Tag Archives: writing

Plotting out the sequel to Salvage

Over lunch I worked on the plot for Salvage’s sequel, which I’m calling Wreckage for now.  Salvage will be out next month from Masque–more links and pics and more info when I have them.  Here are a couple pages from my notebook with my (fuzzy) notes and doodles about Wreckage.

WreckagePlotting-Notes-ChrisHoward

 

I just found this link on Guy Kawasaki's G+ stream.  Everything you need to know about starting and operating a street food business in NYC, and I was thinking there's no end to the stories that can come out of being a street vendor in the City. Meeting hundreds of people every day, some of them regulars. The protag—the owner of the food truck or pushcart–can be a retired private investigator, an alien, a vampire, an impatient classically trained chef with a love for yakitori. Think what you can do with humor, information gathering, a front for crime or the CIA, horror–a street food vendor on Sept. 11.  What if we turn this vampire/undead thing on its head and suddenly every book and magazine publisher is getting dozens of stories centered on the street food business in NYC?  That would be worth writing and submitting a couple stories itself.

Who's with me?

Start here:
http://newyorkstreetfood.com/10085/the-basics-of-starting-a-street-food-business/

Go write something!

The inexplicable dematerialization of dandelions

There is a sense in which you as a fiction writer–and maybe even as a human–live in every world you create.  Worldbuilding for a story ought to be about more than the creation of places, people, and things.  It ought to be about making those things real in some sense.  You have to make your world real before you can be completely comfortable writing in it, comfortable enough to invite readers along for a holiday there–a holiday, I am hoping, with lots of hideously awful stuff happening.  The world can be a great place, the story better have some bad stuff at its heart and a protag willing or forced to confront it.  Or no one’s going to read it.

I’ve written about worldbuilding before–about map making, characters who write notes, drawing and painting character and scene studies, but this time I’m going to focus on two things: what I’m calling “deep history” and, second, the creation of characters who have no intention of setting foot inside your story, but come on give them a chance to write press releases for you.

Deep history is what was going on in your world long before your characters showed up or did anything really fun.  The idea here is to pick a few historic things that might stand out–a war, plague, religious crusade, or maybe not so deep in the past, things like a book that changed a character’s life, a family member, friend who saved your character from something particularly horrible.  Use these to deepen the life of your character.  It doesn’t have to be a world-shattering event. It can be something fleeting or simple, the day your character saw a fox in the woods, the taste of a candy from that store on 2nd Avenue that your character has never been able to find again.  It can be something personal, the quiet death of a nation’s president your character met when she was eight years old on a capitol city tour, or something closer to home: termites and carpenter ants eating through your character’s house–a home that has been in the family for five generations, and your character has to pull it together because the rest of the family fell apart.  Think about how these things might affect your character later in life.  And you don’t have to spell it out too clearly for the reader.  You character has commitment problems?  Trust your reader to take the steps to connect the loss of the character’s family home while a child to not being able to hold onto anything or anyone when he’s an adult, and trust the reader to sympathize with your character.

Profundity works.  It’s in our nature to look for the profound in every day events.  It’s easy to see how complex the world is.  The difficulty is in trying to see how simple it is.  I think it has something to do with our love of patterns, our need of patterns to make things fit inside our own heads, and the more complex the pattern, the better we feel when we see it.  Again, though, simplicity is in seeing the patterns of patterns and the–no, no, I’m just throwing some crazy ass enigmatic fraud enlightenment at you to see if you’re actually reading this and paying attention.  So, anyway, we like complexity–that is true.  Your characters and your readers are the same way–especially if they’re human.   Give it to them.  Characters are driven by more than revenge, money, power, love.  Those are just the big labels, but there are hooks deep in your character’s mind that make those things desirable, and sometimes you have to reveal those things to make them make sense to the reader as well as your character.   This is where the deep history thing can play a significant role.  Bring out the points, the little dots of light, the quick shadows in your world’s or your character’s history, and your reader will do all the connecting for you.  Again, it can be big–your character’s brother was the assassin of the Archduke Ferdinand of your world and started an entire war.  Or significantly small, that one summer when no dandelions bloomed in the fields.  What caused that anyway?  Weird, man, remember that?  Your character does.  It totally freaked him out and it affects him to this day–that’s why he joined a cult , you know.  The inexplicable dematerialization of dandelions.

People are weird and your characters are no exceptions.  Exceptions to this rule are, frankly, boring.

Another thing I want to look at are characters who contribute to your world, provide advice–maybe through books, web sites, email chain letters, secret codes, but never actually enter the story in the flesh.  They can be co-workers, friends or family from a character’s past.  They can be your character’s boss, pushing things along from a distant office, bunker, command center in orbit.  It may not be anyone who interacts with your character at all, but sends along information for the world, and for the reader–plausibly delivered.  It may not even be someone who appears in anyway in the story.  A character who isn’t named, who’s contributions are there for the author only, characters who simply help the world get a better hold on the writer’s mind.  Your world can only be as real to your reader as it is to you, and you need these behind-the-scenes characters to show up and help you see it, to speak to you, to…

…write press releases.

Here’s a press release I just wrote for an SF story I’m working on, with the event in the release is something that happened in the not too distant past.  What’s cool about press releases–and I say this as if I know what the hell I’m talking about–is that they can be a great source for worldbuilding material.  Their structure–title, event description, some detail, quotes from important people, and a paragraph about the organizations mentioned–makes it easy to create opinions, show someone’s success, failure, or back peddling.  Write a few.  

Here’s one of mine:

Artist rendering of first phase of Winderrill Platform towed into the Atlantic in November:

November 12, 2019
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

OpenCityProject.org Launches Open Ocean Agri/Aquaculture Platform Winderrill

BOSTON, Mass. – Open City Project today announced that federal and state
agencies have completed their review of Open City Project’s permanent ocean habitat license to own, construct and operate an offshore agri/aquaculture export terminal, and
have deemed it complete. The project, known as Winderrill, is located 940 kilometers southeast off
the coast of Massachusetts. The determination by the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and U.S. Maritime Administration initiates preparation of the agencies’ joint Draft Open Jurisdiction Security Statement/Environmental Impact Report (DOJSS/EIR), a comprehensive, independent assessment of the project.

The Winderrill platform employs Open City’s hexmesh flexible pattern design, which allows the entire facility to adjust to wave motion, even in rough seas. The company plans to double the size of the Winderrill habitat every three months, beginning with fifteen of the joined hexagon-shaped platforms in November, fourteen of which are solar dedicated. The first phase of agriculture, aquaculture, and crew facilities will begin in March. Winderrill is deep moored 940 km off the coast of Massachusetts, and will have permanent berthing for two ABS +A1(E) class Offshore Support Vessels.

OpenCityProject.org CEO Alanna Delmoro said, “Open City Project is uniquely positioned to meet the world’s growing need for agricultural and aquacultural resources in a manner consistent with its energy and environmental priorities. We believe our innovative approach to building and operating large scale self-sustaining production-positive deepwater platforms will benefit the world.”

“We look forward to continuing to work with U.S. Naval operations, other agencies both US and international, and all stakeholders to demonstrate how the Winderrill platform will exceed all production, safety, and environmental standards,” said Ms. Delmoro.

About OpenCityProject.org
Open City Project is a Boston-based non-profit corporation specializing in the design, construction and operation of open ocean agriculture and aquaculture facilities. For more
information about Open City Project, please visit: http://www.OpenCityProject.org.

Finally, the best thing about worldbuilding: you don’t have to build much of your world to begin writing in it.  It builds on itself, you define one piece of the world and that leads to another piece.  Worldbuilding also works wonders when you’re stuck on a scene or character motivation.  Save and close the doc, and dig into your world a bit more.  Hey, write a press release.

Character Name Generator

I spent a couple hours last night loading US Census data and first and last names from a couple other sources, and then building a random name generator for writers.

Check it out:
http://www.saltwaterwitch.com/names/

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Character Studies

Here's my latest character study, along with two priors.  I'm not very far away from completing the first book in a series, and books 2 and 3 are well into planning, so I don't want to give much away.  Okay, just a little:  It's near-future SF, but with a lot of fantastical elements.  All six of these characters are in the first book–the woman with the vines growing out of her head is the POV character.  I will say that I write far more in 3rd person, but these books will all be in first, and each book's POV character is one of the characters in each of these studies.  I've had gay and lesbian characters in stories and books (e.g., Seaborn, Sea Throne, "Hammers and Snails").  Next book will be the first novel I'm writing from a gay character's point of view. 

I did these in digital, Wacom tablet, CS, fairly normal brush set.  Click the images for the full view.

WDCharacterStudy3  WDCharacterStudy1
WDCharacterStudy2  

Must… Keep… Typing…

I'm in heads-down storytelling mode right now, trying to get out at least 1000 words a day in my attempt to complete this book–the first in a series of three (can't say more right now) sometime in May.  I'm still doing character studies, mostly quick digital work that I'll post soon.

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Category: Writing | Tags: , ,

A question about reading and filtering

I'm just thinking at the keyboard, and I'll say it: I think one of the most gratifying things for a writer is a reader who understands your characters.

I've been thinking about how people read books, and how we, in some cases, see the words, the characters, tropes, through our SF lenses or through our medieval fantasy spectacles.  I think contemporary fantasy has had some trouble getting a footing–even with a third of the shelf space that now seems to be devoted to urban, contemporary fantasy, steampunk, and other forms of our genre that do not contain a single elf and aren't set in Medieval Europe (or similar world).

When I sent the first three chapters of Seaborn around to the workshop–at the time I was in the writing workshop Jeff Carver and Craig Shaw Gardner run every year here in Boston–nearly everyone thought it was SF.  And when I said, "no, I'm writing fantasy," they said, "look, here's a woman scuba diving–how can you have scuba gear in a fantasy novel?"

You can

I think it just makes reading it a little harder, and don't expect everyone who browses the F&SF shelves to get what you're trying to do.

If you're using tropes–common themes–like vampires, summoning demons, pirates, dragons, witches lighting candles, sorcerers chanting–all of which I love BTW (everyone knows I have a total thing for witches and demons), you're writing with some cultural (or popular) momentum.  When you write about something a little off the genre map (in my case, humans who breathe underwater) or types and settings that just don't sit well with a lot of people, I think it makes everything–describing, categorizing, shelving, marketing your story, characters, and their motives that much more difficult.

Part of me wants to think that SF readers are happier–than fantasy readers–to accept something way off the mark, but I'm not sure about this.  And I'm even less sure about SF readers when they read fantasy.

What do you think?

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The Pizza Dough Recipe for Writers

PizzaCooked
…and anyone else who's looking for a recipe that's not going to force you spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  The idea is that you can have plenty of time to write and make a delicious meal.  The key is to make stuff that doesn't take long to prep, but takes an hour or more to rise, cook, set, steep, etc., so you're in your chair at the keyboard making up worlds and killing off characters.  All you have to do is listen for the timer.

I'm going to make a versatile pizza dough that you can use for any kind of tasty flatbread kind of treat or meal.  I'll save the what-do-you-put-on-the-pizza? question for another post. (I did add a Quick Start Guide at the end with simple instructions for baking fresh pizza dough). 

You can do a lot with this dough.  You can make plain flat bread–think of it as a thick tortilla or naan like bread.  You can make focaccia, basically a flattish bread with some interesting stuff on top, olive oil, green onions, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto and cheese. 

This dough also keeps well in the fridge for days–I'd say up to four, although no batch has ever lasted that long.  (TIP: The dough's actually easier to work with–roll out–the second day, so if you have the time, make this recipe the day before you plan to use it).  If you want to have pizza tonight, I'd recommend starting the dough no later than 1:00 PM or so.  Even though total prep and rise time (you're writing during two hour-long rise times) is around 2 hours and fifteen minutes, you should probably let the finished dough sit in the fridge another couple hours.

Let's start with the tools you'll need.  In spite of one book review in which I'm referred to as Ms. Howard (I think the reviewer assumed that I was a woman since my novel Seaborn has two strong female protagonists, and it's published under an imprint that's very much geared toward female readers).  In fact, I'm a guy, so I'm going to start with tools. 

You don't need a lot.  I've tried several mixers, and you know what?  I think they all worked well enough for this recipe.  However, if you can get a stand mixer like a KitchenAid, you will not regret it.  My wife bought me the manly gray KitchenAid several years ago, and it makes everything easier.

Here's my mixer:
Mixer

And here are the only other tools you will need:  a table spoon measure, a one cup (or half cup as shown here) to measure the flour, and a flexible spatula of some kind.

Tools

Ingredients:

Flour, yeast, and then it's pretty free after that.  I recommend this ingredient list:

2 cups        warm water
3 cups        Flour (I like a mix of 2.5 cups unbleached all-purpose and .5 cup whole wheat)
2 tbls          Yeast (doesn't matter what kind, RapidRise or the regular old stuff)
1 tsp           Olive oil (used later in the bowl to stop the dough from sticking)
1 tbls          Cornmeal
1 tbls          Spices
1 tbls          Parmesan cheese (optional)

Ingredients

Before doing anything, I turn on the oven for a minute or so, and then turn it off, leaving the oven light on.  We're going to let our dough rise in the oven.  Keep the oven off after the initial minute warm-up, but leave the light on–and leave it on the entire time we're letting the dough rise.  That's important.  The oven works because it's out of the way, and it's a box in which we can maintain a somewhat consistent environment.  If you're in a warm climate, you probably won't need to do this, but this what it looks like outside our window:

WhatWinterLooksLike

Just to jump back to guys and tools for a moment.  I know the barbeque is the typical guy cooking thing, but what can you do when it's 12 below outside?  Baking is the cool wintertime cooking activity because, well, here's what the barbecues look like–and not that I can barbecue that well.  Alice is way better at it than I am.  Okay, moving on.

Barbecue

Here we go:

STEP 1: Mix all the dry ingredients. 

Use a measuring cup to put in 3 cups of flour.  (If you're doing this for the first time, don't mix anything.  I would not recommend starting out with whole wheat flours because they complicate the rising process.  Get a few successful pizza doughs made, and then start playing with other stuff.  Use plain old unbleached all-purpose flour.  I use King Arthur from Vermont, but I haven't had problems with any of the name brands). 

I put in the flour first, then the cornmeal (which I think gives pizza dough a traditional flavor), spices (I like Penzeys Pizza Seasoning (basically Italian herbs with some pepper) and a little "Sandwich Sprinkle" but you can use any off the shelf Italian herb mix), and some Parmesan cheese.

Note on the yeast:  you can prep it in a separate bowl, a tsp of sugar and hot water for 10-15 minutes, letting it foam up, but I like to mix it in dry.  It's just easier, and works as well.

Here's a shot of the bowl with all the dry ingredients:

DryIngredients

Next, you're going to work with the most beautiful, the most powerful, the most life-sustaining substance in the universe.  Yeah, it's water.  (<plug>See Seaborn for more on my opinions on this </plug>)

Put 2 cups of water in a measuring cup and microwave it for 1 minute.  It needs to be pretty hot, somewhere around 120 – 130 degrees F  (around 50 – 55 degrees C).  I typically don't use a thermometer on the water.  Stick your finger in it.  It shouldn't be so hot that it's uncomfortable.   If that's where your water is, then you're good.

NOTE:  Bread baking can be difficult and unforgiving.  Think of it as chemistry as much as cooking.  For the most part bread recipes have to be followed exactly if what you're after is bread instead of mush or bricks.  Experimenting is difficult because one ingredient–say a spice mixture with salt–can kill the yeast and you won't get anything but some not very pleasant tasting goo as result.  Simple is the way to go.  I've learned the hard way, throwing out mix after mix of dough.   

That said, this recipe shouldn't give you too many problems if you keep the ingredients to a minimum.  In the mixing stage, don't be afraid to add a bit of flour if the mix looks too wet, or a little more warm water if it's dry. 

STEP 2: Mixing

Stick the bowl in the mixer, use the dough hook attachment, and turn it on low for 5 or 6 minutes.  Add about half the water (1 cup).  While it's going, use the spatula to scrape the sides and get the dough into the center.  It will look very dry–too dry–for a minute.  Add a little more water, and keep the dough moving off the sides of the bowl.  You shouldn't need any more than 2 cups of water to 3 cups of flour.  Keep some extra of each handy, but don't use it unless it's really not coming together. 

This is where the stand mixer makes things easier.  It does all the work, and I just stand there shoving the spatula along the bowl walls.  The dough should eventually come together in a thick doughy–heh–lump.   Let the mixer go for a few minutes after this, using the spatula to bend and shape the dough, otherwise the lump just spins around the bowl and doesn't do any more mixing.

Mixing1
Mixing2

Mixing3

When it's done mixing, you should have something that looks like this on the end of the dough hook:

Mixing4

Pull the bowl from the mixer and toss in a bit of flour to thinly coat the dough.  Roll it around–use your hands, and it should end up like this:

PunchedDown1

Stick it in the very slightly warm oven with the light on.  You can transfer it to a ceramic bowl, but I usually do the first rise in the original stainless steel mixing bowl.

Set the timer for an hour, and get back to your story.  Write.  Write.  Write.  You're done for now.

STEP 3: The timer goes off.

We're done with the first rise.  My bowl of dough looks like this, and yours should–hopefully–look similar:

DoughRise1

The top of the dough might be a little crusty.  Don't worry about it.  Don't scrape it off.  It won't be a problem.  We're just going to fold it into the mix where it'll soften up.

For next step, we need to get the dough away from the sides of the bowl without sticking, and then we're going to punch it down.  Take half a handful of flour and sprinkle it around the edges.  Then lift away the dough.  It should all come away neatly.  Let it roll in the dry flour to coat it.

DoughStickingToSides1

Let's punch it down, which involves pressing the dough, folding it in half, and pressing it again.  I use my open hands and fists to punch the dough.  You don't need to get all Ultimate Fighting on it, but you do need to work it, roll it, folding it, and pressing it together.

PunchDown2
PunchDown3

I do all of this right in the mixing bowl.  You can get the dough out on a flat surface if it's easier for you, but to me that's one fewer thing I have to clean up afterward.  Do it in the mixing bowl.

When you're done punching down the first rise, it should pretty much look like we're starting over again.  That's good.

RiseSecondPrepOil

Time for the olive oil–just a little.  I pour about a teaspoon into a ceramic mixing bowl and use my hands to coat the bowl.  Stick the punched down dough inside and shove it back in the oven for another hour.

Don't stand around the kitchen.  Go write or something!

STEP 4: After the second rising

Oh yeah.  Isn't that beautiful:

DoughRise2

You're pretty much done now.  Sprinkle some flour around the edges, pull it up and punch the dough down one more time.  Now give it another light coat of flour to prevent sticking and slide the whole thing in a gallon ZipLock or Glad bag.  Refrigerate until you're ready to use the dough. (Keep an eye on it.  It will continue to rise even in the fridge).

This is enough dough for 4 dinner plate sized individual pizzas.

DoughInBag

Quick Start Guide:

I won't go into the actual pizza making–saving that for another post.  Here's the general idea:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F (232 C)
Cut off a piece of dough around the size of a baseball
Use a rolling pin or just your hands (floured) to flatten it into a disk.  Make it as thin or thick as you like. 
Place the pizza round on a sheet of parchment paper (NOT waxpaper).  I like to place the sheet of parchment paper on a cookie sheet without walls–basically a flat sheet of metal.  This makes it easy to slide the parchment paper with prepared pizza off the cookie sheet and right onto the oven rack.  
Add sauce, olive oil, cut green onions, pepperoni, cheese, whatever you want.
Place the parchment paper sheet with pizza directly on the oven rack.
Bake for 5 minutes, enough to allow the crust to crisp up a bit, then slide it off the parchment paper right onto the rack.  I re-use the sheets of parchment paper–they'll turn brown with the heat, but they still work.
Total baking time is around 10-12 minutes for each pizza.

I'll follow up in another post with some interesting, fun, tasty pizza recipes.

If you have questions, comment below or email me.

ENJOY!

Oh, hey.  Turn off the oven light.

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Happy Holidays

A little late getting this post up, but here it is.  Hope everyone's having a happy and/or productive holiday.  We've had a couple good snowfalls in the last week, although it's high 30s today and raining. 

Alice took the kids to see Yes Man with Jim Carrey the night of the 26th, and I spent the time reading Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book–very cool story.  I've also done quite a bit of writing and drawing. 

Writing:

  • I currently have two short stories submitted, as well as one novel–still no word on any of these.
  • I finished an SF short story, ended up just under 4k words.
  • Since Wednesday, I've put down another 2k words on an all new novel, new world (nothing from the sea), new characters, and all that.

Illustration:

  • I have a few details to work out and I'm done with a piece of art to be published on 09 sometime–more on that when I can tell about it.
  • I've sketched out the next six panels for Saltwater Witch, and I should have them up on Monday.


 

Hope everyone's doing well and being creative!

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Some thoughts on reading and why readers read books

Every book isn't for everyone–every author knows that.  In part, an editor's–or editorial team's–job is to select books that a lot of people will want to read.  At the same time–and publishers of course should and do take every advantage of this–there are pressures on readers to read a particular book. Readers can be compelled to read simply by the fame of the author, pressures of friends, media, "everyone's reading title X –don't be left out."

Every reader is an investor.

Books aren't like paintings, or even like short stories, in that there's usually a significant amount of time a reader has to invest in the process, paying in time and running against an anticipated enjoyment.  In most cases a reader has a sense of what's going to take place during the reading,  a projected pleasure in the experience.    You know how it is.  You read books.  Books are very intimate devices for conveying the story, and you're so close to these characters, you're in their world, sometimes in their heads, and you share in their successes and failures.  There's a rush in their triumph, and tears in their despair–don't tell me you've never cried, or at least felt that tug at your eyes while reading a book.  Come on, a sniffle?  What are you, a zombie?  There has to be a sense of "this is going to be good" (good covers a lot of ground, so I won't focus on that) or most of us would never pick up a book over fifty pages.  It just wouldn't be worth it.

Paintings aren't exactly like that.  You can–and in many cases should–spend more than a few minutes exploring an illustration or painting to see what you can pull out of it.  No art is completely passive.  With short stories, it's the same, but a little closer to books.  In some ways, short stories are more like poetry in their mode of conveying the story or an idea.  (I don't know if this analogy works, but in the same way that children are certainly not little adults–thinking of the way kids are sometimes treated in school or in sports–short stories are not little books.  It's not even a matter of growth or seriousness or whatever makes the difference.  Children are sharp and bright (sometimes sharper and brighter than many adults) and have a different way of looking at the world.  We read short stories in a different mode than novels.  Anyway, not going to drag this analogy out, some other post, maybe).

Books aren't like movies in that they aren't as passive a medium.  Your brain not only has to take in the words, it has to seriously get involved in creating, rendering, imagining the scene, characters, and action the author has created.  Books are demanding. 

Now there are a couple connections I can think of between books and movies.  One, if a book has been made into a movie, book sales spike.  A publisher will often release a tie-in edition, not only targeting people who want to read the book before the movie, but those who see the movie, love the characters, the world, and want to go back into it at their own time, at a more leisurely pace.  Almost like holiday in…pick your favorite world. 

Another connection is audio books.  There is the notion of a captive audience with a movie.  You've paid your $8 dollars to get in, you got your popcorn and a comfy chair.  You're going to sit there and watch just about whatever comes your way.  A printed book doesn't have a captive audience, or only has one in limited senses  (e.g., huge fan, I'll read anything by this author, I'm totally into their worlds).  An audio book on the other hand, appears to me, to be similar to a movie in this way.  I don't know about your take on audio books.  I listen to them while driving, because, well, that's the only safe way to "read" with both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.  I spend a couple hours driving to and from work every weekday, and that's where I do it.  I can't listen to a book outside of a car, however.  In fact, many times I've gone out Friday night to buy the particular book I have going in the car, because I've been dumped, edge of my car seat, at some pivotal point in the story, and I can't wait for Monday to pick it up again.  (I'm usually done by Monday in these cases as well).  I do think there is a captive audience feature to audio books that makes them something like a movie, but again, not really part of this post, and something to explore some other time.

How about different kinds of reading?  This sort of goes back to the differences between novels and short stories and poetry.  There are different kinds of reading because there are different kinds of writing.  Even within a particular form of the medium.  A novel can be a rollercoaster  (starts off steep and fast and never seems to stop plummeting), a piece of chocolate (slowly savored), a thick rich stew, a cutting ocean storm, and sometimes you're not sure what it is, even after the last page.  Books can be subtle, they can make you bleed.  Many times, you just don't know what you're in for with a book.

This ties in to how you read a book, and the suspension of judgment on the part of a reader.  To start a book you need a certain sense of "let this author's words roll in like scenery on the other side of the car window" –just take them in, render them in your head, and follow the story.  It's almost like a willed blindness, the ability to turn your reading faculty over to the author, and letting the story take over.  No reader will get far in any story if dreading the next word is part of the experience.

The suspension of judgment isn't just about belief in a made up world–a world with no solid core with floating cities–or aspects of it like breathing underwater, it's about getting into the story, accepting it as real, taking in words that would normally appear absurd in a real setting, and letting them into your head without a snicker.  It's about taking the fantastic seriously.  (Nothing absurd ever happens in the real world, right?)

I think this suspension of judgment is less trouble for typical SF and fantasy readers, because we've already trained our minds in reading process mode to perform this, we have the habit, but even within the genres it's still an issue–and will always be.  It even depends on the reader's mood, level of immunity to distraction, and the fact that authors try cool new things with writing, or bring back writing styles that went out of style a hundred years ago and require careful reading to get into.  It's also true that suspension of judgment becomes much more difficult with non-fiction, especially when you try to read a book of ideas to which you are adamantly opposed.  Entering a fantasy world is far easier.  

I think this is the notion of "getting into a book."  Even when you've read a particular author's work befor
e and your anticipation of enjoyment is high, you still need to get into any book.  That's just the way the medium works, a property of fiction in general.  All books have to be gotten into, which doesn't really sound good, but you know what I mean.  Even outside genre, there's a need for any reader to accept what the author is presenting, in whatever style, through characters of any kind.  It's not just that characters have to feel real, with real problems, I think some of them have to even be likable, or provide enough intrigue that you'd follow them to find out what they're up to.

So, what makes you read?  What draws you to any book, to a new author's book?  What makes you stick it out through a tough to read book?  What do you as a reader get out of the reading experience?  What do you expect to get out of it, but sometimes do not?

Go get into a book!

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