August 24, 2011

Summer's End

For students and teachers, it's 'back to school'. For allergy sufferers, the Ragweed Wars have begun. For those who believe in planning ahead, it's time to start thinking about Thanksgiving and Christmas. For knitters, seamstresses, and other fashionistas, it's time to start on those gorgeous fall projects and outfits. For writers, it's time to start thinking about NaNoWriMo (cue ominous music).
For me, being self-employed and not enrolled in any school, the end of summer doesn't mean a big change in schedule or activities (aside from the beginning of the orchestra season). But I do like to use it as a time to regroup, rethink, clear the clutter out of my schedule and to-do lists, basically just step back and breathe for a moment.
For that very reason, my blog has been somewhat neglected for the last couple of weeks, as I'm sure you've noticed. I've been busy finishing up miscellaneous projects I've procrastinated over long enough, reorganizing my music teaching schedule, fighting off a nasty summer cold/allergies, outlining my plan of attack for writing projects this fall and winter, and yes, making plans for blogging over the next several months.

I'm still going to be taking a break from blogging for the next week--as chaotic as my life tends to be, I need all the organizing and planning time I can get. : ) But don't worry; I haven't forgotten about all my loyal readers and followers, and on September 1 things here at the Lair will be back up and running full speed as we move into a busy new season. I'll still be focusing a lot of my blog posts on issues unique to speculative fiction and those who write it, of course, but I also have some exciting things in the works for taking a look at other fun aspects of fiction, as well as chats with writers about 'The Writing Life'.
So don't worry--the blogging sabbatical I've been on is only temporary, and I'll be back soon. So enjoy the end of your summer, everyone, and be sure to stick around for when things here at the Lair get lively on September 1!

~ Mary Ruth

August 15, 2011

Chapter Seven of Falls the Shadow

If you've been following the action over at The Lost Scribes, you know what today is: the fifteenth of the month, and time for a new chapter of Falls the Shadow!

Last time, Maricossa walked into a trap and discovered a ragged band of scared children and a stash of hidden books in the process.
Now Libby, Hamlet, and the gang try to deal with the stranger's intrusion... and hope it was an isolated event.

Click Here to read the new chapter!


On the other hand, if you're just 'tuning in' and don't know what The Lost Scribes and Falls the Shadow are all about, why just head on over to and check it out.
The Lost Scribes are three Christian writer friends who got together and decided they wanted to explore the steampunk genre. Falls the Shadow is the story that was born out of their ideas. A little bit sci-fi, a little bit futuristic, a little bit alternate history, and a whole lot steampunk, Falls the Shadow is truly a literary experiment like no other.
Curious? Then Click Here to read the prologue and experience the story from the very beginning.

August 12, 2011

Are the lines between speculative genres becoming blurred?

Lately the speculative genres of fiction are growing a great deal in popularity. So, with competition on the rise, spec-fic writers are all trying to make their own contributions distinct, unique, and original. Experimentation is a natural first step on a quest for originality.
The result? New genres and sub-genres of speculative fiction are making their debut and getting a pretty good reception. Writers are looking at established concepts with completely new perspectives and new approaches. And they're beginning to experiment with crossing and combining different genres.
My friend Heather has started introducing steampunk concepts into some of her fantasy stories. My own fantasy WiP has some sci-fi-like concepts in it regarding the story world's technology and scientific developments. Falls the Shadow, a multi-author novel I am privileged to be a part of, fits into the steampunk, science fiction, alternate history, and futuristic genres, all with no trouble.

So what does this mean for speculative fiction as a whole? Are the lines between genres blurring? Is this a bad thing?

Readers, what do you think about this trend? Do you think it will make it harder to find a book you want to read if there is one particular speculative genre you like and one you don't?

Writers, what do you think? Have you experimented with crossing genres in any of your writing?

August 8, 2011

Book Trailers

I absolutely love watching movie trailers. Even if I've already seen the movie, I'll watch its trailer just for fun.
With the relatively new trend of book trailers getting underway, though, trailers may have moved up a notch or two on the significance scale for writers.
I'm not saying you should be pouring time and effort and finances into producing a trailer for your book at this moment. Several publishing houses have started adding professionally-produced trailers into their marketing strategies, and I know of at least a couple of organizations that specialize in producing book trailers for writers. Until the publishing process is solidly underway for you (as in, the papers are signed and it's time for some serious and specific marketing), focus on the writing itself, building your platform, and establishing a fan base, not on making a trailer. When it is time to think about a trailer, your editor, publisher, or agent can help and advise you.

All that being said, in the meantime it sure is fun to think about those fabulous 'trailer moments' in your writing, isn't it? And there's a lot to be learned about what makes a good trailer just by watching big-budget movie trailers.
My all-time favorite movie trailer has got to be the one for The Hunt for Red October. Even though I've seen the movie itself multiple times, watching the trailer still makes me think "Oh wow, I have got to watch that movie!" Two of the best 'trailer moments' ever (in my humble opinion): the shot of the submarine rocketing out of the water, and the close-up of Captain Mancuso saying "I'm gonna blow him right to Mars."
The trailer as a whole could be a textbook on how to make a good trailer. It has a good balance of dialogue shots (giving the viewer some idea of what the story is about and who the main characters will be), voice-over (adding intrigue and filling in any problematic gaps in the viewer's understanding of the story's setup), action shots (for excitement and drama), and a few choice scenes and snippets to raise questions, confuse the viewers, and make them want answers (i.e. see the movie).
Those are the same qualifications a good book trailer should meet too. I've seen book trailers that explain the book's basic premise, but don't give any idea of who the main characters will be or of what the specific plot will be about. I've seen book trailers that explain who the characters will be and what the storyline is about, but don't intrigue me, leave me with questions, or make me want more. I've seen book trailers that show lots of cool action shots, but don't give me any idea of what the plot is about. I don't think I have to explain why all of these are problems.
Remember, the whole point of a book trailer is to make the viewer want to read your book. Therefore, it should provide them with the information they need to decide whether your book is for them or not (Is this an action/adventure story or a calm, quiet love story? Is the main character's biggest struggle with a moral decision or a world-altering war? Is there a definite Christian theme here or not?). At the same time, it shouldn't give them so much information that they know what's going to happen and give them no reason to bother reading the book.
Finally, it should be exciting! Every good story has its 'trailer moments'. You know what I'm talking about--that scene or shot or moment in your story that just makes you break out in goose bumps and want to do a happy dance just because you're the one who wrote it.
In my current WiP, my favorite trailer moment is the moment when one of my characters (who has just escaped from the enemy and is running for his life) picks up a handful of sand and throws it back towards the enemy camp. As the grains of sand leave his hand, each one becomes a spark. The sparks flare into a firewall and cut off his pursuers, leaving him free to make his escape. Does that moment tell a reader or viewer anything essential about the nature of the story? Probably not. But it's a dramatic action shot that will build excitement and get a reader or viewer 'wound up' about the book. (And yes, when the time comes to start seriously thinking about making a trailer, I plan on making sure that shot goes in it.)

What are your thoughts on the book trailer trend? Do you have a favorite movie or book trailer?
Writers, what's the best 'trailer moment' you've ever written?

August 5, 2011

Movie Review: Battle Los Angeles

As a general rule, I am not a fan of alien invasion movies. In my opinion they lost their originality a long time ago, so I really had no interest in seeing Battle Los Angeles. But alas, both my brothers saw it and loved it and drove me nuts until I agreed to watch it with them. So, since I had to watch it, I thought I might as well write a review. : )
In a lot of ways, Battle Los Angeles was no different than any other alien invasion movie--the aliens invade, thousands die and millions flee in terror, in come the heroes to try to save the day even though the odds seem hopeless, someone manages to discover the otherwise-invincible aliens' weak point and attack it at the last possible moment, and we win after all. Really nothing new to offer here. One unique aspect of it was that the movie didn't focus on the world-wide invasion. Rather, it was centered on the soldiers fighting to take Los Angeles, California back from alien control.
Quality-wise, it scored several points on my scale. The graphics were amazing. The large-scale shots were very well done, but the smaller pieces were very well done as well. Normally if only one character or item in a scene is a CGI (Computer Generated Image) and the rest is real, it sticks out pretty badly. Not so in this case. The alien monster in the back yard looked just as real as the fence it tripped over and the swimming pool it fell into.
Second, the soundtrack was excellent.
Third, the main plot and subplots of the story had better balance than many stories of this scale tend to. For instance, in the movie Signs, the subplot revolving around the main character's spiritual journey basically drowned out the main plot. Not so with Battle Los Angeles. The main plot (aliens invading to take over the world) was nicely balanced with the characters' personal struggles.
The language was a bit of a problem. It got pretty strong in several places, usually during intense combat sequences. And of course, there was quite a lot of violence, and an impromptu alien autopsy performed by a veterinarian in an attempt to learn their physical weaknesses.
The major disappointment for me, however, was the fact that they showed a shot of an entire airfield covered with parked A-10 Warthogs, but then never showed said A-10s in flight! (For those of you who may be wondering, the A-10 Warthog is an extremely cool fighter jet with which I am slightly infatuated. I know, I'm weird.)
On the whole, Battle Los Angeles was a decent movie as far as its genre goes. Not necessarily one I would want to watch again, but certainly the best alien invasion movie I've seen in a while.

August 3, 2011

Is your writing too flowery?

"Now ain't that purdy? I don't know what it means, but it sure does sound elegant." ~Cap Rountree, from "The Sacketts"

"That's beautiful... no idea what you just said." ~Riley Poole, from "National Treasure"
Ever felt this way while reading? The words all sound so beautiful and rich, and they flow together so perfectly and elegantly... but you have absolutely no idea what the author or speaker is talking about? The meaning is lost in a flourish of fancy wording?
It doesn't happen too often in contemporary fiction any more, for a number of reasons. The average American's vocabulary is shrinking markedly, for one. And, with competition in the writing industry becoming more fierce all the time, writers have less room to get away with literary sins like using over-flowery language.
But in a lot of older fiction, and in much of the work of beginning writers today, flamboyant, flowery language abounds. And while it usually sounds gloriously elegant and beautifully crafted to the ear, a reader trying to follow the meaning of the words can find himself or herself frustrated, irritated, and confused.
So why use flowery, overwrought wording when clear, concise English would do just fine? Well, there's an answer for that, but it's rather complicated.
When it comes to older fiction, it's a tough call. The wording might truly be excessively fancy, or, depending on the age of the book, it might just be the product of a different era with a different and wider vocabulary. English has come a long way in the last 700 years, remember. Words and sentence structure that sound completely archaic and nonsensical to us today were just common household language four or five centuries ago.
As for today, though... well, that's another story.
There are lots of possible reason why a writer might use flowery language in their writing. They might be trying to sound intelligent and intellectual and think using fancy words will help them. They might be trying to paint a vibrant and dramatic word picture and using flamboyant wording is the only way they know to do it. They might be trying to make their prose seem strong and well-crafted when it's actually rather weak and uncertain. They might think it will impress editors looking for some skillful word-use.
I'll talk about each of these briefly in this post, but if anyone has any questions or comments to add, feel free. The comment box is there for a reason. ; )

Excuse #1: Trying to sound intellectual.
Bottom line: It's about what you have to say, not about how you say it. Any goober can learn a bunch of fancy words, affect a stuffy accent, and act like they're smarter than everyone else. The real intellectuals with something meaningful to say don't have to use fancy words to get their point across. The best communicators in the world get their messages across in clear, concise, understandable words that anyone can follow.

Excuse #2: Trying to paint a vibrant and dramatic picture.
Bottom line: I'm a writer, so I understand the need and the desire to paint dramatic pictures with words. It's part of what makes our writing interesting, right? Right. However, f what you're describing isn't really all that dramatic, no amount of flowery language will help that. For example: don't describe sunsets. Just don't, okay? Unless you're describing the strange effects a nuclear explosion is having on the appearance of the sunset, or your character has been blind his entire life and is miraculously able to witness a sunset for the first time, or something equally astounding, just save yourself the trouble and don't describe it (and that goes for sunrises too). The sun has been rising and setting every day for the last 6,000 years, which to comes to roughly 2,190,000 sunsets and sunrises since the dawn of time. No offense, but I doubt very seriously that you have anything original to say in describing it. Now, you speculative writers out there, if you're describing some new aspect of a fictional world you've created, and it's something the readers have never seen before, by all means describe it for them! But don't think you need flowery language to do it. If you're describing something new, original, interesting, and important to the story, the readers will find it interesting. Even without the use of a hundred four-syllable adjectives.

Excuse #3: Trying to shore up weak prose.
Bottom line: I've said it before--Don't put a Band-Aid on a wound that needs stitches. If your writing is weak, deal with the problem at its source. Study grammar and sentence structure. Read some good books on the craft and skill of fiction writing. Learn to write tight, clear, and concise prose that stands on its own feet without the aid of crutches like flowery words.

Excuse #4: Trying to impress editors.
Bottom line: It won't work. Period. They'll see right through it. Trust me.

Why do you think so many writers are tempted to use flowery language? Do you struggle with the temptation? If so, what do you do about it?

August 1, 2011

Chapter Six of Falls the Shadow

That's right! It's the first of the month, and a new chapter of Falls the Shadow is available to read at the Lost Scribes.
In Chapter Five the main characters' paths crossed briefly for the first time. Now, they're about to cross again. This time, it won't be without consequences.
Discover an ability that Maricossa has secretly possessed for the last twenty-three years--an ability that could endanger the secret Libby is fighting so hard to keep.
Don't miss Chapter Six of Falls the Shadow.