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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Open Mic Saturday

Good morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently, when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like sharing with the group here?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Critical Thinking: Reviews

Book Review

So, I’ve had My Precious for two months now. It’s still pretty cool. What am I saying? It’s very cool. It comes with a dictionary feature where you can place the curser right before a word and the definition of that word pops up. But wait, there’s more! I was reading a story with a Hispanic character from Arizona who sometimes spoke in Spanish. I downloaded a for-Kindle Spanish dictionary, changed the defaults, and all of a sudden, I got English translations. Of most of her words. It didn’t do well with slang.

The book I was reading was Charles de Lint’s Forests of the Heart. In it, de Lint keeps the Native American and Irish supernatural inhabitants, but adds Catholicism and southwestern magic. You see, way back when the Irish came to America, they brought their fey folk with them. But many fairy creatures are land-based—they need a home. The Irish fairies could adapt well enough to the cities, and share territory with humans, but they’d like to branch out into the less-developed areas. Problem being, the land not populated by humans is populated by native spirits. Bettina San Miguel learns this when she moves from her native Arizona to the mythical town of Newford, which is someplace around Chicago or Ohio or Toronto. Like all the de Lint books I’ve read, Forests of the Heart has a lot of characters and a ton of story lines that somehow come together at the end.

The other de Lint book I got was Spirits in the Wires. He had already created a rich other-world where European and Native spirits can travel, and where everyone has a heart-home. Here, he ponders what would happen if that world was combined with the technological fantasy land of the internet. Could a website develop sentience? If so, where would it live? In a way, the concept is cyberpunk, as things like viruses materialize as sickly forests. But the book also delves into the reverse—if the internet could be actualized in the fairy world, could the internet send beings into the real world? And, if so, if they were created with all the false memories of a real human, what would they be? Human? Programs?

Another book I downloaded was The Children of Odin; The Book of Northern Myths by Padraic Colum. I studied Greek mythology on my own in grade school, but I haven’t had much exposure to Norse mythology. I don’t know how many liberties Colum took with the stories, but I have to say, the Norse gods came out looking better than the Greeks. Odin was all right. The only malicious god wasn’t even really a god—it was Loki, the trickster. (Loki, Coyote—how did two such similar characters show up on opposite sides of the world?) It was a very good read, and I learned a lot. For one thing, I’d read that Tolkien adapted Norse stories to create a mythology for the Brits, but—holy cats—did he ever.

I also downloaded a bunch of Oscar Wilde, although I’ve only read The Picture of Dorian Gray. All I knew about Dorian Gray was what I saw in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It was not at all what I expected. It’s about idolatry and a dangerous book; an undiscerning young man and a magic wish. And the power behind choosing what you want to believe instead of seeking out the truth. Plus, it’s a good read.

And now for absolute fluff. The Parasol Protectorate is a series of steampunk novels by Gail Carriger. The protagonist is an English-Italian woman who has no soul. Because of this, if she touches the skin of any of her vampire or werewolf friends, they temporarily lose their…vampireness or werewolfoscity. The writing is delightfully distracting, the set-ups are ridiculous, and the heroine believes not even a rogue vampire attack is an excuse for not providing a good tea.

Oh, and I also downloaded and read Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill. Well, reread. And then I discovered there’s a movie out about the very wall that features in the book. You can get tons of classics, including a lot of Kipling, for free on the Kindle. I have 20 classics and 9 sci fi/fantasy classics that were all free—and I haven’t even scratched the surface.

I think we might see a shift with these ereaders. I think people may start to read more of the old stuff. I could be wrong, but it could get interesting. I wonder how society would be different if people were actually educated about the literary past and not just the movies based on the old stories.

In other news, if you like, I’m still willing to tear apart short stories. Of course, all critiquing is my own opinion, but if you have a short story you’d like me to look at, post it to the Yahoo Group, and let me know at kersley.fitz at yahoo.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ultimate Geek Fu

...returns next week, and oh boy, have we got a good one in the works for you!

But in the meantime: is there anything you'd like to see battling for its very life in the UGF octagon?

Let the suggestions begin...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Splattering Guts for Fun & Profit

Update: Minutes ago U.S. Central Command announced that the pirates had executed all four American hostages. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of the fallen.

With the capture of a small party of American missionaries by Somali pirates being very much in the news these past few days, I felt it was time to reboot this series with a column on nautical piracy. Except, as I began to pull together my sources and lay the column out in my mind, I developed the strangest sense of déjà vu.

A few moments of searching and—sure enough. This was one of the first columns I wrote for The Friday Challenge, slightly over two years ago and right after the FC moved here from the old site.

So rather than rewrite the column, I will save all my trenchant observations about Rouseau, Hobbes, and the Magna Carta for a future column and at this time redirect you to:

The BookPimp™ Touts: The Barbary Pirates, by C.S. Forester

(Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, indeed!)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ruminations of an Old Goat

Most of you know I got a Kindle ereader a few months ago. Since then, I've been building a big collection of public domain ebooks, as well as locating ebook versions of books I already own in hard copy. As with music and MP3s -- owning the CD gives you the right to have electronic copies of the music on the CD -- I believe owning a physical copy of book should give me the right to have an electronic copy, too. I expect the publishing companies would see the issue differently, but I'm also not aware of any legal decisions contrary to my position. (Then again, I am not a lawyer and could hardly be said to be anything close to up-to-date on copyright law.) Despite the indication that this column is about ebooks and the law, it's actually about writing.

One thing I've found interesting about reading older science fiction books is just how wrong some of the writers were at predicting even the near future. Nowhere is this more obvious than when the characters in older science fiction novels start doing heavy mathematics. In First Lensman, chronologically the second Lensman novel but also the last of the six novels to be published, E. E. "Doc" Smith has his characters reach for a slip stick -- slide rule, to those of you too young to have heard the term -- and start calculating away. First Lensman was published in 1950, shortly before computers grabbed the public's attention as "big brain thinking machines," amazing the world with their ability to multiply two huge numbers together in a fraction of a second. But Robert Heinlein's Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, an old favorite of mine from my high school days, also features the main character reaching for a slide rule to check calculations.

In First Lensman, humans have faster than light travel and have colonized hundreds of worlds. In Heinlein's novel, there are colonies on the moon and the main character wins a spacesuit in a contest. Both writers had no trouble envisioning mankind spreading out from earth and colonizing other heavenly bodies, but neither one could make the much smaller leap to the idea that computers would become every-day accessories long before mankind had off-world colonies.

Am I being fair to Smith, Heinlein, and the legion of other science fiction authors who made the same "mistake" when predicting the future? No, I'm not. The idea that bigger meant better was still strongly in force at least through the 1960s, so they can readily be excused for not being able to predict the wave of miniaturization that now rules the technological world. But, much as I understand this, I have a harder time taking these stories seriously as a result.

These days, a lot of science fiction is all about miniaturization. Nano tech is all the rage, with doctors curing patients by injecting nanobots programmed to perform intricate surgery, nanobots make us all walking computers with immediate online access to the accumulated knowledge of mankind, and I've even read a story featuring nano attack vessels used in hostage situations. Will science fiction readers of the future look back on these stories and smile, thinking how badly today's writers misjudged the future of technology? They probably will.

But I suspect they'll also look back and wonder at the writers' inability to predict changes in society. I recall watching the Star Trek episode which introduced the world to Kahn and having one of those moments. When introducing the female officer who would fall for Kahn, we were treated to a little discussion between Kirk, Bones, and Scotty about what a good officer she was but that, someday, she'd meet the right man and Star Fleet would lose a good officer to marriage. I was watching a rerun of the episode with a bunch of friends and we all got a big laugh out of that. We were all fans of the show and got together in my dorm room to watch it before heading down to dinner. This was no more than 10 years since the episode was originally broadcast, yet the world had changed enough to make that line sound as if it came from Victorian times.

I suspect social change is going be even harder to predict that technological change. From the late 1960s and through the 1970s, I read lots of novels dealing with the near future and the great sociological changes to come. Of particular interest was the idea that society would embrace sexual "freedom" to the point that certain adults would be selected to introduce teenagers to the world of sexuality, teaching them about pleasure and prevention. In the stories, these adults were always honored for taking on this sacred duty. Most of the novels had settings in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Yes, sex pervades a lot of society, but we still haven't quite reached the point where society as a whole actively promotes such ideas. (Things like this probably helped support the idea of science fiction fans as geeks who couldn't get a girl, though.)

Can you really spend a lot of time worrying about how future generations of fans will view your stories while you're writing them? Of course not. You'd probably never finish a story if you did. The best you can do is make your best guesses and start writing.

Perhaps this is one reason steampunk is becoming so popular among new writers. You can't get the technology wrong because we're already past the steam age. You can't get the society wrong because it's already set, as well. In this respect, steampunk may be even better than fantasy as you don't even have to make yourself ignore the squalor of medieval culture.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Name This Column

I woke up a few mornings ago listening to an old and familiar song: George Harrison, "Here Comes The Sun."
Little darling,
it's been a long cold lonely winter
little darling,
it seems like years since it's been clear
Only the weird part was, it wasn't playing on the clock-radio. That hadn't gone off yet. Something, somewhere up in the dusty attic of my subconscious, had fished that song out of long-term memory and put it on my in-head playlist, loud and clear. How very strange.

Yet, it seemed like a portent. It has been a long cold winter, and I'm good and ready for it to be over. (As I write this, though, the first flurries of a new storm that's promising to dump another foot of snow on us before its done are swirling through the air. The groundhog lied.) January was devoured by Otogu, and a succession of back-to-back First Rule situations. Then, three weeks ago, on the morning of Saturday, January 29—just as what they're now calling the Groundhog Day Blizzard was rolling up from Texas—we had a sudden and unexpected death in the first-tier extended family, which devoured another week.

Consequently the column that I was writing on Friday, January 28, remains a pile of untidy notes and fragments, and as Mr. Clock ticks closer to noon, it becomes ever clearer to me that I'm not going to get it finished this morning.

So instead, I would like to redirect your attention today to "Who put the "Psi" in Science Fiction?", by occasional Friday Challenge contributor Guy Stewart. (Hmm. If Henry and Kersley are Friday Challenge "regulars," does this make Guy a "slightly irregular?") Guy poses some interesting questions about the subject of Christian faith in the context of science fiction, and leads me once again to wonder why, in a literature that spends so much time gassing on about the exploration and settlement of the final frontier, three of the best-documented rationales for doing such pioneering work—the quest for personal religious freedom, the imperative to do missionary work, and the settling of the American west—remain largely verboten topics.

Anyway, Guy has written an interesting and thought-provoking column. Consider checking it out.

Also on the recommended reading list, if you're looking for something to do on this snowy afternoon, is "The decline and fall of the fantasy novel," by Friday Challenge highly irregular Vox Day (aka, "Theo"), which you'll find over at Black Gate. It's part of an ongoing discussion there re the changes that have appeared in the fantasy genre since Tolkien and Howard were writing, and of how the concepts of good and evil have been replaced by moral equivalency and confusion. This essay isn't for everyone—most writers are uncomfortable thinking about the latent moral implications of their work—but if you're ready to consider working at slightly greater depth than usual, it's definitely thought-provoking.

Finally, in case you somehow missed the news: the Borders bookstore chain filed for bankruptcy this week. While the immediate reaction in some circles has been much rejoicing—a lot of independent booksellers blame the big chains for their own poor sales, while somehow managing to avoid considering that perhaps their own sales methods could stand some improvement, and a lot of writers have taken to complaining loudly about the amount of influence the big chain store merchandise buyers have on editorial and publishing decisions—almost unnoticed in this news is that among their other creditors, Borders owes $41.1 million to Penguin Putnam, $36.9 million to Hachette, $33.8 million to Simon & Schuster, and $33.5 million to Random House. That's roughly $140 million dollars that the four biggest publishing houses in the country together are probably just plain going to lose, pretty much overnight.

And that should lead to some interesting changes in the publishing business...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Open Mic Saturday

Good morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently, when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like sharing with the group here?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Critical Thinking

Sorry I'm late. Blame the refrigerator.

So, we got a new fridge yesterday. I was completely ambivalent about the whole thing. Our old one was slowly falling apart, and the water line froze if it got below 10 outside, but otherwise it worked fine. The thing was, it was a side-by-side. Next to a wall. So freezer access was ridiculous, and it wouldn't hold a full-sized pizza. (I'm not saying we laid down that kind of money just so we could have full-sized pizza. But it was a consideration.) Maj Tom finally got tired of my whining and found a slightly banged-up, new, stainless steel, bottom-freezer at a significant discount. I was still ambivalent. The voice in my head kept telling me it was a foolish expense and think about the kids with no clean water in Africa.

When the guy came to take away the old one, he asked how it was broken. I admitted it wasn't. Then I felt even worse. Shouldn't I have put it on Craig's List or something? Who discards a perfectly good fridge? How irresponsible was I?

These voices come out of nowhere. I have a friend who was plagued by her ex-husband's voice in her head for several months after her divorce. Everything she did, every decision she made, was accompanied by a corresponding response from the Idiot Boy in her mind. Down to what side of her new desk she put her mouse on.

When I was training for a marathon, a marathon addict gave me one piece of advice: don't run with whiners. If you happen by someone and they have a bad attitude (I'm so sore! This is so long!), either pass them or drop back. Road races--and life--are hard enough without carrying someone else's drama and expectations.

So, the guy who was taking away my fridge was Hispanic (not uncommon at all in Colorado) and spoke very quickly with a heavy enough accent I couldn't understand him well (too much BBC on my part). He rattled away for a good two minutes, me hardly understanding a word, until he pointed to the patch on his shirt: Ronald McDonald House. "We'll see if we can find a place for it."

Yes! I am not an irresponsible blight on humanity! I am donating to the Ronald McDonald House! Go me!

Of course, there was still the guilt over buying the fridge in the first place. Which was taken over by a different guilt as I realized that I wasn't selfish; I was ungrateful. Here Maj Tom is trying to do this great thing for me, and all I can think about is guilt.

Sometimes the whiner you need to step away from is yourself.

So what does this have to do with writing? Any number of things. A fitness expert on the radio mentioned that workout strategies don't work if you focus on the goal. They work if you focus on the process. If you're thankful that you can run (or walk, or bike, or play Wii bowling), you'll be more likely to stick it out. Similarly, I need to focus more on being thankful I can sit down occasionally and crank out a thousand words instead of beating myself up that I'm not as far along in my novel as I should be.

In other news...

Thanks for your patience with The Friday Challenge. Mrs ~brb is still going through chemo--and everything that that entails! (It's a Kipling thing.) As far as I know, Audrey is recovered from her uber-scary blood thing, but maybe Henry will tell us more. Maj Tom is trying to out-process, but his job keeps getting in the way. He retires in less than two months (yikes!), but his last conference is in a week. Once that's over, he should be able to finish out.

We do need to find a venue for the retirement, though. The cabin we were hoping to use was apparently a victim of arson this last summer. Now we're looking at a boring banquet room. *Yawn!* I guess it doesn't matter as long as he gets that DD Form 214.

Another thing to be grateful for! Back in Viet Nam, the Air Force, along with the other services, decided that majors should be allowed to retire, even if they didn't get promoted to LtCol. It's called selective continuation. What with the economy and all, officers aren't taking the RIF (Reduction In Force--voluntary separation to include a bonus) and getting out to try for big, fat contractor jobs. But scuttlebutt on the streets is that selective continuation will soon be discontinued--the AF is over-manned. Which means if a major is passed over twice and wants that retirement check, he'll have to either join the Reserves and wait until he's 60 to start receiving payments or--even worse!--transfer to the Army. But Maj Tom is on his way to a happy retirement. He plans on spending the summer with the creature while I work. I think it's a lovely idea!

Whilst waiting the proscribed 15 minutes after my allergy shot yesterday, a retired Army grunt sat next to me. Somehow, we got on the subject of SF, and I handed him the copy of Stupefying Stories I'd left on the waiting room table. Then I experienced what all writers must go through, but what I'd been relatively protected from: random fan talk. (Not fan of me, mind you. Fan of SF.) That was quite the experience. I don't think it's something I can graciously pull off, yet.

Kersley Fitzgerald has a confession to make. Whenever she gives someone a copy of Stupefying Stories, she always adds, "There's an odd story about bees in there, but don't worry! The author is really a very nice guy! Lots of kids, loves his wife...he just has an interesting way of seeing the world."

Monday, February 14, 2011

M is for Muse

Written by M

Friday was Jane Yolen's birthday.

Remember Jane Yolen? Folklorist, fantasy & science fiction author, and the creator of an almost countless number of bestselling children's books? She has, at last count, over 300 titles to her credit, and she is also the author of that highly popular, phenomenally successful How Do Dinosaurs series, which helps kids understand how to better handle social situations by poetically illustrating the way their dinosaur friends dealt with the same scenarios. Kids love dinosaurs, and kids adore her books. (How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You?, How Do Dinosaurs Learn to Read?, How Do Dinosaurs Cope with Embarrassing Dandruff? ... actually I'm not sure of all the titles, but there are a lot of them.)

So how did she celebrate? She gave me a present.

It all started innocently enough. Jane awoke Friday morning to hundreds of Facebook friends sending short little birthday greetings. Some even started sending them a day early, but most of those were from friends and fans on the other side of the International Date Line. Seeing all their posts, Jane joked that if each had sent a hundred bucks instead, she would have enough cash to repair the old barn she recently lost to inclement weather.

Being a latecomer to the well-wishing party, but having recently sent a manuscript to her publisher, I added my own little birthday quip to her wall... which prompted the following exchange:

Jane, I don't have a spare $100 to send toward your barn fund, but if -------- picks up the manuscript I sent them, I'll at least owe you a birthday drink! Heck, for that matter I'll buy you a drink even if they don't. ;)

Happy Birthday to a wonderful lady, a gifted writer, and a still-young photogenic smile!
Friday at 8:00am

Jane Yolen
Hey--if -------- picks up MY next mss., 'll be able to afford the drink myself! LOL
Friday at 8:08am

Either way, that sounds like a "win" to me! Good luck with yours... not that you've ever seemed to need luck. ;)
Friday at 8:15am

Jane Yolen
You haven't been reading all my recent rejection letters, then!
Friday at 8:59am

Nope. Maybe you should put the best ones in book form (How Do Dinosaurs Deal with Rejection?).

Not that you're a dinosaur, by any stretch of the imagination...
Friday at 9:39am

... and I kid you not, barely ten minutes later, Jane posted the following snippet of paleontological wizardry:

How does a dinosaur deal with rejection. . .
©2011 Jane Yolen All Rights Reserved

OK--Marc Blake challenged me and I couldn't resist:

How does a dinosaur deal with rejection?
By kicking the table, a slight misdirection?
By taking a shower and shouting in pain,
and cursing the editors, each one by name?
No, a dinosaur reads each critique with great care,
and figures out which one's the one she should share.
Courageous, she smiles and she says nothing rash,
then rips up the thing, throws it into the trash.

My job here is done.

Well, not quite done. She agreed to sign a copy for me, if we ever meet.

In a fitting end to the day, I received a rejection letter Friday evening. As per Jane's own "for writers" advice, I at least have enough extant submissions now that each small rejection is less of a sting, and the same story will embark upon a visit to another market tomorrow. Perhaps it will even decide, this time, to stay.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Open Mic Saturday

Good morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently, when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like sharing with the group here?

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Friday Challenge Yahoo Group

The Yahoo group is our latest method of allowing all of you to enter Friday Challenges without having to post your entries openly online. Editors tend to consider anything readily available online to be published work and generally will not consider it for their publication. Now, you may simply join the Yahoo group and post your entries in the "Files" section of the group. After that, simply post a message here on the Friday Challenge site alerting people to your entry. It should work fairly similarly to drop.io.

Only members may post files to the group, so you'll have to join (and may need to create a Yahoo ID if you don't already have one). Membership is open to all and you are granted access immediately. Currently, I've set the group so it does not appear in the Yahoo group listings, so only people who actually come to this site will learn about it. Follow this link to access the group and join.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Critical Thinking

Setting as Character

I mentioned using setting as character last week, and resolved to figure out what that meant. It’s not easy to braid all the different elements of a story together—characters, actions, plot, setting, dialogue. Many authors tend to just skip one or more and simplify. When I do that, setting is the first to go.

It’s been said, and I’ve repeated it here, that Louis L’Amour is considered a great example of how to wrap setting into a story. When I first read that, I thought they meant use setting as a plot element—the characters have to fight or work with nature as part of the plot line. But I think maybe setting acts more like a character; there are very few instances in which nature or setting plays the major role in the plot of a story. You might argue that Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” is one. But even in the movie Cast Away, the island and the relentless ocean interact with the character as another character. He must struggle against it and escape from it, but the setting itself isn’t the plot. (Feel free to argue this point!)

I turn on my Kindle, and Louis L’Amour pops up. Maj Tom must have been reading it this morning. Here’s a sample:

There were junipers beyond the ridge, and broken boulders upon the ridge itself. In less than a minute he could cross the ridge and be in the shelter of those junipers, and if he took his time and made no sudden moves to attract the eye, he might easily cross the ridge without being seen.

Okay, aside from using the word “ridge” too much, here’s a character, Hondo, interacting with his surroundings as a character.

Setting as character means it isn’t just the backdrop. That would be like actors working against a green screen. If the action could take place anywhere, it might be worth re-thinking the scene. What’s the difference between the characters walking down a road and hiking on a trail? If the scene could be written either way with little change, rethink it. Have the people interact with the setting—trip over roots or see the cows that lead them to a memory that adds depth to the story. I’m in a coffee shop, now. How is that relevant to the scene? A guy two tables over has been passionately explaining exegesis and Mormonism and politics to an older couple for the last hour and a half. That’s been distracting. A cup on the table in front of me holds the remnants of a fruit parfait I had for breakfast; smudges of the yogurt still cling to the keys on my laptop, making my fingertip catch a bit on the “J.” This particular coffee shop is known for regulars and writers. I know I can go to the bathroom without someone stealing my computer.

When I think about the setting, it makes my writing more alive. I tend to use a lot of “he turned…” and “she looked up…” If I take the time to think about where they are, instead of turning, he can pick at the dried gum under the table. Or she can feel the drops of water that fall from the cedar branches. Instead of describing the restaurant the hero walks into, I can talk about the chipped paint on the door, the large, red-nosed man sitting at the tiny table with an espresso cup in his huge hand, the waitress with black flared pants and a slim-lined apron that hangs to her shins.

In action scenes, this could get too laden. You want the action to come quicker, the sentences shorter. If possible, you could work in the description of the setting prior to the action. In my WIP, the hero chases after two men and attacks one in the lobby of a clinic. But he’s already taken time to enter the building, stand before the receptionist desk, ride the elevator up. The setting is established, and when he tackles the villain, throwing them both behind the receptionist desk, (hopefully!) the readers will already have their bearings.

Do I sound like I know what I’m talking about? I don’t! I’m just getting this. Often, I’d write the story and then go back and add descriptions. That doesn’t really work. It turns out to be a bunch of characters “turning” and “looking” mixed in with dialogue and bland descriptions of a room or a corridor. I tend to use corridors a lot. Don’t know what’s up with that. But now I know to mention the buzzing lights or the stars outside the porthole or the cigarette burn in the thread-bare carpet—and how each of these things affects the POV character.

How about you? How do you use setting? Do you tend to write stories that could happen anywhere? Is there really anything wrong with that? How could you use your setting as a character? How does thinking of setting as a character change the way you see your WIP?

Kersley Fitzgerald is a wannabe writer in Colorado Springs who saw The Green Hornet last Saturday and loved it. Do you still respect her?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

If You've Been Considering Buying An Ereader...

...today might be the day to do it. One of the many sites on the web which feature special sales for a single day has refurbished Barnes & Nobel Nooks available for $79.99 (US dollars). I already have a Kindle and my wife isn't interested in an ereader at all, otherwise I'd be all over this deal. The deal is good until midnight, EST, if you're interested.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Ruminations of an Old Goat

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the hardest emotion to evoke -- humor. Before that, I wrote about the easiest -- drama and sadness. Now I'm going to write about the one emotion that, if evoked, either means your writing has succeeded wildly or it has failed spectacularly. Either way, evoking this emotion within your readers can define your writing career. What's the emotion?


Evoking anger in a reader can be quite easy. Get the reader to spend money on a crappy bit of hack writing that's plodding and predicable and you will definitely evoke anger. More likely, you'll evoke anger in the editor who wasted his time reading your submission. Either way, this is the bad kind of anger to evoke. Honestly, I haven't seen anything from those of you who enter the challenges that leads me to believe you'll ever have to seriously worry about this problem. There will always be the odd reader out there who will hate what you write and claim it's because you're a talentless hack, but most readers won't be moved to anger even if they don't care for your story.

Then there's the anger you want to evoke in your readers; anger for your characters or directed at certain characters and events within your story. Evoke this kind of anger in your readers on a regular basis and your writing career is pretty much made.

Why anger? Why not drama? Why not humor? Drama, as I've written, is too easy. Humor, while hard, is fleeting. You have to keep the humor going through out your story if you want to have the same effect you get from evoking anger just once. The reason anger is so powerful is because it means your reader actually cares what is happening in the story. It means they've become emotionally invested in the character or characters. It means your characters have become real to them.

Think about it for a minute. Do you get upset or angry is some child you don't know is bullied or harassed by other children at school? In the abstract, yes, you do. You probably think that someone needs to do something about this kind of thing. Then you have to start fixing dinner or hammering away at a sticky problem at work and you put the story out of your mind. Now, replace "some child" with your child (or sibling, for those without children). You get angry because your child is suffering. You get angry because it's not something you can fix directly, instead having to work through . You get angry because you care too much for the person affected to just let it go. Even if you turn aside to other tasks, part of your mind will still seethe with anger and try to figure out how you can help.

In other words, if your readers get angry at what is happening to your characters, it's as if they have made the characters part of their family; at least while they're reading your story. Their anger will make your character's eventual triumph all the more satisfying. Or, if your character does not triumph, it will make the character's defeat all the more poignant.

As an added bonus, your reader's anger will linger well beyond the end of the story. We humans tend to grab our anger with both hands and struggle mightily to never let it go. We develop grudges against those we believe have wronged us. Years, decades, even, after the cause for the anger has passed, it can resurface and cause that that anger to burn white hot again for just a little while. In other words, if you evoke the "good" kind of anger in your readers, they will remember it. And that means they'll remember your story and you, the writer. And that's the kind of person who will buy anything you write -- unless you evoke the "bad" kind of anger, later, by delivering a crappy story.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Ultimate Geek Fu: The Traditional Postgame Post-Mortem

In lieu of a column, we're conducting the Super Bowl XLV version of Ultimate Geek Fu today. Two questions are on the table:

1. In your opinion, which was the best commercial aired during the game? I laughed at the VW ad with the kid in the Darth Vader costume and against my strong predisposition to dislike found myself really liking both of the ads that featured Eminem. The Kia Optima ad that just kept getting more ridiculous was fun to watch, too, but the more I think about it, the Motorola ad that riffed on Apple's "1984" ad was the most clever.

Your thoughts?

2. Can someone please explain the Black Eyed Peas to me? Are these people KISS for the 21st century, or some weird mutant offshoot of the Village People? Can any of the guys actually *sing*, without a vocoder doing real-time pitch correction? And while they're at it, why *don't* they use a vocoder on that cow in the Xena Warrior Princess costume? I mean, the whole "if you use enough vibrato no one can tell what key you're supposed to be in" thing was old forty years ago when Grace Slick used it to make any Jefferson Airplane track more than three minutes long painfully unlistenable. Is what I heard yesterday what they *normally* sound like?

Let the arguments begin.

Ruminations of an Old Goat

I had planned to post a new column today (even have the topic figured out), but Otogu was demanding over the weekend. Check back on Tuesday for the column I had intended to post today.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Open Mic Saturday

Good morning all, and welcome to Open Mic Saturday. This is the place to share your news and perhaps do a little bragging. If you're writing a novel: how much progress did you make this week? If you're writing short stories: did you finish anything or submit anything this week? If you've sold or published anything recently, when is it coming out and where can we find it? In short, as a writer, what kind of progress did you make this week?

Or what else is on your mind, that you feel like sharing with the group here?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Critical Thinking

Saturday, January 22, I went to the Life and Justice Conference here in town. It had break-off sections about crisis pregnancies, elder-care, and rights for the disabled, but the main speakers and the break-offs I went to were all about human trafficking.

Human trafficking: “The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

I learned a lot of things I didn’t want to know. Like most of the chocolate consumed in the world is harvested by what amounts to child slaves. Or the leading cause of death of orphans in the Sudan is hyena attack. Or human trafficking, although #2 or 3 right now, will soon be the #1 organized crime industry because drug dealers are starting to realize that they can get more money with fewer products and deal with fewer middlemen if they sell people instead.

I don’t know that I’d be able to do something directly. Of course, the woman who has nearly single-handedly funded two orphanages in the Sudan probably thought the same thing. But I found a ministry here in town that is working to get fifteen underaged prostitutes off the streets. I have a bed and a couch they can use. Woefully inadequate, but it is a need I can fill directly.

But this culture would tie in really smoothly with the novel I’m (supposedly) working on.

I have seen authors weave social issues into their fiction before. Some successfully, some notsomuch. I’m trying to work through this. The last thing I want to do is exploit even a generalized experience for my own gain. But I don’t want the story to be a morality tale about the issue, either. Subtle education good. Preaching bad.

I think I’ll be looking at August Rush, Neil Gaiman, and Charles De Lint as to how to do it right. They show how the setting can be a character—not a plot. Me being me, I have to keep my eye on the plot or I get too caught up in somebody’s angst and nothing happens.

Setting as character, not setting as plot. As my freshman history teacher used to say, I think I’m going to tattoo that one on the inside of my eyelids.

My sympathy to all y'all out there who are up to your eyeballs in snow. Here we just had -40 wind chill for a couple of days.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ultimate Geek Fu: The Origin of Star Trek

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Yorktown-

What? Yorktown? What happened to the Enterprise? For that matter, who the heck is Captain Robert M. April?

These two changes -- and quite a few more -- can be found in Gene Roddenberry's initial proposal for the television series Star Trek. You can find out all about the female first officer and the Latino helmsman, too. What's more interesting than a few name and gender differences is just how much of Roddenberry's initial vision for the show actually ended up appearing in various episodes. Further more, some of the concepts that never made it into the original series turned up twenty years later in The Next Generation.

I don't know that I'd call this a primer for writing television series proposals, but it does give a unique change to compare the original vision of a landmark series with what was beamed to television sets around the country -- including the one in my living room -- between 1966 and 1969.
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