Archive for April, 2012

The Return of the Sky Shark

All was quiet in the vale where Landsquid lived. For now, at least. You see, Landsquid’s neighbor and arch-nemesis, the Alpaca, would be over shortly. There was some sort of sports competition to be watched and, out of principle, they would pick opposing sides and insult the other’s intelligence over their choice. They didn’t much care which sport or what teams; they just liked to argue.

It kept things interesting.

Landsquid had just started setting out mugs for cocoa on the coffee table – though he didn’t know why it was called that, he never served coffee on it – when there was a commotion at the front door. Landsquid paused, glancing at the clock. It was still quite early, but perhaps the Alpaca thought it would put an interesting spin on things to come over prematurely and then complain about Landsquid’s poor hosting.

Darn that alpaca and his devious ideas!

Landsquid purposefully ignored the door and filled up the cocoa mugs. But then he got to thinking that perhaps the Alpaca would then accuse Landsquid of not being neighborly enough to open the door, and so he wandered over and threw the door open, preparing to blast his enemy with a polite, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I was in the shower.”

However, it was not the Alpaca. It was Turtleduck. Poor Turtleduck – half-duck, half-turtle, and all an aberration of nature. She had to work to stay on her two feet as the mild wind from the door rocked her shell. “Finally!” she said. “I’ve come to warn you!”

“Come to warn me!” echoed the Landsquid in surprise. “Surely Alpaca’s not up to his usual tricks right now – it’s game day!” Though perhaps the Alpaca thought it would shake things up to not show up at all, and instead steal all the top hats from the local millinery. But he rather hoped not; Landsquid always looked forward to game day.

“Oh, no,” said Turtleduck. “He was watering his begonias. But the Sky Shark has been seen in the vicinity again!” Here emotion overwhelmed Turtleduck, or at least her legs, and she tumbled onto her rump and disappeared into her shell.

The Sky Shark! Terror of the Skies! It was said that it lurked in the clouds and the treetops, just waiting for unsuspecting woodland creatures to come into range. It could smell blood from a million miles away, and it never stopped hunting.

“What will we do?” moaned Turtleduck.

“Well, come inside,” said Landsquid gently, tucking Turtleduck’s shell under one tentacle. “We’ll stay inside and let the authorities handle it. You can join Alpaca and me for the game. Who are you going to root for?” Landsquid wasn’t quite sure who was playing – or what – and hoped she wouldn’t ask.

“The authorities? Which authorities?”

“Oh, you know,” replied Landsquid, who didn’t actually know what an authority was but thought that it sounded good. Perhaps they ran sports. “Now sit down, have some cocoa, and make yourself at home while I call Alpaca and tell him to stop watering his begonias.”

The Sky Shark could wait until after the game.

Why I Occasionally Want to Punch Science Fiction in the Face

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “how do you punch a genre in the face?” The answer is: with great force.

I love science fiction, don’t get me wrong. I am fond of several different subgenres, from space opera (or fantasy in space, as I like to call it) to dystopian to even the occasional hard science fiction tale. But science fiction tends to have a rather lofty opinion of itself at times.

Not always, mind you. There are plenty of scifi tales out there that are poignant, thought-provoking, and well-written without being obnoxious. But then there are some of the others.

Science fiction believes – rightly, in many cases – that it is its job to show us how our actions in the present day will affect the future. This can be a few months from now to several (hundred) years out. Will our blatant commercialism led to us being known only be barcodes? Will our inability to properly manage our resources cause all-out war between countries desperate for fuel? Will we be forced into the darkness of space because we’ve made our planet unlivable?

And so forth.

That’s all well and good. But sometimes you come across science fiction that so strongly believes in its own message that it: a) beats the reader over the head with the message, usually including some trippy metaphor; b) becomes so bogged down in details that its unreadable; or c) feels the need to become utterly incomprehensible, because its message is too important for the average plebian to understand (or, as I somewhat lean towards, the author doesn’t quite know what his/her point is and so buries it in strange imagery).

A lot of it feels so forced. I’ve read novels where I’ve been riveted and, then, in the last few chapters, everything devolves into some metaphor that makes the whole thing incomprehensible and, worse, irrelevant. I’ve seen movies where the director or whoever feels the need to be so experimental with their camera angles that it’s impossible to tell what’s happening.

Kevin J. Anderson said something along these lines at PPWC – that if he had to pick something to never see in science fiction again, it would be stories that are purposefully inaccessible to the average reader.

And come on, Squiders. When someone’s being a pretentious lout, don’t you want to punch them in the face too?

PPWC and Genre Panels

I seem to be having a bit of an issue getting back into the swing of things post-conference. Brain overload, perhaps? Anyway, my apologies for this entry being so late. Hopefully everything returns to normal tomorrow.

PPWC was a good time again. Learned a lot. As always, a lot of the things are things I already know, subconsciously, but it’s nice to have them pointed out on a level where I can realize what exactly I’m doing and why. And, of course, it’s always nice to spend time talking to everyone.

I will almost always choose to go to a craft workshop over a genre one, but I did manage three genre panels this weekend: a fantasy/paranormal one, a mystery one, and a science fiction one. Part of it is because I like to think I’m fairly well-versed in my genres of choice (see last year’s Subgenre Study series), and part of it is because a lot of the craft panels are applicable to a wider variety of stories. Adding conflict or emotion is just as important in a thriller as a romance as a fantasy.

I hate to say it, but I found the fantasy/paranormal one to be mostly useless. Part of the issue of being on top of things, I guess. But I did learn two things: 1) It is hard to sell a YA paranormal (or dystopia) currently, and 2) Epic/High fantasy is on the way back up. I followed up on the YA paranormal note with an agent later in the day, and she said that the issue is that publishers snatched a whole bunch up all at once and just don’t have any room in their lists for the genre for a few years. On the other hand, let me tell you how excited I am about epic fantasy making a come back. I’m sure we can thank George RR Martin for that fact, but GLEE.

The mystery one was lovely. I do not write mysteries (well, except that one time. We don’t talk about that time.) but I love reading them, especially cozies. (A cozy is where the “detective” is an other-wise normal person who, for whatever reason, finds themselves in the strange position of solving a crime.) But they were lovely, and the notes they gave about red herrings and misdirection will be useful for any genre, as long as you want a little bit of confusion. (And, you know, maybe I’ll give it another go sometime.)

The science fiction one was good, as well. Not just because the panelists got into a fight over the political structure of the Federation (“It’s a communist meritocracy!”), though I admit that sweetened the deal. It was nice and intimate, since 95% of the people at the conference were at Donald Maass’s world-building workshop. And I am not as up on science fiction as I am fantasy. It confirmed some things that I had suspected – such as the near impossibility of selling space-based science fiction (especially space opera) at the moment. The current scifi climate is focused on environmental thrillers and dystopias. Also, a publisher on the panel noted that it was a hard sell for any adult science fiction at the moment; almost everything coming out is YA or children’s.

So I guess I should hold off on that science fiction series I’ve been planning for a while longer.

Last year I came out of PPWC feeling energized and motivated – this year I feel mostly tired and a little discouraged. Not really sure why.

Pikes Peak Writers Conference This Weekend

Last year, I went to my first writers’ conference – Pike’s Peak, down in Colorado Springs, CO. To summarize, I was terrified that I was either unprepared or would come out of feeling dejected, but I had a lovely time, learned a lot, and promised to go again.

So we are.

I made a list of things to do different this year, last year:

  • Register early so I can get pitch appointments with people who represent my genre
  • Try to get the panel critique instead of the individual critique
  • Bring earplugs and shoes that are not boots
  • Get business cards earlier than the day before (where Ian and I were, literally, at Kinko’s at 10 PM)

For the most part, I have done all of the above. I got the pitch appointment I wanted and the panel critique (though, alas, at 8:30 am Friday morning – very first thing). There is a circumstance I am not talking about here on ye olde blog that means I am staying at my sister-in-law’s instead of stuffing in a hotel with three of my friends, so the earplugs and not-boots are less necessary. And I ordered my business cards last week. They are supposed to get here today. Not the best, but still earlier than last year.

On the other hand, I still feel unprepared. The book that I’m pitching this year is not as ready to go as the one I pitched last year (that one’s in ABNA at the moment). I hoped to be further through my edit than I am, but alas, I am not. I’m far enough for pitching and first-page critiques, but if I do get partial requests, well, there is yet more polishing to be done.

I don’t know what workshops I want to go to, and I need to figure out when I’m heading down. I need to pack. I need to print out all sorts of things and wonder why UPS has yet to bring me my business cards. Instead I will probably run around for a bit, flailing wildly and babbling incoherently. Somewhere out there, there are writers who have been ready for weeks.

I dislike those people.

Wish me luck, Squiders. Oh, and by the by, no Friday update here as I’ll be busy learning (and possibly panicking). But except fairly regular tweets from the conference itself, assuming there’s decent wifi.

Grammar Week Redux: Me vs. I in Lists

We’re not going to go a full grammar week this week, but I’ve had a couple of people ask me questions and I thought I would answer them periodically.

We’ve all seen it (or had it done to us) a million times:

“Me and Stacy are going to the movies.”
“You mean ‘Stacy and I.'”

In fact, so many of us have the “and I” beaten into us so hard that we do it all the time. But, my friends, it turns out that there are times when you are supposed to use me, not I.

You use “I” when the list is the subject of the sentence. “Lisa, Jane, and I have decided to move in together.” You use “me” when the list is the object of the sentence. “Dave was so mean to Robert, Jordan, and me.”

Have I lost you? Don’t be lost. There’s an easy way to remember which to us.

If you would use “I” in a non-list situation, use I in the list. And vice versa for “me.” Like so:

I had chicken paprikash for dinner.
George and I had chicken paprikash for dinner.
George, Paul, John, Ringo, and I had paprikash for dinner.

What did you say to me?
What did you say to Kylie and me?
What did you say to Kylie, Reona, and me?

So, if you’re confused, take the list out and decide whether “me” or “I” is more appropriate in the sentence. And then, perhaps, we shall be able to avoid mistakes like “That’s so relieving for Fred and I.”

Feel free to drop me a line about any other grammatical questions you have, Squiders!

Play/Musical Logic

My husband and I are rather avid theater-goers. We have a season subscription at the local major theater complex for the big musicals that come through, and we supplement that by going to various local theaters’ (and occasionally high schools’) productions when they’re putting on something that looks interesting.

We’re going to three shows this weekend. Last night we saw George Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House (very good, and very funny in parts), tomorrow is Fahrenheit 451 (how could we resist, right?), and Sunday is I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, which is part of the subscription. (We get a couple of random non-musicals in with our musicals. Not sure why.)

After the play last night, my husband and I were discussing things, and while it’s not particularly true of Heartbreak House, which is one of those plays where people mostly sit around and talk and are amazingly witty (like Lion in Winter, say) and nothing much of note happens, I’ve noticed that a lot of plays – especially musicals – have a very strange sense of logic that prevails.

I suspect it’s because they have such a short time to tell their story, and so they have to make weird leaps in order to get through the plot in the time allotted (usually denoted by how long an audience is willing to sit still).

In some ways, it’s a form of Fridge Logic (warning: TVTropes link). Fridge Logic is where, while something is happening, it seems perfectly reasonable, but when you think about it later, you realize that it doesn’t actually make any sense.

Some examples: Maria forgiving Tony immediately for killing her brother in West Side Story, the entirety of the plot of Phantom of the Opera, the ending of every farce every written. (And oh, how I love farces.)

People fall in love at the drop of the hat, with nothing in common and without even knowing each other. Villains, previously unstoppable, are brought down by something relatively simple and sometimes contrived. A single song can change a character’s entire way of thinking.

Yes, on some level I think it is necessary. You can’t put the necessary background in that you could in a novel or a TV series. And you can be distracted a lot by clever staging, a fun dance number, or beautiful costumes.

Still, next time you go to see something in the theater – look at the plot afterwards. I bet you’d find at least one place where, when you think about it, something just doesn’t flow right.

Writing Distractions

How’s your writing gone lately, Squiders? Got lots done?

Well, I’m here to derail that. Bwha.

Hey, if I can’t focus, why should you?

If you need a break, why not try one of these time wasters?

1. Social Media
We’ve all heard it – we’ve got to build our author platforms, right? Goodreads, facebook pages, Twitter, blogs. This is sort of productive procrastination. At least you’re accomplishing something. Unless you’re playing games on facebook and doing the never-ending trivia quiz on Goodreads.

2. Internet Memes
What is a meme? A meme is any number of things, usually repeated over and over throughout the internet, spread through social media and excellently addictive sites such as I Can Has Cheezburger. They can be macros, videos, polls, surveys – and all can eat your time forever. If you’re confused about any, Know Your Meme is the place to go.

3. Flash Games
There’s a multitude of websites related to flash games – shockwave.com, candystand.com, addictinggames.com, pogo.com, kongregate.com, to name a few. These websites host a collection of games, from card games and jigsaw puzzles, to puzzle games, side-scrollers, shooters, and – my favorite – time management games, all conveniently available to play on your web browser. To sweeten the deal, you can set up accounts on many of these websites, collecting points and trophies as you go.

4. TVTropes
I’m sure you already are familiar with TVTropes. This website is a collection of every plot device trope used ever, and you can use quite a lot of time reading through the tropes, either looking to find something you can use for something specific or just because you’ve been sucked in forever. Additionally, each trope has examples of how’s it been used in various forms of media. Hours can be lost here, even with the best intentions. (Wikipedia also sometimes works this way.)

5. Writing Forums
Counter-intuitive, right? But nothing distracts from writing better than talking about writing. You can compare notes on editing, writing, character development, self-pubbing, submitting. You can share horror stories, participate in round robins, and tell everyone about your brilliant world-building. Or, you know, you don’t actually have to talk about writing at all, but merely bask in the glory of your fellow writers.

What are your favorite (worst?) distractions?