Monday, January 31, 2011
For the record, I am a woman. I enjoy reading the occasional paranormal romance but I don't write it. Ever. I'll go a step farther and point out that in two-plus years of critiquing WotF entries from both men and women, I have yet to see even one paranormal romance story in the pile from either sex. The female writers I know write an eclectic mix of science fiction (hard and soft) and fantasy (of all kinds).
This is an edited version of a post from earlier today. That earlier post was angry and ranting. I decided later that wasn't the tone I wanted to take. My main beef with making a sexist remark like "most female writers write paranormal romance" is that it's an assumption. Any assumption a person can make is most likely wrong. A saying I learned awhile back: "assume" makes an "ass" out of you and me.
All that said, I have no clue why fewer female writers win Writers of the Future. The judging is blind. So either we're simply not writing the stories that the judges deem are the best, or there are proportionally fewer of us entering the contest. In any case, I intend to become one of the women who breaks the trend.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
What I'm reading now: Orson Scott Card's young adult novel "Pathfinder." I'm about 150 pages in. So far, so good.
I have finally gotten around to setting up an author's page at amazon.com. The bibliography is woefully small, but that only means there's plenty of room to grow.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Last night, I added a third: The Kids Are All Right. This is an excellent film. Well-written, well-acted. But it's not going to win best picture because it's too small scale. (The Academy in recent years has tended more toward the epic.) The story focuses on one unconventional (and dysfunctional) family during the summer before the eldest child goes to college. That young woman contacts the sperm donor for her two lesbian moms, the sperm donor works his way into the lives of the family members and conflict ensues.
I'd say Annette Bening could upset front-runner Natalie Portman for best actress. Her performance is phenomenal. The movie is also nominated for best supporting actor for Mark Ruffalo and original screenplay, but it'll probably lose to The King's Speech in both those categories. (Although don't discount Inception in the screenplay category or Christian Bale for supporting actor.)
Next up: Going to see The King's Speech next weekend.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
I don't color my hair. It's medium brown, shot with gray. The gray started showing up about four years ago. I left my youthful 20s behind and found my first strand of gray in the span of a week. I've since come to an accord with those annoying, wiry strands that I don't attack them with dye and tweezers as long as they stay mostly hidden in the under-layers of my hair. The agreement seems to work out, for the most part. I might revisit it later on. We'll see.
Bits and pieces:
-- I realized today that six of the seven girls in my daughter's preschool class have names starting with "a": Alexandra, Abigail, Alea, Alyssa, Amelia, Anne Marie. I wonder whether that's a trend in girl's names. (The seventh girl, for those who might be wondering, is named Kylie.)
-- There will be a long, interesting essay by Carlton Cuse (co-creator of "Lost") in this Sunday's New York Times. I had the privilege of reading it this evening through the news-wires system at work. It's about burnout and rediscovering your creativity, which is relevant to anyone in a creative pursuit.
-- About two days ago, I got it into my head to read Daniel Keyes' classic science-fiction tale "Flowers for Algernon." Amazing story. The next night, I was reading Calvin & Hobbes cartoons to my son at bedtime, and the storyline involved Calvin making himself smarter (with a construct made of a colander and some string) so he can write a report for school, but the smartness wears off before he puts pen to paper. Sounds familiar.
Monday, January 24, 2011
There is a massive ski-jump ramp constructed in the park right outside my office window, with skiers taking the plunge and flying out into the cold Colorado air. Interesting and surreal to watch. (This is in preparation for a Big Air competition that begins tomorrow.)
Just as Buffy Season 8 comes to a close, with Season 9 not expected to start until the fall, here comes Doctor Who to tide me over. The timing could not be better.
About 5:30 a.m. this morning, when I was rocking my youngest back to sleep, I had a brainflash. An old idea that I've played with a couple of times before suddenly resurfaced in a new context. It started more than a year ago with a single word I read in a novel: wordscraper. I've tried twice before to use the concept of a physical building made of words, once in a fantasy story and once in near future science fiction. Neither worked. When this old idea, revised, came to me this morning, I knew I finally had it right. This idea will work and perhaps do so brilliantly. Time to go brainstorm.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
For me, the worst rejections are the ones I don't expect. The ones in which I let myself believe that this time an editor will love my story as much as I do and snap it up without a second thought. When that does not happen, it's a long, hard, fast fall back to reality. I mope for a few hours. Then I remind myself of the hundreds of rejections that so many professional writers collected before breaking into the business. I pick myself up, dust off the disappointment and send the story to the next market.
I don't think this friend of mine is in the mood for a pep talk right now. Besides, I've done a lot of the Miss Psycho Pep Squad recently, and that sort of thing becomes stale after awhile. He has set himself a deadline by which, he says, he will make a professional sale or it will never happen. I think he'll meet his deadline. But if he does not, what then? Just quit?
It's a so-called moment of truth I suspect many (if not all) writers face at some point (or many points) in their career: Do I give up, or do I keep writing and submitting, writing and submitting, writing and submitting? Each writer, including my frustrated friend, has to come to the decision that's right for him or her. For me, I keep writing. There's a good chance I will never become a professional writer. But that chance becomes a certainty if I stop trying.
Bits and pieces:
-- I watched "Knight and Day" last night, an action-romance starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz that keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek. A fun movie, but not great. Not one I would watch a second time.
-- After much procrastination, I finally got around to doing the rewrite yesterday on a short story I wrote more than a year ago. It'll be going out on submission next week.
-- I went running with my 14-year-old son this morning and was quite proud of myself for almost keeping up with him most of the way. When we got back to our house, I was drop-dead tired; he had hardly broken a sweat. I remember being young like that.
Friday, January 21, 2011
Thursday, January 20, 2011
I'm encountering an interesting batch of comments this time around. Every one has been positive, with three suggesting this story could make finalist. God, I love reading that. After the praise, though, every one of them has a but. Now comes the interesting part: Every but is different. One says the story isn't science fiction enough. Another says my sentence structures are too long and complicated. Another had nitpicks. The last one had several smallish concerns.
I remember reading in Stephen King's "On Writing" that when several of his first readers have the same concern with a story, he knows he has something to fix. When they all come back with different concerns, he has done his job right. I'm keeping that in mind as I go through the process of sorting through the critique comments and figuring out which ones to listen to and which to ignore. There's no exact science involved in this. Mostly I follow my gut instinct and hope my gut knows what it's doing.
P.S. There's the most beautiful orange sunset over the mountains right now. One of the reasons I love Colorado. Now, if we can do away with the snow ...
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
You can read a nice EW.com interview with Joss Whedon about Season 8 here.
And, I came across this today: a 3 1/2-minute animated sample of what might have been "Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the Animated Series." The artistic style and storyline look suspiciously like what became an issue of Season 8.
Monday, January 17, 2011
A little context: "Hyperion" won the Hugo and Locus awards in 1990. It wasn't nominated for the Nebula, which kind of surprises me (although "The Fall of Hyperion" was later on).
When I first tackled "Hyperion," I was 16 or 17. The plot structure was an unfamiliar one for me: several characters on a journey, telling their stories to one another along the way. The first story told wasn't even about the character who was telling it but about a priest, Father Dure, who falls in with a tribe of strange creatures. Those creatures lead the priest through a ceremony in which an organic cross-shaped thing attaches itself to his chest and extends its roots into every part of his body. When Dure realizes what's been done to him, he writes in his journal: "I am of the cruciform." That's where I stopped. It had nothing to do with any religious overtones; at 16, I hadn't really formed any opinions yet about religion. What bothered me so much that I set aside the book was similar to my issue with "Lord Foul's Bane." Father Dure had been violated, but it was almost worse than rape. It was a violation of body and soul.
Last year, I decided to give "Hyperion" another try. I checked out the audio book at the library, reasoning that I might have more luck tackling the novel in a different form. I made it through the priest's tale this time and the soldier's tale (which I enjoyed quite a bit). Then came the poet's tale, and I lost interest. I stopped listening. The book's due date came, I returned it and haven't tried again. But I do have my paperback on the shelf, with its little cartoon Dan Simmons drawing, which I love. Maybe I'll try reading it again this year.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
I also read a story at Subterranean Press by Jay Lake called "A Long Walk Home." Sometimes it seems like every time I turn around, there's a new Jay Lake story at some online magazine or another. Not that I mind. I tend to like his stuff. I was a little irked in this story that the main character never did figure out what happened to the human race. Nevertheless, I kept turning pages (so to speak) all the way through the end.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
This second kind of book is so rare that I can count on one hand the number of times I've come across it. In most cases, these books are praised as classics of the genre and/or have won multiple awards. I feel I need to point that out so no one thinks I'm calling them bad novels. I'm not. The dislike is personal.
The first such novel I remember coming across: "Lord Foul's Bane," Book 1 of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson.
I received this book as a gift when I was in junior high school. The friend who gave it to me had previously given me a David Eddings novel, which I loved, so I had high hopes for this one, too. I was 12, maybe 13, when I attempted to read "Lord Foul's Bane." That was about 20 years ago, so I remember this book more in generalities than specifics. Wikipedia informs me that this novel was published in 1977 and won the British Fantasy Society's award for best novel. Donaldson also won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer two years later.
Mostly what turned me off was the main character: Thomas Covenant. I want to read stories about generally nice-but-flawed people who get into dire situations and how they do (or do not) get themselves out again. Covenant is a despicable character. I hated him from the start, and not even in a love-to-hate-him kind of way, but I kept reading until the scene where he rapes a well-meaning woman who is trying to help him. At that point, I set the novel on the shelf and never picked it up again. Perhaps Covenant later redeemed himself, became a changed man. I hope he did because otherwise, what's the point in starting him out as so unlikeable? Whether he did or not, I'll never know. I simply could not read about him for another page.
This is the only time that a character caused me to give upon a book. Next post: the book I tried to read twice and failed both times.
Friday, January 14, 2011
Tor.com recently posted a short story by Ken Scholes, "Making My Entrance Again With My Usual Flair," and I got around to reading it yesterday. It's quite a hoot and a fun change of pace from my usual oh-so-serious reading material. Highly recommended.
I've started listening to the audio book of "The Time Traveler's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger. Yes, I'm several years behind on this one. My first thought after getting through First Date No. 1 was: So that's where Steven Moffat got the idea. I find that my audio-book selections (which I listen to in my car) tend to be hit-or-miss. So far, this one is a hit.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Monday, January 10, 2011
When it comes to weather and school closings, my husband and I come from different backgrounds and therefore have different expectations. He's a Virginia boy, and anyone who lives in the South knows that schools districts declare a snow day if there's even a threat of snow. I grew up in the Denver metro area (which is where we now live), where it generally takes at least a foot of white stuff on the ground before the kids get to stay home.
Our differing expectations resulted in different reactions to what happened. He was disbelieving and angry. I kind of shrugged and went back to sleep. (When we lived in North Carolina, our positions were reversed: I was often disbelieving when a half-inch of accumulation closed the schools and caused a run on every grocery store in town for break, milk and canned goods.)
So what does this have to do with writing? Characters, like real people, are the products of their experiences, which then affect how they form expectations for any given situation and their reactions to the outcome. You don't have to tell the reader that one character grew up in a warm climate and one character in snowy climes, but you can show it through their differing expectations of what should happen in a snowstorm and their reactions to what does happen.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Thinking about this new show makes me think about my own on-and-mostly-off love affair with comic books. As a kid, my dad let me pick out a comic book every Saturday on our weekly trip to the grocery store. I read Spider-Man, Superman, Batman. My favorite, though, was Wonder Woman. I wanted to be Wonder Woman, with the lasso and bullet-proof bracelets and invisible plane. Little girls nowadays pretend to be Disney princesses; I pretended to be an Amazon princess.
Eventually, the weekly comic books stopped. My collection vanished. (I suspect it went the way of most childhood comic book collections, which is tossed by a parent.) I became interested in fantasy and science fiction novels and drifted away from comics. The person who re-sparked my interest: Joss Whedon.
It was a sad day for me when Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired its last episode. A few years later, when creator Joss Whedon started up "Season 8" in comic book form, I jumped right on board. That eventually also led to my interest in comics based on Angel, Firefly and Torchwood, and Whedon's earlier Fray series, but mostly I stick with my monthly Buffy fix.
After two or three years and about 40 issues, Season 8 is coming to an end. The final issue will hit stands this week. I can't say I always understood what was going on, especially toward the end (something involving an evil universe that possessed Angel and a magic seed), but it has been a hell of a ride.
I hear that Season 9 is already in the works. Thank goodness. Because I would miss my monthly trip to the local comic-book shop -- the one with the 10-foot-tall Hulk statue -- in which I walk back out with a great new adventure in my eager hands. For a little while, it makes me feel like a kid again.
Friday, January 7, 2011
The other day, I started typing my longhand first draft of a story-in-progress into Word and discovered, to my horror, that I had scribbled in my notebook two whole pages of info-dump. Two pages longhand comes out to about one typed, double-spaced page on the computer – about 250 words with no action and no characterization. Just an encyclopedia-like entry about the astronomical conditions affecting the planet on which this story takes place. When reading the slush, no editor is going to get past that. So, the question is: How to fix it?
First off, I ask myself whether the reader needs all this information right now to understand what is happening in the story. Inevitably, the answer is no. So I figure out what I do need to leave in at this exact spot and copy-and-paste the rest into a separate document. I’ll weave the other stuff into the story in bits and pieces at the points where the information seems to fit best.
The copy-paste trick whittled down the info-dump considerably but still leaves me with two paragraphs to get in here. The next step is to disguise the dump so it doesn’t read like one. There are a few ways I do this. I can weave the info into the narrative by interspersing it with action and characterization bits. I also try to write the info in an unexpected way so that it reads more like poetry and less like a textbook entry.
I also sometimes impart information by having two characters talk about it. Doing the info-dump in dialogue is walking a fine line because characters should never spout exposition at each other:
“As you know, Bob, we both work for a textile company.”
“Yes, and it is the fastest growing textile company in the world.”
I’ve come across dialogue almost this bad. Avoid it by having one character ignorant of the imparted information beforehand. He/she should learn the info at the same time the reader does, and the reader needs to be just as keen to have the information as the stand-in character is. Also, the dialogue needs to be done in a relaxed, colorful, true-to-the-characters kind of way.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
In writing news:
-- I received my first royalty payment for my story in "Six-Guns." That's the first time I've ever received royalties for anything, so it was a nice moment.
-- I managed to write about 1,000 words on my work-in-progress last night after the kids were in bed. That's a high level of productivity for me. Hopefully I can keep up the pace.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
I got the news last night by e-mail. That makes five HMs in eight straight quarters of entering. Sometimes I look at that tally proudly because only the top 10 percent of stories each quarter earn the HM distinction. Sometimes I look at it and want to pull my hair out because, no matter what I do, I can't seem to break into the semi-finalist or finalist catagories.
And then, a couple of days ago, a Q&A was posted at the WotF forum with Kristine Kathryn Rusch, who was asked what a chronic HMer could do to move up to the next level. Her answer: You can't. She says once you're writing HM stories, you're good. You're just not to the presiding judge's taste. Which makes me wonder whether my writing style and Kathy Wentworth's tastes are simply, in a word, incompatible.
If that's the case, I will continue to enter ever quarter like clockwork. The benefits of winning are too good not to try, and one of these days, I might get lucky. Or I might pro-out first. You never know.
Monday, January 3, 2011
Here are (in no particular order) my top 10 songs to run to:
SexyBack, Justin Timberlake
Girlfriend, Avril Lavigne
Lose Yourself, Eminem
Telephone, Lady Gaga
Stronger, Kanye West
Hey Ya!, OutKast
Single Ladies, Beyonce
Forget You, Cee-Lo Green
Dynamite, Taio Cruz
California Girls, Katy Perry
Sunday, January 2, 2011
-- When in college, I was required for a humanities course to read Virginia Woolf's "A Room of One's Own," her collection of essays about women and writing.
-- My second post is up today at Flash Fiction Chronicles.
-- I found out in an unusual way today that I had broken my two-quarter streak of rejections in the Writers of the Future contest.
-- I have a post up today at Flash Fiction Chronicles about the benefit writers can derive from a rejection.
-- I'm at the point in my WIP in which the good guy and the bad guy are about to face off, one on one, in a fight to the death.
-- I dug into the 2010 edition of "The Year's Best Science Fiction" anthology last night and came across a story I had critiqued almost two years ago.
-- About two years ago at the WorldCon in Denver, I watched a panel in which one of the writers (I don't remember who) was asked which of his stories/novels was his favorite.
-- Last night, I finished watching the BBC miniseries "Casanova," which was also broadcast by Masterpiece Theatre four years ago and is handily available on DVD at my local library.
-- This is a new and interesting (and exciting and stressful) experience for me:
-- This is amazing: Two weeks after receiving word of my acceptance into "Six Guns Straight From Hell," the anthology is available for purchase on Amazon.
-- Some happy news I received on Thanksgiving Day: My science fiction romance story "Grounded" will appear in the February issue of the magazine Sounds of the Night.
-- I'm happy to share the news of another sale.
Things I noticed after reading the list: I am big on pushing my publications (of which most came at the start and end of the year) and I also seem quite fond of colons.
Saturday, January 1, 2011
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.
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; I'll never make a professional sale if I don't send them my stories.
3. Read outside my comfort genres. The majority of my reading is in the science fiction and fantasy genres, with a sprinkling of romance thrown in once in a while. I need to branch out and read other things: classics, mysteries, thriller, literary.
4. And in a non-writing goal, I resolve to stay in shape. Not get in shape because I've been running two or three times a week since September. My resolution here is to continue with the running. It's good for the body and good for the sanity, too.