Monday, February 28, 2011

Redeeming Unlikable Main Characters

One of my writing weaknesses seems to be creating main characters that readers don't like. I blogged about this problem back in January. Sure enough, I'm currently revising an old project, and reviewers are noticing this problem. My MC, Jo, has some emotional issues with her family that affect how she deals with everyone. How she grows past her issues is a important character arc in this story; while she does change, I need to keep readers around long enough to see her change. So I wrote a short list of my main character's strengths and weaknesses, then I made the following changes in my manuscript:

I cleaned my MC up. Well, not literally, but I toned down her cursing habit and removed a description of Jo in tattered clothes.

I made her interactions with other characters less negative. Instead of making Jo perpetually mad at the whole world, I decided to let focus her rage at her family--or at least, the ones who most deserve it. I may tweak this a bit to match up with a plot twist I came up with this afternoon.

Make other characters seem even worse. The plot twist I came up with involves her least favorite uncle using his power to manipulate Jo's life to make her do something she doesn't agree with.


So far, I've avoided a very obvious change: showing more of Jo's good traits. I haven't figured out yet how to incorporate those in the beginning, but doing so would definitely tip the balance toward the more sympathetic end of the scale.

How important is protagonist likability to you when you read?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reading Time

Well, I finally managed to follow all the crusaders on Blogger, Networked Blogs, or Google Reader. It's a lot of work visiting over two hundred blogs! Unfortunately, I doubt I'll be able to comment on everyone's blog, but I do try to clear my reader every day, and I comment when I have something to say.

Following up on the poll I posted yesterday, how do you feel about the amount of time you have to read? If you're like me, with a day job and a family, it can be hard to squeeze in time for reading. I've found that with my Kindle, it's easier to snatch a couple of minutes here and there. I also like to read while I'm exercising (twenty to thirty minutes of unterirrupted reading time makes waking up at six worthwhile), getting ready in the morning and washing up at night. How do you find the time to read -- or are you like me, with a TBR pile that just keeps growing and growing?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Just For Fun...

I'm still in the middle of following all the Crusader blogs; I'm going down the list. I just passed 100 last night. Hopefully I can add them all by the end of the week.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun with all the new followers to try out Blogger's Poll Gadget. If you look to the upper right, you'll see a poll asking how many books (on average) you read in a month. I managed to read fourteen last month, but we'll see if I can keep that up as the year continues. Please vote in the poll. Sorry, no prizes, but I think it would be interesting. You have until March 1 to vote.

Speaking of prizes, jys and shelia, please e-mail me about the books you won! I'd like to mail them out on Saturday--toddler permitting.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011

Revelations

Before I announce the contest winners from my Borders book giveaway, I need to reveal what my lie from yesterday's post was. Here's the part where I described my lie:

I wore a nice sweater, jeans, and loafers; she, a gem-studded dress and heels. When we shook hands, she looked up at me...

I'm five foot even. About the only heel-wearing adult who would have to look up to me would be Dr. Ruth, and I think even then it might be close.


Anyway, thanks to everyone who commented on Wednesday's post and who started following me. Yay for reaching 200 followers on Sunday night! Saturday night, my family and I went to one of the Borders that is being closed. The cafe was no longer open, but there was a long line of people waiting at the checkout. One of the clerks told my husband it had been much busier earlier in the day. While the shelves still looked pretty full, the selection did seem poorer than I'd expect. It was a little sad. Still, with prices at 20% off, I bought a couple things for myself:
















And for the giveaway, there were twelve comments on the contest post besides mine. I said I'd give away one book per five comments, but I decided to be a little more generous and bought an extra book. I chose three books I really enjoyed, although only one author was listed in my post. (I didn't notice any books by Patricia McKillip, Julie E. Czerneda, or Robert J. Sawyer.) The winner of Soulless is...



anicagrey!

















The winner of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (written by a member of OWW) is...


jys!


















And the winner of Connie Willis' To Say Nothing of the Dog is...



sheila!


















Congratulations to all the winners! Please e-mail me at sandra@sandraulbrich.com with your snail mail addresses. I'll try to send the books out by Saturday at the latest, depending on my work schedule.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Interview with the Crusader

For my first Crusader challenge, I'm supposed to introduce myself. There are some very specific requirements on how to do so here. I thought it would be more fun to "show" you my introduction instead of just telling it to you, so here goes:


I waited backstage for my cue as Topaz the talk show hostess bloviated my modest accomplishments into an impressive list. When she called my name, I came out to applause. I wore a nice sweater, jeans, and loafers; she, a gem-studded dress and heels. When we shook hands, she looked up at me with contempt in her eyes. I knew then I'd have to watch what I said. I couldn't let her trick me into confessing how I'd made my son's chocolate rabbit and Halloween candy "disappear," even if it had been for his own good.

"I like your rings," Topaz said. I wear two rings on each hand: engagement and wedding rings on my left hand and rings to celebrate my golden birthday and my son's birth on my right. "Do you wear them all the time?"

"Yes, I do."

"Even when you shower and sleep?"

"Yeah. About the only times I remove them are when I get manicures and when I make meatloaf."

We sat down, and I extemporized a SF story about fuligulines taking over coastal cities that had been flooded after the polar ice caps melted. I passed out plates of homemade cookies to everyone in the audience. Then Topaz and I debated who was the most talented Beatle --I said John, she George--over our meal of spinach pizza, green tea, and brownies. Every time I shifted in my seat, she commanded me to stay still. At one point, she threatened duct tape. I finally had to defend myself with my knife blade and my halfway-to-black-belt martial art skills. I'm never going on her show again!


OK, I made up Topaz and the talk show; however, the details about me are true--but maybe one isn't. My husband couldn't figure out which one it was; can you?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Back on the Blog Chain: Two of a Kind

In honor of the recent holiday, Shaun asked us

Who is your favorite literary couple and why?

Kat posted before me, and Kate comes next.

I had to think about this one for a bit. I don't care so much about the sexual attraction between the two people as I do about the relationship between them -- are they a mental match for each other, do they complement each other's personality, can I see them as a married old couple, etc. I also wanted to pick a couple where both people involved were strong characters. Finally, I chose....

Alexia Tarabotti and her werewolf husband, Lord Maccon, from the Parasol Protectorate series (Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, and Heartless, which I've pre-ordered)

I chose Alexia and Maccon because they're both strong-willed people who are equally good in a battle of wits or the bedroom. (The sexual tension between them has to be strong if it makes me sit up and take notice!) Individually, they're capable of looking after themselves, but when they're together, they bring out each other's softer sides too. (Alexia literally turns her husband human, and he recognizes her beauty even if she has a large nose and is voluptuous.) I have a feeling that no matter how many strange adventures they go through, they'll still quarrel and make up with each other with equal passion as long as they live.

So, what pair would you pick?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Science of the Week 2/18/11

First, welcome to my fellow Crusaders, and thanks to all of you who've commented so far on my Borders Book Giveaway. As of the time I write this, I'm committed to buying two books from Borders this weekend. The more people who comment, the more books I'll buy!

Here are some of the science news articles that caught my attention this week:

Global warming may reroute evolution

Misconceptions about lie detection

Bringing biofuels to the pump

Rising seas and U.S. coastal cities

Control system that lets spacecraft guide themselves

Algae clean waste water and make biodiesel

FAQ on Microbes and Oil Spills


I normally don't post on the weekends, but tomorrow I'm participating in the Blog Chain. Please stop on by if you'd like to learn about my favorite literary couple.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Buy a Book for Borders Giveaway!

I'm sure many of you have heard by now about Borders declaring Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Even though I read most of my books on Kindle these days, I'm still saddened by the news. I don't get to Borders as often as I'd like, since I'm closer to a Barnes & Noble. B&N also features Thomas the Train tables, a major attraction for my trainiac son. However, I've always liked Border's selection of science fiction/fantasy titles; in my opinion, Borders stores typically carry a much broader selection of books in my favorite genre than B&N does. The last time I shopped at Borders, I bought several non-fiction books as research for a possible story idea.

Anyway, I was thinking about Borders as I drove home from work. I'm lucky that the two Borders closest to me will remain open, but I know many people will be losing their favorite stores. I thought that I should make a point of visiting a Borders this weekend and buying some books, but then I got a better idea. I already have a ton of books on my to-read pile; why not give the books to my blog followers? I'm going to make this a casual giveaway, not a contest where you have to fill out lots of forms and blog/tweet this post all over the place. Still, we need a few guidelines:

1. If you want to be entered in this contest, leave a comment on this post. It can be about your favorite book/author, your favorite bookstore, an introduction--whatever you'd like to share. Spam and offensive comments will be deleted and not considered for this giveaway. Only one entry/comment per person, please.

2. For every five people who comment between now and midnight CST Friday, February 18, I'll buy one paperback book to give away. (Any comments I make won't count.) It'll be SF or fantasy. I'm not sure yet which Borders I'll visit or what the inventory will be like, so I'm not promising particular titles. However, some authors I have in mind are Patricia McKillip, Julie E. Czerneda, Carrie Vaughn, Connie Willis, Robert J. Sawyer, and authors who are members of BroadUniverse or the Online Writing Workshop.

3. I'm currently at 165 followers. If I reach 200 followers by the deadline, I'll buy two more paperbacks to give away.

4. I'm limiting the total books I'll give away to ten. This includes the bonus books. Hey, I have a child in daycare.

5. Winners will be drawn randomly through a random number generator and announced Monday, February 21. You get what you get, and you don't get upset. ;)


That's all I can think of for now. If you have any questions, please let me know. Please feel free to spread the word about this giveaway. And if you think this is a good idea, why not host your own Borders book giveaway?

Good luck to all!

The Science of Science Fiction: AI vs. IA

A: A computer that can understand human language (especially the difference between questions and answers) better than any computer before it.

Q: What is Watson?

Watson is the supercomputer that's competing on Jeopardy! this week against two human superchampions, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. (For what it's worth, I actually was on the show ages ago, back in 1997. I came in second, so I can sing along with Weird Al that "I Lost on Jeopardy!" I did win a week-long trip to New York City, however.) We're recording the shows, though the odds of me finding time to watch TV are about the same as me break dancing on my lab bench. (Hint: the bench is very crowded with lots of heavy, expensive equipment.) Still, I find the idea of a computer this intelligent fascinating.

Computers have a long history in science fiction. I won't even try to enumerate the TV shows, movies, and books where they have appeared, though you can find some information on Wikipedia, as well as here and here. For a long time, computers and the artificial intelligence (AI) they represent have been considered a threat to humans. But even while some scientists have researched AIs, others have examined the other end of the spectrum, intelligence augmentation, or IA. This article in the New York Times online looks at both AI and IA.

Computer technology still needs to develop some more before computers as powerful as Watson become commonplace, especially if you want to make them the size of a desktop. (Just like some of the early computers, Watson takes up a roomful of servers.) If and when this happens, then more of the jobs that humans hold today may be done by computer. (I hope it will be a long time before computers take over fiction writing!) However, computers can also be used to harness the potential of many human minds. For example, games like EteRNA (I'm registered for this, but I don't have time to participate) allow people to simulate RNA folding. People still beat computers when it comes to pattern recognition. Our smartphones and other gadgets allow us to extend our skills.

So, will humans and computers meet in the middle, or will the computers take over? What effects will this have on society? Will handmade items be more or less valued? The answers lie not just in the future, but in the minds of science fiction authors everywhere.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

Would You Rather...?

Happy Valentine's Day to everyone! Whether you're celebrating a current love or looking for a new one, may you gain no weight from your chocolate. ;)

I think most of my readers are, like me, writers trying to get published. However, if you weren't a writer, but you still wanted to be involved with books, what would you do? Would you be an agent, an editor, a book designer/publisher, a reviewer, a book seller, or something else?

I think for me, the answer would be an editor. I have previous experience in copy-editing, but I've also critiqued a lot of stories for other people. I like the idea of helping them improve their work. I realize there's a lot more to being an editor than that, but that aspect particularly appeals to me.

So, how would answer the question? Leave a comment and let me know.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Science of the Week 2/11/11

Here are a few science stories I thought readers would find interesting or useful this week:

Figuring out the age of the mysterious Voynich manuscript
(this book sounds like something out of a fantasy novel, actually)

Microsponges from seaweed may save lives

Robots inspired by roaches


Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Introversion and the Future

My post from yesterday about social networking made me think more about introversion. Specifically, what makes some people introverted and others extroverted? Wikipedia offers a few suggestions, such as brain differences and geography. Introverts tend to be more responsive to stimuli than extroverts, but extroverts experience rewards more intensely. People who live on islands are more introverted than people on mainlands, especially if their ancestors have been on the island for several generations. Conversely, people who move from islands to the mainland tend to be more extroverted than people who stay behind.

If introversion and extroversion can be affected by factors such as geography, what long-term impact will technology have? Will people immersed in computers their entire lives be more likely to be introverted? I don't think Generation Y is like this, but it may take some time for any effects to become apparent. Will introversion or extroversion affect who is more likely to survive a natural disaster or cope with climate change? Extroverts may be better able to get others to help them, but perhaps introverts will be independent enough to manage on their own. These factors may influence how cultures evolve in the future -- and how we write about them.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Back on the Blog Chain: Social Networking for the Not-So-Social

Although it's Tuesday, I need more than ten words today for my Blog Chain post. This round, Amanda asked us:

Are you a good social networker? What aspect of platform building do you focus on the most? Which aspects freak you out?

Kat posted before me, and Kate will answer this question tomorrow.

Like many other writers who've already posted in this chain, I consider myself an introvert. Specifically, my personality type is INTJ (or Introverted, Intuition, Thinking, Judgment, from the Myers-Briggs test), one of the rarest types. As an introvert, I find the Internet a great tool for reaching out to people; it lets me meet people I couldn't in real life while still letting me have some personal space. I wouldn't say I'm a good social networker because I need to invest more time in it, but I know what needs to be done.

The holy trinity of platform building seems to be blogging, Twitter, and Facebook. Of these, I'm best at blogging. I normally manage to post five times a week, occasionally on the weekends. I'd like to comment more on other people's blogs, but most days, it's tough enough just keeping up with my feeds. I do comment if I have something to say. I figure the Writer's Crusade I blogged about yesterday will force me to comment more. I used to use Twitter, but for me, it was overwhelming and had a poor signal-noise ratio. I'm on Facebook, though I spend much of my time there playing games. Still, I have a few published writers among my Facebook friends and helped start a Facebook group for BroadUniverse. When I do get something published, I plan to set up a fan page, but that would be premature now.

Social networking is broader than just the three things mentioned above, however. Participating in writers' groups or forums also allows you to interact with people, as does going to conventions. Some of these groups can have hundreds or thousands of people, so you can't interact meaningfully with everyone. However, you can form solid relationships with a few close people, which I find more personally satisfying. I wouldn't be surprised if other introverts felt the same way. And for all introverted writers who want to promote themselves but don't feel comfortable doing so, I recommend the Shrinking Violet Promotions blog. They're not just about promotion, but about being comfortable with your introversion. The more comfortable you are with yourself, the more comfortable others will be with you.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

All For the Second Writer's Crusade...

Some of you may have hear of Rachel's Writer's Platform-Building Crusade that she ran last year. I missed it, but it sounded so interesting I decided I wanted to join it this year. It will also challenge me to comment more on other people's blogs. If you'd like to learn more about this year's crusade or join up with other writers, bloggers, and editors, check out her post here!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Science of the Week 2/4/11

I noticed I gained a couple of new followers this week. Welcome! Please leave a comment so I can check out your blogs too.

Time for some more science links of interest to SF readers and writers:

Future surgeons may use robotic nurse, ‘gesture recognition’

Same rules apply to some experimental systems regardless of scale

Six planets orbiting same star

Cluster encounters a natural particle accelerator

A graphene film that sheds water

Hunt for dark matter closes in at Large Hadron Collider



That's it for this week. Have a good weekend, everyone!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Flogging the Quill

I'm not quite done with this book yet, but since I'm almost at the end, I'm going to talk about it.

Some of you may be familiar with the Flogging the Quill blog, where Ray Rhamey critiques novel openings. (He reviewed one of mine last year.) In Flogging the Quill: Crafting a Novel that Sells, he discusses what makes for a compelling book opening and how to keep readers interested. Although tension, conflict, and story questions are important, there are other aspects of the writing craft that make for compelling stories, such as dialogue and word choice. Rhamey not only discusses the principles that make compelling stories; he illustrates them with examples and provides writing exercises and worksheets to reinforce the lessons. The chapters are short and direct. (He's posted some of them on his blog, such as this sample.)The information is presented clearly, but there's so much of it that it may take a while to absorb all of it. Rhamey is very good at catching subtle problems, such as when two actions are described as being simultaneous when they actually can't be. I tried some of his exercises at the end of the book, where he comments on book openings, but he is more astute at critiquing them than I am.

There was one aspect of the book I didn't like: its physical size. It's 8.5 by 11 inches, which makes it difficult to read while exercising on the treadmill (these days, that's one of the best places for me to read for an uninterrupted period of time). Although it would fit in a computer bag, when I'm away from home, I'm more likely to either work on my laptop or take my Kindle with me if I want to read. I think the size is intended to make it easier for people to fill in the worksheets, but it did make it a little harder for me to start reading. However, it certainly is a book worth getting and reading, and I recommend it for all writers who want to improve their writing.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Apocalypse SNOW!

The president of my company let us leave at 2:00 yesterday, since the blizzard was supposed to arrive around 3:00. It actually arrived earlier, around 2:30, just as I was leaving the daycare center after picking up my son. Although visibility was poor, we didn't have far to drive. My husband came home about twenty minutes after I did, so we shoveled and prepared to hunker down.

It's a good thing my work is closed today, because I wouldn't be able to go in:

Yep, that's how much snow drifted against our garage. I think it's at least two feet.












The three of us went outside to shovel. Alex has his own shovel, but he preferred to play King of the Hill:

















He also wanted to use my shovel as a sled:

















We don't have to shovel it all by hand; once we cleared some space, my husband was able to get out the snowblower. But he's been out there twice, and he's still not done. I've been too busy kid-wrangling and doing other chores to write or crit. But we're all safe, and we didn't lose power (though the lights flickered a few times yesterday). While I wish we'd picked up flour and a couple extra things at the grocery store, I have a nice chicken soup bubbling away in the crockpot. We're lucky that this apocalypse has been more of an inconvenience to us than anything else, but I feel for the people who have it worse.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Ten Word Tuesday--SNOW!

Please, boss, close work tomorrow. I don't want to drive!

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