Michaeline: Wedding Stories

Five Swedish people in fashionable dress, circa 1851; person one and two are getting married, I think. There is a curious exchange of glances amongst the five, though.

(Thoughts, from left to right) “I say, Hilda, I didn’t expect you to show up!” “Oh, Frederick, you have arrived too late, and I am marrying James.” “Jimmy Boy, rraowr!” “Hilda, you cat. Stop trying to pounce on the wedding boy.” “Oh, baby, I’ll see you after the ceremony but before the cake!” image via Wikimedia Commons

It’s the middle of June, and weddings are on my mind this week. Possibly next week as well, and into July. But at any rate, today I’m thinking about weddings.

Two – no, three of my most favorite books have weddings in them. Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me and Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign both feature the “gotta find a date for the wedding” trope. Let’s take a quick look at how the wedding works in each story.

In Bet Me, Min needs a date for her sister’s wedding, and she’s just been dumped by the man she was counting on to validate her place in the party. He was going to be Min’s offering to her volcano mom, in order to appease her and divert her mother’s attention to other things. It didn’t matter very much that he was a rat . . . he was her rat, at least for a few more weeks, or so she thought. Instead, he breaks up with her, and Fate steps in to provide a shining new gift horse, eminently suitable for getting her mother off her back . . . her pack pony, at least for the next few weeks, or so she thought.

In ACC, Miles also needs a date for his foster brother’s wedding. (That foster brother also happens to be Emperor Gregor of Barrayar, so it’s kind of a big deal.) Unlike Min, he’s not seeing anyone . . . but he’s fallen head over heels in love with the woman whose husband he just watched die in the last book. The love is there – it doesn’t need to be developed. But oh, boy, the timing and circumstances are awful! They need to be overcome in order for our happy ending to take place. The widow, Ekaterin, is understandably gunshy about starting a new relationship so soon. And Miles, in his saner moments, totally understands this. But he’s got self-esteem issues, so he wants to get a commitment as soon as possible. The wedding, he figures, will display his confidence and standing in society, and persuade her to love him. He buys into a lot of unspoken societal assumptions about masculinity and wooing a woman. He’s got to get over his attitudes before the happy ending can take place.

In Bet Me, the wedding is not a shining example of happy endings. It highlights the difference between a bad relationship between people who don’t really know each other, and what Min and Cal want to create. The wedding is a horrible warning, and an anti-example of what to do. In ACC, the wedding is between almost literally a princess (shipping heiress of her planet) and a prince (as mentioned before, Emperor of Barrayar). Not only that, it’s a love match, a match in intellect, a political match, and a perfect match in so many ways. Miles can look at his foster brother’s impending nuptials and see that the fairytale can happen. It motivates him in his own quest for marital happiness. It’s a great aspiration to be striven for.

Aside from the plot points, the weddings also provide a great opportunity for set pieces. There are a lot of dramatic scenes, and very funny scenes as well, that spring from the complicated logistics of getting a pair of people wedded. We get a lot of great food, and some very nice fashion along with our romance.

It is interesting that the wedding couple aren’t front and center in either story. Min’s sister is one of many supporting cast members, and Gregor and Laisa are both finished with the “hard part” and are basically sitting around, pawns to be pushed by the wedding planners. Another interesting thing about both stories is that there is more than one love story. IIRC, there are three supplementary love stories in Bet Me (one fizzles out but they remain friends), and in ACC, there are a variety of love stories – budding ones like the ones the Koudelka sisters enjoy (with a tortured entrepreneur, a nerdy scientist, a top-level bureaucrat and a FtM count) as well as the established ones between Miles’ parents and Ekaterin’s aunt and uncle. I love that we see an investigation of love from many angles in both books.

How about you? What’s your favorite fictional wedding? How does it drive the plot in the story, and does it have a happy ending?

Michaeline: Finding inspiration inside your own writing

A samurai smashing up a Japanese interior -- he's stomped on the sliding door, and there's an upturned table with a broken vase a little shogi game pieces all over the floor.

“No, no, a cracked cup and a torn sliding door actually shows the beauty of impermanence!” #Why we can’t have nice things at our tea ceremony. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I was chatting with a friend yesterday, and she was explaining why she wasn’t writing anymore; it was a long tale of interesting diversions (and socially responsible ones!), and she said that one thing that is taking up her creative mojo is introducing Japanese culture to foreigners. She provides a tea ceremony experience that is more than just people sitting on a mat, drinking the traditional bitter tea and having a taste of the beautiful tea sweets. She asks them to think about why the tea ceremony came about.

How much do you know about the Japanese tea ceremony? In many schools of tea philosophy, it’s very ritualized, and kids can join tea ceremony clubs in high school, while adults can study further and become teachers. Everything is prescribed: you fold your napkin this way. You rinse the teapot that way. You admire the tea bowl, take a drink in a certain manner, wipe the rim, then pass it to the next guest for them to admire, drink and wipe.

This ceremony often takes place in a very small, humble hut with a little door that looks like it was made for Little People. Big people must bend over and enter – the official line is that it shows humility and a lack of pride.

But my friend asks people to look beyond that. She gave two examples of why Continue reading

Michaeline: Communication: The Most Basic of Basics

Three cute young women in the 1920s tuning their radio in the parlor. One is holding a teddy bear.

Are they programmed to receive? (The Brox sisters, tuning their radio in the 1920s, via Wikimedia Commons)

When it gets down to the nitty gritty, writing is about communication. We, the writers, almost always want to reach readers, and then a slightly smaller percentage of us are intensely interested in the feedback.

But communication isn’t a simple process; if it were, we wouldn’t need the zillions of books and lectures and classes that we get from a tender age in how to communicate.

At the most basic level, communication breaks down into four parts: sender, encoding, decoding, receiver.

When we say sender, we’re mostly concerned on this blog with the writer. What can go wrong with this part? Writer’s block, no ideas. What can we do about it? We can feed our writerly selves with good information (reading, art, experiences, conversation). We can make sure we’re in writing shape (sleep, food, shelter while writing). And we can give ourselves the gift of scheduling to make sure we can sit down and write regularly.

The huge bug-a-boo that we all worry about here is the encoding. How do you put Continue reading

Michaeline: “The Flowers of Vashnoi” (discussion and spoilers in the comments)

The Vorkosigan butterbugs in their radbug incarnation, glowing with radiation markers on their backs.

Lois McMaster Bujold’s “The Flowers of Vashnoi” came out on May 17, 2018! I’m not really a bug person, but boy, Ekaterin knows how to make a glorious bug! Art, science and passion is a winning combination for this heroine! (Image via Goodreads)

It has been a great month for short fiction for me. I started with Bujold’s latest novella, “The Flowers of Vashnoi” (Amazon), and then thanks to filkferengi’s comments last week, I discovered a couple of new short fiction magazines.

I’ve already bought and read issues 7 and 8 of Heart’s Kiss, a relatively new magazine of romance stories that is available on Kindle (and I bought it from amazon.co.jp, so it’s internationally available) and in print. Their editorial board changed with issue 7 (February 2018), and it turns out that one of our Eight Ladies, Jeanne, knows one of the editors through the RWA Golden Heart awards program.

The stories are a lot of fun – exactly the kind of short, happy fiction I enjoy best. Most of them (all of them?) are liberally laced with magic and fantasy; one series has a cupid-in-training, and a different series is full-on Outlander-style timeslip/historical fantasy. The stand-alone stories stand alone, and have been very satisfying.

I will put in one caveat: if typos destroy the experience for you, you might want to proceed with caution. I’m not the most vigilant proofreader in the world, and even I caught several words that were misspelled or small editing errors. There’s one author in the series who uses the word “fisting” to mean “grasping” . . . and I don’t want to see “fisting” anywhere near my sexy, romantic fiction, even if it’s not “that” kind of activity. Not my cup of kink!

I just mention this because I know a lot of people who are extremely annoyed by typos; I still enjoyed the series, and am looking forward to part three (even though I just know she’s going to slip in “fisting” the sheets or clothing in some way or another!).

To tell the truth, the errors in editing just add a certain gritty, blast-from-the-past flavor to the magazine; it brings me back to a time when it was quite common to pick up a magazine and find a nice short fiction piece in it – or a girl could go down to the drugstore, and pick from six different romance comics. In order to cultivate a Dorothy Parker or a James Thurber, we need fields and fields of these kinds of magazines – and the internet e-reading revolution can provide those fertile grounds. I’m glad to have found Heart’s Kiss.

Which brings me back to today’s main theme: did you get a chance to read “The Flowers of Vashnoi”? What did you take away? Like so many Bujold books, the story is great while you are reading it, improves when you think about it, and rewards re-reading. The whole icing on the cake is when you get to discuss the many issues and techniques with like-minded readers. Because even though we may be like-minded in enjoying a good yarn, we all bring different interpretations and spins to the table when we have time to discuss a shared story.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Michaeline: A Review of Bujold’s New Novella (No Spoilers, Some Marketing Theories)

The Vorkosigan butterbugs in their radbug incarnation, glowing with radiation markers on their backs.

Lois McMaster Bujold’s “The Flowers of Vashnoi” came out on May 17, 2018! I’m not really a bug person, but boy, Ekaterin knows how to make a glorious bug! Art, science and passion is a winning combination for this heroine! (Image via Goodreads)

Lois McMaster Bujold’s newest novella, “The Flowers of Vashnoi” (with beautiful cover art by Ron Miller), came out on May 17 (Goodreads announcement), and it’s a good one. If you like Bujold, you will like this novella set in the Vorkosigan’s radioactive district, about four years after Ekaterin and Miles get married.

I really like the spirit of experimentation Lois puts into her self-published novels. She’s a pro, and writes well, and has apparently learned good lessons from her time with traditional publishers (I might be wrong: is it natural, or is it L’Oreal?). But now, she’s retired, and she’s been breaking some of the rules in order to tell the stories she wants to tell, without undue stress and story-bending to fit the rules of an outside publisher.

For example, this is women’s fiction. (We’re told over and over that women’s fiction doesn’t sell . . . and women’s science fiction? Not even a category. Chick Sci’ Lit? Chicka-Sicca-Fi Lit? Nobody’s labeled it as such.) This is totally Ekaterin’s story, and she isn’t some sweet young single fresh out of school. She’s in her mid-30s with three children, and a husband she loves to bits, but who gets slightly in the way at times. This is her project; she makes decisions as Lady Vorkosigan; and she shares the credit gracefully, but is the boss. Not exactly a common heroine in modern genre fiction.

It’s not a love story; it’s not an epic adventure. There are no demons or vampires or werewolves (although there is soupcon of Baba Yaga), but there are some cool bugs that turn widespread radiation into something that can be dealt with. (Not a spoiler: Bujold has been flirting with this since A Civil Campaign. We fans are very lucky to see it happen on the page.) A dash of love, a dash of horror, a dash of thrills.

It isn’t a book. It’s a novella, and runs about 20,000 words – so it’s a nice treat for the afternoon, as well. But “we all know” that publishers like books — and even more, they like series. The kind of thing that makes readers binge for the entire weekend or more.

What is “The Flowers of Vashnoi”, then? Continue reading

Michaeline: Money and Writing

She seems to have made art and commerce mix, but I’m not sure I can. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

This week, I ran across an article on Medium about how writers’ rates haven’t kept up with inflation at all. The writer mentioned that in Ring Lardner’s heyday, $1 a word was a fabulous rate. (Ring Lardner was a contemporary of Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemingway – so we’re talking the 1920s and 1930s, when the New Yorker magazine was in its infancy.)

I would link you, but Medium only gives a person three freebies, and then you start paying. Sorry, blog audience, but I’m saving my two remaining freebies for something new, so I can’t go back and check the facts.

And that totally outlines a few of the many problems of combining money and writing.

The readers like getting freebies, and will pay if the quality is good, but not too much. The publishers feel perpetually pinched, and are constantly scrambling to make up the revenue somewhere. Writers get stuck somewhere in the middle, trying to make a living. Traditionally, ads have been a way for print journalism to make up the difference, but then the print journalists are beholden to advertisers.

I remember in the 80s when some romance publishers began sticking advertisements in the middle of their category romances. Often, the ads were for more romance books. These were very safe and effective bets, and are the best kind of advertising: readers want to know where to get more, and publishers want to provide that service. But I think some of the advertisements were for cigarettes and other non-book items, and it was distinctly jarring to come across one in the midst of a passionate love scene. The end of page 103 would go, “He gently stroked her silken thigh, coming closer and –” INSERT Continue reading

Michaeline: May 5th is Children’s Day in Japan!

Five carp banners on a pole in 1900 in Japan.

Carp streamers signify the hope that we can overcome the daily obstacles and become strong swimmers in our own lives. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

May 5th is traditionally Boy’s Day in Japan (Girl’s Day comes earlier on March 3), but became Children’s Day in 1948. It’s the last in the series of fixed holidays known as Golden Week, and what it means to me, in purely practical terms, is that I had a three-day holiday last weekend, got two days of day job in, and now I’m enjoying a four-day weekend. I am rested, I am recuperated, and I am stuffed to the gills with good story after a binge of: Jane the Virgin (5 episodes), Parks and Recreation (season 6, seven episodes), An American in Paris (Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in 1951) and the first disk from the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (I’m up to Darcy’s lousy first proposal).

I should be ready to do some writing. But I’m still floating around in a river of swirling ideas – grasping water and watching it dribble out of my hands. I’ve got enough ideas for a year; what I need is some containers – something to scoop out the water and give it a shape. Something to show off the ideas and mold them into something interesting. I need a good collection of bottles and colored flasks – I am writing fantasy, after all, so it’s not very good if I stick my water into a clear container. I need to preserve a little mystery, and boost my writing with some extra-special artificial enhancements.

Or not. Looking for pretty metaphorical bottles is going to take more time than the writing.

It’s Children’s Day, and I start remembering what my dreams were as a kid. I remember the first story I got praise for – I was in second-grade, and my beloved Miss Byleen said I did a good job on putting a caption to a beach scene. I spent two years in Panama as a pre-schooler, and I guess Continue reading