Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Okinawa Ho!

We have dates! It looks like Sensei and I, and a few others, will be heading to Okinawa for the middle part of June. We have tickets and everything! Time to break out the Japanese big time! (I haven't let it completely lapse, but I haven't been hitting it as hard as I could by any means.)

I'm so excited about this I can hardly contain myself - everything comes out in exclamation points!

Monday, April 08, 2013

Book Review: Shadow of the Dragon Duology

The Shadow of the Dragon by Kate O'Hearn is a YA duology recently sent to my sons by a friend. In not atypical fashion, I ended up reading them before anyone else in the family, and since I've been thinking about them a great deal since I read them, I thought I'd write a review and put some of those thoughts down.

I have two initial reactions to this pair of books. Firstly, they're a fast and reasonably fun read, and I'm quite sure my sons will like them. Secondly, only rarely have I read a pair of books that have so made my editor's reflexes itch. I badly want to enter the books on my computer and try to fix them. Which given that I'm acutely aware of my lack of experience and expertise as an editor (and particularly as an editor of books), says something. For a story to make me itch so badly to get my hands on it means that the problems are egregious enough to override my self-doubt.

(I'm not going to particularly try to avoid spoilers, so be wary if you hate such things.) The books are a fairly standard YA adventure plot. A pair of sisters, 12-year-old Kira and 8-year-old Elspeth are raised in a kingdom that takes sexism to new and inspired heights. Girls may not be taught to read or write. They must be engaged before age 12 and married before age 13. They may not behave or dress in any way like boys. They may not approach the royal castle or the king. And they absolutely must never have anything to do with dragons. A violation of any of these rules is punishable by death. Dealing with dragons is punished with slow torture before the execution.

If you guessed that Kira and Elspeth will end up dressing like boys, flying on dragons, and toppling the oppressive king, congratulations! You have grasped the essence of most YA adventure stories.

Oddly enough, I don't particularly object to the fact that I could guess the ending of the series with a high degree of accuracy before we got past chapter one. With a lot of adventure books, and especially YA ones, the novelty of the story is almost entirely in the details of the journey, not with where you're going. And it's exactly in those details that SotD makes me itch.

A big component of that itching is timing. By the time Kira and Elspeth are born, the girl-specific laws (called the First Laws) have been in place for generations. It beggars belief that Kira, whose mother and grandmother and great-grandmother were all married off in arranged marriages by age 12, who has been raised by loyal and dutiful parents, who would never dream of violating the laws and endangering their daughters, Kira, who has known since the time she could talk that this is coming, would stomp around arguing with her parents because they've found a nice boy for her to marry, saying that she doesn't wish to marry at all, and expounding on her desire to be a dragon knight. She might have those thoughts, or even be somewhat rebellious, but she's being outright stupid in a really unbelievable way. The timing is off - nothing has yet happened in Kira's life that would push her into such a huge rebellion against the parents she clearly loves. Once her family is dragged off, parents and brother conscripted for the King's war, and her middle sister sent to prison for being an unmarried girl, and Kira and Elspeth are hunted fugitives? Yeah, once that's happened, I can believe almost anything Kira might do, but before that? There's just no reason for Kira's outright rebellion. It seems to exist purely as a chance to drop in the explanation of First Law and perhaps to let the book start in an exciting moment that gives Kira an excuse to stomp out of the house and thereby miss the knights coming to burn down her house and drag off her and her family.

(Internal musing - I would probably have had Kira off by herself daydreaming about the Rogue (the feral dragon near her home), lamenting internally the unjust laws that meant she could never work with dragons herself, or even plotting how perhaps she could approach the Rogue 'by accident', and then coming home to the arrival of the king's knights, though I'm sure there are other ways this could be dealt with as well.)

I also object to idiot plots - no not plots that are stupid, but rather plots that require the characters to be idiots for them to work. The whole situation of SotD is kicked off with a king who is highly fortunate to have survived his own idiocy at all. A wizard comes forth with a prophecy of a young girl with a dragon who will topple the monarchy, and the king responds immediately with laws guaranteed to piss off not only every young girl in the country, but every relative near or distant that cares about them at all. By rights, the king who instituted First Law should have been facing a rebellion or repeated assassination attempts pretty much immediately, not had the whole country go meekly along for several hundred years. He doesn't make any attempt to justify them (only the king and the wizard know about the prophecy), or to put them in place gradually. He just decrees, and WHAM! suddenly women are effectively chattel without so much as a whimper.

My last large objection is to the major Deus ex Machina character, in the form of a dyslexic wizard, Paradon. I liked the concept - he can't read, and much like the words on the paper, his spells end up jumbled, with rather random results. This could be comic, tragic, both, a major complicating factor, or nearly anything within the book. Instead, all the things that go wrong, pretty much end up driving the plot exactly where it needs to go in a fashion that gets really annoying. Everything was just a little to convenient - not necessarily for the characters, but rather for the author - and the feel of the book suffered for it. Even the attempt at a major plot twist at the end couldn't shake that feeling that with Paradon on hand, it was all going to go just so, somehow. It felt like an adventure novel written by a devout Calvinist - it's all predestined, and we're just hanging around waiting for the inevitable to unfold.

As you might guess by this point, I really can't recommend the books. I don't hate them, and as previously noted, I suspect the kids will enjoy them, but there are just too many issues for a more experienced reader to overlook.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Long Curse is Over

For the first time in history, I have successfully been recorded singing. It's not the cleanest, or the best quality, but it's there. Now I just have to figure out how to deal with an .mp4 file, and I'll try to post it.

I will note, recording me has been tried before. Something has always gone wrong, ranging from having a tape recorder switch to double speed for no discernable reason, to having the audio engineer forget to turn off the mike in the back of the room while recording off the stage - and then eat his lunch next to it (the audio? CRUNCH, crunch, crunch, crunch. Pause. CRUNCH, crunch, crunch, crunch. It sounded like he was eating carrot sticks.)

Unfortunately, my good sport of a friend who did the recording, using my iPhone, didn't manage to catch the second, longer piece I did, but she did catch all but the first couple of seconds of Bist du bie mir (Bach). I hope I can figure out how to at least upload it to here or Facebook (or both) soon, and possibly how to edit it to clean up some gobbledy-gook at the end, where she was trying to record the second piece and it didn't quite work.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Post-NaNo Goals

Alrighty - so that was a month. Overall, I'm really tickled with my NaNoWriMo results this year. I've ended up with a viable first draft novel; something that not only doesn't happen every time I do NaNo, but doesn't even happen every time I win NaNo (I.e. sometimes I end up with 50,000 words that still don't make a workable story).

This time I have a story. I have not only a plot, but at least two or three viable subplots, and a nice major twist at the end - which, entertainingly enough was not the major twist I had planned. The twist I had planned is still part of the universe, but there was no good place within this book to put it, so I think it's getting moved to book two. The major twist for this novel didn't come to me until I was literally writing the conversation in which it appears. My two major male characters have a conversation right after the big final battle and in that conversation one of them dropped this bomb that I hadn't seen coming, but which makes total sense in context of both book and character. The ironic thing was that in the first iteration of this book, which I wrote several years ago, and which got stalled out a bit beyond the halfway point, this is the same character responsible for that stalling out. Very opinionated character there - if he doesn't agree with what's going on, he effectively refuses to do anything, but if things are going well, he helps push them along nicely. Well, maybe not nicely, Radik is not a nice sort of person really. But he's fun to write, and I think this second iteration of the book is a significantly better book than the first version would have been.

For the next couple of months, my writing goals will be to finish filling the plot holes and straighten out the currently somewhat wonky timeline in the first draft, so I can send it out to beta readers and with luck, get some decent feedback. I'm planning on putting 500-1000 new words per day on the draft, but probably not much more than that, since the structure/timeline issues need as much work as the filling in, and that's not likely to be adding much verbage.

For other goals this month, I have a lot of house cleaning to do, since things suffered mightily during NaNo, especially the last week, when post-Thanksgiving left me with 3000+ words/day to be written. Plus there's a lot of singing for church coming up. I don't know if I'll get anything soloish for Christmas Eve this year (which would be a disappointment, since I really, really would like something), but I can't complain too much if I don't, since the reason would likely be the sheer amount of solo singing I'm doing in Advent. There are enough people capable of doing solo work in this church that if I do four pieces in five weeks, it's likely to cause some upset, and that's understandable. It is a bit unfortunate in that it seems to be a reversion to an improved version of my problem under the last choir director, which was that he gave me solo work not because he liked my singing and wanted me to do solos, but because he would want certain things done, and I would be the last singer standing - the only one with the technical chops to do what he wanted to do. This new director seems to have more regard for me as a singer, but there's still an extent to which I seem to be getting the solo pieces because I'm the one who can learn a technical piece fast enough and reliably enough to do it on short notice, and he seems to fly by the seat of his pants a lot. In many ways I think I'd feel a lot happier doing fewer solos that were done more deliberately, and more because they suit me, suit the occasion, and are beautiful, than because "we need something for this Sunday, and the choir isn't ready. Cindy can you sing X?"

Next Sunday should be special, though. We'll be doing a piece for choir, bells, solo flute (Robbie!!!!) and soprano (me!). It will feel wonderful to get to do a piece for church with Robbie and I working together. He and I have both learned our parts separately. This week we need to start working together at home, so that by Wed. rehearsal it won't throw him to suddenly have the other parts there. Plus our director tends to not allow for a lot of rehearsal time, so the more prepared we are ahead of time, the better.


Sunday, November 04, 2012

Lennox Legacy and NaNo Begins!

Well, NaNoWriMo seems to be off to a good start. I'm up over 5000 words despite spending the weekend up in Akron, OH. Plus, after the first scene, the re-created Flayed Queen seems to be taking off in a significantly different direction than the first one, which is good in two ways. First, it means I'm not limiting myself to trying to imitate something I did before closely, which would be very limiting. Second, my first edition of FQ got stuck at about the three-quarter mark with plotting issues involving an extremely uncooperative character.

This time, I seem to be concentrating on different aspects of the plot, and I have pre-warning of my stubborn survivalist, so I have hopes of a clean run to the end. I even got in about five hand-written pages while I was on the road, which kept me on track for word count. Wish me luck as I plow into the middle sections in the next few days.

As I do at the start of every November, I spent this weekend up at the Lennox Legacy tournament. It's run by Sensei Heidi Gauntner, who is one of the most experienced tournament organizers in the Isshinryu world - by now she runs an excellent smooth tournament - always worth going to. This year was a little different. Sensei Gauntner will be running the IWKA Isshinryu World Tournament in 2013, and she is starting now to try to make things run smoothly. Toward this end, she is working with a few of the most highly ranked people in the IWKA (Hanshi Duessel and Hanshi Markum) to create a new set of rules for judges within the IWKA. The new rules are intended to encourage more clean, proper technique and more consistent judging both within and across rings.

Since revealing the new rules at the giant World Tournament would be an invitation to disaster, Sensei Gauntner held a seminar on Friday night for all the black belts who could make it, to explain, discuss and illustrate the new rules. The center judges at the Lennox Legacy were then chosen from those who had been at the seminar, and supposedly disseminated to the corner judges.

The seminar was really interesting, and having been over them thoroughly now, I like most of the new rules. There are bits that need to be better explained, or more explicitly stated, but it's a much better set of guidelines than we've ever had to go by before. Applying them the next day proved to be a lot more difficult, as a number of the judges, including ones who were at the seminar, and absolutely should have known better, were only applying the new standards haphazardly. My particular center judge was mostly applying the new rules, but failed to explain them to her corners at all, and on a couple of occasions ignored them for no apparent good reason. I gather some of the other judges were uneven in application, probably due to confusion or disagreement with some of the standards. In general, though, the new standards seemed to hold up well. The new kata scoring system in particular seemed to work much more smoothly. I suspect that the new rules will be in effect in pretty similar form to this by the World Tournament, and that they will work pretty well, despite the inevitable pain and grousing of trying to get this kind of change through a bunch of people as inherently conservative (in the non-political sense) as senior black belts.

I was intending to compete this year, but got drafted by the scorekeepers instead. There were a good number of competitors, but a real shortage of support people (making Heidi and Marybeth's superb organizational skills a real life-saver), so I opted to go where I was needed. Scorekeeping turned out to be both informative and a lot of fun (my partner was great), and I got to see a lot more of what was going on than I usually do. I do want to compete at the World Tournament, though, so if Marybeth wants to draft me again, she's going to have to wait until the senior women blackbelt ring finishes.

Summary - Lennox Legacy is a great tournament, a lot of fun, and you should go (it's open, not Isshinryu only).

For this week - I'm on a writing/cleaning challenge kick. I'm hoping to spend the next few days alternating between writing NaNo and cleaning my disaster of a house. With any luck you should see a before/after post or some variant of one later this week. In the meanwhile, wish me luck - I take Robbie (who is needle phobic) in for a blood draw in the morning.

Monday, October 22, 2012

NaNoWriMo KickOff Party

Despite having been here for eight years, and doing NaNo all but one of them, I've never been to any of the local NaNo events. First off, they're generally across the river, making them a fair drive to get too, and secondly, they are invariably weekends and evenings, which are usually spoken for. This time, though, I kicked free the couple hours of a Sunday afternoon and went to the kick-off party. It was pretty good sized - thirty-plus people by my guesstimate - and a lot of fun. I met about five people of the thirty, two of whom are already published authors, if of small-press, or e-book only books. We had lunch, wrote a story together (one line from each person), had a dare draw, and other such things.

Eight days and counting to NaNo!