Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Writer's Guide to Psychology

I apologize for not posting Monday and Wednesday. I had less time to get online during my business trip than I anticipated. However, I did make a slight dent in my reading pile. One of the books I read was The Writer's Guide to Psychology by Carolyn Kaufman, whom I've "met" through QueryTracker and the blog chain. I bought it back in December or so when it was first available on Kindle.

Do your characters suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder? (And if they don't, will they after the events in your book? Whoops, wrong topic.) What makes a sociopath act the way he does? What kinds of help do your mentally ill characters need? Kaufman's book is a great place to look for answers. She's not just a psychologist but a fiction writer as well. She starts by examining some common misconceptions people have about mental illness and psychologists. (Throughout the book, she also provides examples of psychology gone wrong in books, TV, and movies.) Then she describes what therapists and therapy sessions are like. Several chapters are devoted to the various types of disorders, along with treatments. There's even a special chapter for every writer's favorite villain, the psychopath.

The book is written for a layperson, and there's a glossary at the back. After reading this book, a writer will be able to properly identify what disorder a particular character might have, describe his symptoms accurately, and even mention what drugs he might be taking and their possible side effects. My only complaint is that there were a couple of places where the sections ended abruptly, as if a couple lines were omitted. Also, in one of the examples, a name had been replaced with the word "less" several times; it looks as if someone did a Find-and-Replace without checking the substitutions. Despite these minor issues (I don't know if they're also in the paper copy), this book would be a valuable guide for a writer of any genre.

I am able to loan my Kindle copy out once to someone, so if you'd like to read mine and have a Kindle or Kindle app, please leave your e-mail address below. The first person to respond will get it. If you don't get it, it's certainly worth buying your own copy.

The A-Z Blogging Challenge starts tomorrow. If you're participating, good luck! I prepared a topic list when I first signed up, but I only have six posts scheduled so far. I don't expect to get around to every blogger in this challenge, but I'm looking forward to meeting some new people.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Book Formats and Releases

Before I got my Kindle last year, if I happened to see a hardcover book that intrigued me, I knew I'd probably have to wait a year to read it. Most of my book purchases were paperbacks, since they were cheaper and took up less space on my bookshelf. I occasionally got a hardcover book as a gift; more rarely, I broke down and bought the hardcover.

These days, it's a little more complicated. If I'm interested in a book, the first thing I do is try to download a sample for my Kindle. Many books are now available in this format, which is why I have over 120 items in my To Read collection. (I hope to read a few of them next week when I go on a business trip.) Sometimes I have to pre-order the item, which I'll do for favorite authors. Sometimes the ebook comes out after the paper release. I don't mind this too much if I know when the ebook will be available. For example, Wither was released in hardcover earlier this month, but the Kindle version wasn't available until two days ago. I wanted to read the sample before committing to the purchase, but since I knew the release date ahead of time, I didn't mind waiting. Early Tuesday morning, I downloaded the sample and then later purchased the book. However, sometimes it's hard to tell when, or if, a book will be available as an ebook. One book I was hoping to get for my Kindle was Across the Universe. I checked several times for it, but there was no sign of one. Finally I picked it up in hardcover last month. However, after buying Wither, I noticed that Across the Universe was now available for the Kindle. I still haven't had a chance to read it yet (I'm currently plowing through a non-fiction book from my paper pile), and despite the pretty, reversible cover, I would have held out for the ebook. It's not worth selling the hardcover and buying the ebook for, however.

As readers, does it matter to you what format a book is in? Would you wait longer to get a book in a particular format? Where do ebooks fit in the traditional release schedule?

For writers, particularly published writers, does book format matter to you, personally or financially?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

From Your Mind to the Page

The other day, I was thinking about a story I'm currently revising. I was trying to figure out what to with the scene I was working on, but it was frustrating because I didn't have my computer with me. I think I used to be much better at writing scenes in my head, even if they never came out the way I intended them to. I feel as if I need to be able to look at the words I've already written to continue writing.

Are you able to "write in your head" and type or write it out later, or do you also compose in front of your computer or pad of paper? Please feel free to comment below. I expect to be in a meeting for most of the day, but I look forward to reading your answers.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Second Crusader Challenge

Rach posted the following challenge for us on Friday:

Write a flash fiction story (in any format) in 100 words or less, excluding the title. Begin the story with the words, “The goldfish bowl teetered” These four words will be included in the word count.

If you want to give yourself an added challenge (optional, and not part of the judging criteria), see if you can write the story in your own genre (eg if you’re a horror writer, write a horror story; a romance writer, a romance story, etc).

Being short doesn't help me when it comes to writing short fiction, especially flash fiction. Here's my story, 99 words long sans title:

Alien Restaurant

The goldfish bowl teetered as the lizard clambered over the side, then dropped in. Her gills flared as she circled around to inspect the castle, the blue-and-white pebbles, the plastic diver. Bright orange fish fled in front of her, but with a burst of speed, she captured one and swallowed it.

The lizard poked her head out of the bowl and faced her spaceship. "Cozy, play area for hatchlings, fresh food..." She burped. "I would give this restaurant four claws, but the waitstaff is unresponsive, so only three.” A flick of her tail, and the diver lost his head.

For more goldfish-inspired fiction, check out the other entries linked to Rach's post above.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

For St. Patrick's Day...

I thought it would be fun to share a couple of Celtic Woman videos:

Even though this song is about Scotland, I love it so much I wanted to include it. It makes me think of Madison, Wisconsin.

No matter if you're Irish or not, have a Happy St. Patty's Day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Science of Science Fiction: The Singularity

It looks as if I'll have to wait until next week to post a Ten-Word Tuesday, as there's other interesting topics to discuss.

Long-time readers of science fiction may be familiar with Vernor Vinge's concept of the Singularity, a time when computers meet or exceed human intelligence. Some computer scientists now think that if the current rate of technology improvement continues, we could reach this point in 2045. (Click here to read the article in Time.) I'll be 75 in that year; my son will be 38. It's entirely possible that we'll all live through this history-changing event, especially if life-extension technology, such as treatment with telomerase, an enzyme that repairs the ends of chromosomes, becomes widely available.

You can find a list of science fiction books dealing with the Singularity here, though I'm sure it's not complete. Science fiction writers have foreseen varied fates for humanity after the Singularity, everything from us uploading our consciousnesses to computers and exploring the galaxy to humans being enslaved or killed off by superintelligent computers who don't need us. It's hard to predict what will really happen, especially when other factors, such as climate change, resource scarcity, and natural disasters or wars may throw off futurists' predictions. That's why the article in Time says that if you want to know what the world will look like in forty years, "You have to think very, very far outside the box. Or maybe you have to think further inside it than anyone ever has before."

Other than your retirement funds, how are you preparing for the next forty years?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Back on the Blog Chain: Give Me Steam

Ten-Word Tuesday will have to become Ten-Word Wednesday this week, since it's my turn to answer Kat's questions:

How do you feel about love scenes? As a reader, are you put off by the gratuitous? As a writer, do you shy away from spelling out the down-and-dirty? Or do you write until your computer lights a cigarette?

Sex is important to almost all living beings, including us, so it's not surprising that it makes its way into fiction. Sometimes a sex scene is linked to character development or the plot. For example, Ice Song is about a woman who is able to "trade" between male and female forms; a key scene toward the end helps her come to terms with who she is. Sometimes a sex scene is written to "scratch an itch," and there's nothing wrong with that. However, I prefer that a sex scene that also advances plot/character development.

For me as a reader, my reaction to a sex scene partly depends on my mood and what I want from my reading. If I'm reading for the science fictional/fantastic aspect or the plot, and I come across a scene that can be replaced by the line, "They had sex, and it was the greatest thing since sliced bread," then the scene takes me out of the story. It also depends on how I feel about the characters. I read a book recently in which one of the male love interests was described as very attractive by several of the female characters, including the heroine. However, to me, he had less personality than a rock. When he and the heroine had sex, I skipped the scene because I didn't care. On the other hand, the other male love interest in this story, a non-corporal being, came across as having more personality. At one point, the heroine used her magic to allow him to drink a cup of coffee, which he could do as long as she held it. I found this scene moving, and if I read the next book in the series, I'd like to see these two get together, even if a long-term relationship between them isn't possible. Sexual intimacy does not always equal emotional intimacy. If I feel that the two characters have chemistry that's not just physical (such as in Soulless), then I'm more interested in them than if they're just two beautiful people who have nothing in common but lust.

As a writer, I don't include a lot of sex scenes in my stories, but I have written some. The first one I ever wrote was between two women who'd been lovers in previous lives. (I initially wrote both characters as attracted to men, but then they developed this forbidden love as well.) I don't have any personal experience to draw on for this type of sex, but I took some writing advice I'd heard at a convention and followed the emotions of the characters. That scene did turn out to be pretty detailed, but in other places, I've written less detailed scenes or "faded to black." It depends on what the story needs.

Anyway, I'm going to turn the chain over to Kate now, but I'll leave you with a little "Steam":

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Kindle as Edit Tool

It's been several months since I've read Twinned Universes (the new title for Across Two Universes), so I decided it was time for a read-through. In the past, I would have printed out the manuscript, using up most of a ream of paper which I'd have to fasten together with the biggest clips I could find. Then I'd have to carry the paper with me while reading and making notes in the margins. This time, I uploaded my file to my Kindle. If you'd like to learn how to do that, Amazon has detailed instructions on their website. (I could describe the steps I took, but I don't think they were the most accurate way to do it.) Although some of the formatting, such as paragraph indentations, was lost during the transfer, other aspects, such as italics, were available on the Kindle.

It was much easier to carry my Kindle around with me than half a ream of paper, and I was able to make notes in the file as I read. Most of these were short notes telling me to delete a filler word like "just" or "even." In some places, I wrote "change" when I wasn't satisfied with the wording. For some reason, these notes didn't always end up next to the word I wanted to delete or change, so I had to use context to figure out what I'd had in mind when making the note. I lost count of how many notes I made, but I think there were over 150. There is a way to view the list of notes, but I'm going through the entire document again so I have a better context for the notes.

Despite some of the drawbacks of editing on the Kindle, I found it a useful way to help me read my novel with fresh eyes and edit it afterward. I recommend this approach to anyone who has a Kindle or an e-reader with similar options.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Crusader Shout-Out

I thought it would be nice today to give a shout-out to the other science fiction/fantasy bloggers who are part of the crusade:

Dominic de Mattos

Anica Grey

Tony Benson

The Golden Eagle

Mlle Lizka

Chris Kelworth


Rogue Mutt

Charity Bradford

Gen Jordan


K. Howard

Cindy Borgne

Michael Offutt

If you're not familiar with some of their blogs, go ahead and check them out. And if you're a member of this group, why not leave a comment and tell us about your current project?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

At the Intersection of Fantasy and Reality

Many of us, myself included, read and write stories for their escapist quality. When work is tedious and stressful, the kids are creating chaos and refusing to go to sleep at a reasonable hour, and the household chores never-ending, who wouldn't want to trade that all in for a couple of hours of excitement, romance, and fun? Unfortunately, the book eventually has to come to an end, and we're returned to our ordinary lives, which may seem even more mundane in comparison. Can fantasy (or fiction in general) help us make our personal lives more meaningful, or as Emily says in Our Town, "Do any human beings realize life while they live it--every, every minute?" I certainly don't; I'm neither a saint nor a poet. But as a scientist and fantasy/science fiction writer, experiencing a sense of wonder and sharing it with others is important to me. It's hard to make this happen when your To Do List is a mile long, but it's still important to stop from time to time and appreciate life.

Sometimes one can also find inspiration in fiction to become more heroic in one's daily life. For example, consider Katherine Blake's The Interior Life. The story starts with Susan, a stay-at-home housewife who has just sent her children off to school and has to clean the house. As she does dishes, she imagines a princess and her servant in a fantastic land and pictures the servant cleaning up the keep, just as Susan is doing in real life. As the princess embarks on a quest, Susan makes changes to improve her own life. It's been several years since I've read the story, even though I still have the book. But I remember enjoying how the parallel stories intertwined, and I enjoyed watching Susan change as much as I did the princess quest plot.

I'd love to discuss this topic further, but the title of this post gave me a story idea, and I should work on it before it slips away.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Economics and Emotions of Parenting/Writing

Last week, Time published an online article saying parents exaggerate the joys of parenting as a way to compensate for the economic cost and stress of raising a child. (As the article said, kids used to be our staff, but instead they've become our bosses.) As a parent myself, I do have to admit that yes, childcare is expensive and it's hard taking care of one small child. My respect goes out to those who have more than one child, especially if they have multiples. It is especially hard when you're working and have so many responsibilities to juggle. That said, I know people struggling with infertility who would love to have these issues. And despite the lack of sleep and hearing loss from Alex screaming in my ears, I do find joy in sharing activities with my son, reliving my own childhood, watching him develop, and listening to him laugh. Am I exaggerating these joys? I'd like to think not.

Although parenting is the toughest job there is, at times, writing can be difficult too. We spend hours staring at computer screens or paper, writing and rewriting, only to deal with critiques, rejections, and bad reviews. Many of us dream of making a living from our writing, but few of us will actually be able to make it happen. Does this mean that we have to exaggerate the joys of writing too?

I personally think that the desires to write and parent are deep-seated in our psyches, deeper than economic drives. There's more to the need to create than reason will allow. It's also worth remembering that even though writing and parenting are difficult, it's the problems and stresses that make us grow as individuals. In the end, when you've created something or someone new, you'll be able to look back at the struggles of colic or writer's block and feel proud that you overcame them. I think we have to look at long-term projects like raising a child or writing a novel and accept the inevitable stress that comes with them. In fact, perhaps overcoming the challenges gives us reason to celebrate in the end.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Back on the Blog Chain: Great Expectations

Sarah has a thought-provoking question this round:

What has been the most unexpected part of your writing journey up to this point? What has happened that you could never have predicted? Has it been a help or a hindrance?

Kat posted before me, and Kate comes next.

I hate to say it, but I thought I'd have a novel (or more) in bookstores by this point. Then again, I'm a slow pantser, and many of the projects I've worked on haven't been publishable (such as sequels to unsold stories), so that doesn't help. Even so, I enjoyed working on them, and they counted towards the million words of sh*t everyone has to write before becoming a good writer. When I started out, I never would have predicted meeting all the online friends I have through blogging and networking, and e-books and dedicated e-readers weren't available. The world of publishing has changed during my writing career, and it will only keep changing. The best way we can cope is to remain flexible and be willing to change ourselves too.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Wednesday, March 02, 2011


Continuing with the inspirational theme, I thought I'd post this video today:

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