Sunday, May 29, 2011

Garden's first bounty

We're on the cusp of summer, and our backyard garden has given us the first strawberries of the season (presented to you here by my daughter, who will soon be eating these little treats). We're also growing tomatoes, peppers, carrots, spinach, onions, pumpkins, zucchinis and cucumbers.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bits and pieces

The day in a nutshell:

My husband and I dropped $200 on new glasses for our son this morning. The frames are pretty much childproof. You can bend them in any conceivable way and they won't break. At least, if he were going to break them, he would have to try really, really hard. In the long run, this will save us money in replacement costs. I hope.

We Americans do not get a new Doctor Who tonight because BBC America is showing an all-day Memorial Day marathon instead. This will put us behind those lucky Brits for the next two weeks, until the mid-season finale airs. After that, no more Who until fall. At least we'll have Torchwood to tide us over.

Speaking of Torchwood, star John Barrowman promises that Captain Jack's sexuality won't be watered down for American audiences. Well, duh. The new series is on Starz. If anything, they'll make it racier.

Writing progress: Not a damn word written last night. Instead, I watched "The King's Speech." With my heavy focus on writing, I've basically done no reading for the past week. And with no reading, my fount of creativity is running a bit dry. Time to replenish. If I get any writing done tonight, great - but mostly I'm going to be digging into my science-fiction/fantasy anthologies for inspiration.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Writer, educate thyself

Story progress: 4,400 words and counting.

The past couple of weeks have been eye-opening for me. I am not professional writer, but I hope to be someday, and so I have made a point of learning some of the basics of the business side of publishing. After all, writers are not just artists but also small-business owners.

Here's how I assumed it went: Write a spectacular novel. Hire an agent. Let the agent sell the book, negotiate the contract and handle all the legalese and business details. Watch the money roll in. Repeat.

And maybe that's how it worked 10 years ago. That's certainly how literary agents would like us all to believe it still works because their continued livelihood depends on writers believing agents are a necessary part of the process.

I'm learning that my assumptions are naive and the reality is much more complicated. I'm not anywhere near an expert. I've never seen a book contract let alone had to negotiate or sign one. I've never had to decipher a royalty statement. But here's the thing: Even I, ignorant shlub that I am, could call myself a literary agent, take on clients and have them pay me 15 percent to handle their business. That is because -- and I didn't know this until recently -- agents are not regulated. They don't need a law or business degree. They don't have to pass a test or earn a certification.

Take note: I'm sure there are excellent agents out there. But how am I supposed to know which ones have some business and legal smarts and will negotiate with my best interests at heart, and which ones are either incompetent or most interested in bettering their own position with editors and publishing houses?

I'm starting to come around to the opinion that, if or when I reach the point in my career in which all this becomes a reality, it's better to hire an IP lawyer. I'll make my own mistakes, learn from them and do better next time. Or I'll go into the rapidly expanding world of e-publishing and skip the traditional publishing houses altogether.

What brought me around to this change of heart? Mostly, Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who seem to have made it their mission to education writers of all levels about the realities of publishing. A lot of other writers have also been using their blogs to tackle the subjects of agents, e-publishing and the changing nature of the business.

Here's the main lessons I've learned so far:
  • Don't blindly hand your money and your career over to an agent because you could end up losing money or following bad advice. Trust yourself, instead.
  • Educate yourself. Keep educating yourself. Because what is true about publishing today might not be true six months from now. That's how fast it's changing.
To reflect my changing attitude, I'm going to revise my publishing links at the right side of the page. These days I'm more open to reading what pro writers, rather than agents, have to say about the business.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Book signing set

The Colorado contributors to the upcoming "Showdown at Midnight" weird West anthology - including yours truly - will be doing a signing at 3 p.m. July 10 at the Broadway Book Mall in Denver. I'm sure I'll be mentioning this again, as well as the release date for the book, as we get closer.

While the signing details were being worked out over e-mail this morning, I mentioned to my husband that this event would be coming up. He said, "Is this for the anthology that just came out?"

My response: "No, this is for another one coming out this summer."

And that's when I stopped and marveled for a moment. "Another one" means multiple anthologies. Over a three-month period, my stories are being published in two anthologies (one is a reprint), and also there is this. Normally I try to put on my professional face for this blog (whether I succeed or not is a different story), but sometimes it's good to share the giddiness, too. Why else do we writers toil to get our stories just right and endure reams of rejections if not for these small moments of success?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Kids + expensive object = broken

Today in real life: One of the things kids are really, really good at is breaking stuff. It's rarely intentional, but it happens on a regular basis. The latest casualty is my son's glasses. He put them on top of his headboard before going to sleep, and they dropped behind the bed. By the time they were found two days later, after a house-wide search, they were in multiple pieces. So we'll be heading over to an optical store tomorrow for new frames.

Today in writing: I've hit 3,000 words in six days, which was the goal. That's the good news. The bad news is that the scene I wrote last night isn't working. It's ripe for conflict and suspense and not living up to its potential. So I'm going to rethink what I'm doing, backtrack a few hundred words and try again. This time I'll pull out the handy-dandy notebook and pen and do the scene longhand. Something so simple as changing the medium in which I write can give me a whole new perspective.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Writing progress

The Writers of the Future story continues. I have another 280 words to get through tonight after work to maintain my pace of 500 per day. (I'm playing catch-up a little from my under-count last night.)

Last night: 450 words
Today (so far): 200
Running total: 2,220

Doctor Who: The Rebel Flesh

This week's Doctor Who adventure had the unenviable task of following up last week's spectacular episode. It's a much more low-key affair, the first half of a two-parter that asks the age-old question: What makes us human?

The Doctor, Amy and Rory land on a Gothic-looking island - a monastery that has been transformed into a factory for "almost people." There's a big vat of milky liquid that can copy DNA (along with all that person's memories) to create a doppelganger, or Ganger. Not surprisingly, the Gangers decide they are people in their own right, while the humans think they're just animated goo, and the disagreement leads the two sides to the brink of war.

This episode (written by Matthew Graham) reminds me of the The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood from last season, and also the David Tennant special The Waters of Mars.

The most intriguing development is Rory's almost unhealthy obsession with protecting the Ganger Jennifer. She shows interest in him romantically, and he appoints himself as her knight in shining armor. It probably stems from his need as a nurse to take care of people in distress. Amy seems to take it in stride. I suppose turnabout is fair play after her interest in the Doctor. But I wonder how it will play out in Part 2.

A couple of other tidbits that I suspect will become important in the second episode: The human Doctor wearing different shoes from his Ganger counterpart, and the tendency of one of the human males to sneeze a lot.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The end is near ... nevermind

It's a great day for the world, folks, because it appears it's not going to end. At least not today. I'm amazed at how any nutball can stand on a street corner spouting off that "The end is near!" and everyone ignores him/her, but give that nutball a microphone and a few million dollars and suddenly you have a huge media event. I wonder what it is about such predictions that captures people's attention and imagination. I have to admit that even though I knew, logically, that the whole thing was a load of hooey, there was a tiny back corner of me that wanted to stay awake last night until New Zealand hit 6 p.m. - just to be sure.

Those nice folks at SF Signal included "Malfunction" in their weekly free fiction feature. It's a little stupid, but I felt a thrill to see my story listed alongside those of many professional writers. I've also been psyched about the positive response the story has received on the Ray Gun Revival site this week.

Writing progress:
Last night: about 600 words
Running total: 1,500

Parting thought for the day: As parent with one child who still won't go to sleep when it's bedtime, I unequivocally want this book. Even the back cover copy had me rolling.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Writing progress

Finally the rain has cleared (at least until the afternoon thunderstorms roll in), and my wrists are thankful for it. Three days of damp has made my joints ache and throb. This is mostly due to an injury I sustained playing soccer 21 years ago because heaven knows I'm not old enough yet for my body to be falling apart.

Despite my difficulty even clicking a mouse button yesterday, I still managed to write 500 words on my not-yet-titled Writers of the Future entry. I'm pretty happy with the opening scene, which sets up the protagonist, plot, theme, and external and internal conflicts, all in a svelte 866 words. My goal is to reach 2,000 words by Sunday, assuming the world doesn't end tomorrow.

Last note: Today was my son's field day. My daughter and I went over to the school about 10:30 a.m. to find the last couple of classes were finishing up and going inside. It wasn't supposed to end until 11:30, but we ended up missing the whole thing. That pisses me off a bit. I'm mad at myself for not getting out there earlier and mad at the school for sending out e-mails to parents with an incorrect schedule. Good going, School.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Too cold for May

Today in real life: It's raining again, which makes it the third rainy day in a row. Because of that, I likely won't go for a run. This has been a sedentary week for me. I'm also back at work tonight after a three-day weekend, which isn't as nice as it sounds because one of those days was furlough. My company requires seven furlough days per year. Some people take them all at once. I spread them out. Anyway, I suppose in the current economic climate (especially for newspapers), I should just be glad I have a job.

Today in writing: I spent Monday and Tuesday doing world-building and character development work. Last night, I started writing the story itself and cranked out 350 words. That doesn't sound like much, but those first few paragraphs are tough to write. There's a lot to think about in the hook. Am I starting the story in the right place? Is it compelling enough to draw in a reader? Most readers, if you can persuade them to read past the first page, will go on to finish the story. Those first 13 lines are critical. My goal now is 500 words per day until it's finished.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Read "Malfunction" now

My science-fiction, android, time-travel story is now up at Ray Gun Revival. You can read it here, and I would much appreciate if you would take the time to rate it and/or leave a comment.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Doctor Who: The Doctor's Wife

With Neil Gaiman wielding the pen for this fourth installment of season six, my expectations were sky high. This was going to have to be a damn good episode for me to come away satisfied. And guess what? "The Doctor's Wife" is the best episode in a long time. Maybe since "Blink." It's funny, scary, touching and very quotable. Best of all, it left me with a new understanding of and appreciation for a character who's been there all along but has never before gotten her due.

Spoilers ahead. Stop now if you haven't watched "The Doctor's Wife" and plan to. Seriously. You don't want get spoiled. Trust me on this.

Last chance to leave.

OK, here we go.

The Doctor is lured to a junkyard on an asteroid in its own little bubble universe, where the TARDIS promptly shuts down because its matrix (or soul) has inexplicably vanished. Turns out the asteroid is a giant sentient creature called House (not the caustic doctor variety) that has put the TARDIS matrix into a woman's body. It then takes over the TARDIS body and flies off toward the real universe with Amy and Rory inside. The Doctor and his TARDIS (who prefers the name of Sexy), must build their own TARDIS console and give chase. Meanwhile, House turns the real TARDIS into a house of horrors for Amy and Rory.

What really makes this episode special is the relationship between the Doctor and his TARDIS. Never before (and probably never again), has the TARDIS had the opportunity to speak to her "thief," and she has a lot to say. For starters, from her perspective, she is the one who abducted the Doctor 700 years before - not the other way around - because she wanted to see the universe. And when the Doctor accuses her of not always taking him where he wants to go, she responds that she always takes him where he needs to go.

It helps that the TARDIS is played by the wonderful Suranne Jones. Also, the script allows Matt Smith a wider emotional range than I think we've ever seen from him as the Doctor. For the scene in which the TARDIS and the Doctor say goodbye (or, as the TARDIS says, "Hello"), have a box of tissues nearby.

Other tidbits to love:
  • An Ood! Gaiman has said the script originally called for a new alien creature but was changed because of budgetary reasons. A good change, in my book.
  • We get to see more of the TARDIS interior, even if it's only a hallway.
  • David Tennant's control room makes an appearance.
  • "The only water in the forest is the river." A reference to River Song? And if she's the only water, that means there are no Ponds?
  • Rory died again (sort of). This is becoming a bit ridiculous.
Next week: Weird fleshy looking creatures. Will the regenerating girl make an appearance? How about eye-patch lady? Will Rory get through an entire episode without dying? Tune in to see.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Non-writing news for the day

Today in real life: The most important thing I did today was deliver a stuffed bunny to my son's school. Today was stuffed-animal day in his class, and he left Ouch the bunny (yes, that's its name) on the living room floor. My son was quite happy when he saw me and Ouch waiting for him in the school office.

On the boob tube: Good news for one of my favorite television shows. The perennial bubble show "Chuck" will get a fifth and final season of 13 episodes. Long ago, one of my favorite shows coming to a close would have made me sad. Nowadays, I'm of the opinion that it's better for a show to go out at its creative peak rather than spend a season or two petering out before being canceled in a mercy killing. It feels like this is the right course to take for "Chuck." The two main characters are about to get married, which will effectively kill the sexual tension that has been the beating heart of the show for four years. It's time to let Chuck and Sarah ride off into the sunset.

Sale! Showdown at Midnight anthology

That weird West story I've been pounding away at for the past three or four weeks has sold to the Showdown at Midnight anthology, which will be put out by Science Fiction Trails Publishing sometime this year. (I'm fuzzy on the actual publication date.) "The Great Ghost Train Robbery" involves Annie Oakley, a gang of ghost bandits and, of course, a train robbery. It's one of the more fun stories I've ever written and I'm excited for it to find such a good home. If you're looking for a fix of excellent weird West fiction right now, check out the Six-Guns From Hell anthology by the same publisher (there's a link on the right side of the page.)

In other publishing news, you can now order The Best of Every Day Fiction, Vol. 3 at your online book retailer of choice. These are the 100 best stories published by Every Day Fiction in 2010, including one of mine ... an ancient Rome alternative history story called "Ripples."

So this is a good day for me on the writing front. I'm going to bask in the happy glow for a while, and then get cracking on my Writers of the Future story after work.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Doctor Who: Curse of the Black Spot

The Doctor + pirates + an apparently homicidal siren. What couldn't be great about that?

Unfortunately, "The Curse of the Black Spot" didn't quite work for me. It seemed to be (forgive the pun) treading water.

Coming off the craziness of 1960s America, the Doctor, Amy and Rory decide to ignore all the questions raised by that adventure and instead follow a distress beacon to a pirate ship adrift in calm waters. The ship's crew is dwindling; every time anyone gets so much as a hangnail, a black spot appears on their palm and a green glowing siren shows up and poofs them into nothingness. Much pirate wackiness ensues. The Doctor walks the plank. Amy puts on a tricorn and swings around a cutlass. Rory is "marked for death" with the black spot. Argh! In the end, it turns out the "siren" is a holographic doctor from an alien ship that is trapped in the same space as the pirate ship, only on a different plain. She's transporting humans to her sick bay because all of her alien crew are dead. None of the humans ends up dead, although Rory comes close (again). The pirates commandeer the alien ship - thus becoming space pirates - and the Doctor and Co. continue on their merry way.

Only two plot points connected to the season opener: Amy's sort-of pregnancy hasn't gone away, and she again sees the eye-patch woman, who this time tells her she's doing fine and to stay calm. If it turns out that Amy is in a psychiatric facility (or some equivalent of that) and her adventures with the Doctor are not real, I will curse and throw things at the television.

This episode struck me the same way the sophomore effort of Season 5 (The Beast Below) did: Lots of interesting elements that didn't quite gel together the way they should. An entertaining hour (if you don't look too hard at plot holes large enough to sail a pirate ship through), but not mind-blowing in the way the season opener was.

Next week: an episode I've been looking forward to watching for a long time because it's penned by Neil Gaiman. I have high expectations.

Happy Mother's Day

Today being the day we set aside to honor our mothers, here are a few things I'm thankful for about my own mother:

She chose to carry me to term, even though I was unplanned. She put her career on hold to stay home to care for me and my sisters. She cuddled me in the rocking chair whenever I was sad. She went back to work and kept the money coming in when my dad was going through a bad time in his life. She supported me when I said I wanted to go to college 1,000 miles from home. She flew to North Carolina and stayed to help me for several weeks after each of my children was born. She is the best mother (and now grandmother) any girl could ask for.

Thanks, Mom.

My husband and children celebrated the day by taking me out to lunch. There were also roses and adorable school projects involved. This afternoon, we took the training wheels off my son's bike, and he was riding from one end of the cul-de-sac to the other within a half-hour. No better way to spend the day.

Today in writing: 800 words last night. Damn close to "the end."

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Comics, horses and snow drops

Today in real life: Free Comic Book Day! Get over to the nearest comic book store and check out the offerings. I took my two youngest kids to the local shop this morning (which had a storm trooper and Thor hanging out in front). Lots of fun.

It's also Derby Day! I know nothing about horse racing. The Triple Crown races are the only ones I watch, and I pick my horse based on name coolness factor and betting odds. This year, I'm going with Midnight Interlude, with Santiva as my second pick. (Edited to add: Boy did I get it wrong. Among 19 horses, Midnight Interlude finished 16th.)

I also dragged my family out of bed at 7:45 a.m. to go have breakfast with my grandparents, who are in town for the wedding of my mother's cousin's daughter. The kids were good, except that they're both still mildly sick, and my 7-year-old hasn't figured out that (a) tissues are for blowing noses and not holding to your face all day and (b) you do not put the tissues in your mouth when you're done with them. Gross, yeah. But keep in mind there are some developmental issues at play there.

And, lastly, I discovered this morning that the bulbs in my front yard flowerbed, which I left intact after cleaning out all the dead growth and weeds, are snow drops. This makes me happy because I planted many snow-drop bulbs in my garden in North Carolina and then moved to Denver before they came up. I never got to see them. Now it feels like they followed me here.

Today in writing: With so much going on, no writing done today or last night (because I went to bed early due to the expected early start this morning). So, the plan after work is to finish my first draft (after I watch the new Doctor Who).

Bits and pieces:

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Yeah for spring, boo for germs

Today in real life: Spring has finally sprung here in Colorado, and I celebrated the beautiful day by spreading new mulch in the front-yard flower beds. (There aren't any flowers there yet, though. It's a dirt patch with aspirations of being a flower bed.) Two of my three children are sick with colds, which isn't fun but beats the bronchitis that my niece and sister are battling. As for me, I'm washing my hands about every 15 minutes in an attempt to avoid all the germs that are circulating in the family right now.

Today in writing: 200 words this morning, on top of 1,000 words over Tuesday and Wednesday. The work-in-progress is at 4,400 words total and close to being finished. Submission is due May 15. Why do I always cut it so close? It must have something to do with my journalism training and doing my best work on a tight deadline.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

In the newsroom tonight

Ever wonder what it's like in a newsroom when there's big breaking news? With the exception of 9/11 and presidential election nights, it doesn't get any bigger than it did tonight with the death of Osama bin Laden. This is the sort of news we journalists live for.

7:52 p.m.: The Associated Press sends an alert that President Barack Obama will make a late-night statement; subject not announced.

8:15 p.m.: AP says Obama will make his statement possibly in the next 15 minutes, and also informs us media types (as if we didn't know) that this kind of abrupt presidential statement with no pre-announced subject is very unusual. The copy desk spends the next 15 minutes speculating on what is going on. Something to do with Libya?

8:30 p.m.: The New York Times reports on its website that Osama bin Laden is dead.

8:32 p.m.: Our 1A page designer rips up the front page.

9 p.m.: The top editors start to show up in the newsroom. We soon have the editor in chief and two managing editors, as well as the chief page designer and extra support in the graphics and photo departments. But no extra news copy editors. We have six copy editors and one wire editor tonight, which is a skeletal crew. Three sports copy editors are recruited to the news side.

9:30 p.m.: We all stop for nine minutes to listen to Obama's speech.

10 p.m.: Our deadline for first edition is pushed back a half-hour to 11 p.m., and we're all thanking our lucky stars we don't live on the East Coast. They are two hours ahead and their newspapers were probably already coming off the press when the news broke.

11:05 p.m.: We're off the floor for the first edition. We did a completely new front page and one whole open inside page of bin Laden coverage. That will increase to four open pages (as in, no ads), for the final edition. That's 14 new stories, with photos and graphics. Deadline is midnight. We're unlikely to make that.

11:50 p.m.: We're still compiling and editing stories, picking photos and putting together pages. I was tasked with compiling quotes from U.S. leaders (done) and finding a story of world reaction (no wire service has moved one yet).

12:40 a.m.: After a frantic hour of editing and writing headlines and photo captions, we're down to one story.

12:52 a.m.: The wire editor finally gets to leave after a 12-hour shift. "Happy dead terrorist day," she says as she walks out. All of the copy is edited and approved.

1:04 a.m.: All pages are gone! Only 64 minutes late.

1:30 a.m.: Everyone has gone home except me. I have to hang around and wait for the actual paper copies to be delivered and check to make sure all is well. But as of right now, the presses aren't going yet. Gonna be awhile.

2:30 a.m.: Papers have arrived. They look good. I'm heading home.

Doctor Who: Day of the Moon

Gut reaction to the second part of the Doctor Who season 6 premiere: I felt just a little bit let down.

The letdown started with the opening sequence. Taken on its own, it was clever and exciting, but it picked up three months after the big cliffhanger of "The Impossible Astronaut." If you blinked, you missed how the Doctor and his crew got out of that jam, and Amy shooting at a little girl is resolved with a throw-away line of dialogue halfway into the episode. I felt like I was cheated out of a bigger payoff there.

My biggest issue, though, was that these two episodes were not a story in themselves so much as they were a prologue to the season. I've enjoyed my share of serialized shows (Lost, Alias, 24), but I've never thought of Doctor Who as one of them. Yet we were left with quite a few questions when the end credits rolled:

From the long-term: Who is River Song and who did she kill? We did get a tidbit of information on this when she says she has to say in jail to fulfill a promise. (By the way, River really grew on me as a character these two episodes. She takes out a whole room of Silents with kick-ass precision, and her heartbreak is palatable when she realizes that was her last kiss with the Doctor.)

From the short-term: Who killed the Doctor and why? Who is that little girl? (Amy's daughter messed with in the womb by the Silents? The Doctor's daughter Jenny?) How can she regenerate? And why is there a photo of Amy in her bedroom? And speaking of Amy, who was the woman with the eye patch she saw in the window? What did the Silents do with her over several days of captivity? Is she impregnated with Schrodinger's baby?

We won't get any answers next week as the Doctor and Co. will be going on a pirate adventure. Arg! Unfortunately, what should be a fun adventure standalone episode will only make me impatient for Steven Moffat and his writers to get back to what they set in motion in the premiere. I probably won't be the only one thinking that way, but that's what serializing your series does to your audience.