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Jan 2008:
29th Another Photo
28th Sunday Walk
26th Eels
24th The Barbed Coil
23rd Opening Lines
22nd Under the...
19th Ready for D'load
17th Last Day...
16th Doing a Little...
15th Hillingar
14th 2007 Review
12th Sense of Place
11th Black Pudding
10th Snapshots
9th   Whiteface
8th   Sunrise at Lake...
3rd   More Windmills
2nd  Mohawk
1st   Happy New Year
Another Photo
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.
Sunday Walk
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 Middlesbrough.
Opening Lines
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 story.

“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’ My earlier books are now available for download from Mobipocket. 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 another world.
Perpetual Sunrise
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.
2007 Review
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 imaginations.
Black Pudding
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.
More Windmills
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.
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2007 Review
English Food