Saturday, April 30, 2011

A few recommendations

There's a good crop of short fiction online in the past week. A few stories I've enjoyed:

This being the last day of the month, it's also my self-imposed deadline for finishing the first draft of my work-in-progress. Not gonna happen. I spent an hour last night rewriting the opening scene (because what I had before just wasn't working), and I probably have another 2,000 words to write before I get to "the end." So, new goal: Finish the draft by Tuesday night. That's 500 words a day, give or take. Very doable.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Best photo of the day

This makes me giggle every time I see it, courtesy of photographer Matt Dunham for The Associated Press:

The frowning flower girl is 3-year-old Grace Van Cutsem, goddaughter of Prince William. Apparently the roar of the crowd and a fly-over were too much for her. I actually think she did pretty well not to run straight back inside the palace, which is what any other 3-year-old I've known would have done.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

My best friend today: Tylenol

Writing progress: I managed 1,000 words over the past two days, despite having a splitting migraine for most of yesterday afternoon and evening. My goal is to have the first draft done by the last day of the month. I'm going to have to really buckle down and write to meet that goal. But this story is fun, and it's always easier to write a story when I'm grinning and chuckling to myself while I go along.

Today in real life: I am sore, oh so very sore. That is because I have gone running two days in a row for the first time since New Year's. I run because I enjoy it (except for the pain afterward), and what is not enjoyable is running in bitter cold and snow. I take the winter off. That means when I start back up again in the spring, every muscle in my body protests: legs, back, shoulders, butt. I usually take the stairs at work, but today I'm all about the elevator.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hugo nominations

Nominations for the 2011 Hugo awards came out this past weekend. Congrats to the nominees! I will not be attending World Con this year and therefore can't vote, but I still have some thoughts.

Novels: I've had Connie Willis' Blackout and All Clear on my shelf for months and finally cracked open the binding last week. So far so good, but these are two huge books and I'm only 50 pages in. I have not read any of the other nominated works. Nor, to be honest, have I even heard of them, which surprises me considering how voracious a reader I am.

Short fiction: I'm always curious about the ratio of between print and online stories that receive nominations. This year, five nominees are from online zines, seven from print magazines and two from anthologies. Previous to the nominations coming out, I had read four of the five online stories and none of the others. But one of the things I love about awards season is that all nominated stories - the year's cream of the crop - are made available to read for free online. Some are on print magazine websites, others on author websites or blogs. You just have to be willing to hunt them down.

Dramatic presentation: In the movie category, the only one I have not seen is Scott Pilgrim. In the short form category, I cheered to see three Doctor Who episodes in the mix. You'd think it's the only quality science-fiction on television nowadays, and maybe it is. The Lost Thing is also quite fantastic.

Campbell Award: I'm pretty sure I've read at least one story by Saladin Ahmed, but I couldn't tell you what it would be. (After going to his website, I see I've read Doctor Diablo Goes Through the Motions) And the name Lev Grossman sounds vaguely familiar. The other three don't ring a bell. Most years, I recognize more of the nominees.

So, it's clear that if I were voting, I would have a lot of reading ahead of me to make an educated choice. But it would be work I would enjoy.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Doctor Who: The Impossible Astronaut

Brilliant. Fantastic. I laughed and cried (and sometimes groaned at the sheer volume of dialogue recycled from earlier episodes). I also spent most of the episode thinking, "Steven Moffat what are you doing?" The season 6 premiere of Doctor Who left us with enough questions, complications and conspiracies to make me start looking for a tropical island and a spinal surgeon with delusions of grandeur ("We have to go back!").

If you're looking for a recap or more in-depth review, go elsewhere. There are plenty of those on the web today. I will spent the remainder of this post addressing the main questions I was left with when the end credits rolled. WARNING: Huge spoilers ahead. If you haven't watched "The Impossible Astronaut" and plan to do so, do not read any further. You will be sorry.

Still here?

OK. Let's get with the speculating.

1. Who killed the Doctor?
A person in an Apollo spacesuit walked out of a Utah lake, exchanged a few words with the Doctor and shot him with a laser. When the Doctor started to regenerate, the person shot him again, effectively killing him for good.
  • Suspect No. 1: River Song. She is in Stormgate prison because she killed a man: "The best man I've ever known." Who else could that be besides the Doctor, who has been the focal point of her life? Working against this theory: It's way too obvious.
  • Suspect No. 2: An earlier version of The Doctor, like say the one who goes to 1969. River takes the blame. I think this is more likely.

2. Why was the Doctor killed?
I have no clue. But here is what I hope the reason is not: An attempt to avoid a paradox. Amy, Rory and River watched the Doctor die, which means the future Doctor is obligated to go to his death to close the time loop and, by extension, avoid the destruction of the universe. There's no emotional resonance in that. It would be a cop out.

3. Who was the little girl?
A little girl made several calls to President Richard Nixon, saying she was scared of the astronaut and for someone to save her. In the cliffhanger, Amy told the Doctor she was pregnant. Not 10 seconds later, the astronaut walked in and lifted the visor. It was the little girl! Amy fired a shot and then got a look of horror on her face.
  • Option 1: Amy's daughter, but I think this is a red herring. It's what we're supposed to think.
  • Option 2: young River Song. More likely. This would be her first encounter with the Doctor. It would explain why older River was so eager to jump down a hole in the ground (to get away before her younger self showed up) and got all nostalgic with Rory about her time with the Doctor.
  • Option 3: hologram. Most likely. River and Rory found a control panel that's straight out of "The Lodger." Remember the hologram? It took on several forms (including a little girl) and pleaded that it needed help in order to lure people into the ship. This little girl talked a lot like the hologram in that episode. Plus, Amy firing at a hologram would have no consequences, such as a dead little girl.

4. What's up with the Silence? (Or is that Silents?)
Here's what we know. They look like a cross between Munch's "The Scream" and the Gentlemen from the Buffy episode "Hush." They blew up the TARDIS last season. You forget about them completely when you're not looking at them (Don't blink! ... Oh, wait, wrong monster). They kill people with lightning blasts (which I didn't like ... I thought the writers could have come up with something more unusual). They know things they shouldn't know (Amy is pregnant, the Doctor dies). They have an unhealthy interest in the Doctor. What we don't know: Why are they intent on messing with the Doctor? What do they want? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Doctor Who: Favorite season 5 moments

Doctor Who season 6 premieres tonight, folks, and I could not be more excited. When season 5 premiered, I had never seen an episode of DW. One year later, I am addicted.

I'll start by directing you all to an Entertainment Weekly Q&A with show runner Steven Moffat, who also has some things to say about the brilliant Sherlock. Go read, then come back.

You're back? OK. What better time than the start of season 6 to relive some of favorite moments from season 5. I would say top moments, but I will probably think of more later, in which case my top picks here would no longer be top and ... well, you get the idea. So, here are a few of my favorite moments from the debut season for Matt Smith as the Doctor:

1. Fish fingers and custard
"Eleventh Hour." It starts with an apple, then progresses to beans, bread and butter, yogurt and bacon. With new taste buds, the Doctor discovers he hates them all. "Are you trying to poison me?" he asks young Amelia Pond. Finally, he finds a suitable snack: fish sticks dipped in a giant mixing bowl full of custard. This is how we are introduced to the new gonzo Doctor.

2. "Hello. I'm the Doctor. Basically ... run."
"Eleventh Hour." The Doctor calls the Atraxi back to him after they've gone. Amy and Rory figure an alien race that almost boiled Earth should be left well alone, but the Doctor disagrees. They've gone once, but what about next time? First he shows the Atraxi that the humans are not a threat. He then asks whether they understand that the planet is defended. An Atraxi projects images of the Doctor through his many incarnations, ending with David Tennant. Then Matt Smith's Doctor walks through the projection, suited up in his iconic tweed and bow tie for the first time, and introduces himself. The Atraxi do the only smart thing: They run.

3. Amy vs. the Angel in the television
"Time of the Angels." An image of a Weeping Angel becomes an Angel, which is a problem for Amy, who gets trapped in a trailer with a video of one looping on a television. In a long and suspenseful sequence, the Angel moves toward the camera, then jumps out of the television. Amy meanwhile, tries not to blink. She finally defeats the Angel by pausing the video at the exact second when it loops back to the beginning.

4. Vincent Van Gogh at the Musée d'Orsay
"Vincent and the Doctor." The Doctor and Amy take Vincent Van Gogh to modern times to see an exhibit of his own work. Vincent listens to Bill Nighy expound on how he is the greatest painter of all time. Vincent cries. He's so, so happy. He tells the Doctor that from now on, things will get better. The Doctor and Amy return Vincent to his own time, then go back to the museum to see, as Amy says, all the new Van Gogh paintings. She thinks they changed history, but alas, Vincent committed suicide, anyway. But as the Doctor says, they added to his pile of good things.

5. The wibbly wobbly timey wimey-ness of "The Big Bang"
The Doctor uses River's vortex manipulator to bounce like a pinball between modern day and Roman times in an effort to get himself out of the Pandorica and save the universe. In the episode's opening, Amy tells her younger self, "This is where it gets complicated." She's not kidding. It all builds up to a very tired-looking Doctor sitting beside young Amelia's bed and telling the sleeping girl a fairy tale about a big blue box.

And now ... on with Season 6! I'm sure that tomorrow, I'll have thoughts to post about the season premiere.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Crafting a scene

In my current work-in-progress, I'm making more of an effort to craft the structure of scenes before I write them. This is slowing me down a bit but I hope will minimize rewriting later. The main points: What do the characters want, how do their desires bring them into conflict with one another, what is the turning point (i.e. the big moment of change) and how is my viewpoint character affected by it.

Take a scene I worked on last night. My protagonist Annie needs to wrestle some information from a regiment of ghost cavalry soldiers who perform with Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. Annie used to work on the show but has since gone her own way, and returning to stomping grounds both familiar and changed makes her apprehensive. After the turning point, she ends the scene in a more confident, determined place, which in turn sets the tone for her going into the climax.

In a novel, I might have the luxury of a few paragraphs to establish Annie's opening frame of mind. In a short story, not so much. The scene's first sentence has to do a lot of heavy lifting. The question I've been dealing with today: How do I show her frame of mind? I have to dig into my own experience. (Write what you know.) I've never been part of a traveling show, but I have left a place I belonged in, moved on with my life and returned for a visit later on: my old high school or a newsroom where I used to work. It's a weird and uncomfortable experience. There's a feeling of, "Hi, we're glad to see you, but what the hell are you doing here?" In Annie's case, that unease sets up an antagonistic reception from the ghosts whom she needs to get on her side.

I've written several openings using various metaphors, but I'm sorry to say I haven't nailed it yet. I'll know it the moment I do.

Bits and pieces:

Monday, April 18, 2011

Bean goes up the nose

Today in real life: My youngest child stuffed a small, bean-shaped toy up her nose this morning - way way up - which resulted in a trip to the doctor's office to get the darn thing taken out. I have no clue what was going through her head when she did that. In retrospect, I don't think she knows either. When I asked, all she said was, "It just happened" - like the little bit of plastic found its way into her nose all by itself. At least she won't do it again. I hope.

In better news, the newspaper to which I give 40 hours per week has won a Pulitzer for the second year in a row, this time for editorial cartooning. For those who don't know, the Pulitzers are the Oscars of American journalism. Winning one is a Very Big Deal. I have nothing to do with the editorial department and, when pressed, might be able to draw a stick figure. Despite that, this is a proud moment for the entire staff of The Denver Post, and there was much rejoicing.

Today in writing: I logged 400 words on the WIP last night, for a running total of 1,922.

Bits and pieces:

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Casting the movie version

Having recently finished both "The Girl Who Played With Fire" and "Water For Elephants" -- two books that will appear on film sooner (Elephants) or later (Fire) -- I've been thinking about how a movie version affects my reading of the book its based on. For me, this mostly involves casting.

I know Daniel Craig will play Mikael Blomkvist in the American film versions of the Millennium trilogy books. I knew this before I started reading "Dragon Tattoo." As a result, in my mind's eye, Blomkvist has from day one been Daniel Craig, with the blond hair, muscular physique and steely blue eyes. (On a side note, I was pleased to find out that in Craig's upcoming "Cowboys and Aliens," some other writer thought Jake was a good name for a cowboy who hangs out with extraterrestrials.)

I listened to the audiobook of "Water for Elephants." In the movie version being released in theaters next weekend, Reese Witherspoon plays Marlena, and so that is who I saw while listening along (despite the falsetto dialogue provided by the male reader). However, I did not see Robert Pattinson. The reader (I can't find his name right now) sounded to me just like actor Jonathan M. Woodward, who was a go-to guest star for Joss Whedon a few years ago. So for me, young Jacob is Jonathan Woodword. It's funny how the mind will make those kinds of associations.

Today in writing: I got about 300 words written last night. More importantly, I finally realized why I was having so much trouble sorting out the plot of this story: no villain. Thankfully, there's an obvious choice for the job. I think with this puzzle piece fit into place, I will fly through the rest of the first draft.

Tonight on television: Two things I want to watch but only one that I can. "Game of Thrones" is on HBO, which I don't subscribe to. And "The Fall of Sam Axe" is on USA. I love me some Bruce Campbell. Also, for those keeping up with it, Science Channel is airing the "Firefly" episode "Out of Gas," which is absolutely brilliant.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Girl Who Played With Fire

I'm a couple of weeks late in doing this post, so we'll see whether the book is still fresh enough in my mind to give some good thoughts on it.

First off, I enjoyed this second installment in the Millennium trilogy better than the first one. It's more of a thriller than a mystery. I thought it was a better story overall with fewer plot points that didn't really go anywhere. Stieg Larsson does an excellent job of fleshing out the character of Lisbeth Salander and expertly ties her dark past into her current predicament. The gist of the book: Lisbeth is charged with a triple murder, and she and journalist Mikael Blomkvist work (mostly separately) to clear her name.

Of course no book is perfect. The structure is strangely done. The first section is written almost entirely from Lisbeth's point of view and concerns events on a Caribbean island that have no bearing whatsoever on the rest of the plot. Once Lisbeth is accused of murder, she disappears from the narrative entirely for several chapters, while Blomkvist and a team of police inspectors take up the storyline. An odd choice, in my opinion. On the other hand, I do like how even when Lisbeth returns to the story, Larsson withholds for several more chapters whether she is guilty or not.

I'll probably get around to reading the final book in the trilogy later this year. For now, I'm finishing a biography about Annie Oakley, and then plan to tackle a writing-related book by Donald Maass: "The Fire in Fiction."

Friday, April 15, 2011

Fandom written in chalk

My Doctor Who fanaticism is hitting fever pitch with the season premiere next week. I've been watching my season 5 DVDs and episodes from previous seasons on Netflix. I've been hunting down every tiny bit of news on the Internet. However, I was not able to play hooky from work, jump on an airplane to New York City and stand in line all day for the screening there last week. Some people did, and here's the experiences of one ... plus photos. Enjoy!

Today in writing: I'm still spinning my wheels. Sigh. However, I think I've figured out why. I was trying to force the story to go in one direction, when really it needs to go in another. I did trim about 200 words from the opening scene, which means I'm now going backward in word count.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Hate on me

Have you ever had someone smile to your face and then stab you in the back? How about a whole bunch of people, so you feel like Julius Caesar on the Ides of March? There's really no way to know how much it hurts unless it has happened to you. The worst part is, when it happened to me this week, I was not the primary target. I was collateral damage. So was my 7-year-old son, and that is the part that burns me the most.

It's times like this when I rediscover the healing power of music. I have been listening all day to songs about shrugging off the haters, of coming out the other side as a stronger person. Such songs are about the only thing that has kept me from sinking into bitterness and hostility.

First came my Facebook fiasco, and now this. So far, 2011 is the Year of the Hater.

Today in writing: Nothing. I can't get myself into the right mind-set. I'm too angry.

Bits and pieces:

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fly-by post

Today in writing: 1,000 words on the WIP, for a total of 1,500 so far. Yeah!

And I have nothing else of even mild interest to say today. How sad is that?

Bits and pieces:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Challenges of coaching youth soccer

The soccer team of 7-year-olds that my husband and I coach had their third game of the season this morning. To be blunt, we got killed. That's the first time this season we've lost. First game we won 13-0, and the second was 7-4. It's easy to coach a team that is winning. They're happy kids, and that makes them play harder. When they're losing, their confidence drops and they don't try as hard as they could, and the score piles up against them. That's when, as a coach, you have your work cut out for you. You have to keep them motivated, and that is not easy with a bunch of deflated first-graders.

I've been coaching youth soccer teams for several years, and I played for about 10 years before that. My priorities for the young kids go in this order: Have fun, learn to play soccer, get exercise. Granted, winning is more fun than losing.

Today, one of our better players was crying when he walked away from the field. I tried to comfort him, to explain that he had a couple excellent shots that missed because of bad luck (one went off the pole). That this was our second game in four days, so they were tired. That our star player was coming off the flu. But in the end, the kid wasn't comforted. We were outplayed, and we both knew it.

I left the field feeling horrible for the kids, like I had let them down. My job is to make sure they have fun, and today, they didn't have fun.

I think, though, this loss could turn out to be a good thing. They know now that they can't waltz onto the field, give a half-hearted effort and expect to win. They were getting cocky, and this was a reality check. They'll come back next week and try harder. And so will I. And hopefully we can get our mojo back.

Friday, April 8, 2011

When (potentially) good stories go bad

Today in writing: A couple of developments to report. First, I have received my fastest rejection ever - 22 hours - and it was a personal rejection at that. My fantasy story had too many contemporary elements for the market. Beyond that, I'm at a sad point in my writing process that happens a couple times a year. I've realized my WIP is evolving into a story that I do not want to write and, if I were a reader, I would not want to read. Ouch. In such cases, I think it's best to shelve the story in question, instead of trying to force it to work, and move onto the next one with hopes of a better result.

Today in reading: I'm way behind on this one, but I noticed today that Fantasy Magazine has changed its format to match its sister publication Lightspeed. I like the new format much better - easier to navigate. While I was on the site, I read a reprint from George R.R. Martin called The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr. I don't always like Martin's stuff (his Song of Ice and Fire series drags at times). But on this story, I kept thinking: This is the sort of stuff I want to write and how I want to write it. I'll go through it a second time tonight or tomorrow (or whenever I have time) to do a basic analysis of how the story is structured.

Today in real life: I am wire editor and therefore in charge of the story about the impending federal government shutdown. At the time I'm writing this, the deadline to reach a resolution is in three hours. It's possible the GOP and Dems could come to an understanding, but I think it's more likely this standoff will drag into the weekend.

Bits and pieces:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Back at work, sigh

Today in real life: After nine days of vacation, I'm back at my work desk tonight. That's after a morning spent digging weeds from my soon-to-be flower bed and getting a hair trim. My bangs are now a quarter-inch too short.

Today in writing: Nothing yet. I'm going to do some simple revisions on the story that just received a silver honorable mention in the Writers of the Future contest and send it back out. I also plan to rewrite a scene in my next WotF entry with the purpose of ratcheting up the conflict.

Bits and pieces:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Writers of the Future

After much waiting and agonizing, and wondering whether the e-sub system ate my story, and whether I should e-mail the contest administrator, I received a response this morning on my Quarter 1 submission. And ...

Silver honorable mention.

That's one level above honorable mention and one below semi-finalist. In nine quarters of entering this contest, it's my best finish. I'm psyched.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Snowy day

Today in real life: It snowed. Yesterday, we had a record high of 84 degrees, and today we have an inch of white on the ground. Denver weather is nuts. Other than that, just normal stuff to report: grocery shopping, playing with my kids, house cleaning, reading. I have finished "The Girl Who Played With Fire" (more on that some other time) and have started a biography of Annie Oakley, who will likely be the viewpoint character in my next story.

Today in writing: Nada. Although I'm closer to formulating what the next story is going to be. I'll probably start writing next week. I'm also doing some hard thinking on the first revision of my next Writers of the Future entry.

Bits and pieces:
  • Tonight on Firefly is "Our Mrs. Reynolds," which is one of my favorite episodes. It's the first of two episodes with Christina Hendricks (before Mad Men).
  • Lots of Doctor Who news last week. The highlight: Matt Smith has signed on to play the Doctor for a third season.
  • Opening night for Charlie Sheen's live show is definitely not "winning."

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sale! "Malfunction" to Ray Gun Revival

I took the kids to the Denver Zoo today. After four hours on a beautiful Saturday afternoon (80 degrees and little wind), we saw just about everything except the big cats. We came home exhausted. I checked e-mail and found I had received an acceptance from Ray Gun Revival for my time-travel android story "Malfunction." This is really exciting for me because I love this magazine and now get to be part of it. Publication date is pending.

Friday, April 1, 2011

On "staycation"

It's spring break for the kids and for me. I'm on vacation, which is why I haven't been posting much. Or I should say staycation because we're not going anywhere. But we have been busy with yardwork, spring cleaning and some fun, too: swimming pool, zoo.

A couple of April Fool's links that had me giggling over my breakfast: