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Once Upon a Snowclone

November 4, 2015

I’m thinking about language again this week. The concept of snowclones has popped up in a couple places and I’m equal parts fascinated by them and regretting that I graduated before they became such a Thing.

Snowclones are basically phrasal templates that keep popping up with different words in them. “Grey is the new black”, sure, but so are white, orange, stripes, and kittens, and you can even swap black out for something else. “Ducklings are the new sloth,” for instance. Why not?

So yeah, this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. For years, possibly centuries, people have heard interesting, catchy phrases and played around with them. They have, let’s say, boldly gone where many have gone before. What really excites me, though, is that internet culture and geekdom seem to be fanning the flames.

Here’s a compilation of snowclones. Here’s another. Here’s the article that started it all for me.

I’m seized with a desire to both track down as many as I can and find new ones, and test just how far you can push the boundary replacement. Sadly, I do not have the time. That’s life for you.

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Today’s Writing Lesson

November 2, 2015

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

2000-year-old leather boots

2000-year-old leather boots, British Museum, September 2014

Central American ewer

Central American ewer, British Museum, September 2014

the first known board game (found in Ur)

the first known board game (found in Ur), British Museum, September 2014

Bonus lesson: People are people, no matter what century they’re in. They’re going to be as good to each other and as bad to each other, whether they were born in the 1960s, 1860s, 660s, or 2060 BCE.

Danse Macabre

October 30, 2015

Every so often I’ll run across danse macabre art, and it rarely fails to make me smile. The medieval art often looks kind of goofy to the modern eye, but the sensibility behind it, that we’re all going to die eventually and it’s not a bad thing, I like that. It’s a good way to look at things, I feel.

And I don’t know, maybe this is my inner Goth showing, but I think a skeleton orchestra is kind of charming.

les-mors-1Of course, it helps that the danse macabre genre will always be linked to one of my favourite short pieces of music:

Happy Hallowe’en!

Genies, of Sorts

October 28, 2015

I don’t have the motivation for another long, rambling post today, so instead, I’m letting the British Museum do all the work. I don’t know a whole lot about Mesopotamian beliefs, but at some point I really need to learn more. The spirits and gods from that region sound amazing.

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The Art of the Pitch

October 26, 2015

I got into a conversation with a friend about query letters last week. It’s too early for me to even be thinking about writing one, but she didn’t know how the process of getting traditionally published tends to work, so. There we were. And as is often the case, something occurred to me that I’d already known but not really known, if you know what I mean.

My day-job is in a bookstore, and one of my major (and funnest) jobs is, essentially, pitching books to people. I’ve been doing this for, good gods, seven years now and I’d like to think I’m pretty good at it. What re-occurred to me is that that skill set is one I can use to pitch my books to agents and editors, and probably one I can share to help others do the same.

There are two types of pitching: the review, which corresponds more to the query letter, and the handsell, which is more like an elevator pitch.

Let’s do that one first.

Handselling is the physical, verbal act of recommending books to people. Most people don’t want to listen to a long, academic style analysis or a full plot summary, so the trick is to boil the book down into as few words as possible. This usually means a sentence or two about the premise but can mean keywords for me too. I try to make the book sound exciting and interesting and give it a hook—why someone would want to read it. Frequently that’s why I liked it and what made me pick it up.

Click the links below to compare my pitch to book summaries and get a sense for how this works. (Sorry, this isn’t entirely a teachable skill, you kind of do just have to practice it, and anywhere, my actual tips are below.)

It helps to have actually read the book, but it’s not necessary. I can and do crib from the back cover, online reviews, and coworkers, because there is no way I am reading the approximately one zillion titles we have in stock. It also helps to know a bit about who you’re talking to, why they like to read books, what books they’ve liked in the past, how much time they have. This is akin to researching agents before querying. If someone reads a lot of historical mysteries, I might pitch a modern-day mystery with historical underpinnings or a non-mysterious historical novel, but a space opera or suburban drama wouldn’t be for them.

In one sense, my written reviews are like my handselling pitches, but longer. I still try to encapsulate the plot, the hook, and why I think people will like it, but the reviews tend to be about twice to three times as long as my pitches. I have more space, for one thing, and because it’s in writing (a.k.a. something people will be reading rather than listening to) I let myself go into more detail and get more personal. I write about what really stood out to me, or what books I think the book’s like, or what people I think would be most interested. I also include warnings, like my “scared of the dark” one above or, like in one book I’m recommending these days, “this is about Christ the man, not Christ the Lord.”

Thing is, and this is where the query writing really ties in I think, my first draft of a review tends to be keywords, just like in my handselling. I write down adjectives and moods and the very core bits of the plot—who, where, why—and then I sculpt the sentences around those. I go from “laugh out loud, great heroine, thought-provoking, cool magic, amazing” to something like, “This amazing fantasy will make you laugh and make you think. I loved the magic (and the puns) and now I want to meet the heroine!” My basic review formula is something like: sentence or two for plot, sentence for whatever was the best part, sentence for how I felt or what else I liked about it, optional sentence to list who might like it or provide read-alikes.

I know that’s not exactly how Queries Are Supposed To Be Done, but it’s similar at least and the point’s the same—you want someone else to say, “Yes! I want to read that! Gimme!” I’m not telling you how to write your query letter and this won’t work for every querier or every reader-of-queries, but if my tips help at all, great! Fantastic! Go you! (Let me know?)

Textual Archaeology

October 23, 2015

There’s a moment I keep having when I’m reading, a question that floats to the top of my mind and which sends me whirling down tangents until I get the plot bunnies under control again: If I was reading this 1000 years from now, what would this tell me about the early 21st century?

It doesn’t matter what I’m reading, really—fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, mystery, children’s books, essays on the internet…* I keep getting this dissociation, where I stop reading the narrative and I start doing the sorts of textual analysis I either learned to do in lit courses or that historians seem to do in their reconstruction of the past. Are future historians going to figure out what a microwave is because of scenes like this one? How well does this explain the internet, really? Is this going to survive and get taken as the Absolute Best Novel Ever, even though it’s … not? Are people going to write theses on the futurism in this space opera?

It’s like that scene from Doctor Who:

We only know about Aristotle’s Comedy by reading books that reference it, and it’s not the only work we’re missing. Love’s Labour’s Won, anyone? There’s probably lots that was written and never referenced elsewhere, or those books that referenced them are also lost to time. There are plays that Shakespeare may even have seen but we only know them from a single diary entry, and that’s only 400 years ago!

I read a book recently that took trappings of written culture—stock phrases, nursery rhymes, that sort of thing—and make them literal parts of a fantasy world. Will that book outlive other references to Mary had a little lamb or be our only surviving example of “Well, at least it can’t get any worse”? For that matter, what do the plot structure, the characterization, the tropes tell the aliens searching the ruins of our civilization in 4000 C.E.? Will they even understand what they’re looking at, or will they assume that it really does rain cats and dogs on occasion?

(Wouldn’t that be nice?)

The book I’m reading at the moment is going to tie into this musing too, I think. Not sure yet, though, I’m only a few chapters in. But right now I’m pretty impressed with how the author’s managed to tie totally disparate ideas together (with humor, no less!) to show how they actually form a whole—and I suspect the odd examples he uses are going to mesh nicely with what I’m talking about here.

At the very least, it’s a good example of the textual and contextual analysis that inspire my daydreaming.

 

*Actually, I probably lied. If I’m reading a Really Good Book, I’m less likely to be bumped out, I think, if only because Really Good Books tend to grab my brain with both hands and refuse to leave go. So we’re probably talking Good Books and Okay Books here. But the point stands.

The Spaces Between

October 21, 2015

I have always loved the liminal spaces, those moments when the world is not quite one way, not quite another. They felt special even before I found out they were strongly associated with magic. Spells break at midnight, or at dawn. Birth is a powerful time, as is death. Fairies appear at twilight. Vampires cannot cross running water. Rivers are where you sacrifice gold; bogs are where you sacrifice the dead. Ghosts and tricksters are liminal too, as are rites of passage and any sort of new beginning, if you care to widen the net.

For me it’s more the turning of the seasons, ocean shores, sunsets, fog, eclipses, and to some degree, solstices. There’s a feeling of possibility there, a joy, a sense of the world changing around me, of not quite being in a place despite clearing being so. Perhaps there are ghosts just around the corner? Perhaps magic exists? Perhaps I can cross from one world into another.

And yes, it has been foggy this week, why do you ask?

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Winter sunset on a mountaintop

 

 

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Burns Bog

 

 

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Foggy beach at dawn

 

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Lunar eclipse

 

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Becoming fall

 

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Another foggy beach