Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday Inspiration: Criticism

It may seem like an odd place to draw inspiration from. Odd but necessary, if you want to get anywhere. It is oh-so easy to tell yourself your writing is great and write a novel in a vacuum. Things get harder when you ask writing associates to critique your work and they come back with less than stellar reviews.

At first you don't want to even read all the comments. It's depressing. Then over time you think about them and realize there's a lot of value in what they said. After a few days you see how you can use that feedback to make some dramatic improvements and take your manuscript to the next level.

When you've been through all that, and polished things up as well as you can there's the gauntlet of finding an agent. If you make it that far it's easy to think you've got it made. A successful agent who makes a living by her eye for what will sell chose your manuscript out of the pile of thousands she receives every year. It's easy to get carried away at this point, imagining your book on the shelf next to some of your favorite authors. Imagining what the cover will look like. Chatting it up with fans at book signings... Ahh the life of a successful author.

I heard the author of The Golden Mean, Annabel Lyon, on the radio talking about her first few months after being published. She had been nominated for a major Canadian award, but still hadn't got much money from the publisher so needed to keep her day-job working in Munro's Books in Victoria (yes, strangely enough, THAT Munro, Alice Munro's ex-husband). When a customer would bring her book to the checkout she'd offer to sign it for them. Inevitably the customer would frown, clearly thinking, "Crazy woman, why would I want you to sign my book?" She'd flip to the author's photo at the back, hold it up next to her face and try to copy her expression from the photo. The customer would redden and thank her kindly for signing the book and she'd get a giggle from the episode.

That's where the thoughts tend to run when you've got an agent. What kind of great anecdotes am I going to have when I'm a famous author?

Then your manuscript goes out to publishers, and you get feedback from an editor. It's the same process all over, but harder this time. You've probably lived with the book for a year or more now, so you're getting a bit tired of it. On top of that all your dreams of massive, rock-star success pile up in a train-wreck. One more hurdle to overcome. Another, higher bar has been set and the manuscript is not clearing it. Time to knuckle down and get back to work on it, knowing that even this is not the last edit. If you're lucky it's the penultimate overhaul of your manuscript, but if the changes are accepted it will still mean another round. Then several more rounds of minor revisions.

The only way to survive, at least for me, is to find inspiration in the critiques. I look at them and think about how much better the final product will be for all the advice and feedback I've received. Maybe I will get to be a writing rock-star one day, but I won't have done it alone. There will be a litany of people to thank for telling me what I got wrong, taking me down a peg when I needed it and inspiring me to do better.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Fashion Friday: Office

Being a writer, one of my favourite types of Steampunkification involves office spaces. If you have a limited amount of space and you want your workstation to fold neatly away into your Steampunk home this first piece is sure to fit the bill. Nobody would ever guess you have a fully functioning computer desk in there. Perfect for time travellers who want to keep their high-tech devices hidden away too!

The next piece is just a fabulous antique roll-top desk. I've always loved roll-tops, I don't know why. If I ever have the money to get myself a really nice office space this will be the desk I'm looking for.

This office space, from Because we Can has a great feel to it. I love the wall map, perfect for fine-tuning my plans for world domination over a game of pool.

Last, the stealth-computer. I love the way the screen sits in the typewriter where the paper would have sat in the original model. Now if they can just get e-paper working well enough nobody need ever suspect your typewriter is more than it seems.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fashion Friday: 5 Weird Steampunk Works

I thought I'd do something a little different this week. It turned out to be more than just a little different. Enjoy.

Kris Kuksi created this assault bicycle, which I presume comes standard with a can-opener, even though it's not visible in the picture. The Swiss Army Knife of vehicles, I'm sure it's prepared for any contingency. Need a fifty megawatt green laser to fight off martians, check! Kryptonite dispenser in case you end up at-odds with Superman, check! This puppy has it all.

Too bad no human is strong enough to actually pedal the thing.

I'm not sure if this guy is supposed to be a Cthulu worshipper or a mad scientist who accidentally crossed his face with a squid. Either way it's pretty creepy... and weird. Needs goggles though.

This corset by Etsy seller Louiseblack is fairly disturbing. She needs to figure out how to get a realistic hologram in there to really blow people's minds.

Yes, that's a working computer mouse. Yes, that's a real skull. Why you'd want to have your sweaty palms on the skull of a deceased animal all day long, I'm not entirely sure. But, if that's your thing you can find it on the Internet. Is there anything the Internet can't do? (The answer is yes, it can't erase images of things better left unseen, you know the ones I mean, but give it time and they'll have an app for that)

Taxidermist Lisa Black created this last example. Yes, she's a taxidermist, that means it's a real heart. I presume it's not human... I certainly hope it's not human.

That's enough weirdness for one blog post, please comment, I love to hear from my readers.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday Inspiration: Google Maps

Sometimes I wonder how authors a hundred years ago did it. I mean, I've travelled quite extensively, I've been to Europe eight or ten times, Australia, all through North America and a little island hopping in the Caribbean, but I haven't been to half the places that come up in my writing. The Internet in general is an invaluable tool, I can find out that the floor of St. James Church on Piccadilly is made of stone, and as I've mentioned before, the catalpha tree out front of the church was probably not there in my timeline.

But Google Maps, especially the feature with the little yellow guy called Streetview lets me get right into the middle of things. I can look around and really get a feel for a place and imagine what it would have been like a hundred years ago.

I'm sure that many authors before the age of the Internet just got things wrong. If you read Robinson Crusoe with a modern knowledge of geography you'll immediately spot some problems with the flora and fauna on his desert island. It seems more European in many ways than Caribbean. Not that I would ever criticise Defoe for his lack of research, it was a lot of work in those days, if you could find the information at all.

My story begins here.

It took me a few hours to find the appropriate location in London, but once I'd found it, and explored around a bit I knew it was the perfect location for Robert (our hero) to be stuck begging in the streets from the wealthy visitors to Pall Mall.

Recently he's been on a trip. From London to the docks at Southampton.

Then off by ship to Freetown.

Inland from the coast of South Africa.

Where he finally winds up in the middle of the desert.

Even there, in the middle of nowhere, I can find pictures and I can explore the roadways to get a feel for the surrounding landscape. If I didn't have a book to write I'd probably spend a lot more time exploring, but for now I have to get back to work.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Inspiration: Where do Ideas Come From?

Yesterday, as I was stepping out of the shower I had an epiphany about my current WIP. I knew how the beginning and the end had to go, but there was a lot of murkiness in the middle. Just as I was towelling off it hit me. The perfect middle. I hopped into my clothes and jotted down a few notes so I wouldn't forget anything.

I listened to the radio show Spark: Technology and the Wandering Mind on the weekend. In one segment they talked about how human brains spend about 30% of waking hours thinking about things other than the task at hand and how this idle brain activity is where most of our creativity spawns. Like sleep and dreaming it is an essential activity if we want to keep our brains in proper working order. The best time for mind-wandering, they explained, is when you're working at a mundane task which doesn't occupy your full attention.

On the show, they discussed how many people are crushing that creative thinking-time by constantly plugging themselves in to their wireless devices. It's most noticeable in children, the scientist explained, because they have such active imaginations, but the 50% of American kids who are exposed daily to handheld computers of one kind or another (leap-pad, iPhone, whatever) show demonstrably less creativity than those with less exposure.

Which, combined with the shower got me to thinking. All of my best ideas have come to me while I was away from the computer, but whenever I'm sitting at my desk and struggling to come up with story ideas I tend to just sit here. I blog, visit writer's forums and such, but as long as my mind is occupied there's no room for that perfect solution to filter through to the surface.

I will try an experiment over the next few weeks. I will spend more time away from the computer to give myself time to think. I'll see if I get more writing done, or less.

In the meantime, I'm just glad I don't have a smart-phone and I'm not addicted to Facebook.