Tag Archives: narrative

Kenneth Schneyer on Timepiece: Savor every bite

Foreword to Timepiece by Heather Albano

Kenneth Schneyer

We asked author Kenneth Schneyer to write a foreword to Heather Albano‘s forthcoming time-travel adventure novel Timepiece, which comes out January 3, 2017. What he wrote was so delightful, we thought we’d share it ahead of time!

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Of course time travel represents an inversion of the way we experience the world. The arrow of entropy is reversed.  People gain knowledge of the consequences of their actions before they take them.  In this, it resembles both the prophecy story and the flashback: more than one author has imagined Tiresias and Cassandra as time travelers. Continue reading Kenneth Schneyer on Timepiece: Savor every bite

Review: The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett

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The Shepherd’s Crown: the final Discworld novel

It is difficult to know whether the elegiac mood I felt while reading The Shepherd’s Crown was due to the book itself or to the fact that the fifth Tiffany Aching novel (and forty-first Discworld novel) was in fact the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s final work.

The Shepherd’s Crown focuses on the young witch Tiffany Aching as she comes fully to find her place both in the non-hierarchy of the witches’ world, in the land of her birth (the Chalk), and in her own life. She finds herself pulled between two steadings, the districts for which, as a witch, she is responsible for doing “what needs to be done” — whether visiting the old and sick, birthing babies, or protecting the inhabitants from supernatural invasion. And, as the book begins, a supernatural invasion does in fact loom: Nightshade, Queen of the Faeries (whom a nine-year-old Tiffany defeated in the first book in the series) finds that the boundaries between her world and Tiffany’s are weak, and she is planning large-scale revenge. Discworld faeries have much more kinship to the Celtic sidhe than to the cute winged creatures of most children’s books or than to Tolkien’s aristocratic elves: they are  (literally) glamorous, pitiless creatures who take delight in mayhem ranging from spoiling beer and stealing sheep to kidnap, torture, and murder.

Continue reading Review: The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett

Rest in Peace, Sir Terry. You’ve Earned It

As you probably know, Sir Terry Pratchett died today. His is a great loss to the world of letters — but I still can’t think about him without smiling.

I can’t help but think that he’s got Death chuckling. In small caps.

He was a very funny writer of wildly amusing fantasy novels, and so it could occasionally be easy to overlook how profound some of the ideas were that he was exploring in his books.

Here’s one of my favorite bits, a piece from one of his wonderful Discworld novels, Witches Abroad. It focuses on the nature of narrative: Continue reading Rest in Peace, Sir Terry. You’ve Earned It

Christina’s World – On Struggle and Story

Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth Andrew Wyeth (American, 1917-2009). Christina’s World, 1948. Tempera on gessoed panel. 32 1/4 x 47 3/4 in. (81.9 x 121.3 cm). Purchase. Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © Andrew Wyeth

I was talking with an author the other day. We were discussing cover art, and the subject of Andrew Wyeth’s iconic painting “Christina’s World” came up.

Not that we wanted to use that piece, but we wanted to evoke the same feeling.

What’s so evocative about “Christina’s World”? Well, I’m not an image person so much as a story person, and for me, it’s the central figure’s determination, her yearning.

The actual Christina — the model for the body (though not the head) in the painting* — was a paraplegic who refused to use a wheelchair; she moved around the farm that she and her brother lived on solely through the use of her arms.

Why were we discussing this? Well, obviously, its an incredibly evocative image. More to the point, Nicole Sykes, the author I’m working with, was born with cerebral palsy. Speech is a challenge for her. She has partial control over her left hand, but doesn’t use her right. Her mobility is provided by a motorized wheel chair. She speaks — and writes — by tapping a large keypad with the back of her left fist; speech is synthesized in Stephen Hawking-like bursts.

And she’s written a memoir. A funny memoir. Continue reading Christina’s World – On Struggle and Story

Christina's World – On Struggle and Story

Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth Andrew Wyeth (American, 1917-2009). Christina’s World, 1948. Tempera on gessoed panel. 32 1/4 x 47 3/4 in. (81.9 x 121.3 cm). Purchase. Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © Andrew Wyeth

I was talking with an author the other day. We were discussing cover art, and the subject of Andrew Wyeth’s iconic painting “Christina’s World” came up.

Not that we wanted to use that piece, but we wanted to evoke the same feeling.

What’s so evocative about “Christina’s World”? Well, I’m not an image person so much as a story person, and for me, it’s the central figure’s determination, her yearning.

The actual Christina — the model for the body (though not the head) in the painting* — was a paraplegic who refused to use a wheelchair; she moved around the farm that she and her brother lived on solely through the use of her arms.

Why were we discussing this? Well, obviously, its an incredibly evocative image. More to the point, Nicole Sykes, the author I’m working with, was born with cerebral palsy. Speech is a challenge for her. She has partial control over her left hand, but doesn’t use her right. Her mobility is provided by a motorized wheel chair. She speaks — and writes — by tapping a large keypad with the back of her left fist; speech is synthesized in Stephen Hawking-like bursts.

And she’s written a memoir. A funny memoir. Continue reading Christina's World – On Struggle and Story

Crazy Is as Crazy Does – Madness and Narrative

Silver Lining Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

My family watched Silver Linings Playbook last night. We all really enjoyed the dark romantic comedy, but I couldn’t shake some misgivings.

Talking afterward with my eldest daughter (who’s just finished taking a college Intro to Psychology class), I realized that part of the discomfort I was feeling had to do with the portrayal of the mental and emotional states of the two main characters, Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). As Sasha pointed out, the two actors give fine, nuanced performances, but really, even given what little I know, their portrayals of two characters struggling with heavy-duty psychological issues had very little to do with clinical psychology and a lot to do with storytelling convention and narrative design. As we talked about it, I had this epiphany: in any story, madness (like magic, murder, etc.) is first and foremost a literary trope rather than an expression of objective psychological reality. Continue reading Crazy Is as Crazy Does – Madness and Narrative

Bending the Story without Breaking It: Prophecy and Time Travel

Prophecy and time travel - Hourglass by Rachel Caitlin (TrueLovesKiss) on flickr.com. Used under a Creative Commons license.

I was just reading a really fun time-travel story (Heather Albano’s Timepiece), and a thought that had been bouncing around in my head for a long time came clear to me: from a purely narrative point of view, time travel is prophecy’s long-lost (and possibly evil) twin.

Don’t get me wrong — they’re clearly very different plot devices, and stories that include one or the other tend to play out in somewhat different ways. But they do essentially the same thing to and for a plot. They bend narrative logic so that it can snap in interesting and unexpected ways. Continue reading Bending the Story without Breaking It: Prophecy and Time Travel

Review: Cold Days Holds ‘Em

Cold Days by Jim Butcher - see jimbutcher.com

I’ve been reading fantasy adventure novels for a long, long time. When you read a series of books by the same author, it’s hard not to expect the stakes to get raised with each title: new thrills, new surprises, new tie-ins with earlier plots.

If you read enough books by the same author, there comes a point where you find yourself beginning to wonder if perhaps, this time, the writer is bluffing — that s/he has pushed the stakes so high (yet again) that the hand the writer’s holding — the story s/he’s written — can’t possibly support the kind of rash bet s/he’s just made. As a reader, you sigh, swearing you won’t get suckered in yet again, but hey — you’re reading this book because you want the author to win that bet. So you call the bluff. Continue reading Review: Cold Days Holds ‘Em

Review: Cold Days Holds 'Em

Cold Days by Jim Butcher - see jimbutcher.com

I’ve been reading fantasy adventure novels for a long, long time. When you read a series of books by the same author, it’s hard not to expect the stakes to get raised with each title: new thrills, new surprises, new tie-ins with earlier plots.

If you read enough books by the same author, there comes a point where you find yourself beginning to wonder if perhaps, this time, the writer is bluffing — that s/he has pushed the stakes so high (yet again) that the hand the writer’s holding — the story s/he’s written — can’t possibly support the kind of rash bet s/he’s just made. As a reader, you sigh, swearing you won’t get suckered in yet again, but hey — you’re reading this book because you want the author to win that bet. So you call the bluff. Continue reading Review: Cold Days Holds 'Em

Writing the Inevitable but Unexpected

A novel never sleeps.

We’re on vacation. As my family plays, I’m working on yet another round of rewrites for a young-adult novel, trying to add a scene about half of the way through.

This has had me thinking quite a bit about the idea of justification—not as in left, right, and center, but as in setting up a scene properly so that a reader neither feels as if it came out of nowhere nor as if it was far too long in coming. Getting it just right is obviously every storyteller’s goal, and one of the more challenging aspects of storytelling. Aristotle said that the end of an effective plot must be “unexpected but inevitable.” I’d say, though, that the same can be true of any good scene, and it doesn’t take a whole lot to mess it up in one direction or the other.

The reason that I’ve had this on my mind, other than my on-going story addiction/obsession, is that the last two books I’ve emerged myself in were Victoria Roth’s Divergent and George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.

Continue reading Writing the Inevitable but Unexpected