Friday, July 29, 2011

Blog Award

Spontaneous blog combustion! Big thank you to Kathleen Doyle for saving me from dithering about a blog post today.

OK, seven things about me:
  1. I am turning 40 in a week plus a few days.
  2. "Getting old" isn't scary. Curiosity keeps you "young".
  3. I never had imaginary friends as a kid. They didn't kick in until high school. 
  4. I have been fat, depressed and nerdy all my life. 
  5. Took a long time, but I'm at peace with that. 
  6. Faith and yoga helped a lot.
  7. I still want to move back to New England someday.
Ten tags from my blog reading list -- posts I've found interesting, helpful or informative recently.  
  1. Roni Loren
  2. What Not to Do as a Writer
  3. Writing the Other
  4. Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  5. Moody Writing
  6. Ready, Aim, Hook Me
  7. W.I.P. It
  8. Gem State Writers
  9. The Writer Coaster
  10. Lucy V. Morgan
 Check them out.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Character coversations: Shen

I just finished the first draft of Orbital Shifts last night. We'll see how long it takes me to get antsy... and which project I'll pick up next.

I’ve been looking at other character interviews online and maybe I’m being too informal and conversational with my characters. So I’m hauling in “the responsible one” for some more official-like questions.

(That gets me a glare)
Responsible? Supposed to be the responsible one?

(From the next room, Maggie yells) Responsible for screw—

(Shen kicks the door shut.) Never going to live it down, am I.

Probably not. Okay, first question: The first novel, Course Corrections, is about breaking into a secure asteroid prison-and-rehab facility to rescue a few people. What was your role?

(I point the microphone at him and he just looks at me.) Come on, I’m God here. The authorities have to play by my rules.

I was the spider. (please explain?) Spider suit is an EVA-ready stillsuit equipped with multi-wavelength camouflage, a gecko-based adhesive surface and a facilitating AI. Spider is the chuck inside the suit. For this job, I was the one inside the Trojan Horse.

Note: anyone asking what a stillsuit is will be smacked with a hardcover copy of Dune.

Don’t you have to hand in your hard SF cred for mentioning Dune?

If we invented it tomorrow, we’d call it a stillsuit. Second question: Maggie led this break-in to rescue her cousin, Neal McBride. Why did you join her team?

Got into the resistance on the ground floor, knew all the McBrides. Neal paid the piper for a lot of us, in the end. Didn’t deserve that. They sent him off for “therapy” to “fix” him — not a thing wrong with the chuck, he’s just booter and they’re not.

To secure the funding for this break-in, Maggie had to agree to rescue some less pleasant booters who were being held in that facility.

Was going to be trouble from the start, that. Of all the booters they’ve locked up, Tanner Sheppard was one that I’d leave there. Pirate. Slaver. (shakes his head) Giving us a bad name, booters like him.

Third question: you sure I can’t get you to grow your hair out like your reference photo?

Long hair in zero gravity is a hassle. (You call that long? I point at Maggie and other long-haired characters but he shakes his head) Rough enough on it with all the coloring.

Right, we should mention your punk tendencies. Hair was dark blue at the start, wasn’t it? Unfortunately for you, I’m bored and I have Photoshop. Let’s make that pic a little more accurate.

Knew you couldn’t be serious for a whole interview.

Okay, let’s be serious then. I’m working on a Twitter-sized pitch for the sequel, Orbital Shifts: Tanner Sheppard’s no pirate, but he’ll have to prove that to all of Jupiter’s moons, clear? And to Maggie McBride.

As of the start of that (the sequel) I say he’s a drunk and a brawler and a general fuck-up. Should cut him loose and don’t look back.

Think Maggie will go easier on him than you?

(considers that for a while) Think Maggie’s ambitions could get in the way. Why I stayed on after the rescue job to watch her back. (thoughtful for another moment, and adds) When I met her, she was just Glenna McBride’s kid sister. Not the way she’ll be remembered, though.

Orbital Shifts, first draft 70.6K, is in need of betas who have not read Course Corrections. Then it will go into hibernation alongside its other half until the Viable Paradise workshop in October. Then we'll see about queries and such. Life creeps at such petty pace. Meanwhile... stay tuned.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Character conversations: Valentin

Segue from Maggie's conversation to talking with Valentin, her main squeeze. My comments and notes in italics.

You were involved in Glenna's uprising toward the end. How did you escape Glenna McBride's infamous seductive powers?

Not by trying to avoid it. Noticed her, of course, hard not to. I was not on her radar, I think. So I did not get full force of her attention. Saw her use it, though. On other men at that mixer before attack on Kennedy Station.

Was only just seventeen, then. Glenna, she was... old woman. (with a teasing laugh) What, twenty? Maybe twenty-one.

(I punch him in the shoulder on behalf of all women. He pretends it hurt, and it’s annoyingly cute how his eyes squish up when he laughs.) And this was five years ago that you were seventeen. Old man.

I should live so long. Be so lucky. Yes, I thought about Glenna. Maybe when I was alone in my bunk, too. Was redhead I kept looking at, though. One with... (he pauses to think) You know fabricators, systems that digest mined rock into elements, build it into plastics, all things you need on homestead.

(Fabricators are complex arrays of chemical and biological treatment systems, all run by an AI. The automated machinery can crush down anything, render it into simple chemicals and then build new substances back up. Plastics, water, oxygen, glass, metal... if all the ingredients are in what you feed it.)

Looking at Maggie was like looking into fabricator's forge as iron is cast. Glenna, she was full of anger, full of passion. Beautiful. Maggie...

Did you see that when you met her again, five years later?

Forge had cooled by then. Only iron. She was magnet, I suppose. (smiles) Could not resist.

Did we ever set a last name for you?

(he shrugs) Fine just being Valentin. Stop looking — there isn’t one. (Could’ve sworn I did when I decided your home ‘stead was called Mirgorod. Should’ve used it when we met you back at the beginning.) Works, what you put. “Last name as Russian as he looked.” (Found it later. Mirovalev.)

Just trying to keep you clear in people’s heads. Got this passel of cute guys, I’ve got to do something…

So we interview to work on accent, yes. But said you do not believe in writing accents.

Not phonetically. Not in painful detail. But a little word choice tweaking will set you apart.

Maybe I learned English young, though. Not American Russian, but can still pick it up over networks and net-school. Not tiny homestead, Mirgorod, Long Runners come and go.

Look, I’m not asking you to pick up some cheesy Soviet accent.

(with a grin, letting his accent thicken)
Pass me vodka.

Should I worry about alcoholism? (I pour a couple shots, though)

(still laying on the accent)
Live on rock and void waits to eat soul. Any slip, it get you. More vodka help you sleep at night.

More vodka make you stupid.

(pours himself another)
Famous Russian drinking, is like marathon. Train all time. Start young.

I probably don’t want to ask.

(with a raspberry)
Americans. Martian corporations we need to shuck off — none are Russian. Was Americans who wanted to live in gees, on big stations with redundancies and all safety (air quotes with that second shot in hand) they could lift up here.

But Americans are a major part of the bootstrapper population.

Still some pioneer blood left. Russians were bootstrapping before millennium turned. (empties that second shot) We got here first. Americans followed with their luggage. (image of tourists in Hawaiian shirts with a luggage cart stacked ludicrously high)

OK, that stings a bit.

My opinion. (Yup. You’re the chatty one, of the guys, aren’t you. He shrugs.) Get few shots in us, we loosen up. Except for DB. So it was me and Shen and Clay. (And Danika and Yvana. He nods.) Russian, aren’t they? And Maggie too. Hackers were always hacking. Not good, never taking breaks. Never unwinding.

One of my better reference choices...
Americans know something about working hard, at least. Makes us a little better than tourists? He shrugs at that too.

Americans still think Russian men are shadowy, dangerous Soviets? That sexy? (You shut up right there, comrade, you’re showing my age. He chuckles at that.) So why this reference photo?

What? Adrien Brody’s got Eastern European in him. Not as far off as some of my ref photos. Plus — melancholy? And those hands? Sexy, yeah.

So it’s Russian melancholy, then? (pours himself a third shot.) Cheerfulness of the damned, is that right phrase? Stereotype? What is Russian stereotype, since Soviet Union died?

Gangster? Anybody can be a gangster, though. Good question. Maybe my readers will comment on that. And this is running long, so I’m going to stand by you being the chatty one. :)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Character conversations: Maggie

Won't be as depressing as Tanner's, I promise. My questions and notes in italics.

How did I let you get away with not telling me much about where you’re from?

Was just a pit stop on a tiny moon. A kilometer across. Jupiter’s got dozens of them flying around looking for stable orbits.

So these one-kay rocks would be a risky place to set up, then.

Yes, but on the other hand it only takes one hauler to nudge it if you need to. Had to do that, once. Holly said we were on course to tap another one-kay and fall into Jupiter, so Pa and Uncle contracted with Josh. (Josh, the captain of Himalia Express caravan who was later part of Glenna’s uprising) Himalia Star put her nose on our rock and pushed for twelve hours. Which is just a little nudge, as these things go, but that was all we needed.

Pit stop, explain that.

My Ma, my Pa, Pa’s brother and his woman and a few friends all pitched in and carved a little homestead out of a one-kay. Most ‘steads base their business on mining or farming and things associated with that. Our goal was to be a nice place to stop. We did some mining and farming, sure, but mining out a one-kay rock’s a dead-end plan.

We served good food, good drink, and good entertainment. We were good company. Could clean your ventilation ducts and re-seed your recycler while you steamed in our sauna and cooled down with our orange sherbert. Even the hard-core Long Runners like that.

You said you did Shakespeare in your little vaudeville show. How much?

Did scenes, not whole plays, and did adaptations, not the old-timey language nobody would get. But fun stuff. People liked our take on Romeo’s swordfight with Tybalt. Neal would be Mercutio.

Not Romeo?

No, Antonio would be Romeo. Better at the swordfighting — which is hilarious in zero gee, of course.

What roles did you take?

Did all the kid roles until I started to… grow in. (adjusts corset) Glenna’d been doing all the pretty-girl roles and Pa dragged his feet about letting me try some of them.

Guess it’s tough to send your little girl on stage with her boobs strategically overflowing.

Wasn’t a problem with Glenna, though. (eyeroll) Big sis got to do everything, I was just the kid. Wished we hadn’t been so many years apart, sometimes. (Glenna was five years older.) Was great when I was littler, but then the hormones kicked in and I was completely outgunned by her. Did a lot of crying in my bunk because I thought nobody ever looked at me and saw anything but a consolation prize.

Wished she was there after she was gone, though. Plenty of times.

Those years on your own were tough, and you haven’t talked about them. But then you met Val.

Nothing worth talking about until I met Val. Magic, how bumping into somebody can turn you around. Imagine if I hadn’t. (smiles)

Friday, July 15, 2011


I saw the original meme going around and now I've been tagged by Spirit Called with the silly incarnation! Therefore, I will answer the opposite of the original meme's questions.

Do you think you're cool?

No, I don't think I've suffered that delusion yet. And if I ever do, defcon is sure to keep me in line. :)

Download a picture or wallpaper

I stole a nice autumn forest wallpaper from this meme. I think it was the Eagle's Aerial Perspective. I get most of mine either from NASA's photo archives or Vladstudio.

When was the last time you didn't eat chicken meat?

Still an odd question when you negate it. But I do raw feed my pets, and they eat chicken meat all the time. So it was either this morning or last night.

List the songs you've avoided recently.

I avoid the "Peanut Butter Jelly Time" song. It's an earworm. I also cannot listen to the cover of Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over" that Sixpence None The Richer did a few years back. Not sure why. I don't mind any of Sixpence's other songs...

What were you NOT thinking as you were doing this?

"Thank goodness I have such a reliable, high-bandwidth internet connection! Who can I hug?" It's been a couple days since I've thought that! I love thunderstorms and living in an old house!

Do you give other people nicknames?

I did invent the term "grumpy-pants" for a certain someone who was being a grumpy-pants at the time.

Tag some Blogger friends.

David Powers King - he's been on hiatus. Here's hoping he's back soon
defcon - sentient robots can play tag too
and ali cross @ the dojo - if you can tag a ninja, that is

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Worldbuilding: religion

I am doing some major under-the-hood work on a high fantasy epic that I wrote several years ago. One of the several things that I am tinkering with is the religion, which has gotten me thinking about the functions of religion within a social structure. These are some aspects that I've been considering.

Enforcement of standards of behavior -- slap people on the wrist and threaten punishment for bad behavior, either here and now or on a spiritual plane. It's just an extension of a parent's authority over a child, but to be honest most of us grown-ups need a slap now and then.

Encouraging group cohesion -- many of the behaviors that religion promotes and/or discourages are concerned with how people live peacefully in a group and work together. For example, the Ten Commandments: killing, lying and stealing are not good ways to get along with your neighbors. At the same time, religion often defines which groups of people (whether by their behavior or appearance) are to be excluded and how to treat them (usually badly. People like having permission to treat somebody badly.)

Encouraging personal development -- many religions also encourage followers to develop positive traits (the definition of "positive traits" being highly variable) that usually contribute to better group cohesion. Religious institutions also often provide a structure for people to pursue charitable or contemplative lifestyles if they are so inclined. In some societies, religion also offers the only context for pursuing an intellectual (scientific or other scholarly pursuits) lifestyle.

Providing a context for asking Big Questions -- why are we here, is there a higher purpose, why are people so cruel, etc. Religions try to answer the big, difficult questions of life. The answers can run the gamut from simple to highly nuanced. And this can be a source of dissension within a religion and a lot of violence.  

Secular authority -- religious institutions can, of course, be one and the same as what we currently think of as secular governments. Or they can be separate. They can co-operate or fight each other. And of course people can fight over what the optimum arrangement ought to be.

There are plenty of aspects to consider in designing a religion, especially for a fantasy world. Here are some:

Monotheistic, polytheistic, or animist -- as in, one God/Goddess, many distinct gods/goddesses, or a system of object spirits/animal spirits/elements/sentient forces. Or atheist? What would a technologically primitive, atheist culture be like? Interesting question! files away for future thinking

Do the supernatural entities actually exist? How involved are they with their worshipers?

Religion and culture influence each other heavily. Is this a religion that is well settled in and intertwined with the culture, or is it something new that is challenging peoples' traditions?

Did the deities come from somewhere? Were they created? Spontaneously manifested? Where do they get their power? How do they treat each other?

I am building a polytheistic, well settled religion of multiple deities who were at one time mortal. They're intimately involved with their followers, the mundane world and its secular institutions. My particular kingdom and its culture tend toward the martial side of things, so both the culture and the religion will be quite organized, structured, and focus on discipline. The reasons for this tie directly in to their deities and how magical power works in their world.

What sort of religion are you building? What would you add to these lists of functions and aspects?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

That elusive first draft, again

Technically, I wrote "The End" to Orbital Shifts a couple nights ago (I suspect there will be an epilogue, but that can wait) but I rushed straight back to the beginning to do everything I now know I need to do. This isn't unusual for me. I blogged about it when I finished Course Corrections.

The unusual part, this time, is that this is a sequel. Like any other book, I have to create tension, point out the goals, start the conflicts. But then there's the question of introductions for the characters and the world. Can't assume my readers read Course Corrections (especially as it's unpublished and all). And it's good to refresh the memory if there is a returning (beta) reader or two.

Halloween Clipart Images
I found this picture of eyeballs because I wanted to say something about how readers (like myself) can totally miss something that was right there on the page. You (the writer) invest hours of blood, sweat and tears and then the reader blows right past it because the cat started hurking in the next room or something.

Character intros, worldbuilding, brilliant dialogue... is that the cat? is he going to barf on the chair again? Did I read this part already?

But now the idea has gotten away from me and it's too hot to be chasing anything. But I like the eyeballs, so here they are.

I will return to blogging about things I love (characters, worldbuilding) as soon as I can. My brain has been tapioca lately. Things that could qualify as "complicated" have been going on in that "real life" place. Bother, as Pooh would say.

Keep cool, you all. Or warm if you're an Aussie.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Character conversations: Tanner again

I've submitted Tanner for an evaluation over at The Character Therapist. Here are some of the evaluation questions he answered, edited for spoilers and brevity. You can see a few more questions from this form that Tanner answered for a blogfest here.

Note: the Jovian Frontier is a science fiction world in the not-so-distant future. Questions in bold face, my comments and observations in italics. The rest are his words. Little bit of swearing ahead.

Reference photo - Tanner's got bluer eyes, browner hair, different face.
Using Brad Pitt from Kalifornia as a ref for the feral look
in his eye, the body language.
Character's Full Name:

Tanner Sheppard. No middle name? He shrugs. How about Quentin? ‘Tanner’ isn’t odd enough? Could talk about where that came from. True, I could write a blog post on the dangers of naming your characters on the fly. Never know if they’re going to stay minor characters. He smirks.


24. Note that I’m just taking his word on this. I don’t have much to base it on.

In a paragraph, how would you describe yourself in your own words?

Breath of a chuckle. I’m what came back home to roost. Didn’t expect this, that’s clear. Reflects for a moment. I’m an ex-pirate. Which is an ex-killer, ex-slaver, ex-… betrayer. Slaver? You did that, even with how you feel about your mother? He sets his teeth on his lower lip, then answers, Could say it was Pa that did it, he’d draw up the fake indenture papers. Sell them. Can’t deny my part in it any more. Therapy really fucked me over. Used to be simple. Used to just hate everything.

What were the family dynamics in your home growing up? What are they now?

Sketch, okay. Pirate caravan of four or five spaceships (15-20 people), in and out of Ananke (one of Jupiter’s small moons, a pretty rough place) every few months. Captained by the coldest fucking bastard in Jupiter system. If they’re not conning their way up to Long Runner caravans or small homesteads so they can turn around and gut the place, they’re farting around drunk and bored. Throw in a boy and two girls, that’d be me and Connie and Pru. And whatever slaves they’ve got around for toys. He’s tensing up as he says that, the thousand-yard stare creeping into his eyes.

Got scars to show for it, on your arm. Can I paste in the story as you told it to Connie? He nods.
Tanner looked down at them, on his forearm. “Captured a ship,” he said. “Got shot up in the taking. I was crying because of the bodies, the mess. Pa backhanded me onto a broken panel. Screamed, I know, seeing my blood curling up out of my arm (in zero gravity).” He shuddered. “Hoult shoved me in the airlock and beat the shit out of me. Told me he’d open the hatch with the rips in my suit, let the void eat my soul. Started it cycling, even. Felt it sucking the blood out of me as he wrapped me up with seal-all tape.”  
Connie’s eyes were soft. “Dev told me how to bandage you up.”  
He managed a bit of a smile. “Did a good job.”  
“For an eight-year-old,” she allowed. “Patching up big brother.” 

Said you had some stability, though. Some mothering. Yeah, Pa kept… Ma, well she was Ma to me for years and no matter what the truth was. Sorta remember before she was around, but… Shakes his head. She was Connie and Pru’s mother, mine too. But a slave. Was always clear on that. Safest place we had, sleeping in her bunk together. Till we got too big to all fit. Still slept there, after she was gone.

What happened? He just looks away and shakes his head again. Question wants to know what the situation is now, too. Pa’s dead, shot him myself a few weeks ago. Ma’s gone. Connie’d run away before they arrested me. Got back to Ananke and Pru’d run too. Can’t blame them. Nothing worth sticking around for — far as they knew, I was a spitting image of Pa. Just another animal.

What was the most important childhood event that still affects you today and why?

He rubs his hand against his cheek and then over his chin. Thinks for a few minutes. Most’ve those years had just slipped away, before. Packed away behind an airlock like the void. But then they sentenced me to therapy and strapped me down under a halo scanner, pumped me full of Parathena. Ripped me wide open and rummaged around inside. Don’t remember the first few months, actually, they had to sedate me half the time. Sentenced to being ‘fixed’ — a good thing, in your case. Maybe good now. Was hell all over again. Can’t pick out one, whole thing… hangs over me.

Do you or your immediate family have a history of mental illness? If yes, explain.

That actually gets a laugh — a weak, gallows-humor laugh. We sick, or just fucked? There a difference?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Books gone unmentioned

... because I know you all have been paying close attention to my reading list and the shuffling that's been going on.

I'm kidding, of course. But I'm feeling a need to flagellate myself a bit.

I am a bad reader. The constant chant of "writers must read!" rings in my ears daily, and I'm still a bad reader. Fickle. Nitpicky. Refuse to suspend my disbelief. Easily distracted. Can't stop looking at the nuts and bolts and let the big picture unfold.

People rant about this writer or that, and I have no idea who they're talking about. There's so much out there to read. We love to gripe about how much crap is on the shelves, but honestly? You can drown in good stuff too.

But a few words about books that will otherwise go unmentioned here:

I read about a third, maybe a half, of Jack Vance's Lyonesse. Started out innocent and gradually slid into cruelty -- which was impressive. Very nice, very subtle. But he lost me in transition to a new generation. A few predictable developments later, I put the book down. Felt badly about it, for what that's worth.

Got a copy of The War of Art last month. Put that one down after a quick scan. I am not at war with my art. Sorry.

And then came Perdido Street Station. Now, I've heard all the ranting about China Mieville. Picked the book up in the store, read the first couple pages. Remembered it later when the book made Tor's list of influential titles of the last decade.

The prologue paints a very clear picture. So clear that I was wishing I could move my chair back, turn down the volume or find some way to get the author to stop yelling "BLEAK! DARK! UGLY!" at me. Yes, I get it, thank you.

Chapter one is better, but unfortunately for this book I'm giving myself the homework assignment of reading the work of the authors who will be speaking at Viable Paradise. So Perdido Street is back on the to-read pile. Almost feel like I owe it an apology.

Picked up Elizabeth Bear's All the Windwracked Stars at the library. Fortunately, I read the first four or five of Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos series (and enjoyed them) long ago, so I feel safe putting off reading any more of his work. Hope I can get in a fair sampling before October.

Are you a bad reader? Do you feel obliged to finish a book you've started? How often do you have no idea what writer someone is raving about?

Friday, July 1, 2011

One ticket to paradise

I got the email yesterday.

Back in March, I sent in the first two chapters of Course Corrections and an outline of the rest with my application to Viable Paradise XV. It's a week-long writing workshop on Martha's Vinyard and the teaching staff includes some big-name science fiction authors and editors.

I'd been waiting for them to decline, so I could get on with my life. I'm getting toward the end of the sequel, after all.

But they didn't.

I got in.

So now I'd like to say something to the Literature Department professors at the college I attended:

"We don't think we can help you..." they said.

Twenty years to get my courage back. Twenty years.  

Tagging as "self-therapy." :D
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