Monday, May 27, 2013

Some Classic Military SF for Your Memorial Day

It's Memorial Day, and that puts me in mind of many things, including military sf, and how different authors have such wildly different views on war. I realize that Starship Troopers is a classic, but (confession time here), I've tried reading Heinlein, and I just can't get into his stuff. I've seen the movie, which I'm sure is only somewhat like the book, and so I offer no opinion on the theme of war in that particular story.

I have, however, read The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman, who, incidentally, served in the military during the Vietnam War. I found this book to be a criticism of the Vietnam War, the poor reception the troops received when they returned home, and how difficult it can be for a soldier to assimilate to non-military society once their service is over.

Orson Scott Card's novel Ender's Game is finally coming out as a movie later this year. I've read this one twice, and enjoyed it. If you haven't read it, do so before the movie comes out, just in case the movie screws up the ending. In this novel, the enemy is completely and utterly alien, which I read as a metaphor for how people often view the enemy. They look different. They have strange customs. They're non-human, other. These are the sort of messages people often encourage in order to make it easier to kill the enemy. This novel is more of a commentary on the lens through which we view the enemy.

Most recently I read Old Man's War by John Scalzi. As the title suggests, the elderly are sent to a faraway front line in order to fight the enemy. Soldiers are often seen as expendable, and so are the elderly. I found it an interesting line to draw between the two groups, and the premise certainly held my attention. My only quibble with this novel was that I never felt all that drawn to the main character. He often came across as cold and aloof, even though I know he wasn't, and so I don't plan to read the rest in this series.

Military sf shows the effects of war through the lens of something new and different. It's a subgenre worth reading.

Monday, May 20, 2013

And the Good News Keeps Coming

Quite a few exciting things have been happening in Writer Land. This past week I made a guest appearance on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) blog to talk about ergonomics. Not only have I worked with plenty of people with issues related to working at a desk, but I've also had some problems myself, and it really blows when you can't type because it hurts too much. So sit up a little straighter, and go read the article!

Tomorrow, the print edition of Shards of History becomes available. Quick, run out and get your copy! Here I am, holding the ARC:

I even stopped biting my nails so they would look nice when I took this picture. YES, I am that vain. We'll see how long the nails last. I picked up the habit again a few years ago when we closed on our house. I was a nervous wreck.

My first short story collection will be available electronically on June 4th. The cover reveal will be soon. And the day after that, my short story "Good Deeds in a Weary World" will be available in issue 6 of Plasma Frequency. It's a story about a young man who comes back from Spring Break as a zombie. Having grown up near a popular Spring Break destination, I can assure you that it isn't as much of a stretch as you might imagine. And by the way, my story inspired the cover art for that issue.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Fictional Moms

A post on Christine Amsden's blog got me thinking about fictional mothers (as did Mother's Day) and which ones I enjoy, or at least could relate to.

The first that came to mind was Captain Cordelia Naismith of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan universe. Yes, I mention these books a lot, but I love them. If you read the first two books in the series, which are bundled together in Cordelia's Honor, then you get to witness her transformation from captain of a starship to mother. It's difficult to describe without providing oodles of spoilers, but trust me when I tell you that you don't want to mess with this woman. Anyhow, she's intelligent, brave, and diplomatic in her own special way. While the reader doesn't get to witness her in mothering action with a young Miles (the series, from his point of view, begins when he is 17 years old), the reader does get to see the repercussions of his having a mother from a different planet, and one who was a ship's captain in a time and society where most women lived according to more conservative standards.

I also want to mention Claire Beauchamp Randall, a character in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. I gave up on the series after four books, incidentally, because (1) too many coincidences began to happen, and (2) I started to dislike the characters for a variety of reasons. Spoiler alert! If you plan to read the series and you don't want to know a thing that happens, then skip to the next paragraph. So, Claire is a complex character to begin with, and motherhood definitely adds another layer to that. She ends up married to a man she used to love (but doesn't any longer) while pregnant with another man's child. While her daughter is an infant, Claire attends medical school. Claire is stretched thin, thin, thin. She struggles with her marriage, motherhood, and school, all while dreaming of the man she truly loves. And eventually, she leaves her adult daughter to return to her true love.

I enjoy reading about motherhood when it's done right. I enjoy saying, "Yes, that's how it is!" I don't like reading about women who are perfect or who simply exist to rub their hands gleefully as they plot evil things. I like messy, complex women who have to deal with colicky babies or temper tantrums while they're trying to accomplish whatever it is they want, or while trying to hold together their relationships or achieve things at work, because that's how life is, and anyone who finds things coming too easily to them just makes me want to roll my eyes.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Four Ways to Outline a Novel

If you're a writer, the word "outline" might bring to mind all sorts of images, some positive, others not so much. For me, it often takes me back to high school English class, carefully making bullet points using capital letters, number, little letters, etc, and then trying to figure out where to plug things. It's awful. The word makes me shudder. I despise those outlines. I don't use them when planning a novel or a short story. That sort of outline zaps all the creativity right out of me (as well as zapping all my joy and sending me spiraling back to high school). No, thank you.

I prefer to think of the planning process as just that... planning. Brainstorming. Sorting out major points before I get down to the nitty gritty. Ah, that's much better. I'm feeling calmer already. Maybe you're like me, and the idea of doing an outline makes you want to run screaming. But still, you're tempted to try it. Maybe you rewrote that last novel five times and you're sure there's a better, lazier more efficient way. Well, there are ways to outline and still have some fun and spontaneity.

Mind mapping might appeal to those of you who are the most averse to the idea of rigid outlines. I like using it at the very beginning of a project when I just want to get down any idea that springs to mind. You can use different colors for different ideas or characters. I like to get one of those huge drawing pads at the arts and crafts store and settle down with my markers and just fill the paper with ideas. Also, the finished project is art in and of itself. Some mind maps look like dendrites to me.

If you have an idea of who your characters are, but you have no idea what's going to happen to them, you can sit down with a series of questions and sketch out a novel outline in an hour. You spend up to five minutes on each question and end up with your character's goal, what's at stake, potential sources of conflict, and a character arc. Not bad for an hour's work. I like to type this one up as I type way faster than I can write by hand. I end up jotting down any and every idea that comes to mind, then going back over the questions and adding details later or throwing out what doesn't resonate with me.

If you're looking for a more traditional method of outlining, the three act structure might appeal to you. Now, plenty of people have described the three act structure, but none, to my knowledge, have ever compared it to spanx, at least until recently. This is actually a great, simple description of three act structure, and the post also includes a few cute pictures in case you're more of a visual learner. I'm not the biggest fan of the three act structure, but somehow my stories end up fitting the mold if I don't plan for a different structure ahead of time.

Yet another method of outlining is the seven point structure. I first heard of this when I watched this video, the first in a series of lectures given by Dan Wells. You can also find out more by googling "seven point story structure," but I really enjoyed the lecture and took notes as I watched it. However, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for planning a novel ahead of time. Instead, I think it works better when you're getting ready to edit and you want to make sure the story you've already written hangs together well. But, it's still good to have in the back of your mind as you're planning and writing.

And now, if you'll excuse me, it's time to pull out some blank paper and my markers.