Monday, December 1, 2014

Another year, another chunk of novel...

So I finished the 50000 words for November, ending a scene, but not the chapter, and obviously not the novel as a whole. Yes, I could have written more in the month, but I didn't. You can tell because I slacked off the first few weeks and then had to play catch-up with 2000-3000 words every day. That pace wasn't impossible. It just required more focus, and more of me going around muttering "Must write 50000 words!" and "I have to go do my 2000 words" repeated ad nauseum, which is annoying for my family.

By Saturday, my son was fed up with it and started mocking my "old lady" typing skills, LOL. (He had to learn to type fast in order to be able to chat and shoot people at the same time in those online multiplayer shooty games.) So we had a typing contest. He won. How embarrassing for me, ha ha ha! And then he wanted to prove that 2000 words was a piece of cake. So then he went and typed up his 300 word story in seven minutes and printed it out to wave at me. And then he did the sequel. Ok, so the plot was a little lacking. (I'm not sure what it was... dwarves and goblin trolls and "Give me the power." Also "Give me the internet, forsooth my power will be taken. Fish shall be fried.") Heh. Never have word wars with your children.

So yeah. Novel. Many chapters of. Must more chapters write. Before I forget to pick up the revenge thread from chapter 9 (or 8 or 10, whatever). Because I had a whole chapter with A taking that person prisoner. She must return later at some inconvenient time for VENGEANCE!!!!!!!!111111ONE111!! And I have to finish the chapter I ended in yesterday, to set up the other (bigger?) revenge thread.

Characters all sound the same. Must fix. Later.

Characters all too nice. Or else A is a gullible fool. Well. She is, or she wouldn't have started the novel being surprised by her buddy's retirement plan turning into a bloodbath.

What happened to B2?

What is the name of B'?

How did D1 sneak into B's plan? Now we will have characters A and C irritating B by looking for ghosts.

When is the Ninth Prince's Divine Flute and Demonic Drum Ensemble going to have its grand performance? Or even a demo? What do the costumes look like?

Not more fighting. Argh, the fight scenes, they suck. (Also, just watched "Battle of Wits"/"Mo Gong" or whatever it's called and these more historical fantasy movies do a bit better with the realistic-ish weapon and armor. Ancient times. Shields! Spears! Armor! Bows! No long flowing anime hair! Falling hurts! No flying around!) (But I am still doing a "flying swordsmen" novel. So whatever. Comes out weirdly though, as someone who can (basically) fly can get around even when they have two broken legs! What I don't understand is why, in that genre, people ever think that someone who fell/jumped off a cliff is dead. They never are. Also, scary high cliffs seem to be amazingly common in China. One within walking distance of every village! I suppose if I wanted to jump off a cliff, I'd go to the rock-climbing places by the river. But they don't look nearly as scary as the cliffs one sees in TV/movies.)

Well, I still want to know what happened in my story. So I guess I'll keep writing it. I may take a break and resume in January. (My younger daughter is bugging me to go work on her app now that NaNo is over.) We'll see.

Friday, November 28, 2014

3 more days, 7000 more words

Well, 7000 more until 50000. At which point I will probably have reached the part in my original outline that was "the beginning". I think I just accidentally wrote the prequel to my novel. D'oh! That's ok, it means I was secretly a "pantser" all along. Or something. Or I'm always more interested in writing things other than what I'm supposed to be writing. So next year I will pretend to be writing the sequel to this novel and accidentally end up writing this year's planned NaNo. Right? Right?

Annoyance of the day: accidentally deleted all the mail in my inbox. Grrr. This was the primitive linux mail utility, which means gone is gone. (Like the time I was "organizing" my files and had a "what, you didn't really mean to rm -r * from that directory? LOL!" moment. Lucky I had a backup. Good old unix things.) Well, probably there's some way to recover it, but I don't care enough to spend time to figure it out.

Fantasy cliche of the day: Everyone thinks you're a traitor, when actually you're secretly a demon. As a result, you get kicked out of your organization. Teh traumaz! (Well, no. The character decided to go on an extended vacation before seeking a new job.)

Musical selection of the day: String quartets (and quintets) by Antonin Dvorak. I don't mean just the "American" (quartet #12, op. 96), but also especially numbers 8 and 9. I have a recording of those two with the New Vlach Quartet which is one of my favorite things ever. Love the super-mysterious second movement of #8. And the second movement of quartet #14 has been going through my head this morning. Right. That should get me through some words today!

So... 7000 words. That's about two chapters for me. Not so bad. On the other hand, my story will not be finished. Although... thinking about it... it could be the cliffhanger ending for part one of a series. It almost works. Even if it is a downer.

Sometime in the next three days I have to decide what this "magical superweapon" that I mentioned in my outline actually is. Crazy immortal collects antiques and supernatural artifacts. It could be anything! (Except the zither of doom. That one's already been used in someone else's novel.) Some kind of single-use item would be best, or some multiple-use item that is superpowered if you overcharge it and destroy it. That kind of thing. Ten thousand year Persimmon of Ultimate Destruction? Hmmm.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The "use magic!" scenes are even worse than the "everybody fight!" scenes

...and those are bad enough. I wanted to be at 40K yesterday night, but I ended up spending too much time watching "research" videos on Youtube. The thing about the genre (mythology/wuxia inspired fantasy) is that people want at least one fight scene each episode, as a point of visual interest. This translates into about one fight scene per chapter. And I would miss them if they weren't there (even though sometimes it's just boring) so I'm including them in my novel, too. Also, by convention, at least half the characters are skilled in martial arts. So then you have to let them show off their skills.

...but what about my skills (or lack thereof)? D'oh! I'm not a martial artist or fight choreographer. (All I have is a few classes in *mumble mumble* and fencing (foil).) Yeah. The funny thing is, even some of the classic wuxia novelists didn't always describe the fights. There's this one novel where there's a HUGE buildup to a showdown between the main character and the Big Scary. They keep meeting, exchanging portentous looks, and people (and the narrator) discuss each of their chances, etc. etc. etc. and the tension builds until finally at the very end they FIGHT! And it's like... the two walk into a room. The main character walks out. The end! Ha ha! It's amusing to see how the TV/movie adaptations either go with the black box version or else attempt to show the actual fight. I should try that technique sometime. But you can't use it more than once per novel, or the aggravation will be too much.

...and what about "genre convention" vs (even the slightest sense of) "realism"? For example, why swords? They're all constantly using swords and being all awesome-sauce with their SWORDS and stabbing each other with SWORDS and learning super-duper SWORD arts. But when I look at the evidence (and physical/mechanical considerations), spears just seem so much better in so many ways. Unless you're stuck in some small space where you don't have room to use a spear, it looks like the spear fighter (assuming equal skills and training) can point and laugh at the sword fighter. Jabbity jab jab! And a point on the end of a long stick is gonna move fast, too. Very easy to threaten here, there, everywhere. While the sword fighter dances around in annoyance trying to get within reach to use the sword. Moving in is just delivering yourself for shish kebab. And if the sword fighter does somehow manage to get close, the spear fighter can always pull out a dagger, or go to hand-to-hand fighting (close range can nullify the sword as well as the spear). Of course, a shield equalizes things a bit, but those wuxia sword fighters are too cool for shields or armor! Idiocy.

Well, I'm trying to be cinematic, but it's hard to run those little movies in my head without tsking at the silliness. Especially when I'm describing the action in my dull, simple-minded prose.

And then there's trying to describe how people use magic. Maybe I can just sprinkle some nifty CGI into my novel. Pfeh. Magic has to be constrained. But the constraints get away from me. I cheat. I suppose that's the advantage of game systems over novels. You have a definite set of rules about what you can and can't do, and a character sheet reminding you of your abilities. Or sometimes I just forget what I decided. Or change my mind between chapters. Very annoying. You get the "why didn't you do <cool trick you did before> this time?" Or "if you can do THAT, why didn't you do it before, when it would really have come in handy?"

Oh well. Five days, 11000 words. I can do this, yeah?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Stop talking to yourself, character!

All my character wants to do is argue with people. And now that she's alone, she's started arguing with herself! D'oh. It adds to the word count, but I do get tired of it sometimes.

So it's day 23, and I'm now at 33K words. Blah. Another chapter or two, and I will have reached the originally planned starting point of my novel. I feel like that writer in Gene Wolfe's short story ("My Book") who was writing his book starting with the last word, and working back from there to end with "...I will begin the preface." Heh. I wish I was half as cool as Gene Wolfe.

Latest input from my son: "You need to have a romance in it!" Yes. He insisted. Well. I would like to have a romance, but I'm so bad at it. So, for the next chapter, I am having a background romance, involving A's great-grandmother and a snake demon/fairy. Whee! But for the main characters? Hrmm. The only person A might conceivably have had a romance with is going to get killed off a few chapters from now. By A. So it sucks to be her. But even if the person hadn't died, it was a monk who wasn't going to get romantically entangled with A anyway.

Meanwhile, being tired of solo violins, I switched my soundtrack to Schumann (I've conditioned myself to write whenever I hear his 3rd and 4th symphonies) and then Beethoven. For some reason, the Emperor concerto (Beethoven's piano concerto number 5) has been going through my head. I thought I had a recording of it, but I couldn't find it, so... time for another Amazon.com download! There was a nice cheap one with Rudolf Serkin, so I was happy. Piano concertos 3 and 5, woohoo! Actually, I used to hate piano music. It sounded terrible to me. But then when we played some piano concertos in orchestra, I realized that it sounded MUCH better live, close-up, in an auditorium, than it did over the crappy car speakers. After that, my imagination filled in the superior sound even when listening to recordings.

I'll try to get more writing done today, but it looks like the next few hours are taken. I'm told we are having hot-pot for lunch. And as it doesn't seem to be magically assembling itself, I guess that means I have to go prepare the various ingredients. I hope the thing still works. I bought an electric hot-pot thingy last month, because it seemed too expensive to pay about $20 a person to eat it at a restaurant. I can't manage quite the endless plates of meat/fish/shrimp/fish balls/seaweed/mushrooms/vegetables/etc etc etc that they have at the restaurant, but I think I must have at least one meat, one bean curd, one seaweed, 2-3 vegetables, radishes, mushrooms, rice noodles, mung bean noodles, udon noodles, instant ramen, linguine... yeah.

Friday, November 21, 2014

When in doubt, take a prisoner

Gah. Days behind, but I finally reached 30K words. And now it's coming back to me how horrible it always is, inching forward a hundred words at a time. (Except for the spammy 500 words I flew through right before lunch.)

I'm stalling. I admit it. I have no idea how my character is supposed to succeed at this hopeless task I set her. My outline just says "A uses magic to win. It's very disturbing and alienating". Not really. My mental outline says that. The outline in my notebook doesn't even mention this incident. I interpolated it between two other events because it seemed to fit.

"Uses magic to win". Well, thank you very much. So specific and helpful. Not.

The whole interpolated incident is lame, anyway. I told my son, "This is the part where the person has to sneak into a bandit fortress and assassinate the chief bandit," and he said, "You copied that! That was in that movie you were watching!" Naturally I can't remember which movie this was, but he's probably right. He said it was some Chinese thing. I said, "Then how do you know what happened? You can't understand Chinese." He said, "You told me when we were watching it!" So not only do I not remember watching it, I don't remember translating it for his benefit, either. Argh. So brain-dead. And my son thinks I'm just pretending not to remember. Ha. I wish.

But I couldn't even get that far. I don't know how the character breaks into the fortress. Or if she even should. But I had to type enough to make my quota for tonight, so just had to make up some random garbage... hence the kidnapping! Whee. Tomorrow I can have my character ask her prisoner how to infiltrate the damn fortress. But I refuse to do the "prisoner and escort" trick. That's too cliche even for me. Besides, A doesn't have enough allies to pull that off.

So. Think of something else. By tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

I've lost track of what day it is

...but I know I'm behind, behind, and even more behind. As I write this, I am at 22K.

ARRRRRGH! <--- This is me, not coping.

It's not NaNo's fault. It's the "SAD. SAD. SAD. SAD. SAD. SAD..." (with the occasional "Hungry.") for two straight days I fall to pieces at. You're sad, I'm sad, we're all sad and not doing anything productive. *clutches head and hides under the blanket (and that goes for about three of us in the family)* I tell him at least you're not going to that ultra-competitive college for magicians (the one in Lev Grossman's book) but it's not much comfort. We're still sad. And getting phone calls from the school isn't terribly helpful. Though it's amusing that when he's not sad, my son is the one telling me to go write my 2000 words and asking me what the plot is and trying to read my notebook.

Oh well.

I've sent him out to take a long walk with the dog. Perhaps tomorrow will be better. We live in hope.

As long as my words-needed-per-day is below 3000, it's still doable for me.

Though when I tried to explain my plot, it did come out sounding pretty lame. Drat. What can I say? It made sense to me in my head at the time. Of course, each time I get to a new scene and write it to find out what "really" happened, I change my mind about things and have to redo the "outline". For instance, today I had to switch two characters around so they made the reverse decisions of what I had originally planned for them. D'oh. Hmm. With any luck, it will come to some conclusion by the end of November. I would like to see how it all turns out. (That's why I'm writing this story and not some other one, after all.)

I suppose it's because I'm a simulationist at heart. The initial outline is what I get with crude approximations of the characters, and it always turns out to be inaccurate. NaNo is me running the simulation in more detail. I need to write the story because I can only run a short sequence of interactions in my head at any given moment.

The annoying thing is the backstory. I can't work those out properly until the characters start spewing out their life histories to each other. Stop! Argh! It's tell, tell, tell and no show for pages on end. I didn't show it in the first place because I thought it was boring, but the characters are incapable of being concise, damn them.

Anyway.

Still got lots more words to get through tonight.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Half-way? AH HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!

No. Not even close.

I've been a total basket-case pretty much all last week. It shouldn't really stop me writing, but I stop anyway. Oh well. So today I am at 17000 words right before I have to go make supper for everyone. It will be a frozen food day. I will do more writing later. I promise!

On the plus side, my kids did help me come up with names for characters D1, and D3 - D11. All right, yes, so far they are all minor characters who may not even show up in the novel, but every little bit helps. And having a name for D1 helped me come up with his backstory. Of course, now that I have a backstory, I had to go off and have him tell it all to character A ("Winter"). Poor Winter currently is stuck in bed with two broken legs, so she has no choice but to listen to this story. Is the story relevant? Is it just ripped off from Pu Songling's tales? Err. Maybe. And let's say "inspired by" rather than "ripped off". Mountain trolls, monks, Taoist sorcerers... um, not calling them Taoists. What was it? Disciples of the Unspoken Way? That's what I'm calling them. Not that I'm fooling anyone with that. On the other hand, I'm stealing my son's magic spell chant for the monks and making them go "ogol ogol ogol". Well. Changed it to "Ogol-daha-mi" because of reasons.

I am actually enjoying parts of the story. Whee. Not immortal prose or anything, but it's fun to hack out these cheesy cliches. Amusing to me to write stereotypical wuxia dialogue in my head in Chinese and then try to translate that into English. But I can't help having my own take on how all the magical stuff works, so it's all a mess really.

I just...have to...write...faster...more hours...

I can't help but go back and edit bits here and there. And deleting and rewriting sentences as I go. Which is against the spirit of NaNo, but since this is the only month I commit to sitting down and writing massive chunks of prose, I'm gonna do it the way I feel like doing it.

Also. Stupid outline! Y U so vague? "A somehow manages to defeat D1 and get away. D1 plants something on A?" and then "A delivers the thing to B'. B has done something clever involving time (mirrors?) so that the ritual is reversed and B wins." GAH! I ask you. What am I even going to write when I get to those scenes? I have no clue. This is probably why I procrastinate and stick in a dozen extra scenes before we get to the parts I actually had in my outline. As it is, I already pushed back the opening of my novel about 6 chapters. Ridiculous.

But how do I ever decide where to start the story? Eh? I suppose I originally had A start it. But now it's B. And I picked a different moment of disaster for A to introduce her (She had at least one before and one after that I could have used). So there's that. And to make life more fun for them all, I introduced more horror elements (alone in the house with your dead grandmother, killing fluffy animals, eating dead enemies to keep plagues from starting, etc.) Yay me.

Yes. Clearly I am still a basket-case. But I will be a basket-case who is writing NaNo words. Yeah. Any minute now.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

I can't take "it" anymore!

Right, that's that, then, I'm switching to a made-up gender neutral pronoun instead of using "it". The one that ended up working best for me was "ze" and "zer" (rhymes with "their"). It's less offensive to my eye and ear than "it". Though I will continue using "it" in things like "I can't take it" and "it's snowing" and so on. Using gender-neutral pronouns doesn't mean it's not a sexist society in my story, but people there accept whatever gender someone identifies as without worrying about the biology or personal history of possible sex changes. (Which happens more than you might think, due to people reincarnating and remembering their past lives.) Well, it's a fantasy setting. They don't have to have the same prejudices as a real life culture. This gender-switching thing must be in the air, though, as it came up in Doctor Who of all things recently (with a classic villain turning from male to female)! Total coincidence. I started with this NaNo idea ages ago, before this season of Doctor Who started.

Anyway, starting today with a word deficit. (Of course. Don't I do that every year?) Relying on cliches and tvtropes and tour package sites to get me through NaNo. If it weren't for cheesy cliches, I wouldn't even have any plot, so let's have a moment of appreciation for the old favorites. For example, today I introduce the old friend who's planning to retire after this one last trip/mission. Yep! I'm digging his grave already. And then I used the "Aha! Your father was my enemy and ruined my evil plan! Now here you are..." thing to link up a couple of my plot strands. Some revenge thing going on.

If I get at least 2000 words done today, I'll reward myself by watching the Doctor Who season finale. I'll try not to think about Dwarf Fortress. My son recently introduced me to the game. Ha ha ha! I'm playing it un-modded, for the classic cryptic experience. (Though I'm not hardcore enough to attempt it without reading the wiki and the quickstart guide.) All those little ASCII characters under my command! If only I could have them arrange themselves into words and sentences and insert them into my novel. Oh well.

I wonder if I should type out the backstory for one of the characters and include that in my word count? I don't actually want it in the novel at this point, but it's stuff I should know about. Hrmm. It could come up somewhere. Who knows? At the moment I just have some scribbled notes (much mocked by my son, who can't read my handwriting anyway.) Maybe a story inside the story. Or an outtake. Hmm.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Day 5: do we have enough snacks yet?

So it being NaNoWriMo, I went out and bought more snacks than usual. With another trip to Trader Joe's yesterday, I now have more boxes of crackers than I know what to do with, a bag of almonds, two bags of pumpkin seeds (why do they only have the salted ones!?), cheese, romaine lettuce, and bread. From previous expeditions to supermarkets, I have instant noodle bowls, fruit, beef jerky, potato chips, mini Kit Kats, M & Ms, real Haribo gummy bears, peach gummies, lychee gummies, spicy peas, and frozen potstickers. The problem with this is that here I am now eating leftover pork chops with TJ's pumpkin cranberry crisps and gummy bears for lunch. Hrmm.

So yeah. The hours and days of NaNo tick relentlessly on.

ARRGH! I'm at 8000 words now. Behind-ish as usual.

It takes forever to get any words out. I feel like I've been typing for ages, but when I scroll back through the file, I can't help thinking "What? Was that it?! That's hardly anything!"

And it isn't, since I'm still following the orphan boy ("Lolo")'s tale. Even though I will have other chapters in between later, I want to write down this storyline while it's fresh in my mind. This makes it seem as if Lolo is the main character in the book, since basically he's all I've written about so far!

Slow slow slow... such slowness... wow.

So every time I introduce another in the band of orphans, the story goes on hold for ten minutes while I try to think up a suitable name. Gah! "Yang Ash Peach"!? WTF? I had to pick something, and that's where my mental roulette wheel ended up. With any luck, I'll kill off 4/5 of them in the next scene. So that's something to look forward to.

Must...write...more...words...

Monday, November 3, 2014

Day 3, blech

Well, I just got to 4000 words, so it's time for my day 3 moan of "Gah! Behind already!" I was going to write much today (after writing "not much" yesterday), but then things didn't go to plan and the day is grrrrrrrrrrr bad. Oh well. I wrote about 1000 words anyway, and I'll write some more later. Just taking a short bloggy break.

So 4000 words in, and I'm still on the boy (character B2) and his dying grandmother (B2.1?). They both have names, at least. Not good ones (why did I decide to call the boy "Lolo"? Why? WHY!? LOLOLOL.... errr.... no...) but they do have them. B2 will get a new name when he gets adopted, but that hasn't happened yet.

Yeah. This was supposed to be over by now! Lolo was supposed to be with the other boys singing "Consider yourself (part of the furniture?)" or "It's a hard knock life" or something by now. But no. This intro section is going on and on. Well, at least it's words on the page.

To be fair, it's also our introduction to B (the goddess character). The original B, before the messy business of incarnation happens. And yippee, I also have a name for B! (A rip off, but who cares?)

The hard part was writing 4000 words and hardly using any singular third person pronouns. Man, this calling everyone "it" thing is killing me. Stupid. More with the "it" faster, and I'd be used to "it" by now. But I'm not. Maybe I should have gone with "zie" instead. Ah well.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

It begins! (NaNoWriMo 2014 Edition)

Aka "I'm doomed! DOOMED!"

It's only the first day and the first two hundred words and my Plan already requires a rethink. It's like this. I couldn't think of a good name for my story (or the Scooby Gang, which is my new Scooby Gang after the Salt Gang retired, or before they were born, or something) so I just made up a temporary name: "The Mud Cult". All very well and fine, but then I had to have some way of making that make sense in the story.

So as I was falling asleep last night, I thought I could open my novel with one of those epigraph thingies that people have. This being a fantasy novel, it would be a completely made-up quotation from a completely made-up book. Now, Chinese traditionally has a zillion aphorisms or idioms or what have you, that students are supposed to learn about in school so they sound educated. (Like in that Star Trek TNG episode "Darmok", except not so extreme.) Mostly these are archaic four-word sayings which uneducated people have no clue about. (In TV shows/media, you have those characters who use the sayings, and then the other characters who complain "Stop with the four word this, four word that, you know I have no clue what you're talking about!!!") Anyway, I figured the "Mud Cult" must be a reference to some such saying. Luckily I have an English language book (volume 3 out of who knows how many) that explains a bunch of these idioms. I browsed through it and thought about inventing one of my own...

...and this morning came up with this (complete with horrible "fantasy language transcription": I'm too lazy to make up a real fantasy language, too ignorant to use real Chinese):

Saying: "Mong teen bo nay." (To blind yourself to Heaven and worship mud.)

Accepted Meaning: Don't put your faith in the ephemeral.

Origin: (from the "Historical Records" of Shiye the Honest Scribe)

During the Broken Mirror Period, the king of Gan was at war with the king of Towan. The border between their kingdoms being well-guarded, the king of Gan marched its army through the Atkaloi hills, the home of the Kaloi tribe. The Kaloi refused to allow passage of the army, stubborn in their resistance. They cursed Gan with the fury of the Dwellers in the Dark, their tribal gods that haunted the cave-riddled hill country. They raided the supply wagons and threw rocks from the high places where the road wound through narrow valleys. The king's army was superior in its number and quality of weapons, yet to pursue the tribe through the hills would be a waste of resources.

The king of Gan's minister suggested a strategem to the king: let the idols be seized from the holy caves of the Kaloi. The idols being made out of dried mud, when set in the open under the sky, the afternoon's thunderstorm soon washed them into puddles of goo.

The spirit went out of the Kaloi with the dissolution of their holy figures, and they soon submitted to the king of Gan.

Commented the king's minister, "This is what happens when you blind yourself to Heaven and worship mud."

--- From "The Compiled Sayings, Volume 4"

So then I'm like, "Oh. So that's what it means?" Clearly, it's the purpose of this year's novel to prove the saying wrong. If I have something like that at the beginning, how else can I end it? Since the novel is called "The Mud Cult", and I want to have a (mostly) happy ending, it's inevitable. Philosophically, I guess it must be like the "slow food" movement. Cook delicious food, then eat it. Mmm, fooooood...

Wait wait wait. Where was I? Oh yeah. Now my novel will have some banal theme about the value of the ephemeral. That probably means that my "happy ending" will include lots of characters dying. ARRRGH! It must be so. Even before I wrote the bit above about worshipping mud, I had pushed back my originally planned opening to start with the orphan boy... and the death of his grandmother! Begin as you mean to go on, and all that. Ha ha ha.

Day 1 is halfway over.

DOOMED!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Things that make me feel old

Here's one: watching my kids play games and watch videos on the computer.

I remember when I was little, my mother sometimes took me to her office, where she let me sit in front of her computer and play with it. She introduced me to this exciting new game they had, where you could type words onto a screen... and then press keys to move up and down in the document! And INSERT lines! And DELETE lines! She told me it was a "FULL-SCREEN EDITOR"! An amazing innovation in text editing!

Well. Consider that at home, we didn't have a computer, not even a terminal with a screen. We had one of those teletype machines, where everything was printed out onto a scroll of paper. What was it, about 300 baud? That's 300 bits per second. Bits! I remember playing (I think it was this) Kingdom and ending up with a printout of my game, recording all the poor peasants dying of starvation due to my mismanagement and so forth. It was way more fun than Hunt the Wumpus. Later, when one of my parents brought home a VT100, that was, like, so cool.

But I did like typewriters, too. We had an old manual typewriter that my parents let me have. I used to type pages of random gibberish on it. I'm still typing random gibberish today, so some things haven't changed. I wasn't as enterprising as my mother and her siblings, who used her family's typewriter to forge excuse notes back in the day. (That was more impressive since it was a mechanical Chinese typewriter. I don't even know how that works. Really complicated, apparently, as the teachers didn't think children would know how to use one.)

My mother must have had some affinity for "high tech", as even though she was a literature major, when she got out of school she found a job with IBM. That was in the days before people had things like "computer science". The old days when she could introduce a simple binary insertion sort on some database (I think it was) and have it be a vast improvement in efficiency! I don't know what was in the code before she changed it: maybe the sort where you compare the new element to every single old element until you find the right place to put it? The old days where she was able to find jobs easily because she could write code in assembly language. The old days where she could bluff her way into working for NASA ("yes, I know trigonometry") and quickly learn what she needed to know.

By 1980, I got a chance to play ADVENT on my parents' workplace computer. Probably some grad student introduced me to it. Wow. This was so much more fun than a text editor. (Yeah. You can see how being distracted by computer games has been a problem for me since forever.) And since this was before you could look up walkthroughs for everything on the Internet, when I got stuck, I printed out the source code for the game. It was in FORTRAN. I didn't know FORTRAN. D'oh! Still, you could more or less figure it out from all the text strings in the code.

But nowadays the kids walk around with 2 or 4 or 8 or (this year) 16 gigabytes of storage in their backpacks, and that's the cheap flash drive they use for their schoolwork.

*dodders back inside and sighs*

Well, that's my reminiscence of the day. (Aka my warmup for my NaNo, which is nothing to do with any of this, but at least I'm getting practice typing words again.)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Last weekend before Halloween. And NaNoWriMo!

Moar Pumpkins! Woot. I now have enough pumpkins for Halloween.

So. What about enough plot for NaNoWriMo?

Weeeellll....

I think I know where I want this story to end. I'm dragging in character E as a diversion. E will be the standard Wicked Prince. The father of the orphans.

It seems to be a Thing, in Chinese fantasy, that people will adopt orphans to train up as their loyal weapons. The orphans will owe their foster parent their lives, and give them their filial devotion. (The ones who don't get killed off early.) Sometimes the adopter will be super-evil, sometimes just run of the mill evil, sometimes neutral, and once in awhile even a good person. Sometimes the orphan will have one foster parent who loves them and one foster parent who ends up hating them. Sometimes the orphan siblings will fall out as one of them rebels against the wickedness of the foster parent.

So what is this to do with my plot? B will be tracking down one of these orphans, B2, who is the last survivor of the tribe that used to worship B. B2 will be my sacrificial lamb this year. Or is that too obvious? There will be some connection between C and B2. Remember that C was one of those orphans too, or nearly. Possibly his parents sold him when he was a toddler.

I say fantasy, but these things aren't as far-fetched as all that. Even in my family, things like that have happened (adopted children, being sold a boy servant by a poor family, having a girl passed off as a boy, long-lost offspring turning up unexpectedly, etc.) Even the traditional healer types exist, and people claim to be able to manipulate their (and your) "qi". Although the fellow who claimed to be able to do it over the phone must have thought everyone was truly gullible!

There we are then.

A few more days before the WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! begins.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

One more week to plan?

Yikes.

November is almost upon us.

I have been writing down some notes and the beginnings of an outline. Nothing too original or shocking. It starts with character A. A will be introduced as a caravan guard. A respectable career for a martial artist in this setting (as opposed to being a brigand or a gangster). Associated with character A are fellow guards A2, A3, and A4. And then the Bandits (group 1) and then the other Bandits (group 2). And then the wife, baby, and brother of character A2. Character A will of course also have a Secret Family Power, that A hardly ever uses because it's so EEEEEEVIL. But I still need to make up a name for it. Not only do characters need names, so do their various martial arts and mystical powers. Bah, humbug.

I suddenly realized I need some kind of antagonists. To start with, we have the Bandits (group 1 and group 2). Then we have A2, who made a deal with the Bandits (group 2). But A2 dies well within the introductory chapters. So then what? Time for another group of antagonists! I don't have a name for them, either. ARRRGH! Wait, yes I do: I'm calling them the "Godless Mountain Anti-God Sect". So we have character D1, a monk, who shows up on the scene to save A's life. This is so we can use the time-honored wuxia trope of "my savior is also my enemy! Oh noes!"

D1 leaves. Time passes. A is hired by character B2. B2 lasts for a chapter or two, then dies. A barely escapes. It's an attack by the GMAGS! (Honestly, I'm not making up ridiculously long names just to inflate my word count. They just seem long because I've forgotten too many words and am left with only simple words to string together to form names.) Then we go into the whole "on the run from strong enemies and nearly dying, but by some lucky chance managing to survive" cliche. But no one is jumping or falling off any cliffs today. So there! Anyway, D1 bites the dust.

That means it's time for the really nasty and despicable member of the GMAGS, D1's elder D2. Tremble at the awesome power of D2! Fear the D2!

No no no no no. Wait. We have B and C to introduce first. Except C will only appear in this one chapter before morphing into C', the "Ugly" form of C. C being "Immortal Beauty Phoenix Heart." Can you be any more vain?

Yeah. I'll think about it some more. There must be some kind of ending I can aim for. Probably a chapter where A, B, and C almost die. C comes to terms with the new B and stops being their enemy. D2 gets killed. A, B, and C get married and... no wait, they don't. They swear brotherhood and ride off into the sunset together to meet their next adventure, having become the kinder, gentler version of the GMAGS.

What A, B, and C have in common is that they are all three hybrids: half-human, half-demon/god. If one half-breed is a popular cliche, just think how much more fun it is with three of them!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Names and pronouns, oh my

Halfway through October and I still don't have names for my characters for this year's NaNo. I need a name to mark off a bit of mental space for each character. Calling them "A", "B", and "C" is annoying me. I need names! Names! First I need to name them, then I need to figure out if/how I should translate them. Blah. These are (Chinese-based) fantasy characters whose names are supposed to mean something, but also just sound like names and not words as such. If I use literal "translations", it sticks out too much in English and looks silly. If I just use random syllables, the meaning is lost. If I make up an entire fictional language and include a dictionary in the back, that's just ridiculous and more than I'm willing to do. I'll probably end up compromising.

For example, character A's surname will just be "Lyo", and then in the dialogue someone might remark that "'Lyo' has a knife in it" (as the literal meaning of "Lyo" would have to do with killing, and the written word would use the knife radical). I'll use English words for their personal name, familiar name, and official nickname. That way the relationship between, say, "Winter's Green" and "Summer's Green" will be more clear, in that they are siblings in the same generation and have a shared element in their names. "Brother Winter" (or "Sister Winter") would be the familiar form. "Sword from the Snow, Lyo Winter's Green" would be the official nickname. But I can't imagine someone actually calling you "Winter's Green". "Winter's Green, it's time for supper!" "Winter's Green, thief, we hates you forever!" Um. No. Maybe I should just say "WG". Everyone can just be referred to by their initials, as a translation convention.

Which is all well and fine, but then I have character B, who needs at least seven names: one for the old scholar whose body it is, one for the scholar's pen name, one for the scholar's nickname, one for the inhabiting spirit's personal/binding name, one for the inhabiting spirit's honor name, one for the inhabiting spirit's title/temple name, and one for the inhabiting spirit's nickname. Character C needs an original childhood name, a theatre name, a slave name, a name in her Immortal Beauty form, a name for his disguised form, and a nickname.

And that's just the three main characters.

And then there's the problem of the pronouns. Is there any way to make this sound natural and also reflect the "original" language? In the setting for this year's NaNo, people distinguish between singular and plural, but not by gender. Humans, animals, inanimate objects, etc. are all referred to by the same third person singular pronoun. I thought about making up a word (or using one of the ones other people have proposed), but nothing really sounded right to me. I think I'll just use "it". "It" does have the advantage of already being a third person singular pronoun in English. While a bit awkward to be calling humans "it", I'm sure I'll get used to it.

What about plural second person? I suppose I'll have to get along without it, or use "you all".

What about the respectful form of the second person pronoun? Bah. English doesn't have that familiar/formal distinction anymore, which is annoying. "Thou" should be the familiar form, but nowadays most people don't hear it that way. If I have everyone calling each other "thou" and only use "you" in special cases, that will just sound strange.

In any case, status neutral "I" and "you" would not be used as much as in English. There would be "I" meaning "I who am under your command", "I" meaning "your slave", "I" meaning "your (the emperor's) servant", "I" meaning "I who am your student/apprentice/disciple", "I" used as the polite form towards strangers of (probably) equal or higher social status. For each case there would be the corresponding form of "you". I suppose I'll just use nouns in those cases. People refer to themselves and the person they are talking to in the third person. But I refuse to go into all that "this one" nonsense. ("This one is Lyo Winter's Green": arrrgh! No. Bad enough with the awkward name.)

Then what about first person plural? There is the "we" which means "myself and the group I am associated with and speaking for" in addition to a generic "we". Hmm. "We all"?

Anyway.

Names.

Must come up with a set soon. Where is my random names file? Bah.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Nano 2014 playlist...

...aka "any excuse to buy random music downloads off Amazon.com"

Well, it's October. So next month is November. Which is NaNoWriMo. Which means I should hack out some characters, plots, settings, etc. etc. etc.

But no. Instead I hear a random bit of music on the radio and think "ha ha ha ha ha! That's such a hilarious concerto. Man, that's way more dramatic than my NaNo plot so far." So my first selection this year is Paganini's first violin concerto (and the second concerto, which came on the same album). I downloaded this version:

with Salvatore Accardo. It's an older recording but still my favorite out of the different ones I listened to before buying. Anyway, it starts out so dramatically... it reminds me of an opera... Carl Maria von Weber and Rossini came to my mind... and goes on and on for three minutes, promising some kind of grand entrance (trumpets and all): a god or emperor or something. And then... and then... it's a violin! Yep, all that build-up, and all we get is a violin!? You have got to be kidding me! But the violin just totally pwns. Mwah ha ha ha! But then it does keep going and going and going. I admit to getting bored around the 15 minute mark. Luckily there's only about five more minutes and then we're into the second movement. Again, here we are with the operatic melodrama. This is the super-emo bit where the violin wails and struts about the stage singing about its doomed love affair. Or something. (I have no idea what Paganini was thinking. This is me pretending it's the music for my novel.) Finally we have the last movement: wow, so cute! It's so totally violin-y in a way that only someone like Paganini would write. Adorably non-singable. The second concerto is pretty fun, too. The third movement ("La Campanella") with the little bell is probably the most famous bit. (Cool enough to be borrowed and elaborated by other composers, just like his Caprice No. 24).

Which is all very well and good, but to avoid dying of a violin overdose, I have as my second pick the soundtrack from "Ashes of Time". The only (legal) download I could find was the "Redux" version:

Actually I bought it ages ago, but I haven't listened to it in awhile. Just like the Paganini pieces, the Ashes of Time music turned out to be so awesome that it was borrowed for a bunch of completely unrelated movies/TV series. I know of at least three that I personally watched. It's a little distracting if you remember where the music came from, but you get used to it. The emotional bits are still the emotional bits, even when the story is a different story.

And then we jump back in time to some Vivaldi (Trevor Pinnock leading the English Concert, playing on period instruments):

A massive album. Actually, I only bought the Vivaldi A minor Violin Concerto (RV 356), aka "the one that all the Suzuki students play" (yes, the radio announcer actually said that). And it's so true. My son (not a Suzuki student, but using the Suzuki books) is currently playing this piece, which is why I bought the download. Simon Standage, such a speed demon! (My son was terribly impressed with the third movement.) It is a totally compelling concerto. How can anyone resist? I had to steal the violin from my son and play it myself! His little sister had to steal the music book and try to play it too! And "accidentally" memorize it (at least the opening). Aieee! Back in the day, I was never officially assigned this piece, so I had to sneak out and buy a copy for myself and secretly play it!

Well, we'll see how far this playlist gets me this year.

Now, about the novel planning... umm... uhh... yeah. I'll do that. Honest. I am. I will. I have. Riiiight...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Bye bye, "alternate history"! Hello, "it's fantasy, stop bugging me about facts"!

All right, so I didn't get any writing done this summer (unless I do some this final week!), but I did end up randomly reading a bunch of books as "research" for the NaNo I was working on last year. Too little, too late, one could say, but hey, it was fascinating stuff: the history of slavery in Maryland and Virginia, the relations between the Africans and the Native Americans. In school and in popular consciousness we usually get the European-African and European-American angles, but not so much the one between the two "Other" groups. And it's relations between various "Others" that I wanted to explore what with the whole H.P. Lovecraft pastiche I was doing, inserting my own invented eldritch horrors into the mix, and seeing how each culture would deal with it.

Well, clearly, I didn't get very far with that, did I? Never even got to 50000 words last November.

But now after a summer of not writing, the plot bunnies are jumping on my head again. I think I will revisit. Only this time I'm mixing the 2012 and 2013 NaNo settings and doing everything in a complete fantasy setting.

No more worrying about "authenticity". It was never going to be authentic anyway. Worrying about it doesn't help me. I'd do the research whether I worried or not, and still get things wrong whether I worried or not.

Here we come, eldritch horrors in crazy wuxia hero land. Err. What?

No, no, it's like this. I didn't like any of the novel plots (what plots? I can't even remember what they were supposed to be, that's how good they were) I tried. I'd rather do episodic adventures around a central gang of heroes (or whatever). I have a few ideas in mind. Ideas, but no names yet. We'll see where this goes.

Apple season... and paw paws!?

Never mind the writing or coding or whatever, today (well, it was "today" when I first wrote that, now it's "a few days ago") was the perfect day to go to the farm and pick apples. Even our newspaper now has the weather report as "beautiful". (Since when did they start that? "Beautiful", "pleasant", "nice", etc. in the weekly forecast along with the little sun/rain/cloud symbols?) For an hour or so, one can indulge in the fantasy of having a big orchard full of fruit.

I should have more fruit trees in my stories... mmm... fruit trees... In real life I have a few fruit trees (planted a couple of years ago), but I'm really bad at this. My harvest this year consisted of a few mulberries and maybe two pears. Woot. Hence the trips to the local pick-your-own farm. So yeah, we came home with about thirty pounds of fresh apples. So much tastier than the waxy apple-shaped objects from the supermarket available during the rest of the year.

But wait... the farm is not the only source of fresh food! Ok, so, we've had berries and things from the woods before. But what about these paw paw trees I've heard about? That are supposedly native to the area I live in? Yeah. I planted a few of those in the yard, too. The good part: they tolerate shade and the deer don't touch them. The bad part: they seem to grow awfully slowly. So can I find some "in the wild"? (That are big enough to bear fruit.)

Can I?

I thought I remembered coming across them before, once, while walking with my kids. We found them on the ground and opened them, but discarded them, not knowing what they were... hmm. Now I know what the trees look like, I can try to find some with fruit...

So can I find any growing nearby?

Do these trees really exist?

Will I see any?

Oh. My. God.

The woods are filled with paw paw trees. It's a whole freaking forest of paw paws! AGH!

All those previously unidentified plants that I mentally categorized as "boring shrubs that grow in the understory"? Paw paws! More paw paws! Paw paws everywhere!

Look up, and there are the fully grown ones! Agh! All over the place! The deer must have eaten all the other trees!

Ok, yeah, time to point and laugh at idiot me. That's what I get for not knowing my trees (if it drops acorns on me, it's an oak. If the leaves look like the Canadian flag, it's a maple. Or something like that.)

That's the power of knowing what you're looking at, and of knowing where to look. (For paw paw trees, down by the Potomac, in the low, shady areas between the river and the C&O Canal.)

So yes, I did find some paw paw trees... big ones... with fruit growing on them. Apparently they aren't very good at pollination, so there's only a few fruit per tree. Luckily, it turned out to be easy to acquire the fruit: you just shake the tree until the paw paws fall out. And here I thought shaking fruit trees was just something you did in the Animal Crossing game! The paw paw trees don't get that big, so even I was able to shake them hard enough.

The ripe ones turn out to be all mushy: you can just squeeze them and split the skins open, then eat the yellowish goop inside. The taste was... sweet, not too sweet. My younger daughter said they tasted like figs. (But I think the paw paws are bland compared to figs.) Soft flesh, with big smooth seeds inside. Cool.

Three cheers for local fruit!

New this year for us (these are small, unripe examples):

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Aaand... now it's July

So did I achieve my June goals? I wanted to publish my first app. And I just posted it to Google Play today, so is that close enough? (I was too tired yesterday after participating in a game jam, which is like NaNo, only much much shorter.) Of course, my next goal is to have at least one person download my app. Erm. Yeah. There's over a million apps in the Google Play app store. Then again, there's billions of people in the world, so...

Yeah.

If I make $1 off of it, that will be more successful than my fiction writing. Ha ha ha ha ha!

Maybe I can convince my relatives to buy it. (My relatives have been known to buy freaking houses off each other when someone wanted to be a real estate agent, so what's 99 cents?)

Friday, June 20, 2014

June already? Dang...

So here I am still writing code, not fiction. Is self-publishing an app easier or harder than self-publishing a novel? Heh. It's all a big pain in the butt, as in, gotta get off it and do stuff. So many bits of stuff... register on sites, figure out legal foo with the Tax Gods, test the app, write an appealing description of the app, test the app some more, get decent images to upload, look for ways to promote the app, try not to spend too much more money, etc.

It looks like everyone expects their apps for free these days. So then one has to go the ad-filled route. Ugh. At least e-books seem free of that so far. I mean, how annoying would it be to read five pages, then have an advertisement shoved in your face?

Why am I even doing this? I suppose it's the same with apps as with stories: I want thing X to exist, it doesn't, I have to make it myself. And having gone to the trouble of making it, I want to share it with other people and get some return on my investment.

But probably I will want a break from this headache soon, which means it will be time to whip out my handy-dandy Nexus 7 and start writing again. I still have 2013's NaNo to finish! (I'm almost used to typing on the touch keyboard.) It's so portable! I installed a drawing app on it! It's totally convenient. It's only the mental block I have to overcome. But then again, my app was so small it hardly seems worth the effort unless I make a Big Damn Game next. We'll see what happens in July... write fiction? Write code? Hmm.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The 1853 World Champion of "Conceal, don't feel"

After I watched "Frozen" (the Disney movie), a feeling of familiarity nagged at the back of my mind. Elsa in all her repression and loneliness reminded me of...

...who was it...?

...aha. Last night it came to me. Icy Lucy Snowe of Charlotte Bronte's "Villette"! Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha. So of course I had to go back and reread the book. I can't see that ever being made into a Disney musical cartoon. (Though one might have thought that about "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", so who knows!) Lucy had an even more miserable early life than Elsa (except for the almost killing her own sister thing), and is left penniless without being a damned Queen! She has a few "Let it go" moments (heading off on a ship all by herself to a strange country where she doesn't know anyone or speak the language), then goes back to "don't let them in, don't let them see." Very brave, but almost completely shut off.

...which apparently goes so far as to include the reader. LOL. I love that. (Sometimes I hate it, but in this case I was amused and merely exasperated rather than driven into frothing book-flinging rage).

...and a bit of lying to herself at the same time.

I was also amused by the time she played a Hans-like character in their school vaudeville and totally got into the part. I guess that makes Anna (from Frozen) Ginevra Fanshawe! It makes sense, in a way, as even through all of Lucy's prim and proper disapproval of Ginevra, you can tell the two girls actually love each other dearly. (No, I'm not going to write Lucy/Ginevra slashfic, but with all that Lucy leaves unsaid, the reader is free to imagine as much as they want happening between the lines!) You can sort of see it in the way Lucy is totally jealous of Ginevra/Dr. John (who exactly is she jealous of? Both, in my opinion), but resigns herself to Polly/Dr. John. De Hamal (the man Ginevra ends up marrying) isn't as much of a threat, but more like a surrogate for Lucy herself (she played his part in the play!) Ginevra and Lucy understand each other. She's probably the only person to see Lucy as her own person without wishing to change her. (And vice versa. Lucy scolds Ginevra, but not really expecting any change.) And they're always gravitating towards each other. They share their food and their water bottles. How intimate! How heavy Ginevra's weight leaning into Lucy! (She mentions it repeatedly...) Ginevra writes to Lucy, and keeps on writing to her for years after Ginevra's marriage.

Dang, that Polly is kinda creepy, isn't she? Look how quick Lucy is to say "Hell, no!" to the offer of a job as a lady's companion to Polly. (Even though Lucy had earlier put up with a companion position to an old woman in England.) It seems Lucy feels she should approve of Polly, but can't bring herself to warm to her.

In real life, I don't like secrets, and I don't like lies. Reading narratives like this (full of concealment, where the narrator is all "truth? you can't handle the truth!") makes me feel claustrophobic and paranoid. But I'm fascinated at the same time. I don't think I can get into the mindset to write anything so indirect, but it's enlightening to read something and gradually piece the puzzle together. (Yeah, I'm thick, so it usually takes more than one readthrough.)

I'm sad there doesn't seem to be a movie version of "Villette". I would have liked to see how other people saw this story, or if it was a bad adaptation, I would have enjoyed a bit of purist rage. But nothing. Awww. Maybe it's time for a monster mashup of Villete. Continuing the "Frozen" line of thought... how about the Cthulhu/steampunk mecha version of Villette? I can make it a prequel to my 2013 NaNo. It will be a total abomination! Mwah ha ha ha ha!

(yeah, right).

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Do you wanna build a snowman? Or fly our kite around the hall?

Or both?

Olaf kite

So even though we were disappointed when the Blossom Kite Festival in DC got rained out ("rain"? There was snow!) last weekend, my family (and the neighbor's kid) still managed to have our own mini kite festival at a nearby field. There were even a few other people there flying kites today! But I think we were the only ones with homemade kites. :( When I was in elementary school, the school used to have a Kite Day where people were supposed to make and bring in their own kites, but I guess that's not a thing anymore.

My Frozen-mania continues unabated! Of course I made an Elsa kite! Elsa was tricky at first, kept trying to escape (it was pretty windy for us... an unsteady, gusty 10 mph). It was the first time I made a hexagonal kite (required for the snowflake! I HATE when people make non-hexagonal snowflakes). I found out that the ornamental cane/reeds I used for the spars were way too weak. Ideally, I'd use bamboo, but it takes tooooo looong for me to whittle them down into skinny, even sticks. Wooden dowels are too heavy and stiff in my opinion. So since I initially rigged it up with the string tied to the outside of the spars, I had the "inside-out umbrella" problem, even though I did have a string tied across the horizontal spar to make a bow. This was ok in still/slight breeze conditions, but fell apart as soon as there was wind. I ended up having to stab the kite through the center to re-rig it so the main stresses weren't coming from the edges.

Elsa was still flighty and prone to panic attacks, where she'd suddenly spin out of control if the wind was too strong, but as long as I let her go a bit, then used the power of love... err...

Elsa kite in the air

She's flying! Yes! That was a relief. I wasn't sure beforehand if she would.

I didn't know about the Olaf kite, either, as that was the first time I made a sled kite. I think the proportions were off a bit, but...

Olaf kite in the air

Olaf likes flying, too! But then the wind blew him to bits, just like in the movie, except in real life I don't have any sorcery to make him repair himself magically. I should have expected that, from our experience with the creeper (the Minecraft monster) kite we made last year. My daughter cut out and glued on a hundred "pixels" (10x10 creeper face)... it was depressing to watch them blowing away. Note to self: use stronger glue! Also, white plastic trash bags are insufficiently opaque. (But wooden dowels are fine for this type of kite, as long as you fasten them on securely.)

Looking back at my old posts, I see that we had bad weather the two previous years I posted about it. I guess the sunny years, I was having too much fun outside to sit at my computer and type in my blog. This time, I'm not even pretending to be working on a piece of writing. I'll just throw up one last picture as a distraction! Snooowflake... look at the shiny snoooowflaaaaaake...

Elsa kite

Thursday, March 20, 2014

So why destroy the universe if you're just going to recreate it...

...about a millisecond later and pretty much exactly the same as it was before?

I've encountered this in at least three stories in the past few years: once in a children's fantasy series (novels), once in Doctor Who, and once in a ten book epic that started out decades ago (1977!). Is it a thing now? Is it the zeitgeist? Is there a zeitgeist?

It's like a few years before that, I noticed a couple of "why do the dead not die?"* type of fantasy books, a sort of modern day approach to the traditional harrowing of hell.

But probably it's me seeing meaning in what are merely coincidences.

So yeah. While the "destroy the universe" thing is an old, old trope, I used to associate it with the rebirth of a new universe. After Ragnorak and the Fimbulwinter, the survivors creep out of the woods and start a new life. The New Sun finishes off the old Urth and brings in a new age. The dinosaurs march off to their doom but then new species rise up and multiply. The elements cycle around in each age, yadda yadda yadda. The point is, it's not the same freaking universe all over again!

Do people not want to let things go?

Why do the dead not die?

It must be something in the air.

Argh. I myself did the apocalypse thing for my 2008 NaNo! (I used the biblical Book of Revelation... and Norse mythology, because... uh... I can't resist Norse gods.) Did I do that "recreate the same universe" thing too? *facepalms* *goes to reread the last chapter* Oh yeah. I had it split between three main characters. One gathered up all the dead human souls and went off to start a new universe somewhere (freed of the supernatural, a fresh start, old memories wiped), one stayed behind to rule the wreckage of old earth in the body of Baphomet, and one plotted with Odin to make an assassin to kill God. (And then Odin faded away.) I think. Heh.

I didn't hit the giant reset button in the sky! Instead of restoring from a backup, I reformatted and went back to factory settings? While the corrupted data files were carried off onto a flash drive somewhere. Go me. Or something. But clearly I'm an indecisive wimp. (Three endings? What the hell? I need to go back and revise that novel.)

I dunno. I just feel it's something of a cop-out to return everything back the way it was. It's especially bad if most people don't even remember that anything happened at all. It's the same with the "wipe their memories and return them to their old lives" endings. They're almost as annoying as "it was just a dream!" We went through all of that, but if no one can tell the difference, did it really happen? Maybe the universe ended in between the previous sentence and this one. Does it matter? It leaves the reader/viewer with that hollow aftertaste.

I guess people are scared of dying. I'm scared of dying! But that's why I want my fiction to be braver than me, so that I can borrow that courage.

Let's see how many more reset-apocalypses I come across in the next few years... It looks like P. C. Hodgell's Kencyrath series is going down that DESTROY! PRESERVE! CREATE! road. But hopefully it will be the "new birth" version rather than the "clone-memory-implant" version. But it's not as urgent an apocalypse as some I've seen, so who knows how many more books it will be before the Big Kaboom.

* Ursula LeGuin, in "The Other Wind". Because Ursula LeGuin is Teh Awesome. Yeah.

Friday, March 7, 2014

So now I want to do a point-and-click adventure...

Hello, March! March 2014!? Gah.

I dropped all my coding projects last year when November and NaNoWriMo came around and demanded that I participate. Err. Ok, yeah, all my own choice. D'oh! But in any case, I didn't do any coding for the next couple of months. February rolled in and I had forgotten all the ActionScript 3 I had been trying to learn. So before I picked up my incomplete project again, I basically started over again with learning the language. What's the easiest game to code? A point and click adventure! Yeah!

I remember playing a bunch of those back in the day. And more recently, too, in the form of those "room escape" puzzles. I dunno. I kinda like them.

So one thing led to another and I basically coded my own point-and-click-adventure engine. And it seems a shame to waste the effort on a pathetic lame prototype. What to do, what to do?

Obviously, I must now make my own point-and-click adventure game! I swear, the code bunnies are as bad as the plot bunnies. But... but... hey! Shiny new idea!

So, it will be a series based on fairy tales... the first one will be built around the idea of "Help! My stepmother is trying to get me killed!" It's funny how a lot of traditional fairy tales are already like classic adventure games. (To kill the monster, you need to find its life, which is hidden inside obscure object A which is inside obscure object B in obscure location C etc. etc., and in order to find that out, you have to help the friendly NPC with their problems...)

Stop stop stop...

Never mind all that. Must... finish... other... project... first. It's amazing how many twiddly little details you need to do for even the simplest game. Achievement medals? Save game? Multiple saved games? Animated tutorial sequence? Better sound effects? Ugh. The TODO list just gets longer and longer.

But I gotta say, while coding is similar to fiction writing in the sense of "it's nice to have written something", the actual process of writing code and testing/debugging is more enjoyable for me than writing fiction and editing/revising.

Friday, February 21, 2014

"Frozen" obsession! (*spoilers for the movie*)

So lately, this... ...has become my most-watched short video, overtaking the "Night of the Doctor" Doctor Who minisode (the one with Paul McGann from last fall). Yes. I am one with the masses now! I love a Disney movie? Oh noes! (I haven't in awhile, even though as a child I was totally into Disney... had a songbook, records, etc. etc.) All right, so "Frozen" has plenty of plot holes and pacing problems and so on, but the parts I like, I really really really like. (This is often the case with me. I prefer imperfection and brilliance to something that's too polished.)

So, that was unexpected. Totally made up for the disappointment of the Hobbit movies.

From the title and the trailer I saw, I thought it would be some horrible comedy with a snowman and a caribou/reindeer. It was in that computer-generated animation style, too, while I generally prefer hand-drawn animation. (Sure, I've liked some Pixar movies, but I miss the classic painted look.) I didn't want to watch it at all, and probably never would have if my kids hadn't wanted to see it. Thank heaven for having kids!

First impressions: this is a bloody musical!? I was reminded of "Les Miserables" right away with the opening work song, and that impression has persisted. Sadly, the music in Les Mis is much stronger (and the songs more singable), so in my memory the "Frozen" songs got replaced by mental equivalents from Les Mis (doesn't help that I've listened to my Les Mis soundtrack soooo many times). And then it suddenly switched into being a "regular" movie late into the second half... I felt it was missing a song in the end. Hans should have had a solo villain song! Because otherwise his turn seemed too abrupt. Or if not that, then some kind of song binding the final climactic confrontations together. (And then dead silence when Anna freezes, sure.)

I loved the sisters. Anna as a child climbing on top of her sister who is trying to sleep! That is exactly how my kids were. (And I'd hear them off playing in the house, but ignore them until it all inevitably ended in tears! Well, except none of my kids ever accidentally killed the other...) Pushy Anna, retreating Elsa, it's a very realistic kind of interaction. Anna knows on some level what she is doing, but can't help herself. Elsa knows it too, but she won't stand her ground (despite the "here I stand" in her song, she still keeps backing away from everyone), and keeps on fleeing until there's nowhere to go and she finally snaps. And their regret afterwards was touching and realistic, too. "She didn't mean it! She was scared!" "You don't have to apologize... I know you mean well..." Elsa can't help but say the things that set Anna off ("The party's over!" which seemed directly pointed at Anna) despite feeling bad about it. In the moment, she can't manage to be more diplomatic. After all, Elsa could make some excuse and leave while letting everyone else enjoy the party. She could try to talk to Anna later instead of scoffing in her face about her "true love". Hans might have turned out to be a good match... no reason not to say "give it some time, and we'll see how everyone feels then". But people are imperfect... misunderstandings abound. I liked having the fear and misunderstanding be the conflict rather than some hammy external villain!

So sad for Elsa. Afraid to even touch anyone or be touched... until the worst happens and that's the moment when she finally allows herself to embrace her sister only because there's nothing more she could do to harm her. People say they wish there was more of Elsa, but I felt the glimpses we saw were all the more intense for being brief. (And this isn't a Snow Queen 40 episode TV series, after all!)

Computer animation... makes awesome snow! Wow. Just wow. A combination of a powerful, sophisticated physics simulation and art. It looked amazing. The characters, the ice, the snow, the wind... I especially loved the scene with Elsa's dash across the fjord, ice forming under her feet. And then the whole fjord freezing over. And every other scene with the ice and snow! And kudos to the sound design team. The ice sound effects were superb. Made the ice really feel like ICE.

Olaf! I expected to hate Olaf: annoying comedy sidekick. Who sings. But I ended up adoring Olaf. It's a combination of what he represents, and how the film-makers clearly know how much people can hate cute sidekicks but disarm the audience by impaling him themselves (a fate one wishes on other annoying sidekicks!) but have Olaf say "oh look, I've been impaled" *giggle* in such a goofy way that I can't help but love him. The first Olaf we see (the one that Elsa has to speak and animate by hand!) collapses and crumbles after the accident: the end of childhood innocence. The second time, Olaf is still innocent, but the shadow is on him... longing for summer even though it can kill him. Olaf seems to embody how Elsa subconsciously thinks of Anna: exuberant, loving, but longing for a closeness to something deadly. Maybe Elsa is trying to explain it to Anna (if Olaf is actually part of Elsa, then so is Olaf's song!) but Anna, as usual, has a hard time listening. She never does until that last time by the fireplace with Olaf.

Olaf was a brilliant solution to Elsa's need to bridge the chasm that had grown between the two sisters. The other bridge was more literal, but just as important. (Over the chasm to find herself and a place where she could be herself at last!)

No one got married! Elsa didn't even have a romance! Woo hoo! I was pleasantly surprised that the main relationship in this movie was between the sisters.

I like it better than the original Hans Christian Andersen "Snow Queen" fairy tale. (The sexism bothers me. Hypocritical of me to say so when I go on about how the racism is part of the charm of H.P. Lovecraft's stories, but there you go. I was glad they changed the Litte Mermaid story for the Disney movie, too!) And then there's a third version of the "Snow Queen" in my head. When I was little, I had a fairy tale picture book that included the "Snow Queen"... but it was in French. And I can't read French (then or now), so I made up the story from looking at the pictures. "Frozen" is definitely better than that version as well. :) There's a fourth version of the "Snow Queen"... the novel by Joan D. Vinge. THAT one I do love. No songs or videos, though!

Oh yeah. Songs. We're going to go see "Frozen" again tonight, but NOT NOT NOT the sing-along version. I had enough of that with my younger daughter belting out "Let it go" at the top of her voice to the video linked above... repeatedly... on my desktop computer...

...and missing most of the notes. The song really is difficult! I mean, more than normal! I personally find it hard to even keep it in my head. Usually I remember it wrong. (I tried to hack it out on a violin... but it's in a viola range, damn it! and all those flats... damn vocalists!) But that just shows how much talent Idina Menzel (Elsa) has! And the awesomeness of the animation! Anything less and the song would be blah. (For example, the Demi Lovato version of it just doesn't do it for me. And it's not that she's a bad singer... I dunno.)

The "Do you wanna build a snowman" song is actually probably the most singable. It's the one that stuck in my head after seeing the movie!

Plot holes, WTFs, and my headcanon

It's only when I like something that I start making up wild theories to explainify everything...

  • Anna has minor snow powers herself. How else can she slide around in the snow in her pajamas and build a snowman and so on for so long without once complaining about the cold? And she falls in icy water and trudges along without dying from hypothermia. It probably runs in the family, so they think it's normal!
  • Arendelle is a kingdom? It looks like it's just the one town and the fjord and the surrounding area. How do they have such a big fancy castle? So my theory is that a few generations back (maybe Elsa's great-grandparent), there was another king/queen with the ice sorcery. They became an ice tyrant who led Arendelle to conquer all the surrounding lands. They were popular in Arendelle but hated and feared everywhere else. This includes Wesselton (which is a Dukedom! implying it was once part of some larger kingdom), where people still have stories about the bad old days. Hence why the Duke is so immediately horrified and disgusted at the idea of sorcery and shouts "Monster!" the loudest.

    Perhaps the tyrant went too far, causing one of his/her own children to rebel. The rebels made an alliance with the trolls and ended up overthrowing the tyrant. Afterwards, the trolls and the other conquered areas gained their independence. There was some kind of secret treaty between the new king and the trolls. The official history books in Arendelle covered up the whole thing. However, the trolls have long memories and still don't trust this ice magic...

    Being afraid of the rise of another ice tyrant, the Grand Pabbie implants fear in the child and doesn't ever teach her to control her magic. The mob attacking the sorcerer really did happen... to Elsa's ancestor. Maybe they were hoping Elsa would end up exiling herself (best peaceful solution all around, from their point of view). They try to get their adopted child married into the royal family. Maybe they hoped through song to generate some true love between Kristoff and Anna! Did they mess with Sven to make him force Kristoff to return to Arendelle for Anna there at the end? Would a kiss from Kristoff have worked? Who knows...

  • How did Elsa get to the mountain so fast? Well, if she were a character in my old Armageddon roleplaying game, I'd put "Element 4 (Ice)" and "Element 3 (Air)" on her sheet. (Along with some kind of Alchemy or Conjury perhaps to explain the twigs on Olaf and how she can make sentient life. And the skates.) Level 4 of the power allows teleportation! So she generated a blizzard while fleeing the palace, then jumped from one storm to another on top of the naturally snowcapped mountains without realizing it. She also had a high Spirit level, which resulted in unconscious manifestations of her powers leaking everywhere, worsened by her mental state (fear of herself). If I still had the game... I can just imagine the players coming on and wanting to play these characters. The Powergamers would want to be Elsa, the Real RolePlayers would want to be Anna or the Duke. I'd end up making Olaf as my NPC... agh. (I'd be a powergamer on someone else's game, but in my own games I always ended up playing low-level humans and silly sidekicks.)
  • What's the deal with reindeer boy? Why does Kristoff have a name like "Kristoff" and where did Sven come from? Did the trolls kidnap him and alter his memories? Sven is the only reindeer to be seen in the movie! My theory is that Kristoff is the child of a nomad (one of the reindeer herding people of that world) who had a fling with one of the ice cutters. The mother named the kid after his father. But then she died, so another member of the tribe brought infant Kristoff and Sven to Kristoff's father, who died soon after that. So at the beginning of the movie, he is an orphan boy tagging along after the ice cutters. They feed him and let him hang around, but don't really care for him. This is why he's wandering off by himself at night and sees the King and Queen ride past with Elsa and Anna.
  • What's the deal with Hans? Did they really have to make him such a sociopath? It was so sudden. He was acting nice in front of his horse? His horse was also acting!? I would have expected someone like that to have slipped up in small ways in front of people who "don't matter". I thought it would be more "well, I'm number 13, I'll be lucky to marry well... hey, this girl is cute, next in line to a throne, and she's infatuated! Better make the most of it!" and that he at least found her pleasant even if he didn't love her. And then he would be frustrated and angry that Elsa refused to lift the winter, and that she had killed Anna (without Anna, Hans' claim to Arendelle would be much weakened). His killing Elsa would partly be motivated by revenge, partly spite, and partly in hopes of actually lifting the winter with her death (he was already thinking of Arendelle as "his" kingdom).

    I've also read the theory that Hans is the Mirror. (The mirror in the original was a major part of the story, but it doesn't explicitly appear in "Frozen"). It's plausible...but I think if it was the intent, it needed to be spelled out more. That's why a song would have helped!

    In any case, what we saw... was "Ha ha ha, I'm so ebul. Fooled ya! LOL!" and he didn't wait until Anna actually died before rushing off with his Evil Plans. Come on, he had patience before. Why not now?

  • They can get legally married in Arendelle with no witnesses? Maybe for commoners, but for royalty!? They had the big deal with the coronation. You'd think a marriage would be just as formal. Maybe they were just in a state of panic and letting it slide until the crisis was over. But who is "they"?
  • Is there no government in Arendelle? As far as I can tell, there are no ministers, legislators, judges, magistrates, clerks, secretaries, etc. etc. The visiting dignitaries are ruling Arendelle in Elsa's absence?! WTF? Elsa didn't have any subordinates working for her? We only ever see the household staff.
  • The household staff must have known about Elsa's powers. Who else would be cleaning up all the snowmelt from the castle floors from her childhood days? And afterwards, Elsa had such trouble containing her powers that the servants much have seen manifestations now and then. But I expect they were being polite and proper and pretending not to notice.
  • Why didn't anyone ask the trolls "what if Elsa had hit Anna in the heart? what do we do then?" The trolls are the ones who bring it up in the first place! ("The head can be persuaded, but the heart...") Grand Pabbie tells Elsa she has to learn to control her powers, but never gives a hint about how! When Elsa was struggling and clearly getting worse, why didn't her parents ever go back to the trolls? Couldn't they tutor Elsa in magic? Sorcery exists in their world... if not the trolls, why no other magic teacher? No "sorcery summer camp"? Or at least let her go off somewhere safe and practice. Granted, it might not have worked, but it doesn't seem like anyone tried.

So... *sings* "Do you wanna make a sequel?"

I may even watch it...

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Happy 2014! 11 days in already!?

...much of it wasted in watching some TV show I downloaded. It's not even new. 2004: that's a mere ten years ago. Ha. And after finishing it...

Come back, bloated Hobbit movie trilogy, all is forgiven!

Or not. But this series sure gives it a run for its money. It takes the 90-minute 1994 Deadful Melody and drags it out into 33 45-minute episodes. 33! It's supposedly based on a book ("六指琴魔"), but based on reading the first two chapters of the book so far, the TV series follows the movie more closely for its plot (shot for shot, scene for scene, it was just the same, except slower paced) but adds in a bunch of characters taken from the novel. Probably it's all about as faithful to the book as the "Swordsman" movies were (i.e. hardly at all!).

Like the old Hobbit movie, the old "Deadful Melody" was rushed and cartoonish (flying body parts! Wire-fu!). (Why am I even comparing them? Well, (if you include the full Lord of the Rings trilogy) they have similar themes with the corruption of power, powerful magic items, and people fighting and betraying each other for power. Except the Chinese one has more REVENGE! and FAMILY OBLIGATIONS! in it. And perhaps more female characters featured. Amusingly, both have women disguised as men.) The newer Deadly Melody series certainly isn't rushed... everything the movie did in thirty seconds the series takes ten minutes to do. If a short sequence was funny in the movie, the series repeats it 3-4 times over with slight variations. One positive effect: it slowed down enough for me to read the subtitles and realize that the "Late-arriving Monk" was not literally named that. His name was actually "Mercy/Compassion" (something along those lines) and the "late" bit was a pun. Well, of course it was. Everything in Chinese is a bloody pun.

Brigitte Lin as Xuemei Brigitte Lin (in the movie version) tries to convince her little brother of their relationship and that she's not completely a revenge-driven murderer. Ning Jing as Xuemei Ning Jing (in the TV series) tries the same thing. Apparently the actress said in an interview she didn't want to be compared to the (legendary!) Brigitte Lin, but I'm doing it anyway. Mwah ha ha ha ha! Part of it is the writing, part of it is the acting, but for me Brigitte Lin wins with her awesomeness (even if this is not the best of her 1990s wuxia flicks). Yuen Biao as Lu LinLu Lin (played by Yuen Biao in the movie) is not convinced at first. This and Zu: the Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983) are two movies that I remember that starred him rather than having him as a stunt man or extra. Benny Chan as Lu LinNor is Benny Chan (in the TV series). Here, I call it a tie. I find Benny Chan more charismatic and overall a better actor, but Yuen Biao is a brilliantly acrobatic martial artist, which makes his action scenes much more fun to watch. (ETA: maybe not so much in this movie, which looks a bit cheap, but in others.)

So what's my point? I don't have a point. Just random thoughts:

  • I don't really like love triangles, love rectangles, love pentagons, whatever. The 1994 movie version didn't do all that. But the TV series sprinkled it in everywhere (how else would it make it to 33 episodes?). Gah! The main villain was in it for love as well as power. Blech! There was a designated Sacrificial Love Interest or two. Double blech! This works better if the Sacrificial Love Interest isn't someone the viewer hates and wants to die ever since the first few episodes where he mopes on screen... I did try having a love something-or-other in some of my NaNo novels, but failed miserably. I don't mind as much if it's done for comedy, but I hate the dragged-out emo nonsense.
  • Having a bunch of people follow the heroine (anti-heroine?) around saying things like "she's really a good, kind person in her heart!", "it's not really your fault! don't blame yourself!" (even for things that manifestly are her fault), "she has reason to be that way, you shouldn't be so hard on her", "I know you're a good person", etc. etc. ad nauseum only makes me hate her more. It makes her seem weak, when there's so much of it. In the movie, Brigitte Lin's version had no time for this nonsense! She was what she was, and owned it. No excuses. She and her enemies all did what they did, without needing people to constantly reassure them that they were the good guys. However...
  • In my favorite Brigitte Lin wuxia flick (Fire Dragon), she plays an assassin working for the villain, and at one point we do have the love interest say to her that he believes she's a good person and surely she couldn't really be that evil... but it works for me because she knows it's wishful thinking and she is in fact the ruthless assassin (forced by obligations to work for the villain) and it's bound to end badly. So actually I adore sentimental mush, it's just that I don't want it to feel unearned. In "Fire Dragon", I ended up completely sympathetic to the assassin character, and felt for her when she basically failed herself and her sister, and in the end, even her final achievement was credited to other people. Whereas in the Deadly Melody TV series, I ended up disliking the ruthless killer character, and just went [Nelson] "Haw-haw!" [/Nelson] at her in the end.
  • That said, I did enjoy the irony in the TV series. Xuemei (the ruthless killer) is out for revenge, because all these people destroyed her family in their quest for the One Ring, er, I mean the magic Qin (zither). In the course of her revenge, she destroys an innocent family as a side-effect of her vengeance. The only survivor of this innocent family turns out to be her own little brother. And she's now turned him into another revenge-obsessed fanatic... against her! Like violence, the revenge saga is a guilty pleasure for viewers/readers... the writers seem to feel they have to include moral lessons about the destructiveness of revenge, yet they can't help but admire the single-mindedness and family/filial loyalty involved...
  • And viewing the movie and TV series side by side reminded me of how I miss old school wire-fu martial arts. Nowadays, people turn to CGI for their action scenes. It just doesn't look as real. I don't mean that the old movies were realistic, but rather that I had a sense of physical bodies moving around. Now it's more like actors striking poses while computerized effects are filled in around them, or video game orcs and video game fireballs and such. "Fire Dragon" had spectacular fire effects and amazingly creative fight sequences (ok, some of the speed-up was over the top, but overall it looked great), and that was in 1994. The Hobbit movie I watched last month (20 years later!) was not nearly as fun or engaging. Ah well. That's Progress!
  • So basically, what I'm saying is that I secretly want to write a novel with a main character played by Brigitte Lin. (At least in my own mind.) Clearly. Ah ha ha ha ha. I could still do it for my NaNo2010, 2011, or 2012 novels, actually. Hrmm...