Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Writing Goals--Looking Back

Well, here we are, the last blog post of 2010. It seems fitting to look back at the writing goals I set myself in January and see how well I did. You can find the original post here; it was part of the Blog Chain at the time. Here's what I posted:

I will attend WisCon Memorial Day weekend.--Completed.

I will read the writing books on my to-read list: Flogging the Quill and The 10% Solution.--I read The 10% Solution, but although I started Flogging the Quill and read sample chapters on the blog of the same name, I haven't finished it.

I will blog more frequently than I have been lately--at least 10 times a month. I'm thinking of blogging about some of the science news stories I read and discussing the implications for science fiction. I will also search for more blogs to follow and leave comments.--I've actually done well with all of this. I increased my blogging, posted more about science, and followed more blogs.

I will critique at least two chapters or short stories on the Online Writing Workshop (edited to add: per month). --I did this for a couple of months, but then I got so busy I let this slide for most of the year. However, I did crit work privately for writing partners and publicly on Miss Snark's First Victim and Absolute Write. And now that my son is going to bed earlier (knock on wood), I hope to have more time for OWW.

Although I made significant progress on revising Across Two Universes and think I've done as much as I can with it on my own, I'd like some feedback on the complete book from my critiquing partners before I start submitting it anywhere.

I did work on a new project; I wrote over 50,000 words of the sequel to Across Two Universes during National Novel Writing Month. For now, it's on hold until I finish ATU.

Although I didn't meet 100% of my writing goals, I did complete two goals I set for myself and made significant progress on the others. That's not too shabby. I still can't decide what, if any, goals I should set for myself in 2011. One thing I do plan to do is keep a list (on a separate page of this blog) of all the books I read in 2011. I'm not resolving to read a certain amount of books, though.

Have a happy (and safe) New Year, and I'll talk to you again soon!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Best of Blog Chain: Torture or Tough Love?

My final Best of Blog Chain post is from February 22, 2009; this is one of my favorites. I hope you've enjoyed the blast from the past!

Time again for another Blog Chain Post. Leah picked the topic this time, and she's hoping to make us stretch ourselves. Here's her question (or series of questions):

So Blogchain, (and others) show me your dark side...What do you do to amp up the conflict? What pins do you stick in the little voodoo dolls? How do you torture your characters???

(As always, you can go back to Leah's post to follow this chain from the beginning, or you can go back to Michelle's post immediately before mine and follow the chain backwards.)

Leah thinks this topic will make some Blog Chain members squirm since (and I quote), "These girls are nice...sweet...moms and teachers and doctors!" Leah, I assume you're not a parent yet; forgive me if that's wrong. But moms know sometimes you have to let the baby cry himself to sleep, no matter how long it takes, so he learns to fall asleep on his own and sleep through the night; sometimes you have to take your child to the doctor for shots and give them nasty-tasting medicine; and sometimes you have to take away something dangerous or discipline them when they do something wrong.

In short, sometimes you need to practice tough love, even if your kids think it's torture.

When it comes to writing characters, I treat them like children (no wonder they sound younger than they are!) and practice tough love with them. I like my protagonists; I don't want to subject them to waterboarding. My antagonists deserve that. But my protags wouldn't enjoy their Happy Ever After endings so much if they didn't pass through some tough times first. And to be honest, I want to see my characters grow over the course of a novel, but they won't overcome their faults until they make mistakes and learn from them. The wounds that I give them will remake them.

Let me give some examples from my WIP, Across Two Universes. At the beginning of the novel, my hero, Paul Harrison, is a seventeen-year-old actor. He is also literally the product of two universes and has a unique talent because of that. However, he doesn't understand his gift, so when his mother is poisoned, he doesn't understand the warning in time to save her. This guilt will drive some of his most desperate acts later in the story. But I don't stop there. Paul was cloned from a famous musician who lost his mother at seventeen. Paul suspects his mother was killed to make his life similar to the man he was cloned from. The death doesn't unlock his musical talent (he doesn't have any), but it gives him more guilt he has to live with, and the only way he can deal with it is to bring the murderer to justice. Add to that the fact that Paul refused to give his mother a final hug (It was in public; he didn't want to look like a mama's boy. The refusal probably saved his own life, but at the cost of more guilt.), and I have another factor that will affect how Paul treats others in the future.

Internal pressures are good, but to keep a reader hooked, it's better to have different types of conflict in a story. As Paul tries to solve his mother's murder and prevent another, he finds other people opposing him, from time travelers, who are trying to protect history, to his friends, who are trying to protect him from himself. Every time he makes progress towards his goals, he complicates the situation further. But these struggles are necessary for him to mature into adulthood and develop his quantum gift. "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required." (KJV, Luke 12:48) I have grand plans for Paul extending beyond this novel; if anything, his suffering will increase in the sequel. I empathize too much with him to call it torture; I've wept over what happens to him. But the story has to go that way for him to achieve what he must, with humanity's survival at stake.

Anyway, that's more than enough for one post. Leah, I hope I've answered your question. Head on over to Kat's blog for her take on this question!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Best of Blog Chain: Romancing the Novel

Continuing The Best of Blog Chain this week with a post from May 31, 2009.

June is named for Juno, Roman goddess of marriage, which is part of the reason why it's such a popular month for weddings. (Then again, we got married in September.) So even though I'm not a romance reader, I thought romance in fiction would be a good topic for this Blog Chain. Romance subplots are common in many types of books, not just the romance genre. However, sometimes when I read romantic subplots, I don't feel any chemistry between the characters; it's as if you could replace one of the characters and not affect the relationship. So, let's talk about romantic relationships in fiction:

Do you write romantic relationships in your books? If so, what do you do to show the attraction between your characters? What problems do your characters encounter? What qualities do you think make a romantic relationship work in fiction? If you wish, feel free to include examples of your favorite couples.

Before I continue, let's cue some theme music:

I've included romantic relationships in my books. In my Season Lord books, each of the Season Lords gets married. In my current novel, Across Two Universes, Paul romantically pursues his childhood sweetheart, Yvonne. She's pretty, of course, and she is the only eligible girl his age on the spaceship, but he has other reasons to go after her. He first declared his intent to marry her at five, and she refused by throwing ice cream in his face. Part of him still hasn't lived that down. Paul is straightforward about declaring his feelings for her, but since Yvonne feels that's coming on too strong, he has to learn to woo her more subtly. Yvonne has mixed feelings for Paul, but she is always concerned when he is threatened.

Paul and Yvonne are a typical example of a good girl-bad boy dynamic, and they do affect each other. Yvonne teaches Paul to rein in some of his worst impulses, and she provides a feminine side that he lost when his mother was murdered. In return, Paul's determination to pursue his own dreams helps Yvonne resist the influence of her relatives and figure out what she really wants out of life. But are their core values similar enough for them to succeed long-term as a couple? I'm not telling.

I like to read about couples who can work together as partners and fill the holes in each other's psyches. It's also good if they share a sense of humor. As a parent, I know these qualities are essential for a long-term partnership, especially if there are kids involved. Some books with romances I like include The Misted Cliffs by Catherine Asaro and The Time Traveler's Wife.

That's all I have for the moment. Head on over to Archy's blog for her thoughts on this subject. You can also find other members of the Blog Chain in the links in the sidebar.

P.S. This post is dedicated to my own friend and lover divine, Eugene.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Best of Blog Chain : Breaking the Rules

As I mentioned last week, I'm reposting previous posts from the Blog Chain. This one was published on September 3, 2009.

As promised, it's time for another blog chain post. This time, Kate came up with a very interesting topic:

What writing rules/advice -- whether it was a matter of cannot or will not -- have you broken?

Amanda posted before me in the chain, and Eric comes after me.

I consider myself to have a decent grounding in basic grammar (for those new to my blog, I have a master's degree in technical writing and copyedited a local newspaper for a couple of months). While I'm not infallible, my drafts tend to be mostly "clean" of grammar mistakes. However, while I think the Oxford comma should be used all the time, I also realize that fiction writing isn't as formal as academic or business writing. There are times when it's OK to break the rules -- provided you first know what the rules are and why they exist.

One of the rules I've broken in writing is the one against sentence fragments. I've read a Beatles fanfic story that had so many sentence fragments I couldn't force myself to finish it. But fragments can be used to alter the pace of your story or set off items in a list. For example, here's a paragraph from one of my stories called "The Movement You Need." The main character suspects someone has invaded his hotel room and is checking the closet:

He yanked the closet door open –

Shirts and slacks, neatly hung on the hangers provided by the hotel. His suitcase on the luggage rack, lid open. A couple pairs of non-leather shoes on the floor. Nothing else.

In my opinion, using fragments here emphasizes each item and shows how the main character thoroughly checks out his closet. The short phrases also increase tension.

As far as storytelling rules, one I've broken several times is writing novels over 120,000 words. The conventional wisdom is that they're too long to sell. The first novel I queried, Day of All Seasons, was about 170,000 words. I had a couple of agents request partials, but that's as far as it got. I don't know if the length turned them off or if there were other story issues bothering them. Originally, my current novel consisted of a novella and a sequel; I decided to drop the first part (the novella) in order to bring the word count down to something manageable.

Another rule I'm breaking in my current scene is to have characters sitting around drinking a beverage and talking. The idea behind this rule is to keep the tension high and to have your characters do active things. I'm using this scene to increase romantic tension right before my hero is forced into a nasty dilemma, so hopefully it will work for my beta readers.

That's all I have for now. I hope these examples inspire you to learn how to make the rules work for you instead of following them blindly. Please follow the rest of the blog chain to see how other writers handle the rules.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Best of Blog Chain: Holding out for a Hero(ine)

I'm reposting some of my favorite blog chain posts this week. This post was originally published on March 9, 2010. The only thing I've changed is I embedded a different video of "Holding out for a Hero."

Yep, the Blog Chain post is making its first appearance on my blog this month. Eric posed this question:

Do you create characters that are larger-than-life or are your characters more like the average Joe?

(For discussion purposes, let's use his definition of "larger-than-life" as meaning exceptionally talented. It doesn't have to be a supernatural talent--an Olympic athlete would be larger-than-life.)

In his book Characters and Viewpoint, Orson Scott Card discusses how these two types of characters go in and out of fashion. Most of my esteemed fellow Blog Chainers, from Eric to Kate, have been on the side of the average Joe or Jane. I think some of this is due to genre. A few people admit their characters have a slight supernatural twist, but for the most part, larger-than-life characters are considered too perfect, too hard to relate to, or even too cliched. We're at the end of the chain now, and there's only one person left to champion the champions: a short, overweight, almost-middle-aged speculative fiction writer. In other words, me.

Let's cue some music for our discussion:

Most of my protagonists have had some extraordinary gift. My first two books featured magicians, as does my short story "A Reptile at the Reunion." My NaNoWriMo book from 2007 had a pair of shapeshifting sisters. Paul, the hero of Across Two Universes, lives in a science fiction universe, but he has a "quantum quirk" of his own. The only protagonist who might be considered an "ordinary Jane" is Paul's mother, Joanna, in my novella "Move Over Ms. L." So, how do I avoid the previously mentioned pitfalls of larger-than-life characters?

First of all, I don't think a larger-than-life character is necessarily perfect--or should be. Many legendary characters had flaws as big as their virtues. Hercules was very strong, but he wasn't above using dirty tricks in battle. Lancelot was in love with his liege's wife. Modern-day larger-than-life athletes like Michael Phelps and Tiger Woods have shown what I'll call lapses of judgment. Even my beloved Beatles have done drugs, had affairs, made poor business decisions, and otherwise proved they're not perfect. Having an extraordinary talent doesn't mean you're invincible either; just look at Achilles and Samson. I could go on, but the point I want to make is that the larger-than-life characters may be good at what they do, but if they're too good, then the story loses any suspense factor. Struggle is at the heart of all stories, so your characters have to face challenges that force them to stretch themselves. Heck, much of the time my characters struggle just to get along with their allies!

Another concern writers have about writing larger-than-life characters is how to make sure the average reader can relate to them. It's not as if most of us turn into animals every full moon or perform magic and read others' minds. Here, I think the key is to focus on emotions or experiences that can be universal. Many larger-than-life characters in speculative fiction face problems readers can relate to; for example, Carrie Vaughn's werewolf Kitty has a mother dealing with cancer. A classic Star Trek episode, "The Devil in the Dark," features an alien that's basically a sentient rock. Yet this creature is also a mother trying to protect her young. How can any parent not relate to that? If you can relate to a rock, magicians and other larger-than-life characters ought to be easy.

As for whether or not larger-than-life characters are cliche, I think anything can become one. It's not always easy to find a unique spin on a subject, but it can be done.

Going back to Eric's question, why do I prefer larger-than-life characters? Part of the reason is escapism and wish fulfillment. I live in Midwestern suburbia, and I like taking mental breaks from it with my fiction. Having high-powered characters means you can demand more of them; they buy you a seat at the high-stakes plot table. But there are other reasons for enjoying larger-than-life characters and speculative fiction. By looking at the extremes of the human condition (or even examining non-humans), we can learn something about the ordinary parts too. And while ordinary characters in extraordinary situations can do astonishing things, extraordinary people can inspire us to transcend the commonplace and reach for something we never thought possible. Our future depends on how far we can see and our drive to try new things. If we work at it, what was once considered extreme or even impossible can become part of our mundane reality.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Science of the Week 12/23/10--Plus a Chaser

It's a short week because of the holiday, but I still have a few science stocking stuffers for you:

TU scientists in Nature: Better control of building blocks for quantum computer

Turning fat cells into stem cells

Ever-sharp urchin teeth may yield tools that never need honing

Genome of extinct Siberian cave-dweller linked to modern-day humans

Can human athletic performance improve indefinitely?

Using cornstarch to stop oil spills

Making UV lasers

Robot surgeons

Genomes while you wait

Electronic nose detects cancer

Taking plasmon lasers out of deep freeze

And to celebrate the holiday, here's Straight No Chaser singing -- or trying to sing--"The Twelve Days of Christmas." We got to see them perform this live a couple of weeks ago:

Happy holidays, everyone! Please stop by next week if you have time to revisit the Best of Blog Chain before I wrap up the year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Midweek Randomness

1. I finally managed to upload my copy of Across Two Universes to my Kindle. I had a couple of technical problems with it; I needed to add an e-mail address to my Kindle so it would accept attachments, and since my Kindle isn't on our home wireless network (allow me to spare you the explanation why I can't add it; it's rather stupid), I had to use the cord. I thought that by putting my story in a different format, it would help me with editing. This was actually going to be my entire topic for today, actually. But the horrible line breaks were so distracting I went back to the computer instead. At least it motivated me to start editing ATU again!

2. Paul doesn't always come across as sympathetic. I wonder if I need to make his motivations and thoughts more evident.

3. I promised myself I'd buy myself one of these Vera Bradley Tea for One sets if I won NaNoWriMo:

I did so on Monday -- and of course, the next day, I get a Barnes & Noble coupon via e-mail. Figures.

4. I'm also treating myself to a Beatles marathon since I'm home on vacation. I'm playing all of their official albums in order. I'm just finishing up Revolver as I'm typing. You'd think as a fan, I'd play the albums more often instead of listening to other CDs or Pandora. But it's good to hear some of my favorites that don't get much radio airplay.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Blogging Schedule

Sorry for the test post yesterday. I was trying to add a new feature to my blog, but it doesn't seem to be compatible with this template.

I'm still planning to post this week, though I'll take Friday off since it's Christmas Eve, the traditional time my family celebrates Christmas.

Next week, I'm considering re-running some of my favorite Blog Chain posts. I also plan to look back at the writing goals I posted in January and see how many I accomplished.

Have a good week, everyone! Hopefully it's a short workweek for you.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Science of the Week

I'm trying out a new feature on my blog. I follow Science Blog, which features a lot of press releases about science, medicine, and engineering that can spark ideas for science fiction writers. Sometimes they also publish articles that give insight into human nature. Here are some links to articles from this week that I thought were especially interesting:

Seaweed as a source of biofuel

Resetting the biological clock

Power and corruption are good for society (power gives law enforcers invective to do their jobs)

Sweet degradable plastics

People's views of justice affects how they view victims of tragedy

Steps toward biological computers

Link between diet and onset of mental illness

How to take a molecule's temperature

Is this interesting? Overwhelming? Too technical? Something you'd like me to keep doing? Let me know what you think!

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Discussion: Favorite Story Element?

Just a quick post today inspired by my latest read. When you read a story, are you most interested in the plot, the characters, the setting, or some other aspect of the story? (I know ideally a balance among story elements is best, but that's not always easy to achieve.)

For me, I think character is most important. If I don't like the characters, even an exciting plot may not be enough to keep me reading. But I would rank plot above setting. How about you?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What's On Your Kindle? (or reading list)

Technology like the Kindle is a wonderful thing; it allows me to accumulate books to read even faster than when I bought paper books. At least I can download samples of books before buying them (though I've occasionally bought a book on accident when trying to add it to a collection, which is much harder to do with paper ones). I thought it might be interesting to share with you what I currently have in my "To Read" collection on Kindle. There are currently sixty-four items. I'll indicate which ones are the full book (F) and which ones are just samples (S).

The Accidental Demon Slayer (S)
Black Beauty (F)
Breakthrough: The Adventures of Chase Manhattan (S)
The Broken Kingdoms (F)
Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (S)
The Canterbury Tales (S)
CassaStar (S)
The City & The City (S)
Cold Magic (F)
The Curse of Chalion (S)
The Darkness that Comes Before (S)
The Descent of Man (S)
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (S)
The Drowning City (S)
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (S)
Endless Forms Most Beautiful (S)
Faust (F)
Five Odd Honors (S)
Flesh and Fire (S)
From Girl to Goddess: The Heroine's Journey through Myth and Legend (S)
Garden Spells (S)
Geist (S)
The Grand Design (S)
Grave Witch (S)
The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John (S)
The Half-Made World (S)
Harvest Moon (S)
The House on Olive Street (S)
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (S)
Into the Shadows (F)
The Kite Runner (S)
Lady Chatterly's Lover (S)
The Last Page (S)
The Man in the High Castle (S)
The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (S)
The Native Star (S)
Never Let Me Go (S)
Nights of Villjamur (S)
The Passage: A Novel (S)
Passion Play (S)
The Planet Savers (S)
Poems by Emily Dickinson (F, partially read)
Prospero Lost (S)
Quatrain (S)
Reading People: How to Understand People and Predict Their Behavior--Anytime, Anyplace (S)
Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You'll Ever Need (S)
Shades of Grey (F, currently reading)
The Sleeping God (S)
Solstice Wood (S)
Songs of Love and Death (F)
Spellwright (S)
A Star Shall Fall (S)
The Starry Rift (S)
Swann's Way (F)
Time Travelers Never Die (F)
Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale (S)
True Believers (S)
Ulysses (F)
The Vampire Kitty-Cat Chronicles (S)
The Waters Rising (S)
Weight of Stone (S)
Who Fears Death (S)
X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft But Can Still Keep Everything From Sucking (S)

Phew! And that's not including author or genre on this list, or the twenty paper books I still have to read. I have vacation coming up; looks like I need to spend some of it working on this list. I may update this on a regular basis, but I have a feeling the list will only grow, not shrink.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Weekend

We had some bad weather here this weekend, although it doesn't compare to what other parts of the country. Saturday, we drove into Chicago to see Straight No Chaser. Between the rain, traffic, and parking issues, we were half an hour late for the concert. Then the group had trouble with their mikes, but they wound up performing a couple of extra songs to compensate. We got home an hour later than expected; I felt bad for the sitter, but she didn't seem to mind.

We did get snow and strong winds Saturday night, so I canceled my morning haircut and stayed home to take care of some chores. My son "helped" my husband with the snow on the driveway. We were able to go to a birthday party in the afternoon, but I had my husband drive us there because I'm a bit of a Nervous Nelly when it comes to winter driving.

I don't have much writing news to report; I'm just going through what I wrote during NaNoWriMo and summarizing the key plot points. There's a unplanned subplot that's itching to make itself into the novel, so I have to figure out what I want to do with it.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Back on the Blog Chain: Story Challenge!

This is the last blog chain of the year, so Michelle has come up with a unique challenge for this round:

In 100 words or less, write a story using the words ride, post, soulless, local, dehydrator, girdle. (These words were chosen at random.) Your story may take on any form you wish. The only two rules are 1. you can't simply list the 6 words; you must actually craft them into something creative, and 2. you must use ALL six of them.

So, here's my story. One line was inspired by a true event; can you guess which one?

I sighed as I stepped into the food processing plant, our local version of Hell. My girdle pinched me, the hot water wasn’t working, and the dehydrator had sprung a leak. I hadn’t been able to visit the post office before work because my toddler wouldn’t put on his boots. There was only one way my mind was going to escape this mess. I smuggled my Kindle, hidden between reports, to my desk and started reading Gail Carriger’s Soulless. Let's ride to London and have tea with Lords Maccon and Akeldama!

For further stories, please check out Eric's blog (this round he was kind enough to post before me) and Michelle H's blog tomorrow.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Midwinter Blogfest--Snowballs in Space

As I mentioned yesterday, I signed up for a Midwinter Blogfest hosted by Marieke. She wanted to know how our main characters celebrate midwinter. This is a scene I wrote especially for this blogfest, featuring characters from my science fiction novel Across Two Universes. Paul is the main character; Scott and Yvonne are siblings who are his best friend and girlfriend respectively. They all live on a research spaceship named for Carl Sagan. Without further ado, here's my scene:

Snowballs in Space

Paul paused in the living room on his way to see Yvonne. Either Dad or his sister had switched the holoprojectors to holiday mode overnight. Lights and pine branches looped around the illusion of a fireplace in the wall. Four stockings were displayed, but Mom’s stocking didn’t belong there anymore. The first Christmas without her. I’d give every present I ever got to have her back. He debated for a moment if he should remove it from the holo program, but it was more comforting to have it there. Even so, he’d lost some of his Christmas spirit. Hopefully Yvonne would help him recover it. He opened the door—

And something cold, white, and wet smacked him in the face.

Scott stood smirking in front of his family’s suite. He wore bright purple gloves from the lab, and a tub of more white stuff blocked the door. “Merry Christmas, Paul!”

Paul wiped his face. “What the hell was that?”

“Snow! I made it in the lab freezer. It’s an old tradition to make it into balls and throw them at each other during winter.”

Paul had only seen snow a couple of times and couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to handle the stuff. His face stung with cold, and his best shirt was wet. He turned up the heat fibers to dry it. “I think this is one tradition that should be left in the past.”

“You don’t want a snowball fight?” Scott frowned. “Normally you’d start it.”

“Not now, Scott. I have somewhere to go.”

Paul hurried down the Sagan’s hallway to the garden, where tiny lights nestled in the plants. Yvonne was waiting in their favorite nook. “Merry Christmas, angel.” He handed her a box.

She slid it open and gasped as a twisted gold bracelet studded with gems slipped out. “Isn’t this your mom’s bracelet? I can’t accept this. This must have cost thousands of credits. Besides, isn’t it a family heirloom or something? Shouldn’t it go to Cass?”

“She has the rest of Mom’s jewelry.” Paul swallowed, remembering how tough it had been to redistribute his mother’s things. “But Dad said I could save something if I wanted to give it to my wife when I get married.”

Yvonne shook her head, but a twinkle in her eye belied her exasperation. “I’ve told you, it’s way to soon to talk about that.”

“Why not? I've said since I was five that we were going to get married someday.” He drew back warily. “You’re not going to throw ice cream at me again, are you?”

She tilted her head. “That wouldn’t be a nice way to thank you, would it? How about this instead?”

She leaned forward and kissed him, proving they didn’t need mistletoe.

When their lips finally parted, Paul said, “Yvonne?”

“Yes, Paul?”

“Do you know how much snow Scott made? I say after dinner we steal it and pelt him good.”

I hope you enjoyed the scene! Please stop by Marieke's blog for a complete list of the participants so you can check out their entries too!

Friday, December 10, 2010

100 Words for $100 Blogfest!

How'd you like to earn $1/word for your writing? That's right, Elana of You're Write. Except when you're Rong is offering up to $150 as a prize in her first blogfest. What's the catch? You have to write a 100-word sentence (plus or minus five words) and post it on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter. I write long sentences, but this will be a challenge. It's a good thing we have until January 31st to post our sentences. (You can start posting them on January 1st.) The prize starts at $10, but it goes up with each person who enters, so help spread the word! For full details, check here. Good luck!

P.S. I'm participating in a Midwinter Blogfest tomorrow and am posting in the Blog Chain on Sunday, so please stop by if you have time!

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Humor, Puzzles, and Creativity

If you subscribe to the New York Times online, they had an interesting article yesterday about scientists who are trying to understand the "Aha!" moment of creativity. What the scientists have found is that humor helps put the brain in the right frame of mind to achieve insight in solving word problems (as opposed to the trial-and-error method). Apparently humor makes it easier for the brain to spot the less-obvious connections that may be necessary to solve a puzzle. Doing crossword or Sudoku puzzles also helps open up the brain. Subconscious clues may also help people solve problems. Although analysis and insight may both be required to solve a problem, they are different states of the brain. If we know how to switch ourselves from one state to another, we may become more creative and better problem-solvers.

I think we writers need to keep these points in mind not just for ourselves, but for our characters, since we often toss tough tasks their way and expect them to muddle through. Knowing how to achieve insight will help us resolve our tangled plot points, which are often problems our characters have to face too. Sometimes it's not enough for them to resolve the problem; we have to show how they figured it out and how creative they were. The more we know about creativity and problem-solving, the better we'll be at helping characters solve their problems and showing how they do so in a realistic way. Perhaps that wise-cracking sidekick is more helpful than he or she knows.

Finally, to help you with your creative thinking today, here's some Whose Line Is It Anyway? humor. I've posted it before, but it's been a while:

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Thinking of John Lennon Today....

and I wanted to share Christine Lavin's "The Dakota" with you:

as she sings, "Well, it's something that we shouldn't dwell upon, but it's something we shouldn't ignore. Too many good men have been cut down, let's pray there won't be any more...."

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Monday, December 06, 2010

Post-NaNo Slump

It's hard to imagine I finished NaNoWriMo only a week ago. I hate to say it, but I've written less than two thousand words since then. There are three reasons I can think of for my slump: NaNo pace is much faster than my usual one, Christmas prep (shopping, decorating, writing cards, wrapping presents, and baking), and pantsing my plot instead of following my outline. I think in the next few scenes, I can circle around back to the outline. Since this is first draft for this story, I'd rather forge ahead than rip out offending scenes. But I also need to challenge myself to write more when I have the opportunity instead of goofing off. I know I can write a thousand words an hour when I need to; I just need to need to do it, if you can follow that (grin).

How's your writing going post-NaNo?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Holiday Train

Since our son loves trains, we like to give him opportunities to ride them when we have the chance. During the holidays, several places around here run special holiday trains. We did one last year that had a Polar Express theme. This year, we decided to try the holiday train ride run through the Illinois Railway Museum. We hoped that they would run one of their older trains; however, when we got there, we saw one of the Chicago El trains from 1993:

We think they used it because it was heated. At least it was decorated inside:

Since it was early in the holiday season, the train wasn't full. We drove a short distance into the countryside, admiring the snow, before the train stopped, then reversed course. We drove back to the museum and finally stopped at the diner, which doubled as Santa's Workshop.

Mrs. Claus was there to greet us:

They served us hot chocolate right away, but we had to wait in line (right by all the train items for sale) before Alex got to see Santa:

Santa gave Alex a bag of toys and treats, and Mrs. Claus gave him a cookie. We then got to sit down for a while and do some crafts (scrapbook pages). An entertainer played a few carols on a keyboard.

We were on the last train ride of the day, and by the time they ushered us out, it was dark and cold. Alex said "good-bye" to his favorite trains for now--at least until next year.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Readers' Choice?

As 2010 draws to a close, I'm thinking about my plans for next year. Part of that includes what content to feature on this blog. What would you like to see me post in the next year? Here are some possibilities:

More science articles
Discussions of basic science
Book reviews (I'd probably only do positive ones)
Author interviews (I'd probably open this up to Broad Universe and possibly OWW members)
Blog memes
Personal stories

Please leave a comment and let me know your preferences. Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Things I Learned From NaNoWriMo

1. I'm most productive on my lunch hour, but I think that's because I know I have to avoid distraction if I want to meet my word count goal.
2. To meet word count, I'm shameless about padding with filler words and adverbs. Too bad I can't use more meaningful words, like description, in a first draft.
3. Character sheets and outlines are useful references, but I will still deviate from my outline.
4. My first draft will be a hot mess, but since my usual M.O. is to write a draft, throw it out, and start over, why not get it done quickly instead of dragging it out?
5. It's important to know the battery life of your laptop.
6. Writing by hand is slower than using the laptop, but some days, it's the only way to get any word count in at all.
7. If your husband is driving, bring the laptop in the car.
8. You don't have to be asocial during NaNoWriMo to finish.
9. It is possible for a working mother to finish.
10. My son is too young to understand or appreciate the hard work of writing, but my husband does. Thanks, dear!

Monday, November 29, 2010

For George Harrison

George Harrison passed away nine years ago today, but in my world he'll be forever fab.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Holiday Traditions

Well, Thanksgiving is over, and soon NaNoWriMo will be over too. (I expect to finish on November 30th.) So it's time to start indulging in some holiday traditions. Here are a few things we did this weekend.

Since our son is a "trainiac," we went to the Wonderland Express exhibit at the Chicago Botanic Garden Saturday afternoon. This is the winter version of their garden train exhibit. Chicago landmarks are recreated out of natural materials, and model trains run beside them. I would show you some of the pictures, but they're not loading to the blog properly. The pictures can't really do justice to the snow falling down (they made it with water and a small amount of vegetable oil) or the way they managed to give the cityscapes such detail and depth.

Today, we made our annual trip to Kristkindlmarkt in Chicago's Daley Plaza. The weather was warm for once, and since we went early, the crowds weren't too bad. Alex insisted on being carried most of the time, which made we wish we'd brought his stroller. Since I was carrying him much of the time, I wasn't able to take pictures. We bought glass ornaments, little houses for our Christmas village, and a Christmas present for a friend. We also indulged in potato pancakes, fried apple fritters, chocolate-covered fruit on skewers, and nuts. We checked out the windows at Macy's (formerly Marshall Fields), where they told the story of the Virginia who wrote to the newspaper editor and asked if there was a Santa Claus. While the sets were elaborately crafted out of paper, only a few windows were devoted to the story this year, which was a little disappointing.

Finally, before we put Alex to bed, we listened to Christmas music. Only my husband pulled out his Twisted Christmas CDs, and we listened to some of the more child-friendly songs, like "Toy Shack." Alex put on headphones (much too big for him), and we danced. It was a lot of fun.

What are your holiday traditions?

Friday, November 26, 2010

When Black Friday Comes....

I like to play this song:

But this year, I decided to try going out early in the morning, since I naturally wake up early anyway. I checked out some ads and decided to visit two stores: Target (for the deals they had on board games) and JCPenny.

I woke up (again, on my own) this morning at 5:00. I debated if I really wanted to go, but after a few minutes, I got up, took my medicine, dressed warmly, and left. I got to Target about 5:40. The parking lot was full (the one I went to was next to a Best Buy), but luckily I saw someone pulling out and got a decent spot. The stores weren't too bad--probably because the die-hard shoppers had already been there and left. Unfortunately, the board game I wanted for Alex was sold out, but I found several other things. Only one was on sale, and I found a DVD cheaper on Amazon, so I'll return it later. But I did get $10 off and a $10 gift card, so that helped.

Then I went to JCPenny. I was there shortly after 6:00. I wandered around for a while, checking out basic clothes for my family. I had better luck here with the sales and was able to get some of the items I'd noticed in the ad. Here, I spent less than $100 but saved well over $100. It was a pretty good deal, though I've had similar savings there before. I was too tired by this point to want to do any more shopping, so I went home, arriving there after 7:00. I was surprised to see my family up at this point, since my son had gone to bed late.

I plan to take my son bowling in a little bit, but we may stop at another store, even though we'll miss the best sales.

My husband tried to unlock a Toys'R'Us deal through Borders, but it was only available to 200 people, and it sold out before he got it.

Do you shop Black Friday, either in the store or online? If so, what are your tips?

Enjoy your weekend!

P.S. I forgot to post the song lyrics I heard as I was leaving the house. From John Lennon's "Watching the Wheels," I heard, "People say I'm crazy, doing what I'm doing...." 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Historical Fiction and Gratitude

In addition to plowing through the complete works of William Shakespeare (I'm over halfway through!), I'm also reading a book a friend lent me. It's Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. The story follows the fortunes of two Chinese girls living in Shanghai just before World War II. They are forced into arranged marriages to Chinese-American men by their father shortly before the Japanese invade. They flee the city, and, after much hardship, arrive in America to be reunited with their husbands, only to find that they must work hard to build a future in America.

Historical novels can give us the experience of what is was like to live in a certain era, but these aren't always pleasant ones. The sisters endure poverty, assault by soldiers, confinement for months on Angel Island while their immigration status is questions, and problems with their in-laws. They also experience discrimination from other Chinese for being women and discrimination from white people for being Chinese.

Reading books like this reminds me of how much I take for granted in my daily life. I've never had to lack for food or proper medical care. I've never had to endure the horrors or war or the daily struggles with poverty. And while there are still some ways in which women are not equal to men (such as pay and personal safety), I have opportunities and rights far beyond those of the sisters in See's book. When our basic needs are met, we're not content but strive for higher things on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I guess today is a good day to look downward, not just up.

Are there any historical books you've read that make you appreciate your current situation more? Do you feel that our lives are better or worse than our ancestors'?

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, thanks for stopping by today, and enjoy the holiday! After NaNoWriMo finishes up next week, I'll return to blogging more frequently.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Back on the Blog Chain: Books Are....

I have to admit I've been so busy with NaNoWriMo that the blog chain snuck up on me this round. (I also have to admit my week off hasn't been as productive as I thought it would be--too much other real life stuff to keep up with.) I'm over 30,000 words, which is where I need to be as of Thursday night (which is when I wrote this post). I hope to have a good session Friday afternoon after taking care of yet another chore.

Anyway, this round's topic is literally open-ended, as Kate wants us to fill in the blank in the phrase:

Books are __________

That's it!

I'm second this round, so I've had very little time to consider this question. After some thought, here's my answer:

Books are other worlds.

Of course, as a science fiction/fantasy writer, I do write about other worlds--alien, alternate, or completely imaginary--but that's not the only thing I mean when I say that books are other worlds. Books can give us insight into another culture or a person whose life experiences or attitudes are much different from ours. Even non-fiction books can present us with history (one can argue that the past is another world much different from ours) or alter our own worlds with information.

It's time for me to dive back into NaNoWriMo, so I'm going to direct you over to Eric's blog for his take on the question. Enjoy your weekend -- the last one before the holiday season starts!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers."

T.S. Eliot.

P.S. I wonder what he meant by that--and I hope I never find out.

Monday, November 15, 2010

NaNoWriMo Update

It's the halfway mark today for those of us participating in National Novel Writing Month, and I'm pleased to say I passed 25,000 words today. Or, as Bon Jovi would sing, "Oh, we're halfway there..."

(Or, if you're not even close, then I guess you really are living on a prayer. ;) )

I'm using some of my vacation time this week, so I'm hoping to write at least 2,500 words per day. But I'm doing other things too to avoid burnout. I indulged in a spa appointment this morning, and I'll run other errands this week. I also plan to attend my son's Thanksgiving dinner (or lunch really) at preschool and enjoy a date day with my husband. NaNoWriMo may be crazy, but I have to retain some sanity during this time, at least for my family's sake.

Anyone else care to post their NaNoWriMo status? Are you going all-out, or trying to keep some balance?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Random Thoughts of Shakespeare

In addition to the writing marathon of NaNoWriMo (about 18,300 words so far, though I still have to start writing today), I'm also in the middle of a reading marathon. I'm reading the complete works of William Shakespeare on my Kindle. Unfortunately, the Kindle dictionary doesn't handle archaic terms well; this is one place where paper books with footnotes are better. On the other hand, since this is portable, I'm actually reading it instead of letting it gather dust on the shelf. Currently I'm about 30% of the way through. Here are some things I've noticed so far:

1. A lot of the "low" comic characters are funny because they keep using the wrong word. They were dropping malapropisms long before Mrs. Malaprop.
2. Shakespeare reuses names from play to play. So far, I've seen several Antonios and Sebastians. Rosalind also gets mentioned a few times.
3. Pericles is my least favorite play so far. Shakespeare only wrote half of it, the second half. It's written in a very "telling" style, and I find one of the main plot points highly improbable according to human nature.
4. My favorite heroines so far are Portia from The Merchant of Venice and Rosalind from As You Like It.
5. I remember the movie or stage versions of the ones I've seen as I read.
6. How come there are no public highlights of famous quotes? Normally I see them as I read. I highlight (and share on Facebook) some selected passages, but I wonder if public sharing was disabled for this version for some reason.
7. Men are much more inconstant in their loves than the women.
8. Some of the same-sex friendships are described as being very close; so close as to make a modern person wonder about the sexuality of the characters. I wonder how these relationships were viewed in Shakespeare's time? Some of his sonnets were addressed to a man, so there's speculation about his sexuality too.

How do you feel about Shakespeare; do you love, loathe, or ignore him? Which plays have you seen performed?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Science of Science Fiction--Fish Out of Water

I came across this interesting article on ScienceBlog the other day about mangrove fish. Mangrove fish can survive out of the water for two months, thanks to their special skin. Their skin is covered with special cells, called ionocytes, that regulate the amount of water and salts (ions) that pass through the fish's skin. Normally these cells are found only in the gills. By being spread over the entire body, ionocytes allow fish to function on land the same way they do in the water. (Lungfish, which can also survive being out of the water for extended periods of time, have to alter their physiological state to do so.) I think this would be a neat trait to give to an alien race; they could live mostly in the water but be able to go about on land to gather resources or do other things.

Here are a few other recent news articles from ScienceBlog that are worth passing along:

Are you interested in quantum computers? This article states that it may be easier to work with them than originally thought, though we have yet to unlock their full potential.

From last month, this article on the brain shows that we can consciously regulate the activity of individual neurons in our brains. Patients in this study were even able to manipulate computer images with just their minds. Perhaps the brain-computer interface is closer than we think. We may even literally carry internet networks on us by means of sensors, according to this article.

Reading articles like this always reminds me that the future is closer than we think.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Monday, November 08, 2010

Back On the Blog Chain: Where Do Characters Come From?

This round, Abby wants to learn about our characters:

Where do your characters come from? And once they've been introduced to you, how do you get to know them?

Kate posted before me, and Eric will post tomorrow.

Unfortunately for me, if there's such a thing as a Characters'R'Us store, I have yet to find it. I would say for me, characters tend to start with the original idea I get for a story. For example, when I came up with the idea for my novella "Move Over Ms. L.," I wanted to write about someone listening to the Beatles perform at the Cavern Club before they hit it big. I wanted a SF twist, so I came up with a time traveler from the future. I then started asking myself questions, such as "Why was this person go then and there?" and "Why was she in particular chosen for this mission?" Gradually, as I turned the idea over in my mind, the character of Joanna Lennon, the great-granddaughter of John Lennon who preferred science to rock'n'roll, came to mind. I don't often develop a character through directed questions the way I did for this particular story; more often, I look for people who might be involved in the particular story idea I have in mind and go from there, pre-writing in my thoughts as I think about characters and possible scenes for a story.

Another important source of characters for me is other characters. I've mentioned before in a previous blog chain post how my story ideas turn into family sagas. So after my first set of characters have their adventures, fall in love, and start families, I have to find something to do with their kids. My current projects, Across Two Universes and the sequel Catalyst in the Crucible, involve children of characters in "Move Over Ms. L." (I've de-Lennonized these books, so they're not direct sequels at this point. If I ever publish my novella, I'll have to decide if I want to use the original version or alter it to fit the other stories.)

I don't have a formal process for getting to know my characters. I don't normally write character sheets (I keep all that information in my head, though I did prepare a few character sheets as part of NaNoWriMo prep) or interview them. I get to know them as I play with them in my head, then as I write and revise. Sometimes they change considerably from draft to draft. I do feel part of me has to go into each character for me to make him or her authentic.

The phrasing of this question reminded me of the song "Getting to Know You," so I'll end this post by sharing this YouTube video from The King and I:

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Two of Us

Some traditions are too sacred for anything, even National Novel Writing Month, to interfere. One of them is Faux Thanksgiving, our annual get-together with our college friends up in Madison. Unfortunately, there is one thing that trumps Faux Thanksgiving, and that's Continuing Education for my husband. He had to attend a conference this weekend, but this was the weekend that worked best for everyone else. So I decided I'd go anyway, bringing Alex with me.

We drove up Friday; I timed the drive to coincide with Alex's nap time. Our hotel was near West Towne, so after relaxing for a while, we had dinner in the Food Court. Then we had some gelato, played in the Play Area, and customized a stuffed wolf for Alex (the wolf was costumed as a train driver, naturally.)

Alex did much better sleeping in the hotel than he had in the past. Perhaps he wasn't so bothered by the noises outside, or perhaps it helped that we were in the same room and not in a suite. I'd made sure to get a room with a refrigerator, since I brought along food and snacks for him. He enjoyed eating Froot Loops for breakfast; I hope he doesn't start asking for them here.

Saturday we visited the Children's Museum. This was our first time visiting it in the new location. I think Alex enjoyed the train running in the stairway between the first and second floors the best, though he also enjoyed building with blocks in Possibile-opolis. I went to one of my favorite stores on State Street but didn't find what I was looking for. We drove around for a bit so Alex could nap before the big get-together. He was still groggy from sleep when we got there (I had to wake him up), and for some reason he kept bringing my things to me. He didn't eat much (though he kept taking cookie bars that I'd brought), but by the time we left, he was in a good mood.

We were supposed to attend a Sunday brunch with our friends, but Alex wanted to go to the bookstore instead. So I took him, and we wound up getting him a couple of toys. (I have to admit it's nice that they're distracting him from some of his other toys. He has some cheap model trains that won't stay coupled and have parts that keep coming off; they're frustrating for both of us.) Then I reluctantly left Madison and drove to my parents' house so they could have some quality Alex time. Alex wound up falling asleep on both legs of the journey home. Eugene was happy to see both of us again, and he'd set up a huge track layout to keep Alex and his trains busy. It should be interesting to see how well Alex sleeps tonight, especially with the end of Daylight Savings Time.

Although the trip was a bit demanding at times,  Alex did pretty well overall. I even managed to write when he was asleep, both staying up late and getting up early. Even so, I'm about twelve hundred words behind where I need to be for today. Hopefully I can catch up.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

NaNoWriMo: Under Pressure

First, here's some theme music for this month:

Although I'm at 5,000+ words (which is where I should be today), I haven't written the full 1,667 words yet today, even though I've been home all day. The main reason is that I've been home with my son, who was sick this morning. (He's doing much better now.) Like any three-year-old, Alex is high maintenance. But even when he was napping, it was hard to focus. I've actually done much better on my lunch hours at work the last two days, banging out over a thousand words in an hour. It's my prime writing hour, so I know I have to focus and produce if I'm going to meet my daily quota. When I have longer, I take longer--and take more breaks. Does anyone else suffer the same problem?

Monday, November 01, 2010

Back on the Blog Chain: A Movable Literary Feast

I hope you had a good Halloween and that if you're participating in National Novel Writing Month, you're off to a good start. (Good thing I was able to write this post last night.) This round, Michelle H. asks us

If you could dine with any author, and I do mean any whether alive or dead (yes, we're going into the realms of time travel - but hey, we have science fiction writers on this chain so we can always ask for them to write up the time machine specs), who would you want to dine with? And if you can ask them for advice on one writing element you feel you might be struggling at, what would it be?

Kate answered this question before me, and  Christine will finish off the chain.

Well, as a science fiction author, I certainly feel able to use time travel here. But there are so many authors I'm interested in that I can't choose just one. So I decided the best way to answer this question was with a movable feast, spending each course with a different author.

For an appetizer, I'd start with John Lennon. Yes, in addition to writing songs, John also wrote stories and published three collections of them. He was a master of wordplay, so I'd ask him about language. However, John also enjoyed the surreal, so I'd have to tilt my mind sideways to be able to follow him.

The salad course makes me think of the line, "My salad days, green in judgment." This would inspire me to share the salad course with the author of that line, William Shakespeare. Since our language has changed so much since his day, I'd ask him about how he created such memorable characters.

Moving on, the entree course requires a meaty topic, something of substance. I think worldbuilding, particularly for creating alien races, would be a good choice. And to discuss that topic, I choose Julie E. Czerneda.

Finally, for dessert, I choose someone with a poetic style, someone for whom words flow as sweetly as chocolate. That would be one of my favorite authors, Patrica McKillip.

After such a meal, both my stomach and my mind would be well content. But may I keep John and William around, or would that destroy the space-time continuum? ;)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Layers in Fiction

I watched It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown last night with my family. My son really enjoyed the part where Snoopy flew his doghouse. After the World War I flying ace was shot down, he had to sneak across enemy lines. That part was definitely not something most kids would understand; it was written for adults.

Stories with different parts to appeal to different audiences have a long tradition. In many of Shakespeare's plays, there are the "high" characters who are part of the main plot, and then there are "low" characters like clowns and peasants who, while working for the main characters, also serve as comic relief. I find when I read epic stories told from multiple points of view, I prefer some characters and sections over others.

Do you consciously attempt to weave different layers for different audiences in your fiction? If so, what types of audiences do you target, and how do you do it?

Have a Happy Halloween, everyone! Monday is the start of NaNoWriMo. I'll have a blog post up for the Blog Chain, but I'll be posting less frequently here during November so I can concentrate on my NaNoWriMo project.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Science of Science Fiction: How to Avoid the Grandfather Paradox

Science fiction has played with the grandfather paradox for decades. (If you're not familiar with the grandfather paradox, it's an argument put forth to demonstrate that time travel must be impossible, otherwise a person could travel back in time and kill off an ancestor before he/she reproduces, thereby causing the traveler not to exist--but then the traveler couldn't have prevented his/her own birth.) However, science has already come up with several answers to this paradox, including one listed in this article.

According to this article, time travel can occur along Closed Timelike Curves (CTC), a path in spacetime that returns to its starting point. The time travel happens by quantum teleportation (two particles that are entangled, or very closely linked, can affect each other instantaneously, even if they are separated. This means they seem to communicate faster than the speed of light, though no actual information is transmitted.) Before the quantum teleportation happens, post-selection is applied. This means only some types of quantum teleportation are allowed--the ones that are self-consistent. The whole idea seems like the Novikov self-consistency principle to me (basically, it's the idea that events leading to a time travel paradox aren't allowed.) However, it's interesting to see an actual physics paper supporting this idea. Unfortunately, quantum teleportation only works on the quantum level, not on the macro level where we exist. I suppose it's up to us science fiction writers to find ways to make time travel for humans plausible.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What Makes Loglines So Hard?

I was lucky enough to have my logline for Across Two Universes included in today's critique session at Miss Snark's First Victim. (Mine's #11, if you'd like to see it.) Earlier today, I happened to read Agent Kristin's comments about what makes a pitch fail. (There are two parts: here and here.) One of the common problems she sees in pitches is problems with the writing.

It occurred to me that perhaps one of the reasons it's so hard to write loglines and pitches has to do with sentence structure. Since you have to cram so much information -- characters, settings, conflicts, goals, and stakes--into just a couple of sentences, there's a tendency to write long, complex sentences. However, this is a different style from what we typically use in our stories.

Would anyone find it useful to review the types of sentences? (e.g., simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex.) I can do a blog post about them if there's interest.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Top Ten Things about WisCon

Some of you may have heard about Elizabeth Moon's blog post about citizenship and her comments on the Islamic community center near Ground Zero. Before she posted that essay, she'd been invited to be one of the Guests of Honor at WisCon next year. Last week, after much controversy, her invitation was rescinded. (Technically, as Feminist SF--The Blog! points, out, she could still attend WisCon if she wishes.) Even this action hasn't stilled the controversy. I think at this point, as a long-time attendee of WisCon, I'd like to mention some of the things that I think make this convention great and still worth attending. They're listed in no particular order.

1. It's set in Madison, which is my favorite city and was ranked as one of the most livable cities in the U.S.
2. It's held in late May, which is a great time to visit Madison. The weather is usually (though not always good), the students are gone, and the Farmer's Market on Capitol Square is going on Saturday morning.
3. It's the home of BroadUniverse.
4. Dessert Salon!
5. Childcare is available for a nominal fee ($1).
6. Programming is open to unpublished writers.
7. They hold a writer's workshop before the official start of the con.
8.The Gathering.
9. High number of writers, editors, and agents among the guests.
10. It's still the world's leading feminist science fiction convention--and still the place to discuss gender, race, class, and other factors affecting diversity and tolerance in today's world.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Oma Elisabeth

I didn't post yesterday because I got some bad news Wednesday night. My maternal grandmother (and last surviving grandparent) passed away at the age of 95. She would have been 96 on November 3rd.

My Oma (grandmother) was born in Europe in 1914 and came to the U.S. in the 1950s. She wasn't fluent in English, and I'm not fluent in German. That made it hard to communicate at times. But she loved cats and flowers, and we used to play a German game whenever I visited her. She lived independently until just a few years ago, when her failing health forced her to move in with my parents. Even then, she still sat outside as much as possible and helped take care of the garden. She developed cancer about twelve years ago, and she also had diabetes and circulation problems. We found out earlier this month that the cancer had spread, undetected, into her spine. The doctors originally thought she might still have a few more months, and my parents made plans to care for her at home. Unfortunately, her condition worsened more quickly than we would have liked. We drove up to see her on Sunday; she smiled when Alex waved at her and seemed to follow what was going on, but she wasn't able to say much, if anything.

I was planning on posting a picture of her, but I'm having some server issues with Blogger.

Oma was lucky enough to see not just her grandchildren, but great-grandchildren and even great-great-grandchildren. If you're lucky enough to still have your grandparents, be sure to talk to them and treasure the experiences they can share with you.

I'll return to my normal blogging topics on Monday. Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Science of Science Fiction: DNA as Crime Deterrent

I came across this article in the NT Times earlier today and found it strange enough to blog about. Some businesses in Europe have found a novel way to use DNA for fighting crime. Instead of taking DNA samples from robbers, the businesses set up devices that spray synthetic DNA onto the robber while also alerting the police. Although in theory the DNA can be made unique for each business (so it could serve as a marker), the idea is to scare robbers away from committing burglaries in the first place (since the DNA could be seen under a special light and so identify them). So far police say it's working, although they don't have hard evidence to support their anecdotes. A DNA "crayon" can also be used to mark goods to identify them in case they're ever stolen.

One of the interesting points made in this article is that this spray may be effective because of the "mystique" surrounding DNA. I wonder if the overall scientific literacy of a society would affect the effectiveness of this spray. Would it matter if another chemical was used instead, like the security devices on expensive clothing that explode and leave stains if they're not removed properly? On the other hand, if there was a society where a few people had the technical knowledge to handle DNA but most of the population knew very little about it, would that increase DNA's mystique? I think in that case, you'd be venturing into the realm of Clark's third law. I suppose it's easier to spray DNA onto someone than a RFID tag--though perhaps in a society where people have electronic implants or always, always carry cell phones, it'll be easy enough to track people without the extra DNA tag.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

Discussion: Name Brands as Description

Yesterday, as I was reading Jane Lindskold's Thirteen Orphans, I came across a section where one of the POV characters, an elderly lady, was described as wearing a Chanel suit. I came across a similar description in Louise Marley's Mozart's Blood. Other urban fantasies often drop brand names when describing the protagonist's clothing; most often, these are high-end brands.

As a reader, I don't get much out of these descriptions. Sure, the Chanel label carries a certain cachet, evoking not just wealth, but a classic sense of style. But I'm not familiar enough with fashion to look at someone in real life and say, "Oh, she's wearing a Chanel suit." I'd notice color and styling, perhaps maybe even figure out the material, but unless the label is plastered all over the suit, I'd be clueless. Maybe there are readers out there who can do this; I could be the odd woman to lack this ability, since I don't dress up for work and don't read fashion magazines. Even so, I'd personally get a better visualization out of "a pink silk suit" or "a black suit with big gold buttons" than a brand name.

I'm interested in hearing other's thoughts on this. How do you feel about using name brands as descriptions of clothes? Do you find it helpful or not when you find them in books you read? If you were reading an e-book (I know not everyone likes them, but please bear with me for a moment) and came across a brand name that linked to an ad for that piece of clothing, would you find it annoying? If you were the author of that book, would you drop name brands as another source of revenue?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

First 250 Words Blogfest

A couple of weeks ago, Elle Strauss hosted a First 250 Words Contest. I was fortunate enough to be one of the finalists. Today, she's hosting a Blogfest so everyone can share their openings. Here's my entry, the opening of Across Two Universes:

            After standing so long under the hot stage lights, Paul would have crossed the wormhole without a spacesuit for a drink of water. The greenroom was down the hall, but crew members dashing around and setting up for the next scene made the backstage area an obstacle course. As he reached the hallway, a costume programmer yanked him off to the side.
            “You’re Paul Harrison, right?” she asked. “Your sister’s at the back door. She says there’s a family emergency.”
            He removed his sweaty face mesh. “Just her? What’s wrong?”
            “She was too upset to say.”
            Dad and his sister had been shopping for supplies to be sent up to the spaceship; why wasn’t he here too? Frowning, Paul sprinted down the corridor of narrow dressing rooms to the back. Cass peered through the security window. Mascara was streaked across her face, and auburn hair tumbled around her head. After he let her in, she clung to him so tightly her jacket became entangled in his holoprojectors.
            “What’s up, Sis?” He strained his ears to follow the onstage dialogue. “I have to go back before my next scene.”
            She looked up at him, her blue eyes glistening. “Mom’s in the hospital.”
             Shit. A spasm of itching crept over Paul’s arms. “She was fine at lunch. What happened?”
             “I don’t know!” Cass released him. “Dad got a call from one of the ushers saying Mom threw up and passed out.”
            “I’m right here. How come no one told me?” 
I hope you enjoyed that! To visit the other blogs participating in this contest, please check here

Friday, October 15, 2010

Cancer in the Ancient World

I just came across this article on CNN about how cancer was treated in the ancient world. Cancer was much less common back then than it is now. This may be due to a couple of reasons; there were fewer toxins such as pollution, but people didn't live as long as we do now. (Cancer can take a long time to develop, though this may be shortened in people with a genetic tendency for the disease.) Anyway, I thought this might be an interesting resource for anyone writing a fantasy set in ancient times. The American Cancer Society has a much longer and more detailed file about the history of cancer here.

Have a happy weekend, everyone! If you're online, stop by tomorrow to check out my entry in Elle Strauss's First 250 Words Blogfest--or perhaps head over to her blog to sign up too.

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