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

Orson Scott Card

Gail Carriger

Susanne Collins
The Hunger Games
Catching Fire

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

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.