Saturday, December 31, 2011

Writing goals for 2012

For the past two years, my writing goals have been pretty much the same: write more and submit more. I intend to continue to work toward those goals this year, but I'm going to mix it up a bit with something different for this list.

1. Dip my toes into the waters of e-publishing.
My interest in e-publishing has grown since getting a Kindle for my birthday in mid-November. I have several published stories for which the rights have (or will soon) revert back to me. So I plan to work up a couple of e-book collections of my short stories and offer them on Amazon and Smashwords.

2. Apply to a writers workshop.
Specifically, Orson Scott Card's Boot Camp - assuming he holds one in 2012. I've wanted to go for a long time but haven't been able to work out the money and/or the timing. Clarion and Clarion West are too long and too expensive, but a weeklong workshop sounds just about right. And graduates of Boot Camp have good things to say about their experiences there. So this year, come hell or high water, I'm going to apply.

3. Enter Writers of the Future every quarter.
I've now entered for 13 consecutive quarters, and I won't stop until I've either won or made myself ineligible through professional sales.

Resolution redux

Happy New Year's!

I have to say, 2011 was a mixed year for me. In the first six months, I was on a roll: two sales, an anthology reprint and a semi-finalist in Writers of the Future. The second half of the year - and especially the last three months - pretty much sucked from a writing standpoint. I had little to no desire to write, and my productivity dropped off to almost nil. In November and December, I wrote only one story, and it will only ever been seen by a couple of trusted friends who informed me - albeit very nicely - that it wasn't my best work.

From a person standpoint, 2011 was a good year. My husband, children, parents, siblings, etc. are all healthy and happy. I made good friends online in the writing community, and one in particular who has become one of my best friends. I like my job and still have a job, which was iffy for about six weeks there in the fall.

In saying goodbye to 2011, I will now look back at the goals I set at the start of the year and whether I reached them.

1. Write more. Last year, I wrote about 45,000 words and finished seven stories. This year, the goal is to beat that. I intend to write at least two stories every three months: one for Writers of the Future and at least one for other markets. I had a bigger word count than I did in 2010, but only barely. I wrote eight stories, but three were bad enough that they immediately went in the trash can. I did enter Writers of the Future every quarter.

2. Submit more. Last year's stat was 20 submissions, so this year I need to do more. I also intend to start submitting more to the professional markets. Success! Twenty-nine submissions made, most of them to professional-paying markets.

3. Read outside my comfort genres. Again, success. Only about half of my novel choices in the past year were science fiction or fantasy.

4. And in a non-writing goal, I resolve to stay in shape. This has been hit-or-miss. I'm doing well right now, going to the health club three or four times a week. I haven't added any poundage this year, so I guess that qualifies as a success, as well.

Tomorrow, resolutions for 2012.

Friday, December 30, 2011

What I read in 2011

My reading for this year, courtesy mostly of a nifty feature of my local library system to keep track of my checkout history on its website. Some books were in print and others audio. This list doesn't include the multitude of Asimov's and Analog magazines I've read this year, plus various pieces of short fiction found around the web. The books are listed in alphabetical order based on the author's last name.

Isaac Asimov
Foundation

Orson Scott Card
Pathfinder

Gail Carriger
Heartless

Susanne Collins
The Hunger Games
Catching Fire
Mockingjay

Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Battle

Lev Grossman
The Magicians

Sara Gruen
Water for Elephants

Stieg Larsson
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl Who Played With Fire
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Donald Maass
The Fire in Fiction

George R.R. Martin
A Clash of Kings

Audrey Niffenegger
The Time Traveler's Wife

Glenda Riley
The Life and Legacy of Annie Oakley

Patrick Rothfuss
The Name of the Wind

Carrie Vaughn
Kitty and the Midnight Hour
Kitty Goes to Washington
After the Golden Age

Connie Willis
Blackout

Anthologies
Writers of the Future Vol. 27
Writers of the Future Vol. 5
The Year's Best Science Fiction Vol. 28, ed. Gardner Dozois

There's probably more, but I can't think of what it would be at this moment. I'll go back and add to the list as needed. My main impression from this list is that I branched out this year in the genres I read; it's not just science fiction and fantasy.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Stats for 2011

End of year writing and submission stats:

Submissions: 29
Acceptances: 3

Words written: I honestly have no clue. Probably in the 45,000 to 50,000 range.

Stories completed: 8, but only 5 of them good enough to send out on submission

Writers of the Future: I entered every quarter with a semi-finalist, honorable mention, rejection and one pending reply.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Doctor Who: The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe


Here we are with the Doctor Who Christmas special, a cool drink of water amid several months of drought between the end of season 6 (early October) and the premiere of season 7 (probably next September). So what do we get? A very Christmasy story that was, at least for me, a little underwhelming.

As a kid, I loved C.S. Lewis' Narnia, so the idea of a Doctor Who episode based loosely around the first book in that series was all kinds of exciting for me. For the most part, this episode does a good job of walking the fine line of being a homage but not a copy. What works best is how simplistic the plot is. I've derided Steven Moffat of late for stuffing too much into his scripts - the throw-everything-at-a-wall-and-see-what-sticks type of writing. Here, he includes only what serves the story. It's a refreshing change.

OK, there's one exception to that, in which Moffat opens with an exploding spaceship and the Doctor falling out into the vacuum of space while appearing to yell and breathe quite normally. I can't even begin to describe how many scientific laws that sequence breaks.

After the ridiculous opening, we get to the real story. The Doctor attempts to give a couple of British children whose WWII pilot father has gone missing and is presumed dead (but they don't know it yet) the Best Christmas Ever. Why? Because their mother helped him find his TARDIS after he fell from space after the ship explosion three years before. The Doctor acts as the caretaker of a country mansion to which he has made improvements like moving furniture and a kitchen tap for lemonade. But the highlight is a big blue present that pulses and glows like the TARDIS. The boy - whose fish-bowl glasses make his eyes appear owl-like - opens the box early, finds that it's a portal to a Narnia-type snowy forest, and walks off on an adventure. The Doctor and the girl follow him, and the mother follows them.

Havoc ensues. The forest is about to be destroyed by man-made acid rain. The trees are alive and none too happy about their impending deaths. They have a spaceship and a means of stuffing all their souls into a human brain for transport off-world to safety. All they need is a human who's strong enough for the job. Hint: It's not the Doctor.

You might have noticed that I've been referring to the family not by their names but as mother, boy and girl. That's because they're not well-drawn characters but rather a stereotypical WWII family. The mother (Madge ... I had to go look that up) is important because she is a mother, not because of who she is as an individual. That's a big flaw - probably the biggest one in the episode. Still, I did enjoy when she holds a trio of futuristic soldiers at gunpoint. One scoffs that she won't use the gun, until she explains that she's looking for her children. Then they get these priceless oh crap looks on their faces. She also manages to steal the soldiers' tree-destroying machine; save a forest, her children and the Doctor; and guide her husband's missing plane through the Time Vortex to safety, all in time for Christmas morning. In other words, she's Super Mom. Hear her roar.

But when it comes right down to it, this episode is a disposable story. The only part that really resonated with me was the coda in which the Doctor visits Amy and Rory for the first time since his robot lookalike was "killed" in Utah. It's been two years since the Ponds have seen the Doctor. A standoff in which both the Doctor and Amy refuse to be the first to hug the other is cute. The Ponds have painted their front door TARDIS blue, and they always set a place for the Doctor at Christmas dinner. The Doctor cries a happy tear. I could have done with a lot more of that reunion than with the forest planet.

A couple other tidbits I liked:


  • The monstrous tree people, especially the king and queen, turn out to be the victims, while the real monsters are someone else entirely.

  • The Doctor at one point quips about a tree person who once took a fancy to him, a reference to Ninth Doctor episode "The End of the World."
Now it's only another eight or nine months until the next episode. In the meantime, there's new Sherlock next month on PBS and a whole bunch of Doctor Who available for instant streaming on Netflix.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

An odd morning

I woke up to 11 inches of new snow and it's still falling. That's on top of the 3 or 4 inches that hadn't melted from the storms three weeks ago. I'm wondering whether I should cancel my hair appointment for this afternoon or get into my little Corolla and go slipping and sliding down the road in a winter wonderland.

I also had a voice message from someone from a website whose name I couldn't catch who sounded like they wanted to interview me about "my book" Science Fiction Trails 5. First off, not my book. I do have a story in that issue of the magazine. Secondly, I googled the phone number and found that it was a marketing company for self-published writers. That's a first. I've never received a call like that before. It's interesting they called me because I don't have a novel to self-publish and, when I do, I'm perfectly capable of doing it myself.

Writing progress: I've sent off my 13th consecutive entry to the Writers of the Future contest, and I'm waiting on responses from four other markets. It's been a long time since I had five stories out at the same time. And I'm doing prep work for my next story, which I'll start writing right after Christmas.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review: Fright Night

General warning: Spoilers ahead. If you haven't watched this movie and don't want to know what happens, turn back now.

Let's start with a confession: I dislike horror movies. I have a low tolerance for being scared. Some people like it, but I'm not one of them. So you might wonder why I would be so excited to watch the remake of Fright Night. There are two reasons, and their names are Marti Noxon and David Tennant.

Marti Noxon, who wrote the script, is a longtime collaborator with Joss Whedon and was a writer and co-executive producer for the television show "Buffy," among other things. And I see that influence in Fright Night. Her script is campy fun, like a Buffy episode but with more blood and cussing and better special effects.

The movie is about an insecure teenager named Charlie who finds out his and his mom's new neighbor is a vampire. And this vampire is not the romantic, neutered kind that shows up so often in pop culture nowadays. Jerry (played by Collin Ferrel, who looks to be having the time of his life) is a bloodthirsty monster. And once Charlie learns Jerry's secret, the vamp will stop at nothing to either kill or turn the kid.

Enter my second reason for watching the movie: David Tennant. The former Doctor Who star plays Peter Vincent, a flamboyant Las Vegas showman and self-styled vampire expert. Tennant steals every scene he's in. Charlie goes to Vincent for help, but Vincent is much better at running away from the supernatural than he is at fighting it. Until he finally grows a pair and shows up for the climactic fight decked out in vampire-killing gear. "Let's kill something," he says.

At several points while watching this movie, I found myself hooting or clapping appreciatively. For instance, I've always wondered why, when a vampire is barred invitation into a house, he doesn't just burn the thing down. Jerry does. In most fantasy/horror movies and television shows, a strong swipe at the neck with a sword or axe will result in a beheading. Here, the axe blade gets stuck on the bone and can't finish the job.

With most movie rentals, I watch the disc once and send it back. "Fright Night" is worth a second viewing, hopefully with my 15-year-old son who - unlike me - loves a good scare.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas, Calvin & Hobbes style

I'm a longtime fan of Calvin & Hobbes. Now my children have discovered all my old C&H books, and while reading to them, I've enjoyed reliving the snowmen houses of horrors that Calvin came up with. Imagine my delight to discover this video. For more about how it was made, go here.



Catching up on Doctor Who

The Christmas episode of Doctor Who is still a week away, but there's no shortage of news and video clips out there the past few days.

First off, a couple of tidbits from show-runner Steven Moffat. He confirms that the upcoming season will be Amy and Rory's last and that their exit will be "heartbreaking." I can't think it could come as a surprise to anyone when a companion leaves. They're a dime a dozen on Doctor Who. In fact, more than two seasons aboard the TARDIS will be a record in the show's current run. In the case of the Ponds, their story has run its course. I only hope they don't end up dead. Moffat also alluded to the Doctor finding a new friend. It would be all kinds of awesome if the new companion were not a hot, young woman. Mix it up a bit, Moff.

And later in the day, an article turned up in which Moffatt says a David Yates-directed Who movie that ignores the television show would be "a heathen thing to do." He says any movie should be a continuation of the television show and star the television Doctor. I don't have much to say about that except: I agree.

Also, you can watch trailers for the Christmas episode and three short clips. But I prefer to post the prequel to the episode. So, without further ado ...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Holiday fun

Denver is buried under 8 inches of snow after three storms in four days. My face freezes every time I walk outside. I am in need of some serious cheer, and I'm probably not the only one. So I proudly present the Muppets performing Carol of the Bells. Sort of.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Let it snow, let it snow ...

Denver averages 8.5 inches of snow in December, according to an article in The Denver Post a couple days ago. Three days into this month, I've easily shoveled that much snow off the driveway, and we're expecting another couple of inches tomorrow. Either we're getting our wintry weather out of the way early, or it's going to be a long, miserable month. (I love snow, as long as I don't have to drive in it. But seeing as I have to drive just about every day, me and snow do not get along.)

I got around to watching "Super 8" last night. Damn, that was a good movie. The story focuses on a group of kids in the 1980s who, while filming a Super 8 movie, get up close with a spectacular train wreck and a scary something that escapes the train and terrorizes Small Town, Ohio. I was reminded of "E.T." and "The Goonies," which isn't surprising seeing as Steven Spielberg was involved in both those movies and produced this one. And the monster that you don't quite see is reminiscent of another J.J. Abrams production, "Cloverfield."

Writing progress: I'm almost done cleaning up the work-in-progress for my critique partners, who will likely point out many more things I'll need to fix.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Casting "Ender's Game"

Writing progress: In a burst of creative energy, I finished the first draft of the work-in-progress last night. My goal was to keep it under 4,000 words, and as of right now, it's about 4,100. Some easy cutting will get the length where it needs to be.

Now, onto the topic of this post: the "Ender's Game" movie. It's been talked about for years but has never been greenlit for production until recently, which was fine with me. "Ender's Game" is one of my favorite books. I first read it in sixth grade and have re-read it many times over the years. I have a hard time believing a movie adaptation would be anything but a huge disappointment.

But no matter what I think, the casting rumors have begun. Here's what we have so far.
  • Asa Butterfield as Ender. He's currently starring in "Hugo," which is winning rave reviews across the board. I've never seen him in anything, but he pretty much looks like what I always imagined Ender would look like. I'm tentatively pleased with this casting.
  • Hailie Steinfeld as Petra. The rumor mill indicates she's in talks for the role. I loved her in "True Grit," so I could see this happening. She's probably too young to play Valentine, considering the children's ages have been bumped up a few years. Besides, I suspect Valentine and Peter will become footnotes in a streamlined movie script.
  • Harrison Ford as Graff. Again, word is he's being courted for the part. I don't know what to think about this one. Physical appearance is my main concern. In my mind's eye, Graff is a huge man and Ford, well, isn't. Otherwise, I love Ford's work and figure he could probably pull it off. I think I'd rather see him as Mazer Rackham, though.

So who's left? Of the Battle School kids, there's Bean, Ali, Dink Meeker, Bonzo and Rose the Nose (and a lot of others who aren't as important to the plot). As for adults, there's Ender's parents, Anderson and Mazer Rackham. And, of course, Peter and Valentine, but as I said above, I think their storyline will be mostly written out.

I'm mostly at a loss for whom I would cast, partly because I'm not up on Hollywood's young actors. Any ideas who you'd like to see on screen?

Edited Dec. 9 to add: The rumor mill is now whispering that Ben Kingsley might be up for playing Mazer Rackham. If all these rumors turn out to be true, this is shaping up to be quite an all-star cast. Still, I say switch the roles for Kingsley and Ford, and they're set.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Writing progress

November has been an unproductive month for me in writing. I took my Writers of the Future rejection really hard - harder than any rejection I've ever received - and it stole all the wind from my sails. As a result, I've managed to almost finish one short story this month. It's been a slog, not because of the story itself (which I think will turn out quite good) but because writing itself has lately become a chore rather than a fun activity.

Last night, I figured out how the work-in-progress needs to end, which will require tweaking a couple of scenes I've already written. I meant to do the tweaking this afternoon. Instead, I spent most of the day on the living room couch with my sick daughter curled up on my lap. Maybe I'll carve out some time for writing tonight after work.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Yes, I survived Black Friday shopping

For the second year in a row, I braved WalMart on Thanksgiving night. And for the second year in a row, I live to tell the tale.

This year, WalMart started its door-buster sales at 10 p.m. instead of midnight. I had a short list of items to procure, starting with a couple of video games for my kids. The line for the video games was already a hundred people long by the time I found it, and it added another hundred or two people after me. And the store had 12 of each video game title. Twelve. Every few minutes, an employee would come down the line telling us which games they had just run out of, to a chorus of groans and curses. But thankfully, my two target games were still in stock when my turn came.

After that was DVDs and Blu-Rays, clothes and toys. The movies and television shows were well-picked-over by the time I got to them. I saw plenty of customers carrying off 10 to 20 discs apiece. One woman literally filled her cart to the brim with Blu-Rays. I bought three. Two as presents, and True Blood season 2 for me.

I found everything on my list except sheets, which were long gone by the time I figured out where they were. I spent $75 on a pile of merchandise that normally would cost three times that much. And I was home by 11 p.m., at which time I tag-teamed my husband, who headed out to Target. All in all, a very successful trip.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Turkey Day!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I am spending this warm, sunny holiday in the newsroom. Yep, I'm working. And I'm thankful for it. There was a possibility that I would not have a job this holiday season if my employer did not get a satisfactory number of buyout takers and commenced with the firings. But -- in not so shocking news -- a lot of my newspaper colleagues are taking the chance to jump ship and get paid well for doing so. Still, I am sad that we are losing such excellent journalists.

After work, I plan to hit the midnight Black Friday sales. If this is my last blog post, that means I didn't make it out alive. Ha.

My husband and I took our kids to see "The Muppets" yesterday, and a fun time was had by all. It's not a fantastic movie, and not as good as the original Muppets movie, but it had enough celebrity cameos and silliness to keep adults and children entertained, and that's saying something.

We had some sad news in the book world this week, and it would have been hard to miss with all the coverage and remembrances I've seen. Anne McCaffrey died. I read "Dragonflight" when I was 9 or 10, and it was my first exposure to adult fantasy. Since then, I've read most of the Pern books and a smattering from her other series. What an amazing writer. She also paid it forward by serving as a judge for the Writers of the Future contest. She will be missed.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Entertainment linkage

I'm way past due on catching up on recent television and movie news. So here goes:

You can now watch the trailer for the Doctor Who Christmas special. It looks like the good Doctor will be channeling "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." Only six more weeks to wait, folks.

Asa Butterfield is the boy who would be Ender Wiggin on the big screen. Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game" is one of my favorite books and one I've read many, many times. The idea of a movie version makes me nervous - less a question of whether they will mess it up and more of how much will they mess it up. But this kid looks like what I always imagined Ender would look like. I suppose that's a good start.

Bradley Cooper is the Sexiest Man Alive according to People Magazine, and for some reason this is generating controversy. Some people think it should have been Ryan Gosling. Don't we have more important things to argue about? Anyway, Entertainment Weekly puts the two in a face-off and says we first heard of Cooper in "The Wedding Crashers." I say no! Long before that, he was awesome as Sydney's best friend Will Tippin on "Alias."

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Journalistic time capsule: His Girl Friday

In researching my current work-in-progress, which takes place in the late 1930s and includes a scene in a newsroom, I checked out "His Girl Friday" from the library and watched it last night. Fantastic movie. I loved it, even while I was appalled at some of the journalistic practices that the characters took as commonplace.

I don't know whether the portrayal of newspapers is accurate for 1940. It might be as accurate as, say, "Never Been Kissed" was to the 1990s. (A copy editor has a private office? And a personal assistant? And she wants to be promoted to being a reporter? Give me a break!) But seeing as I was not alive in 1940 and don't know anyone personally who worked in newspapers in 1940, I'm using this as source material.

A few things that stuck out:

1. Technology, or lack thereof. They use candlestick telephones, and there are two ladies who work a newsroom switchboard. To call someone is sometimes referred to as "sending a wire." Whenever a character picks up a phone, he/she tells an operator how to direct the call. The reporters all write on unwieldy typewriters. The newsroom is plastered with actual paper, everywhere. Nowadays, there's little paper involved in putting out a newspaper; it's all done on computers.

2. Ethics? What's that? The two main characters Walter (Cary Grant) and Hildy (Rosalind Russell) work for a newspaper with a democratic leaning. Today, that would mean the editorial pages take a political slant. Back then, it meant the newsroom did, too. Editor in chief Walter advocates for the state's governor and is determined to force the city's mayor out of office. No one even pays lip service to what is a critical part of the profession today: that journalists are neutral observers. Then there's Hildy, who bribes her way to every scoop she gets. Talk about a corrupt system.

3. Treatment of women. To be fair, the men in this movie treat Hildy pretty much the same as they treat one another. She is referred to as a "newspaper man" over and over. It's Hildy herself who sells herself short. She wants to leave the newspaper business, get married, settle down and pop out some babies - what she calls a "normal life." I know, I know. This was the norm for women during that era. But I still grind my teeth over the idea that a man can have a career and a family, but a woman cannot. She has to choose one or the other.

This movie seriously feels like a cinematic time capsule, but that's what I was after and so watching it was a good use of my time. Plus, it was just darn entertaining.

Friday, November 11, 2011

11-11-11

Today is one of those cool dates - triple elevens. It's also:
  • The 93rd anniversary of the end of World War I
  • Veterans Day
  • The 35th anniversary of my birth

Unfortunately, I'm working today. I would rather spend the day with my husband and kids, but such is the way it goes sometimes. One thing I know I will be doing is spending quite a lot of time playing with my new toy: a Kindle. I've been wanting an e-reader for a while now, so this is cool.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Location scouting

I took a guided tour today of the Colorado state Capitol building, as it's the location for much of the short story I'm currently writing. Most of what our tour guide said was stuff I had already read online, but I wasn't there for the talk. I wanted to get a feel for the place: its size and atmosphere. I took oodles of photos. One thing I wanted to learn more about was the extensive tunnel system beneath the Capitol that links it to other buildings in the area. But, alas, the tunnels are not open to the public and are now mostly used for storage. I did find one photo of the tunnels in an exhibit. Here is my photo of the photo:



Here's the view coming in from the west entrance, with the grand staircase in the background:



And here's the view from the Capitol dome, facing west toward the City and County Building, Civic Center park and the Rocky Mountains.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The morning routine

When I wake up each morning, I pour a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice and boot up my laptop. Just for the heck of it, here are the websites I usually visit and the order in which I visit them:

1. First up is my e-mail account. I'll accumulate five to 10 messages overnight, most of them junk. There will be stories from Every Day Fiction and Daily Science Fiction in there, too. Those aren't junk.

2. Next is the Hatrack River Writers Workshop. I've had an account there since September 2008 and tend to read posts more often than I respond to them.

3. Next: the Writers of the Future forum. Ditto from above, except my account there is less than a year old. While I'm at it, I might visit judge K.D. Wentworth's message board.

4. After the forums, I go to Duotrope and check the RSS Feed of responses to the various markets I have stories out to at that time. This gives me a good idea of when I can expect my response to pop into my e-mail box.

5. Last, I hit the entertainment news and science-fiction websites: Entertainment Weekly, blastr, tor.com and SF Signal.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Writers of the Future, quarter 4

I crow my good news in Writers of the Future on my blog, so I suppose I should own up to the bad news, too. I received my fourth-ever straight rejection yesterday. Honestly, I'm scratching my head over this one. I'm the first to admit that my other three rejects were deserved. This one was not. It's quite possibly my best story to date, but for whatever reason, it rubbed the judge the wrong way. Here's hoping for better luck next quarter.

So, updating the tally in 12 consecutive quarters of entering Writers of the Future:
  • 1 semi-finalist
  • 1 silver honorable mention
  • 6 honorable mentions
  • 4 straight rejections

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Stuff and fluff

First, a public service announcement for all women who buy clothes at Target: Avoid the jeans. Target has a fantastic system in which you determine your size and length, and whether you're curvy, and they will have jeans that fit you perfectly. They even carry tall jeans for 6-foot gals like me. But there's a drawback. The first jeans I bought there split right down the ass after only a few weeks. And, no, I do not have a large behind. I figured I had just gotten a bad pair, so I bought a second one. Two day ago, that pair split in the exact same place. So unless you own pretty panties that you enjoy showing off to the world, buy your jeans elsewhere.

***

NPR has a short piece on its website called "My Accidental Masterpiece: The Phantom Tollbooth" by Norton Juster. My dad came home one nothing-special day and gave me this book, which he had bought that afternoon. I loved it. The Phantom Tollbooth ranks up there with Narnia and Prydain as the best reading experiences of my youth. Two bits of interest in Juster's NPR article: He had not intended to write the book, and it sparked controversy after publication because:
"Many said that it was not a children's book, the vocabulary was much too difficult, and the ideas were beyond kids. To top it off, they claimed fantasy was bad for children because it disorients them."
In rebuttal to the ridiculous idea that children should be treated as less, I will once again quote Mr. Juster because he says it better than I could:
"The aim was that no child would ever have to confront anything that he or she didn't already know. But my feeling is that there is no such thing as a difficult word. There are only words you don't know yet ..."

Hurray for Norton Juster.
***

Writing progress: I'm about 500 words into what will be a science-fiction story of very short length. Probably flash fiction. The intention is to put some distance between me and my next Writers of the Future entry before I start revising that story.

Monday, October 24, 2011

I hate getting older

I pulled a muscle in my back this morning while attempting to pick up my daughter. Granted, she's big for a 4-year-old. But this sort of thing never happened a few years ago when my son was at that age. I now smell of Icy Hot because of the medicinal patch I have plastered to my back. It's the only way I can get through eight hours at my desk.

The last day of MileHiCon was anticlimactic, as the last days of all conventions tend to be. People are packing up and heading home; therefore, panels are more sparsely attended. The day's only panel with a full room was An Hour With Connie Willis. She was charming and engaging while talking about her upcoming projects, romantic comedies and the National Book Award fiasco. I neglected to bring my camera for the third day in a row, so I have no photos to share.

In writing: My critique group has really come through in nailing the primary problem with my WIP: I open with an "event" story and somewhere in the middle switch to a "character" story. Not good. This is going to take some serious rewriting, which is frustrating. I had hoped for the time to write a second story this quarter, but it probably won't happen.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

MileHiCon Days 1 and 2

Last night, I was too exhausted to blog after getting back from Day 1 of MileHiCon here in Denver, so here's a brief rundown of the first two days.

Friday: I attended panels on Exploding Writing Myths, world-building, Why Anthologies are Important, Conspiracy Theories and Earth Science, and Carrie and the Midnight Hour. That last one has become somewhat of a con tradition in recent years, in which Carrie Vaughn stands in her for heroine Kitty and hosts a radio show to help callers (i.e. people from the audience) with their paranormal problems. Most of what I got out of the other Friday panels was validation for what I already knew: the writing profession is difficult and unglamourous; anthologies serve as a sample box that can introduce readers to a new favorite writer; 2012 will not be the end of the world (and neither was Friday, btw). I also got many books signed and had a short chat with Carrie Vaughn about Doctor Who.

Saturday: My dad joined me for the day, and it was fantastic to have company. He even sat through 90 minutes of Buffy musical/Doctor Horrible singalong. The best panel today was on collaborative writing, featuring the husband and wife team of Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta; brothers Dani and Eytan Kollin; and Jeffrey Lambert (minus his wife Anne, who had been double-booked for another panel). Going into the panel, I had no idea how writing collaboration works. For Anderson and his many writing partners, they outline the book, divide up the chapters and write their portions on their own, before merging the two halves and smoothing out the rough edges. It's best to collaborate with a writer whose knowledge base and writing method compliments your own. From what the Kollin brothers said, it seems they do as much arguing as they do writing.

There was also a panel in which Connie Willis, Gardner Dozois, James Van Pelt, Van Aaron Hughes and John Stith shared their lists of the top 12 short stories published before 1980. I took down a lot of names and titles and now have a long reading list. Some I've read: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes; The Man Who Lost the Sea by Theodore Sturgeon; Third Level by Jack Finney; Air Raid by John Varley; and There Will Come Soft Rains by Ray Bradbury. On Sunday (tomorrow), another panel will tackle stories since 1980.

Maybe tomorrow, I will remember to bring my camera so I can post some photos here with my wrap-up.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

MileHiCon this weekend

This weekend, the Regency Hyatt in the Denver Tech Center is the place to be for MileHiCon 43. I'll be there all three days. I won't be on any panels or doing any readings or signings this year, which means if you want to find me, it'll be in the audience or the hallways. I'll post a couple of updates here throughout the weekend.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Stuff and fluff

In real life: My doctor today diagnosed my perpetually sore shoulder as a neck spasm, which will require large daily doses of ibuprofen and muscle relaxants, and possibly physical therapy. Fun. She says I likely aggravated the issue with my non-ergonomic posture at my work desk for eight hours a day.

In writing: None today. I've been doing critiques this week.

In television: I finished watching Torchwood: Miracle Day this afternoon. I plowed through 10 episodes in about a week, so I'm going to give it a day or two to percolate before I write up my thoughts and post them here. Look for a Torchwood post by the weekend. My immediate impression was of too much filler and too much deux ex machina. It was not as good as Children of Earth.

And, just for fun: Funny or Die's "Clinton Foundation: Celebrity Division"

Monday, October 17, 2011

The good, the bad and the rainy

It's a cold, blustery, rainy day in Denver and the first day in months for which I had to put on a coat before leaving for work. That has fed my already gloomy mood.

The good news first: The first draft of what I hope will be my quarter 1 Writers of the Future entry is done and in the hands of my critique group. In turn, I've received four stories for critique in the past 48 hours, so I'll be working on those for the rest of the week. I want to finish with critiques by Friday, which is when MileHiCon begins.

The not-so-good news: As a writer, some days there are successes, and other days the rug gets pulled out from under you. In neither case do you have control over the situation. Such is the nature of the business. I had a rug day this week. Now I am focusing on the things I can control: what I write, how much I write and where I submit my stories. Hard work and perseverance are key to success.

I also have to remind myself that whatever weirdness happens to me, there's always someone else who has it worse. Man, oh man.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Last night comedy. Today, protesters.

Last night, I went to a comedy club for the first time in 13 years, and only the third time ever. The opening act at the Improv in Denver, Alex Scott, attended the same high school in Culpeper, Va., that my husband did and they are Facebook friends. So Alex set us up with some comp tickets. We had a great time.

I had no idea going in who the headliner was. In fact, I had no idea who the headliner was until halfway through his act. Then he mentioned something about 7-Up commercials, and it clicked. Orlando Jones. In my first two times at comedy shows, the headliner wasn't anyone I'd heard of and I certainly don't remember now. So it was interesting to find myself two rows of tables away from an honest-to-goodness celebrity whom I'd seen on television on and off since the 1990s, and I didn't even know it until a half-hour into his act. Wow, I felt clueless.

In other news: In the street outside my work building right now, about 2,000 Occupy Denver protesters are marching through the intersection of Colfax and Broadway and mucking up traffic. It's sure not something I see every day, and if I had a camera with me, I would have snapped a shot and posted it. After a month of putting articles about these folks in the newspaper, I still can't figure out what exactly they want. It's a general outpouring of frustration over economic inequity, but do they have a leader? A goal? Or do they plan to march with their signs, yelling about the 99 percent and getting themselves arrested, without having an endgame in mind?

Friday, October 14, 2011

It's a matter of priorities

I've been procrastinating on finishing my work-in-progress, even though I have only one scene left to write (and a short scene at that). Every day I say to myself, I have to finish that story. Then I don't. And that has me thinking about my priorities, which go something like this:

1. Family. Anything important that concerns my husband and children (and to a slightly lesser extent my parents, sisters, nieces and nephew) trumps all other concerns, every time.

2. Day job. I need to put food on the table, which means the 40 hours a week I spend in the newsroom comes before everything except family emergencies.

3. Household duties. When the pantry is bare or the laundry is piling up, I take care of those concerns before the things I'd rather be doing, which are ...

4. Writing. I try to find time to write every day, but I don't always succeed in that thanks to Nos. 1-3 on the list.

5. Exercise. This is interchangeable with No. 4. I like to work out for at least a half-hour every day. Sometimes when I have only half an hour to spare in my schedule, this will trump writing. Sometimes not.

That is why, in a busy week, I don't do any writing. This week I've dealt with multiple medical appointments for my children, a parent-teacher conference, a night out with my husband (this is a good distraction, though), a full work week and a long list of chores and errands. Despite all this, I will finish the WIP this weekend. I'm making that one of my highest priorities.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bye-bye braces

We had a banner day in the Hicks household today when my 15-year-old son got his braces off. This is how long he's had them: His 4 1/2-year-old sister has never seen him without them. The braces were put on about six months before she was born. It's been so long, in fact, that it's going to take some time to get used to seeing a bright white, straight smile.

My 7-year-old son is probably going to need braces in a few years. The jury is out on my daughter. And my dentist is pressing me to get some orthodontics, as well. My teeth are slightly crowded, but mostly it's because of the popping and locking issues in my jaw. If I decide to go that route, it will come after I get around to having my wisdom teeth removed. The problem is affording all this. Dental insurance doesn't cover what it used to.

In other news, I'm six episodes into the most recent season of Torchwood. It's uneven. Episodes five and six (in the overflow camps) struck me as mostly filler, and I don't know what to think about setting up a pharmaceutical company as the bad guy of a science fiction show.

And in reading, I'm about halfway through "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" and am unlikely to finish it by the time the book is due back to the library. One scene in particular really struck home. Erika Berger, the new editor in chief of Stockholm's daily newspaper, is arguing with the financial folks over whether to cut newsroom staff. She argues that if staffers are cut, the quality of the product will go down, the newspaper will lose advertisers, and the downward spiral continues. Stieg Larsson knows what he's talking about.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Netflix takes it back

Thank goodness Netflix has come to its senses, at least about one thing. The whole idiotic idea of separating DVDs and instant streaming into two companies has been nixed. Netflix will remain un-split, which means I will not be dropping my subscription. Now, if only they would take back some of that price increase, too.

Meanwhile, I've discovered that the fourth season of Torchwood (which aired on Starz over the summer) and The Walking Dead are on instant streaming. That will give me something to watch now that Doctor Who is done.

Today in real life: Mostly, I caught up on chores: laundry, dishes and vacuuming. With my daughter's help, I also raked up enough leaves to fill three trash bags. However, that's only the start. Most of the leaves are still on the trees.

Today in writing: Nada. Third quarter winners were announced for the Writers of the Future contest. Two writers in my online critique group were finalists, but, alas, neither made the top three.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Stuff and fluff

In writing: About 640 words last night. I've written 7,100 words total in the work-in-progress and have one short scene left. The story will probably end up being about 7,500 words, which is about what I expected it would be when I started.

In reading: I'm working my way through "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" by Stieg Larsson.

In real life: The Denver area is getting its first snowfall of the season today, or so I've read. The parts of Denver I've been in have gotten only cold rain, emphasis on the cold. The one thing I really dislike about living in Colorado is that the snow season generally starts in October and doesn't end until April.

Because of the nasty weather, I did not go running this morning as planned. Instead, I did a pilates abs workout I have on DVD, or rather I tried to do the workout. I used to scoff at living-room workouts as being for out-of-shape wimps. The one I attempted this morning is for iron men and women. My abs now hurt every time I breathe. But after two weeks of serious work on my core muscles, I think I'm starting to see some improvement.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Magicians" on television

Now this is interesting: Fox has optioned Lev Grossman's "The Magicians" with the intention of adapting it into a television series. Fantasy seems to be big on the networks' radar since the first season of "Game of Thrones" did well and earned a pile of Emmy nominations. Wil Weaton tweeted his interest in being cast, without stating a specific role. He might make a decent Quentin Coldwater.

However, this whole thing strikes me as odd. I'm not sure anyone but HBO would have the budget to pull it off, let alone allowing the necessary creative freedom. The home of "American Idol" and "Glee" seems like a strange home for a dark, adult serialized fantasy series. (Not to mention, the characters aren't exactly the sort of people you root for.)

Would they try to squeeze the entire book into one season? If so, any series would be short-lived because, as of right now, Grossman has written only two Fillory-related books. Or would they take the True Blood route and let the writers go their own way with it? And the biggest question of all: Will this really come to fruition and reach the small screen?

Monday, October 3, 2011

We talk healthy, then eat our words

An Associated Press article this morning starts this way: Americans talk skinny but eat fat.

The article goes on to say that despite first lady Michelle Obama's crusade to slim down our overweight country, most people still order burgers and fries over more healthy choices. According to a survey last year by food-research firm Technomic, 47 percent of Americans say they want healthier menu options, but only 23 percent order those foods. In other words, a lot of us are hypocrites.

My first reaction is that I'm not surprised. We are an unhealthy country that is generally in denial of that fact. But there's a critical bit of information missing, which is how often these polled Americans eat out.

I'm not a health nut, but I choose fruits and veges over chips, and I exercise regularly. I try to maintain a healthy weight. My body mass index fluctuates between 20 and 21. But when I go out to eat, I never get the salad or the boiled chicken with rice. If the menu includes a big, juicy bacon cheeseburger with fries on the side, I'll probably order it. I eat out about once a month, though, so this is not a regular meal for me; it's a treat.

I'd like to think that's the case for most people. Especially in this economy, who can afford to eat at a restaurant or order fast food every day? Most people's problems probably surface when they eat junk food at home, too - when it's not a treat but a major part of their diet. When given a choice between, say, yogurt or a few handfuls of potato chips, they go for the chips.

Menu choices at restaurants are a problem. KFC's popular Double Down sandwich - bacon and cheese slapped between two pieces of fried chicken - has 610 calories and 37 grams of fat. Hardee's Thickburger has a gut-busting 1,170 calories and 83 grams of fat. But restaurants are not the only problem. Before we point too many fingers, let's all take a look at what's in the pantry and the fridge, too.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Doctor Who: The Wedding of River Song


Season finale! I've watched it twice now. I spent most of the first viewing stewing over the myriad inconsistencies (more on that later). The second time around, I enjoyed the episode quite a bit more.

Spoilers ahead.

At its heart, the story is a simple one. The Doctor goes to his death in Utah. The event is a fixed point in time - it must happen - but River refuses to kill him. As a result, time goes wonky and can be set right only if River does the deed. The universe at a standstill is fun and interesting, but it's all smoke and mirrors. Nothing much in this episode matters except for what happens on the shore of Lake Silencio. In the end, it's a robot body that is shot and burned. The Doctor is fine.

This story pretty much concludes the saga of River Song. All the big questions have been answered. We now know whom she "killed" and that, yes, she is the Doctor's wife.

However, I could not help but feel disappointed for how this last chapter played out. Ever since her introduction, River has been strong and sassy, with a hint of something dark beneath the surface. Now we see she has always and only been a pawn - first of the Silence and then of the Doctor - and her love is unrequited. I find that sad. She is ripped from her family at birth and brainwashed. Finally she gets a chance to kill the Doctor and falls in love with him instead. Next time they meet, the Doctor uses her to fake his own death and she goes to prison for most of the rest of her life. After she earns a pardon (for a crime she didn't commit), she sees her Doctor for the last time and dies for him.

However, a lot of what happens to River in this episode feels forced. It happens because the show's writers have said (or strongly hinted) that it would happen and now they have to deliver a payoff. But it is done sloppily. My two main points of contention:

River kills the Doctor. This has been hinted at since the weeping angels two-parter last season and was confirmed in "Let's Kill Hitler." The question all along has been: Why would River kill the best man she's ever known? What horrible, tragic circumstance would force her into such a position? It turns out she does not do it of her own free will, and that cheapens the act. The spacesuit moves itself, which raises the question of why she or anyone has to be inside it in the first place. What kind of idiot bad guy puts the one person inside who might manage to find a way to stop the Doctor's death from happening? Oh, and then the Doctor addresses my issue from last week by saying twice that River won't remember doing the deed. But unless there is a Silent standing behind the Doctor when she fires the shot, that makes no sense. A satisfying payoff this was not.

River marries the Doctor. Why did he do that? I mean, really ... why? He says five minutes before that he does not want to marry her. She says she loves him, and he ridicules her for that. On the pyramid roof, he calls her stupid and says she embarrasses him. Rarely have we ever seen the Doctor act so cruelly toward someone. Then he marries her? All he has to do is whisper in her ear that he's inside a teselecta robot. She would let him take them back to the lake after that, with or without marriage vows. The only reason I can think of for the Doctor marrying River under these circumstances is, as I said above, that their marriage has been hinted at many times and Steven Moffat wanted to squeeze it into the finale whether it made sense or not. If the Doctor showed even a modicum of affection for River during the pyramid sequence, I might have bought it. But he doesn't. It would have been so easy for Moffat to write it differently. Why he didn't, I will never understand.

And, as a side note, it bothers me that the Doctor and River marry in an alternate timeline that gets wiped from existence and never happened. It seems that for a legitimate marriage, which from all appearances this is not, they should go through the ceremony again. Maybe this time, he could tell her his name.

Despite these gaping holes in logic (time isn't the only thing disintegrating on this show), I still managed to enjoy most of the episode. I like super-tough, resourceful Amy and her devoted Captain Williams. I liked the reason why the Doctor goes to his death: He knows a secret that must never be spoken. And I like the question he must never answer: Doctor who? I like that we'll see a semi-reboot next season with the Doctor going more under cover than he has in a long, long time.

There's a lot to like. If only the writers could work out the bugs in the internal logic, I would be a very happy viewer instead of one who's mostly happy but left yearning for the finale that could have been.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Review: "The Magicians" by Lev Grossman

I read this book for two reasons. First, Lev Grossman won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer at this year's WorldCon. Second, the premise is fantastic: What would happen if you discovered that the fantasy world you loved as a kid was real and you could go there? I daydreamed as a kid about going to Narnia and Prydain, and later on Gwynedd and Pern. "The Magicians" seemed right up my alley, and it is ... with one glaring exception.

This has been called in some reviews the adult version of Harry Potter, with a big dose of the Chronicles of Narnia thrown in. That's an apt description. The first half of the book is spent at a magic college in upstate New York called Brakebills, which even has a chess-type game that is their equivalent of quidditch. But unlike at Hogwarts, the students here drink, have sex and are quite foul-mouthed. After graduation, they add drugs to their vices.

And herein lies my one problem with the book. I like sympathetic protagonists. Quentin Coldwater and his friends are some of the most miserable, self-destructive characters I've ever come across. Quentin discovers magic is real and that he is a magician. He discovers the world of Fillory is real. He goes to Fillory on an adventure right out of the books he loved as a kid. And he is still miserable, right up to the last page.

That's too bad because I love everything else about this book. Grossman has an engaging style. I found myself stopping to reread passages because I was so impressed with the writing and imagery. This one on the first page is among my favorites (maybe because I'm tall for a girl):

Quentin was thin and tall, though he habitually hunched his shoulders in a vain attempt to brace himself against whatever blow was coming from the heavens, and which would logically hit the tall people first.

I enjoyed this book enough that I will read its sequel, "The Magician King," but not enough that I'm rushing to the library to pick up the sequel right now. I hope in the second book, Quentin will finally shake off his perpetual state of melancholy and find some happiness. Because what's the point of being in the fantasy world you obsessed over all your life if you can't have some fun while you're there?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hey, look, I got an award

I got a nice surprise in the comments section the other day, which is fellow Hatracker Redux has passed along the honor of the Versatile Blogger award to me. Thanks, Redux! I guess I could be considered versatile in that I write about Doctor Who and Glee (and also writing and publishing, and sometimes more about my personal life than anyone would care to know).

Along with the award, I have been given tasks. I'm not too sure about an award that requires that I do something, but I'll give it a shot.

First, thank the person who gave you the award and link back to their blog (see above for the thank you and below for the link).

Second, seven things about myself.
  • I was born in that bastion of all things crazy liberal: Boulder, Colorado, sometimes known as the People's Republic of Boulder.
  • A majored in journalism and minored in anthropology at the University of Missouri-Columbia and graduated magna cum laude in 1998.
  • I was the female lead of my sixth-grade musical, a hokey affair about the Continental Congress. I sang a solo in a song called "There's a Price to be Paid for Freedom."
  • Pets I've owned since college: three hamsters (Bean, Pippin and Merry) and a dog (Buddy).
  • When I was a kid, I secretly wanted to be the pink member of Voltron. Or Wonder Woman.
  • The first book I ever learned to read by myself was "Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing."
  • I earned varsity letters in track, cross country and soccer in high school, and I still go running three or four times a week.

Third, pass along the award to five newly discovered bloggers. Hmm. I might have to take a rain check on that one while I think about who I might pick. Most of the blogs I frequent belong to pro writers and agents, who don't qualify as "newly discovered."

Anyway, go check out Redux's blog, I'm an Author not a Writer! From there, you can link to the other four recipients along with yours truly.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Doctor Who: Closing Time


In last week's episode "The God Complex," the only way the Doctor could save Amy (and by extension all of them) was to destroy her faith in him. Likewise, my faith in Steven Moffat is waning. At the start of the season, I ogled at the very deep hole he seemed to have written himself into but I was confident that he had a clever way to dig himself out. After watching "Closing Time," that confidence is gone.

The plot lines of River Song and the Doctor's death have become so convoluted that there is no way the season finale will bring it all to a satisfying conclusion. We will see a lot of running around and shooting and wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimeyness, but it won't be enough. I'm calling it now: Moff and Co. won't pull off the finale without it feeling forced.

But first, "Closing Time."

This was a fun standalone "two men and a baby with an overkill of gay jokes" episode. I liked Craig in "The Lodger" and I liked him here, too. The Doctor's ability to speak baby added a fun twist ("Stormageddon," ha!) Apparently a hundred to two-hundred years (I'm not clear on the time frame) have passed between when the Doctor drops off the Ponds and shows up at Craig's door. This is an older and sadder Doctor who's out for one last adventure before going to his death-by-astronaut on the shore of a lake in Utah.

This episode extends a running theme throughout the season of parent-child relationships. There was the pirate captain and his stowaway son in "The Curse of the Black Spot"; the ganger dad who takes the place of his dead human counterpart in "The Almost People." And of course there's that one big parent-child plot line that got unceremoniously dropped after "Let's Kill Hitler" and has yet to be resolved. In "Closing Time," Craig is struggling with his complete lack of fatherly instinct but comes through in the end by blowing up a bunch of Cybermen with ... love. Yeah. Go ahead, roll your eyes. I did, too. It helps that his infant son is adorable.

Then came the episode's coda.

River Song has just graduated as a doctor of archaeology and has written in her little blue book the time, date and location of the Doctor's death. Madam Kovarian shows up and abducts River. Next thing she knows, she has been stuffed in an astronaut suit and is underwater.

As far as I can tell, this creates a paradox. Older River who picnics with the Doctor, Amy and and Rory on the lakeshore does not know what's coming. She's as surprised as anyone when an astronaut walks out of the lake and shoots the Doctor dead. Before you all start pointing it out, yes, she says "Of course" and fails to shoot the astronaut even though she's a crack shot. And she also goes to prison for killing the best man she's ever known. But there is no indication whatsoever that she knows, before the Doctor is killed, that it is going to happen right then and there. Which makes no sense whatsoever if she's the one who kills him. That is not something you forget. Even if the younger version wasn't paying attention to her surroundings and didn't know where she was, she still has it all written in her book.

This is where my faith starts to erode. First off, why would she kill him? If she were brainwashed River, I could see that happening. Or River before she has met the Doctor. But neither is the case here. There are indications that all time and space is stuck at the moment of the Doctor's death until he dies (even though there's no hint of that in "The Impossible Astronaut"), so in killing him, she sets the universe to rights. She doesn't have a choice. OK. I could deal with that. If so, what idiot judge puts her in prison for saving the universe? Why is she branded as a war criminal worse than Hitler?

I'm still hoping to come out of next week's episode satisfied with the resolution, that Moffat and Co. will pull a rabbit out of their hat, that they will make the resolution feel organic and inevitable instead of oh-god-we-wrote-ourselves-into-a-box-what-the-hell-do-we-do-now. If they manage it, I will get on this blog next week and applaud their genius. But somehow, I don't think that will happen.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bunch o' links


In other news: My fourth quarter Writers of the Future story is submitted, and I'm about 4,500 words into the next one. And my 4-year-old daughter has a cold, which is always a little nerve-wracking because the common cold is her trigger for asthma attacks.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I've had a busy week ...

I haven't been posting here because I have been making the final fixes to my Writers of the Future entry and polishing it to a pretty shine. This entry is the opposite of my last one in the amount of work applied. Third quarter: written in a week. Fourth quarter: obsessed over until I can hardly stand to look at it anymore. Anyway, I'm going to submit the story today, which will mean more time for other things ... like this blog.

In the meantime, I ran across this video clip today: Sesame Street parodies "Glee." I love their version of "Don't Stop Believing."

Monday, September 12, 2011

Doctor Who: The Girl Who Waited


Yes, I skipped doing a post on "Night Terrors" last week. I thought it was a better episode than many online reviewers gave it credit for but not outstanding. I enjoyed it; however, its monster-in-the-closet-with-a-twist plot was obviously geared toward younger viewers than me. This week's episode was much better. So, without further ado ...

The Girl Who Waited ... a really, really long time.

I love when Doctor Who does a character-based episode. No monster of the week. No long-arc continuity. No Moffat puzzle boxes. This was a story about Amy and Rory and the strength of their love. And it was easily the best episode of the three we've seen since the show came back after its summer break.

What I liked:
  • The Doctor's reckless, Geronimo attitude endangers the people he loves. Again. When Amy goes back for her phone (which turns out to have the longest lasting battery ever), the Doctor could have waited for her to catch up. Instead, he and Rory push the green button to open a door and go inside without her. Amy pushes the red button and ends up in a different room, the first step that cascades into Amy being trapped in that facility alone for 36 years. And she calls the Doctor on it.
  • Rule No. 1: The Doctor lies. Boy, he tells a whopper to old Amy when he promises to save her but knows he can't.
  • Karen Gillan's performance as old Amy is brilliant. She is still Amy Pond, but with more confidence and more sadness. Even her body language is different. When old Amy tells the Doctor how much she hates him for abandoning her, it's chilling. When she decides to defy time itself for Rory's sake and sacrifices herself for to give him back the days they lost, it's heartbreaking. I almost cried. And I never cry at television shows.
  • I also like how Rory is portrayed. He does not love old Amy any less for the years that separate them. He only hates that they did not get to grow old together. And I love that he almost lets old Amy onto the TARDIS, even knowing that the two Amys cannot both exist. He can't stand leaving her behind. Only the ending of "The Doctor's Wife" matches this one for poignancy.

Next week's episode has a minotaur, a creepy clown and a spooky hotel. But it's going to be hard-pressed to not be a letdown after this week.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Other reasons this was a sad weekend

This has been a weekend of bad news.

First, my family's cat died, but this wasn't unexpected. She was extremely old. We got her when I was a sophomore in high school, 20-plus years ago. Ila lived a good, long life.

Then I found out that tonight was the last night for the copy and design desks of The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., where I worked for eight years before I came to Denver. Some of those staffers have moved to the newsroom of the Charlotte Observer, where the Raleigh paper will now be edited. Some of those staffers are filling out unemployment paperwork.

This is the second time that one of my former copy desks has been swallowed up into the Charlotte newsroom. The first was The Herald in Rock Hill, S.C., my first job out of college. And I've only worked in three newsrooms total.

I wrote about The N&O's consolidation earlier this summer, and what I said then still stands. Newspapers are a faltering industry because people seem to think news is a product they don't have to pay for. Thanks to the Internet, it is ... to some extent. But those of us who produce the copy still need to get paid, and that money needs to come from somewhere. When subscriptions drop, so does advertising, and that's when people lose their jobs. And then ... no more news. Free or otherwise.

Never forget



Friday, September 2, 2011

Labor Day weekend

Two events start today, one of which I wish I was at and the other I wish would go away.

The good one: DragonCon. My sister and I have gone about 10 times to this geekfest in Atlanta, but neither of us are in a good enough financial spot right now to afford the plane tickets, hotel and food. Maybe next year. I hope.

The bad one: The Taste of Colorado. This annual festival attracts hundreds of thousands of people to Civic Center in downtown Denver for four days of food and fun. Unfortunately, Civic Center is right across the street from my work building. Yes, there is an access lane to get to my building's parking garage, but it's a maze of twists and turns and festival workers who want to check that you're actually supposed to be there. It's a huge hassle.

So instead of television stars, crazy costumes and four days of geeky bliss, I am dealing with downtown Denver traffic. Lucky me.

Writing progress: I am still pounding away at the same story I've been pounding away at for weeks. But, bit by bit, it is getting better.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Writers of the Future, quarter 3

After a couple of better-than-expected quarters in Writers of the Future, I'm back to my old familiar home on the honorable mentions list.

I did not know how this story would rank. I wrote it in a week with no time for critiquing or revisions. I think it's quite good except for the last page, where I flub the ending. The question was how much that flub would count against the story, and now I know. After I finish my quarter 4 entry, I will rewrite the ending of this one and send it out on submission elsewhere.

So, the tally in 11 consecutive quarters of entering the Writers of the Future contest:
  • 1 semi-finalist
  • 1 silver honorable mention
  • 6 honorable mentions
  • 3 straight rejections

Hunt for the perfect word

Among Mark Twain's rules for writers is this one: Use the right word, not its second cousin. Great advice. Unless the right word does not exist in the English language.

I encounter this problem a couple of times in every story. I can think of several second cousins to the word I need but not the one word that communicates the perfect tone or mood. I comb the thesaurus in search of that perfect word but cannot find it. Eventually, I either go with a second cousin or write around the problem.

One that turns up occasionally: a substitute pronoun for whose that can be used in conjunction with inanimate objects. Who is used when talking about a person, that and which when talking about an inanimate object. But whose has no equivalent for use with non-human nouns. Example: "A country whose GDP is increasing." Not a good example, because I can think of plenty of ways to write around that one, but you get the idea.

In my current work in progress, the word that is giving me fits is kidnap. This is a fine word, if the person who is taken is a kid. Alas, the victim in my story is an adult, and "kidnap" sounds wrong to my writerly ear. OK, you say, so use abduct. Again, to my mind, this is not quite right. Anything can be abducted if it's carried off by force, while only a person (or maybe a pet) can be kidnapped.

Now you're saying to yourself that I'm over-thinking the whole thing, and you're probably right. But that's what comes of working as a copy editor for 40 hours per week for 10 years. I get obsessive about words.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Doctor Who: Let's Kill Hitler


Welcome to the second half of Season 6! And wow did Steven Moffat and Co. kick things off with an absolutely gonzo adventure in 1930s Berlin. When Moffat's name shows up in the credits as writer, you know to expect a few things: (a) several imaginative, unrelated ideas tossed into a blender with results that are both brilliant and uneven, (b) nonlinear storytelling, (c) a whole bunch of running around and yelling, and (d) a healthy dose of what-the-(blank)-is-going-on. "Let's Kill Hitler" delivers on all those points.

Spoilers ahead.

Stop now if you don't want to know.

Still here?

OK, let's go.

We open with Amy and Rory making crop circles to get the Doctor's attention because, after an entire summer of no "Who," they're as antsy as we are to find out what happens next. The Doctor gets the message. Also showing up for the party like she's been there all along (which takes a page from Nikki and Paolo on "Lost") is Mels, a sassy troublemaker childhood friend of Amy's and Rory's. She hijacks everyone along with the TARDIS and lands them in 1938 Berlin because, as she says, "What the hell. Let's kill Hitler."

Hitler doesn't do much but get punched by Rory, shoot Mels and get thrown into a cupboard, again by Rory (who is Super Action Man for much of this episode). Then the story takes an abrupt turn when Mels, who is really Melody Pond, regenerates into ... River Song. Except she doesn't know she's River. She has been brainwashed by the Silents her whole life with one purpose: to kill the Doctor. So she kisses him with poison lipstick and leaves him to die a slow death while she cavorts around Berlin.

So we've seen the death of River Song and the birth of Melody Pond. Now here is the beginning of River Song. Alex Kingston puts in a fantastic performance. This is, I hope, finally the start of the love affair between her and the Doctor. The tables are turning, in that the Doctor knows things about their time together that young River does not. But in a bit of Moffat-ness, their timelines are now hopelessly muddled. It's always been assumed they were moving in opposite directions, but now the Doctor has seen River's beginning and end but is missing most of the stuff in the middle. No wonder they need the diaries. So will the audience, before long. But I suspect this season will end with Amy and Rory checking out of the TARDIS and River moving in.

Speaking of Amy and Rory, I thought they got the short shaft this week. They've been waiting all summer for the Doctor to find their Melody so that the happy Pond family could settle down in domestic bliss. Or something like that. But when Mels regenerates into River, that scenario became impossible. Actually, the scenario became impossible from the moment Melody wormed her way into Amy's and Rory's lives during their childhood, before she was even born. What is past cannot be changed, including everything that happened to Melody before she crossed paths with her parents. What that time did not include was them rescuing her. Yet, in all the running and chasing all over Berlin, this fact does not seem to dawn on the Ponds. At no point does Amy or Rory stop and say, "We can never get our little girl back." That was a gaping hole in the episode, in my opinion.

I have probably said enough now and I haven't even gotten into the craziness of the humanoid, shape-changing spaceship full of miniaturized people. Or the explanation of who the Silents are and what they want. I really did love this episode, despite its holes. But I'm hoping that next week, the writers might work in a few moments in which the action slows down enough that we the audience can process what the heck is going on.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sale! To Digital Science Fiction

The other day on his blog, Tobias Buckell wrote about the difference between goals and milestones. Goals are things, as a writer, that you can control: how much and how often you write, for instance. Milestones are things you cannot control, such as selling a story. You can write the best story you can, research markets and submit, but you can't control whether the editor will accept it.

That's why, when I post my annual goals, they are always things I can control: word count, number of stories I want to complete, number of submissions I want to make.

Still, the milestones are worth celebrating, and I have one to celebrate today: my first pro-rate sale.

"Catch a Fallen Star," which also was a semi-finalist story in the second quarter this year in the Writers of the Future contest, is slated for publication in the sixth anthology of Digital Science Fiction in April 2012. This a relatively new but exciting market that is targeting the growing popularity of electronic publishing. The two anthologies released so far have both topped Amazon's rankings for science-fiction anthologies. I am thrilled that my story has found such a great home.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hello, Irene

As I'm writing this, Hurricane Irene is beginning its weekend assault on the East Coast. You'd think someone who lives in Colorado wouldn't care so much about a hurricane beyond general interest in national news. However, my husband and I own a rental house in Erwin, N.C., which is along the Interstate 95 corridor and at risk of getting hammered. We have gone through a couple other category 2 storms in recent years without damage. My hope is for a similar result this time. I also have friends, family and former work colleagues whom I hope will stay safe.

Writing progress: Not much because my laptop is in the shop. I did play around with a different opening to my work-in-progress in the old-fashion way, with pen and paper. I'm not sure whether I'm satisfied with what I have yet.

And, last but not least, Doctor Who returns tomorrow night with "Let's Kill Hitler," and I will resume with my posts on each new episode this Sunday.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Computer problems

My laptop has been dying a slow death for a few weeks now. First, it was small issues like programs that suddenly stopped working correctly. Then, larger issues such as a Windows failure over the weekend that caused the computer to go into recovery mode for several hours. Last night, it failed to boot at all. Today, I took it to a repair shop and was told that it needs a new hard drive.

So I am now without my laptop for a few days while it gets fixed. (I am currently blogging from work.) I was able to backup most my files (stories, music, photos) onto my flash drive, so nothing important will be lost. In the end, this will be nothing more than a mildly expensive annoyance. It could have been much worse.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cliche-busting

In writing: I spent the morning eliminating as many cliches as I could find in my work-in-progress. Cliches slip in without my even noticing, which means my first drafts are often rife with them. There's always a fresher, more specific way to write something. Some of the ones I caught this morning:
  • Her mind was racing
  • Bit back a reply
  • His eyes glazed over
  • Take the fall
  • Swallow her pride
  • Circled like vultures

In real life: The kids start back to school this week. One of my sons had his first day of second grade today. He came bounding out of his classroom this afternoon with a huge smile, so I guess things went well. Tomorrow is the first day for my 10th-grader and preschooler. For me, the school year means more uninterrupted time for writing and running. On the downside, I will see my kids a lot less over the next few months because they get out of school about the same time I leave for work.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Hugo redux

I watched most of the Hugo Awards ceremony last night on my computer and from the comfort of my living room. It was a long ceremony that could have cut in some places (did we really need to see the full-length trailers for every nominated movie?) and could have gone a little longer in others (I could have listened to Robert Silverberg not announce the novella winner all night).

You can find the list of winners here, along with an unhealthy dose of negativism in the comments section. Some of the winners aren't the ones I would have voted for, either, folks, but that doesn't mean they're not deserving. You can also check out the breakdown of the voting here.

What I'm reading: Gardner Dozois' The Year's Best Science Fiction anthology for 2010. There are a few Hugo nominees in there, a Hugo winner I haven't read ("Emperor of Mars" by Allen M. Steele) and loads of juicy science fiction that I'm eager to dig into.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

If I were a Hugo voter

The winners of the 2011 Hugo Awards will be announced tonight at WorldCon. I didn't vote because I didn't buy a membership this year. However, if I had voted, this is what my picks would have been. (We'll see how well they match up with the winners a few hours from now):

  • Novel: Blackout/All Clear, by Connie Willis
  • Novella: “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window” by Rachel Swirsky
  • Novelette: no vote (I've read only one of the nominees and did not like how it ended, so ...)
  • Short story: “Ponies” by Kij Johnson (this is a tough choice, though, because I quite enjoyed Carrie Vaughn's "Amaryllis.")

In the only two other categories in which I could make an informed choice:
  • Dramatic presentation, long form: Inception, written and directed by Christopher Nolan
  • Dramatic presentation, short form: Doctor Who: “The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang,” written by Steven Moffat; directed by Toby Haynes

Monday, August 15, 2011

Doctor Who: Let's Kill Hitler prequel

Doctor Who returns Aug. 27 with "Let's Kill Hitler." BBC today released a short prequel to that episode, which is just a little bit heartbreaking. Watch it here:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Story recommendation

A week before the winners of the Hugo awards are announced at WorldCon, I finally got around to reading novella nominee "The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen's Window" by Rachel Swirsky, and damn. This novella is the best I've read in awhile, about a lady whose ghostly existence spans millennia. It has already won the Nebula. If I were the gambling type, which I'm not, I would put my money on it for the Hugo, too.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Bad reaction to a wasp sting

Why is it that medical issues always come up on weekends when the only option is going to an overpriced and crowded urgent-care clinic? The wasp sting from three days ago has swollen to the size of my palm, is red and hard to the touch, and itches like crazy. I'm not in emergency phase. Right now I'm getting by on Benadryl and hydrocortisone cream, and I hope to hold out until Monday when I can go see my regular doctor. I've also had no appetite the past two days, and I'm wondering if that's related. I am mildly allergic to mosquito bites and bee stings, but I've never been stung by a wasp before. It is proving to be unpleasant.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Writing update

Writing progress: The first draft of the work-in-progress is done, coming in just shy of 6,000 words. This might be my fourth quarter entry to Writers of the Future. The decision depends on the general reaction of my first readers and whether I can write something better in the next six weeks. My plan is to have two quality stories ready to go, so I have options. But the next item on my to-do list is revising my semi-finalist story from quarter 2, based off a spot-on critique from judge K.D. Wentworth. I have my fingers crossed that I can turn this one into my first pro sale.

In real life: My husband and I are gearing up for back-to-school shopping. I can't believe it's that time of the year already; the summer went by too fast. The garden is producing more vegetables and strawberries than we can eat, so we're foisting them off on the extended family. There's also a wasp nest near the strawberry patch, and yes I got stung yesterday when picking fruit.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Back from Grand Junction

My cousin's wedding was an expensive affair at a winery. Guests took a stab at the cost, and the average response was around $20,000, which is about five times more than the budget that my husband and I had for our wedding. The barbecue dinner the night before (which featured an entire pig, including the head) was at the Colorado National Monument, which is one of the most spectacular places I've ever been. The rock formations are astounding. I took photos, but only a couple came out. Here's the best one:



Writing progress: I am one short scene away from finishing the WIP, which is why I'm now going to cut this post short and commence with the writing.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Chicken soup for the writer

I've never heard of C.J. Redwine before today, when I followed a link to her blog and read about her journey to selling her first book. I could not have stumbled across this post at a better time.

She says she watched others make big sales for two years and, although she was happy for them, she was down on herself for not being able to do the same. This hit home for me because some people around me have made some great sales recently, and although I am ecstatically happy for them, I've held a couple of pity parties for myself. Yeah, there, I admit it. So, here's what C.J. had to say that made me feel a little bit better:
It was that I felt like I was missing something crucial. Overlooking some important ingredient that would transform me from the girl who couldn't sell a book to one who finally had a contract. Guess what? There IS a secret ingredient. It's called sweat. Perseverance. Sheer undiluted stubbornness.

... There are no little people. There are only different places along the path. ... Please don't look at the good news in my life (or in other's) and devalue your own talent, your chances, or your experiences. There are no inner sanctums out of your reach. There isn't a finite number of contracts. You aren't one step closer to missing your chance. If you want to take anything away from my own experience, take this: I'm just a girl who kept writing.

Awesome. And congrats to C.J. Redwine.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sorry for the blog silence ...

It occurs to me that I haven't posted anything for a week, and I won't be posting over the weekend because I will out of town for a cousin's wedding. So I better do it now.

Writing progress: WIP hit a roadblock a few days ago. I puttered around with it and realized nothing was working, so I tried a little trick that sometimes helps. I crafted a one sentence "cover blurb" for the story that summed up the external and internal conflicts and what the story is "about." That has helped me regain some focus, and I'm tweaking what's already written to better fit my vision of what the story should be. The hope is when I work my way back to the climax (which is where I stalled out), the writing will come more easily.

Other stuff: I finally got around to watching the new version of "True Grit," after the Netflix disc sat on the shelf for a couple of weeks. My dad is a fan of the John Wayne version and made me sit through it when I was a kid. I don't remember much about it except that I enjoyed the new version better. Hailee Steinfeld's performance blew me away.

And I'm starting to get antsy for the return of Doctor Who on Aug. 27. The new trailer is here.