Thursday, June 30, 2011

Writers of the Future ... ?

Editing this post on 7/1 to add: There has apparently been a mistake. Judge K.D. Wentworth this morning indicated that she has not yet finished sorting the semi-finalists and finalists for second quarter. I have e-mailed the contest administrator to find out what my true status is and will update my blog when I receive a response.

#

I received proof today of something I've heard repeatedly about writing but have never before experienced for myself: A writer is the worst judge of her own work.

I was not overly impressed with my quarter 2 entry in the Writers of the Future Contest. I came to think of it as "that damn rewrite " and thought it might earn an honorable mention if judge K.D. Wentworth was feeling generous. Instead, it has been named a semi-finalist, which puts it in the top 16 stories out of possibly thousands for the quarter. (It is never made clear how many stories are submitted.)

If you want to talk to me today, you're going to have to come find me out here in space because I am over the moon!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Done, with two days to spare

As of five minutes ago, I have a story submitted in the Writers of the Future contest for the 11th consecutive quarter. I started writing the story exactly one week ago. I was not sure I could write a story that quickly, but I managed it. More than that, I am damn proud of this one. It is probably my best submission to date. The depressing part is that I had to wade through 16,000 words of crap this quarter to get to the good stuff. Now it is in the hands of the judges.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Shh ... I'm writing

Writing progress: I'm at 3,900 words and well into the climax. This story will probably come in around 5,000 total, which seems to be the sweet spot for me on length.

I have not gone to bed before 2 a.m. all week. I also have not watched any television since Tuesday, even though there's a half-watched DVD set of True Blood season 3 on the shelf. This is because every night after the kids are in bed, I boot up my laptop and try to pile on the word count. There's hardly any point in trying to write before the kids are asleep. They instinctively know what is the absolute worst time to interrupt me ... and then interrupt me. It's impossible to get into the right mindset when I am refereeing arguments and pouring cups of juice. I love my children, but kids and writing do not mix.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Book sale loot

Writing progress: Another 800 words written last night, which is not as much as I wanted to get done but not bad. They are 800 good words, and I'll take that.

Yesterday and today were the quarterly book/CD sale where I work, at which all the unread review copies that get sent to us (and there are a lot of them) get sold to the employees at a discount and the money goes to charity. I came away with new releases by Carrie Vaughn, Daniel Abraham and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, plus an anthology of urban fantasy stories. I'm quite happy with my haul and now have plenty of reading material to get me through the next few weeks.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Third time's the charm. I hope.

Sorry for the blog silence this week, but there's a good reason for it. I'm writing, damn it! When I'm blogging, that means I'm not writing fiction, and I need to write fiction right now because ...

There is exactly one week left until the end of the quarter for Writers of the Future and I do not have a story.

I have one story that is hopeless. I have another story that is a hot mess and would take longer to fix than I have before the submission deadline. So I am doing what any run-of-the-mill insane person would do, and I am writing a third story. In one week. And guess what? It's working. So far, at least, this story is clicking in a way that the previous two did not. The idea of it excites me. It will be on the short side, but that's all right. Length does not determine quality.

Since 9 p.m. Tuesday, I have written 2,500 words. I'm about halfway to "the end." I expect to have a workable draft done by Friday night.

In the meantime, while you're waiting with baited breath for the announcement that I have finished The Story, go read this because it's hilarious: How to Become an Author in Five Incredibly Difficult Steps.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Doctor Who: Midseason wrap-up

As promised, my thoughts on the first half of the sixth season of Doctor Who. Because I know you've all been at the edge of your seats, waiting to read what I have to say.

Best episode: This is a tough one, but I'll go with The Doctor's Wife, with The Impossible Astronaut running a close second. I love The Doctor's Wife not only because it is quite entertaining and well-written, but also because of how it made me look at an old character in a completely new way. Plus, the show-runners kept up David Tennant's TARDIS control room all this time just so they could shoot one scene there for this episode.

Worst episode: The Curse of the Black Spot. Huge plot holes, bland pirates, characters acting against their personalities, lazy writing all around.

Best guest actor/actress: It's a toss up between Suranne Jones in The Doctor's Wife (who brought just the right amount of crazy to her role) and Mark Sheppard in The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon (because I like Mark Sheppard in just about anything).

Silliest plot device: "Oh my God! You killed Rory! You bastard!" I mean, seriously, how many times has he "died" so far this season? I count at least three.

Biggest Kleenex moment: The Doctor dies. And unlike Rory's many deaths, this one is for real. Amy, Rory and River watch it happen and can't do a thing to stop it, then give him a Viking funeral.

Best kiss: River plants one on the Doctor at the end of the Day of the Moon. Her dawning realization that (for her) it's their last kiss is heartbreaking.

Best dialogue exchange: (Let's see if I get this right)
House: "Fear me. I've killed hundreds of time lords."
Doctor: "Fear me, I killed all of them."
Love it.

Parting thoughts: The first seven episodes were a bumpy ride of fantastic to average and back again. Still, an average episode for Doctor Who is better than the best that many other shows produce, which is why I'm a fan. I like the overall arc for the season so far, with Amy's pregnancy and abduction, and the subsequent reveal of River Song's identity. I'm interested to see where Moffat and Co. take the story in the fall, but I'm not so interested that I'm chomping at the bit. I can wait. And watch Torchwood and True Blood in the meantime.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Upcoming Denver book signings

The next couple of months are jam-packed with cool book signings with science fiction/fantasy writers here in the Denver area. I wish I could go to all them, but alas I do have to show up at work sometimes. Here's the ones that have caught my eye:

Ken Scholes, Broadway Book Mall, 7 p.m. this Thursday. I can't be at this one, but I sure wish I could. I love his novels and short fiction.

Aaron Hughes, Broadway Book Mall, 3 p.m. June 26. He's a recent winner of the Writers of the Future, and I look forward to hearing about his experiences at the workshop. (Also at this signing: illustrator extraordinaire Laura Givens.)

George R.R. Martin, Tattered Cover downtown, 2 p.m. July 31. Get your line tickets in advance or you will be out of luck.

(And in a shameless plug, I will be signing copies of Showdown at Midnight with fellow writer Carol Hightshoe and editor David Riley at the Broadway Book Mall at 3 p.m. July 10.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Where to buy Showdown at Midnight

The Showdown at Midnight anthology is now available for purchase. So what are you waiting for? It's 11 new weird West stories about "ghosts robbing trains, haunted mines, bounty hunters from hell, zombie gunfighters, ghost horses, a sword out for revenge, some bats up to no good and maybe even a werewolf or two." (That's from the cover text.)

You can buy it in the following places:
Create Space
Amazon.com

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Cover art and other things

Writing progress: 500 words last night and another 500 this morning. I'm closing in on "the end," which is good because the submission deadline is two weeks from today. I had spent the weekend making some small revisions that made a huge difference in the story's climax. Pre-revisions, I was stuck, unable to keep writing because I had no idea what came next. Post-revisions, the plot is flying along at a breakneck pace.

Real world: My oldest son is now in Virginia, where he'll be spending the summer with his biological mother and her family. The house feels empty without him. To distract from the emptiness, my husband and I took our two youngest ones on a mountain hike yesterday. Little legs tire out fast, though, so we went probably a total of two miles. Then we went out for ice cream.

Last, I get to share this: the cover art for the upcoming weird West anthology Showdown at Midnight, which will include my story "The Great Ghost Train Robbery." You can find out more about the anthology and the other contributors right here.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Doctor Who: A Good Man Goes to War




Here we are at the mid-season finale of Doctor Who. Let’s get the River Song stuff out of the way first, shall we? Some people said she was Amy and Rory’s daughter, others that she was the regenerating girl and others that she’s the Doctor’s wife or lover. Guess what, folks. We’re all right! Cookies for everyone! (By the way, I’m proud to say I had it figured out when we learned Amy had named her daughter Melody.) About the only thing not confirmed is whether River killed the Doctor. Frankly, I’m starting to doubt she did. “The best man she’s ever known” could quite easily be her father, Rory.

Now, moving on with the episode itself. It’s fast-paced and energetic and, I’m sorry to say, does not live up to its own hype. This is a Stephen Moffat script, and it shows. He’s famous for throwing about a hundred ideas against the wall to see what sticks. This time it results in some loose ends (i.e. the fat thin gay married Anglican soldiers, Lorna Bucket) and a lot of broken promises. Here’s what I got out of it: Just because a character says something doesn’t make it true.
  • Let’s start with the title: “A Good Man Goes to War.” No, he doesn’t. “A Good Man Ambushes a Couple Dozen Incompetent Soldiers” doesn’t have the same ring to it but is more accurate.
  • The blue trader (Dorium, I think) at one point says something like: “God help us all if you make him angry.” There’s an implication that a pissed-off Doctor is dark and scary and prone to leaving mass casualties in his wake. I would have liked to see that. But, again, no. What happens when you make him angry? He lets you go. But he calls you some names first. Ooo, scary.
  • This one is River’s: “He will rise higher and fall farther than he ever has before.” Again, no. Except for the reveal on River’s identity, the events of this episode are incremental, as they should be for an episode that is not the climax of the overall story arc. As a result, I’m sure any regular watcher could point to instances of the Doctor rising higher and falling farther than he did here.

In other words, the buildup was huge and the payoff too small.

Now, to the revelation of River. In the season 5 finale, when River tells the Doctor he will soon learn who she is, she gets an anguished look on her face and starts spouting apologies. At the beginning of this episode, when she tells Rory that today is when the Doctor learns her identity, she again delivers the news with heavy sadness, leading us viewers to believe that the revelation will come across as a betrayal and a heartbreak that will take time and effort to heal. So, what’s the Doctor’s response to learning the truth? He grins like an idiot. What was River so upset about? Either we viewers have been seriously misled or the Bad Thing that makes River sad has not happened yet.

One last irritation, and then I will let this episode rest: Amy Pond. Why is it in so many television shows that when a woman has a baby, she immediately becomes a passive damsel in distress? This is Amy Pond here, the girl who thinks “Don’t Enter” signs are an invitation and who walks blind through a forest full of Weeping Angels. Becoming a mother does not change who you are. I would have expected that when a bunch of baddies take her baby and lock her in a room that the lioness would come out. She would do everything in her power to escape and find her child. Instead, she gives speeches about how her men are going to save her and make everything all better. Yes, it’s cool to see Rory man up, but it should not be at the expense of Amy.

I’ll do a midseason wrap-up sometime this week, then it’s onward with Torchwood for the summer.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

More writing

Another 500 words written last night. Total: 8,000.

I've reached the story's climax. Trouble is, I'm not sure what happens next. I know where I am (Point A) and where I need to get to (Point B), but there are a hundred ways to get to Point B. Of course it's all determined by the characters and how each acts and reacts based on their personalities. I feel most comfortable when I know what the characters will do before I start writing, but this time I might just throw planning to the wind, write and see what happens. At the very least, if it doesn't work, I'll know one route not to take.

However, I did no writing this morning. Rather, I spent two hours trying without success to purge malware from my husband's laptop. We cannot download an anti-virus program because the malware freezes all browsers, even in safe mode. This happens two days after I had a similar issue with my own laptop, except I was able to get online and download what I needed to get rid of the problem. It feels like some nasty hacker is out to get us.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Progress report

I haven't updated my writing progress for a while and that's mostly because I haven't made much progress this week. The kids are now out of school and underfoot during the day, which cuts down on writing time significantly. I've been doing most of my writing longhand in a notebook at the kids' swimming lessons. I'm up to 7,500 words on the Writers of the Future entry with about three weeks until the quarter's end. It'll get done, but there won't be much time for revising. That will probably work in my favor because I tend to make things worse when I rewrite.

Also, I have received my certificate for my silver honorable mention in the first quarter for Writers of the Future, and it's twice as large as a regular HM certificate. I'll post a photo of the two for comparison sometime this weekend. Suffice to say, I don't know what to do with the new one. I keep my others in plastic sleeves in a three-ring binder, but this one won't fit. And I'm not going to frame it. It's a very nice rejection, but a rejection nonetheless.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Developng sympathy in "The Hunger Games"

"The Hunger Games" was one of those rare reading experiences in which I simply could not put the book down. Grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, writing ... all that stuff suddenly became secondary to reading just one more chapter. And this being YA, I'm not even the target audience. Still, I loved it.

What interested me the most is how Suzanne Collins managed to develop sympathy for a protagonist whose primary goal is to be the last person standing in a brutal game to the death. Given the nature of the game, Katniss (and also Peeta) have to do some unsympathetic things. Acts that would in the real world send a person to the electric chair. Yet we readers are rooting for them both instead turning away in disgust. Why?

Obviously, first off, the protagonists are forced into a bad situation by the people who run the game. The primary blame is on the adults. But the game runners do not dictate the players' individual actions. Katniss could go into the arena and refuse to fight, or to hide until everyone else kills one another. But she doesn't. She is an active participant in the game. So how do we cheer on a teenage girl who chooses to kill?

1. Background
The first two chapters lay down every card in the deck aimed at developing sympathy for Katniss. She lives in the poorest section in one of the poorest of the 12 districts, a place where starving people literally lie down in the street and die. Her father is killed in a tragic mining accident. Her mother goes catatonic. Katniss, then 11 years old, is forced into the adult role of feeding her family and caring for her younger sister. Not only does she not throw up her arms in defeat, she proves herself to have more spunk, ingenuity and backbone than any person you've ever met. She never whines or complains about her plight. She finds ways to pull through and even starts her own (illegal) small business to keep her family fed and sheltered. In all, Katniss comes off like the modern-day version of a fairy tale heroine, faced with horrible circumstances yet unwilling to let them beat her down. She even has a "fairy godmother" in Cinna. Except instead of singing "Whistle While You Work," she can use her bow to shoot out the eye of a rabbit. But she sings, too.

2. Motivation
If Katniss had been chosen randomly as her district's tribute (i.e. player) to the annual Hunger Games, or if she had volunteered in hopes of gaining glory and riches, she would not come off as sympathetic. But Collins sets up the circumstances just perfectly here. Katniss' younger sister is chosen as tribute, which is akin to a death sentence. Horrified, Katniss steps up to take Prim's place. She is now part of the game by choice but for the sole purpose of protecting her sister. Re-enforcing that, Prim begs Katniss to do her best to win and return home. From that point on, whenever Katniss does anything we readers would normally disapprove of as violent and brutal, we know she's doing it out of love for her sister, and that makes it OK. Admirable, even. It's the motivation that matters, not the action. The same is true for District 12's other tribute, Peeta, whose motivation is also pure and good: Protect Katniss, who is the girl he loves.

3. Lack of opportunity
Twenty-four tributes, and only one can win. Katniss and Peeta spend more time running and hiding than they do fighting, which means most of the blood is not on their hands. Even when they do kill, it is never cold-blooded murder. Katniss has four kills. The first two deaths are indirect and in self-defense: She drops a nest of angry, stinging insects on people who are trying to kill her. The next one is justifiable: She puts an arrow through a boy who just murdered her partner and friend. The last one is a mercy killing, ending the suffering of a boy who is being eaten by mutant creatures. Peeta's known kills number only two. The first could be considered a mercy killing of a girl who was already dying slowly. The second was purely accidental: He picked some berries he did not know were poisonous, a girl watched him and followed suit, and died when she ate the fruit.

So there you have it: three main techniques Suzanne Collins used to transform what could have been a tale full of unlikeable killers into a hero's journey. I'll be moving onto the next book in the trilogy, but not until after I'm done writing my current WIP. Otherwise, the story will never get written because I'll spend all my free time reading.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Consolidation sucks

Today I planned to write about "Ender's Game" and "The Hunger Games" and how writers develop sympathy for characters whose actions are decidedly non-sympathetic. That will have to wait a day.

Because this happened.

Now to most people that's small potatoes: 25 newspaper employees likely to lose their jobs to consolidation (unless they choose to uproot their spouses and children and move across the state). To me, those are 25 friends and former colleagues. I worked for The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., for eight years before moving to Denver. My heart goes out to every one of them today.

Moreover, I fear this is the way the newspaper industry is going. Fewer people read newspapers, and most of those wonderful, loyal readers are from an older demographic. Most people nowadays expect to get their news for free online. It's a trend that degrades the value of the product. Why pay for something you can get for free, right?

I say think about the reporter who spent hours doing the research, interviews and writing; the assigning editor who helped make the story better; the copy editor who corrected factual errors and grammar mistakes, and the photography and graphics staffs who produced their contributions to the report. Then for the print edition, there's the designer who packaged all the stories on pages and the folks who run the presses and deliver the newspapers. That's a lot of people who put in a lot of hours to create a quality product. If readers won't pay for the product, then there won't be money to pay the staffers' salaries and they will be fired. No more journalists, no more news - free or otherwise.

You get what you pay for. If you don't pay, eventually you'll get nothing.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

This ...

Courtney Milan -- who is the only romance writer whose novels I read and whose blog I follow -- comments on Dean Wesley Smith's business advice for writers. Mr. Smith responds in the comments section. The two of them get into an interesting discussion about their views on agents, self-publishing and paying a percentage of a work in exchange for a service. The result is two intelligent, well-spoken writers advocating for different sides of the issue, and both have good points. Worth reading.

Doctor Who: The Almost People


Part two of the two-parter that started here. Humans and gangers run and fight and run some more. The Doctor has some amusing interactions with his ganger clone. One of each pair of humans and gangers gets off the island.

But is anyone really talking about the first 40 minutes of this episode? No! Because the last five minutes were chock full of answers (and more questions): Amy goes into labor; Amy isn't the real Amy but is a ganger; the Doctor dissolves ganger Amy, thus sending her consciousness back to her true body, which is being held captive and about to have a baby.

That is what we know. There's a lot more we don't. I am avoiding spoilers like the plague. So I'm going to spend the rest of this post speculating on what we Americans are still oblivious to but most Whovians already know because they are a week ahead of us and got to watch "A Good Man Goes to War" last night. I hate being the last to know.

Who kidnapped Amy and why?
One of the abductors is the eye-patch lady (her name is Madame Kovarian) who has been appearing to Amy in doors and walls all season. Real Amy in her ganger-harness cell has been seeing eye-patch lady watching her through a sliding window in the cell door. Who else is involved in the abduction, we don't know yet. And why? Well, it has to be the baby. Is it, as Amy speculated earlier this season, a "time baby" affected by her travel in the TARDIS? Or is it the Doctor's child? (Although I don't think for a minute that Amy would cheat on Rory, despite her flirtations with the Doctor.)

When was Amy kidnapped?
My first thought on this was it happened in "Day of the Moon" when the Silence grabbed her. But she saw Madame Kovarian before that happened, so no. Earlier than that. I'm guessing she was abducted sometime between the honeymoon and the season opener. Ganger Amy has been around for a while now, which explains the Schrodinger's pregnancy. Amy is pregnant, but the ganger is not; thus, the TARDIS got confused.

Who is River Song?
In the teaser for A Good Man Goes to War, River says, "This is the day he finds out who I am." And this is point where all of you who have seen that episode or have read the spoilers can start snickering at my ignorance. Go ahead. But let's put two and two together, shall we? Amy is about to give birth. The identity of River is about to be revealed. Those two plot points have to be connected. River is Amy's daughter. If I'm wrong, I will be very, very surprised. This also discounts my previous speculation that the Doctor is the father because that would be incestuous and gross.

One last plea: If you've seen the mid-season finale, please do not post spoilers in the comments section because I don't want to know. Thank you.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Random thoughts for today

Writing progress: After big writing sessions the past two nights, I'm up to a total of 7,200 words. I've reached the end of the second "act" and am heading into the climax.

Other stuff: New Doctor Who tonight. Whoo! It's been a long two weeks waiting for the conclusion of the two-parter that the Brits got to watch last week. But after tonight, those Brits will be going bonkers over the mid-season finale, which we Americans won't see until next Saturday. I will spend the week avoiding spoilers on the true identity of River Song (although I have some ideas on that front ...).

I put a bunch of bedding plants in my front-yard flower bed a few days ago - snapdragons, sweet Williams and pansies. They're all doing well (i.e. still alive) except for three or four of the snapdragons that are wilting for no reason I can fathom. It might have something to do with a neighborhood cat who thinks my flower bed makes for a great litter box. If the cat is doing her business on my snapdragons, I can see why those plants would decide life wasn't worth living.

I love Netflix, but sometimes it can also annoy me. Case in point, their recent tendency to not make certain movies and television shows available until a month after their release. I don't get HBO, which means I don't get True Blood. I watch this show in a marathon sitting once every spring when the DVDs come out. It's nice to not deal with weekly cliffhangers, but I'm also a year behind most viewers. Now my wait for season 3 has been extended another month thanks to Netflix' asinine delay. I could go buy the box set, but I would probably only watch it once. Not the best of investments.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Today at work: New computer and two new monitors. I previously had one monitor. I think this will be a good thing in the long run. But for today, I am in a constant state of confusion about which monitor to look at for which application, and those applications have been updated and therefore are running nothing like they used to. However, I'm told only 12 newsroom staffers got the double-monitor treatment. So I'll just say thank you and buck up and try to get used to the new configuration.

At the same time, because I work for a newspaper, we are looking at another year of budget cuts ahead. That news came today at the same time techs were putting in my expensive new hardware. Thankfully, we'll have no layoffs. But we are going to have to increase our skill sets. Here's what that means:

At small town newspapers, where most of us journalists get our start, the staff is tiny and we all do everything. If you're a reporter, you also take photos, post stories online and maybe do some editing. If you're a copy editor, you also wire edit and design pages. Move up to a bigger paper, and the jobs become more specialized. Nowadays, I copy edit three days a week and wire edit two days a week and that's it.

What we're being told now is that we need to learn to do more things: create graphics, post photo galleries online, design pages, do a photo edit. In other words, the big newspapers are moving toward more of a small-town structure. That's because we're making do with fewer staffers all the time, and (for example) the overworked graphics department might not have time to format an Associated Press graphic - so a copy desk staffer would need to do it him/herself.

It's impossible to tell at this point whether the decline in newspapers will flatten out, at which point the industry can redefine itself for the technological era. At this point, we have yet to hit bottom.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

I love a b-e-e

There is one day a year I am guaranteed to spend glued to the television all morning, and that's the day of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. I love the spelling bee, and I don't really understand why. It's a bunch of kids I don't know, standing at a microphone and spouting off words I couldn't possibly hope to spell. Maybe it's the drama of it all. Unlike adults, these kids wear their emotions on their sleeves. I root for every single one of them to succeed.

There's one girl I'm rooting for more than the others this year: 10-year-old Dhivya Senthil Murugan of Denver, Colorado, who is at her first national bee and is sponsored by my employer, The Denver Post. And she is one of 13 spellers who has made it to the finals. She has spelled words including usufructuary, helichrysum and kagura (none of which my spell checker liked just now). And she is 10 years old. Did I mention that? Wow. At 6:30 p.m. tonight, we will find out whether she can go all the way.

Update: Our Denver girl finished in the top 10, which is a huge achievement. The bee went 20 rounds and was won by Sukanya Roy of Pennsylvania.