Monday, September 30, 2013

Halloween Reads: What're Yours?

Terror Tales illustration by me
Now that I've finished Ship of Destiny by Robin Hobb, I'm eager to start on something else. Since Tomorrow is the first of October, it would be the perfect time to pick up something with a little bite (pun fully intended). I've been meaning to read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and sample some Lovecraft, but I'm still adding spooky, gothic, and dark fantasy books to my list. What Halloween Reads are you planning? What've you read in the past that you really loved?

If I could find a book series as satisfying as Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching series but with a spookier atmosphere, I'd be ecstatic.

Let the Halloween reading begin!

Monday, September 23, 2013

How to Survive Being a Newb

Newb in the urban dictionary has two spellings and is divided into two classifications: Newb/newbie and noob/n00b. In the online gaming community, the former is a person who is new to the game and inexperienced, but willing to learn and improve. The latter is a person who is inexperienced, but doesn't try to improve, often saying and doing things to annoy and be a nuisance to other players. The term 'newb' can be applied to anyone new or inexperienced at a task or profession.

Being a newb in any profession is awkward and humbling. You're on a constant mission to collect information and experience so that you'll no longer be branded as the 'new guy'. Your best friend is anyone willing to share information and advice without teasing you for your ignorance. The only way to stop being branded a newb is to become competent and experienced in your profession...
or to become more competent and experienced than the newest member of your team. (See how that works?)

In the writing community, being a newb shouldn't be as daunting as being a newb in the gaming community. This all depends on the people you surround yourself with. If you associate with people who tease you, berate you, or discourage you, your experience will be unpleasant and it may even turn you away from the interest you have in writing. You will encounter people like these, even if you're careful what blogs, forums, and websites you visit. The best thing to do when this happens is to ignore them and don't respond to their baiting. (If a person is consistently bothering you or others, chances are he's a troll and you don't want to 'feed' the trolls. Trolls don't respond to reason or logic, since their purpose is to see how angry they can make you.)

To survive being a newb in any community, writing included, you need to find a safe place to learn and mingle with like-minded people. Scout these out carefully through research, exploration, and recommendations from others. A good place (forum, website, coffeehouse, etc) will be where you spend most of your time interacting with the community, so you want to know your way around it, know the atmosphere and the people who frequent it. This will take time in itself, so the research beforehand is a good idea.

Once you've found a place, be friendly, humble, and willing to learn. These are the best qualities a newb could have to propel her out of newb status to leet. Take part in things, reach out to others, don't be afraid to try. If you fail in front of helpful people, they'll support you and encourage you to try again. Seek out someone who could become a good friend, a guide to the profession and its community or even someone just starting out like you. If you're blessed enough to find a mentor who knows the whole thing inside-out, that's great. Never turn down advice from someone who knows more than you do. You might not be able to use it now, but it's good to know for later.

To recap, this is How to Survive Being a Newb:
  1. Find a safe place to mingle and learn
  2. Be friendly, humble, and willing
  3. Make a friend
  4. Listen to advice (and thank them for it)
  5. Don't be afraid to try
If you have advice to share for other newbs, I welcome it in the comments. Good luck!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Good Fridays on Saturday: Style and Motion

It's been a good week.
I didn't blog Monday because I couldn't think of anything to blog about. So, I sketched, and it was productive. I realized two things: I'm rusty, and I need to improve my illustration style. I don't draw badly, but the anatomy looks horrible after so long not drawing much. The second realization is a little trickier. I know the only way to improve my style is to draw anything and everything I can, and it will come of its own accord. You can try to teach style, but it's best to come into it naturally. My style has always been strong, but I don't like it as much as I used to. Style does change over the years, but the more you explore different styles, the more you can adopt your own.

I don't know how similar style in illustration is to style in writing, but I have a feeling the same rule applies. Write as much as you can, play around with it, read a lot of authors and get ideas from them, and soon you'll have your own distinct style. Style is style, whatever the medium.

While sketching I also listened to a lot of upbeat music, including these three songs that always make me want to draw characters in motion.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Confessions of the Literary Kind: Ship of Magic Review

I'm still reading Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders series. In my last mention of her books, I couldn't quite pinpoint what it was that irked me about her writing style and I wasn't sure I liked it. Now, I still have problems with the sensuality in her descriptions (that's the word I'd been groping for!), and the abundance of adjectives I sometimes tripped over when I first started reading. There were times when a passage was just so heavy with unnecessary description that I got confused over what it was actually describing. The story itself got me past that.

Ship of Magic is the tale of a liveship (sentient sailing ship with a living figurehead), the family who owns her, and the friends and foes who hope to possess her. It follows the lives, and rides around inside the heads, of the characters. And there are plenty. Each one of them has their own storyline that eventually connects them to the liveship.

I finished Ship of Magic and dove headfirst into Mad Ship, which moves a lot faster than the whopping first book. The first book was 600-some pages and the time spent in the characters' heads sometimes had me so antsy I had to resist the impulse to read ahead, but the worldbuilding, the heady conflicts, and the depth of the characters was tantalizing. I love and hate a few of Hobbs' characters in almost equal measure, but each and every one of them is multi-faceted. It is a character-driven book, made up of a web of fascinatingly interwoven relationships. I particularly love how the characters transform and make unexpected bonds based on those transformations. Their development is fluid, like it should be, and no one of them seems completely good or evil (though there's one I just can't help but hate all around).

Ship of Magic addresses social and political issues, including slavery, treatment of women, political corruption, and financial greed. I've seen these issues rise from the prose of other novels, including the Discworld series. "Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things" is an appropriate quote from I Shall Wear Midnight. Slavery and being treated as things is part of what the female characters in the Liveship Trader series have to deal with on a daily basis, but it's evident in the prose that the author intends readers to feel as disgusted by it as the characters do. From the main character Althea being considered improper and a shame to her family because of her desire to sail instead of run a household, and the Chalcedean treatment of women as objects for men to use, there is a lot to get your righteous indignation up about.

Reading this book is an emotional rollercoaster, sometimes satisfying and sometimes frustrating, making your inner feminist ball up her fists in outrage. There are large parts that drag with exposition, making the second book a lot lighter in comparison. Hobb doesn't viciously kill off her characters like some authors do, but tortures them a lot more than I expected, having never read her before. Because of that, the series is sometimes difficult to read and yet I still want to find out if it ends well, or if certain characters get paid back for what they've done. Since Ship of Magic is the first book, a lot of the payback doesn't happen until the second, and even then drama is high and torture is staple.

I'd recommend Ship of Magic for someone who's in the mood for a big, thick epic fantasy story, heavy on dynamic female characters, piratey escapades and magical vessels. Either Hobb's style tightens up by the second book or I don't notice it as much, so if you can get past her over-decorated descriptions in Ship of Magic, you'll find it worth it.
Ship of Magic (Hobb's writing) as a cake

 Just for fun, here's my impression of Terry Pratchett's and Robin Hobb's writing as cakes. I have no idea how the cake on the right would taste, but it's certainly pretty to look at! I'll let you decide why I chose them.

Discworld (Pratchett's writing) as a cake

Monday, September 2, 2013

Get off the Island!

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me; I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island. 

Those are some of the lyrics to Simon and Garfunkel's song "I Am a Rock". In high school, I used to love this song. It spoke to the literary buff and poet in me who had such a small circle of friends that liked the same things I did. Even so, the lyrics were lonely and depressing. I eventually stopped listening to the song, but there are times when I flash back to that teen.

During my blog hiatus, and from time-to-time in my creative life, I've felt like I was on an island, cut off from inspiration and creative social contact. I haven't written in a long time and I've gotten sour on the publishing process, but this past week I began to brainstorm again for my book series. It's a start, and it's got me wanting to reach out to the collective consciousness for the inspiration I've been lacking.

After a month's blog break, I've decided it's time to get off the island. 

If you're on an island and need a little help finding your way off, you might want to check this out:

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