Archive for August, 2011

Coffee Shops vs. Libraries

If you’re like me, occasionally you like to escape from the house and sit somewhere else so you can pretend that you have some semblance of a social life.

The first place I ever visited on a regular basis was a lovely place known as the Tea Spot.  They almost always had room for me to sit for several hours, drinking copious amounts of tea and eating chocolate and scones.  (They had the best scones.  No unnecessary fruit.)

From there, I moved on to coffee shops.  I don’t actually like coffee, but I have made do.  There’s something very hipster about sitting in a coffee shop, tiny computer out, drinking your peppermint mocha, headphones in but not necessarily listening to anything.

I like coffee shops, I really do.  But they have their drawbacks.  The main one being that you have to buy something.  I mean, no one’s going to hunt you down and make you have a latte or whatever, but basic courtesy says if you’re going to take up main table space for a few hours, you should give them something in return.  Also, they may give you the evil eye and set your car on fire.

Secondly, they tend to be noisy.  Writers love coffee shops.  Unfortunately, so do book clubs, study groups, teenagers, and noodle-eating smokers.  Sometimes it’s fine.  Sometimes you want to stab people in the eye with a pen.

They also tend to be crowded.  You walk in wondering if there’s any good tables left – or any tables at all – or if you’re going to have to stuff yourself into some odd corner.  And if you have a group of people coming…well.

As an alternative, I’ve started going to my local library to get some work done.  It’s quiet, there are plenty of places to work, the wifi works great, and if you need to do research, you are surrounded by books.  No baristas staring at you willing you to buy caffeine.  One could argue that it is, perhaps, too quiet, but that is a silly concern. (Besides, you can still bring headphones and listen to music.)

Where’s your favorite place to write?  Any preference on the type of venue?

Saturday, I Climbed a Mountain

Saturday morning, my husband and I conquered Mount Sherman, peaking at 14,o36 feet.  Here in Colorado we have 54 mountains over 14,000 (Fourteeners, we call them affectionately) and it’s been a goal of mine for some time to reach the top of at least one of them.

Fourteeners are a challenge.  There’s some mild oxygen deprivation (at 14,000 feet, there’s only 40% of the atmosphere that exists at sea-level), which tends to manifest in strange ways.  There’s a strange pressure in your jaw.  You feel like you’re hyperventilating, and you have to stop often, or at least move incredibly slowly.  The tops of the Rockies tend to be loose rock (I can’t help but think that’s how the range got its name) which necessitates scrambling and being extremely careful in your footing, lest you slide off the edge.  There’s biting wind, and the temperature difference between 12,000 and 14,000 feet can often be thirty degrees or more.

I can’t help but compare my summit to novel-writing.  When you start, you aren’t acclimated to the elevation, and every step feels heavy.  You believe there’s no way you’ll ever get to the top.  When you start a novel (or any step of the novel – writing, editing, submission), often one flounders about.  The beginning feels stilted.  Your characters feel bland and uninteresting, and nothing comes out how you pictured it in your head.

But, after some time, things flow better.  It’s easier to put one foot in front of the other, to catch your breath.  The story starts to take an interesting shape, and optimism returns.  You are going to do this, and not only that, you are going to do it so hard it will be epic.

Then you reach the final approach, the last 500-700 feet.  You’re so close.  You can taste it.  But it takes you forever to get there.  You feel like you’re there, but when you reach the top of your current ridge, there’s the mountain, towering over you.  Mocking you.  Those last couple hundred feet seem like an insurmountable obstacle, and no matter how much you trudge, your goal stays just out of reach.

But here’s the thing.  Eventually there’s no more ridges.  You can make the summit if you just keep at it.  So it goes with novels.  The end (of whatever step you’re on) may seem forever further away, but with patience and consistency, it is only a matter of time.

Subgenre Study: Cyberpunk

Ah, cyberpunk, the father of all other punks.

Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction that became popular in the 1980s.  It tends to involve a world where data and computers are ubiquitous, cyborgs are common, and the world has more or less gone to hell.  William Gibson’s Neuromancer is considered to be a leader in the subgenre.

(Cyberpunk always makes me think of the Borg from Star Trek.  I’m not sure that’s an accurate connection but I’m not sure it’s too far off, either.)

The stories themselves tend to center on hackers, AIs, giant megacorporations, things of that ilk.  (Often some sort of confrontation between the evil megacorporation and the poor, but extremely tech savvy, common man who is fighting for the good of mankind or at least a subset of it.)  They are science fiction because unlike some of the other punks, it is often set in the near future as opposed to being a modified past. 

The world is almost always some sort of dystopia.  Some examples of this can be seen in the Matrix, where machines have imprisoned humans in their own minds, or Blade Runner, where androids have become sentient enough that they can pass as human.  Other examples: Ghost in the Shell, Terminator, 12 Monkeys, A.I.

(I apologize for most of my examples being movies rather than books.  Like steampunk, this is a subgenre that I find lends itself very well to visual media, such as movies, comics, and costuming.)

Apparently we’ve moved past Cyberpunk into Postcyberpunk.  Postcyberpunk incorporates the technology and stylistic techniques of cyberpunk, but tends to lack the anti-establishment mentality that is common to its parent subgenre.  Many examples of this subgenre also lack the dystopia that seems to be omnipresent in cyberpunk.

There’s also a related spin-off subgenre known as Biopunk, where humans (and animals) tend to be modified genetically rather than by cybernetics.

What are your favorite bits of cyberpunk (postcyberpunk, biopunk), Squiders?  Why do you think that the gritty, angry cyberpunk of the 80s has morphed into the technology-accepting, more optimistic postcyberpunk of today?

“A working writer can never have too many megabytes.”

So, I am taking a spin as a freelance writer/editor.  The editor part seems to be going fairly well – there appears to be no shortage of people who would like someone to check their commas, and I am an excellent comma checker.

(Plus I have acquired the latest AP Stylebook and the 16th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style, and it turns out I have a bizarre fetish for rules of grammar and punctuation.  Maybe my high school English teacher was right when she said I was throwing my life away by not getting an English degree.)

The freelance writing does not really go at all, though, and part of that is because I have no idea what I’m doing.  There’s article writing and blogging and SEO and copy writing and etc, etc, et al.  So I checked a few freelance writing books out of the library and am reading them.  The last one focused on writing magazine articles and I have determined that that is not what I want to do, so that was at least somewhat useful.

I’m currently reading Secrets of a Freelance Writer: How to Make $85,000 a Year by Robert W. Bly.  The latest version came out in 2006, but the library didn’t have that version so I am stuck with the 1997 version.

There is some very good information in it, but I keep getting distracted by the things that are out of date.  Which is a lot.  He recommends leasing a computer, getting a tape back-up, and using CompuServe and America On-Line (and has notes on where to write to get a free CD-ROM of either).

Despite living through the internet in the late nineties, I sometimes forget how much things have changed since then.  He notes you can get up to 28.8 kbps for your modem, and hey, his new computer has a whole gig of memory.  Website is always Web site and online is on-line and there’s nary a mention of blogging or anything like it to be seen.

I’m kind of in love with this.  It’s such a blast from the past.  Probably not the best for research, but I imagine many things have stayed the same since the internet revolution and I will get something out of it.

Any Squiders out there do any freelance work?  Any tips for someone starting out, unsure what they want their focus to be?

Harry Potter Re-read: The Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone

Well, friends, here we are – at the very beginning, where we find ourselves on a quiet street.  Where we learn that You Know Who has been destroyed, where we meet a woman who can turn into a cat and a man who can put all the lights and put them back again, where we meet Harry himself, tiny and alone, with friends that must surrender him into the care of his closest blood relatives.

The first HP book starts out very much like any classic Hero’s Journey plot – Harry, who’s had a rough life, finds out that he’s special.  And not just that he’s special, but he managed to kill the most evil wizard ever seen when he was just a baby.  A lot of the book lays the groundwork for the future books, introducing people, places, and objects that will be important later on.  (Including, but not limited to: Harry’s first snitch, the Forbidden Forest, the Invisibility Cloak, the Mirror of Erised, Firenze, Devil’s Snare, unicorn blood…)

And, while the plot is wrapped up in the book, it also hints at things necessarily for the overarching plot – things like the fact that Lily’s death protects Harry, that Voldemort is still around, that Harry needs to stay with blood relatives until he comes of age, etc.  It also leaves the first hints that make us wonder how much Dumbledore really knows, as he tells Harry that he used the Mirror of Erised because he knew that Harry would succeed where Voldemort would fail.  (Not to mention you get to see Neville take the first steps towards being the badass he is at the end of Deathly Hallows.)

You also see two things that hint at the conclusion of Deathly Hallows – Harry’s ability to speak Parseltongue and the fact that Harry and Voldemort’s wand shares the same core.  Sneaky of her, isn’t it?

Questions for discussion (and please, feel free to add your own in the comments!):

1. The very first kid that Harry encounters is Draco Malfoy.  Why do you think JK Rowling chose to introduce him first and not either Ron or Hermoine?

2. What difference does it make if Harry is raised in an environment where he is ignored and reviled as opposed to one of acceptance and love?

3. Why, when the other houses are showed to be mostly balanced, is there no one from Slytherin that shows any sort of redeeming characteristics?

4. Why, when the Forbidden Forest is off-limits, is Harry told to serve his detention there?

5. Do you think Dumbledore suspected and/or knew about Professor Quirrell?  Why take the risk of letting him in the school?

6. Where does Voldemort go after Quirrell’s demise?