Maybe Not a Good Idea…

The next couple of weeks are going to be very busy for me at work, much like the last couple.  One good thing about that is I have a long weekend right at the beginning of November.  That means I can start NaNo with lots of time to work, and maybe get a decent chunk of Mara’s Tale written.

All of that said, I just did something kind of dumb.  I requested the next book in the Wheel of Time series from the library.

My library makes it really convenient to request books.  There are several branches, but they all share the same online catalog.  Put a hold on a book, and as soon as it is available they ship it to the branch of your choice.  That means all I have to do is log on to my library account (my card number is taped to my computer for this very reason) and click “place a hold” on the listing.  Then I show up at the closest branch and grab my book.  It’s very simple, and in this case, kind of stupid.

Yes, I’ve said twice that requesting a book was a poor decision.  Are you questioning this statement?  There is no way I’ll get it done by November 1, and once November hits NaNo becomes a somewhat more pressing demand on my time.  In addition, I typically avoid reading fiction while writing, so even if I do have time to read occasionally during NaNo I should probably stick to non-fiction.

Even writing all of this, I haven’t talked myself out of the hold request.  You never know, I could make it through 700 or so pages in two weeks.  🙂

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Priorities

I realized today that I’ve been reading the wrong book.

Perhaps wrong is too strong of a term – the book itself is quite interesting, in fact, which is why I’ve been reading it.

Here’s the problem: I currently have a (fiction) library book with a firm due date, a borrowed (non-fiction) book with a relaxed due date, and a non-fiction e-book that I purchased.  Guess which one I’ve been reading for the past few days?  That’s right, the one I own and can read any time.

Somewhat reluctantly, I set aside my Nook and picked up the library book.  Once the Wheel of Time pulls me back in, I won’t be glancing longingly at my Nook, but for right now my brain wants to know what happens next in TR’s presidency.   (Honestly, I can look up the facts, but the way the book is written I find myself enthralled.)

I just have to keep reminding myself that I own that book, and can read it any time I want.  Except right now, apparently. 🙂

To finish, or not to finish

As I mentioned earlier this week, I’ve been reading Disclosure.  Tonight I’m facing a decision: to finish the book or not.

Normally I’ll tough it out through books that I’m not sure of; I try to only give up when books are really bad or really boring.  (The latter is more often true of non-fiction.)  There is a mitigating circumstance here, because I read the book before.

Here are my thoughts, and the reasons I will probably bail.

This story has two major plotlines.  The first is the advanced technology and (if memory serves) digital espionage.  This is the plotline that I remember enjoying, but on this read it hasn’t caught me.  It is very possible that this is because the tech is so very outdated, and also because I’m just not as invested as I was when the book was new to me.  I was already debating finishing the book because of this reason when I hit the second plotline, and an even bigger reason.

The second plot is the one that got all the attention when the book came out, specifically, the sexual harassment part.  Crichton was always a questioner of authority.  Should we really play with things we don’t understand?  What are the possible unintended consequences of new advances in science?  His more recent books were more obvious with this, addressing nanotech and global warming with pretty blatant opinions.  This book draws attention to the possibility of a female in power harassing a male subordinate.  While I applaud the effort to make sure that the goose is treated the same as the gander, he did it in a really in-your-face way that I’m not sure I like.  It makes me feel really awkward for the main character, which is a situation that I totally empathize with and also very much dislike.

I remember enjoying the book a lot as a teen, which is why I checked it out for a re-read.  (I’m not sure how I feel about my teenage self reading the scene I just finished, but much like when I read Silent Spring in fourth grade, I think there was a lot I glossed over since I didn’t understand it.)  Many of Crichton’s books are very suspenseful, and as a kid I think the main reason I liked this one is that it wasn’t as scary as Jurassic Park or Terminal Man (which gave me nightmares for weeks and caused me to tape my window shades to the frame).

After writing out my reasoning (and noticing Jurassic Park and Airframe sitting on my table waiting to be read) I think that I’ll give up on Disclosure for the time being.  I’ll hold on to it – it isn’t due back to the library for a couple of weeks – but I may not finish it after all.

The Dangers of Technology… but not in the way you think

I started reading Disclosure by Michael Crichton today, and discovered that there is a danger in referencing technology in your writing.  More than any other thing, technology dates you.

I got two chapters in and had to stop to check the copyright date, because my immediate thought was “What date was this written?!”  The company in the book is a cutting-edge tech company, which is fine, but they are breaking ground with their CD-ROMs and Virtual Reality equipment.

That’s right, CDs that store data are the wave of the future.

Sentences like the following are somewhat out of date: “It was widely agreed in the business that all information was soon going to be digital, and much of it was going to be stored on these compact disks.”   There are also references to books on data cd (which has long been replaced by the e-reader) and the new, cutting edge field of virtual reality (which hasn’t really panned out the way it was thought).

Once I got into the mindset of early 90s (the book was published in 1993) it was much easier to fall into the story, but occasionally things will still bring me up short if I’m not careful.  I know that writing without technology references is a luxury for historical fiction and fantasy authors, and sometimes the reader two decades later is not your concern, but perhaps this is a good moment to toss in a tiny word of caution when setting up something totally new and revolutionary to be such in your book.   It won’t stay that way for long.

Connections

How do people meet?

This is a question that authors and filmmakers frequently address, sometimes in unique and intriguing ways.

If the story involves the development of a relationship of any kind, the characters have to meet somehow.  At the very least they must learn of each others’ existence – you can’t be anything, even enemies, if you don’t even know about the other person.  These meetings are sometimes mundane, sometimes offbeat, but always necessary.  If an author doesn’t handle the meeting the right way, the relationship isn’t believable.

Even if there are people who start their part in the tale already in their relationship, it’s likely that their creator knows how they met.  There is a unique couple in Dragon, an elf and a human who are dating.  We meet them as a couple, but as the author I know that their relationship had an interesting start long before they are involved in the story of the book.

Sometimes it’s fun to find out how people met.  Occasionally the people who create TV shows will take us back, through conversation or even a flashback episode or two, to show us how our favorite team was assembled.  Authors will sometimes write the short stories of their characters’ meeting.  And sometimes a movie is almost entirely about the ways that people meet, interact, and intertwine their lives with each other.

Think about the most important people in your life.  How did you meet?  It isn’t just characters who have unique stories.  Fiction comes from somewhere – I’m sure you’ve got an interesting tale or two in your history, too.

Writing Practice

She scowled with impatience as she stared at the driveway.  Behind her, she could hear the flag snapping.  The same gusts blew strands of hair across her face; growling, she roughly pushed them aside.  She didn’t have any control of the wind or the man she waited for, and she knew it.  She might have to accept it, but that didn’t mean she had to like it.

For the fifteenth or sixteenth time, she pulled out her phone, glanced at the silent screen, and angrily shoved it back into her pocket.  He was 23 minutes late.  As always, he hadn’t called.  As always, she would give him seven more minutes before stomping back into the house.

She sighed, looked up to the sky, and tried without success to convince herself just to go inside now.  For once, be the one who wins.  She had nearly talked herself into it, decided that she was finally going to take control of the situation, when a horn sounded behind her.

As always, she turned, smiled, and hopped into his car.  She glanced at the dashboard clock.

As always, he was 29 minutes late.

Just as he started to shift back into drive, she put her hand over his.  Enough.

“You know what?  I think I’ll stay home this time.”

Without waiting, she climbed back out of the car.  Clearly, she’d surprised him, because for a moment he didn’t say anything.  She expected argument, cajoling, even excuses, but all she heard when he spoke was “Why?”

Swallowing, trying to keep the grown-up part of her mind in control, she spun back towards him.  “Because I’m tired of wasting my time waiting on you.  We’re done.”

As she walked back inside, she was surprised to find that instead of sadness, or loss, or even anger, she felt inordinately pleased.  She couldn’t control the wind, couldn’t control the man, but she could control her own life.

Romance Required?

Have you ever noticed that movies and stories frequently have a romantic element?  Even a movie that doesn’t require the romantic storyline to advance the plot (like one of my favorites, The Italian Job) often has a love interest between two of the characters.  You’ll usually hear that this is to draw in the female crowd, especially when you find it in action movies.  (Perhaps the idea is that a guy can convince his girlfriend to accompany him to the movie if there’s a love-related subplot.)  On top of that, any movie with a primarily love-related story is immediately classified as a “chick flick” or some other female-related term.

Do women really require romance?

In all honesty, I have a romantic relationship in most of my books.  The attraction/dislike counterplay that my main characters feel towards each other is a major part of the plot in Dragon.  But my NaNo novel that I’m planning for this year doesn’t have that type of relationship between the main characters, and I think the story is still strong.

What is behind the female drive for romance?  It’s an interesting thing to think about, because it dances into two different concepts.  One is that this is something biological, that women have a yearning which fiction and Hollywood happily supply.  The other is almost opposite; that we are raised from childhood with images of romance and love and this has conditioned us to want those things as adults.

What are your thoughts on the issue?  Do you always include a romantic relationship in your tales?

 

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