Friday, March 27, 2015

To Sir, with love

There are few things that cause my husband, Jared to tear up. He is a rather stoic man at funerals and during movies. Meanwhile, I tend to look like someone suffering from a sudden bout of allergies. The sort of gushing tears which should be followed by the cliche "don't look at me," statement. However, I'm generally blubbering too much to attempt coherent speech. It’s actually embarrassing how little it takes to make me cry, but that’s the subject for another blog.* Last week Jared did get misty eyed though. It was from reading a tweet. Not just any random update of daily life though. It was a message that was posted by Pratchett's assistant Rob Wilkins on March 12 after Terry Pratchet passed away. You may have seen it already. If not, the words in caps locks represent the voice of Death, who was a prominent figure in most of his novels. The tweet was a perfect send off for the prolific and observant writer.
No one in my family ever had the privilege to meet Terry or even see him at a convention. However,like so many I felt like he was part of our little world. Terry touched our lives in many ways with his philosophy, humor and brilliant writing. Before Sir Terry Pratchet passed away, my husband and started reading The Colour of Magic** to my daughter River. They are about half way through now. I am so glad that Jared has this special time to share one of his favorite authors with our daughter. Especially now that the brilliant author has passed away.
The first time I came across a book by Sir Terry Pratchet was when my mom recommended a book called Wee Free Men. It sounded odd and obscure in a delightful way. In fact it sounded quite bizarre. Naturally I jumped at the chance to give it a shot. I do loves me some bizarre books. (Yes that’s how I meant to say that and yes I am a writer who should know better)
If you’ve never read it, imagine a story of a girl going into another dimension with the less than reliable help of a bunch of celtic warriors who were shrunk down to the size of fairies. Their main moral code is about drinking, fighting and stealing. That is a rubbish summary, but hopefully you get the gist of the spunky nature of the wee free men who cause all sorts of havoc and have their own unique code of ethics. I don’t think that there is another book that’s made me laugh harder than that one, or caused me to recommend it to more unsuspecting people. That book was the beginning of opening my eyes to the wonderful world of Sir Terry Pratchet. He understood people and explored various cultures, careers, thoughts and beliefs. His works make me laugh and think.In addition I have always sounded more witty than I am when commenting on a concept from one of his novels. This is my humble toast*** to the incomparable Terry Pratchet
For now I’m off to do something productive. That’s right, I’m going to go lay down with one of his books on my face and attempt to soak up some of his genius though osmosis. Did Sir Terry Pratchet have an influence on you? If so, how do you choose to remember his legacy? Is there another author whose death made you feel as though you’d lost a friend?**** *Not a blog I’m going to write per se. I’m leaving that option open for when my children are older and want to write their “1001 crazy things about my mom” blogs. **For those of you not in the know, that’s there first book of Terry Pratchet’s Disc World Series *** I'm speaking figuratively. Please don’t try to “clink” a glass up to your computer screen. While the centimeter is touching, your keyboard and monitor might be a little less than thrilled by the results. ****I didn’t really have anything to add here, but this paragraph wanted to be part of the moment.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Dealing with rejection

I just finished my semi-annual hope-like-hell-then-get-rejected round of Clarion applications. Rejection is something every writer needs to deal with and since it's been a couple of years since coping mechanisms have been discussed, it is certainly high time for a revision round.

I was afraid you'd say that.

Make it into a game

I'm an alumnus of Mary Robinette Kowal's Writing on the Fast Track course. Last November she set up a Facebook group for all of her students and this year I devised a game to keep us all putting ourselves out there: at the end of the year I will send out two big slabs of chocolate for the person who has managed to gather the most rejections this year.

Author Kevin J. Anderson has an actual trophy, the Writer with no Future, because he had the most rejections - by weight - out of all the authors at a particular convention (750- to over 800 varying by the telling). My personal goal in life is to take that trophy away from him. So, Mr Anderson, be warned!


So shake your, hopefully metaphorical, tail at the rejectioneers and rejoice in every one of them. Then submit your work onward.

Friends can help

If you've had a particularly bad disappointment, even your non-writing friends will most likely be there to buck up your spirits with pictures of owls, kittens and fennec foxes. As well as some sage advice.



Although be kind to your friends and don't complain about each and every rejection, since you are hopefully getting a lot of them by now.

Writer friends are especially helpful at this point since they will have been through this too and will readily offer you whiskey and chocolate to help you recover.

Punch something

If the chocolate and whiskey don't do the trick you might get the overwhelming need to punch something.
Though for everyone's sake, please make sure it's a bag, a pad or someone who doesn't mind getting punched.

In any case, physical exertion is very, very good for you. Working out causes your body to release a chemical called endorphin, which is apparently related to morphine. And much like morphine, it will create a positive feeling, often described as "euphoric" in your body. Just without the negative side effects of, you know, addiction and eventual ruination. So embrace your violent side and sign up for boxing lessons.

Have a good cry and move on

Sometimes you just have to mourn the loss of something that was never yours to begin with. Put on a sad movie if you like.
Have a good cry, eat a tub of ice cream and go to bed exhausted from all the ice cream and crying.

Then the next day get your story out for the next round of rejections.

It'll be easier next time

Maybe not. Okay, so maybe this isn't a perfect plan. But I'm working on it.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Fun with Generators!

One of the best parts about being in a writing community, wherever it is that you may find it (and find it you must, or you'll go stark raving mad as a writer because we're such oddballs! It may take a few tries to find one that suits your particular oddball style, but please persevere, your sanity depends on it.) is that within a writing community people make and share the most AMAZING things.

Today we're going to have fun with one of those things.

First first, I need a visual. In lieu of trying to find an image that actually fits (too hard!) I give you one of Galen Dara's awesome pieces. I met her at World Fantasy Con 2014 and she's fabulous. And I'm left to wonder if she ever did get that awesome tattoo that we discussed...but never mind that, enjoy her beautiful space unicorn art (also the cover of Uncanny Magazine's first issue) and if you really like her work go buy one of Galen Dara's art prints on Etsy!



Second first, the background. I took a short story class with the lovely and talented Mary Robinette Kowal. It was a great experience, conducted via Google+ Hangouts. (Sidenote: I'm not sure what future classes Mary is going to offer, but the Writing Excuses Podcast this year is focused on taking you to school. There's also a cruise with classes taught by Writing Excuses staff!) And not only did I leave the class with some new confidence and knowledge about writing short stories, I also left it with a group of 8 writers I could meet with regularly, all my particular flavor of oddball (what are chances?)

Since then, Mary has taught numerous other classes and created an alumni group from all of her classes. The group numbers over 200 by now! And in that alumni group, I met Kate, a fellow writer who has created a few different generators just for fun.

These generators can be used as a tool for working out details of a story. Or we can just have some fun with them! :)

For instance, using the Character Appearance Generator, I've come up with:

A reliable woman with a cynical outlook on life.

who is:
a little shorter than average
soft, tending to rounded build
overweight
wrinkled medium-brown skin 

She even included personality quirks in her generator. This stuff is pure gold:

Constantly wants help with even the simplest tasks.
Nudist.
Takes practical jokes very poorly.
Thinks up elaborate solutions then discards them for being too easily seen through.
Pathological liar: lies even when he doesn't want to, or doesn't intend to.
At least ten minutes late to any appointment.
Picky sleeper; cannot sleep on the floor, or near-floor level.
Often gets sick from overeating. 
Okay, okay, so I have a character. A little heavy and short. Maybe older. What's her backstory? Have no fear, use the Character Backstory Generator to figure out this char's relationship to the protagonist and more!

Relationship to protag, how do they know each other? through social group; relationship is casual, interactions are sporadic
Well that's great. How about a Belief System? What's common in this world? There's a Belief System Generator as well.

The system is polytheistic. The divine follows a familial model.Origin myth: The world was created when land emerged from the waters, and humans were made from fallen deities. It is heresy to say humans were made from mud, or from the divine.

(The Belief System generator was one of the early ones Kate created and very thorough, fascinating to pull through and see some of the different configurations of beliefs and deities.)

Other generators related to language and country/geo-political factors exist. And Kate adds to this as she finds other things of interest to her and of possible interest to other writers.

See, this is something I've learned from my various writing groups. Not only are other oddball writers great to connect with because it's nice not feeling so oddball all the time, they also are super generous with their time (offering critiques for your work, comments on your questions) and talents (creating these kinds of generators, sharing book recommendations.)

So go have some fun with these generators! Share your results in the comments!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Sense of Place - Fantasy and unusual settings

We've talked about this before on the Prosers, but a lot of reading for people is comfort. Sometimes, we want to settle ourselves into a familiar theme, group of characters, or story structure, and just get carried away on the drift of the story without wondering - wait, what just happened? Comfort reads are amazing, wonderful things that are integral to my relaxation. But sometimes, I want something new.

Many a comment has been made about the tendency for fantasy literature to be set in medieval northern-European type forests. I mean, if you think about it, it's kind of ridiculous, how unvarying the settings can be. Many of my favorite authors - Patricia McKillip, Lois McMaster Bujold - are firmly ensconced in their dark, cold forests for their main fantasy series. But as I sit here, wracking my brain, I can come up with an extremely limited list of fantasy that's not set in your typical northern-European forested land.

To be specific, I'm  not talking sci-fi here, or alternate histories set in a recognizable US or European or Asian setting (or South American - thank you Aliette de Bodard!). And I'm not talking urban fantasy either, which does a better job by at least taking place in a diversity of city types, or at least visiting them from time to time. And sci-fi is often all about visiting unique planets where the sense of place can vary as widely as the author's imagination. I'm not even talking YA fantasy, which does a pretty excellent job of utilizing unique settings (e.g. Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow, or Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst).

So - where is the sense of unique place in standard fantasy fiction?

Here are the few examples I could think of off the top of my head. I'm sure I'm missing quite a few obvious examples.


N.K. Jemisin - the Dreamblood Duology
 

These two books take place in a richly detailed North African setting, with bonus unique magic. I love these books so, so much. Jemisin also gets bonus points for her setting in the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I'm still reading the first book, but the heroine's kingdom is clearly non-European, even if the main setting of the book is more European-like.


Saladin Ahmed - The Throne of the Crescent Moon



Middle Eastern fiction and setting is starting to be a Thing, and I'm quite happy about that. See also Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson (though that is admittedly urban fantasy).



Terry Pratchett: Interesting Times, the Last Continent, Jingo, and others

  
Oh, Terry Pratchett. You had multiple books set everywhere from the Discworld's version of China, to its Australia and its Middle East. I'm still so saddened by your passing.



And... that's it. I couldn't think of any books in tropical settings (pro tip: googling "tropical fantasy" did NOT give me the list of the books I wanted).


What is my list missing? What are your favorite traditional fantasy novels with unusual settings?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Read Into It-- Guest Proser Post -- Deborah Moore

 I would love to say that I knew Dr. Seuss’s birthday was on Monday because that’s the sort of knowledge writers are born with. It would even be nice if I said that I looked it up on my own, preferably while I was in the middle of writing a particularly brilliant section of my novel. That I paused while writing and thought, when were my favorite authors born? Quick, to the Google search! 

The truth is that I found a paper scrunched up at the bottom of my fifth grade daughter, River’s backpack. It talked about the activities that the school was going to do to celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday.

The purpose of the holiday is to get children excited about reading. At least I assume that is the point.
It’s hard to tell when my daughter’s school celebrates it with crazy hair day. I’m not sure how that ties into the Suessical world. It gave us all a chance to use our hair chalk. Obviously I couldn’t let River be only one to have crazy hair. My five year old, Nelina and I wanted in on the fun. So I guess I shouldn’t complain.         
Me, not crazy hair per say,
 but with a green shirt on which is timely.


Crazy hair aside, it got me thinking about reluctant readers. As a writer it’s imperative to me to learn that one cardinal rule. Make your writing interesting. The worst thing for a writer is to lose the readers interest. That and possibly being struck by lightning because that has got to mess with a writers mojo.

I have been thinking about how important it is to hold someone’s attention in a story. It got me thinking of an experience that I had a few months ago.
***
 My friend Rachel*  and I were at the library several months ago with our younger daughters. While our five year olds wandered the isles we picked out books for them to read. I filled up my library bag with enough picture books to do permanent damage to my spine. It’s roughly the same amount that I always begrudgingly return to the library, telling myself that I will check out less books next time. Somehow it weights more on the way back.

I also grabbed a few paperback novels for my daughter River. I stuffed several of them into the already bursting bag. Aware of how awkward this looked I explained that I always grabbed a few books for River because I never knew which ones she would like.

“I never know which one will be a dud,” I said.

“I know right?” Rachel said and then sighed, “I don’t know what to get. Eric* hates to read. I’ve tried picking out things he is interested in, but nothing works.”

Whenever I hear about a kid who refuses to read it’s like they said their child hates ice cream. There’s a part of my brain that has a hard time computing this fact. If I go a day without reading a novel I feel out of synch.

It’s not something that should surprise me though since River used to hate reading. Well I thought she hated it. Mostly she just didn’t like reading out loud to me. Once we crossed that hurtle and allowed her to read to our dog, who is much less “momish” than me, it seemed to help.

She still didn’t have much joy in reading until we stumbled across a little book called “Zita the Space Girl.” For those of you who don’t know, it is a graphic novel about an intrepid young girl who gets sucked into another world and has to save her best friend and the world.

The pictures are amazing and tell at least a third of the story on their own. We read that book together and she didn’t even mind reading some of it out loud to me. Possibly because it was more about reading dialogue and sound effects.
     
I became enamored in the graphic novel genre too. However, there was that little part of me that worried. It was the “momish” part that was concerned that she might forgo other novels in favor of graphic novels. After all they are easier to read and understand what is going on.
       
It turns out I had worried for no reason. The opposite was true. As she read more graphic novels she also started cruising through other books as well. In fact she can now read and comprehend novels at a dizzying speed. Her teachers told us that she is reading on a ninth grade level. This, from the girl who used to treat reading time as something akin to torture.

***

 With this previous knowledge in my mind, I decided to offer the path that had worked for me. After all, it couldn’t hurt right?

“Have you tried graphic novels?” I asked with the enthusiasm most people reserve for pep rallies.

Nelina dressed as Zita the Space Girl
“No,” Rachel said. Later I found out that she didn’t know what those were. Still she was willing to listen to me as I brought her over to the magical** section of the library where they keep graphic novels for children.
           
I pulled out Zita the Space Girl because I loved it so much. Then I also grabbed a few other ones which River had enjoyed.  These included Knights of the Lunch Table, Mal and Chad and Amulet. All of them were full of strong male and female characters and had lots of action and adventure.

I briefly explained that they had helped my daughter discover the joy of reading. Rachel thanked me. Then we found our children and checked out our books. I had no clue if Eric would like the books or not, but it felt good to offer advice.
          
  That evening I received a text from Rachel.

 “Thanks for the recommendation. Eric loves the books. He finished all of them tonight and chose to read the graphic novels instead of watching tv,” the text read.
         
   I was thrilled beyond words. The excitement filled me to almost bursting. It wasn’t because I had recommended them. Well, it was a little because I had recommended them. After all as a stay at home mom I don’t get a lot of compliments or feedback to know I’m doing well.

 That was a fleeting feeling though. The true joy was that I had helped this child see how cool reading could be. It was like I had taken a piece of myself and shared it with Eric. Even though he probably didn’t know that I recommended the books.

  Do you have a favorite Graphic Novel? If not, don’t worry. I’ll wait. I would love to hear your book recommendations.



*Names have been changed to protect the awesome.

**Yes every section of the library is magical, but some areas are just more magical-er      

Monday, March 9, 2015

Helsinki as a setting

March here on the Prosers is dedicated for a sense of place. What better excuse to celebrate my beloved home town of Helsinki?


For a supposedly metropolitan city, Helsinki is remarkably short. Most buildings, especially downtown, are no more than five stories. I live out on the edge of town and my building can almost be considered a giant at seven (7) stories. Downtown buildings come with tiny, creaky elevators that have twin folding iron gates doing the service of doors and wide echoey staircases and no hallways beyond the first floor. For Helsinki, the houses downtown are really close together and the streets are quite narrow, mostly because they date back to the times when cars weren't common. Which brings me to another thing I love about Helsinki:

Helsinki Botanical Garden by Alexandre Duret-Lutz
On the whole, Helsinki is a very green, very pedestrian friendly city. People from elsewhere in Finland wouldn't necessarily agree because Helsinki is, after all, a big city and comes with the kinds of problems big cities have. But compared to Paris, London, New York, even Copenhagen etc it is. There are parks, of course, but the greenery in Helsinki pervades everything. Trees line all the streets and you can find a piece of grass within short walking distance everywhere in city. There are pedestrian walkways pretty much in all the places. If that wasn't enough to entice to walking, there are things to see everywhere. Even as a citizen, it's fun just walking around Helsinki, enjoying the scenery.

Helsinki - Nykytaiteen museo Kiasma (Museum of contemporary art Kiasma) by jaime.silva 
This is true of Finns as a people but nowhere is it more evident than in Helsinki. We are inordinately fond of culture and art. Most Helsinkians wouldn't call it that, but you know the stories of those small towns in Texas that have churches on every street corner? This is true of Helsinki and museums/art exhibitions. There's a museum for practically anything you can think of in Helsinki. Except torture. For some reason torture never did get on that list.

What can I say? To my mind at least Helsinki is a magical, magical place. Which is of course why a lot of my stories that aren't based in Space (trust me, the capitalization is warranted) are set in Helsinki.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

A Sense of Place - Karen

This month we Prosers talking about a sense of place.



One of the more interesting things about traveling, particularly in this day and age, is being able to see and get a sense of places where people live in other parts of the world. Thanks to the magic of airbnb and trip advisor and the like, my family has stayed in a thatched-roof miller’s cottage on the banks of a river in Ireland, an old coachhouse/waystation in North Wales, a roomy flat in the center of Paris, and this summer we’ll stay in an apartment on the east coast of Scotland.



Each of these places gives to me, the writer, a chance to consider the small details of daily life somewhere completely other than my home. This works even though I don’t tend to write fantasy or even anything I can set in Ireland or Paris (perhaps I need to find a way to do that!) Most of my novels are set in space, in or on spaceships or space stations or on other planets entirely. Really, in seeing how others live I’m trying to integrate into my own subconscious the small details that might be different and noticeable. Because the small details that are different and noticeable to me in Paris might be similar to small details a character would notice are different in her new apartment on a space station in geosynchronous orbit around Earth or Jupiter. Might be the same as how a person living on a moon base has to adjust how she cooks because the utensils are different.

In Ireland, our first international trip in a decade, having stayed US-bound when the children were young, I woke up first in my family, desperately in need of coffee. We were in the miller’s cottage right on the banks of the King River just south of Kilkenny City in a small town. A two-pub town. We love how Ireland measures town size by # of pubs. A two-pub town was so small there was only one tiny convenience store and nowhere to buy pre-brewed coffee. That’s right, not a Starbucks in sight, thank heavens.



The cottage was picture-perfect adorable, completely with wood burning fireplace and resident kitty, Felicity, who jumped into our window the first night and promptly curled up at the foot of the bed my daughter was sleeping in.


But that next morning while the rest of the family slept off jetlag, I was up and coffee was a moral imperative. There were coffee grounds and mugs, a jar of sugar, the works, but the only way to make the coffee was a contraption I knew in theory was a French press, but had zero – absolutely zero – idea of how to operate.

I wandered around the small kitchen looking for other clues to its use. There was an electric teakettle. A measuring scoop in the coffee bin. Nothing else coffee-related that I could see.

Remembering that one of the reasons we booked this particular quaint little cottage was it’s internet connection, I googled French press coffee and sat in a 200 year old cottage and watched a video of an Italian guy making coffee.

From that moment on, I became a French Press convert. And I’ll never forget that moment of panic, my need for coffee significant and my ability to turn the grounds in front of me into actual coffee limited by my lack of knowledge of how to use a kitchen implement that was clearly everyday to the people who lived here, but foreign to me.

The best part was, everywhere we went after that we saw and used French presses to make our coffee. We were served French press coffee in restaurants, found French presses of all sizes in other flats we rented. This has only continued as we traveled to England, Wales, and France itself. Kind of hilarious when you think about it, to a European, it was the most basic way to make coffee, but in my Keurig-filled suburban life, I just hadn’t encountered one before.

I can assure you I’ve become a complete French press convert, in case you were worried. All my coffee at home is made via French press. I pick out grounds with a care previously exercised for only the finest wines and fresh produce. I have several French press pots, each working slightly differently and each appropriate for a different kind of coffee.





There are other things we’ve learned in traveling to other places. Like how washcloths just aren’t a part of every household’s linen supply. The whole duvet thing in Europe (which, for the record, I love.) The idea of a toilet being in a whole different room from the rest of the “washing up” elements we consider typical of a bathroom. In one flat, the toilet wasn’t just separate from the shower, it was on a completely different floor! We have a growing collection of street and informational signs that are meant to convey things like how to avoid poking your eye out or plummeting to your death. But my lesson about the most basic of morning rituals has stuck with me.