Friday, October 30, 2015

Science of the Week, 10/30/15

Here are some of the most interesting science news articles I read this week:

Super hot: Persian Gulf could pass threshold of survivability

Is a new basis for all cryptography at hand?

Drug engineered from bananas shows promise in fighting deadly viruses

Study: Interrogations benefit from positively building up subject

X-ray vision could power virtual reality, smart homes, and Hollywood

Happy Halloween to all, and good luck to everyone starting National Novel Writing Month on Sunday! I won't be participating this year, as I have to continue work on my two Season Avatar books. See you on Monday!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Guest Post: Gail Z. Martin--Keeping It Real

Today I have a special guest post from sister Broad Universe member Gail Z. Martin as part of her Days of the Dead tour. If you've ever read a story set in a real city, you may have wondered how authors research the setting, especially if they don't live there. Gail offers some tips on getting it right. Take it away, Gail!

When it comes to science fiction and fantasy, sometimes there’s no place like home.

Over the years, we’ve read a lot of stories set in fascinating places that don’t exist. Babylon 5, Westeros, the Shire and so many other space colonies and fictional kingdoms fill our imaginations, our bookshelves and our media libraries. Urban fantasy, however, told us that the real world could be just as full of wonder, horror, magic and monsters as any made-up place. All of a sudden, we started looking at familiar locations in a whole new light.

To be fair, there are some cities that have always straddled the line between real world and shared fictional universe: London and New York City, in particular. We have read so many books and seen so many movies or TV shows set in those cities that if we haven’t been there ourselves, it can be difficult to remember that they’re real places. 

And yet … urban fantasy has been steadily moving out of New York and London for a while now. Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series put vampires in St. Louis, MO. Sookie Stackhouse and her menagerie of vampires, werewolves, witches and were-panthers all called small-town Bon Temps, LA home. Harry Dresden fights all kinds of monsters—and the mob—in Chicago. My urban fantasy series, Deadly Curiosities, is set in Charleston, SC. And it’s not just urban fantasy. Iron & Blood, the steampunk series co-authored with my husband, Larry N. Martin, takes place in an alternative history Pittsburgh, PA where the city is an essential part of the plot. Just like Stephen King showed us that small towns weren’t as ‘normal’ as we remembered them, urban fantasy clued us in to the monsters among us.

What are the rules for using a real city as the setting for your fiction? How do you avoid getting sued if you allege that vampires are actually running City Council? Can you use a city for your setting if you haven’t lived there (or even visited)?  Here are my Top 10 rules for setting your monster mash in a real place. 

1.      Pick a city or small town that has a distinctive personality or regional flavor. The city can become a character in the story, imparting a sense that the characters and the circumstances could only happen in that place. This is where learning about a city and region’s history really pays off, as does a visit (at least one, maybe more) helps you immerse yourself—and therefore the reader—in the location.

2.      Do your best to get the details right. Maybe you don’t live in the city you want to use as your setting, or you haven’t lived there in years, or you can’t physically visit. That’s okay—there are other ways to do your homework. Google Earth is your best friend. Go down to AAA and get the city tour information as if you were going on vacation. Buy travel books for that city and region, get maps, watch travelogues and food shows set in the location you want to use. Talk to people who visit there frequently or have lived there to get a sense of local color and how things are done. You want your book to ring true to people who do have first-hand experience with the city, so you’ve got to do your homework.

3.      Read other fiction series—even if they’re outside your genre—that have been set in your chosen city to see how other authors evoke a sense of place. Unless you’re choosing a very small town, odds are you can find a mystery series or a Western or a romance set in that city. If you can’t find that city exactly, find something in its region. Then pay attention to the details mentioned in the other books set in that area—regional phrases, foods, etc. Validate, but see what tips you can pick up.

4.      Weave local history, geography and landmarks into your plot. You don’t need to give your readers a lecture or a tour, but by dropping in just the right amount of detail, you can make your city setting tangible.

5.      When it comes to dodging lawsuits (and I’m an author, not a lawyer), best practice is not to say anything unflattering of someone who is alive or recently dead—unless they’re really famous. This is how ‘Abraham Lincoln—Vampire Hunter’ gets away without a libel ruling. If you’re going to make a local politician a crook, pick a dead politician who has actually been convicted (not just indicted or the subject of scandal). Google your villain’s name with the city and see if you get hits on real people. If so, you might want to change the name so there’s no possibility of confusion. 

6.      The more implausible the accusation, the less likely you (probably) are to get in trouble. (Then again, there are those people who thought the Harry Potter books taught real witchcraft….)  So claiming that a dead senator was a vampire is less likely to be believed than claiming he was involved in taking bribes, child molestation, etc. If you want to use a historic figure, try to pick one who’s been dead long enough (like Abraham Lincoln) that descendants won’t get up in arms.

7.      Make up names for characters who are villains or who behave in unflattering ways rather than using real people. Don’t base anything so closely as to be recognizable on local scandals or court cases unless it’s long enough ago that everyone involved is dead and the situation was well documented (newspaper, books) at the time. It’s easier to avoid legal problems than to get out of them. 

8.      Tie your city setting in to your book launch, giveaway choices, room parties, and other promotions. I’ve been to book launches and room parties that featured regional foods from the setting of the novel—especially great if your city is a foodie haven like New Orleans or Memphis. Purchase souvenirs (online or during a research visit) to use as giveaways and prizes. Have fun with it—you can expand beyond food and souvenirs to stuff from the local sports teams, local cocktails, trivia contests, etc. 

9.      Reach out to bloggers and reviewers from that city or region as well as local news stations—they might want to feature your book if they aren’t the kind of place that has already been used as a setting by many other authors.

10.  Share the extra history, lore, urban legends, historic scandals and other information you researched but didn’t use in the book on your blog along with your photos from the research trip to help your readers really get into the setting.

Finding a real life setting for your fiction can be a fantastic way to add sensory details and make the story real for readers. Along the way, you might just discover a whole new favorite home away from home!

My Days of the Dead blog tour runs through October 31 with never-before-seen cover art, brand new excerpts from upcoming books and recent short stories, interviews, guest blog posts, giveaways and more! Plus, I’ll be including extra excerpt links for my stories and for books by author friends of mine. You’ve got to visit the participating sites to get the goodies, just like Trick or Treat! Details here:

Book swag is the new Trick-or-Treat! Grab your envelope of book swag awesomeness from me & 10 authors before 11/1!
Trick or Treat! Excerpt from my new urban fantasy novel Vendetta set in my Deadly Curiosities world here Launches Dec. 29
More Trick or Treat goodies! New Blaine McFadden short story set in Velant Prison No Reprieve
Treats not Tricks! Excerpt from The Healer’s Choice
Trick Or Treat excerpt from The Artifice Conspiracy

About the Author

Gail Z. Martin is the author of the upcoming novel Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (Dec. 2015, Solaris Books) as well as the epic fantasy novel Shadow and Flame (March, 2016 Orbit Books) which is the fourth and final book in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga. Shadowed Path, an anthology of Jonmarc Vahanian short stories set in the world of The Summoner, debuts from Solaris books in June, 2016.

Other books include The Jake Desmet Adventures a new Steampunk series (Solaris Books) co-authored with Larry N. Martin as well as Ice Forged, Reign of Ash and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) from Orbit Books and the urban fantasy novel Deadly Curiosities from Solaris Books.  

Gail writes four series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, The Deadly Curiosities Adventures, The King’s Convicts series, and together with Larry N. Martin, The Storm and Fury Adventures. Her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies. Newest anthologies include: The Big Bad 2, Athena’s Daughters, Realms of Imagination, Heroes, With Great Power, and (co-authored with Larry N. Martin) Space, Contact Light, The Weird Wild West, The Side of Good/The Side of Evil, Alien Artifacts, Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

BU Blog Tour: Moons and Months in the Country of Challen

Read on for my post:

My fantasy Season Avatars series is set in the quasi-Victorian country of Challen. Although Challen has locomotives and steamboats, it's still very much an agricultural country. Agriculture influences many parts of the Challen culture, from their names (some nobles take part of their family names from the most popular crop grown on their estate) to their calendar. The calendar starts with the spring equinox, which is considered the first day of the first moon, or month. Each moon has a different name. The list is below:

Spring: Changemoon, Rainmoon, and Flowermoon (corresponding to March, April, and May)

Summer: Rosemoon, Cornmoon, and Heatmoon  (June, July, and August)

Fall: Harvestmoon, Leafmoon, and Graymoon (September, October, and November)

Winter: Snowmoon, Coldmoon, and Lambmoon (December, January, and February)

Admittedly, the first day of each month would not always be a full moon. The night of the full moon, however, would still be an important time, since the moonlight would allow people in the rural areas to visit each other or perform other activities. I'm still debating whether or not there should be exactly twelve moons in the Challen year or if there should be a day or two of holidays at the end of each season.

To learn more about Challen and its Season Avatars, please check out the first two books in the series, Seasons' Beginnings and Scattered Seasons. Book Three, Chaos Season, is currently in developmental edit and won't be ready until 2016. I'm already writing Book Four, Fifth Season, but the series won't be complete until I finish Summon the Seasons.

You can win copies of Seasons' Beginnings and Scattered Seasons in the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, October 19, 2015

Seasons' Beginnings Free this Week!

The blog title pretty much says it all. The first book in the fantasy Season Avatars series is free on Amazon through Friday, October 23rd. Here's the blurb:

Kron Evenhanded is an artificer, able to enchant any man-made object, but he finds people more difficult to work with. After many years studying at the Magic Institute, he leaves to return to his childhood home. When he visits the city of Vistichia, he encounters Sal-thaath, an extremely magical but dangerous child created by Salth, another magician Kron knew at the Magic Institute. Kron attempts to civilize Sal-thaath, but his efforts lead to tragedy. Salth, who has gained additional magic from the stars, vows revenge against Kron and his beloved Bella. Kron is forced to ally himself with a quartet of new deities and their human Avatars, including Bella. Kron must help the new Avatars defend Vistichia as Salth attempts to drain its life and magic. But Salth has Ascended halfway to godhood over Time. Will Kron’s artifacts be enough to protect the city and the Avatars, especially the woman he loves, or will Time separate them?

Since my family life has become insanely busy, I'm planning to decrease my blogging frequency to twice a week, Monday and Friday, at least temporarily. After all, there will be five books in this series, and I still have to edit the third book and finish the first draft of the fourth. I may still post guest posts and for the Insecure Writers' Support Group, however.

Anyway, feel free to download a copy of Seasons' Beginnings on me, and see you Friday!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

BU Blog Tour

Broad Universe will be hosting a blog tour to run over Halloween.We'll be discussing the full moon, giving away prizes, and much more. Check out this post for more information, then come back on the 25th to read our posts. See you then!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Facts for Fiction: Life on the Edge

I'm in the middle of reading Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology. Life obviously takes place on a scale well above where you think quantum effects (such as electron tunneling) would take place. However, many chemical reactions vital for life require quantum effects to work. For example, the book starts off discussing how migrating robins sense the magnetic field of the earth to determine where they are in relation to the equator. The molecules robins use to sense the magnetic field depend on quantum entanglement to work. Quantum effects also play a effect on the sense of smell, DNA replication, and possibly even consciousness. If you're not familiar with quantum mechanics, don't worry; the author explains the concepts involved in each chapter. Quantum biology is a relatively new field. Although the mechanisms discussed in this book may seem too mundane to be worthy topics of speculative fiction, the book may still be useful for writers. (Unfortunately, living beings contain so many particles that as a whole, it would be nearly impossible to put all of them into a quantum state at once. I do play with this idea somewhat in Twinned Universes, so in the next story, I may have to tweak how the quantum quirk works.) If you like both physics and biology, you'll like this book.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Science of the Week, 10/9/15

Here are some of the most interesting science news articles I read this week:

New fossils intensify mystery of short-lived toothy oddball
(odd enough to make a good fantasy creature)

Ancient rocks record first evidence for photosynthesis that made oxygen
(from UW-Madison scientists!)

Many atolls may be uninhabitable within decades due to climate change

Flame retardant breakthrough is naturally derived and non-toxic

Long-term contraception in a single shot

Researchers discover clues on how giraffe neck evolved

Bio-inspired robotic finger looks, feels, and works like the real thing

Lab-grown 3-D intestine regenerates gut lining in dogs

room temp skyrmions, a new type of digital memory?

Today would have been John Lennon's 75th birthday. I doubt I'll be able to do much to commemorate the occasion, but here's a video of one of my favorite songs of his:

Also, tomorrow is Star Wars Reads Day. When my son was first learning to read on his own, it was difficult finding books at his reading level that he liked. Fortunately, he was just getting into Star Wars at that time, and there are a lot of Star Wars books for young readers out there. So check out your local bookstore or library and see if they have some activities planned for your favorite Younglings. After all, every Jawa knows books are the biggest "utinni," or treasure. 

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

IWSG: Making the Most of Short Writing Sessions

It's time again for another Insecure Writers Support Group post. You can find the sign-up and the linky here.

These days, I seldom have the luxury of a long writing session. (Unless my husband and son go somewhere without me or if I take time off of work.) I typically either write on my lunch hour or after my son goes to bed. Typically, I also have other things to do during this time, and sometimes I let myself get distracted by something I find online. That makes it hard to get into the zone of thinking about your story, let alone make your word count. How do you handle it?

What I've found that works for me is to have an idea of what I want to do in that scene. I've never taken well to outlining an entire book, but I can manage to plan a scene in advance. Sometimes I leave myself notes at the end of a writing session so I remember where to pick up later. Other times I can plan it in my head and retrieve it during the writing session. Sometimes setting myself a word challenge for the session works, but all too often I allow myself to get distracted.

In order to make the most of writing sessions, you have to recognize opportunities when they present themselves. I carry a netbook in my purse, so if I'm waiting somewhere, I can take out my netbook and write. I even write while I'm on the road with my family--as long as my husband is driving, of course!

How do you make the most out of your writing sessions? Please leave your answer in the comments.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Four Years of Lyon's Legacy and Being Indie

Tomorrow marks the four anniversary of Lyon's Legacy's publication. That also means it's been four years since I've officially become an indie author. I'm no longer a newbie, yet I still have a lot to learn about writing craft (or rather, writing what readers want),
the dreaded marketing, and managing other aspects of writing business. I admit I have fewer books out at this point than I thought I would. It's humbling seeing all the other works and writers out there, especially when they seem to be doing better than you. However, Hugh Howey wrote a blog post some time ago about how there will always be writers in front of us and writers behind us. It's important to keep that in mind, to enjoy the journey, and to help other writers when I can.

I still enjoy having the freedom to decide when a book is ready to publish. I'm grateful I can pick which editors and cover artists I work with. I can continue to promote my backlist whenever I want, and I keep a much larger share of sales than I could otherwise. As an indie, I can publish a novella in paperback and even audio, something most traditional publishers might not bother with. Every work I publish brings me closer to my goals.

I don't have any special promotions planned for tomorrow, as I want to put more work out in the Catalyst Chronicles series before promoting it. Of course, Lyon's Legacy is still permafree, so feel free to pick up a copy if you haven't done so already. In the meantime, there's more stories to write.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Science of the Week--10/2/15

Welcome to October! Are you ready for Christmas yet, let alone Halloween?

Here are some of the most interesting science news articles I read this week:

NASA confirms evidence that liquid water flows on today's Mars
(of course I had to lead with this one, but there's a caveat below)

We've found liquid water flowing on Mars, but we're not allowed to investigate it
We emit clouds of microbes wherever we go

The 3D printer so big it can make houses

Engineered viruses could combat human disease, improve food safety

I've got your back--fishes really do look after their mates!

New theory of stealth dark matter may explain universe's missing mass

New precise particle measurement improves subatomic tool for probing mysteries of universe

Wearable electronic health patches may now be cheaper and easier to make

Hopes of improved brain implants

A natural light switch: the protein behind a light-sensing mechanism

Turning off the infanticide instinct

Scientists unravel root cause of plant twists and turns

Making batteries with portabello mushrooms

Manmade aerosols can alter rainfall in the world's most populous region

Cryogenic system freezes up to 99% of CO2 emissions from coal power plant so carbon can be stored, potentially repurposed
(I like the idea of being able to reuse the carbon later--trapping it forever in an inaccessible will lead to other problems down the road. Of course, we have to live long enough to reach that point.)

Plastic-eating worms may offer solution to mounting waste
(perhaps sometime in the future we'll have a plastic-based ecosystem)

Asteroids found to be the moon's main water supply

Have a good weekend, everyone, and see you Monday!

Site Meter