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Posts Tagged ‘Creativity’

Back when I was a panelist at writing/sci-fi conventions, I would occasionally pop in at the workshops, where pros read/critiqued story submissions and provided a professional’s view. The critiques were honest assessments, often served with actual “pro tips,” but the stories submitted were usually—to be honest—pretty awful.

On one such occasion a pro author/editor I knew provided a critique that was both the shortest I’ve ever heard as well as the definition of “damning with faint praise.”

Her critique: “It’s very nicely typed.”

The newest title in the Firefly novel ‘verse is Una McCormack’s Firefly – Carnival, from Titan Books, and sadly, the best thing I can say about it is that “It’s very nicely bound.”

I’ve complained loud and long about previous titles in this series—the lone exception being Tim Lebbon’s entry, Firefly: Generations (also the only one with a title that comes with a colon instead of an en dash . . . go figger—as the entries written by James Lovegrove have been massive disappointments. Learning that this title was penned by a different author gave me hope.

Misplaced hope, as it turned out.

The basics of the plot are: Mal and crew are hired to provide security for a shipment and escort it across town from the train station to the space port where, once loaded, it flies off and they get paid. Naturally, things go wonky, the shipment goes astray, and two of Serenity’s crew are taken hostage—by the employer who hired the team—as collateral pending return of the goods or compensation for the loss. Failure, within 48 hours, and the “collateral” will be sent back in boxes.

Now, if that’s not a goofy enough setup for you, it gets better. Or worse. Example: the job pays 200 platinum (a ridiculously high wage for a few hours’ work) but when the crew is told they have to cover the losses, the sum is only 500 platinum (more than they have, of course, but 200 Pl is an unreasonable chunk of that profit margin).

The story unfolds and we learn that (unsurprisingly) nothing is as it seems, and therein lies the tale.

McCormack is a best-selling author of many television and movie tie-in novels, but reading this I came to the conclusion that those titles were best-sellers based on an established fan base and not on the style or content because . . . damn.

For any book set in the Firefly ‘Verse, you have to deal with the show’s excellent use of dialect and language. As with other books, the occasional sprinkling in of “g-less” gerunds (i.e., shootin’ and flyin’) helps evoke the tone from the show, and the reader fills in the rest. Lovegrove, for all his faults, did this well. McCormack does not. They pop up all over the place and, most troublesome, she throws them into non-dialogue sections, including those that are straight narrative and not part of a character’s internal thoughts. In addition, she decided to spice it up with other dialect elisions, such as “platinum” becoming “plat’num” which (to my ear at least) has no audible difference and only disturbs the eye as we trip over it. (In her defense, McCormack is a Brit who may very well have better diction than we Americans, so this may have made sense to her.)

Stylistically, the prose is pedestrian and flat, without any beauty. At regular intervals—presumably to evoke a feeling of action or a character making a quick assessment of surroundings—McCormack drops into a paragraph of fragment sentences. This in itself isn’t a bad practice, as it reads with more urgency, but when she drops pronouns and subjects from the beginning of the sentence, we have to re-read to make sure we get it, which obviates the point of the fragments.  In fact, McCormack often creates sentences where the syntax is imprecise or vague, and it can be read with one of two (sometimes opposite) meanings depending on inflection. This is simply poor writing, and should have been caught and fixed.

Sadly, the editors seem to have taken holiday on this book. And, halfway through, the proofreaders seem to have gone to join them. This is less McCormack’s fault than Titan Books’, though the author is not off the hook either. Content errors. Out-of-place references to current pop-culture. Missing punctuation. Typos. For all of these, the author gets proofs, too, and there are simply too many errors late in the book to deny a lackadaisical process from start to finish.

In short, it’s a hot mess and I found myself remembering Lovegrove’s less-than-stellar titles in the series with something approaching fondness.

The Firefly novels are now one for six, with Lebbon’s book being the only one worth the time. It’s sad, but it’s clear at this point that these are simply revenue streams—something I should have figured going in—hackwork without interest in the actual art and craft of writing.

Frankly, I don’t know that I’ll bother with any future titles. My love for the show, its original use of language, the depth of its characterizations, begins to suffer from such low-bar fare.

In short, these books are beginning to damage my calm.

k

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OK, Boomer. This is for you.

Last week, we signed up for a month of Disney+, and did so specifically to watch Peter Jackson’s documentary, “The Beatles: Get Back.

The Beatles were the soundtrack of my earliest youth, before I even knew who they were. I saw them on Ed Sullivan (“Why are all the girls screaming?”) and when my family took a road trip to Disneyland, I saw posters for them pasted on every block in L.A. (“Hehe. They spelled ‘beetles’ wrong.”). By the time I really knew who they were, they had begun to change, shifting from the classic rock and roll of Hard Day’s Night to the more musically complex tracks on Rubber Soul and Revolver. I followed them devotedly into their psychedelic phase, reveling in the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories that swirled around them during the Sgt Pepper/Abbey Road years. And, like most people at the time, I blamed Yoko for everything in the global post-mortem of the band’s break-up.

It’s no surprise, then, that I was willing to drop eight bucks to sign up with Disney+, just to watch Jackson’s three-part documentary about that final period.

What was a surprise was how moved I was by it, and for totally unexpected reasons. (more…)

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Maples at Seattle Arboretum

Well, sometimes the magic works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

I’m back from a two-week vacation and, for me, two weeks is the minimum required to feel like I’ve actually had a vacation. The first week I spend powering down—sleeping decent hours, relaxing, reading, puttering—but the second week is when my brain finally looks up, sees the sky, hears the birdsong, smiles, and forgets about the day job.

It was a good stay-at-home fortnight, filled with fall colors (in my gardens and around the Sound), blustery fall weather, rain, walks, movies, and even a bit of socializing. It was a rather creative time, as well. I finished building my hurdy-gurdy, cooked a couple of excellent meals, and managed to craft one or two fairly decent pieces for this blog.

But this week . . . eh, not so much.

Granted, the week back at work after well-spent time off is always difficult, but this one has been quite the challenge. You see, my retirement is out there, waiting. I can smell its heady aroma and hear its quiet song, lofted by the onshore breeze. Going back to the day job gets harder each time, but usually (thankfully) there’s a grace period granted to vacation-returnees: sufficient time to go through the mountains of emails; to catch up on all the changes, gossip, and news; and to ramp back up on the work we’d set aside during our weeks away.

This time, though, it was more of a “hit the ground running” type of week. I was met with an excessively aggressive deadline date (promised during my absence), plus a slew of quarterly meetings that stole a whole day that I really could have used trying to meet that promised deadline.

So, today, when I sat down in front of my blank sheet of paper and tried to come up with a poem or vignette, chicken-scratching my way around the metaphor that’s been in my head for a couple of days (family lineage as a river), I came up empty. Empty, that is, except for lines and stanzas written and then struck out, word clouds that dissipated into thin air, and several crumpled sheets of 11×18 newsprint on my office floor (which at least entertained the cat, if only for a few minutes).

I then compounded that frustration by spending the evening trying to solidify new ideas out of the ether—it’s not as though I had no ideas, just that I could bring none of them into sufficient focus to wrap words around—until, in the end, I cried, “Hold! Enough!”

And so here we are.

If I might torture another metaphor, every farmer knows that letting a field lie fallow for a time benefits the land and the crops. So, seeing as how I’ve been very creative during the past few months, I think I can allow myself a fallow week.

Here’s hoping that my crops rebound after the rest.

k

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Natalia has been with me for over forty-five years; Jess, over fifty.

Natalia and Jess have been my constant companions. They have accompanied me on journeys around the country and to foreign lands, accruing enough miles to circumnavigate the globe, twice. They’ve been there for every important event of my adult life. When I have needed them, in every instance, they have performed to the best of their ability.

I love them both dearly, and I want nothing for them but the best and fullest that life can offer.

Which is why it’s time for them to go.

(more…)

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The Princess Gang rolled into the cul-de-sac on the same day Mr. B’s plum tree decided to bloom.

That’s the first line from a story that started flowing yesterday. Remembering, of course, that (say it with me) all first drafts are crap, it’ll obviously go through some revisions, but the important thing is that it was followed by a thousand words of a quiet little story that’s been pinballing around my brain for over a year.

The reason I share this is because nothing like this has happened for a long, long time.

Yes, I’ve written some fiction in the past handful of years. Most of it has been in posts on this very blog—vignettes, word imagery, poems—all meant for immediate consumption. I’ve also been slugging my way through a championship bout with a new novel which, though reportedly of good quality (especially for a first draft), has been the most difficult fiction project of my life. But a short story, a for-real short story? It’s been years. The last one I wrote was “The Book of Solomon.” It’s good, and it found a home in The Timberline Review, but I wrote that story years ago, and there has been zip-a-dee-doo-dah since.

Then yesterday: Boom. My pen began to work. My brain began to conjure. It was like my voice suddenly returned after a decade of muted trauma.

Why? (more…)

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I see a silver-lit night, full moon struggling to pierce slate-colored clouds. I see a ghostly crag, pale rocks rising above a dark, heathered moor. I see a woman in blue standing at its summit, bare feet on bare stone, hair loose, arms wide, waiting.

The clouds marshal their forces, focus their power. Winds rise, rumbling forward, and rain comes down in icy sheets. The storm builds, advancing on the crag.

She stands tall and closes her eyes, her nostrils scenting the moss and granite beneath her feet, and the wind-swept tang of a miles-off sea.

Glassy whips lash the sky. The storm clenches its fist. Heather bows beneath its blasted screams.

The woman turns, facing the storm as it thunders toward her on lightning limbs. She tilts back her head, bares her throat.

The wind belches a roaring laugh, sprinting toward its prey.

With a smile and fulsome intent she grabs the wind, bends its trajectory, twisting its path, coiling it around her summit. She reels it in, pulling it to her. She breathes it in, breathes in its power. Her eyes flash open and she sees the swirling clouds above, the vortex of her control. The wind is within her now, part of her. The wind’s laugh is now her laugh.

This is not a victory, the wind not a vanquished enemy. This is a joining, a strengthening, a fusion.

She and the storm are one.

Now, she is power. Now, she is strength.

Now, she is the storm.

La Push

 

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Godfather G

Thanks to those who’ve taken the time to follow these posts. It’s been a bittersweet journey, but a valuable one for me.

This week, I went down to help my close up shop on my father’s life. For a poor kid from the backwoods of western Marin, grandson of an Italian immigrant, a high-school dropout who left home at thirteen and slept above the lanes when he worked as a pin-setter at the local bowling alley, he did pretty well.

His life was filled with love and grief. He had four talented children, but saw one of them succumb to addiction. He loved two wives, but saw them both die before him. He did not have a great number of friends, but those he had he treasured deeply.

I will miss him. I already do.

But all his troubles are now become as smoke, leaving him once more free of pain and worry.

Ciao, Papa. And thanks.

k

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