Sunday, December 30, 2012

Science Fiction Soap Opera Serial

I’ve been getting encouragement to serialize one of my stories on the internet. This is a use of the internet that I’ve been watching with interest, but uncertain if I should try my hand at it. With the encouragement I mentioned, I have decided to dive in.
In the last few years, I’ve heard of authors who wrote each installment of their serial moments before they were due to post that installment. That was part of what scared me about this process; I know perfectly well my first draft is NOT ready to be read by anybody. I expect At Least 3 rewrites before it might be suitable to be seen.
Once I realized that, I looked through what stories I had, either ‘done’ or nearly done, to decide which one I would serialize: No, those are all shorts; that’s a long short, but not long enough; this one is long enough, and done, but is currently out looking for a home. Hmmmm.
It’s surprising how few novel length works I have finished (1). I have 2 or 3 others ‘in the works’, meaning about half of the rough draft is done. And then I remembered Mac.
I have said I would probably never publish Mac. I have also said that when I work on Mac’s story, I get sucked in so deeply, I can’t get any work done on anything else. But the truth is that “Mac, Book 1” is mostly done, except for a few highly emotional scenes at the end that I simply didn’t feel capable of writing a decade ago when I last worked on it. Since then, I have roughed the first 100 pages of “Mac, Book 2” and the first 25 pages of “Mac, Book 3”. So, I know where Mac is headed, and apparently, I don’t HAVE to spend months and months at a time enmeshed in Mac’s problems.
For the last couple weeks, I have been working on preparing the story into ‘bite-sized’ sections. I have also continued to rewrite some shorts and work on another novel. It seems Mac has learned to share my attention.
So, “Mac, Book 1” will start being serialized on Tuesday, 1January2013. I am setting it up on Blogspot, and will make a Grand Announcement on New Year’s Day, so watch for it. I am trying for installments of about 1,000 to 1,200 words, and I will post one each Tuesday. If people get engrossed in Mac’s antics and don’t want to wait an entire week for the next section, I will post a price for the next section to be posted early, probably about $10. I am not proposing that 1 person must send me the full amount; the readers could use the comments section to alert each other to how much they are chipping in. As soon as I receive the payment, I will post the next section.
I think you’ll like Mac. She’s a lot of fun. Or a constant irritant. And sometimes both.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

One Planet With Four Suns

SF authors are not adverse to exploring alien planets. I remember a story that took place on a planet that had a severely elliptical orbit around its sun. I don’t remember details of the orbit, but let’s say it took this planet 100 Earth years to go around its sun once. For about 75 of those years, the planet was too cold to sustain life. Everything hibernated. As the planet finally approached the sun, things thawed out; people, plants and animals woke up and went about their business. They would have about 8 (of our years) of an ever-warming spring, an equally long hot, hot summer and then a gradually cooling autumn before they all hibernated again. Weird, huh?
A lot of planets these authors explore have multiple moons. Sometimes a colony would be on a world orbiting a binary star. I was as fascinated by reading about these unusual planets as the authors were in their exploration of them.
At that time, the existence of planets outside our own solar system was an unknown. These days, scientists seem to be finding them all over the place, and the assumption is that they’ve only seen the glint shining off the iceberg.
I was thumbing through the latest Discover magazine, which goes through the top 100 discoveries made in 2012. It states over 100 planets were discovered in 2012, and it had brief descriptions of 3 of them. The one that really caught my attention was PH1, which orbits a binary star. That was enough to make me remember the unusual planets I read about as a kid, but PH1 doesn’t stop there. PH1’s binary stars are also orbited by another binary star!
Try and imagine what days and nights would be like on PH1. I’ve tried, but my brain circuits tend to start sizzling after a while. To get you started, remember that 2 suns would be in the sky each day, although twice a year, one of those stars would be behind the other. The other two suns would be even further away, I assume, and I’m not sure how close they would need to be in order to be seen from the planet as ‘small suns’ and not just a pretty light. If they are seen as little suns, they would spend most of their time also in the daylight sky, perhaps disappearing behind the big suns, or being faded out by the light of the big suns. At regular intervals, however, the little suns would emerge from behind the big suns and move around to the night time sky for several years until they slipped back into the daytime again.
And that brings us to nomenclature and religion of any people living on PH1. Would they call it First and Second sunrise, First and Second sunset, with a special term for when the main suns appear to be merged? Would they have special terms for the ‘night suns’? Would the small suns be seen as ‘enemies’, sneaking behind the planet for nefarious means? What do you think?
I’m going to put this in a pot on the back burner and see if a story grows.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Fistful of Ideas

I had many reasons to start going to science fiction conventions. They had interesting and informative panels. It was a way to meet authors whose work I had read (and agents and editors, I later learned). The dealer’s room had stuff to buy that I’d probably never glimpse in my mundane life. The art show had fantastic art that I could appreciate and drool over. The costumes (cosplay) filled me with awe and desire. When I wrote as a ‘hobby’, I frequently came home from an sf convention with lots of ideas for stories.
These days, sf conventions can offer even more to the fledgling author. Necronomicon (Tampa area) was just full of ideas. I did not see any representatives of big publishers or magazines at that con, but there were plenty of small publishers and self publishers. They were eager to share what they had learned without the help of ‘the big boys’.
At one panel, a small press handed out copies of a boiler-plate contract that an author might be asked to sign. Then they spent 2 hours going through that contract, pointing out the ‘not good’ sections, what made them troublesome and what to ask for instead. We could take notes on our copies and take them with us. Contract Negotiation 001 at a convention!
A self-published author gave a panel on how to do a successful kickstarter project. This was something that I’d been trying to find the courage to try, so I bought her book on the subject, inhaled it in a couple hours, and found a couple aspects of a kickstarter project that I had not considered before. I am planning to start my kickstarter project early in 2013. That will give me time to be sure I’ve ironed all the wrinkles out my plan.
Another author encouraged us to incorporate. According to her, it can be done for $0, if you slog through the forms yourself, instead of hiring someone to do it for you. Perhaps that’s true in Florida, but in Nebraska, you must pay filing fees. Still, the cost is less than I expected, and raising that money will be the MoonPhaze’s first gofundme project.
An independent film-maker got his start on utube, using screenplays written by his wife.
One author puts ‘episodes’ of a book on her website every week. These were sections of about 1000 words. A new one went up on a particular day, and she had several readers. If those readers wanted to read more before the scheduled posting of the next section, they could send in money for the next section. She posts an extra section for each $15 she receives in a week, and the readers discuss who could pay how much, so that they can pool their money. Some weeks, she is paid to post 2 or even 3 extra sections.
A whole fistful of ideas, obtained from one sf convention. Yeah, well worth the few dollars of membership.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

When Life Skips a Beat

What happened to November? When November started, I was in Florida, attending conventions and theme parks and fighting a sore throat. I came home, got through the sore throat and on Thanksgiving Day, we headed for a con in Indianapolis. (Note to self – pack sandwiches for the day when traveling on a major holiday – we could not find any restaurants open during the drive nor when we got there.) Got home from that and had to start Christmas shopping. On November 30th, I fell on a frozen patch of sidewalk that looked bone dry. After a week of aching and hobbling around the house, I woke up realizing that I’d been so busy with other things all this time, I’d forgotten … my blog!
Sometimes life is like that. You get so busy, juggling so many things, that it’s easy for something to slip out of the mix and you don’t notice it for some time. It’s a real pain when it happens in your life.
It should be a real pain to a fictional character, too, if the author chooses to use it as a device to move the plot forward. If the heroine is too busy to remember to hire a handyman to clean out her gutters, a hard rain could overflow those gutters and flood her basement. The new neighbor who’s been trying to meet her might come to her rescue when he sees her out in the downpour, trying to wrestle a ladder into position. After he cleans out her gutter so it isn’t overflowing, she pulls him inside to dry off, and … nature takes over. (Thanks, Linda, for that suggestion.) But hot neighbor aside, she still needs to dry out and clean up her basement. If she forgets to do that, she’ll have a mold problem to deal with!
This kind of thing happens to everybody. Or at least, it happens to enough people that people say it happens to everybody. So it wouldn’t be out of line for it to happen in a story … as long as ‘fallen balls’ don’t run rampant throughout the story. And now I have to try not to let it happen again in my story.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


This post was actually written on Oct 28, 2012, but I didn't have access to the internet to get it posted.
My husband and I have been exploring some Florida conventions these last few years, and particularly this year. This weekend, we have been at Necronomicon, a 31-year-old sf convention held in Tampa/St Petersburg.
I like this con! Even though there are apparently no ‘big publishers’ in attendance, or even any big book sellers, this con is strongly centered on books. There are a number of small presses and self-published authors here, eager to share whatever knowledge they have gleaned with others. So there are plenty of panels that concentrate on writing, contracts and so on. Even though these panels might be touching on subjects that I may have heard about at many other conventions over the years, I am hearing them discussed by authors I haven’t already heard a dozen times. And publishing is in such flux right now, it is good to get information from as many sources as you can.
Many of the panelists here also have some sort of science background, so there are panels on science subjects also. I have always like science, but I seldom seem to see science panels at the midwest conventions I usually attend. These are not ‘classes’ like one would take in school, but discussions on a specific topic that sometimes wander off topic, sometimes get a bit silly, but they are entertaining and also a call to a person’s curiosity. Certainly they have called to mine.
Now, I don’t mean to imply that this is all that is happening at Necronomicon. Absolutely not. There are several rooms devoted to gaming, both tabletop and computer, a video room, dealer’s room and art show... . A concert on Saturday night preceded the costume call. And the costumes run the gamut from D&D characters to anime, Dr Who, Joker & Harlequin, Poison Ivy, steampunk, space armor, Chathulu - a wonderful pantheon of imagination and craftsmanship!
I’m going to give some serious thought to coming back next year.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reading to Escape

I recently heard an interview with Nora Roberts, aired on PBS. Ms Roberts writes romance. Yeah, I think I heard half of you gasp that I would even mention THAT genre. Why? What is your objection to romance novels?
It’s written for women? I suspect that – like most novels – it’s written for whoever enjoys reading it. There are some men who read romances, and some women who wouldn’t be caught dead with one in their hands.
It’s written by women? Not exclusively. Anyway, can you name a genre that doesn’t have women writing it? Fantasy, science fiction, mystery, horror, paranormal, thriller … they all have women writing them. The most likely genre I can think of that might not have any women writing it is western. Since I’ve dabbled in that genre myself, I’m not sure there are no women-written westerns.
It’s pure escapism? What genre isn’t? I read fantasies about witches and dragons to escape the drudgery and stresses of my real life. The truth is that any novel I pick up and read offers an opportunity to set aside my life for a few hours and escape into somebody else’s life. It helps me put my mundane problems in perspective.
Women who read romance are missing something at home? Where does that come from? It’s true that when I read about witches and dragons, I don’t have any of those at home. When I read a western, I don’t have gun fights at home. But love, romance and a loving relationship are different. I have a husband, and we’ve been together about three decades. We have our ups and downs, like every couple, but the current state of our relationship has no bearing on whether or not I choose to read a romance next. When I do read a romance, it’s nice to have the literary confirmation that relationships require work.
Ms Roberts has over 200 romance novels out. She has sold so many copies, I understand that she is one of the most popular authors in the world. And romance, as a genre, comprises more than half the paperback fiction sales. That means less than half the fiction paperbacks sold are the other genres, including mainstream and literary. Evidently, there’s a lot of people out there who like to read about love, romance and relationships.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Writer's Block

What should I do when I find myself unable to figure out what comes next in a story? How do other writers handle this kind of situation?
1. Some writers figure they’ve taken a wrong turn, and back up a few pages, turn the story in a different direction. 2. Others bang out their word count each day, no matter how bad it is, until some kind of answer comes to them. At that point, they may throw out everything they’ve written since the ‘block’ first occurred, but at least they’ve been working. 3. Still others shove that project into a back corner of their mind and work on something else until their subconscious figures out what went wrong.
I don’t do #2. I don’t like to sit in front of my computer without actually doing something. And sitting here banging out c**p I’m pretty sure I’ll wind up throwing away strikes me as just as big a time-waster. I have done #3 a few times. Some of those projects are still shoved into a back corner, and others have resulted in my doing #1.
But I have a step I do before I do anything else, to see if I really am stuck. I examine the current scene and situation of my characters, not from the point of view of being the author, but from the point of view of the characters involved. What got them to this point? How would they react in this situation?
I look at ‘my’ stories as tales told me by the characters. So if we get to a point that I don’t understand, perhaps I just need more information from those characters. Maybe they’ve been embarrassed to explain themselves more fully and I need to converse with them, understand what they’ve been through. In that case, I may need to make a few changes to help explain things better to the reader (shades of #1), but I can go on.
If the characters are confused and don’t have answers, then I truly have my work cut out for me. That’s when I move to #3 – put the project aside until my characters and I can figure out what’s what.
Goodness, there’s plenty of characters and stories out there for me to work on in the meantime.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Over and Over and Over Again

Every time I go to a science fiction convention, I try to attend some panels on writing. It might concern a new idea on how to write a rough draft, or tips on writing a query letter … There are lots of subjects dealing with writing that can be explored.
I have noticed, over the years, that some things get repeated and repeated, like submission guidelines. The speaker(s) start with the basics; the manuscript should be on normal white paper, double-spaced, normal paragraph indentations, the font should be 12 point, probably in a serif-type font like Times New Roman, and your manuscript should be absolutely error-free. Well, as close to error-free as you can possibly get it.
That was pretty much the gist of it 40 years ago, when I first started looking at the possibility of submitting something. Things were done on typewriters back then, so an occasional typo neatly corrected by pen was acceptable.
These days, the editors assume you are working on a computer, and they expect that between your rewrites, spell-checker and self-editing, there won’t be any typos. Many editors also expect you will send your manuscript via email.
For that reason, today’s speakers on how to make submissions go on to say that you should always consult that market’s submissions guidelines, and look for their particular desires in a submission’s formatting. Maybe this editor prefers Helvatica rather than Times New Roman, or wants the entire manuscript submitted in the body of your email, rather than as an attachment.
For many years, I wondered why they kept repeating the same stuff all the time. I had heard it all before, I followed their suggestions, and I always followed the instructions of the market’s guidelines. Why were they pounding on me like this?
Now that I’ve been helping Tommee work through her slush pile, I understand that those speakers were not necessarily speaking to me. The MoonPhaze Publishing submission guidelines ( state that manuscripts should be sent as a .doc file (NOT .docx) attached to their email. One day, she got 2 submissions, and neither one was sent as a .doc file! One came as a pdf, the other as a .docx. So much for following the guidelines!
I’ve seen one ‘submission’ that didn’t even follow the basic guidelines for formatting. Instead, it was sent as if it were already a book; single-spaced lines, no contact info, title page and dedication.
So, I’ll still go to these ‘basic submission’ panels, in case changes are introduced. But I will no longer feel they are nagging at me. They harp on these things for the benefit of newer writers, or those writers who think they don’t need to follow a few simple guidelines.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Conjoined Fraternal Twins

Conjoined twins used to be called ‘Siamese’ twins. They were connected somewhere; the chest, the hip, the top of the head. Sometimes they can be separated, but other times they share some vital organ that can’t be separated. Fraternal twins come from 2 different eggs, so the resulting babies are not identical.
But what I really want to talk about is this cool binary star system I heard about a few weeks ago. When you want to write science fiction, you have to try to keep up with science, so I dip into that huge pool of information every chance I get.
I already knew about binary stars. Two stars orbit some spot between them. But this particular binary star system had stars that were far closer than any that had been found before. Really close!
The stars were not identical; one was larger, the other smaller. That’s pretty common with binary stars, so let’s call them fraternal twins.
But when the astrophysicists studied the ‘output’ of this particular pair of stars, expecting them to have different brightness because of the difference in size, they found that the smaller star had the same corona signature as its big brother. These two stars are actually sharing corona matter! To me, that says ‘conjoined’.
Who would have ever believed that a pair of stars could exist so close to each other than they could share ‘skin’, and yet remain separate entities? Why doesn’t their mutual gravity make them merge into one star? They have to be racing around each other at a super speed in order for that outward force to counter-balance the gravity.
Now I’m wondering, ‘Are these stars still spheroid?’ Or are they mis-shapened by the horrendous forces they must contend with every second? And if they are mis-shapened, what shape are they? Teardrops with the points aimed at each other? Or are they oblate spheroids, spheres that have been squashed?
The neat thing about science is that it doesn’t just answer questions, it raises even more questions for you to ponder. I’m going to speculate about this particular pair of conjoined fraternal twins for some time.

Monday, September 10, 2012

When Balls Drop

With four of my stories available electronically through Smashwords, I decided it was definitely time to spend more of my time marketing. The problem was, I wasn’t sure how to market, plus anything that put me out in front of people, blowing my own horn, was going to be outside my comfort zone. That was why I had joined Toastmasters for 2 years, to get more comfortable speaking in front of others.
If I had to do it, I had to do it. There was no getting around that. I began looking at the conventions I planned to attend this year, and inquired if I might do a reading and possibly be included on a panel or two. I did get to do a reading at a small convention about an hour down the road in the spring, and that turned out well.
This year, we were attending several conventions that were either quite a distance from our home, or new to us, or both. They already seemed to have a full array of panelists and readers, so I attended purely as a fan, handing out flyers to anyone who seemed interested.
Then an organization I belong to that provides mutual support among its author members, wrangled a spot at the World Science Fiction Convention for its members to do a ‘multi-reading’. Instead of one author doing one reading, this organization takes one time slot – in this case, 75 minutes – and schedules several of its members to do short readings.
What an opportunity! I was on staff for the world convention, so I was definitely going to be there! I was one of the first to contact the organizer to state my interest in participating. After a couple days, she emailed back to say I needed to fill out the questionnaire. I was new at this, I didn’t know if the questionnaire was needed for the author’s organization or the convention, so I asked her where I would find the questionnaire I needed to complete.
Here’s where this particular ball got dropped. I forgot I was waiting for an answer. She forgot also. By the time one of us remembered, she had the entire time slot filled. I missed out on this wonderful opportunity.
Oh, well. These things happen. I suspect the trick is, when you drop a ball of opportunity, that you look for more of them, and start picking them up. So, here I am, looking for places to speak, to read, to … market.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Name Confusion

Many years ago, I noticed that if a book had too many characters, I had trouble keeping track of them. If some of those characters had fairly similar names, I had no hope of keeping them apart in my head. I devised a method of avoiding that problem in my own stories.
Using that method has become so much a part of my process that I really didn’t pause to think about it any more. Until recently, when I started looking through papers I inherited from my mother about the family tree.
Have you ever looked through your family tree? I have been looking at one tree, the one that started with Jacob, born in 1800, and eventually resulted in me and my siblings, on my mother’s side. Families were pretty big back then, and apparently, the supply of names was limited. Take a look:
Jacob’s children included an Elizabeth, a Mary, a Robert, a Joseph, a John and a Charles. Yes, there were others, but I don’t have any bones with them.
Elizabeth and Mary both married a John, and their children (together) included an Elizabeth, a Mary, a Robert, a Joseph and 2 Johns. Two of Jacob’s sons married an Elizabeth, and both of those Elizabeths were the same age, and I don’t have a maiden name for either of them. So on that tree, I have 2 women designated as ‘Elizabeth ?, born 1835’. The children of these marriages include Mary, Elizabeth, Eliza, 2 Johns, Robert, Joseph, and Charles.
See what I mean about the supply of names being limited? 3 generations, and I am up to my neck in the same names, over and over again. Talk about confusion!
If I ever create a family tree for a book or series that I’m planning, … On the other hand, families do sometimes have a name or two that they pass down through the generations. My father’s name was Melvin; one of his brothers was Elvin. Not exactly the same, but close. My first husband had his grand-father’s name as his middle name; our son also had his grand-father’s name as his middle name. Not the same name, but follows a pattern.
Would my made-up family have such a pattern they follow, or a name they hand down through the generations? Maybe so. If they do, I’ll assign all the Johns and Marys nicknames that EVERYbody uses, just to avoid any name confusion.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

What You See

How do I decide what a particular character looks like?
I probably do it differently from anybody else. And I allow myself the freedom to change my mind about any physical attribute at any time. Yes, it can be difficult if, as I do draft 5 of a novel, I decide the heroine’s eyes are blue and not green. I’d better have a good reason for making that change, but if I do (perhaps the aliens are fascinated by blue eyes, because they’ve never seen that color before), then I’ll do it, and hope I catch any mention of her eye color in the final polish.
But that’s later. How did I give her green eyes to begin with?
Okay, most stories have more than 1 character. Mine tend to have both genders as characters. How do I decide what they look like?
I have a thing for redheaded females. Do you remember a comic strip called Brenda Starr? Brenda had luxurious, curly fire-engine red hair. That’s the red hair I envision for my ladies. It looks beautiful in ink in the cartoon strip, but that isn’t real. So I save that shade of hair for women who come from different planets, where the genetics might have gotten tweaked a bit, or the environment might influence hair shade.
I don’t have that urge to give a guy red hair, so that leaves me with black, shades of brown and shades of blond. (Occasionally, I do give a character some form of red hair, but sparingly, as redheads are fairly rare in the US, as a rule.) By the time I am deciding what my characters look like. I have some vague idea on their personality and the plot of the story. If someone is intended to start out as shy, retiring, and so on, I give them a bland shade of brown or dishwasher blond hair. Same with the eyes; hazel or brown, maybe an remarkable green. If the character is female who goes through some kind of metamorphosis into somebody interesting, a change in shampoo can reveal red or gold highlights, and makeup can reveal flecks in her eye color or otherwise make them more interesting. Similar Cinderella-type make-overs can work with guys, too.
If the character is someone who catches people’s attention, then I give them more vivid coloring; vivacious black hair or rich blond locks, eyes that are emerald green, sky blue or maybe smoky gray. Such women will be self assured and light on their feet, while the men in this category will be well built (but not necessarily hugely muscled) and in control of himself.
That’s the basics. Other details (does a woman have long nails or short?) will be determined by things like her occupation and her level of self-confidence. Does she bite her nails? Then they won’t be long, and probably won’t be polished or manicured, either. And men might be nail biters, too.
I build characters little by little, by examining their place in the world at the time of the story and their history. They take shape slowly, like a piece of clay being molded into a figurine.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Writer's Work is Never Done

I’ve talked about my To Do list before. Yeah, yeah, it’s pages long, in part because I have things on it that won’t come due until 2016, when I have a reminder that that’s about as long as we can expect the ‘new’ dishwasher to last. No, it’s not 9-11 pages of things for me to do today. I try to keep the chores for any one day down to a page.
I was looking at some of the chores that had somehow all cropped up on today’s date. Not the housework, not the personal chores, but the ones related (however slightly) to writing. Things like writing this blog, checking out several websites in search of tidbits to improve my writing, reading other people’s blogs about writing and leaving comments, looking for writing seminars, checking out some softwares that others have suggested I try, researching markets, sending out short stories, researching agents and composing queries .… It doesn’t even count actually writing.
Some of those chores I actually did tackle today. Some I put off for another day. I had enough of them all land on today that I could have kept busy for a full 24 hours, if I’d wanted. But I wouldn’t have gotten any actual writing done. And the best part of writing is the writing.
Working at home – and particularly writing – is a delicate balancing act. If you spend all your time writing, there’s no way to know if you are actually any good. If you spend all your time doing the other stuff, you never get anything written. Either way, nobody gets to read your stories.
Also, as a writer, you are supposed to be reading whatever you can get your hands on. This gives your imagination ideas to work with, introduces you to new styles and voices. Lots of reading, in fact, taught me quite a bit about sentence structure, punctuation and other facets of writing. Alas, ‘reading’ is not on my To Do list.
I think I need to fix that.

Monday, July 16, 2012

SF Dreams

Every once in a while, I have a dream that I remember when I wake up. In the last couple weeks, I’ve had a couple of those dreams.
Dreams seldom make good stories, in my opinion. They are too fragmented, too repetitive, and usually lack the logic I expect from a story. But every once in a while, one of my dreams has enough of a plot that it seems like there could be a real story in there. Of course, by the time I’ve re-written it a few times and polished all the rough edges off, the final draft has little in common with the original dream. That could be said of all my stories; the final draft has little in common with the rough draft. That’s the nature of writing.
The thing is, I write fantasy. These 2 dreams I’ve had recently have been science fiction. I like science fiction. I’ve tried to write science fiction, but my science knowledge has been out-of-date, so it hasn’t worked very well. Can I do justice to these dream stories?
I’ve been looking at those dreams, analyzing them, trying to figure that out.
The first is an ‘invasion’ story, somewhat like “War of the Worlds”, “Independence Day” and “Fallen Skies”. I knew right away that the ‘ending’ of the dream would not work. But aside from that, the pacing, action level and emotional level would need to be maintained at a point that is definitely outside my comfort zone. This would be a chance to challenge myself, right?
Dream 2 takes place in the far future, when humans are exploring other star systems and establish a relationship with another race. This seems much easier; when it’s in the far future, you can almost imagine the science as if you were setting up a system of magic for a fantasy. The basic plot of the story seems very doable, but the ending just won’t come to me. I think I woke up before I got that far.
Most of my stories come from daydreams: If I have this kind of a character, and I put him/her in this kind of situation, what happens? Occasionally, I have a dream that has potential to be a story. To have 2 of those dreams/stories in such a short time … is my subconscious trying to get me to spread my wings into the sf genre?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Best Use of Time

I always run out of time before I reach the end of my daily to do list. Part of the problem is because I don’t really estimate how long it will take to do any particular chore. So if you look at my to do list, it seems like I’m supposed to spend 5 minutes on any one chore. Who can get anything done in 5 minutes?
I don’t estimate because I know from past experience that I have no idea how long it will take to get anything done. Cleaning out my mailbox? Anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours or more. Write a blog? It might take me half an hour just to figure out what to write about. And if I’m trying to do something that I haven’t really done before – like figure out how to record and edit a short video, or how to use a new software to create a website – that might take days, or even weeks.
So every evening, before I go to bed, I take a quick look at what’s on the agenda for the next day. If the list is more than a page long, then I try to pare it down. Can some of those items be put off for a day or two, a week? Well, eventually I’ll get to them.
Unfortunately, there are some things that I really should not put off, like feeding the family and doing a bit of housework, taking care of myself. Writing. Submitting. Marketing. I try to get a little of all of that done each day, but it isn’t easy. I just have to figure out how to best make use of my time.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Doing What We Can

Okay, we finally got the MoonPhaze Publishing website up. If you want to look it over, it’s at\MoonPhazePub\MoonPhaze. It was put up Friday night, and I’ve already had to make some corrections. I’ve also received suggestions on how to make it look more modern. Who would have thought our taste could be (at least) 15 years out of date? Of course, there are plenty of people our age out there who don’t even use a computer, let alone try to create a website.

So, why did we create a website? Because a website has become pretty much a necessary adjunct for just about any business. Because rather than spending hundreds or thousands of dollars creating, printing and mailing sales letters, we can send people to our website, where they can get all the information we have to give to them. And when we have more information, we can update the website and not have to create new letters, print and mail them. Any new contacts we make and aim at our website will get the new information about us.

Seriously, I’ve been talking to lots of other genre authors about marketing efforts, and they all said an author needs a website. I didn’t have a lot of money to create my own website. A corollary to that thought is that a publisher also needs a website, especially if that publisher offers e-books. How could a publisher be up-to-date enough to offer e-books, but not even have their own website? Unfortunately, MoonPhaze is operating on a somewhat-less-than-shoestring budget, and didn’t have money to spend on a website either. So we decided to go together and found a free website host.

Yeah, I was surprised they existed, too. Of course, they WANT you to upgrade, so your choices in putting together your free website are ... stilted. But I think we can make it work for a while.

On the other hand, we’re hoping it won’t be long before we can afford that update.

Monday, June 25, 2012

To Do Lists

Do you have a To Do list?

Scratch that. Most everybody has one, but some people keep theirs in their head. Others - like me - know from experience that some things will ‘disappear’ and be forgotten if I keep my list in my head, so they go for something a little more tangible, like a grocery list.

My To Do list is on my computer. It’s the file I open first in the morning, and one of the last I close in the evening. It is currently 9 pages long. There have been times when it was 12 pages long, so I must be making progress, right?

Oh, not really. It’s time for my quarterly addition of tasks for another quarter. Once I’ve done that, it’ll be 11 pages, at least.

Some people think a list that long must be depressing. Some days it is, but I’m prone to depression. But I think of this list as a guideline. And at the end of each day, when I remove the items I’ve crossed off for that day, and transfer them to my Journal document, it serves as a reminder of what I’ve accomplished.

How could I possibly have a list that long? A lot of the ‘chores’ are repeating, and need to be done every day, or every week. And it covers every aspect of my life.  I list all my medications, and cross them off as I take them. I break down which room to clean which day of the week, and even that is broken into separate chores, like vacuum, clean windows, and so on. I might not get all those separate chores done each week, but I get some of them. Otherwise, I go into that room and am overwhelmed, wondering where to start. I keep track of which writing project to work on which day. (I typically have 2 I’m working on at a time; a rough draft and a rewrite.)

That list also includes doctor appointments, errands I need to run, projects for MoonPhaze, projects for my own marketing, projects for various organizations that I’ve volunteered to do....

I even have a reminder on there that we’ll probably need a new dishwasher in 2016.

Okay, so I have a long list. It’s long because I don’t want to forget anything, even the things I don’t really want to do. It’s how I keep myself organized. Sort of. Sometimes I have to put something off for a day because I underestimated how long I would need for something else. Like this blog post, which was supposed to be written yesterday.

No, it’s not perfect. But it’s mine.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Odd Earth Plants

If you want a cool type of plant to inhabit your world or universe, sometimes all you have to do is look around Earth to find some interesting possibilities to ponder. Just think about it, there are Earth plants that live floating in the seas, submerged along coasts, in marshes, bogs and swamps, in rain forests, deserts, steppes, mountains, prairies, tundra … even surrounding underwater volcano vents as well as land-based geysers and hot springs. It seems like whatever the type of climate and topography where you want plants to grow, Earth might have some plants that would give you possibilities to consider.

But besides trying to figure out if your alien lawn is going to be more like grass or moss, just a little bit of looking around at Earth plants might give you some extra thoughts to ponder. How do your alien plants scatter their babies for the next generation?

Earth plants have a variety of methods; air, land and, uh, animals. By air, we’ve all seen dandelions in their final stage, and any little breeze sends those seeds scattering over the neighbor’s lawn. By land, wild strawberries nearly took over my lawn last year, sending ‘runners’ between the grass blades to create baby plants. And plenty of berry plants rely on birds and other animals to eat their berries and then ‘deposit’ the un-digested seeds in another location.

I just read about one of those plants. The sweet mignonette can only survive in certain conditions, and obviously, if one has matured and produced berries, it has found those conditions. The soil a few feet away might not be as good a location. Mignonette berries are sweet, but its seeds – if chewed – are referred to as ‘mustard bombs’. Mice eat the berries and spit the seeds out near the base of the parent plant.

I’ve also heard of a plant that doesn’t rely on any of those unpredictable methods; it bends over and pushes its own seeds into the ground.

So, as you think about the plants on your alien world, have some fun researching some of the ‘odder’ Earth planets for useful ideas.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

HOT Vacation Notes

You’ve seen it in movies, read it in books; an intrepid band of adventurers (or maybe just one) must travel through a desert with the clothes on their backs and few or no supplies. As one expects in the desert, the sun beats down, and after a full day of traveling, at least one (probably only one) adventurer is ‘severely’ sun burnt. Maybe s/he falls into an exhausted sleep of fevered dreams. Maybe, if they find an oasis, someone places cool damp cloth on the reddened face. If natives come to their rescue, the tribal healer may give the burnt one an ointment to help the skin heal.

Other than those few bits I’ve mentioned above, the affliction of sunburn is not mentioned, and doesn’t affect the abilities of that person beyond the first day.

You’re not going to see sunburns treated so cavalierly in my books.

Hubby and I went to a water park during our vacation. I’ve been told all my life that I have skin like a redhead’s, and I’ve said for decades that I ‘burn at the drop of a sunbeam’. When we go to a water park, I try to find someplace I can entertain myself in the shade, with only occasional short stints in the sunlight. By the time the rest of the family is ready to leave, I hopefully only have a pink bit of sunburn to contend with.

I forgot all that, I guess. Oh, I started on the not-so-lazy river, which has large stretches of shade, but then I wandered to the ‘wave pool’. After 2 hrs in the mid-day sun, I could tell my face was burnt, so we left. By the time we reached our room, I was in PAIN! My face felt like it was on fire, my soft cotton t-shirt scraped my shoulders and back into agony. I slathered on moisturizer several times the rest of that day, and poured ice beverages down my throat, hoping to give my body the water it needed to repair this fiery damage. At least, I did those things until I developed the shivers so bad, all I could do was curl up inside a blanket on the sofa. I was still shivering when I went to bed.

The next day, I stayed indoors, continued with the moisturizer and iced beverages. And ibuprofen to fight off any more fevers. My face still burned. My shoulders, back and upper chest gave sharp protests whenever I moved an arm. On day 3, the burn on my face was pink on the lower cheeks and chin, but still red across the forehead, cheekbones and nose. The other burnt areas were much the same as Tuesday, except my back and collar bones - although still very tender - started to itch. And so my recovery continued slowly, a mixture of pain, tenderness, care and irritating itchiness. I still hadn’t gotten to the peeling stage.

And mine would not be considered a ‘severe’ case of sunburn, since I didn’t have any blisters that first day to indicate a 2nd degree burn.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

More Vacation Notes

Another week in Orlando. What has happened that might have any bearing on writing?

We do theme parks a lot. That’s one reason why we come to Orlando; between Walt Disney World, Universal, Sea World, Cape Canaveral to the east and Busch Gardens to the west, we can keep ourselves entertained. Another reason we come at this particular time of the year is because of Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday for 4 weeks, you can get free autographs from the Star Wars guests on hand that weekend, shop in the special Star Wars store, and line up to see special stage performances by the Star Wars guests. Oh, yeah, there’s a bunch of costumed characters on hand for photo opportunities, too.

The problem is that you have to have a special fastpass to be assigned a time to get those autographs, and people start lining up for the next day’s fastpass hand-out as early as 9 PM the night before. We don’t sleep on the concrete to get our spot in that line, but we have gotten up as early as 4 AM to get into line by 5. This is fine for Hubby, who wakes up with the sun anyway. He’s an Early Bird through and through. But I’m a night owl, and getting up that early is a killer. With my bad knees, standing in line for those fastpasses is, um, a killer. I’ve taken to reading fantasy while standing in line, to distract myself from the various aches and pains.

Things to keep in mind for my characters while writing: 1) Sleep is good, 2) water bottles are good, 3) rain can be a bummer when you’re caught out in it, 4) sun block is good when it isn’t raining, 5) DISTRACTION can be a really good thing when the alternative is to find yourself focusing on discomfort.

Still more to come!

Monday, May 28, 2012


This week, Hubby and I flew to Orlando. Neither of us are enamored with flying, but for different reasons. I can’t stand being herded through the checkpoint, onto the plane and then off of the plane. Hubby can’t stand having to wait in the airport for a couple hours before we can get on the plane. Neither of us likes the too-small seats, lap trays that won’t actually come down flat, the inability to change position. Still, driving here takes two days each way, and sometimes we just don’t feel we can spare that much time. Since stuff from your real life is fodder for what you write, I try to remember our irritation and frustration connected with flying, and the impatience and boredom that can crop up during a long drive. On the other hand, if my traveler is NOT approaching his/her ‘golden’ years, then I can’t bog down the story by describing aches and pains that a younger person probably doesn’t have to endure.

Now, why would we come down to Orlando, especially in the summer? It’s so hot and humid! And hot! And humid!

Yeah, you’d think so, especially if you compared the relative positions of Orlando and Omaha on a map. Orlando is so much further south, it MUST be hotter! In the winter, yes, Florida is warmer than Nebraska. But I’ve seen hotter temperatures in Omaha in the summer, and surprisingly, the humidity can be just as bad in one place as the other.

I can explain the temperature. Nebraska is in the middle of the country, with nothing but miles and miles of dirt in all directions. In the summer, the sun bakes everything, and in the winter, the cold northern winds have nothing to stop them from covering everything in ice. Florida is mostly surrounded by water, which stores up heat during the summer (keeping everything on land from baking quite so badly), and slowly releases it during the winter, letting the area stay warmer than it otherwise would.

I can’t explain the humidity. The water surrounding Florida would be a quick explanation for that humidity level, but Nebraska doesn’t have large bodies of water, so how does that much humidity collect in the place? I can’t explain it, like I said.

But it brings up something else to keep in mind while I’m writing. Just because location A is miles closer to the equator than location B does not necessarily mean a great difference in the local weather.

Everything is more complicated than we think it ought to be.

This story of our May/June vacation and what I learn from it will be continued next week.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Seeing What's There

Okay, I’ve told you about BlackBirds, MetalWorkers and ClayWomen in the Atlan tribe, all of whom have black hair and black eyes, and all of whom are often seen as a huge group of BlackBirds. There are still more Atlans who are easily mistaken as BlackBirds, especially at a little bit of distance.
The next batch of these ‘apparent BlackBirds’ has black hair and blue eyes. Those with the moon birthmark are WaterWoman, the heart birthmark denotes a LeatherWorker, while those with a sword birthmark are called Makers.
It seems to me that the occupation ‘leatherworker’ is pretty self-explanatory; they take raw animal skins and tan them into leather. They also use the leather to create shoes and clothing, wineskins and waterskins, gauntlets and sword sheaths and anything else they decide to make. Like many other types of specialists among the Atlans, this is not a glamorous type of Power, but it is supremely useful.
Understanding a WaterWoman’s Power is a little more complicated. This is the woman who can locate water, whether it’s running (like streams and rivers), standing (ponds and lakes) or underground. She can even feel an approaching storm front, although a WeatherWoman would probably be aware of storms before the WaterWomen were. A WaterWoman can get the water to take a new path to create a spring, thus avoiding having to dig wells. This also helps when crops need to be irrigated. A really strong WaterWoman can walk through a heavy downpour and not get wet because she directed the raindrops to change their path to avoid her.
And that leaves the Makers. On Earth, within the last couple centuries, an Atlan Maker might have been called a machinist or an inventor. These are the ones who first figured out wheels and axles, sails and rudders, and a whole slew of other items. They don’t do this entirely alone. For instance, it took a Maker consulting with a WaterWoman to figure out water pipes in order to invent sinks, showers and eventually, toilets.
So, these are not Mighty Warriors like BlackBirds, but they are definitely useful Powers for a village to have. And if the tribe finds themselves at war, the more women they have who might be mistaken for BlackBirds gives the Atlans that much more of a psychological edge.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Common Atlan Powers

I’ve talked before about Atlans having certain Powers. I think I’ve even mentioned that Atlans knew how to train their daughters because each combination of hair color, eye color and birthmark designates a particular Power.
But, there are other Powers that all Atlans have, to some degree. I thought I’d explain those to you. But remember, these Common Powers do not occur in the same strength in all Atlans. One may have nearly unlimited ability in Deception, while her sister can barely change the color of her hair. In a related vein, the Atlan who can make herself look like a crowd might be barely able to move a blade of grass with Levitation.
Deception – This is the skill to make others see you differently than you actually are. Perhaps they see you with brown hair and different clothes, or a different age or gender. Some Atlans have so little ability at Deception, they can barely change the color of their hair or the shape of their nose. Others have so much, they can make others see a crowd, and she would be the aged old man in the middle of that crowd.
Levitation – As you might expect, this is the ability to raise and/or move objects using only the mind. This ability ranges from barely being able to make a blade of grass wave in a breeze, to being able to lift a boulder the size of a hut a foot off the ground. There are very few Atlans whose power of Levitation is at either extreme; most Atlans must experiment to find their limit.
Telepathy – You are probably familiar with the ability to talk mind to mind. While all Atlans can do it, they can only do it with other Atlans. The typical woman can speak – briefly – with one particular sister Atlan at a distance of about half a mile. If that same woman needs to sound an alarm, she can ‘broadcast’ to every Atlan within about 2 miles. The two extremes include the inability to touch minds with a particular sister, and even when she ‘broadcasts’, she must rely on the stronger abilities of another Atlan to hear the alarm and send it out again.
These Common Powers are a source of comfort to all Atlans. No matter what their specialty is, these non-specialty powers unite all of them as a tribe.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Plant Oddities

In “Origins of Atlans”, I hypothesized the ship’s botanist had discovered a ‘snowball’ planet where the temperature was so cold, the native plants accepted fertilization by any other plant, and even by more than one. Consequently, all the plants were fairly similar, and yet, no two plants were the same.
I’m not a xenobotanist. I’m lucky if I can keep my houseplants alive. I created those plants and their unusual sex practices to serve a purpose within the story. I cringed at such whole-cloth imaginations, sure somebody would call me to task for wandering so far from the known facts about plants.
But the plants we know are Earth plants. At one time, we didn’t believe there was any possibility of plants existing on other planets, unless that planet was a twin for Earth. Fairly recently, that notion has been reconsidered. All sorts of life has been found in the superheated water surrounding submerged volcanic vents, as well as in and around the stinkpots of hot water that can be found in the company of geysers.
The plants I had made up didn’t live on an over-heated planet; they lived on a frozen planet. Does Earth have plants that live at the poles? No, I haven’t found any mention of any. But there are several plants that live in the tundra area of the arctic circle, and it gets pretty bitterly cold there. They may not bloom and thrive during the long dark winter, but they do survive.
Perhaps my imaginary frozen planet plants are not quite as fanciful as I first feared. Perhaps a planet of roughly earth size but located in an orbit analogous to Mars or the asteroid belt would have enough atmosphere/ice water to make it possible for plants to have evolved. Not exactly plants like trees and shrubs and roses, but something that managed to live, even at those temperatures. I briefly pondered about sap freezing and bursting the cells, but all sorts of plants on Earth manage to survive the winter without that happening.
Perhaps these plants create their own antifreeze. Earth plants are carbohydrates, as I understand it, and alcohol can be made by fermenting the carbohydrate we all know as sugar.
I don’t know how scientific that explanation might be, but I like it. Mainly because on the Atlan planet, I’ve introduced ‘drunk-berries’. If somebody mistakenly eats unripe drunk berries, they find them overly sweet, but they are ingesting a poison that will definitely make them ill, and possibly kill them. Ripe drunk berries are routinely juiced, and the juice bottled as a ready-made wine, still sweet but also powerfully alcoholic.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Now What?

I had a reminder pop up the other day that the deadline for a particular writing contest was quickly approaching. This was shortly after Tommee requested a (4th) story for e-publication, so I was pretty sure what I had available and ready to go. Namely … not much.
I’ve been fighting a bad case of depression since last fall, and even though writing is really close to the top of my ‘things I like to do’ list, I haven’t had enough energy or focus to devote to it.
I did find a story to submit to that contest. I also decided to get myself back to writing. But writing what?
Most of the stories I’ve finished have been in the Atlan Universe. I have several more started or at least planned. But I don’t want people thinking that’s the only universe I write about, so should I do something else for a time?
I have a few other stories started/planned/written also. Most of the ones I call ‘written’ don’t exactly thrill me, but I’m not sure how to make them better, so they just sit there, for now.
Most of my stories in various universes involve the adventures of the same pair or group of characters. Perhaps that’s what I find daunting; keeping the characters consistent from story to story. I haven’t had to do that with Atlans; each short story has its own set of characters.
Well, whatever my problem has been, it’s time to get back to writing. Okay, characters, which one of you wants to tell me your story first?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Chicon's Coming!

Chicon 7 is this year’s World Science Fiction Convention, which will be held in Chicago over the Labor Day Weekend. While it’s not the biggest sf convention, it is good sized; this year, they are expecting about 5,000 people.
I’ve attended several World Science Fiction Conventions over the years, but this year will be a little different for me. This is the first year I am working the convention as staff.
I’ve worked as staff at various regional conventions, and those always have a lot of meetings where people discuss possible plans, decisions are made and staff members get to know each other. I’ve known for quite a while that staff for World Cons includes a fairly stable cadre of people from around the US, possibly from around the world. Locals fill in a lot of the remaining staff positions, and new guys – like me – are given a chance with whatever holes remain. But how, I wondered, did they ever get together to have a meeting?
Thankfully, they have modern conveniences. I have received countless emails (meaning, I haven’t bothered to count them). I have studied shared documents on the internet, once I had access to them. I have participated in departmental meetings by skype.
This weekend, I went to Chicago for an ‘all-hands’ meeting. This meeting started Friday afternoon, and continued into Sunday. There were, at a guess, 50 people in attendance, and this was only a portion of the staff. For instance, the department to which I belong has at least a dozen members, but only 3 of us were there. They don’t have as many meetings, but when they do have one, they try to cram as much into it as they possibly can.
I had fun, listened a lot, and learned so much, it’ll take me a couple days to sort through it all. I have a lot more confidence in my ability to handle the one little piece of the convention that is mine to plan.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Trudy's Latest Adventure

On Saturday, April 24, 2012, I gave my first public reading from one of my e-stories. Since I’ve been a shy introverted wallflower all my life, this aspect of being a writer was not something I thought about in the early days. If you wrote a great book, somebody published it, and you got to spend your days writing more books. Selling your books was up to somebody else.

If it ever was like that, it isn’t any more. For years I’ve heard that the marketing of a book was landing more and more on the shoulders of the writer. As I looked around at science fiction conventions, listened to well-established authors in the genre, and studied the panel subjects that authors spoke on, I realized that even well-established authors were involved in marketing their books to the public.

I tried to imagine what it would be like, when it was time for me to do a public reading, and I could feel the panic start to choke my voice chords.

That wouldn’t get many books sold.

Obviously, I had to find a way to overcome my panic. Strangely, I’m a bit of a ham, if I have a part in a play. Remembering that told me that I could ‘act’ in front of a group. Maybe all I needed was … confidence?

So I joined Toastmasters, and I attended weekly meetings for about 3 years. Each time it was my turn to compose and give a speech, I wondered if other authors joined Toastmasters and learned to give speeches in order to prepare for their future marketing endeavors. But as I progressed through my assignments, I could tell that I had made a good choice; I went from a trembling blob of panic to a confident speaker. And I enjoyed those meetings so well, that I would probably still be there if my temp job had not made it impossible to attend.

But that wasn’t all I did to prepare. At last year’s World Science Fiction Convention, I attended a panel on “How to Give a Reading.” The person giving that panel had good advice, including such things as, Look at your audience from time to time; project so that the back row can hear you; and read slowly so that your words don’t slur together. Although similar to advice given in Toastmasters, it was good to get it from another source also.

Now, if I could just figure out the bookkeeping aspect of being an author!