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Orycon 31

Saturday November 28, 2009 @ 10:12 AM (UTC)

I’m back home from a Thanksgiving filled with piemaking and nephew-chasing, and right back into the thick of things: Orycon 31 is, unlike other Orycons, happening Thanksgiving weekend. I’m a panelist as I was last year, so if you’re coming, you might want to know my schedule.

It’s surprising to think that Orycon 30 was only a year and a week ago. Some of the people I met there are now good friends! I’m a lot more confident now, walking into a con on the first day, and I have some idea of what to expect. It’s quite exciting to be able to go to a con and tell people my story is out right now!

And of course, I am keeping an eye out for the nice woman with long hair and bangs.

Wordcount wisdom

Sunday November 22, 2009 @ 01:21 AM (UTC)

I always feel a bit self-conscious posting about my writing process. Not only do I believe fiction is a bit like law and sausage, but I’m also keenly aware the internet teems with unpublished novelists. I may be a special snowflake, but it’s positively blizzing in the intertubes. However, I’ve been encouraged to post about process, so here it goes again.

Some time ago, I made a daily wordcount goal. I stuck with it for three months before I missed a day. The day I missed was the day before my move, and then the day of my move, and the second day on the road, and, well, once you break a habit, it’s hard to glue it back together. My daily wordcount has been more of an unpredictable hare than a methodical tortoise of late. Over the summer, I started it up once more, and declared that, should I miss a day, I’d have to make it up plus penalty words the next day. That worked fine for a while, occasional deficits being repaid in massive fits of productivity. I filled a lot more pages in my journals. But eventually a hundred words lost here and there added up, especially with the steep interest applied by “penalty words.” The system was joyless and disheartening, and made me feel like a debtor to myself, rather than a creator. So I forgave my debt and scratched the system.

This tale I told, in brief, to some fellow writers at World Fantasy. (Specifically, over lunch at the delicious and reasonably priced Tandoori Oven in downtown San Jose.) “So I need to find a way to keep myself on the wordcount system without sucking the joy out of everything,” I said.

“What you need is positive reinforcement,” said Vylar Kaftan. This was one of the many times people have told me things that should have been perfectly obvious, but they break across my thick skull like glorious sunbeams, and I am filled with gratitude. I know I respond better to positive reinforcement than to negative reinforcement. I’m the kid that would stop putting her oboe together to practice when her mom yelled up the stairs “Why haven’t you played your oboe today?” but practiced ’til her lips lost sensation when her teacher said she was improving markedly. This is how I work. I should know this.

The brilliant Vylar suggested rewarding myself with $20 fun money for a week of accomplished daily wordcounts, but my new problem was that I can’t really make the reward monetary. And apart from money and things that require money, I couldn’t think of a reward. Making cookies for myself would be a reward (for me and for Ryan) but it would also mean I had to, you know, make a whole batch of cookies. Not so rewardly: another task to do.

And then my second wordcount angel flapped in. Ruth, Ryan’s mom, is a psych nurse. I told her I was thinking of just making myself Reward Coupons for successful weeks, and figuring out what they stood for later. “Honestly, that should work well,” she said. “You’d be surprised by the motivating power of gold star stickers.” I realized she’s right. Marking success is its own reward. After all, I want to write. I want to see the pages fill up and the stories finish. Why wouldn’t I feel richer when I see what I’ve accomplished?

I haven’t gone out to buy my packet of star stickers yet, but I have started counting again, as of the day Ruth and I talked, the 15th. And today marks the first completed week, each day over my wordcount goal, even when I spent hours revising (which has a tendency to generate something like -30 words per hour). I have more than a hypothetical gold star to show for it: I have a story more than halfway done. Many thanks to the wise women that turned my snoozing hare back into a tortoise.

"Conditional Love" on newsstands

Wednesday November 11, 2009 @ 11:29 PM (UTC)

The January 2010 Asimov’s Science Fiction with my story, “Conditional Love,” is available on newsstands and at bookstores! Many Barnes & Noble and Borders locations carry Asimov’s, and some independent bookstores — in either case, it’s good to call ahead if you haven’t seen previous issues there. The digital version does not appear to be available yet at Fictionwise, but I’ll update this post with a link when it’s available.

If you’re looking for this issue on shelves, here’s your quarry:

Magazine cover appears to show men in boater hats investigating a beached space squid

I’d like to keep this thread spoiler-free. If you’d like to discuss the story in depth, I can set up another thread for that, or you can hie you to the Asimov’s fora.

In case anyone is wondering, yes, it’s still incredibly exciting the second time around. The difference is that now it’s my third story out, and my second in Asimov’s, I can actually believe it without checking the table of contents every five minutes!

Thank you for your attention to this self-aggrandizing announcement.

Update, 11/24/09: The magazine is available digitally from the Sony eBook store. Have not found it on Fictionwise yet.

Update, 12/4/09: The magazine is now available digitally from Fictionwise. They sell all sorts of eReader formats and .pdf. Also, the magazine’s on sale right now!

Update, 12/17/09: Rich’s Cigar Store, an independent cigar and magazine shop in Downtown Portland, still has several copies of January’s Asimov’s, and they do ship. The February issue hits stands on the 22nd, so there are a few days left!

Spoiler: Still spoiling Terminator after more than a week.

As we all know — because surely those who have not watched Terminator have either rectified the oversight or abandoned my blog for the duration of Terminator Week — at the end of the original film, Sarah Connor has a dog. There is a certain thread of pro-dog propaganda in the Terminator movies which has always led me to believe James Cameron is a dog person. After all, he was stuck with that cat when he made Aliens: it was left over from Ridley Scott.

But perhaps something deeper is at play here. Let us consider the Terminator and the Alien.

5 by 5. Terminators don’t get along with dogs. Aliens don’t get along with cats. While they don’t necessarily eat them, it’s clear Aliens and cats have a natural antipathy, as manifested in copious hissing. Dogs, on the other hand, flip out when they detect a Terminator.

4. Terminators keep themselves clean. Aliens slobber. You don’t see any Aliens heading home to freshen up and check the mirror before continuing their killing sprees.

3. Terminators are lone predators. Aliens hunt in packs. Yup.

2. Terminators don’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. Aliens are full of family feeling. Now here I’ll admit the cat/terminator parallel has its flaws — cats do appear to feel fear, tho’ pity and remorse are quite unlikely. But cats do tend to have a centered self-sufficiency more akin to the autonomous Terminator than the social xenomorph.

1. Terminators are manipulative. Aliens are straightforward. Either an Alien is going to growl and attack, or he’s going to sniff and attempt to snuggle you (really, Joss Whedon told me so.) There’s none of this “Oh, I’m just a cute cat, please further my mission goals.” Sure, currently they wiggle their way into our homes in order to eat food and sleep in the window, not open fire with chainguns, but you can give a Terminator a friendly mission too. Cats are infiltration units. We may love them, but let’s not let them have access to our launch codes. I don’t want to know how far this parallel goes.

Disruption in service

Saturday October 31, 2009 @ 01:54 PM (UTC)

I apologize for the delay mid-Terminator Week. I am at World Fantasy Convention and have not yet been able to wrest working wireless from my hotel (I type from my phone.) Rest assured two features are still planned for Terminator Week and sooner or later they will appear. I only wish I could send them back in time to prevent this pause!

Terminator Week: Fate, no matter what you make

Wednesday October 28, 2009 @ 02:03 PM (UTC)

Spoiler warning: Terminator Week may spoil the original Terminator, which you really should have seen anyway. Oh, and today there may be mild spoilers for the first trilogy of Dragonriders of Pern.Yeah, you heard me.

One of the reasons I love Terminator is that it’s not just a good action movie, it has a good sci-fi story. The dark vision of the future — the war machines grinding over a layer of human bones, children happily watching the fire they’ve made in an old TV shell — is compelling, but the actual plot is interesting, too.

I grew up loving time travel stories. I could probably blame Back to the Future for this, but let’s not let Star Trek off the hook either. In serious childhood conversations with my dad, I asked about how time travel worked (Hey, my dad knew everything. I probably thought he took a class in Time Travel at Caltech!). Based on the theories he outlined, I had to admit that a Back to the Future-style universe seemed unlikely, one where you could make changes, perceive them, correct them, et c. But it took a while for me to warm up to the Immutable Universe alternative.

Perhaps my first experience of the immutable timeline in fiction was in Anne McCaffrey’s original Dragonriders of Pern trilogy, where mysterious things have happened in the past, and the characters gradually realize they have the ability and the duty/destiny to go back in time and cause those events. It’s a tricky thing to write, but when it’s good it’s very good indeed.

And the original Terminator was one of those times. You can dispute me based on the movie you saw, but I’ve read the original script. In the original script, the reason they end up at the factory at the end is that Sarah wants to try to prevent the rise of Skynet by blowing up the company that will eventually build it. Reese thinks it isn’t possible to change the future, but she manages to drag him along. After the final fight, we see a manager of the company pocket a computer chip from the Terminator. It’s a perfect closed loop: Skynet is made possible by technology that came back from the future Skynet created. John Connor is made possible by the hot freedom fighter DNA he sent back from the future he saved.

Now, Terminator 2 used the reverse-engineering conceit, but one of the reasons my affection for it is tinged with regret (besides the fact the Kyle Reese dream sequence is a deleted scene! Oh, and that damn kid) is that it ruined the perfectly finished time-knot of the first movie. Sure, all the details in the original script didn’t make it into Terminator, but nothing in the movie contradicts them: closed loop. Suddenly in Terminator 2 you can change the future. The loop is open and frayed. Probably it made sense to a national consciousness emerging from the gloom of the Cold War, but I loved the austere fatality of the 1984 movie. It was an elegant little story, one that met the challenges of plotting in an immutable timeline admirably.

Terminator Week on

Monday October 26, 2009 @ 12:57 PM (UTC)

Gentle reader, twenty years ago today, the original Terminator came out. It launched a franchise, but we’re not here to talk about that. In the wake of three sequels and some sort of TV show, it’s easy for the first movie to be overlooked, and that’s a crying shame. It’s a compelling movie with good pacing and a pet iguana, and it pioneered James Cameron’s use of the special effect that would serve him so well in his early career: Michael Biehn.

But seriously, I love this movie, with all its 1980s fustiness and even its jerky stop-motion ending. I have ever since the time Mom was out of town and Dad and I roamed the video store aisles, looking for something suspenseful or violent. This week I’ll be sharing some reasons why. Very little mention will be made of T2, and none of T3, T4 (which I haven’t seen) or any TV shows (sorry, Summer Glau, I haven’t seen those either.) If you are allergic to time travel and fighting implacable robotic overlords, you’ve been warned: come back next week, when it’s safe.

Everyone else, come with me if you want to live.

Shaking hands is illogical

Thursday October 22, 2009 @ 10:58 PM (UTC)

I’m going to the World Fantasy Convention in San Jose this month. I’m excited. My mom isn’t though, because she’s worried about her offspring traveling and picking up the dread H1N1. While I try to allay her influenza fears as much as I can in general, I can see her point here. One of the main things you do at conventions is meet people. And here in America, when we meet, we mostwise shake hands.

I’ve seen some people try to sidestep the handshake this year, but it’s difficult. You have to explain why you don’t want to shake, and some people take it personally. You’re basically deleting a major social ritual that communicates goodwill. It’s in the fabric of our culture, and it’s hard to rip out.

That’s where my idea comes in.

a hand performing the Vulcan salute

You see, at science fiction conventions, people share far more than a single culture. Even if you hate Star Trek, if you’re at a sci-fi con, you’re going to understand the gesture and its meaning. It fills the void left by handshaking. It doesn’t insult the recipient — most of us would love to live long and prosper — and hey, if you’re worried someone will think you’re a geek, you’re in the wrong place.

I’d love to go to World Fantasy and Orycon this year and see people keeping their hands germ-free and their greetings classic and cordial, so if you think this is a good idea, please pass it along!

Here are some tools you can use:

Images (as seen above, all .png format)

Flyers (.pdf format, image plus “Shaking hands is illogical.”)

Feel free to use these images and flyers under Creative Commons Noncommercial-Share Alike. Please link back here if you post derivative works online. (If you make a pin, flyer, or other offline derivative work, you don’t have to mess it up with my info. I’ll live!) Thanks to my dad for his photograph, and his hand.

Live long and prosper this flu season!

Random thought: zombies

Sunday October 11, 2009 @ 10:03 AM (UTC)

Yesterday I started listening to a fresh audiobook, Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks. As the name implies, it’s set around a 17th century outbreak of the Bubonic Plague in England. When the novel opens, the plague has already swept through, and the main character is coping with the emptiness of her village. I’ve barely begun, but the story has a lot of interest for its sheer novelty: I could name social effects of the plague or list a few historical facts about it, but I’ve never read a book set during or after it. But it also made me think of a sort of story I have heard more than once: zombie stories.

I know, I know, there are no zombies in 17th century history. But the empty streets, the feeling of being an island of humanity — those are definitely part of modern post-apocalyptic fiction. And that’s when zombies came up — I began to wonder if zombies are a plague fear. I know, a lot of stories refer to it as “the infection!” and so forth so this may seem obvious to others, but it had never occurred to me to wonder if that’s where zombies get their archetypal oomph. I’ve always figured they were a very literal fear of death, uninteresting from a subtextual standpoint. But in an epidemic, even the people you love can kill you. Especially them, as you stay near them and tend them. Everyone is a threat, anyone could prove the agent of your death. You’re surrounded by bodies and death and there are few survivors, traumatized and isolated. Zombies!

Ryan responded to this musing of mine by saying he thought zombies came from someone thinking the dead walking and making you one of them would be a good story. But I think recurring stories — especially scary stories, like werewolves and zombies — have to tap into something in the human psyche or they wouldn’t keep coming back. Like plagues and zombies, these stories keep coming and won’t lie down.


Tuesday October 06, 2009 @ 01:09 PM (UTC)

Until recently, collaborating on a work of fiction sounded a bit like climbing a mountain: too much work to contemplate. But then a friend asked if I’d consider working with her, and she had enough reasons it was a great idea for both of us that I put on my crampons. Not only is it my first collaborative project, but it’s my first attempt at writing to a pre-selected theme, so I’m learning plenty about my own processes along the way.

But one thing I’ve discovered isn’t about me or my writing: collaborating seems to be far more common in spec-fic than in other genres. This may seem obvious to you, gentle reader, but it didn’t sink in for me until a literary-type writer asked me how my writing was going. I mentioned I was collaborating on a story and got a blank look. I explained a bit further, and he still looked surprised at the idea. “It’s not uncommon in speculative fiction,” I found myself saying. And that’s true.

There are lots of temporary team-ups: Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Moon; P.K. Dick and Roger Zelazny; one book written by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May, and Andre Norton. One of my favorite collaborations is Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Most of the long-term writing teams I know of are romantic partners who write together, from Janet and Isaac Asimov to Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon. But all of these collaborations, which I remembered off the top of my head, are in fantasy or science fiction. I’ve met plenty of people who’ve collaborated on short stories too — all of them writing spec fic.

So what’s going on here? Perhaps literary fiction is very invested in the genius model of creation. If writing is something transcendent that happens in the fecund mind of an individual, how can it be shared between two? Of course, I didn’t find a lot of unabashed proponents of the genius model when I was in grad school: literary writers seem to have become a bit more pragmatic. Well then, perhaps it’s the implied compromise: in my experience, the literary world does see the author as striving toward an ideal artistic vision. How can two people share the same vision, and won’t they both have to compromise in order to finish the work?

Of course, trying to cast this as an effect of literary aloofness is ignoring another important piece of anecdata. I have read a lot of mysteries — and, living with my mom, seen the covers of many more — and I can’t recall an actual coauthor. (Feline coauthors, in my humanocentric opinion, do not count.) I don’t have any expertise at all in romance, but my limited impressions don’t include two names on the cover. If it were just literary fiction that resisted collaboration, why wouldn’t I have seen at least a few co-written books in these genres?

So it is I come to my current working theory: it’s not about literary fiction, or about what spec-fic isn’t. It’s about fandom and what spec-fic is. Fandom is a riot of people building on each others’ ideas, enjoying each others’ worlds and characters. It includes many gamers, who are used to the idea that a story, even an interesting or epic story can emerge from the contributions of four or five people sitting around a table. Maybe it isn’t that other sorts of fiction have a resistance to collaboration so much as that collaboration just doesn’t come up in those circles. Whether it came from writers geeking out over each others’ worlds, people around a gaming table or established authors wanting to nurture and promote newer ones, team-writing seems to have a tradition within science fiction and fantasy (and horror?) that it doesn’t have elsewhere.

What do you think? Have you read collaborations in other genres? Am I overlooking something about team-written spec-fic? Who wants to be the only voice in a discussion about collaboration, anyway?

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