Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Mean Girl at HuffPo Disses Self-Pubbers, a Puppy Snarls in Defense

Here I am linking another Puppy. It’s all part of my deliberate “listen to what the conservatives are yapping about” program, which hopefully will decrease my prejudice against the people while honing my focus regarding the issues. Anyway, here’s Larry Correia, original gangsta Puppy, leaping to the defense of self-pubbers against mean girl Laurie Gough, who wrote a sneering piece in HuffPo about how we self-pubbers are all a bunch of losers.

I’m copying it here because I hear sentiments like Gough’s from time to time, and Correia’s comeback is far more detailed, vigorous and cite-ridden than anything I could come up with. 

Again, I’m self-pubbed because my initial story came out quirky and because I’ve already pissed off enough gatekeepers in the corporate science fiction establishment to the point where I’d never know whether a rejection was based on the merits of my scribbling. I’ve heard tales about books like Watership Down and Harry Potter being rejected a great many times, and my book isn’t even that good. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016: Some Of Us Survived

2016 was an endless spiral of horrors and traumas and disasters, plus it was the year I made my debut as a novelist. We lost some of our best celebrities, like Prince, and Carrie Fisher. We lost the authors of two of my favorite novels, Katherine “Geek Love” Dunn and Richard “Watership Down” Adams.

We had a grueling election that exposed nests of nastiness everywhere – the dishonesty of modern news media, the untruthful propaganda polluting our Facebook feeds, the polarized shouting, the low blows and dirty laundry. I’m giving the Donald a chance to be an awesome republican in the tradition of Johnny Ramone … although I noticed he is having trouble finding artists to serenade him as he seizes office, which is sort of an indication that the Republican side is heavily laced with people prone to specific musical anhedonia -- and in fact some scientists even postulate there are hardwired cognitive differences between liberals and conservatives in the form of novelty seeking (which is something I’ve known for some time, as a musically oriented liberal raised by musically anhedonic conservatives). 

Anyway, I wish people would get around to accepting all this, and come up with ways to include the musicans and the anhedonics and the novelty seekers/avoiders in the same way we worry about melanin distribution and gender balance, and get away from the mule-headed “let’s just beat them over the head with blank slates until they think exactly the way we do” approach, since it appears all these human variants have been failing at trying to eradicate each other for centuries, probably due to the considerable amount of cross-breeding/fraternizing, and the cold hard truth is that societies that allow multiple flavors of excellence outperform the other kind by a considerable margin. Plus once you get us all riled up and fighting over stupid nonmutable stuff like inborn personality types, the easier it is for foreign governments and evildoers and people like that to sneak around meddling with our elections. And henceforth I will only be discussing politics that are heavily enshrouded in veils of metaphor (unless you can sing the countersign). Good luck filling my beloved fellow kama’aina Obama’s shoes, Mister Trump. /soapbox.

I will concede that 2016 brought me two of the best movies I’ve ever seen in my life. First there was Moana, a Disney princess from my homeland, bringing us the most amazingly beautiful and non-culturally offensive and entertaining Disney cartoon I’ve ever seen. They even had this Oceanic Study Trust thing going on to help make the plot of Moana more culturally sensitive, and as a result we got that amazing scene of people migrating through the South Pacific on boats, which gives me chicken skin just thinking about it.

Meanwhile Rogue One was the Star Wars movie I’ve been waiting for all my life – 99.99% Jedi-free, with no dreary actionless interludes, an awesome girl hero and enough engineering failure to keep a planetful of accident reconstructionists busy for a hundred years.

Now as far as television, there was Outlander, which I’ve been awaiting for decades, and so far it has not disappointed me at all. Then there was Westworld. I’m not sure either of these shows are YA-appropriate so I’m debating whether to blog about them. Outlander has passionate steamy sex plus some cool history about the Jacobite uprising. Westworld is for people who really get into those videogames with narrative arcs and lore. As well as people who worry about whether Siri has feelings, and people who like nihilistic violence, and people who worry about nihilistic violence but watch it anyway – that latter category would probably include me. I wasn’t too sure about Westworld until it zapped me with a string quartet arrangement of an old Nine Inch Nails song, which previously I had only heard inside my own head. Bravo.

My other musical highlight for 2016: Ween got back together and toured, and I got to see them. Ween is a band from the ‘90s that excels at studio tricks and juvenile humor.  Here’s Poop Ship Destroyer:

On the personal side, 2016 involved a certain amount of bellyache. I ate some bad corned beef and cabbage on Saint Patrick’s day that sent me to the ER to rule out appendicitis and I’m still feeling somewhat gastrointestinally reconfigured after a year of probiotics and gluten avoidance and Vitamin D supplements. Apparently my internal biome has gone through some coups and revolutions and I now have an even more sensitive stomach than I did before. The truly amazing part is that this changed me from a night owl to an early riser. The less than amazing part is that my writing has been forestalled by one too many days where I felt too crappy to write much, so I’m a little behind schedule.

The highs and lows were steep, and I will be happy to see 2016 in my rear view mirror.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Watership Down Is My All-Time Favorite Novel

I had a pet rabbit, for nearly ten years. We acquired each other by accident but became devoted friends, and after he passed away I had his picture tattooed on my shoulder. I would never have had that experience if it hadn’t been for Watership Down.

I think about Watership Down sometimes when I stumble upon some movie where no less than The Fate Of The World is at stake and yet the plot is dragging and I’m getting bored. Watership Down got me to stay up past bedtime turning pages to find out whether the bunny rabbits were able to cross the stream safely.

I had heard that rabbits made terrible pets – skittish, noncuddly, couldn’t be trained, they chew on everything. And all of these things are true, yet rabbits make very good pets – for certain kinds of people. As a quiet writer who enjoys fresh greens from time to time, I was an ideal rabbit roommate.

As I got to know my rabbit, I learned his way of communicating. He was very eloquent and had an opinion about everything, even though he didn’t vocalize. Happy music and fresh smells and visitors he liked would send him skipping across the floor. Harsh noises and stinky things were met with thumping, and tossing his toys out of the three story indoor hutch where he lived. He always took part in social gatherings, settling himself where he could watch everyone’s faces. He was sort of imperious, and he would throw his litterbox scoop at me if he thought I hadn’t been diligent enough in my housekeeping. He didn’t like to sit on laps, but every night at bedtime he’d come racing into my room, leap onto the bed, sit on my chest and lick my nose, while I’d fondle his silky ears and feed him a couple of raisins.

He got me to appreciate the intricacies of a purely social brain, as opposed to the predatory brains of cats and dogs. Rabbits have different priorities. They have wit and nuance, but at  the same time they are destructive little anarchists that require you to wrap every wire in gnawproofing. They pine away if they’re too lonely, yet they’re ornery and will fight to the death if you pair them with an unacceptable companion. To a rabbit, every social occasion is high drama. 

That’s what makes them perfect for an epic journey. In Watership Down, a visionary rabbit named Fiver gets a sense it’s time to move. His brother Hazel and a few others join him in an escape from a strict feudal society. They have grand adventures and encounter two other warrens which are run very differently before taking new territory and founding their own society. Along the way they trade stories and encounter new situations and creatures. We become steeped in their language and folklore.

Richard Adams does an amazing job at getting inside his rabbit characters’ heads. They see the world in a group-oriented way where cleverness is valued and prowess isn’t necessarily physical. In fact, in the rabbit world, strongmen like Bigwig typically find a smart rabbit to serve. 

Our brave troop of rabbits succeeds on their mission of founding a new warren exactly halfway through the book, until a snarky seabird points out they are all male, and the new warren won’t last long without does. This necessitates a new mission, as they attempt to steal some maidens from a rather fascistic warren.

Some people have denounced Watership Down as sexist over this, pointing out that rabbits don’t put a lot of stock in gender roles. It didn’t really strike me that way. The rabbits come from a strict society where the leader’s owsla probably controls access to the does. Plus Mr. Adams was born in 1920, and I personally don’t require lovable codgers to adhere to modern values. I’ll further note that he doesn’t say anything particularly mean about the female gender, or make broad sweeping generalizations about them, plus there are adventurous Efrafa does like Hyzenthlay, who take active roles in busting out of their dreary fascist prison, not even turning back when one of them meets with a sudden tragic death.

Watership Down is one of the books I’d take to a deserted island. Such a simple story, and yet so powerful and resonant. I read Mr. Adams other books – Shardik and Maia and The Plague Dogs (which broke my heart) and none of them stuck with me as hard. There is a sequel called Tales From Watership Down, and I have a copy, which I have read a few times, but I can’t recall anything in it, other than it was pleasant.

Watership Down is one of the most wonderful stories written. If you haven’t read it yet, you should.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Richard Adams (1920-2016)

The author of my favorite novel, Watership Down, has also passed away.

There are lots of novels, and I have lots of qualifiers on my favorites. Huckleberry Finn is my favorite American novel, and The Haunting of Hill House is my favorite novel written by a woman.  Watership Down is my favorite of all, and I’m not really sure how that came about.

It’s such an unassuming story, about a bunch of rabbits that move down the road, and I believe that’s why I like it. It’s a masterpiece of scale. It makes you appreciate how many fierce, life or death, goodness versus darkness sagas are playing out right in front of you, underneath your oblivious nose.

Carrie Fisher (1956-2016)

I wrote about checking on whether Carrie Fisher was okay after I emerged from Rogue One, and as it turns out she was merely stable. She has become the latest victim of 2016, which has become a particularly sour year in most peoples’ memories.

Carrie Fisher was seven years older than me. Another 70s girl, growing up in the shadow of the sixties and ushering in something new. Something fast and exciting, and not exactly opposed to technology that would shove the hippies aside and blossom into the modern connected age.

People have written many words about women and science fiction, and they’ll probably continue doing so whether we like it or not, so I’ll save the grand themes for grander dames. Princess Leia was my big sister in space. She knew how to deal with sassy pilots, creepy old butt-grabbing dudes and big hairy walking carpets. She made me feel like I belonged there, like space was an appropriate place for attitudinous California girls. She was the sole female presence holding down my favorite science fiction franchise for years … notwithstanding the wisdom of Aunt Beru and Mon Mothma, and her screen granny Natalie Portman, who seems to be kind of a humorless hipster that wouldn’t be caught dead watching her own movies.

Carrie liked movies, you could tell. She doctored them, in fact. She was very forthcoming about her neurodiversity, as written in Postcards From The Edge, about being addicted and bipolar, and she used her insights into the human condition to save movies that had become bogged down. She was a writer who never received any public credit for some of her finest work.

She got most of her credit for dressing up in a metallic bikini that endeared her forever to fandom and made her bossy princessly presence just a tad easier for the average fanboy to handle. She had a blast wearing it, that part is evident.

She is survived by a little dog named Gary. My heart is breaking right now as I think about Gary.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Rogue One: When Star Destroyers Collide (a review)

I didn’t see Rogue One on opening day. I blame The Force Awakens, for being a blandly likeable Star Wars film which wouldn’t inspire anyone to camp out in front of a theater for very long. I assumed Rogue One was more of the same. A few days after it had opened I found myself unable to read most of my favorite science fiction blogs – did I want to head right into the spoilers, or was I actually going to see it first? I decided to see it first, and I’m glad I did.  I’ll throw down a spoiler warning here since I assume people visiting my blog don’t hate Star Wars.  Just see it, it’s good, then you can wade into the spoilerfields with impunity.

First up, Rogue One is a war movie in which many humans die. Some are humans we’ve grown to care about. Gone are the days when Star Wars movies resorted to slaying battle droids in an attempt to make war movies without disturbing people by showing them mass casualties. I’m down with this development. I think sanitized war movies are disgusting, and that they are a slap in the face to everyone who ever had an ancestor fight in one, which is probably most of us.

This is not a fairy tale about a hero’s journey, but it's nevertheless about a hero. Our hero, Jyn Erso, is a likeable girl with rabbity front teeth and epic cheekbones who is small and fast and extremely decisive. Everyone in this franchise has superb cheekbones. Peter Cushing, who has the steepest facial parapets of them all, has been resurrected in fact, and chews up a little scenery as Grand Moff Tarkin, in what is probably a broader performance than Cushing would have really given.

Jyn’s parents suffer at the hands of the Empire, and she’s raised by a mafia boss for a while, then does some hard time before getting accidentally released when rebels storm the prison. She learns her father is still alive and she decides to rescue him, unaware her handsome new space boyfriend has been assigned to assassinate him.

She teams up with a ragtag band that includes a blind force-sensitive monk, a brave pilot, a burly heavy weapons guy, some awesome little dwarf lizard dudes, a multicultural gang of redshirts and a repurposed imperial droid with a twisted sense of humor. He provides the only comic relief, in fact. 

This is some grimdark Star Wars, and I ate it up like bitter, gloomy candy. It’s already tied with Empire for my favorite movie in the whole franchise. No hippie mysticism! No romance! No bickering! There’s stars, and then there’s some war – what more could you want? 

These terrorists go rogue (one) in a double-stolen spaceship, returning the rebels to their loveable space thug roots and rescuing them from the ghastly insufferable moral righteousness they were starting to develop. I applaud the lack of jedi; the teras kasi master is a vast improvement.

(I am convinced the blind monk is a nod to teras kasi masters in Star Wars Galaxies, otherwise known as the TKM – a tanklike build that inspired the Pandaren monks in WoW.  In old school SWG, a TKM could tank every bit as good as a jedi, which meant you didn’t have to put up with some preening diva of a jedi defender tank.)

The whole plot of Rogue One has to do with the loophole in the original movie – why would the imperials make a huge expensive death star that could be destroyed by one shot from an X-Wing? The answer is that the head designer did it deliberately, as sabotage, and he has entrusted his little girl with this information, and asked her to kindly get it to the rebels. 

The joyriding thugs head to a turquoise atoll where the imps are keeping the death star plans and everyone and everything gets seriously rekt in the ensuing battle. The rebel space fleet shows up to fight with the imps just above orbit, and the ground imps break out some tropical weight AT-ATs and other souvenirs. Vader appears for several cameos, force choking folks and floating in a bacta tank.

Princess Leia even cameos at one point, which brought tears to my eyes since Carrie Fisher had a heart attack just before I headed into the theater, and in fact I checked my phone immediately after I got out to find out if she was still okay. And the brave X-Wing squad from Episode 4 returns, to hector the imps’ flying hardware and bring about the single greatest SW camera shot of all time – the Two Colliding Star Destroyers. 

OMG, the Two Colliding Star Destroyers! Sheer poetry! One of my favorite things about the whole SW universe is the way it depicts engineering failure on a collossal scale, and the Two Colliding Star Destroyers are … the visual equivalent of the sonic detonators from episode two. Even if this film had been staffed entirely by gungans and ewoks, with a middle third consisting of jedi aphorisms being recited over ethereal music in a field full of fireflies, the Two Colliding Star Destroyers would save it.

In fact, right after I get done with my current series I am totally writing something about the Two Colliding Star Destroyers. Except franchise shifted, of course. Maybe I could do the Poseidon Adventure in space with some people from one of said Star Destroyers – or I could do it twice, with two different ragtag bands of survivors trying to reach each other. So many possibilities. I’m sure I’ll think of more when I’m getting my Two Colliding Star Destroyers tattoo in the near future.

If you’ve ever wanted to see two star destroyers collide, go see this movie right now. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Seeking My Target Audience in an Indie Pub Future

Sarah Hoyt wrote this kickass article on indie publishing that sort of elaborated on some of the thoughts I’ve been having. In response to a link to it on File 770, author Heather Rose Jones said something about writers that release a few books, fail to find their target audience and vanish without a trace. Naturally, I immediately worried about falling in that category.

While it is true that I have absolutely no track record as a writer of YA science fiction, I’ve been a vaguely successful writer in a few different contexts. I’ve written things for subcultures and charities, under pseudonyms, that have gone viral and/or resulted in international fan mail, and that’s what gives me a sense of confidence that my science fiction will eventually catch on.

But yeah, at this juncture in time I have no following and no reviews. Most of my posts are perused by a mere handful of visitors and most of those are Russian bots. Potentially friends, relatives and/or co-workers are out there, possibly also enemies and people trying to get enough information so they can friend me on Facebook and try to catfish me. I’m too much of a noob to harvest emails. Maybe I'll do that someday when traffic picks up.

For those of you who do know me in real life but can’t get behind my science fiction – no worries. I’ve spent most of my life hanging around with the aesthetically incompatible. It wasn’t until the advent of the internet that I actually found fandoms for most of the things I like – and those fandoms are pretty much mutually incompatable too. I’ve always been more likely to hang around with people who are fannish about things I don’t even pretend to grok, like Stranger in a Strange Land, for example. 

Moving towards liking art for its own sake, in fact, has been a long arduous lifetime struggle. All along the way there have been people scolding me for liking the wrong art, for the wrong reasons, or for being somehow unethical by liking art that was too loud, or too old, or too male, or too rough, or too dumb, or too smart.

That was why the Sad and Rabid Puppies got my attention. They were attributing the similar shade they got to politics, while I’m talking about experiences I had amongst people with politics similar to my own. I characterized it as more of the social viciousness endemic to people with overly leisurely lives and thanked my lucky stars I’m a loner. And you could probably also throw some blame towards that words-make-the-world thinking that I ranted about after the election, and am still trying to articulate my feelings on that into a coherent essay.

The gist of it is that I believe we wordslingers are describers of things, not shapers of them. We lack godlike powers, although sometimes we may find ourselves resonating with the zeitgeist. Yet by even mentioning this I am performing a very dangerous ritual known as “Contradicting The Narcissists,” and I believe that’s where the shade happens; as a natural and expected byproduct of a culture in which narcissism is held up as a worthy and life-sustaining virtue.

Then again, if I had a little more narcissism, maybe my posts would get hits in the double digits, maybe even triples – just noting.

Maybe Ms. Jones’ prediction will in fact apply to me, and maybe my stories will sink without a trace, unreviewed and ignored. And yet, there’s a chance something different might occur. For instance, I might find my aesthetic gang. A group of people who like similar books, and movies, and music – not all completely the same, but similar enough to transform us from individual consumers of art to rampant herds of locusts helping each other pick out the good art while ignoring all the crappy art. 

That’s my main motivation for writing science fiction, after all – to find some kindred souls and travel around to science fiction thingies with them, ordering room service and watching cosplayers and trading jokes. I have no desire to be a best-seller and midlist no longer exists, so I’m aiming for “outsider artist” or “acquired taste” or something in that neighborhood.

If I were associated with a corporate press I’d get more exposure, but paradoxically, my target audience hates corporate art. If I were with a cool indie press I’d meet some more folks in Portland and Seattle and Spokane that share my fondness for public transit and kale salad, except I don’t do a lot of writing about lefty social issues, so maybe that’s not my target audience either.

I think some of my target audience lurks in fandom circles while keeping their opinions about their preference for, e.g., Dark Tower over LOTR to themselves, lest they be enveloped in shade. Another large portion of my target audience rejected science fiction books in favor of videogames years ago, but they might come back for the right writer. Some of my target audience makes games, or comics, or other kinds of art, and may want to collaborate with me. Some are just cool people that aren’t into all this fannish stuff. Truthfully, I don’t know a whole lot about them yet. I’m pretty sure they prefer e-books to paper, but that’s about the extent of it.

I also think the publishing world will change, and after I finish up my all-consuming trilogy I might think about trying to write something tradpub friendly, depending on what the corporations are like at that point.

You are out there somewhere, my beloved target audience, and I will find you. I have no idea what you look like, where you hang out and what kind of sneakers you like best, but I do know we will love each other. I’ll keep stringing words together until that happens.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Seventh Grade Reading Level

Today File 770 introduced me to the concept of the LexileScore.

I was slightly intrigued, but I was also leery of the text submission method. You see, I write science fiction, which means my characters tend to have weird names like Risha and Chexin, and they live in bizarre places like Virginialina and Scose, where they use products such as cleanbeams and teacherbots and foodfabbers and Compostique Organic Fertilizer. Spellcheck is opposed to all these things, and I thought maybe Lexile might have issues with them as well.

I do have a grade-level checker in Word, which I rarely use, but because I love my readers I ran Chapter Six through it, and came up with a Flesch Reading Ease score of 71.1, and a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 6.7, which translates to a Lexile Range of 830L to 1090L. 

Other books in this range include several of the Discworld series, some Heinlein juveniles, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Harry Potter. It looks like I’m hitting the sweet spot, whew. Here’s my scorecard for your perusal.

And now a brief rant about automated spelling and grammar checkers – although possibly this is praise, since I seem to have stumbled onto an activity where I’m not likely to be replaced by an AI.  It took me a very long time to run Chapter 6 through the spelling and grammar checker. My writing tends to go from “unhinged blurting” to “slightly more refined story” to “plot continuity edit” to “final spelling and grammar check.”  Chapter 6 wasn’t quite ready but I was curious about my grade level, so I endured.

Spellcheck found a couple of legit typos: “historial” for “historical” and “influsing” for “infusing.”  Thank you, spellcheck.

It also made false accusations against several words, such as cioppino (an Italian seafood stew)


and haluhalo (a Filipino dessert) (aka halohalo, halo-halo and halo halo).

It didn’t like edgy newcomer words like “realtime” and “bioenhancements.”  It glanced askance at “potbellied Stegosaurus” but now that you’ve heard of them you definitely want one, don’t lie to me.  It also hated “opaqued” but that’s what you do to windows that have remote-controlled opacity levels rather than curtains. Or you will, anyway, and likely soon.

My most pressing issues have to do with the grammar checker. For instance, here’s a rare instance where Sonny cusses:
“You asshole,” Sonny said quietly.

Believe me, it’s justified, and at least he did it politely without making a lot of noise, and spellcheck didn’t even have any problem with the Forbidden Adverb, which would set many professional editors’ teeths on edge even more than that deliberate typo I just made. No, it suggested that Sonny instead say “Your asshole.” 

No. He would never do that. Similarly, grammar check suggested I throw a comma smack into the middle of “Are they all right?” No, I would never do that.

Grammar check also disliked this sentence, and thought I should lose one of the words starting with T: “more beautiful then than she was now.”  Oh really? Which one? 

This is the one that got on my nerves like a stray sunflower seed caught in my sock: “The newer ones cost money but the old ones were free.”  Grammar check suggested I amend both occurrences to “one’s.” No, grammar check, you are wrong, and your programmer is wrong, and your programmer’s mom was wrong at one time too. The horse your programmer's mom rode in on? Equally wrong.  

Moral of the story: robots may write novels someday, but it is doubtful they'll be good ones. Even humans have a hard time writing good novels, especially me. I guess I'll go back to writing the kind I write instead, now that I've assured myself that I'm not filling them with convoluted language.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Coming Next Year: Sieging Manganela

Speaking of new science fiction, I'm publishing this in early 2017:


Arturo is a sixteen year old soldier. He hasn’t been in the army very long, just long enough to lose all his buddies to very bad deaths. Now he’s sieging Manganela. Camped right outside the city with a lot of hot, dusty, antsy men and nothing to fight but drones. He’s got a few problems relating to anxiety but he keeps those to himself, since he’s a stoic kind of guy.

One day he runs into Zeffany, a girl his age, who is helping someone escape from the city. Arturo helps her. Later he texts her. They develop a friendship, bonding over their anxieties. Zeffany has been trapped inside her city for years, and she has a few anxieties of her own.

There’s a lot of talk about how this war might actually end soon, leaving people free to go build themselves a normal society, but people who grew up during the war aren’t too sure what one looks like. Arturo and Zeffany are willing to try – assuming they can keep their worries, and their friendship, under control until it’s safe to speak.

Trigger(s) Warning

Sieging Manganela is set in the same universe as One Sunny Night, but it has a little more nightmarish and horrific content, and therefore I’m flying the trigger warning flag:
  • Guns and weapons and fighting (although it's mainly humans-against-drones because one side of the conflict isn't about to come outside and potentially get wounded when they can send out drones instead);
  • Wartime trauma and ugly deaths all over the place 
  • Especially this truly scary scene that takes place in a mine and explains what happened to Arturo's buddies
  • (but no sex, just teasing) 
  • (can’t recall if I used any bad words, probably there are some) 
  • (no animal cruelty) 
  • (no religion or politics or moralizing aside from "war will mess you up" with specific examples) 
  • (no race stuff but there are Latin/Hispanic/Portuguese names and several skin tones) 
  • (there’s a little gender-related weirdness in that one society has two versions of womanhood due to fertility issues relating to bioengineered enhancements – infertile women are regular people who work for a living, and fertile women are cosseted vain sheltered hormonal princesses who can murder their own spouses with impunity) 
  • (did I say that mine scene was really scary? It’s pretty scary, even gave me nightmares -- when I give myself nightmares with my own writing, I know I'm doing my job properly).

Language Warning

Several people have asked me if it should be "besieging" Manganela rather than sieging it. And the answer would be yes if it were written entirely from Zeffany's point of view. She is besieged, while Arturo is camped out with men who are actively engaged in committing the act of sieging. says that "sieging" and "besieging" are synonyms.

Merriam Webster says that "besieging" is archaic when used in the context of laying siege to a city. Plus it states siege is a transitive verb, with the proper form being "lay siege to" or "in a state of siege."

I saw it as something more along the lines of "I siege, you are besieged." Which isn't entirely correct, but hey, this is speculative fiction, and I can always claim that, in universe, "sieging" became common use in the 3120s following the release of an extremely successful videogame. 

Uncommon words are good luck in science fiction titles.

For example, this is a mangonel. 

You can use them to lob rocks, poop, moldy bacon, or whatever over castle walls. In Portuguese, they call it a manganela. People speak entirely different languages in 3748 after the meteor/volcanoes rearranged the Americas, but some of the slang survives down in the grittier areas of Samerica. 

You've probably seen a thousand of these things in cartoons and movies and comic books, and if you didn't already know what it was called, well, now you do.

There's Always Room for New Speculative Fiction, No Matter What the Curmudgeons Say

Jason Sanford wrote a nice piece on his blog about the Great Men of science fiction, and I wasn’t going to dwell on it until I noticed the ghost of Marilyn Monroe gesturing at us from the old Startling Stories (a thrilling publication) cover. 

It reminded me of this time I was sitting around with a baby boomer, named John, talking about Marilyn Monroe. John said something about how all Americans, each of us, grow up being bombarded with images of Marilyn Monroe.

“Not I,” I said. She died before I was born. I hadn’t even seen any of her movies at that point (I’ve only seen one to this day, plus a bunch of clips from several others). I wasn't even really aware of her until she appeared as a plastic statue in Tommy, a film I saw about a decade after its original release.

John was appalled and incensed that I had the temerity to contradict his theory about the universal essential definitiveness of Marilyn. He had a very difficult time believing, in fact, that teenagers from other decades listened to different music, ate different foods, read different books. Kind of like the guy in Sanford’s piece who maintains that since Robert E. Heinlein wrote science fiction for youths, nobody else needs to.

Well all righty then.  I can’t even remember if I read Heinlein’s juveniles. I know I read Stranger in a Strange Land and then I tossed it on the same mental heap as Marilyn Monroe, the Who, and many baby boomer writers such as Tom Robbins and Jack Kerouac and Richard Brautigan and Harlan Ellison. That mental heap is something I internally classify as “stuff creepy old dudes once tried to play on me like it was a hipness card.”

Now that I’m of an age where the coin has developed a second side, sometimes I ask myself if I’m a creepy old lady trying to play hipness cards with the youth of today, innocent of my own solipsistic out-of-touchedness? And the answer is “I don’t think so; I'm more of a lifelong fan deciding at an advanced age to discard pretentiousness and wallow in that which gives me artistic joy.” But yeah, I can see how I might be interpreted as creepy. So I'm going to try not to compound it by making statements about that which is universal, or essential, or important, or definitive.

After all, I found speculative fiction through Star Wars and Stephen King and George R.R. Martin. Someone else might find it through Asimov and Tolkein (writers whose artistry is evident yet which leave me cold). Maybe even through Jar Jar Binks and Big Hero 6. There’s a great big beautiful speculative fiction universe out there, and it has niches for everybody. Or it should, anyway, and since our current corporate publishing system isn’t quite satisfying our word-hungry eyeballs there’s a thriving indie scene. And there’s always room for more!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Most Incredibly Detailed Character Questionnaire In The World

I found this 18-page character questionnaire on Reddit today. My mind was pleasantly boggled. I began filling one out for Sonny Knight but I only got a couple pages into it before I had to stop.

General Characteristics

Name:                  Sonny Knight (Leroy Joseph Knight)
Appearance: (What does your character look like? Written descriptions are fine. This can sometimes be combined with the Name parameter.)
Sixteen year old boy, average sized. Brown hair, skin, eyes. Sleepy-looking eyes. Mostly forgettable.
Symbol: (What symbol helps identify your character? Family symbols can also count. Again, descriptions are fine.)
               He’s more of a chameleon.
Pronunciation: (Spelled Pronunciation Legend / IPA Legend) Rhymes with “Honey, write.”
Name Origin: (Where did your character's name come from and why did their parents choose it for them?)
The doctor called him “Sonny” while reviving him from his first near-fatal accident; since his chimes had been rung extra hard it took him hours to remember that his name is really Leroy. Sonny becomes his new name as he embarks upon his newly adventurous life.
Name Meaning: (What does your character's name mean in the context of your story?)
(1)   That he has a sunny disposition; (2) that he has parents, whom he is constantly trying to rescue; (3) the character seems to think it’s much more badass than his given name.
Other Names: (Nicknames, pen names, pet names, superhero names, etc.)
Titles: (Prefixes, suffixes, etc. Wikipedia has a great list of these here.)
Alternate Forms: (What can your character turn into, voluntarily or involuntarily, while retaining control over that form or not? Descriptions are fine. An entirely new character sheet would be best.)
ID Number: (What number(s) and/or letter(s) identify your character?) Example: Murky Number Seven's number is, well, 7.
Theme Song:
               Sunny by Bobby Hebb
Zodiac: (What astronomical sign does you character identify under? It could eastern, western, or your own invention.)
               Leo (the sign ruled by the sun).

Personal Characteristics

Birth Date: August 2, 3733
Birth Name: (What name did your character's parents give them at birth?)
Leroy Joseph Knight. The Joseph is for a friend of mine that encouraged me while I was starting to write.  “Leroy” means king, and he comes from Royal Beach, a democratic monarchy where many people incorporate regal titles into their names.  He is also named for Mervyn LeRoy, honcho at MGM responsible for greenlighting The Wizard of Oz, which plays a minor part in the book. His dad is a film studies professor.  (His little sister’s name is Marilyn.) (Used to have a dog named Oscar.)
Birth Place:
               Royal Beach, Braganza
Birth Weight:
Birth Length:
Manner of Birth: (How did their birth happen? Were they an accident? Did they kill their mother upon birth? Did they come out upside-down?)
I’m sure they have a super painless and wonderful way of dealing with labor and delivery in 3748, but it’s beyond the scope of my YA adventure series.
First Word(s):    Ummm?  Whoa?  Ouch?  Something like that.
Death Date: (Leave this blank if you don't know when they will die. You can always fill it in later.)
Age at Death:    You know, this whole line of inquiry is so spoilery that I just can’t.
Death Place:
Resting Place: (Where is the body of your character now or where will it be put once they die?)
Manner of Death: (How did your character die?)
Last Words:
Primary Objective:          Rescue parents.
Secondary Objectives:   Get good grades, go to college, settle down with girl that has nice boobies.
                                             In book 1, get home. In book 2, reunite with family. In book 3, get family home.
Priorities: (What does your character put before all other things in their life?)
Other people. It’s very subtle, but he’s a selfless guy, and it causes him a lot of pain to be ostracized and alienated, although he wears it bravely. He always tries to make friends and fit in, and he’s intrigued by foreign customs.
Motivation: (What motivates your character to do the things they do?)
               Good intentions.
Accomplishments: (What has your character accomplished already?)
               Nada. Parents are a little worried.
Greatest Achievement: (What has your character already accomplished that they are most proud of?)
               Becoming famous for a viral video in which he accidentally got kicked in the face.
Failures: (What has your character failed at in the past?)
               See above. Also, earning applause and standing out.
Biggest Failure: (What does your character consider their biggest failure?)
               See above.
Self-Confidence: (How much confidence doe your character have in themself?)
               This increases steadily.
Traumas: (What past occurrences negatively affect your character in the present?)
               Hahahahahahahahaha.  [wheeze] [sip of apple cider] Hahahahahahaha.
Afflictions: (What present occurrences negatively affect your character?)
At the moment he’s in jail looking at a fifteen year stretch and hundreds of people are suing him; his primary crush is in love with someone else, his secondary crush (who is becoming primary) is in solitary confinement (plus she's hospitalized with pneumonia) because she committed multiple murders (while defending Sonny). He’s also living in a vat and interacting as an avatar in a virtual reality. But his present negativity keeps changing, every ten pages or so it gets worse. 
Embarrassments: (What kinds of things is your character embarrassed about? These can be internal, such as a birthmark, or external, such as their friends' behaviors.)
               Lack of remarkableness, being more of an applauder than a performer.
Worries:              Constantly.  Who could blame him?
Soothers: (What calms your character down?)     Sailing. His dog.
Instigators: (What might cause your character to be reminded of traumas, afflictions, worries, etc.?)
               (e) All of the above.
Earliest Memory:            Watching a movie.
Fondest Memory:           Probably involves boobies.
Worst Memory:               Probably the pliosaur attack.
Favorite Dream:              Stresslessness.
Worst Nightmare:           The last ten pages.
Desires: (What does your character want that they know they could possibly have?)
His crush to actually fall in love with him instead of tricking him into a sham marriage to thwart the rules.  Assuming the could is a typo for couldn't.
Wishes: (What might your character want that they know probably isn't going to happen or is impossible?)
Regrets: (What has your character done that they wish they could take back?)
Secrets: (What does your character know that must not be told to anyone?)
Confidantes: (Who or what does your character feel safe sharing their secrets with?)
Soft Spots: (What kinds of things does your character go out of their way to help?)
Cruel Streaks: (What kinds of things does your character go out of their way to assault?)
Musical Instrument: (What instrument can your character play, if any?)
Quirks: (What about your character makes them unique?)
Dominant Hand: (Are they right-handed, left-handed, or ambidextrous?)
Catchphrase: (Is there a specific phrase that your character is known for repeating often?)
Autograph: (What does your character's signature look like? Descriptions are fine.)

I give up.  Anyway, if you’re the kind of person who enjoys making up super detailed people that don’t exist, you might want to check it out.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Goodreads Choice Awards

The Goodreads Choice Awards came out today.  It's interesting, cross-referencing these very populist awards with the Hugo battles I've been watching for the last couple of years.

I've read and enjoyed several of these books (and in fact I voted for some of them).  Loved Stephen King's End of Watch and his son Joe Hill's The Fireman. I also enjoyed Harry Potter and the Cursed Child very much.

I've read Underground Railroad and was blown away, and I'm re-reading it for my grownup litfic bookclub -- I'm not going to talk about it much here because it's not really YA. What it is is magical realism about a slave escaping her way through the old South. It's a book that made me horribly sad, and the themes in it are very mature, and no, the Underground Railroad wasn't a literal train in real life, that's the magical realism. Yes, I did discuss slavery and its horrors in the context of George R.R. Martin's Fevre Dream, but this book is on a whole other level and it deserves to be discussed in classier places than this, so I'll just shut up now, with a suggestion that reading it may be a very worthwhile experience if you're interested in the subject matter.

Pierce Brown's Morning Star won for science fiction. I have another book in that series on my Kindle, and I've bounced off of it three or four times now, so I think I'll pass, but I'll note that a lot of people seem to like this series.  I am very interested in Frans de Waal's book on animals and Alwyn Hamilton's debut novel -- which falls in the YA speculative fiction category I notice. Glad that one seems to have a broad appeal.

And finally, down in the categories for young people, exiled at the bottom of the page (what's up with that?): the YA fiction winner is Salt To The Sea, a WWII maritime tragedy story by Ruta Sepetys. The YA science fiction/fantasy winner is Sarah J. Maas, for A Court of Mist and Fury, which is 2nd in a series and has a love triangle. And the middle grade winner is Rick Riordan -- I'm fond of him -- for The Hidden Oracle, a modern day Greek mythos story. I wonder if Charon is in it.

Since I didn't get any votes at all, the plan is clear: write more books (maybe promote them too); continue doing so until award or death results. Along those lines I've been talking to my fantastically talented cover artist, Brian Allen, and I shall have not one but two (2) releases coming out next year.  If you keep reading this blog, no doubt you'll hear way more about them than you really want to, but I promise to throw some interesting posts in from time to time, to mix it up somewhat.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Excerpt from Retrograde Horizon (a work in progress)

He woke up staring at his simulated ceiling, which had fat little babies with wings painted on it. He had to use the toilet. The orientation videos had warned him about this, making sure he knew it was important to simulate using a toilet, even if for all practical purposes someone’s body might be dropping a load while their avatar was engaging in sparkling conversation at some dinner party. If you didn’t at least pretend to be using an actual toilet, you might discover, upon leaving your vat, that all of the patient toilet training your parents had done had been erased. If you were certain you were never coming out of your vat, of course, it didn’t matter, but if there was a possibility that someday you might rejoin the physical world, it was a good idea to keep those muscles in tone. Sonny intended to rejoin the world, and he physically stood up and walked his avatar several steps to his bathroom.

After his simulated visit to the bathroom, complete with a simulated scented shower, it was time for breakfast. Sonny dialed it up and the feeding apparatus moved in, delivering a smooth custard that was absolutely the most delicious thing he’d ever tasted in the world. It had undertones of fruit and grain and fresh air. At regular intervals the custard ceased flowing and a mouthful of crunchy things appeared to give his teeth a workout, similarly flavored and equally tasty. After feeding him a perfect-sized portion that exactly occupied the emptiness in his belly, the feeding apparatus was replaced by the one that cleaned teeth and left a different pleasant taste behind.

“Cardio session commencing in thirty seconds,” whispered a flirty disembodied voice somewhere beyond his left shoulder. Sonny wasn’t quite sure what that meant so he ignored it and called up his social node. As he was browsing his feed the voice returned, telling him the cardio session was imminent. Soft but solid restraints closed in over his arms and legs. A banner popped up in his social node, informing him that the command interface had shifted to nose-wiggle mode.

Then his body began moving. The restraints pulled, pushed and bounced him in various directions. His heart responded, pumping faster and his lungs sucked in more air. His avatar, sitting on the bed browsing his social media feed, was unaffected by any of this until Sonny toggled outside mode, which made him reappear in the plaza. Once he was there a popup appeared, floating at eye level and asking him if he wanted to emulate jogging. When he agreed with a nose wiggle, his avatar took off running. He cruised through the empty city streets surrounding the plaza, past all the decorated windows.

Even though his avatar was running gracefully, his body was doing a variety of movements – bouncing, stretching, twisting. After several minutes of this the disembodied voice informed him he was entering cooldown and the activity slowed gradually. Sonny’s avatar slowed to a walk, its reflection unruffled and sweatless in the windows of a candy store displaying hundreds of flavors of fudge. 

He wondered how many other people were standing beside him, looking though this same window, invisible because they had him filtered. Lots of them, no doubt. This city had wide streets, and pixelated people took up very little space.

He turned around and headed back to a building that had caught his eye earlier. It had two gigantic stone lions guarding the doorway, one on either side, and when Sonny had run past them he had seen their stone eyes swivel in his direction.