Tuesday, June 29, 2010

New beginnings and hard transitions

What a weekend I had! My son Brian and his wife Yasuko had their first baby. He's adorable! And he entered the world on the same day that my son Wesley got married. I spent 12 hours at the hospital overnight on Friday and still missed Noah's arrival. I had to get some sleep in before Wesley's wedding. Brian wasn't able to serve as a groomsman after all, but fortunately my gregarious son had a waiting list. :)

Today is my phone appointment with EDD. I made sure to do my bit and update the old res for the state-run job board as required. It filled me with dread. I don't want an 8-5. How can I establish myself as a freelancer and keep up with my fiction that way? On the other hand, the unemployment rate being what it is, I don't think I'll have to beat employers off with a stick.

I worked on the new Awesome Lavratt story yesterday, making some major adjustments.

When I gave my presentation on Developing Your Online Presence at a writer's conference last year, one of the examples I used for a good author Web site was Rob Sawyer's. His was the first author site on the Web and is 15 years old today. Every time you visit sfwriter.com, you'll find something new. Go Rob!

I received another Atom goody in my inbox today. This time a parody of District 9 with a World Cup theme. Good stuff.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Author and freelancer - the juggling act

This one falls in the ODDyssey category. I now have a new and improved back, but no job. I think I mentioned here before that the magazine I worked for couldn't wait while I had surgery and recovered from same. They were already down one writer.

I figured it was meant to be. Now I can go freelance like I wanted to do in the first place (but couldn't because we needed the benefits) while on unemployment and subsidized COBRA. Yesterday I spent an hour composing a proposal at elance.com only to have the job awarded while I was typing. Very frustrating. Why is it that no one wants to pay artists what their worth, by the way?

And I just paid $15 to have my employment verified. Why did I do that? Can't people just google and find that stuff? Harumph. I did it because I need to get noticed. That's all I've been doing for the past six years when I haven't been writing. I'm not vain. I know it's not enough to be a good writer. You have to be seen and get connected. But all of that was for my fiction, which, face it, until I hit the bestseller lists won't pay the bills by itself.

Hopefully, I can juggle both without developing a multiple personality disorder. Enough whining. On to science fiction.

Anyone who has been following me for long knows I love lists. So does Brian Gilmore over at Ranker. He sent me this one: Top 10 TV Shows That Overstayed Their Welcome. It fits here because many of them are speculative in nature. Of course, I think there are even more that were cut before their time - Firefly, Invasion, Torchwood and Jericho come immediately to mind. I still miss Max Headroom. That was British - from the 80s I think.

The discussion about Romance and Sci-fi rages on over at Tor where Heather Massey quotes my recent entry on the subject.

And because I love it when people send me stuff, especially when it isn't a request to review a book in a different genre, and like to give artists a break, here is an independent film for your enjoyment entitled The People Outside.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Recommendations for young readers new to SF

I've been asked this question several times now: Can you recommend some good books for a young reader to introduce them to science fiction?

Because I spent time on my answer and included so many lovely links, I thought I would share it here.

Here are my recommendations for readers aged 12 and up. Paralandra, Out of the Silent Planet and That Hideous Strength is a space trilogy by C.S. Lewis. Thrice Upon a Time by James P. Hogan, Enders Game by Orson Scott Card (this one has been used in schools as required reading and is the first book in a trilogy), The Practice Effect by David Brin, and www.Wake and www.WATCH by Robert J. Sawyer. Rob's Flashforward was the basis of the series by that name.

I guess The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien goes without saying. ;)

Those are all really excellent authors who have tons more books to choose from.

I have some short fiction available online that would be suitable. "Grey Drive" is a flash (under 1000 words) piece at Every Day Fiction. "The Visitor" is still archived at Chaos Theory: Tales Askew. That might have mild language. You should read it first.

You can sample the magazine Beyond Centauri, a magazine that focuses on the 9-13 age group. "For Chance to Dream" is in issue #25. It's an urban fantasy about a disabled girl.

The Promise of Wolves by Dorothy Hearst and Tiger Heart by Peter David are good fantasies fit for young and old alike.

Science fiction is a natural progression from fairy tales. Expose them early! :)

Feel free to add more recommendations in the comments. I love lists!

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

More of The IT Crowd - indulge me!

An update in the ongoing pirated blog saga. I did get the site to remove my articles. I also managed to get them to remove their list of "contributors". I guess they didn't like the fact that I was using it against them. :) I continued to contact other bloggers in that list to let them know they were being pirated.

On that same note, here's a good article on pirated books both in print and on Kindle written by Meredith Greene at Sacramento Book Review.

Now the fun stuff. If you haven't figured it out yet from previous posts or facebook comments, I LOVE The IT Crowd. It's a British sitcom that is being rerun on IFC. I mentioned this in a previous post. Since then, I discovered that a new season (or series as they say across the pond) will be airing beginning this month. The last one ended in December '08. They do things a bit differently, obviously. The bad news is that it's airing on their channel 4, not ours. The good news is that you can watch episodes online.

And here are more teasers to get you hooked.

If you watch this one first, the second one will be even funnier.

Here is Moss dealing with an office fire.

What happens when you use the wrong loo.

You can start watching series one on IFC on Saturdays and catch up. Then go online after series 3 for the new season on channel 4.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Reading outside our genre and learning from our past

I'm reading The Book of Spies by Gayle Lynds (Review to follow on Mostly Fiction). It's an excellent, fast-paced spy thriller. Yes, that's right, boys and girls, not science fiction. But how much you wanna bet the intrigue and suspense in my science fiction will improve from the exposure? Lynds knows how to weave an intricate plot with non-stop action and suspense. My science fiction could use a little of that.

Good science fiction has elements of mystery, suspense, intrigue, history, romance, comedy and yes, maybe even westerns (think Allen Steele's Coyote universe or Firefly). Even the occasional best-seller can expose us to new ways of looking at our world and applying those ideas to our alien or future worlds, especially when the protagonist is out of his or her element or steeped in one that is foreign to most readers.

So, here's your call to action. Run out and buy a book that is not in the genre you write in. Readers can benefit too, from broadening their horizons with a different framework to their fiction.

And also for you readers (and you writers had better be readers), how many out there have actually written to a writer to say how much you enjoyed his or her book? Or posted a review on Amazon? We writers thrive on strokes, and most of us are open to hearing from our fans directly. Some will even give aspiring writers advice or point them in the right direction. I have reached out to writers after reading their book or story on many occasions. The responses I've received have invariably been positive and the feedback appreciated. Very few writers will ignore an email from a fan or hide (behind a publicist) from the fans that make their career possible.

Now a word (eventually) about character development.

I have several reunions this summer. I'm skipping my high school reunion because it's two states away. There is also a family reunion on my Dad's side. It's only cousins left now and it's darn hard to get them all together in spite of the fact that they're mostly in one state (California, folks, not mental). When I was growing up, I was the youngest of all the first cousins and the spoiled one. I've been kicked around a bit since then and I'm not the little brat I used to be.

One of my best friends from high school will be visiting, too. Another reunion. We haven't seen each other since we graduated.

Why am I mentioning all these reunions? It's interesting to measure our progress, ponder the choices we've made and the people we've become. When we see friends or family who haven't seen us for so long, we are reminded of who we used to be and how our goals have changed or how much we've accomplished.

In fiction, we need to know what makes the main characters tick, they're background and how their choices and experiences have shaped who they are and their choices and actions moving forward.

Just as people-watching, and active listening (even to the other people's conversations) can enrich our character's development, so too, can examining the progression of the lives of people we know. If we can't understand the people around us, how can we create believable characters?

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Pirated again!

My blog feed has been hijacked to another blog without my permission. And then they linked to their reposting of my interview with an author after my corresponding book review at Mostly Fiction. The nerve! And I wasn't the only victim. I knew at least four of the others and alerted them. The bogus blog lists affected blogs as "contributors"! Trying to find the host was not easy. A fellow victim thinks he's sent the copyright infringement complaint to the right host, but I think they just have the domain name.

I sent the pirate a message via their comment form as that was the only method offered. I received an email with one word: removed. I'll be checking back there after this post. They knew exactly what they were doing.

On a brighter note, I'm cleared for work after back surgery. Now I just need some.

I received another shiny new review copy yesterday. It's Eoin Colfer's continuation of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy "Trilogy", And Another Thing. It's coming out in paperback at the end of this month. We'll see. I've heard bad things, but I'm keeping an open mind. Douglas Adams is a majorly tough act to follow. But, hey, Paul Rogers is no substitute for Freddie Mercury, but I still like to hear him sing with Queen. It's different - but not bad.

For those who like Brit wit at least as much as I do, the IT Crowd returned to IFC. It's my new favorite sit-com.

My buddy, Aidan, launched his new game, Ninja Zombie Pirate Robot at PrairieCon in Manitoba. Catchy name, huh? It will have an online game in addition to the card game soon.

If you're just tuning in and looking for a good book to read (besides Awesome Lavratt, of course), see my book reviews at Mostly Fiction. My favorite reads so far this year are:
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
www.WATCH by Robert J. Sawyer
Soulless by Gail Carriger
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith
Are You There? And Other Stories by Jack Skillingstead

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Nnedi Okorafor on Who Fears Death, writing and culture

I read a few books a year that do way more than entertain or educate - they touch my soul. Nnedi Okorafor has written such a book with Who Fears Death. Nnedi has a unique perspective and a wonderful imagination. Please visit her website and read my review of Who Fears Death (at Mostly Fiction) after getting to know her better here. Some of my readers already had a chance to get to know her at Wiscon where she was the writer guest of honor. The picture at the right was taken there.

AW: Who inspired you to get serious about writing professionally?
NO: In the beginning, I never really had anyone push me to write. It was just something I had this very, very strong urge to do (once I started doing it...I started when I was 20).

In terms of getting published, no one really. It was a gradual realization. I was writing for many years with no intention of getting published. I wrote several novels and just kept going. Then at some point someone must have mentioned the idea of publishing. But most of it came from within, some unknown force.

AW: You knew what you were called to do. Some people never figure that out.
NO: Hey, it took me being paralyzed to figure out that I liked writing, so I'm not much better.

AW: Do tell.
NO: I played semi-pro tennis when I was a kid. At thirteen, I was diagnosed with scoliosis (the curvature of the spine). To this day, my mom thinks it was the tennis that caused me to have it so badly. My game was dominated by one side of my body, my right arm...I had a killer forehand and a killer serve...and I was fast enough where I could run around my backhand to kill with my forehand. I was really, really good. I'd been playing since I was nine. Then I did track, too. I was a track star, blah, blah.

At nineteen, my scoliosis was so bad that my doc said I needed spinal surgery or risk a short life. There was a one percent chance of paralysis, not a bad risk. Many athletes have a spinal fusion.

Well, I woke up paralyzed. It took that whole summer for me to learn to walk again. But when I was forced to finally stop moving (I was very, very active before the surgery), I turned inward and started seeing stories. I started writing, and the next semester I took a creative writing class. I realized I loved writing and I was good at it.

AW: You beautifully balance tragedy and triumph to pull at the heart strings. Is this something you consciously consider as you're writing?
NO: I'm an intuitive writer. I do have outlines, but I'll tell you, eighty percent of the time, I don't know where the soul of the story comes from. I'll look back at it and marvel. Or I'll write something, and as I'm writing, I'll surprise myself. I can't always control my characters and their stories. Yet somehow, it all comes together.

AW:Your novel, Who Fears Death, is set in an alternate Africa. What sort of freedom does this afford you in your writing?
NO: It kept me from having to adhere to all the specific traditions (I didn't feel like people from my own ethnic group being annoyed with me for not writing only about them or with any group saying Well you got this little detail wrong, etc) and it allowed me to address issues that are happening in various parts of Africa. Still, the novel IS true to a LOT of real traditions, cultures, etc. I just combined a lot of them.

AW: What sort of changes have you seen when going back for visits to Nigeria?
NO: Well, it's tricky because as I get older, I see and understand more. So, it's hard to say if these are changes, or just things I'm coming to understand more. When I was a kid, things seemed rosier. I feel like these days when I'm there I have to watch my back a lot more.

AW: What year is Who Fears Death set in? Is it meant to be now?
NO: No exact year. It's in the distant future, after things have happened and after cultures have begun to mix and things have been forgotten, but remembered. But not so distant that certain tech no longer works.

AW: The first creature that your protagonist, Onye, turns into is a vulture. Why did you choose a vulture?
NO: Because they eat carrion and people view them as hideous and evil...but someone has to rid us of carrion.
In addition, vultures are awkward on the ground but graceful in the air. They are beauty and ugliness, like Onyesonwu. Plus, I'm fascinated by them. When I see them in Nigeria, I just sense a presence with them. They are unafraid. And when they take off, they make no sound. I can go on and on. Those birds are tough as nails. What a stomach!

AW: My hubby has a thing for crows. I hate them for their cawing.
NO: Oh I love crows, too. Smart and vengeful creatures. Their cawing is so creepy, too.

AW: I LOVED the Red People's mode of transport. Is that in African mythology?
NO: Wasn't that cool? I have no idea where that came from. My mother used to live in the north and she always spoke about playing in small dust devils. That stayed with me.

AW: I also loved that you included a good stepparent.
NO: Now that was intentional. I needed to show that. And he truly, deeply loved her like any biological father. We need to see more of that. In young adult novels, too. Family has always been complex. Western society imposes this impossible structure on the family that causes everyone to freak out.

AW: How do you mean?
NO: Well, for example, sometimes relationships split up, right? And sometimes there is a stepmom or stepdad. But Western society says that only a "real parent" can raise a child or should have that spot in a child's life. Why can't a grandparent play a role? Why can't one's aunt play a parenting role if that's how things work out? Or if a child happens to listen to that aunt more than the mother? I just think family needs to be more fluid, to vary according to the specific individuals involved. And it should be about love.

AW: Your Red People reflect all of those sentiments beautifully. What are you working on now?
NO: I'm going to start editing Akata Witch (my YA novel due out next year) and my Disney fairy chapter book. And I'm also kicking a little something new around, in terms of my adult work....yeah, that one's heavy on my mind.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

BayCon 2010 with lots of pics

Baycon 2010 was a blast, although more tiring than usual. My back did great, but I sure pooped out fast. Friday, I popped in to get my badge and attend a couple of panels (I was staying with hubby in the city.) The first was "A pinch of improbability and a dash of implausibility," dealing mostly with the best and worse use of mcguffins. The second was on how YA differs from adult fiction. Wanda Kurtku sat on the YA (young adult) panel. She's a junior high school teacher and wrote the Star Trek Next Generation episode, "A Matter of Honor" (where Riker goes to the Klingon ship on an officer exchange program). Wanda and I had a nice chat in the green room on Saturday. She said she exposes her students to science fiction and fantasy books every chance she gets. I later emailed her a story that my husband said might do well as YA. It's been bopping around from one editor to the next. They all like it, but won't buy it for their mag. We'll see what Wanda's students think. Meantime, it's off to the next mag on my list.

My panel on Saturday was "Writing Workshops: Hit or Miss". We explored the benefits and pitfalls of various forms of writers workshops, MFAs and critique groups. Attendees were hastily jotting things down in their notebooks. That's a good sign. :)

And here we are left to right: Morgan Hua, Jay Ridler, me, Jon Cory.

(photo taken by Jeff Lemkin)

My husband, Patrick, and I had lunch with Jeff Lemkin and Mary Holland off-site at a noodle joint. And then dinner later with Cindy Pavlinac and her husband Marty Gregory. I met Jeff and Mary in the flesh for the first time that morning. Jeff and I found each other on someone else's facebook wall and Mary is a fellow Broad Universe member who was game for the BU RFR that wasn't. Cindy's a fellow CWC (California Writers Club) member and long-time friend. I'm sure she'll have more pics for me to share eventually.

Sneaky hubby Sunday morning.

Sunday, I led a panel on self-promotion for authors. Hubby took this one. Left to right are: Tony Todaro, Scott Sigler, me, A Kovacs, Emerian Rich.

The Dr. Who panel was loads of fun. It's always well-attended. And this year, I could actually participate since it focused mostly on the current Doctor and the latest incarnation of the show on BBC America. (rest of photos by Patrick Wilkes) L to R are Tim Crowley, Sandy Saidak, me, Bryan Little, Mette Hedin and Tadao Tomomatsu (standing).

If talking about Dr. Who wasn't enough to entertain everyone, about halfway through, a security guard comes in and whispers in Tadao's ear. Then Tadao turned to the panelists, microphone in hand, looking like he had some really bad or at least awkward news. Apparently, the water he gave all of the panelists was tainted. He poisoned the panel! Here's Bryan Little drinking the WATER!

Tadao collected half-empty glasses from a few of us and shook his head still more apologetically at those who had had their fill. We soldiered on in spite of the fact we might be running to the nearest restroom or becoming mostly dead any moment. Then some guy hits Tadao over the head with a rolled up program and tells him he's just been punked.

I think this is when I told them what I love about the Doctor and what makes him endearing and enduring. I illustrated his sense of wonder by telling the audience, "Just look at you! You're brilliant!"

Mette Hedin and Bryan Little attended in all their Oodness.

I horned in on a panel on Monday on SF Homemaking because I had just composed a list of things that would be great in my smart house for use in a future story or novel. In retrospect, I should have copyrighted my intellectual property first. ;) My favorite is my invisible repeller mat. You put it on your coffee table or dining room table and only things that have been added to the white list will stay there. Everything else that the household's clutterers try to put their will bounce right off. Is that way cool, or what?

Don't chuck your muck in my dustbin, my dustbin's full...

Still haven't been to a SF convention? You're missing out! Now I'm off to code my interview with Nnedi Okorafor, author of Who Fears Death. That's an interview you won't want to miss. The review and interview will post on Thursday. See you then!

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