Archive for November, 2010

What Would You Put on a List of the 100 Best Scifi/Fantasy Books?

Every few months I get invites from my friends to participate in this meme.  Perhaps you’ve seen it – it’s a list of 100 books (or series) attributed to various sources, and which of them have you read?

It’s kind of arbritary, but one thing to note is that scifi/fantasy books are more or less left off, with only a few titles that everyone has heard of making the list (things like Harry Potter, Dune, Lord of the Rings…)

So, I ask you, what books would you put on a list of 100 scifi/fantasy books?  Aside from the well-known big ones, which gems do you wish more people knew about and would read?

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Thursday Round-up

Science/Space
NASA Continues Investigating Cracks in Space Shuttle Discovery’s External Tank
Ice Age Boneyard Find in Colorado Yields Treasures
NASA Discovers Youngest Nearby Black Hole
NASA Starts Thinking About Interstellar Travel
Martian Sunset
Thinking Like an Octopus
CERN Creates and Traps Antimatter

Scifi/Fantasy
Review of Anthony Huso’s The Last Page
John Scalzi gives us Misleading Descriptions for Scifi/Fantasy movies

Misc Books
Bookstore Receives Marijuana in the Mail
15 Unfilmable Books
Books come from Bookland

Writing
John Scalzi’s plea to MFA programs and students
Strengthening Your Writing by Not Writing
Journalists and Novelists Defecting to Video Game Industry
National Book Awards Do Not Consider Fairy Tales
Why I Quit NaNoWriMo But You Shouldn’t

Randomness
Fourth Annual Quidditch World Cup
Super Grandma

The Changes of Nanowrimo

The dear people at the Office of Letters and Light have Nanowrimo pinned down to a tee.  Week One – an exciting week where word counts ramp up.  Week Two – where the momentum hits a brick wall.  Week Three – where you push past 25K and the story comes together.  So on and so forth.

It’s been interesting watching Nano grow up.  When I started in 2003, it was quite possible to keep up on the forums.  You could read every thread if you wanted to without it being too major of a time dent.  Now it’s so big it sometimes feels like I can’t keep up with my own region.  I barely venture out into the rest of the forums anymore.  I can remember when the site always crashed on Nov 1st, when the Office of Letters and Light was formed, when spin-off programs like Script Frenzy and the Young Writers’ Program came into being.

And as they’ve streamlined the proceedings, made it professional and shiny and official, things have changed.  There are things I miss about the early days of Nano, but I’m proud of where they’ve gotten to and wish them luck with what they want to try in the future.

What’s interesting to note is that my own personal Nano has changed over the years as well.  Oh, sure, my first Nano I did exactly what you’re expected to do – I joined on November 3rd after a dream gave me a premise.  I wrote first person (which I almost never do) and a mystery (which I certainly don’t do, alas) and put in dares and kept going even when I knew my plot needed severe help.  Anything to get the words, right?  It didn’t matter if they were silly or bad or that the plot had no point or that I had done no research and had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.  I was writing with Literary Abandon!  It was awesome!

I’d like to think I would have finished that year, without the concussion and the illness, but I’ll never know.  I was doing fine, but maybe the plot would have completely stalled in the next few days even if I had been able to follow a train of thought all the way to its station.  Maybe I would have realized that my main character was a Mary Sue and that there wasn’t a single likeable character in the bunch.  Maybe I would have given up.  That’s all in the past.

I can’t do that anymore.  I can’t randomly put in ninjas when I’m frustrated with the plot, or shovels of death, or trebuchets, or whatever happens to be popular that year.  I haven’t stopped by the Dares thread in probably three years.

Challenges need to evolve, or they no longer are challenges.  Yes, each story has its own problems to overcome.  Each one teaches you new things and improves your skill as a writer.  Nanowrimo doesn’t change.  It has the same goal, year after year.  So instead you have to change how you do it.

A lot of people up the word count goal.  They’ll do 75K or 100K or 150K in a month.  Some people will work on multiple stories.  Some people will try to get to 50K by the 15th, the 10th, the 5th.

My answer, over the years, has been to become slow and steady.  I write 2K every day.  I make sure I’m not sticking in random scenes just to meet word counts.  I’ll take time to outline or research as I need it.  I work on serious projects, ones I plan on editing and submitting and hopefully seeing in print one day.

Nano is not a challenge for me.  It hasn’t been for a long time.  I don’t worry about reaching 50K.  I just write.  Nano is just something I do.  It gives me an excuse to give my family every November and get away with it.  Besides, I love the energy Nano brings with it – all my writing friends, all writing at once.  So often throughout the rest of the year some of us are editing, rewriting, revising, submitting; it’s nice for everyone to be on the same page.

Nano is a lot of different things for different people.  One of its greatest benefits is that you can make it what you want.

Thursday Round-up

Science/Space
The McGurk Effect
Bees Smarter than Super Computers
Massive, Unknown Structure Discovered at Center of Milky Way Galaxy
Rats Trained to Find Landminds, Disease

Scifi/Fantasy
Tor has a Steampunk Giveaway going thru 12/12
Just Kidding, Realms of Fantasy Not Dead, Under New Ownership
io9’s Scifi/Fantasy Books of the Month
Chapter Three of Michael A. Stackpole’s At the Queen’s Command
Mythologies behind Harry Potter
Excerpt from A.M. Dellamonica’s Indigo Springs

Writing
You Don’t Have to Start with Action

Random Music Video of the Week
Flag in the Ground by Sonata Arctica

Trying to Write Around Moving

Much earlier in the year, my husband and I decided it was time to move back to our home state.  We’d had a lovely time in Cali, but anyone who has ever been there knows that it’s ridiculously expensive and we were beginning to feel like we weren’t actually getting anywhere in life.  Sure, life’s great when it’s all video games and fun times, but after a while even that can stagnate.

So, in March, I began looking for a new job.  I think it’s very telling about the economy that it took me until late August before I got any bites.  (For those who are interested, I am an Aerospace Engineer – i.e. I design, build, test and launch satellites.  I am, luckily, extremely marketable.)  Then there were interviews and multiple programs to consider and so forth, and time went on, as it does, and I found myself looking at a start date at the new job of November the 1st.

See the problem?

Anyone who has ever moved ever knows it sucks.  Anyone who has ever moved across state lines knows it sucks even more.  We’d done it once, when we’d moved to California initially, but since then we’d acquired a lot more crap, an antique violin (oh, the violin.  Stories about that later), and a cat, all which would somehow have to come with us.

I have a fairly predictable yearly writing schedule.  I do Nano.  I finish the Nano (usually several months later).  I edit an older book, I work on serial and/or co-authored books.  Normally October is used for getting things in order and planning out that year’s NaNovel.  Sure, I thought, it sucked to be moving the weekend before Nano and starting a new job, but hey, I should be okay.

I would like to go back in time and shoot September!me. 

It’s been awhile since I moved.  I forgot that packing takes for-freaking-ever.  Then everything’s got to be loaded on a truck (someone else did this for us, thankfully) and trucked off over two mountain ranges and you discover that there’s stuff you wish you had with you but too bad because it’s in Nevada now and your cat wonders where all the stuff went and if this is all a clever ploy to get her to the vet.  (Also, have you ever taken a cat on an airplane with you?  Good stuff.)

So then when we finally made it here, cat, violin, and all, we don’t actually have anywhere to live.  So we’re living in a hotel.   A tiny, 400 square foot hotel room with two stove burners that are somehow supposed to be useable (and yet a full dishwasher that serves no purpose because you’ve got a grand total of 10 dishes) that is slowly driving all three of us insane from cabin fever, because we also don’t really know what to do or where to go or who to see and so we spend every night in the hotel room, staring at the odd one-armed couch and wondering if it will come to life and consume us.

So, hey, we thought we’d buy a house.  We can do that now that we no longer live in California.  Have you ever bought a house?  The amounts of paperwork needed is insane.  I think we’ve singlehandedly taken out an entire forest.

Now we’re dealing with house-buying (inspections, appraisals, shopping for needed appliances, etc), moving (changing addresses, trying to convince IT that I no longer live in California and that calling my old work number will get them nothing), trying to learn a new job (Oh God what have I done?) AND I’m trying to do Nanowrimo around all that.

And you know what?  I’m more or less where I normally am.

Admittedly there have been unusual snags, but it turns out that there’s still enough time to bang out a couple thousand words in between trying to change the closing date, trying to learn new terminology for a new satellite, and attempting to make tacos on what the hotel is calling a “stove.”  And the writing is relaxing.  It gives me control over something when it feels like everything else is spiraling into chaos.

So all in all, it could be worse.  But I wouldn’t want to do it again anytime soon.

Thursday Round-up

On time this week!  It’s been an interesting week on the interweb – enjoy!

Science/Space
Tesla’s Underlooked Genius
The International Space Station Celebrates 10 Years
Up-close look at the Space Shuttle
Deep Impact Spacecraft About to Get Up-close View of Second Comet (Initial results can be found here)
Saturn’s Rings Operate Like Tiny Galaxy
Year of the Solar System (via NASA – very cool!)
HD Hubble Images from 2010

Also, at some point (currently Friday, Nov 5) Discovery is launching.

Scifi/Fantasy
Excerpt from Cherie Priest’s Dreadnought
2010 World Fantasy Award Winners
Review of Pamela Sargent’s Seed Seeker
Complete Video of 2010 WFC’s Epic Fantasy Panel
Free short story (An Election) by John Scalzi
Sacrifice of the First Sheason by Peter Orullian
Interview with Hannu Rajaniemi, author of The Quantum Thief
Conference on Protection of the Endangered Unicorn

Misc Books
New Author for Bond Novels
Gallery of Real Books by Fake People

Writing/Publishing Industry
Just Keep Digging
Comparison of books to coffee

Randomness
ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOTOAD
Majority of US Government Doesn’t Trust the American Public Either (via The Onion)

Beginnings

Starting yet another novel for Nano this year has reminded me how very much I hate beginnings.  Somewhere out there, I have no doubt, is an author whose first lines are always poignant and gripping on the first try, whose characters spring fully formed from their fingertips.  I am not that author and neither are a lot of us.

Every time I start a new novel I am surprised again by how difficult it is to start.  Surely, at some point, it must become easier, but if that’s true than it hasn’t happened yet.

There’s a lot of articles out there extoling the art of writing a novel.  Many people set out to try and write a novel.  Not everyone gets there.  It’s so easy to get bogged down at the beginning and try to get it perfect before moving on.

Perhaps one of the most important things Nano taught me was to keep pushing through the crap.  I am not good at beginnings.  I know that.  I feel like my characters are awkward and stiff, no matter whether this is the first book with them or the fifth.  My dialogue is cheesy and my descriptions feel forced.  When I release novels to my betas, I always cringe because they’re going to see that horrible prose first.

But hey, here’s the thing.  Beginnings end.  Eventually you get out into smoother waters.  The characters settle into themselves, your plot starts flowing seemingly without your help, cool things start happening.  I feel bad for the people who can’t get past their beginnings.  People who, for whatever reason, get so bogged down by their own quest for perfection that they never get to see where the story goes.

So, for those of you who have recently started a novel and are bemoaning the amount of crap that seems to be springing forth – stick with it.  Yes, it’s hard.  Yes, it’s bad.  But it will get better, it will get easier, and you may go back (when the draft is done) and find that maybe it wasn’t quite as bad as you thought it was.

And if it is as terrible as you feared, well, that’s why God invented editing.

Just don’t give up on yourself.  Then you have nothing.