KUEC #21

“She was wearing underwear on her head. Not because she was crazy…!”

A very pasta heavy episode, with a bottle of cheap wine apiece, which is probably what caused me to get reminiscing about my grandmother and the time I got lost in New Orleans.

Also available on iTunes!

Also, a raccoon walked in the mud and then on my car. There is a line of small paw prints across the hood. I find this kind of adorable, even as I realize that I gotta go to the carwash this week and that if it keeps happening, I will undoubtedly be screaming my rage at the heavens.

The Sac Shack!

In the small hours of the night, this postcard arrived in my brain. It wasn’t addressed to me, but I got it anyway.

I know absolutely nothing about Elijuh, except that A) he is not named Elijah, and B) apparently his mother has gout. (Also his handwriting is the font “Rabiohead,” and the paper textures are from CGTextures.com, which is free and occasionally invaluable.)

I know more about the Sac Shack than I wanted to know. Anything about the Sac Shack is more than I wanted to know.

Also I spent much too long making that stamp.

(This is why we can’t have nice things.)

If you are that one-in-a-million individual who really requires a print of the Sac Shack! postcard, then I have them available…weirdo.

Blarrrrghh….

I have spent the past week sick. Not quite “sick as a dog” but perhaps “sick as a whale” or “sick as a llama.” Horribly stuffed up nose and mild fever for a day or two which gradually slid into somewhat stuffed up nose and sporadic cough. I am on the mend, and fortunately I have a job where I can do things like “editing the last script” while laid out in bed, but it’s been a generally unpleasant week of low energy, grim productivity, and NyQuil.

Nevertheless, Stuff Has Gotten Done. It has mostly gotten done in between long naps, but it has Gotten Done. Art edits and cover art for book 5 are done, script edits for book 6 have been sent back, and I am grimly thrashing out sample art for Platypus Files.  (Take it easy? What is this “take it easy” of which you speak?)

On the bright side, since the Oddbox on Steam ported all the Oddworld games to PC, I’ve been enjoying playing them.  I have kind of a weird relationship with some of the Oddworld games–the first time my marriage hit the rocks, I was playing Munch’s Oddssey (not, um, related to said rocks) and when we’d talked about our feelings and cried and so on until I couldn’t stand the thought of saying one more word about how I felt about ANYTHING, I’d pick up the controller and go pilot a fish in a wheelchair.  The next time my marriage hit the rocks, about four years later, I picked up the game and re-played the damn thing. (Also Jade Empire and Knights of the Old Republic. It was quite a long dissolution.) You’d think that this would give the games a weirdly negative connotation, but in fact I find Oddworld the video game equivalent of a comfort read–they’re extremely engaging, they occupy the brain thoroughly, even the bad guys are generally delightful, and they provide a certain degree of mental sanctuary. So it was lovely to have them finally available at a time when I was sick and really needed a comfort game. *

*And the recent patch fixed almost all the problems with Stranger’s Wrath. Munch’s Oddyssey is apparently still broken, but since apparently the guys who ported it abandoned all responsibility and it got dumped in the lap of the people who ported Stranger, with a nice note saying “Um, can you fix this?” they have all my sympathy and I am willing to wait.

Tired.

It was an insanely productive week, but I kinda feel like I carved the productivity out of my belly with a knife. But lots and lots got done! This is important! The art edits are almost finished, and now I just have to finalize the cover, write another scene on Book 6, and get cracking on the art for the Platypus Files sample. (There is a vague spy element to this, which led to Kevin tossing out potential titles like “Platypi Are Forever” “Webfinger” and “Platypussy.” There is no chance in hell that they will ever let me title a book “Platypussy.” This makes me sad. I hold out a hope that I can get away with “Enter the Platypus” for the first book though, and I would write an entire plotline of dubious worth just to be able to call a book “The Manatee With The Golden Gun.”)

So, y’know. Hardly anything left to do! Could be wrapped up by Tuesday! I could take the rest of the week off and finally work my way through Abe’s Exoddus!

…yeah, that’s not gonna happen.

Breaking the Promise

So I found myself at the used bookstore this week–I had a few dregs of credit left from the last time I sold ’em books–and decided that I was in the mood for a thriller. They had both In the Woods and Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I bought them both, I read them both, and now I am going to say a few words, which may count as spoilers, so if you’re still planning on reading these, now would be a good time to go water the begonias.

Still here?

Right.

Here’s the thing.  When you set out to write a crime novel or a mystery novel or whatever, you have made a covenant with the reader, and that covenant says “The crime will be solved by the end of the book.”

This is not the only genre that makes you a promise when you pick it up–if you’re writing a romance, then you promise that the hero and heroine will have fallen in love with the book, probably with each other. (You are occasionally allowed to have them fall in love with other people–Heyer’s Sprig Muslin does this very charmingly–but you usually have to introduce those other people early on and make them very sympathetic. Big age gap also helps.)  Write hard sci-fi and you will not make the alien fleet vanish because of voodoo or casting Fireball. Write historical fiction and you must make at least a token nod to researching said history and not have Alexander the Great conquer Hawaii, unless it’s alternate history, in which case, eh, Aloha, knock yourself out.

Heck, it’s not just promising to stick somewhat to your genre–if you write a sequel, you promise to hold true to the first book and not ret-con stuff because you’ve decided that it would be much cooler if your hardened atheist worshipped Anubis so that you can have giant black dog ghosts roaming around in Book Two, Dan Simmons, I am looking in your direction.

And if you’re writing a whodunnit, you gotta tell us whodidit.

Now, if you wish to write a story of a terrible crime and not tell us who did it at the end, because your heroine has grown and matured and decided that she doesn’t need to know, she just prefers to put it all behind her and get on with her life and ditch this unhealthy obsession and perhaps build a better relationship with her sister/mother/therapist/estranged offspring, this is fine. Write it. Just shelve it in Literature, because that’s where it belongs.

If you are writing a classic mystery, you have in fact TWO promises to fulfill–first of all, you must solve the mystery, and second of all, you are required under the Poirot Act of 1934 to provide enough clues that the reader can potentially figure it out in advance and feel smart.

You don’t have to do this with a thriller, because of course sometimes you won’t actually meet your killer until you flush him out through smart detective work–Caleb Carr’s The Alienist does this just fine and I have no complaints, because there’s not really a way we COULD have met him, and at the end of the day, all is solved and there are tea and crumpets with leading industrialists.

But you have to solve the mystery. Failure to solve the mystery = Novel Fail.

In the Woods is beautifully written. It is lyrical. The heroine is genuinely likable and the tormented narrator, while he does occasionally get carried away on his own purple prose, is still sympathetic. I read it in line at the post office and on the exercise bike and in the tub with a glass of crappy red wine. I was hooked. And there were two linked mysteries, one current, one in the past, and they solved the current one and I cheered and I turned the page and the book was over.

And they never solved the first mystery. The one they started the book with, the one about what horrible thing happened to the detective’s two childhood friends and the shoes full of blood, the one that looked like the linchpin to the second mystery, except it wasn’t, and then the book was over and you never found out why there was a twelve year old with shoes that looked like someone had poured his friend’s blood into them and then made him put the shoes back on and what the hell, man?

It broke the promise. It violated the contract. You can wave things about ambiguity and the reader’s imagination around all you want, but those are pretty damn flimsy threads–as far as I’m concerned, if you write a murder mystery and detail the heck out’ve the murder and then go “And the murderer is….THE END” then your readers will come by and egg your house and furthermore you will deserve it.

Now, your murderer doesn’t have to get punished. You can have him walk away a free man, grinning at your hero, and the hero can grit his teeth and take it because it is often a dark and cynical and gritty world out there and this is fully within your authorly rights. But you still have to solve the mystery, or else you didn’t write a mystery, you committed literature and your books should not be shelved anywhere where an innocent bystander might happen upon them.

Ahem.

This made me sad, because it was really a wonderfully written book. But that’s not enough.

And then there was Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Writing was piss-poor, as far as I was concerned. I don’t think the author ever met a sentence fragment he didn’t like. However, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt–it might have been positively lyrical in Swedish, and the translation just didn’t do it justice. Parts of it bored me, parts of it were somewhat predictable, the heroine was sympathetic in that you felt sorry for her but you still didn’t want to get within a hundred yards of her, her computer skills were improbable and the hero slept with most of Sweden.

Nevertheless, it was ALSO about two crimes, one past, one present, (with a little vaguely gratuitous horrible rape-and-revenge thrown in as a minor plot point) and despite every complaint I have made, a writing level about on par with Da Vinci Code and my sorrow of the state of the American reading public that both of those were on the bestseller list for a thousand years, I will give it full and complete marks–it kept the promise.

We found out whodunnit (and what was in fact dun) and god help me, I may not read any of the rest of the books in the series–if I want to watch a horribly abused heroine make good, I’ll re-read De Lint’s early work, which will at least involve fewer tedious Swedish business transactions–but I cannot argue that it worked as a crime novel.

Whew. Okay. I feel a bit better now, except that now I am sad because I have read both thrillers and one wasn’t great and one was brilliant but failed and I want to read one that really works but I’m kinda burnt out on the lovechild of Batman and Hannibal Lector Detective Pendergast so if you have any other suggestions, I would love to hear them.

Downtime. I do not has it.

I shouldn’t complain, I got like three weeks of downtime last month, which we used on the Great Stoffice Migration, and I made a little art. This week, however, it has all come home to roost–art edits on Book 5 today, text edits on the next book at the end of the week, a Digger to do, and by the way, they’d like a sample chapter for the next project after Dragonbreath. (Dragonbreath is currently slated to go seven books, and then I’d like to start another series, tentatively called “The Platypus Files,” but before they buy it, they would like to actually see a sample chapter, which is TOTALLY REASONABLE but as I cannot pull sample chapters out of thin air,* this adds substantially to my current workload, but of course I have to do it and relatively quickly or I am going to be staring at an abyss of non-money-coming-in-ness about this time next year. (I mean, there’d still be royalties, but I worked in RPG illustration too long to actually believe in the existence of royalties–I budget around advances only, and am always pleasantly surprised to learn that someone has bought the book.))

And I still have this other thing I’ve been noodling around with, and the story is LIVE (I seen to have to write the first quarter of the book to tell if it’s alive or not) but I want to get it dragged to a point where I can actually maybe sell it to somebody, and that requires me to go off to the coffee shop for an hour every other day or so and beat my head on it. (Hmm, although maybe I should use my coffee-shop time today to script the Platypus thing instead…) and I realize that on some level this may count as insane productivity but in my head it is merely A Whole Lot Of Stuff I Have Promised To Get Done That Isn’t Yet.

And also I need to go get on the exercise bike.

Once more into the breach…!**

 

 
*At least, not if they include art. I can actually pull a sample chapter of script out of relatively svelte air, but you want it illustrated and that’s a whole ‘nother ball of hornet wax.

**I know that’s not how it goes, yes.

Post-con Slog Brain and KUEC #19

Brain is sloggy. Got back in last night from MarsCon, had a good time, very nice people, but of course still pretty wiped out.  Fell asleep during Iron Chef America and slept like the drugged dead for about nine hours. Got up, got on exercise bike, showered, fell into chair. Suspect consciousness is purely illusory.

The number of e-mails that fill an in-box in my absence blow my mind. Most of them aren’t significant, but we’re working on edits for Dragonbreath 5, and there’s a lot of fix this, can we change this, this is approved, is this okay, all of which requires me to drag my brain out of sloggy-post-con and into actual clear…thinky…thing.

As you can see, it is not working quite as well as it could.

Also, I have to do a Digger. And organize a bunch of prints so that tomorrow I can mail out the orders that got delayed by the mondo ice storm that kept us stuck in the house for a good chunk of last week. (Kevin even got stuck in the driveway and we had to get a tow-truck. I still feel vaguely guilty that my Minnesotaness was not sufficient to free him, but in fairness, nobody would drive a car that low to the ground in winter in Minnesota, and once you’ve hung the back up on the culvert, it doesn’t matter how many years your Significant Other spent in St. Paul, you’re just kinda boned.)

Despite all this, there was a KUEC yesterday, recorded ahead of time!

It Looks Like A Mummy’s Toupee

Also available on iTunes!

MarsCon Ho!

So Kevin and I will be doin’ MarsCon in Williamsburg VA this weekend! I am the artist guest of honor, there’ll be art in the art show, we’ll have prints for sale, Kevin will likely wear a kilt*, all will be hopefully be awesomeness. (I’ve never done MarsCon before, so this’ll be an adventure…)

I b’lieve I have my GoH panel Friday night, so if you’re attending the con, come on by! Save me from an empty room!

Meanwhile, this is what is currently on my desk.

Benjamin T. Cat and art supplies

The sad thing is that he is currently asleep in this position, completely dead to the world, using my PITT markers as a chin rest. He must be doing the feline amorphous solid thing. Angus came up and poked him a bit earlier and didn’t get more than a vague ear flick.

At least he doesn’t drool in his sleep any more. That would be an unpleasant surprise next time I inked.

*Ambient temperature will preclude me from wearing The Boots, as anything short enough not to get snagged on my own spikes will provide the approximate insulating value of toilet paper.  But I’m hoping to get them out at least ONCE this year.