Sunday, August 29, 2010

Video: Research - Caracal vs Guinea Fowl

I can't recall if this was Discovery or NGC, but I had never heard of this particular cat, common to South Africa.

Did you see that vertical leap? Kapow! Aside, the Guinea Fowl is a fairly muscular bird. The one video I saw (not this one) gave it good odds for outrunning a predator with a nice burst of speed. Unfortunately, in that video, the fowl can only fly like 100 yards before they tucker out. Jumpy Cat caught it on the descent.

What's writeworthy: I recall from the original program that these are early morning hunters, so I imagined a scene with a leaping cat while my adventurers are eating breakfast. With that kind of vertical leap, the fiction possibilities (not rooted in science, as much of mine is) are pretty endless.

I'll try not to inundate the blog with animal videos, but it's my current research, and I can't get enough of them, so I hope you don't mind me sharing just a little.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Video: Research - Rhino vs Tourists

I found this one while watching National Geographic; the name of the show escapes me.

I like how the lady rolls her eyes when the guide is trying to scare the rhino.
I found it laughable to think that slapping a rifle butt could scare a rhino.
The winner is that one man is attacked, the other gets hit twice and is lying in a heap on the ground, and then the guide decides to shoot the damn thing.

What's writeworthy: Taking a direct hit from a rhino charge, getting knocked down and being able to scamper. The rhino, in the bush one minute, attacking the next. The rhino, changing targets, giving up on one, but sticking with the second. Bonus: Of all the people, he went after the brothers. Statistically, 1 in 8 x 2, right? Rhino sixth sense, the brothers smelled funny, were weak, something.

Seriously, why aren't there more rhino's in fantasy fiction? They're great! What's not to love about a temperamental, fat, horned quadraped in tank armor?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Video: Research - Dog vs Bull

I've been watching a number of animal and wildlife documentaries lately, so I'm going to share snippets of things that I find interesting/inspiring.

This first one I saw while watching Animal Planet, and found a partial clip on YouTube.

Ironically, I was just chatting with Raine the other day about bullfighting. Some folks think it's cruel to the animals, and I don't disagree, but the festival is an ancient tradition in Spain (and other Spanish countries). There are worse, more cruel and/or wasteful traditions that still take place all over the world.

I digress.

Once you add the human element, stupid things happen. The bull was 1600 pounds. The man lost his footing. He should have died.

A bull terrier is a spunky, fun-loving dog. The edit on this video is a little rough as it jumps out of sequence. The dog was panting (as opposed to growling), and taunting the bull before it finally scurried off back into the crowd. They are solid, and that one was probably on the low end of about 50 pounds. Vs. 1600 pounds. Didn't even get hurt.

Oh, and since it's not obvious from the video (unless you notice the beginning where the dog scoots in from the right side), that wasn't the man's pet. That was just a terrier having fun.

What's writeworthy: Seriously? What isn't golden about that whole scene? Tiny dog saves man! Tiny dog was chewing on the bull's face (and perfectly situated to not get mauled, only tossed about)! The episode was epic, the cause was heartwarming.

Awesome. I love dogs.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wednesday Writer's Report

Had a good week, comparatively speaking. Have had to slow down to take 2-3 research days, as the story approaches new geographical and cultural challenges.

Much of my research has been in animal behavior. So far, the story has stayed within relatively predictable and populated areas. The E tribe has ventured outside of their known territories, meeting new people and new lands (to them), and it's fun to write about.

But I want to do it right.

I'm going to be putting up a few tiny animal video clips from youtube over the next few days. I want to share what I'm doing. I've probably logged 20-30 hours of watching documentaries this past week.

A book would be more informative, but raw video I find to be inspiring for conveying imagery. Movement, behavior - that's stuff you have to see. I'll take my own African Safari after the book has sold.

Currently Reading: Infinite Possibilities by Mike Dooley, from my mother. Not sure if I've mentioned this book or not yet, but it has really helped me get over the writer's block I had, and stay focused on the end game. It's arguably "new age", but he presents things in such a way as that they are pretty easy to understand. More later.
The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams. I'm having a hard time with this one. Either it's slow to start because it's part of a trilogy, or it's a YA book and I missed that in the description. It's an older book, and I've heard very good things about Williams, so maybe this one just takes a while to get into, or it's not a good sampling of his work.


Interesting discovery of the week: Raptors, as made popular by the movie Jurassic Park, were incorrect in one depiction - they should have had feathers. Cool, huh?

This world that we live on is so full of fascinating geologies and biologies, cultures and histories, that I really don't understand why we don't see more of it in fiction. Maybe I haven't read enough.

Why create an imaginary creature when the ones that used to (or still do) walk earth are infinitely more interesting? I think centaurs are cool as a semi-intelligent creature goes, but dinosaurs and poison frogs and ambushing snakes and bears, wolves, giant cats that will stalk humans and eat them? So much better! Ah, you'll see. I got some fun videos coming up.

Til the next.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wednesday Writer's Report

Back to work for me. My little summer break did me well, and now it's back to the grind.

"Grind" makes it sound like a bad thing, but it's not. I'm having fun. Probably writing too much material in relevance to the plot and storyline, but that's okay for now. I can edit more later.

As I was telling Raine yesterday, I'm reaching the part of the story that I have fantasized about for months (if not years), the key conflict/tensions that leads to the climax. I have been writing scenes for this part of the story for months; my desk and walls are filled with notes and many of them are related to this next section.

So, yes, I'm busy.

There's always some threads about writer burnout or why authors take so long to finish the next book in their series. I came to a realization of sorts over the break. Much of my writer's block was self imposed. Life always gets in the way. It's really a matter of not allowing it - and that's the discipline that agents and editors and successful authors are always going on about.

For me, though, it was more of a revelation that when I actually sit down and type, it turns out okay. Often better than okay. It's just pure belief in myself and the process of creativity. I think that can be hard to find sometimes, and I think that's why some writers take longer than others.

I'm as subject to burn out as anyone, I suppose. In planning for my "world", I made it overly diverse. My theory is that if I get tired of writing about Elves, I can pop over to another section of the world, and write about another culture or race.

I'm a little windy today, as it's been awhile since I've gotten to chat about the WIP, and I'm excited. Can you tell? :-p

But, let's talk about you! How was your break, what are you up to, what are you reading/watching?

Don't want to talk about yourself? Let's talk genre. Some random questions I came up with while lying in bed last night. No right or wrong answers, in theory.

1) Dragon Pregnancy: From the time two dragons mate, and the egg is laid - how long does a dragon need to sit on its egg before it hatches? How big is a newborn dragon?

2) If the author is writing in an era before modern measurements, we already assume that the dialogue won't include words like "foot, inch, yard, meter, pounds", etc. But what about description? Is it acceptable to say, "The giant stood 6'6"" or would you rather read descriptions like that from the POV of the protagonist: "The giant stood a full head and shoulders above them both."? The debate being the ease of understanding versus immersion into character POV.

3) What do you think about foreign words in dialogue, to show regional flavor? My observation is that fluent multi-lingual people, where English is not their first language, tend to color their English with the occasional word from another language, particularly in casual speech. If the meaning can be deduced from the context, then it should be bueno. Thoughts?

Or just say hi. Whatever. We have a few reviews that just went up and some more are scheduled, as I whittle down my TBR list.

Til the next.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Not a Review: The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Amazon: The Once and Future King

The whole world knows and love this book. It is the magical epic of King Arthur and his shining Camelot; of Merlyn and Owl and Guinevere; of beasts who talk and men who fly; of wizardry and war. It is the book of all things lost and wonderful and sad. It is the fantasy masterpiece by which all others are judged.

I meant to write this back in June (it now being August). For those unfamiliar with this story, let me point out the wikipedia page, which basically sums up the gist of the novel.

The language is complicated, and the story is filled with anachronisms, of which the author is not only fully aware, but indeed, points them out to the reader throughout the tale. It was a very slow read, for me.

As a reflection of my own narrow view as a reader, I'd only heard of White in the context of the comparisons made of Tolkien to him. Sure, I'd heard the title of this book - I had no idea it was a take on the King Arthur tale.

Recent posts by Larry, on being a good reader, have provided the spark by which I could put my thoughts to words on this work. I respect that this is a classic in its own right, and that my reader background is perhaps not up-to-par to offer a fair and critical eye to the author's intentions.

In short, in a modern dialogue, I am positive that this telling would fail under a critical eye, mine own included.

White runs amok with modern references (for the 1940's and 1950's, which made them difficult to place)(and jarring for a child born in the 1970's), using Merlyn's "reverse agism" as a vehicle to do so. Additionally, throughout the text, he does a theatrical aside to the reader, essentially stating that if you want more detail, you can go read La Morte.

I picked up the story because it's considered a classic. I felt it was my due diligence as an aspiring fantasy author to do so. I finished the story, not regretting the decision. Recommending it to others: you should read it.

Jarring flaws aside, the story is so much more entertaining than any of the modern, romanticized versions of Camelot.

The characters are so tragically flawed as to be endearing. Those flaws complicate the story, time and again, adding tension and complexity that are breezed over in modern retellings. This alone is an element that I think modern storytellers, and readers alike, could either enjoy or benefit from, or both.

Arthur, from the beginning, is good of heart, yes, like all the tales would have you believe. He is also a bit of a simpleton.When he matures and grows and comes to realize his oversights and errors - he still defaults, in his responses and actions, to his basic (simple) world view. It's a tragic consistency of character, to understand the ramifications of allowing certain events to unfold because it fits better with how you think the world should be.

That is the Arthur I wish was portrayed more often in modern stories - and I'm confident the world would think the great King Arthur was little more than a loveable idiot. Let's see Sean Connery in that role.

Guinevere never loves Arthur (though she grows to fear and respect him), and White displays the marriage for what it was, what was more common in the Dark Ages, that of political necessity. She is a girl who never grows up, going from dutifully impassive to gaudily petulant; she's an emotional wreck, torn between her duty as a Queen to her first childhood love. Her essential flaw is wanting her cake and eating it too, to have all the rights and power that comes with her marriage - and the love and passion that every little girl dreams of. At best, she's pitiable, and every decision that she makes that might show character and maturity is later reversed.

At the crux of the conflict, we have Lancelot. For starters, he's not beautiful, he's not charming. Lancelot is misshapen and ugly. When the reader first learns of him, there's a strong, underlying love and admiration between Arthur and Lancelot that borders on homosexuality. They maintain a dedication to each other until the very end.

This is at direct odds, of course, with Lancelot's affair with Guinevere (and Arthur's slow realization and further blindness to the same). The love triangle is so wickedly convoluted as to be frustrating and unimaginable. Indeed, Lancelot loses his mind, more than once in the story, which again (to me) makes him all the more interesting as a tragically flawed character.

What Lancelot does have, what is consistent with modern tellings, is a remarkable ability to win. He is a swordsman without equal, and thus his role as a hero of the realm is even more appropriate (and summarily more complicated).

What is consistent with Arthur, in old tellings and new, is his obsession with Right, with equality, with chivalry and purposefulness for war and battle. The lessons learned by the King in his almost-naive world view, are a brilliant and insightful subtext throughout the tale - no doubt T.H. White infusing his own political beliefs into Arthur's inner conflict over the matter.

If I were back in school and had to critically analyze some of the themes within King, I might go with Arthur's love of country over his own love of self; Lancelot's strengths vs his crippling flaws; Guinevere's duty vs her passions; Arthur's understandings of truth vs his inability to accept them. And so on.

The telling itself was irregular, yes. The premise of the tale, that of the relationships of terribly flawed characters that yet persevere - and even succeed - in achieving greatness in spite of themselves - this is what makes this story a classic.