Friday, November 30, 2012

Science of the Week, 11/30/12

First, I'd like to thank everyone who commented on Tuesday's post. The random number generator I used wasn't very random; it picked one of the end points. The winner is....(drumroll)...PT Dilloway! Congratulations! PT, I think you've mentioned you already have Lyon's Legacy, so please let me know if you'd rather have one of my short stories now or wait for Twinned Universes, the sequel to Lyon's Legacy.

Now, on to some interesting news articles from ScienceBlog:

Microneedle patch could boost immunization programs

Simple, robust fission reactor prototype (that could be used in space)

Ancient microbes found living beneath Antarctic lake

Electricity from the marshes

Star Trek classroom: the next generation of school desks

Can life emerge on planets around cooling stars?

Researchers use 3D printer to make parts from moon rock
(I'm definitely using 3D printers in my fiction!)

Hagfish slime as a model for tomorrow's natural fabrics

Biggest black hole blast discovered

I also finished reading the December 2012 issue of Scientific American. Perhaps the most interesting article for SF readers/writers is the one about ten world-changing ideas that may someday move from the lab to the real world. Other useful articles include ones on climate change (why our winters may become more extreme) and an essay arguing that quantum effects don't carry over to the physical world. I have to reread that one to get a better sense of it.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone, and see you Monday!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Let It Roll...For George

I normally don't post on Thursdays anymore, but I'll make an exception to remember George Harrison. He passed away on this date in 2001. Here is (in my opinion) one of his most beautiful songs, "Let It Roll (Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp)":

And here's the title track from his posthumous album, Brainwashed:

Don't forget today is the last day to enter the giveaway for Lyon's Legacy.I'll announce the winner tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Family Holiday Traditions and a Lyon's Legacy Giveaway

It's been a while since I've participated in a blog fest, but when I heard about Briane Pagel's "The Merry Christmas to All (e)Book a Day Traveling Blogathon of Doom," I knew I had to sign up. (If I didn't, I would have been, well, doomed.) You can win a free e-book every day between now and Christmas, so please check the link in the sidebar for the schedule of participating blogs.

For my post, I'd like to share our Almazan family Christmas traditions with you, because we have traditions within traditions. For example, every Thanksgiving weekend, we go to the Kristkindlmarkt in downtown Chicago; the last two years, we've gone on Thanksgiving Day because the weather was good. As part of our visit, we eat potato pancakes and chocolate-dipped fruit, drink spiced wine or cider, and buy German ornaments, a chocolate Advent calendar, and a house or accessories for our Christmas village. We put up our tree on Black Friday and leave it up until January 6th.

Normally I start baking cookies Thanksgiving weekend, but since we don't send out as many cookies as we used to, I decided to slack off this year. We have, however, started a new tradition of participating in a cookie exchange with the families of Alex's friends. I have several favorite recipes I bake every year; these include lemon slice cookies, sugar cookies with homemade frosting, pfeffernusse, and choco-mint snaps. (You can find all of these recipes at My husband makes a couple different types of biscotti.

Since our son was born, we've added a couple other traditions, such as visiting the indoor train exhibit at the Chicago Botanic Garden, going for a holiday train ride, and building/decorating a gingerbread house. We don't make a big deal out of Santa, but we do take Alex to visit him at the mall. Our family celebrations mesh well, as my side of the family celebrates Christmas Eve and my husband's side on Christmas Day.

To celebrate the blogathon, I'm giving away a copy of Lyon's Legacy to a random commenter on this post. Please comment before midnight CST 11/29; I'll announce the winner on Friday. Please let me know what format you need. If you already have a copy of Lyon's Legacy, please let me know, and we can discuss whether you'd rather have copies of my two short stories or wait until Twinned Universes is available next year.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Blog Ring of Power-Jason Jack Miller

This is the last Blog Ring of Power interview scheduled for the year. We are planning some year-end special events, including some giveaways, so please check back here for further details. In the meantime, we're in the middle of an interview with Jackson Jack Miller. Today he's going to tell us about his writing process:

Do you have a specific writing style? 

Over the past ten years my writing evolved from a narrative-intensive, almost travel narrative-style to one that relies on dialog as a way to drive the plot. Nancy Kress sparked this change in my style when she visited Seton Hill University back in 2006.

Thus, my style focuses on dialog and (hopefully) memorable language.

How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?

I just finished a draft of The Revelations of Preston Black, a novel that I built around a single scene. When visions of snake handlers and bottle trees and swamps danced through my head I knew they were too awesome not to use. But I'd originally thought the segment would go in a different novel. After a sequel for The Devil and Preston Black started to fall into place, I decided to use the snake handlers as a centerpiece. All I had to do was get Preston into the South and put an antagonist (or three) on his tail. After that, the outline materialized organically.

And it was no different for the other things that I'd written. A mentor, Timons Esaias, had once told me that "every concrete noun paints a picture." So I tend to favor extremely visual scenes that tie to major plot points, almost taking liberties with the realism of the story by contrasting it with hyper-real settings or visual details.

Characters come about in a similar fashion. I suppose I tie a key characteristic or flaw to each of them, and let that flaw express itself through dialog and motivations. Hellbender's Henry Collins, for example, is motivated by a stubbornness that drives an unwillingness to accept some of the bad things that have happened to him in a way that eventually forces him to act. But the stubbornness lies at the root of his intense loyalty. Preston Black, on the other hand, is filled with a blinding passion that leaves him unable to see the walls crumbling around him. Yet in the end it's his drive to fulfill a dream or die trying that saves him.   

Are you a “plotter” or a “pantser”? 

Pantsers are like sasquatch—I'm not sure they really exist. I know a lot of writers who SAY they are pantsers. They're the ones who seem to spend a lot of time rewriting and deleting long passages of prose.

Needless to say, I'm a plotter from way back. In fact, I can tell you what I'm going to have for lunch on April 30, 2013.  

Do you use critique partners or beta readers? Why or why not?

My wife, Heidi Ruby Miller, is my critique partner. She excels at picking up plot holes and inconsistencies, but is better at looking for shoddy character motivations and things less likely to be picked up by a beta reader. I know that she won't let me write anything that I'd later find embarrassing or silly, even if it hurts me to hear it. I'm not sure how many writers have that layer of honesty with critique partners.

I take it as a personal challenge to make the book as close to 'finished' as possible before my editor—Raw Dog Screaming Press's Jennifer Barnes—sees it. I don't want her to think I'm some kind of slacker, or worse yet, illiterate, even though she does have a hard time deciphering my Yinzer speak sometimes.

How much time do you spend on research? What type of research do you do?

Everything is research. Years of playing guitar. Ten summers as a whitewater raft guide. Trips to Mexico, Nashville, Czech Republic.

Good research is essential to good writing—that's not negotiable. Details make settings and characters real to readers. Travel is probably my favorite way to research. Every new word, taste, and scent is fodder for upcoming characters and plots. More than these are the feelings you experience as a traveler—the sense of awe when confronted with nature, the sense of fear in a place where English is a second--or even a third language--mental fatigue from long days on the road.

Speculative genres can't function without a level of realistic detail to convince readers that what they're reading isn't silly. That's why the research—even academic research, like spending time in a library—is critical. My rule is to get hundreds of ideas for details and dialog, and to use about 25% of what I've found. The rest materializes below the surface in setting, plot, characters, etc..

To read the rest of Jason's interview, please check out the following links:

Part 1--Theresa
Part 2--Emily
Part 4--Dean
Part 5--Terri

Jason Jack Miller hails from Fayette County, Pennsylvania, as in, "Circus freaks, temptation and the Fayette County Fair," made famous by The Clarks in the song, "Cigarette." He is a writer, photographer and musician. An outdoor travel guide he co-authored with his wife in 2006 jumpstarted his freelancing career; his work has since appeared in newspapers, magazines, literary journals, online, as part of a travel guide app for mobile phones, and in a regular column for Inveterate Media Junkies. He wrote the novels Hellbender and All Saints during his graduate studies at Seton Hill University, where he is now adjunct creative writing faculty. In 2011, he signed a multi-book deal with Raw Dog Screaming Press. When he isn't writing he's on his mountain bike or looking for his next favorite guitar. He is currently writing and recording the soundtracks to his novel, The Devil and Preston Black, and writing his next novel, The Revelations of Preston Black.

About Hellbender:
Although the Collins clan is steeped in Appalachian magic, Henry has never paid it much attention. But when his younger sister dies mysteriously Henry can’t shake the feeling that the decades-old feud between his family and another is to blame.

Strange things are happening at the edge of reality, deep in the forests and mountains of West Virginia. Let Jason Jack Miller take you to a place where love is forever even when death isn’t, where magic doesn’t have to be seen to be believed, where a song might be the only thing that saves your soul.

Jason Jack Miller’s Murder Ballads and Whiskey series is a unique blend of dark fiction, urban fantasy and horror. It’s Appalachian Gothic, Alt.Magical.Realism, Hillbilly Horror. It’s Justified with witches. It’s the Hatfields and McCoys with magic. It’s Johnny Cash with a fistful of
copperheads singing the devil right back to hell.

Facebook page:
Goodreads author page:

What format is your book(s) available in (print, e-book, audio book, etc.)?
Paperback and eBook

Friday, November 23, 2012

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Back on the Blog Chain: Setting

It's time again for another Blog Chain post. For this round, Alyson wants us to discuss setting:

How important is setting when crafting a story? How do you choose where your stories take place? How do you research setting? Do you have to have been somewhere in order to write about it? What are some memorable settings from books you've read?

Lots of questions here! I'll answer them in order.

1. How important is setting when crafting a story?--It's usually not the first thing I think of when I get a story idea; instead I may focus on characters or plot. When I first started writing, my initial drafts had very little setting. As I've learned more about writing, I've discovered how setting and character influence each other. Setting is especially important in speculative fiction, since the stories may occur in a world much different from our own. However, sometimes the settings are a minor part of the story. For instance, the first draft of Lyon's Legacy had my heroine going to 1962 Liverpool to meet the Beatles before they became famous. In later drafts, I decided to make my heroine's ancestor a fictional person instead, so I changed Liverpool to Chicago. I had to change details, but the overall plot didn't change much.

2. How do you choose where your stories take place?--It depends on the story. Sometimes I get ideas for stories within one of the worlds I've already created, so I already know the setting. In fact, if I have a story idea for an anthology, I try to fit the story idea into a world I'm already familiar with so I have less work to do. (This especially helps if I'm trying to meet a deadline.) I did this with my short story "The Book of Beasts," which is set in the Season Lords universe. Sometimes I get an initial story idea and then build the world as I build the plot. If possible, I get setting ideas from places I already know so I can include realistic details. Here's an odd example: as the mother of a young son, I've taken him to lots of places where there are big inflatable playhouses for the kids. Sometimes he drags me into the bouncy house with him. It's a setting that's strange and colorful yet a little creepy when you're lost in a plastic labyrinth. I've wanted to set a story in one for a long time, and I finally came up with the idea of using it with some of my characters from the Catalyst Chronicles series. That story is currently in rough draft mode.

3. How do you research setting?--It depends on the setting. My fantasy Season Lords series is set in a country similar to Victorian England (I came up with this idea before steampunk became popular, but as it was one of the first books I wrote, it needs a lot of work), so for this one, I read about the period and visited old homes from the era. For real settings, like 1962 and 1980 Chicago, I use Google to help me find images from the era.

4. Do you have to have been somewhere in order to write about it?--Well, as a science fiction/fantasy writer, I have to say no. The key is to find real-world analogues that can inspire you with the appropriate sensory details. For instance, looking at old homes and clothes can give me a feel for heavy wool dresses and climbing up steep, narrow, dimly lit stairs. If I'm writing about spaceships, I may think about specific areas of the ship--such as the garden where much of the food is grown--and think of greenhouses, humid air, and the smell of plants to make the garden feel real for my characters.

5. What are some memorable settings from books you've read? The land of Oz and Valdemar from Mercedes Lackey's books come to mind.

For more about setting, please check out Kate's post from yesterday.  Christine will tackle this topic tomorrow.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Blog Ring of Power--Lynda Williams

It's a short work week for me; hope it is for you too. However, despite the upcoming holiday, we still have a Blog Ring of Power interview. Today I'm interviewing another Broad Universe member, Lynda Williams, about her creative process. You can find Parts 1 and 2 of this interview on Theresa's and Emily's blogs respectively; Parts 4 and 5 will appear later this week on Dean's and Terri's blogs.

Where do you get your story ideas?

They have always been with me. I never watched a movie, read a book or had a stimulating conversation that didn’t generate an itch to write about something. I gain discipline and craft as I get older, but ironically I do not generate as many wonderful ideas. So I remain grateful to my younger self for recording so much of her journey for me to mine the raw material as I mature in craft and wiles.

Do you have a specific writing style?

Most of my fiction is written in the third person with a focus on a viewpoint character. But I’m all about perspective. For example, in Part 1: The Courtesan Prince and Part 2: Righteous Anger, we see the same scene from two different points of view: Di Mon’s in the first book, and Horth’s in the second. Di Mon is the protagonist who has reached the decision he makes at great cost over many pages, and the scene is the climax of the book. Horth is a na├»ve observer, representing the cultural context in which the scene takes place. It’s an incident in his day, of interest but only poorly understood and takes place early in his story. This sort of thing can be confusing to some readers and is hard to pull off, so I confine overlapping observations of the same event to just a few spots in the ten-novel saga. Every book, however, contains multiple points of view. I restrict myself to four main ones, but will sometimes throw in a cameo from the POV of a minor character. In Part 5: Far Arena, I alternated chapters from Erien’s POV with chapters in which Amel was the focal character but the POV was that of a minor character he encounters as he passed through the plot. Amel lost his POV until Erien restores it to him at the end, because in this book Amel is the subject of controversy and it is other people’s opinions about him that matters most. The device also illustrates how celebrity makes Amel an object of interest instead of an agent in the story.  

How do you deal with writer’s block?

By spending long, self-pitying hours at a coffee shop moping instead of getting something useful done – but only if I cannot find a sympathetic friend to talk to about life, the universe and everything to rev up my rel-batteries again. (In the Okal Rel Universe, pilots charge batteries by reality skimming and trade them to their hosts when they dock, taking exhausted batteries with them to the next place on their next trip. I use the idea of charging my rel-batteries as a metaphor for sustaining the courage to write.)

How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?

My first instinct is to deny using a formula. But on reflection I realize I have a few. First, there must be conflict in every scene. And everything a character does must be in character. I’ve worked to interweave multiple sub-plots with the main plot in any given novel, and to ensure the plot of the ten-novel arch was progressing in parallel. Characters with great gifts tend to have balancing flaws or weaknesses to keep them interesting. Every book has a theme and the action illustrative of the theme plays out to a satisfying conclusion in the book concerned, even if there are echoes in later ones.  For example, the theme in Part 1: The Courtesan Prince, can be summed up as “from two cultures that should never meet come four people who do”. So although I skip ahead in time to after the end of Part 3: Pretenders for the final scene between Ann and Amel, I need to bring the Ann-Amel relationship to a satisfying conclusion in the book where their relationship becomes important to relations between Rire and the empire. Another formula I’ve noticed in my work is parallel problem solving. I like to give two characters, or cultures, the same problem and explore the ethics of their solution. Like a thought experiment. For example, both Rire and the empire solve the problem of how to make sure rel-ships do not destroy habitat by imposing social control on pilots. But they do it completely differently. The empire relies on honor and sword law, a system supported by the aversion to destroying life-supporting territory inherent in original Sevolite bio-engineering. Rire relies on psych-profiling and the arbiter administration. In Part 5: Far Arena, all three of Ann, Hanson and Vic manipulate Amel to make use of his highborn talents in their own cause. Which, if any, can be forgiven? How do each of them balance their responsibility to Amel against their responsibilities to others and themselves?  I do this kind of thing consistently enough to fess up to it as a formula.

Are you a “plotter” or a “pantser” (do you plan/outline the story ahead of time or write “by the seat of your pants”)?

Both. All my life, I’ve scribbled plots on paper napkins and in notebooks. Realms and realms. A lot of it involved planning the story told in the ten-novel Okal Rel Saga. So I have plotted galore. At the same time, I explore scenes for fitness by drafting them. I have boxes and boxes of draft scenes where characters talk and act out scenes I never included in the books. Since the boxes include scribbles and experimentation played out over thirty years, a lot of the stuff in the scraps there never happened, or happened differently. It took me twenty years to get the first book pulled together. I can now write a novel in about a year, working on it part-time and in parallel to my day job and other responsibilities in life.  But that’s only because I know it all so well from all the scribbling.  

Do you use critique partners or beta readers? Why or why not?

Yes, whenever I can lay hands on them. I prefer beta readers to critique partners since one needs very particular critique partners, IMHO, to make the exercise productive instead of destructive or just irritating. It’s a rare writer, pro or no, who can set aside his/her ideas of what would work in order to get inside what you are trying to do. On the other hand, I always keep my ears open to criticism to learn from it when able. Beta readers give good feedback by asking questions, laughing (or failing to) in the right places, and generally letting you test out your story on them. I also re-read earlier books in the series, aloud, to willing listeners, when working myself up to doing new work. I’m re-reading all 10 books to my husband, as of September 2012, as a run-up to finishing off the last 30,000 words of book 10.

How much time do you spend on research? What type of research do you do?

Lots. But in a roundabout way. I read a lot and might consume a dozen books on a topic like evolutionary psychology, without realizing it was research until much later. I purposefully sought out books on dueling in history, but most of what I learned went into sword law rather than fencing scenes. I drafted those and ran them by Craig Bowlsby. I talk to people who know more about a subject of interest than I do when possible.  I goggle for specific facts.  I consider the way people behave in my everyday life to be the best research. I think I’m an instinctive anthropologist, never quite able to live and interact with others on sheer instinct and needing the crutch of analysis to decode small talk, in particular, and power dynamics in general.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging to write?

Descriptions of three dimensional spaces my characters have to navigate and re-visit across multiple books. I finally wised up and, with a little help from my husband David Lott, drew a map before tackling the Orphanage Complex introduced in Part 7: Healer’s Sword. See  My own efforts are never as good. It’s nice to see other people helping to bring UnderGelion to life, now. For example, its features in the background of this beautiful piece by Michelle Milburn, for the cover of Mekan’stan.

Lynda Williams is the author of the ten-novel Okal Rel Saga (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing) and the editor of the Okal Rel Legacies series (Absolute Xpress). She hosts the Writer’s Craft on the Clarion Blog with David Lott. On Reality Skimming (, she works with David Juniper, Tegan Lott and Michelle Carraway to celebrate the Okal Rel Universe in particular and the joy of writing and reading in general. See for how to take part on Reality Skimming to promote your work or share your love of words and ideas. 

Goodreads author page:
Twitter:  @okalrelsrv
What format is your book(s) available in (print, e-book, audio book, etc.)?
 ·      Trade paperback (the Saga)
·         Print on demand (Legacies)
·         Kindle (all)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Science of the Week, 11/16/12

Here are some of the most interesting post I read on Science Blogs this week:

Bug repellent for supercomputers proves effective

Injectable sponge delivers drugs, cells, and structure

"Homeless"  planet found wandering through space 

(I can't help but wonder what they would ask for. "Spare light? Spare heat?")

Once the conflict is over, solidarity in alliances goes out the window

First functional invisiblity cloak emerges from Duke

(What happens if they lose it while it's invisible?)

Touch-sensitive plastic skin heals itself

Could Jennifer Aniston hold the key to memory formation?

(Since I never watched Friends, does that mean I'll have memory problems? Uh, what was the question again?)

That's it for now. Enjoy your weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Broad Spectrum: The 2012 Broad Universe Fiction Sampler

It's hard to believe we're almost halfway through November, isn't it? If you're participating in NaNoWriMo, how's it going?

As you may know, I'm a member of Broad Universe, an organization dedicated to promoting women writers of fantasy, horror, and science fiction. Recently Broad Universe put out an anthology of novel excerpts and short stories written by several of its members. It's called Broad Spectrum: The 2012 Broad Universe Fiction Sampler. It's available for free on Smashwords and for $0.99 on Amazon.  (My understanding is they do want to make it free on Amazon too, so please go ahead and report the price difference.) I don't know if it's on B&N's website or not.

The author list includes several authors who've been interviewed as part of the Blog Ring of Power, including Karina Fabian, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, and Sue Burke. Although I haven't read the sampler yet, I have read some of the books that were excerpted here, including Silver Moon by Catherine Lundoff and Threaded Through Time by Sarah Ettritch. I enjoyed both of these books, and I hope you'll enjoy the sampler and discover some new authors. Go check it out!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Blog Ring of Power--Karina Fabian

Today the Blog Ring of Power is interviewing Karina Fabian. I first heard of her when we both had stories published in the anthology Firestorm of Dragons. Since then, she's published other works, including Live and Let Fly and her latest, I Left My Brains in San Francisco, the second in the Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator series. Let's learn more about Karina's creative process:

Where do you get your story ideas?

I once watched my grandmother make chocolate frosting for a cake by going through her shelves, pulling out a little of this, some of that, seemingly at random, and making them into something amazing.  I tend to write the same way—little bits here and there.  For example, *I Left My Brains in San Francisco* came as a result of a needing a second book for my character Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator, a trip to San Francisco, my brother-in-law’s suggestion that a refinery would be a good place for a zombie attack, and a prompt chat in which we were to sell a vehicle that ran on manure.

Do you have a specific writing style?

Like so many things, this can vary by story, but my writing is usually more action and dialogue-oriented.  I don’t go in for long, literary descriptions illustrating the pathetic fallacy of the cornfield in the rain.

How do you deal with writer’s block?

I don’t believe in writer’s block.  I have been lazy or intimidated by a story, but not really blocked.  The only way to deal with either of those is to work through them.  Give yourself permission to write junk—you can always clean it up later—and go for it.

How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
For the most part, I start with the character or a situation, and it grows.  I don’t follow a formula, fill out character worksheets, or do any kind of trick.  I just imagine and let it flow.

Are you a “plotter” or a “pantser” (do you plan/outline the story ahead of time or write “by the seat of your pants”)?

I’m a little of both, in varying degrees, depending on the book.  For I Left My Brains in San Francisco, I pantsed, and had to go back and reorganize a few scenes in order to fix the flow.  (There are a lot of independent scenes of zombie sightings and attacks.)  Other times, I’ve written extensive outlines, and sometimes, I plot out a basic progression and let my characters take over.

Do you use critique partners or beta readers? Why or why not?
I love critiquers.  They help me find my errors, whether typos or problems in the content or characterization.  I have a few friends who are writers and who know not to hold back when it comes to critiquing.  They’re invaluable!

How much time do you spend on research? What type of research do you do?
I spend as much as I need to answer the questions I have, then I move on.  So I do a lot of looking things up on the internet—yes, I sometimes even use Wikipedia—or I call a source.  It’s lots of fun calling people cold and asking them to help out in my bizarre plots.  For I Left My Brains in San Francisco, I talked to Greg Hardy, Manager of State Government Affairs, Rocky Mountain Division, at Chevron about planning a zombie attack.  It was fun.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging to write?

Literary descriptions illustrating the pathetic fallacy of a cornfield in the rain?

Google +:

Zombie problem? Call Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator--but not this weekend.

On vacation at an exterminator’s convention, she's looking to relax, have fun, and enjoy a little romance. Too bad the zombies have a different idea. When they rise from their watery graves to take over the City by the Bay, it looks like it'll be a working vacation after all.

Enjoy the thrill of re-kill with Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator.

Find I Left My Brains in San Francisco at:
Damnation Books:
Amazon: (paper) (Kindle)
More about it at

Winner of the 2010 INDIE for best Fantasy (Magic, Mensa and Mayhem) and a Global eBook Award for Best Horror (Neeta Lyffe, Zombie Exterminator), Karina Fabian’s writing takes quirky twists that keep her--and her fans--amused. Nuns working in space, a down-and-out Faerie dragon working off a geas from St. George, zombie exterminators—there’s always a surprise in Fabian’s worlds. Mrs. Fabian teaches writing and book marketing seminars online.

For the rest of Karina's interview with the Blog Ring of Power, please follow these links:

Part One--About You (Theresa)
Part Two--The Writing Life (coming soon, Emily)
Part Four--About Your Current Work (coming Tuesday, Dean)
Part Five--Words of Wisdom (coming Wednesday, Terri)

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Back on the Blog Chain--Daily Goals and the Writing Journey

Today is Election Day in the U.S., so don't forget to get out and vote!

Now that I've that quasi-obligatory reminder out of the way, let's move on to today's topic. It's my turn to pick the subject for the current Blog Chain. Since it's not just November, but also National Novel Writing Month, I wanted to pick something related to NaNoWriMo that wasn't the usual, "Do you participate in NaNoWriMo? Why or why not?" Here's what I came up with:

During National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), writers attempt to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Do you set daily writing goals for yourself, either a certain word count or time spent on writing? Does this include other writing-related activities, like research, plotting, or revising? Do you focus on reaching the end of the journey (such as finishing your current project), or do you enjoy the writing process along the way?

Since I'm the one who chose this topic, it's ironic that I don't set a daily word count for myself. The reason for that is that I spend much of my time rewriting/revising a story instead of cranking out first draft. In general, my daily goal is to work on my projects for at least an hour, if not longer. (Ideally, I'd love to write all day, but real life has a lot of distractions.) I don't count research as part of this time, but I do include activities like drafting, plotting (whether this be a formal outline or jotting down ideas when I can't figure out what to put next), revising, or even formatting/publishing. I usually plan to work on one particular project during a session, but if my mind gets stuck (as can happen when I'm left with the dregs of the day for my writing time), then I may switch to another project. Sometimes that helps, sometimes it doesn't. All I really ask from a writing session is that I've made some progress, even if it's a page or less.

As for the end of the journey versus the writing trip itself, both are important. While it can be a struggle at time to work out the plot or to include all the emotional and descriptive details that bring a scene to life, it's very gratifying when the pieces do come together. I love the way the story takes on urgency when I approach the end. Finishing is always a reward too; I have my own way of ending a draft (I put in lyrics from "The Book Report" from You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown), and I give myself some other physical reward too.

For more approaches to this topic, please check out Kate's post from yesterday and Christine's post tomorrow.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Blog Ring of Power--Pippa Jay

Welcome back to another Blog Ring of Power post. Today we're in the middle of an interview with Pippa Jay. Part One was on Theresa's blog; due to technical difficulties, Part Two, on Emily's blog, will be delayed until later this month. In the meantime, Parts Four and Five will appear on Dean's and Terri's blogs respectively. In the meantime, let's learn more about Pippa's creative process:

Where do you get your story ideas? 

Absolutely anywhere! Music, images, world events, things that have happened to me or people I know, reading, scientific journals - the list is endless. I've had ideas for space battles from a piece of paper hitting my car windscreen, or ideas for intelligent plants from reading about parasites and my husband pointing out ivy on a tree. Anything can become a story idea.

Do you have a specific writing style? 

I have a tendency to go a bit purple prose, something I try to keep to a minimum. I love writing poetic descriptions, but it can slow a story down. So I try to make descriptions more of a brief sketch and focus on the characters. They're the important thing. Everything else is just background.

How do you deal with writers' block? 

Walk away. Do something else. I find housework is good - I don't know if that's because something physical lets your mind run free or because muse gets bored and thinks 'bugger this, let's go write!' Just don't sit there trying to force it.

How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?

I'm not one for formulas really. My method is pretty haphazard. Usually a story will start with one major scene in my head, either an opening that I then need to explain, or perhaps the major event in the story, which will then need backstory and a conclusion. For characters - again, that initial scene and how they react to it gives me the key elements for their personality, and generally their appearance too. Names come next, and then fleshing them out.

Are you a “plotter” or a pantser (do you plan/outline the story ahead of time or write “by the seat of your pants”)? 

Total pantser. I tried writing an outline for the August Camp and veered away from it completely in the writing of the story. Plotting doesn't seem to work for me.

Do you use critique partners or beta readers? Why or why not? 

I use both. Especially if I feel something is wrong with a story. Often you're too close to see the problems, and a beta reader/critique partner can highlight other issues or point out where more explanation is needed. They're invaluable. If you have trouble finding some, look at a site like CritiqueCircle.

How much time do you spend on research? What type of research do you do? 

Depends on the story. I did a lot for Keir and on a wide variety of subjects - castles, Italian medieval society, survival skills, resuscitation drugs, and the process of drowning. Not so much for the sequel because it's shorter, and I've done most of the world-building already. Generally I'll read something that will spark an idea and then I write, so I've done some research beforehand, and then it'll just be refining the details.

 Is there anything you find particularly challenging to write? 

At the moment I'm trying to find new ways to write about pain. I feel like I'm repeating myself too much. I bought the Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi which helps. I'm also not great with fights so I bought Writing Fight Scenes by Rayne Hall which gave me some useful pointers. I really want to do some workshops, but most of the ones I see are in the US and I'm in the UK, so the time difference makes it difficult.

Pippa’s a stay-at-home mum of three who spent twelve years working as an Analytical Chemist in a Metals and Minerals laboratory, She bases her stories on a lifetime addiction to science-fiction books and films. Somewhere along the line a touch of romance crept into her work and refused to leave. In between torturing her various characters, Pippa spends the odd free moments trying to learn guitar, indulging in freestyle street dance and drinking high-caffeine coffee. Although happily settled in historical Colchester in the UK with her husband of 19 years, she continues to roam the rest of the Universe in her head.


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Lyrical Press

KEIR: Cursed. Dyikeirng. Is Keir beyond redemption?

For Keirlan de Corizi–the legendary ‘Blue Demon’ of Adalucien–death seems the only escape from a world where his discolored skin marks him as an oddity and condemns him to life as a pariah. But salvation comes in an unexpected guise: Tarquin Secker, a young woman who can travel the start with a wave of her hands.

But Quin has secrets of her own. She’s spent eternity searching through time and space with a strange band of companions at her back. Defying her friends’ counsel, Quin risks her apparent immortality to save Keir. She offers him sanctuary and a new life on her home world, Lyagnius.

When Keir mistakenly unleashes his dormant alien powers and earns instant exile from Quin’s home world, will she risk everything to stand by him again?

Friday, November 02, 2012

Science of the Week, 11/2/12

It's been quite a week with Hurricane Sandy pounding the East Coast. (I'm so glad now I never liked the nickname "Sandy.") While I hope life will soon return to normal for the victims, it probably won't be the same "normal" for a long time, if ever.

Anyway, here are some other interesting science news stories from Science Blog this week:

Researchers use synthetic magnetism to control light

A little late for Halloween, but I couldn't resist including it anyway: Are there clinical explanations for vampires, werewolves, and zombies?

Empathy represses analytical thought, and vice versa

U.S. population moving where it's warm and dry

Researchers look beyond space and time to cope with quantum theory

That's it for this week. If you're doing NaNoWriMo, I hope you get a lot of writing done this weekend, especially with the clocks going back this weekend. Whatever you do, enjoy it!

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