Thursday, December 6, 2012

November: It Happened. Get Over It (plus book recommendations)

Hello! I was pleased with myself for writing a summary of things I did in October, so I'm back to tell you all about my November.

For most of the non-holiday part of last month, I worked on two things:

1. My interview with amazing artist Todd Lockwood that is now part of the December issue of Clarkesworld Magazine.

2. A short story called "Quintuple-A." I wrote it for an invitation-only anthology, but it'll be a couple of months before I find out if the story will be included or not. I will let you know about that, of course. My first readers said the story was "Terrific!" and "FUN!" Luckily, I was aiming for terrific fun. :)

I read some great books:

  • Mother Aegypt - Kage Baker (re-read)
  • More Than Human - Theodore Sturgeon (re-read)
  • At the Mouth of the River of Bees - Kij Johnson
  • 500 Ways to Tell a Better Story - Chuck Wendig
  • 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love - Rachel Aaron
  • I have to say that Kij Johnson's story collection, At the Mouth of the River of Bees, should be required reading from now until human beings either go extinct or evolve into something else, and possibly after that, too. The link goes to the paperback version, but it's also available as an ebook. The only thing I'll get out of this recommendation is the hope that more people will read this book!

    I've been doing a lot of re-reading lately. The idea to do that came from my realization that many books I had read and loved were not doing me much good just sitting on a shelf in my house, and that furthermore, I had forgotten the details about why I loved many of them in the first place. I'd rather be familiar with a few great books than just barely acquainted with hundreds of merely-good ones, but at the same time I don't want to stop discovering new books altogether. My plan is to do a combination of re-reading and new-to-me book discovery.

    On to other entertainment! Last month I went to my second Amanda Palmer show, this one in Milwaukee. I loved seeing the way the band performed a similar set of songs in a different venue, under different circumstances. This time Amanda was dealing with the effects of bronchitis, but she was amazingly energetic, anyway, and I loved the show. The one in Minneapolis was more polished, but the one in Milwaukee was friendlier, I thought. This one guy in the audience kept yelling "Brian!" after every song, referring to the drummer from Amanda's other band, the Dresden Dolls, and eventually she brought the guy up to the stage to have a talk with him about living in the now. The band played some different songs this time, too, including one by the drummer's other band, The Few Moments, called "Magicfuturebox;" that has become one of my new favorite songs. You can play it, and the others on his new album, if you click the band link.

    I watched a few movies in November, too. Safety Not Guaranteed is an adorable, quirky film about a journalist and two interns investigating a classified ad from someone seeking a partner for time travel. I saw Life of Pi in 3D. I recommend 3D if you're going to see it, because the movie's appearance was my favorite thing about it. I haven't read the novel (I hear that it's excellent), and I went into the theater with no idea what to expect. There were some powerful moments, but there were stretches when I fidgeted and wondered how much longer the movie would go on. I'm not sorry that I saw it, but I'm too ambivalent to really recommend it. The other movie I saw was an older one: Farewell, My Lovely (1975), a mystery thriller starring Robert Mitchum and Charlotte Rampling. I thought the dialogue was great, and the historical setting was done well. I'd watch it again.

    This month I'm finishing a science fiction story I started to write a few years ago as part of a speed-writing exercise. It was interesting, but at the time I had other things to work on, so I set it aside. Now I have a promising outline, but I still need to decide how it will end. And there will be a long holiday for my sons at the end of the month, so I think that's all the fiction I'll write until next year.

    There's always the chance that I'll blog again before another month goes by, but I'm going to go ahead and say "Happy Holidays!" right now. If you're someone who feels down around this time of year for any reason, know that I'm hoping good things for you!

    Tuesday, October 30, 2012

    October Update with Book Recommendations

    Hi there! Here's what's been going on with me this October.

    I started the month in a different state: Ohio. A convention I like very much, Context, capped off my September. Unfortunately for me, the throat-aggravating virus I thought I had shaken off before I left actually lingered in my throat, plotting and scheming, until I got to Columbus, where it made a comeback. In other words, I spent the weekend trying not to cough in people's faces, with limited success, and I didn't go to as many convention events as I would have liked. I don't think I was contagious, at least. However, I had enough useful conversations to initiate a nifty project for the first half of next year, which I will write about when I have more details to share. (Hint: It will involve Kickstarter, and lots of words).

    While I was there, I also made some changes to my latest short story that (imo) completely fixed it, and since then I've sent it to the Writers of the Future contest. I was a semi-finalist in it a couple of years ago, but it sure would be nicer to win that thing! Or even upgrade to finalist. :)

    Since I've been back in Wisconsin, I've made progress on a new short story, and I've gotten a new nonfiction assignment that I'll post about whenever it's published. But my most exciting nonfiction news for this month is that my interview with Tim Powers will be published in Writers Workshop of Science Fiction and Fantasy, because its Kickstarter was funded! I'll post about that when it's available.

    I've read several good books this month, too:

  • The Dreaming Jewels – Theodore Sturgeon
  • Adventures in the Screen Trade – William Goldman
  • Screenwriting Tricks for Authors – Alexandra Sokoloff
  • The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
  • Fragile Things – Neil Gaiman
  • I can recommend all of the above with a clear conscience, but I LOVED The Night Circus.

    In entertainment news, I went to a SPECTACULAR Amanda Palmer show in Minneapolis earlier this month. The music is great on her new album, but hundreds of times better when it's performed live. Her new band is made entirely of geniuses. I also watched some movies. Looper is now my favorite science fiction movie, so I recommend that at my highest level of enthusiasm. Frankenweenie is exactly the kind of fun one can expect from Tim Burton, imo. Cloud Atlas is impressively ambitious, and I think it's worthwhile to see for anyone who's looking for something different than the standard movies being cranked out all the time, but it's also challenging to follow at times because of its structure and a couple of choices I can't talk about because of spoilers. Very good, but not flawless. It's several movies in one!

    So between all of the above and the standard childcare, household maintenance, and a birthday party for one of my sons, I have had a busy month. I should do a monthly summary, like, monthly. It makes me realize that I actually DO get a few things done here and there. :)

    Saturday, February 4, 2012

    Recommended Short Stories Online

    Since I'm focusing on writing short stories this year, I am also dedicating myself to (mostly) reading short stories. The plan is to go beyond a quick, consuming read and study the ones I appreciate the most so that I can see how they work. I'm talking about taking notes, even. I'm that serious. It's hard for short stories to get any attention at all, let alone the attention they deserve, so I also intend to periodically let people know about the recent ones I think are outstanding. I'd be grateful for any recommendations you can throw me in return!

    Here's my first list:

    "The Art Disease" - Dennis Danvers, Electric Velocipede, Issue 23: A strange and funny look at the artistic life and the outer limits of creativity. I laughed out loud at some of the lines in this one, and I want to read it again, and it also made me want to read more by this author.

    "All the Painted Stars" - Gwendolyn Clare, Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 64: Alien contact in the far future, seen through the alien's mind. There are so many great ideas in this story! I especially like the way it explores coping with isolation, and finding a purpose in life.

    "The Five Elements of the Heart Mind" - Ken Liu, Lightspeed Magazine, Issue 20: A far-future love story about factors that affect human personality. Afterward, there's a note about the current science that inspired it. Ken Liu has gotten my attention recently as an author whose work I like enough to buy a whole magazine to read his story.

    "Sweetheart Showdown" - Sarah Dalton, Apex Magazine, Issue 32: Welcome to the future of competitive beauty! Where the cute must be brutal to survive! This story reveals what beauty pageants will inevitably become.

    Sunday, January 29, 2012

    "Blogging Advice" is Ruining the Internet! A Rant

    Lately I've been looking around at the internet and noticing how so many blogs out there seem to be merging into one soulless, vapid megablog spread throughout thousands of locations. I click on a link to a blog that seems to be well-regarded and I find myself at another list post that promises "[Number between 5 and 10] Ways to [Do Something] and Win!" And then I read the list and it turns out to be a set of ideas that could have and probably did come from the most boring page of the beginning-level OBVIOUS GUIDE TO INTRODUCTORY [TOPIC OF YOUR CHOICE]. The edition published in 1953 and written by a known dullard. And the post contains links to five to ten other posts just as vague, which all contain links to five to ten more.

    Friends, I do not like this! I do not like it at all!

    What is the point of this endless churning of bland gruel that passes for subject matter? Who are these people dutifully glopping out daily rations of this stuff as if it's going to feed anybody anything of nutritious value? And are we all so starving that we're going to approach the consumption of this reconstituted, lukewarm, glutinous information with any sort of appetite at all?

    People of the internet, we need to fix this right now before we all get so accustomed to reading the daily non-topics that we begin to believe that they actually contain some value. Here is my proposal for keeping our minds alive:

    First of all, let's give a collective yell of "FUCK BLOGGING ADVICE!" It's getting us nowhere. We can think up better advice for our own selves. We can decide what makes a fascinating post. We can be individuals with intensely weird interests. We can write down nutty thoughts of our own and arrange them by their correspondence to our deeply-held ideas on the meaning of the zodiac. We can spew extreme opinions one day and live to spew the opposite ones the next. We can each go to our wacky place or be academic or artistic or rude or anything else that gives us the giggles, and we can do it without help from so-called experts who only want to bait us in so they can get another few clicks on their blog without thinking hard or coming up with anything new. It's time to conquer the internet. By being specifically ourselves, we can get some variety going out there. We can BE INTERESTING. That's the last piece of blogging advice you or anyone else will ever need.

    GOOD DAY.

    Friday, January 27, 2012

    My CapriCon Schedule

    Here's a lot of what I'll be up to for the weekend of February 9th to the 12th, at CapriCon! Note that I will be on panels with Cory Doctorow, Gene Wolfe, and many other excellent writers! If you're within reach of the Chicago area, why not stop by?

    Retro-futurism Sure Beats the Boring Truth! - Thursday, 02-09-2012 - 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm - Birch B

    A celebration of looking backwards to look forwards. Steampunk, the Jetsons, and NASA all had cooler ideas about how the future looked than it really did. Why is our imagined future so much hipper than the one we live in?

    Tim Akers, Kerri-Ellen Kelly, Nayad Monroe (M), W. A. (Bill) Thomasson, Michael Z. Williamson

    #

    Dystopia Now - Thursday, 02-09-2012 - 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm - Botanic Garden A (Special Events - Programming)

    The Dystopian sub-genre of Science Fiction has seen a resurgence over the last few years. Why does this bleak sub-genre remain so popular? What are the definitive dystopian works?

    Cory Doctorow (M), Paul McComas, Nayad Monroe, Gene Wolfe

    #

    You Are Not Alone: Writers Groups and Critique - Thursday, 02-09-2012 - 9:00 pm to 10:30 pm - Birch A

    Many SF/F writers, from Asimov to Tolkien, have belonged to writers groups or benefited from critique partners. How do these groups help an author hone her craft? Some members of writers' groups discuss their experiences.

    Tim Akers, Eileen Maksym (M), Nayad Monroe, Michael D. Thomas

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    Reading: Nayad Monroe - Friday, 02-10-2012 - 12:30 pm to 1:00 pm - River C (Cafe)

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    Religion in Worldbuilding - Friday, 02-10-2012 - 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm - Botanic Garden A (Special Events - Programming)

    Authors too frequently just change around the fixtures on a real world religion and insert it into their fantasy world. These writers will talk about how they go about creating original religions, and how the use of religion can drive worldbuilding and shape the story's narrative.

    Tim Akers (M), Alex Bledsoe, Phyllis Eisenstein, Nayad Monroe, Gene Wolfe

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    Welcome to the Glamorous World of Writing - Saturday, 02-11-2012 - 11:30 am to 1:00 pm - Botanic Garden B (Special Events - Programming)

    Every writer began in the same place with some ideas and a blank page or screen. In this panel, SF/F writers discuss their origins and give advice to people who are just beginning their journey in the glamorous world of writing.

    Phyllis Eisenstein, Roland J. Green, E.E. Knight (M), Holly McDowell, Nayad Monroe

    #

    The SF/F Short Fiction Club Scene - Saturday, 02-11-2012 - 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm - Botanic Garden B (Special Events - Programming)

    The SF/F short fiction markets have been described by author Elizabeth Bear as a "club scene" where authors experiment and bat ideas back and forth. These SF/F professionals talk about the current state of the short fiction markets and some of the exciting things happening in the medium.

    Richard Chwedyk, John Klima, Mary Anne Mohanraj (M), Nayad Monroe, John O'Neill, Lynne M. Thomas

    Thursday, January 19, 2012

    Preparing for Convention Panels

    So hey! I'm going to CapriCon next month; it'll be February 9th through the 12th. As of today the program is not up on the website, but I've received my preliminary schedule and it is AWESOME. And also a doozy. I'm not going to post my schedule until it's finalized, but it's an exciting one that includes a turn at moderating, appearing on several other panels, and doing a reading.

    I like to be really prepared for panels. Not only do I hate not knowing what to say, I also do not want to be boring. The truth is that I've sat in the audience for many disappointing panels at conventions. I've seen ones where no one knew who the moderator was supposed to be, and that meant not much thought had gone into the questions asked by the insta-moderator brave enough to step in. I've seen ones where the people on the panel didn't have much to say about the topic, or what they did have to say didn't come out in a particularly animated manner. Most people I know who go on panels are anywhere from perfectly fine to absolutely brilliant, because, well, I'm not drawn to dull people. But there's always room to grow, right? Since I'm probably not the only writer in the world who's deathly afraid of room-wide silences, I'm posting some of the pre-panel things I do in the hope that they'll be useful for y'all.

    So! What do I do to get myself ready to speak on a topic in public with other people who may know anywhere from nothing about it to practically everything about it? Here's a list.

    1. First of all, I assess what I know about the topic. I don't tend to offer up my public-opinionating services for topics about which I know absolutely nothing, but sometimes I don't know as much as I'd like to know, and that means it's time to do some homework.

    2. I do some basic internet research to find out more about the people who will be on the panel with me and what they might know about the topic. I also try to familiarize myself with the main concerns within the topic and look for things I can read about it that I haven't read before.

    3. I look at how much time I have before the panel and choose which things I have time to read before it's showtime, and take lots of notes as I read them.

    4. I think like a moderator and make a list of questions about the topic that I may or may not need to use, as well as thinking about my opinions on those, so that: a) I'll have things to say, and b) I could act as a moderator in case of an emergency. This is not so that I can try to dominate the panel and make it all about me; seriously, I just don't want to sit up there going, "Ummm, I don't really have an opinion about that..." while the audience stares and fidgets.

    The great thing about doing this kind of preparation is that is cuts way back on my nervousness and allows me to be relatively comfortable and creative while I'm up there on display. I do a bigger version of this preparation when I'm the official moderator, since I want to be absolutely certain that there will be many questions for me to ask the panelists.

    I would love to hear your opinions about convention panels, and anything you've done to prepare for them if you've been on them! Have I been missing something? I mean, other than having a beer before it starts.

    Thursday, January 12, 2012

    Book Recommendations from My 2011 Reading

    I read 50 books in 2011, and I'm not going to list them all. Here are the ones that stand out in my memory as thoroughly recommendable. They're all great, but the starred ones are super-excellent must-reads, in my opinion. Alphabetically by author:

    Anthologies/Collections

  • In the Forest of Forgetting - Theodora Goss
  • Unpossible - Daryl Gregory
  • Novels

  • The Devil's Alphabet - Daryl Gregory
  • *The Magicians - Lev Grossman
  • How to Make Friends with Demons - Graham Joyce
  • The Silent Land - Graham Joyce
  • *Embassytown - China MiĆ©ville
  • The House of Discarded Dreams - Ekaterina Sedia
  • *Mechanique - Genevieve Valentine
  • Books about Writing

  • *Plot v. Character - Jeff Gerke
  • Starve Better - Nick Mamatas
  • Save the Cat! - Blake Snyder
  • Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies - Blake Snyder
  • *The Comic Toolbox - John Vorhaus
  • The Accidental Creative - Todd Henry (This one isn't strictly about writing, but I've found it to be helpful with my writing. Watch out for the business-speak in it! Still worthwhile, though.)
  • Monday, January 9, 2012

    Two Changes

    This is my second try at writing this post! The first time I started to write it, I made the bad decision to type it directly into my blog interface. That might have been fine. I was almost done. Then I accidentally bumped my mouse against my keyboard, hit the back button, and thusly sent the whole collection of characters to Nonexistenceville. Which, as you can imagine, is not really a place.

    Also, here's where I admit that I'm not going to describe the rest of my World Fantasy experience. It was fascinating for me to live it, but I think that reading about it might be like reading about someone's dream, only without the strange and dreamlike bits. We can't have THAT.

    What I'm going to write about instead is what's changing in my life this year. Two things:

    Thing One: I'm not reading slush for Clarkesworld Magazine anymore. I'm so grateful to have done it, and I owe huge thanks to Neil Clarke for the chance to learn so much about short stories through reading submissions for such an excellent magazine. I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the team, and I was reluctant to move on. After three years, though, I started to feel that it was time to reclaim that daily hour-plus and write more of my own fiction. I read just over 4,000 submissions in my time there. That's a lot of material.

    Thing Two: This year I'm only writing short stories. For the last couple of years I've split my limited writing time between writing short stories and making a couple of attempts at writing novels. If I was on the former, I thought I should be doing the latter, and vice versa. The battle of the "shoulds" in my mind wore me out. Since I love short stories and I feel like I'm just starting to understand how to write the kind I want to write, I've decided to commit to short fiction for a year and take away the nagging feeling that I'm supposed to do something else with my writing time. I'm also planning to read more short stories of the published kind, instead of the slushy kind, to learn more about what TO do when writing stories. I've already grown an entire new section of brain to accommodate what NOT to do.

    So far, this feels great. I'm closing in on the ending of my first short story of this year, and I have some plans forming for my second. I wake up with a sense of having extra time! For a change! And that is awesome. I also have a convention to look forward to for next month, CapriCon, where (I'm told) I will be on some panels, but I don't know which ones yet. Interesting surprises ahead! ;) What I have here is an optimistic mindset for January and beyond.

    What are your plans for the year? Any changes, big or small?