Friday, December 30, 2011

Looking Back at 2011

Since this is the last weekday of the year, I thought I'd skip the usual Science of the Week post and look back at 2011. So many different events happened that I'll have to stick with the highlights.

For science, I think one of the most significant achievements was Watson, the supercomputer that beat two human Jeopardy! champions.

For the writing and publishing worlds, where do I begin? We lost Borders and beloved author Anne McCaffrey. We're still in the middle of a paradigm shift with the publishing process and the proliferation of possible paths for authors. It's going to be a few more years before things get settled. For me, it was a watershed year with my decision to self-publish Lyon's Legacy--something I never would have considered at the beginning of 2011!

What were the highlights of your year?

Enjoy your New Year's Eve, and I'll talk to you again in 2012. We'll see if I manage to finish one more book before the year ends.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Books--Purging and Pricing

Hi, Everyone! I hope you're enjoying the holiday season. I've been spending the time doing various chores (the kind you keep putting off), playing too many Facebook games, and writing (never as much as I feel I should be doing).

One of the chores I did was to reorganize my bookshelves. I don't place a book on the shelf until I've read it. I also tend to wait until I have several books to shelve. I did this yesterday. As part of the process, I reviewed my paperback collection and decided to get rid of some I knew I wouldn't want to reread. I don't have more space for bookshelves in my office, so sometimes it's necessary to get rid of books, especially since I was almost out of room. Now I have about three-fourths of a small shelf free. I also went through Alex's old books and got rid of the ones he'd outgrown. (It was a little sad getting rid of all the Sandra Boynton (sp?) books, but I did save my favorite one.) When Eugene came home, he was inspired to sort through his collection and choose a few to sell. All told, we wound up with about four small boxes of books.

Anyone care to guess how much we got for them at Half Price Books? Do you hold on to your books or pass them on when you're done with them?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

I can't resist wishing you a Merry Christmas--Beatle style! Or even Beatles tribute style!

And now a classic Christmas song from a real Beatle:

Monday, December 19, 2011

Promotional Links for Indie Authors

Welcome to my new followers! :waves: I plan to catch up on blogs tomorrow and hopefully visit participants in the Deja Vu Blogfest on Friday.

Anyway, I wasn't planning to post much this week, but I've found a few sites that will help indie authors promote their work and wanted to share the links with you.

Women's Literary Cafe--A place where readers and authors unite. They help spread the word about indie books through Twitter at @IndieKindle and @WoMensLitCafe. They also have newsletters, author spotlights, and much more.

Indie Book Collective--Another place with resources for indie authors, including workshops, blog tours, and other promotional activities.

1500 Authors--A site where indie authors with books available on Amazon and B&N can list their work. Works are organized by genre.

No matter if you're a reader or a writer, I hope you find these links helpful.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Deja Vu Blogfest

"Feels like deja vu."


"Feels like deja vu...."

Welcome to the Deja Vu Blogfest! If you're new to this site, welcome! I'm Sandra, an indie SF/Fantasy writer. Please look around the blog to learn more about me and my SF novella, Lyon's Legacy. I can't resist a plug: my novella is on sale this month for $0.99 at Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords.

Anyway, below is one of my favorite blog posts. It's part of the blog chain I belong to, and it was originally posted in March 2010.

Back on the Blog Chain: Holding out for a Hero(ine)

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.

I hope you enjoyed that blast from the past! I expect to be busy at work today, so it may take me a few days to visit all the participants in this blog fest. I'm also going to cut back my blogging schedule during the holidays. At this point, I'm not sure how often I'll post. Enjoy your weekend, everyone, and see you soon!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Feel Like a Character....

Sorry I didn't blog the last couple days, but I came down with a bad case of Real Life.

I held back on scheduling a Ten-Word Tuesday because I wanted to tie it into the Higgs Boson announcement. (Which was nothing more than a big fat Maybe.) Then at work, since someone else goofed, I got handed a Mission: Impossible task to be completed by Friday. I was already busier than normal with training and validation tasks; this just felt over-the-top. However, I have to admit that if my life was a novel, this would have been a good twist to put on a character in an already tough situation.

I did make some progress yesterday in rescheduling other projects, and I also found out that some other people in my department will take over Mission: Impossible if I don't get it done by Friday. The company president knows I'm scheduled for vacation the next two weeks, so it's not like I have to give it up. So that's good.

Anyway, for discussion purposes, have you ever felt like a character in a story? What were the circumstances? What would you have said to your author?

Although tomorrow is Friday, I'm participating in the Deja Vu blogfest, so I won't be running Science of the Week. Tune in tomorrow to see which blog post I choose to rerun!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dear Santa....

Dear Santa,

This year I've been a very good writer. I've worked hard on my projects, I've critiqued others and kept up with my blog, and I even wrote (and finished) two short pieces I hadn't planned on when I was thinking about my writing goals for the year. Here's what I'd love to receive in my writing stocking:

1. More time to write!
2. More time to pre-plan my scenes so I make better use of my writing time.
3. More sales and good reviews for Lyon's Legacy.
4. A sale to the anthology I wrote that short story for.

We have plenty of cookies, so after you're done fulfilling my son's wish list, don't forget the person who did the baking. Stay warm!



P.S. So, what's on your "writer wish list" this year?

Friday, December 09, 2011

Science of the Week, 12/9/11

It's been a hard day's night's week, so just a few links today:

Beating superbugs with a high-tech cleanser

New synthetic e. coli strains are the Swiss army knife for biofuel production

Sorry, that's it. Then again, I think after yesterday's post about entangled diamonds, we need something light as we head into the weekend. Have a good one!

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Science of Science Fiction: Entangled Diamonds

(Warning: technical blog post ahead. Not to be read before your morning dose of caffeine.)

According to this article on CNN, scientists have succeeded in entangling two diamonds...or have they?

If you'll pardon me using Wikipedia as a source, quantum entanglement occurs when two particles interact, sync up in at least one quantum state (like spin or polarization), and then separate. Their quantum states are still linked, so if you interact with one particle, the other one changes its quantum state instantaneously, no matter how far apart they are.

In the CNN article, which is based off a paper in Science, two diamonds were placed about six inches apart, and then photons were shot through a beam splitter. Some of these photons managed to go in two directions at once (which I think has something to do with Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, which limits how well you can know both the position and momentum of a particle at the same time). These photons caused vibrations in both diamonds at once. When the beams are recombined after they leave the diamonds, the head scientist describes it as "We know that one diamond is vibrating, but we don't know which one....In fact, the universe doesn't know which diamond is vibrating the diamonds are entangled, with one vibration shared between them, even though they are separated in space."

I'm no quantum physicist (I just read popular books about it when I was younger), but to me, this doesn't sound like quantum entanglement. Are the diamonds still linked after the experiment ends? Does changing one diamond affect the other one, even if they're not touching? Perhaps the scientists understand this better than I do. It does seem to be linked to Bell's Theorem, but I'm not going to attempt to discuss that!

What does this experiment mean for science fiction writers? It does show that quantum effects carry over into the macroscopic world. (When I was learning about the uncertainty principle at school, we always used to say that an object like a chair does have uncertainty, but it's extremely small.) This could have implications for quantum computers and possibly speed up communication. The CNN article ends with the scientists pointing out, "This particular research project does not have any immediate technological applications. It's just really fascinating, and really confusing, at the same time." But if experiments like this one change the way we understand the universe, that's also fodder for speculative fiction.

For John

I can never let December 8th go by without thinking about John Lennon. Here are a couple videos of his songs:

"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" to tie into my next post (about entangled diamonds)

I'm dedicating "Power to the People" to all the indie writers out there.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Discussion: Your Favorite Science

If you read science fiction, is there a type of science you enjoy reading about the most? Do you like reading about space travel, or are you more interested in bioengineering? Do computers and nanotech appeal to you? How about anthropological science fiction such as Ursula Le Guin's work?

For me, I've read all types of science fiction, but since I studied molecular biology in undergrad, I find myself most interested in biological science fiction, whether that means altering our own bodies or dealing with "strange new life forms." Please feel free to share your preferences in the comments below. Do you have a background in your favorite science, or do you enjoy learning about something new? Do you feel one type of science lends itself to fiction better than others?

Monday, December 05, 2011

Secret Santa eBook Exchange!

Ebook authors, are you interested in finding new readers and receiving an ebook yourself? Then head on over to Michael Rose's blog and sign up for the Secret Santa Ebook Exchange! Full details are available at the link. The deadline for signing up is December 20; the exchange takes place between December 21-24. Books must be at least 99 cents in price and will be randomly assigned (so you have to be open to genre), but the participants will also get a master list of all the authors and books. Hope to see some of you on the list!

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Back on the Blog Chain: There's a Place--Or Is There?

Welcome to the last blog chain of the year. Today, Tere asks us:

What conditions do you need to get your best writing done? Closed door, crowded coffee house? Computer or notebook? Can you just sit down to write, or do you need to wait for the time to be right?

Amparo comes before me, and Matt is next.

As a working mom, I can't wait for the perfect conditions; otherwise, I'd never have a chance to write. I have to be flexible. For example, here are some places where I've written recently:

1. At work (on my lunch hour), on my laptop
2. At home, after Alex falls asleep (usually later than he should), with my laptop on my desk and Pandora playing over the headphones
3. At the bookstore, on my laptop
4. In the hall of the park district building where Alex takes dance class, on my laptop
5. At a relative's house, watching Alex play with trains while I write on a printout of my story

As you can see, I find having a laptop vital for most of my writing, but I can write on paper in a pinch. I can generally tune out my environment, but TV is too distracting for me.

What about you? Do you have a favorite place to work, or do you work in multiple locations?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Discussion: Writing Short Stories

I can't remember if I've discussed short stories before here, so I thought it would be an interesting topic. Most of my fiction reading is novel-length, but I do occasionally read short stories. I try to write them from time to time as well; in fact, I started a new one on Monday for a themed anthology. It's set in the same world as Scattered Seasons, but the country and time period are different.

Short stories seem to require tighter pacing and word count than novels do. I know at one point beginning writers were urged to try short stories before gearing up for a novel, but these days, it seems more common for writer to go straight to novel length. Perhaps this depends on the market for short stories in the writer's genre of choice.

Do you write (or have you written) short stories? If so, were they just for writing practice, or did you send them out? Did you try a different writing technique from what you normally use for a novel?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lyon's Legacy--Holiday Sale and Kindlegraph

I thought I'd experiment a little with pricing, so I'm putting Lyon's Legacy on sale for 99 cents until the end of the year. Please feel free to share the news. You can find my novella on Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords.

Also, if you'd like my autograph (or at least the right-handed version of it), I'm now signed up with Kindlegraph. You can request a personalized inscription and signature for your e-book copy here. You don't need a Kindle to get this; you can get the signature as part of a PDF file. (You don't even need an e-book, as signatures are kept separate from the book itself.)

If you're an author, you might want to sign up with this service. It's free, and it's another way to connect with readers. Here's the link to the sign-up page. You'll need to enter the book's Amazon Standard Identification Number, which you can find on the book's Amazon page.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Scientific American, December 2011 Issue

I hope everyone enjoyed the weekend! Eugene and I spent part of Thanksgiving at the Kristkindlmarkt in downtown Chicago before going to his aunt's house for dinner. Among other things, I also took Alex bowling, set up the tree, visited the Wonderland Express exhibit at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and finished reading the latest Scientific American. No, it's not as exciting as preparing for the holidays, but there were still some interesting articles that offer ideas for science fiction. Here's the list:

1. A special feature about 10 World-Changing Ideas (including microbe miners, digital currency, year-round crop plants) and a computer model under development that would contain enough data to predict the future.

2. New plans for getting to the asteroids and Mars.

3. Ways in which cities are adapting to climate change.

4. Epigenetics and the mind. (Epigenetics deals with molecular markers on DNA that affect how it's regulated.)

What did you do over the weekend? Do any of these articles interest you?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Anne McCaffrey

I had another post scheduled for today, but I postponed it after learning last night that Anne McCaffrey had passed away.

Anne McCaffrey was one of the first authors I got into when I became a science fiction/fantasy reader. I have twenty-five books of hers in my collection. Naturally, many of these are in the Pern series, but I also especially enjoyed The Rowan and its sequels.

What's your favorite Anne McCaffrey book?

P.S. I'm taking tomorrow off, so Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I'll be back on Friday with my usual science links.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Meet Editor/Author Lauren Sweet

I first met Lauren Sweet when I was looking for an editor to help me with Lyon's Legacy. When I contacted her again for another project, she told me she had just published a book of her own. Naturally, I had to learn more. She graciously agreed to let me interview her for this blog.

Please tell us about yourself.

The basics: I was born and raised in New Jersey, spending my formative years with a book in my hand (or sneaked under the desk during math class). I tried my hand at writing romance novels in the ‘80s, took a twenty-year detour through the business world, and finally escaped to Alaska and earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska Anchorage. I now live near Portland, OR, and am a freelance writer and editor. My other esoteric skills include astrology, tarot card reading, and the ability to do a perfect split.

Some things I love: Caramels, Muppets, office supply stores, Nathan Fillion, fudge, Stargate SG-1, sappy love songs, snarky humor, fountain pens, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, crystals, my Jeep, down comforters, my fabulous hundred-acre couch, Winnie the Pooh, flamingoes, and comfy clothes.

How did you get into writing and editing? Which came first? Which do you prefer?

Writing came before editing—the editing part was kind of accidental. I always like to know how things work, so when I started writing seriously, I read a lot of writing books and studied other people’s writing to figure out how stories are put together. Later on I joined a critique group. I learned an amazing amount from analyzing other writers’ works-in-progress and pondering not just what wasn’t working, but why it wasn’t working and how the problems could be fixed. I found I enjoyed that and had a talent for it, and people started asking me specifically to help them with their work. Eventually that led to getting paid.

I love writing and wish I could spend more time on it each day, but it’s also very satisfying helping other writers achieve their dreams. If I had to pick one or the other, though, it would be writing.

How did you get into freelance editing? What are the pros and cons of being a freelancer?

After I finished my Creative Writing MFA in 2008, I hoped to ease into full-time editing by getting an office job and freelancing part-time. But the economy crashed the second I hit Portland and there were no office jobs to be found, so I was thrown into the deep end of the swimming pool as far as freelancing was concerned. Looking back, I’m glad it happened that way, because otherwise I don’t know if I would’ve taken the plunge.

Pros: setting my own schedule, working at home in my pajamas, setting up my business and my services in a way that fits my goals and personality. Plus I get paid for reading some really awesome books!

Cons: uneven income, no holiday or vacation pay, having to provide my own medical insurance and other benefits, extra self-employment taxes, dealing tactfully with the occasional writer who doesn’t want to accept how much work their project needs.

Could you please explain the difference between developmental editing and copyediting? Do you find one type of editing easier or more enjoyable?

Developmental editing has to do with the craft of fiction writing—the way the story is told. Plot, story structure, character development, point of view, narrative tension, dialogue, setting, scene structure, tone—all the “big picture” issues.

Grammar, spelling, typos, word usage, and similar language issues are copyediting issues. If copyediting also includes correcting paragraph and sentence structure, clarity and flow of ideas, it’s usually called line editing.

There’s some overlap between these definitions, depending on the editor, and some editors will also address language issues in a developmental edit, but I normally don’t. Usually after a developmental edit scenes will have to be added, cut, or totally revised, in which case any line editing/copyediting has to be done all over again. Which means the client will have wasted their money having me do it the first time, and I don’t want that.

Copyediting is easier, but developmental editing is more fun.

What is Aladdin’s Samovar about?

It’s about a woman named Amber Polaski who buys an antique brass samovar that turns out to have a (very sexy) genie in it. She makes a wish to find her long-lost father, only to find that he’s on the run from the Mafia. People get shot at, shrink wrapped, and pounced on by a pack of Happy Puppies—and Amber is forced to defend herself against Mafia assassins with common household appliances. Plus, Jasper the genie turns out to be nothing but trouble—in more ways than one!

How did you get the inspiration for Aladdin’s Samovar?

When I was getting my Master’s degree in creative writing, I started a short story about Amber finding the genie in her samovar. (I wish I could remember what possessed me to put a genie in a samovar instead of the usual lamp, but I don’t.) I never finished the story, because in that version she had only one wish, and I couldn’t figure out what she wanted most.

I put the story aside and didn’t get back to it until three years later. At one point after writing the first version, I’d had a conversation with a classmate who said that since Amber had never met her father, her wish would be to meet him. (That was a head-smack moment for me; those things always seem so obvious once someone has pointed them out to you.)

Once I reread the story with that in mind, I wondered what would happen if Amber found her father, but he wasn’t what she expected—if he were, say, on the run from the Mob. I immediately realized that could be the jumping-off point for a novel—or even a series. And Aladdin’s Samovar was born.

Did you edit your own book, or did you hire another editor to look it over? What factors influenced your choice?

I have beta readers who help me pick up any inconsistencies in my work (and let me know if it’s really as funny as I like to think it is). But other than that, I’m my own editor—I’m a nitpicky perfectionist, so I’m usually more critical of my work than anyone else is.

I also have writing colleagues that I turn to when I’m stuck on a solution to a writing problem, who are kind enough to brainstorm with me and let me bounce ideas off them.

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

Hmm—so many writers; so little time… I love Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, because her characters feel so real, and I always finish her books convinced that I know what it’s like to live in the 1700s. She also raises a lot of interesting questions about the way we look at issues like violence, gender, war, honor, marriage and religion, by voicing various points of view from people who lived in completely different circumstances than we do.

I also love Dorothy Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax series—about a sixty-year-old widow from New Brunswick, New Jersey who becomes a CIA operative. Some of the books are kind of dated now, but the character is so much fun!

And a non-novelist—I’m a blatant worshiper of Joss Whedon, the TV/film writer who created Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. He’s so deliberate (yet brilliant) in his storytelling—everything is planned out and he knows exactly where he’s going with the long-term story arcs in his shows. I also love his originality—he knows every potential cliché in the business and manages to throw a fresh, surprising twist on each one.

Are you planning to write other books?

I’m already working on the second book in the Amber and Jasper series. One of the characters from the first book, Iggy the homeless dwarf, was formerly a carnival performer. He drags Amber (and the genie) off to help him rescue a friend from his carnie days. There’s a murdered clown, buried treasure, a midget cowboy show, and a very scary ventriloquist’s dummy. Plus some unexpected romance, and hopefully a lot of laughs!

What do you like to do to relax?

One of my favorite things to do is kick back on my aforementioned couch with a cup of tea, a cozy blanket and a good novel (or a stocked-up Kindle!). When I’m on vacation, I can easily go through a book a day. I also ice skate—I take figure skating lessons and once in a while I do a competition—jumps, spins, spangly dress and all. And I love to sing Karaoke—mostly cheesy country songs.

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

I look like a little suburban cream puff, but inside I really want to be Xena the warrior princess, wear studded black leather and kick butt.

If you had three wishes, what would you wish for (besides more wishes)?

Jasper the genie is already smirking! (When he grants a wish, it rarely turns out the way you thought it would. He’s a trickstery kind of genie…)

Let’s see. I think I’d like a superpower—the ability to fly. Flying dreams are so cool…the reality would be amazing. My second wish would be that Dulce de Leche ice cream would no longer have calories (and no, Jasper, the no-cal version has to taste the same, or there’s no point). I guess my third wish would be that my Amber and Jasper books go viral and become runaway bestsellers. Either that, or that Michael Trucco would give up his acting career, throw himself at my feet, and become my Boy Toy. (Kidding!)

Or we could go with world peace, ending hunger, and cleaning up the Texas-sized island of plastic garbage in the middle of the Pacific ocean.

Aladdin's Samovar is available on Kindle for $2.99.

If you'd like to contact Lauren, please e-mail her at writerservicesATlauren-sweetDOTcom

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Back on the Blog Chain: My Biggest Accomplishment

Michelle's topic was this round was partially inspired by National Novel Writing Month:

This is the month in creating writing goals and making big accomplishments. What is your greatest accomplishment -- in writing, your life or perhaps something incidental that had a big effect on you?

Amparo posted before me, and Matt will post tomorrow.

I think I would have to say my biggest accomplishment is my relationship with my husband, Eugene. We met over twenty-one years ago. We dated for fifteen years before we got married, and much of that time we were long-distance. If we can go that long and endure so many changes, I'd like to think we can make it through the rest of our lives together. Love you, hon!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Getting Past the Slog

I've been trying to crochet a "yarn train" for Alex since last year. It's an actual 3-D train, with the crocheted pieces sewn around a plastic frame which is stuffed by fiberfill. I plan to post a picture when I get it done--if I ever get it done. I don't work on it every day, and I have to admit there were places where I goofed up and had to start over or had trouble figuring out how to follow the directions. Probably my biggest challenge to date has been trying to figure out how the boiler and smokebox go together. The directions didn't quite make sense to me, so I put it off as long as possible while I crocheted the pieces for the cab. But now that I finished that, I didn't feel I could go much farther without assembling it. So I just took a deep breath and did it the best I can. It doesn't quite match the picture that came with the pattern, but it's doable. (I may try to make the back part bigger by adding more fiberfill.) Once I get the cab made, I can go back to crocheting.

It's funny that when we write books, no matter how exciting the story is, there always seems to be that middle sloggy section that's hard to write. Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and plow through it. At least it's a lot easier to edit a story after it's done than trying to change a finshed crochet project!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Science of Science Fiction: She-Male Hawks

There's an interesting article in The New York Times about female mimicry in animals, especially hawks. (To read the article, click here.) Some animals, such as garter snakes and harriers, have a significant number of males that either look like or act like females. For instance, in the spring, the garter snakes will emit female pheromones to attract other males. The other males gather around to warm up the she-male snake; when he's warm enough, he turns off the pheromones. For the hawks, the female disguise is permanent, and they are actually more aggressive than the he-male hawks. (The he-male hawks manipulate the she-males into attacking outsiders while the he-males sit back and watch.) Scientists suspect the she-male hawks benefit because they are able to participate in what the article terms "extra-pair copulations," though this hypothesis is still being tested.

As a scientist, I'd love to find out what makes a she-male a she-male. Is it mostly genetics, mostly environmental, or a mixture of both interacting? The percentages of she-males varies, but there's a group of hawks in France with 40% of the males looking like females. Why is that so high?

Whether or not you want to draw any parallels to human behavior, this does sound like an interesting trait to include in an alien race.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Second-Book Stall

Dean Wesley Smith put up an interesting post over the weekend called
“The New World of Publishing: 95% of All Authors Will Never Indie Publish.” He admits this number is a guess, but he raises some good points about the thoughts that go through writers' heads, discouraging them from either trying to indie publish or to stop after putting out just a couple of books. No matter how you feel about traditional or indie publishing, I think it's worth a read. At the very least, it's worth knowing you're not the only author out there with negative thoughts in your head. ;)

Have you ever suffered from a second-book stall, where after completing the first project, you struggle to start, finish, or submit/publish your next project? How did you get out of that?

Friday, November 11, 2011

String Bridge Chart Rush

Today is THE day to help Jessica Bell's debut, STRING BRIDGE, hit
the bestseller list on Amazon, and receive the all-original soundtrack,
Melody Hill: On the Other Side, written and performed by the author herself, for free!

All you have to do is
purchase the
book today (paperback, or eBook), November 11th, and
then email the receipt to:


She will
then email you a link to download the album at no extra cost!

To purchase the paperback:

To purchase the eBook:

Amazon UK

To listen to samples of the soundtrack, visit iTunes.

If you are
not familiar with String Bridge,
check out the book trailer:

Rave Reviews for String Bridge:

Jessica Bell’s STRING BRIDGE strummed the fret of my
veins, thrummed my blood into a mad rush, played me taut until the final page,
yet with echoes still reverberating. A rhythmic debut with metrical tones of
heavied dark, fleeting prisms of light, and finally, a burst of joy—just as
with any good song, my hopeful heartbeat kept tempo with Bell’s narrative.
~ Kathryn Magendie, author of Sweetie and Publishing Editor of Rose & Thorn Journal

“Poet and
musician Jessica Bell's debut novel String Bridge is a rich exploration of desire, guilt, and the
difficult balancing act of the modern woman. The writing is lyrical throughout,
seamlessly integrating setting, character and plot in a musical structure that
allows the reader to identify with Melody's growing insecurity as her world
begins to unravel …
String Bridge is
a powerful debut from a promising writer, full of music, metaphor, and just a
hint of magic.” ~ Magdalena Ball, author of Repulsion
and Sleep Before Evening

Jessica Bell is a brilliant writer
of great skill and depth.
She doesn't pull back from the difficult
scenes, from conflict, pain, intensity. She puts it all out there, no holds
barred, no holding back. She knows how to craft a scene, how to develop
character, how to create suspense. This is an absolutely brilliant debut novel.
I look forward to reading her
next novel, and next and next.”
~ Karen Jones
Gowen, author of Farm Girl, Uncut Diamonds and House of Diamonds

Connect with Jessica:
Please TWEET and/or FACEBOOK this post using #StringBridge!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011


I found out through The Passive Guy's blog that Scrivener, a writing program long available for the Mac, is finally available in a Windows version. If, like me, you're not familiar with this program, you can learn more about it here.

It looks interesting, but it seems like it might be more useful for plotters instead of pansters like me. (I admit I'm a bit stuck with Scattered Seasons at the moment, so I spent the evening outlining what I've written so far to figure out where to go next. Maybe I'm only a semi-panster, which sounds even odder.) On the other hand, it looks like there's much more to Scrivener than a virtual corkboard.

So, does anyone out there have previous experience with Scrivener? What was your experience like? Would you recommend it to others?

Monday, November 07, 2011

Back on the Blog Chain: My Favorite Monster

Matt has been encouraging us to indulge our monster mania this round with the simple question

What's your favorite monster?

Several other people have mentioned cute or cartoon monsters, so I don't feel quite so embarrassed revealing my favorite monster. Perhaps I should be, seeing he comes from a 70s Saturday morning cartoon show that I liked a lot as a kid (and I doubt it was for the science). Who is he, you ask? Look no further:

After all, who wouldn't want a fire-breathing sea monster on their side? Of course, that does mean you have to put up with Godzuki...

Strangely enough, I've never seen the Godzilla movies. I should do that in my numerous microseconds of free time.

I'm the last one in this blog chain, so you can either start from the beginning with Matt or work your way backward with Amparo.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Science of the Week, 11/4/11

Here we are at the end of another week. I took Monday off, so my sense of time is off too; it feels like a short week. Anyway, here are some science articles I found of interest this week:

Technology makes storing radioactive waste safer

World's most powerful laser could "tear apart the vacuum of space"
(I found this article linked here. Wouldn't it be cool if scientists could prove the existence of other dimensions?)

"Vampire" Bacteria has potential as living antibiotic

(Humm, coincidence that this article was released the day after Halloween? I think not.)

Do bacteria age?

Communication in the depths--perhaps not as primitive as we would like to think

And I can't ignore this one from CNN:

It's not "Star Trek," but NASA wants a tractor beam

I do have something to celebrate--Lyon's Legacy is finally part of Smashwords' Premium Catalog. I had to redo the formatting a couple of times before it passed the AutoVetter. Hopefully it will be easier with my next project.

Do you have anything to celebrate this weekend?

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Oma Lisabeth

Today would have been my grandmother's birthday. I can't remember her birth year off the top of my head, but she would have been in her late 90s. This picture of our family was taken about two years ago. She's in the pink/rose sweater. I plan to dedicate my next story, "The Fighting Roses of Sharon," to her. (I still have to get it edited and have a cover made.) The story revolves around a teenager, her mother, and her grandmother, Rose. Like my own grandmother, Rose is interested in flowers, but for a much different reason.

OK, all you NaNo writers, time to get back to writing!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Setting Reasonable Goals

This may be the wrong month to talk about setting reasonable goals, but I know the writing goals I set for myself in October were too much. Among other things, I wanted to write three chapters of my current WIP, send another story out for editing, and maybe outline a third story. This month, I've scaled back a little. I plan to focus on writing 1000 words/day on my current WIP, arrange editing for the second story, and have a cover for the second story drafted. Since I didn't make my writing quota today, I already feel behind. (Then again, I spent the evening working on the second story, so I wasn't entirely bad.)

If you routinely juggle multiple projects, how do you balance them? And how much writing can a working parent accomplish on any given day?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

And the Winner Is....

I was so busy writing through lunch I almost forgot to post who won the Harry and David gift basket in my Lyon's Legacy promotion. The winner (selected by a random number generator) is....


Thanks so much for your review and interviews, Michelle! Please contact me so I can have that gift basket shipped to you.

Also, Briane Pagel just posted his own review of Lyon's Legacy on his website, plus I have the honor of being the first author to answer his "10 1/2 Questions." You can check both of them out here. Thanks, Briane!

OK, back to the laptop for a couple more minutes....

Ten-Word Tuesday: For Those About to NaNo...

May the words flow as steadily as caffeine this month!

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Review Treat and a Sleepy Hollow Trick

Happy Halloween!

I got a nice treat over the weekend; Michelle McLean reviewed Lyon's Legacy over at Operation Awesome. She said, "This book just had a little bit of everything; science, time travel, romance, major character growth, a bad guy you want to smack upside the head, heartache, and hope."She also interviewed me on her blog and on Pots 'n Pens. Thanks so much, Michelle!

I happen to live not too far from Sleepy Hollow, Illinois. Friends who live there invited us to join them at the town's festivities this weekend. There was a costume contest, hay rides, and a chili contest. The main attraction was twofold. The first part of it was a huge bonfire lit shortly after sunset. Although the day was sunny, it quickly got cold in the evening, so I was grateful our friends had reserved a spot as close to the bonfire as we were allowed to go. The second attraction was an appearance by the Headless Horseman about an hour after the bonfire was lit. (I found out later he was actually a she.) He rode in on a horse, carrying a jack '0 lantern by his side. He passed back and forth in front of us a few times, then rode slowly along the barrier so kids could pet the horse before disappearing back into the night. Thankfully, the experience wasn't too scary for a four-year-old.

Here are some pictures my husband took of the bonfire and the Headless Horseman:

Enjoy your holiday, and beware of strange horse riders!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Science of the Week, 10/28/11

Here are some links to science articles of interest:

Scientists create computing building blocks from bacteria and DNA

Your DNA may carry a "memory" of your living conditions in childhood

Rare model animal for studying depression

More time outdoors may help Johnny see

Paper-based wireless sensor could help detect explosive devices

Researchers build transparent, stretchy, skin-like sensor

New technology helps spinal disc regeneration

Scientist Cracks Mysterious Copiale Cipher

Among interesting articles in the November 2011 issue of Scientific American is one about an experiment to test whether microbes can survive a trip from Earth to Mars and back. If they can, then perhaps a long time ago, Mars could have seeded Earth with life. Check out the issue if you can.

Have a good weekend, and see you on Halloween!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

NaNoWriMo Cheerleader

As I said last week, I have too many other projects to finish first before starting something new, so I'm sitting out of NaNoWriMo this year. That doesn't mean I won't be writing; I'm about 19K into a fantasy novel. I just couldn't wait until November 1st to start it. However, there's so much writing energy going around the blogosphere during November that I hate to be left out of it completely. So I'd like to be a NaNoWriMo Cheerleader--as long as I don't have to wear one of those outfits. (Trust me; that's a bad idea.) I got the idea from Sommer Leigh. She's set up a blog hop where NaNoWriMo participants can sign up to receive notes of encouragement from others. You can sign up at the link. If you'd like me to be on your personal cheerleading squad, please leave a comment below.

Time to work on some cheers...."Write, write, write all night! Sixteen sixty-seven will do it right!"

Um, maybe I should just stick to SF and fantasy....

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Just a Reminder...

That if you'd like to be entered into a drawing for a Harry and David gift basket, you have until midnight CDT next Monday (Halloween!) to do so. Please check out this post for the rules.

I hope everyone enjoyed the fair yesterday! I added some books to my "To Read" collection; I hope you did too.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Internet Book Fair Blogfest!

M. A. Leslie is sponsoring an Internet Book Fair Blogfest today. It's a chance where authors get to promote their works and readers get to discover new books and authors. If you're coming here for the book fair, welcome! If not, please check out the link and browse the selections. There are a lot of authors participating, so you should be able to find something of interest.

My contribution to this book fair is Lyon's Legacy, a science fiction novella featuring Joanna Lyon, great-granddaughter of the legendary TwenCen musician Sean Lyon. Joanna may have inherited some of her ancestor's musical talent, but her parents' bitter divorce and her Uncle Jack's attempts to remake her into another Sean have left her hostile toward her family and music. Her passion is for science, but since she has no access to the family funds, she struggles to earn enough credits for graduate school. Then her uncle sets up a business deal with her employer to make Joanna go on a mission for him: travel via the spaceship Sagan to an alternate TwenCen universe where Sean is still alive. Joanna must collect a DNA sample from Sean so her uncle can create a clone of him. She refuses at first, but finally agrees to go. Secretly, however, Joanna believes her uncle will exploit the clone, and she plans to sabotage the project to stop him. But when she falls in love with one of the scientists in the Sagan's genetics lab, clashes with other time travelers who fear she'll change how history develops on the alternative TwenCen Earth, and receives devastating personal news, Joanna will find herself pushed to her limit even before she comes face-to-face with her hated ancestor. Their encounter will leave her changed forever. Will she still be able to thwart her uncle's plan, and what will she have to sacrifice to do so?

This story is available as an e-book for $2.99 at Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords. It's the first book of the Catalyst Chronicles series. The second book, Twinned Universes, will be ready early 2012.

Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy the story!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Happy Book Birthday, Maria!

Maria Zannini's second book in her Second Chances series, Chain of Souls, is out today. Here's the overview:

Banished from Heaven for refusing to harvest an unwilling soul, Liam Chase drinks to forget night after night until the Angel of Death pays him a visit. For the price of a few humans souls, Ziva promises to get him reinstated into Heaven. Liam doesn’t doubt her influence, but milking humans of their light is an unspeakable crime, punishable by eternal oblivion. He’d rather rot on Earth than commit such a monstrous sin. But the Angel of Death didn’t get where she was by taking no for an answer. Ziva is a huntress of extraordinary skill and cruelty. If he refuses, his loved ones will be her next targets. And Ziva never misses. Ziva has already set her sights on Shannon, the soul he once refused to harvest, and his beloved servant, Evie. He’ll do anything to keep them safe, even if it means his death. But something goes wrong just as he concedes, and the chain of souls picks a new mistress before he has a chance to deliver. Brought for trial before the most feared angel in Heaven and Hell, Liam discovers he has failed to protect his loved ones and now they too could share his fate.

You can purchase it for $2.99 at B&N, Smashwords, and Amazon. It is an e-book.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Science of the Week, 10/21/11

Before I get to the science articles, I thought I'd let everyone know about an Internet Book Fair being held by M.A. Leslie next Tuesday. I learned about it through The Alliterative Allomorph. If you'd like a chance to promote your book or meet new authors, check it out here. I plan to participate, so I'll be skipping my Ten-Word Tuesday next week.

Here are some articles from Science Blogs that I found interesting this week:

Dark Matter Mystery Deepens (It doesn't behave as predicted)

Psychopaths' word choices

Self-Replication Could Lead to New Materials

Gratitude as an antidote to aggression

Record-Breaking Photo Reveals a Planet-Sized Object as Cool as the Earth

Tech turns iPhone into SpyPhone

Superhard, amoprhous diamond created

That's it for this week. Enjoy your weekend, and see you Monday!

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