Posted by JVJ @ 5:57 pm
Jan 29th : 2008
Here's another photo from my walk yesterday. Waterbirds in flight on a
blue background: it reminds me of a Japanese print.
Posted by JVJ @ 6:32 am
Jan 28th : 2008
Yesterday I went for a walk at my local lagoon. After all the rain we've been
having, everything is green and lush. Wildflowers are in bloom and trees
with shallow roots have fallen; it doesn't take much for the sandy ground
to turn to mud.
Posted by JVJ @ 2:18 pm
Jan 26th : 2008
There be eels in Blue Dhoone Lake. In Fortress of Grey Ice the Dog Lord
eats one, teeth and all. In Book IV, which I’m currently writing, a scene
takes place at night by the lake. Freshwater eels hunt by night (lucky for
me--it suits the nature of the scene to have these pale and tenacious
predators lurking in the background). What I didn’t know about freshwater
eels though is that they’re catadromous. Which means they do the opposite
of salmon: they mature in freshwater and then head to the ocean to spawn.
They occur as far inland as Minnesota, and to reproduce they have to
reach their spawning ground in the Atlantic, the Sargasso Sea off the coast
of Bermuda. They’re the only fish in North America who do this. Who knew
eels were so interesting?
The Barbed Coil
Posted by JVJ @ 12:22 pm
Jan 24th : 2008
Paul has been busy behind the scenes. His latest project has been revamping
The Barbed Coil
pages. They’re looking cool, all black and shiny. Sadly,
Everton took a loss last night against Chelsea and were knocked out of the
Carling Cup so Paul’s feeling a bit down right now. Unsurprised, given
Everton’s long dance with mediocrity (that’s why the Joneses support them
after all) but deflated all the same.
I’ve been playing FIFA soccer on the Playstation III and have dutifully
picked Everton as my side. So far the only team I’ve managed to beat is
Posted by JVJ @ 9:24 am
Jan 23rd : 2008
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” “Last night I dreamt
I went to Manderley again.” “The sky above the port was the color of
television tuned to a dead channel.” These three sentences mark the
beginning of well known books (A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens,
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, Neuromancer by William Gibson). All three are
widely acknowledged to be great opening lines. Why? Because they capture
our attention and make us want to read more. Dickens’ line intrigues us.
Good and bad happening at the same time: How so? We read on to discover the
answer. Du Maurier starts her tale up-and-running. We’re immediately in the
head of the narrator, party to her most private thoughts. What is
Manderley? Why does the narrator dream she was back there? Gibson does
something different. He sets a sense of place and mood. Something’s wrong
in the world--the sky is a symptom. What’s happening?
All three openings raise our curiosity. They create questions we want
answered. Du Maurier picks an unusual entry point into her story--the
ending--immediately handing us a big fat mystery. Gabriel Garcia Marquez
uses the same device at the beginning of One Hundred Years of Solitude.
“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia
was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover
ice.” In each case, the narrator is looking back at his/her life. The
‘looking back at a remarkable life’ technique is just one way to begin your
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
This is the first sentence from George Orwell’s 1984. It shares
similarities with Gibson's Neuromancer. Setting and mood are conveyed.
Also, as with Gibson’s sky which is out-of-kilter, Orwell’s time is out of
kilter. Both lines create a mysterious and unique sense of foreboding. The
‘mysterious setting’ beginning can be difficult to do well. It’s
description, not action. So it’s passive, and the writing has to be sharp
to counteract this. Something has to be unique--a metaphor, an observation,
a detail--as well being interesting. “It was about eleven o'clock in the
morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain
in the clearness of the foothills.” Chandler’s The Big Sleep accomplishes
this with an unusual negative: the sun not shining. Most writers would say
it’s cloudy. By highlighting what’s not there, Chandler spikes the sentence
and draws us in to a world where something’s missing right from the start.
“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.” Jane Eyre. “Christmas
won’t be Christmas without any presents.” Little Women. “It began as a
mistake.” Bukowski’s Post Office. All begin with a single statement that
makes us want to understand the reason behind it. The ‘intriguing
statement’ beginning is one of the easiest for beginning writers to learn.
We just need to reproduce our own version of it. “That Sunday we didn’t go
to church.” Or, “No one could recall the last time the lake froze in
September.” It’s worthwhile practicing this as it helps pinpoint the moment
your story begins.
More on beginning lines next week.
Under the Weather
Posted by JVJ @ 9:56 am
Jan 22nd : 2008
Been a little under the weather since I returned to San Diego, but feeling
a bit better today. Tea, honey and toast are my standbys. Biggie helps by
following me everywhere I go and wedging herself under my laptop as I
write. Yes, she’s here right now.
Owls have been on my mind lately. They’re important symbols in Native
American culture, most often associated with death and the underworld. The
Cree believe that the cry of the screech owl summon spirits of the undead.
It’s easy to understand when you hear their call
Ready for Download
Posted by JVJ @ 7:14 pm
Jan 19th : 2008
And now a word from our sponsor...that’s...er...me. My earlier books are
now available for download
. The Baker’s Boy,
Master & Fool and The Barbed Coil can be loaded on to your PC or PDA. I can’t find
A Man Betrayed listed, but hopefully that’s just an oversight. Otherwise
Master & Fool won’t make a whole lot of sense.
Last Day in the Woods
Posted by JVJ @ 9:23 am
Jan 17th : 2008
I may be back in San Diego but the memories of the northern woods are
strong. I think we all have places for which we feel a special affinity,
places that touch our soul. Some love the desert, some the ocean, some
tropical beaches. For me, it’s the North. Forests. Mountains. Frozen lakes.
Something pulls me in. The air’s thinner and older and sometimes I get a
fleeting sense that if I could just find the right spot I’d slip through to
Posted by JVJ @ 0:05 am
Jan 17th : 2008
Yesterday I headed home from NY to San Diego. Flying west at dawn is a
magical experience. You get hour upon hour of sunrise. Soft red light
filled the cabin as we matched speed with the rising sun.
Doing a Little Maintenance
Posted by JVJ @ 0:12 am
Jan 16th : 2008
Quietly, behind the scenes, we’ve been doing some maintenance at jvj. Well,
Paul has. I went for a walk in the woods. The index page has been updated
along with links that were no longer working. Hopefully, but by no means
certainly, this will provide an easier visit.
Posted by JVJ @ 0:27 am
Jan 15th : 2008
I like words, I just do. Coming across a new one pleases me. Especially
when it’s as good as hillingar. Over the weekend I was researching mirages
and came across a paper by Ned Rozell that pondered why it’s possible for
folk in Fairbanks, Alaska, to see Mount McKinley. They shouldn’t be able
to. Technically, accurately, McKinley is below their horizon. Yet there it
is in the southwest, one giant lump of mountain kind. It’s the largest
optical illusion in North America.
How can this be? This is where the hillingar effect comes in. Hillingar is
a word coined by the Vikings that means “looms like a hill.” It describes
the way that, in certain conditions, landmarks appear closer and larger
than they actually are. We now know this is due to light refracting through
different densities of air. Thin air surrounds the peak of McKinley, but
the air at its base is dense. Light rays bend toward the denser air, making
the mountain appear taller.
Posted by JVJ @ 6:32 am
Jan 14th : 2008
Robert Thompson over at Fantasy Book Critic has put together a list of
writers favorite books from 2007. L. E. Modesitt Jr, Kevin J. Anderson and
R. A. Salvatore are amongst the writers taking part. I added my two cents
worth too. It’s fun to see what people are looking forward to reading in
2008. Head over there and take a look.
Sense of Place
Posted by JVJ @ 2:43 pm
Jan 12th : 2008
How does one convey a sense of place in as few words as possible? If you’re
writing a story where pacing is important (ie a thriller or detective
novel) you don’t want to slow down the narrative while you describe a
setting in elaborate detail. Words are currency. Spend wisely. Whether
you’re describing a well-known city such as Las Vegas or a fantasy world
that’s entirely a figment of your imagination you, the writer, must have a
clear mental image of your setting.
Command of your setting is gained by knowledge and familiarity. If you’re
lucky enough to be writing a story set in your hometown then you’re already
ahead. If you are setting your story in an unfamiliar place then you’ll
have work on your hands. Look at photographs, read firsthand accounts and
history, visit the place in question, or if that’s not possible visit
places that share similarities. Over time you’ll become confident of your
setting. It’s this confidence that’s convincing. Readers pick up on it. We
know when _you_ know what you’re talking about.
Once you have a body of knowledge in place, choose your details carefully.
And sparingly. Yes, it’s a shame to learn so much and not be able to
demonstrate the vast amounts of knowledge you’ve accumulated but that’s
what professional writers do. How can we pick a telling and original detail
unless we do our homework? Generic details--NY city is busy, Louisiana is
steamy, desert nights are full of stars--fail to convey a unique sense of
place. Facts repeated too often lose their power. As readers we skip past
them. It’s a writers job to pick details that evoke a particular sense of
place and time, ones that readers can use as springboards for their own
Posted by JVJ @ 9:33 am
Jan 11th : 2008
About five years ago I wrote a small piece on the foods of my childhood. I
posted it in an obscure corner of the website and promptly forgot about it.
However, to my surprise, I’ve learned that people are still finding it by
putting the immortal words “black pudding” into search engines. This
pleases me. I did the time, I walked the walk, I ate the inedible, so it’s
good to know that my childhood experiences are hitting a chord (or more
accurately a piece of grizzle) with people across the internet.
Posted by JVJ @ 1:55 pm
Jan 10th : 2008
Taking photographs--snow-laden branches, mountains shrouded in mist, frozen
lakes, etc--helps with my writing. I keep the shots on my computer and call
them up during the day as I work. Right now, in Book IV, it’s Spring in the
clanholds. It’s a bleak Spring, with late frosts killing the leaf buds and
stormheads rolling in from the North. The photos I took in the Adirondacks
on Monday help me set the mood.
Posted by JVJ @ 8:39 am
Jan 9th : 2008
This time when I visited Lake Placid I went there to ski (badly).
Whiteface, the ski hill, is owned and run by the State of New York. This
unusual circumstance is due to the fact that it’s located in the
Adirondacks State Park. Fortunately I have no photos documenting my skiing
ability. This one was taken on the banks of frozen Mirror Lake.
Sunrise at Lake Placid
Posted by JVJ @ 8:48 pm
Jan 8th : 2008
I spent Sunday at Lake Placid
, a small town in the heart of the
Adirondacks. The 1932 and 1980 Winter olympics were held there. If you
squint at the photo I took at sunrise you just might be able to spot the
ski jump in the distance.
Posted by JVJ @ 11:13 am
Jan 3rd : 2008
Here’s a couple more shots from my trip last week which included a drive
through Aamish/windmill country. Windmills are neat. Elegant and neat.
Lowville, where these photos were taken, is a small farming community. In
winter it’s an expanse of white fields with hawks circling overhead and
deer and wild turkey pecking through the snow.
Posted by JVJ @ 0:05 am
Jan 2nd : 2008
The Mohawk River flows east through Upstate New York. Yesterday I went for
a walk along its southern shore. The temperature hovered around freezing.
A pink sky, fresh snow and a wide, slow river slowly turning to ice: what
more could you ask from a Winter day?
Happy New Year
Posted by JVJ @ 1:01 am
Jan 1st : 2008
The last day of 2007 was a snowy one here, with a foot of powdery snow
falling in the night. I awoke in the morning to a changed world. That’s the
thing about snow; it’s stealthy. You don’t hear it fall.