Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Goals for 2014 redux

Another year, come and gone. It's judgment day on my goals for 2014.

1. Beat my submission total from 2013
Nope. I didn't make it. For the first year since I started keeping track of my submissions (that would be 2010), I did not increase my submission total over the previous year. My submission total for 2013 was 45. I had hoped to hit 50 submissions this year, but I fell short with 39 (which is the same total I had in 2012).

I put this down to two factors. First, I spent a lot of the second half of this year working on a novel and not on new short fiction. Secondly, I sold more stories this year than in any year since I started this gig, which took stories out of circulation (in the best way possible). I had six sales, five of them to SFWA-qualifying markets:
  • Kitty Is Alive, Kitty is Dead, Daily Science Fiction (published)
  • The Good Girl, AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review (published)
  • The Temptation of Father Francis, co-written with Nick T. Chan, Intergalactic Medicine Show (published)
  • Street Rat, Abyss & Apex (pending publication)
  • Shore Leave, Galaxy's Edge (pending publication)
  • Star Box, Flash Fiction Online (pending publication)

I also had two more stories published that were accepted in 2013:
  • To See Sarah, Abyss & Apex
  • Djinn Coin, Every Day Fiction

Holy moly, that's a list I would have only dreamed about a year ago. I didn't beat my submission total, but I had a damn good year.

2. Apply to a writers workshop
I did this! And I got in! I spent a wonderful, fun and educational two weeks this past summer at the University of Kansas at a novel-writing workshop with instructors Kij Johnson and Barbara J. Webb and seven brilliant classmates. Without that workshop, I would still be floundering on where to start on the urban fantasy novel project. Instead, I am at about 30K and counting on the first draft.

3. Lose some weight
I haven't weighed myself for a couple of weeks, and I can't think the holiday season did anything toward helping me reach my goal of losing 10 pounds. I came very close last spring. Then I went to the workshop, where we ate out every night, and I put all the pounds back on. After that, I never really recovered. But last time I checked, I had lost and kept off about 5 pounds this year. That's halfway to my goal. I'll keep working on it next year.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

In defense of journalists


OK folks, I have to get something off my chest. I'm saying this as my personal opinion and not as a representative of any business or organization. So bear with me.

I'm a journalist. I wanted to be a journalist from the time I was 15 and I took my first reporting class in high school. I majored in journalism at one of the best schools for such things, the University of Missouri-Columbia. I've worked at newspapers both large and small since 1998. I want to continue working in journalism until I retire or I succeed in supporting myself with my fiction writing.

It's probably no surprise that I get touchy when people who have little or no experience with the news industry say insulting things about the well-intentioned people who work their butts off every day to ensure that the public is an informed public instead of an ignorant and oblivious public.

I often find myself defending my profession and getting scoffed at. Or being told that I'm wrong because this one person on this one occasion happened to get burned by an asshole who happened to be a journalist.

That's not to minimize the experience of people who have had bad personal encounters with the media. I feel for you. I really do. It's a public forum in which you are getting burned. Yes, there are assholes out there. Yes, some of them are journalists. I wish that wasn't the case. But making assumptions that we are all assholes because we are journalists is plain wrong. There is no direct correlation between those two categories.

That's true of all professions. But I'm a journalist, so that's what I'm going to talk about. I should also point out that I'm talking about newspaper journalists, not those you see on television or listen to on the radio. Print journalists are not broadcast journalists. I have issues with 24-7 cable news, and I'm not going to defend those folks. They can defend themselves.

Here are some things I want you to know about journalists. Some of you will think I'm naive. Go ahead and think that if it makes you feel better. I've worked in newsrooms for 15 years, and this is based on my experiences.

1. Most journalists are nice, well-intentioned people.
Not all journalists are nice people. As I said above, some are assholes. But most of us are journalists because we believe in the ideals of the profession. We believe that in order to succeed, a democracy must have a free press. We believe that the media plays the important role of watchdog for the government. We believe that people have a right (if not a duty) to know what is going on in their city, state, nation and world.

Are there journalists who got into it because they are ego maniacs who want to see their name in print? Sure. How about those who are secretly (or not so secretly) pressing a certain agenda? Yep. (See below.) There are even those who simply fell into the profession because it looked like something they could do and then found they were in over their head. There are exceptions. I know journalists who fell into the profession, and they are fantastic. I married one of the fantastic ones. Others are not so fantastic.

Those awful Machiavellian reporters you see on television shows and in movies, the ones who will do anything to get the story, the ones who have no soul ... I have yet to meet one of those. Maybe they exist. But not anywhere I've ever worked.

The point is, journalists are not the enemy. We are doing what we do so you can be an informed member of society. The paycheck is also nice, but really, we don't get rich doing this. If we wanted money, we would be doing pretty much anything else. Sometimes we make mistakes. We are human, which means we are fallible. But mistakes are just that: mistakes. Not conspiracies. Speaking of ...

2. Most journalists are not secretly (or not so secretly) pushing an agenda.
In my career, this is the accusation that has been leveled against me more than any other. I don't write articles. I'm a copy editor. I edit articles from the reporters in my newsroom and from the wire services (Associated Press, Washington Post, New York Times, etc.), and write the display type (headlines, photo captions, etc.)

Currently, I am wire editor at my newspaper, which means I am also in charge of our national and international coverage. I read everything that is available to me to print through our wire services and choose what to use and where to use it. Sometimes I get angry calls from readers. About half the time, I'm accused of pushing a Republican agenda. The other half of the time, I'm accused of pushing a Democratic agenda. I've also been accused of being both anti-Israeli and anti-Palestinian, and other things. It's interesting what strangers think they know about me by analyzing what I put in the paper.

Here's what I tell those callers: I am limited in what I can put in the newspaper by what I get from the wire services we subscribe to. Within those limitations, I do my best to provide a comprehensive, fair, balanced and accurate wire report. I have never and will never push an agenda. No, I won't tell you my personal opinions on anything. My personal opinions don't matter because I separate them from my work. I'm a professional.

Most journalists I have worked with over the years are the same. They are professionals. A few aren't. Most of the time, the assholes end up getting fired because their non-professional behavior bites them in the butt. Any journalist who survives in the business for decades is one who is doing his or her best to live up to the ideals of the profession.

3. But, wait. Newspapers are a business, aren't they?
Yes they are. Newspapers are in the business of making money. The entire industry has struggled with that in recent years thanks to the Internet. People nowadays expect to get their news online for free and their classifieds online, again for free. Here's the problem: The people who produce the news expect to get paid. The newspaper industry hasn't figured out how to replace the lost revenue from subscriptions, classifieds and advertising with online pennies.

There's a lot of noise out there, not only from professional news organizations but also from blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. There are also agenda-pushers who present themselves as professional journalists, but they're not. With all this noise, it's difficult for any newspaper to make itself heard, to sell subscriptions and to get those precious online clicks.

That means we're all looking for a big story that we can own, that no one else has. It could be politics, crime, culture or sports. We are trying to sell newspapers, so we can keep making more newspapers.

What will happen if the noise wins out over the professional news groups? If all anyone reads is Twitter and Facebook and the blog postings of agenda-pushers who claim to be journalists, and if people cancel their newspaper subscriptions and rely on Rush Limbaugh or Jon Stewart for their news, then real journalism will fade away. No more fair and balanced. No more professionalism.

Then people really will have something to complain about.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Sale! To Flash Fiction Online

It took nine submissions over three years, but I finally wrote one that hit the bull's-eye. My fantasy story "Star Box" has been accepted at Flash Fiction Online. Persistence pays off! For me, FFO is the most discerning genre flash magazine (shhh, don't tell Daily Science Fiction that I said that ...), so having a story of mine published there is an achievement unlocked. Happy dance!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Talk about some bad timing

I've had a lot on my writerly plate lately: working on the novel, hashing out plans for a series of novellas for self-publishing with a co-writer, and writing a story to submit this quarter to Writers of the Future. In all of that, I've been putting off the Writers of the Future story, saying to myself I have time, I can write that in December. Ah, the best-laid plans ...

As of Dec. 1, I didn't know what I was going to write, but that was all right. I had plenty of time. I spent a couple of days brainstorming and came up with an idea, which I fleshed out to an outline. After another couple days, I had done the world building and character profiles.

Around Dec. 4 or 5, I started writing the story longhand in my notebook. Although the process takes longer that way, I find that I produce better prose. My theory is that my brain has more time to catch up to a pen than it does to a keyboard. Both of my best-performing WotF stories, a finalist and semi-finalist, were written longhand. Whatever the reason, it works.

By the end of last week, I had written a few thousand words. Everything was going swimmingly. And then I got sick.

I had planned to finish the first draft by this past Tuesday, which was the last day this year in which I was going to be off work and my kids were going to be in school. Next week, my kids will start their winter break, which means they won't give me much (if any) quiet time to write. Then there's the craziness of Christmas. Then it's the end of the month and ... deadline.

The flu put a big crimp in my grand plan. I had intended to plow through the end of the draft. Instead, I hardly had the energy to get out of bed. I managed to write several hundred words, but two days after my self-imposed deadline, the story is not yet done.

So here I am on the verge of the kids' winter break and the holidays, and I have a story to finish. This is what I get for procrastination.

Oh, I'll still finish the story. I might even have time to run it by a couple of critique partners before submitting it. Only now the final stretch will be more stressful than it could have been.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Writers of the Future, Quarter 4

Another honorable mention this quarter, which is what I was expecting all along. It's a good story, but not really the sort of thing that DW goes for. At least this quarter I was accurate in my prediction, unlike last time. I'm about 3K into my Quarter 1 entry, which at least for the moment I think is a better story. That doesn't mean much. I always think that whatever I'm writing now is the Best Thing Ever. Two weeks after I submit the story, I'll change my mind.

In 24 quarters (damn) of entering this contest:
  • Finalist: 1
  • Semi-finalist: 1
  • Silver honorable mention: 1
  • Honorable mention: 13
  • Rejection: 8

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

For your consideration

I've seen a few colleagues doing this, and 2014 is the first year in which I have stories that I think are worthy of attention. If you're voting for the Hugo or Nebula and you enjoyed any of my stories this year, please remember them in your nominations:

Sunday, November 30, 2014

November stats

My goal was to write one chapter per week on the novel this month, and ... success! Four chapters written, for a total about 13,000 words. I even managed to write almost 4K during Thanksgiving week, with the kids on vacation and not leaving me five minutes of peace. I also wrote through a nasty cold that turned into a sinus infection and incapacitated me for two weeks. And I wrote a slightly-longer-than-a-flash piece at the start of the month (which, coincidentally, I just received a rejection on while writing this blog post).

Next month, I need to put the novel on pause and write something for Writers of the Future. I have no clue yet what I'll write, but I have four weeks to figure it out. I'm not panicked yet. Meanwhile, I'm waiting on results for Quarter 4 of Writers of the Future. I was among the many who received a "your story made it through the first pass" email about two and a half weeks ago.

The stats for November:
  • Words written: 14K or so
  • Stories finished: 1
  • Submissions: 4
  • Stories out on submission: 7

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"The Temptation of Father Francis" now free to read

For anyone out there who wanted to read my story co-written with Nick T. Chan, "The Temptation of Father Francis," but who doesn't have a subscription to Intergalactic Medicine Show, I have good news for you. That story and all the stories from Issue 41 will be free to read for the next month or two. So go forth and read!

Here's the link right here.

And as a bonus, here's the blog post that I wrote for the IGMS blog Side Show Freaks that, for whatever reason, never got posted there, giving some background on how this story came about.

#

The moral of this story is that sometimes two writers are better than one.

Father Francis started out as the protagonist of a flash story. The only real-life inspiration for that story came from the mysterious deaths of honeybees. I imagined a solitary priest traveling in his dirigible (because dirigibles are cool) across a dystopian West with an AI who thinks she's Annie Oakley and a cargo of pollination bots, a.k.a. mechanical bees

The flash was published a couple of years ago in Every Day Fiction (here's a link to it) to a positive response. I liked the idea of writing more about Francis and Annie. I tried. I had a few false starts. The right story didn't come to me. So Francis went onto a back shelf in my mind, something to revisit someday, when a fellow writer and friend, Nick T. Chan, suggested we co-write stories using worlds or characters we had already created.

I knew exactly which character to use.

The addition of Nick's creative input was what Father Francis needed. Together we came up with a story in which Francis is experiencing a crisis of faith when he arrives in the town of Temptation. He makes his usual offer to use his mechanical bees to pollinate the crops, but he soon discovers that he might need the people of Temptation more than they need him.

This tale was a lot of fun to write and turned out so well that Nick and I have talked about continuing the adventures of Francis and Annie. Because when you have a dirigible, the sky's the limit.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Alias" and journalism

I'm currently writing an urban fantasy novel in which one of my protagonists works for a weekly newspaper in Denver. I've worked in newsrooms since 1998. I know how newsrooms operate, and I know how a lot of popular culture portrayals of newspapers get it wrong.

This past week, as I've been fighting off a nasty cold, I've been semi-binging one of my favorite 2000s television shows: Alias. In the first season, one of the main characters, Will Tippin, played Bradley Cooper before he became an A-list movie star, is a reporter for an unnamed Los Angeles area newspaper.

Alias gets a lot of the journalism stuff right. The newsroom looks about what newsrooms look like. Busy, close quarters, and a little worn-in and messy. The relationship between Will and his editor strikes me as pretty realistic.

There's also plenty that the show gets wrong.

The little things:
  • Journalists don't dress that nice unless they have to. Ties every day? Dress pants and skirts? Most of us wear jeans to work. A few of my colleagues prefer sneakers and hoodies.
  • There's a scene in which Will's editor bugs him for a story on deadline, and he pulls out a folded-up bundle of papers and slaps them onto her desk. Uh-uh. We have these things called computers. We write, submit, edit and lay out stories electronically. Even in the dark ages of the early 2000s, we did this.
  • The Alias newsroom has no televisions. What's with that? How are you supposed to keep up on major national and international stories, and watch the local sports teams play, without TVs?
Those are nitpicks, but then there are other things that make me want to yell and throw things at the television.

Will has an assistant. She's a pretty 19-year-old named Jenny who has a crush on him, and fetches him coffee and phone numbers. Reporters don't have assistants. No one in a newsroom has an assistant with one possible exception: the editor-in-chief of a Top 10 circulation newspaper. If you want coffee or a phone number, you get it yourself.

But then it gets worse. A few episodes into the first season, it's mentioned that Jenny isn't an assistant. She's an intern.

I was an intern right out of college at a major metro paper, and I've seen dozens of interns come and go over the years. If you're hired as a reporting intern, you report. You get assignments, cover events, do interviews and write articles. If you're a copy desk intern, you edit and write headlines and other display type. Interns do the same things that staff writers do, carry the same work load, only for half the pay (or less).

If that poor girl Jenny is an intern, it's no wonder she's so sarcastic and bitter all the time. She should be writing articles and instead is fetching coffee for Will Tippin.

Sigh.

Here's the other big error in Alias. Will spends the entire season investigating the murder of his best friend's fiance. Of course we the audience know why Danny was killed. His murder is what initially fuels Sydney to take down SD-6. Poor Will is completely ignorant of the spy game, which means the audience knows more than he does, which turns the audience against him. But that's a different issue all together.

Under no circumstances should Will's editor be letting him pursue this story. He's too close to it, too personally involved. Any decent reporter would have interviewed Sydney and Danny's friends and family, but Will doesn't. Because he doesn't want Sydney to know he's investigating Danny's death. When Sydney does find out, she begs Will to drop it, which in turn makes Will question whether he should do just that, even though he has stumbled onto a larger conspiracy than a man murdered in his bathtub (which is a big story in itself).

And don't get me started on how quickly Will seems to get a hold of things like Social Security numbers, traffic camera footage and information linked to license plate numbers.

Despite all this, I still love Alias. Probably because Will's newspaper plot line is secondary to Sydney's spy stuff and lasts only one season. Then he gets fired, and that's it on this show for the unnamed L.A. newspaper.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Brrrrrr

Last week, I turned 38, but that milestone was overshadowed by another one: The coldest temperatures Denver has ever seen in November, plus several days of snow. I spent Monday at the DMV renewing my driver's license. When I went in, the day was sunny and 65 degrees. When I came out five and a half hours later, it was 25 degrees and snowing. And it snowed and snowed, and we didn't get back above freezing for several days.

My husband and I had planned to see "Interstellar" on Tuesday (my birthday), but postponed our plans due to the undrivable roads. At least I have something to look forward to this week.

A silver lining to the crappy weather: My new snow tires are proving much better than the old ones.

Despite having frozen fingers, I've made some decent writing progress. This month so far, I've written a short story and two chapters of the novel. I'm well into another chapter that I hope to finish by Friday. I've written about 25 percent of the novel, and it's about 20K. So I'm looking at a finished product of about 80K, eventually.

Submissions stats this month:
Stories out: 6
New submissions: 3

So far this year, I've made 33 submissions. Barring a massive surge in the last six weeks of the year, I won't be beating last year's submission total of 45. I blame that on a couple of things. First, I've actually been selling stories, which takes them out of circulation. Imagine that. And I haven't been writing as many new stories to replace the sold ones because I've been working on the novel, instead.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Doctor Who: Death in Heaven


The season finale seems to have created two camps: those who think it's the best of Moffat's time as showrunner, and those who think it was unsatisfying. I'm afraid to say I agree with the latter group.

It was the anti-"The Doctor Dances." Instead of everyone winning, no one does.

Oh, the episode had its moments. The extra 15 minutes helped with the pacing, giving some scenes more room to develop. But the climax and resolution first had me confused -- because what I thought had happened couldn't possibly have happened because it was too awful -- and then had me frustrated when I realized that, no, I wasn't confused at all and it really was that awful.

The problem was the script. The performances were good. I especially enjoyed Michelle Gomez as Missy. She gave the character more depth than John Simm (though for the record, I also loved John Simm's take on the Master). I don't think she's dead. The show can't kill off a character with such a long history in such an anti-climactic way.

Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman did their usual quality work. Jenna Coleman's name first in the credits, and the use of her image instead of Capaldi's, right after Clara declared that she was the Doctor, was genius. For a half a minute, I almost believed it. I also loved the Doctor taking out his frustration and anger and hopelessness on the TARDIS console. That was an earned moment, and Capaldi sold it, 100 percent.

Here's what I saw as the major issues:

Missy's Cyberman plot was overly complicated
She had been stealing souls for centuries, and created some Cybermen so she could explode them to create more Cybermen, who then didn't do anything. Yeah, I know, the army was a gift for the Doctor. But seriously, couldn't she have come up with less of a Rube Goldberg plot to achieve the same end? And how can you have Cybermen all over the world without having them do something besides pose for selfies with tourists? That was a total misuse of a classic villain. Ugh.

An unnecessary death
Moffat brought back the amusing Osgood and gave her the best line of the episode ("Bow ties are cool") for the sole purpose of having Missy kill her. Her death was intended to raise the stakes, to show that Missy was serious about her insane homicidal tendencies. It's a very Joss Whedon-ish move. It didn't work. Osgood's death was pointless and wasteful. She had potential. She was smart and cute and got bonus points for being a Doctor groupie. Then she basically walked straight into an obvious trap and then stood there and let Missy kill her. Since Osgood is the stand-in for the fandom, what does that say about Moffat's opinion of the fans? Again, ugh.

That scene with the Doctor and Clara
You know the one I'm talking about. He lies, she lies. They care deeply about each other but still part ways on the street, ending a long and complicated relationship in the worst way and for all the wrong reasons. There was no sacrifice as there was with Rose, Donna and Amy. There wasn't any honesty, as with Martha. The Doctor and Clara cannot end it like that. I do think that Clara has one foot out the door (probably because the thing she needed to tell the Doctor is that she's pregnant), but please, Show, you have another chance in the Christmas special. This time, get it right.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Catching up on Doctor Who

Here's the thing about this season of Doctor Who: I'm just not that into it. Sure, I've been watching, though not consistently. I caught up on the past three episodes this week so that I wouldn't be hopelessly behind going into the season finale tonight.

The season is good. There have been some great episodes, but no instant classics. It took me awhile to put my finger on the problem, but now I have: Matt Smith is gone.

Peter Capaldi is a fantastic actor, and I'm enjoying his take on the Doctor, but he's missing the magnetism and gravitas of Matt Smith that kept my eyes glued to the television screen for so many seasons. David Tennant had the same qualities, though he wasn't as good at the "I am the Doctor" speeches. Peter Capaldi does magnificently, and I love his dry delivery of the jokes, but I find myself checking Facebook and half-watching instead of being riveted.

I've heard fans for years talk about the concept of "My Doctor." People ask: Who is Your Doctor? I didn't have one until this season. Now I realize that Matt Smith has been My Doctor all along, and the new guy just isn't the same.

The one big improvement this season has been Clara's development into an actual character instead of a Big Mystery for the Doctor to solve, but even she has been all over the map. She loves traveling with the Doctor. No, she hates the Doctor. No, she has changed her mind and is back with the Doctor. Now she's lying to the Doctor and Danny. I'm getting whiplash just thinking about it.

I will watch tonight's season finale, of course. I was underwhelmed by the reveal about Missy's identity ... because, really, who else was she going to be? It's nice that Steven Moffat listened to the fans and regenerated a traditionally male character into a woman. I will be thoroughly put off if Missy doesn't survive the finale, but I think she will. And I'll post some thoughts on the finale tomorrow or Monday.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Why I won't do NaNoWriMo

Well, it's November, and for a lot of writers, that means it's time for National Novel Writing Month. I'm writing a novel, but I won't be doing NaNoWriMo. Why? Because 50K in a month would burn me out so completely that I wouldn't write for the next several weeks, which would end up being counterproductive.

My writing time is limited to about an hour a day, give or take. That's because most of my time is devoted to my family and the day job. To write the necessary 1.5K per day to reach the NaNoWriMo goal, I would have to cut into my family time (because the 40 hours/week at the day job aren't negotiable), and I'm not willing to do that.

However, I will work on the novel, and I refuse to give into the distractions of any other writing projects. My goal is to finish one chapter per week, which will probably put me somewhere between 12K and 16K for the month. I'm a tortoise, not a hare. That's all right because the tortoise finishes the race.

While I'm at it, stats for October:
  • Word count: No clue. Probably around 10K. But it could be more. Or less.
  • Submissions: 1
  • Stories out on submission: 5

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Thoughts on MileHiCon

This is my one convention of the year nowadays. I can't afford to fly to wherever WorldCon or World Fantasy Con is in a given year. MileHiCon isn't big, but I'm starting to appreciate that particular feature. A lot of the people who show up are the same, year after year. Finally, I'm starting to know some people. The result is that I spent as much time this year socializing as I did going to panels.

For those who don't know me, the socializing is surprising, especially to me. I am very introverted. That's not unusual among writers. We work alone and a lot of the work takes place in our own heads. Meeting people and operating in crowds is, for me, as exhausting as running a 10K.

I also went to some great panels. My favorites were the science panels on the Mars One mission, the outer solar system and dark matter; Connie Willis' talk on how to write great dialogue, and a discussion on the evolution of monsters in fiction. I wasn't able to make it to any readings this time around, alas.

I find that the more I grow as a writer, the less I am interested in many of the writing panels, which seem to be geared toward helping writers who are newer to the craft than I am. That's a good sign, I think. It's also a sign that maybe it's time for me to be a guest, rather than a perpetual audience member.

Anyway, it was a good time. The weather was beautiful. The organizers always run a good convention.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

MileHiCon this weekend

I will be wandering the halls and panels of MileHiCon tomorrow through Sunday. This will be my fifth or six year there. I lose count. It's a good time. I get to see some writer friends. I even know a few regular attendees now, so I have folks to hang out with at the bar.

Every year, I tell myself that I should do some panels, sign some books, do a reading. In other words, be a guest instead of a member. But again this year, I will be sitting in the audience instead of at the front of the room. Because of ... intruder syndrome, I guess. I'm starting to feel like a "real writer," whatever that means. I'm writing a novel. I even meet the requirements to join SFWA after my burst of sales and publications over the past three months. But, sit on a panel with Connie Willis, Carrie Vaughn or Michael Swanwick? Yeah. I'm not there yet.

But I will be lurking around, if by any chance anyone wants to find me and chat. I'm always happy to chat, and hang out, and generally have a fun time.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

September stats

September was a productive month for me in a lot of ways, but not in the one way I expected it would be, which is novel work. I did not write any words on the novel last month, which is not good in reaching my goal of finishing the novel by next summer. That will change in October. I got distracted by an idea for a short story that turned into novelette, which I entered in Writers of the Future, even though I didn't plan to enter this quarter. Here's what I did accomplish:
  • Words written: 14,000 or thereabouts
  • Stories finished: 1 (also there's a co-written story that's not finished yet)
  • Submissions: 6
  • Acceptances: 1
  • Publications: 1

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Publication Day! At Intergalactic Medicine Show

"The Temptation of Father Francis" with my co-writer Nick T. Chan is now published at Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show! It's about a priest, some mechanical bees, a dirigible and the AI who powers it, who thinks she's Annie Oakley, all on an adventure across the West in a corporate-controlled future.

This is my first appearance in IGMS and Nick's second. There's some gorgeous artwork by Nick Greenwood. You can read the opening right here, but you need an IGMS subscription to get the whole story. For a taste, here's the opening few lines:
Annie Oakley poked Francis in the shoulder. She kept poking him. He ignored her until she finally yelled into his earworm. "Wake up, you bone-lazy priest!" The image of a tiny woman, barely more than a girl, blinked into existence next to Francis' cot, the metal struts and handholds of the dirigible's plain cabin visible through her corseted dress. She held a rifle and wore a wide-brimmed cowboy hat over her wavy brown hair.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Sale! "Shore Leave" to Galaxy's Edge

I got the good news this morning: Mike Resnick has accepted my short story "Shore Leave" for publication in Galaxy's Edge, which, as a reader, is one of my favorite magazines. So, achievement unlocked! This acceptance is significant for me in another way as well. As soon as my outstanding contracts are signed, I will be eligible to join the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America as an active member.

This calls for a celebration dance:


Monday, September 15, 2014

Writers of the Future, Quarter 3

Straight rejection this quarter, and I am very, very confused. This is one of the best stories I've ever written. I think it's on par with my finalist from last year. When I submitted it, I thought it would get a semifinalist at the very least, but here I am with a "you didn't win" email. Overconfidence? Maybe. I've had a good run of sales lately, and yes, I've been feeling confident about my writing. Today, I am slamming back to Earth in a big way. Let's just say that I'm glad I'm close to becoming disqualified from Writers of the Future.

In 23 quarters of entering this damned-if-I-can-figure-it-out contest:
  • Finalist: 1
  • Semifinalist: 1
  • Silver honorable mention: 1
  • Honorable mention: 12
  • Rejection: 8

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Doctor Who: Listen


I haven't been blogging much about Doctor Who this season. It took a truly bizarre episode to draw me out. I can't decide whether I like "Listen" or not. It was obviously meant to be  "masterpiece," and it has its moments, but it's also unfocused and has one of the weirder climaxes I've ever seen on this show. It is a brilliant failure.

The reviewer at Tor.com nailed the main problem, which is, essentially: It's me, not you. As a viewer, if I had started watching Doctor Who this season, I'm sure I would have been blown away by the amazingness of this episode. But I've seen every episode back to "Rose," and what Steven Moffat did here is all too familiar. I'm starting to think he needs to step aside as show runner because he has run out of ideas. He only repackages his old ones. Granted, they're good ideas. But at this point, they are run into the ground.

Here the Doctor theorizes about monsters that are so good at hiding that you never see them. They are the monster under your bed and in your closet, and the ones that follow in your footsteps and raise the hairs on the back of your neck. The Doctor desperately needs to see them.

But here's the thing: We've already seen them. They are the Silence. They are also closely related to the Weeping Angels. They are the thing that Matt Smith's Doctor said in his first appearance to look for out the corner of your eye.

Then there's the climax. First off, the TARDIS shouldn't have even landed on what was presumably Gallifrey because that planet is time-locked. But somehow Clara accidentally bypassed the laws of the universe and landed them in the Doctor's past, and then gave a sweet speech to the young Doctor while he was dreaming that stuck with the Doctor 2,000 years later. But again, been there, done that: Smith's Doctor already pulled that trick with young Amy Pond. Capaldi's Doctor's speech about fear would have had much more impact for me if it hadn't originated with a time-loop.

And speaking of fear ... Orson Pink (whose name I thought was Awesome Pink until I saw recaps online) and his Nothing Monsters at the end of the universe were the most interesting part of this episode for me. But even that, intentionally or not, has been done before and done better. If you have a Kindle, download the free short story "The Nothing Equation" by Tom Goodwin. It's not as famous or influential as another of Goodwin's stories, "The Cold Equations," but it had more of an impact on me. Orson Pink could have easily been the protagonist of that story.

There were good parts. I enjoyed the Doctor's opening monologue. I like Clara and Danny together, though I hope they get over the awkward stage soon. (And who accuses a guy of being a killer on a first date? Really?) Clara telling the Doctor to do as he's told, after he did the same to her earlier in the episode, was wonderful.

And I wouldn't be surprised if, at some point this season, we circle back to find out that a future Doctor wrote the word "Listen" on his chalkboard, was the one hiding under the blanket in young Danny Pink's bedroom, and was knocking on the door at the end of the universe. Because Moffat loves that kind of stuff.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Enterovirus 68

There's this viral respiratory illness that has been spreading across the Midwest over the past few weeks: enterovirus 68. It's been in the news. Maybe you've read about it. It showed up in the Denver metro area about mid-August. It's similar to a basic cold virus except it can cause sudden problems with breathing. It seems to mostly affect children. Kids with asthma are most vulnerable. As of last week, Children's Hospital Colorado was seeing 100 new cases per day.

I'm mother to a girl who has asthma. Cold viruses are her trigger. Most people have a sore throat and stuffy nose for a few days. My daughter gets fever, vomiting and asthma attacks, and is out of school for a day or two. Twice this year her colds have resulted in pneumonia.

This viral outbreak has put me on red alert.

My husband and I can't keep our kids away from the virus if it spreads in their school or some other place we frequent, but there are preventative measures we can take. We're not the most vigilant of hand-washers in my household, but we're working to change that. And the kids have been told to keep their distance from sick classmates.

It might be that the household red alert isn't necessary. My daughter caught a cold in mid-August, after the virus started spreading but before the news came out about the local outbreak. The cold went from bad to really bad in about 12 hours. I've never been so fast to get her to the pediatrician, and I'm glad I did, because her doctor caught a developing case of pneumonia. Around the same time, two of her cousins with whom she has frequent contact (i.e. they play together a lot) came down with what my sister is pretty certain was enterovirus 68.

All of this is to say, she might have already had it. But I'm not taking chances with a virus that has been putting kids -- especially asthmatic kids -- in the hospital. Here's hoping the children who are sick recover soon and that the outbreak runs its course without causing many more infections.

Friday, September 12, 2014

First snow of the season

It's not even two weeks after Labor Day, and Colorado got snow last night. This makes me sad. I am not a fan of snow, which might change if I owned a car that could drive on snow. Nevertheless, I wanted to wake up to at least a dusting so I'd have photographic proof of the weather phenomenon.

Alas, the grass, cars and roofs in my neighborhood were wet but not snowy at 7 a.m. when I got up to get the kids ready for school. I'm told snow was on the cars a mile or two away from my house, and to places both to the north (Boulder) and south (Colorado Springs). This weekend, we'll be back up to the mid-70s and low 80s. That's Colorado for you.

Writing update! I've been all over the map. I'm three chapters into the novel. I also wrote a slightly-longer-than-a-flash story that's out on submission, and I'm working on a short story that I didn't intend to write. But now that I'm writing it, I'll be entering in Writers of the Future this quarter. I also have a co-writing project coming up with the talented Nick T. Chan that's a sequel to a story we've recently sold (but I'm not announcing it until we approve the contract). We've finished the outline and are about to get going on the actual story.

Television update! I'm enjoying Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor so far. I'm also enjoying Outlander, enough that I bought the ebook and am reading it. I finished Orphan Black's second season, which wasn't as good as Season 1 (I like cop drama better than corporate conspiracy drama). I finally got to the "Rains of Castamere" episode of Game of Thrones ... and, damn. And in the next couple of weeks, Once Upon a Time and Sleepy Hollow both come back. The DVR will be busy.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Remember that last post?

About a week ago, I talked about the things I was going to do once the kids were back in school. I should have remembered what happens to the best-laid plans.

A few days ago, my daughter came down with pneumonia for the second time in four months. This was of course no fault of hers but of a combination of a cold virus, which I probably gave to her, and a respiratory ailment (asthma) that makes it difficult for her to clear her lungs. At least this time around, I took her to see the pediatrician almost immediately, and thus the infection was caught early, as it was "setting up shop." She still was miserable for a couple days, during which she stayed home from school, lay on the couch and watched movies, including "Frozen" twice. I've had various songs from the soundtrack stuck in my head ever since. Love is an open door, you know.

Another disruption, this one at the day job: The entire newsroom is moving this weekend from one floor in our huge building to another floor. The logistics of this are insanely difficult. Much of it has to happen overnight Saturday into Sunday, so those of us working both days have the equipment we need in one newsroom and then the other. The non-computer items on my desk will be easy to pack up, at least. I have drawings from my kids, a stuffed Dalek and a few other odds and ends.

The upshot is that I haven't done pretty much anything I intended to do this week. Which in the long term is fine. There's always next week, and the one after that, and so on. In one bright spot, after struggling for days to squeeze in time to write, I finished Chapter 2 of the novel this morning.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Next week

It's that time of year again that children dread: Time to go back to school. My oldest is starting his first year at CU-Denver, while my two youngest are working their way through the public school system. For me, this means two major changes to my schedule from the summer. First, I have to get up at 7:15 every morning. No more sleeping in. Second, I will have free time again that is uninterrupted by monologues about Pokemon and recountings of the adventures of stuffed animals. Some of the things I will do with this free time:
  • Take my laptop to Starbucks, get a coffee and a table, and write. I haven't done this since May, and the baristas at the local shop have probably forgotten who I am.
  • Start exercising again.
  • Get a haircut. Because my hair is about 6 inches too long.
  • See "Guardians of the Galaxy." Finally.
  • Have lunch with a fellow writer.
  • Miss my kids.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

What a month, so far

So here's how it's gone the past couple of weeks:
  • On July 29, Daily Science Fiction published "Kitty is Alive, Kitty is Dead."
  • Also on July 29, I received an acceptance for "The Good Girl" at AE.
  • After some revisions, on Aug. 7, "The Good Girl" was up on the AE website.
  • Also on Aug. 7, I received another acceptance, which I will share the details on once I've signed the contract.
That's two acceptances and two publications in 10 days. This sort of thing is probably typical for some established, professional writers, but I've never had a streak like this before. Ever. It's been fun and a little overwhelming. My stock of stories out on submission is dwindling. I need to write more. This is a good problem to have.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Publication day! At AE

My story "The Good Girl" (formerly titled, as of last week, "Mean Girl") has been published at AE, The Canadian Science Fiction Review, and you can read it right here. Here's a snippet:
Her whole life, she had wanted to feel wind on her skin and grass between her toes, to smell unfiltered air and blow on a dandelion puff, and that particular day had called to her like no other.
I'm so proud of this little story. I wrote it more than two years ago and have believed fiercely that it would find a good home, and so it has. I hope you enjoy!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Sale! To AE - The Canadian Science Fiction Review

I'm happy to share that I've received an acceptance from AE for my science fiction story "Mean Girl," which is about bullying, androids and a society-collapsing virus. The acceptance came on the same day as my most recent Daily Science Fiction publication. So, yeah, that was a good day for me.

In other news:
  • I've set myself a goal of writing on chapter per week on the novel project. That's not super speed but also not snail's pace. Chapter One is written but will need to be rewritten because I can already tell it's not the best way to open the book. This week is Chapter Two.
  • Now that it's August, it's time for me and my husband to get the kids ready to return to school. This fall is different because our oldest will be a freshman at CU-Denver. The two younger ones are entering fifth grade and second grade. 
  • I soooo want to see Guardians of the Galaxy, but it probably won't happen for a week or two, when my husband and I can work out a night to go. Synching our schedules and child care isn't an easy task.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Kitty Is Alive, Kitty Is Dead" at DSF

Today is publication day for my second story with Daily Science Fiction. The last time two years ago, DSF sent stories to email subscribers a week before posting the stories to the website. Now the publication is simultaneous. Even if you're not a DSF subscriber, of which there are about 9,000 (wow), you can still pop over to the website, dailysciencefiction.com, and read "Kitty Is Alive, Kitty Is Dead" right now. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Writing update

It's been awhile since I posted anything, so here's a quick update.

Since the start of June, I've been doing pre-writing work for an urban fantasy novel. As of this morning, my Scrivener document has 22,500 words worth of world-building, character building and outlining. I've done about as much pre-writing work as I can stand, and I'm ready to start writing the story itself.

I've also re-read novels by my favorite urban fantasy writers to study how they structure their stories, and I'll likely repeat with everything I read over the next few months.

My goal is to have a first draft done by June 1, 2015, which is one year after the workshop in Lawrence. I'm excited to get going, but I won't be able to establish a regular rhythm for about another three weeks, when the kids are back in school.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Doctor Who: Trailer!

BBC is dribbling out the publicity for the new season. First we get a couple of teasers, and now finally a real trailer. I am excited to see what Peter Capaldi does with the role. From what we see here, I like the look of his Doctor.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

What I'm watching

Summer television is slow, but my DVR and Blu-Ray player are full.

My husband and I were fans of "24" back in the day, so we're watching the 12-episode miniseries, in which Jack moves his havoc overseas to London. We're way behind on the episodes. The finale airs this week, I think, and we just watched episode six or seven. This show is all about nostalgia. The hubby and I know the "24" tropes inside and out, and we can usually predict when the CTU (or in this case CIA) mole will appear; when Jack will torture someone, and when Chloe will save Jack's butt with her mad computer skills. But I've yet to hear Jack growl this line, and I'm waiting for it: "Damn it, Chloe, we're running out of time!"

The best of "True Blood" is behind us, but this is the last season, so I'm sticking it out to the bitter, bloody end. I don't understand the vampire blood plague, really. Yes, I remember how Sarah Newlin and various others poisoned the Tru Blood last year. I thought it was turning vamps into zombie vamps, but now that doesn't seem to be the case. Anyway, my main interest this season is to see who hasn't been staked or shot or had their heart ripped out by the final episode. Sookie will probably come full circle and end up with Bill. I would rather she end up with Eric or say "screw you" to everyone and go off on her own.

My DVD watching consists of "Game of Thrones" season 3 and "Orphan Black" season 1. I've read George R.R. Martin's books, so I know what's coming. I'm almost to the Red Wedding. As for "Orphan Black," I just got the first disc through Netflix a couple of days ago, I've watched the first two episodes, and I'm hooked. This might be my new favorite show.

I also have "True Detective" on my Netflix list, but I need to finish one of these other series before I jump into a new one.

My viewing plans for fall: Once Upon a Time, Sleepy Hollow, Gracepoint and Doctor Who.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Midyear update

Oh my gosh, we're halfway through 2014. The past six months have gone by so fast. Now is a good time to take stock of where I'm at on my goals for the year.

1. Beat my submission total for 2013.
At six months into the year, I should be halfway to this goal. In 2013, I had 45 submissions. This year so far I have 20 submissions. Not quite where I want to be, but close. I don't expect the numbers to surge in the second half of the year because I won't be writing any new short fiction for a while. Now that I've finished and submitted my Q3 entry for Writers of the Future, I'm turning my attention to writing a novel.

Publications: my flash "To See Sarah" was published in Abyss & Apex  in March. Every Day Fiction published "Djinn Coin" in January. I also have my second story with Daily Science Fiction scheduled for publication July 30.

2. Apply to a writers workshop.
Achievement unlocked! I applied to the Fantasy & Science Fiction Novel Writers Workshop at the University of Kansas, was accepted, and attended in the first two weeks of June. It was a great experience and extremely helpful in working out the plot for the novel that I will devote the next few months to writing.

3. Lose weight.
My goal for the year is to lose 10 pounds. I started the year at 165 pounds. I dropped to 156 by the start of June, when I went to the workshop. Two weeks of eating out every day caused me to pack back on 5 pounds. Now on July 1, I'm back down to 158.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Writers of the Future, Quarter 2

Another honorable mention to add to my pile. I knew it was coming. I've been entering this contest long enough that I have a pretty good feel for how my submission is going to place. Of course, I don't set out to write an honorable-mention story. That would be stupid. Every time I set out to write a winner, but the end result often doesn't bridge the gap with my original idea.

In 22 quarters of entering Writers of the Future:
  • Finalist: 1
  • Semi-finalist: 1
  • Silver honorable mention: 1
  • Honorable mention: 12
  • Rejection: 7
I'm finishing up my final edits on my Quarter 3 entry, which I'll submit sometime in the next few days. After that, I'll get back to the novel I started at the workshop earlier this month.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Campbell Conference

The novel workshop wrapped up Friday morning with a "what do I do next?" discussion. In the afternoon, the Campbell Conference began.

I'm accustomed to SF conventions, but this is an academic gathering sponsored by the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas. It's quite awesome that a university has a center for studying science fiction, and has for decades, which is thanks to James Gunn.

The conference is intimate, a few dozen people as opposed to a convention that can draw hundreds or thousands. (I bet the Denver Comic Con this weekend is in the tens of thousands.) Everyone here is thoughtful and intelligent, and invested in the field of science fiction.

Last night was the banquet and awards ceremony for the Sturgeon and Campbell awards. This morning, most of the novel workshoppers and our fearless leader Kij Johnson went to a coffee shop in downtown called Aimee's that, if I lived here in Lawrence, would become my place to get a cup of coffee and write. Here's a detail shot from the coffee counter. I love the stuffed animal and the Doctor Who mug:

After breakfast, we went to the KU Union for the conference's morning session, "science fiction in the real world." We had an interesting and insightful discussion. I took lots of notes. I also took a panoramic photo of the room before we started. Soon enough, every one of these chairs was filled.



Next was a quick lunch, and then a book signing in the KU bookstore. I sat with Bryan Thomas Schmidt, author and editor of several anthologies, including Raygun Chronicles. Fellow Raygun contributor (and all around great writer) Robin Wayne Bailey was also there. We signed quite a few books. Several of my fellow novel workshoppers bought Raygun. They are very sweet people.

I'm now taking an afternoon break. Tonight, more activity.

Tomorrow, I'll be packing up, saying my goodbyes and hitting the road for home. It has been an amazing two weeks. I can't say yet whether the experience will be life-changing, but it certainly feels like it could be. I've made some good friends, and over the coming months, I will take everything I've learned to write my first novel.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Novel Workshop, Week 2

Week Two of the workshop is about building on the work from last week. Vague, I know.

After last week's session, for my project, I did a lot of work over several days on how magic relates to the real world (the project is urban fantasy), on one of my two protagonists, and on the newspaper angle.

Today was my second time in the hot seat. Our group talked about the internal workings of my magic system, which I appreciated because I was having trouble with it by myself, and my other protagonist that I hadn't tackled last week.

The immediate work I have ahead of me is world-building. This doesn't surprise me because world-building has always been a weak spot for me. Or maybe it's not a weak spot; I just needed someone to encourage me to do it. The work I've done here at the workshop has been fun and opened up interesting opportunities for the story. In fact, I have more material now than I have room for in one book. I also have several pages in my notebook full of general wisdom about writing.

I have gotten what I wanted out of coming here and more.

And we're not done yet.

We have two more days of workshopping, and then the Campbell Conference this weekend.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Novel Workshop Days 5 & 6

The weekend is break time, but not really. We don't have scheduled sessions, but we're all spending time in the workshop room working on our assignments. There are storyboards in various forms on almost every inch of wall space. Most of the couches and comfy chairs were filled this morning with writers on their laptops, me included.

My storyboard (in its very early state) is in the photo. It's a giant piece of butcher paper covered in different colored Post-It Notes that signify different things.

I've never plotted a story in such a visual way before. For me, this is an experiment.

The hardest part of the process has been creating major turning points for the plot, the moments when something happens that changes the goals of the characters and the direction of the story in a drastic way. It has helped to give the story a specific framework (based around the news cycle) and to zero in on the major themes.

I've also been working on deepening the characters and the world-building. I've been proud of my progress on my magic system. But over lunch, people raised questions that I don't yet have answers for.

When we're not hard at work on our projects, there's a lot of socializing going on, as you would expect. Also last night, a group of us went to see "Edge of Tomorrow," which was better than I was expecting. In a couple of hours, we're heading out to see the new "X-Men" movie. Two movies in two days is absolutely unheard of for me. I might see that many movies in a theater in a year.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Novel Workshop Day 4

I woke up this morning to seriously dark skies, lightning and rain. I also woke up with a migraine, which meant, no matter the weather, I had to trudge up to the KU Union for coffee. The caffeine does a better job for me than any medicine of curing a headache. An hour later, the headache is fading. I hope it's not a sign of more headaches to come.

Yesterday was the first of two sessions during this workshop in which we tackled my project. Rather than be deflating, the discussion was fun and eye-opening. My notebook is full of details that I won't get into here. The three main points I came away with:
  • I haven't yet done enough work on my worldbuilding. I have a lot of questions in my notebook in regards to the magic system I've created.
  • I need to (almost) completely rethink one of my two main characters, who at this point in the process is pushed around a lot but doesn't make things happen.
  • The aspect of my project that my instructors and classmates latched onto the most is newspapers/journalism. I'm too close to my own profession to think that the details are interesting, but for people who don't work in a newsroom, it's a different world and one well worth exploring. Just ask Aaron Sorkin. This is an exciting revelation to me. I'm passionate about journalism and the need to preserve newspapers and their unique role in society in a world that is increasingly moving toward a 24/7, social media-based news cycle. This project can become an opportunity for me to explore and share that passion without hitting readers over their heads with "message" anvils. Because, ouch.
I have an assignment for the week that is due Sunday night. I'm more excited about my project now than I was 24 hours ago. Even though I will be starting over (almost) from scratch.

And, of course, I'm also learning from the discussions of my classmates' projects. Everyone here is so creative and smart. We all bring different strengths and interests to the table.

I am disappointed with myself about one thing. I didn't know before coming to the workshop that I had to provide written critiques for my classmates on their outlines and chapters. This is my fault. If I had stopped to think for 10 seconds, I would have realized the obviousness of this. So now I'm paying the price. I have been rereading everyone's submission and writing critiques during my free time instead of relaxing or working on my own writing. Last night, I was in my room writing one of the critiques while my classmates were gathered in a common area watching a movie. Their frequent bouts of raucous laughter reached me through the air vents. Whatever they were watching must have been hilarious.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Novel Workshop Day 3

This morning I wandered downtown to the bagel shop for breakfast and walked back to the residence hall along a new route, through a neighborhood of old, beautiful houses. The road and sidewalk were both paved in red brick and lined with big, shady trees. I took a couple of photos:

Yesterday is when we started "novel-bashing." Not to say we took a hammer to our projects. Rather, the term comes from kit-bashing, which is the practice of taking pieces of different model kits and putting them together. This is the process of taking pieces from different places and fitting them together to make something better.

But, if the first day of serious workshopping is any indication, the first step of the process is more like ripping off a Band-Aid. It needs doing, but it hurts a little.

I won't go into the specifics of other people's novel projects. That's not my place. I will say my fellow seven workshoppers all have fascinating ideas, and none of us has similar ideas, which keeps it interesting. I want to see every one of these projects get published. At this stage in the process, though, all our projects -- mine included -- need some work to turn them from ideas into stories.

Yesterday, that entailed discussions on what's cool about each project but also where the flaws are and what each of us needs to focus on and flesh out over the next few days.

My turn in the hot seat comes today. I spent last night and this morning brainstorming on my ideas and characters, going into more detail than I have before. Some of it will get discarded, some will stay. I thought about the generalized questions that came up in yesterday's session that I haven't verbalized the answers to in my own project: What is it about this story, more than any other, that makes me want to write it? Which aspects are nonnegotiable? Which aspects are flexible? What are the themes? What is this story really about?

I suspect some of my fellow workshoppers thought I was overreacting with my work ethic last night, but my creative process works best on deadline and under pressure. I don't love being on the hot seat, but that's oftentimes where I do my best stuff.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Novel Workshop Day 2

The first day of class was very insightful and already worth my time coming here. I'm a novice when it comes to plotting a novel. Until about three months ago, I had never made the attempt. And no one has ever showed me how to do it, so I blundered through on my own, thinking I had the Best Outline Ever. OK, I know it wasn't that, but I thought it was pretty good.

Well, no.

From what I learned yesterday, I have an outline for about the first third of a novel, through the end of the first act. I'll need to start over almost from scratch, keeping my core elements, and see where it goes.

Also, I started in the wrong place.

That's why I'm here. To learn to do it right, so I don't waste my precious writing time working on a project whose basic structure is flawed.

For the first hour of class, Kij Johnson explained to us the main elements of developing a plot. A lot of it I had heard before, but she said some things that are new to me, and I took copious notes. Then we spent the rest of class brainstorming with Kij and Barbara J. Webb to build a big-picture novel structure from a core idea and two characters. It was fun and eye-opening, and I'm looking forward to working through the process on my own novel.

On another topic, I think these two weeks will get me the rest of my way to my weight-loss goal. I don't have access to a pantry here, which means I'm not snacking on chips, crackers and cookies for half the day. My plan is: bagel and fruit for breakfast, salad for lunch and a big dinner at whatever restaurant we choose that night. Plus, there's quite a bit of walking; we are on a college campus, after all. Of course I have no scale to measure my weight until I'm home in two weeks, so it's all guessing until then.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Novel Workshop Day 1


Day 1 mostly involved driving across eastern Colorado and Kansas, Denver to Lawrence, which is a drive I haven't done since my college days when I continued on to Columbia, Mo. I had a George R.R. Martin audiobook to keep me company. Western Kansas is like driving on a treadmill, except that the crosswinds are a bear.

After about 10 hours on the road, I parked in front of the residence hall on the KU campus about 7 p.m. Here's the view from the street:

I went inside to find that I was late. The combined novel and short-fiction workshops had already finished dinner and were going through the logistical need-to-know stuff for the next two weeks. The groups split up, and we novel workshoppers talked for a while about how the process will go. It's going to be exciting, but also nerve-wracking, intense and a lot of hard work.

I just have to remind myself, when it comes my turn for the hive mind to pick apart my outline, that failure on my first attempt at writing a novel outline is expected and that if it were perfect, there'd be no reason for me to be here.

By the time I headed upstairs to my room to unpack, I was exhausted. But being in a new place with strange noises (I'm right next to the elevator, which means every time it goes up or down, it sounds like it's doing it in my room) and a hard bed, I didn't sleep well. At least in the suite I'm sharing with a fellow workshopper, we have our own bathroom.

This morning so far has been: find a bagel shop with free coffee refills (to compensate for my no-sleep-zombie state), go through my exercise routines, shower and do some grocery shopping.

The walk downtown to the bagel shop was nice, but humid. After six years in Colorado, I'm not used to the humidity east of the Great Plains. It's like breathing soup.

We're about to head to the KU Union to get some lunch, and then it'll be time to start the workshop in earnest this afternoon.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Adventures in weight loss, part 2

This year, one of my goals is to drop the 10 pounds that I've put on since college. I have a family, a full-time job, and lots of responsibilities, which means I don't have time to spend two hours a day at the gym. That probably puts me in the same position as 90 percent of the U.S. population. But that doesn't mean I'm giving up on taking care of my body.

Yesterday I talked about exercise. Today, healthy eating.

I'm not naturally a healthy eater. I gravitate to chips and cookies, not vegetables. Obviously that's not going to work when trying to drop pounds. I wouldn't call what I'm doing a diet, in that I think of a diet as either starving yourself or following some strange fad rules. Rather, I'm simply giving better fuel to my body.

Here are my rules, which I follow most of the time:
  • No sugary drinks. No soda or Kool-Aid. This isn't too difficult because I'm a sensory avoider and hate the bubbles of carbonation. I'm also mildly lactose intolerant, so milk is out. I limit myself to one cup of juice in the mornings with my breakfast, and one cup of coffee at some point during the day. Mostly I drink water and hot tea.
  • Healthy, not unhealthy snacks. My workplace has something called the trough, where my co-workers dump chips, cookies, doughnuts, etc. for shared consumption. The trough is about two feet from my desk, which means I spend most work shifts with a constant stream of folks coming by to graze. It's a temptation to join them. My solution: I bring my own fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, dried fruit, low-fat cottage cheese, oatmeal, etc. In other words, healthy snacks. Sometimes I indulge in a cookie or a couple of chips, but not nearly as much as I used to.
  • Bake, don't fry. Anything I make for dinner, I try to find ways to put it in the oven instead of on the stove with lots of oil.
  • No fast food. I make my lunches and dinners at home and bring them to work. Fresh vegetables, rice and baked meats. But not fish. I like fish, but I also like my co-workers, and I won't subject them to the stink of reheated fish.
  • Don't overeat. I've never been an overeater, so this is easy. I eat slowly, and when my stomach is full, I stop. Even if there's still food on my plate.
  • Nothing after 10 p.m. I work a late shift and get home between 8 and 9. Sometimes I'm hungry. If I get a snack, I aim for a healthy one, and I don't eat at all after 10 p.m., giving my body plenty of time to metabolize what I've already put in it before I go to bed.
That's about it. It's not rocket science. Mostly, it's common sense. But I've been surprised at the discipline it takes to stick to a regimen of healthy eating.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Adventures in weight loss, part 1

I've never been overweight. My BMI has always been in the healthy range. But over the past few years, my weight has been slowly creeping upward. Too much junk food, not enough exercise. By last December, I had risen to 10 pounds over the weight I had been in college. I was still in the healthy BMI range, but this worried me nonetheless, and I started on a quest this year to drop those 10 pounds.

The two keys to this are to exercise more and eat healthier.

Following this advice, since Jan. 1, I have lost 7.5 pounds.

That's not a dramatic amount by any stretch, but I did give myself an entire year to lose the weight. Being almost to my goal by late May is encouraging for me, especially after I had to stop any and all exercise for 10 weeks because of a rib injury.

Here's what I've been doing. Let's start with the first part, to exercise more.

I used to be a runner. I was on my high school track and cross country teams, and after college I kept myself in shape and ran in 5K races. At my peak, I was running about 6 miles per day. That was before marriage and kids. Of course I wouldn't trade my family for anything in the world, but my physique has suffered. I simply don't have time to exercise the way I want to.

My daily routine since the start of the year is to first walk the dog; usually we go for a couple of miles or so. I don't push myself, but we walk at a good clip.

When I get home, I pull out my iPad and fire up my exercise apps.

The first one is for abs. Back in the day, I had a six-pack. Fifteen years and two pregnancies later, the six-pack is long gone. I'd like to get it back. This particular abs app has three levels of difficulty. I started at level 1, which got me 240 reps of moderate difficulty in about 12 minutes. At the start of May, I moved up to level 2, which is 320 reps of moderate-to-hard difficulty in the same time span. For a week, I couldn't move without pain. It's better now, but I'm still calling it my "abs torture" every morning. Maybe it's my imagination, but I think I'm starting to see the results.

App No. 2 focuses on the butt: leg lifts, bridging and lunges for about 12 minutes. Why? Mostly just for the hell of it. I need to burn calories, and this is as good as anything else. I'm still on level 1 here, not because it's difficult (it's not) but because I'm not ready to amp this one up until I'm more comfortable with the level 2 abs. I'm seeing the results of this one mostly in my thighs.

In all, my morning exercise routine takes about 45 minutes to an hour.

Next time: Part 2, eating healthier.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What a week

Here is the good part about this week:
  • My oldest son is graduating from high school. The ceremony is Thursday morning. I am a very proud mother.

And the bad:
  • My daughter has pneumonia. The poor girl has already suffered through strep throat this year, and now this. And the pneumonia is on top of an asthma attack that almost got her hospitalized.
  • On the drive home from the doctor's office yesterday, where we spent two hours because of asthma and pneumonia, I was rear-ended at a red light by a driver who then just took off. Thankfully, no damage to my car. But a hit-and-run with my sick child in the back seat ... not cool. In addition to taking care of my daughter, I spent the afternoon filing reports with the police and my insurance company.
  • My oldest son -- the one graduating tomorrow morning -- managed to get his cellphone stolen by leaving it in a public bathroom.

The week looks lopsided, that's for sure. I'm hoping for no more drama.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Happy May the Fourth!

For your enjoyment on the unofficial Star Wars holiday ...


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Writing stats for April

April has been a good month for my writing: high productivity, a story sale, a story publication and an acceptance to a workshop that I really wanted to get into. On the other hand, my submission numbers took a dive. For the most part, the stories I have out on submission have been at their respective markets for several weeks or months. I just haven't been getting a lot of responses lately. On the month's word count: 4,000 words are a short story, and the rest of it is an outline for my urban fantasy novel and writing the first three chapters.

So, the stats for April:
  • Stories on submission: 6
  • New submissions: 2
  • Acceptances: 1, to Daily Science Fiction
  • Word count: About 12,000
  • Stories finished: 1

Monday, April 28, 2014

Writers of the Future Quarter 1

This quarter: Honorable mention. Including my silver honorable mention, which seems to be a category that no longer exists, I now have an even dozen HMs. I don't know whether to be proud of that rather dubious accomplishment or go bang my head on a desk. I am in the middle of reading the most recent Writers of the Future anthology, and I can see how this story doesn't fit the style of the stories that are winning. It's a good story, but in this case, I sent it to the wrong editor. Oh well. It happens. A lot.

In 21 quarters of entering Writers of the Future:
  • Finalist: 1
  • Semi-finalist: 1
  • Silver honorable mention: 1
  • Honorable mention: 11
  • Rejection: 7

Saturday, April 12, 2014

What I've been up to

Early April is always a busy time for me. Two of my children have birthdays (six days apart from each other), and this comes two weeks after my third child had his birthday in late March. We're sick of cake in my household now. Also, my husband and I celebrate our anniversary. As of tomorrow, we will have been married for 11 years. We'll celebrate sometime over the next week with dinner and a movie, probably "Draft Day" because he loves football and I like Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner.

With so much going on, I'm having difficulty finding time to write, but I've managed it. I've written about 5K since the start of the month. My goal is 500 words a day before I head off to work. Most days, I've hit the goal, but not every day. For instance, I spent this morning cleaning the front yard and fertilizing the grass before the next snowstorm rolls through tomorrow (we're expecting 4 to 8 inches of wet, heavy white stuff). On days when I'm not working up a sweat in the yard, I'm finishing up the third chapter of my novel project. When that's done, I'll go back to working on my outline. I am confident that I'll have the pages and outline into the best shape possible to submit for the novel workshop I'll be attending in June.

The day job continues as it always does. Some weeks are emotionally difficult, though, and this past week was one of those. As a newspaper wire editor, I read about a lot of awful stuff. In fact, most of my job entails immersing myself in the worst of humanity eight hours day, five days a week. One of my co-workers calls it performing journalistic triage. And yet, I'm able to compartmentalize most of it. I'd go crazy if I didn't, or at least exist in a state of deep depression. My one major weak spot, the thing I can't push aside, is when bad things happen to children. This week, I've dealt with a stabbing rampage at a high school; a 4-year-old girl dead after a car rammed into her day care; and five high schoolers, and five adults, burned to death after a FedEx truck smashed into their bus. This week has been hard.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Sale! To Daily Science Fiction

This week was already a good one, and now it has become even better. I'm doing a happy dance because my flash story "Kitty is Alive, Kitty is Dead" has been accepted for publication in Daily Science Fiction. This will be my second story published in DSF, the first one being right here.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Stats for first quarter of 2014

We're through the first three months of 2014, so now is a good time for a snapshot of how the year has gone so far:
  • Submissions: 14
  • Stories out on submission: 7
  • Longest wait time on a current submission: 94 days
  • Shortest wait: 3 days
  • Acceptances: 0
  • Publications: 2
  • March word count: about 8,500

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Publication Day! at Abyss & Apex

Some good news to share today.

First off, my flash story "To See Sarah" is now available for reading at Abyss & Apex in the second-quarter issue, which is also the magazine's 50th issue overall. You can read my story right here, and the rest of the issue here.

In other happy news, it looks like I'll be attending the Science Fiction & Fantasy Novel Writers Workshop this summer at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction. I'm very excited about this, even if the workshop is held at the University of Kansas, which is the archrival of my own alma mater, the University of Missouri. Ha.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fireside Magazine Year 3

Fireside Magazine is in the middle of its Kickstarter to fund its third year. The big change this year is that editor Brian White plans to make the website free. Kickstarter contributors get the bonus of the ebook versions of the issues.

I highly encourage folks to contribute. Brian has excellent editorial taste. In year two, every story I've read has been a good one, and I'm seriously not saying that because he published one of my stories. Every story has been enjoyable. How many magazines can you say that about? And I wish more magazines would follow his example of fair pay for writers. You can pledge as little as $2 up to the bigger amounts that have bigger rewards. A pledge of $24 gets you ebooks for every monthly issue.

To find out more, check out the Kickstarter here. And make a pledge!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Writing update and assorted stuff

First, the writing update: I'm one short scene away from finishing the story I plan to send off to the Writers of the Future contest, whose quarterly deadline is about a week away, and then it's back to working on my novel outline. Since I wrote up a first draft outline a few weeks ago, I've come up with quite a few changes I want to make. I'm excited to get going in earnest on the novel project, but I also need to finalize my outline before I start. I have no interest in writing thousands or tens of thousands of words that I would have to throw out if/when I come up with a better way of telling the story.

In addition to writing, I've also been catching up on television shows. Some thoughts on what I've been watching:

Once Upon a Time: I am totally addicted to this show, and it's the first show I've done some passionate shipping on in a long time. (CaptainSwan, if you're interested in knowing.) I didn't like the Peter Pan story last fall. Neverland was too dark and monotonous, and Peter Pan never really jelled for me as a villain. I have more hope for the second half of the season with the Wicked Witch. I find it funny how recappers and reviewers all over the Internet immediately bought the Witch's contention in this past week's episode (which rocked, btw) that she's Regina's half-sister. Yes, everyone is related to everyone on this show. The family tree is more tangled than Maleficent's forest of thorns. Wouldn't it be great if the Witch is lying and her game is something else entirely?

Downton Abbey: I have the most recent season on the DVR but haven't watched much of it yet. I miss Matthew. I'm also having a difficult time getting past the storyline with Anna. First off, why do so many female characters on television get sexually assaulted or raped? It's stupid and unnecessary. And Anna's response to what happened to her is stupid and unnecessary. I don't like storylines that could be resolved by a character acting with a modicum of common sense.

Glee: I've caught up on all the episodes this year in the past week. At times, I can only shake my head sadly and wondered what happened to the show I loved so much when it started. The characters have become caricatures of themselves. Tina rolls around on the hallway floor and moans and cries like a 6-year-old? Blaine plays with puppets and wears a superhero costume? Will takes sex breaks with his wife in the staff bathroom? Seriously, Show? Rachel and Santana have devolved into such immature divas that I hate them both. When Sue declared she was putting the glee club out of its misery, I cheered. Too bad it won't last. The only reason I'm sticking it out at this point is because I've come too far with this show to not see how it ends.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Home is where the germs are

My writing time was curtailed this past week thanks to my house looking like a sick ward. For once, though, I am not the one who's sick. Yet.

Two of my three kids have a cold, and my daughter is also recovering from strep throat. My husband and I thought she had an ear infection when I took her to the doctor on Friday, so the diagnosis came as a surprise. And I have to say that penicillin is amazing. Less than 24 hours after her first dose, my kiddo is almost back to her usual perky self, with one exception: She is still having difficulty keeping down anything more solid than Jell-O.

(And before you start saying, but if she's vomiting, how could you think it was only an ear infection? Well, it's because she always runs a fever and vomits when she is sick with a common cold. That's par for the course, unfortunately.)

Also, my daughter is a fan of the Animal Planet show "Too Cute." There are eight episodes streaming on Netflix, and she has watched every one of them twice (some of them three times) over the past three days. This is while she has been curled up on the couch with her favorite puppy-print blanket and her stuffed tiger. At this point, I can tell you just about anything you want to know about Snowball the kitten or Ivan the pug puppy.

The upshot of this on my writing is that I haven't done any since my daughter got sick. I'm about 2,500 words into the story I intend to submit to Writers of the Future, and the deadline is about two weeks away. I need to crack down on the writing every day this week and hope that no one else in my family gets sick.

As for my own health woes, they seem just about over. It's been six weeks since I injured my ribs, and I am 95 percent healed. I can't do crunches or run for farther than a mile or so, but I'm good on just about everything else.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Oscar predictions

Today is my Super Bowl. I love the Oscars, but this year I've hardly seen any of the nominees. I saw "Gravity" in Imax 3D (absolutely blew my mind), and I took my kids to see "The Croods" at the cheap theater (it was awful). That's it. So I'm basing my predictions on what's happened with all the other awards shows leading up to this one. Here we go:

Picture: 12 Years a Slave
Actor: Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club
Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine
Supporting actor: Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club
Supporting actress: Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave
Director: Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity
Animated film: Frozen
Adapted screenplay: 12 Years a Slave
Original screenplay: Her
Cinematography: Gravity
Production design: The Great Gatsby
Costume design: American Hustle
Makeup and hair: Dallas Buyers Club
Film editing: Captain Phillips
Sound editing: Gravity
Sound mixing: Gravity
Visual effects: Gravity
Original score: Gravity
Original song: "Let it Go," Frozen
Foreign language film: The Great Beauty
Documentary feature: The Act of Killing
Documentary short subject: The Lady in Number 6
Animated short film: Get a Horse!
Live action short film: The Voorman Problem

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"Heroes" is coming back

NBC announced last night that Heroes will be returning to television for a 13-episode run in 2015, and I think this is fantastic. This comes on the heels of another limited-run reboot, this one for "24," another of my favorite shows from back-when, and a movie for "Veronica Mars." My wish list for more reboots: Chuck, Alias and Firefly.

The Heroes reboot will focus on a new cast of characters, with possible cameos from some of the original cast, which is not so fantastic, but I understand the necessity behind it. I would rather see a series focusing on characters such as Peter, Claire, Hiro and Sylar. But the actors have mostly gone on to other projects, some with great success. Getting them all back for a new series would prove a logistical nightmare.

As happy as I am over this news, I'm well-aware that the original run of Heroes had its issues. The first season was great. It was exciting and fast-paced, and "Save the Cheerleader, Save the World" became engrained for a while in the country's pop culture. The episodes of "Homecoming," "Company Man" and "Five Years Gone" were as good as anything else on television and better than most. After that, the show went downhill fast, until it finally petered out with a whimper at the end of season four and was given a mercy killing by NBC.

I don't claim to know what went wrong. The writers strike had something to do with it, I'm sure. Usually when a show's story lines go to pot, the problem originates in the writers room. In the case of Heroes, after the initial story line of the bomb in New York was resolved, it seemed that the writers didn't know where to go next. Which is why a 13-episode limited-run series might be just the thing Heroes needs to redeem itself. Creator Tim Kring and his (hopefully) new and better writing staff have had years to develop a story that will have a definite beginning and end, rather than going on indefinitely when there's nowhere good to go.


In any case, I will definitely be watching, and I'm rooting for Kring and company to prove that NBC made the right call in bringing Heroes back from the dead.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review for Raygun Chronicles

I'm not generally in the habit of using my blog for blatant self-promotion, at least I try not to, because that can get boring after awhile. But I like to share sales and publications, and this time I get to share a review.

Intergalactic Medicine Show book reviewer Jamie Todd Rubin has nice things to say about "Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera for a New Age" in his January column, which you can read right here, including some very nice things about my contribution to the anthology. He says, "Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera for a New Age is a fun, entertaining read, and a good representation of how short fiction today can recognize its roots and then deliberately evolve into something new and impressive."

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ender's Game movie

I finally got around this week to watching the movie adaptation of "Ender's Game." Orson Scott Card's novel is one of the first science-fiction novels I ever read, probably when I was 10 or 11, and I absolutely loved it. I still do. I've gone back and forth over the years on whether "Ender's Game" or its followup "Speaker for the Dead" is the better book. I've read most of the sequels.

So the idea of a movie adaptation scared me. I was afraid they would screw it up. This fear turned out to be partially justified.

In watching the movie, I found it difficult to separate my opinions of what was on the screen from my love of the books. I tried. I really did. But I found myself making a mental list as the movie went along of all the places it diverged from the novel. Some changes and omissions were necessary to the medium, and others seems absolutely pointless, such as the weirdness of the ending.

My main issue with the movie, though, came from its rushed pacing. The script jumped from Big Scene to Big Scene without any of the little stuff in the middle, giving the movie the feel of being a Cliff Notes version of what it could have been. Most of the Battle School kids (and Valentine and Peter) were reduced to faces in the crowd. The emotional impact of what was happening to Ender and his fellow soldiers got lost amid big set pieces and fancy special effects. The "why should I care" factor was almost completely absent.

Now you might be reading this and thinking, Is there anything you actually liked about this movie? Well, yes, there was. I think Asa Butterfield and Ben Kingsley were excellent. Butterfield looks like what I imagined Ender to look like, except a few years older, and he pulled off what I always thought would be a difficult role -- a kid who is both exceptionally compassionate and a cold-blooded military commander. The battle room was visually awesome, and I wish the movie had spent more time there.

Overall, the movie is a mixed bag. It got a few things right but could have been so much better. My recommendation: Go read the book, instead.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Rib injury

A little more than a week ago, I injured my lower right ribs shoveling snow from the driveway. I'm rather embarrassed about this because the snow totaled about four inches, which is to say, not much. I figured I had pulled a muscle and the pain would subside in a few days. Fast forward nine days, and the pain is worse now than it was when it first appeared. So I went to see my doctor this morning, and the diagnosis is: costochondritis. That's a fancy way of saying I sprained my ribs.

I didn't know until today that you could sprain your ribs. I'm happy I didn't crack a bone, but at the same time, I can't think a break would hurt much less. I'm reminded of the injury every time I get in or out of bed or a chair, cough, sneeze, blow my nose, make a jerky movement, drive over a pothole, take a deep breath, etc. And I'm looking at four to six weeks of recovery time. While you can wrap a sprained ankle or wrist and minimize its use, the ribs have to keep working, and they take longer to heal.

My grand plan to hit the health club three times a week and do abs and butt exercises every day is now being set back until the end of March. But to every dark cloud, there is a silver lining. I'm going to sleep very well at night for the next couple weeks thanks to some heavy-duty painkillers.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Jimmy Fallon and The Muppets

I came across this in my Internet surfing this morning: Jimmy Fallon ends his last episode of "Late Night" by -- what else? -- singing with the Muppets. Enjoy.