Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Storytelling Animal

We authors might like to think our drive to tell stories makes us special. However, humans have been obsessed with telling stories for thousands of years, and this characteristic has shaped our evolution. Jonathan Gottshall discusses this topic in his book The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human.

 Make-believe is an essential part of a young child's development. It's a way of practicing social and problem-solving skills. However, we continue making up stories our entire lives, and they're not always wish-fulfillment fantasies. Our nighttime dreams are more often nightmares instead of pleasant vacations. Stories can bring groups together and establish social norms. On an individual level, our memories aren't exact, but fictional recreations. Even our self-images are fictional versions of ourselves where we're always better than average and the hero of our own stories. People suffering from depression have more realistic images of themselves, but in this book, that's a sign of how important storytelling is to our mental health.

Storytelling has taking many forms during human history. We no longer depend on oral storytelling for our fix. We consume stories through books, video, and games. Even if reading fiction becomes a lost art, we will find ways to tell new stories.

In my Season Avatars series, there's a Goddess who calls Herself the Grandmother of Stories. Although She originated in a quasi-Polynesian culture, She is aware of events happening in other parts of the world. She uses her understanding of human and divine nature to protect Her chosen people and uses storytellers as Her Avatars. Even deities from other cultures respect Her.

Do your own stories reflect the power of human storytelling? If so, how? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

IWSG: A Coffeehouse of One's Own

If September hath thirty days, then save the first Wednesday for the Insecure Writer's Support Group. Check out their website or Facebook page for more information.

Thanks to Gwen Gardner, Doreen McGettigan, Tyrean Martison, Chemist Ken, and Cathrina Constantine for co-hosting this month. The question we're supposed to discuss is If you could pick one place in the world to sit and write your next story, where would it be and why?

Since I'm focused on my current project (working title is Dryad in Doubt, the second book in an urban fantasy trilogy, about 27,500 words long as I write this post), I'm going to use this story for my answer. The heroine of this series is a dryad who lives at the top of Bascom Hill on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus (see picture below for Victoria's tree):

My first thought was to write either on the steps of Bascom Hall (the building in the picture) for inspiration or to write in Memorial Union on campus to be on location. The first floor of the union can be noisy, however, and the steps would be uncomfortable. So I'm going to go with  my favorite coffee house in Madison: Michelangelo's Coffee House.  Although the address is on State Street, they have a back room and back entrance very close to the Concourse Hotel, where WisCon is held. (Yes, I miss not having gone the last couple of years. Maybe next year or 2021.) I've attended readings at Michelangelo's. They not only carry a good selection of tea but also have good vegetarian meals and desserts. I could find a quiet corner to write in and keep myself fortified during the process. When I need a break, I can wander around Madison and scout out scene locations. A shame I don't live in Madison. Anyone want to contribute to a GoFundMe so I can live in Madison until I finish this series? That might make school drop-off and pickup a little inconvenient, so I guess I'll have to write at home and at work (on my lunch hour) instead.

Where do you like to write? Do you have an ideal writing location? Feel free to share it in the comments.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Saving Story Ideas

While I was cleaning my office last week, I came upon a trove of sticky notes full of story ideas, haiku, and other odd thoughts. Many of them I'd forgotten about. Some of these notes are for current series, while others are for story ideas that I haven't done anything with. I've been trying to declutter, so instead of keeping them, I transcribed them into a Word document. I have a bunch more to finish. I suppose there are plenty of apps people can use instead for capturing thoughts on the go. Perhaps when I upgrade my phone to one with more memory, I might be able to use of of them. In the meantime, here's an old haiku on one of those sticky notes that fits the topic:

So many boxes.
Things I used enough to save
Now they’re forgotten.

How do you organize your story notes? Do you keep them on paper or in electronic form? Feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

What Makes a Story Memorable?

I subscribe to one of Book Riot's newsletters. A couple of weeks ago, they linked to an essay discussing "lifeboat thinking," stories that are thought experiments about who is worthy of survival in a given situation. One classic science fiction short story that illustrates this type of thinking is "The Cold Equations" by Tom Godwin. If you've never read it (I just read it after this discussion) you can find it here. This essay does a good job of analyzing it. Although the essay has over two hundred comments, it's worth going through them as well. Spoilers will be posted in the next paragraph, so if you haven't read the story yet, I recommend doing so now and reading the essay and comments later.

OK, if you're still with me, "The Cold Equations" is a story about a spaceship pilot who finds a stowaway on his ship. The pilot is on a desperate mission to deliver medicine to a group of explorers, but his ship doesn't have enough fuel to land safely with the weight of an extra passenger. Corporate rules are that stowaways are to be shot immediately and tossed out the airlock; since the passenger is a teenage girl named Marilyn who just wanted to see her brother, she's given an extra hour of life before the cold equations of the title force her to sacrifice herself.

Editor John W. Campbell really wanted the tragic ending; he made Godwin rewrite the story multiple times because the author kept finding a way to save the girl. Despite the rewrites, the story has received a lot of critique since it was published in 1954. Other than a sign, there are no security measures in place to prevent a stowaway from coming onboard. (I work in Quality Assurance, where we deal with corrective and preventative measures to ensure food safety. One would expect starship designers to use similar practices.) You'll see several security measures suggested in the comments sections of the second essay I mentioned earlier. Despite all the editing, there are still some internal inconsistencies within the story. At the beginning of the story, Marilyn thinks all she has to do is pay a fine to make up for stowing away, implying that she's rich. By the end of the story, we learn her family doesn't have much money. There's also another point that I haven't seen anyone discuss yet. If the pilot only has enough fuel for a one-way trip, then he's forced to remain with the group of explorers he's helping until the end of their mission. What if they run out of supplies? Will the pilot be killed due to other cold equations?

Despite the problems with "The Cold Equations," the story has been adapted and anthologized many times since its original publication. What makes it so memorable? Commenters suggest that the tragic ending makes the story memorable, particularly since when "The Cold Equations" was published, science fiction stories were about solving problems with science. For me, the worldbuilding flaws are frustrating, and I want to see better security measures put in place. Character gender may also be a factor. Stowaways in this setting are normally male criminals, not naive young women. The death of a young woman may anger some readers and secretly satisfy others. Many factors make this story memorable, and they may vary from reader to reader.

What's one of the most memorable stories you've read, and what makes it memorable for you? Feel free to share in the comments.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Distaff Anthology Releases Tomorrow

A staff used in spinning.
Of women and women’s work.
An anthology of women’s stories woven through time and space.

In 2018 a crack team of women sci-fi writers, all members of the sffchronicles community forum, came together to write an anthology. Distaff is the result. Join us as we share stories of people, of science and exploration, and enjoy the words we weave.

Further Info:
Distaff is a Science Fiction Anthology featuring nine short stories by female identifying authors. The anthology began in 2018 on, a webforum devoted to the Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror genres. Like the site that gave birth to the idea, Distaff encapsulates the broad range of the Science Fiction genre. The anthology shrugs off the negative connotations of the word Distaff and embodies the positive aspects of what women can achieve when they pool their talents. Distaff is entirely ‘of women’s work.’ 
Distaff contains nine stories from new and best-selling authors. 

·       Authors: Susan Boulton, Damaris Browne, Kerry Buchanan, Shellie Horst, Rosie Oliver, Jane O'Reilly, Juliana Spink Mills, E. J. Tett, Jo Zebedee.
·       Publication Date: August 15, 2019
·       Website
·       Available at Amazon:
·       ISBN 9781074955007 
·       Cover Design: Shellie Horst 
Editing: Rosie Oliver & Samanda R. Primeau

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

IWSG: Writing Surprises

It's hard to believe we're in the last full month of summer, isn't it? Welcome to the sweltering month of August. Rather than think about the heat, let's talk about writing and the Insecure Writer's Support Group. You can learn more about them on their website and Facebook page.
This month, our hosts are Renee Scattergood, Sadira Stone, Jacqui Murray, Tamara Narayan, and LG Keltner.

Here's our question for this month: Has your writing ever taken you by surprise? For example, a positive and belated response to a submission you'd forgotten about or an ending you never saw coming?

My characters tend to take me by surprise by going off in directions I hadn't foreseen. For example, in both my Catalyst Chronicles and Season Avatars series, I have secondary characters that I paired up with someone else but then fall in love with the main character. That gets very awkward, especially when the main character doesn't reciprocate. I know how to work it out in both series. In the case of the Catalyst Chronicles series, I've been blocked on a story that comes between Twinned Universes and the next book in the series, which I plan to call Catalyst in the Crucible. At least Catalyst in the Crucible will resolve the romance aspect for some of the characters. (Still not sure if some of the characters will get a match--or if they need one.) You'll have to read the entire Season Avatars series to find out what happens to my characters, but I have further adventures planned for them in the spinoff series.

Have your characters surprised you? Feel free to reply in the comments.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Bookstores Then and Now

A few months ago, my son was invited to a birthday party. I didn't want to drive back and forth between home and the party, so I hung out in a Barnes and Noble only a few minutes away to get some writing done. I found out this Sunday that the bookstore will close in a couple of weeks. Although I've only been in that location once (there are others closer to me), it made me think about how my relationship with bookstores has changed.

I used to spend a lot more time at bookstores, particularly Barnes and Noble (and also Borders before it went bankrupt). It wasn't just about getting books, though once I found one novel I wanted I'd typically end up buying several. I also enjoyed hanging out in the cafe section, either by myself or with Eugene, but almost always with a drink and/or a treat from the cafe. Bookstores and coffee shops are great places to hang out when you want to get out of the house but want to do something low-key. Of course, I had more time and money for bookstores before I was a mother. (After recovering from my C-section, one of the first places I took Alex was to the local Barnes and Noble.)

These days, I have very little free time to hang out in bookstores. I'm also less inclined to buy paperbacks; most of my reading is either e-books or library books. When I was at the Barnes and Noble, I did browse for a bit after finishing my short story. In particular, I wanted to see if they carried an anthology with one of my stories (they didn't). Most of my book sales are e-books through Amazon, so while it would be nice to see my name on a book cover in a book store, it's not something I feel strongly about. I left that Barnes and Noble having only bought food and drink. These days, I have other places to help me feed my brain. I'm not surprised that one Barnes and Noble is closing; if anything, I'm amazed the chain hasn't gone bankrupt yet. It will be interesting to see what happens after that.

How do you feel about Barnes and Noble? Do you like it, or do you prefer independent bookstores? How often do you visit bookstores, and has that changed? Feel free to answer in the comments.

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