diana

My daughter is about to turn five, and this afternoon we had her birthday party at her karate school. While watching her enjoy herself, I had two thoughts that related to writing. (Actually, three thoughts, but the third was, Good grief, every week I tell myself that I’m going to write my Saturday entry ahead of time, and every week I write it Saturday afternoon. But that’s beside the point.)

The first thought was about the similarities between martial arts and writing:

In both you have people working for years to achieve proficiency, working toward an ultimate goal (black belt/novel sale.)  There’s a slow progression of refinement, where you start out awkward and stilted, and then after much practice and effort everything finally smooths out and it begins to look effortless.

In both you have people who’ve achieved a certain level of proficiency become convinced that they’re ready for the big leagues. In my martial arts school we called it green belt syndrome, i.e. when someone had been training for about a year and was ready to pick a fight with anyone. I think the equivalent would be the nanowrimo finisher who KNOWS that their novel is Fabulous and sends it out to agents/editors immediately.

In both you eventually realize that the ultimate goal (black belt/novel) isn’t as ultimate as you thought it was once you reach it.

In both you get to hang around in your pajamas a lot.  Oh, wait…

My second thought was about the similarities between writers and five-year-olds.

I’ll leave that one as an exercise for the reader.

17
Apr
09

Sitting down, getting it done

I’m not much of a procrastinator when it come to writing anymore (god, at the beginning it was a miracle I got anything done). This doesn’t mean I don’t have my glitches, though. It often goes like this: I’ll finish a day’s worth of writing, completing a scene I was really excited to write. I feel accomplished! Look at how much I did! The next morning, I get up and sit down at the computer and… check my email. Check my websites. Check websites I haven’t been to in a while. Pick up beloved book from the shelf beside my desk and read a few pages. Watch videos people have sent me. Next think I know, it’s 9:30 and I’ve just wasted my entire writing morning doing… I can’t even remember what. Frustrated and angry, I go to work. Next morning, sit down, repeat procrastination process, catch myself half way through and force myself to focus Rachel, focus! Maybe write a little, then go to work feeling depressed. And to think I got so much done two days ago!

This is/was my cycle of productivity/inactivity, and it’s been killing my ability to write on deadline. Lately, however, I’ve picked up a new trick. I didn’t invent this trick, but I can’t remember what productivity book or list or article I skimmed it off of. Basically, it goes like this:

When I sit down at my desk to write, I open my novel in progress and look at the last scene I wrote, or the scene I stopped half way through. With that clear in my mind, I ask myself “What happens next?” I sit perfectly still and focus on that question until I have an answer I’m happy with.

The answer has to be small, simple. Vague things like “climatic battle” are useless for this. I’m looking for “character A has to convince character B to join him.” A single, simple action. Then, I write until that action is complete. After that, I stop again. What happens after this? What’s next? Then I write that. Rinse and repeat as needed until word goal has been reached.

During this process, I never let myself think too far ahead. Vagaries and broad pictures have too much wiggle room, too many gaps and crinkles to get mired in. Right now, all that matters is getting to the next point on the chain, the next action. By focusing on the small, manageable steps, I keep my focus and dive. Even better, with goals this small, this manageable, procrastination feels silly and unnecessary. I become, in short, a writing machine of city destroying proportions.

Of course, by keeping the focus this narrow, sometimes I don’t make the best decisions. But, writing is not a performance art. If I mess it up, I can fix it later, no big deal. So long as something gets written, the day was not wasted. So I go step by step, action by action, scene by scene, until, sooner or later, a novel comes out. Then, once I have it, I can worry about making it good.

And that’s how I beat procrastination!

(mostly)