Monday, December 23, 2013

The Year in Review-2013

It's that time of year again. I enjoy looking back on what I've accomplished over the past year, and setting goals for the new year. One of the things I started doing this year was keeping better track of sales, publications, and stories written. I'm not the most unorganized person in the world, but I'm no neat freak either.

My non-writing life saw some great moments, too. My three year old learned how to use the potty (that's a huge accomplishment, for kids and parents both), and he started pre-school, which meant a few hours each week of uninterrupted me time! Woo hoo! He continues to amaze me with his wit and knowledge. And gosh darn it, he's just plain cute.

Writing-wise, I fell behind on all the things I wanted to do, but I still accomplished quite a bit. I wrote two novels, one of which I'm now editing (actually, I'm procrastinating by working on this blog post). I also wrote a novella. At twenty-thousand-something words, it might be a little hard to place with a market, but if I don't place it, I plan on self-publishing it, which will be a first for me. I also wrote three short stories. Of those three, I've sold one, I'm editing another before sending it out, and I decided the third doesn't quite cut the mustard, so into the trunk it goes.

I also attended the World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio as well as my local convention, Bubonicon. Both were fun. I love meeting with writers in person. There's always this amazing energy, and always plenty of witty banter. There's still a week or so left in the year, but I'm claiming that I've read 44 books this year (I might fit in one more by year's end).

Next year, I plan on writing two more books and twelve short stories. It's a lofty goal, but goals are meant to be lofty, are they not? I'm not planning on attending any conventions (boo). And, as always, I will eat plenty of chocolate.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Your Home Might Be Trying to Kill You

I went to a continuing education class a couple of weeks ago on anxiety, stress, and depression. As one might imagine, it had its downer moments, including tidbits of information that led me to believe that I'm surrounded by nothing but carcinogens. It was rather anxiety inducing, and yes, stressful. They should've handed out little Xanax samples along with the certificates.

The discussions ranged from the foods we eat to the jewelry we wear to the items that surround us, all of which could be contributing to our health, sometimes quite adversely. One of the things brought up was how granite countertops might give off radiation. That's right, you could be standing there, chopping onions or trimming the fat off chicken, and soaking up some radiation. Now, the amounts given off are probably small, but it does raise questions. Like, how much will it cost to remodel the kitchen...?

I first heard about the granite countertop/radiation issue a few years ago while doing research for my novel Shards of History. In the novel, the Maddion, a group of people who live in the mountains--their homes are actually carved into the mountains--suffer from a disease that's killing them all off. Although the disease was given to them through magical means, I was searching for a real-life disease as inspiration, and I came across radiation poisoning and the radiation given off by granite. So then I wondered, what if somebody was powerful enough to magically cause high levels of radiation to emit from the very place where these people live? And I had the basis for the disease. It doesn't exactly follow radiation poisoning as we know it, but I felt that basing it on an actual medical problem would make it seem more realistic. So in their case, their home is most definitely trying to kill them.

Just a day or two before this class, this news story came out about some people who stole a truck in Mexico filled with radioactive material. I figured the thieves wanted the truck, and later decided to pry open the containers to see what was inside. The thieves were caught, and they are lucky that they didn't end up with radiation sickness.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Failure

I've been thinking about failure lately. For one, I recently listened to this Writing Excuses podcast on fail in your writing career, and what to do about it. For another, I failed to reach 50,000 words during NaNoWriMo this year. I'm slightly disappointed in this failure, but since I managed to finish a novella during this time, I'm quite pleased overall. And besides, I also have a few short story ideas outlined, so I actually accomplished quite a bit during November.

Sometimes failure is a blip on the screen, like this year's NaNoWriMo. Other times, however, it's huge, or at least it feels that way. The first time I applied to physical therapy school, I was turned down. I was devastated. I think I cried. I certainly moped for days and had all sorts of negative thoughts swirling through my head. But then I pulled myself together and thought about what I could do the following year to improve my odds, and I set out to do those things. And the next year, not only did I get into a school, but I got into the school I wanted (whereas the year before, I'd applied to the only one I had the prerequisites for). So ultimately, things turned out very well.

When I decided to take up writing and start submitting my work, I took on a whole new set of fears and risks. Could I finish a story? What about novels? Would anybody like my stories? Buy them? I made a lot of mistake early in my writing career, both in the craft of writing and in submitting stories for publication. I cringe to think of them, but they were honest mistakes, and I learned from them. And really, none of them were so awful that anybody will remember (I think....).

Failure leads to learning. And sometimes we fail, but then a better option comes along. For more words of wisdom on how failure can lead to success, you can read this article.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Lessons Learned from John Steinbeck

I recently finished reading Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters by John Steinbeck. I had no idea this book existed until a few weeks ago when I read a friend's review of it on Goodreads. When Steinbeck wrote East of Eden, he did so long hand. His editor gave him a notebook, and Steinbeck used the left hand pages to write daily letters to his editor, and he used the right hand pages to write the first draft of the novel. He referred to his letters as a warm up to help ease him into his fiction writing for the day. Interestingly, a similar method is referred to in The Artist's Way, in which Julia Cameron recommends writing out 'morning pages' before starting on the day's work.

I found it exceedingly refreshing that Steinbeck appeared to suffer the same roller coaster of emotions while writing his novel that I feel when writing any new piece. He loved it... then he hated it. Some days he went to work gladly on it, and the words flowed, and other days he struggled to get the words down. And yet, when I read the novel, I couldn't say, "Oh, this passage is where he struggled, and this one is where the words flowed." In Steinbeck's own words: "And you know of course that many times before I finish this book I shall hate it with a deadly hatred. I shall detest the day when I started it. It will seem the poorest piece of crap that was ever set down." That's a harsh self-judgment, and one that pretty much all writers make about their own work at some point.

I just passed the "I hate it" point of the novella I'm working on for NaNoWriMo. It felt like I was walking through sludge to get the words on paper. But now I'm heading into the homestretch. I'm getting ready to write the climax, which is the scene that inspired this entire novella in the first place. Perhaps that's why I felt like the previous scene was so torturous; all I could think of was this one. In my mind, it's beautiful, and I want to convey that same beauty to the people who read it. As Steinbeck also said, "Writing is a very silly business at best." Here I have this great story in my head, and I have to translate it to words, put them down on paper, and then hope that the people reading it pick up on the image I had in mind when I wrote it.

As I prepare to wrap up the rough draft of this novella, I'm keeping in mind another of Steinbeck's observations as he finished his rough draft: "So, we go into the last week and I may say I am very much frightened. I guess it would be hard to be otherwise--all of these months and years aimed in one direction and suddenly it is over and it seems that the thunder has produced a mouse."

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Stories Behind the Stories

I recently had two short stories come out in the same week, both around Halloween, and both are horror.

"Shadow Man" came out first, in a collection called Soon. Abby Goldsmith put this together and did an illustration for each of the four stories included. Her illustrations are always amazing, so I'm pretty excited to have one to go with this story. I wrote "Shadow Man" because, quite frankly, I'm still afraid of things that go bump in the night, and that dark space beneath the bed, and creatures that could be hiding in the closet.

"Shadow Man" was the first short story I completed after I finished the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2007. I wrote it slowly, trying to incorporate everything I learned at the workshop. I sweated over this story. A lot. While writing it, I also learned about a cool therapeutic intervention in psychology called 'sand play.'

"Gris-Gris for a Mal Pris" was the second story that came out. Featured in Stupefying Stories: TWO, it's my second published story with them. This one was written for a Halloween contest for one of the writing groups I belong to. I was given a prompt that included a multitude of creepy toys. I kept focusing on those dolls that go in the corner and look like little kids who are being punished. I found it strange that, of all the possible poses a person could enjoy in a doll, some people preferred that of discipline.

At the time that I wrote the story, my son was under a year old. Being a new parent, I was scared of a lot of things, but mostly that I'd fail my child in some huge fashion. So I started thinking of all the things that could lead a parent to fail in a big way. I ended up with a story about one small family fighting their demons, both physical and metaphorical.

If you enjoy horror, try out either collection, or both! Just make sure you leave a light on while you read.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Special Guest Post with Author J. Kathleen Cheney


I recently had the pleasure of reading J. Kathleen Cheney's debut novel, The Golden City, which comes out tomorrow! Not only is the cover gorgeous, but so is the story. I had a hard time putting this book down. Please read on to find out more about Cheney and her lovely novel. 

I love your book's setting. Portugal in 1902 is definitely unique! What led you to choose this time and place? Did you come up with the setting first and other details next, or did you come up with a story or characters first, followed by the setting?

The story came first, then the setting.  I actually started out putting this story in Venice, but as I went along, I decided I wanted something different.  After studying the coastlines of Europe, I decided that Portugal's best suited my story's needs…so my place setting changed there. 

As for the time setting, I was looking for a time period that would have submersibles, yet not so advanced as to have 'modern' police procedures.  So that gave me a rough idea, and I finally settled on 1902 because…well, nothing big happened that year to interfere with my story. 

Do you speak any Portuguese, and if so, how fluent are you, and when and where did you learn?

Once I started researching Portugal, I quickly discovered that a lot of the resources I needed had never been translated into English, so I started learning Portuguese.  I needed to study European Portuguese, not Brazilian, which had fewer resources, but I finally found a Pimsleur audio course and an Oxford audio course.  Unfortunately, you don't learn spelling or declension from audio courses, so my Portuguese is pretty rough.  (I still get mais and mas mixed up, for example.)

As far as reading Portuguese goes, I do pretty well.  I'm aided in this by the fact that I'm from the border (El Paso) and have spoken Spanish most of my life and there are a lot of cognates between the two languages.

Speaking Portuguese is a totally different matter.  My background with Spanish actually makes this harder for me because many Portuguese words look like Spanish words and my brain automatically opts for the Spanish pronunciation.  So I lack confidence when speaking Portuguese because I don't want to butcher the language (whereas with Spanish, I'm very comfortable screwing it up.)  All in all, I did fairly well when I was in Portugal last year, but only because the Portuguese are rather tolerant.

The most alarming aspect of this whole process was discovering that I wasn't pronouncing some of my character's names correctly (because I err toward Spanish).  For example, that o on the end of Duilio's name is pronounced oo, as in zoo.  And Oriana's surname?  One of the vowels is subvocalized, so it's more like Par-AYDSH than Par-AY-desh.  (I don't know why, but I only found that out when I visited Portugal and heard that name pronounced there.)  Things like that have continually surprised me.

I like how you combined alternate history, romance, fantasy, and a murder mystery into one novel. How did you come to combine all of these elements into one novel?

I read pretty broadly, and am just as likely to pick up a Mystery or Romance as I am a Fantasy novel.  So I think for me the elements just come together organically--a little bit of this, a little bit of that.  I don't know that I ever intended to write Alternate History, but when I think back, I've actually done quite a bit of Historical Fantasy.  The moment you add magic to a historical setting, it forces a deviation from History and becomes Alternate History.

Oriana is a mermaid unlike any I've encountered before. Where did you draw your inspiration for her and her people?

When I considered my mermaids--particularly when there's the possibility of one having a relationship with a human--I decided to think of them as having been the same species at one time.  Either the humans started off like the mermaids and lost their gills and webbing, or the mermaids started off human and somehow gained the gills.  Either way, I decided to think of the sereia in terms of evolution.  To live in the sea and land they would need both gills and lungs.  Their webbing could serve the same purpose as a seal's vibrissae.  Air bladders would keep them oriented in the water.  Their hands and feet would be large and flat to improve their swimming (think Michael Phelps and his size 14 feet.)

But the scales never worked for me.  The skin is one organ, so I decided that they would have skin, it would simply look like scales.  And rather than green, I thought their coloring should be protective.  The ocean is full of predators--mainly sharks--so you'd want to be able to pass as a big predatory fish, like a tuna.  (Yes, you could look like a dolphin or a sea snake, but since I'd started off with fish characteristics, I stuck with fish.)

Male merfolk have never figured much in traditional stories.  I figured that they had to be there, just not a common as the females, so in my world, the male sereia are sheltered.  As the females are dominant in their world, they'd have a culture quite different than the human nations that surround them.  (This will come into play more in Book 3, but it's part of Oriana's character, so it's important for me to think about it now.)

***

J. Kathleen Cheney is nothing if not versatile in her story telling, but weaving through her work is a common thread, that of the improbable heroine. From worlds set in humanity’s distant post-apocalyptic future to alternate worlds of today or of the near past, Kathleen’s heroines include a siren who with help from a gentleman of the city must stop a regicidal plot, the neglected daughter of an absent king coming to terms with her shapeshifting ancestors, a blind teenager who dreams of others’ deaths and who uses her gift of touch to find their killers, and the widow of a trainer who with a most unusual horse must save her farm and way of life. All use their unusual gifts and talents to overcome obstacles and find their place in the world.

In 2005 Kathleen decided to pursue writing as a full-time endeavor and has since enjoyed seeing her stories published in Shimmer, The Sword Review, and Baen’s Universe. Her novella “Iron Shoes” was a 2011 Nebula nominee. Kathleen twice attended the summer Writer’s Workshop at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction under the tutelage of James Gunn. She lists C. J. Cherryh, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Georgette Heyer among the writers who influenced her most–as well as Ansen Dibell, whose ghostly fingerprints can be seen all over her work.

Born and raised in El Paso, Texas, Kathleen’s parents actually were rocket scientists (they worked at White Sands Missile Range), which made for interesting dinner-time conversations. After graduating with degrees in English and Marketing she worked as a menswear buyer for retail department store chains before changing careers to become a teacher, where she taught mathematics ranging from 7th Grade Arithmetic up to Calculus. Kathleen also served a brief stint as a Gifted and Talented Specialist. She coached the Academic Team and the Robotics Team and was the Chess Club sponsor.
When not writing, Kathleen likes to don a mask and get sweaty fencing, both foil and saber. Quieter hobbies include putting on her Wellingtons and getting her hands dirty in the garden. She also enjoys traveling and taking care of her dogs. Two large, hairy, dogs.


Monday, October 28, 2013

A Few of My Favorite Spooky Things

I'm gearing up for Halloween, and so I'm thinking about scary movies, books, and costumes. I love being scared. As a kid, my mother let me read and watch quite a few things that I'm surprised she allowed (not that I'm complaining, mind you). I read Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and R.L. Stine and Bunnicula.

As a kid, I ate up R.L. Stine, and I loved Bunnicula. Those books offered just the right amount of fear. But I also read Stephen King at a young age. One of my first King books was The Shining. It scared the poop out of me, and I loved every minute of it. Here was this story about a kid (reading it at that age, I focused on Danny's story rather than Jack's) who was stuck on a mountain with a crazy parent and the devil. Talk about a rough childhood! The sequel, Doctor Sleep, is sitting on my Nook, waiting to be read.

There's an animated movie that, on the outside, looks like it should be a little kids' movie, but in reality, it's actually quite terrifying, and that movie is Watership Down. When I was young, my family had what my dad liked to call a 'fishing camp.' It amounted to a mobile home sitting on a narrow piece of land that backed up to a wide arroyo on one side (this arroyo was large enough for barges and their loads to easily travel). On the other side of the road was a wildlife refuge. Quite a few people owned property there, but it still felt like a desolate place. Add to that the fact that we didn't have a phone, and it felt quite isolated.

So one weekend, while my parents are outside grilling or doing yard work, or something along those lines, I stayed inside to watch a cartoon on TV. That cartoon happened to be Watership Down. Now, I had a pet bunny as a kid. I was (and am) partial to bunnies. Not too many minutes into the movie, one of the rabbits has a disturbing vision. There's blood. Lots of it. And the rest of the movie isn't all that light and fluffy. So I sat there, mesmerized and more than a little horrified, watching what my mother thought was a nice cartoon. Scary as that movie was, it didn't deter me from reading the book years later.

Then there were the horror movies of the 80's that shaped my twisted psyche view on movies and facing fear: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Amityville, The Exorcist, The Omen, Friday the 13th. Even horror movies before I was born shaped my life just a wee bit. My mother's name was Rosemary, and so during her visits to the obstetrician when she was pregnant with me, he liked to ask her, "So how's Rosemary's baby?" 

What are some of the books and movies that have sent pleasant chills down your spine?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Writing is a Marathon


NaNoWriMo is fast approaching, which means thousands upon thousands of people are gearing up for a frenzied month of writing, myself included. Last year, I wrote 50K words of short stories (and a novella/novelette). This year, I've just wrapped up novel revisions and am looking to put more short stories out there. I'm also interested in writing a science fiction novella, so about half of my words for the month will be devoted to that.

Me & the kid make a mad dash for it.
Prepping for NaNo also has me thinking about writing in general. When I near the end of a writing project, I tend to go faster. I can almost see those two most wonderful words, THE END, and I'm in a hurry to get there. Most of the time, however, I plod steadily along. I tend to measure my goals in weeks and months, rather than in daily increments, simply because each day varies so much from the one before it that I can't consistently measure progress that way. But sometimes, I get caught up in these pushes, and I think, "I must hurry and finish this story and see it published and move on to the next one and then the next because there's no time, and oh my gosh, I'm running out of time, and there's still so much to write, and...." And on and on my neurotic inner voice runs on the little hamster wheel.

So I think NaNo is a good time to remind myself that this whole writing thing is a marathon and not a sprint. True, it's fun to dash madly sometimes, but mostly you've got to keep plodding on, putting one word down at a time until you've got that entire story on paper. Then, once you've reached the finish line, you do what those marathon runners do and load up on carbs. I've already got my eye on a chocolate donut.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Look at All The Pretty Balloons!

Pretty balloons!
I went to the International Balloon Fiesta this week. I've been several times before, and this year I actually went twice, once at night to watch the Balloon Glow, and then the very next morning I was on the field again to watch the balloons take off. For the Balloon Glow, the balloons inflate and remain tethered to the ground. Then the announcer counts down, and they all fire their burners at once. It's like being surrounded by giant fireflies. It's cold, and people are drinking coffee and hot chocolate and beer to stay warm, and they're walking around wrapped up in blankets. Then, once the balloons have deflated, there's a fireworks show.
It's toasty near the burners.

I've written about the Balloon Fiesta before. I've gone countless times, and it never gets old. I love being on the field, surrounded by colorful balloons, and watching them take off until there are hundreds in the air. Yes, hundreds. They're like huge, rainbow colored dandelions blown into the wind. It makes me feel like a kid every single time.

I had the chance to go up in a balloon years ago. One moment the basket is on the ground, and the next, you're airborne, only you're never really sure when that moment comes. You just suddenly realize that you're drifting up. There's only the hiss of the burners and whatever conversation you have with your fellow passengers and the pilot. During that ride, we drifted over the Rio Grande, and the pilot dropped us down far enough that our basket touched the river. It was a peaceful, elegant way to fly. The only thing is, the landing's a wee bit rough....

Muah!

 It's truly a magical experience. I'm not sure who had the biggest grin this year, myself or my son. I'm sleep deprived from the late night and (painfully) early morning, but it's all worth it, and I can't wait until next year.



Monday, October 7, 2013

Some Questions to Ask Yourself During Revisions

I didn't get around to writing a post last week because (1) I was sick and spent all of my energy thinking about how wonderful antibiotics and chicken noodle soup are, and (2) I was sad that Breaking Bad ended. Aside from taking off a few days to recuperate from the germ invasion in my respiratory system, I've been revising my current novel furiously.

I find it much easier to revise a short story than a novel. There's one main plot line, one major turning point for the main character, and so it's easy to hold it all in my head and get edits done within a week or less. When it comes to a novel, however, I spend quite some time writing it in the first place. Then I set it aside to gain some distance so I can look at it more objectively, and then it takes a chunk of time to go through revisions. With all that time passing (and given the swiss-cheese nature of my memory), I have to be really organized during revisions.

During my first pass-through, my main concern is whether or not each scene is pulling its weight. does it advance the story and contribute to world building or characterization or some other detail? So I have a series of questions for each scene to make sure it belongs and is earning its paycheck.

What does the point of view (POV) character want? The more specific I can answer that question, the stronger the scene will be. So if my answer is that the POV character wants to be rich, that's not such a great answer. But if I can say that the POV character has always dreamed of buying a winning lottery ticket and has a few dollars to spare to head down to the local Gas-n-Grab for Power Ball tickets, than that sounds a little more intriguing.

My next question is, who or what stands in the POV character's way, and what do they want? Don't be afraid to make things super difficult for your POV character. Throw something (or someone) powerful in her way. Maybe a couple of robbers are in the Gas-n-Grab and she finds herself in the middle of a robbery with her hard-earned extra bucks stolen. No lotto ticket tonight.

Then I usually go through a few check points. What is the setting/world building details? What's the time frame? What surprises are there for the reader, and is a surprise necessary for this scene? What is the turn in the POV character's situation? And what is the ending hook that will keep the reader going?

If you find it difficult to answer these questions, then maybe the scene needs some work. Maybe the POV character doesn't have a strong goal, or maybe there isn't anything standing in her way. Maybe the setting needs some beefing up, or maybe the scene ends with a fizzle rather than a bang.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Week of Links

I am in the throes of novel revisions, and so most of my writing brain has been taken up with that. As such, I don't have much left to even come up with a blog post, so here are a few links you might find interesting.

This week is Banned Books Week. I wrote a blog post about it last year. I had just read Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and I loved it. If you haven't read it, then do yourself a favor and add it to the books on your night stand.

Carrie Vaughn, author of a series of books about a werewolf named Kitty, posted her thoughts on writing a series. She's a fan of Lois McMaster Bujold as well, and made numerous references to the Vorkosigan series in her post.

I can't write a post without referencing Breaking Bad. If you're all caught up with the series and anticipating the last show, you might be interested in this review of this past Sunday's episode, "The Granite State."

This article warns of the dangers of pushing yourself too hard in Cross Fit, but what it comes down to is, you've got to listen to your body regardless of what you're training for. We all have that little voice in our heads that sometimes pipes up and says, "Hey, this isn't right," or, "This doesn't feel good at all."

So have a good week, go read a banned book (maybe one in a series), catch up on Breaking Bad, and enjoy that workout.

Monday, September 16, 2013

More (Obsessive) Thoughts on Breaking Bad

With only two episodes left, Breaking Bad is on my brain in a big way. Beginning with the first of the last eight episodes, they have ratcheted up the tension Every. Single. Time. It's at the point where I think I might need to wear diapers next Sunday, and for sure the Sunday after that. Fair warning, spoilerific spoilerage ahead. Turn back now if you don't want to know what's going on in the show!!!

Still here? Fantastic! So... forget what I predicted here. In the last episode, Walter cleared his family of involvement in his meth kingdom. They are out of the picture and out of his life, and he's out of theirs.

He took his barrel of money and left Albuquerque in the last episode, but we know he comes back for the ricin pill. Why would he do such a thing?

I think he decides to rescue Jesse. He also owes Todd and his family big time revenge for killing Hank. Now, Walt can't just waltz into Todd's family's place with a gun and shoot 'em up. He'd never be able to take them all out, and he'd just end up dying before he could execute part two of his plan, rescuing Jesse. No, he's got to drop them all at once. He's going to give them the ricin.

So what happens after he frees Jesse? Jesse knows, now, how Walt let Jane die. I think Walt is ultimately going to commit suicide-by-Jesse in freeing his partner.

Only two more episodes, and this wild ride will be over. Who do you think the ricin pill is for? How do you think it will all end?

And just in case you've missed it, here's Jimmy Fallon's parody of Breaking Bad:


Monday, September 9, 2013

World Con 2013 Report

I could get used to being Queen
I went to two cons in as many weeks over the past month, which felt an awful lot like I was being a greedy goose. I spent several days at Lone Star Con in San Antonio, the site of this year's World Science Fiction convention. I met up with old friends as well as making new friends and meeting people I had only known via the Internet. I went to panels, a reading, I ate, I workshopped some stories, I partied, and I gave a podcast interview for the first time ever. My introverted self did well, holding on for the post-con trip to the beach where I unwound from the con's frantic days and nights.



Reproductive technology panel
The first panel I attended was on reproductive technology, medical ethics, and the law. That's a topic that could entail an entire convention, so fitting pertinent information into an hour felt much like trying to cram all the books and legos I bought (that's right, legos... for my son, of course, and not for me) into the suitcase at the end of the convention. Lois McMaster Bujold brought up several good points. With every new technological advance, new questions are raised. Every little advance means one more decision for the primary caregiver(s) to make. What it comes down to (for Bujold) is, how do we choose for someone who cannot choose for themselves?

I also went to a panel on the future of small presses. Since I'm published through a small press, I thought it would be in my best interest to hear what others had to say. Much of it was along the lines of my own thoughts, and it seemed that all the panelists thought small presses would be around for the long haul, for a variety of reasons.

On a whim, I went to a panel on making shadow puppets, given by professional puppeteer Mary Robinette Kowal. She gave a darling performance and then instructed us on making our own shadow puppets. By the end of the hour, I felt like a little kid again, and I was glad I stopped in and had the chance to play.

I went to a reading given by Vylar Kaftan. She read two of her short stories, one of which just came out in the Glitter and Mayhem anthology. The stories rocked, and I found myself thinking, "I wish I could write like that."

I also gave an interview, which will appear on the SF Signal Podcast. I'll be sure to let you all know when it airs so you can hear how scratchy my voice had become by that point.

South Padre Island, perfect for unwinding
Perhaps the awesomest thing about the con, however, was hanging out with other writers. I get such a buzz when I'm around all those creative people. I come away feeling like I want to do all the things, like, right now. I'm glad I had time to get away for a couple of days before coming back home so I could simply breathe and remind myself that I don't have to do it all at this very moment.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Generation One: Children of Mars

My writing buddy Steven R. Stewart, along with a talented group of folks, is putting together a comic book about the first generation of children born on Mars. I have to admit, tears formed in my eyes when I watched the trailer. This looks like an awesome, super cool project. They have only four days to go to reach their stretch goal for funding. But allow me to have Steven describe it in his own words....

As I write this, I’m sitting by a window that overlooks my grassy lawn—a carpet of organic solar panels that turn sunlight into sugar—and the busy residential street beyond. A steady flow of traffic­—human beings in wheeled metal boxes—comes and goes a little too fast for my liking. I have kids, and they play in this lawn, near this busy street. I love my little girls; I don’t want them to break, to go out like a candle, to stop being.


It is night, the moon is out, and I think to myself how crazy all this is. That’s a real place, that ball of white up there in the sky, a place I could plant my feet, draw in the dust with the toe of my boot. It’s not hypothetical. It’s not an idea. It’s really there.

Near the moon, a faint pink dot hangs in the starry sky. It’s a real place too, a red planet, our next door neighbor. It’s so small, so easy to miss, and we could go there.

One day, if we can muster the courage, we will go there. We will live there. As NASA director Mike Griffin said, “One day…there will be more humans living off Earth than on it.” I agree, and I think that’s the way it should be. Earth is just a dot, “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam,” all too easy for some cosmic cataclysm to swat out of the sky. If we want to continue surviving in this absurd, beautiful universe, we have to strap on our pioneer hats and get to work.

So here I am, a 29 year-old fiction writer with two kids and a wife, and zero background in science, mathematics or engineering. How can I help bring this bold future into being? How can I pitch in, or at the very least, cheer on the men and women who can? How can I cheer my loudest?

Generation One: Children of Mars is my attempt to do just that—to create a smart, accessible piece of entertainment that will hopefully encourage young people to look up at that pink dot in the sky and think big about humanity’s future in space. It’s a comic book about kids growing up on Mars and discovering what that means, and what it costs. You can learn more by watching our project video here.

My team and I launched the Kickstarter on August 6th, and so far, the public response has been overwhelming. People are hungry for this kind of story, far hungrier than I had realized. They want the same bold future I want, and that gives me hope. Because once we believe it’s possible, it will be.

We’ve been lucky enough to secure the endorsement of Dr. Robert Zubrin, author of “The Case for Mars” and President of The Mars Society. He had this to say about the project:

“Someday Mars will have its own Laura Ingalls Wilder to tell the tale of growing up on the new frontier. But with ‘Generation One: Children of Mars,’ we can experience some of that story now. It’s going to be great.”

There’s only a handful of days left in the Kickstarter. Join us. Come alongside us as we tell this story; be a part of our journey. It’s the same journey humanity has been on since the beginning: a quest to spread out and survive, to understand and grow, to become more than what we are.

Let’s add to the discussion—and have some fun in the process. We’re human after all.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Bubonicon 2013

It seems like Bubonicon just happened a few weeks ago, and yet here it is again, already. Each year I meet a few more people, the art work and costumes exceed the previous year, and I have a little more fun each time.

I attended some great panels. The first promised a cage fight between fantasy and science fiction. Alas, there were no fists flying or blood shed, but there was a lively discussion on the definitions of fantasy and science fiction. One of the panelists said the difference between the two mostly lies in marketing. Roughly, if a publisher puts dragons and swords on the cover, it's fantasy; if the cover has spaceships, it's science fiction.

Joel Shepherd brought up an interesting idea, namely, that his prose is more lyrical and abstract when he writes fantasy, and it's more specific when he writes science fiction. He went on to say that fantasy is 'a made up past,' and science fiction is 'a made up future.'

Diana Gabaldon
I then attended a talk given by Diana Gabaldon on how (and how not) to write sex scenes. As you might suspect, there was quite a bit of laughter throughout the hour, not only because of the subject, but because Gabaldon is an entertaining speaker. And by the way, hearing her read Jaime's dialogue is worth more than gold. Also, hearing her read the myriad names for a man's private parts is highly entertaining.

She began with a summary of the things needed to write good sex scenes ("This is for those in a hurry.") Sex scenes are about emotion, and lust does not count as an emotion. A good sex scene is a dialogue scene with physical cues/specific body language. For Gabaldon, dialogue is the most flexible and powerful tool a writer can use. She also spoke about "the rule of three." If you use at least three of the five sense, it makes a scene feel three dimensional.

Death & La Llorona
There was also a panel on serial killers and assassins in fiction, which reminded me of an article I read a while back on a neuroscientist who discovered his family had a history of murder. One of his ancestors was Lizzy Borden. Yes, that Lizzie Borden. You know, she took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks.... Anyhow, after reading that, I wondered how many of us walked around like little ticking time bombs, socially functioning only because we had decent childhoods. How much is nature, and how much is nurture? Which is stronger and overrides the other?

As always, Bubonicon left me with a sore belly from laughing, it left me more knowledgable than before, and it left me highly satisfied. The first year I went, there were six hundred and some attendees. This year, the woman checking me in at registration said there were nearing a thousand. This little con is growing fast, and they do a great job of running it. I can hardly wait until next year!



Monday, August 19, 2013

What I Discovered About Outlining

I've been toying around with outlining recently, trying to find what works best for me. A couple of weeks ago, I finished the rough draft of a fantasy novel, which came in woefully short in the word count department by the time I reached THE END. But if I could count all the words I tossed out while trying to find the right beginning, it would have been the perfect word count.

Know what I discovered while outlining? It just doesn't work that well for me. There, I said it. I've tried it because it's supposed to be good for you (like broccoli), but in the end, I'm just not that crazy about outlining (or broccoli, but I drown in it cheese and eat it anyway). My first draft is my outline. It's an exceptionally long and detailed outline, but still an outline nonetheless.

While writing this particular novel, I finally put aside the outlines after about three failed attempts at the beginning, jotted down the major plot points, and then simply started writing. At last I could write past 15K or 30K words and keep going, carried by the initial excitement that had me wanting to write this particular novel in the first place.

I think outlines work. I think some people thrive on them. But for me, I discovered I need to jot down a few key ideas and plot points, research, maybe do some Q & A to discover what makes the character tick (if it's somebody new), and then go for it. Then let it rest. Give myself some space so I can look at it objectively. I did that by writing a new short story and critiquing. I critiqued three pieces for World Con and two for one of my local writers' groups. It's definitely gotten me in 'editor mode' and ready to look at the rough draft with fresh eyes.

I plan to start revisions some time this week. I already have ideas for expanding a couple of the subplots. I know I'll be writing new scenes and adding huge chunks to the novel now that I know where it was all going.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Breaking Bad is Back

Ahh, Walter White is back! Just a warning, massive spoilers ahead, so if you haven't watched the show (and if you haven't, then get to it!), turn back now. I'm going to go out on a limb and make some predictions. We'll see if I'm any good at this, or if I'll end up with pie all over my face (as long as it's key lime pie, that's all right).

I loved the opening of the last eight episodes. Walter is fighting cancer again. Of course he is. What could be more appropriate than the cancer returning, worse than ever? Walter has a limited amount of time regardless of how you look at it. He's being backed into a corner, and like any wild animal, he's going to eventually lash out at somebody, and I think that first somebody is going to be Jesse.

Jesse has become a liability. He wants nothing to do with the money he earned making and selling meth. His conscience is eating away at him overtime, rather like the cancer eating away at Walt. It's in overdrive because, let's face it, Walt has no conscience left whatsoever, and Jesse is making up for it. There's the slimmest chance that Jesse can be free from Walt, and that's if he either (a) rats out himself and Walt, or (b) uses that money to buy himself a new identity on the other side of the globe. I think he's more likely to do (a), but only if he can drag himself out of the funk he's currently in. Walt has had to make some tough decisions when it comes to killing, and I think Jesse will be one of the hardest.

That car wash has been part of the show from the beginning (sorry for the glare... the photos on the wall are part of a small Breaking Bad gallery in the local car wash that served as the location). First, Walt worked there to supplement his teacher's income. Then he bought it to launder money. Now Skylar is part of it, and he's suggested she expand. I think she'll end up working with Lydia, using the car wash as a means to transport goods for cooking meth or the meth itself (in addition to laundering money). I used to think Walt Jr. might end up dead or part of the 'family business,' but I think he'll actually end up finishing college, with a major in chemistry.

At this point, I'm rooting hardest for Hank (and Jesse). I thought the first episode would be all about the set up, and Hank wouldn't confront Walt until the end, so I was surprised when they duked it out in the very first episode. Dean Norris's acting is superb. The shock, the hate, the anger, and the feeling of betrayal just oozed from every pore. And at the end, there was a little bit of fear coming through as well. Hank has narrowly avoided death several times now, and I'm hoping he avoids it again. I'm really not certain what will happen to him, other than I'm pretty sure he won't 'break bad' like Walt did.

Then there's the ricin pill that Walt removes from his boarded up house. I wondered if he'd use it on Hank, but he wouldn't. If he killed Hank, it would be quick and brutal and secluded (so he can get rid of the body). Hank might be his brother-in-law, but Hank has also always been the enemy. The ricin could be for himself, but he was growing his hair back in the opening scene. So maybe he's beaten the cancer after all. I've thought for a while that Walt will end up destitute and alone at the end, alive and suffering. I don't think Walt would kill himself, at least not with ricin. He'd do it with a huge bang. I think the ricin is for Jesse. I think he can't bear to look Jesse (his conscience) in the face as he kill him.

And there you have it. Tonight's episode already surprised me, so I'll probably end up wrong on all accounts, but it sure is fun guessing.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Setting Goals

I've been thinking about goals quite a bit lately, more specifically, writing down my goals for my writing career. At the beginning of this year I wrote down ten writing goals for myself. Some were small and seemed easily attainable. Finish that short story and submit it? Sure, no problem. Others seemed more daunting. Write that novel rough draft? Eep! But I pulled out the list recently, and you know what? I've achieved all but two. And it's only August! True, one of those goals is actually a four parter that I should break down, but still... I've gotten stuff done!

I recently read Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt. The book is chock full of great advice for building an online presence and marketing. One of the things that stood out was something he mentioned about Lou Holtz. Now, I'm not the biggest Lou Holtz fan. In fact, every time he comes on TV during football season, I roll my eyes. I'm afraid if I ever meet the guy, I'll roll my eyes as I shake his hand because it's a habit.

Anyhow, Holtz made a list of goals for himself back in the late 60's after he was fired from his job. He wrote down 107 items, some of them as far fetched as appearing on The Tonight Show or being invited for dinner at the White House. Guess what? He did both of those things, as well as scratching off nearly a hundred of those goals.

There's something about picking up a pen and writing down one's goals that make them more real, more concrete. You've stopped dreaming and you've committed your dreams to paper. You've implanted them more firmly in your mind.

So I decided to borrow from some writing friends (and Lou Holtz) and come up with a huge master list of goals to achieve over a lifetime. I included some I'd already accomplished, like publishing my first book, and highlighted those. You know what? There are pitifully few items highlighted. But I like to look at the goals from time to time to remind myself of the direction I'd like to go, and I like to imagine that I'll start checking things off more frequently.

So if you haven't written down your writing goals, or your career goals, or your life goals, then go do it right now, and put that list some place where you'll see it often.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Special Guest Post with Michelle Lowery Combs

I am very pleased to have a guest blogger today! I'd like to welcome Michelle Lowery Combs. Michelle's novel Heir to the Lamp is available in trade paperback and ebook via Amazon.comBarnesandnoble.comKobo.com, and other online retailers. You can also find Heir to the Lamp on Goodreads.

What are you working on right now?


The second installment in the Genie Chronicles is called Solomon’s Bell, and I’m working hard to finish that.  I’m getting requests daily from readers of Heir to the Lamp for more about Ginn and her adventures.

What's your pre-writing ritual?

When I’m writing at home I prefer to do so in a room that’s been tidied—clutter distracts me and before I know it I’m cleaning instead of getting words onto the page.

What is one of the most surprising/interesting things you've discovered while doing research for a story?

I was truly amazed to discover how many fantasy/folklore/fairytale creatures can trace their origins to genies, or djinnis—as they’re called in some of the oldest traditions.  Angels, demons, ghouls, sprites, faeries, and even leprechauns are thought by some to be genies under a different name.

Tell me about your favorite story that you've published. What inspired it, and what does it mean to you?

In 2012 I won first place in a national writing contest for the category of First Chapter in a Novel for a coming-of-age story set in 1960’s Alabama called Daddy’s Girl.  The story was inspired by my mother and her siblings’ real life experiences after the sudden death of their father the summer of 1968.

The loss of my grandfather was very difficult for my 28 year-old grandmother, suddenly on her own with three young children to support and all the limitations that existed for uneducated women in the South, but she would be shepherded through this most difficult time in all their lives by an African American housekeeper named Queen Esther Crump that did ever-so-much-more than keep house.

Daddy’s Girl is a fictionalized account of a pivotal time in the lives of several members of my family and revisits an interesting time in the history of Alabama: the last year of the Civil Rights Movement.  It can be found in the 2012 edition of Alalit.com.

You can have lunch with any writer, living or dead. Who would it be, and why?

My editor, Eileen Wiedbrauk. Eileen is also a writer -- I enjoyed her retelling of Rumpelstiltskin in Garbage to Gold Spindle very much. Living so far from one another, she in Michigan and I in Alabama, we've never had the opportunity to meet in person. I think it would be neat to sit across a table from her and listen to her talk about her own writing projects. I bet she's got some fantastic ideas and concepts!

What's one of the best novels and/or short stories you've read recently?

I’m currently reading Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane and LOVING it!  It’s steeped in myth and old magic and I adore Gaiman’s style.  I’ve listened to so many of his audio books that I can practically hear him reading the novel in his delicious accent.

Writing is a sedentary endeavor. What do you do to stay healthy and active?

I coach little league soccer in the spring and fall. I live in a rural area with lots of winding roads I enjoy walking. Fellow WWP writer Susan Abel Sullivan happens to be local to me and a water Zumba fitness instructor. I've recently promised to join her classes.

***


Michelle Lowery Combs is an award-winning writer and book blogger living in rural Alabama with her husband, one cat, and too many children to count. She spends her spare time commanding armies of basketball and soccer munchkins for the Parks & Recreation departments of two cities. When not in the presence of throngs of toddlers, tweens and teens, Michelle can be found neglecting her roots and dreaming up the next best seller. She is a member of the Alabama Writers’ Conclave, Jacksonville State University’s Writers’ Club and her local Aspiring Authors group. You can find her online at MichelleLoweryCombs.comFacebook, Twitter @miclowery77Google+, and on her blog Through the Wormhole: Confessions of a Bookworm.






Monday, July 22, 2013

A Rose By Any Other Name

J.K. Rowling was recently ousted as the author behind a crime novel, The Cuckoo's Calling. According to the article I linked, the book had sold about 1,500 copies before the news broke. Now it's sold a heck of a lot more. So why would Rowling--or anybody--use a pen name?

I can't speak for Rowling, but I can guess at why she used a pen name. Maybe she thought people would say, "Oh, she's that fantasy writer, she can't write a crime novel. She writes for kids, not adults." Or maybe she wanted to see how her new novel would stand on its own. The novel received favorable reviews from critics before her identity went public. That has to feel good. Her work was judged for its own merit, without the preconceptions her name would have brought with it.

I haven't used a pen name yet. I was too excited to see my name on the cover of a novel, and associated with short stories. But, I plan on using a pen name for various reasons, depending on the books/stories I release in the future.

For one thing, I might not want people who know me to realize what I've published. I don't feel any shame about writing what I write, but some people might look upon certain genres much less favorably than others, and I'd rather avoid any potential fallout.

Then there's a matter of marketing. People might read my fantasy novel and pick up another series, expecting fantasy, only to find it's horror or science fiction or a thriller or a romance. I don't want fans to feel disappointed or duped.

There's also the matter that when readers look at certain genres, they expect certain types of names associated with them. For example, I've never seen a man's name on a romance novel, despite the fact that many romance writers are men. They either write under pen names, or they use initials. I'd love to see a man's name boldly splashed across the front cover of a bodice ripper.

On the other side of the matter, I don't see women's names on the covers of thrillers or hard science fiction as often as I'd like. Again, women write in these genres, but they choose pen names. I wonder, is it the audience that really has these preconceived ideas of who "can" or "should" write certain genres, or does the expectation lie with the marketing departments, or is it some combination of both?

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Need for Speed

I've been privy to some interesting conversations lately on writing fast versus writing slow. I don't think either way is inherently correct, but I'll share some of my experiences.

In the past year, it's gotten so that I need to write fast in order to write well. Last summer I started several short stories and finished none. I was fiddling around, taking my time, and my inner editor was sneering and laughing and pointing at the words and saying, "You call this art? What drivel!" Yeah, he's a real jerk sometimes. That's why I don't feel bad when I lock him in the dungeon for days at a time and play "It's a Small World" on endless loop.

So for NaNoWriMo last year, I ended up writing several short stories. I had a month to get fifty thousand words down, so I had no time to hem and haw over the words. Every day I just had to go, go, go. And it worked. I finished several stories and shut that inner editor up.

If I write too slow--if I think over the words and the story's direction too much--then I freeze up. The faster I go, the fewer changes I typically end up making later, and I finish what I started. This has become true for fiction and non-fiction. Even when it comes to this blog, I do better when I sit down and write something out quickly at the last minute. I never used to be a procrastinator, really....

There are as many different ways to write as there are writers. Some feel the need for speed; others linger over the words, choosing them carefully before moving on. What sort are you?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

One Man's Trash...

...is another man's band.

During the summer, the Albuquerque Public Library runs a great program in which kids have the chance to watch a one-woman play, a magician, or a guy who calls himself Recycle Man, all of which is tied into their reading program.

Recycle Man is a guy who uses other people's trash to make musical instruments. I find it amazing that someone can take old pipes, empty plastic bottles and boxes, springs from a trampoline, hubcaps, and cans and create a song out of it all. I had an awesome video of Recycle Man playing "Low Rider," but Blogger is having issues. Anyhow, here's a robot he made out of cans:


I think about the level of creativity it takes to put something like that together and then use it to make music, and it boggles the mind. How many people can do something like that? This might sound cheesy, but it takes being in tune with your inner child. My kid (in the photo, by the way), might use a box or a pencil or a rubber band in totally unexpected ways. I would have never imagined using an ordinary tool for something extraordinary. It's a reminder that creativity stems from somewhere childlike, which is probably why it makes people so happy to paint or sew costumes or make music or dance or do any of a number of creative things, because it sends you right back to being a kid.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Fictional Fathers

Father's Day just passed, and so I've been contemplating some of my favorite fictional dads. As with fictional mothers, there are plenty of bad ones that come to mind. Hello, Darth. But I'd like to talk about a few of my favorite, nice fictional fathers.

1) At the top of the list is Atticus Finch from Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. This is one of my favorite novels of all time, and I adore Atticus. He is an easy-going lawyer with a rambunctious daughter. He stands up for what's right, even in the face of adversity. He is quietly righteous, and a good man.


"You never really understand a person until you consider things form his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." -- Atticus Finch

2) I adore Charles Ingalls of Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. "Pa" Ingalls is a hard working man, devoted to his family, honest, and a lover of music. He faces the hardships of living in the frontier with strength and gentleness. You get the impression that his children feel safe with him around.


3) And finally, Dr. Alex Murry is a physicist as well as a father. I love the family dynamics in A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, and Dr. Alex Murry is one of the reasons why. I can't begin to imagine his terror when he realizes his children have come to free him from IT. He's an intelligent man, and part of the glue that holds his family together.

And there you have some of my favorite fictional dads.

Monday, June 10, 2013

This -n- That

This week I find myself working steadily, nose to the grindstone, and so I haven't come up with a decent post for the week. Such is life when you have a job, a young child, writing, and super awesome stories to read so you can vote for the Hugo Awards. Instead, I'd like to share a few links with you.

I have a guest post over on The Howling Turtle in which I reveal the sources of the stories that can be found in my short story collection The King of Ash and Bones, and Other Stories.

Here's an article by Django Wexler on the history of female warriors. This is a meaty article on the reality of women in combat.

Writing a police procedural? Here are 7 things your protagonist should not do.

And finally, if you're a writer and feeling a little down in the dumps about your writing, here's an inspirational post from Jodi Meadows to help pick you up.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Fictional Couples

This week my husband and I will be celebrating our twelfth wedding anniversary, so to celebrate on the blog, I thought I'd share some of my favorite fictional couples.
  • Buttercup and Westley from The Princess Bride by William Goldman.



And a lovely quote from the book: “But just as he knew the sun was obliged to rise each morning in the east, no matter how much a western arisal might have pleased it, so he knew that Buttercup was obliged to spend her love on him. Gold was inviting, and so was royalty, but they could not match the fever in his heart, and sooner or later she would have to catch it. She had less choice than the sun.” 

The book has some great lines. Many made it into the movie, but not all.
  • Fawn and Dag from The Sharing Knife series by Lois McMaster Bujold.
  • Buffy and Angel from the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Willow and Tara, also from Buffy
  • Castle and Beckett on the TV series Castle
  • Joan Wilder and Jack T. Colton from the movie Romancing the Stone
  • Dr. Prentice and Christina Drayton in the movie Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
  • Princess Leia and Han Solo in Star Wars
Who are your favorite fictional couples?