Archive for February, 2012

Submitting Things

Posted: February 29, 2012 in Junk, Writing

Today I submitted two short stories to different places. I think I might barf.

Also, barf is not a slang word I hear too often anymore. Is that a regional thing, like when I went to college in New Hampshire and took three weeks to figure out “boot?”

In my goal of becoming a Science Fiction Writers of America member, I went through their qualifying markets list and set to reading. One story has a bit of a horror bent to it and the other is … experimental. But also short. Very short.It took some reading to find a place which might be a good fit.

Finishing something is a relief, but sending something out into the world to stand up on its own is scary. It’s like throwing a puppy into the ocean and hoping it comes up. It takes a lot of effort to hand rear a puppy-story. You love it so much and are afraid to see anything bad happen to your puppy-story, so you let it hang out on deck all day. And days turn into weeks and so on and so on. The puppy-story is adorable but your boat is adrift and you need puppies to pull you to the Shores of Success. Well… maybe not the Shores of Success. The Shores of Small Accomplishment are pretty cool too. Regardless of which shores those puppy-stories pull you to, puppy-story power alone is what’s going to get you there.

So you throw it into the ocean.

Back to the “might have to barf” thing I mentioned before.

Maybe this is the one that makes it back to the surface.

Famous People

Posted: February 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

This whole thing is an expansion on the comment I threw down today over on Jim C Hines’ blog entry called “Fame and Fanboy Fails..” He gave me some good thoughts and after I sent the comment, I had another thought and was all like “Hell I can get a blog out of it.” Make sure to look at the pictures he put in his superior blog entry. They’re funny.

Although in my head I never use the word ‘blog.’ It tastes bad on my tongue and I loathe using it. Thanks to twitter’s character limit, I’ll actually write it down now, but I try my damnedest to never say it aloud.

I always feel very weird when around famous people. I’m not the most extroverted person around new people and there’s always the question of “What the hell do I say?” How many times can I people hear “I love your [insert creative work here] and you’re just super swell!” Well… I guess you’d have to go backwards in time to hear someone say super swell. I once went to a Kevin Smith Q and A (which I highly recommend) and I felt I was in between a rock and a hard place. I knew enough to avoid asking newb questions, but I wasn’t such a ridonkulous fanboy to actually come up with an in depth question. I got a copy of A Visit from the Good Squad signed by Jennifer Egan. She was at the Ocean State Summer Writing Conference I rolled at last year. Standing there saying “Hi I enjoyed the whole point of view thing you did with your book. Can you make it out to Mike?” left me feeling like I had something odd growing out of my forehead and since I was probably the fiftieth person in like, seemed like an awkward situation all around. What was she supposed to say “Ayup, that’s why I won a Pulitzer.”

All the best stories of interactions with famous people happened to my dad who could walk into a room in a foreign country not speaking the language and find someone to talk random stuff with. Around 1980 he was hitchhiking and got picked up by Ozzie Osborne, who happened to be on the way to New Haven from Worcester. My dad rode for 20 minutes before the other guy in the car couldn’t contain it anymore. Back in the general vicinity of 2000 he sat next to Aaron Lewis from Staind. This was right around when they started being mega hits. On a Texas to wherever the hell my dad’s connecting flight was flight did they talk about performing or touring or classic albums or anything related to him being a star? Nope. Fishing. My dad hung out with with a rock star and talked about fishing. My dad knew who he was and was all like “Sure I’ll check out the album” but they just talked fish. For some reason I always felt this guy must have found it refreshing to have a normal person conversation.

The big thing Hines talks about with is blog is the disconnect between the famous person and the person. Seriously, go read it if you haven’t. But come back and read the rest of this. Getting into what I said in my comment, twitter has bridged that gap a lot. I’m gonna go copy and paste it so I don’t have to tab back and forth a lot.

In all honesty, this is part of the beauty of twitter. I dismissed it for a long time as hipster techno crap. My wife convinced me it would be fun to follow because Wil Wheaton is hilarious as a person. Mostly I follow authors and New York Giants players. Its refreshing to see these people as people. As someone who is working on being a writer while holding down a horrible day job, it is strangely motivating to see published authors deal with a sick kid. Not that I want their kids to be sick. It’s more of a “He’s a regular guy who is a dad ontop of everything else.” Logically I know authors don’t pull things out of their butts, but logic doesn’t always play nice when I’m staring at a blank page or am too busy to get the word I have written.

That said, when I was at Boskone I still couldn’t bring myself to go up to any of the authors I knew. Scalzi was busy each time I saw him and some woman looked like she was hitting on Myke Cole after the pannel. I didn’t want to be “That Creepy Awkward Guy” with nothing real to say nor did I want to be disrespectful while they were clearly doing something else.

So yeah. Being around writing helps me with my own writing and it sounds kinda dumb but twitter helps even with the writers never mention putting pen on page. It brings this craft down to earth a little bit. People can say how tough it is to get things finished all they want but its different when you can read how an author finished something for the first time in weeks just like me.

So next time you read a book you like, search for them on ye old twitter. They’re probably there, being regular. But they all seem to like a friendly hi now and again anyways.

Revision Day

Posted: February 26, 2012 in Writing

So I’ve gotten some responses about the last short story which, for the moment, is called Nobility by Night. Short stories are a challenge to me. I had to keep in mind the important point from the Boskone Short Story Panel, it’s “the most important event of a character’s life.” Whenever I started to go off on a tangent, I stopped and asked myself, “Is this important?” I stopped myself a few times from wandering off and managed to keep the story down at 3k words.

A lot of the feedback is saying “There’s more to this, make it larger.” I could do that for a while, the story is obviously not over. I never envisioned a whole novel’s worth of story arc though. Originally I came up with this idea back when I was still looking at doing movies and actually using my film degree. I had this guy set to be the lead and it was going to be a series of shorts. That’s why I pulled the idea as a short since that’s what it started as. For the time being I think I am going to keep it like that even though I have a lot of “…and then?” questions.

There is a knife edge of disbelief between the two characters. I want to make sure that it doesn’t go too far in either direction. I have gotten across some of the specific unsaid moments that I wanted so I’m happy over that. A much as I want to keep moving forward, I think I need to let it sit for a week or so before poking it with a stick.

On a different note, I’ve got some cool world building ideas I think I’m going to play around with and get on paper. Right now I’ve got a lot of Act One set up kind of stuff, but I haven’t found a compelling story in that world yet. I have outlined my next short and am going to take a stab at it shortly and I’d like to channel some of this momentum into my novel. Whatever I end up doing I need to get off the computer. Throwing darts when I haven’t in a while tightens up the tendons in my arm and I can’t lift my pinkie finger. Sucks for typing.

The EuroCentric View

Posted: February 23, 2012 in Genre, Reading, Writing

Let’s face it, the corner of the literary world we like to inhabit is not one that’s exactly diverse. I tend to think fantasy is a little bit worse than science fiction. Our genre came from Tolkien. Yes there are plenty of other things that influenced the genre. I would probably call Arthurian legends the deepest root you can get to without getting religious. (Also, feel free to debate that one if you want. I would enjoy other points of view on that) So beyond being Eurocentric, it’s really Anglocentric.

It… is. I’m not debating the merits of history with this. Deal with that.

But the fact that’s the way it is goes a long way to why I think the traditional high fantasy is something I gravitate away from. Yes I’m up to book four of GRRM’s sprawling epic, but in the last few years that’s the exception rather than the rule for my reading lists. From perusing the bookstores (before they all left Rhode Island) it looks like the high fantasy is the exception as far as new books. A lot of the well written standbys are chugging along like GRRM or Terry Goodkind or Mercedes Lakey but most of the new stuff is trying to be different and get away from all this.

Good. Awesome. I’m all for it because I want to read new things, cultures included. I loved the modern mythology Dark Heavens trilogy by Kylie Chan. Obviously a well written story always needs to come first but a large positive for me when I was reading those books was the Chinese lore it incorporates. Hong Kong might as well be another world for someone who has always lived in New England. Between the city and the mythos, I felt like I was learning things while I was reading the fiction. As the main character learned more about the lore surrounding her, I found myself kicking around the internets to read more on the same topics.

It’s impossible to go around the genre circles online lately without hearing all sorts of praise for Saladin Ahmed‘s Throne of the Crescent Moon. One of the things being talked about, (which he talks about himself on Scalzi’s Blog) is that it uses a faux-Arabia rather than a faux-Europe. Again, this is a large part of why it’s nestle in my to-read pile. Tobias Buckell‘s Crystal Rain which I read when it was brandy new back in 06, made me think about how different the world was by being based off a new point of departure. The Caribbean had Europeans in it, but you couldn’t call that book Eurocentric at all.

So this is great for the reader and a really long intro to my point of “What the hell can I do about this as a writer??”

Look at that picture of me to the left. I’m about as Caucasian as you can get. My father’s side of my family came from Ireland a hundredish years ago. My mother’s side of the family is as American as you can get. I’m a direct descendant of William Brewster, the head preacher on the Mayflower. So every time you get that vacation on Thanksgiving? You’re welcome. My ancestors fought in the early Massachusetts battles in the Revolutionary War and took payment in land in New Hampshire and didn’t look back. I was the first in 200 years born outside of New Hampshire.

So being Irish-New Hampshire, how could I write something that brings in other cultures without it being fake? The number one commandment for an author is Thou Shall Make Shit Up but where is that line between where it comes out as lame? I had an old Gary Gygax book that took place in a faux-Arabia I found in a used bookstore that was absolutely horrible. Aside from being a dated “classic DnD party” character line up, the setting was only a veneer. I tend to get dismissive of things that take place in a version of New England I’ve never seen exist in my entire life living here. The classic line is to “Write what you know” but can research make up for it or would people just find it offensive?

I feel I could write a decent New York story or a Boston story. It would probably be clear I wasn’t a native, but I think I could pull it off enough that it wouldn’t be distracting. Research and making shit up wouldn’t enable me to do a city based off Tokyo or Johannesburg or Cairo or even Miami. I could write Greek gods and make a good stab at Norse but I wouldn’t know where to begin anywhere else in the modern mythology world.

These are the questions that have been on my mind. Novel Attempt Number 3 has a planet that was settled by Irish and Japanese (with Norwegian being one of the dominant space cultures). The female lead in the short story I finished this week is Arabic. Adding different cultures makes it more interesting for me to write and I would hope, more interesting for people to read. So I think I just spent the last 800 words asking more questions rather than talking about anything with answers. That’s alright though. They’re good questions to keep in mind. And who knows… maybe someone has helpful thoughts of their own out there.

The Last Sentence

Posted: February 21, 2012 in Writing

The Last Sentence… is there anything better?

Most of my writing for the last (insert really long time frame here) has been focused on Novel Attempt No. 3. It goes in fits and spurts. Motivation can be hard to come by some days as I’m sure anyone who writes things knows. Motivation and time management aside, working on long form writing means it can be a long time coming between last sentences but damnit I finally finished something yesterday.

It’s the biggest relief ever known to finish some writing. There’s a very heady feeling to get something out of your noggin and down on paper. Yes down on paper, I hand write my first drafts. I threw my pen across my living room in joy. I hit a sweet spot last night soon after I posted yesterdays thing. All those questions of “How in crap’s name am I going to connect these two dots?” got answered. They were important dots. And I managed to draw a short line between the two which is difficult for me. My handwriting got all chunky and weird because my brain was working faster than my pen. I couldn’t stop. I kept writing sentences in between stirring the chorizo on the stove for dinner. I didn’t want to let up on the momentum. So I kept going and got to the VERY. LAST. SENTENCE.

Holy damn it reminds me why I want to keep doing this in a way that can get easy to forget sometimes.

I’m going to go type it up into draft two and see how much help it needs and then dive into the next thing.

I leave you with this link here by Chunk Wendig which was floating around ye olde twitter today.


Alien Characters

Posted: February 20, 2012 in Conventions, Reading, Writing

So in my writing about Boskone 49 yesterday, even with all those words I threw down, there was still stuff I wanted to elaborate on. So I’m doing it. All about the aliens.

One of the most important things I got from the panel on Creating Alien Characters was the importance of avoiding Star Trek aliens. I love Trek. I was raised on TNG. It happens. But the aliens are all bipedal humanoids which is practical for filming television but not so much in realistic speculation.

But you can’t talk about what has been done wrong without giving a counter example of what has been done right.

So I’m gonna throw down the three examples that leaped into my head during the panel on aliens that are truly alien.

The first one got nominated for a Nebula today. (check out all the noms in all the categories) Embassytown by China Mieville. The aliens, Ariekei, communicate with more than one mouth. That’s a fundamental part of how they speak and can’t understand human unless they are genetically engineered twins. There’s a part of me that wants to pontificate about it, but the levels of communication are a fundamental part of the story and I don’t want to screw that up for someone who might just now be checking it out. Also setting themselves apart with communication are the Drapsk of Julie Czerneda‘s Trade Pact Trilogy books two and three. They communicate with smells and waving around fuzzy antennae around. Their society is organic but completely unique.

The best example I can give you, frankly surprised the hell out of me that it is available for purchase. Hailing from the dark days of 1980, easily before I was born, is Dragon’s Egg by Robert L. Forward. I think I read this book when I was 12 or 13, a copy that was my parents. I didn’t really read kids books, just theirs. The Cheela are little aliens half a millimeter high because they live on the surface of a neutron star. This is definitely hard SF. Helps when written by an actual astrophysicist. The book details the evolution of the entire race and how the gravity and such effect all of this.

So yeah. I wanted to share some examples of a counterpoint and show off some aliens done well. And I did. Eighteen years since I started reading my parents books because Lord of the Rings was more interesting than kids books, so I’ve read a lot. Out of all those years these aliens are the ones that jump into my noggin as the best nonhumans. I’ve remembered the cheela for fifteen years since I actually read the book. That’s how cool the little guys are.

Enjoy the examples. I did when I read them. I’m going to go use the rest of my words on my new short story. Have at it.

Saturday at Boskone 49

Posted: February 19, 2012 in Conventions, Reading, Writing

So I spent yesterday at Boskone 49, hence the conspicuous absence of stuff yesterday when I’ve been on a roll.

This was the first con I’ve been to which was literary in focus rather than sweaty nerds in costume. Sweaty nerd cons can still be fun, but it was a nice change to go to something with a different age bracket. Driving to Boston, never ever ever would that be something I would recomend to anyone. I had an easier time driving a backwards rental in Dublin than I ever have in Boston. Seriously. Don’t do it. Rhode Island shows up in all the “worst drivers in America” searches but we all blame Massachusetts for that.

Awesome navigation got us there relatively painlessly. That’s a lot of adverbs but it happened.

I ended up going to five panels, bought a few books of said panelists and got a mess of stuff to work into my writing. The panels didn’t always stay on topic, which it was mentioned that they don’t usually. A couple could have stayed on topic better but meh, I enjoyed myself at all of them. I rolled in to Creating Alien Characters, The Writing of Short Fiction, Character and Hard SF, When Underpinnings come Unpinned, and Optimism vs. Darkness in SF. As I said, I thoroughly enjoyed all of them even when they wandered off.

The most helpful panel in terms of my own writing was Creating Alien Characters. This was staffed by Claire Eddy, a Tor editor, Frank Wu, artist with a PhD in bacterial genetics, and authors Benjamin Tate and Michael Flynn. There was a lot of talk about creating motivations and physical appearances that avoided Star Trek style “people with latex on their faces.” It really brought to mind a lot of things involved with character creation and how interconnected everything from appearance to behavior to the chemical composition of said aliens. In fact, it was Frank Wu talking about how one molecule in DNA being different can make big changes that gave me the idea for my next short story I’m going to work on.

I came away with a very good point from Writing of Short Fiction which was that short pieces are the “representation of the singular most important moment of a person’s life.” I quoted it because I did in my notes but I must have had a derf moment because I didn’t write down who said it. I think it was F Brett Cox who is a short fiction writer and creative writing professor at Norwich University in Vermont. (edit: It was Cox quoting David Hartwell. High five Lisa from the comments!) I tend to write like I talk, with a lot of tangents and some made up words for good measure. Keeping things short is a very conscious and difficult thing for me and that line kind of stuck with me. I need to keep thinking “How important is this moment?” and keep it from going off on tangents.

My gem from Character in Hard SF was kind of about the subgenre itself. There was a lot of talk of what really defined hard sci fi and to what extent you had to dive into the tech to make it legitimate. The general consensus was the science does not have to be current (although it should at the time of writing) but it is more of an attitude towards the science. It becomes almost a character in itself. But the example of Frankenstein was used, the science was considered cutting edge at the time but it’s all the other stuff that made it stand the test of time.

When Underpinnings com Unpinned. Buh? It was about the views of Golden Age SF and whether or not they are valid anymore. There was a lot of overlap with Optimism vs Darkness in SF, even though all the panelists were different. Myke Cole was at this one and holy hell he’s hilarious. He took this pic at the end of the panel. That’s half of my noggin second from the left. Captain America guy moved at the wrong moment. I have stated that I will buy him a beer due to the awesomeness. Hell, just for scolding the old man with the cell phone is worth. I could not find him later at the bar so if he’s ever in Rhode Island I’m gonna make that happen. At the end of the panel there was a woman who was chatting and/or hitting on him and I didn’t want to disturb that. Anyways. The panel talked a lot about how the norms in sci fi paralleled changing norms in everyday society. People hooking up with vampires and werewolves and the such was one of the best examples. People didn’t talk about that kind of thing between regular people way back in the day at all let alone in fiction.

Optimism vs Darkness in SF got very philosophical. Jennifer Pelland, amusingly cynical, was all over the darkness and kind of saw it as a challenge. She also made it a point to say how some things have to end badly because the uncertainty of a good or bad ending keeps writing from getting stale. Leonid Korogodski get real deep and brought in the laws of thermodynamics saying how “balance is death” and a constant struggle between optimism and darkness is needed to keep things moving on. The surface optimism of the 80s has led to a lot more realistic version of characters that shows their flaws and dark sides. I took it as an increased level of realism rather than darkness.

One of the overall things I enjoyed the most was seeing all these authors as real people. The internet has enabled readers to find out all they want about other authors but it’s different to see them talking in person. Peter V. Brett was at two of the panels, Character in Hard SF and Optimism vs Darkness. In the first one he mentioned “yeah that sounds like something in this afternoons panels. I think I’m in it. I think I might be moderating it…” And then the rest of the panel poked fun at him for not preparing and he’s all like “meh.” This resonated very well with me and Navigator Jim. If he hadn’t mentioned that in the morning, we would have never known because he pulled it off just find. On the way home Jim said “He has me sold as a person, now I want to find out what he has to say.” I echo that feeling about him and a number of the other authors there.

The only real disappointment of the con was the art show. Not the content, that was great. There were giant original pieces of books I’ve read. Big and small the art ranged across genres and mediums. There was even a section of bona fide drinking horns. The disappointment was that I wanted to buy some but since I had one day at the con I couldn’t. Unless someone wanted to purchase from the small section of multiple prints, you had to pick it up Sunday instead of take it with you. I understand wanting to have it all on display all weekend before people take it away but come on! Not everyone is local or can roll in town for a whole weekend. Lameness. Anyways, the piece I wanted to buy was a limited print by Alan F Beck who has been nominated for Hugos and all sorts of kickassery. Go check out his art but don’t buy the ones I want since I want to buy them myself.

So I was good in the hucksters room and only bought three books. Myke Cole’s Control Point: Shadow Ops, Benjamin Tate’s Well of Sorrows and Michael Flynn’s Eifelheim. There were a lot more books I saw there I wanted but for the sake of my wallet, I was good and got books by people that were there and I got a chance to see. I saw someone selling an autographed first ed hardcover of China Mieville‘s Embassytown. Excellent book. $150 bucks though. There was also a signed first ed hardcover of Zelazny’s Damnation Alley. I was all like “……. want….” and then saw the price of $550 and almost threw up. I didn’t even turn to the autograph page because I felt I shouldn’t. And it was just sitting there on a shelf with a bunch of other stuff. And it wasn’t even Amber. Oi.

So yeah. That was my day at the con in a nutshell. It’s been a lot of words, now if only I can get that many words down on my story this evening. I will end this with the top three quotes from the day.

  • “Maybe you’ve learned to cope with being dead.” -Random woman at the Optimism vs Darkness panel
  • “When you say pairings, it’s just a nice way to say screwing.” -Myke Cole on changing social norms in sci fi
  • “I’m gonna go out and shoot and fuck the universe.” -Peter V. Brett on the ‘Baen book macho voice’