Thursday, April 9, 2015

Stuff that's not Hugos

On my Facebook feed and the writers' boards that I frequent, all anyone seems to want to talk about is the Hugos and Puppygate. In the interest of pulling away from that, here are other things going on in my life that do not involve writers grumbling about the Hugos.
  • My family is getting toward the end of its annual birthday-palooza. One of my sons turns 11 tomorrow. During the past three weeks, my other son turned 19 and my daughter turned 8. Also in there, birthdays for my dad, sister, niece and cousin.
  • My husband and I celebrate our 12th anniversary next week.
  • I'm starting work on co-writing a story with two-time Writers of the Future finalist Dustin Adams. It's our first time writing together. I'm excited to see where the story goes.
  • I've hit the halfway point in the novel. Which is so say I'm being a very slow writer. It has taken me nine months to get this far. I will have to light a fire under my butt to get a first draft done by summer.
  • The new dog is working out. She's still a sweetie, but she doesn't yet understand what is an acceptable chew toy and what isn't. Last night's casualty: a stuffed dog that my Aunt Julie, who tragically died a few years ago, gave to me when I was a kid. The stuffed dog is repairable. I hope.
  • I'm reading Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. It's really good. Next up is the sequel.
  • Outlander came back on Sunday, but I haven't had time to watch the episode yet because I've been swamped with reading, writing, birthday preparations and the new dog.
  • Life is pretty good.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Hugo nominations

Yesterday, this happened.

And there was much outrage and celebration. Not from the same people.

The Twitter and Facebook explosions were like a train wreck. Kind of awful, but in a "can't look away" kind of way.

There was some "What is this Sad Puppies thing?" And, "Who the heck is John C. Wright?" I know about the former. I know very little about the latter. Except anyone who lacks the grace to turn down all but one nomination in a given category is going to have to work doubly hard to win me over.

I have mixed feelings about the whole thing, which I will try to put down in words. (I'm a writer, so I do that sometimes.)

First off, congratulations to the nominees. Especially Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Mike Resnick and Kary English. All class acts as human beings and great at what they do. My mixed feelings about the Hugos aren't about any individual. The nominees have all worked hard and deserve this moment.

My comments also aren't about the majority of the people who participated in the nomination process. As was pointed out to me yesterday, voters are not mindless drones following an agenda. Many people who turned in a ballot had thoughtful reasons for their picks. I respect that, even though I might not agree with some of your choices.

However, I suspect there were those who did vote for a specific slate of stories because those stories were recommended by certain people. Some of those stories might be fantastic and deserve to be on the ballot and would have been there anyway. I don't know because I haven't read them yet. I'm reserving judgment until I do read them. I'm willing to give every nominee the benefit of the doubt.

Here's where the mixed feelings part comes in.

I'm very excited for certain people who are nominated. I would have nominated them, too, had I participated in this process. But I didn't. I'm kicking myself for not having offered up my picks for the ballot. Partly because I don't think I have much latitude for criticizing if I didn't vote. Partly because the overall slate is not the slate I would have chosen.

I read some great stuff that came out last year and thought to myself at the time, "I hope this gets a Hugo nomination." None of those stories are on the final ballot. Not a single one. Would my one vote have made a difference? Probably not. But at least I would have made the effort.

The Hugos really mean something to me. When I was a kid, the little badge on the cover of a book that said "Hugo winner" made me feel awe. A Hugo meant that this novel or story was the best of the best, chosen solely on the quality of the work.

Then I got older, and somewhat less na├»ve. The Hugos strike me more like a high school election for prom queen and king. Popularity is a big factor. So is politics. Would I have liked to have been on the ballot for prom queen? Sure, why not? It never would have happened, but it would have been fun. Which is why I don't begrudge anyone their place in the spotlight. Enjoy it. I sure would.

But here's the thing: No one takes a prom election seriously. The results aren't regarded with the sort of awe I felt as a kid, reading a bone fide Hugo winner.

The Hugos should be more.

Which is why I cling to my childhood ideals of how the Hugos should work. This should be about the fans honoring excellence in science fiction and fantasy literature, free of all other considerations and outside opinions. It should be about quality and artistry. Each voter's picks should be their own, and the best work should rise to the top.

This year, there's at least the perception that's not happening. That the process has been gamed and tainted.

I'm going to put my money where my ideals are. When it comes to the final ballot, I will vote, as I should have done in the nominating process. I will buy the supporting membership and read all the things (or at least as many of the things as I can get to and/or stomach).

If a story is deserving, in my estimation, I'll give it a spot on my ballot. If I don't think it's deserving, I will leave it off entirely. "No award" is an option. As I said, this isn't the ballot I would have chosen, but it's the ballot we've been handed. I'll give the nominated stories a fair chance on their own merits, not on the politics and controversy behind them.

I'll vote as I think everyone should vote, and how a lot of people do vote. Not everyone. But a lot. No political machinery. No social outrage. No Twitter wars. Just me and the story.

And then we'll see.

Will my one vote make a difference? Again, probably not. I will watch the livestream of the winners announced at WorldCon and know that I made an effort.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

March stats

We are already one-fourth done with 2015. In March, I finished and submitted a story to Writers of the Future (my 26th entry there). I sold a story to Nature Futures. I proofed the galleys for two stories that will be publishing in the coming weeks, to Nature and Galaxy's Edge. I wrote another couple chapters in the novel. I finished a novella that will probably never get submitted anywhere because, really, it wants to be a novel (and will be, someday).

In March:
  • Stories completed: 2
  • New submissions: 3
  • Stories out on submission: 6
  • Acceptances: 1

In first quarter, 2015:
  • Submissions: 14
  • Acceptances: 2
  • Publications: 2
  • Stories pending publication: 4

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Say hi to Krissy

As of this morning, the doggie adoption is finalized, and we have a new family member.

Her name is Krissy, and we adopted her from All Aboard Animal Rescue. If you're thinking about adopting a dog in the Denver or Fort Collins areas, I recommend this group. They're nice and helpful, and the process was smooth and easy. Also, I will always encourage rescuing an animal rather than buying from a breeder or pet store.

 Krissy is a beagle/hound mix, about a year old, rescued from a shelter from a state somewhere south of Colorado. She's sweet, smart and likes to give kisses. I haven't heard her bark once, though she does whine occasionally. She loves to be with her people and follows me all over the house, even when I'm not in the kitchen. She's fantastic on a leash.

We do have some training work ahead of us. Also, beagles are food hounds, which means Krissy is like a little vacuum, sniffing around every nook and cranny on the hunt for crumbs. We've done some house-cleaning in the past week to make sure Legos, marbles and such are off the floor. She also likes to chew, especially shoelaces, as my daughter learned last night when hers ended up in several pieces.

Krissy is smaller than we were thinking for our next dog. Our late and dearly missed boxer mix Buddy was about 55 pounds. Krissy is half that size. We all miss having a large dog and might get a bigger friend for Krissy a some later date.

It's a strange feeling having a dog in the house who's not Buddy. We had him for 10 years, and he really was an important part of our family. He felt irreplaceable. I want to love and appreciate Krissy for the energetic cutie she is. At the same time, I feel a little guilty about, well, replacing Buddy.

But I hope he would understand that we missed owning a dog and he would be happy that Krissy, like himself 10 years ago when we saved him from a shelter, now has a family and a home.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The "Heroes" reboot

I'm going to detour for a day from writing to television.

The casting news on "Heroes Reborn" has been coming with dizzying speed recently. I blogged about the reboot right here when it was announced in February 2014 and about my mixed feelings on the original run of the show. First season, fantastic. Everything else, not so much. More than a year after the announcement, I thought I'd share my thoughts on how the reboot seems to be shaping up.

Mostly what we know is casting news. A year ago, I said my wish list for the reboot included the characters of Peter, Claire, Hiro and Sylar. I also said I didn't think any of the actors who portrayed those characters would return, but I'm happy to find I was wrong. Today, the news came out that Masi Oka will reprise his role as Hiro Nakamura, a time traveler with childlike enthusiasm who delivered the series' most famous line, "Save the cheerleader, save the world." Hiro was the beating heart of the original show, while Jack Coleman's Noah Bennett (who has been attached to the reboot for some time) was its intellect. That both are coming back will go long way toward creating a bridge between the old and the new.

Then there are the new additions. The two I'm most pumped about are Zachary Levi and Robbie Kay. Back when I blogged about "Heroes" a year ago, I said I would love to see NBC also bring back "Chuck." Well, bringing back Zachary Levi in "Heroes" is almost as good. And Robbie Kay was fantastic as an evil Peter Pan on another of my favorite shows, "Once Upon a Time."

The other recent news is that the new "Heroes" has been pushed back from summer to fall. I don't know the reasons for the change, but I don't think it bodes well for ratings. A summer miniseries seemed just about perfect, while the show will face a lot more competition for attention in the fall.

Verdict: I'm still optimistic about this reboot but also wary because of how quickly the original series' storylines went downhill after season one. They have the acting side covered. Now the writers need to give us a self-contained story that doesn't go off the rails.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Let's talk about flash fiction

I write a lot of flash.

I also sell a decent amount of it. I haven't counted how many, but I'd guess about 2/3 of my sales are flash-length fiction, which is defined in most places as 1,000 words or less. My flash stories have been published in markets including Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, Abyss & Apex and Every Day Fiction. My most recent flash sale is to Nature Futures.

I don't sell every flash story I write. Some are real stinkers and rightfully get trunked.

There are writers out there who sell more flash, and those who edit or read slush for magazines that publish flash-length stories, and they're probably more qualified to talk about flash than I am. I'm going to do it anyway.

For starters, I think flash is underappreciated. Example: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, also known as SFWA, won't let you in as an associate member with the sale of a flash-length story to a qualifying, professional market. Your sale must be a minimum of 1,000 words.

Considering the SFWA rules, you'd think writing flash was easy, that anyone can do it, and that's why it doesn't count. Flash seems to have that kind of reputation, but it's wrong.

Flash isn't easy to write. No, let me revise that: Good flash isn't easy to write. It's the same as for any length of fiction. Anyone can pound out 5,000 words of crap, but writing a good short story takes skill and practice. I might go so far as to say there's an art to writing a good flash piece.

The challenge of writing flash is, of course, telling a complete story in a few hundred words. You need a compelling premise. You need characters and setting. You need an inciting incident, rising action, a climax and a resolution. That's all the things you need in a longer piece, but you have to do it in a very compact space.

How do you pull that off? Here's my advice:

Keep it simple. Two characters. Three at the most. A plot with one major conflict to resolve. A setting that will be familiar enough to readers that a few well-chosen, well-placed words can serve as your setup. If you get into complicated world-building, chances are the story won't work at flash length.

I read a good analogy once, though I don't remember where, which means I can't give credit where it's due, but here it is. A novel is when the writer invites you into their home and you get to peer into all the nooks and crannies. A short story is when you take in the house by standing in the doorway. A flash is when you stand outside and peer through the window.

But simple doesn't mean boring. No matter what length you're writing at, you need to hook your readers. You need an interesting premise, a compelling story.

In a flash fiction, you can't beat around the bush. No complicated setup. You have to get to the hook fast. Your inciting incident should come no later than 100 words in. That doesn't give you permission to tell instead of show simply because it's more efficient. Prose is important. So are correct grammar, punctuation and syntax.

A lot of flash stories end with a twist. I've ended some that way. If you use a twist, make sure you foreshadow it. However you end the story, closure is important. You need a resolution.

My last bit of advice: No cat stories. I've heard this time and time again. The slush readers will thank you.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sale! "Transference" to Nature Futures

I signed the contract today, so I feel pretty safe sharing the news that my flash story "Transference" has been accepted for publication in Nature Futures. Yes, that Nature. The weekly journal of science whose articles often get attention in the media. So, this is quite awesome.

It occurred to me this morning that I sell an awful lot of flash fiction, which for those who don't know is generally defined as a story of 1,000 words or less. In fact, the majority of my sales over the years have been of flash-length fiction.

That's partly because flash is faster to write than longer stories. I can write two or three flash stories in the same amount of time it takes for me to write a short story. But it's not any easier. There's an art to writing a complete story with characters and setting, and a beginning, middle and end, in under 1,000 words. I'll do some thinking about how I go about writing flash and work up a blog post with my do's and don't's sometime in the near future.

In non-writing news ... Two months ago, my family lost our beloved dog Buddy to lymphoma. I knew at some point that we would want to get a new dog, but I didn't know how long that would take. Weeks? Months? It seems I now have an answer. We decided this week that it's time. We're still grieving for Buddy, but we're also ready to welcome a new canine member of the family, so we'll be going to a rescue group adoption event this weekend.