Archive for July, 2018

Revisiting Time Travel a New Way

We like science fiction an awful lot on this blog, squiders, and I, at least, also like a good time travel story.

(If you’ve been around here for a while, you’ll know I come back to this topic every few years.)

Time travel can take a ton of different forms, of course, from being the main mechanism in a story to just some flavoring for another type of story (historical fiction, romance, etc.). So I was a bit amused recently when I found myself reading two different books, written almost 40 years apart, that used the same time travel mechanics, and ones that I’m not sure I’ve seen a lot elsewhere.

The books in question are Version Control (Dexter Palmer, 2016) and Thrice Upon a Time (James P. Hogan, 1980).

(I suppose this could potentially be spoiler-y, so read with caution.)

In both, time travel is treated very scientifically, with proper skepticism and with believable limits on how far you can go back and how the mechanism works. As such, we’re not jetting back to the Middle Ages or going back to assassinate Hitler or anything of that ilk. (Version Control deals with a limit of a few years, while Thrice Upon a Time deals in months.)

But both also include the fact that the new timeline overwrites the old timeline. Change something in the past, and the future that did the changing never existed. Not even the time traveler remembers.

(This is handled masterfully in Version Control, and even though I’m a bit sad about the ending–especially since there was another option–I understand why it went the way it did.)

So there’s no hints that the timeline has been changed (unless there’s a purposeful message left–in Thrice Upon a Time messages can be sent from the future to the past, but the act of sending/receiving the message is what erases the previous timeline) and no way for the people in the new timeline to know what happened on the original timeline or what, specifically, has been changed.

So it opens up very interesting questions like: what if you actually made things worse? How can you tell if it’s worth the risk to change the past when your present will no longer exist? If you did change that one event, would you actually accomplish what you meant to?

And no way to test, because the previous timeline is gone and can’t be recovered.

Very interesting take on the concept. Less adventure, more think-y.

I enjoyed Version Control and am not quite done with Thrice Upon a Time, though at this point I’m not sure if I would recommend it. It gets bogged down in long infodumps in the first half of the book, but has improved now that we’re finally using the time travel concept instead of just talking about it.

Know another book that uses this same time travel mechanic, Squiders? Read these books? Thoughts?

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Writing Around Life: School/Kids (Older Children)

Good morning, squiders! Is it hot where you live? It’s hot here. Man, summer.

Today we’re going to be looking at how to write around both school and older children. Like last week with the younger children section, this will be divided into part-time school/older children and full-time school/older children.

In this case, older children includes children who are going to school on a full-time basis, so essentially ages 6 and up. The nice thing about older children is that they begin to be self-sufficient to some extent. Even a 6 year old can dress themselves (though admittedly, not always appropriately for the season/occasion) and can probably get themselves simple snacks. (They probably still need help tying their shoes, but oh well.) By the time you get up to the tweens and teens, your kids may only need you to make them dinner and drive them places.

NOTE: All children are different, and all have different needs. You know your own children best, so use your discretion when applying techniques. ‘

Like last week, this section assumes that you have a childcare solution for when you are at school.

The biggest thing you can do, no matter if you’re in school part or full time, is to work when they’re working. Homework starts early these days. Even kindergarteners may have the occasional 15-minute assignment they need to do at home, or they may need to practice reading. Working next to your kids accomplishes a couple of different things:

  • If they need help, you’re readily available
  • It somewhat counts as family time, even if you’re not directly interacting
  • It helps the kids work because you’re setting a good example
  • You’re getting stuff done

And then, when everyone’s done, you can all go off and do fun things, and your schedules are (hopefully) in sync.

Part-time students

Again, how these strategies will work for you depends on how many classes you’re taking at a time. One or two is generally the most doable when also having to take care of your children, but you know what’s right for you.

  • Utilize the time while your children are at school

The average elementary school student is in school for about six and a half hours a day.  Even if you’re using several hours of this a day for schoolwork (homework, or doing online coursework) you can still probably set an hour or so aside to work on writing or other creative projects. It can help to differentiate school work from creative work–perhaps an hour before the kids need to be picked up, you go to a cafe or a library and work there, then get the kids on the way home.

  • Make use of childcare

If financially viable, you can use after or before school programs to get in a little extra time. After school programs are often less than $20 per afternoon, and you can get 3 or 4 more hours of work. Used once a week or even every other week, this is still a decent amount of extra time to get things done. Likewise, if you’re already using childcare (if your classes don’t correspond with when the kids are in school), perhaps you can add on a little extra time by dropping the kids off a little earlier or picking them up a little later.

  • Set a dedicated writing time once a week

Even when life is crazy, there should be an hour or two a week you can claim as writing time. This should be some time when someone else can watch the kids (or while they’re at school) and should be as consistent as possible to help build a habit. By having a dedicated time, you can make sure you’re making at least a little progress.

Full-time students

Unfortunately, a full-time college schedule isn’t as consistent as a K-12 schedule, so you may be taking classes outside when your kids are at school. Again, these techniques assume you have childcare in place.

  • Work during breaks on campus

You may have short breaks on campus that aren’t long enough to work on school projects or head home. These can be great times to get a little bit of creative work done. Make sure you’re carrying a notebook or a laptop or a writing instrument of choice with you. (Not too hard, since you probably have some for schoolwork anyway.)

  • Set a writing time at the beginning of the week

Since college schedules aren’t always consistent (you may need to go to office hours one week, or meet extra with your group another, for example), you may not be able to set a time each week for writing. But you can look at your schedule each week and block off time you know you’re busy (it also helps to block off homework time) and choose an hour or so for writing. Things may still happen, but having it on your calendar makes it more likely to get done.

As mentioned previously, school comes first, and it does end eventually.

Thoughts about writing around school and older children, squiders?

Cover Reveal: Fireborn by Erin Zarro

Fireborn, the second book in Erin Zarro’s Reaper Girl series, will be out on August 1! But for now, get a load of this cover.

Fireborn cover

Man, that’s pretty.

Here’s the blurb:

Former Grim Reaper Leliel and her new husband Rick have settled into a routine of normalcy after their life-changing trip to the Underworld. They can finally relax and be married and deal with mundane problems, like money and learning to use all the modern-day technologies that are new to Leliel. But they’re up for the challenge.

Until Leliel starts having frightening visions of people on fire. The fires appear to be suicides—young adults—but something isn’t right. She senses that they were forced to act against their will. This isn’t their time to die. Even though she’s no longer a Reaper, she needs to fix it. Somehow.

When she and Rick investigate, they encounter resistance from not only the police but also the families and friends of the dead. Complicating factors are the Tarot cards left at the scenes, the mysterious happenings at the college that all of the dead turn out to have attended, and the disturbing new abilities that Rick is developing.<

And then Leliel’s own Tarot deck turns up the Death card–twice–and she realizes that she’s gotten the attention of something evil…something she must face without Rick by her side.

Meanwhile, the deaths are mounting…

Sound interesting? If so, look for it in a few weeks!

Writing Around Life: School/Kids (Younger Children)

This post is going to be divided into part-time school/young kids and full-time school/young kids. In this case, young kids essentially means any child who is not also going to school full-time, so infants, toddlers, and pre-schoolers.

This is a tough combo, no way around it. Young children need almost constant supervision, and it’s hard for them to advocate for themselves, so you need to make sure you trust whomever is watching them while you’re at school. Cost can also be an issue, since you’re probably not working (if you are, please see the work/school/kids combo section).

But, for the sake of this book, let’s assume you have a child care option that is working for you that allows you to attend school. So we’re going to look at the time you have outside of school where you have to balance non-classroom course work (such as homework and projects), watching your children, and hopefully getting a little writing in.

NOTE: It’s okay to let writing fall by the wayside if you have a hard semester. School is finite. It ends eventually. Your children are only young once. You will have to be the judge of this, of course. If you have time to spend an hour or so a day playing MMORPGs or catching up on your favorite television show, you have time to write. If you run around all day and crash once the kids are in bed, then you might not.

For both part- and full-time students, short breaks are your friend.

Long breaks between classes aren’t the best time to try and fit writing in because they’re better for other things. You can take the kids home and feed them lunch. You can run errands. You can meet with groups and get homework or projects done.

Short breaks are golden because you can’t do anything else, but 10-30 minutes is more than enough time to think through that plot snaggle, write a couple hundred words, outline the next few scenes, and so forth.

Part-time students

Some of these strategies depend on the number of classes you’re taking at a time. I tend to take a single college-level course at a time, which generally means that it requires two hours or less of work on any particular day. Adjust as necessary to your situation.

  • Add half-an-hour on to your child-watching situation

Depend on who’s watching your child and how much you’re paying (and whether you can afford any more), see if you can add an extra half hour on. Maybe your mother-in-law is perfectly happy to watch little Susie for a bit longer while you camp in the lobby of your school and get some writing done. 30 minutes isn’t a lot, but it adds up over time, even if you can only do it once or twice a week.

  • Get a night out

See if your spouse or a family member is willing to watch your children one night a week for a few hours on a regular basis. This has the added benefit of getting you out of the house as well as giving you the opportunity to write (or do school work, as necessary).

  • Exchange time

Perhaps you have a friend who also needs some child-free time to get some stuff done. Maybe she can watch your kids on, say, Thursday, or whenever you need it the most, and you can repay the favor on Fridays, when you don’t have class and your classwork is done for the week.

  • Work while they sleep

Sleeping children are the best. I wouldn’t recommend trying to burn both end of the candles (i.e., staying up late after the kids are asleep AND getting up early to work before they wake up), but doing one or the other and also working during naps can be a great boost to productivity.

Full-time students

If you’re on campus all day and have full-time child care, you’re actually ahead of the game. A full-time day care provider typically charges by the week, so the actual hours your child(ren) is at day care don’t matter as much. Even if a relative is helping you out, you’re probably on campus all day and can spend breaks between classes as you see fit.

Of course, school should always be the top priority, and sometimes you may find yourself inundated with work that needs to be done. But it does tend to balance out. Very few courses keep you super busy all the time. Make use of your small breaks when you can.

If you’re not on campus all day, or if you’re doing online school where you have more control over your schedule, try out some of the techniques listed in the part-time section.

Anything to add, Squiders? Thoughts on writing while doing both school and having young children?

Hooray for July!

Oh man, squiders, you have no idea how happy I was when Monday rolled around. All the craziness of May and June are finally behind me and I feel like I can breathe again.

It is lovely.

Now that all the sundries are taken care of, summer can finally begin.

(The relaxing part. It’s already ungodly hot. Booooooo.)

Here’s how July looks from a writing standpoint:

  • Still working on the space dinosaur story. Now that the madness is done, I hope to actually get some decent wordage going on it. I am having a bit of an issue where my Google Drive isn’t syncing on one computer, which is frustrating. Oh well. Old fashioned way it is until I have time to figure that madness out.
  • In theory, it should be my turn on the sequel to CoHaR’s draft next week. The sequel is gooooing slowly but the good news is that the publication schedule has moved out by a few months, so we should still be okay.
  • My scifi serial continues. I thought I was almost to The End but then there was a rogue plot twist.
  • I have the itch to write a short, but I don’t actually have any ideas floating about. I wrote that one back in April/May and then promptly forgot to do anything about it, so I should probably edit it and find it a home.
  • We have a Fractured World-related anthology coming out at the end of the year, and I suspect I need an outline if not a partially written story by the end of the month. So that’s pretty high on the to-do list. I have characters, premise, and setting, but am sadly lacking in plot. I will have to poke it fairly actively to get something percolating.

That ought to keep me extra busy. It’s probably too ambitious, especially since the small, mobile ones are home and bored, but hey, one can dream.

Any fun plans for July, squiders? Aside from writing, we’ve got a couple festivals planned (uuugh, nothing like wandering around outside when it’s 100 degrees) and are apparently climbing the second-tallest mountain in the continental United States next Friday.