Not My Car, Pal:
A few days ago I bought a new car, and last night someone tried to steal it. Just before the Think Tank was scheduled to start, as it happens. It's a very long story, but suffice to say I'm fine, the car is fine, and the thief is very sorry he didn't pick someone else's car to boost. Unfortunately the subsequent uproar and legalities kept me off the computer, so I missed the TT last night entirely. My apologies to the writing clan over at FM.
Today I am being interviewed by a high school student for his science project, so now I must go and try to do something with my hair and maybe spackle over these shadows under my eyes. Don't want to scare the young man into thinking all SF authors look like aliens from Planet Bad Hair Day. :)
Taking a cruise through the Library of Congress's Online Vatican Exhibit
is like getting the keys to the Rare-Don't-Touch-Books section -- plus there's no librarian to yell at you for grabbing something. Here's a description from the website:
ROME REBORN: THE VATICAN LIBRARY AND RENAISSANCE CULTURE presents some 200 of the Vatican Library's most precious manuscripts, books, and maps--many of which played a key role in the humanist recovery of the classical heritage of Greece and Rome.
The exhibit is divided into nine (9) sections: The Vatican Library, Archaeology, Humanism, Mathematics, Music, Medicine & Biology, Nature Described, A Wider World I: How the Orient Came to Rome, and A Wider World II: How Rome Went to China. Each section contains exhibit text and separate image files for each object.
Very cool site, especially for us history junkies. :)
We're having dinner here at Casa Kelly, traditional turkey minus the usual fat-o-rama of standard trimmings. Mike has requested an apple pie, and Kath wants her own bowl of black olives. Our sweet potatoes will be sprinkled with cinnamon instead of the usual marshmallow/brown sugar topping, and all our other veggies will be raw or steamed, but it'll be nice to have a quiet meal with the kids. If I can just stay away from the stuffing . . .
Rented it, watched it, pondered it. Long, occasionally brilliant, Yoda Kicks Butt. Most of the time during the movie I kept thinking, "When did Obi Wan turn into my mother?" and "Too many ugly-things-with-wings, let's hire a new alien designer." What impressed me most was how Yoda, who has always been Microwaved Ms. Piggy to me thanks to Frank Oz's voice, totally redeemed himself. Dialogue and plot was as (choose a wretched adjective) in spots as predicted, but it's Star Wars, not Les Miserables,
so who cares?
One thing -- what idiot put the robot synopsis sequence at the beginning
of the movie? That was majorly annoying.
Who Sold You This, Then?
Anne Proulx was much nicer than I would have been when asked to comment about the English cover art
for her new novel, "That Old Ace in the Hole" (in case you're confused, the American cover is the nice little house one.) I've seen some unattractive covers, but yikes, this one claims the top spot for Ick of All Time.
There's been an upsurge in ugly cover art lately -- I've made a vow not to comment on anything produced for yours truly, but that doesn't mean I can't comment on other authors' disasters. Check out Michael Crichton's "Prey" which actually fits as an answer to the old "What's black and white and red all over?" joke. Susan Matthews's "Devil and Deep Space" looks like it has three militant proctologists on the front (or maybe it's the lame ship that makes me think rectal exam. Not sure. Could have something to do with the plot, who knows.) Even Terry Pratchett, who sells books like a hot dog vendor goes through mustard, got stuck with a horrible screaming ugly yellow cover for his latest, "Night Watch." [Mr. Pratchett, go find whoever did that to your book and hit them, really hard.]
Still, after wading through the last couple, Oprah Winfrey Book Club-influenced years of Utterly Sensitive And Remotely Symbolic Cover Art, I guess anything
would be an improvement. What are some of the worst covers you've seen out there?
I could see a little red, white, and blue showing through some dry rotted fabric when I started removing this cover of really ugly 1940's feedsacks from a hidden quilt:
Underneath was a treasure -- a star quilt, with dense hand quilting of 11-12 stitches per inch.
I'm going to take this to a friend to have her date it, as the red fabric used to make it is one that I've definitely seen catalogued circa 1850. It's possible the maker of the hidden quilt used scraps saved from her grandmother, but I'm not sure:
My cat decided it was his, naturally.
The person who covered the hidden quilt also decided to reinforce the backing in an unusual way -- she whip-stitched a whole muslin pillowcase to the back. The bottom of the pillowcase is also hand embroidered with multicolored flowers (the black lines indicate the left edges of the pillowcase.)
Win StarDoc Books Contest:
One more reminder, it's the last week for my free books contest,
so if you haven't entered and want to, stop by before 11/29/02 (midnight Friday is the cutoff for entries) and check it out. Katherine will be picking the five winners on Saturday, and the names will be posted on my author site
on December 1st.
I've been hunting around for a general schematic to help writers who find it tough to develop new characters. Found this tutorial
at a site called "A Bowl of Writer's Cereal". It's not bad -- much less daunting than those profiler type fill-ins -- and once you fill in everything, you can print it out.
I received a recommendation but I haven't had time to explore John Hewitt's Writer's Resource Center
but from the home page it looks like he has a pretty comprehensive list of writer stuff.
I'm starting to figure out why I'm so weird -- I never grew up. No, really -- I was in chat last night with a couple of teachers from the west coast (we're planning a live online seminar for their creative writing students) and the biggest challenge they face with the kids is motivation. The majority of their students simply do not
want to write anything, and will do the bare minimum to get a passing grade.
I remember high school (painfully), so I asked a few questions, then gave the teachers an example of what I'd give as a writing assignment:
Spike Lee (or Eminem) asks you to write a movie for him. What's the story, where does it take place, who stars in it and how does it end?
There was a moment of silence, then they all started shooting comments back and forth about using pop culture, TV and movies for different assignments. Pretty cool to see teachers get excited about writing. :)  I think they get bored, too -- almost all teachers have to follow a standard cirriculum, and I know they're still expected to teach that lame Conrad and Chekhov stuff.** I guess the textbook writers expect their classes to get excited over great literature. Not going to happen; you've got to communicate with kids -- particularly teenagers -- in their language, and by getting at least semi on their wavelength. For the one teacher who is doing a semester on poetry, I suggested he try having everyone write a rap song using the names of candy bars instead of swear words.
Now, this doesn't work with all kids. Some are so phobic about writing that even Eminem can't tempt them into composing a short story or essay. But it reaches past the generational gaps, inspires most kids to use what they love, and turns a boring assignment into an exciting one. Once a kid starts writing willingly, then
you introduce them to the greats and show the kids how these masters of the written word used what excited and inspired them to craft a good story.
This holds true for any age group, when you think about it. Writing should always be exciting in some way for the writer. If it's not, then you're not going to enjoy it and end up making excuses not to write. It's a job, and a really hard one, so any amount of excitement will only help. And how many potential Chekhovs and Conrads are out there, not writing because they're bored?
** (okay, not so lame to some people, but I always thought it was duller than butter knives)
Some characters will wait a long time for you to tell their story. Ana Hansen has been waiting since 1997 for me to get back to her, and I had to dig through five years of notebooks to find the original schematic I used to create her. This is why I save everything; I put together a pretty substantial profile and background for her but really didn't have much opportunity to use it in book one:
Excerpt from StarDoc by S.L. Viehl:
I set down my server and asked the most obvious question. "How did you end up here --"
"--so far from Terra?" Ana finished for me. She reached across her desk and turned around a small photoscan, which showed her in a wedding tunic standing next to her husband. He was smiling and handsome, and not entirely human. "My mate, Elars, was refused permanent resident status."
There was a shade of old pain in her voice as she added, "He was killed ten years ago, during a transport accident at the colony where we lived, on Trunock." She smiled sadly. "After Elars died, I couldn't imagine returning to Terra, and Trunock held too many memories. So here I am."
With supporting characters, it isn't how much you tell the reader, but what you choose to tell them -- especially when you juggle a lot of characters the way I do in every book. Presenting the snapshot of Ana's past mainly serves a couple of purposes: it explains her presence on a multi-species colony, justifies her job, and gives some weight to her character -- she's not just a pretty blonde with great fashion sense. If you didn't know this information, it wouldn't make any difference to the plot, but adding small glimpses of a character's background adds greater dimension.
Ana will reprise her role from StarDoc in Illumination (although from a bit of a different angle) and will be one of the major support characters in BioRescue. I may also do an Ana prequel short story next year for the web site.