Posts Tagged ‘books’

Guest Post: The Sea of Distant Stars by Francesca G. Varela

Good morning, squiders! Happy Thursday! Today I have a guest post about writing process for you from Francesca G. Varela, who is currently doing a virtual tour for her science fiction book, The Seas of Distant Stars.

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Literary Science-Fiction
Date Published:  August 7th, 2018
Publisher: Owl House Books
 
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Agapanthus was kidnapped when she was only two years old, but she doesn’t remember it. In fact, she doesn’t remember her home planet at all. All she knows is Deeyae, the land of two suns; the land of great, red waters. Her foster-family cares for her, and at first that’s enough. But, as she grows older, Agapanthus is bothered by the differences between them. As an Exchanger, she’s frail and tall, not short and strong. And, even though she was raised Deeyan, she certainly isn’t treated like one. One day, an Exchanger boy completes the Deeyan rite-of-passage, and Agapanthus is inspired to try the same. But, when she teams up with him, her quest to become Deeyan transforms into her quest to find the truth―of who she is, and of which star she belongs to.
Excerpt

It had been so long since Agapanthus had really swam—train-swam, counting her strokes and holding her breath until either her forehead ached or the upper, back end of her throat began to complain. Now she just floated, usually. Maybe a steady, parallel lap from one end of the shore to the other. She wasn’t even sure what she thought, anymore. Part of her had given up on the right-of-passage, but the other part of her wanted to prove it to them. What if she did it? What if she really did it, and she emerged from the small round boat to a feast and cheering crowds, and Leera would cup her chin in her warm hands and say, smiling, “I can’t believe it,” and Pittick would at first rest his hand on her head, but then hug her, and she couldn’t even imagine what he would say. Something about how he was wrong. About how much stronger she was than any of them had guessed. Something about being proud.

Agapanthus looked down at her legs. They were coated completely in red sand, no skin showing at all. She stood and brushed off the clinging particles. They felt like little teeth boring into her. Drops of mist speckled the edge of her cheek as the wind climbed over the Waters. She was going to brush the droplets away, but, instead, she left her fingers splayed over the side of her face as she stared out toward Shre. If anyone saw her, they would think she was odd—just staring with her hand up like that, her other hand wrapped over her ribs, her shoulders fallen, like the Contact’s had been. But no one was there to see. That was the good thing about being alone. One of the few good things.

 

Guest Post – My Writing Process

A lot of people ask me where I get the inspiration for my novels. Sometimes, a character pops into my head from nowhere—from the ether, it seems. They are real, and alive, and I know instantly that they are the one I should be writing about. Other times, I see a vague image—a quiet, numb sunset on another planet, or a girl looking up at a field of stars in the broken wilderness of some future world. This image is my sole starting point. Other times, I have a message I want to spread; a plea to protect wild places, an invitation to enjoy the connection we share with all things, or a warning to not take this connection for granted.

For the most part, I usually begin my novels blindly. I have an idea where things will go, but I let the writing take me there.

The hardest part for me is getting started. Back in high school, when I wrote my very first novel, I learned that the only way to not to get overwhelmed by the length of a novel is to go word by word. To think of writing 60,000 or more words when the pages are empty—well, that’s intimidating. But to think of writing your first 500 words—that’s achievable.

Typically, my daily goal is 500 words. Once I hit that mark, I feel accomplished for the day. 500 words a day will get you to a full-length novel in only a few months, if you’re diligent. And, even if you take a few days off here and there, or take a break when you’re off on vacation, you’ll still make good time. Using the 500 words a day method, I finished my second novel—Listen—in about nine months, and I finished my newest novel, The Seas of Distant Stars, in about six months.

Once the writing is finished, I take time to edit. First, I read through and fix up any issues with the plot or character development. Then I read it again and make grammatical corrections and changes to the prose. Then, and only then, do I let friends and family read it and give me feedback.

I long ago decided to keep my books a secret until they were finished. So, every time I’m working on a novel, no one is allowed to know what it’s about until it’s done. I guess this is because I want the story to be purely my own for a little while. Some of the best writing advice I can offer is to write like no one will ever read it. Write for yourself. Take chances. Be creative. Be edgy. Get those words on the page. After all, the only way to write a novel is by actually writing it! So, write a little each day, and let your instincts and imagination guide you.

About the Author

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Francesca G. Varela was raised in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. In 2015 she graduated from the University of Oregon with degrees in Environmental Studies and Creative Writing, and she then went on to receive her master’s degree in Environmental Humanities from the University of Utah.

Francesca’s dream of becoming an author began in third grade, and her writing career had an early start; she wrote her award-winning first novel, Call of the Sun Child, when she was only 18 years old, and she wrote her second novel, Listen, when she was only 20.

When not writing or reading, Francesca enjoys playing piano, figure skating, hiking, identifying wild birds, plants, and constellations, and travelling to warm, sunny places whenever she can.
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Mars Trilogy Readalong: Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Ugh, guys, I’m sorry this took me so long to get through. I don’t really have any good excuses, except I should have started more than a week before we were supposed to be talking about it, especially since it’s almost 600 pages.

To sum up, as I told my dog last night: this is not a hopeful book. This is a book about how humanity is stupid and self-destructive.

I mean, I hope we eventually get into a hopeful phase, but who knows!

Red Mars came out in 1992 and won the Nebula in 1993. It covers somewhere between 35 and 40 years of time, starting with the colonist selection process on Earth and following them through the trip to Mars and approximately 30 years on Mars itself. It’s told in eight sections, with a different viewpoint character for each section (though Nadia and Frank each get two), and each viewpoint character is a member of the First Hundred, as the first colonists are called over time.

Most sections cover a decent amount of time, sometimes years, and there is also usually a time jump between sections (though section 8 follows directly from section 7). The book sets up characters on various sides of different issues, such as terraforming (the greens “let’s do this as fast as possible” vs. the reds “leave Mars alone–what right have we to meddle?”), colonization, emigration, corporations, government, etc. Genetic engineering is also present, but aside from its relation to terraforming (they create specialized algae that can survive on Mars’ surface), at least in this book, it’s treated as a uniformly good thing (i.e., no characters are presented as against it). I will be interested to see if that changes as the books go on.

There may be SPOILERS moving forward, so be aware.

The plot of the book is fairly chronological rather than action based. While we do open somewhere in the middle, subsequent chapters and sections start from the beginning and run straight through. The First Hundred are selected, leave for Mars on the Ares, an immense spaceship with some artificial gravity, gardens, farms, etc. (even birds) to try and help with mental states on the long voyage. On the voyage, we see the first signs that people have different plans for the planet and different ideologies, and that some people lied throughout the selection process.

They arrive at Mars and get started building up the infrastructure necessary to produce air and water, build habitats, and start exploring. Things are good. But eventually those ideological differences pop back up, especially in relation to terraforming and whether or not they need to get Earth’s permission before they do things. And a large section of the First Hundred disappear, becoming the Lost Colony, without any warning.

As time goes on, more people arrive from Earth, different factions with different goals, and without cohesive goals or leadership, tensions start to rise. Big corporations start sending a ton of workers and “security,” sabotages start happening, people disappear–and Earth is no help, because Earth is also falling apart, due to global warming and increasing numbers of wars.

Eventually the “revolution” happens–a number of rebel factions, not coordinating with each other, attack, destroying towns (reliant on thin domes for their atmospheres) and killing people. The “security” forces retaliate, shooting down from orbit. There is mass chaos, with all these factions working for themselves and the Earth forces (mostly these corporate security forces as well as some UN-approved ones) trying to lock everything down. The space elevator is destroyed, crashing down to the planet. Phobos is destroyed. The First Hundred become targets–Earth is trying to peg them as scapegoats and ring leaders–and they manage to escape to the Lost Colony at the end.

SPOILERS over.

This was actually a fairly quick read, all things considered–depending on whose point of view the section is in. I found Nadia the easiest to read and Frank the hardest; I’m sure other people would feel differently. Even when the characters spend forever building habitats or exploring the vastness of Mars, the book never feels slow (though I admit I occasionally skimmed sections with a lot of place names, which just didn’t mean anything to me). It does a great job of showing what life might be like on Mars, and a great job presenting a number of characters who are obviously different from each other. I would recommend it if you like hard science fiction, especially near future stuff, or space exploration.

Also, apparently the first person walks on Mars by 2020, and colonizing by 2026, so we’d better get on it.

Did you read this with me, squiders? What did you think?

Green Mars is next. Let’s do the end of January for it, so we can get through the holidays without going crazy.

Storytelling Across Cultures

They always say to read broadly, don’t they, squiders? And generally this means that if you normally read mysteries, pick up a romance every now and then, or some science fiction, or if you read novels to read short stories, or if you only read stuff from authors who are alike to you in race/gender/orientation, etc. to try authors who are different than you in one or all categories.

One could argue that reading stories from other cultures fits into this as well.

Have you ever read folklore and creation myths from different cultures? (I read a ton of creation myths at one point–I think it was research back when I was writing Shards–and it was very interesting to see what trended across cultures from different sides of the planet.) It’s really quite fascinating. I have a whole shelf of folklore here in my office–Russian, African, Hawaiian, American Indian–and even made it through the Kojiki at one point.

And stories take different mediums depending on the culture as well. And there are differences between the beats and flow even within the same medium. The kabuki theater tradition in Japan is completely different than Western theater (and is actually why people think ninjas wore black, though that’s another story). A puppet show in Europe is different than the shadow puppets of Asia.

Story structure varies as well. I was reading earlier about differences between “western” (in this case, American) and “eastern” (Japanese) storytelling. The article said that while western stories tend to depend on direct conflict and use a three-act story structure, eastern storytellers use a four act structure that goes “introduction, development, twist and reconciliation.” There can be–and often is–conflict, but it’s handled in a completely different manner. (If you’ve ever watched Spirited Away or another Ghibli film, you’ve probably seen this act structure in action.)

(Something else I read on the subject pointed out that in American storytelling, the main character is often the strongest, most interesting person in the story, with the other characters being relegated to sidekicks, whereas in Japanese storytelling, the main character is often an everyperson who is thrust into a situation where they’re surrounded by people who are more powerful and/or more interesting than they are. Which is true, to some degree, but I can also think of some examples where it’s not, so much like everything in life, there are always exceptions.)

What do you think, squiders? Feelings on stories and mediums from other cultures? Favorite stories from other countries? Thoughts on storytelling structure?

Announcing the Red Mars Readalong

All right, squiders. We’re going to do the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson for our next readalong.

I’m excited to do this one, because I have been carting this trilogy around for probably close to 20 years without reading it, and if you’re at all familiar with it, you know these are fat books. My copy of Red Mars (which is the only one handy–Green Mars and Blue Mars are currently relegated to the basement bookcase) is about 600 pages of tiny font. So not Wheel of Time fat, but pretty dang fat.

I think I picked the series up around the time I read Dune and Ringworld and books of those ilk. I think I thought the series was older than it was, since it seemed to be on all the same lists. It is a Nebula award winner, so that’s cool.

(My copy was also apparently once owned by my local library. I hope I bought it at a book sale and didn’t steal it off the shelves. It doesn’t seem to have the general library book accouterments such as stickers with shelving location and whatnot, so I’m going to assume it’s all good.)

I have also never read anything by Kim Stanley Robinson (though I believe these were some of his first books), though my husband recently finished 2312, so assuming he’s consistent in his narrative form, I have a vague idea of what to expect.

Let’s give ourselves plenty of time to get through this one. November 1 sound good?

(I will also note that I will probably read We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which was also on the poll, sometime in October, both because I want to, and because one of my writing groups is having a paranormal/horror reading challenge in October, and that’s the first one that comes to mind. So I may or may not talk about that one as well.)

Time for a New Readalong!

It’s been almost half a year since we read The Sparrow, so let’s pick out a new book and/or series to look at! I’ve tried to provide a wide variety of genres and standalone/series options.

Also, if you’d very much like to do a different book or series, please let me know in the comments.

Also let me know if you prefer if I just pick a book on my own. The polls are still a new thing.

Literary Namesakes

My sister recently dropped off a book for me to read (along with some llama socks and a Totoro keychain, woot woot) that featured her name in the title.

Me: “Did you pick this up just cuz the main character is named after you?
Her: “Yes.” A pause. “But I think you’ll really like it.”

And to be fair, I’m a little over a fourth of the way into the book, and I do like it. So I give her that.

But it is kind of fun, isn’t it, when you open a book and find a character with your same name? Well, unless the character is a jerk. Or your name is so common that there’s another one everywhere you look. Or you share a name with somebody super famous (can you imagine all the Harry Potters out there?).

At least for me, though, “Kit” isn’t terribly common, so it’s still exciting when another one comes out of the woodwork, but it’s common enough that it does come out occasionally. Though, being a gender neutral name, I did go through a period of time where all the Kits I found were male. Kit Cloudkicker in TaleSpin, a male griffin in The Dark Lord of Derkholm (by Dianna Wynne Jones), etc.

(Not that there aren’t female Kits, of course. There’s an American Girl named Kit, after all, though I will admit to never reading any of those, since she came out after I’d moved off of American Girls. And Kit Tyler from The Witch of Blackbird Pond, which I think was required reading back in elementary school.)

And, like my sister, I will admit to picking up a book if I know the main character is named Kit. I did that with Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan, which is a supernatural story taking place in a boarding school, and with a mystery that I can’t recall the name of where the central mystery revolved around something that could have been solved with a 5-second Google search (the book predated Google, but I was still annoyed that that-Kit couldn’t do some basic research somewhere).

What do you think, squiders? Do you like opening a book and finding your own name staring back at you? Or does it weird you out?

Be Jealous of My Box of Books

So, everyone I know is moving this week.

Okay, not everyone, but five people. It’s still a lot. And all at the same time.

One of the things about moving is that you realize how much stuff you’ve wedged into your current place, and how a lot of it you haven’t touched in years. Luckily for me, my family has realized they have a lot of books that they’re never going to read again.

And now they’re mine, bwhahaha.

My grandmother is an avid mystery reader and had a ton of books she’d already read, and my mother was offloading MG/YA science fiction and fantasy that she’d needed to keep up with what her students were reading, but doesn’t need them now that she’s retired.

Here’s my haul:

Box of Books

Mysteries/Thrillers/Gothic:

  • Lion in the Valley, Elizabeth Peters (1986)
  • The Ipcress File, Len Deighton (1962)
  • A Cold Day for Murder, Dana Stabenow (1992) (haha, her name has “stab” in it)
  • The Man with a Load of Mischief, Martha Grimes (1981)
  • Booked to Die, John Dunning (1992)
  • The Missing Mr. Mosley, John Greenwood (1986)
  • Mosley by Moonlight, John Greenwood (1985)
  • Mists over Mosley, John Greenwood (1986)
  • The Mind of Mr. Mosley, John Greenwood (1987)
  • What, Me, Mr. Mosley?, John Greenwood (1988)
  • Smoke in the Wind, Peter Tremayne (2001)
  • “A” is for Alibi, Sue Grafton (1982)
  • Raven Black, Ann Cleeves (2006)
  • Edwin of the Iron Shoes, Marcia Muller (1977)
  • The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morley (1919)
  • The Scapegoat, Daphne du Marnier (1956)

YA/MG Fantasy/Scifi:

  • Uglies, Pretties, Specials (trilogy), Scott Westerfeld (2005-2006)
  • The Vampire Diaries (books 1-4), L. J. Smith (1991)
  • Songs of Power, Hilari Bell (2000)
  • Raven’s Gate, Anthony Horowitz (2005)

Other:

  • From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E. L. Konigsburg (children’s, 1967)
  • Lord of Legends, Susan Krinard (romance/fantasy, 2009)
  • The View from Saturday, E. L. Konigsburg (children’s, 1996)
  • The Wanderer, Sharon Creech (MG historical, 2000)

(I really like E. L. Konigsburg. Or I did as a kid.)

What do you think, squiders? Read any of my new acquisitions? Where would you start if you were me?