Thursday, June 30, 2011
There are so many things we have to include in our storyworlds...characters, world details, settings, etc. No matter what genre you write, your stories are full of tiny details that help create your storyworld. I know that for me, at least, finding or creating all these details can sometimes be a bit tough.
Where do you go for help? And what types of things are you more likely to research/search for as opposed to making up on your own? Do you have any favorite resource sites? Share links if you have them!!
I come between Abby and Kate this round.
The Internet is a wonderful source of information for writers. If I want to look up obscure bits of information such as what songs and movies were current November 1980 (some details I needed for Twinned Universes), all I have to do is pick the right keywords, feed them into Google, and browse the resulting links. And yes, if I want basic information about a topic, I'm not ashamed to start by looking at Wikipedia, though it's not my only source. However, there are some things you can't research online, such as the way a setting smells or feels. Also, sometimes, you need a in-depth source, not just a casually written one-page summary. So, although I use the Internet for research, it's not my only source.
Earlier this year, I got an idea for a story which will be set in a turn-of-the-20th-century Midwestern small town. Part of the reason for choosing this setting is because I spent my teenage years in Delavan, Wisconsin. (This town won't be identical to Delavan, but I plan to use it as inspiration.) I can draw on my memories for some of the sensory details needed to make this town come to life. To learn more about the era, I'm reading some books with photographs from that time and details about everyday life; a couple of them are listed on my Books I've Read in 2011 page.
The details that I research instead of making up depend on the story I'm writing. If a story is set in our world (or something very close to it), then I feel I need to match the details more than if I'm creating my own world. The important thing is that the details feel right to the reader as she's experiencing my story.
Note: The Blog Chain will be taking a brief vacation for the month of July and possibly August.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
So far, I'm planning to donate three books: a touchy-feely children's book Alex has outgrown, Her Majesty's Dragon,and To Say Nothing of the Dog. I'm all for encouraging kids to read, but it's also good to appeal to parents too. After all, parents are role models for kids, and I've read that seeing their parents read is an important factor in whether or not kids will be readers. (We have full bookshelves in our house, plus a Nook and a Kindle. I wonder how e-readers will affect kids' reading habits.) I figure if I'm going to donate books for adults, I'll donate books in my favorite genre to get others interested in it too. Of course, someone who already reads SF/fantasy is more likely to select those books than a general reader. We'll see how it all works out.
Have you ever participated in a book swap like this before? If so, what books did you give away or pick up? What books would you offer someone new to your chosen genre?
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Monday, June 27, 2011
At the Train Lady's place, trains are everywhere! Even the bathroom was decorated with a train motif.
Alex is riding in the boxcar.
My husband and son admiring one of the train layouts. The Train Lady's daughter took a picture of Alex in his Amtrak outfit for her mother.
Inside a building set up to look like the outside of a train station. This layout includes some Chicago landmarks, like Millennium Park. We're looking down at the setup from the control area.
I wonder if Alex will try to get a job working here when he's older....
Friday, June 24, 2011
Here's my round-up of interesting science posts this week:
Exeter study brings brain-like computers closer to reality
App helps you find friends in a crowd
NASA samples water spurted from Saturn's moon
Can humans sense the Earth's magnetism?
Heat mapping key to new humanlike computer vision
Enjoy the links, and have a good weekend!
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Today I'm interviewing Rebecca Knight on my blog. She's an indie fantasy writer who recently published her first novel, Legacy of the Empress. Welcome, Rebecca!
Sandra: Please tell us about yourself.
Rebecca: Hi, Sandra! Thanks so much for having me. Well, I’m a fantasy writer living in the
Sandra: How did you become a writer?
Rebecca: Before I could write, I would draw these little crayon picture books about alternate Peter Pan adventures or other weird stories I’d dream up. I’ve always been a writer, as far as I can remember, or at least a storyteller. Being an author has always been my dream job, but I didn’t really believe I had it in me to complete a novel until I met my husband. He encouraged me to give it a go back in 2005, so that’s when I first got serious about writing for publication.
Sandra:Why did you decide to write fantasy?
Rebecca: I write the books and stories that I want to read! It’s really very selfish. I’ve always loved fantasy books like Lord of the Rings, Song of Ice & Fire Series, and Neil Gaiman’s books, so it was natural for me to write something in a fantasy world.
Sandra:Can you tell us about your work, particularly your novel, Legacy of the Empress?
Legacy of the Empress is a fantasy novel about a girl named Astrid who escapes imprisonment in her mother’s castle, and while worrying about how to do basic things like survive on her own without being caught by her mom’s spies, discovers she’s the only one who can save her land from total destruction. There’s an evil magic spreading throughout the kingdom, devouring the people—it’s what corrupted her mother, the queen, in the first place. The only one who can stop it is an ancient empress imprisoned on the other side of the world, and Astrid may be the only one who can free her.
What I love about Legacy is that it reads like a fairy tale but with these pockets of horror when Astrid has to fight the evil magic. It was really fun letting loose for those darker moments.
Sandra:What inspired you to write Legacy of the Empress?
Rebecca: Weirdly enough, I got the idea for Legacy back in college when I was taking a writing class. There was a prompt we did where I imagined lines of magic intersecting all over the world like a grid, and an Empress imprisoned in a crystal fortress. I never did anything with it, and ended up finding it a couple of years later in my journal.
It was my husband who convinced me I could actually write the novel I’d always wanted to, so I gave it a go, and here we are!
Sandra:According to your blog profile, you’re interested in art in addition to writing. Are you an artist yourself? If so, what’s your specialty, and can you tell us about some of your work?
Rebecca: When I say that I paint, I mean that I paint silly things for my own amusement. You can only call it art if you’re saying it really sarcastically with quotes around it. Ha! For example, I’m responsible for this painting:
Truly, “art” at its finest ;). It’s currently on display in my living room.
Sandra:What types of research have you done for your stories? Can you share with us something unusual you learned from your research?
Rebecca: I researched types of swords and horses mostly, but the most interesting thing I researched was exactly how to use a Ye Olde Crossbow. Apparently there’s a crank involved—who knew? I love medieval weaponry, so figuring out how to describe loading a bolt and winding it back was great fun for me.
Sandra:Why did you choose to go the indie route when publishing your writing? How do you feel about the overall experience?
Rebecca: Since the recession hit, genre mid-list authors have had it rough, even if they were already in with a traditional publisher. Authors were getting dropped from their houses left and right after their books were only making modest sales. I knew that at that point, I probably wasn’t going to get an agent willing to take a chance on a debut in epic fantasy. Contemporary or paranormal fantasies were selling, but the old school fantasy was much more of a niche market. So, I stopped querying and waited for the tides to change.
However, while I was waiting, something unexpected happened. E-books started outselling their paper counterparts, and self-publishing switched from a dirty phrase to a viable option—one where mid list authors were now making more money and selling more books than their traditionally published counterparts. This was what really got my attention and made me research indie publishing more thoroughly.
The overall experience has been excellent so far. I just sold my 100th e-book this weekend, and am over the moon about it. Sales are increasing steadily, and I know I’ve made the right call for my career. The fun thing is, whenever my next book is ready, there’s no waiting—I can publish it as quickly as I can format it and get it straight to the readers. Love that!
Sandra:Who are your favorite authors and why do you admire them?
Rebecca: I’m totally falling back in love with George R. R. Martin right now because of Game of Thrones on HBO. I started rereading his books, and not only do I love how subtle he is with his use of magic through the Song of Ice and Fire, but I also how no one is ever safe. He makes his books dangerous by making you love someone and then making you fear terribly for them because you’re never sure if they’re going to make it.
I’m also a huge fan of Neil Gaiman and how he takes old folk tales and legends and weaves them into modern stories.
Sandra:What other writing projects are you currently working on?
I just finished another installment in my Fairytale Assassin short story series called CARNIVORE. It’s basically my own twisted take on the Little Red Riding hood story and is a follow up to two short stories called NO REST FOR THE WICKED. These shorts are fun, naughty action-packed tales about an agent named Veronica Grim who goes head to head with real world fairytale villains.
I love writing these, and when I get a good handful of them, I’ll group them together as a book of shorts.
Sandra:What’s one of the goals you hope to achieve with your writing?
Rebecca: My goal in my career is to make enough from my e-book sales to quit my day job and become a full time writer. That’s always been my dream, and now it seems more achievable than ever before.
My goal as a storyteller is to completely entertain my readers and leave them wanting more. Books that I re-read have always had something special in them that touched me, surprised me, or scared me to death, and I want more than anything to illicit an unforgettable response from my readers. I want people to put my books down and think “When does the next one come out??” It’s all about telling a great story.
Sandra:What’s something people wouldn’t be able to guess about you just by looking at you?
I have awesome aim. I’m not very athletic, being a geek and all, but for some reason, I’ve always been able to sink a basket, or shoot wadded up paper into a trash basket, left handed. No clue where this came from. Don’t challenge me to a game of HORSE! You’ll regret it ;).
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Curses, you've been cursed! You can write no longer. The story well has run dry, and you can't even remember how to type. Now what do you do? Where do you channel your creative energies? And to what lengths would you go to break the curse?
Abby posted before me, and Cole will answer this question tomorrow.
Anyway, curses, hah hah hah! I'm a scientist, a rational human being. Curses aren't real; they're just psychological. They can't hurt you if you don't believe in them. Why, I'm not having any problems writing the sequel to Twinned Universes....
Um...um..., ok, what does Paul do next? Never mind; there's always that other idea that's been percolating on the back burner. There was a house, and a couple of characters, and they did...they did...well, I'm sure it was innteresting, I mean, interesting....
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(The Management of this blog would like to apologize for the subpar quality of this post. Sandra has been led off in hysterics to make a deal with a suspicious horned figure. She may not be able to blog or write, but she can still show, not tell. She'll return to normal tomorrow...hopefully....)
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Monday, June 20, 2011
If you watch the video accompanying the Time article, you'll learn that this light bulb was designed as a prototype and each part was carefully inspected. Perhaps that's part of the reason for its longevity. However, if you look at the bulb, you'll notice that it's very similar in appearance to the light bulbs that we use today. On the other hand, more complicated pieces of technology, such as telephones and computers, have changed drastically in form and function within the same time frame.
It seems to me that simpler technology is less likely to change with time than advanced technology. (Does anyone have a counterexample?) If this is true, then it's something useful for us to keep in mind when we write science fiction stories set in the future--or when writing time travel stories in which characters have to adapt to a different level of technology.
Friday, June 17, 2011
Noninvasive brain stimulation helps curb impulsivity
Using living cells as medicine"invisibility cloak"
Scientists prove existence of magnetic ropes that cause solar storms
Watching neutrinos change flavor
New insights on how solar minimums affect Earth
Fear boosts activation of young, immature brain cells
Teen brain data predicts pop song success
Cooling the brain during sleep to fight insomnia
Happy Father's Day to all of the fathers out there!
Thursday, June 16, 2011
One of the books I read last week was called The Introvert Advantage. It discussed some of the differences between introverts and extroverts; some of them where physiological, not just psychological. (Some of the surprising things I learned were that introverts and extroverts rely on different neurological pathways and that introverts tend to have lower-than-normal body temps. Mine does tend to be low, but I'm also hypothyroid and take daily medication for it.) Anyway, I thought perhaps that introverts would find fast-paced books too fast and would prefer slower books.
Six of the eight people who commented identified primarily as introverts; two people considered themselves both. I did expect to see more introverts, so that wasn't surprising. However, reading preferences weren't so one-sided. Only one person preferred slow-paced books; for most people, they could enjoy either a slow or fast book, depending on what mood they were in.
So, what's my reading preference? Well, I don't like very slow books; some of the classics feel too bogged down with description for my taste. However, I can think of a few books that felt too fast for me, as if the author felt that sending characters dashing all over the place was exciting. Instead, I just felt confused or not engaged with the characters. So I guess I'm in the middle. Although this wasn't a random poll, my hypothesis is not borne out by the results.
The good thing for us as writers is that pacing shouldn't deter most people from reading a particular book. And the good thing for us as readers is that there are books out there to fit our every mood.
P.S. K Howard, how did you like Zombies vs. Unicorns? I'm not interested in zombies, but I've heard good things about this book. I have a sample on my Kindle; maybe I'll have to try it when I finish the trilogy I just started.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
1. Do you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert?
2. Do you like fast-paced stories with lots of action, slower stories that are less plot-driven, or a mixture of both?
I have a hypothesis about how these traits may be correlated, but I'd like to gather some data first before disclosing it.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Monday, June 13, 2011
Which conventions or writing conferences have you been to? They needn't be SF/fantasy related. Are there any that you'd like to attend?
Saturday, June 11, 2011
(Here's the final set of panel notes I'll post.)
The hero’s journey is still popular, but does it apply to women?
Are there other useful tropes for protagonists?
Good vs. evil is simplistic
Hero’s journey in a nutshell—hero grows up with foster parents, is summoned by a wizard and told he has a great destiny, has several adventures before facing down some of his own evils (the Shadow), defeats the evil and becomes the next ruler
Readers know what the rules are, so you can experiment with setting or character
Are audiences ready to accept other types of narrative?
Alternate journey—woman lets in evil into a harmonious society, her husband must stay at home and rebuild while the woman goes off on a redemptive journey
Some readers want something familiar to read when they want to relax
Hero’s journey doesn’t just entertain; supposed to be a metaphor for growing up (you have to go down into the darkness and come out the other side)
Hero’s journeys are sometimes about collecting plot coupons
Hero sometimes emerges from darkness to find out he has changed and doesn’t fit into his society
About 80% of fantasy fits this trope
Some readers love to be challenged, but they don’t like to be surprised
Need to prepare readers ahead of time so they know what to expect
What are examples of stories that did something different with the hero’s journey
Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Monoke, etc. Mizusaki (the target audience in Japan are boys who want to be saved by their mothers; the female character is a mother figure)
What is the structure of the heroic tale and how does it vary from culture to culture?
A Song of Ice and Fire series (multiple hero’s journeys)
Deepening characterization may change who’s the hero and who’s the villain
Always Coming Home has many layers and is nonlinear
Finnovar Tapestry – several different characters
The Heroine’s Journey
Woman may be rescuing a family member or other beloved person
Instead of getting magic sword or other phallic objects, women get objects of perception, distance weapons, magic bags/clothing/jewelry (less violent), domestic implements
Modern boys still want swords, but modern girls don’t want domestic magic
Female often gets a mean mentor (wicked stepmother, witch); the fairy godmother is a rarity
Heroine’s boyfriend is different
Heroine discovers the all-powerful father figure isn’t so powerful
Disney movies are the heroine’s journey lite
The heroine faces a destroyer of children
Woman is an agent of order (Mary Poppins)
Toads and Diamonds explores what happens when two girls get different gifts
Males return back home to rule; women marry when they reach their destination
The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown—uncomfortable comfort
Motif of inheritance leans toward a patricharchal system
New trope is inventor girls, especially in steampunk
Another trope is a gift that is actually a curse
Dark Jewels trilogy
Mist of Avalon
Is the heroine an exceptional woman, or are there other strong women in the story?
If there are two women, they may have different strengths
Need to look beyond the idea of story, or what we expect a story to be (different cultures may have different forms for stories)
Like Water for Chocolate—magical realism
Girl stories often involve the next generation (family sagas)
What is the relationship of the hero to the community? In general, the hero protects and helps the community. In return, the community may help the character, or sometimes hates the hero.
In some stories, the antagonist is redeemed instead of vanquished
Look for translated stories that don’t come out of the Eurocentric tradition (swantower.com)
Woman as Other-directed
Friday, June 10, 2011
(another science panel)
Universe is not only expanding, but it’s accelerating
Not sufficient ordinary matter or energy to account for this
Dark matter is a concept used to fix the math (stuff we can’t see)
Dark matter/dark energy
Dark energy contributes to expansion
Dark matter affects the shape of galaxies
Are they related?
The only way dark matter interacts with ordinary matter is through gravity (no light)
All observations come from astronomy data
Only light matter collapses and forms stars
Dark matter density isn’t uniform, doesn’t interact to form black holes
We think it’s everywhere (could be on Earth too)
“If you can detect it, it’s not dark matter”
Are ghosts dark matter? (doesn’t seem to fit what we know about dark matter)
Ghosts are like trying to prove something with faith
Where does SF use dark matter?
We have no idea of what dark matter is like at quantum mechanical level
We currently have no idea how to measure it (even neutrinos can be detected more easily than dark matter)
Scientists are willing to admit that some possible dark matter detections are really machine error (more skeptical than ghost-hunters)
Dark matter may not be able to enter the solar system
Examples of dark matter in science fiction
Vernor Vinge—Fire on the Deep, Deepness in the Sky, areas of the universe move from fast time to slow time (affect speed of light)
Are the rules of physics different in dense areas of dark matter? (pure speculation)
Don’t use the concept lazily
Try to extrapolate something interesting, even if it’s wrong; it’s fiction, after all
Flashforward—Robert J. Sawyer
If dark matter doesn’t interact itself on a macro scale, would life forms be possible?
Entangled dark matter might stay entangled for a long time
There could be some small areas where dark matter interacts with itself that we just don’t see
It would be a stretch to speculate about dark matter chemistry
Could dark matter be gravity from a parallel universe?
Every time the universe splits, it leaves a trace (is this real or speculation? It’s all theory)
We can’t see gravitational forces on nuclear level (unlike the other three forces)
If we can’t run any experiments on dark matter, how can we deal with it scientifically?
String theory and dark matter do fit with each other
We can’t throw out general relativity; it’s been well-proven
Late 19th century physicists were gloriously wrong about how much they knew (they thought physics was over)
What’s the difference between ether and dark matter?
Ether was considered the medium through which light traveled; however, Michelson-Morely showed that the speed of light was constant regardless of which direction you measured it
Some physicists believe we just don’t understand gravity and that dark matter doesn’t exist
His Dark Materials—coexisting alternate dimensions
Gravity is the elephant in the room for physics; we don’t understand the basis of gravity (CERN is looking for the God particle to explain masses of particles)
Gravity is the force of attraction between two objects based on their masses and the distances between them; so far, no particles for gravity have been found (general relative: gravity is a curvature in the fabric of space-time)
Time prevents everything from happening at once
If the speed of light is set to 1, time and space are the same
What’s the worst thing you can do when writing about dark matter?
If dark matter was used in such a way to convince people to harm themselves (mark fiction as fiction)
What could scientist fictional characters say about dark matter/energy?
Don’t say things that have been disproven
Don’t try to use “dark matter” as a fancy way of saying alien or something similar (parallel universe)
Can propose a universe with different physics
Real scientists would discuss freaky results with their coworkers
Real scientists would do experiments, get odd results, keep testing
Check panelists on Twitter (Jake Kolojejchick)
Brian Greene –The Fabric of the Cosmos
Are Sagan and Hawking relevant?
Read accounts of the experiments (Experiments in Modern Physics)
Thursday, June 09, 2011
Crowd-funding—give work away and let people pay you what they wish
Need to know your market
Should experiment to see what sticks, but that’s not a good business model
How much time are you willing to invest?
Depending on the publisher, you may have to do some of what you’d expect the publisher would do anyway (such as marketing)
Every author is an entrepreneur, no matter what publishing method you choose
Bookstores do carry a lot of power
Publisher decides on a lead title and neglects the other books
YA authors get a lot of support
Only the top authors get support; everyone else gets diddly
Anthologies have tanked, even when the participating authors are best-selling
Beware of marketing packages offered by self-publishers
Can go straight to Lightning Source for POD (they’re a printer, not an e-commerce site) you can also buy your own ISBM and they distribute through B&N, Borders, etc.
Try Et Libre
Go straight to
Should I go through my website or Amazon (or both)
Need different ISBMs for print and e-book editions
Don’t buy the bar code
Whoever is the biggest, the first, or the longest wins online
If you’re going to self-publish, need to put out a lot of stories (the more the better)
Need to make it as easy as possible to convert readers into customers (need as few clicks as possible)
You can set up your own affiliate store on Amazon
Being a retailer is different from being an author
Have to ask yourself what you really want and what your optimal balance is
The less time you spend running the business, the more time there is for writing
Bloggers are a great way to get word-of-mouth out
Do you want a print edition or an e-book?
Amazon is selling the most e-books now
Still have to do marketing
Can network with BroadUniverse, Indie Book Collective
What do you do with physical copies?
Overdrive—get digital books into libraries
Istockphoto.com for images
Deviantart.com—good place to find an artist to do your own cover if you want something unique
Need a contract with the artist ahead of time
Need to read license before you buy/tweak art
Kickstart and indiegogo can help you with pre-orders
Editors freelance association
Look at other self-pub books in acknowledgements
Can just go with beta readers for edits
Don’t lose any rights
Convert the file with mobipocket
Market is becoming oversaturated
Arrange for reviews and book tours
Blurbs from well-known authors may help recognition
Samantha Robi (chicklitplus on Twitter)
Majority of self-published books don’t sell lots of copies
You may sell fewer copies but get more money
Some people do get contacted by producers, translators, etc.
Self-publishing allows you to reach your target audience
Can write the kind of book you want to write
Want to have multiple streams of income
Listen to the people in the middle who have explored both options
Publishing industry will take 5-10 years to shake itself out
You are entitled to 100% of your earnings
You pay publishers in perpetuity for a one-time service
You give away everything to get an editor to like you(bold is my own emphasis)
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
Can approach article authors with questions
Libraries can help you get access to articles
Open-source journals like PLOS
Sometimes authors post PDFs of their articles on their websites; however, they may not have been subject to peer review
Can always try a Google search too
The headlines may be sensationalized, but many people don’t read beyond the headlines
Newspapers very rarely go back to the scientist with question
Pay attention to your sources
Even big journals sometimes publish controversial articles to drive science forward
Blogs—Not Exactly Rocket Science
Am I Making Myself Clear, Don’t Be Such a Scientist (these are recommended articles)
NY Times offers quality articles
Some societies train journalists in critical thinking and risk assessment
Small, regional papers may be more likely to sensationalize
Even peer-reviewed journals aren’t perfect
Some types of results are more likely to get published (positive preferred over negative, paradigm shift)
Science writers use analogies to help explain science to the public, but they’re not necessarily accurate
Even speculation may be off-base
The essence of science isn’t facts, but the ability to change our minds when new data comes along
(e.g., Pluto itself hasn’t changed, but the way we view the planet has)
Scientists in Italy are being prosecuted for not warning public about earthquake
Public considers numbers too dry; come up with another way to explain what the numbers mean
Kids are taught to use numbers and facts when writing about science; however, we need to use some of the elements of fiction (like a narrative) to bring science to life
People react differently to different ways of stating the same data
Scientists will critique science programs on their blogs
Labcoats in Hollywood (another recommended book)
Some wiki sources are useful, but there’s always the risk of someone editing it to distort the picture
You can get approval, but still use poor science to support your argument
Which sources are unreliable?
NPR does a lot of good reporting, will admit errors
Look for podcasts like the Naked Scientist
Even tiny misspellings can lead to errors
Wikipedia does have good basic stuff like MSDSs, chemical weights, boiling/melting points, etc.
Be wary of newspapers that don’t have dedicated science sections
AP labels tell you what people are talking about, but doesn’t guarantee quality
Highly focused scientists may not understand the big picture—and they don’t know everything either
Blog: Speakeasy Science
Writer may get the facts right, but editors may change things that they think are wrong (but aren’t)
Articles may be cut in such a way that the explaining paragraphs are lost
Jared Diamond—made some broad generalizations about why particular civilizations collapsed, cherry-picked data, didn’t address the data points that contradicted his thesis
Popular authors still winning, science still trying to catch up
We self-select our own data streams
Scientists in different specialties may have different paradigms
Jennifer Rome—lablit.com (fiction that incorporates science)
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
The Bechdel Test—to pass, a movie (or book) must 1: contain two female characters who 2: talk to each other about 3: something that isn’t a man
It’s harder to pass this test than you might think
What does this test tell us about a work? Is it a pass/fail? Can we judge the work by this? It does tell us how complex the female characters are
For example, the exceptional kick-ass woman may have no female friends
Prior to 1800, women were limited to a female, domestic world
In the late 19th century, only one woman would be included in an action novel
The test devalues what women do when interacting with men
The test measures woman-woman interaction
Smurfette—only one female in a group of hundreds of men
In Game of Thrones, the two sisters are very different
The Bechdel Test shifts your perceptions
Are domestic stories devalued?
The exceptional woman has lost her femininity
Need to think of more roles women could play in stories besides kick-ass warrior
Modesty Blaise—spy woman who has relationships with other women
Movie marketing is very gendered, but books and SF/fantasy are different
Publishing does very little market research; they use the spaghetti model (throw everything against the wall and see what sticks)
Why does fantasy have so limited models of anyone other than a white male?
Most of the bestsellers work within this paradigm
Many fantasies based on Western, medieval setting
History was more complex than you might think (for example, you might find women business owners, women like the Wife of Bath, abbesses, that are written out of the simplified medieval world)
Game of Thrones looks at women in different roles
POV affects test: a POV woman should talk to other women, but if it’s told from a male POV, then he may not always see female-female interaction
Pride and Prejudice—the women almost always talk about men (but the men represent money and power)
If two women are antagonists, does an interaction between them count as a Bechdel test pass?
If two women get catty with each other, they very rarely develop a deeper relationship (compare to male-female or male-male hatred at first sight); instead, the heroine will undermine her opponent
The part about women talking about men assumes that men are the heroes and the women the love interests
Is the man important, or are they giving backstory on him?
Movies are dialogue based, whereas books provide internal thoughts
If a woman is thinking about an absent friend, does that count as dialogue?
Does the gender of the author make a difference in how the dialogue is written?
Male writers may be afraid of misrepresenting women’s dialogue
Is there a better test for feminism in a work?
Do the women have their own stories, or are they just set decoration?
Do the women have emotionally important relationships with other women?
What makes a work feminist to begin with?
Do you have two women who are allies?
Are the roles gendered, or can they be filled by either a man or a woman?
Literature starts at a different place than other types of entertainment (other types may be more sexist)
Books and book series are longer
Does it matter if the man the women are talking about isn’t a romantic interest?
The Left Hand of Darkness would fail this test because there aren’t two females in this book (the narrator’s bias affects his view of the world)
What about a racial Bechdel test?
You can’t assume there’s a natural alliance between two nonwhite people (people are more likely to ally by gender instead of race)
The nonwhite character shouldn’t be magical and shouldn’t die
Avoid the Smurfette problem
Are the number of books who pass this test increasing/decreasing?
It has potential to improve because we’re paying attention to it
People tend to write to market which may not be helpful
The rise of YA is creating books that pass this test
Having two women who interact may peg a book as “women’s fiction”
Think about this as you read/write
As a comsumer, where you spend your money matters
Monday, June 06, 2011
All this week, I'll be posting my notes from the WisCon panels I attended. These notes are posted pretty much the way I wrote them, with an occasional explanation added.
This is a topic of interest to many SF writers (including me, which is why I attended this panel)
Humans are animals; this topic refers to nonhuman animals
How do we define intelligence?
Culture=shared learned behaviors (animals have culture too)
Psychologists don’t have a good definition of intelligence
Tree shrews have largest brain/body ratios
Do you need dextrous limbs or a large frontal lobe?
Janet Kagen—test for intelligent species—artifacts, art, and language
Artifacts are easy to find in the animal kingdom; art isn’t
Cleverness is manipulation; sapience is thinking forward and backward and with symbols
Emergent properties—whole greater than sum of their parts
We can learn to read because we can recruits parts of our brain that didn’t evolve to read for this task
Bees, dolphins, bonobos, ravens, parrots, crows, squid, octopi, elephants (can mimic human speech, bury their dead, teach their children culture), bears, raccoons
Birds don’t have hands, but they can do some manipulation with their feet
Our methods of looking for intelligence in animals has changed over the years, but it’s still too shallow and sterile
You can’t test for it, but you can see it happen in the wild
Ravens in Yellowstone follow wolves to share in their kills
Wolves will also look for ravens circling and diving
Animals who work in a pack have some social intelligence
Intelligence is thing-oriented (for very broad definition of thing)
Whale songs go out of fashion or can be mutated into a new form
Take things from the world into your mind and do something with them
Intelligence—learn from past experiences (do you learn from your personal experience or from others?)
The Animal Dialogues (unusual encounters with animals)
Anecdote about ravens caching owl feathers and coming back to commemorate the owl’s murder
Humans are looking for symbolic behavior from animals because we’re looking for company
Can an animal recognize itself when it looks in the mirror?
Cephalods are very strange, generally solitary, don’t do much child-rearing, yet squids have a complex color-signaling system (visual language?)
Humans are wired to notice patterns and pick up grammar
Octopi can use tools but don’t have language, but squid are the other way around
Octopus can get out of its tank, cross a room, get a fish, and return to its tank
Jellyfish have no central nervous system but can still move independently of current
Whale males sing more than the females
Domesticated animals are freed of instinct (because they’re protected), so they can learn to make choices
Humans are not the keepers of free will
Having choices leads to problem-solving
Dogs have been domesticated to deal with many different environments (as opposed to sheep or poultry)
Dogs/humans evolved symbiotically (we outsourced different tasks to each other)
Dogs are most often part of interspecies relationships (companions to other animals)
Bees can recognize shapes and use them to navigate
Social insects can accomplish amazing things as a superorganism
Isolation on an island allows an animal to lose traits
Wolves are smarter than dogs when it comes to problem-solving, but dogs are better at picking up human cues
Are prehistoric tools always the product of early humans, or could they have been used by chimps?
Example—a rock may have been used to break open eggs for thousands of years
Birds are related to dinosaurs—could the dinosaurs have been intelligent?
Africa is poor in metal, so had to use plant material and stones—inventiveness may have gone into language
We experience a divide between what our instincts and our minds tell us to do
Language grows and evolves, but bee dances don’t
Do whales and elephants tell stories?
The “uplift” story—animals being genetically engineered to have human intelligence—what are the ethics?
Animals do have objections to breeding programs and lack of mate choice—look at zoos
We’ve already affected the niches of all animals on this planet; it may be nit-picking at this point to complain about uplifting
Do we have any data about what we’re like in the wild?
How smart are we without our support system?
In most intelligent species, there’s a long childhood
If we can’t figure out what intelligence is in humans, how can we find it in anything else?
Humans raised by animals are stunted and die young (they reach a point where they can never learn language; however, some normally raised people can still learn to read as adults)
Primates can learn 50-100 words without grammar; this is the limit for a human teenager who has never been exposed to language
Alex the gray parrot—(was an only child)—had the concept of zero found it on his own, manipulated the researchers into demonstrating to them that he had the concept of zero
Freakanomics.com—taught chimps value of currency; unfortunately, the chimps learned to steal and prostitute themselves for money
Friday, June 03, 2011
Green Crystal "Rain" Discovered Near Infant Star
Eating Dirt Can Be Good for the Belly
Novel ‘prodrug’ alleviates symptoms in Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s mice
Color Red Increases Strength and Speed of Human Reactions
Bacteria May Mimic Human Proteins to Evolve Antibiotic Resistance
Cancer Drug Holds Promise as First Treatment for Common, Inherited Dementia
In addition to these news articles, the June 2011 issue of Scientific American has articles on quantum physics and its affects in the macro world, test-tube meat, a test for sentient computers, and the smartest bacteria on Earth. Check them out, and have a good weekend!
Thursday, June 02, 2011
There are SO many writing rules, but sometimes we have to break one or two, just to keep things interesting. Is there a writing rule you've broken on purpose? Why did you choose to break it? And if you want to post a snippet of your writing as an example, even better!
Although I'm very picky about grammar, even I break the rules occasionally. One rule that I've broken on purpose is the rule against sentence fragments. I've done so as a way of emphasizing items and to increase tension. Here's an example where I wrote a paragraph of fragments. It's taken from my Beatles fanfiction story "The Movement You Need." In this story, Paul has found a strange guitar in his bed and is searching his hotel room, trying to figure out how it got there:
Paul doubled up the belt in his left hand. He glanced around, but there was no place to hide in the room except for the closet. Silently, he padded over to the closet door and raised his belt. He yanked the closet door open –
Shirts and slacks, neatly hung on the hangers provided by the hotel. His suitcase on the luggage rack, lid open. A couple pairs of non-leather shoes on the floor. Nothing else.
P.S. Something I should have said earlier is that before you can break the rules successfully, you first have to understand and master them. If you break the rule repeatedly out of ignorance, then readers can spot that. However, if you follow the rule 99.9% of the time and then break it at a strategic spot, then it has more impact.