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Category Archives: science fiction

Book Review : Frail by Joan Francis Turner

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My review of Joan Francis Turner’s second novel, Frail, can be found here.

I had difficulty getting through this book, to be honest, which was a sequel to the widely-praised Dust (a book told from the perspective of the Zombie).  In Frail, the MC spends a lot of time with two (or three?) different types of ex-humans, and quite frankly, it becomes very tedious and difficult trying to tell them apart from one another.  I have to wonder why the author required as many distinctions as she made (and if she required those distinctions, did she have to apply the same label – Ex – to all the different types of non-human creatures in the world?  Because that made it very hard for the reader to keep these creatures separate.) But in any case, the writing style is somewhat interesting and I’m sure that the author will build from her initial premise.  If we must have zombies (and it seems we must), we need some good writers out there who can tell the stories in new and unusual ways.

Book Country and Using the Web to Find Your Niche

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Many of you know that I’ve used critters.org for years in order to get critiques of stories I’m working on. It’s been very beneficial to me, but there’s one thing it’s lacking. Critters.org is a place to get critiques of your work, but it is NOT a place to post your work for people to read it. It’s a site devoted to people who are trying to prepare work for official publication, not for those who want to use the internet to get their work out there, hoping that people will like it enough to want more.

Enter bookcountry.com, launched recently by Penguin books.

Book Country is similar to critters in some way. You read and critique three others, and once you’ve done so, you can post your own work and be critiqued.

It has a couple features critters doesn’t have. It allows you to rate the pieces you critique. It has a “buzz” and a “favorites” section, which allows users to gain notoriety on this site by having stories that gain the highest reviews and are most often recommended to friends and other sites. So it’s a place not just to improve your writing, but also to find other writers you’d enjoy reading and hopefully gain your own following.

I’m intrigued.

After all, writers need to be read, just as artists need to have their work appreciated and musicians need someone to hear their songs.

For most of us, writing is an avocation, a hobby, an unpaid obsession, and it always will be. It’s great that a few people are able to merge avocation and vocation.

(as per Robert Frost, Two Tramps in Mud Time –

“But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.”)

Most of us will never achieve this goal, and yet write we can and write we will because write we must.

So sites like Book Country can give us the encouragement of knowing that someone out there is reading what we wrote, that it’s not something that will be shoved in a desk drawer, forgotten, and never appreciated.

The one concern I do have (and perhaps Book Country addresses this in some way) has to do with “publication” status. If you just put up the first chapter or two of your book, then it’s not published. If you put up your entire finished short story, would that count as published? Critters keeps their manuscripts password protected so only people reading them for purposes of providing critiques can look. Book Country’s stuff is available for anyone regardless of whether they’re registered.

I like this feature of Book Country. I don’t think I will ever fail to be published because I had stuff on the web at some point; after all, if I’m going to be a published author someday, then even if someone DID steal a random short story I had on book country, or even if I COULDN’T sell that particular story, well, I really don’t think that small bit of lost revenue will affect my career at all.

Honestly, I’d be flattered if someone wanted to bother to steal my stuff.

But I’m sure this will be a sticking point for some people.

Those people are stuck in the last century, however. The internet is a tool that allows you access to a large community of people who like to read and write the same stuff as you. This is an advantage, not a problem, and it’s time that we all recognized it as such.

A Mysterious Shadow is Falling Over the Land . . .

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It’s not true that every speculative story involves a young hero saving the world from a dark overlord determined to destroy the planet. But damn near every speculative story involves something like that. Something, usually described with monotonous regularity as simply “dark” is out to destroy the world.

Nearly every Dr. Who episode (the latest show I’ve been glomming) has a line in there somewhere about “It’s the end of the world” followed by the Doctor saving the day. Sometimes it’s the end of the universe or the end of time. But there’s an awful lot of evil out there large enough to destroy (at least) the planet. Enough for a new episode every week.

Yet despite decades of exposure to all the best villainy of our age, the villains rarely or never stick in my memory. When I try to create fiction, I’m often stuck when it comes to creating antagonists because it seems like all the stories about antagonists are trite and boring. A helluva lot of the time in speculative fiction the antagonist is nothing but a mysterious wave of darkness overtaking the world.

I call that “night time” and I don’t think it would be wise for my heroes to end it, since the cycle of night and day is pretty important to the growing of crops and the balance of the earth on its orbit and all that good stuff.

As far as I can tell, many villains are just an excuse to fake enough conflict to make the climax. But I’m a feminist. This isn’t the 1950s and women have learned to love their private parts, so let’s stop faking climaxes, eh?

There doesn’t need to be a big world-ending evil to create a good fantasy novel. The drama of one person’s private life is plenty. Hell, the little engine that could was a great story and all that little engine wanted to do was go over a hill. Why should every hero need to stop the destruction of reality itself?

Enough, I say. I’m not going to force in something that simply doesn’t fit with my story or world. I don’t want to tell stories about the destruction of the Empire.

Empires bore me. I prefer reading about people.

Art

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Cool art from Nancy to go with my Grass story – Thanks Nancy!
Grass by Nancy Hsue

The Need for Structure

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Structure is my biggest problem. Ok, I know I said earlier that endings are my biggest problem, but in a sense, it’s the same thing.

For example, here’s something I did the other day. I thought of an idea for a story. Think of it as sort of cylons-in-a-fantasy world.

Liked the idea. Jotted down some notes. Went to lunch and scarfed down my usual two black bean tacos with guacamole. Brain worked furiously the whole time coming up with more details for a fuller world.

Some part of my mind screamed This could be a novel! Make it happen!

Enjoying it all. This is the fun part of writing, the part that keeps me coming back for more.

After maybe an hour of thinking and jotting down a few ideas, I decided to begin. And I wrote the opening scene of Golem.

Hold on. Wait, you say, smartly spotting my gigantic mistake. You started writing the first draft an hour after the first seed of an idea was planted? Major problem!!

And you are right, gentle reader. You’ve cottoned on to exactly where my biggest weakness is.

I didn’t take time to flesh out a plot or a world or characters or anything. I had the barest germ of an idea.

How can I sit down and begin describing my world, characters, and their problems when I have only the vaguest sketch of them in my mind?

So. PLOT.

To the rescue comes . . . Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Design.

It’s helpful.

Here’s what you do.

1). You describe the entire novel in one sentence, preferably 15 words or less.

Two things to note here.

First, Randy suggests you take an hour to do this.

Thank god!

Constantly doubting (as I do) my worth as a writer, creative thinker, and citizen of this planet, I nearly tail-spinned into despair when my first couple attempts at this produced crap. But since I knew he expected me to take an hour at this, I thought – It’s OK! I’m supposed to work at this for a while.

Second, I realized in this process that my germ of an idea — girl-who’s-really-an-animated-rock-creature-who-was-used-to-fool-the-parents-of-the-prophesied-savior-to-come-when-he-was-kidnapped-by-his-enemies-as-a-baby — well that whole germ of an idea describes NOTHING that would happen in the book. All those events take place before the novel even starts. So. I realized that I actually didn’t even have a vaguely sketched outline of where this book was going, just where the characters were coming from.

No wonder plots always bite me in the ass.

So step one has helped me a lot. It’s made me realize that I don’t even know one thing that will happen in the story. Gotta fix that.

The Next step :

2). Expand your 1 sentence into a paragraph, taking another hour.

Considering what a major revelation the first sentence was, well, doing the paragraph summary should be quite a ride!

But you get the idea. Using this method forces you to keep in mind the big picture, since you start by focusing on that, then narrow down to the details. There’s more on his blog but he explains it better and with more flattery than I, so go check it out if you, like me, get stuck with plot.

Trees – Final Draft (hopefully!) Updated

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I still need to tighten up the ending on Trees a bit – there are a couple places where I repeat myself, so I’ll go back and smooth that out. But it’s finished, and I like the ending a lot.

Perspiration

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Read on the metro this morning :

“(Discipline) is the bridge between thought and accomplishment.” Credited to Jim Rohn.

Also : “You can’t get much done in life if you only work on the days when you feel good.” Jerry West.

So I’m perspiring today : not literally sweating, but I’m trying to finish off my latest draft of Trees (with a new ending) – ok right now it HAS no ending, I know that. It did have one once. But Jeff and Ann Vandermeer, after kindly reading and critiquing it during a Capclave workshop, suggested that the beginning and ending were terrible. That’s why it has no ending at the moment. What you see right now is just the middle.

But I’m adding one in. Trying to finish things. Trying to work hard! (And now I’m procrastinating by writing this post 🙂

But you – Yes YOU —

Why are you reading this post? If you’re a writer, go write something instead.

Sweat through it.

Do it.

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