Sunday, April 24, 2005

shinola! at ten thou and counting

So much for making this one a marketable length.


They found the fireman not ten yards from the train, trying to crawl back through the shale and juniper brush. He was sobbing in that broken, wheezy way Trace remembered from Antietam; his shirt was wet and sticky when Trace touched his shoulder.

“Easy, feller, we got you,” Trace said, turning the man onto his back in Boz’s arms. He began to scream immediately, and bat at them with his shredded hands. His face was dark and shiny in the moonlight, black with blood that seemed to be coming from his scalp. The rest of him was shaking and cold, the breath rattling in his throat. “Conductor! We got your man down here!”

There was a skidding and scuffling as the conductor and Willie scrambled down the grade; Willie’s lantern threw shards of light over the ground and the chewed-up fellow between them.

“Tommy!” the conductor said, dropping to one knee. “Tommy, what happened? Where’s Earl?”

The fireman gurgled gibberish, pawing at the conductor’s coat. His sleeves had been torn off, and there was a big chunk of meat missing out of his forearm. With the lamp brought closer, Trace could see a flap of torn scalp dangling over his forehead, and one eye was gone. It looked like a wolf or bear had bitten into his head.

Trace looked into Boz’s eyes, read the question there, and stood up, looking back toward the train.

“What was it, Tommy?” the conductor asked. “Wolves? Did they get Earl?”

Trace squinted. The windows of the passenger cars glowed dimly from the lamps; he could just make out heads and bodies moving inside. He could see two men standing on the colored car, pacing back and forth, keeping watch. One of them had a spark of fire in his hand, which he raised to his lips.

Something dark was slinking up the gravel grade to the tracks. Something blacker than the sky, darker than the shadows. It moved low to the ground, crawling like a frog but much faster, the size of a man. Another one, behind it. Two more--two cars down. Converging on the train.

Monday, April 18, 2005

story as Rorschach

I had an enlightening and disturbing thought the other day. I've known for some time that everybody brings their own baggage to a story or a crit. I've commented before on the strange and--to me--insignificant details which critters will pull out of a story and rant about.

But yesterday I connected that fact or trend or whatever it is with the disparity of perception of what constitutes "good" character development. Character development, like beauty, is in the eye and ear of the reader. My grandfather just insisted that Farscape was one of the best character-driven shows on television. I happen to fall in the Whedon camp, but I know people who think Dark Angel was a far better show because, and I quote, "you can tell what the characters are thinking." Well, yes, dear, because they're force-feeding it to you.

There are two general ways to develop characters. One is to give the character a genuine personality: how she acts, thinks, talks, and how others react to her. For the writer, this is a form of method-acting on paper, and it may be hard for a reader to later describe the character, because you didn't tell them. The danger, in this technique, is that you run a very real chance of readers just plain disliking your heroine, because they just plain don't like the kind of person you made her (and by extension, the parts of yourself you build into her).

The other way to develop character is, in my mind, superficially. This often involves more telling than showing. The writer may describe what the character looks like, her job, her apartment, her whole life story, with emphasis on the messy bits and how she was psychologically affected by them. This is, to make a gross generalization, the method most often employed in hard sci-fi, westerns, and action thrillers. I don't care for the technique myself, but it's useful in plot-driven fiction, where you only need the character to be a type and not an individual. Where you don't need the reader to care about the hero a whole lot, in other words.

There seems to be a disproportionate number of sci-fi readers who prefer the latter type of characterization. And once I stopped to think about it, this made sense, because sci-fi geeks are not known for their ability to read people or interact with the world. So it stands to reason that they "get" characters with trait-markers attached: leather chaps, big gun, nun's habit, big blue eyes and heart-shaped face, whatever.

It's not that they want shallow characters, or think of the fiction they like as superficial; far less do they see themselves as poor judges of character. I'm not suggesting that, either.

What I'm suggesting is that they project their own desires onto the characters. We all do it to an extent, but if your most meaningful relationships are with fictitious people, aren't you going to make them as ameniable to your fantasies as possible? The definitive example is, of course, fanfiction.

Fanfic is almost invariably character-oriented. It's all about emotion and relationships; I don't think I've ever read a fanfic story that had a plot per se; it's just one character ruminating on his/her relationship with another character. Furthermore, fanfic is notorious for taking the characters in directions that the creators never intended, often inserting traits and behavior that the character would never exhibit on the show (and I'm not just talking about slash).

Few months ago I read an article by some respected science fiction guy (I cannot recall whom at the moment) who was talking about entertainment becoming more interactive, so you just buy the world and the characters and make up the story yourself, or insert yourself into the story or whatever.

And I was thinking about how mass-market sci-fi and fantasy shows and movies get less and less inventive, and the video-game industry outgrossed the movie industry for the first time last year, and movies are getting more like video games and vice versa, and I'm wondering if Hollywood has gotten either so cynical or so savvy that they're deliberately not bothering with the character development. Why should they? There's so little genre entertainment to choose from these days, the die-hard fans have to take what they can get, and their expectations are low: all you need is a spaceship, a couple aliens and some nifty weapons. The characters are placeholders; they just need interesting and distinctive "looks," maybe a catch phrase or quirk apiece, and the audience will fill in the rest. They see what they want to see, anyway.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

and a lovely time was had by all

The tea party went off without a hitch. The weather was lovely, the food was good and plentiful (they ate all the cucumber sandwiches, which surprised the hell out of me), and everybody came dressed up and looking sharp. Heather and Amber brought me a lovely hostess basket filled with tea and ginger biscuits. Crystal brought me a new Connie Dover CD, The Wishing Well which I had owned years ago but lost custody to my mom when I moved out.

The sponge-cake hearts were FABULOUS. Apparently it did them good to sit in the freezer for two days. I topped them with a little almond whipped-cream and some raspberries and ate about six of them. They're light, like a twinkie but without the sick chemical aftertaste. The cupcakes were good, too, with cream cheese frosting flavored various ways. The Waldorf celery boats were a very nice surprise; I'd highly recommend them--even two days old they're still crisp and tasty. The bacon-wrapped asparagus came out a little limp but tasted good. The stuffed mushrooms were rich and yummy, too. I added a little Bouquet Garni seasoning to the goat cheese, which was a nice touch. Amber snapped up the last two and took them home with her.

I drank way too much tea and got a little buzzed, and I simply spent too much time standing during the day so my knee started to hurt toward evening. But everybody talked and laughed and made noises about how we should do this sort of thing more often.

Scott says he's going to have a "little kegger" next month.

Friday, April 15, 2005

man, sugar is evil

I baked sponge cake and cupcakes last night, in preparation for the party. I had never made a sponge cake before, and it wasn't precisely what I expected, although I should have. It had six eggs in it, little flour, and no shortening or leavening. All the poof comes from the whipped egg whites.

"Sponge" is an apt name for it. If you can imagine the theoretical offspring of a kitchen sponge mated to cotton candy, you'd have this cake: sticky, overly-sweet, and rubbery. I cut it into three-inch hearts with the cookie cutters, put the hearts in a box lined with wax paper, and froze them. Tomorrow I shall top them with raspberries and whipped cream, which should help cut the sweet.

The cupcakes were made from a basic yellow cake recipe (yes, from scratch). The batter was fabulous, but I ate too much of it, on top of the noodly stroganoff I had for dinner, and this morning I feel bloated and slightly ill. Tea--where's my tea? Give me something astringent, for pity's sake.

Gonna whip up more sugar tonight. Not set on what to do with the cupcakes. I've got thirty-six of the little devils. Some of them are going to be tiramisu-flavored, just as soon as I figure out how to manage that. I want to cover some with white frosting and coconut. And of course it would be a shame to waste that box of bittersweet chocolate I bought. I can do three different flavors, a dozen each.

Then of course I must also peel and fill two dozen devilled eggs, make ham salad, wrap asparagus in bacon, and mix up a Waldorf salad. No biggie.

Nothing is ever simple in my world.

Monday, April 11, 2005

train wreck pictures

I wouldn't have thought it possible, but you can do almost just the same exact stupid things with a train that you can with an automobile.

Check it out.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

yea verily, I am evil

Just got back from writer's meeting. It's a good day when they threaten to vivisection me if I don't write more, and quickly.

Of course, it is rather cruel to to stop a story halfway through with the last line being:
Trace grabbed the conductor and flung him into the lower berth alongside Brother Clark, just as there was an awful, screaming, squalling roar that started at the front of the train and progressed backward, shuddering through the car as if the tracks themselves were shaking off their burden.

Jan wrote underneath, For something like this, a person's eternal soul could be in danger!

Heh heh.

Friday, April 08, 2005

speaking of the 1870's

I get PBS updates in my email. Sometimes this leads to useful stuff. This one isn't about trains, but there's always room in my head for more useless knowledge.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

all aboard

Well, we have signs of forward movement. My boys are on the train, I covered the salient points of ghosts/religion/and Miss Fairweather's a bitch, and I stumbled through the flashback of events that got Trace from looking for work to meeting with Miss F. Next up is their actual dialogue. Thank you, AJ for the leaping bats.

I have a feeling this story is going to be shorter than the last, which is no heartache for me; if I can keep it under 8 or 9 thousand I may actually be able to sell it. Not going to make that a priority, though.

There is also emerging an interesting commentary on subservience, and subordination being a state of mind. I love it when things like that happen; makes me think I must be living right.

Got about five pages done. Stylistically it sucks, of course, but the basic structure is sound. Hope to double the page count today. Wednesday and Thursday evenings will be filled up with birthday/family stuff, which is going to curtail my production. Why does everything have to happen at once?