Witty Repartee Triptych

At last! The first of my triptych reviews!

Triptych theme: Protagonists = (potentially) romantic couple engaging in near-constant witty repartee. AKA “The Nick & Norah Triptych”

Books in this triptych: 1. The Secret Adversary, by Agatha Christie (1922)  2. The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett (1934)   3. Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan (2006)

How it Came About:  Some time ago, when I was in Australia for WorldCon, the fabulous Peter Ball and I got to talking about our shared love for Nick & Norah, both movie and book, and he somehow got me to watch the DVD with commentary, which  was actually quite fascinating. Among other tidbits about how the two authors had collaborated to produce the book, Rachel Cohn said that part of her inspiration had been Hammett’s characters Nick and Norah Charles, a rich and glamorous married couple “who solve homicides in between wisecracks and martinis” (as described on the back of the book). Cohn said she wanted to capture that sense of fun and witiness in a romantic couple. I later discovered Nick & Norah Charles had a forerunner in Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence, who don’t drink quite so much but are just as clever when it comes to both wise-cracks and crime-solving.

Favorite things and fun quotes from this triptych below the fold!

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First draft of novel complete! How does this revision thing work?

Less than a week ago, I *finally* finished the first draft of my first complete novel. I’m still feeling a bit ecstatic and can’t quite believe it’s actually done–sort of like I felt those first few weeks of 2009 every time I heard the words “President Obama.” Clocking in at 466 pages (128,000 words), it’s easily the longest piece of writing I’ve ever completed–even including the theses for my undergrad and graduate degrees and several ridiculously long federal grant applications.

My fab writing group gave me their crits of the last chapter a few days ago, which, as always, had the perfect combination of kudos and helpful feedback for improvement. Soon I have to embark on revising the novel, a somewhat overwhelming prospect. At a cursory glance, some of the things I have to do include:

  • Consolidate two characters into one
  • Completely eliminate one character that I thought I’d need in the first 6 or 7 chapters, then realized I didn’t, at which point he abruptly disappeared
  • Make consistent the gender of a character who changed sex midway through the novel (but is neither transgender-identified nor belongs to an alien species for whom sex variation is a standard biological feature)
  • Fix various world-building details that only became clear later in the novel
  • Tighten and strengthen the Earth sub-plot
  • Tighten and strenghten the outer-space primary plot
  • Cut 10,000-25,000 words overall
  • Strengthen characterization, particularly for four key characters
  • Improve use of sensory detail throughout
  • Strengthen prose throughout

Other than that, though, it’s ready to go!

I will soon be reading a triptych of books on writing and revising to get some advice from the masters as I work my way through the revisions. (LeGuin, King, McCloud) Revising tips from my fellow writers are welcome – please feel free to share!

Why It’s Fantasy When Boy Meets Boy

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan (co-author of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist) is not a work of speculative fiction.  Or so I thought until I turned the first page.

Nothing in Boy Meets Boy defies the laws of physics.  The novel doesn’t feature any technological advances beyond cell phones and instant messaging.  It’s not just a clever title, it’s also a handy plot summary: Paul is a high school sophomore who falls for Noah, the charismatic boy who’s new in town.  Paul pursues Noah while navigating the complexities of friendships, ex-boyfriends, and high school life.

And yet as I began reading Boy Meets Boy, I got the strange feeling I was reading fantasy.  Maybe because Paul’s high school is not quite like any high school I know.  The star quarterback of the football team, Infinite Darlene, is also the homecoming queen; she has trouble getting along with the other drag queens in school because they feel she doesn’t care for her nails properly.  Paul’s kindergarten teacher helped him understand that he was gay, and when he came home to tell his mother, her reaction was to yell to his father, “Honey … Paul’s learned a new word!”  Paul helped found a gay-straight alliance in the sixth grade, mainly to help the straight kids with their fashion sense and dance moves.

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And We’re Back–Now with Triptychs!

At long last! By popular demand! Bread and Magic has returned to the intertubes! After several years of living the glamorous jet-setting lifestyle of a nonprofit professional working full-time-plus, I am happily returning to the more leisurely ways of a freelancer/writer. This is good news for you, dear reader, because it means lots of Ben Francisco facts and fictions headed your way!

This year, for some hand-waving reason, I have been doing my reading in triptychs: sets of three books that go together in some way. Some are actual trilogies, such as the original Song of Ice and Fire trilogy (which I finally got around to reading), while others are more thematic, such as the “Quirky Love Story” triptych that I’m currently working my way through. Some have weird connecting threads that may be hard to follow, such as my “Nick and Norah Triptych” (dedicated to Peter Ball). All are entertaining, at least for me, and are a fun way to push myself to read outside my usual genre comfort zones and to put those intertextual-analysis tools from my comp lit degree to some sort of use. And triptychs make great blogging material, too. I may even try to put up some sort of list of all the triptychs online somewhere. Any ideas about a platform that would be good for that? Goodreads, maybe?

During my long hiatus, a few things of note have happened:

  • My short story, “The Fermi Paradox,” was published in From Macho to Mariposa: New Gay Latino Fiction, a fab anthology made up of just what it says on the tin. Alas, despite the title, the story is not scifi, but it is full of gay geeky goodness. The antho also includes great stories by Justin Torres, Miguel Angel Angeles, and many others, so check it out!
  • I am truly nearly done with the first draft of my novel – all that remains is the epilogue. Am excited to jump into the revision phase. (As is my poor beleaguered writing group, which has been patiently reading through the novel in a drip-drip of chapters over the course of three years.)
  • I now have a puppy. Prepare yourself for adorable photos.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned!

Charles Darwin and Francophone Snowmen…

… though not in the same story.  Today is Darwin Day, and in celebration Tangled Bank Press has released the print edition of The Tangled Bank, edited by Chris Lynch, featuring a veritable cornucopia of thought-provoking stories about Darwin and evolution, my “Entropy of Species,” plus great stories by Chris Green, Carlos Hernandez, and many others.

Also a belated note that the latest issue of Shimmer is now out, including my story, “Crepuscular,” a story of French-speaking snowmen, fireflies, and hair-dryers – and also my ode to my favorite children’s book of all time, The Little Prince (thanks, Mom, for reading it to us again and again and AGAIN!).  For the second time I get to share the table of contents with Peter M Ball, who makes me feel like a bro and a fanboy at the same time, and who amazes all of us by writing a teenage werewolf romance that’s actually awesome.

And,  yes, I feel the need to add perfunctorily, I continue to be absent from the blogosphere.  The pesky day-job still keeps requiring me to travel a bit, which is not conducive to regular blogging.  The good news is that when I’m not travelling for work I’ve been working on the novel, which is now, oh, 60% done.  I have only one goal for 2011: FINISH THE NOVEL.

World Con Countdown Plus Queer Spec Fic!

I’m writing in Brisbane, Australia, for my “Australia tour” in the lead-up to World Con next week.  Been visiting the fabulous Peter Ball and the inimitable Chris Lynch, hatching ideas for gonzo stories about puppet occupations and were-raves and the like. Can’t wait to be reunited with more Clarion South-mates in just a few short days!

Just before I left the States, I got my copy of Wilde Stories 2010, a lovely anthology of great gay speculative fiction from the past year.  My story, “Tio Gilberto and the 27 Ghosts” is included, as are some great stories by Rick Bowes, Laird Barron, Tanith Lee, and others.  Brit Mandelo gave it a lovely review over at tor.com.  And while you’re there, check out Brit’s series of posts on Queering SFF, which is chock-full of great reviews, interviews, and recommendations.

More posts to come … now back to writing…

In Which I am Surprised to Be Reading Several Series

Ack!  This is the obligatory oh-dear-I-haven’t-posted-for-more-than-a-month post.  I’ve been traveling near non-stop for work for the past couple of months, including a few not-fun episodes of being stranded in airports past 4 am.  This lifestyle has not been conducive to active participation in the blogosphere.

However (seamless transition), it has been conducive to a fair amount of reading.  To my surprise I’ve been reading several series.  Normally, I’m not one to read series, especially long series of thick books.  I look at a series like, say, George R.R. Martin’s epicly fat books of fantasy, and I think, “I really do want to read those, OR I could read, say, six unrelated books by six different authors in six different genres and learn lots of different tricks from all of them.”  And I invariably choose the later, because, well, basically, I’m a dilettante when it comes to my reading habits.

Yet, faced with epic multi-state journeys, somehow epic sagas seemed both appropriate and comforting.  These are the books that have been keeping me company in my travels:

  • C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series: A ship full of thousands of humans is stranded on an alien world, and after a devastating war between humans and the alien atevi, a fragile peace is made and a single human is appointed as the sole ambassador between the two species.  The series follows Bren, that sole ambassador, as he navigates between human and  atevi cultures–the latter of which has no concepts of friendship or love in the sense that humans understand them, but rather manchi, a feeling of devotion and loyalty to a leader and to certain associations.  This series is fascinating to me because it routinely breaks any number of writing 101 rules: the exposition is endless, the action often feels slow, and a number of character details and plot developments are “told” instead of “shown.”  And yet I find it utterly riveting.  I think it all works because (1) we’re so deeply in Bren’s head that it all flows naturally; (2) the alien culture is so rich and interesting I have no problem spending many pages exploring its most subtle nuances; and (3) Cherryh is just a master.
  • David Wellington’s Vampire series:  Wellington’s vampires are the antithesis of Laurell K Hamilton or Twilight vampires.  They are scary, vicious monsters and they most certainly do not sparkle.  The series follows Laura Caxton, a state trooper turned ersatz vampire hunter.  Wellington’s pacing and plot are brilliant, and the characters also evolve over the course of the series in interesting and unexpected ways.  (Full disclosure: Dave is a member of my NYC writing group.  I’ve gotten a taste of the upcoming fifth book, the final confrontation with the Big Bad, and am eagerly awaiting the chance to read the whole thing!)
  • Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series: I’m a bit of a latecomer to this one, but am now a total convert. Scott Pilgrim is a young 20something doing many of those early 20somethings things–living with a roommate, dating, trying to make it in a band, navigating the world of landlords and jobs, etc. When he starts dating Ramona, he discovers he must fight her seven evil exes in order to continue dating her.  Fun fight scenes ensue, interspersed with soap operatic romantic drama.  O’Malley has basically invited a new sub-genre with this graphic series – superhero surrealism, perhaps? – and there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.  And his ability to convey complex and intense emotions with only a few strokes of the pencil is mind-blowing.  Eagerly awaiting the final volume and the movie.

More travels coming up, but will try to at least pop in and say hi here with some regularity…

Iron Man 2 Verdict

A highly enjoyable flick.  Not quite as tight as the first one was, but it definitely didn’t jump the shark.  The two-villains thing works fine when one villain is paying the other, rather than a cheesy team-up.   And the Black Widow wasn’t so much a love interest as an extra special effect that flirted with Tony Stark and did some secret-agent ass-kicking.  So most of my fears proved to be unfounded.

Of films of the man-pain genre, it’s one of the better ones.  The fact that Tony Stark is dying from the start of the movie gives him a deeper reason for his man-pain and makes some of his more extreme acting-out seem a bit more reasonable.  There’s just a touch of the Demon in a Bottle story from the comic, and the  scene where Tony gets drunk in the Iron Man suit is well-executed and quite appropriately uncomfortable.  And it was fun having Rhody in the suit as well as Tony.   More than anything else, the movie proves that Robert Downey Jr was born to play Tony Stark.  And Gwyneth Paltrow rocks as Pepper, who’s so much more interesting than the standard damsel in distress.

All in all, a fun movie.  And the fanboy in me can’t help but get excited about the upcoming Avengers movie….

I Already Miss the Bad Guys Being in Charge

Siege #4, the last issue of Marvel’s latest crossover, came out yesterday.  For those not keeping score, Norman Osborn, aka the Green Goblin, has been the “top cop” in the Marvel Universe for a while now, basically running everything with the help of a secret cabal that included Dr. Doom, Loki, and some other baddies.  Siege brought all that to an end, with Osborn overreaching the limits of his power by invading Asgard (home of the Norse Gods and what-not), leading to his inevitable downfall.

The Siege storyline was fun, a bit different from the usual crossover, though the end was somewhat anti-climactic. But then crossover endings are almost always anti-climactic, and writer Brian Michael Bendis’s strength has always been small, funny, and sometimes poignant moments of (super)human interaction, much more so than the big battles.

Maybe it’s the geek purist in me, but I do wish there had been a bit more of a role for Spidey in this one.  The Green Goblin *did* come to us from Spidey’s rogue’s gallery, after all.  One of my favorite things about Dark Reign has been that Cap and Ms. Marvel and all these big-shot Avengers are all, “OMG, the villains are in charge of everything in our lives, this is the worst thing EVAH!” And Spidey basically says (1) Welcome to my world; and (2) Don’t worry, Osborn will shoot himself in the foot eventually, trust me, he always does.  It was really fun watching Spidey school the other super-heroes on how to handle being the underdog, and a big part of me wanted him to have a moment of standing over a defeated Osborn saying, “See, told you so.”  Maybe that’ll happen in the first issue of the New New Avengers re-launch or whatever they’re calling it.

But, more than anything, some part of me is sad that the super-villains aren’t in charge anymore.  It’s just so much more fun when the villains are on top.  (See also the original Star Wars trilogy, Lex Luthor’s tenure as president of the United States in the DC Universe, or the many Cylon victories in BSG.)  I suspect there are several reasons why it’s appealing when the villains have the upper hand, among them, (1) it gives the heroes a bigger and more interesting challenge, almost always a good way to go; and (2) at some level, don’t all of us occasionally, secretly identify with the villains, and want their crazy schemes for world conquest to succeed?  Who wouldn’t love for poor Brain *just once* to succeed when he tells his friend their plans for the evening: “The same thing we do every night, Pinky.  Try to take over the world.”  Seriously, I’d pay a lot of money to see an episode where Brain succeeds.  Among other things, I’d like to know, What would Brain do next?  How would humanity feel about their rodentia overlord?  What would Pinky’s role be in a Brain dictatorship? Etc.  With stories like Dark Reign, we get to see both heroes and villains react to situations we haven’t normally seen them in before – especially refreshing in the comic book sphere, where so many stories and battles get recycled.

(Minor spoilers below the fold.)

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