Friday, December 31, 2010

Resolution redux

Exactly one year ago today, I posted my writing resolutions for 2010. Let's see how I did.

1. Enter Writers of the Future every quarter. Success! In my entries for 2010, I got two honorable mentions, one rejection and one pending.

2. Get my stories critiqued but don't let the criticisms I receive make me rewrite the voice and individuality out of my work. Again, success. I'm much better now at sorting out what advice to take and what to ignore.

3. Submit. I put out 20 submissions this year, according to my log at writersplanner.com. That's not bad, but I can do better.

4. Write. I said yesterday that I had written 36,000 words in 2010, but that's actually the word count of the stories I finished and submitted. If I add in the abandoned projects, it comes out closer to 45,000 words, which is about 123 words a day . Again, I can do better. Much better.

Tomorrow: resolutions for 2011.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Stats for 2010

It’s that time again: End of Year stats.

Stories that sold in 2010:

Snake Oil, Six-Guns Straight From Hell (anthology), published October

Grounded, Sounds of the Night (magazine), publication pending

Man of the Stars, 10Flash (e-zine), publication pending

Bonus stories, sold in 2009 but published in 2010:

Cowboy Jake and the Moon Men, Science Fiction Trails (magazine), January

Ripples, Every Day Fiction (e-zine), March 27

Total submissions: 20

Words written: approx. 36,000

Stories completed: 7

Writers of the Future entries: 4 (two honorable mentions, one rejection, one pending)

The hardest part

I spent about half of December doing background work for my next story. I created the world and the characters and did a relatively detailed outline of the plot. All this is fun stuff to do. This is the part of the process where the world is fascinating, the characters are irresistibly intriguing and the plot is chock full of tension and symbolism and witty dialogue. Of course, all of that is in my mind. The story is 100 percent perfect - a shoe-in for a sale - when I'm in this stage of the process.

Then comes the hard part: I have to stop brainstorming and write the story itself. This is hard not on the mundane level of putting words on the page; I've already done most of the heavy-lifting with the brainstorming, and writing the story itself doesn't take much time or additional straining of the imagination muscles. It's hard psychologically. Because I know that once I start putting words onto the page, the story won't be perfect anymore. It will be only as good as my skills as a writer can make it. Granted, that gap - between what the story should be and what the story is - narrows (slowly) with each one I write, but it's still there. I find it difficult to write those first few paragraphs and kiss perfection goodbye.

But the deed is done. I'm probably 1,500 words or so in (I don't know the word count for sure because I'm writing longhand). Here's hoping I can keep this one closer to perfection than mediocrity.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Where to start with the New Who?

Over at tor.com, there's a blog post and subsequent discussion about where to start with Doctor Who, if you've never watched an episode. Their blogger suggests Human Nature/Family of Blood from season 3. Those are two of my favorite episodes, but I wouldn't suggest them as the place to start for a Doctor Who virgin. My enjoyment of that two-parter comes from watching the Doctor act in a very un-Doctor-like manner.

So where would I say a new viewer should start with the New Who? Three suggestions:

1) "Rose"
This is the first episode of the New Who, which makes it essentially the pilot episode. And what better place to start than at the beginning? The production values aren't at their best, and as much as I respect Christopher Eccleston as an actor, he's not my favorite Doctor. Still, a new viewer follows along with Rose and gets introduced to the Doctor's strange world as she does.

2) "The Eleventh Hour"
Want a starting-point that's more recent? The season 5 premiere, "The Eleventh Hour," has a new Doctor, a new companion and a new show-runner. The previous four seasons of characters and plot entanglements are wiped away into a clean slate. This was my first episode, and I had no problem understanding what was going on. Plus, Matt Smith rocks.

3) "Blink"
This David Tennant episode comes toward the end of season 3. It has two major points going for it as a First Episode. First, it's the best episode of the New Who. Weeping Angels: brilliant. Second, it's hardly about the Doctor at all. Taking center stage is Carey Mulligan as Sally Sparrow, an ordinary girl who must defeat the Angels and save the Doctor in the process. Creepy and captivating.

So what do you think? (All five of my readers out there ...) What's the best episode to use to introduce a viewer to Doctor Who?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Stuff and fluff

I got a nice surprise this morning, when I saw that my hometown newspaper The Denver Post gave a positive review to "Six-Guns Straight From Hell." Here's what the review has to say: "There are too many good stories to single any out. Just try them all."

Also, I did some post-Christmas shopping with my family today. Everyone came home with something. My choice was a Blu-Ray movie for my brand spanking new Blu-Ray player. My DVD copy of Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" vanished a couple of years ago, so it is now replaced in better quality. Still on the to-buy list: an HDMI cord and a wireless router. The Blu-Ray player hooks directly into Netflix instant streaming with a wireless connection, so I'm going to make sure we have one. Of course, with instant streaming on the 32" television, I might not do anything else but watch old TV shows.

The default gift for me for Christmas seems to be books. Everyone in my family knows that if you can't think of anything else for Jennifer, get her a book and she'll be happy. This year I got three: "Pathfinder" by Orson Scott Card, the most recent "Writers of the Future" anthology and (courtesy of my children) a Doctor Who novelization. I still might see about buying a couple more I wanted but didn't get: Paolo Bacigalupi's "Pump Six and Other Stories" and James Van Pelt's "The Radio Magician and Other Stories." I'm all about the Colorado writers.

And last item: I watched the Doctor Who Christmas special last night, and it rocked. It was easily the most Christmasy Christmas special ever, and a clever twist on "A Christmas Carol." The only thing I might have changed would be to give Amy and Rory more screen time. I loved how the two of them came down from the starship's honeymoon suite dressed in the policewoman outfit and Roman garb. And in the preview for next season: River Song, the American West ("I wear a Stetson now. Stetsons are cool.") and an Ood. I'm psyched.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy holidays

Not much to say today. Just wishing everyone a merry Christmas, even though it looks quite un-Christmasy here in the Denver area. We've had about an inch of snow total this season and there's none on the ground now. It was a sunny day in the low 50s. I'm a fan of less snow rather than more, but when I have to water the grass in winter (as I will be doing tomorrow if we reach our forecasted high of almost 60 degrees), you know the situation is getting ridiculous.

Anyway, merry Christmas. I hope some of you out there got a white one.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My top TV shows of 2010

You wouldn't know it by reading my blog, but I'm a huge television junkie. Lately I've been catching up on a lot of older stuff with online instant streaming, but I also follow a few current shows. Here are my picks for the top 5 shows of 2010:

5) Glee
My first thought after hearing about Glee for the first time: A show about a high school glee club from the creator of Nip/Tuck? Are you kidding? But, no, not a joke. I missed the first half of season one, tuning in for "Sectionals" as my first episode, and I haven't missed an episode since. The cast is fantastic (especially Jane Lynch and Chris Colfer) and the music numbers are well done. Granted, season 1 was better than season 2 thus far, but this is one I can watch with my 14-year-old son and we both enjoy it and talk about it afterward. That's a winner in my book.

4) Sherlock
This British show (from Doctor Who show-runner Steven Moffat) spanned only three episodes, which aired here in the states on PBS this past fall. Sherlock and Watson are set in modern-day London with all the modern technology (Watson has a blog, Sherlock texts the police chief during news conferences). The first episode "A Study in Pink" and the last "The Great Game" are absolutely stellar, and it all ends on a cliffhanger. It'd be shame if it ended there for good.

3) Chuck
No show on television has more fun winking at the speculative genre than Chuck. Now in its fourth season, the show-runners have pulled off some amazing casting coups. Scott Bakula as Chuck and Ellie's father, and Linda Hamilton as their mother. Timothy Dalton is the current Big Bad. There have also been appearances from several professional wrestlers, Summer Glau and the Old Spice Guy. This season's storyline has much in common with another certain spy show, which bothered me until a character acknowledged the similarities onscreen: "This is just like that one episode of 'Alias.' I love that show!" So did I, and I love this one, too.

2) Lost
A lot of people watched the last season of Lost with a checklist in hand of what mysteries they wanted to see resolved. I figure that anyone who did that missed out on what made the final 13 episodes such a triumph: the characters. For me, Lost has always been about the characters - flawed and complex - and how they interact with one another. Sure, I wanted to know what the Island was, and yes I was disappointed with the answer (there's a giant cork in a glowy pool?). However, I liked the plotline of the sideways world: It might not have answered every question on the checklist, but it gave the characters a final, satisfying resolution.

And Number 1 ...



Doctor Who!
I had never watched an episode of this long-running British show until this year. With a new show-runner and new cast, it seemed like a good time to jump in. About five minutes into the season opener, Matt Smith's Doctor uses a grappling hook to climb out of his damaged TARDIS, grins at little Amelia Pond and says "Do you have an apple?" and I was hooked. After the season ended, I watched the previous four reboot seasons online. David Tennant is my new television boyfriend. After I finished with Doctor Who, I moved onto Torchwood (because Captain Jack is almost as cool as the Doctor). I'm counting down the days until the Christmas special, which amazingly is airing stateside on Christmas Day.

Honorable mentions: Dollhouse, House, Burn Notice.

And there you have it. Jennifer's Top Shows of 2010.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Reading list for 2010

Coming to the end of 2010, I’ve made a list of the books I finished over the past year. Because I don’t keep track as I go along, I’m sure the list is not complete. I might end up adding titles as I remember them. But here’s a decent start (in alphabetical order):

Beginnings, Middles and Ends, Nancy Kress

Bellwether, Connie Willis

Blameless, Gail Carriger

Boneshaker, Cherie Priest

The Call of Earth, Orson Scott Card

Canticle, Ken Scholes

Changeless, Gail Carriger

Earthfall, Orson Scott Card

The Host, Stephenie Meyer

The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown

The Memory of Earth, Orson Scott Card

The Passage, Justin Cronin

Proof of Seduction, Courtney Milan

Right Ho, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse

Santa Olivia, Jacqueline Carey

Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal

The Ships of Earth, Orson Scott Card

Six-Guns Straight From Hell, eds. David Riley and Laura Givens

Tongues of Serpents, Naomi Novik

Trial By Desire, Courtney Milan

The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, Ursula K. Le Guin

The Year’s Best Science Fiction, 27th edition, ed. Gardner Dozois

And more short stories, novelettes and novellas than I can count online, in print magazines and in various anthologies.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Research mode

I sometimes get asked where my story ideas come from. Most of the time, I have no answer to that because ideas just pop into my head without any outside influence (at least that I'm aware of). The story I'm brainstorming now is the exception.

I decided awhile ago that I wanted my next tale to take place on a planet with astronomical conditions different from the ones here on Earth. I looked at rings a la Saturn, then at an extreme elliptical orbit. Both interesting ideas, but I've settled on something else: a planet whose orbit takes it through an asteroid belt twice every rotation around its star.

Now I'm in research mode. I'm not an astronomer, so I'm reading up on asteroids, our own solar system's asteroid belt, impact events and air bursts. I'm brainstorming on ways civilization would develop on a planet that, two weeks out of the year, is bombarded with space rocks. I haven't come close to developing plot or characters yet, but I'm hoping for an inspired idea to burst forth from the world-building.

In other news: "Six Guns Straight From Hell" has a positive review at examiner.com. Check it out.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Something to ponder

It's experiences like this one that make me (a) realize that my growing pile of rejection slips is nothing at all to gripe about and (b) wonder whether I would have the willpower to survive the ugliness of the publishing business.

Natalie Whipple on her Year of Suck

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My support group

Support groups. If you're a writer, these are invaluable. A support group is very different from a critique group. The latter gives you an honest assessment of your work, while the former tells you that you and your work are brilliant - no matter what.

My support group is small and mainly consists of my family. My dad, especially. My parents are the ones who hooked me on reading from a young age, and I will be eternally grateful to them for that. Now that I'm writing, I make sure every story ends up in their hands. When I make a sale, my dad is one of the first people to know and is always excited for me. He and my youngest sister came to the "Six Guns" book signing a few weeks ago, and boy was I happy to see their familiar faces.

The other major member of my support group is my husband. Now, he doesn't read anything I write. He has no interest whatsoever in fantasy or science fiction (or fiction in general), which makes his support all the more amazing. He is understanding when I take my laptop to the bedroom (often the only quiet room in the house) and shut the door to do some writing. He keeps the kids out of my hair. And most importantly, he listens to my ranting impatience over waiting for some magazine or another to respond to a submission and sympathizes when a rejection hits particularly hard. Through all that, he never tells me I'm being obsessive (which I often am).

I've been doing the writing thing seriously for 2 1/2 years now. I would not have made it this far without my supporters. If you're a writer, find those people who cheer you on no matter what and thank them. I do.

More good news

I'm happy to share the news of another sale. "Man of the Stars" will be in the January issue of 10Flash. I've enjoyed reading the fun mix of stories at 10Flash since its first issue went up about a year and a half ago, and it's exciting that I now get to be part of it.

The good news comes on the heels of not-so-good news. Two days ago, I received a rejection for the third quarter of Writers of the Future. That makes my tally there at four honorable mentions, three rejections and one pending. I'll be submitting my entry for Q1 in the next couple of days.

Interestingly, my tally is much better for stories that I write for markets that are not Writers of the Future. Of my three such stories this year, all three have sold on their first submission (one after a substantial rewrite). So, my plan is to continue writing two stories each quarter, one for WotF and one not.