Posts Tagged ‘reading’

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.

October!

It’s that time of year again.

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October! Best month of the year! You guys are probably sick of me saying that every year, but it continues to be true.

The temperature is finally dropping enough to wear, you know, pants. And other fun things like boots and sweaters. The leaves are changing. People don’t look at me as weird for drinking tea all the time. The world turns a little bit goth, just for fun.

Here’s what October looks like on my end:

  • Rehearsal starts tomorrow for the Christmas review show. They gave me a solo. They weren’t supposed to ever actually do that. But aside from never having sung by myself in front of more than about three people at a time (aside from auditions), I’m pretty excited. Some of the songs are the same as last year, so less work for me. <_<
  • I’ve got a major client edit. It’s my fourth book for this client, and his books are just massive. So that will probably carry me through til the end of the year.
  • Also I have a beta that I’m about 60% done with that I need to finish up and get back to the author.
  • Red Mars needs to be read by Nov 1 and I have yet to start it. (Not too worried; I read pretty fast. Got distracted by a book talking about the relations between haunted places, our psyches, storytelling, and ghosts. Seasonally appropriate.)
  • I’m two-thirds of the way through my Python class. Did I tell you I was taking a Python course? I am. Programming seems like a good thing to be generally proficient in. Said class takes between six and twelve hours a week, so it’s more of a time commitment than I was expecting going in.
  • I’m halfway through my fitness challenge.
  • On the writing front, it’s all Fractured World, all the time. All the plans I had for September got eaten and it may be December before I get back to most of them. Priority is working on the sequel to City of Hope and Ruin as well as a related anthology (which I am super excited about–really looking forward to writing my story, as well as seeing the other ones).
  • My birthday is next week! I keep trying to direct people to my Amazon wishlist but no one ever listens. (Also, on a related note, can you make Etsy wishlists?)

I’m not a pumpkin spice person myself, but I always hail the return of pumpkin spice season, because it means peppermint everything season shall be here shortly.

October, squiders! Do you love it? Grand plans for the month? People doing Nano? Should I talk about Nano?

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.)

Cool Things Round-up

Hey, squiders! It’s been one of those weeks, so I’ve decided to share some neat things for both readers and writers with you.

Reading

I’ve talked about BookRiot before, but I recently learned that they do tailored book recommendations. (To be honest, I also like how they’ve named it Tailored Book Recommendations and shortened it to TBR, which stands for To Be Read in most reading circles.) It costs money, of course. There’s two levels–recommendations only (and I’m unsure whether you get the actual books or just recommendations and then have to hunt the book down yourself) and hardcover. (…why hardcover? I don’t want a ton of new hardcover books every quarter, but I suppose people must, or they wouldn’t offer it.) If you’re always looking for new books to read, this might be worth it to you.

Two weeks ago I took over the social media accounts for Hometown Reads. (And also Hometown Authors, but that’s for the other section.) If you’re unfamiliar with Hometown Reads, the idea is connect readers with local authors, so they can support them. The website is divided into cities (alphabetical by city name), and then once you click on your hometown, it shows several pages of books by local authors. The books rotate through, so you may get new and different books each time you check. You can also search by genre, though this gives you books from all the locations, and can search books/authors by name in a search box.

Writing

One of my favorite writing teachers, Holly Lisle, is launching a new course tomorrow, called How to Write a Novel. This is a brand spanking new class, so I haven’t taken it myself, and I’m also not sure how it differs from (or if it’s to replace) her How to Think Sideways course. I think it may be more specialized–HTTS also focuses on idea generation and how to find markets and the like. So! I don’t know about this particular class, except I have seen the outline for it and it is very very VERY thorough, and her How to Revise Your Novel course was a game changer for me.

(Also, I took her free How to Write Flash Fiction course and sold three of the four stories I finished, so…)

Edit: Oh, hey, reading comprehension–apparently if you get in the early bird launch, you get a full content edit of your manuscript for free, so that’s a pretty nice perk.

On the other side of Hometown Reads is Hometown Authors, which connects you to other authors in your local area, and also offers a marketing blog and other occasional resources. You can also maintain an account that shows up over at Hometown Reads, that links your books to you and where to buy them.

Another resource I came across fairly recently is Authors Publish. This is a free resource that emails once a week or so with a selection of markets you can submit to. These tend to be themed (one week may be publishers for romance novels, another week may be themed short story submissions, another might be new publishers), and they also occasionally release ebooks on various marketing and submission topics.

Well, that’s it for me for today. Found anything cool lately, squiders?

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.