Friday, May 30, 2014

July is just a month away

Spent some time today working on what exactly I'm going to be doing for my CampNaNoWriMo workshop at the library. Until the actual group has met, I don't want to get myself too mentally locked in to any one setup or approach; different people may want different things. It's also important to me to know the age ranges. If I end up with a 17 year old and/or a 16 year old, I'm going to want to anticipate toning my language down, anyway. Content need not suffer.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Reservoir blackberries

I'm not always in the right mood for poetry, but when I am, it's like a key finding a lock.

Today, I'm in the mood for it, able to be at work but still in the simmering aftermath of a badly sprained ankle. It's rainy and muggy, just the right pressure combo for me to have a headache at the edges of things, driven off partially by the ibuprofen taken for the ankle. But I can't take anything else, at least not for a few hours. So.

I read Sylvia Plath's "Blackberrying", led there by arcane Internet means, as it goes.  Sylvia Plath is one of the poets who pass the test with me anyway, but "Blackberrying" has something about it that I craved today, I guess. Perhaps my own memories of picking blackberries, though I never went with a bucket to gather them. No, my father and I would stop and pick some, eating as we went, when we were fishing at the reservoir.

We weren't supposed to be at that reservoir, of course; nobody was. But again, as things go, there was a traditional hole cut in the fence by generations of partyers and fisherpeople, we always caught and released, sometimes he brought cans of beer but mostly not. Mostly it was he and I and some soda, tacklebox replete with lures and a pair of pliers. At the far end, through the water, you could see the sunfish beds, and they would nibble at your ankles and toes if you stood there.

The blackberries would be in rocky bushes by the road the reservoir maintenance people use, a ring or maybe a horseshoe around the water. I crave the taste of those blackberries each time I buy a plastic box of them at the story, but they're never just so. Sun warmed, sweat salty, watery breeze, it's all missing. I can't very well buy a pint of air conditioned grocery store blackberries and leave them on the porch for awhile, hope they reach that fat soft stage where they velvet apart in your fingers and the seeds are sand grit between your teeth. I can't go back to fishing with my father at the yellow dirt-sandy reservoir, catch and release, the pride of the first time I was able to get a fish off the hook myself, firm and slippery in my palm, be careful of the fin.

Monday, May 26, 2014

A collection of unrelated thoughts. Or are they? Yeah, they probably are.

All right, I'm gonna throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks. Like testing if spaghetti is done. Of course, I never do that with spaghetti; I in fact just try it. Al dente is a thing, y'all. So here's some Elka, and enjoy the links.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Exercise those writing mucles!

Okay guys, poindexter time.

I'm one of those nerds who actually really likes writing exercises. Why? Because it gets me to write in a manner I mgiht not otherwise have explored. Example: the flash fiction challenges I post here sometimes.

I first encountered 100 word flash when I was taking Intro to Creative Writing in college, though I gotta say, having up to 1000 words the way Chuck Wendig plays it is awfully nice sometimes. The fact that he'll frequently add extra parameters makes it that much more interesting, a story puzzle you have to figure out the edges and corners of.

When I'm reading a book about writing, on my own, I don't necessarily do the exercises. Sometimes I do. I've got the new writing book Jeff Vandermeer did (or edited? I'm unsure just now) on reserve from my library, and look forward to paging through its lovely glossy pages.

You see, I'm going to be running a Camp NaNoWriMo at the library in July, as part of our first-ever Summer Reading Program for adults. And I figure a good way to grease the wheels at weekly meetings is to have some writing prompts at hand, or exercises to talk about and recommend. I'm going to play it a bit fast and loose, because I don't want to plan rigidly and not be able to work with the group as it actually is, but I want to have things like this quantified and in mind.

So, tell me. What writing exercises do you like? What writing books do you like?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

When your main character isn't the main badass

Learn to Howl has been on sub at Angry Robot Books' open door since December 31, so my brain decided now is a great time to start thinking about those characters again. I have to finish The Wolf You Feed (book two) still, you see. And figure out what the closing volume of the trilogy will entail. I've got some high points in mind, but it's still...murky.

I see discussion, like you do, about main characters being overshadowed. Or passive. And in Learn to Howl, Allie (the main character) is that in many ways. Both of that. She doesn't really know what's going on. She's trying to get her feet under her while she learns as fast as possible her heritage and how to fit in  (see what I did there?) And she's thrust into a Bad Situation (because that's how stories go else we wouldn't tell them) with her cousin Morgan, who is the opposite of all this. Morgan is the epitome of capability and confidence, and occasional bad decision making. But Morgan goes it all full bore.

This doesn't mean Allie is a useless tin can tied to her tail, though. Because nobody wants that in a main character. As the story goes, she pokes her head up in (I hope? I think?) significant ways, and at the end displays a stronger coming into her own. Though maybe some of it is too subtle? I don't know, don't bother me.

Point is, in Learn to Howl I tread some interesting ground, and some ground that might not be as solid as I think it is. But I need to keep progress made in mind as I go into the sequel, The Wolf You Feed. I need to keep characters growing and changing, and I need to  keep momentum. If the writer is bored the reader is bored, and I've got a couple of "super bored I don't think this is necessary" places in the MS as it stands. The action needs to start sooner, kicked up, and then the other wrinkles need to get smoothed out.

Oh, and of course I still need to finish editing The Last Song. And I'm not quite done with Esto Quod Es, my April project (though it's super close). And I'm taking notes and going to outline a fantasy novel. These are the gifts my brain gives me.

Monday, May 19, 2014

In which Russia takes its toys and goes home (or at least threatens to)

Perhaps not surprisingly, Russia has announced it would deny the US further use of the International Space Station (the United States was in fact suggested a trampoline as means of getting into space). Russia also, evidently, plans to leave the ISS by 2020 (its original mission target). This is after Russia's recent actions in Ukraine, and the sanctions the US (and allies) want to impose on Russia. This is also after the existing crew on the ISS kept working in harmony, or at least through a mutual notion of survival and professionalism, through said actions in Ukraine. Of course, cooperation with Russia was subsequently suspended.

NASA's space shuttle program ended in August of 2011.  Project Orion is slated to be NASA's new workhorse. The test launch is currently scheduled for September of this year, powered by a Delta 4 heavy rocket, and the idea is for it to carry humans by 2021. It's my understanding that Orion is the means by which NASA intends to grab an asteroid and bring it on home for an orbital science environment. Which is great. I'm glad we have something in the works, I'm actually really excited for the asteroid thing, which clicks well with my creative mind.

But. Uh. How will we get to the ISS in the meanwhile? We've been relying on Soyuz for years, since we lost our own ride before a new one was ready (Budget is the bad word when it comes to NASA, I'd say). SpaceX has three successful cargo missions under its belt now, with its most recent splashdown yesterday morning, but cargo and humans are not the same thing. SpaceX wants to have a manned flight by next year, but of SpaceX employees, not NASA astronauts. Boeing, in 2012, said it wanted to fly astronauts to the ISS "as early as 2015 or 2016." As of two days ago, Boeing's test flight is scheduled for 2016, with assembly beginning at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Oh and evidently (perhaps hilariously?) Virgin Galactic flights do not, technically, bring you into space. Very close, yes. But not actually space.

After all this time in space, even after working cooperatively with long-time frenemies, it seems ridiculous to be suddenly grounded. There's budget, of course. There's public opinion, I'm sure; a lot of people don't see the "point" of space. And space costs a lot, when you look at lump sums, though let me direct you again to Things That Cost More Than Space Exploration.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

As a female genre writer....

So, it never occurred to me there was a problem. Despite the fact that I work with the public, and I know what savages people can just constantly be, I didn't realize women writers at scifi and fantasy conventions were regularly harassed, insulted, belittled, and disregarded.

It never occurred to me that fellow professional writers would do that to each other.

I know, I'm so innocent, right? I may have confessed not favoring my own gender, but it really doesn't mean I want bad things to happen to women, simply for being women. In fact, it's bullshit.

But I'm hearing about it time and again. Kameron Hurley wrote about it on the Angry Robot Books website for International Woman's Day (I didn't know we got a day! .....I missed it). The writer of The Belle Jar blog returns to it time and again, both in the context of feminism and as a female writer. Maria Dahvana Headley talks about it a lot on her blog as well, and among other things, she recently co-edited an anthology with Neil Gaiman. But this is her 2013 list, which is fabulous and impressive. This is part three in a series (overall titled "What the hell went wrong" wherein she talks about the sexism of the scifi world).

So how didn't I know?

Well, I read about some women getting manhandled, literally, at conventions. And like I said, I know the public is savages. I don't expect it, and Goddamn well don't excuse it, but I was less surprised than I could've been, perhaps. I need to tell people to get away from me at the library when I'm getting DVDs out of a locked case, I could just imagine what the people at a con's level of "acceptable behavior" might entail. But then I couldn't. I mean, I've only been to one convention, a gaming con, at a college a few years back. But I didn't see or hear any harassing behavior. I didn't see women being inappropriately touched. I was not inappropriately touched. Hell, I got second place in the D&D contest (don't ask me how you win at D&D, especially in that context. I'm still unclear).

But that's a problem. I'm saying this from the sidelines, obviously, as I'm an unpublished pony not even in this race. But obviously I feel women are serious writers too. Women are serious genre writers, if you need me to spell that out. But you shouldn't need that spelled out. Nobody should. We use bad words, and we're "allowed" to.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Eye in the Sky

So I said to my coworker: "Hey, the ISS put cameras on the outside of it, so you can watch it live stream Earth."

"Is it boring?" she asked.

I thought about it. "On one hand, yes. On the other hand, you're watching EARTH from SPACE in real time. It's simultaneously amazing and boring, and that such a thing can be both at once is absolutely mind blowing." She thought about it as well, and concurred.

The link I provided is on the Johnson Space Center portion of the NASA web site. It's neat because it shows you what the International Space Station is streaming in one window, and then shows you where above Earth the ISS is as well; it shows you where on Earth is nighttime, what time it is, etc. There are four cameras it can swap between. The Johnson Space Center is in Houston, Texas, which is also (I believe) where Mission Control, Houston is. So "Houston, we've had a problem here" during the Apollo 13 mission? That's who those guys were talking to.

But call up the livestream, and look at it for a little while. Put your boredom away and let the wonderment creep in. You're not going to see baby animals, you (hopefully) won't see much happen at all. But at the same time? You are watching what is almost literally everything. You can see the real horizon, the glowing curve of the planet we all live on and have to come from. You can see the solar arrays of the ISS. And sometimes? You can see some lights down here, when it all grows dark.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Dangers of Symbolism

You know the biggest problem with symbolism? Nobody's going to get it. Or, it'll be so blatant that it inspires the rolling of eyes.

Don't get me wrong. I in fact like symbolism a great deal. Subtle symbolism, not "hammer you in the face" symbolism. I haven't reread The Great Gatsby in a few years, but I've had enough people complain to me about their English teachers and that green light that I'd have to hazard a guess it was a bit too blatant.

I can understand. You want to strike the balance of something understandable and oblique. You want discussion to be made, but an answer to be indicated. Probably.

I've used symbolism on occasion. I use literary references far more often, and I can tell you, nobody gets those. Here I am, giggling a bit that I've referenced Crime and Punishment in my scifi novella (which will have to be edited again. It's be nice if I could strike the balance there, and either trim it into a short story or flesh it out into a full novel. But it just seemed so perfect where it was, at its 19,000 or so words).

I've been doing this "I'm a serious writer" thing off and on for more than ten years now. I'm not counting high school, though I did in fact write nearly every day in high school, with dedication noted by my peers. It's a shame that novel had to be such total crap. In that time, I've had a variety of readers, and an important thing for a snarky smartypants like me to remember is everybody hasn't read the same books. It's not like the good ol' days waiting for the latest Dickens serial to come off the boat from England, where everybody's shared the same handful of novels, gone through The Pilgrim's Progress ad nauseum, etc. etc. There are so many books, and we're all readying different ones. I'm not sure how many of my acquaintances have read Crime and Punishment at all, much less once recreationally and once for a college class.

But symbolism. The thing that inspired this post was my recent reading of George R. R. Martins A Dance With Dragons. It took me a long time to start the book (it was published years ago) and it took me a long time to finish it once I started. But there were two chapters which were clearly meant to relate to one another, wherein two characters both took...let's call them Significant Walks. I don't know if editing and timeline constraints made these chapters happen too close together (like, was one supposed to be in A Feast for Crows? Was the other supposed to be later, in The Winds of Winter?), but the fact they were meant to be Symbolism™ really struck me.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Places I've been "published"

Well, okay, not really published. But put up publicly where total strangers can take in my work.

I already told you about Housekeeping, my science fiction short story that my good buddy Jacob narrated and put up on Soundcloud. If you like what you hear, you should follow him on Facebook. He'd probably like that.

Now I've got another "credit", wherein my buddy Dave, who we game with weekly if not more frequently, has shared my piece on his blog. He's been doing a character journal of our Dungeons and Dragons game, which is the adventure path titled "Age of Worms", published in Dungeon magazine from 2005-2006, and he's graciously opened his blog space up for other players to contribute. My character, Larkin, is the party's fighter.

Monday, May 5, 2014

On Gender, socially and in fiction

I don't like women.

There, I said it.

Or perhaps more correctly, I should say "I tend not to like other women". Or "I don't enjoy women's company as much" (this has on occasion gotten awkward and frustrating at work; my library is female dominated).

My online writing friends are, almost without exception, female. My in person friends are, almost without exception, male. My bestest friend is Kelly, but in general, I've always preferred male company.

(though Elka is female)