Sunday, July 31, 2011

George R.R. Martin signing, Denver

To buy George R.R. Martin's newest book Dance With Dragons, I drove a half-hour downtown on the day it was released and spent another 20 minutes looking for a parking space, all to get the book at a specific locally owned store: The Tattered Cover. Why? So that I could also get a ticket to Martin's signing at that same store, which happened today.

He started a few minutes late, but not horribly so, and gave a half-hour talk addressing many of the questions he gets asked a lot (such as "Why did it take you so long to write the book?" and "Who's your favorite character?"). I did not get to watch the talk because I was not one of the lucky people in the room with him, but I heard it through a set of speakers.

Then he got with the signing, and this guy is a signing machine. My ticket number was 308, and I was to the front of the line in an hour, had about 10 seconds to say hello while he signed my books, and then he was on to the next person.

I will mention one thing Martin brought up in the talk, which was advice for aspiring writers. He said that the best way to break into the science-fiction and fantasy genres is to start in short stories. Write lots and lots of short stories. Experiment. Get better. Make some sales to the pro magazines. Then write your novel. That way, you are not some unknown writer putting out a book; you are an up-and-coming short story writer with (hopefully) a fan base who is releasing a highly anticipated debut novel.

So, according to Mr. Martin, I am on the right track. Me and thousands of other new writers.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

I'm on Google +

At the invite of a friend, I have joined Google +. I'm not sure exactly how it works, and the whole circle thing is confusing. There are also apparently hangouts, which are different from circles in ways I do not understand. But I do hope that once I get it figured out that this will prove itself as a suitable replacement for Facebook, which I quit a few months ago and still miss.

Also today, I took my two youngest children to the local library for the end of the summer reading program. If a child reads eight or more hours during June and July, the library gives him or her a free book. There were lots of titles to choose from: tables and tables piled high with books. My 7-year-old son excitedly found the fourth volume in the "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" series (he spent most of the summer reading the first three installments). My 4-year-old daughter picked out a Max and Ruby picture book. Then they did some craft projects and played outdoor games. In all, it's a fantastic program for a library system to offer kids. Let's keep them reading!

Writing progress: 500 words last night.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Stuff and fluff

First off, a huge congratulations to Nicholas Tchan for winning in the second quarter of the Writers of the Future contest. Nick and I started trading stories here and there for critique a couple of years ago, but in recent months we have become full-fledged critique partners and very good friends. His winning story is one of the most imaginative and well-written WotF entries I have ever had the privilege to critique. In my opinion, no one deserves the win more.

Writing progress: No words yesterday, but I did a lot of brainstorming and world-building. This story is unusual (for me at least) in that each scene has its own unique setting. It's requiring me to stretch my imagination muscles more than is normal.

I also finally got around to registering for the Writers of the Future forum. I've been a lurker there for years and feel like I know many of the regular posters, but they don't know me. Time to change that.

Meanwhile, at the day job, I have a long weekend of U.S. government debt coverage ahead of me. Why the Democrats and Republicans, senators and representatives, can't find common ground and pass something -- anything -- to stop the U.S. from defaulting is beyond me. I'm starting to think there might be a contingent on Capitol Hill that actually wants to plunge the country back into recession.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Vacation, the end

Writing progress: WIP is at 3,900 words. Last night, I revised some things, most notably the end to the section I had just finished. It's much better now, and I can move forward. I did not finish the story this week, as I wanted to, but I'm satisfied with what I did get done.

In real life: I return to work this afternoon. I had nine days of staycation in which there was a movie, an overpriced Renaissance fair, bowling, visits to swiming pools and playgrounds, and all those things that keep children occupied during summer break. Now I have about a week of work, and then a couple more days off to go to my cousin's wedding.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Vacation Day 5

Writing progress: 800 words yesterday.

In real life: Not much that's interesting. Chores, errands, playing with the kids, writing and going for a run. Three days left until it's back to work.

The trailer for the second half of the Doctor Who season is now online. River with an eyepatch! There's also a clip from an upcoming episode. Also, the Los Angeles Times has a nice write-up on the Doctor Who Comic-Con panel, which most media outlets seem to have mostly ignored because it happened on the last day of the con.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Vacation Day 4

Writing progress: None yesterday. I will remedy that today.

In real life: The Renaissance Festival was insanely crowded and expensive, but also fun. Twenty bucks got us three "sausages on a bun" (a k a hot dogs) and one basket of fries for lunch. We watched jousting, juggling and a big-cats show, visited a petting zoo and let the kids jump around in a fountain. Today will be a home day. I need to do grocery shopping, but otherwise I will be writing.

Bits learned by reading way too much Comic-Con coverage:
- Mark Hamill will be the latest stunt casting on "Chuck."
- Nelson Ellis geeks out over "Doctor Who," while Matt Smith geeks out over "True Blood."
- John Barrowman of "Torchwood" has a nice singing voice.
- Darren Criss of "Glee" is a bona fide geek (he did Comic-Con Harry Potter fan panels before getting famous).

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Vacation Day 3

Writing progress: I finished a scene last night. Word count is at 2,300.

In real life: I took the kids to the cheap theater yesterday to see "Kung Fu Panda 2." The theater reminds me of movie trips in my teenage years: small screen, no stadium seating, food and soda on the floor. Ah, nostalgia. My daughter spent the entire movie on my lap because she didn't weigh enough to hold down the seat, but we had a good time. Today, we are going to the Colorado Renaissance Festival. I've spent way too much time over the past two days following Comic-Con news and interviews online. It'll be good to get out of the house.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Lost Comic-Con clip

This clip was shown at the 2011 Comic-Con, a supposed "lost scene" from season 1. It had me laughing out loud. I love that Team Darlton can show a sense of humor over fan complaints over how the show ended: the shiny, magical light; the "cork" metaphor; the Scottish guy pushing a button; the fact that the Man in Black's name is ... well, just watch.

Vacation Day 2

Writing progress: About 850 words yesterday.

In real life: I plan to take the kids to a movie this afternoon, if they leave me undisturbed for writing this morning. I watched "Moon" last night. It was decent science fiction but predictable at every turn. The most enjoyment I got out of it was in Sam Rockwell's performances. I'm also cleaning out the books that have accumulated on and around my dresser over a long, not-to-be-disclosed period of time. I was going to share a photo of the pile, but my Internet browser is not cooperating. Suffice to say, it was big.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Vacation, but not in San Diego

Back in January, I asked for this week off with one purpose in mind: to go to Comic-Con for the first time. Alas, my longtime convention partner (my youngest sister) was unable to afford the trip. So instead of screaming myself hoarse over Doctor Who, Chuck, True Blood, Glee, Nathan Fillion, Joss Whedon, Sarah Michelle Gellar and a whole bunch of awesome novelists, I am on staycation and will be following the annual geekfest online. Oh well. There's always next year.

What else will I be doing with nine days of nonworking? Last night, my husband and I took the kids to a Colorado Rapids game. I plan to run every day and finish the first draft of my current WIP. The kids and I will go to the Colorado Renaissance Festival and maybe catch a movie or two. And I hope to clean up the mess that is my side of the bedroom.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hair cut

Long, thick hair in midsummer is a bear. So today I got about six inches chopped off. The photo quality isn't the best because it was done with the webcam on my computer, but here is before ...

And here is after ...

My head feels about 10 pounds lighter. My hair doesn't get stuck under my shirt collar or purse strap. I could definitely get used to this.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Is fat the new normal?

The Denver Post (i.e. my employer) published a feature article today about a new campaign here in Colorado to make people more aware of their weight and health. Weight is a topic that has been on my mind the past few days, mostly due to the subject coming up in conversation with a couple of people, and so the article caught my attention. The first line is this: "Fat doesn't look so bad when everyone else is getting heavier too."

That got me thinking about what it means to be overweight. The article implies (and I tend to agree) that people judge their weight not against an unchanging scale (such as one's body mass index) but against the weight of other people. So when society as a whole gets fatter, one's own overweight midsection looks perfectly normal. You say, "Hey, I'm not as big as that person over there, so I must be doing all right."

It reminds me of a line in the fantastic Pixar movie "The Incredibles": "When everyone is special, no one is." Now replace "special" with "overweight," and that's what is happening to developing nations today.

Colorado is a famously athletic, health-conscious state. We are the fittest state in the U.S., but even so a recent study found that 56 percent of Coloradans are overweight or obese. Scary.

I spend a lot of time teaching my children about the importance of exercise and healthy eating. Today we talked about how the bodies they were born with are the only ones they will ever have, so they better take care of them. They understood what I was saying. But will they heed mom's advice when they're older, and when overweight is normal? I hope so.

(P.S. I suppose I ought to add for disclosure's sake, that my own BMI is 21. What's yours?)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Stuff and fluff

Writing progress: Another 500 words last night.

In real life: Washed dishes, played Candy Land with my daughter, read a short story, picked some strawberries from the backyard garden and am now at the day job.

Bits and pieces:

Friday, July 15, 2011

Happy Friday

Writing progress: I have written and tossed out three possible beginnings to a new story. I would write a few hundred words, sleep on it and reread it the next morning to find that the attempt had fallen flat. I have thrown out probably close to 1,500 words this week. The fourth beginning, which I wrote yesterday morning, is the one I will keep. Why? I've found a good voice for the protagonist, and it's the first opening that I've been excited to continue.

Bits and pieces:
  • The finalists for Writers of the Future quarter 2 have been announced. I'm rooting for Nick Tchan, who is a trusted critique partner and a good friend.
  • Torchwood episode 2 is tonight, and I'm crossing my fingers Starz puts it online.
  • Fans who were outraged by the death of Sean Bean's character on Game of Thrones were oblivious on two fronts. (a) The character died 15 years ago when George R.R. Martin wrote the book and (b) Sean Bean's character always dies. (Richard Sharpe and a few others excepted.) Want proof? Go watch the Sean Bean Death Reel. It's funny and sick all at the same time.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

It's official

I was debating whether to write up this post now or in a couple weeks when the results are made public. Obviously I decided to do it now. I have received confirmation from the administrator for Writers of the Future that I am indeed a semi-finalist for Quarter 2. The previous notification went out too early but was accurate. I am relieved. I'm assuming at this point, my fellow semi-finalists and the finalist know who they are. Congratulations to all.

In other writing news, I started a new story this morning. I'll decide later, when it's done and I've shown it to a few people, whether this will be my WotF submission for Quarter 4. Here's hoping it turns out well.

(Edited to add: The full list of finalists, semi-finalists, silver honorable mentions and honorable mentions is now posted to the Writers of the Future website. Congrats to all.)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Book signing: Showdown at Midnight

At 3 p.m. Sunday at the Broadway Book Mall, I will be doing a book signing for the new weird West anthology "Showdown at Midnight." Joining me will be fellow anthology contributor Carol Hightshoe and editor David Riley.

For anyone wondering right now: What the heck is weird West? There's a good article on the subject this month at Redstone Science Fiction magazine. Take Wild West and mix in some science fiction, fantasy or horror, and you've got a weird West story. I've written about a cowboy's encounter with aliens, and an elixir (sold by a man who travels in a dirigible) that turns people into zombies. My story in the new anthology, "The Great Ghost Train Robbery," involves Annie Oakley and a gang of train robbers who happen to already be dead.

If you live in the Denver area, I'd love for you to come on by.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Progress report

Writing progress: I have not done any writing in the past week, but that doesn't mean I haven't been working. I spent a lot of time last night lying on my bed, listening to the rainstorm outside my window, and thinking. I'm close to having the premise of my next project worked out. After that will come a few days of intensive work on character- and world-building. Then I can get with the writing part of the process.

In real life: The kids are in swim lessons this week. My son was placed in an fairly advanced class - as in, he has to have the basics down - and then was told two days into the class that he does not have the necessary skills and was being bumped down to a lower level. It's hard being given something and then having it taken away. I feel for him. He wanted to quit, but we had a talk about how in quitting, the only person he would hurt is himself. Today we were back at the pool, with my son in his new class, and he worked hard. I'm proud of him.

Bits and pieces:
  • I've been looking forward to tomorrow's premiere of Torchwood for weeks. Today I found out Starz will not make the series available through Netflix for 90 days. I'm a little upset over that.
  • I've finished reading the most recent Writers of the Future anthology. It's a strong collection. There was only one story I did not enjoy. Also, Patrick O'Sullivan's "Maddy Dune's First and Only Spelling Bee" is now one of my all-time favorite contest winners. Now I'm reading Carrie Vaughn's "After the Golden Age," which reminds me quite a lot of "The Incredibles."

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Writers of the Future update

Yesterday, I promised an update on Writers of the Future. The contest administrator responded to my e-mail Friday afternoon and apologized for the mix-up. As for the rest, I am now waiting just like many other entrants to see how the quarter shakes out. I hold no ill will toward anyone over what was an honest mistake. The folks who run this contest work very hard at it, and I appreciate all they do.

For those who are clueless to what I am talking about, I received notification Thursday I was a semi-finalist for the second quarter and found out the next day that semi-finalists and finalists had not yet been determined. Amid my disappointment, I got told by someone close to me that I was overreacting to the news. The implication from that person was clear: WotF is not a big deal. I suppose in the grand scheme of things, that is true. But it is a big deal for me. Let me explain.

My ultimate goal is to become a novelist who can live off the income from my writing. More intermediate goals are to make enough pro sales that I am considered a professional writer and to write a novel that sells. However, all those goals right now seem to be locked up behind an impenetrable door. There are many ways to open that door. The one I've chosen is the Writers of the Future contest. I don't believe that winning this contest will open up the world of publishing to me. I'm not that naive. I do believe it can get my foot in the metaphorical door.

So three years ago, I promised myself that I would enter the contest every quarter until I either won or I made myself ineligible through too many professional sales. I have stuck with that. In my early entries, I sent off whatever story I had available at the time, and I didn't do too badly: Five honorable mentions in eight quarters. Right around Christmas last year, those HMs started to feel not like success but stagnation.

I read once from a professional writer who is now a judge of the WotF contest that if you receive an HM, you're good. You are writing quality work, and your placement is only a matter of the judges' personal taste. At the time I read that, I believed it because it meant I was doing well. It was an affirmation. But I don't believe that anymore. To me, an HM means the story is good but is not good enough.

At the start of 2011, I set myself another goal: to make semi-finalist or finalist (or even better yet, to win) by the end of the year.

So in that next entry - my ninth - I pushed myself harder than I ever had before, and the result was a silver honorable mention. In my 10th entry, I spent so much time writing and rewriting that I only finished one story that quarter. I just about sweated blood over that story. I worked on it until I was sick of it. By the time I hit the "submit" key, I could not stand to look at it even one more time. And I was rewarded for my work on Thursday when I received word of my semi-finalist status. I had done it! More than that it was proof that I could do it. It was the first time I truly believed that I was a good enough writer to win this contest.

Then came Friday.

I have hopes for how things will work out for me personally this quarter, but there are no guarantees. But here's the thing: If you pursue a career in writing for long enough, you will meet with setbacks and disappointments. Mine this week is small potatoes compared with some of the horror stories I've heard about or read online. Those writers dust themselves off and keep going, and so will I. I will stick to my promise of three years ago and continue submitting to WotF every quarter until I win or pro-out.

... But I do hope when all is said and done this time around, I get to keep my semi-finalist berth.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Taking stock on 2011 so far

We're now at the midway point of 2011, so I thought this would be a good time to look at how well I am sticking to the resolutions I made six months ago and writing progress (or lack thereof) in general:

1. Write more. In 2010, I wrote about 45,000 words and finished seven stories. My goals for this year was to finish two stories every three months. I have written about 26,000 words in the past three months (granted, I tossed 16,000 of those words) and probably 15,000 the quarter before that. So already I've almost matched my entire word-count total for 2010. I finished one publishable story in the first quarter and two in the second quarter.

2. Submit more. I had 20 submissions total last year. This year, so far: 16 submissions, most to professional markets. So, good progress there.

3. Read outside my comfort genres. This is where I've fallen down so far this year. I haven't done as much reading in any genre as I would like. This is because I have a limited number of hours for activities outside work and family, and most of those have gone to writing, not reading.

That sums up the writing resolutions. I'll add to this that I've had two sales in the first half of 2011, to Ray Gun Revival and the Showdown at Midnight anthology, and one reprint in the Best of Every Day Fiction 3 anthology. In the past two quarters for Writers of the Future, I have logged a silver honorable mention and a semi-finalist.

All in all, it has a good first half of the year. In the three years since I decided to start writing original fiction, sometimes it has seemed as futile as beating my head against a wall. However, I think I am starting to see some cracks in the plaster.