Tag Archives: thoughts

A quick Friday post

Today’s post will be brief. As I mentioned Wednesday, I have dived head-first into a novel-writing effort. Since then I have written 3500 words, which is a pretty rip-roaring pace for me. I work in such fits and starts I have to take the inspiration as it comes. We all work differently; above all else we have to find what works for us.

This weekend I’m taking a science fiction class by Edward Lerner. 7 hours, Saturday and Sunday. I’m looking forward to seeing what he has to say. He worked in the tech industry for many years before becoming a full-time science fiction author.

Next Monday it will be 16 years since I started writing about Vironevaeh. I’ll have to think about something fun to post for that. Happy Friday!

A novel attempt

I finally decided that I will try to write and finish a novel. Of course, I’ve been entertaining such ideas for years, as I suppose a lot of people have. So why do I feel like I can do it now, when I’ve only failed before? You gotta keep trying, but there’s that old Einstein definition for insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So I am trying again, but I’m doing things differently, and hopefully this will lead to more success.

1. I first wrote the plot arc as a short story. It was originally meant to be a short story but there were so many things I wanted to touch on that I didn’t have time for, even at 7000 words in length. I know how I want the characters to develop, how they feel about each other, and what their motivations are. I know all kinds of societal details that play into the characters actions and motivations.

2. I’m in a writing group now. I know a bunch of people who might have suggestions on how to do better, or what to do if I hit a wall.

3. I’m approaching the writing differently. In the past I said, whelp, 100,000 words, here I go. Around 25k, I got bored, felt like my work was unfocused, and quit. This time I’m thinking of it as a series of short story ish chapters. I have a bunch of little stories to tell in 2-5k words or so. Per point 1, I already have a rough outline of the overall story. As I go, I’m outlining a few chapters forward with further details– what scenes happen in each chapter and where do they happen. So I have a macroscopic outline of everything and a microscopic outline subject to the flow of events. We’ll see how it goes. I’m planning on writing one chapter a week, with weeks off allowed for alternate projects.

I’ll continue to post my progress. It will be interesting to see what works for me and what doesn’t work for me. Any suggestions are welcome too! But basically, it’s time to just write. Chapter 1, here we go…

Sources of Sci-Fi Inspiration: City Culture of Prague

Setting is a critical element to most stories. It frames the actions of the characters and provides a rich and interesting backdrop. Often the environment motivates the character. As most portraits of people would be less interesting on a white backdrop, most stories of people would less interesting without the setting. New Orleans gives Ignatius a good playground in “A Confederacy of Dunces;” “White Fang” would be reduced hugely without the north, and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” would be slightly different without the asylum.

As a writer of science fiction, setting is both a problem and one of my favorite things. How do you draw in the culture and idiosyncrasies of a place that doesn’t exist? They have to be imagined, and imagined plausibly, by the writer. All of my favorite science fiction books have strong settings: In “The Left Hand of Darkness“, we learn about the sexual culture of a differently gendered humanoid species. Through their myths and traditions, we get to learn how they eat, how they like their weather, what is taboo, and what is an insult. In “A Canticle for Leibowitz“, we start at a Catholic abbey in post-apocalyptic New Mexico several centuries in the future. In “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress“, the setting is a lunar colony that feels bullied by earth. We learn about their principles, their marriages, and their aspirations. They can be a little closer to home, too. In “Holy Fire“, the protagonist travels from future San Francisco to future Munich to future Prague. Some sci-fi stays closer yet to home, but I find that I love crazy settings; thus I prefer Vernor Vinge’s “A Fire Upon the Deep” to his “Rainbow’s End“. (For others see my top 20 scifi books post.)

When I write my stories, I don’t want the settings to feel like the Midwestern United States plopped onto Mars or Alpha Centauri. I want them to feel like products of their interstellar, future environments. So I try to understand how settings influence culture currently and historically. I spent a summer in Prague, and in that brief time I tried to learn what I could about the culture. I tried to go where the Czechs go, eat what they ate, and read what they read. My host in town was a retired Czech professor who liked to talk (derisively) about the communist days. I worked half days at a chemistry lab out in suburban Prague. One of my coworkers smoked at her desk only feet from various chemicals and dressed like a 60-year-old teenager. I took frequent walks to Vyšehrad, an ancient fortress in Prague (pictured below).

I most appreciated the Czech sense of humor. As a country often conquered, the country developed a strange sense of absurdism. Under the Petrin Tower in Prague, there is a museum to Jara Cimrman, the best Czech man, who never existed. I can hardly say I understand everything there is to know about Prague and Czech culture, but a few months there certainly showed me a type of people I hadn’t seen before. Hopefully this will aid me in constructing a people we haven’t met before.

Some worthy Czech reading:

Side note: No post this past Friday; I broke my toe and then I had a lot of traveling to do this weekend. Happily, the toe is already much improved, and today it’s 80 F (25 C) out.

Learning about Graphic Novels and Publishing from Barbara Slate

As I mentioned in Monday’s post, I attended a talk by comic book writer Barbara Slate (at the VA Book Fest). She was one of the first female comic book writers, and has since branched out to her own graphic novels. After her talk I picked up one of them, “Getting Married and Other Mistakes“. It looks like a lot of fun, and like Slate herself, seems to have a nice sense of humor. She also has a book about how to write graphic novels.

She also spoke about the process of getting “Getting Married” published. She said that she was rejected about 60 times. I didn’t pay attention to that detail much that day. I wrote Monday about my own excitement, that I perhaps had a publisher interested in Zish and Argo. After further research, it looks like one of those pay-to-self-publish rackets, dressed up. I felt so duped! I was so excited, and they misled me. Fortunately, I figured it out quickly and for free. I channeled my frustration to overcome my fear of sending the manuscript off; on Monday after my realization I sent the manuscript to 5 places. Afterwards it occurred to me–if a woman like Slate who is familiar with the industry, knows publishing and knows people takes 60 rejections to place her book– then people aren’t going to be jumping out of bushes to publish me. It will take sober, dull work for me to get published, just like her. As it likely will for all of us. Please, may some eager publisher fall from the sky and praise me, but it’s not something I can expect or even take at face value. So last night I thought up a new story for Zish and Argo, and I will continue the slow marathon towards my goals.

Meeting goals at the Virginia Book Festival

Between attending the book festival and playing a water polo tournament, I had a very busy (but wonderful) weekend.

I went to several of the book festival sessions, which I will write about at greater length later in the week:

But the most exciting day was Saturday. I played a polo game in the morning. Then, reeking of chlorine, I went to the book fair to talk to publishers about Vironevaeh and Zish and Argo. One publisher seemed particularly interested, and I will post updates as I learn more about that. Then I popped back to the pool for some more water polo. The goal of this website and much of my work the last several months has been to get out there and try to publish something, to talk to a wider group of people and engage in a field I’ve cautiously eyed since middle school at least. So this weekend was a big step forward and I’m still high on it all.

Valentine’s Thoughts

I never understood the fuss about Valentine’s Day. In elementary school, it was a day that ostracizing the odd kid was officially approved of in the form of who didn’t get valentines. As the kid who claimed to be a cat (and later an alien), that kid was me. It didn’t get me down. It instilled a sense that I was in charge of my own happiness every day of the year. Just as every day, I’d try to bear the knocks and celebrate the compliments. I try to do my best every day of the year. Some times I’m going to have a bad day. Perhaps as a practical pessimist, I don’t have use for a day that is awful unless it’s wonderful.

But let me celebrate what I do like about Valentine’s:

  • Chocolate: Seasonal candy makes every holiday better. Cadbury eggs and candy corn and Valentine’s truffle boxes on sale after the holidays are awesome. As a kid I used to go to the chocolate shop the day after every major holiday and score some 75% off candy. 
  • Flowers: Not so much purchasing them, because they get kind of ragged and expensive this time of year. More that they are popping out of the ground. Here the crocuses are erupting by the hundreds now. The daffodil greens are up. The lenten roses are blooming. The little spring snowflakes are out. The world is at last offering up its bouquets after the winter.
  • Hand-made valentines: I feel like a genius when I make valentines out of doilies and construction paper. I always think they look awesome, and they definitely look more awesome than the pre made ones. Years ago a good friend made me one and I think it made my decade.

Also, it’s finally February! Today the sun sets at 5:50 PM. Every day has an extra hour of better sunshine than this day last month. The world teases with little flowers. Soon the sun will come out and all the trees will bloom. Baseball returns! Soon we shall be wearing short sleeves again. 

Cheer to your Monday and Valentine’s Week!SONY DSC   SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC

Writing: getting peer review

I mentioned some time ago on this blog that I had submitted a short story to a couple of different publications via Duotrope. Duotrope is a website that aggregates markets for different kinds of writing. The site tracks how often a market accepts submissions, as well as how long they take to tell you yes or no, and how often the feedback is personal. They track a number of other useful stats as well. I am still waiting to hear back about my story. It has been 46 days. This is a long time! I now realize that I thought submission would be a mechanism to edit my stories. I thought I could use the feedback from the editors to then improve the story. But there are better places to seek quicker and more detailed editing.

Recently, my writing group told about peer-reviewed critique websites. They recommended critters.org and youwriteon.com. At these websites, you critique other people’s work in order to gain credits to get your own work critiqued. This way, you can learn about both writing and critiquing. I joined critters a few days ago, and submitted my first critique last night. After another, I will be eligible to submit a manuscript. I look forward to sharing my thoughts and progress on this.

Maintaining my creative momentum

This blog is now a little over a month old, and soon the Etsy store will be a month old too. I’ve made 8 journals and 4 copies of the Fairy Tales in the last month, not to mention sourcing materials, testing color profiles, etc. Bookbinding, blogging, and website maintenance takes time, time that normally would go to my creative process. Last night this blog crossed 250 views total which of course many blogs get per day, but it felt like a big achievement. It promotes the feeling that these endeavors, so different than my normal choices, are worthy ones.

My most ambitious current writing project is a collection of short stories from different planets in a planetary alliance, the Quaiin League. Some of the stories are over 7,000 words, some are quite short. All of these stories will have at least one woodblock style black-and-white illustration, like the one featured for this entry. It will be many months before this collection is complete, probably over a year. As I share my projects with people, there are more and more tasks to keep track of. But it helps to remind myself here of my goals.

It may not be easy to begin as a writer, but I feel that momentum will continue to gather. As long as I keep pushing and caring, I will accomplish these things.

Feminism and Science Fiction

My favorite book is easily The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula LeGuin. I like how the book questions what forms a culture. It explores how the people of Gethen conform their culture and customs to their hostile weather and their unusual gender conformation. Perhaps this is a case of nature versus nurture on the grand scale. I think Left Hand was the first book I read with feminist overtones. When I read it in high school, these overtones were a matter of curiosity. Now that I am fully into adulthood, I guess it’s odd to see how prevalent gender remains in our “post-feminist” society.

Curiously, every woman I have ever known to read Left Hand likes it to some degree. Many men dislike it, I suspect because it simply did not resonate. There is something so enviable about the Gethenians and their relationship with gender.

I don’t necessarily feel deprived as a female, but things are certainly different for us than they are for men. Yesterday, I read an article in Slate about a female member of the skeptic community who was harassed extensively after she spoke out about sexism in their community. Just the day before that, I saw a documentary discussing the depiction of women in the media called Miss Representation. This documentary discussed the lack of female protagonists in movies, and how movies that do have female protagonists have male-centric plots and are still only marketed to women. It discussed how few women there are in high positions in these companies, and how few female directors there still are.

I feel that science fiction feels similar biases. I am much more versed in classical scifi (50s-80s) than the more modern stuff, but women characters that aren’t sex puppets are few and far between. I reread Ringworld this summer, and a 200 year-old man is a serial philanderer with 20 something babes. Even Left Hand lacks a single female, although it’s certainly feminist.

Are the modern works better? My most recent read, “Wind Up Girl”, didn’t exactly break the mold. When I go to the store, I still see few female authors in science fiction; however fantasy seems dominated by women. Unfortunately, fantasy rarely captures my imagination. I’ve never met a woman besides myself who liked science fiction more than fantasy. I wonder if sci fi’s lack of interest in women is part of it. Are women just less interested in science? Feminism and science is a whole other discussion, alas.

Thoughts? Reactions? Suggested reading, sci fi, nonfiction, or otherwise?