Many writers praise Scrivener as the ideal program for drafting fiction. I’m sure for many people it is. Scrivener supports a non-linear approach to assembling a story, bundling together all aspects of the writing process into a single place on your screen. I tried the beta when it came out for Windows and realized it’s also tailored for writers who work in a fundamentally different way than I do. I do all my note taking and outlining on notepads with a pen and keep the sheaves spread out all over the desk beside me when I get to writing the story itself. That story proceeds in a linear way. Unlike many, I can’t write out of order and type in the connecting tissue later. I work top-down from page one to “The End”, and if there are any problems, I have to go back and fix them before I can move on.
So Scrivener is out. Any word processing program will do. I’ve been using FocusWriter, a “distraction-free” word processor, for short story drafts and blog posts. I edit in MS Word 2003. Unlike other full-screen editors, FocusWriter can save in rtf and has the full range of formatting options along with a spellcheckers. But mainly, I can set the background to black and save on my laptop’s battery life. And it makes typewriter noises. Typewriter noises are important to me. Yet I found that if your document gets too long and you have to work on it in a different word processor, FocusWriter will randomly insert large blank gaps into your file when you go back to it, so it’s not ideal for novels.
(Digression: Why the typewriter noises? I didn’t have a computer until I was 12 years old. I did have an old Brother portable typewriter that I used for school projects, so the noises bring back a nostalgic buzz of pleasure, I think.)
The tactile experience of writing with a pen is an important element in getting down ideas, I find. Plus many of those ideas come in pictures, in sketches, and I like that freedom. Just the same as the tactile experience of pressing fingers to a keyboard has become an important part of composing prose for me. Both of these come out of habit. I have no reason to change them, as of yet.
Posted in Articles | Tagged writing | 2 Comments »
What scares me most about Tyra Banks’s Modelland (2011) is that I think she actually wrote it. Usually, when a celebrity decides to become a novelist, they collaborate with a known author or else a ghostwriter does the job for them. There’s a rash of YA books coming out now from television and movie personalities that take the latter option, leading to mediocre but at least technically competent novels selling based on the star’s name alone that mercifully disappear a few months later.
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I don’t know where this is, but I want to go there.
I feel most at peace when surrounded by books. This isn’t much of a surprise. Either at school or at work, when I grew stressed I would unwind in used bookstores. Regular bookstores, even independent ones, are too clean, too orderly. I love libraries, but they too lack the messiness I crave. There’s nothing quite like close-packed shelves of ragged paperbacks shoved haphazardly together to set my mind at ease. That’s a feeling e-readers will never fulfil: the physical experience of the book, the weight of printed pages, printed words. The feeling that every book has another story attached to it, that of its previous owners, inscribed by fingerprints, cracked spines, smudges, fingerprints, mementos stuck between the pages. Add a cat or two to that mental impression, a set of musty soft chairs, and you achieve a perfect atmosphere of calm.
There’s another aspect: I can’t recall ever having any substantial conversations with the staff at a regular bookshop. Whereas staff at used ones have approached me to talk once they recognize my face (sometimes without knowing me at all, like when I wandered into a closing establishment in Edmonton during a two-week visit), and talk to me about my purchases–which authors they like, whether I snagged a volume they were looking at, etc. If you’ve listened to any of the podcasts here, you know I’m most comfortable talking about books or history, so it never feels awkward.
The only difficulty is browsing in a used bookstore for an hour or more, soaking in the good vibes, and not finding anything to buy. I always feel guilty leaving without a book, as if I owe the proprietors for just experiencing the place. Yet it was incomplete–the joy of discovery remains the goal of any customer. Finding something to read, to enjoy, to reread, over the course of years and years.
Posted in Articles | Tagged books, used bookstores | 1 Comment »
Magazines that publish fantasy short stories have increasingly moved to a web-only format. This applies to short fiction venues in general, and I have no qualms submitting to webzines when they promise pro or semipro remuneration. However, I can’t recall ever finishing a short story featured in an online magazine that was over 2000 words in length. This fact struck me while reading Catherynne Valente’s short story collection The Bread we Eat in Dreams. There was a lot of buzz about the title story when it was initially published in Apex, a webzine, but never made it more than a few paragraphs in while reading it online. Yet I had no trouble reading the “The Bread we Eat in Dreams” all the way through in the print collection.*
Strangely, I don’t have problems reading long documents on my laptop. I’ve read entire scanned books on the screen as pdfs during grad school. These scanned materials were always formatted from a printed page, and typesetters were and are very good at making the text as easy on the eyes as they can. I can’t say the same for website designers; instead of giving me a clear text, the short stories in webzines often have fonts and colour combinations that don’t quite work. Strange Horizons, for example, has formatting choices that encourage scanning the page instead of reading each word…or at least it seems that way every time I’m directed to a story published there.
I’m encouraged by seeing some sites includes a link to a pdf or epub version of the story you can download to your desktop and read off your chosen device. The clean formatting in these files, shorn of the links and sidebars and graphical elements of the host website, makes for far easier reading. Since I can’t be the only one who experiences texts this way, I’m hoping this trend spreads to the major webzines so that others like me can fully enjoy the stories they publish.
Posted in Articles | Tagged short stories, webzines | 3 Comments »
It’s revealing that while I own a copy of Crusader Kings II (Paradox Entertainment), I barely ever play it, instead favouring 1991’s Medieval Lords: Soldier Kings of Europe (SSI). This isn’t knocking Crusader Kings II, which deserves all the praise it gets; I just have a fondness for older games from the DOS era that goes back to when I was a teenager (full story here). I’m also a great fan of turn-based strategy games with historical settings. I bring up Crusader Kings II because Medieval Lords covers much the same territory–you play as an advisor to a dynasty of your choosing and guide the various kingdoms of medieval Europe and the Middle East as kings, caliphs and sultans fight and die, nations rise and fall, and plague wipes out vast swathes of the population. Since the advisors have names and pass from heir to heir, and if you select the right options you can play against various AI-controlled advisors (or other people if they’re into crowding around the computer), I like to think of them as immortal vampires vying with each other for supremacy. A medieval secret vampire vizier cabal, if you will.
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Posted in Articles, Reviews | Tagged computer games, history, Medieval Lords: Soldier Kings of Europe | 1 Comment »
What I miss most from the University of Alberta is not the campus but the library. Not that the physical library space is all that impressive–though Rutherford Library has a certain charm in its brick walls and close-packed shelves–but there are memories there from my days as an undergraduate, bumping into friends on each floor and having long conversations between classes. Added to that was the specific selection of books: one of the book donations to the U of A was among the largest science fiction and fantasy collection in Canada. Every work early fantasy you could imagine–Lord Dunsany, Clark Ashton Smith, C.L. Moore, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Fritz Lieber–had a space on the shelves, and if the desired volume wasn’t available at Rutherford, you could almost certainly order it from the Book and Records Repository and get your mitts on it within a day. I haven’t been able to find a book by Clark Ashton Smith since.
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I am growing ever more weary from some members of the sf community championing the idea that the chief value of science fiction and fantasy is entertainment above all else, that these genres should not explore deeper aspects of self, society and culture because they overwhelm the story and transform the work into “message fiction” no one wants. Never mind that a good story, a deep story, a worthwhile story does explore the inmost world of the author and the culture surrounding him or her. The books that stay with me are the ones that aren’t merely entertaining, they’re the ones push boundaries of human experience, that let me see outside of our comfortable societal ideas of the norm. These books are fascinating and emotionally resonant because they take advantage of fantastic literature’s chief draw: the ability to articulate worlds different from our own. A book can do this and remain a quick, compulsive read; to include other visions of the human experience outside our immediate context can only help push forward a narrative, not hinder it. To say that sf is solely a vehicle for entertainment devalues the field and dismisses both its readers and writers as people unable to seriously connect, examine, and find meaning (or create it) with the text. It is to say the text has no power. I feel strongly on this point, because writing and reading fantasy has been an important part of my life, to how I ended up negotiating and building my dislocated identity, precisely because it articulates other worlds. Tackling troubling issues in sf does not “ruin” it; rather it expands sf, allows it to touch a wider range of readers, and makes it a legitimate (and vital) form of expression for a broader range of writers.
I can’t accept the premise that trying to find meaning in the narratives you spin is somehow wrong. And I won’t.
Posted in Articles | Tagged fantasy, science fiction, writing | 6 Comments »