Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Solar Unicorn Stitching

I've finally started a site for my crochet and sewing projects. So far, it's only a Facebook page called Solar Unicorn Stitching. (It ties in with Solar Unicorn Publishing, which is how I publish my books.) Thanks to Maria Zannini for designing the logo to the left. There's not much else on the page at the moment, as I need to get some good pictures of my crochet projects. I plan to build it up over time. In the meantime, here's a picture of my latest project: a blue stegosaurus. I crocheted most of it while we were driving last week; now I just need to sew everything together.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Indianapolis Trip 2018: As Told by Stan, Rex, and Oscar

Rex: We're back! In case you've forgotten who we are--

Stan: How is that possible?

Rex: I'm Rex the brachiosaurus, this is Oscar the orca, and the loudmouth is Stan the T-Rex.

Stan: Hey!

Oscar: We're here to tell you about the trip our family took last week to Indianapolis, Indiana.

Stan: It was a short trip because Dad had to work Monday, and Mom had to work on Friday, but it was still a lot of fun.

Rex: Thanks again to Dad's cousin Alvin for letting us stay with him!

Oscar: I knew this town really liked whales when I saw this mural.

Rex: After a late lunch, we walked along the canal to see a memorial. The humans got wet, but at least we stayed dry.

Stan: Get to the good part, guys!

Rex: The highlight of the trip was The Children's Museum of Indianapolis. They have brachiosaurses peeking in!

Stan: Even better, I got to meet the T-Rex I was named for! He didn't say much to me, but I think he was impressed.

Oscar: I was more impressed that we got to visit the paleo lab.

Stan: Don't forget how we became terracotta warriors! And the street named for T-Rexes!

Rex: Hey, Oscar, don't you still owe us a root beer for that fight in the Coliseum?

Stan: Well, I'm still waiting for Stan to pour us tea.

Stan: No fair picking on the short-armed guy!

Oscar: Um, Rex, change the subject....

Rex: Unfortunately, the humans didn't take us for a paddleboat trip. They were worried we might get wet.

Oscar: I would have been just fine in salt water, but no, it was fresh water.

Stan: They also went to the Eiteljorg Museum and the Indiana War Memorial Museum without us.

Rex: And the kid went to a coin shop too.

Stan: You don't think he'd sell us, do you?

Oscar: Don't worry, Stan. Mom won't let him.

Rex: So, if you like dinosaurs and orcas, Indianapolis is your kind of town.

Oscar: See you soon!

Stan: Rahhhhrrrr!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Favorite Amigurumi?

My family and I are taking a brief trip. I'll be back by Friday and will tell you more about it next week. In the meantime, I thought I'd take a quick poll: what types of amigurumi, or crocheted characters, would appeal to you? Here are a few options:

A. Characters from popular culture (Star Wars, Marvel, etc.)
B. Dinosaurs
C. Other animals
D. Characters from literature

Of course, if you're not interested in amigurumi, that's OK too. However, since I'm going to be a vendor at a local comic-con in late September, I plan to build up some amigurumi stock and sell them along with my books. I know the Porg are popular with Star Wars fans, but I'm trying to gauge what the general public would be interested in. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, July 09, 2018

She Has Her Mother's Laugh

One of the books I finished reading last week (just in time for my semiannual reading update) was She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversion, and Potential of Heredity by Carl Zimmer. This is an interesting discussion that doesn't just consider the scientific aspects of heredity, but also the social implications. There are a couple of chapters that talk about the early 20th century effort to end feeblemindedness by sterilization and how family histories (which later turned out to be not accurate) contributed to this effort. There are discussions about diseases where heredity is fairly easy to trace and other topics such as the inheritance of height, which is affected by many genes. Although we normally think of inheritance as passing strictly from parent to child, there are also other ways where people can be mosaics, with different genes in different gene lines, and even instances of people obtaining genes from siblings while they were in the womb. Those cases might be potential inspiration for science fiction stories. Culture is also part of our inheritance, so there was a section devoted to that. Finally, the closing chapters considered the future of inheritance. It's a long book, but worth the read.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

IWSG: The Ultimate Writing Goal

Normally, the Insecure Writer's Support Group posts on the first Wednesday of the month, but since the Fourth of July is tomorrow, we're blogging a day early. To learn more about the IWSG, please visit the website or Facebook page. You can also follow them on Twitter. (@TheIWSG).

Our hosts for July are Nicki Elson, Juneta Key, Tamara Narayan, and Patricia Lynne. Our question for this month is What are your ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)?

I've always wanted two things from my writing: to find the people who "get" me, and to make a living from it. Sure, I admit I've fantasized about winning major awards and being Guest of Honor at a convention, but these two things matter the most to me. When I first started writing, traditional publishing was the only way to get anywhere in the field, but now there are multiple ways and formats to put your work in front of readers. Being an indie writer (though technically I'm more of a hybrid author) may make some goals (like prestigious awards) harder to achieve, but in the long run, it may be easier to earn more from my work if I control the rights. I do realize by this point that neither ultimate goal is easy to reach, but that's what makes them ultimate goals. The way to achieve them is to chart a path of smaller, easier goals that you can work on. Even if I never make it to my final goal, I'll still be farther than when I started.

Another type of ultimate goal is to finish a series. Although I've finished the Season Avatars series, I still want to write a spin-off series following my Avatars and their descendants. I know where I want that series to conclude; it's a matter of figuring out how to get to that point.

What are your writing goals? How do you plan to achieve them? Feel free to share in the comments.

I'm taking tomorrow off from blogging, so Happy 4th of July to my fellow Americans, and see you Friday!

Monday, July 02, 2018

Mid-Year Goal Review

Normally at the beginning of July, I post my semi-annual review of the books I've read so far this year. This year, I plan to talk about some of my other goals as well.

I'm writing this Sunday morning; as of now, I've read 75 books since January. I plan to finish at least one more book before this post goes live (I have to finish the book, since it's due today.) Although the number is a little lower than I'd like, I have read a couple of long books recently. One of my goals this year is to read at least ten books on writing/marketing fiction. I've read four so far, so I need to step it up a little. The genre breakdown is shown below:

Fantasy: 24
Science Fiction: 13
Other (mostly mystery): 4
Non-Fiction: 21

Instead of recommending some of these books, I'm going to talk about some of my other goals:

My main writing goal for 2018 is to finish Dryads to Discover, the first book in an urban fantasy trilogy. I'm only about 26,000 words in. It's been slow going, partly because I'm still feeling out the plot and characters and partly because I keep getting distracted by other projects. I'd like to finish the rough draft this year, even if it takes me longer to publish it. I have looked briefly at one of my abandoned stories that I'd like to publish, but I'm not sure yet how I want to revise it. In the meantime, I have ideas for two completely different series in new genres for me. I'll probably develop one in tandem with Dryads and table the other for now. At least I've met my short story goal for the year. I've sent out four short stories to various markets. One was accepted, one rejected, and two are pending.

I'm not sure if I'm going to make my original publishing goals for Dryads to Discover and my abandoned short story, but I'd rather wait until they're ready. Despite paid ads and Instafreebie promotions, my sales (not giveaways) are lower than my goal for the year. Hopefully some of my short stories will help with that, along with a planned Comic-Con appearance at my local library in September.

My crafting has been more successful than I anticipated. I originally planned to crochet ten characters this year, but I easily met that goal in January. They've proven to be popular, and I've also started sewing lanyards. (I plan to bring my crocheted characters and lanyards to the Comic-Con in addition to my books.) I still have to sew the "Santa Jawa" robes for a parade in late November, and I'm making another Jawa robe and hood to replace my current ones, which are getting a little worn. Ideally, I'd like to get my generic Jedi costume approved before Star Wars Celebration in Chicago next April.

You may be wondering where I get the time to do all of this. Trust me, I wonder the same thing. It's a matter of juggling priorities, avoiding time-wasters like TV, Facebook, and games (though I struggle more with the latter two than I do with TV), and letting other things slide. That said, hopefully at some point I'll manage a garage sale this summer. Time to see where I can squeeze that in....

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Where Women Rule!--Instafreebie Giveaway

If you like either women's fiction or fantasy, then I have 101 choices for you. There's a giveaway on Instafreebie called Where Women Rule running through July 3rd where you can download a copy of Scattered Seasons (if you don't already have it) and a hundred other books, including Hereafter by my blogging buddy Terri Bruce. I have to check out some of the other books myself, so I hope you will too!

Lady Gwendolyn lo Havil is an Ava Spring, born to heal others and lead the Season Avatars of her generation. Season Avatars with divine magic must work in groups of four to save the country of Challen from Chaos Season, times when all of the seasons appear at once. When the current Ava Spring dies in a riding accident, Gwen must find the other three Season Avatars she will link with.  But two of them are missing, and with Gwen's own magic crippled by a cursed pottery shard, she will have to use all of her skills to find the Avatars scattered across the country of Challen. During her journey, she meets a stranger who claims to know the shard's origin. Is he truly an ally of the Season Avatars, or is he trying to stop them from uniting?

Monday, June 25, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kindom--Review by Stan, Rex, and Oscar

Stan: Hi, I'm Stan, the T-Rex. I was named after an actual T-Rex fossil.

Rex: I'm Rex the brachiosaurus. Don't confuse me with Stan. I was actually named after Captain Rex from The Clone Wars.

Oscar: And I'm Oscar the Orca. I'm the oldest, and I wasn't named after anybody.

Stan: So, last week, our family took us to see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. It was awesome! There were T-rexes and raptors and...

Rex: ...and not enough sauropods. (sniffs) How could they leave the sauropods behind? So tragic....

Oscar: They didn't have enough room on the boats for such big creatures, Rex. And Stan, you know the people only wanted the carnivores to make money from them.

Stan: Well, you know what I want from humans, Oscar? Lunch!

Oscar: Yeah, there was a whole lot of lunching going on, though I think it would be more accurate to say midnight snacking.

Stan: There were people running everywhere, afraid of us!

Rex: And there were a whole lot of dinos and other animals on the island...

Oscar: But really, it was just like all the other movies in this franchise. Sure, they threw in a couple of twists at the end, but they didn't discuss them in detail.

Stan: This is an action movie, Oscar, not a thinking movie!

Oscar: Well, next time, can we see a thinking movie?

Rex: I think it's usually what the kid wants to see, Oscar. So we'll probably go see this again and again while it's in the theater.

Oscar: Sigh.

Stan: T-Rex wins! T-Rex always wins! Rrrrarrrhhhrrr!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Physics of Star Wars

I just finished reading The Physics of Star Wars: The Science Behind a Galaxy Far, Far Away. As the title suggests, it looks at various aspects of the Star Wars universe, such as planetary science, the Force, robotics, and weapons. For each item that the author covers, he includes some information about which films (the most recent movie he discusses is Rogue One) reference the topic, which physics concepts are introduced, Star Wars back story, how the physics works in Star Wars, and how the physics actually works in real life. Some of the concepts turn out to be rooted in fact (like planets orbiting a binary star system) while other still remain more fiction than fact (alas, light sabers and Force jumps are part of this group.) I'm not sure whether this book is meant to be more of a physics primer with a fun slant or a book about a specific aspect of Star Wars.

Do you like books that analyze the scientific aspects of a fandom, or do you think the explanations destroy the wonder and "unweave the rainbow"? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, June 18, 2018

KU--To Renew or Not to Renew

I've never had much luck with Kindle Unlimited (KU) as an author, but last year, I decided to try it as a reader during Amazon Prime Day last year, when it was available at a reduced price. Soon I'll have to decide if I want to renew it or not.

Although I consider myself a voracious reader, it's hard for me to get my money's worth of reading out of KU each month. Part of this is because if I discover a book during its free period, I'll "buy" it instead of borrowing it. Since my Kindle and Kindle apps display the newest books first, the books I do borrow will get buried quickly if I don't read them immediately. The Kindle and Kindle apps aren't set up for me to manage my KU books there, so I have to log into my Amazon account if I want to find and return any KU books. The exception is when I try to borrow an eleventh book; the Kindle or app will prompt me to return one of my ten books I already have and continue. Of course, having access to all the books in the KU library doesn't stop me from buying plenty of other books outside the library.

All the complaints aside, I will say that my use of KU comes and goes in spurts. While I may go for a while without using it, I've read at least two books (maybe three) in KU recently. There are some authors I follow in KU, so it's convenient for binging on their books. I like to think they will get more money for a $0.99 book if I borrow it instead of buying it.

Are you (or have you been) part of KU or other subscription service for books? If so, what did you think of it? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

A Plethora of Projects

As if I didn't have enough to do already between writing, crocheting, and making a new set of Jawa robes, I've discovered a new project: making lanyards. My family and I are planning to attend Star Wars Celebration next year, so naturally we need suitably themed Star Wars lanyards for our badges. Rather than spend $10 each for the official Celebration ones, I did a little searching and found instructions for making my own lanyards from porg-patterned fabric I already had. (See photo.) They're so (or sew) easy even a beginner like me can make them, though it takes me longer than ten minutes (as promised by the pattern). I plan to make more, but this project cuts into time I need for other activities. I'm not sure exactly why I'm inspired to do so many other projects, though it could be a way of avoiding my current writing project.

How many projects do you juggle at once? Do you find yourself spending more time on projects that are lower priority than the ones you really need to do? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Tale of Genji

Last month, as I was browsing my library's online catalog of ebooks, I discovered they had a translation of The Tale of Genji, which was written almost a thousand years ago by a Japanese noblewoman and is considered the world's first novel. Naturally, I decided to read it. It's about 1,100 pages, so it took me almost the entire lending period (three weeks) to plow through it. Although there were footnotes, they weren't hyperlinked to the relevant text, which made it difficult to match them up. Nevertheless, I managed to get the gist of the work, though I'm sure there are a lot of subtle details I missed.

The Tale of Genji is more of a biography (albeit of a fictional character) than a plot-driven book that we would consider a novel. It focuses on the life of Genji, the son of an emperor and a beloved concubine. Due to his mother's low rank, he's not eligible to become emperor himself. Today, we might consider Genji a "Marty Stu," as he's extraordinarily handsome, charming, and talented in many areas--and he has quite a few romantic dalliances. It's actually difficult to track all of the women he becomes involved with, especially since it was conventional at the time not to refer to people by name. Genjis' relationships take up much of the story. Characters quote poetry at each other, travel to view cherry blossoms or autumn leaves, and participate in impromptu evening concerts. The tale focuses on day-to-day events, not conflict. That said, there is a time when Genji falls out of favor when a new emperor takes the throne, and he's exiled from court for three years. During this time, he fathers a daughter who becomes the next empress. However, the story doesn't end when Genji dies, but instead focuses on two of his descendants and their rival relationships with women. The story ends abruptly, and there's debate on whether this ending is intentional or not.

Given that this story was written so long ago, relationships between men and women are much more formal than today, and women's lives are quite restricted. Women not only live in separate parts of a house from the men, but also have screens separating them from male visitors. If a man manages to sneak a peek through the screens at the woman, it's a big deal. If he sneaks past the barriers and meets the woman face-to-face, he apparently can have sex with her without much resistance. In fact, a bride and groom spend three nights together before they are betrothed. There are a couple of instances where a man takes a girl and raises her up to be his wife when she comes of age; today, we'd find that repulsive. Genji does this with his second wife, and she's quite shocked when he consummates the relationship. Women in this society can become very house-bound and asocial; for example, one of Genji's lovers refuses to leave her house after her father dies, even though there's no one to help her run it. Many of her servants leave, and the house starts to fall apart before Genji finally learns what's happening and helps her. A pair of sisters also resist leaving their home to go with men who love them after they lose their father. At least two women involved in affairs end up taking religious vows after they have children. I'm not sure how these incidents would have been received by the women who made up the original audience for this story.

The original manuscript of this story no longer exists, so we're lucky that it's been copied down and passed on to us. Story structures have evolved quite a bit since The Tale of Genji was written. It's interesting to look back at older works and see what parts still appeal to us. (For me, there were a couple of passages about stories and wanting someone to share experiences with that resonated with me.)

What's the oldest work you've read, either in the original language or in translation? Did you find it difficult to follow? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

IWSG: Names and Titles

Welcome to the June 2018 post for the Insecure Writer's Support Group, a group to support fellow writers. Learn more about the IWSG on their website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed. Our hosts this month are Beverly Stowe McClure, Tyrean Martinson, and Ellen Jacobson.

Our question for this month is What's harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names?

I would say book titles are more difficult for me because I change them more often than I do character names. For example, Twinned Universes was originally called To Thine Own Self Be True, then Across Two Universes (which I decided was too similar to Across the Universe, which was used for a YA SF title before I published my book) before I settled on the final title. Lyon's Legacy was originally titled Move Over Ms. L.,which was the title of a John Lennon song I quoted in an early draft. I ended up writing my own song lyrics instead to avoid legal issues. Short stories can go through several name changes as my understanding of the story evolves during writing and revising.

I generally don't change character names so often because they are core to the character. It does happen, however. In the Catalyst Chronicles series, Paul's full name was originally Paul Richard Lennon Harrison, a reference to the four Beatles. Currently it's just Paul Lyon Harrison. Sometimes I change character names if I decide to change their background. Julia is a secondary character in the Catalyst Chronicles series. I don't remember what her original surname was, but when I realized she was half-Navajo, her last name became Kee. Finally, in my current work in progress, I changed the name of a dryad prince when I realized I'd been naming the other dryads with adjective-noun combinations (Redbark, Longleaf) instead of more traditional human names. Now I just realized another character doesn't follow this naming convention. Back to brainstorming!

How often do you change names or titles? Feel free to share examples in the comments.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Joliet Star Wars Day 2018

This was our third year dressing up for Joliet Star Wars Day, which is held every year on the first Saturday in June. (Alex and I attended this event in 2015 before we became members.) This is one of the biggest events of its kind in the area, and it draws troopers in from other states. It starts with a parade, followed by a commemorative picture of all the parade participants. After that, there are lightsaber battles, talks about Star Wars, activities for the kids, and vendors (including Star Wars authors and artists). I didn't take a lot of pictures, but here are a few of us:

 Standing in front of a Rogue One tank that came all the way from Kentucky for this event.
 I'm the Jawa in the middle of the picture.

 A selfie in front of a "Jawa Trading Post." I should have had someone else take it to get in more of the post.
 Posing with the Rebel Legion.
 Alex held a sign for the Death Star School of the Galactic Academy (the Star Wars costuming group for minors).
  Alex takes his turn guarding the tank.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

MCSI: Magical Crime Scene Investigation Kickstarter

Today is a very important day: my son's eleventh birthday! Happy Birthday, Alex, and many more birthdays to come! (And no, you can't drive my car--at least, not yet.)

And now for something completely different: MCSI: Magical Crime Scene Investigation. This is the anthology (by Otter Libris) that will include my short story "Henry's Harness," and it's live on Kickstarter! Pledges start at $2, ebook rewards at $6 (available in multiple formats), and paper copies at $20. Higher tiers offer multiple copies of this book in multiple formats, and you can add on custom dice and other books by Otter Libris. This project only needs $1,500 to proceed, and with over $1,100 already pledged after the first week, it's likely to meet goal. If the project reaches $2,000, it'll unlock a secret stretch goal. There are still almost four weeks left to back this project. Back it today, and you can read "Henry's Harness," along with many other intriguing stories, this August.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Some Thoughts on Solo:: A Star Wars Story

I have to admit Han Solo never appealed to me much, so my expectations for Solo: A Star Wars Story weren't high. It turned out to be an OK movie, though I liked The Last Jedi better.

Solo starts with Han already a teenager/young adult, part of a street gang and in love with another member, Qi'ra. When Han manages to steal a small amount of a precious fuel, he uses the opportunity to get off planet. Unfortunately, Qi'ra is forced to remain behind at the last moment, leaving Han determined both to become the best pilot in the galaxy and to go back for her. To meet these goals, he first joins Imperial forces (we don't get to see much of that part of the story, even though he's enlisted for three years), he deserts to pull off caper after caper.

The pacing of the movie was pretty good. Some of the opening shots were quite dark, but otherwise the visuals and effects were also good. I particularly liked the droid L3, who is female, quite opinionated, and has a too-brief appearance in the movie. Lando was also well-done, matching what we see of him in The Empire Strikes Back.

 Han gets the surname "Solo" when he enlists in the Imperial forces. (It's odd that he mentions his father later on in the movie but doesn't want to acknowledge belonging to anyone.) Although belonging and betrayal are themes in the movie, I may have missed some of the dialogue developing those themes. I'm sure I'll get a chance to listen to the dialogue when we return to the theater for multiple viewings.

If you saw the movie this weekend, what did you think of it? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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