Friday, April 30, 2010

In Praise of Chaucer

I wish Chaucer would get more credit than he usually does. The dude was brilliant, and it's hard to appreciate him fully without hearing his original language—which was, after all, a bit different from ours. He wrote The Canterbury Tales before the great vowel shift in English, and spellings weren't entirely agreed upon, either (which continued through Shakespeare's day). Still, modern readers can follow along pretty darn well, and when you hear it with the original pronunciation his gift becomes clear. I had a professor in college who would read it to the class with the shifted vowels, just as Chaucer would have in his time, and it's wondrous poetry.

But it's also quite ribald at times. People like to gasp and blush at the naughty bits of our plays and movies today, but I don't think there's much going on today that can rival the "ick" factor of Chaucer when he wanted to lay it down—nor much that can rival the humor. Check out the following passage below—it's from the Miller's Tale. This one doesn't get taught in school very'll see why. This passage is about a young foppish sort named Absalon who wants nothing more than a kiss from a lady, and finally, one night, she gives in—but not the way he expects. (Modern English translation provided by the nice folks at Harvard.)

3730         This Absolon gan wype his mouth ful drie.
                    This Absolon wiped his mouth very dry.
3731         Derk was the nyght as pich, or as the cole,

                    Dark was the night as pitch, or as the coal,
3732         And at the wyndow out she putte hir hole,

                    And at the window out she put her hole,
3733         And Absolon, hym fil no bet ne wers,

                    And Absolon, to him it happened no better nor worse,
3734         But with his mouth he kiste hir naked ers

                    But with his mouth he kissed her naked ass
3735         Ful savourly, er he were war of this.

                    With great relish, before he was aware of this.
3736         Abak he stirte, and thoughte it was amys,

                    Back he jumped, and thought it was amiss,
3737         For wel he wiste a womman hath no berd.

                    For well he knew a woman has no beard.
3738         He felte a thyng al rough and long yherd,

                    He felt a thing all rough and long haired,
3739         And seyde, "Fy! allas! what have I do?"

                    And said, "Fie! alas! what have I done?"

Ha! and Eww! and Ha! again. This bawdy tale is told by a miller, of course, a fellow who enjoys lowbrow humor, and it follows a very tony highbrow tale by a knight. The genius of Chaucer is that  these twenty-four different narrators feel so authentic, displaying variations in their language according to their social class.

I'm attempting something similar for five chapters of Hammered (in prose, not verse), so I've been revisiting Chaucer lately and rediscovering his brilliance. Six characters in my novel will be making a pilgrimage of sorts, and five of them will share a tale with the others: a wizard, an alchemist, a thunder god, a werewolf, and a vampire. The Wizard's Tale is already finished, and I'm looking forward to writing the others "ful savourly."

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Meat of a Query Letter

Hounded will be published one year from today. Is it too early to start a countdown?

Hmm. Probably.

While staring at the calendar and willing it to turn faster, I've been reflecting on what got me this far. Writing the book sure helped, of course, but writing the query letter got the book looked at in the first place. Lots of writers never get their book seriously considered because their query letter doesn't snag an agent's interest.

I'd actually suggest writing a query letter as a method of focusing your writing if you're in the process of completing a project now. Distilling your project down to its essentials can be wonderfully clarifying if you're flailing about with subplots and how you're ever going to end it.

The meat of your query should focus on your main character's conflict. What is at stake for your character, and what kind of heck must he/she endure before that conflict gets resolved? You put other goodies in a query too, like word count and marketing possibilities and maybe a wee bit about yourself if it will help you sell the story—but all of those are side dishes. Focus on the meat. You won't be able to dwell on subplots very much and that's okay—after all, if they don't want your main plot, they're not going to want the subplot(s) either.

My query letter got me several requests for partial manuscripts, a couple of full requests, and one whole agent (which is all you need). The meat was in the first three paragraphs. In the last paragraph I included the word count and genre, mentioned its series potential, and asked if I could send the manuscript. To celebrate the beginning of my year-long countdown to publication, below is the meat of my query letter for Hounded:

Atticus O'Sullivan has been running for two thousand years, and he's a bit tired of it. After he stole a magical sword from the Tuatha Dé Danann (those who became the Sidhe or the Fae) in a first-century battle, some of them were furious and gave chase, and some were secretly amused that a Druid had the cheek to defy them. As the centuries passed and Atticus remained a fugitive—an annoyingly long-lived one, at that—those who were furious only grew more so, while others began to aid him in secret.

Now he's living in Tempe, Arizona, the very last of the Druids, far from where the Fae can easily enter this plane and find him. It's a place where many paranormals have decided to hide from the troubles of the Old World—from an Icelandic vampire holding a grudge against Thor to a coven of Polish witches who ran from the German Blitzkrieg.

When Atticus hears from the Morrigan that his nemesis, Aenghus Óg, has found him again, he decides to stay and fight rather than run. In so doing, he becomes the center of a power struggle among the Tuatha Dé Danann, where the sword he stole is the key to a plot to overthrow Brighid, first among the Fae.

That was all the meat I wrote. I doubt my agent pitched the book in the same way, and that's not what you'll see on the back cover of the book, but it worked. I left out a couple of gods and some werewolves and an Irish wolfhound named Oberon, but none of that was the meat of the story.

If I may, I highly recommend a site called the Absolute Write Water Cooler. Here's the link. They have a Share Your Work section where you can post your query letter and get feedback on it. I didn't discover it until after I'd already written mine, but it's clear that it helps many people. They have lots of other forums too, and it's a great community made up of published and (as yet) unpublished authors.

Okay. Is it 2011 yet?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Two movies

Quick post: Saw two movies recently on the opposite ends of entertainment. One was Kick-Ass. Don't take any kids. Just take your inner comic book nerd and enjoy.

One of the things I completely geeked out about is that I buy my comics at Atomic Comics...and it's in the movie.

The other movie was Oceans, a documentary released today, Earth Day. Stunning. Beautiful. Jaw dropped when I saw the blanket octopus and the mantis shrimp.  Check 'em out:
Blanket Octopus
Mantis Shrimp

Oh, and yeah, the guy swimming along the Great White in peace was a trip. Amazing. Makes me wonder what else we're missing down there. Two thumbs up for both movies.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Copy Editing Day

Today I am supposed to receive the copy-edited manuscript for my second book, Hexed. I'm incredibly excited about this—so much so that I might indulge in excessive superfluous exclamation points!!!!!!

You might wonder why.

Why would any sane person want to see their written work all marked up by a stranger 3,000 miles away?

Because there will be a title page with my name on it that the publisher made up all special just for me. There will also be an ISBN number assigned specifically to my book. It's all proof that my dream of getting published will be real just a wee bit over a year from now. *tiny groan*

April 26, 2011...*another tiny groan.* It's a long time to wait. Nineteen months and one day after the deal was struck, Hounded will finally hit the shelves. That is a bit longer than most deals, but since it's going to be followed in quick succession by Hexed in May and Hammered in June, the extra time is built in there for me to actually write two books.

It will be bearable, of course, because the day will eventually come. I get to wake up every day and know I'm twenty-four hours closer to my goal. Eventually I'll get to see my covers and do a little dance. I'll get to hear the reader of the audio version attempt to do all the accents in the books (Irish, Polish, Tamil, Russian, Finnish, Mandarin, Icelandic, and German) and grin until my face hurts. And maybe, in the interim, I'll get some good news from overseas, or some news about dramatic rights. It could happen anytime, and that makes waiting more fun.

As far as progress goes, I've taken a step backward, but I think it's more of a course correction. I've been writing about these vampires recently and not digging it at all. I wrote about four thousand words, had this huge imbroglio set at University of Phoenix Stadium, and it didn't feel right. So I highlighted the lot of it and pressed Delete. It wasn't really a subplot; it was more of a derailment, a complete tangent, and it's better that I wait on the vampires until I can develop them properly in their own story. Hammered isn't about vampires. It's about Ratatosk and Yggdrasil, Thor and Odin, and How to Tempt a Frost Giant.

O frabjous day! There shall be many words to cuddle, plus hot chocolate with marshmallows! I raise my mug to you, and hope you have some lovely words to cuddle up with too.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

O, Iceland!

I expect there are many people staggeringly inconvenienced by Iceland right now. People who have never looked at a globe are now scowling at it, shaking their fingers scoldingly at the volcanically active island and complaining about their cancelled flights. I don't know why they're so surprised. I mean, you could just take a look at this map of Iceland from 1590 and know that someday it was going to throw out some serious shit:
Iceland: This map tried to warn us!
Look at those mutant critters swimming around everywhere! Why, some of them have the characteristics of land creatures! Some of them have antennae! Some of them have even learned how to walk on water! (I especially like the hippocampus near the bottom left.) 

In one of those minor cosmic coincidences that crunchy hippie people in the 90s might have called "very Celestine," I've been writing about Iceland recently in the third novel in my series, Hammered. Two of the characters are from there, and a third has an unfortunate meeting with Thor while staying near the modern-day town of Eskifjordur. While doing some basic background research yesterday, I'd just finished reading about how volatile and unstable the geology was when the news blared out at me that Eyjafjallajokull had announced its presence with authority. This is how Eyjafjallajokull says hello:
Howdy, world! I dare you to say my name!
After the dust settles, I'm going to have to visit. It's such a fascinating hunk of rock and not entirely covered in ice at all. The geothermal vents all over the place tend to heat things up, and ocean currents keep it fairly temperate even though it's above the Arctic circle. Since my fictional characters owe so much to their land, I owe it to them to see the nonfictional reality of it. I'm looking forward to the trip! You know...someday.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The 3:2 Interview with Peter V. Brett

Welcome to the first 3:2 Interview, where I ask three serious questions and two rather silly ones of an author you might not know yet but will certainly love soon.

Today’s interview is with Peter V. Brett (call him “Peat”), author of The Warded Man and its sequel, The Desert Spear, which is available right now. Peat is one of several authors, along with Patrick Rothfuss, R. Scott Bakker and Joe Abercrombie, who are breathing new life into the epic fantasy genre.

Writer’s Grove: When you set out to write your series, were there specific fantasy tropes you were consciously trying to avoid, or perhaps tweak in a new way?
Peat: I dunno, maybe unconsciously. I’ve read about a billion fantasy novels (actual number closer to 600), and I think I’ve built a good sense of what works in a story and what doesn’t, but it wasn’t like I had compiled a list of tropes to work with. I just set out trying to tell a good story.
   Oh, wait. That’s a lie. I deliberately decided to ban all swords from the series. I love a good swordfight as much as the next guy, but I felt like I’d written a thousand of them in my life, and wanted a new challenge. In the story, humanity has been reduced to a tiny fraction of its former size, and warfare between men is unheard of. Demons are so powerful that they will likely kill you if they get within striking range, so the best option is a weapon that can keep them at a distance, like a spear. Swords are impractical and obsolete.
WG: If we go to a fantastic pub with everything on tap, what do you order to drink with your greasy fried food and will you pick up the check?
P: Guinness or Killian’s Irish Red, depending on my mood. Sometimes a Jack and coke. Bacon cheeseburgers and fries are on me.
WG: The Krasian culture of The Desert Spear is the most developed culture based on the Middle East I’ve seen since Frank Herbert’s Dune—and that was science fiction. What sort of background in Middle Eastern cultures did you have prior to writing the book, and how much research did you have to do to write about this culture convincingly?
P: First off, I will confess to never having read Dune. Sacrilege, I know. I saw the movie in college, but I barely remember it.
   Regarding the Krasians, I wouldn’t say they are based on the Middle East. Flavored would perhaps be a better word. There is as much Ancient Sparta and Medieval Japan to their culture as Middle Eastern, and a whole lot of stuff I just plain made up. The result is a very unique people with a rich history and unique worldview that is all their own. They’re not meant to be a commentary on any real world culture.
   As for research… meh. I read a lot.
WG: Gandalf and Chuck Norris meet at a neutral location (say, for example, Dairy Queen) and fight to the death. Who wins and how?
P: Gandalf says some cryptic things that confuse Chuck and make him question his life’s path. He is soon weeping like a little girl into Gandalf’s white robes and begging forgiveness. Offers to beat himself up as penance. Gandalf buys him some ice cream.
   We are talking Gandalf the White, right? Gandalf the Grey would just fry his ass with a lightning bolt. 
WG: When can we expect to see book three (and is there a title yet)?
P: The series will go to five books. The title of book three is The Daylight War, and it is coming along really well, I think. I have it plotted down to minute detail, and am working on the prose. I still have a LOT of work ahead of me, so I am reluctant to make promises about when it will be available. 2012…ish?
WG: Thanks Peat!
P: Thanks for having me!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Still Life with Fantasy and Fruit #2

Behold my new masterpiece:

Still Life with Fantasy and Fruit #2

"You put the lime with the coconut and read it all up." That's how the song goes, right?

Unlike my first Still Life, I didn't get these books for free. I paid U.S. dollars for them because these two particular authors aren't with my publisher. That being said, they're also quite worth it, because they're the leading writers in the urban fantasy genre and their books are always entertaining. 

Let's pause a moment to judge these books by their covers. On the one hand you have a Brooding Trench Coat Man holding a staff like he's claiming this land in the name of Some Majesty, May He/She Reign Forever.  On the other you have an Impressively Inked Woman holding a book, giving you this look over her shoulder that suggests if you ask her nicely, she might read it to you. can read about her reading that book to someone else in the book. There are layers of books here. I'm sold! Briggs wins, hands down!

Here's what I like about the photo: It looks like Brooding Trench Coat Man is glaring at the reflected, mirror-imaged name of Patricia Briggs invading the territory he has claimed with his phallic symbol.

If you're not familiar with either of these authors, I highly recommend filling this awful void in your life. You're truly missing out on some great characters. You can start with Jim Butcher's Storm Front here and Patricia Briggs' Moon Called here.

I'll get reviews of these up when I'm finished with them. I'm chugging through Silver Borne right now. The Impressively Inked Woman hasn't read that book to me yet, but there's still a hundred pages to go, so there's hope.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


There are several schools of vampires out there, some more appealing than others, and I've been working on the kind o' vamps I want in my novels. There's currently only one vampire in my world, but many more are coming along and my lone vampire is supposed to be different from the others. So the question I'm asking myself is, what are the others like? This isn't an exhaustive list by any means, but feel free to add to it in the comments.

1. Old School: They're predators, we're food. That's it. Well, maybe not. Sometimes, there are bat wings.
2. Anne Ricers: Bored dandies who seem mysterious because they still dress like courtiers from the time of Louis the XIV instead of in jeans and t-shirts.
3. Bikers n' Goths: Leather and chains and bad-boy image.
4. Tootsie Rolls: Hard outer shell but a soft, chewy emotional center ready for that special human girl to nourish and control. Lots of paranormal romances have these.
5. Shiny vegetarian vampires who think self-absorbed teenagers are incredibly attractive.
6. Cold businessmen with an eye for long-term investments.

I've eliminated #4 and #5 from consideration. Working on lengthening the list of options or hybridizing it...

32K on Hammered.