Friday, August 26, 2011

Science of the Week 8/26/11

For some reason, it seems that my Science Blogs feed wasn't working earlier this week. I only have a few links this time from there:

Physicists Map Spiraling Light to Harness Untapped Data Capacity

Exotic Galaxy Reveals Tantalizing Tale


Researchers Detail How a Distant Black Hole Devoured a Star


I did find this link from Time.com:

Millions of Unseen Species Fill Earth

And I couldn't resist passing on this link to a guest post on Nathan Bransford's blog:

An Agent Responds to Paperback Writer by the Beatles



Poor Paul will be so disappointed, I fear.


Anyway, I feel the need to step back a bit, so I'm going to take next week off from blogging. I'll still be reading and commenting on other blogs, but I could use some time to revise a story I completed a couple of weeks ago. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you in September!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Amazon Reviews

Although I'm not comfortable reviewing another author's work, I do like reading reviews on Amazon. I typically wait until I'm done with the book before looking at the reviews. It's interesting to see how people can have such wildly different opinions of the same book--and interesting to see why people give books a low number of stars. It doesn't help anyone to downgrade a book for being a different genre than what you expected or for the cost. I seldom see comments about the writer's craft; readers tend to focus more on the characters, story, and ending.

Do you write book reviews on Amazon? Do you find them helpful?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Remberance of Stories Past

Lately I've been thinking about the second book I wrote. (The first one is thankfully no longer accessible.) It was the first book of a trilogy, overlong and probably overwritten. But the characters and the world still call me. I need to upload the book to Kindle and reread it to see if the story is as appealing as I remember it being.

I also rediscovered an old short story of mine and posted it to the writing workshop I belong to for critique. The comments I've received make me wonder if I need to dig more deeply into the POV character and change his voice, or if I should switch the POV from 1st person to 3rd. But this story, as well as the novel, are definitely not Amazon-ready!

Do you ever look at some of your early projects and try to resurrect them? Have you been successful?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ten-Word Tuesday: Tea

Coffeepot-brewed tea tastes bad but still beats no tea.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Library Love

CNN has rediscovered the library. That's right; they posted this article yesterday to remind all readers that the library is a bargain (more free books than you could read in your lifetime) and that old books (not just the classics) are still worth reading. The article made me think about my library habits.

I used to borrow a lot more library books than I do now. In fact, I can't remember the last time I borrowed a book for me instead of my son --or when I've visited the library on my own. I do take Alex there occasionally, more often in the winter when I want to get him out of the house for a while. There's a play area, with an indoor structure to climb on and a cafe where he likes to eat. But his favorite thing to do at the library is to borrow train movies, even if we have them at home. It can be difficult at times to keep an eye on him and search for his train movies at the same time; this is why I don't browse for my own books at the library.

Another factor in my lack-of-library use is my preference for reading on my Kindle. I'm looking forward to this fall, when library lending becomes available for the Kindle. Hopefully that will cut down on the number of e-books I buy.

How often do you use your library?


Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Science of Science Fiction: Bulletproof Skin

I don't normally blog on Saturdays, but this article was so interesting I couldn't wait to post it. It's about a project the Dutch are working on to create human--well, human/spider hybrid--bulletproof skin. The idea is to replace one of the proteins in human skin with one from spider silk. The spider silk protein is ten times stronger than steel.

I'm not sure how feasible this would turn out to be, but the implications make for interesting fiction. Would you have to start this process before birth, or would there be a way to incorporate the spider protein into an adult human? Which people would be chosen for this project? (As a starter, I'd say celebrities and politicians, though police would also benefit--and maybe criminals would try to have this done too.) Would these people ever suffer minor cuts or bruises? I assume not. This sounds great, but what if they needed surgery? What if the spider protein had other side effects? Would the change be noticeable, and if so, how would this bioengineered person fare socially? Would they be considered less than human? The ideas spin like a spider making a web...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pictures from a Garden

The rain held off yesterday, so Eugene and I decided to spend our "date day" at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The last time we went there was in June, and that was with Alex, so naturally we spent more time in the Railroad Garden exhibit than anywhere else. It was nice to be able to tour the rest of the garden. Here are a few pictures we took (we both used my camera):
















































Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Midweek Vacation

I'm using one of my many remaining vacation days today for a Date Day with my husband. (He only works a half day on Wednesdays, so it's easier for him to take that day off.) Our original plans to tour a vineyard fell through, and there's a chance of storms this afternoon, so we will probably go bowling. The important thing is to spend some time together.

Here's a blast from the past to inspire you to take your own holiday:


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Monday, August 15, 2011

Back on the Blog Chain: The New Publishing World

Welcome back to the blog chain! During our break, we've added several new members; please welcome Amparo, Tere, PK, Matt, Katrina, and Jon to our group.

I have the privilege of starting the chain this round, so I'm going to ask a very important question:

Have the recent changes in the publishing industry affected your writing plans/career? If so, how?

There have been so many changes in the publishing world this year that it's hard to keep track of everything. Borders has gone bankrupt, taking valuable shelf space with it; e-book sales continue to rise; authors go from self-publishing to traditional publishing (and vice versa); publishers try to claim as many rights as possible; and agents are offering publishing services. How does an author keep track of what's going on, and how do you decide to do what's best for your writing career when people offer obviously biased and conflicting advice?

I'm going to offer some advice before I disclose my answer. The first thing to remember is to think for the long-term. The prevailing wisdom (in other words, the impression I have from reading numerous blog posts I can't link back to because I've forgotten where I read them) is that the publishing industry will be volatile for the next several years, but it will eventually settle down. People will still read paper books, and publishers and agents will find some way to transition to a new paradigm. But contracts can tie your work up for years, and terms that look fair or good today may not seem that way in the future. So think about what you want out of your writing career. Do you want to win awards and be a leading author in your genre? Do you dream of the best-seller list? Do you simply want people to read and enjoy your stories? Remember, no matter what you decide, you're the one who's ultimately in charge of your writing career. Even if you have an agent, you still need to understand what's in your contract. I recommend following Writer Beware and The Business Rusch for advice on the business side of writing.

I've been thinking about what I want to do for several months. Although I was originally planning to pursue traditional publishing for my novel Twinned Universes, the prequel is a novella, which isn't the easiest length to sell. If I want to present the overall story the way I feel it should be told, with the stories being easily accessible instead of being published in different places, it seems that the best way to do that is publish it myself. While part of me still wants the status that goes with being a traditionally published author, changes in my personal life have made me value the freedom and personal control that indie publishing offers. So, that's what I've decided to do.

I plan to self-publish Lyon's Legacy, the first book in The Catalyst Chronicles, later this year. The exact date will depend on how long editing and cover art take. I have a cover artist in mind, but I'm still trying to decide which editors to approach for what level of editing. Once Lyon's Legacy is available, then I'll start revising and editing Twinned Universes. They'll both be e-books at first, but I plan to prepare an omnibus paper edition for next WisCon. I also have a couple of shorter works I'd like to put up so I have a backlist, plus I'd like to revisit some of my earlier fantasy novels. Those works need much more rewriting before they're ready, though.

This doesn't mean that I'll reject traditional publishing completely. I may try querying other short stories or projects to traditional publishers as a way of finding new readers. But for now, this feels like a good path for me to try. I find this song inspiring:



Matt will be following me on this chain, so please visit his blog tomorrow to see what he'll say.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Science of the Week 8/12/11

It's been a hectic week for me, so I haven't had much time to search for interesting science tidbits. I'm sure some of you have heard that there may be salt water on Mars, or the building blocks of DNA have been found in meteorites. But did you know that the human brain is sensitive to light in the ears? Or that it may be possible for information to escape from a black hole? Extrasolar planets are becoming more common, but not when they're extremely dark yet glowing hot. Back on Earth, scientists are making quantum crystals and using genetically-engineered spider silk for gene therapy. I would be happy to settle for some massage therapy. ;)

Have a good weekend, and please let me know if you like this way of embedding the article links or if you prefer a straight list the way I normally do.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ten-Word Thursday:The Weather

I want to go outside; Alex wants to stay indoors.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Interview with Kaz Augustin



I'm lucky enough to have another author stop by my blog this week. Please welcome Kaz Augustin, author of various novels, including War Games and the forthcoming Quinten's Story.

Please tell us about yourself.

Hi Sandra and thanks for inviting me here. Kaz Augustin is...a nomad, I suppose. I was born in Malaysia, educated in Australia and have worked in the United States, Australia and Singapore. We're back in Malaysia at the moment, I personally think it's a great place for kids to pick up new experiences and perspectives, but we won't be here forever. Already, my husband and I are starting to get itchy feet again! :)

What drew you to writing science fiction, fantasy, and romance? Do your projects tend to fit into one genre, or are most of them cross-genre?

Science fiction has always been my first love and, no matter how hard I try, I always find myself gravitating back to it. In fact, after almost five years of writing romance, I'm finding myself slowly drifting away from it and back to my first love. We've had this discussion before, right? ;) I'm very happy with what romance has taught me but I don't think it'll be my guiding light into the future.

How did you get the inspiration for War Games?

War Games was essentially a challenge for myself, following on from a Smart Bitches post lamenting the lack of f/f romances. I started thinking. Could I write an f/f science fiction romance? The actual inspiration came from an old Polish TV series set in WWII, roughly translated as “Stakes Higher Than Life” (Stawka większa niż życie), about a Polish agent who masquerades as a captured German Military Intelligence officer so he can feed intelligence back to the Polish Underground. I was caught by the idea and wondered what it would be like to put the action on an alien planet and raise the bar so we're talking about not merely a country at stake but an entire empire! The novel's been in and out of drawers for a few years now, so I'm glad to finally get it out there!
What is War Games about?

Laisen Carros is an undercover agent working for a galaxy-wide conglomerate called the Fusion. In twenty years of missions, she's stolen, killed, explored, mugged and generally manipulated everything around her for what she believes to be the greater good. In her current mission, however, she's been dropped, completely alone, on a planet in order to engineer the downfall of the Fusion's current adversary, the Perlim Empire.

It's not going to be easy. She has a conniving second-in-command to handle, is still trying to handle ghosts from her past (including her immediate past), and her new driver is a woman who is tasked with assassinating her. And then, just to throw a Spaniard in the works (as John Lennon once wrote), she starts falling in love with her would-be driver/assassin. With exhaustion and cynicism setting in, Laisen isn't sure she's going to get out of this alive. The trick is finding out how she does it.

Since you’ve been traditionally published, why did you decide to self-publish War Games?

I had approached lot of literary agents with this novel. Four or five said they loved it but couldn't sell it. That gave me enough heart to start submitting directly to a number of small print presses. I got a bite(!) but was devastated when I read their contract. It was a choice of signing the contract and selling my soul or keeping my soul and walking away. I walked away. That happened in late 2009, from memory. Then, early this year, I started reading about Konrath, Hocking, et al., and thought, what do I have to lose?

What did you find most different between the traditional publishing process and self-publishing?

The level of control. The ability to work with the editors I want to work with. The ability to push the cover art in a particular direction (not to mention being able to see it, often before the rest of the world does!). The ability to hold a release back if it needs more work than I anticipated. If you're that way inclined, self-publishing is all about quality that will hopefully lead to commerce. Traditional publishing is broadly about numbers that will hopefully lead to commerce. (Aside from Sandra: I love these lines!) They are two different perspectives. I'm not saying one is satanic and the other is angelic, but the two camps have different ways of looking at the same situation.

Who are your favorite authors and why do you admire them?

Author Diane Dooley asked me this question as well and I had to say I have no favourite authors. I might peruse the cover copy for the latest Iain M Banks' book, but I won't necessarily buy it. I tend to impulse buy more non-fiction nowadays.

What other writing projects are you working on?

An alter-ego of mine, Cara d'Bastian, is working on an urban fantasy series at the moment set in south-east Asia with Asian characters and south-east Asian fusion mythologies. This is one of those books that I thought I'd have released by now (the first in the series, called The Check Your Luck Agency) but my Developmental Editor read me the riot act on some basic aspects of it and now I'm still waist-deep in edits. I doubt it'll be ready till October.

What’s one of the goals you hope to achieve with your writing?

To earn a living.

Since you’ve lived on four different continents, what was your favorite place to live? Is there one place that inspires your writing the most?

I hate every continent evenly! J and I have a reputation amongst our friends for being “difficult to please” and I think they're right. When we were in the United States, I missed the Queensland thunderstorms. When we were in Melbourne, I missed Mexican cheeses and buying a laptop at 2am. When we were in Singapore, I missed being able to pick mushrooms from the bush behind our house. Now we're in Malaysia, I miss bacon, fish and chips and having a decent butcher.

What was your favorite non-writing job?

Wow, that's an interesting one. For a start, I don't think I've ever had a non-interesting job. Even the one I had in high school and at Uni, working in a shoe shop, was actually very entertaining and educational. In seven years, for example, I only came across one pair of smelly feet! People smell nicer than you think.

I enjoyed being my own boss when I ran my own IT consultancy business. I loved being a martial arts instructor although I don't think I'd like to own my own martial arts school again...you have all the politicking as usual but, in addition, every ersatz black-belt wanker thinks they can take you down. I didn't like being a coder in an IT company but I enjoyed being a middle manager. I loved owning an SF&F bookshop. Yeah, maybe that one. It was successful for as long as it was open, was the nexus for a wonderful community of people and I got to read terrific books for free!

What’s something people wouldn’t be able to guess about you just by looking at you?

I swear more than Billy Connolly.

POSTSCRIPT: I know that buying new authors is always a bit of a crap shoot, so I make sure to have full first chapters up at my website. That way, you can judge for yourself whether you like my writing style before you put any cash on the table. I also blog at Fusion Despatches.

If you're more a fantasy fan, I’m also self-publishing a new urban fantasy series set in south-east Asia, under the name “Cara d’Bastian”. Cara blogs at http://caradbastian.blogspot.com and the series website is http://www.CheckYourLuckAgency.com The first book (THE CHECK YOUR LUCK AGENCY) should be out in October or November.

WAR GAMES will be available through Kindle, Smashwords, B&N Nook and Kobo in every format under the sun! If anyone would like to see an audio version of it, drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do. The novel is long enough for print (90,000 words) but, unless I hear otherwise from readers, I’m not eager to go down that route because I believe that the digital format gives readers more value for money. But, again, if I hear otherwise, I’ll certainly reconsider.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Interview with Briane Pagel, Part Two

My interview with Briane Pagel continues. If you missed the first half, please click here.

What was your publishing process like?

After finishing Eclipse I thought “This should be a book of its own.” So I began sending query letters to a variety of publishers, only to get rejected by the first few I sent out. I don’t have the patience to deal with publishers and agents and queries and all that, and I didn’t want to wait years just to see a book in print, so I decided to go the indie route, and, having previously tested out Lulu.com, I thought they would make a good place to publish Eclipse.

Indie publishing itself is pretty easy, although editing and proofreading is hard; I’m reasonably sure there’s no typos in Eclipse because I really focused on doing that. If I ever get MORE serious about it, I’ll hire a proofreader.

Lulu.com is an okay platform for publishing, but it doesn’t do much in sales. I also published Eclipse to the Kindle, where it’s done better. I’m in the process of republishing it through Amazon’s CreateSpace to try to boost sales.

The HARD part of indie publishing is getting noticed. I have written probably 100 letters to bookstores and libraries and others to get my book on the shelf, to no avail. I’ve sent out so far a dozen or so review copies, but I’m not sure if any reviews got posted. I tried to combine the book with charity by doing something I called “Take A Book For Charity” where I would get people to sign the book and/or do something with it (I asked NASA if they would take the book up on the shuttle, for example)(they never replied) and then auction the book for charity. So far, a band (“Murder Mystery”) and an author (Patrick Rothfuss) have signed the book. Neil Gaiman never responded, and I’ve shelved that idea for now. (Although if someone wants that copy, they should let me know, as I’ll auction it and the proceeds will go to help the Shaw twins, some kids I try to help out from time to time.)

I’ve also made the book available to libraries (it’s on the shelves at my local library, where, due to a feud with them, I no longer go) and book clubs for free or a discount – and that offer still stands, so if you have a book club or are a librarian, let me know that, too.

Who are your favorite authors and why do you admire them?

For horror, Joe Hill is a fantastic writer. I recommend “20th Century Ghosts,” a collection of short stories that has some truly creepy stories in it. His “Heart Shaped Box” was good, not great. I also like Dean Koontz’s “Odd Thomas” but never read anything else by him.

What I liked about both of those authors was that their horror broke the mold – Hill has a brilliant short story about a guy who built a maze of boxes in the basement that still freaks me out.

For science fiction, I’m a huge Robert Heinlein fan; I like that his stories have enough “science” in them to qualify as sci-fi but that they’re far more about the characters and plot lines than the science. I also like that Heinlein just takes for granted that you understand his world, and doesn’t get sidetracked in explanations, while still somehow providing details. “The Cat Who Walks Through Walls” is one of my favorite sci-fi books ever.

I’m currently re-reading Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I’ve probably read that book 5 times; I make it a practice to almost never re-read books but Catch-22 is so finely crafted it makes me feel jealous and inferior: each sentence seems to have been deliberately placed. It might be the best book ever written.

And the most recent find I made was David Wong, who wrote “John Dies At The End.” It’s a book that began as a serial online, and is amazingly funny and weird while also being terrifying at times and is, overall, the most creative thing I’ve read in a long time. The story itself is about two friends fighting an otherworldly invasion of evil, but that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of how great it is. I tore through it and will probably read anything David Wong writes in the future – he’s got a carelessly cool style that breezes along.

What other writing projects are you working on?

I’ve got a backlog right now. I’m editing a serious novel I wrote, titled “Up So Down” to get it under 100,000 words, because a publisher a while back thought it was interesting but, at 130,000 words, too long. Once that’s done, I’ve got another novel, the After almost completely edited. the After is about a woman who dies in a plane crash and wakes up in the After, which is kind of like Heaven – everything in the After is exactly the way the person wants it to be, which poses problems if you don’t want to be there. She’s befriended by William Howard Taft and learns that there are people like her who know they’re dead and don’t want to be there, and that starts a race to find The Tree, which everyone believes is the Original Tree of Knowledge Of Good And Evil, and which may, if someone bites the apple again, kick everyone out of the After and into something else entirely.

Beyond that, I’m editing Lesbian Zombies and my collection of short horror stories; I rotate them in among the blogs; and I’ll be doing another collection of blog posts into a book and publishing that.

What’s one of the goals you hope to achieve with your writing?

I want to make people enjoy what they read – whether they laugh because it’s funny or think “I never looked at it that way before” or cry because it’s sad or simply say “well, what was that all about?” and think it over for a while and remember my characters and sayings and thoughts. When someone quotes me or tells me “I remember that thing you said,” it makes my day.

Although it’s nice to get paid for what I write – I make some money off ads on my blogs and the odd book or t-shirt sale – that’s not the driving force. My day job pays enough to pay the bills and keep me set up with leftover pizza, so the writing is just a hobby.

What do you like to do to relax?

Almost anything. I try to exercise, when my health allows me to. I play piano and guitar and I read a lot – mostly The New Yorker, although I always have a book I’m reading. I like to watch TV, but only do that late at night.

Almost every night, I spend time with my twins, who are autistic and therefore present not just a challenge but a tremendously unique way of looking at the world. We take walks and play in the yard and go to playgrounds and I take them almost everywhere I can go. Sweetie and I try to go out on a date every two or three weeks, and we almost always go see a movie – Sweetie’s a huge movie buff. The older kids will come and do things with us, like golfing or just hanging out. I’m almost always doing something – most days, I start going about 6:00 p.m. and don’t settle back down until 9 or so.

What’s something people wouldn’t be able to guess about you just by looking at you?

That I once jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. When I was 25, I made a list of 25 things I wanted to do before I was 26, and I did them all - -including going skydiving, which was the single most challenging thing I’ve ever done, as I’m so terrified of heights that I get nervous watching cartoons about heights. Seriously. So I decided that I had to skydive to prove to myself that I could do it, and the place my brother and I went to was not a high-budget or very safe-looking operation. They drilled us for about an hour on how to get out of the plane and pull our rip cord, and what to do when we landed, and such, and then we put on our parachutes and went up in the plane. It wasn’t a tandem jump or anything: it was just us, climbing out of a plane and then letting go.

I remember, as I put my legs out of this ridiculously tiny little plane that literally had some things held on by duct tape, thinking “This is the dumbest thing I have ever done,” and then I grabbed the wing strut and then the guy yelled something, so I let go and after about 10 seconds of nearly blacking out from falling, I pulled the rip cord and felt myself yanked by the parachute.

The wind was too loud for me to hear anything on the helmet radio, so I had to remember what they’d taught me, and tried to first slow myself down by pulling on these two handles you have. That caused me to swing forward so far that I was looking down on the parachute behind me, and I swore I wouldn’t do that again.

Then I tried to steer around but that, too, wasn’t working so good. So I focused on trying to get to the flag that was my target. As I was coming in towards the field where the flag was, I couldn’t hear anything. They’d told me they’d radio me when I should pull the brakes again, but I couldn’t tell if they were telling me to or not, so when it looked like I was going to crash, I just pulled down HARD on the brakes, stalling my parachute entirely and dropping thirty feet straight down. I’d have broken both of my legs, but it had rained a lot the day before and the field I landed in was swampy mud, so I sunk nearly to my waist and that’s why I’m not paralyzed today.

Once you’ve done that, everything else is a piece of cake.


Eclipse is available through my store at Lulu:

http://stores.lulu.com/troublewithroy

And on the Kindle:

http://www.amazon.com/Eclipse-Briane-Pagel/dp/0557060788

Monday, August 08, 2011

Interview with Briane Pagel, Part One

I recently interviewed Briane Pagel, author of Eclipse, a novel about an astronaut drifting in space. (As you'll see, although that was the starting premise, the story is much more complex than that.) Our interview was so long I'm going to post it over two days. I always try to do some initial research when preparing interview questions, but there was a lot more to Briane than I first realized.

Please tell us about yourself.

Probably the one thing you should know about me is that I have a great deal of trouble taking myself seriously. The other thing you should know, if you had to know more than one thing about me, is that I am interested, quite literally, in almost everything. If I had to be picky, I would say that I’m not interested in Law & Order, regardless of what iteration it is in, but even with that, I’m kind of lying because my wife, who I call Sweetie in real life and on my blogs, likes Law & Order but she falls asleep during it sometimes, so I used to try to be a good husband and watch the episodes for her after she fell asleep, so I could report back to her about the episode and let her know if it was worth rewatching ,and as a result of that, I’ve even found myself getting interested in Law & Order at times.

When I do take myself seriously, which is rare, I’m a 42-year-old consumer lawyer in my real job – I sue debt collectors and mortgage companies and about two times a year, Wal-Mart, which poses problems for me because I like shopping at Wal-Mart and worry that by suing them I’ll drive up their prices. I have five kids, but the bulk of responsibility for raising them is on Sweetie, which leaves me free to play trains and have water balloon fights with the younger ones (who are 4-year-old twins) and give lengthy lectures about responsibility to the older ones (who are 19-24).

What drew you to writing horror?

The movie White Noise, starring Michael Keaton – but not in a good way. I’ve always liked horror movies, and that movie looked great. Looked. We went to see it for my birthday one year, and I was bitterly disappointed – and that was on the heels of many other bitterly disappointing horror movies.

On the way home from the movie, I commented to Sweetie, as I had many times before “I could write a better horror movie than that.” Sweetie said “Then do it,” so I did: I wrote a story called The Deal, in which a little boy is tormented by a demon and his parents won’t do anything to stop it – leaving him to wonder what’s going on, and also what ever happened to his brother, as he’s pretty sure he had a brother but his brother is gone, and his parents pretend his brother never existed. (The Deal is one of the stories in my collection The Scariest Things, You CAN’T Imagine, so I won’t spoil the ending. Suffice to say that there is an ending, and it’s a good one.)

That led to more short horror stories, which I posted on my blog, “AfterDark.” (www.whathappensafterdark.com).

How did you get the inspiration for Eclipse?

Our oldest boy, who’s now 19 and who I call “The Boy” gave me the idea: He said “What if you wrote a story about an astronaut drifting in space?” and then went on to fill out the original premise of what happens to that astronaut.

I thought about that for a day or two, and then began writing it, posting it on my blog as I went along. After writing each section, I’d bring it to The Boy to see if it was true to his concept, and his continued advice was “Make it weirder.” So I tried to make it weirder.

What is Eclipse about?

The story begins with Claudius the astronaut floating helplessly in space, awaiting rescue as he drifts along along, his back to the sun. From there, it unwinds backwards to retrace how Claudius ended up there – showing Claudius as a young boy and then as a cadet at NASA preparing to be one of the first astronauts to orbit the sun in a special spaceship. Along the way, the storylines diverge and cross over, as Claudius remembers and re-remembers what happened. Interspersed with the chapters showing Claudius now and Claudius then are chapters in which a man under guard in a prison or hospital is visited by a doctor – and the doctor, guard, and man in the room are all Claudius.

The idea behind Eclipse was not just to be weird; I’m quite proud of the story structure and the way it twists and turns on itself, and a lot of thought went into planning that out. Chapter headings mean something – each section of Claudius’ story is tied to the others and the way the chapter is titled tells you which portion of the story you’re in. For example, the first part is called “Speck” and begins with Claudius drifting in space; all other chapters after that which have one-word titles are part of that same line. Eclipse incorporates actual laws of physics into the chapter titles to explain what’s happening to Claudius, and for good measure, throws in some quotes from classic rock and roll.

In the end, it’s not just a riveting (other’s words, not mine) story about a possibly-insane, probably-murderous astronaut, but a kaleidoscopic psychological mystery tour that comes together only once you’ve read the whole thing. I was trying for a feel similar to Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man stories, and while I’m no Bradbury, I think I got close enough for me.


Please tell us about your three blogs and what makes each of them different.

Okay, so I actually have seven active blogs; I seem to create them faster than I realize I am. I’ll take them in order of creation:

Thinking The Lions: This was my first blog, and it’s the one that’s really about me and my life and my family. I started it on a whim when I found out what blogs were, and for a while it was sort of formless and just full of junk. Now, it’s a more directed blog: I focus on trying to tell funny stories about my life and my family, interspersed with little featurettes like “Cool Stuff I Never Learned In School” or “Why I Hate People” or things like that.

I think I’m very funny, and recently, a writer in New York who follows me on Twitter compared me favorably to Stephen Colbert, Rob Corddry, and some other very funny people. I mention that about once a day to as many people as I can.

The Best Of Everything: I started this one next, back when I thought that just putting things on the Internet would make people come read them. Surprise! It doesn’t. This site started as an idea that people would post things they liked, doing so for a year, and at the end of the year all the readers would vote on those things and we’d pick the Best of Everything. That didn’t work because, as I found out, many people don’t want to post stuff on my blog. So I was mostly responsible for adding things to this blog, and over time it morphed into a series of posts about pop culture – I’d start writing about something like “The Best Detective Show” and end up ruminating about how all TV detectives solve crimes essentially by accident.

To keep things fresh, I started adding in other features, like the “SemiDaily List” and “Star Wars References” and “Is This Art?” and “THIS is a THING?!?” If you like things, you’ll probably find something to like on there.

The Best Of Everything is also where I posted the single most controversial thing I’ve ever written – an essay on which Olsen Twin was the Best, in which I maintained that they were identical twins. That drew a ton of comments. The essay is now in my book “Do Pizza Samples Really Exist?” (available on Lulu) but the comments spawned a whole new feature – “Stupid Questions,” in which I ask stupid questions about pop culture things.

AfterDark: This is where I posted those short horror stories, formerly in serial form, a few pages at a time. Since I’m not currently writing new horror stories while I work on a backlog of editing things I’ve written and getting them published in book form, I’ve been posting complete version of the stories that have appeared here in the past. You won’t find vampires or zombies or werewolves – this is new-style horror, like the one that’s up right now, “The Window,” in which some kids throw a rock into an abandoned shed and let something out, with horrifying results.

Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!
I like to call this the sports blog for people who hate sports blogs; I like sports, but I’m not a “stats” guy and I was never much of an athlete – so this blog tends to be about sports the way The Best Of Everything is about entertainment – an off-kilter look that focuses on things like sports stars in advertisements, asks “But Is It A Sport?” about various activities like fishing, and makes fun of Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers for not liking anyone. Even people who don’t like sports will probably find it entertaining.

For a while, this was its own blog, but I then discontinued it, thinking that it wasn’t popular. So I occasionally would do a “Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!” post on Thinking The Lions, and then I found out those were the second-most popular posts on that site (after “Sweetie’s Hunk of The Week”), so I re-created it as its own blog.

Lesbian Zombies Are Taking Over The World! This one is a serializes sci-fi/horror story that I started three years ago on a whim; it’s the ongoing story of Rachel, who woke up one day to realize that she didn’t know who or what she was. On the advice of her octopus (a tiny computerized hovering animal) she walked south and met her lover, Brigitte, and then learned that she might be the queen of the lesbian zombies who was probably destined to save the world from Armageddon. The entire story is available on Scribd, as well; I’m currently editing it to put it in book form before I start new installments, as it reached about 500 pages before I really knew what was going on.

Family and Consumer Law: The Blog: Remember how I said I’m a lawyer? I started this blog to remind me, and my coworkers, of that. It’s actually a professional blog where I write about cases that have to do with my area of practice. It’s fairly limited in scope and aimed at lawyers, but, as I say, if you have a family or spend money, it’s worth checking it out.

Publicus Proventus: This was the original site for my sports blog. Then it became a site where I serialized some novels for a while. Then, about two years ago, I began to get more and more agitated about politics and started posting, from time to time, on my blogs, posts about politics and government. Eventually, I started doing that so often that I thought the posts should have their own site, because if you come to Thinking The Lions looking for posts about how I opened a Twinkie and hid it in my office to see how long it would take it to disintegrate (something I really did; it’s still ongoing) you maybe don’t want to read my thoughts on health care or unemployment – and vice versa.

Overall, I try to view my blogs as though they’re magazines – each one with a particular focus, but inside that focus there are lots of little features that help frame what I’m writing about and keep it fresh, for me and for the readers.

How do you manage to juggle raising two children, posting to three blogs, and writing?

Like I said, I actually have five kids; the three older ones have moved out of the house, so they show up less and less on the blog (although they’re still there in spirit.) That plus the clearly-excessive number of blogs would pose a problem for someone who, say, is actually concerned with getting productive things done, but since I have little to no sense of responsibility, that’s not a problem for me.

Actually, though, there’s a couple of things working for me.

First, I never get writers’ block. Ever. I can’t recall a time I had trouble beginning writing something. Part of that is that I think a lot and need to pass that on, but part of it is that the many blogs and things I write help keep it interesting for me. By having topics, like “I Get Paid For Doing This,” or “Is This Art?” I get to filter what I’m thinking about into a format that makes it more fun to write. For example, I have a feature on two blogs I call “Whodathunkit?!” in which I ask, and answer, the questions you REALLY want to know about big events like Thanksgiving or the Super Bowl; that makes me able to write about the Super Bowl every year but have it never be the same. (I also do a 64-question megaversion every year for the NCAA Mens’ Basketball Tournament. Cracked.com approached me about doing that for their site, but they didn’t believe I could post it every year in the four days between when the teams are announced and when the games begin, and every year I’ve proven them wrong. Their loss.)

Second, my job has some flexibility; I can take a break and do smaller posts from time to time, and I really work on doing shorter posts, as I know I tend to ramble on and on.

Third, I’ve actually got a pretty good, if complicated schedule, that begins with me getting up at 5:50 every day, then going back to sleep until 6:15, when I finally get up for real and go down and work on writing for 30-45 minutes before going to get the twins ready for their day and set off myself to work. On Saturdays and Sundays, I do about 1-2 hours of writing work total, almost always first thing in the morning.

So the short answer is: I never stop thinking, and I do the writing before I do anything else during the day.

Interview continues tomorrow....

Thursday, August 04, 2011

25 Ways to Bleep! Your Characters

When I first started writing, I found it emotionally difficult to hurt my characters. Needless to say, the first book I ever wrote is unreadable--and I'm glad it will remain that way, thanks to obsolete technology. Writers need to develop a certain amount of sadism to develop conflict and stakes for their characters. I found this great list of ways to mess with your characters right here. Enjoy! Heh heh heh....

P.S. One of the commenters just gave me a new definition for a writer: someone who is mean to her imaginary friends.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The Influences of Fiction

There's an interesting article in Time this week about the effect of romance novels on women's expectations in relationships. The author of the article says that romantic fiction misleads women into idealizing dangerous sex and doesn't portray life and relationships realistically. Many people commented that they read lots of romances and still had healthy relationships; they say while younger readers might be influenced by what they read, more experienced women can separate fantasy from reality and view the books as escapism, nothing more. Others say that readers of mystery or fantasy don't become violent or believe magic really works. It sounds as if the article in time was based on an opinion piece, not a scientific study. I don't think an article like this will kill the romance industry.

Let's look at the article from a different angle: have there been works of fiction that influenced your outlook? I personally have been most influenced by stories that introduced me to perspectives of people with different backgrounds than mine. One example would be Gossamer Axe, which features a lesbian trying to rescue her lover. Books like this one helped me become more tolerant of others. How have books changed you?

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Ten-Word Tuesday: First Person

Even a first-person narrative can overuse the word "I."

Monday, August 01, 2011

Is Time Travel Really Impossible?

According to this news article, scientists have demonstrated that a photon cannot travel faster than the speed of light. Since a photon is well, a single particle of light (according to my understanding of quantum physics, light is both a particle and a wave; it depends on what properties you're trying to measure), this doesn't seem like a surprising conclusion. Apparently scientists at one point saw something that they thought was evidence of superluminal pulses, but it turned out to be just a visual effect. So Einstein has been proven correct once again.

I haven't seen the original scientific article; even if I had, I probably wouldn't follow it very well since this isn't my field of expertise. However, I think it's stretching the point to claim that this article proves time travel is really impossible. (I personally think the writer or editor made this claim to get people's attention; I guess it worked.) I'm not sure of the implications of this experiment for tachyons. Also, I don't think this articles proves that time travel via wormhole is impossible. I know there are other proposed methods for scientifically plausible time travel, but I'm not as familiar with them.

What are your feelings about time travel? Do you think it'll ever be possible? Even if you think time travel is forbidden by science or just too difficult for us to achieve, do you think it's still worthwhile using it in science fiction?

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