Monday, August 30, 2010

Kindle 3--My Impressions

As I mentioned on Friday, I just got the latest Kindle. Here are my thoughts on it so far:

Setting it up was very easy. It only took a couple of hours for the initial charge. Since I bought it for myself, it was already registered to my Amazon account.

It is very light and easy to hold, easier than some of my paperbacks. We'll see what happens once my cover arrives (I got the one that includes a light.)

I downloaded a sample of the complete works of Shakespeare. While it's great to have it all in something so portable, there's no space for footnotes to explain the language. I admit this is one advantage of paper books.

I also downloaded some free books, such as A Little Princess, Swiss Family Robinson, Ulysses, Swann's Way, and some of the Oz books. Some I've read; some I've been meaning to read. The downloads didn't take long at all. I've already managed to read about one and a half books.

The screen is very readable as is, though you can adjust the font and font size.

Turning pages is very easy. It didn't take me long to get used to the screen blacking out between pages, though sometimes I hit the button to go forward when I mean to go back. But it's nice that your spot is automatically saved.

It's a little weird not having page numbers. I'm not sure exactly what the locations mean (each "page" is listed as being a small range of locations within the book. There is a bar at the bottom of the screen showing the percentage of how far you've advanced in the book.

The Kindle allows you to highlight and annotate the text; you even see passages other people have highlighted, though you can turn off this feature.

You can group your titles into collections and choose how you want them organized.

All in all, I'm pleased with it. I don't think I'll give up on paper books entirely, at least not yet. Still, I'm looking forward to reading more books on the Kindle.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Life Imitates Art

My Kindle arrived today! I plan to discuss it on Monday after I've had some time to check it out. So far it's pretty neat, though.

Anyway, in the meantime, here's an article about someone at the Large Hadron Collider who claims to have come back from the future to destroy the LHC. Personally, even if time travel does become possible someday, I doubt we'd be able to travel into our own past. (That's why I have Paul travel to an alternate universe in my book.) Still, the last paragraph of the article makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Edited to Add: Whoops, I didn't look closely enough at the date. This was an April Fool's Day joke. I don't expect people to link to those in mid-August.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Make September 7th National Buy a Book Day!

I found out about this idea through a link a friend shared on Facebook. With both Borders and Barnes & Noble having financial problems, readers and writers need to support bookstores. What better way to do so than by buying more books? I have at least twenty books on my to-read list, but there are still certain titles calling my name. The main problem will be waiting until September 7th to buy the book I have in mind: Rift in the Sky by Julie E. Czerneda. (Ironic I'm linking to Amazon, isn't it?) Please join me in buying a new book from a bookstore on September 7--and if you can help spread this idea through your blog, Facebook, or Twitter account, even better!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

White Space and Creativity

White space (or negative space) is the part of the page that's left blank. It's necessary not just to group text and graphic elements, but to give the eyes a rest. Similarly, our minds need downtime to learn and come up with new ideas. But as this article in the New York Times points out, our electronic gadgets provide temptation to fill all our downtime with distractions. If we ceaselessly shovel content into our brains, we will never have enough quiet time to be creative.

I have to admit there are times when I don't give myself enough quiet time--instead of relaxing during my lunch hour, I surf the Net or write. But there are other times, such as when I'm at the park with Alex, that I try to take time to relax, look at the clouds, and try to clear my head. It isn't easy, especially when I get earworms from Alex's shows stuck in my brain. But I've also found that when I set aside some time to be creative--for example, setting aside time to develop a plot or an alien race--several ideas may pile on top of each other.

Do you give yourself mental downtime? If so, is it just walking away from the Internet for a while, or do you take more drastic measures? Do you think more should be done to promote the importance of downtime? I wonder if some future culture will mandate everyone unplug every so often, and what affect that would have on people.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Trying New Things

Welcome back to Monday, everyone. Hope you had a good weekend. We've had a lot scheduled the last two weekend, and even though we didn't have anything planned, we were still busy as well. On Saturday, I took Alex both to the library and the pool. We shopped for a new bed for him yesterday, then visited the Chicago Botanic Garden and wound up having dinner at a restaurant with my in-laws. More of my husband's relatives stopped by, so we ended up with a spontaneous family dinner for twenty!

Saturday with my son turned out to be a success because he was able to overcome his fear of loud public bathrooms to do these activities. For a long time, he showed no interest in going to the library because he was spooked of the bathroom there. I told him we'd use the bathroom at home so we wouldn't have to use the one there. When we got to the pool, we had to go through the women's locker room to reach the pool. He balked at first, but luckily there weren't any hair dryers running, so I hurried him through. He wasn't interested in the wading pool at first, but after he played in the sand area for a while and had a snack, I was able to coax him in. Once there, he had a wonderful time.

To bring this around to writing, I think it's very useful to keep trying new things. By challenging yourself to do something different, you learn and gain new skills and perspectives. For a long time, I wrote by the seat of my pants. This meant that after completing a first draft, I'd think of new plot points and end up writing an entirely new draft. Sometimes I'd go through several loops like this. I've had ideas for the sequel to Across Two Universes (working title: Catalyst in the Crucible) for quite some time now, but although I had a decent sense of the plot, other areas really need to be fleshed out before I can progress further. So I started by writing myself a rough outline of the story. I was surprised by the inspiration that came from doing this; I generated other plot ideas as I wrote. In some sections, I have multiple ideas listed. It's nice to have a map of my novel that still gives me flexibility to change the story as I write. I'm currently working  a series of character sheets to help me keep everything consistent. When I get those done, I'll be ready to return to my draft and keep going with it.

Have you tried anything new with your writing--a different genre, style, or technique? What did you learn from it?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Due to Technical Difficulties....

I wanted to blog about reading books on my cellphone yesterday, but I can't find an app for that.

There's supposed to be a Kindle app for Android, but I can't find it in the Marketplace.

According to Amazon's website, you should be able to scan a barcode and get the app, except I don't know how to use my bar scanner. And I don't know where the manual for my cellphone is.

Although the thousand-page paperback I'm currently reading is unwieldy, the tech level required is so simple even I can manage it.

P.S. Speaking of more technical difficulties, my son caused quite a few of them as he laid and climbed all over me while I wrote up this post.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Bechdel Test and Male POV, Part Two

Thanks to all of you who commented on the first post on this subject. (If you haven't had a chance to read it yet, you can find it here.) I hope you don't mind if I refer to your comments. In this post, I'm going to look at ways to help a story pass the Bechdel Test, even if it's told from a male POV.

More is More. It probably sounds obvious, but the more women there are in a story, the greater the likelihood is that they'll talk to or interact with each other. However, as Tara and Ted pointed out, sometimes you have situations where there are few, if any women around. There may be extreme situations where this can't be changed. (I should also point out that it's perfectly OK to have stories with all men or all women, though I personally wouldn't want every story of mine to be like that.) However, sometimes it may be possible to find women if you look closely enough. For instance, Ted mentioned that his first book had few female characters because it mostly dealt with a war. An army of men would attract camp followers and possibly employ women as cooks and laundresses. There may be women working in support positions, serving as soldiers (either openly or disguised as men), or acting as spies. Finally, soldiers might encounter women in civilian positions, especially when they're on the march or stationed abroad. They may take a lover--or claim one as a war prisoner. Not all depictions of women in this scenario are positive, unfortunately. Still, their presence may make the setting seem more complete or even take the story in an unexpected direction.

Let the Women Meet. Again, an obvious point--they can't talk to each other if your hero encounters one woman every fifty pages. Sherry mentioned in her comment that in one of her books, there are several female characters, but they're physically separated over great distances. Are there places where people, particularly women, might gather? Pamela suggested a tavern as one possible meeting place. If a woman is going somewhere, is she by herself, or does she have relatives or other companions with her?

Develop Character. The more we know about a particular character's interests, the more that character has to say to other people. Character development also allows secondary characters more stage presence. This is important if your main character is male, but you still want a strong female presence in your novel.

That's all I can think of for now. I'm considering submitting this topic as a panel idea for WisCon next year. In the meantime, let me provide a few caveats, courtesy of (my thoughts are in parentheses):

The Bechdel Test is not meant to give a scorecard of a work's overall level of feminism. (emphasis in the article) It is entirely possible for a film to pass without having overt feminist themes - in fact, the original example of a movie that passes is Alien, which, while it has feminist subtexts, is mostly just a sci-fi/action/horror flick. (As if there's something wrong with that!) A movie can easily pass the Bechdel Test and still be incredibly misogynistic. Conversely, it's also possible for a story to fail the test and still be strongly feminist in other ways, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. What's a problem is that it becomes a pattern - when so many movies fail the test, while very few fail to show male characters whose lives don't revolve around women, that says uncomfortable things about the way Hollywood handles gender....It can be interesting to apply the Bechdel Test in a wider context. ... This can be especially jarring in Speculative Fiction, which often claims to be about aliens, vampires, Klingons, or what have you, but they only ever talk to or about humans.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Bechdel Test and Male POV

Last Friday, Krista analyzed her writing projects to determine if they passed the Smurfette Test (the work has more than one woman) and the Bechdel Test (it has more than one woman who talk to each other about something than a man or men). These tests are important because many films, TV shows, novels, etc. still feature a token female character or put the female characters off to the side. Krista's post made me think about some of my projects to see if they would pass these tests.

The Season Lord Trilogy (Day of All Seasons, Fifth Season, and the unfinished Summon the Season Lords) featured a group of four female magic-users who have to work together to save their country. This definitely passes both tests.

My short story "A Reptile at the Reunion" is about a woman going back to the University of Magic to meet her friends, one male and one female. The two females discuss magic, not men.

My novella "Move Over Ms. L." featured a young woman who talks to her mother, her labmates (who include two lesbians), the director of the time travel program, and her ancestor's aunt. While some of the conversations are about men, others aren't.

This leads me to my current project, Across Two Universes. While there are several female characters--Paul's sister Cass; his love interest Yvonne; the ship's psychiatrist, Dr. Stern; and the ship's captain--they don't talk to each other as much as my female characters do in other stories. They tend to talk more to my main character, Paul, instead. And even when they do talk directly to each other, they talk a lot about Paul or his plans. I wouldn't say it completely fails the Bechdel test, but it doesn't pass as strongly as some of my other stories. Why?

The answer has to do with my main character, Paul. Almost all of the story is filtered through his perspective. As the main character, he has the most at stake, and his actions drive the story. It's not surprising that the other characters react to him. Paul isn't sexist; he was raised by a strong-willed mother, and he encourages his love interest to pursue her own interests. But he's also a teenager and an actor, so he has a strong ego too.

Another reason that there isn't as much female-female conversation in a book with a mostly male POV is that the women talk more to each other when Paul isn't around. There are at least three spots in my book where Cass and Yvonne (who are friends) are alone together, but since Paul's doesn't hear them, we don't know what they talk about. There are also topics women don't feel comfortable discussing in front of men. For instance, Yvonne and Cass aren't going to discuss 20th century tampons vs. 22nd century menstrual cups in front of Paul. (That's assuming they still bother with a period, that is.) Finally, during the scenes when Paul is having a conversation with more than one woman, the dialogue focuses on plot points (where speakers address the entire group or Paul in particular) instead of developing character (which would allow more sharing between secondary characters like Cass and Yvonne, rather than one of them talking directly to him).

Is a male POV always an obstacle to having a story pass the Bechdel Test? Are there other reasons why this would happen? And are there strategies we writers can use to increase female-female conversation in these stories? This topic is too important for one writer to tackle alone, so I'd like to invite you to comment on this post and offer your insights. I'll return to this topic on Wednesday, hopefully with ideas to help male POV stories pass the Bechdel Test. Stick around!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Day Out with Thomas 2010

I've mentioned before how much of a "trainiac" my son is, so of course we had to take him to the Day Out with Thomas at the Illinois Railway Museum. We bought tickets as soon as we learned they were available. Based on advice from friends, we got the first ride of the day. This was good advice, as parking filled up quickly and we could avoid some of the craziness of such a big event.

We've been to the Railway Museum before (see this post), but there was much more kids' stuff this time: bouncy houses, temporary tattoos, a chance to meet Sir Topham Hatt from the show, and much more. But we didn't bother with any of that, because Alex was much more interested in the trains themselves.

We got to the museum around 9:30 and were able to get to the Thomas train in plenty of time. I was pleased that admission to the museum was included in the cost of the tickets; I thought we'd have to pay for that too. The coaches were regular coaches from the museum, not Annie and Clarabelle. There were some pictures of Thomas, Percy, and James tacked to the inside ceiling, next to the old adds. The train ride was about 20 minutes. During the ride, clowns passed through the cars (Alex paid no attention). At the end, he got a certificate proclaiming him a junior engineer. We'll have to put that up in his room. We took some pictures of Thomas, but we didn't do the official ones. I should also mention that although Thomas led the train, there was a diesel engine in back doing the real work. I doubt a tank engine could handle all those coaches!

After the ride, we stopped by Alex's favorite engine, a gray one numbered 3007. Then we passed through a barn before meeting some friends who were on the 10:30 train. We split up for a bit so Alex could check out all the signals on display and ride a commuter train. Then we rejoined our friends for lunch. While we were at the diner, we heard an announcement about a special tour of the steam repair shed, so we joined that tour. We looked at some more trains, but by that point we'd been at the museum for over four hours. Alex was so interested in the trains he wasn't bothered by hunger, thirst, or fatigue, but we didn't want him to have a meltdown or a potty accident. So we had to skip the ride on a cable car that we'd promised him. I think stopping by the Thomas store cured any disappointment he felt. He held up well throughout our visit, but by the end he was fading. I think we left at the right time. Our little engineer fell asleep in the car, probably dreaming about all the trains he wants to drive.

Here are a few photos from the day:

Alex and his favorite engine.

A closeup of Alex in his train engineer outfit. He was quite a hit! Many of the other kids wore Thomas shirts and hats, but I saw only one other kid in a similar outfit.

The best picture I took of Thomas.

Current and future train engineer.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Beatlefest 2010

Every year, there's a convention for Beatles fans in the Chicago area. It used to be called Beatlefest, but they changed the name several years ago to The Fest for Beatles Fans. (I've been going long enough that the old name is stuck in my mind.) The last time I attended was before Alex was born. This year, I finally decided I wanted to go, so I asked Eugene to take care of Alex while I was gone. When Alex found out where I was going, he asked to come with me. Perhaps in a couple of years I'll bring him.

I belong to an online forum for Beatles fans, and members like to get together before the event opens. I was a little late since, despite printed directions, I managed to take a wrong turn near the airport and wound up by all the car rentals. Fortunately, a gatekeeper at one of the places helped me get on the right track. I chatted with friends for about an hour. We took some pictures, though a few people left before we took them.

Afterwards, I wandered around for a bit, checking out some of the exhibits. My favorite one was of lost Beatles photos taken by their tour manager. I was sorely tempted to buy some of the photos, but I still have several Beatles photos that I haven't hung up yet in the house. I decided to wait for the book to come out next year. Then I met up with a friend of mine, Aviva, and caught up with her for a while. I also met my other friends Susan, Tina, and Kristi. Eventually I went to the dealer's room to get A Date with a Beatle autographed (the author was very sweet) and buy a shirt and toy for Alex. I also stopped in the video room and the art show.

For dinner, I went with several friends (Aviva, Susan, Tina, and Melanie) to Pappadeux. We met with Eugene and Alex. Alex hadn't napped earlier but fell asleep on the way there. He was a bit tired and cranky at first, but once he woke up (after some sugary snacks), he was a hit. I would have liked to have returned to the Fest for the fan fiction panel, but it was getting late, and I wanted to help put Alex to bed. Maybe next time. It was good to be "back where I once belonged" and see all my friends again!

Friday, August 13, 2010

WriteOnCon Recap

First, I'd like to thank the organizers and industry professionals who made WriteOnCon such a success. They put a lot of effort into the presentations and the site. I was among those who couldn't access the website on the first day due to server problems, so I appreciated it when Elana and some of the other organizers posted the presentations on their own blogs. That way, I could still follow along.

There were so many presentations with a lot of information, so it's hard to pick my favorite. I would say I found the live agent chats where the agents reviewed query letters and sample pages most helpful. But all of the presentations are still on the website, so you can go back and view them for yourself. The forums will be available for at least a little longer, so there's still time to post material, critique, and network.

Although the con was set up for working people, I was glad to have the time off. I felt free to watch the vlog presentations, which I wouldn't have done at work. Plus I had more time to critique others' sample pages and work on my next project.

If the organizers run something like this next year, I personally would be happy to donate a small amount (say $10) to help defray server and administration costs. But I think it's great that they kept it free to allow everyone access.

Anyway, it's back to work for me today, so I have to make this short. I have some fun personal things planned for this weekend, so perhaps I'll have time to post some pictures. (After finishing up crits on the WriteOnCon forum, of course.) By Monday, I should be ready to return to a normal blogging schedule. Have a good weekend, everyone!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Social Networking Experiment

I'm reposting this announcement from Nicola Morgan's blog. She's conducting a social networking experiment on Facebook, looking for people to join her fan page. For every 50 people who "like" her page in the next two weeks, she'll give away a signed copy of one of her books. (She'll give away a maximum of ten books.) Although I haven't read any of them myself, they're aimed at teenagers. So if you're a teenager, you know a teenager, or you enjoy reading YA, head on over and join!

Quote of the Day

"Few people think more than two or three times a year; I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week."

George Bernard Shaw

Monday, August 09, 2010

Gearing Up for WriteOnCon

Tomorrow I'm going to a different type of writing convention--an online one. WriteOnCon runs from Tuesday, August 10, through Thursday, August 12. Although it's primarily geared for kidlit authors, the organizers say there will be plenty of information that writers of all kinds will find useful. Since it's free, there's no reason not to sign up.

It's strange preparing for an online convention. I decided to take the next few days off (I have plenty of vacation time) so I could focus on the con, but it looks like most of the chats will be in the evening, when my family will be home. I can always revise my work and critique other people's during the day. Since this convention promises to be a big one, there should be lots of networking opportunities.

Is anyone else attending this con? Have you attended other online cons before? I'm not sure what to expect. At least this is much cheaper than traveling to a real-life con, and I don't have to worry about sleeping in a hotel room or conflicting panels. I think I will miss a real dealer's room, but that may be easier on my wallet too. ;)

As for preparations, I've posted my current query letter for review, and I'll do the same with parts of Across Two Universes once I'm allowed to. Off to go review them one last time...

Friday, August 06, 2010

Oxford's Secret Word Vault

Did you know there are millions of rejected words waiting for the chance to join the English language? According to this article in Time, the Oxford University Press has a vault with "unwords" written on cards and filed away. Some of these words include "dringle" (The watermark left on wood caused by a glass of liquid) and "oninate" (To overwhelm with post-dining breath--I presume this must be onion-breath). Although they were once judged "unsuitable" for the Oxford English Dictionary, there's still a possibility that they could be accepted into future editions of the OED, so they're kept around. It reminds me a bit of Jasper Fforde's Well of Lost Plots, which, if I remember it correctly, contained every book ever written--unpublished, published, good, or bad. As a writer, I think it would be really cool to look at some of those unwords -- and the whole concept sounds like a story idea to me. What do you think? Do we need more words like dringle and oninate, to name things we all come across yet seldom discuss? What unwords would you nominate to the Secret Word Vault?

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Back on the Blog Chain: Status Report

For this round, Cole wants to know what we've been working on lately:

Are you querying? Gearing up to go on submission? Writing? Revising? I'd love to hear what's new with you. And if you'd like to share a snippet of your WIP, even better!

Amanda posted before me, and Eric comes next.

Well, since I talk about my science fiction novel Across Two Universes so much, I figure I should discuss it first. I've done as much as I can with it on my own, so it's out to three reviewers. While I wait to hear from them, I've been getting feedback on my query letter and synopsis from the Absolute Writer Water Cooler and OWW. I've also started researching agents on QueryTracker. All this means that after umpteen zillion years, I'm finally gearing up to submit this project. Exactly when this will happen depends on the feedback I get from my reviewers, though I'm hoping I'm past the "tear it up and start over" phase by now.

Even though I haven't sold Across Two Universes yet, my characters have compelled me to start the sequel, currently called Catalyst in the Crucible. I was planning to make it a NaNoWriMo project, but I guess that's out the window now. That's OK; I just want to resolve Paul's story so he leaves me alone. ;)

I haven't forgotten about my shapeshifting sisters either. Although I'm not actually writing their story yet, I'm trying to plot it out. To be more precise, I have one plotline from the first project I wrote with them and a second plot from a short story I wrote while I was taking a break from Across Two Universes. I'm trying to figure out how to merge them. While I'd like to outline this story, I tend to write by the seat of my pants, so I have to make sure the outline doesn't spoil my urge to write the actual story. I think it would be good for me to work on something different from Paul once in a while.

Finally, here's the opening of Across Two Universes:

After standing so long under the hot lights, Paul felt like he’d passed through the wormhole as he entered the shadowed backstage. He headed to the green room for water, but a costume programmer yanked him off to the side, away from a couple of cursing stage hands.

“You’re Paul Harrison, right?” she asked. “Your sister’s at the back door. She says there’s a family emergency.”

Paul removed his sweaty face mesh. “What’s wrong?”

"She was too upset to tell me.”

I hope it’s nothing major. He sprinted down the corridor of narrow dressing rooms to the back. Cass peered through the security window. Mascara was streaked across her face, and her auburn hair tumbled wildly 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 hearing 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.”

I hope you enjoyed it!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Discussion: Let's Talk Science!

Since science is obviously an important part of science fiction, I thought it would be interesting to talk about it and our attitudes toward it. I've been interested in science since I was a child. I became particularly interested in genetics when I was a teenager. I'm adopted, so genetics was a way for me to learn about my biological parents by studying my own genes. (I have a lot of recessive traits, so it didn't help much.) I also read books on quantum mechanics; they were written for a general audience. I don't think I could follow journal articles on quantum mechanics! I majored in molecular biology in college, intending to become a geneticist. Things happened along the way, and today, although I do work in a lab, I'm currently in Quality Control. I still suffer from Research Withdrawal from time to time.

How do you feel about science? Do you prefer one type of science to another? (E.g., biology vs. physics.) What types of science would you like to see me cover in my Science of Science Fiction posts?

Monday, August 02, 2010

Crossing the Genre Border

I recently joined a Facebook Book Club started by some people I went to high school with. The first book chosen was one I hadn't heard of before: Life as I Know It. I'm currently about two-thirds of the way through. Although I'd consider it women's fiction, the premise is rooted in fantasy. Briefly, after two women are struck by lightning at the same time, one of them finds herself living both lives, switching back and forth from her own life as a single working girl to a married mother of four kids. For me, this would be enough to call it fantasy, though I can see why it's marketed as women's fiction. I think mixing genres in a given book can enrich the story. However, unless there's a way to indicate that the story fits multiple genres, it can be very difficult for a book to reach all the members of its potential audience. Plus, the differences in genre conventions may confuse or alienate some readers.

Do you read or write books that cross the genre border? If so, do you find them more challenging than stories of a single genre?

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