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?

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