Category Archives: single stories

That ‘Empire Strikes Back’ Feeling

I recently finished Changeless, the second of Gail Carriger’s Alexia Tarabotti novels. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would absolutely recommend it, but it ended on a painful note. I was left wandering Logan airport with a hole in my heart that rightly belonged to a fictional character.

It’s that ‘Empire Strikes Back’ feeling–the deep slump that comes in the middle of things (though I should note that the Alexia Tarabotti novels are not a trilogy–there are at least five planned). It was refreshing to get that deep depression.

I can’t think of the last time I read a second volume that so unabashedly ended with a serious downer. Are we generally spoiled by happy endings?

When that pain is done right, it’s a special kind of rush. To this day, Empire Strikes Back is my favorite of the original three Star Wars movies.

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Clarkesworld Experiment

 

Clarkesworld is experimenting with the pricing of their ebook edition, dropping it from $2.99 to $0.99 for the March issue, #54.

The post announcing the experiment explains how Amazon and Barnes and Noble create incentives for ebooks to be priced at certain rates:

Amazon
70% royalty (minus delivery fee) for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, 35% royalty for everything else
B&N.com 65% royalty for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, 40% royalty for everything else

Vocabulary Words

The elevator in my office building has a screen in it that shows headlines, stock quotes, polls, and vocabulary words. Over time, staring at its vocabulary words has made me realize a real failing in how the idea of a richer vocabulary is generally presented.

To be blunt, these vocabulary words come off as ridiculous and pretentious. This isn’t a real example, but this is the sort of thing I see:

Pulchritude: (n) beauty

Example: Laura was thrilled by the pulchritude of her new four-inch heels from Bebe.

This use of the word irritates me because there’s no reason not to just say “beauty.” There’s no sense of what might make pulchritude a better word to choose. There’s no sense of how it differs, or how it shades meaning. It must be different, because it rings so strangely in that sentence and that context, but I’m not given any understanding of how.

I think vocabulary lessons like this, which are similar to how I learned vocabulary in school or how it shows up on standardized tests, give the impression that you use these “50-cent” words to show off and exclude stupid people, not because they are really better words to choose. As a journalist, I’m trained to write simply, so I have been doubly biased against these words.

What’s recently cured me of this impression is the prose of China Mieville, Joseph Conrad, and other writers who love those less commonly used words and care deeply about choosing the right ones. I have to read Mieville with a dictionary at my side, but I’ve come to really appreciate the subtle shadings he creates with word choice, both in terms of meaning and in terms of mood.

It’s made me think that these example sentences for vocabulary words need more context.

Maybe there need to be example paragraphs, not sentences. There might be a reason to use “pulchritude” to describe Laura’s shoes, but I think it’s likely stylistic and more prose is needed to illustrate this.

Also, vocabulary words should probably be taught in groups. Teach “pulchritude” alongside “beauty” and “allure,” and really illustrate the cases where one is a great choice and the others aren’t. Synonyms don’t actually mean the same thing-they are shaded differently, and vocabulary words should be presented with that sense of connotation and context.

That, after all, is the interesting part, and the part that makes it worthwhile to expand vocabulary.

Nanowrimo Wrapup

I never reported on the final results of nanowrimo and they were pretty interesting. Every nano, I usually end in a big, desperate rush of words. I’m talking 10K+ to go on day 30.

This time I stayed on top of my word count throughout the month. On day 30 I had a mere 1K to finish up. This surprised me particularly because I got really flat-on-my-back sick the last week of November.

The secret turned out to be in the way I structured my writing-three short sessions distributed like meals throughout the day. This year I’ve been discovering the power of this approach and this serves as further evidence.

Music and Writing

Over the past two years, I’ve developed the habit of listening to a single song on repeat while working on a story. (Believe me, my husband gives thanks nightly that I have headphones). It’s always been kind of neat to hear the song later and think of the story that’s been grooved into my brain along with the song. Vintage, for example, I wrote while listening to “Immortality.” Home to Perfect is, of course, “Green Grass and High Tides.”

I’ve also done this with my novel drafts, particularly in the home stretches. Last year’s 3-day novel was finished to “Stroke of Luck,” and this year, I already wrote about the importance of Dylan Rhymes.

This year’s Nanowrimo, however, seems to be taking the habit to new heights. I’m not sure how long “World in My Eyes” is going to hang on, but my play count on that song is reaching ridiculous heights. It’s hard to quantify exactly because I listen to it in several places, but I’m starting to think I should keep track along with my word count.

I’m wondering if I’m going to get a full-on Pavlovian reaction going, where the opening notes of that song start to make my fingers twitch as if typing.

Oh, And By The Way, I Want to Be Damn Good

I had a few thoughts to add to yesterday’s post, in which I railed against motivating oneself as a writer by looking down on other writers. I want to clarify that this doesn’t mean I think all writing is created equal, or that there’s no such thing as bad writing. Instead, I’m thinking about what I learned when I was a serious (albeit poorly rated) chess player. You don’t get better by playing against people who aren’t as good as you. If you want to become a better chess player, you find players who wipe the floor with you, and you play against them all the time, while studying technique frantically on the side. You also have to do things like look over your games and try to figure out why that better player was able to squeeze you out from move 11 on.

The analogy with writing is that, while I do believe there are things to learn from bad writing, I try not to waste time playing against it. That just encourages overconfidence, arrogance, and laziness. In chess, if I get used to playing against people who aren’t as good as me, I get used to getting away with using tactics that would open me up to merciless punishment at the hands of a better player.

I am willing to be a bad writer in the interest of learning what I need to know. I accept rejection slips and writing lots of revisions. But I’m not going to lie to you: I want to write things that will be remembered after I’m dead. The weird balancing act of writing is that I have to acknowledge that and work for it while also being humble and accepting lots of setbacks. My belief is that the best way to accomplish this balancing act is to surround myself with people I find a little intimidating.

If I send out a submission and feel certain it’ll be accepted, I suspect I’m not reaching high enough and am possibly training myself to settle for lazy habits. If I talk to another writer and don’t feel a little in awe of their work, they may let me get away with less than the best in mine. I want to be damn, damn good, and I don’t get there through the comfort of scorn. I think the way to greatness is to make sure I’m always a little out of my league.

Awesome Dinosaurs

People who know me personally will understand why I find this so awesome. It’s called “Let Us Now Praise Awesome Dinosaurs,” and it’s by Leonard Richardson, published in Strange Horizons. It’s one of the funniest things I’ve read in recent memory:

“Don’t guilt me! I love Cass like my sister who’s a different species for some reason. My half-sister. So, I’m putting in the legwork to find out who’s behind this. I did a web search for ‘I hate dinosaurs’ and it’s either the radical birdwatchers or the young-earth creationists.”

“I’ll tell you who’s behind it,” said Entippa. “Some idiot built an unsafe vehicle and another idiot named Cass signed off on it. She’s got carnosaur entitlement syndrome. People get hurt and everyone says ‘Oh, how could this have happened’ and it happened because carnosaurs think they own the world.”

“You’re neglecting the important point, which is, birdwatchers.”

“Birdwatchers.”

“I never realized the depths of their hate, Entippa. One faction that considers us birds, fit only to be watched. And another faction that considers us mere lizards, beneath their notice!”

This story is such a wild ride to read. It makes me want to use exclamation points. Dinosaurs from Mars! Dinosaurs on motocross bikes! Incredibly fun story, and with a pointed ending that makes it matter.

P.S. Leonard Richardson was one of the editors of Thoughtcrime Experiments, which I spent a great deal of time on this blog obsessing about.

P.P.S. In a truly awesome juxtoposition, Strange Horizons published Richardson’s story alongside Brian Trent’s article, “Was There Ever a Dinosaur Civilization?” which I haven’t had a chance to read yet, but certainly will.