Writing the threads of my reality

New site

Right then - I've integrated my blog into my own website, and ported everything over with a minimum of fuss. Taleweaving has now become a part of Threads-of-Aether, my own website with all kinds of shiny stuff.

The blogspot feed is probably not going to work anymore. I'll try to get it to accept my posts from the new site, but chances are anyone currently subscribed needs to go and pick up the new feed.

Yay new site! Go see!

Top Ten Reasons to go read The Rejectionist

10. Frequent, unapologetic swearing

9. Posts which are written using the royal 'we'

8. Dramatic capslock use

7. Intense, vocal hatred of bad writing, the like of which may never be seen again by mortal man, usually parsed into mocking, humourous commentary

6. Continuing love of aspiring authors, no matter what utter waste-of-paper manuscripts appear in the slush pile

5. Random lessons on grammar and spelling

4. Posts that highlight cool feminist things or call out racism, sexism, and other prejudice for the shit that it is

3. Lola Pants

2. The funny. Oh dear god, the funny

1. This post. Specifically this quote: "THERE'S NO CRYING IN PUBLISHING. Go out there with your fabulous selves, and own that shit. OWN IT. LOVE YOURSELF. Own how awesome you are, and how brave, every last one of you. Fuck a bunch of form letters. You're a fucking WRITER." [edited to add] AND THIS POST about Stieg Larsson. "Most of us will never be abducted by a sadistic serial killer, thankfully. But all of us will, at some point, be told we are less because we are female. The worst thing about this book is that it seems to be saying the only violence against women that counts is the kind that ends up with us dead. The rest of us, I guess, are just complaining."

Just let me get my cheerleading outfit and pom-poms, and give me a minute to change.


Opening Lines

Kevin Sheridan over at Optimism Abounds has a post up about getting started with a story. Everyone says that you need something that will instantly grab the reader and get them into the story; something pithy, memorable, interesting, whatever. Nothing like "It was a dark and stormy night" anyway.

Yes, children, starting off your fantasy epic with a description of the weather is not exactly quality prose. Famous first lines usually have something better going on that instantly makes the reader want to look at the second line, then the third one, and so on in that fashion until they've got to the last page. Is this easy? Good grief, no - but if you're really getting serious about this writing thing, you really should make an effort to, y'know, write something that people will want to read.

Anyway. Memorable or interesting first lines:
  • "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." - Harry Potter, of course. The tone captures the characters perfectly; just a little snide, a little petulent, very stuck up. You'd read on simply because it's a fantastic piece of prose.
  • "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." - Pride and Prejudice. One of my personal favourites, and one of the most well known opening lines in the world. Interesting, quirky, almost playful writing.
  • "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." - 1984. All at once familiar and strange. George Orwell's publisher must have known he was on to a winner here.
  • "We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold." - Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Ah, Hunter S. Thompson. Apparently Fear and Loathing was partly based on his own weird experiences. You'd read on if only to find out what happens when you get hammered on drugs in a desert.
  • "Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen." - Northern Lights. The line might be ordinary if not for the mention of the daemon.
  • "To Sherlock Holmes she is always THE woman." - A Scandal in Bohemia. Watson is talking about Irene Adler, you discover later. But wow, what a hook there - it hangs on the reader knowing who Sherlock Holmes is, and you continue to find out who is the mysterious woman that has such an effect on him.
I have a problem with first lines, I think. I read over the opening of the Novel again last week, and winced at how pedestrian it sounded to me. I've already decided that the story has to start there, where the main characters suddenly come into contact with each other, and if I can't make a scene full of danger and excitement and death-defying madness sound interesting, then there's really no hope for me.

...Actually, I have an opening to another story I wrote a while back. I was talking to another writer-type friend, and we got chatting about the most overused opening lines. So I took the clichéd "It was a dark and story night" and tried to make something of it that didn't sound boring.


"It was a dark and stormy night.

Except it wasn't. I wanted it to be, though. I needed lightning, and thunder, and rolling clouds foretelling doom on the horizon. I wanted tree-falling crashes, and wind, and the kind of rain that'd soak you as soon as you stepped into it. I would have given anything for the weather to listen to me, when I was crying in that cafe in Paris, but the sky's a bitch in the middle of a French summer.

So it was actually the middle of a sunny afternoon, with a lovely warm breeze pulling my hair over my face, when that bastard broke my heart.

Yes, I can write things other than fantasy. Who knew?

Flying with the Phoenix

Today, I got my copy of Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon. Got home, did my usual speed reading thing and finished it in two hours flat.

Ai Ling is a young woman in the Kingdom of Xia - an oriental setting that kept bringing to mind images of the Avatar: Last Airbender artistic style - where women are constrained by social norms and generally expected to be seen and not heard. Everything starts going south when her father is called away to the Palace of Fragrant Dreams to do something mysterious with the Emperor, and after being threatened with a little blackmail and other shennanigans, Ai Ling runs away to bring her father home.

The dung then seriously hits the fan as she becomes hunted by demons, and in the course of things she falls in with a young man called Chen Yong, who is trying to find out what happened to his parents. Hijinks ensue, as they say.

Ok, gotta be honest here: I'm a terrible analyst of actual prose, so I'm just going to leave that to one side. I read so fast that single phrases or sentences get blurred into the overall narrative. I'm not all that aware of tone sometimes, and this might affect the stuff I pick up on in a book.

Anyway. Review time!

What I liked most about Silver Phoenix was the setting. It's a colourful, rich world, with little quirks and nuances that jumped out here and there. I always got the sense that there was much more to all of it than I was being told. Of course, this being a fantasy book, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Cindy Pon has reams of backstory hidden somewhere that we'll never be privy to. The demons are shockingly scary and horrible, too - maybe a little reminiscent of the oriental ghosts and monsters I've read about elsewhere, such as in the Legend of the Five Rings RPG or 3x3 Eyes.

Characters I had a problem with. I kept trying to resolve Ai Ling and Chen Yong and others in my head as I read, but they never truly gelled for me until the second half of the book. It started well enough with Ai Ling, but my vision of her fragmented early on and I couldn't seem to pull it all back together. Chen Yong was almost a non-entity for a long time there. I found myself asking at one stage, where's the emotional connection between them? Why are they together? Why do their interactions seem... unreal?

Plot, as well, remained hazy for me. It juddered at the start, going from here to there and although I could see the reasons that this needed to be here or that needed to be there, I couldn't get into it emotionally. I wasn't invested in what the characters were doing. Sometimes I wondered what exactly was going on, or I skipped back a page or two to try to get a clear picture of events. Not a good sign, unfortunately.

However, once Ai Ling and Chen Yong learn what's going on in the second half of the book, everything suddenly comes back into focus. Their characters become more real, the plot falls into place, and the story starts to come into its own. I still found a few hints of haziness, a moment or two where someone would do or say something that didn't seem right, but the overall quality leaped upwards and continued to climb up to the grand finale in the Palace and onwards. The showdown scene (no spoilers allowed, go get a copy if you want to know!) was not what I expected; powerful, edge-of-your-seat stuff.

...I always feel just a little bit bad when I write a review of a book and I have to say something bad about it. It seems like I'm betraying the author, or something. Hollywood get no such pass, of course, when I review movies - they like to inflict their crap on me, so I don't feel so guilty about flinging it right back at them. But yeah, authors, I feel kinda bad. Especially when I know my taste is flat out weird.

So - Silver Phoenix? There's a lot to like about it. The fantastical oriental setting is weird, strange and wonderful. Plot and characterisation are strong when they really come together. But for me, the first half of the book just let everything else down. I think of stories as having a flow, or a rhythm; Silver Phoenix spent far too long being out of time with itself.

The ending was... not unsatisfying, but somehow empty. Like I wanted more, and it wasn't there. It felt like Chen Yong had gone out of focus again as a character, and this had somehow washed out part of the emotion of the scene. I think if I didn't know there was a sequel, I would probably have been more than a little disappointed.

Now for the million dollar question: will I buy the next one in the series? I think I will. It's got a lot of promise, a lot of power as a story, for all that I think it has its faults. Fury of the Phoenix is out sometime in 2011, apparently.

As an aside: good grief, the cover? Changing the obviously Asian girl to an obviously Caucasian one for the paperback?! And that design! I'm a graphic designer and I could do better in my sleep! The original cover was a much stronger effort and far more faithful to the story. God, but it irritates me like nothing on earth to see an author short-changed by a publisher who won't do justice to a book cover.

Alright. The cat is attacking my feet, so I must go play with her before she turns her attention to my laptop.

T-Shirt Design: You Complete Me

Yes, I am on a roll with designs right now. Still waiting for my first sale. I live in hope, though. It's all for a good cause - that is, me and my better half packing up all our stuff and leaving Ireland in search of more geek-friendly shores.

Speaking of which, this design is just for him. Behold, the amazing Chibi-Man! With the power of his suspiciously familiar red suit, he can rescue cats from trees and help little old ladies across the road!

T-Shirt Design: Epic Win

The latest design: a gamer special! I used to play D&D a lot, then 4th Ed came out and it just wasn't the same anymore. Yes, I have my own dice that no one may touch on pain of pain.

I'm sure this would work better if it was white on black, but Skreened don't print white. Shame, really. I'm guessing it's to make it easier for people who are not graphic designers - white in any Skreened design becomes transparent, rather than allowing the shop owner to specify their own transparency settings. Efficient, yes - but annoying for the professionals.

This design's been added to a new shop for funnies - the Bizarrium. I chose the name because the other option, "The Happy Joy Shop of Happy", sounded a bit silly.

T-Shirt Design: Fly vs. Cobra

This is my latest design. It's been added to a new Skreened shop called the Bizarrium.

...I like funny names. Don't judge me!

In case you can't read it, it says "Do not taunt me Mr. Fly, I have a swatter and the reflexes of a disgruntled cobra". This design was inspired by a fly who got into my office today, and wound up splattered across the back of one of my notepads after it buzzed around my head one too many times.

Still haven't sold any shirts. Must... do... more... designs...