Where ideas come from

Returning to work after some time off always sees a drop in my productivity on the writing front. The waking up early, the commute, the hours spent doing mundane tasks… all of these take away from time I could spend dreaming up new worlds.

Let’s be honest. I barely wrote during my time off. That changes now.

My reading has seriously slowed since I finished We Need to Talk About Kevin, though I did manage to finish the first book of A Series of Unfortunate Events (more on that later). I watched the film with my husband, who said it seemed designed to be deliberately uncomfortable. I enjoyed his perspective on Eva Khatchadourian, he felt that the flashbacks interrupting her life gave good insight into the mind of a woman trying to move on after tragedy, yet constantly being held back by her own thoughts.

Instead of reading, I have been indulging my desire to watch old anime and play a new Square Enix game.

I have been watching Cardcaptor Sakura, then making animated GIFs from my favorite magical scenes. For those unfamiliar with the magical girl classic, it tells the story of young Kinomoto Sakura, who inadvertently scatters a set of magical cards when she opens a mysterious book in the basement of her house. She is tasked with recovering them and given a magical key that can unlock the power of the cards and seal them away to prevent the mischief they are so keen to cause in her town.

Naturally, when I was younger and first fell in love with the series, I wanted nothing more than to find and loose a deck of cards and then hunt them down, acquiring their powers as I captured them and made them my own. I enjoy her can-do attitude, the support of her friends and family, and her increasing self-assurance as she gathers together the 52 cards.

Then, the game. Bravely Default, which I have seen described as a mix of Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy Tactics, with a bit of Final Fantasy IX for good measure. The story is secondary and standard (final) fantasy fare: crystals go dark, a group of four must fight their way from one to the next to light them once more, etc. I haven’t gotten too far in the story yet, I’m having too much fun fighting long strings of battles to increase my characters’ proficiency at various jobs. Since it’s for the 3DS, I can play to my heart’s content on the commute to and from work; the time has never flown by so quickly.

What’s great about shows and games and films is that they are all fodder for the imagination. A line in one might inspire a subplot in something I write, or a system of government, or a tragic event. In Bravely Default, there is a clash between two ideologies: the Orthodoxy, which basically believes in worshiping the  Four Crystals; and the Anticrystalist movement which believes these old traditions are holding the world back from progress. There is something similar in Project: Destiny, though there isn’t much conflict between the guild of shadeweavers and the Church of the Sun.

While I’m here… I’ve given some thought to redesigning the headquarters of the Guild of Colors. My latest draft has the guild residing in the Prismatic Tower, but there are an awful lot of towers in fantasy stories. Old ideas are not always the best ones.

My goal is to get another chapter of Destiny drafted by the end of the weekend. I’ll have to see how to squeeze that in with my household project; we’re painting the bedroom.

Editing

Somehow, I started editing. Actually, it came from my husband’s desire to hear my work. I read aloud to him sometimes before bed, he finds the sound of my voice relaxing. I ended up reading him the first chapter of Climbing Yggdrasil, making mental notes all the while about what did and did not work for me. It’s strange, but after just over a week of sitting there, the book feels different. I’ve managed to successfully disconnect from it.

He mentioned that one particular bit of conversations seemed unnatural, designed only to inform the reader and not actually something that two people in that world would talk about. This morning, I added the following note to my manuscript:

2014-01-06 11.53.34

This morning, I asked him about several bits of information I felt uneasy about; I go on about the solar system and various aspects of the Corporation that runs it, all the while worrying that this information is boring and redundant, as much of it gets revisited in a more active manner later in the book. I worried that I was telling instead of showing. He said he felt that it was interesting and informative, and I said I would have to think on it to see if I kept it in. Readers need an introduction to the fictional universe they’re visiting, sure, but I’d rather take them on a guided tour than hand them an informative pamphlet. I may need more opinions here.

The big thing for me, though, was showing my work to someone else. True, he’s my husband and bound to treat my work with care and respect, but I have trouble showing things like this to anyone. This was an important first step for me, as was finding problems with my manuscript without getting upset or sad. These are not depressing facts, these are opportunities for improvement.

I plan to continue reading my book to my husband and getting his feedback, taking notes on really obvious things that need to be changed, on things that I need to think about, on things that might require more opinions to give me a better feel how different readers react to them. This naturally brings me to an awkward part, asking others to read what I’ve written. I think I have less of a problem with the initial question of, “Will you read this thing that I wrote?” Now my issue is, “Yeah, it’s over 300 pages, are you sure you’re okay with that?” Is that something I need to simply get over and let people who want to read my book decide if that’s too much of a commitment for them? I’ve read that a lot of people do exchanges to make things fair, and I’m interested in looking at other writers’ work and providing feedback.

Resolutions

Let’s see, it’s resolutions, is it? Okay.

Ordinarily I would spell out a few things and then hastily proceed to ignore them throughout the year, burying my naïvely optimistic list in shame. I looked at the journal I was writing in last year and found a curious gap between November 2012 and April 2013. Granted, this is a personal journal, but I would like there to be no such massive gap between entries in any of my journals. Therefore…

Resolution #1: Journal more.

Which is completely different and distinct from…

Resolution #2: Write more.

2013 was a good year for me for writing. In addition to getting some solid work done, I renewed my confidence as a writer, and that is invaluable. My love for National Novel Writing Month cannot be described. It turned me from a sorry slob of a man making excuses for not writing into someone who feels a duty to get those imagined worlds out of my head and onto paper.

Resolution #3: Finish what I started.

This one most specifically refers to seeing my NaNo project through to the end and hopefully discovering that I am better at editing than I think and that it isn’t so dauntless a task. Right now I feel like my finished manuscript is a beast sleeping in the corner, lurking and ready to pounce when I open its binder to start eyeing it critically. My hope is that I will find I have all the tools necessary to tame it.

I could go on and make resolutions about health and exercise and eating vegetables, but that’s all very dull and I’m only here to talk about writing. I also feel that these are the resolutions I am most likely to fail at. I will write them in pencil on a scrap of easily-lost paper somewhere and beam with pride if I manage to fulfill them for a short time. Now that I think on it, though, I do have a final book-related resolution…

Resolution #4: Read more.

2013 was a year of ruts for me. I ended up rereading a lot of favorites instead of going out and discovering new material. I barely stepped out of my genre as a reader, which I think is important to do from time to time. I also did not read much from other aspiring authors, though I have been turning this around recently; a friend is writing short stories for her thesis and I have been reading them and providing feedback. So reading more does not just mean published books, but stories and novels that would like to be published.

I believe I will write these resolutions out and stick them somewhere near my desk where they can mock me if ever I stray from my intended path.

The move to ebooks

Just over two years ago, in the beginning of my last fall semester at university, I made the decision to invest in an ereader. I hadn’t been reading as much as I used to, largely due to the limited selection in the English section of my local library, and thought that by going digital I would gain access to a much greater repertoire of books. I went into Chapters to take a look at their stock and fell in love with a Kobo Touch.

My absolute favorite thing about it was the ability to browse the bookstore from my home, either on the device itself or on the computer. I quickly began to learn the advantages and limitations of the ereader; I had a few unpleasant encounters with lying in bed reading and the screen blanking to a “Please charge ereader” message. Then I learned that I should check regularly to see the battery’s charge level and plug it in before it gets too far below 50%. That usually gives me a good week or two of reading.

I am often in public transit. Back in those days, it was getting to classes and back; now, to my job in an office downtown. I would often end up standing in the bus, making it impossible to read a hardcover book and uncomfortable to do the same with a paperback. My Kobo is light and easy to read one-handed. I also enjoy being able to highlight passages I enjoy, though the precision is not the same as I get on my smartphone. I would never dare highlight anything in any of my books, and libraries generally frown on patrons doing so in books they lend out.

A feature I adored in my early days of the Kobo is a count of total hours read. I would check it from time to time, watching the number mount higher and higher, feeling that my purchase of the device was well justified. The count is no longer accurate as I’ve had to factory reset the device once or twice, and I have already established that I read much more now than ever before. I wore out my first case within a year and went looking to eBay for a cheaper alternative to the $35 ones sold in Chapters.

In the beginning, I was saddened to be leaving physical books behind. While I realize that I do not have to read exclusively on my ereader, I would much prefer to. If I am reading a series, I can ensure to have the next book loaded to the device without making my bag heavier; I can keep old favorites with me at all times, complete with memorable phrases bookmarked; I can get the definition of an unfamiliar or uncomfortable word by tapping on it whether I have cell service or not.

I still receive physical books as gifts from time to time, and they usually end up on my nightstand as before-bed reading. I have no choice but to go physical for graphic novels and the like, the Kobo Touch doesn’t display in color and is too small for comfort for graphic content. Ideally, more books would be packaged like DVDs or Blu-rays and have a code for downloading a digital copy come with them. Of course, given the way books are generally packaged, it would be all-too-easy for dishonest folk to lift the codes out of the pages without ever approaching the till. Perhaps if some kind of code were printed on the receipt, then.

From time to time, I have considered replacing my ereader with a tablet, but that doesn’t work for me for a number of reasons. My ereader’s screen looks good even in full daylight, the battery lasts way longer than that of any tablet I’ve heard of, and I read enough to justify having a separate device for that purpose (generally 1-2 hours a day, often more).

Since I started writing with Scrivener, I can also create an ePub of my work that I can read on my Kobo. It’s really motivating to see my writing on my device like a proper ebook.

Sandman confusion

I was pretty well confused when I went to buy the next volume of the Sandman from Chapters a couple weeks back. The cover of the new, remastered version of volume six is remarkably similar to that of volume one of the previous version. See here:

2013-12-21 12.19.42

While I was certain that volume six was the next one to buy, the cover threw me for a minute and it wasn’t until I was in the train reading it that I was sure I’d bought the right book.

The First Law

I’m currently rereading the third book of The First Law trilogy, a series recommended to me by a friend, a series that I quickly fell in love with. The world is realistic and gritty, rife with violence and danger; the characters are interesting, engaging, and defy archetypal expectations; and, most importantly for me, magic makes sense and has dire consequences if misused or used too freely.

2013-12-18 16.27.19

The author, Joe Abercrombie, has decided not to provide us with a map of his world, which suits me fine. Most of what I read these days is on my Kobo, which doesn’t display maps very well; I didn’t know the true shape of George R. R. Martin’s world of Ice and Fire until I bought the poster set of maps last year. Maps are lovely, but they can be distracting while reading. I have a tendency to flip to the front flap to see exactly where people are talking about.

Because of the lack of a map, we are forced to imagine the Circle of the World and its various regions. Luckily, three of these regions can be accurately named the North, the South and the West. The books visit all three of these and presents conflicts between certain regions and the central (I believe) kingdom of the Union, a kingdom filled with self-serving and/or empty-headed gentry struggling to seize power in the midst of the king’s declining health.

I greatly enjoy the writing, there is a lot of humor (especially dark humor) in it. I find myself highlighting certain passages to share them with my husband while we’re in the métro. My favorite characters are the soldier turned torturer after an extended imprisonment in the South rendered him unfit to do much else, and the highly manipulative and secretive Magus, pulling the strings with unknown intentions.

The trilogy contains a few revelations near the end that make the books more interesting to reread, though I would give them another go if only for the world and the characters and the writing. To any fan of fantasy who enjoys stories that do not take themselves too seriously (though the tone is quite serious indeed through a lot of the tale), I highly recommend The First Law trilogy: The Blade ItselfBefore They Are Hanged, and Last Argument of Kings.

Incidentally, I found a new way to read on the train, making excellent use of my winter coat and my Kobo’s protective case:

2013-12-18 18.38.37

Dream of the Endless

I have been working on reading the Sandman from beginning to end. By “working on”, I mean that every few months or so I purchase the next trade volume at Chapters and proceed to devour it in a couple hours. I tried to finish them back in high school, ordering them at the library and waiting weeks between volumes, but the waiting became tedious. I had downloaded them and got a comic reader for my computer, but I quickly learned that I dislike reading for extended periods on a computer screen. I prefer to pay for them anyhow.

I love the way Neil Gaiman weaves a narrative through mythologies and literature. I feel proud for the references and subtle nods that I pick up on, knowing there are many more that fly right past me. I love the art, especially the sweeping vistas of the realm of dreams. I especially adore the personifications that are the Endless, each with their own quirks and personality flaws.

I am midway through Fables & Reflections now, using the security device as a bookmark. I had meant to slip it into my bag before work on Friday, but alas I forgot. I’m half tempted to dive into it right now, but I haven’t gotten any writing done for Project: OBSIDIAN this weekend and I really ought to put some effort toward that before I feel like a complete and utter failure.

To the stars it is, then.

2013-12-15 09.33.36