Breaking the Rules: C. J. Cherryh’s ‘Foreigner’ Novels

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Image from SF Signal

All writers have heard the adage “Show, don’t tell.” It’s one of the most ambiguous and frustrating pieces of writing advice I have ever received. After all, writing is all about words. How can you “show” something when the only way to communicate is by “telling” the reader what’s happening? You’re also supposed to make sure something is always happening to move the scene forward. You don’t start in a static or simple moment. You have to begin with a bang to get the reader’s attention! Where’s your momentum, people?

Now, I get what this advice is trying to say. “Show, don’t tell” encourages writers to not just give a play-by-play of the scene, a “Then she did this and then he said that and then they went here” style of story-telling. That’s acceptable for a four-year-old telling a story, but not for a novelist. You’re supposed to make it more dynamic, fluid, and engaging. And starting with a bang isn’t literal, but to avoid the cliche of having a character wake up in the morning or monologue to themselves. The devil, as always, is in the details of how exactly to do this.

It’s easy to then fall into the trap of thinking that these are iron-clad rules which cannot for the love of all that is literary be broken. Rules are useful as a framework, but it’s always nice to see how the rules can be bent or outright broken and still leave you with an engaging story. Enter the Foreigner series by C. J. Cherryh.

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Low Battery

Hi folks!

Sorry about the late and rather short entry this week. Summer schedule at the day job has kept me on my toes and I keep using up my free time to rest and recharge rather than getting anything substantial accomplished. My goal for Camp NaNoWriMo this month was 31 hours of editing, but I only managed to reach 10, and most of that was typing I should have gotten done in June. So I’m about a month or more behind everything, but the forward motion does continue, albeit at a crawl. And as summer winds down, hopefully there will be enough opportunities to recharge my low battery, at least enough to get me through to the beach in September.

I hope to give you a more substantial Cat’s Cradle entry and better report of my artistic endeavors in August.

Eight Years and Counting

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Image by Naturelady on Pixabay

I’m sitting on the front porch in a set of “I Love Coffee” pajamas, basking in the summer warmth. The wrens bring food to their babies nesting in one of the hanging flowerpots. (They are surprisingly loud for such little birds.) A copy of Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress sits on a stool beside me, the bookmark nestled almost a quarter of the way through. It has been a quiet, lazy kind of day, and I dread returning to my day job tomorrow morning. Feels like I could use a few more days like this to just…chill. Reorganize. Reboot.

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Mood Swings and Meatbags

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The loveable assassin droid HK-47 from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

It’s good to remember that we are walking meatbags subject to all kinds of influences, both within and outside of our control, and that it isn’t a good idea to make decisions when feeling emotional extremes.

I say this because I’ve been feeling cranky and irritable for the last week or so, beating myself for being a lazy writer, a bad friend, a horrible housemate, and pretty much every other nasty piece of self-loathing I could hurl at myself… only to wake up on Saturday and realize that all of it was most likely due to PMS.

And that scared me a little. As I’ve gotten older, the PMS mood swings have gotten worse. Fifteen years ago, I would get a little achy, a little tired, but that was about it. Now it’s risen to “I-hate-everyone-and-everything-don’t-you-dare-talk-to-me-or-I’ll-rip-your-face-off” levels. If I don’t remember to count the days, it can be easy to mistake this regular hormonal change for a flare-up of depression or some other more serious issue.

Fortunately, I didn’t have any major decisions I had to make during this past week… but what if I had? I have no control over what my hormones do and the effects have gotten more extreme, so I have to be careful to not let mood swings lead me about by the nose.

I’m fortunate that, once the monthlies actually hit, the depressive mood disappears. I was especially fortunate this time to have a nice, quiet, sunny weekend spent on the front porch reading Songs of Giants: The Poetry of Pulp illustrated by Mark Wheatley and The Nice and Accurate Good Omens TV Companion while downing cups of tea and chocolate sea salt caramel ice cream. Days where I can proceed at my own (admittedly slow) pace without being pressured by outside forces are rare, and I desperately wish I had more of them.

But the moral of this story is that we are physical creatures with a lot going on, both internally and externally, that can affect us in ways we may not be aware of. Since we artistic folk are especially neurotic, we have to pay even more attention and make sure that the decisions we make are based on rational thought rather than our easily influenced, mind-altering gut.

Now, back to the July Edition of Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve got a book to finish.

 

Serendipitous Encounters

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Image by Matheus Bertelli on Pexels

It’s very difficult to know how, or even if, a story will affect you.

We think we know what we like and why we like it, but a lot of the time we actually don’t. Sometimes you pick up something you think you will like, something that you should like, and it leaves little to no impression on you. Perhaps you even dislike it! By all accounts, I should love Game of Thrones. It has high fantasy, political intrigue, complex characters, and dragons. And yet I have never warmed up to it. Other times you pick up something on a lark and are surprised to find out much it moves you, how deeply it sinks into your psyche and plays upon your heartstrings. How was I to know that tagging along with my friends to the theater on May 4, 2012 would send me careening head-first into the world of Marvel comics and superheroes?

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Love ≠ Romance

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Image by congerdesign on Pixabay.

Love does not equal romance. Or at least, it doesn’t always equal romance. It certainly is part of the traditional story-telling formula, but love can be present between characters that isn’t the romantic kind.

Generally, love gets shown in two ways in stories. It’s either the aforementioned Romantic Love (the one that usually involves sex, kissing, etc.) or Familial Love (between mothers/fathers and their children or between siblings). The Greeks had words for seven different types of love, but love can come in so many shades of meaning and permutations of expression that I doubt there are names for them all. But the point I’m trying to make is that when we use the word “love” it can apply to far more than the Traditional Two of Romance and Family.

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Nothing Wasted

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Image by John Hain on Pixabay

Since making my declaration about getting back into The Mariner Sequence, specifically Ravens and Roses, I haven’t actually written anything. And yet I feel like my mind is more in “writer mode” than it has been in a while.

Looking back over the last two weeks, it doesn’t seem like I’ve been writing, yet two morning walks spent talking to myself have solved some major plot problems that had troubled me for years. It just goes to show that, while a writer may not always be putting words on a page, when we have a goal in mind, we can feed everything we do into the compost of our subconscious and see what happens. It’s a weird and diverse process, one that is nonlinear and sporadic. Many of the things don’t seem to relate to writing. After all, what do the following contribute to the writing process?

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Rejuvenate, Refocus, Return

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Image by sciencefreak on Pixabay

Camp NaNo in April didn’t go so well. In fact, I haven’t done so well on my writing for a while. I’ve been trying to move ahead with “quick fix” projects, the ones that on the surface don’t look like they require as much time and effort and therefore would be ready for the “Agent Auction House” sooner. I seem to have creatively shot myself in the foot trying to take these shortcuts. I made the mistake of getting caught up in the idea of production, of “being productive” and just pouring out words. And there is a time and a place for that. But I’ve been wallowing in these isolated shallow pools for a long while now, not willing to take that step back into the ocean.

It’s time to return to Marina.

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Passing Judgment, Part 2: Readers, Viewers & Fandom

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There have been several instances lately of works of art and media being torn down or otherwise endangered because of association with an artist who did or said something negative. I’ve decided to explore this issue in two parts, first looking at the production side with those who create or perform the media, and then looking at the consumers of that media, a.k.a. fandoms.

Background image by TPHeinz on Pixabay

While there have been many news stories about artists being slammed for their personal views or lives that had a negative impact on the work itself, there is another just as insidious and pervasive negativity radiating from the opposite end of the spectrum. I’m talking about the consumers of media: the readers, viewers, and fans.

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