New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2010

On the 24th, the NYT posted its list of what it thinks are this year’s 100 most notable books. defines notable as:


1. worthy of note or notice; noteworthy: a notable success; a notable theory.
2. prominent, important, or distinguished: many notable artists.
3. Archaic . capable, thrifty, and industrious.
4. a prominent, distinguished, or important person.

5. ( usually initial capital letter ) French History .

a. one of a number of prominent men, usually of the aristocracy, called by the king on extraordinary occasions.

b. Notables, Also called Assembly of the Notables. an assembly of high-ranking nobles, ecclesiastics, and state functionaries having deliberative but not legislative or administrative powers, convoked by the king principally in 1554, 1786, and 1788, in the lattermost year to establish the manner for selecting the States-General.

6. Obsolete . a notable fact or thing.

It says it will appear in print on December 5. Looking through this list, I realize I haven’t read anything notable this year. I have never heard of those books. Most of the authors are new to me, too. Everything I read this year (that was actually written this year) must have been common. Possibly, I should consider reading some of them. American Subversive sounds a little interesting. Most of the other fiction titles don’t.

General · reading · Writing

No Vital and Significant Forms of Art

Nor is it any part of my thesis to maintain that it [the detective story] is a vital and significant form of art.There are no vital and significant forms of art; there is only art, and precious little of that.

Raymond Chandler

This quote appeared in an essay I was reading in the beginning of The Art of Murder. It struck me as particularly profound.

I think that is because this past summer I was outside in a public spot reading from my kindle and this random stranger came up to me to find out how it was. She was considering buying one or an iPad for herself. So she happens to mention she writes poetry, I mention I write fantasy and she gives me this look. This look, as in she had just stepped in something disgusting. She said something (rather unconvincingly!) about having something to do and ran off. I was left staring at her.

Clearly, she didn’t approve of fantasy. I can only imagine that’s because she doesn’t think fantasy is art, and a waste of time. Even a waste of time just talking to me; after all, she couldn’t leave fast enough. Well, I am not trying to create art, just something to entertain me, and maybe a few others. Not that I would object if it turned into art. If I polish enough, maybe something will turn into art. But I don’t really think you can write something with the intention of making art and actually produce art. The story comes first; the story is all; you (that is, me!!) need to learn how to tell the best story possible. Maybe then, just maybe, the story will become something more. As the guy says, there is precious little art. Probably because it is so damned difficult to produce.

So . . . yeah, reading that little quote in the essay soothed my ego. Obviously the girl’s speedy departure made an impression on me. She really shouldn’t have; she was a perfect stranger and there is no reason for me to care.

Book Review · reading · Writing

On Gender Confusion and POV

I am reading Death Most Definite by Trent Jamieson. I have no idea if this is his firstbook, but it is pretty good. Right off the bat there are flying bullets, ghosts, trouble with coworkers and a female ex. It is also urban fantasy, and like many other urban fantasies, it is written in the 1st person POV.

That was the problem right there. In the 1st person, the main character is not “he” or “she”; the main character is always “I”. “I” does not give you an clues into the gender of a character. I thought the main character of this book was a woman! Can you blame me? Most urban fantasies have women main characters. Yes, there was a female ex, but I thought that just meant the main character was gay or bi. Most stories these days have gay secondary characters and a few even have gay or bi main characters. So it is not such a stretch. Well, I don’t think it is.

Imagine my shock when I discovered the main character is a man. Probably, I would have been less shocked if I had bothered to read the back blurb, but this book was recommended to me by someone I trust (someone who didn’t mention the maleness of the main character!!!). The cover should have been a clue as well.  But it shouldn’t depend on the cover and back cover blurb.

As a reader, the gender of the main character should be obvious to me from the beginning, regardless of POV (unless the writer is playing games and the main character is androgynous on purpose).

As a writer, I always know the gender of my characters. Expressing that in the 1st POV, in a way that is smooth and not obvious, is more difficult. Trent Jamieson probably knew the gender of his main character before he started writing. I don’t know why I concluded that the main character is female, except to say that I was expecting a female main character. Maybe that’s enough, but it is not really satisfactory. I wish I could point to one thing in the first few pages that could make me believe the MC was female.

work in progress · Writing

Difficulty Finishing My Short Story

This drawing (naturally, I found it on deviantart) is by an artist who says of it, “When I can’t write . . . I feel like I’m falling down a deep pit and won’t ever be able to get out.”

This is how I feel right now.

I am having a hard time finishing my short sea story. I don’t know why. I can see the end in my head, it will only be a couple hundred words more, yet I freeze when I stare at the screen. The screen isn’t even blank – most of the story is already written and staring me in the face! I am utterly frustrated with myself. What is wrong with me? I don’t know, but today, right now, by god, I promise myself I will write another 300 words today. Even if it is on scrap paper instead of my computer screen!!! So there.

fantasy · Short Story · Teaser Tuesdays · Writing

Writerly Teaser Tuesday

This week’s installment of Teaser Tuesdays starts where last week’s excerpt ended.305 words this time.

I surfaced again, hair plastered to my skull. Lightning flashed in the clouds above. Wind and waves surged and roared. Here was grace; here was all the beauty I would ever need. Among the waves, I spotted several of the Clan De’Oun.

One rode the waves a handful of feet from me, rising high on the crest, splashing back into the water and giggling all the while like a giddy child. Above her, another fae floated in the winds like a kite. Neither one wore the bracelet I needed to find.

Something dropped on my back and drove me under the surface. One dark sienna muscular arm wrapped around my belly, another clamped down over my bare left breast. Laughter rang in my ears; dark teal locks floated in front my eyes. I kicked out hard behind me, hit flesh, and the arms around me gave a little. I kicked again, twisted and the arms loosened enough for me to get free. I turned and saw Rordin, one of the golden boys of Clan De’Oun. He eyed me like a delicate little morsel.

I straightened and propelled myself back to the surface. Rordin mirrored me, arms stretched over his head, legs long and graceful. I’d last seen Rordin two months ago in October when Mother had summoned me home for Matriarch De’Oun’s annual summer ball. He hadn’t worn clothes than and he didn’t wear them now. Instead he wore his own weight in jewels. Necklaces, earrings, rings, bracelets, anklets and body chains draped him and covered his actual lack of clothes.

Including, I noticed, a gold filigree diamond bracelet. The lapis lazuli arrow pendant jumped forward, as though someone had thrown it. I grabbed hold of it and gave Rordin my best smile. Gods, how was I going to get it away from him?

General · reading · Writing

Text Readability

Today I decided to find out the readability of my short sea story. I copied and pasted the excerpt from Teaser Tuesday into Apparently it is powered by a Google code project. It checks how easy text is to read.

This is what it told me:

Reading Ease

The first score we calculated was the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease (Wikipedia). The text scored 75.10 on this scale (a higher score indicates easier readability; scores go from 0 to 100).

Grade Level

The second set of scores all return a “grade level”, based on the USA education system. A grade level is equivalent to the number of years of education a person has had. Scores over 22 should generally be taken to mean graduate level text.

Readability Formula Grade
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level (Wikipedia) 5.90
Gunning-Fog Score (Wikipedia) 8.20
Coleman-Liau Index (Wikipedia) 9.80
SMOG Index (Wikipedia) 6.00
Automated Readability Index (Wikipedia) 5.40
Average Grade Level 7.06

Other Statistics

The tool reported that this text contained 34 sentences, with 432 words (12.71 per sentence) made up of 607 syllables (1.41 per word).

If 100 is easy reading (kindergarten level maybe? not sure), than 75 doesn’t seem bad. The average grade level is 7th grade  (7.06 probably means 7th grade, yes?) and I am not sure if that is good or bad. The other tests are more confusing – two are for high school, three are for 5th and 6th grade.  The Coleman-Liau Index says 9.8, almost 10th grade, and this I don’t like. I really, really, don’t think my short sea story is so complicated you have to be 9th or 10th grade to understand it. I will admit I wasn’t aiming for children when I wrote this, but I don’t think it is out of the scope of 6th graders.

General · Writing

On Writing Software

I don’t use writing software. I will admit to using OneNote to keep track of  character profiles, research, and world building items –  notes on magical rules, nobility, geography and so on. When writing a fantasy novel, I would use a separate notebook to keep track of things. It seemed easier to use OneNote. I don’t have a laptop and even though OneNote is designed for the tablet PC, it works just fine on my desktop computer. Also, the files don’t get lost. My notebook migrates frequently around the house (I swear, the things have legs!). So I end up using a different notebook.  Than I end up confusing and frustrating myself when I need to back and look up a detail. A computer file is better all around and I don’t have the formatting issues I had with word when I tried to use that to write world building type notes.

I don’t use OneNote for the actual writing. I suppose I could, but writing on word is just better (it has much prettier word processing functions).

I have discovered other people use purpose built writing software to write stories. Novels and screenplays. Who know? I certainly didn’t!

There are scrivener, dramatica pro, storybook, final draft and I don’t know how many others. Scrivener appears to be very popular, but it is also only for macs. It also seems to be expensive. Such writing software is supposed to help with story structure. I am going to try out storybook. Maybe it will help with the novel in progress.

Why storybook? Because it is open source, it works with windows and it is for novels. Quite a few pieces of writing software are mac only or are designed for screenplays and are expensive to boot. But also because I like what the website says about different views – seeing scenes chronically, a view for seeing which scene is in which chapter (thinking I could use this for planning), and a book view. They have a thing for keeping track of plot lines (each line is colored differently) and time lines. I also like what it says about chapters and scenes and all. They seem flexible enough that can I move scenes here and there. I do that anyway in word (and get mightily irritated when I want to switch scenes around and run into word issues).  I really like the chart thing. It is supposed to show which characters are where and when and a lot more. Anyway, I am going to try it out. Hopefully it will work.

General · Short Story · word count · work in progress · Writing

Bird by Bird: Plot

At the beginning of Bird by Bird, starting on page 54, there is a short section entitled Plot. In this she says not to worry about the plot, but about the characters. You should get to know the characters, their relationship, and the plot comes out of that.

Well, I know my characters. At least I know as well it is possible to know a character in less than 1000 words. I know they are adversaries. If this was a typical urban fantasy story, they would also be attracted to each other. They haven’t come to life for me,  not like in other stories I’ve written. I haven’t known my MC for long enough for that to happen and the adversary has been around for barely a paragraph. Maybe that is the problem, but it will be 2000 words at most and that isn’t long enough anyway for characters to take on a life. Not for me.

Anyway, I will just keep on writing. If it is no good, I can always press delete.

Short Story · work in progress · Writing

Moving my Plot Forward

I am confused. I am at an impasse. I am in the middle of a crossroads.

I am also only 725 words into the sea short story and I am not quite certain what to do next. I can’t call it writer’s block, because I know what the end result will be. She will get the bracelet back, just like in your average quest tale. I know she will make a trade, but I just don’t know how she will make it or why the guy will accept (I am thinking he won’t at the beginning, and really, what reason does he have to accept it?) I know there will be a tussle. I just don’t know how she will go about it. I don’t know.  I just really don’t know.

I think this is will be the high point of the story, but hell if I know how to go about writing it. It has to be quick and short and clever. I don’t feel particularly clever just at the moment. It is frustrating. So frustrating to look at the page and be on the verge, be so close, and yet not be any closer to writing the next little bit.

I think I will go peruse Bird by Bird. Maybe Anne Lamott will have some advice.