Seeing Through the Fog

Overnight, all those overcast skies that have haunted us dropped down into the valley. I think this is a better photograph, more dramatic. I used the telephoto lens to show you how really neat it looks.

But that perspective is a bit misleading. Here’s how it looks with my other lens, that I usually use for landscapes.

Now it looks a bit less like the fog is billowing up for attack. But you also lose some of the sense of it. This is how our eyes – and brains – are still superior to cameras. I can look out and see both aspects at once. Not even as switching back and forth, but in combination with each other.

I think about this kind of thing a lot.

It seems that writing is a constant decision-process on which lens to use. Do I want to focus on the complex politics of my Twelve Kingdoms? On my heroine’s private pain? When do I back up and give a glimpse of all the tiers of people who make up life in the castle? When my hero and heroine are finally alone, do I leave the room? (It turns out that no, I am apparently incapable of leaving the room.)

There’s all sorts of rules for creating close point-of-view (POV), so the reader feels very involved in the story, but I seldom see advice on when to pan back. When to let the reader see the bigger picture. And yet, from these kinds of choices, extraordinary scenes are created. Sometimes you just have to follow your instincts, I suppose.

Or cheat, and show both.

Three If by River


You all know by now how much I love interesting changes in perspective.

I was in West Virginia this week for the day job, specifically the capitol, Charleston. It’s really a lovely little city, with the Kanawha River flowing at its feet. I’m told “Kanawha” is pronounced “Kanaaaaahhhh.” I suspect it helps to have a southern accent. At any rate, I love cities on big rivers. I grew up in the Rocky Mountain West where we just don’t *do* big rivers. Cricks and washes, yes; waterways capable of bearing traffic, oh no no no.

See, that’s the cool thing. The capitol building in West Virginia seems like it’s facing the wrong direction. It’s kind of away from downtown and it sits sideways to the big thoroughfare next to it. Kanawaha Blvd runs in front of it, but that’s not the main route to downtown from the interstate by any stretch. But if you walk along the riverfront pathway – which is a lovely walk – you can see it. The building faces the river. Steps and an esplanade run right down to the river and the building rises above it, greeting guests who’ve arrived by boat, not by automobile.

I recognize this because I went through an obsession a phase where I visited plantation homes. Many of those show their best faces to the river, because that’s how people arrived. Before everything became about the car.

I’ve been toying with post-apocalyptic scenarios. Especially since people keep bugging me that Feeding the Vampire is too short. It would be interesting to write about a string of communities that return to traveling and trading by the river that joins them, walling themselves off to all other avenues of entry. Everything would become about controlling and protecting the river.

Fun to think about.

Sunsets, Lenses and Second Opinions

This is the same sunset that I posted a picture of on Tuesday. I took the two photos only minutes apart, but with different lenses.

I would say that I was being a good kitty and practicing to see what different lenses would do, but in truth, I forgot the telephoto lens was on there instead of the broader landscape lens. Some of the difference is that the telephoto lens focused in on a smaller part of the sky. But you can also see that the longer focal length (shorter focal length? My college physics professor is shaking his head) changes the perspective so that different shapes and colors predominate.

It’s common advice these days to always obtain a second opinion on medical diagnoses. In fact, articles recommend that, if your doctor doesn’t like the idea of you getting a second opinion, then that’s a big red flag. Patients can be misdiagnosed 25 to 50% of the time, depending on whose numbers you look at. Is this because 25 to to 50% of doctors are idiots? Well… Okay, no no no, it’s not. It’s because everyone brings a different lens to the table. Where one person sees the whole sky, another sees just one peak against a wash of crimson.

This is why having a writing group or multiple critique partners can be very important. It’s not that half of them could be flat wrong. (Well, depends on the CP, eh?) It’s more that each reader sees the story through a different lens. What’s a glaring problem to one, another breezes right past. It’s important to carefully consider the feedback a reader gives you, just as you would a medical diagnosis, but it’s equally important to evaluate it in context of how other readers see it.

I was in a writers group for many years where one member would change every single thing anyone criticized about her story. We worked mainly short stories and essays in that group, so the revision process was fairly fast. She brought the same story back to the group several times, looking for that perfect, thumbs-up moment. Finally, on somewhere around the fourth time she brought it to the group, someone pointed out that, as a critique group, someone would always find something for her to fix. This idea she had in her head that at some point we would declare it scintillatingly perfect would never occur. That only she could decide when it was done.

In the end, only one perspective is the definitive one: whichever sings to you.

Uncool Beans

I thought my neighbor’s tree looked really neat in this light, with the storm advancing behind it.

I’d like to offer a shout-out this morning to Abby Mumford, who is a sometime commenter and frequent pimper of this blog. She passed along the Stylish Blogger Award. It’s a lovely thing, to have someone recommend your work to others. I don’t much like to play the blog badge game, because it reminds me uncomfortably of chain letters. And I’m old enough to remember when chain letters actually came in the mail. Which arrived on exhausted ponies. In ten-foot deep snow.

At any rate, I won’t post you a list of my secrets, because I pretty much spill everything here anyway. But thank you, Abby – I greatly appreciate the nod!

Last night David commented that the waitress in the movie we watched didn’t look old enough to serve drinks, and that it was the second time we’d seen that in a movie lately. I said, either that, or we’re just getting old enough that they look really young to us now. It’s an interesting thing about age-perspective. The people around your own age look “right” and everyone else is lumped into older or younger.

The other day I saw conversation between two twenty-something agents on Twitter. A lot of publishing professionals – especially the ones really using social media – are twenty-somethings. They’re fresh out of college, interning and starting at the bottom level. They make terrific agents because they don’t have extensive client lists yet and they’re full of energy and enthusiasm. Both of these gals rep Young Adult books, so their own perspective is arguably much closer to that of the readers than an older person’s would be.

One said that she feels awkward correcting outdated slang in manuscripts.

The other said, Oh, I know, right? I just took out “cool beans” from a manuscript.

And all I heard was Mom! You’re embarrassing me!

Okay, sure – we all retain an unnatural attachment to the slang of our youth. It dates us, as surely as mentions of paper chain-mail letters and stories where the girl actually had to stay at home when she waited for a phone call from a boy. The words and phrases that make us superbad as teens render us hopelessly square twenty years later.

(I’d like to insert here, however, that “cool beans” was never a serious slang term. Hint: if the Urban Dictionary’s main citation for a term is Cheech & Chong, it was never more than tongue in cheek. We didn’t really smoke Labrador, either. Erm, most of us, anyway. The fact that it was picked up and used as a running joke in Full House, well, I can’t help that.)

These gals are doing their jobs, updating the language for today’s savvy youth. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that what’s hip today is lining bird cages tomorrow.

(How many old slang terms can I trot out in one post? This is more fun than a barrel full of monkeys!)

It’s kind of like fashion: beware the fads. Go for the classics. That black jersey knit skirt can last decades with proper care and always looks in style. Those black rubber Madonna-wannabe bracelets? The hot pink half-shirt that says RELAX in neon green? Not so much.

I suspect the answer is to avoid slang as much as possible. I don’t write YA, so I don’t labor with trying to sound nifty keen to the youth of today. The classic curse words though? They’ve been around, doing their dirty work for centuries now. Serious staying power there.

Besides, you don’t want to embarrass your agent.

Chain letters? Weren’t those invented with email?