Monday, September 29, 2008

Feeling Like Royalty...

Or should I say, royalties.

I got my first royalty payment today for my short story in the Firestorm of Dragons anthology. It's quite a heady feeling, though I won't be quitting my day job anytime soon. And considering Alex has been having some rough times today due to his ear infection--not to mention he's currently Resisting A Rest--it's good to have something good happen today.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Alex and Apples

Today we decided to go apple picking. Eugene and I have been doing this for several years, although we skipped last year since Alex was so young. This year we decided to try a new orchard. Although it's in Woodstock (same as our old place), it's a little closer to us than our usual place. Plus it also offers Honeycrisp apples and Asian pears. So we packed up Alex and the half-ton of supplies we need to leave the house with him, stocked up on gas and cash, and drove to All Seasons Orchard.

When Alex is in the car at certain times of the day, he tends to fall asleep. This drive was no exception:

But he soon woke up when he saw all of the new things. The general store was very busy; we had to go there first to buy a half-bushel bag. (They make you tell them what you want to pick and pay for the bag first.) We gave Alex his lunch and snacked on a couple of apple donuts while we waited for a wagon to take us to the orchard. The setting was very beautiful, and there were plenty of games for kids, though we thought Alex was a bit young for some of them.

We ate lunch next to this waterfall and pond. A bunch of bees wanted to join us, so I had to lure them away with peach juice.

Finally we rode out to the orchard on a hay wagon. We had to fold up the stroller, but Alex took the trip in stride. Then we picked Gala apples, Honeycrisp apples, and Asian pears. We had to pay extra for the Honeycrisp and pears, but they were worth it. Alex reached for some of the apples, so we gave him two small Galas. I thought he just wanted to hold them, but he actually bit into them and ate about half of each apple. I had no idea he could eat whole apples so well:

We were done picking in about half an hour, just in time to catch the next wagon back to the main farm. I tried buying some apple butter and honey, but the lines in the main store were so slow they were stuck. Someone said they had been having computer problems; someone else said the delay was due to a shortage of donuts (appaprently they could only make two dozen at a time, so people were paying for them and then waiting). I finally gave up so we could leave and let Alex take his delayed nap. Despite those problems, I think we'll be back next year.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Sympathy for a Squirrel

I hit a squirrel on the way to work this morning.

I was on a residential street headed toward the highway. Normally, when you see squirrels in the street, they're half a block away, and they're smart enough to look around before attempting to cross. This one just jumped right out in front of me, only a few feet away. I don't think there were parked cars blocking its view, but it all happened so fast. Maybe something was chasing it. I knew as soon as I saw it that I would hit it, and sure enough, I heard it hit my the underside of my car. Glancing back in the rearview mirror, I saw it curled up in the road.

I drove on--what else could I do?--but I felt a bit shaken up by the incident. At least there doesn't seem to be any damage to my car, and Alex and I were unhurt. I'd rather hit a squirrel than a deer. Still, I felt bad again when I came home and saw the squirrel still on the road. I know there are plenty of squirrels in the trees, and they can be pests, especially when you're feeding birds. But it never feels good to see something die so senselessly.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Back on the Blog Chain: Storyworld Creation

Time for another Blog Chain Post. This time, my friend Heather picked the topic: How do you as an author choose or create your story-world and give that setting authenticity? You can start with her blog if you wish to follow the entire blog chain link to link, or you can check out all the marked blogs in my Blog List.

The previous poster, Archetype, focused on the laws of fantasy and science fiction worlds. I'm going to continue discussing science fiction; specifically, I'm going to talk about creating future worlds. My novel Across Two Universes has three major worlds: the world of mid-21st century New York (about 60 years ahead of us), the world of the spaceship Sagan, and the world of 1980 Earth, where my hero, Paul, meets the man he was cloned from and attempts to change the fate of that world. Everything in ATU is set up to make that meeting possible.

When I came up with this story world, my initial idea was to send someone back in time to hear the Beatles play at the Cavern in Liverpool. I then had to figure out her motive for doing so, and it turned out to be to clone John Lennon. (The original versions of my novella "Move Over Ms. L." and the first few drafts of ATU did use John Lennon and other real people; there's no denying that. I'm currently changing them, though.) So I had to set up a world where time travel was possible and figure out how that worked. I started with a few Writer's Digest books devoted to time and space travel. I decided that the best time travel method for this story would be to have the time traveler pass through a wormhole into another, younger universe. She would need a spaceship to do so, not to mention a wormhole. I don't want to go into too much detail about the origins of the wormhole, but I will say it's not natural. But I also needed a society capable of making a spaceship, so in my future world, cold fusion is possible and used to power the ship (which still isn't capable of faster-than-light travel, so it travels relatively short distances). The ship itself is used to collect genetic samples and other treasures of the 1980 Earth and bring them back to the 21st century.

In designing the Sagan, I focused more on how people live in it than its technical specs. Although the ship is well-stocked and maintained every time it returns to the 21st century Earth, it has to be able to supply its residents with food independently. I therefore gave it a salmon tank and a hydroponic garden. It also has a psychiatrist to help people cope with space travel and little cubicles where people can seek privacy. Since passage through the wormhole is rough at best, passengers are required to strap themselves into their bunks.

To come up with other technological wonders of my world, I read Scientific American. My heroes wear "smart clothes" that can keep the wearer warm and spidersilk armor that can stop bullets--things already being discussed today. I also extrapolate uses of the technology; holographs aren't just used to replace TVs but to create costumes for actors. I also think about how current events would affect the future. In my world, global warming has caused severe flooding in New York City; the city was saved by building levees.

Research and imagination can help you create your world, but it's the way you use them that makes your world authentic. Instead of telling my readers about my world, I show it to them as Paul would see it. The story starts with Paul using his autoholoprojectors during a play. On the Sagan, he meets with his girlfriend in the hydroponic garden and in a private cubicle, interacting with the settings and experiencing them through several senses. I don't lecture the readers about flooding; instead, Paul mentions in bypassing how he was an extra in the documentary The Floods of New York.

It's time for me to pass the blogging baton to Kristal, but I'd like to sum up in three points: when creating a world, make it multifaceted. Think about the implications of your decisions on other aspects of the world. And don't forget to show it to the reader with sensory descriptions and telling details. No matter what world you write about, the details will make it real.

More Photos....

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Lakes and Legos

This weekend was one of the rainiest I've seen. I'm not sure how many inches we got in our area, but nearby towns received over eight inches in the last two days. We had plans for a playdate, but our friends not only got water in their kitchen but also had several roads in their subdivision flood to the point of unusability. Luckily, our house stayed dry. I did take Alex out shopping yesterday; he got a raincoat and some new clothes for fall. Eugene's plans to do a photo get-together with some friends at a garden got washed out. Instead, we met another photography couple for lunch and went to Legoland at Woodfield Mall. Here are a few photos:

More to come later....

Thursday, September 04, 2008

More Memes: Books I've Read

I just saw this meme on Sara's blog. My memory is hazy on some of them, but I thought I'd give this a whirl anyway.

This is a list of the top 106 books most often marked unread by LibraryThing users.

bold = ones I've actually completed.
italic = ones I've started and never finished
plain text = ones that I've never read
underline = ones you had to read for school.
CAPS = ones that I really really WANT to read. (what do I do for a maybe read?)

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (might like to read)
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
The Silmarillion
Life of Pi : a novel
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Ulysses (maybe read)
Madame Bovary (not sure if I finished it or not)
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
The Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel (great book!)
War and Peace (I read this over a week while I was sick)
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler’s Wife (great book!)
The Iliad
Emma (can't remember if I read this one)
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs. Dalloway (I think I read this one, but I'm not sure)
Great Expectations
American Gods
Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked : The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
The Canterbury Tales
The Historian : a novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (I may have read this one)
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
Foucault’s Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible : a novel
Angels & Demons (one I never want to read!)
The Inferno
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver’s Travels (I wrote a term paper on the final section)
Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela's Ashes
The God of Small Things
A People’s History of the United States : 1492-present
Neverwhere (I may have read this one)
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake : a novel
Collapse : how societies choose to fail or succeed (good book)
Cloud Atlas
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance : an inquiry into values (one of my all-time favorites)
The Aeneid
Watership Down
The Hobbit
In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Back on the Blog Chain: How Real Are Your Characters?

It's time once again for another entry in our ever-growing blog chain about writing. The current topic is, "How real are your characters, and how much do you know about them?" Please go here and here to read the previous and next entries in the chain. I also have links to all of the blogs in the sidebar.

Before I start discussing characters, I'd like to discuss briefly the relationship between fiction and reality, as this topic has inspired me to mull about that. We read fiction for various reasons; sometimes we want a mirror of our own reality, and sometimes we want to escape from it. (I've lived in Midwestern suburbs for most of my life, and although the Midwest is my home, there are times when it's so mundane I need to escape from it mentally. That's one of several reasons why I love science fiction and fantasy.) But when we read or watch movies or TV, we want to believe in them, at least as long as we're actively engaged in them. So perhaps it's more important to find out what makes readers believe in the reality of characters. Since writers generally start off as readers, and since both writer and reader are needed to bring a story to life, I'll talk first about the writing side of the equation before going into the readers' perspective.

As Heather pointed out in her own entry on this topic, writers almost always feel their characters are real to them; otherwise, the writers wouldn't feel inspired to write about the particular characters in the first place. I haven't tried to obtain Social Security numbers for my characters and claim them as dependents on my taxes, but they still feel like real people to me, perhaps citizens of the universe next door. My characters have strengths and weaknesses, like anyone you meet on the street. They have their own dreams and interests, even ones not relevant to the story. I also have a fairly good idea of what happens to them before and after the beginning of the book.

As for how much I know about my characters, it changes over time. Although I do get to know my characters in my head before I start writing, I generally don't write out a full-blown character sketch for them before my first draft. Even if I do try to create a mini-biography of the main character, it's often incomplete on paper, as I hold more details in my head. Other things come to me as I write. For instance, I have two incomplete trilogies, one fantasy and one science fiction. In both series, after I finished the first book, a secondary character who already had a love interest "told" me that he or she was bisexual and in love with the main character as well. Talk about a plot twist! I worked that into my fantasy series, but I'm still not sure how I want to handle it with the science fiction series.

Although at times my characters will rebel as described above, at other times, I'll come up with a plot twist that feels right for them. I can change the details from draft to draft, but the end result stays the same. In Across Two Universes, Paul's mother is murdered at the beginning of the story, though I've changed how and where it happens. But I could not start afresh and save her; that would be a different book. I do other cruel things to him in the sequel, enough for me to shed real tears over him. Paul may not be a real person, but he inspires real emotions in me.

This brings me to my final point: no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. (Edit: this line isn't from me; it's from Robert Frost. I should have Googled first before quoting.) How do we convince our readers that our characters are real? I think part of it has to do with the telling detail, using all of the senses to bring the world to life. Small details about the characters, like quirks or favorite things, can also make them seem real. But for me, what gets me involved with my characters is their emotional lives, and those need to be portrayed realistically as well. If you can convince your readers that yes, someone would really react a certain way in a given situation, then they too will start thinking of your characters as real.

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