Archive for June, 2014

Night Vale

So, for the uninitiated, Night Vale (or, technically, Welcome to Night Vale, or WTNV for short) is a bimonthly podcast. The show itself is the community radio of a fictional desert city somewhere in the southwestern part of the United States. Sounds pretty normal, right?

Night Vale Twitter

A sample tweet

No. You are wrong.

You see, Night Vale is not a normal city. Here’s Wikipedia’s description of the show: “The show has been described as “the news from Lake Wobegon as seen through the eyes of Stephen King”, and Christopher Wynn of The Dallas Morning News characterized it as “NPR meets The Mothman Prophecies.” The Daily Dot‘s Gavia Baker-Whitelaw compared the podcast as being “caught somewhere between Weird Twitter and ‘Tales of the Unexplained'” and that it is “well worth a listen—although possibly not after dark, if you live in a small town yourself.”

One of the writers has said that he wanted a place where all the conspiracy theories are real. So there you are.

And the results are excellent. I actually really like it from a storytelling point of view. Something that’s an offhand news piece in one episode will be followed up on later. There are very few dangling threads in Night Vale, so kudos to them.

As a denizen of the Internet, I’ve been aware of Night Vale for a while, but I’ve only been listening to the podcast since we got back from Japan. And I am all caught up now, and we’re going to go to the live show next month, which promises to be a good time. Each episode is between 20 and 30 minutes (with the exception of the most recent, which was half of a live show and ran about 45 minutes) so it’s easy to listen to one or two a day (I do it while I’m vacuuming or mowing the lawn).

The characters are quite interesting too. The main character is Cecil, who is the radio DJ. As time goes on, other characters start showing up on the show as well, such as Carlos the scientist (who has perfect hair and teeth like a military cemetery–and also isn’t from Night Vale, and so is always a bit surprised by what’s happening), The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home, Hiram McDaniels (literally a five-headed dragon–the green head is my favorite), and Intern Dana. (I ♥ Dana.)

I recommend giving it a listen if you like things like Lovecraft or Poe, even if podcasts aren’t usually your thing. There’s transcripts available to read along with if, like me, you have problems picking things up aurally.

Have any other fun story podcasts to recommend, Squiders? I have free time while I wait for the next episode to go up. Listen to Night Vale yourself? What are your thoughts? Who’s your favorite?


Foundation Trilogy Readalong: Second Foundation

I know we’re a bit late on this one–Japan in the middle was a bit distracting–but to be perfectly honest I felt my attention wandering pretty bad on this one.

Like Foundation and EmpireSecond Foundation consists of two parts, the first taking place a mere five years after the conclusion of the last part of F&E. The Second Foundation (the entity, not the book) has come to the forefront, with everyone obsessed with discovering its location. This book also gives us sections from unknown Second Foundationers throughout as they work to counteract first the Mule, and later the First Foundation, in their efforts.

I think part of why I had a hard time staying connected is that I thought it was a little obvious, especially in the second story, where the Second Foundation was (and, later on, who the First Speaker was) and then I was generally a little annoyed at the red herrings deployed in the later part of the book.

We’ve got a female main character for the second part again, but it’s not as satisfying because the other characters don’t treat her terribly well (she’s only 14) and Asimov himself invalidates everything she does later on. That’s a person pet peeve of mine–I dislike ineffective main characters, even if they make sense from a plot perspective.

The whole series is a bit interesting from the standpoint of the fact that it seems like Asimov didn’t really plan the whole thing out, and just added things as they made sense as he went along. I swear the Second Foundation was not mentioned in the first book.

From a plot standpoint, I don’t understand why the First Foundation sees the Second Foundation to be such a threat, to the point where they feel that the Second Foundation has to be destroyed. In theory, both foundations are necessary for the completion of the Seldon Plan. Sure, the Mule throws the whole thing off, but I don’t understand why the First Foundation feels so threatened, and why they don’t want to work with the Second Foundation to fix things.

As we come to the end of this readalong, I’d have to say I found the books interesting but not really…hm. They didn’t hit any of my sweet spots. I don’t think I’d recommend them to someone else. At this point, I don’t think I would read the later books, though I do admit that I am a bit curious about how it all turns out.

Well, Squiders, what’s your opinion of Second Foundation and/or the trilogy as a whole? What was your favorite book? (Mine was Foundation.) Anything else to note before we move on?

Not sure what I want to do for the next readalong, so if you have suggestions, let me know.

DCC Aftermath

So! Denver Comic Con (DCC henceforth) was pretty fun last weekend. This is DCC’s third year, and last year was a ginormous mess because the people running the convention didn’t expect the 60,000 people who showed up, and there was a lot of line standing (Friday was especially a mess, where people stood in line to get in to the con for several hours only to get turned away) and not a lot going on.

Luckily, this year DCC figured that they’d be ridiculously popular and amped everything up appropriately. They completely redid the lines to exchange tickets for badges and get into the convention. I showed up about when doors opened Saturday morning and only spent half an hour in line, which is a major improvement over last year (where I think we stood–not moving–for about two hours).

Additionally, they added a ton more panels and made it clear where lines to get into things were. They reorganized the dealer’s room and artist alley to fit more in and to make it easier to navigate. (And I see why I didn’t get a table–I think there were maybe three tables in the artist alley, and only two or three in the dealer’s room, selling books. The rest were selling comic books or graphic novels or some form of visual art.)

The unfortunate downside was that it seemed like some of panels were a bit stretched, like they felt like they needed more panels but didn’t know what to do. I think that’s true of a lot of cons, though, especially ones run mostly by volunteers.

But overall, I had a great time. I talked to a bunch of friends, including people I don’t see very often (including people I haven’t seen since last year’s DCC). There were a lot of neat costumes, and everyone else also seemed to be having a great time. Only a single person recognized me as Amy and asked for a picture, but oh well. (One of my friends thought I was Mary Jane from Spider-Man, which is actually a perfectly reasonable thing to assume.)

The best panel I went to was on anime openings from the 90s, which the panelists turned into a game, and everyone was obviously into it and having a good time, so there was a good energy in the room. And we went to the costume contest, which was kind of meh, though the comedian who was MCing was pretty funny at points.

All in all, much better than last year, and a good time overall.

Did you guys hit DCC? Been to a con lately? How did you like it? Would you go again?

Why It’s Important to Hire an Editor

You hear this advice all the time, but a lot of people seem to wonder why. And this is especially important for people who are self or indie publishing their work, where the press you’re working with may not have an in-house editor or copyeditor who looks at things before they go out the door.

But the fact of the matter is, especially when you’ve been working on something for a long time, that you start to miss things. You memorize bits of your story and don’t read it that closely when you go back through. And, no matter how we try, humans just simply aren’t perfect.

So a second set of eyes always help.

(I hear some of you guys out there saying, “Kit, you’re only posting this because you yourself are an editor.” While that is true, I always have my work edited by someone else before it goes out. My very first story, back in the day, I didn’t, and it showed.)

If you’re not as sure on structure, pacing, characterization–things of those ilk–it can help to hire an editor to make sure your story is meeting the conventions of your genre and good stories in general. Depending on who you have, your betas can do some of this for you, but this only works if your betas are fairly professional writers/editors in their own rights.

Luckily, in this day and age, it’s not that hard to update an ebook or print file if you’re the one controlling them, but it’s additional work after a story was, in theory, done, and your product may go offline for a time or you may find more fastidious readers leaving poor reviews because of the quality of your book. Voracious readers tend to be fairly attentive to grammatical errors, and errors can pull them out of the narrative.

And you never want your readers pulled out.

If you’re trying to go the tradition publishing route, hiring an editor for copyediting and proofreading is probably not necessary as the publishing house will provide those services for you.

On the nonfiction side, if you’re trying to present yourself as an expert, or trying to explain how your business is the best, errors are going to undermine your efforts.

So why not hire an editor? A good one will make your product/story/ad/paper better, and that’s always a good thing.

Do you use an editor, Squiders? Do you have one person you work with exclusively, or do you shop around each time you need one?

Denver Comic Con, Cosplay, and Miscellany

So! It’s Denver Comic Con (or, as I shall refer to it from now on, DCC) this weekend and I’m of two minds.

1) I am really excited because it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten to really do a con.
2) I am a little annoyed because I applied for a vendor table for Turtleduck Press the instant the applications went live, and they fed me some line about not fitting the mission of the convention when what they really meant was “We got too many authors and small/indie presses and just kind of picked the ones we liked the best and/or who had already paid because they had a table last year, and we can’t have too many authors/publishers because we are a comic convention.”


Anyway, obvious not annoyed enough to not go, so here we are.

AND I am going to cosplay! I am excited because I haven’t cosplayed in four years. (Oh, geez.) I haven’t even made a costume since then except for a generic steampunk outfit for AnomalyCon 2011 and a uniform shirt I use when we play Artemis. Admittedly, I didn’t make anything for this costume because I am going as Amy Pond, but it’s still something.

(Let us take bets on how long it takes me to get annoyed with and abandon the wig. I have successfully worn this particular wig an entire con day before, but it was cooler then. Summer has come early this year.)

In other news, we did a test for putting Shards out as an audiobook, which actually went quite well. So that might be a thing that happens in the near future. We might do Hidden Worlds first, however, since it’s shorter, to try out the audio format and test out marketability and other things.

That’s it from me, for now! Hope you have a lovely weekend, Squiders!

Is it Worth it to Know About Sub-genres?

If you’ve been around here for awhile, Squiders, you remember we spent about a year going through different science fiction and fantasy subgenres. As might be expected from going through such an activity, I sometimes find myself being really particular about subgenre.

Last week I was at a working group with several other speculative fiction writers, and I don’t quite remember how we got onto it, but we were talking about subgenre, and I’m afraid I probably got a little lecture-y (“this is space opera, and this is why”). I had this conversation with one of the other writers.

Other Writer> I know that if it has elves, it’s fantasy, and if it has spaceships, it’s science fiction.
Kit> What if it has elves on spaceships?
OW> I read those books, and they were crap.

But it was obvious that subgenre wasn’t a big concern for them, and it didn’t really matter to them that they couldn’t tell contemporary fantasy from urban fantasy, and it made me wonder if it was worthwhile that I could.

(Well, for a certain definition of “could.” If you were around for the Subgenre Studies, you’ll remember that a lot of this is open to personal interpretation and author intent.)

Knowing subgenre isn’t really useful as a marketing tool because most people don’t know what subgenres are or what subgenres they like. It doesn’t seem to be until someone has issues finding things they like that they delve into subgenre at all, and then mostly out of desperation. (And even so, a lot of people will still use a book as an example rather than a particular subgenre. “I’m looking for books like The Island” rather than “I’m looking for dark fantasy.”)

It doesn’t help for selling books because most people will stare at you when you tell them your latest novel is mythic fantasy.

Plus there’s a wide variety of books within subgenre, even. G.R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire and C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books are both high fantasy, but that doesn’t mean that people who read one are going to like the other.

From that standpoint, it seems like it’s not really worth it to know anything past the difference between scifi and fantasy (itself a bit fluid) and maybe major subgenres, like urban fantasy or steampunk. Maybe the rest of it all comes down to academics and there’s no real world application of knowing the difference between dystopian and apocalyptic fiction.

What do you think, Squiders? Is there a reason to be able to break down subgenres? Or is it all a waste of time?

Interesting Notes on Japanese Religion

Here we go, as promised.

So, as I mentioned on Tuesday, the Japanese people tend to be both Buddhist and Shinto(ist?). Shinto is the native Japanese religion, founded 2000+ years ago, and is a ritualistic system that believes in a series of nature spirits, or kami. (There is also some aspect of ancestor worship involved, but I am less clear on that.) Buddhism reached Japan in the 6th century AD and, as the Japanese were already polytheistic, they pretty much just incorporated Buddhism in without really worrying about it.

It’s really very interesting, to see the two religions (or ways of life, because as one of our guides explained, most Japanese don’t see themselves as religious) next to each other. Almost every temple has a Shinto shrine on temple grounds or immediately next door, so the kami can guard the temple.

Oh, Buddhism has temples and Shinto has shrines. Shrines can be to one kami or several, or may also be to important people of the past or ancestors. Aside from the guarding shrine, Buddhist temples also use a lot of Shinto protection imagery, such as rope and strips of paper in lightning shapes.

Shinto has a number of different kami, including some that are considered “main” ones, such as Amaterasu and Inari. Some kami have specific messengers that apply to them. Inari is in charge of the harvest, and business prosperity (and seemingly anything you want to pray to him/her for), and it has foxes (or kitsune) for messengers, though they are special white foxes. Major kami also have main temples, or taisha. We had the opportunity to visit Inari’s just south of Kyoto, called Fushimi Inari Taisha. There are over 10,000 toriis (sacred gates) there, mostly donated by businesses hoping Inari will bless them.

The pure white animals tend to be a trend in Japanese mythology, often associated with different deities or spirits. In Nara, myth says that a Shinto deity arrived on the back of a white deer to protect the (then) capital. To this day, deer are considered sacred in the city and allowed mostly free reign as long as they stay in a massive park in the middle of town. (The deer are also known for eating anything they can manage.)

It really was very fascinating. We visited a ton of temples and shrines throughout our wanderings, and passed quite a few more–shrines, especially, seem to be everywhere, alongside roads and trails, both small and large. We stayed in a Buddhist monastery our last night, and they had a tiny shrine in their garden.

And both were very welcoming. As long as you were polite and respectful, no one seemed to mind your presence. And everyone encouraged us to take part in the rituals (or a Buddhist ceremony we got to attend) or try out different fortunes or charms. So that was nice as well, not only to see them in action but get to experience them as well.

The Land of the Rising Sun

Well, Squiders, I am back from two weeks in Japan! If all went well you got regular updates and didn’t notice anything weird (aside from the posts being on time).

Japan was very nice and not as much of a culture shock as I thought it might be. (There was a bit. We went to a maid cafe. That was…not honestly something I needed to experience, in retrospect.) And most signs in airports and train stations (and even street names) are labeled in English, so it was pretty easy to get around.

We did kind of a whirlwind tour of the main island of Honshu, hitting Tokyo, Matsumoto, Tsumago/Magome (and the Nakasendo), Kyoto, Kanazawa, Osaka, and Koyasan. I don’t really recommend stuffing all that into 13 days, but we got a little overambitious. We also averaged 8 miles a day walking, with our easiest day having only five and a half miles and our longest day being almost 12 miles. By the end of the trip, I was looking forward to sitting on a plane for twelve hours.

(But then it was only nine and a half hours back. And we flew on dreamliners both ways which are lovely planes and I would like to fly them all the time. And they came with amazing built-in entertainment options so I didn’t really need the video games or movies I’d prepared.)

(I also don’t really recommend Kanazawa. The ninja temple–or Myoryu-ji, as it’s really called–was pretty cool, but not exactly worth the trip out of the way.)

The Japanese have a very interesting mix of Buddhism and Shintoism, which I shall talk about on Thursday–some very interesting mythology there. I find Shintoism especially fascinating. More on that later.

Also, it is surprisingly hard to find sushi. But if I ever have to eat soba noodles again, I may hit someone. Soooo many noodles. Noodles all the time! Noooodles.

*clears throat*

We saw a lot of temples and shrines, and poked our heads into a handful of castles. It’s very interesting because very few of the buildings are the original buildings–the Japanese build everything out of wood, so it apparently used to burn down all the time. Matsumoto Castle is one of–of not the–oldest castle in Japan, and it was only built in 1597 or something like that. Osaka Castle, for example, was rebuilt in the 1930s. And Kanazawa Castle is in the process of being rebuilt as we speak. Same with the temples.

If there’s interest, I could probably do a series of posts about various aspects of the trip. Let me know. Otherwise I shall probably do the mythology on Thursday and call it good.