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I’m trying to pick a song to serve as the “soundtrack” to a certain aspect of one of the games I’m in, and I’m coming up empty. So I turn to you, o internets, for recommendations!

The thing I’m trying to set to music is a situation where two character who both have a crap-ton of secrets (including false identities) are going through kind of a fencing match/cat-and-mouse game of figuring each other out and maybe developing something resembling trust. In a perfect world, the song for this would be a male/female duet, but that’s icing on the cake if I can get it; mostly I just need a song that fits the concept. Or, if I can’t get suitable lyrics, something instrumental that is both lush and a little playful. (With a library of over 17000 songs, you’d think I would be able to find something that fits. But nothing has clicked: the closest I’ve come is “Qué Viyéra,” which still isn’t quite right.)

Any suggestions?

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I have a tradition of keeping one copy of every version of my books: paperback, hardcover, audio, translation, etc. And that includes ARCs . . . but I never got one of Cold-Forged Flame (an oversight on my part). If you happen to have one of those lying around that you’d be willing to sell me, please let me know! My collection is incomplete. 🙂

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I’m trying to get a more solid image of a character in my mind, which is not a thing I’m very good at; it goes better when I have a casting to look at and then verbalize. But I’ve had to cast a bunch of East Asian male characters lately (mostly for my L5R game), and my brain keeps going back to the same well of possibilities, which is starting to run a little dry. And so I turn to you, the internets, and ask: please share with me names and pictures of East Asian actors or other public figures you especially like! Looking for somebody roughly in their twenties or thirties, i.e. not babyfaced but still fairly young. No particular guidelines as to facial type or personality; I really don’t know what I want this guy to look like, which is why I need brainstorming fodder.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)

Brainstorming time!

I’d like you all to tell me what objects you might, from a mythical standpoint, associate with the delineation of boundaries and borders. I’m looking specifically for objects that might be a personal possession; walls and fences are obvious boundary markers, as are rivers, but neither are really the sort of thing a person could carry around with them. A sword, on the other hand, being a thing that cuts, could be the thing that marks the division between Here and Not Here, whether by literally drawing a line in the dirt or just symbolically cleaving things apart.

Can you think of/make an argument for other personal-sized objects that might represent geographical boundaries?

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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This is something of a long shot, but let’s give it a try anyway.

unidentified bust in Oberammergau

The above picture is one my parents took in the Bavarian town of Oberammergau. My father uses it in a class he teaches, and I’m told that every time he does, somebody asks, “who’s that?” Who the statue depicts is irrelevant to the subject matter of the class, but people want to know anyway.

Problem is, my parents didn’t take a picture of the plaque below the statue (they didn’t expect it to be relevant), so they have no idea. Attempts to pop the shot into Google Image Search have helpfully informed them that it’s a picture of a statue; attempts to Google “bust in Oberammergau” and similar phrases have turned up nothing useful, even when attempted in German. So our last-ditch option is to post it here and see whether anybody can tell us who we’re looking at — possibly somebody equipped with more than Google Translate, who can conduct a more nuanced German-language search.

(No, they don’t remember where they were in Oberammergau when they took the picture, either. Otherwise I could attempt some magic with Google Street View.)

Any takers?

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)

I maaaaaaaaaaaaay have a title for the thing mentioned here.

(Par for my brain’s course: it isn’t anything anybody suggested to me. But getting suggestions kicked me out of the ruts I was stuck in.)

However! This does not mean you should stop sending me ideas. a) I haven’t formally committed to anything yet, so I can still change my mind, b) it’s fascinating to see what people suggest, and c) I’ll still be giving away a signed copy of Cold-Forged Flame to one person who’s contributed title possibilities. So keep ’em coming!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I’ve got all these copies of Cold-Forged Flame sitting around, and I’ve got a conundrum I’ve been stuck on for, uh, more than a year.

So, in the great tradition of the game Unexploded Cow, let’s use the one problem to solve the other!

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to suggest to me a title that would be suitable for a collection of my secondary-world fantasy short stories. I know I don’t want to call it “[Reasonably Well-Known Item from the Table of Contents] and Other Stories”; I know that every quotation I’ve unearthed and phrase I’ve come up with that implies secondary-world-ness sounds trite; I know that I’m perfectly willing to use a random evocative-sounding phrase, but I haven’t thought of one I like for this purpose. Therefore I put it to you, the Great Internets, to help me figure out what to call a collection that will probably be putting out in 2017.

You have one week: from now until this time next Tuesday (or Wednesday, if you’re on that side of the planet), suggest titles to me. You can suggest more than one. You can suggest them on any version of this post, on Twitter, or by email. I will take them all into account. If I choose your title, you get a signed copy of Cold-Forged Flame! If I don’t find a title that clicks, I will choose one recipient at random! If I choose a title from someone who already has a copy of Cold-Forged Flame, I’ll choose a recipient at random anyway!

Lay ’em on me! Because I am well and truly stuck. >_<

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I have reached new heights — or possibly depths — in asking for research recommendations.

Because I need stuff to read on the subject of torture.

(Consider that a trigger warning for the rest of this post, because yeah. It’s gonna be like that.)

For the purposes of the story I’m working on, what I need to look into are a) methods used and b) the short- and long-term effects of those methods. Discussions of the intel value or lack thereof are irrelevant for this project; the torture is being carried out for reasons other than the gathering of information. Ditto anything about the legality of such things, because this isn’t taking place in the real world. I’m focused on what the bad guys would be doing to the character (including considerations like “if they don’t want their victim to die from shock, how should they pace their actions”), how the character would plausibly respond to what’s happening (i.e. offering information they don’t care about, going catatonic, etc), and what kind of physical and emotional scars the victim would be left with afterward.

This is one of those cases where I almost certainly will not get graphic within the story itself about what’s being done, but I very much need to work out the graphic details so that I’ll know how to write everything around it. If you can recommend a book or web resource to me that will help me do this right, I’d be very grateful. My knowledge of the subject all derives from early modern witchcraft trials, which is long on ways of maiming people for life but short on the details of how it affected the victims during and after. I’m sure people have written about this in recent times; I just don’t know how to find what I need.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)

So here’s the thing: I read very little (basically no) poetry. When I find a thing I like, I really like it . . . but the rest of it more or less bounces off my skull without leaving a mark. Result is that I don’t read much poetry, because the odds of me finding one of those things that will embed itself in my brain instead of poinging off my cranium are too low to make it worth the effort.

But! I have an internet at my disposal!

So those of you who are lovers of poetry: please recommend things to me that you think I would like. To assist in narrowing down that field, here are things I know I like in poetry:

* Narrative, because brain likey story.
* Aural devices, such as meter, rhyme, alliteration, and so forth. (With exceedingly rare exceptions, I bounce hardest of all off free verse.)
* Generally a darker mood; not sure why, but poems about how happy somebody is tend to draw less of my attention.
* Allusions to things I know about, be it mythology or pop culture or what have you.

I would also be interested in seeing the poetically-minded among you ramble on about why you like poetry: how you read it, what you think about when you consider a poem, etc. Theoretically we had a “poetry appreciation” segment in my high school English classes, but, well. High school.

I’ll put specific examples of what I like behind the cut, for space reasons.

Read the rest of this entry � )

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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That phrase probably makes no sense, but it’s the best I can do.

There’s a thing certain writers are capable of: Dorothy Dunnett and Dorothy Sayers are the ones who come immediately to mind, and Sonya Taaffe (she has a Patreon for her movie reviews — I’m just sayin’), but I’m sure there are others I’m not thinking of at the moment. These people are brilliant at describing characters. And what makes them brilliant is what, for lack of a better term, I keep thinking of as “oblique specificity.”

By this I mean something like the “telling detail” writing-advice books are always going on about, but leveled up. It’s the ability to find that one thing about a character, be it physical or psychological, that isn’t in the list of the top ten features that would probably come to mind if somebody said “describe a character,” but winds up encapsulating them in just a few words. And it’s the ability to make those words not the ones you expected: the line that sparked this post is from the Peter Wimsey novel Murder Must Advertise, where Lord Peter is playing a cricket match and accidentally goes to town when up ’til then he’s pretended to be just an ordinary guy. There are lots of phrases I would think of to describe how he starts showing a higher degree of power than he’s exhibited before, but “opening up wrathful shoulders” is not one of them — and yet, it works.

I want to read more authors like this. (Because I want to dissect what they’re doing until I’ve figured out how it ticks.) So: recommend authors to me?

I’d especially love to see this done in different contexts, because one thing Dunnett, Sayers, and Taaffe share is that they’re all writing from a more omniscient perspective than you’d ordinarily see in a modern novel. I think the added distance helps, because description doesn’t have to be delivered through the perspective of a character; not all characters are really suited to that kind of descriptive artistry. Though no examples are leaping to mind at the moment, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a variant of this done with first-person narrators, using the narrative voice to give descriptions more punch than they would otherwise have, but I’m not sure that’s always quite the same thing that I’m thinking of. (Since I’m kind of vague on what exactly I’m thinking of, this distinction is subject to debate.) I think I’ve seen it much less, though, with third-person limited narration, which lacks both the unfiltered individuality of good first-person narration and the analytical distance of omniscient. Then again, maybe that’s just a function of who I’ve been reading. I welcome any and all recommendations, especially if you can quote lines to show me how that author approaches it.

But do keep it limited to description of characters, rather than other things. Scene-setting and action and so forth are worthy topics in their own right, but right now it’s the evocation of character that I’m particularly interested in dissecting.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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We had our usual Oscar party the other night, and at one point during all the interviewing (which I mostly don’t listen to, because I’m there to enjoy the fashion), I caught Faye Dunaway saying something about how Brie Larson is an amazing actress.

And it got me thinking: I would love to watch something that involves one or more actors sitting around discussing clips from different performances, talking about what makes them so awesome. What little touches of timing or intonation really bring the character to life, what techniques are being used, etc — basically, the kind of thing I sometimes get up to with fellow writers, when we let our professional squee flags fly and really dig into the craft aspects of our job. I genuinely don’t know what a craft-based appreciation of acting would look like, what kinds of things an actor notices and admires while the rest of us are just sitting there going, “that was a really great scene.” Tony Zhou’s “Every Frame a Painting” series gets into this from the standpoint of cinematography and directing, but not acting; I’d love to get that angle as well.

Can anybody recommend examples of this? A YouTube series, a commentary track on a DVD, anything like that.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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So on Twitter the other day, in a fit of frustration, I posted this:

Which of course promptly led to a bunch of people saying that no, I totally should do that. After the third or fourth of those, I issued this challenge:

And, well. I think I’m actually serious about this. If you have a crown you don’t want back (or don’t mind getting back charred and possibly warped), get in touch with me. The following requirements apply:

1) It needs to be metal, as nothing else will last long enough in the fire to be of use. (Doesn’t have to be gold, though.)

2) Should look at least vaguely royal/medieval — no bridal tiaras here.

3) Has to be full-size.

If you have something that fits that bill, send a picture of it to marie {dot} brennan {at} gmail {dot} com. As promised, if I get what I need, I will take blog/tweet the whole process, with color commentary. But I need it soon, so be prepared to act quickly if you offer up your crown!

And thanks in advance to anybody who might be able to help.

FORGOT TO ADD: If you do provide me with a crown, I’ll send you your choice of the audiobook of A Natural History of Dragons on CD, a UK trade paperback of Midnight Never Come, or an ARC of In the Labyrinth of Drakes.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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A couple of hours ago I asked on Twitter how women react when they see something terrible. My proximate reason for asking was that I’ve discovered Netflix has Murder, She Wrote available streaming; in watching it, I’ve been reminded of the standard-issue scream uttered by women in TV and movies when they find a dead body. You know the one: hands to the cheeks, mouth and eyes wide in horror, a high-pitched and wordless shriek coming from her mouth.

It’s always seemed weird to me because I don’t do that. Okay, to be fair, I’ve never come across a dead body. But I have accidentally lit myself on fire — my clothing, anyway — and my reaction at the time was to bellow “FUCK!” at the top of my lungs while beating at the flames with my other sleeve until they went out. The top of my lungs . . . but not the top of my range. Same thing when my husband accidentally kicked my badly-sprained toe, causing me no small amount of pain. I don’t scream so much as yell, often with a great deal of profanity.

So I posted on Twitter because I wanted to know: how many women out there do scream at such things? Is it the majority, and I’m a weird outlier, or is that just a convention of media that doesn’t happen so much in real life? Twitter anecdata thus far suggests a moderately even split; there are definitely women who do the high-pitched wordless shriek thing, but not an overwhelming majority by any means. (Also, at least one guy has testified to uttering a scream of his own when subjected to sudden pain.) It seems the trope isn’t unfounded, then, but it’s also not universal. Which, because I’m an anthropologist at heart, means I’m now wondering whether that reaction has become less common over time (as women are no longer socialized in the same way as thirty or fifty years ago) and whether our media depictions have changed as well.

I have no idea. But it’s interesting to think about, because the standard-issue scream has always felt so very fake to me.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Every so often I get stuck on a story, in a way that involves my brain going around and around in the same rut without exploring different possibilities. Sometimes when this happens, I turn to external tools to help me brainstorm new options — most often cards of one kind or another. Which kind depends on the story in question: I have at my disposal tarot (two different decks), Brian Froud’s Faerie Oracle, Edward Gorey’s Fantod Pack, that Once Upon a Time storytelling game, another thing of that type for B-movie horror tropes that I’ve never actually used because I don’t generally write that kind of story . . . .

But it works best if the cards I’m using have at least some aesthetic/conceptual connection to the kind of story I’m working on. Which brings me to my question:

Does anybody know of something like that which is East Asian in flavor?

Doesn’t have to be some kind of traditional thing (I have a hanafuda deck, but it ain’t much use for story ideas, unless I really need to brainstorm flowers). Could be a game — though please, something where I can buy the entire deck in one go; I do not want to wander down the primrose path of a collectible card game like Yu-Gi-Oh! or whatever. Doesn’t even technically have to be cards, though I like cards, so that’s what I’d most like to get.

Any suggestions?

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Some of you may recall that for my book tour last year, I had a Victorian dress made (in dark red, black, and grey). Well, I need a hat to go with it — and while I could have one made custom, it seems a bit silly to drop that much money on a piece of headgear I will almost never wear.

So: please recommend to me your favorite Victorian-style milliners! My requirements are:

  • late Victorian in style
  • designed to perch atop my head, rather than settling down over it (I will have a rather large bun getting in the way of the latter style)
  • not too expensive — less than $100 would be ideal
  • either black or grey (I doubt I can match the red without a lot of hassle)

Any suggestions?

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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When my husband and I were in England a couple of years ago, we had lunch in Highgate at a place that also served a drink I found absolutely delicious. We have recently found the list of ingredients again, so now our challenge is: what should the proportions be?

The drink contained:

Hendricks gin
Zubrowka
apple juice
elderflower juice
mint

We have a different brand of gin and elderflower syrup, so we may need to adjust slightly for that. Ideal result is for it to not taste very alcoholic — since I don’t like drinks that are terribly strong. Any suggestions for proportions?

Edited to add: It was served in a martini glass, to give you an idea of final volume.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: from the cover art for my novel The Tropic of Serpents (Tropic of Serpents)
One very thin silver lining to the Amazon UK issue I posted about yesterday: it made me realize I don't have an icon yet for Voyage of the Basilisk.

So!

Needed: one (1) icon made from this book cover
Requirements: no larger than 100x100 pixels
If possible: match well with the previous two icons.
Reward: one (1) Advance Reader Copy of Voyage of the Basilisk

I'll give it a few days for people to send in their pics, and then pick a winner. Happy icon-ing!
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I have bought a new dress for the World Fantasy banquet. I am sitting here trying to remember the last time I bought a dress that wasn’t a historical costume I paid somebody to sew for me.

I am failing.

As long as I’m on a roll of doing things I haven’t done in hmmmm let’s be conservative and say ten years?, I think I should also get new black heels. And this is where I turn to you, O internets, because I don’t like high heels (but I recognize their uses), and if there is any maker of heels who makes some I would actually like, I want to know about them.

My criteria are as follows. Each one should be footnoted with the caveat that I know I may not be able to get what I want, or at least may not be able to get all these things in one shoe. But I might as well try.

  1. Not too high of a heel. You may recall I had ankle surgery less than three months ago. My ideal would be maybe 1-1.5″; anything above 2″ is Right Out at present. And in general I prefer lower heels, because . . .
  2. Padding beneath the ball of the foot. I can and do use inserts to help with this, but it annoys me that we have an industry built around providing something I think the shoe ought to provide in the first place. I end up with a lot of foot pain if too much of my weight is on the ball of my foot for too long; it’s like my body is saying “we stopped doing this shit when you quit ballet at the age of eighteen, and aren’t going to put up with it anymore.”
  3. Arch support. Does this even exist in high-heeled shoes? If so, tell me, because my god do I need it. I have stupidly high arches, and wearing shoes that don’t support them gets painful quite fast.
  4. Allowance for a high instep. A lot of those strappy shoes put straps right across the top of my arches, which, as mentioned before, are quite high. Result: I feel like my foot’s being cut in half by my shoe. This one’s more of a stylistic thing than a characteristic I’m likely to find in a specific shoe manufacturer, but as long as I’m describing what I want, I ought to include everything.

Is there anybody who consistently makes shoes that match this description? Or even parts of this description? I could go to the store and try on shoes randomly until I find something that works, but I’d like to be more targeted in my shopping if possible. Seven years of dancing on pointe left me with an absolute lack of tolerance for badly-made or ill-fitting shoes, and a desire to avoid spending hours trying things on if at all possible.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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EDIT: Sadly, it turns out the timeline was even shorter than I thought. Thanks to everyone who offered help.

Some of you have seen this already, but I’m trying to cast my net as widely as possible, and that means canvassing all my available outlets.

A friend of mine is looking for a place to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and if this is going to happen, it needs to happen fast. Her main requirements are that rent be less than $1200 a month, and that the place allows cats. It doesn’t have to be close to public transit (she has a car), and it doesn’t have to be centrally located — she’s even looked as far afield as Santa Cruz. She’s willing to share with a roommate, though an individual living situation would be preferable. Craigslist etc have already been tried; this is a hunt for options that aren’t on the usual radar. So if you happen to know of any leads, please do let me know ASAP: like I said, this has to happen fast if it’s going to happen at all. (I don’t have an actual deadline, but I’d guess that if there isn’t at least a strong lead by Friday, it’ll be a moot point.)

Thanks in advance for any help you can give.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Warning: camera neepery ahead. Or, depending on your temperament: yay, camera neepery ahead! :-)

I’m looking to replace my Leica V-Lux 2, which is a hand-me-down from my mother, ergo more than a few years old. Searching for a replacement has been educational, because it’s illustrating for me the extent to which the niche occupied by this model appears to be, well, disappearing.

There are DSLRs. There are point-and-shoot cameras. What there doesn’t appear to be is a point-and-shoot with specs that are equal to or better than what I have right now. Nikon’s Coolpix line is right out; they don’t seem to have any model with an aperture range bigger than f/3 to f/6.5. (My Leica goes f/2.8 to f/8.) The Leica website still lists the V-Lux 4, but given that I can’t seem to find it for sale anywhere, I have a sneaking suspicion it’s been discontinued. My best bet so far is Canon’s PowerShot G1 X Mark II . . . but, and I admit this is a trivial concern, its LCD is embedded in the back of the camera. My Leica has the screen on a swivel arm, which has come massively in handy when I’m trying to take photos at weird angles, like from over my head or around a corner.

The Nikon D5200 has the swivel screen — but it’s a DSLR. (Or, to be more precise, it’s a system camera/ILC.) I’ve kind of wanted to move to interchangeable lenses for years now, so I should leap at the prospect, right? Well, not quite. Because that means carrying lenses with me, and I’m not keen to have the added weight, given how many of my trips involve being on my feet all day. Not to mention that switching out lenses will slow me down, and my husband is already wonderfully tolerant for putting up with the amount of time I spend taking photos. (Not to mention carrying our backpack part of the time, so he’d be dealing with the added weight, too.) I’ve worked hard on being as quick as I can, but swapping out for a wide-angle lens or whatever is going to inevitably take time.

Sure, I could get the Nikon and then just never buy any other lenses. But at that point it seems stupid to have a system camera in the first place.

Except that I’m not sure I can get what I want otherwise. The Canon comes closest, if I’m willing to give up the swivel screen; it’s gotten some excellent reviews. But the point-and-shoot market is being cannibalized by smartphones: they may not be as good at taking photos as a dedicated camera, but for most people’s purposes they’re good enough, and much more convenient. If you actually care about the finer points of photography, it seems like you’re increasingly looking at the higher end of the market, just because of the way the lower end is vanishing.

All of which is extended background leading up to a question: is there another camera I should consider? The swivel screen is negotiable, but I definitely need f/2.8-f/8 or better, decent zoom, and ISO up to 1600 (bonus points if the levels above 400 are actually usable). Right now it’s a race between the Canon Powershot G1 X Mark II and the Nikon D5200, but I’d love to know if there are any alternatives.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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