Sunday, December 29, 2013

Resolutions vs Goals

Have you made New Year's resolutions yet? If you read my blog last week, you know I've got lots of writing to work on in 2014. I didn't frame them as 'resolutions', because - let's face it - my resolutions last about one week.
Nearly all the blogs I've been reading talked about 'plans for the new year'. Those blogs are not calling them 'resolutions'. I think one called them 'hopes', but that seems nebulous and a source of pressure, so I prefer the term I saw more often: goals.
Resolutions tend to be vague; I'm going to diet, exercise, lose weight and get in shape this year! How do you succeed at that? If next Christmas, you have a piece of pecan pie, have you failed to diet? If you really can't find time to consistently work out, have you failed to exercise? If you only lose 40 of the 100 pounds you wanted to lose, have you failed? If on Jan 1, you can hardly walk from the bedroom to the kitchen, but by Dec 31, you can get all the way to the end of the block and back - even though you're still overweight and you still can't run a marathon - have you failed?
Goals need to be specific AND something that you can control. I'm going to get my first book published! is a resolution. I will continue to send my first manuscript to agents and editors this year sounds more like a goal.
With that in mind, I have started to look at my 'plans' for 2014, and turning them into goals:
·      >  I will lose an average of 1 pound a week through diet and exercise.
·       > Each time a manuscript is rejected, I will immediately send it to another market. (If suggestions were made on how it could be improved, I will take a week to go through and consider those suggestions before sending it out.)
·     >   I will compose 1,000 words per day and edit 1,000 words per day an average of 5 days a week.
·       > I will find opportunities to make personal appearances as an author an average of once a month.
Those are all things I have some control over. They are specific, but flexible. (If I have to arrange 12 appearances next December because I've been lazy and haven't done any all year, that averages to one a month, and I've succeeded.)
Believe it or not, I can do the 3rd one. I am currently writing 3 different projects and editing another. This past couple of weeks (yes, even in the confused haziness of impending Christmas), have been aiming at 1,000 words a day on the project with a short deadline, and about 500 words a day for the other two, then editing 1,000 words in the evening. And I try to work 7 days a week, so if I don't have a great day, I can make up for it.

Are you going to make resolutions? Or set goals? Let me know, and - if you don't mind - tell me just one of yours.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Hearing Voices

I hear voices in my head.
No, they aren't telling me to kill the neighbors or set the cat on fire. They aren't even telling me I'm stupid, won't amount to anything or other negative things. These voices don't belong to demons, or angels, or even deceased family members.
The voices are characters, who tell me the stories that I write. If I don't pay attention to what they say and I take the story in a different direction, they stop talking to me, and I find myself in writer's block... for that story.
For me, characters start as little more than a shadowy form. Maybe I know right away what their hair color or eye color is, maybe that comes later. Sometimes I know where their story occurs, maybe even that isn't clear. So I could start with as little as a shadow standing in a fog. How can I possibly write anything about that? (Hmm, that could be an interesting opening. I'll have to think about that.)
So, each character lurks in the dark recesses of my mind at first, and they begin to whisper things about themselves to me. I don't consciously hear the whispers, but they lodge in my subconscious, and slowly, the picture begins to clear.
"Hi! I'm Colleen MacDowell, call me Mac. Yeah, you've given me red hair, but mine's more fire engine red than carroty or auburn, so fix that, would you? I'm short, but extremely strong, because I'm from a heavy world. If a guy gets fresh, I'm likely to deck him. And that's landed me in the brig a few times. Bugalu was my brother's roommate at the Academy, and he adopted me as a little sister in order to help my real brother keep me out of trouble. Believe me, getting myself assigned to the same ship as Bugalu was NOT easy!"
"People call me Kandi, although my name is Kandaranna. I was raised by a family of Sioux in South Dakota. I had black hair, but my white skin and blue eyes said I didn't belong. Pa sent me to Chihuahua, to an Amerind school to learn the old ways, which didn't make sense to me. Eventually, I joined the Space Fleet. On my first assignment, our crew was investigating an abandoned derelict of alien design. That ship kidnapped me, claimed I was the child of its original crew. We've been looking for my parents ever since. Oh, yeah. My hair stayed black while I was trying to pass as human, but I've learned it can also go white... or any shade of purple in between."
So, once I know that much about a character, they stop whispering and we start their story. Occasionally, they surprise me with a tidbit they hadn't revealed before. For instance, Mac took ballet lessons!
The way I see it, if I didn't hear voices in my head, I wouldn't be able to write stories. And sometimes, my characters are the only company I need.

Do you hear voices?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Looking Ahead

Okay, last week I looked back at 2013, so this week I'll try to figure out what I'm going to do in 2014 to get me closer to my goal.
The first thing that comes to mind is I've got to overhaul / reinvent the website. ( I can't afford to hire anybody, so it's up to me. I've been gathering notes on what makes a good website, and I have people I can consult for their opinion, so maybe it won't be too bad. Still, it's not my favorite activity, so it will be slow-going.
Hubby and I will be attending the World Science Fiction convention in London, and the European Science Fiction convention in Dublin the following weekend. That has been occupying a lot of my time, trying to figure out the travel arrangements and all that. That long a trip will suck up a lot of our resources, so as far as personal appearances, the 'usual' local conventions may be the only ones I can plan to get to. Still, that doesn't mean I can't schedule some appearances at book stores, libraries or corn fields in the region that I can drive to in a day, so I will be trying to organize some of those.
MoonPhaze Publishing has wanted to print its first hard-copy book. We'll be looking at means of doing it that will not require thousands of dollars up front, like going with POD. Of course, if we happen to find a few thousand dollars to go to a regular printer, we'll switch gears again. In any case, having a paper-back book on hand could make those appearances mentioned in the previous paragraph more enjoyable, both for me and for anybody who attends them.
I've signed up for some classes in leatherwork! In at least two of my universes, I have a segment of the population who work with leather, and this will help me 'identify' with them. Besides, I like to learn new things.
As far as writing, I've got 4 contests/anthologies to submit to during the first 2 months of 2014. It's time for my second novel (romance) to start looking for a home. My third novel needs some rewriting & polishing, the roughs of 2 other novels need to be finished, and I've started a sf novel rough. If I keep finding more contests and anthologies, I should be plenty busy!

Maybe I should get an early start on some of that, don't you think?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

2013 Wrap-Up

2013 is not over yet, but this seems a good time to look back at what I have or have not accomplished, before I start making wild plans for next year. Of course, looking back might not keep me from making wild plans...
In 2013, I gave readings at Conquest and OSFest. This was kind of 'dipping my toe in' to see how the water was, and it was this kind of activity that prompted me to join Toastmasters for a couple years, to learn not to freeze up when 'in the spotlight'. Okay, I got some practice at readings.
At Conquest, I also participated in panels. They weren't on my best topics, and I struggled to participate fully. I am not great at 'thinking on my feet' when the thinking involves talking. Now I know to prepare better for panels and work harder to get my 2₵ into the conversation.
OSFest had author tables, and I took a couple stints sitting there. I was not mobbed by fans, but I did have pleasant face-to-face networking time with other authors in those time slots. I learned quite a lot.
In October, we went on a Dr Who cruise, and participated in a writer's workshop. There were 6 people in our group, and we were to write a scene for 2 characters who had never met on screen in Dr Who. Of course, every member of the group had their own idea how the scene should go. Unfortunately, the guidelines kept changing; first we were supposed to do it as a screenplay, up to 5 pages. This was confusing, as the actors were only going to do a reading; no movements, no foley personnel. Then it became prose, no more than 3 pages, which made more sense, but we needed to cut. On top of that, every day that we had to work on this project, there were shore excursions to enjoy! I learned that I don't like writing by committee, and other than this frustration, the cruise was enjoyable.
I accepted the position of editor/copy editor for Class Act Books. I have since edited 1 book for them, copy edited another. I don't mind editing and polishing my own work, but I've discovered it's even easier/more fun to edit somebody else's work ... as long as the material is enjoyable.
Tommee and I, as MoonPhaze Publishing, put out our first western e-story ("Wrangler Required for the Deadfall Saloon", by Michael McGlade,, 99₵).
I took a non-credit class from the local community college on how to market your book. It was a 3-hour class, and I felt it needed 3 sessions, not just one. Lots of information, but I'm not sure I caught it all.
As for my own stuff...
Alban Lake is considering my first fantasy novel, which is set in my Atlan universe. At least, I haven't heard that they don't want it, so I'm still hopeful.

I submitted a short for a vampire anthology edited by Carol Hightshoe. She has informed me that she is hanging onto it for further consideration. (Happy Dance!) I've heard that she was holding on to about 53 of the stories that came in as soon as the anthology was announced, and the call for submissions doesn't close until March 2014. Her editor has approved her making it a 2-volumn anthology. So... let's all cross our fingers, okay?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Holidays - Turkey Day

I'm writing this on Thanksgiving. It's a holiday we enjoy in the States every November, to commemorate the Pilgrim's survival of their first year in the new world. And, as usual, I wonder if any of my various universes would have a similar holiday.
Let's concentrate on Thanksgiving; it is an autumn holiday with lots of food and reflection on all the things we are thankful we have. Before the Pilgrims, a lot of cultures had a harvest feast. The hard work of raising crops was done, and (some) people could now 'coast' through the winter until spring, when it was time to plant and hope for a good crop. But keeping a bountiful crop stored all winter was hard; mice and mold and who knew what else could claim a good portion of it, so feasting might continue well into the winter, until most of the food had become a layer of fat on the people, which would help them survive those last few weeks until they could get their hands on fresh food again.
Mac ( definitely does have a Thanksgiving, because the Fleet follows the majority of the Earth traditions, but whether it is called Thanksgiving, Harvest Day or something else, I haven't decided.
In my Atlan universe, a 'god' (alien) brought 3 infants to live on a remote island, and stayed with them until they could take care of themselves. This island did not have seasons, so there would have not been any harvest time to celebrate. Later, after the home island was destroyed, and a few Atlans were scattered about the planet to establish tribes, each tribe might have a day of celebration. Some might celebrate the day they made landfall, or others - who now experience seasons - might celebrate a successful harvest.
In my Tunad universe, I think they might have 2 holidays that resemble Thanksgiving. Their colony is established in early spring, and they celebrate the anniversary of that day. They would also celebrate the first fall harvest, which proved they could raise food on a planet that was much colder than their home world. But the Tunads were very careful choosing holidays as they set up their calendar. They did not hang on to any holidays from their home planet, as they have set out to escape from that culture. Still, they recognize that holidays are important, a way to say, 'Our hard work has paid off,' and 'See how far we've gotten.'

Hope you had a great Turkey Day.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

In vs Out

Remember that old saying, "Opposites Attract?" My husband and I are a pretty good example of that being true; I am an 'In', and he is an 'Out'. By 'In', I mean Introvert, which leaves 'Out' to mean Extrovert. People use those words all the time, but I'm not sure they truly understand the meanings of both. In particular, the members of one group do not understand the needs of the other group, and vice versa.
Hubby is an extrovert. He loves to be around other people (with very few exceptions), and the more the merrier. If they have something in common (and that can be as small as they are both wearing black t-shirts that day), he is happy to explore their individual universes via conversation for hours! He is the type of person who, even after he acknowledges that it's time to leave, will continue to converse for another hour... or three. He leaves these convers-athons full of energy, with new tidbits of information to sort through and cubby-hole away, until he can find another conversation where he can pull them out and add to the mix.
I, on the other hand, am an introvert. Yes, I guess I'm shy, but introvert is more than that. Yes, I often am a wallflower, but does that really tell you anything about me? No, I am not anti-social; I like people just fine, in small doses, meaning one (okay, maybe two) at a time. Put me in a crowd - like a large convention - and I am overwhelmed. I pull inside myself and probably put barriers up that tell others, "Don't bother me." I might work on my laptop or pull out something to read.
When we go to big conventions, like Megacon or a Star Wars Celebrations, Hubby gets frustrated because I don't want to go to the dealer's room. Actually, I'd love to go see all the merchandise, a lot of which I don't see at smaller conventions, but a football field-sized room packed so tightly with people you frequently can't move more than a step, with a sound level that keeps you from thinking, with colorful displays that surround and tower over the crowd - that's not my idea of fun. It is my idea of confusion, and borders on panic. It's a situation where I have no control, and coping with it saps all my energy.

In short, extroverts find it energizing to be with other people, and are probably bored when they are alone. Introverts find their energy when they are alone, and are drained when they must deal with crowds. So if you have an introvert friend, don't think you are doing them a favor by dragging them out to a club. They will probably appreciate a movie a lot more.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Real Life

So much for getting myself organized. After recovering from my drive home from Florida, today I heard that my one remaining sister is in the hospital, having suffered a stroke. I haven't been able to complete a blog to post today, so this is a rerun from March 2010.

I keep coming up with ways ‘real life’ can be analogous to writing.  Well, give me a break; real life has conspired to give me a head cold for the trip home, and all my thoughts are sticky with ‘head cold goo’ and won’t move around well.

So, I started out in Florida, where nobody paid attention to the posted speed limit of 70.  The far left lane (of 3) was for those driving at 80+.  Then I got to Georgia, where the Florida Speedway quickly became the Georgia Parking Lot – miles of stop / creep / stop / creep.  I forget how many times it happened, pretty much the entire length of I75 through Georgia, except going through Atlanta.  And seldom, when you finally got to the point where you could speed up, was there any clue for the jam.

Did you know that if you enter Nashville on I24, and want to leave Nashville on I24, there is no lane you can get in and stay in and stay on I24?  I felt like I was playing hop scotch; skip left two lanes for a left exit, skip right one lane for a right exit, skip right another lane for another right exit, then skip left two lanes for a left exit!

Stories are kind of like that, don’t you think?  If there’s nothing getting in the protagonist’s way as you tell the story, the story zips along at 80+ mph and gets done quickly, leaving the reader to wonder what all the fuss was about.  If something does get in the way – whether you call them bumps, problems, challenges, or stalled trucks – the speed of the story will be inconsistent, and the tension will build.  Likewise, if your story line jogs here and there, as your protagonist tries this angle, and then that path, it will help to keep your reader on their toes, wondering which way the story will go next, and will the protagonist actually get where he wants to go?

So, ‘map’ out your story line, and don’t forget to add some difficulties.  Road trips never seem to go as smoothly as we expect they will, do they?  A story that travels a straight line to its obvious conclusion isn’t much of a story.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Old & Dusty Dreams

Do you have any dreams left over from when you were a kid, a pre-teen, even a teenager? I have quite a few of them:

Be a Rock Star! The only problem with this one was that I never learned to play an instrument, can't read music, and don't know how to match my voice to the notes on the paper. Oh, yeah, when I was young, I was too shy to do anything on a stage, and at over 50 years of age, I doubt if this one will happen. So we'll just leave that one on the shelf to keep gathering dust.

Have a Motorcycle! How cool, adventurous - and different - it would have been when I was a teen. I've never had one. My first husband did, and one night when we were doing errands on that cycle, he got off and left me to hold it up until his return. Not only did it fall over, it took a chunk out of my heel. Sometime later, he tried to 'teach' me how to ride his new cycle. I stood there, trying to balance that even-heavier cycle by standing on my tippy-toes like a ballerina while he explained how to change gears and so on. That cycle fell over, too, but not before it jumped the curb and rushed half-way down the hill. This dream has changed a bit... Now I want a tricycle! I saw one the other day that was so big and powerful, the guy had 3 or 4 big suitcases stacked on the frame behind his seat. But those cost a good deal of money, and my bones could be getting fragile, so chances are...

There were lots of other dreams, and the one I'm working on the most is writing. In my writing, I pause to give my characters some old and dusty dreams. Mac ( once dreamed of being a ballerina. (She hasn't revealed that yet, but will in another week or so.) As she revealed to Dr MacGregor in the last episode, when she joined the Fleet, it wasn't 'communications' that she wanted to do. But she wouldn't answer when he asked what field she had wanted.

Take a guess; what field do you think she wanted? And while you're at it, what are some of your old and dusty dreams? Not all of my characters can share mine!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Finding Shiney Bits

I read a lot of newsletters. I mean, a LOT of newsletters. Some are to help me write better, some are about the publishing field in general, some give me lists of potential markets, and some are about marketing.
Unfortunately, when I had my knee replaced this summer, I got behind in that reading. Since then, I have slowly been catching up.
The good thing about being behind is that I can get through them a little faster. Whenever I see a list of classes, I don't check the titles to see if I want to take them, I check the start date. If the classes have already started, I skip the entire list. When I see a contest listed as a potential market, I scan for the deadline. If it's passed, or only a few days in the future, I haven't got a chance of making it, so I skip reading the rules.
The bad thing about being behind is that I miss a lot of opportunities; that class that might have been perfect for me, a contest that was right up my alley. I also feel a bit rushed, because I'm trying to catch up. Is everything I'm reading out of date?
Nope. The information on writing better is still applicable. The insights into the publishing field are still there, can still teach me about How Things Work, rather than me being completely in the dark. These are the Shiney Bits, the reason why I read these newsletters. And I look forward to the day when I catch up and can find even more Shiney Bits in the form of a class to take, a new market to try, a contest I have time to enter.

How about you? Do you find the Shiney Bits in your life before you throw out the dregs you don't want or can't use?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

New Planet Discovered

Scientists have discovered a new planet.
Ho hum. This has become so common-place, it isn't typically reported anymore. What makes this one newsworthy? ... It doesn't bother to have a parent sun.
That's right, it's just wandering around in space, about 80 light-years from us, with no sun, and no other symptoms of a 'planetary system'. In early science fiction, such a planet might be called a 'rogue planet'.
Since this rogue is not orbiting a star, they didn't find it in the usual way, either. The usual way, these days, is to observe the changes in the star's brightness to determine when a planet's orbit places it between that star and Earth.
The way they discovered this planet was by looking for Brown Dwarf stars. Brown Dwarf stars, as I understand it, are 'larger than a planet, but not warm enough to have ignited into a star.' While searching for large, cool masses, they discovered this rogue, which was even colder than the brown dwarfs they were looking for.
At this point, they don't know much about it; only that it doesn't orbit a star, it's about 12 million years old, and it's about 6 times the mass of Jupiter.
I wonder if it could be considered a tiny brown dwarf? When I was (much) younger, I seem to remember wild speculation that Jupiter was just a little too small to have been a 2nd sun in this system, and in 2010 (as I remember the movie) aliens added enough mass to Jupiter to get it to ignite into another sun.

Well, for now, it's a planet. Of course, its status could change. Pluto was once a planet, too. After all, it's not as if astronomy is an exact science.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Defragging a Story

Have you ever had your computer defrag its files?
I've done it many times. I used to get a kick out of watching little squares disappear from one place on the grid and reappear in a different place, but the defragging  program no longer has that entertainment possibility. But I digress...
On Tuesdays, I post a new scene from 'Mac', a story I've been working on for - oh - about 35 years. Back then, I didn't have a computer. Heck, I didn't even have a typewriter. I wrote my stories in longhand, probably with a pencil, on anything resembling paper; scratch pads, used paper, partially used notebooks, paper grocery sacks, even unused tissues (although those required I use a pen).
When I did get a typewriter, parts of this story got typed up. When I got a computer, parts of this story got typed into that. Over the years, I've had several computers, and almost all of them had some Mac scenes as files.
At one point, I had the foresight to print out what Mac scenes I had in that computer, and boy, am I happy now that I did that. But I'm getting ahead of myself...
Technology changes, and when you use a computer until it just won't go anymore, you don't always get to save what you absolutely want from the hard drive. How many times have I had to rewrite important Mac scenes because I couldn't retrieve them? I forget...
I thought I was really being smart about 2 computers ago, when I started saving Mac scenes on external drives. When I had to replace that computer, I made sure the one I got could still read those external files. But when I replaced THAT computer last year, it just wasn't possible to get a slot that would read 3 1/4 inch floppies anymore. So all those dozens of disks holding Mac scenes (and many other stories I've worked on) got thrown out when I was cleaning up from moving my office.
But something else happened when I was cleaning up from that move. I kept finding hand-written versions of Mac scenes; a couple scenes in this notebook, half a scene on a scratch pad, a scene in a steno pad... Lots of scenes, with no clue whether they were included in what I had printed out or not. I already have a 2-inch stack of these bits and pieces to go through, and I've still got a couple boxes of old papers and notebooks to clean out.

So now, I get to defrag this story. I get to type all these scenes into my computer, and then try to arrange the scenes in their correct sequence. That should keep me busy for a while!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Practice What You Preach

I read a lot of e-newsletters. Some give me tips on how to write better, some give me clues about markets I might submit to, and some try to tell me how to market my work, once it gets published. Most of them I can read fairly quickly. But one of them I read this week... !

I don't remember which newsletter I was reading, possibly one on marketing, because the article seemed to be on what type of website to make announcements, timing and the type of announcement. After almost every website type/announcement type that it listed, the author expanded by saying you should edit, edit, edit everything before you sent it off into the world. The reasoning was that if you make an impression on potential readers with poor grammar, spelling and punctuation, they aren't likely to look up your book and buy a copy.

I have to agree with that sentiment.

A lot of people never learned these things in school well enough to know how to follow the rules, and therefore, they don't think it's really important. Texting, when it required hitting the same button a number of times to get one letter, further eroded people's ability to spell, it seems. But as long as the idea gets across, anything goes these days, right?

No, I can't agree with that sentiment.

I have re-worked and proofread and edited enough to be pretty familiar with most of the rules of the English language. It doesn't bother me to get a text on my phone with 'u' for 'you' and 'ur' for 'your'. I consider that a kind of slang.

But when I'm reading something that purports to be informative and professional, I expect it to be well edited. This particular article in this newsletter was NOT. Here it was, expounding on the idea that everything you put out there should be edited, and the author did not appear to know the difference between [its] and [it's], or where commas belong, or how to spell.

Now I'm left in a dilemma. Do I believe this author was knowledgeable in the field and take the advice offered? Or write the article off as a waste of time because the author couldn't be bothered to take his/her own advice?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

An Atlan Journal, Entry 1

My name is Lacelia. I am an Atlan historian. Yesterday marked the end of my 12th year, and I received my first journal, quill and ink. No longer will I try to formulate my thoughts and observations on slate with chalk or charcoal; now I can keep them for years and years, and eventually, my journals will join our growing archive.

Knowing that what I commit to this parchment might well be read by future generations any number of times, I tried all night to decide what my first entry should be. This morning, Opaan, my mentor, asked why I had not written in my journal yet, and I told her of my difficulty in deciding on a topic. "I have not had any adventures. I have only the hum-drum chores of my life."

"This is a common complaint of young historians, for we seldom leave the village and those chores. But we are charged with recording history for all the Atlans, not just ourselves. When someone returns from the Outside, many of us will sit and listen to their tale, and commit it to our journals. But in the meantime, we hone our skills by recording what we see and know around us. This is how future generations will learn about us, and thus, where they came from."

"Surely they do not need to know we sweep our cottages and wash our clothes! Everybody does that!"

Opaan nodded. "Today, everybody does that. But I have read the first journal of Tolka, the first historian of this village. In it, she reports that the founding mothers of this village were refuges from some terrible disaster at the original Atlan home, which was an island. The total number of refuges that found their way here were six, and four of them were under the age of fifteen. She did her best to report the important facts about this disaster and how they came here, but she was a child of the youngest of the six, and the two who had arrived as grown women had become feeble with age."

"I certainly don't have anything as important as that to write about!"

"I should hope not. But that journal was well used, and obviously had been consulted many, many times, although, not the pages dealing with the disaster and its aftermath. Those pages were much cleaner and far less wrinkled." I wondered why anyone would have consulted a book without bothering with such an important story, and Opaan continued. "Tolka had also described such things as the local berries and fruits, where they could be found and when they were most likely to be ripe. How to plant certain grasses and harvest the seeds, then grind the seeds into flour and make bread. Noxious weeds that would cause distress to the livestock, and less noxious weeds that would dissuade wild creatures from invading the gardens."

"But the Plant Women and the Cooks would have that knowledge."

"They had none. And like Tolka, when the first of them were born into the village, they had no one to teach them these things. Without mentors, they would have had to start their learning process by trial and error. As you did, when you were learning to ride a horse. Luckily, somebody realized the knowledge Tolka had in her journal, and used those clues to help them find their own Power, like caring for plants and cooking."

"Yes, but that was then, Opaan. At last count, we had over 500 Atlans in this valley. Plenty of mentors for any of the 27 different Powers."

"Then consider this, young one. Tolka reported that the village had grown too large to shelter under the waterfall anymore, and had started to erect huts made of twigs and mud. You could follow her instructions and make one, if you wanted. They bathed in the river. These days, our sturdy cottages are of wood and stone. We have constructed a reservoir that is filled by the waterfall, and pipes to bring that water to each building. We bathe in tubs. Things have changed since then."

I thought maybe I understood. "And some day, our descendants might want to know about such things?"

"Exactly. So, make your first entry. And once the first page or two is written on, you will no longer hesitate to write more. Or, at least, I didn't."

I think she might be right. Unless something more interesting comes up, tomorrow I will write about my family.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Spring Cleaning

Have you ever done spring cleaning? It's not something I grew up with, but every once in a while I just have to give up, shovel out my office, organize what I'm keeping and throw away everything else.

I'm in the middle of that now. We've moved all my office stuff out of the family room into the front room these last 2 days, and now I've got boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff to sort through. When I look at those boxes, I figure it will take months for me to get them all cleaned out. It's such a depressing thought, I can't cope, and I give up.

Happily, the way my desk is currently set up, I actually sit with my back to all those boxes (which are stacked halfway to the ceiling in the corner of the room). So I don't have to look at them, in the normal scheme of things. That helps me keep my mind on an even keel.

What I'm planning to do is pull one box over at a time to the side of my desk and clean out that one box. Then I'll take a break and write a scene or fill the dishwasher before I pull out the next box. And when my shredder gets full, then I'm done cleaning out boxes for the day.

It's not the kind of spring cleaning my grandmother used to do, and I'm not doing it in the spring, but it's a deeper cleaning than I usually do. Why do you think I have so many boxes to sort through? Because my usual way of 'cleaning' is to shove things I don't want to deal with into a box, to be dealt with later. Can't do that with bills, of course, but most everything else gets shoved.

Right up until times like now, when I'm tired of them trying to shove back. And frankly, when my office space is a mess, it also seems to clutter my mind, preventing me from writing. Or getting much of anything done. I really should clean more often, to keep my mind organized and my imagination purring.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Working a World Con

This year, my husband and I were in charge of Opening Ceremonies at Lone Star Con 3, the World Con held in San Antonio. Last year, we were in charge of both Opening and Closing Ceremonies at Chicon 7, the World Con held in Chicago. We have attended many World Cons over the years, but these were our first efforts at being staff members of a World Con.

I don't know if these experiences will help me in my efforts to establish myself as a writer, but they might. Instead of going to publisher parties and winding up being a wallflower, I showed myself to be an active participant, a capable and flexible planner, and a person who was easy to work with.

But wait, I was a behind-the-scenes type of staff person, so who would have seen all those good things about me? Good question, one I've been thinking about the last few days.

We were late getting access to the stage, so any convention attendees who arrived at the ceremony location early in search of a good seat, saw me moving set furniture and props, consulting with sound techs and the convention Toastmaster. When others could not decide on a good location for a late-arriving set decoration, I made the decision. If any of these good people noticed me in particular and caught my name, ... well, I only know of one person who attended this convention who does not do a lot of reading.

We met and interacted with other staff members. We received compliments from some of them for being cool, collected and flexible, but maintaining control. Some had expected us to have a melt down over the loss of our major piece of set decoration, a set of cardboard swinging doors. Happily, it was found and brought to us an hour before we were to begin, and 3 people immediately set to work putting it together for us. It would have been a shame if that item had never showed up, but we figured the attendees were coming to see the guests, not our choice of decorations.

Finally, we had some interaction with the guests, as we introduced them to the Toastmaster, explained what we expected from them, and alerted them that they would be next on the stage. Despite our efforts ahead of time to work with the Toastmaster on the list of guests, last minute details meant our list of people for him to introduce almost doubled in the last half hour before the ceremony started. He was a trooper, speaking briefly with all of them and taking notes. We were hard pressed to keep track of where he was putting them on the list, but we must have done something right, because we never had the wrong person waiting in the wings. These guests included (but were not limited to) famous authors and a well-known editor. Hopefully, they noticed our efforts in a favorable light.

In any case, we took our enjoyment of world cons and paid it back/paid it forward by being staff members.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

World Con

What better subject for me to blog about while I'm at this year's SF Worldcon than the convention itself?

The World SF Convention has existed for nearly 75 years. It's a traveling convention, meaning it is held in a different city every year. For instance, last year's was in Chicago, this year's is in San Antonio TX, and next year's will be in London England.

This year's attendees have the opportunity to vote on the site for 2 years from now, 2015. We had 3 choices; Orlando FL, Spokane WA and Helsinki. Well, technically, we also had the choices of 'No preference' and 'None of the Above'. These locations already have some people who have scoped out the best place in town to hold the convention, have presented an acceptable plan to the Worldcon parent organization, and have been trying to impress people with what their location has to offer.

This year, the attendees also have the opportunity to vote on next year's North American SF Convention. When the World Convention is in another part of the world, like next year's convention in London, a great number of North Americans can't afford to travel that far, so a similar convention is held within North America.

If you have never attended any science fiction convention, I don't really suggest you start with a worldcon. Try a couple conventions in your area of the country first, so you have a better idea what to expect. (Google 'sf convention' + 'your state' to find some within easy reach.) If you've been to one of those huge comic cons, you might not be quite so lost, but I find the worldcon has more things to do.

With an attendance of 6,000 or more, a worldcon has the usual dealer's room, panels, art show, panels, con suite, panels, autograph sessions and panels. Did I mention there's panels? Looking through the pocket program (a booklet of 260 pages), there are easily 2 dozen Things To Do in any given hour of the day, slowing to 1 dozen in the evening.

Worldcons differ from local sf conventions in another way. Local sf conventions are usually 3 days long, from Friday through Sunday. A worldcon starts on Thursday and goes through Monday. So a smart attendee tries to pace themself. Or else, trains for the marathon ahead of time.

Even with thousands of attendees, by the time you've come to 2 or 3 worldcons, you'll start recognizing some faces, and others will start to recognize you, too. There really are groups of friends who do not see each other except at conventions. Thank goodness for internet for sharing thoughts at other times!

Woops, there's a panel coming up I want to be at. See ya next week!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

On Vacation

I do apologize for not having a blog to post today. Yes, I'm on vacation, but I usually manage to get a post written and posted, even on vacation. Unfortunately, not this time.

On Friday, we were on the road, and drove as far as Muscokee OK before we stopped for the night. After a quick supper, we settled our brain-dead, road-weary bodies into the motel bed and gave in for the night.

Saturday, we finished the driving, finally arriving on the south side of Houston TX. Having reached our destination, we settled in for a quiet evening. Unfortunately, hubby decided to check his email, and his inbox was so full (after 2 days) that by the time he got done, there was no time left for me to do anything on the computer.

Today, we went to the Space Center Houston. Once we looked around and saw what was there, it seemed we could do it all in one day, therefore saving us the money of going again tomorrow. And we did get done, but it was a long day, and we were both limping by the time we returned to our motel room. I was too tired by then to try and write a blog.

So, my apologies, and I will try very hard to actually have a blog next Sunday. Yes, I will still be on vacation. Yes, I will be at WorldCon in San Antonio. Yes, I am on staff at WorldCon in San Antonio. However, by Friday, my staff stuff will be done, so if I haven't gotten one written by then, I will be able to take half an hour to type one up. I hope. Worldcons always seem to have something going on.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Evolving Characters

Humans are said to 'learn' and to 'grow'. This is indicated by the old sayings, "Grow up," and "Act your age." And most humans do manage to remember what they've learned so far in their life, add to it whatever they've learned lately. Putting these things together, they adjust their thoughts, their decisions and actions. They learn, grow and mature.

In writing, characters are said to 'evolve', if the writer is any good.

I'm not sure why a different phrase is used for characters, who are created as representatives of human beings.

I mean, let's look at this. Wherever the story opens, the characters have a personality, and to have that, they have a backstory ... basic life events that have formed them into the 'person' they are. The author is supposed to have that all thought out, even if s/he doesn't actually say any of it in the story.

As the story proceeds, the character is challenged, reacts, learns and adjusts. Woops, I mean, he 'evolves'.

I don't know, to me, 'evolve' means 'become something new'. That sounds like a character who starts at Personality A suddenly makes a complete change to become Personality Z. I have trouble believing people do that, even when that person is a story character.

Person or character, I have a much easier time believing someone starts at Personality A and as a result of the challenge, reaction, learning and adjusting, winds up as Personality A1. A character who does that is much more believable to me.

What do you think?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Open Letter to Internet Advertisers

I can understand why businesses would take advantage of the opportunity to expand their customer base to those on the internet. I even understand that doing so means there are ads trying to gain the attention of every internet user. But the increase and insistent proliferation of those ads - interfering in every aspect of my use of the internet - is really beginning to P**S me off!

Example 1 - Every time I try to sign in to check my email, I am instead rerouted to a request to take a survey. This despite my browser being set to prevent pop-ups. That is like stepping onto my porch to retrieve my snail mail, and being accosted by someone demanding I take their survey instead. Or trying to call a friend for a chat, and finding myself talking to an automated survey that only responds to answers to its questions.

Example 2 - Whenever I play an on-line game, I have to wait through an ad. It wasn't so bad when one viewing would get me to the game, but recently, I've had to wait through that ad for EACH level of the game. Really? That's like reading a book and having to wade through an ad between the chapters.

Example 3 - Every website I visit anymore has more ads than content. And if my cursor wanders over one of those ads, that ad enlarges to cover most of the screen. And far too often, the means to close that ad is hard to find, or possibly non-existent. That would be like driving along a highway and being unable to see any scenery because the billboards are lined up to completely block the view.

Well, I grew up with television ads interrupting my shows every few minutes. I guess I need to learn to tune out these new types of ads, too. I already don't watch the ads for the games, I close the surveys without taking them, just like I close the ads that get accidentally enlarged. But all of these reactions take time away from my life. That's why I get so mad.

You advertisers need to find a way to get the business' messages across without wasting the time of the people you want to be customers. How you do that is your problem. Ours is to find what we actually want to get to on the internet.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

When to Listen

It seems like for every book, movie or gadget that comes along, there are plenty of people willing to tell everybody else how good or bad it is. Some of them actually get paid for it.

 Do you listen to any of them?

Years ago, the local newspaper had a movie reviewer. It didn't take long for my friends and I to realize that any science fiction movie that came along, he hated. Since we liked science fiction, why would we listen to him? Obviously, our opinions didn't agree with his.

More recently, I've noticed lots of people on Facebook writing their thoughts on this movie or that movie. It's understandable. Who do you talk with about movies you've seen if not your friends? I listen to these comments. Then I decide whether or not they will influence my decision about seeing that movie.

Other people's opinions are fine. Everybody is entitled to have their own opinion. If I listen to the comments of someone I know shares my likes and dislikes, then their opinion might effect my decision. If they have completely different likes and dislikes, their comments are not likely to effect my decision.

Isn't that the way it's supposed to be?

What about you? Seen any good movies lately? Read any good books?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Science Fiction Conventions

Science fiction conventions are frequently attended by authors of books in many different genres; sf, fantasy, horror, paranormal, even mystery, romance and erotica. Some of these genres used to be sub-genres of science fiction, others have been blended with science fiction. No attendee of these conventions is surprised to learn that these authors write in more than one field.

But why do authors pay for their own travel, lodging and a ticket to the convention in the first place? Wouldn't they be better off staying home and writing?

A lot of them would probably rather be at home, writing. But these days, most authors also have to devote time to marketing their work to the public. So they choose which conventions they will attend, they contact those conventions and volunteer to participate on panels. They give readings. They have autograph sessions.

In fact, there are several ways an author may 'profit' by attending an sf convention:

·       They meet with fans and potential fans of their work.

·       They sell a few copies of their books.

·       They network with other authors, giving them a chance to compare notes.

·       (At some conventions) They might network with editors, agents and publishers.

·       For a weekend, they step away from their work schedule, which could give their imagination a chance to 'recharge'.

There may be other things I haven't thought about. And other than all that, authors might attend a convention for the same reason non-writers attend them - they're a lot of fun!

What do you think? What's your favorite convention?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Practice What You Preach

I read several newsletters and blogs to learn how to write better; how to open a novel and grab the reader, how to involve all the senses, ... that sort of thing. One of the first things I was taught was that your first draft is not your last draft. (Took me a lo-o-ong time to learn that lesson.)

Your first draft is where you get the basic ideas out of your head and onto paper - or computer file, or whatever. Then you spend time going through that project a few times to add descriptions, select a more precise verb, make sure the reader understands what you intended to say.

And then, you polish it.

Remember back in school, when you learned about subjects, verbs, direct objects, punctuation, and all of that? That's the stuff a writer worries about in the final polish. Because as a writer, you want others to see your work in its best condition. If your work is full of misspelled words, incorrect choice of pronouns, and 'sentences' that don't make sense because you forgot your punctuation, the readers won't be able to understand what your are trying to say.

I understand that bloggers and newsletter editors have a limited amount of time, but this is a very important part of writing. Unfortunately, not every writer remembers that before they post their blog or article. And I have found some that I am thinking of not following anymore because I have to work so hard to figure out what they are trying to say. Repeated words. Extra pronouns from when they rewrote the sentence, but didn't get it completely cleaned up. Missing commas that - if they were there - would tell the reader 'I've finished that thought, now I'm moving on.'

It's sad when a group of people manage to forget the lingual necessities that they continually remind each other are so important. I hope I never get that sloppy with my blogs. If you catch me at it, feel free to call me out about it.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dogs of the World

I like dogs. (I love cats, but that's another story.) Lately I've been reading a few articles having to do with the genealogy of dogs, particularly in the Americas.

When I was a kid, school described North American indian tribes as having horses and ponies. I was too young to question that at the time. Later, it was explained that the ponies originated with the Spanish explorers in Mexico, and that they quickly spread throughout North America. I assumed the indian dogs were a similar story.

But it turns out that dogs had already been here when the Spaniards, the Vikings, and other Europeans arrived. It had been assumed that when the indigenous people died out, their dogs died with them, having no one to take care of them.

These recent articles explained that the original 'American' dogs came over the land bridge from Asia and Siberia with the people who became indigenous indian tribes. Those dogs did not die out and were not supplanted by European dogs. They survived, interbred with the European dogs, and are still here.

This was discovered by comparing the DNA of American dogs with that of Asian and European dogs. The American DNA was much closer to the Asian DNA than the European DNA. This was true as far east as Greenland.

So the Mexican hairless, the Peruvian hairless, and any number of other breeds are about as American as they can get.

My family has a mutt. He's a great addition to our family, and I assume he's an 'American' mutt. How about you? Tell me about your dog.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Billions of Possibilities

I ran across a headline a few days ago that stated that scientists now estimate that there may be billions of planets in the galaxy capable of supporting life. What took them so long to arrive at that conclusion?

The Science Fiction writers I grew up reading - Asimov, Clark, Bradbury, Biggles, Haldeman, to name a few - assumed there were plenty of planets that could support life, and that many of them had intelligent occupants. It seemed pretty logical to me.

This is the way I thought about it: solar systems like ours were created by the laws of physics. A star is born surrounded by swirling dust, the dust clumps together to form planets circling that star. Since that's how it happens, why wouldn't it happen around other stars as well? It happens because of physics, so it would.

So, plenty of planets out there.

Capable of supporting life? Some of those planets were certain to be in the 'Goldilocks Zone', where water could exist as liquid and not only as ice. And it didn't make any sense to me that out of all of those planets in the various Goldilocks Zones, ours was the only one that had an atmosphere, the only one that wasn't a gas giant or a small lump of rock. The math - in my mind - just didn't support the idea that out of all the solar systems in this galaxy, there was only one planet that could support life.

Supports an intelligent life? Why not? Whatever circumstances happen to create life, there are billions of possibilities for those circumstances to be replicated on other planets. And it actually only happens once? Again, the math doesn't support that outcome. And if we accept that has happened, then it only seems logical that some of that life would develop intelligence. Because, after all, even on Earth, man is not the only animal that has intelligence.

Perhaps, as scientists, they needed proof of the existence of all those other planets. This also seems strange to me. Why wouldn't they have followed the physics and math to the hypothesis that were many other planets out there that might be interesting? Instead, it seems to me that they went with the theory that we were the only planet with intelligent species, and now they are working to disprove that theory.

I think that's backwards.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Not a Survivor

I enjoy stories of survival. You know the plot types: a spaceship crash lands and the crew/passengers have only their wits to figure out how to survive; a spaceship has severe technical difficulties, and the people aboard have to figure out how to survive; after some type of apocalypse, a rag-tag band of people have to figure out... Basically, a group of people are stripped of all the luxuries they are accustomed to having, and maybe some of their necessities as well, and they are forced to concentrate on basic survival.

I learned a little bit about camping as a kid; don't pitch your tent in a ravine, how to build a campfire and make sure it's out, building a make-shift shower, how to make burnt toast over your campfire... I learned enough to know I don't like it and never want to do it again. And we never went camping in winter, so I have no experience dealing with cold as well as everything else.

Last Monday, a storm blew through town at about 70 mph, taking down tree limbs, full-grown trees, power lines and doing a number on some street lights and traffic signals. We were without power for 3 days.

No lights. No air conditioning. No fans. No cold drinks. Don't open the freezer or refrigerator. No cooking (kitchen is all-electric). No computers. No television or radio.

Know what I discovered? I probably would not survive, if thrown into one of those survival plots. When the weather is hot, I tend to just sit, with no energy to do anything. When the temperature is cold, I wrap up in blankets and sit, or crawl into bed, just trying to keep warm.

What do you think? Do people who can't handle a situation live through it vicariously by reading about others who manage to survive?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Story That Isn't a Story #2

Last week I told you about a story that hadn't satisfied me because the writing style was too old and it left far too many questions unanswered. The second story did not disappoint as far as writing style, but it still left too many questions unanswered.

Story 2 takes place in a world populated by various mythical creatures, some familiar to this reader, others not so much. On that world is a land populated by centaurs. The centaurs are of two types. The High Ones I see as the nobility of the country. Their strain is older and they have a touch of magic in their blood. But they mix freely with the commoners; the current king has married a commoner, and they have three children. Apparently, the High Ones' magic flows through the generations undiluted, which is just a little boggling to the science side of my mind, but I beat my disbelief into submission. I did the same for the question of if the High Ones are an older strain and magic flows through them undiluted through the generations, where did the commoners come from?

The country is about to be plunged into war. The king must lead his troops, which leaves his wife to take on the responsibility of supervising the protection of the palace. The queen is uncertain, having no background in strategy or warfare. This was something I could get into; a character who had to learn to use skills she didn't necessarily have. I settled in to see how she did at it.

The army marched off to the east. There were some troubling raids on the north edge, which kept the remaining troops busy. Then everything goes wrong, magic kills all the High Ones, the palace is overrun, and the queen barely gets away with a handful of followers to hide from their enemies until they can exact justice.

End of story.

I just about fell off my seat.

I felt somebody had just read me chapter one and then thrown the book away. I had prepared to watch the queen learn and work and become the new leader of her people, but instead, all I got was the circumstances that would put her on that path. She never actually followed the path.

To me, this is like telling the story of Sleeping Beauty, and ending it when SB succumbs to the spell that puts her to sleep. Incomplete!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Stories That Are Not Stories #1

A couple days ago, I went to bed early, but found myself too tired to go to sleep. I had enough time to read 2 stories I had recently purchased from a regional publisher.

After reading, I slept through the night and found myself thinking about those 2 stories all the next day. They had both left me disappointed. I felt I hadn't gotten any ending.

Today I will analyze why Story #1 disappointed me, and next week, I'll examine Story #2.

Story #1 was written in an old style, as something that might have been written in the 19th century. The scene was a dinner party, and the 'action' of the people attending this dinner consisted of taking bites and refusing to acknowledge the existence of a newly discovered tribe, even though one member of that tribe was seated at the table with them. The 'story' of the discovery of that tribe was told in flashback by the two anthropologists who had searched for them. The tribe had not wanted to be found, and had always - throughout the centuries - dealt with strangers coming to find them, as well as tribe members who wanted to leave. Before the entire story is told to the dinner party, there is a scream in another part of the house, which everybody rushes to investigate, and when they find ... apparently nothing, they discover the tribe member has disappeared without a trace. End of story.

No wonder I was disappointed by that one. I can drag myself through stories written in the 19th century, but it isn't easy. The style of writing has changed so dramatically. These days, authors are expected to "show, don't tell". But in Story #1, even the bits of information in the flashbacks were told to the reader, not shown. And since the scene was presented as a dinner party, it was just one big 'info dump', another thing that is frowned on these days. Finally, although the reader has a really strong suspicion what has happened to the tribal member, it is left undetermined. Like so many of today's horror movies, I was left wondering when the 'monster' would make its next appearance. To me, an unclear ending is not an ending.