Heading into Camp


From the set of Turn via landis487 Instagram.

Amidst all the boxes and cleaning and repairmen of not one but two houses, we’re attempting to get ready for Camp NaNoWriMo. J is doing his usual outlining and character prompts for a new Myrcia ‘verse novel, and I’m…. As I often do for Camp, I’m going to juggle multiple projects, trying to make a little headway on all of them, and then running with whichever particularly catches my fancy. There’s a Regency erotica novella I started a few months ago that is honestly going quite well when I can squeeze in time to work on it. And I might try to tackle some Vikings fanfic that I’ve promised some folks and I’ve been meaning to write for ages. And I will definitely find time for a Turn fanfic I’m planning and have even written a bit of. (I’ll admit, I’ve become quite smitten with the Tallmadge/Washington ship, and I’m looking forward to writing more of this one a lot.) And who knows what else might pop up for me. It’s Camp, so anything can happen.



Boxes…So Many Boxes


Current interior view of our new house.

We’re still in the process of moving to the new Unicorn HQ, which is where I’m writing this evening. We’ve got pretty much all our stuff here already, but we still need to do some cleaning up at the old house, and we’re having it repainted, and there are things we need to get fixed, too. With any luck, though, we can start trying to sell it soon. And then all we’ll have to do is go through our dozens and dozens of boxes that are filling our garage and living room and get everything set up the way we want it.

We’re still planning on doing Camp NaNoWriMo. We’ve got a group of our local NaNo people in our cabin, along with some of S’s friends from online. It’ll be fun. And most importantly, it’ll be something that we can do that doesn’t involve going through boxes or hanging pictures or cleaning. I’ll be writing another Myrciaverse novel that’s part of my civil war timeline. S is going to be doing some fanfic. If we have some spare time, we might be able to post a little more about our projects, but for now, we’ve got boxes to move!


Movin’ Out


It’s not quite like the song, but close enough.

At last, Unicorn HQ is off to its new location! J spent most of Thursday ferrying carloads of smaller stuff to the new house (which we have named Rosings, after Lady Catherine’s home in Pride and Prejudice—there are shelves in some of the closets that really ought not to be there). And I spent most of yesterday doing the same with added trips to our storage unit for variety. Today is dedicated to packing and getting ready for the professional movers tomorrow who are getting the big stuff. I’m quite excited about my dedicated writing area, and I will post pictures as soon as everything it set up.


Has It Been That Long?

Somehow we’ve managed to miss several weeks of blogs again, but life is a bit overwhelming. We finished moving things out of my mom’s old house and closed the sale, but now we’re about to move from our house into a new one we hope to close on this week, so life it nuts. But it hasn’t been All Packing, All the Time at Unicorn HQ, although to be blunt, when we aren’t packing, there’s been a lot of staring at stuff and not much writing. At the least, we can take a minute and tell you what we’ve been staring at, though.

Babylon Berlin


(from tumblr)

I think of all the shows we’ve been watching when we decide to sit down and stop working for the night, this is the one we like best. It’s a grand conspiracy and crime mystery set in Berlin in 1929. There’s lots of music, great clothes, and fantastic characters, particularly the leads, Gereon Rath and Charlotte Ritter. He’s the vice cop in town from Cologne trying to find blackmail porn, and she’s the secretary with aspirations of becoming a homicide detective who is a sex worker on the side in order to make ends meet. Depending on if you’re going by Netflix or IMDB, it’s either two seasons of eight episodes each, or one season of sixteen episodes, but however you split it, it’s fantastic television. I’ve heard rumors about a terrible dubbed version, so makes sure you watch with the subtitles on Netflix. There are more books in the series upon which the show is based, and I have my fingers crossed for more.


But that isn’t our only cops and bad guys show. We also watched the first season of Marcella, starring Anna Friel, a detective who’s taken some time off from work to raise a family and deal with mental health problems she’s desperate to keep to herself. But it looks like a serial killer she didn’t catch years ago is at it again, and she needs to jump back into the job, whatever that might mean for her own well-being. Twisty with a great supporting cast of some of our favorite actors, including Jamie Bamber and Harry Lloyd, we like this one a ton. Season 2 is airing in the UK, and we’re trying to patiently wait for word on when it will make its way to Netflix.

The Good Place

(from tumblr)

Yeah, we’re late to this party, but the important thing is we got to this hilarious, high-concept show before we knew anything about it other than several people whose opinions we admire said we should watch. We’re very glad we did. So if you haven’t watched, get on this sooner rather than later. But I’m saying no more, because the less you know going in, the better. However, if the above is at all your sense of humor, check it out.


This is the current show we’re making our way through, and we’re still on the first season. We’ve both heard that it improves in Season 2, which is exciting since we like Season 1 pretty darn well already. So what’s is about? Generally, it’s about the American Revolution, but specifically it’s about spying during that war. The Brits have their spymaster, John Andre, played by JJ Field, one of my very favorite actors. And the Colonists are trying to get their act together on this front as well, led by Benjamin Tallmadge, played by Seth Numrich. (Numrich is an actor we just saw for the first time in a little indy film called Private Romeo. Is a modern day gay Romeo and Juliet set in a military school. Numrich is Romeo, and his performance is really fantastic.) We like the show a lot, and it’s leading to quality time with Wikipedia where I can be embarrassed at just how much I don’t know about the American Revolution.

And that’s what we’re doing when we’re not packing and ignoring (but never forgetting) our dear readers.


Relationships Matter

tak and rei

A scene from the new Netflix show Altered Carbon.

As always, Unicorn HQ is a hopping place with house hunting and packing. And when that and our day jobs aren’t intruding, I have been squeezing in some TV. Specifically, this weekend I binged the new Netflix series Altered Carbon. I enjoyed the first six episodes well enough, but it was the final four that really sold me on the show and made me keep watching, explaining in part why this blog is a day late. And, of course, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why, which eats up its own fair share of time.

When 1+1 is > 2

Earlier this week, I was chatting with someone on Tumblr about what we find most engaging in the media we consume and the fiction (fanfic and original) we write. At the end of the day, we agreed that what draws us in are the relationships. When I was younger, I remember thinking that what makes good stories, well, good, are the characters. But as I get older, what I find most compelling are the relationships, not the individual characters. Now, these can be great romances, like say, Emma Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley, but it can be any two characters whose interactions make the story more interesting.

For instance, what changes in episode 7 of Altered Carbon is the introduction of the hero’s sister. (Well, our hero, Kovacs, has flashbacks to his sister, Rei, throughout the first six episodes, but Episode 7 is when their backstory becomes the main story and Rei becomes a character on the show for the remainder of the season.) This sibling relationship got me far more invested in the universe, plot, and protagonist of the show than the whodunit driving the first six episodes. Their childhood, their complicated adult relationship, which I won’t spoil by saying any more about, is the kind of intense connection between characters that keeps me going straight into the next episode.

When 1-1 < 0

What Altered Carbon plans to do in Season 2 will be interesting to see. Given the universe, Kovacs and Rei could easily be or not be in the next season, played either by actors who have already played them or by other actors. (In the Altered Carbon universe, consciousness can be transferred from one body to another body or clone, so for all we know, I could show up playing Kovacs in Season 2.) But I hope the showrunner remembers how exciting the episodes with Kovacs and Rei are. (And frankly, both actors playing Kovacs have great chemistry with Dichen Lachman, so I hope the casting folks keep that in mind, too.)

It’s similar to the hope I also have for Versailles. I think I’ve mentioned before (and if I haven’t, that’s an oversight I’ll fix right now) that Versailles is best when focusing on Louis XIV and his brother, Philippe. I know shows like to mix things up from one season to the next to prevent staleness, but that often leads to getting rid of what works. For instance, Justified is a show that is strong to the end, because no matter what else is going on, that show never forgets that Raylan and Boyd and their antagonistic relationship is the heart of the show. Unlike, say Vikings, which as far as I’m concerned, ended with Season 3 when the relationship that made the show worthwhile, Ragnar and Athelstan, ended.

So, if you’re looking for a quick review of Altered Carbon, I like it. (Maybe some time if I’m bored and/or masochistic, I’ll discuss the whitewashing and violence against women complaints that have been leveled against the show. Or maybe J will; I’ll probably make him watch it at some point.) And why did I like it? All the futuristic, Blade Runner-esque visuals? Meh. Not really. (Although it does look great.) Nope, I like it for Kovacs and Rei, the orphaned brother and sister who I’m far more invested in than I am in knowing who killed some rich dude who can’t really die.


Still Unmoved


Mr. Bennet is unimpressed.

We’re still working on finding a new Unicorn HQ. For a while it looked as if we might have found a house, but negotiations broke down over some problems that were found during inspection, so now we’re looking again. We’ve found another house that we like, but we’re not letting ourselves get too attached until the inspector has had time to look it over and see if there’s some ghastly problem that will cost thousands of dollars to repair. S and I will be talking about where we’re going to put the TV, or how we’re going to arrange the library, but then we will pause and say (often in unicornic unison), “pending inspection.” It’s sort of like knocking on wood.

“It’ll be so nice to have a flat driveway…pending inspection.”
“That shed out back is really cute…pending inspection.”
“I’ll finally have room for my own dedicated writing space…pending inspection.”

That last one—a writing space for S—has been one of her main requirements for our new house. I don’t know how she feels about £500 a year, but she definitely wants a room of her own. She promises to let me in, of course, so it’s not as if she’s just trying to avoid me. But she has found that she writes better and more consistently if she has a space set aside just for writing. It has to be a separate space, removed from the comfy chairs and TV where we spend most of our time. No doubt once we move (pending inspection) and get her new writing room set up, she will blog about it, possibly with pictures.

In the meantime, though, she’s starting a new writing project, and she actually wrote part of the first chapter yesterday while waiting for me to finish teaching classes. I’ll leave it to her to say more about that particular project, though, if she wants to.
As for me, I’m doing prep work for my April Camp NaNo novel. And I’ve been doing some reading, as well. I finished The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. You may recall that S and I have been group-watching the TV show with an online friend. The book was pretty good, though as our friend promised, Quentin is even worse in the book than on the show. He’s just so whiny and self-absorbed.

I’ve also been working my way through Call Me By Your Name. S and I saw the movie last weekend. S had already read the book, but I hadn’t. She and some of her online friends have all been squeeing over how awesome the book is—even more awesome than the movie, apparently. On her recommendation, I decided to give it a try. It’s very good, and the squee is justified. I haven’t quite finished it, because I have to do things like plan classes and grade papers. But hopefully this week I’ll get around to it. And then maybe I’ll start the second book in the Magicians trilogy, if I can just steel myself to endure more Quentin.


What I’d Be Doing If I Weren’t Trying to Write This Blog

can't even

Louis XIII just gets me today. (My silly edit from the BBC show The Musketeers.)

–character profiles for the new story I have outlined (It’s a Regency Era, enemies to lovers story, and I think it has the potential to be pretty cool.)

–organizing my house (J and I are house hunting, and trying to get ready for the day we move a little at a time.)

–pack the rest of the stuff at my mom’s house (We’ve sold my recently deceased mother’s condo and need it emptied out by the end of February.)

–go grocery shopping

–pay bills and organize finances (Ugh.)

But what am I doing? Staring at social media trying to come up with a blog idea. I hate when this happens. A friend suggested I say something about Call Me By Your Name and the transition from book to movie. I love both, but I love the book significantly more, yet I’m not sure I have anything interesting to say about the fact. I don’t think it helps that over a month ago while shoveling snow I pulled a muscle in my arm that’s causing me pretty much constant pain, so maybe I did more than pull a muscle and should call my doctor. But if I had time to gallivant off to doctor’s appointments, I would have returned that call to my dentist about scheduling a cleaning. So…? Yeah…I’ve kind of got nothing, and you, dear reader, I fear, must suffer for that.


The Fanny Price of Fantasy

The Magicians - Season 1

Quentin, I’m sorry, but the tests have come back, and the doctors say…you’re a douche.

The weather has been absolutely dismal for the past few days here at Unicorn HQ. I ended up having to cancel some classes. Luckily, S and I made it home just before the ice storm started, and we’ve managed to stay warm while watching the weather. We didn’t have anywhere to go on Saturday, which was lucky, since our city plowed our street and left a pile of snow two feet thick in front of our driveway. Today, we needed to go grocery shopping, and we were just about to suck it up and go shovel our way to the street, when our neighbor came out with his snow blower and did it for us. As a “thank you,” we got him cookies and beer while we were at the store.

Last night, while we were doing our best to stay warm, we started watching The Magicians, the Syfy series based on the books by Lev Grossman. It was a sort-of live watch, along with one of our longtime online friends—the same friend we watched the Shannara Chronicles with, incidentally. It’s always fun to get together, even if just in a virtual sense, and critique a show as you watch it.

I’ve never read the books that the show is based on, and I’d never seen the show before, obviously. All I knew about the series (either the books or the TV show) was that our online friends had complaints about Quentin, the hero. This is a family blog, so I won’t repeat some of what was said about him, but suffice it to say that he was considered a jerk. And not a loveable, endearing jerk, either, like Barney Stinson—the kind who’s actually a decent guy under it all. A complete and genuine jerk who makes you want to throw things at him. Or, more to the point, makes you not want to be around him.

Which is a problem when he’s the center of the show.

Last night, as we were watching, S dubbed Quentin “Fanny Price,” after the heroine of Jane Austen’s worst novel, Mansfield Park. If you’ve never read that book (and if you haven’t, don’t bother), Fanny is a tremendous wet blanket—pretty much the opposite of someone like Emma Woodhouse or Elizabeth Bennet. She’s the least interesting person in the novel, while somehow also being at the center of it. As S and I like to say, she’s a black hole where a heroine should be.

Now, Quentin isn’t quite the same as Fanny. I doubt he’s the sort who would object to amateur theatricals in the home. But he suffers from the very same problem as her, in that he’s surrounded by more interesting people. That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem in either case. It’s fine to have a story from the POV of someone who observes the actions of more interesting people around him—think of The Great Gatsby, for example. But Gatsby isn’t trying to be a novel about Nick Carraway, whereas Mansfield Park is trying to be a novel about Fanny Price, and The Magicians is trying to be a show about Quentin Coldwater.

According to our online friend, Quentin is actually worse in the books than on the TV show, so it’s clearly not the fault of the actor or the writers. It’s a fundamental problem of the character. That’s certainly a bold choice. But it’s not necessarily one I would have made.

And yet, we’re still loving the show, and we’re looking forward to watching more of it in the near future. As S said last night, if it weren’t for our complaints about Quentin, the show would actually be too good to live-watch with friends—we’d have nothing to make snarky comments about.


Pwning the POV

all your base

Your base has been pwned. (Image from Know Your Meme)

When we first started writing, back when we were scrambling to figure out how novels and series and worldbuilding all worked, I put a little note to myself on the side of a basket I could see from my chair that said “Pwn the POV.” (Definition of “pwned” here. Bless you Urban Dictionary.) Heaven knows I didn’t feel like I was doing much of anything right at that point (and I wasn’t), but I felt what I most needed to address were my characters’ POVs. I may have been doing a lot wrong, but this instinct was absolutely right. So many of my early struggles as a writer could be fixed by understanding my characters’ voices better. And this is something I always push myself to remember, even now.

For instance, writing good setting description is something that doesn’t come naturally to me. At one point, to try and find some guidance on how to do this better, I picked up Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold and began rereading the first chapter. (If my memory is correct, it was this experiment that led to the rule that I’m not allowed to read Joe Abercrombie when I’m writing, because I admire his writing so much it makes me want to give up.) Anyhow, the point is he describes his heroine’s ride to a palace with her brother, interspersing their amusing dialogue with her observations like: “The eastern sky bled out from red to butchered pink.” Monza, being a mercenary, also notes several times the palace’s defensive placement, including: “She spurred round one more steep bend, and the outermost wall of the citadel thrust up ahead of them. A narrow bridge crossed a dizzy ravine to the gatehouse, water sparkling as it fell away beneath. At the far end an archway yawned, welcoming as a grave.” All of this description says as much about Monza as it does the setting. It’s also fantastic foreshadowing, and establishes the tone for the chapter and the book as a whole. All because Abercrombie absolutely owns the POV, how Monza thinks and what she sees.

But not every author manages as well. As I think more about my upcoming epistolary novel, I was interested in reading The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir for my book club. The book consists of journals and letters, and I was hoping to pick up some tips on how to manage the structure. And I suppose I did learn some things not to do. Throughout this story of English women on the WWII home front, I rarely felt as though the POVs rang true. For instance, in a 17 year-old girl’s letter to her best friend, the writer refers to her best friend’s mother as “Mrs. Quail.” Why on earth would the writer simply not have said, “your mother”? And everyone writes their letters and journals as though they are aware this is a novel, which requires heavy doses of what is implied to be exact dialogue. If, perhaps, one character had an affectation that she was writing her journal novelistically, that might have been a clever choice, but most people don’t write correspondence as though it is a Charlotte Bronte novel. And not to badger this poor book too viciously, since it has been much read and well reviewed, but I also have to mention the lack of understanding the character’s mind frame when writing. What 13 year-old girl writes an eloquent, detailed description of her entire day, which ends with her father literally taking a horsewhip to her back? The POVs just aren’t credible to me.

J and I have also been talking about how understanding your characters can make or break plot-heavy television. Now, it might seem as though characters are not the natural focal point of fast-paced, plot-driven TV, but we think a tight handle on character is what made The Vampire Diaries more successful than other shows that attempt to fly through plot at that extreme CW pace J has discussed before. So often I find myself watching plot-heavy shows and wishing the story would slow down and allow the characters to breathe. (The 100 and Versailles are two that come to mind.) And yet, I never find myself wishing The Vampire Diaries would go slower, even though that show manages to squeeze more plot into one season than many do in three. J is actually the one who put his finger on what separates TVD from so many other shows—the main characters are always making the plot happen and doing it in ways clearly recognizable for their character. Damon is always trying to fix some problem, most likely caused by his essential Damon-ness, and doing so in a very Damon-like way. It is never a case of sacrificing character development for plot, because all of that crazy plot is driven by the characters behaving in character. Which also means that not every story can be told at that extreme speed, because not all stories have characters who behave that way. Anyhow, something to think about.


Huzzah for the New Year!


Starting supper means it’s beer o’clock.

Farewell 2017, and hello to 2018!  S and I have just started our traditional New Year’s pork roast and sauerkraut.  It has to be in the oven for at least 4 or 5 hours, so it’s important to start in the early afternoon.  This is our big New Year’s excitement here at Unicorn HQ.  Well, that and the champagne that we open after supper while we watch a movie.  It’s quite the party.

Looking back, we’ve made some serious progress on Magnificent Kingdom.  Those of you who are keeping track at home will recall that Magnificent Kingdom is the story of the founding of the main country in our fantasy universe.  S has been wanting to write it for years now, and we finally got around to planning and starting it this year.  We’ve written through the end of Act I (the first quarter of the story), and a few chapters into Act II.  Sometime in the new year, we’ll regroup, look at the outline, and start tackling the second act.

S had a tough year, obviously, but she did manage to write half of Act I of Magnificent Kingdom, and she wrote fanfic in four different fandoms, which is pretty cool.

I also did some writing on the side.  In April I wrote Black Eagle Rising, which is the story of how a civil war gets started in our universe.  I’ve written a number of other stories set during that century-long war, so I thought it was important to set up how everything began.  Then I wrote Unspeakably Wooed and (in November) When You Are King, both sequels to Black Eagle Rising.  In the future, I think I’m going to stick to writing these civil war stories chronologically, since it helps keep the characters straight and saves a lot of rewriting and retconning later on.  Already, some of the first stories that I wrote in this time period, like Lady’s Knight, are going to need some revision to make them match up with everything else.  It’s best to avoid that whenever possible.

Oh, and for S’s Christmas present, I wrote Twilight at Noon, the story of an exiled secret agent.  It takes place hundreds of years after the civil war stories, closer to the “main” timeline of the Myrciaverse.  S and I had been talking earlier this year about Orson Scott Card’s MICE Quotient, and we noticed that, although we write fantasy novels, we’d never really done a proper Milieu Story.  So Twilight at Noon is my attempt at writing one.  I also did a bit of an experiment with the structure—rather than just doing the traditional three acts, I built the novel around my main character, Martina, experiencing the stages of Culture Shock.  So that was a lot of fun.

Anyway, for the new year I’m already planning the next novel in the Myrciaverse civil war timeline.  It will probably be my Camp NaNo project for April, I suppose.  But first, of course, I need to plan my classes and get ready for the start of Spring Semester.  I’m going to be teaching some new classes, and as I’ve mentioned before, preparing for a new class is a lot more work than teaching one you’ve taught a dozen times before.