Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Bubonicon 2015 Report

I can't believe it's been a month since my last blog post. I've been extremely busy, though, with the first week of the kiddo's school, with company, and with writing. In fact, this past weekend was filled with Bubonicon, which is a local SFF convention. I went to panels, cruised through the sellers' room, and had some great conversations. As always, I added a ton of books to my to-be-read pile and had some great insight into the novel I'm working on right now. I was initially a little bummed about missing out on WorldCon in Spokane this year, but Bubonicon was fantastic and more than made up for my sad previous weekend of living vicariously through others on Twitter as they attended WorldCon.

One of the first people I spotted when I walked into the hotel on Friday night was George R. R. Martin. Not long after that I also saw Loki and a giant furry squirrel. I feel like I have the start of a great joke there, but I haven't gotten far with it...

This year's theme was "Women of Wonder." Several panels focused on women in fiction, and those were the majority that I went to. The first panel I attended was about warrior women. There was some great practical advice (from Livia Blackburne: it's easier for women to choke someone because of their flexibility and how their slim arms can fit around a neck) and discussion about women pirates.

Panel on whether strong women need strong men
Another panel asked the question: Do strong female characters need strong male characters? Susan Krinard said strength does not necessarily mean muscle bound; there are different types of strength. Pari Noskin said she thought strong means having a solid self identity and core. Strong women don't need strong men. Jane Linskold said men should not be strawmen who exist simply to show how strong the women are. Carrie Vaughn flipped the question around and asked whether strong male characters need strong female characters, and Tamora Pierce said you should have well rounded characters in general. This panel went on to discuss LGBTQIA pairings as well as pairings between characters who were simply friends and not love interests.

In the panel on the curse of the strong female character, Catherynne Valente talked about how people love bad guys in fiction, but they don't feel the same way about bad girls. People love Walter White from Breaking Bad, but not Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones. She attributed this to societal coding. I do agree that most people find it easier to like a bad guy than a bad girl. After all, girls are 'sugar and spice and everything nice' while boys are 'snips and snails and puppy dog tails.' Okay, now I suddenly want to watch The Powerpuff Girls.

Panel on writing different genders
The last panel I attended was on writing different genders. World Weaver Press editor Sarena Ulibarri (who edited my latest novel Fractured Days) was on this one. All of the panelists had great things to add to the discussion. I was lax at this point about noting who said what, so most of this is my best guess here. I believe S. M. Stirling was the one who pointed out that sometimes socioeconomic differences stood out more than gender differences. He relayed a story about two women police officers out on patrol. One calmly tried to talk a perpetrator into relinquishing his weapon. The other simply grabbed it and, uh, rather forcefully handled the situation. There might have been some blood involved. At any rate, one woman came from an upper middle class background, while the other came from a blue collar family. Guess which was which?

John Barnes also made a great point when he said that there are cultural gender differences. Men have been socialized to have agency. "You pick up the wrench and do it." Sarena said that when you create your own world, such as a secondary world fantasy, you get to choose who gets agency and who gets what role. The panel also touched on non-binary genders, and when it comes to writing a transgender character, for example, Sarena suggested reading something by--rather than about--someone transgender. And finally, because this was quite possibly one of my favorite quotes of the whole weekend, S. M. Stirling said, while describing his experience at an all boys' boarding school, "It's like being locked in a baboon house at the zoo."

Scarf dragon puppet

I also attended a highly entertaining and informative panel on puppetry given by Mary Robinette Kowal. She turned an ordinary scarf into a dragon to demonstrate movement, breath, and rhythm. She showed pictures of some of the puppets she's worked on. She told a hilarious story about a puppet show fail (I'm still chuckling). One of the things that stuck with me, though, was how the person operating Big Bird is, of course, inside the bird, but also has their right arm fully flexed overhead with their hand operating part of the puppet. I immediately thought, "Oh, that poor person must suffer some severe shoulder impingement at some point." And then I couldn't get it out of my head, imagining a patient coming in because of shoulder impingement from operating Big Bird's head, and how that medical note would go...

There was a lot of other cool stuff that happened, but those are some of the highlights. I was having so much fun that I hardly took any pictures. I can hardly wait for next year's con!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Epiphany on the Treadmill

It's been a while since my last update on this blog (she says in the tone she uses in the confessional). I wrote what felt like a hundred guest blog posts when my novel Fractured Days came out, and I was just all blogged out. And, it's summer, which means I have the kiddo at home on my days off from the day job, which means I don't get a whole lot of writing time unless it's while he's in swimming lessons or after he's gone to sleep. And on the days I work, forget it. I usually come home with mushy brain. For a while there, I felt like my brain was on strike.

But this week I've been remembering my dreams, and my subconscious has been stirring even when I'm awake. Like this morning, on the treadmill, it dumped a huge plot solution into my head. I whooped, stopped the treadmill to note it in my phone, and then resumed my workout. The ironic thing is, I had just been thinking about how often people do funny things at the gym, then there I go, doing a funny thing at the gym.

Normally, I can write a minimum of a thousand new words a day, plus fit in other writing tasks, like editing another piece or blogging or critiquing or updating my website, and so on. But there are lulls in my ability to Achieve It All, and summer is a big one. I love spending time with my kiddo and hanging out at the pool or the botanical gardens or the library or wherever we feel like going while other people have to work (nana nana boo boo) but it means cutting back on writing stuff. Then at the summer's end, I feel like I have to spend some time priming the pump to get it all flowing again.

But this summer, I decided that instead of an all-or-none approach, I would simply cut back, do what I could, and be happy with it, and... I think it worked. I managed to nurture my writer self just enough to keep that part of me content and productive, as evidence by the eureka moment on the treadmill in front of a hundred or so strangers.

Incidentally, I have nicknames for the regulars at the gym, like Stomper (I'm waiting for his knees to blow out on the treadmill), Clanker (I'm waiting for his back to blow out on a machine), Coach, Joined-at-the-Hip (for a couple), Mr. Perfect (he does a hanging leg raise with super controlled scissor kicks and has fantastic flexibility), and many others. After today, I'm sure they all have a nickname for me if they didn't have one already--Weird Chick. But at least I'm a weird chick with an idea.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Happiness and Tiny Journals

In December I happened to find this tiny little journal. I've tried keeping journals before, but they always seemed to take up too much time, or I would have some days that seemed boring and not worth remembering, and so I'd set it aside and forget all about it after writing for a week or two. But this little journal gives you enough space for a sentence a day, for five years. That's a lot of journaling.

Happiness is rolling down a hill on a sunny day.
I don't know much about the happiness project,  but I do know that making little changes over time is easier than trying to make a huge change. I wanted to keep a journal, and I wanted to be more positive. If I don't work on it, I turn into a major Eeyore. One sentence a day isn't a huge commitment, so I picked this journal up.

Writing in it every day took some getting used to, but I left it out where I'd see it, and I finally got into the habit. Some days are boring, but when you only write a sentence, it's no big deal. Other days I wish I could use up the whole page. I've kept track of some great things, both big and small, and also some scary things, both big and small, and some things that have angered me, or made me sad. When I have no idea what to write, I think about one good thing that happened that day. Am I happier? I think so. I definitely haven't felt Eeyore-ish. And even when big scary sad things have happened, the journal has helped me realize that they don't last forever. Best of all, when I look through it years from now, I'll know exactly when my kiddo graduated from Pre-K, or made a soccer goal, or when I had a bad day or a great day, and I'll know when I received the ARC of my latest book, or sold a short story, or went on vacation. Even just a line or two should be enough to bring up more details of the memory.

So if you've been struggling to keep a journal, start with a line or two a day. The days--and the memories--will add up quickly.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Rejection Game

When I started writing and submitting, I was hungry to see my stories published. I followed the advice to send stories to new markets as soon as they came back. I wrote several short stories and sent them out once they had gone through revisions.

Then I sold some stories. Yay! I kept submitting. I kept writing. I published a novel through World Weaver Press. I published three novels on my own. I blogged. I became the correspondent for the Odyssey Writing Workshop blog. I wrote more fiction. In other words, I got busy. And I was no longer a new writer. I had published some stuff. That initial hunger wasn't there. Sometimes stories came back and then... I didn't send them out for a while. When I finally got around to finding markets for the stories, I experienced doubt. Maybe the stories weren't good enough. Maybe they shouldn't see the light of day. I didn't always submit them.

I realized that by not sending them out again immediately, I was allowing the dreaded inner editor too much free rein. It's similar to when I write rough drafts. I have to write rather quickly, or I begin doubting the story. I have to write fast enough that the inner editor can't keep up, and I have to submit faster than the little bastard, too.

Somebody in one of my writing groups mentioned rewarding herself after so many rejections. A form rejection was X number of points, and a person was Y number of points. So I came up with my own system. After I reached certain points, I rewarded myself with little prizes, like a couple of new songs on iTunes, or a small tube of hand lotion I really like. I started at the beginning of the year, and I've already racked up 14 personal rejections and 18 not-so-personal rejections. I submit far more often now than I did at the end of last year. And best of all, the inner editor is blessedly silent, and that hunger to submit stories has returned.



Monday, May 4, 2015

Guest Post with Josh Vogt on the Parallels Between Writing and Fitness

I'd like to welcome Josh Vogt to the blog. His debut novel, Forge of Ashes, is currently available for preorder and comes out next month. He's on the blog today to talk about the intersection of fitness and writing.

At first glance, writing and physical fitness may seem like polar opposite pursuits. After all, writing has you sitting in at your desk or in a coffee shop for hours on end, days at a time, moving little more than your fingers—which, I can tell you, doesn’t burn nearly as much calories as I’d like. Trying to be active and healthy, however, involves getting off your duff and often making with this thing called “sweating,” be it through running, lifting weights, downward dog poses, flipping massive tires, or anything else that forces your body to go into survival mode and punish you with immobilizing soreness the next morning.

How could these two things have anything in common? Actually, you’d be surprised. Let’s go down a brief list, shall we?

1. Dedication
Both writing and fitness require you to, y’know, do something! If you don’t actually sit down and write, the words don’t get on the page. If you don’t actually get off the couch, you won’t get any stronger. These are simple realities. People often try to shortcut fitness efforts with diet pills, fad exercise machines, or endless reading of fitness forums. People will talk about the great novel idea they have or spend all their time reading books on how to write without ever putting their knowledge into action. But if you aren’t dedicated to getting the work done, then guess what the results are going to be?

2. Planning
If you want to succeed in either area, having a plan is critical. Going at either writing or fitness haphazardly, without any clear goals or steps to take will quickly leave you floundering, discouraged, and unaware if you’re even making any real progress. For fitness, having an established training and eating plan is going to greatly increase your chances of reaching your goals, be it weight loss, strength gains, mileage boosts, or races won. For writing, having a word count goal, draft deadline, or even an overarching business plan for your career can give you greater focus and keep you on track. Winging it rarely works in the long-term.

3. Perseverance
Times get tough. We fail. We get rejected. We hit points where we want to give up and go back to the status quo. But the hard truth is if we quit trying, then we’ll never succeed. Getting a finished draft? Getting published? Finishing a race? Hitting a new max lift? None of that would happen if we stopped part way. Succeeding means pushing through the obstacles and overcoming the temptation to walk away because it feels too difficult. Sure, we can have off days, or let ourselves rest and recuperate for a time after a setback—but then it’s time to re-engage and keep striving ahead.

4. Personal
Remember that, in the end, the right approach to writing or fitness is the one that works best for you. Your writing skill and style is unique. So is your body and health needs. So are the definitions of success you hold to in each area. Don’t just jump into the latest fitness fad. Find the activities or sports you truly enjoy. Find the eating protocol you can stick with for the long haul. Find the writing tools and techniques that work best for you. Find the writing community that supports your dreams and goals. Your way is your way, no matter what anyone else tries to tell (or sell) you.


Lastly, I’ll note that working on being more physically fit can actually help boost your writing in itself. It can drive more blood flow to the brain, increase energy levels and focus, and show how much you’re capable of when you set your mind to conquering a goal.

Want to learn more about the junction where writing and fitness meet? Check out the Write Strong blog post series, which covers a wide array of fitness topics and has more than a few guest posts from writers all over the country and the world, discussing their approaches to a healthier lifestyle alongside their writing pursuits.

***

Josh Vogt has been published in dozens of genre markets with work ranging from flash fiction to short stories to doorstopper novels that cover fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, pulp, and more. His debut fantasy novel, Forge of Ashes, adds to the RPG Pathfinder Tales tie-in line. WordFire Press is also launching his urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor (2015) and The Maids of Wrath (2016). You can find him at JRVogt.com or on Twitter @JRVogt. He’s a member of SFWA as well as the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Guest Post with M. Darusha Wehm

I'd like to welcome another guest to the blog this week. M. Darusha Wehm's novel Children of Arkadia will be available this month. Read on to find out more about the novel and for a bread recipe. I tried out the recipe and am happy to report that it is absolutely delicious, and it made the house smell great. The only downside? You might find yourself drooling while it bakes, which could be awkward if you have guests.

Children of Arkadia follows three generations of humans and AIs participating in an audacious experiment — to create a just and free society in an orbital space colony. The book is, in many ways, utopian science fiction. The Arkadians are literally trying to build a better world. Of course, it’s not that simple, and this story revolves around how people can (or can’t) resolve the inherent conflict between competing views of what doing the right thing actually entails. And, of course, how they are going to feed themselves.

Arkadia is a mix of high-tech and rural living. Farming is the chief concern of most of the people — human and AI — and even those not directly participating in growing food are, to some extent or another, foodies. Among the human population, at least, everyone needs to eat.

Isabel Hernández isn't like the other residents of Arkadia and she finds herself at a loss to navigate her new surroundings. Baker Chen Wu helps her figure out how some parts of this society works and keeps her coming back to his market stall with both his knowledge and the savoury smell of this bread.

Chen Wu’s Herb Bread

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups white flour
2 tsp yeast
1 tsp table salt
5 tbsp olive oil
1 cup warm water
1 tbsp mixed herbs(basil, oregano, marjoram)
1 tbsp rosemary leaves
sea salt

Instructions

1. Mix together the flours, salt, yeast and mixed herbs.
Delicious bread
2. Add 3 tbsp of the olive oil and the warm water. Stir together until it's too hard to work with a spoon, then knead with your hands until it's all elastic. The dough will be moist.
3. Let it rise an hour or more, then punch it down and shape it into a rectangle. Place it on a baking sheet with about a teaspoon of oil rubbed over it. Let it rest about half an hour.
4. Stretch the dough out to the edges. Let it rest another half hour. Preheat oven to 425F/220C.
5. Poke some divots into the top of the loaf, then drizzle with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and rosemary. Reduce the oven temperature to 375F/200C and bake for about 30 minutes. Cool on a rack and cut into squares.

***



M. Darusha Wehm is the three-time Parsec Award shortlisted author of the novels Beautiful Red, Self Made, Act of Will andThe Beauty of Our Weapons. Her next novel, Children of Arkadia (Bundoran Press), will be released April 28, 2015. She is the editor of the crime and mystery magazine Plan B.

She is from Canada, but currently lives in Wellington, New Zealand after spending the past several years traveling at sea on her sailboat. For more information, visit http://darusha.ca.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Guest Post with David Walton

I'd like to welcome author David Walton to the blog today. David's latest novel, Superposition, comes out tomorrow. Superposition is a quantum physics murder mystery, which sounds absolutely fascinating. David has been on the blog before, and I'm pleased to have him return so I can find out how he fits writing into a life already full with work and seven kids. That's right, seven. Without further ado, here's David:

No matter what your life looks like, I bet it's full.  You have more things that you want to do than you have time to fit in.  Parts of your life threaten to crowd out the other parts, and sometimes it seems like you spend all your time doing what you have to do, and not enough doing what you want to do.  How do you find a balance?

I have seven children, ages 1 to 14.  I have a full time job as an engineer.  And in my "free time", I write and publish science fiction novels.  I often hear people say, "I don't know how you do it" and "Where do you find the time?"  They think that my wife and I must be super-organized, running our house like a well-oiled machine.  They think we must have it all together.  (They also think we're crazy.)

In truth, my wife and I are pretty flexible.  We don't plan very much, we take things as they come, and we're willing to let some things slide for the sake of what we care about.  We're not superhuman.  So how do I balance family and work and writing?  Most of all, by being clear about my priorities.

My first priority is my family.  I spend a lot of time at home.  I make dinner, help with homework, change diapers, engage with my kids' lives.  This can mean saying no to other things.  I don't work overtime very much, even though some of my colleagues do.  I don't spend much time with friends.  I don't write as much as I'd like.  Sometimes those choices cause pressure or stress, but I know what's most important to me.

But... seven children?  How do you have time for *anything* else, never mind writing novels?

I have time by letting lesser things slide.  I don't exercise as much as I should.  I don't always wash the dishes before bed.  I stay up too late.  I clean up the clothes and toys strewn on the floor only when it reaches avalanche proportions.  I don't fix things around the house.  Sometimes, this causes stress and aggravation, but most of the time, it's okay.  I know what is most important to me.  I spend time with my family, and I write.

I also don't write all that much.  I've written two dozen short stories and five novels, but that's over the course of 17 years.  Writing fits in the corners of my life.  I just never stop doing it.

Staying healthy is important to a lot of people, and Becky asked if I could talk about that, too.  I'm not an ideal example in this regard: my weight is more than it should be, and my eating habits aren't the best.  However, I have been running with my daughter, and we've done a few 5K races.  Also, we take long walks as a whole family, often as much as five miles (when the weather is nice).  My approach to exercise is pretty much the same as with everything else: I do it to the extent that it fits with my other priorities.  I don't go to a gym, which would require time away from my family.  Instead, I choose exercise I can do while spending time with them.

Everyone's life is different.  I'm not saying my priorities should be your priorities.  But if you know what your priorities are, you'll be able to accomplish what's most important to you.

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David Walton is the author of the newly released novel SUPERPOSITION, a quantum physics murder mystery with the same mind-bending, breathless action as films like INCEPTION and MINORITY REPORT.  His other works include the Philip K. Dick Award-winning TERMINAL MIND, the historical fantasy QUINTESSENCE (Tor, 2013) and its sequel, QUINTESSENCE SKY.  You can read about his books and life at http://www.davidwaltonfiction.com/.