Friday, January 31, 2014

A Sense of Wonder

I live in a suburb in the Midwest. When you look at the area, it's pretty typical of the region: housing developments, strip malls, and lots of streets. It's about as mundane as you can get. However, if you look closer at these objects, on the molecular, atomic, and subatomic levels, there's a lot more going on than you might imagine. Looking at living creatures on various levels is even more interesting. In fact, I find molecular biology so interesting that I majored in it.

Children start out with a sense of wonder and an urge to experiment and learn, which is why they make excellent scientists. Unfortunately, we tend to lose the sense of wonder as we grow up. That's why science fiction and fantasy are so important to me: they help me keep the sense of wonder alive. Science fiction and fantasy not only take us to other worlds, they also help us expand our sense of what is possible. This is something we all need to help us create new things and solve the problems of the future.

If you're a long-time reader of science fiction and fantasy, does it still inspire you to wonder? Or do you read it for other reasons?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Asimov Genre

The discussion this week is genre: What do you read? and What do you write?

I'd like to say that I read a lot of genres. I have, at least, tried a lot of genres. Some of them under duress. For instance, in one of my high school classes, we were required to choose books from several different genres to read for some assignment or other. We had to choose something like five different genres. Of course, science fiction and fantasy were lumped together, just the way they are at the book store, so I wasn't able to squeeze two of books out of that. I don't remember what all I read for that assignment other than that I read my one and only Harlequin romance book. What can I say? They were short, and they were easy to get at since my grandmother circulated them with a bunch of my other female relatives (mostly great-aunts). Let's just say I was unimpressed.

I also picked up my first Western for that assignment, a Louis L'Amour book. My grandfather had a whole shelf of L'Amour paperbacks. I liked it enough that I read several more of them, which, really, was the intent of the assignment, to introduce us to books we wouldn't normally read. I still try to do that, pick up books that I wouldn't normally read (which is like the whole Oscar thing my wife and I do with movies). I think it's good for you.

All of that said, I spent most of my high school career reading fantasy with some sci-fi mixed in. In fact, I spent a lot of that time reading Piers Anthony who often blended sci-fi and fantasy. Does he have enough books, yet, to be his own genre? How many does that take? I'm pretty sure Asimov has been awarded genre status. He has, right? So I read a lot of Anthony and Asimov genres.

I also read a lot of classics. Did and do. Periodically reading a classic is something I try to keep doing. Sometimes, those even fall into the sci-fi/fantasy category, so, like, doubleplusgood. And I spent some time reading thrillers, especially Clancy. And non-fiction. And historical fiction. And fiction that's historical because that's when it was written, but I don't think that counts as historical fiction.

So a lot of genres.

But I do tend to gravitate toward fantasy, and it's always what I want when I'm feeling the need to give my brain a rest.

And that might be why, so far, anyway, I've tended toward fantasy in my own writing. Or, at least, the fantastic.
The House on the Corner is fantasy in a Narnia-esque kind of way. Or in a contemporary sort of way reminiscent of The Dresden Files. There are a lot of similar structural elements there that I find interesting since I didn't read any Dresden stuff until after I wrote House.
Shadow Spinner, though, is fantasy in a completely different way. I'd say it leans toward the paranormal except I don't really see it that way. To me, it's fantasy.
And "The Tea Kettle" is full of all kinds of fantastic elements, but I'm not sure it quite qualifies as fantasy.
(You should click the link and go read that one; it's FREE!)
At some point, there will be The Destiny Murders. I'm not sure what that is, yet. Well, it's a murder mystery, but... well... there's more to it than that.
Most of the stories floating in my head or living in my notes folder on my computer are fantasy of some type or another or, at least, have fantasy of some sort in them.
Or they're sci-fi.
Most but not all. Hopefully, though, even though they might be "merely" fantasy; they will be a whole lot more.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Playing Favorites

This week's topic is about your favorite genre to read and write.  Since the authors here mostly specialize in SF/Fantasy that's probably the easiest answer.  From my bibliography though you can see where my favorite genre to write has been cyclical.

From 1995-2001 I wrote pretty much all sci-fi.  From 1997-1999 that included some Transformers fanfics as well.

From 2002-2006 I wrote almost entirely literary fiction. 

But at the end of 2006 I wrote a series of YA stories because everyone else was doing it, so why not me?

In 2008 I wrote my final literary novel (to date)

Then from 2009-2010 I wrote mostly superhero stories with a couple of more mainstream sci-fi ones mixed in

In 2011 I wrote the Chances Are series of thrillers

Then in 2013 it was back to superheroes with one paranormal thriller.

And my reading habits are largely reflective of that as well.  Up until the new millennium I read pretty much all sci-fi.  Then in 2002 I read mostly literary fiction.  That was mostly the case until 2011 when I started reading old school mystery/thrillers by Raymond Chandler, Lawrence Block, etc. 

On my old blog I tallied up the authors I read last year.  Besides myself Arthur C. Clarke, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ian Fleming dominated the list, mostly because they were on sale.  So that's pretty much a mixture of sci-fi, literary, and thrillers right there.

I have to say versatility is a good thing.  I know they say to read a lot in the genre you're writing but it's also good to see what's going on in other parts of the world.  At times I've read stuff I wouldn't normally like chick-lit and romance mostly just to see how they do it.  If you can fit that in I think it's a good idea because it broadens your perspective.  As old NBC commercials used to say, "The More You Know."  So don't get too stuck on an one genre unless you're getting paid a lot of money to do so.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Five Amazing (But Still Gross) Spiders In Literature To Help Freak You Out I Mean Inspire You.

Remember how J.R.R. Tolkien had that great scene where Frodo and Sam faced off against Shelob and (I think, it's been a while since I read the books) Frodo got bit and Sam had to take over for a while? Actually, Sam did most of the work, now that I think about it, making Frodo a bigger fraud than Gandalf.  Whatever, remember then how J.K. Rowling had Harry Potter and his friends (who later hooked up even though everyone thought Harry and Hermione would get together) fight a spider and nobody said anything about how that might maybe be copying because J.K. Rowling is the only person

The Sun... It's Hot

So, let's say you're working on your nice little story about the team of scientists on a mission to the sun. Never fear, they'd go at night, to avoid burning up - but you just wish you had a primer of some sort to ground you in some of the things you might want to know.

Well, infographic weekend continues with this beauty below:

Everything Under The Sun
by Column Five Media.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.

A Handy Tip For Looking Your Best When Time Traveling

I wonder if the Doctor has this hanging up in his Tardis. And yes, the weekend of infographic porn continues.

I'd be thrilled if I were able to go back to ancient Rome and complain that my Urine mouthwash wasn't genuine Portuguese Urine. I mean, they'd never suspect I was a time traveller then.

Beauty Tips from History
Explore more infographics like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

We All Know the Sun is Big... But HOW Big?

I am an unapologetic sucker for any size comparison chart. I found this one, which isn't quite as powerful as some of the videos I've seen on the same topic. But it's still pretty cool.

Check out this link for a more interactive view of how big things are> --> CLICK ME

So remember, when you send the characters in your space opera to Mu Cephi, don't forget that it's pretty big. It might make for a complicated calendar for folks living there.

The Size of Milky Way Stars
by nihokrauss.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.

It's An Infographic Party!

I posted an infographic here a few weekends ago about the future of the cosmos (assuming what we think we know about chemistry, physics, etc, is correct). Needless to say, it was amazing.

Well, for this weekend's infographic pornfest, below is a look at, well, time. I hope you can see this in its intended glory (clicking on it may help), it's marvelous.

A Perspective on Time
by mayra.artes.
Explore more infographics like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.

Finally, I Now Can See All the Places Homer Simpson Has Visited!

Outside of Star Trek, I spent the 90's watching three shows on television. Seinfeld, Friends, and The Simpsons. Now, I may have seen other shows. But I have to stop and think about things. Was Farscape on in the 90's? I don't know, I loved it, but I don't associate it with that decade.

Hmmm... I guess the X-Files was a show of the 90's too.

Well, before I start thinking about this too much, I figured I'd share the infographic below, which I stumbled upon this past week. It's every place that the Simpsons traveled to across the globe.

I would point out, that the marks on the maps are only approximate locations. I live in Knoxville, and when the episode of the Simpsons aired, it did make a story in our paper. And our local historian wrote a story about the real references to the city the writers (probably) made.

But, it is about 300 miles east of where it's represented on the map.

I'm just sayin.

Everywhere The Simpsons Went
Explore more infographics like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.

Five Reasons Why Diversity Matters in SF

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, we've been talking about diversity in science fiction/fantasy this week. Why is this so important? Here are five reasons:

1. To challenge the tropes. Stereotypes such as the passive damsel in distress subconsciously teach women that this type of behavior on their part is expected, even preferred. But why should women always be weak or men never show emotions? That's not healthy for either gender. Everyone, no matter what your gender, race, sexual orientation, physical abilities, or favorite Beatle is, should be allowed to be himself or herself and not confined to a narrow range of behaviors.

2. So other people can see themselves in the genre. Speculative fiction may not be the best-selling book genre, but it does do well at the movies. However, movies are often targeted to adolescent males. Why not broaden the appeal by including many different types of people in these stories? If you look at cosplaying, you'll see that some popular characters can be reimagined as a different character or race without losing their essence. (Unfortunately, not everyone believes a black cosplayer can/should dress as a white character; please check out the link. I was tempted to post some of Chaka's images here, but I won't to respect her copyright.)

3. To reflect the real world. By the middle of this century, whites/Caucasians are predicted to be a minority. Therefore, when I write about the future, I feel the need to show a diverse range of ethnic groups. For example, in Twinned Universes, Paul's best friend and romantic interest are both part black, the leader of the time travelers is Hispanic, Sean's wife and son are Filipino, Julia Kee from TwenCen Earth is Navajo, and so on. Although Paul as Sean's clone is 100% Irish, his sister is part Filipino and Native American, although those ancestors are several generations back and play more of a role psychologically than genetically. It is a bit ironic that I wound up with a white male as the main character, though Scott does counter tropes by referring to Paul as his magical white friend.

4. To learn about others. Although Paul is the main character of Twinned Universes,the next book in the series will feature Julia instead. I have been researching the Navajo culture and the Navajo Nation to prepare for writing from her perspective. (She would refer to herself as Dine, with an accent on the "e.") I've learned a lot, but it is a bit intimidating trying to learn about the Navajo language (which I'm not sure I can write accurately). It would be great if I knew someone I could interview about this culture, but you can't expect one person to represent an entire culture either. In the end, I will have to do the best I can with what resources I can access.

5. To develop empathy. I recently read The Golden Theme, which emphasizes that despite our diversity, we are all still the same in our wants and our needs. That's what makes us human, and that's what allows us to develop empathy for someone else. Reading is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in someone else's world. As authors and as readers, let's keep spreading empathy. I have a dream that that is one way to make Dr. Martin Luther King's Promised Land a reality.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Diversity & Me

First off a confession:  not only am I white, I'm raised in farm country white where the most diversity we had was when the migrant workers came up from Texas for the summer.  My elementary school had maybe one non-white kid in all of K-8.  So I wasn't brought up in one of those multi-ethnic rainbows.  I'm not really one then who should preach much about diversity, but here are some examples of diversity in my books.

My most diverse cast is probably the First Contact series published under a pen name.  The first officer is black and the main platoon leader is Mexican--like actually from Mexico not Mexican in the Rush Limbaugh sense of anyone who speaks Spanish.  Though at the end one has brown lizard skin and the other's skin turns pasty zombie whitish so if you're so inclined you could read something into that.  But really a lot of it then is about two races (human and alien) coming together.  In the case of the first officer that coming together is literal when she gets alien DNA spliced into her human DNA.  Our intrepid heroes have to overcome mistrust from both human and alien governments.  In the reimagining of this story called Star Shepherd the whole platoon is from a small Mexican town and it's a Chinese woman abducted by the aliens.

The book Forever Young--published under another pen name--is another lesson in tolerance.  The main character Samantha Young is Hispanic and washes up on an island populated by white Puritan kids who frequently call her a "savage" until she proves herself to them.  So the whole thing is about respecting people for who they are not their skin tone.  (Spoiler!) Later she falls in love with a white kid, though the interracial thing is never brought up.

My short story collection The Carnival Papers--being featured on Wattpad today--has a couple stories involving diversity.  In "Learning to Fly" a suburban white girl's car breaks down and when a black tow truck driver shows up to help, she's immediately suspicious of his motives, despite how benign they are.  In the story "Flight" a suburban black guy starts to panic when he takes a wrong turn and ends up in the ghetto.

In the novel Where You Belong the primary characters are white but an important secondary character named Roble Madore is from Somalia.  He befriends Frost, the main character, when they work together to turn his journey from Somalia to England to America into a novel.  Of course besides skin color the book is also diversity in terms of sexual orientation.

In the second book of the Chances Are series, Second Chance, Stacey Chance gets Chinese DNA spliced into hers and ends up as a little girl named Stacey Chang.  (Spoiler) She remains partially Asian until about halfway through the third book when she becomes a white man again, but there's a scene near the end of the book when Stacey--now back to Steve--confronts a guy who writes a white supremacist newsletter while searching for a serial killer known as the Skinhead Strangler who preys on minorities.

You might complain that there isn't much diversity in the Girl Power series, but I blame the comic book companies for that one.  It's not my fault Superman, Batman, the Flash, and Aquaman are all white.  Though really that book is largely about diversity in terms of gender--and sexual orientation--rather than skin color.

There are probably some more examples that I can't remember at the time being.  Though I will admit that I default to white characters, see above upbringing.  I'm also not the type who feels the need to have a token minority character, unless someone harps on me about it and then I might acquiesce, but it's not really a big deal for me.  Unless there's some special reason for it, skin color doesn't really matter, just like religion or any of that other stuff.  But the one thing I will promise is that if a character is gay you will know it; none of that cowardly JK Rowling stuff of saying a character is gay years after the fact.  That's weak sauce.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Let's Celebrate How Far We've Come... By Doing Better!

So, it's Martin Luther King week. And as such, it's an opportunity to discuss the topic of diversity in fiction. That's something I've had to stop and take a deep breath about before I started typing a bunch of words about. For once, I decided to think about something first... then type.

Once, in my youth, I took a college history class in which I had to, among other things, write a story from the POV of a young black girl in the south during Dr King's, I have a dream, speech.

Doing so was an opportunity for me watch the speech in its entirety for the first time, not just the famous part, and to do some research into the cultural and political scene of the country of the time. I interviewed an elderly gentleman that was a young man during the 60's, and told me his personal experiences. They horrified me to the core.

People are so mean. I couldn't understand how someone that went through so much suffering could still be such a well adjusted, happy man.  For folks like me, people who most closely associate the world and its attitudes with the 80's going forward (despite living through most of the 70's, I don't think I had an awareness of much of the larger world until the 80's), it was a disturbing to think that the world was a radically different place only 20 years prior.

What happened, I think, is that white folks stood around, looked at each other, and said, "Well, I guess we don't get to racist anymore," and then carried on. And so the violent, aggressive, openly hostile acts of racism mostly stopped.

But just because you no longer have the freedom to tie a man to the bumper of your car and drag him down the road until he dies any longer, didn't change the underlying superiority complex a lot of people dealt with at the time. It just made racism a bit more... well, passive.

People who were denied education, training, access to information, whatever else you can imagine, were now told the world wasn't racist anymore, but that they didn't have the proper education, training, or experience to take on the jobs they were applying for. So, we have to give those jobs to white people now. Again, not racist, they swear it isn't.

And on and on it went. So today, when people look at diversity in SF&F it isn't just about race, it's about gender too. Well, it turns out that SF&F has traditionally been a equal opportunity discriminator. It used to be the case that a woman wanting to write in genre had write under a male pen name to be taken seriously. James Tiptree jr, for example, one of the greatest SF writers of all time, was, after all, secretly, a lady named Alice.

I, for one, and happy that all that is behind us. And as I've always considered myself a pretty forward thinking fella. I guess that means you'd be able to see that in my reading choices too. To prove it, I took a picture of my tbr pile here in my office.

Aside for a few things there, it's mostly books I'm intending to read*. The LOTR dvd's are there because my wife put them there, no explanation given. The graphic novels are mostly already read. But the books there, that's what I wanted to look at. How many there are written by minorities and women?

Well, I took some numbers down. Here they are:

Number of books: 102
Fiction Books: 95
SF&F Books: 92
Number of SF&F Books Written by Women: 5
Latino: 1
African-American: 0

Huh... That doesn't speak so well to me, does it? It's long since been discussed that the SF&F community is underrepresented by women and minorities. But this is stunning. I pulled one of those books off my shelf because the author had initials listed as their author name, and I wasn't sure of the gender. I saw the photo here on the back page.

So, I guess it's probably not a woman. Unless the cat wrote the book, and the man is just there because he had to hold the cat.

So, as a reader, it's up to me to seek out a more diverse set of authors to read from. I will read more. I've heard amazing things about Nnedi Okarafor, Samuel Delany, and the deceased Octavia E. Butler.

As a writer, I pledge to do better. To make sure my characters are more diverse. Because the whole world isn't a bunch of middle aged white dudes. And that means not just making someone as a stand in for a whole ethnic community either, I mean to have characters that are well rounded individuals that just happen to not be white dudes. I need to start expanding those horizons, so to speak.

The complaint I've heard, and disheartens me the most, is that some US minorities have dismissed SF&F out of hand because it's perceived as a white man's club. Who knows what child that could have been of of the great contributors of all time to the field decided that they weren't allowed to because it was a place they weren't welcome.

*In my defense, my kindle tbr pile is much better. That the bulk of my physical books are from traditional publishers, and mostly from the big 5, probably has something to do with that disparity. Although I still take it upon myself as being ultimately responsible for what I read.

Monday, January 20, 2014

How Diverse Are You?

I first really got into science fiction and fantasy when I was in middle school. A friend of mine gave me a copy of Split Infinity by Piers Anthony for my birthday, and I just went from there. [I had stayed away from fantasy before that because, any time I got any book with magic in it (other than the Narnia books),  my dad would throw it away. Perhaps because it was a birthday present, no one took it from me. Or, maybe, it was because I didn't advertise it. Anyway, this isn't about what I was "allowed" to read when I was a kid.] Thinking back on it, now, basically everything I read was... well, it was "white." In fact, the only sci-fi/fantasy books I can think of that I read back then with a non-white lead was Bio of a Space Tyrant by Piers Anthony (because I spent years reading everything that Anthony wrote).

Not that it's really a sci-fi/fantasy problem; it's just a book problem. Or, at least, an American book problem. Or, maybe, a Western book problem. And there's plenty written about the lack of diversity in literature, so I'm not really going to get into that. It's a huge problem with no easy answer, except, hopefully, now that publishing has more options, we can hope that a more diverse body of writers begins to develop.

That said, the whole question of diversity, this being the day after MLK Day, made me think about diversity in my own work. I mean, I'm a white dude which, when it comes to books, is about the least diverse you can get. Okay, not "about the least;" it is the least. Going back to Piers Anthony: the guy's written something like 150 novels but only a handful have significant non-white characters (at least up to the point that I stopped reading him) and, actually, that's probably pretty good.

Honestly, before this topic came up in one of our IWM discussions, I hadn't given much thought to how diverse I am in my writing, but, after thinking about it, I'm not displeased.

Tib, in Shadow Spinner, is bi-racial.
His father is, well, you should just read "The Evil That Men Do" to find that out. I wouldn't want to throw out any spoilers. Not that I tried to write him "racially;" I wrote him as a kid struggling with the kinds of things that kids struggle with, and his issues are not race issues; their being different issues, which, I suppose, most kids feel that they are at some point or another. Basically, I didn't make the race thing an issue; it's just something that is. It was just... natural.

However, when I wrote "Christmas on the Corner," there was more premeditation about racial ideas. Not that I was trying to be racially diverse; I just thought back to my own childhood and growing up in the South and decided that I wanted Sam's best friend to be black. Having black friends was normal to me when I was a kid... right up until almost middle school when I wanted to bring one of my friends, who happened to be black, to church with me, and my mother wouldn't let me. [It wasn't, I don't think, because of any prejudice of her own that she wouldn't let me, because she had never said or done anything about me having black friends (in fact, the only friends she ever protested where the other "smart kids" I was friends with, because they were "weird"). She was worried how people would react at our all-white church.] Since House is set in the South, I wanted to be able to explore race issues, so Sam's best friend is black.

All of that said, I don't recommend throwing in diversity for the sake of diversity; that smacks of trying to hard. If I had been thinking, "I need to be racially diverse, here," I probably would have messed it all up, but, as it is, I think it all comes off pretty natural. It has to be something that's there without "being there." It has to be there without calling attention to itself. Probably, the best way to accomplish that in writing is to be more diverse as a person. That sounds like a pretty good goal to me.

Stumped? Let Big Bird help you learn to write a story.

Priceless, and timeless, advice from Big Bird, as he and Snuffy work on their first story; video after the jump.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Japanese Fart Scrolls... It's a Thing.

I don't have a lot of words to explain this. Please follow the link and... er, enjoy.

Japanese Fart Scrolls

Taken from the article linked to above...

"The whole scroll, which is called He-Gassen (“The Fart Battle”) is just about people farting. Farting at other people, farting at cats, farting off of horses, farting into bags; just farting everywhere."

Lucky for us, there was also a video produced discussing these infamous 'fart scrolls.' [Edited to add that while the video is somewhat of a joke, the actual scrolls, best I can tell, are legitimate artifacts]

Hope this weekend has been good for you.

How to Experience the World Like an Alien!

As a writer, one of the most fascinating people I've come across on the internet, not someone I know, but someone I've seen, is Tommy Edison.

I've always wanted to write a story told from a truly alien perspective. Tommy shows me how by just being blind, that he thinks about the world in a radically different way than I do. If I can't see things from a different angle then I can never hope to write my alien story.

Tommy has been blind since birth, and has been putting up YouTube videos forever about what it's like to live this way. I've found them endlessly fascinating because each time I watch one, I learn some new thing I take for granted.

Unfortunately, I can't embed some of my favorites of his, but his perspective on the world is so radically shaped by how he's experienced it. I love this guy.

I love it, "How do you lose stuff? Can't you SEE?"

What I Think About When I Think About "Into The Out Of" by Alan Dean Foster (Briane Pagel)

When I was about 17 I first read the book "Into The Out Of," an Alan Dean Foster novel typically filed under fantasy but probably more better classified as horror.  This year, when I was 45, I re-read it -- and I re-read it in book form, rather than ebook, but this was not out of some sort of misguided nostalgia for books or any claims that the 'tactile response' from books helps enhance learning; I am not a Luddite so afraid of the future that I cling to the past like Rose to Jack's icy hands.

No, I read this book

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Neil DeGrasse Tyson: I Love That Man

I don't actually know that man, but I have a lot of love in my heart, and am willing to share it, from afar, until I feel it's been misplaced. So, I currently love Neil, who gave an interview that I also love.

This is the backbone of Science Fiction. This is why I write. I may not be able to instill the sense of wonder in others that this sort of thing evokes in me. But that is the reason I try.

The first SF book I read that wasn't Star Trek related, as an adult, was Ring, by Stephen Baxter. It took a real scientific mystery (discussed in the video below) and made it the central item the novel's heroes had to uncover if they hope to save the world from disaster.

I tip my hat to Neil. It's a long interview, so grab a bag of chips, sit back, an enjoy.

Once You Die, You Still Have Choices to Make

Attentive followers might note that last weekend Sandra posted a great short video that gave an admirable explanation for Fermi's Paradox.

Well, from the same creator is an even shorter video on what life will finally be like once we can upload our consciousness and live forever.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Turning Indie

Original Cover From 2009
One of those things "experts" like to say and then lower-level traditionally published authors smugly point to so they can feel superior is that a lot of self-published authors published before they were ready and if they had just stuck with it longer they would be better off.  And maybe that is the case for some.  It wasn't the case for me.

I spent about 5 years trying to play the agent game.  I read a lot of good authors and perfected "the craft" as best I could and studied how to write queries and all that good stuff.  I think out of all those years I got one partial to show for it.  But still I didn't turn to self-publishing because I was frustrated by those rejections.

That happened in 2009 after I played the agent query game once more, this time with my literary novel Where You Belong.  I had spent months in 2008 feverishly writing the first draft and then more months feverishly rewriting it again, only this time in first-person.  When I finished, I knew I had something special.  I knew this was my masterpiece, my Mona Lisa or statue of David or whatever classic piece of art you want to use.

I hashed out more query letters and sent a bunch off.  And got nothing.  I mean not even a partial.  Maybe if I had got a partial or a full I'd have never self-published it because at least then I could say someone had read it and thought it wasn't any good.  But it was rejected something like 50 times (some via actual no's and others just ignoring me) without anyone reading a single bloody page!  That was when I decided to self-publish, because this one was too good to sit in "the drawer" and collect dust.

I don't regret that decision because at least this way people have gotten to read the book.  If you look it up on Amazon it has 12 reviews averaging 4 stars, so I take that as a sign I have some slight idea what I'm doing.  If I do have one regret I wish I'd have self-published another book first just so I could have gotten the bugs out before this one.  As it was, it was quite a learning experience, especially since this was 2009 and self-publishing for Kindle and Smashwords and all that was still relatively new.

A traditionally published author who recently self-published a book said he'd rather traditionally publish.  Well sure, fella, we'd all rather traditionally publish.  But this is an industry that uses a submission process where rejection is the default, evidenced by those form rejections they send out.  The odds are hugely stacked against the author because let's face it, it's a subjective process.  The human element comes into play a lot.  You might have a well-written book and a great query but if the person reading it has a hangover or a bad cold or something she might give it a glance and then reject it.  Or maybe that Wednesday when your query pops up she's decided today she wants to read stories about vampires, but then two months later after you've changed all your werewolves to vampires, she decides she really wants books about golems now.  So your book might be perfectly fine; it's just that it wasn't read by the right person at the right time.

Am I saying that everyone who gets rejected should self-publish?  No.  Sometimes all that rejection does mean you're terrible and need to either keep working at it or find a new hobby.  But sometimes you know something is too good to keep hidden and when you get to one of those then you should definitely self-publish it.

Incidentally, I stopped playing the agent game at all in 2012.  That was when I got published by two different small publishers and realized those are largely a waste of time.  The one was just a complete debacle all the way around:  they didn't provide any editing, they tossed together a crummy cover, they missed deadlines, and they've provided almost no marketing.  The other one did a much better job (except maybe with the cover) but what I realized is they're too small and new to have any marketing reach.  So the decision I reached is that I can do as good of a job as "professionals" especially after almost 5 years and my marketing is as good or better than theirs, so why give them 60% or so when I can do a comparable job and get 100%?  It's still not much either way, but those extra nickels and dimes add up in the long run.  Unless you're really lucky you probably won't make a lot of money at this, but a lot of months I get a free tank of gas from my writing income and that ain't bad.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Are You Ready?

The great myth out there about indie publishing is of people (mostly women, I think, although I could be wrong about that), not quite dressed, feverishly pounding out a manuscript and immediately uploading it to Amazon. These manuscripts are full of plot holes and are only half-baked, besides, and are unedited messes. "Messes" is a euphemism in this instance. In short, they, the manuscripts and the authors, were not ready for publication.

But what is ready? I've certainly read some (a lot) traditionally published books that I would describe the same way, but someone, somewhere, thought those books were "ready." Which is not to say that I think it's okay to just throw your crap against a Kindle to see if it sticks.

So let's go to the sports box for an analogy. You know, for someone who is not sporty at all, I use an awful lot of sports analogies.

Let's say you want to run a marathon. No, I don't want to run a marathon, but let's say that you do. You fool.
Anyway... so you want to run a marathon. Probably, you are not just going to decide the day before to do that or, even, the week before. You are going to decide months before and, then, you're going to train. Let's call it practice. You're going to practice running.

But you already know how to run? You don't need any practice. Sure... I can run, too, but I can't run a marathon. If I decided to do that (which I won't. ever), I'd practice.

So you spend months doing this running practice and the marathon is coming up, and you're sure you can't win it. In fact, you're not sure you can actually finish it. You think you might be able to, but you're not sure. So, the question is, do you run the marathon? Are you ready?

It's one of those questions with no correct answer. Well, if you know you're not going to get more than five miles in, you probably should choose the "I'm not ready" option. However, if you think you can make 20 miles, you might want to go for it.

The issue with being ready is that you have to be ready in comparison to yourself and what you want to achieve, not ready in comparison to some other runner out there, like Wilson Kipsang (the current holder of the fastest time for running a marathon). Not being able to run a marathon in two hours is not a reason not to do it. However, I would suggest that not being able to go more than five miles might be a reason to wait on entering a marathon.

Publishing and self-publishing are kind of the same way. The question to ask yourself is, "Have I done everything I can do to make this manuscript the best it can be?" Let me say that again with emphasis, "Have I done everything I can do to make this manuscript the best it can be?"

Let me be clear about why I say it that way.
Also, let me be clear that this is one of those things with which a lot of people will disagree.

Unless you are already making money off of your writing, you should never pay for editing or cover art or, well, anything. Money that you spend on getting you book into "better" shape or making it look "more professional" or whatever will almost always be money, basically, flushed down the toilet. Let me put it another way: You have almost no chance of making that money back. Well more than 90% of people out there self-publishing never make any real money from it, and, every year, almost as many small publishers go out of business as go into business. This is not a money-making career move for most people. To make money, you have to do one of two things: stick with it a long time or get incredibly lucky.

So... Don't waste your money on "professional" services. Just don't do it. It's not going to help you sell your first book. [What will help you sell your first book, though, is a second book and, actually, a third book.]

And, see, I'm saying all of this as someone who will be turned off by your misspellings and grammar errors. However, I'm also looking at the very practical side of things: Most people don't care about your misspellings and grammar errors. Most people won't even notice them. So, as much as I would like to say, "Make sure your book is well-edited before you throw it out there," I also know that it doesn't matter to at least 80% of the people out there that are your potential readers. The only important thing is the story.

Also, sometimes, it's the going for it when you can't actually finish that will help you finish the next time, but, if you don't take that first leap, you may never do it. For instance:

When I finished writing The House on the Corner, I didn't have any cover art for the book. I knew I had a good story, but I had no way to make a cover or pay for art. Basically, I had done everything I could do at that time to make my book ready, so I published it. It was only by doing that that I met Rusty and ended up with the awesome cover art that House now has. [I would provide you a pic of the cover, but, for some reason, blogger is not letting me do that, so you'll have to click the link to check it out.] Sometimes, it's joining the race that allows you to go farther than you could have on your own.

None of this is to say that you should just throw your manuscript out there as soon you finish with it. I've talked to too many people that have said things like, "No, I didn't edit it; I just wanted to get out there. I didn't want to waste time on that." There's really no excuse for that kind of behavior. Like I said, do everything you can do before you go forward and publish your book. If you have people that can help you out (like trading services or out of generosity or whatever--anything that's not paying people), take advantage of that, but never, NEVER endanger yourself or your family financially to pay someone to edit your manuscript or make a cover for you. Not unless you happen to just have extra money lying around and you're not actually trying to make writing your livelihood.

Seriously, if you look at some of the stuff out there that's popular (or has been popular), you'll see that the public at large is rather forgiving. I'm not, but they are; and they're the people you want to buy your book. If you can make your readers happy, don't worry about the rest. I mean, if the story's good, even I'll overlook some grammar issues.

So... are you ready?

Tales Your Grandmother Never Told You: How I Became an Indie Writer

2055 A.D. A cozy townhouse near Madison, Wisconsin. A grandmother and her granddaughter sit in the living room, which is dominated not by a TV but by a holographic display on the far well. Currently it's showing a holo set in 1980. A teen confronts a man who could be an older version of himself. Although the grandmother watches, sometimes smiling, sometimes shaking her head, the girl is bored. She wanders over to a shelf filled with paper books. The covers are varied, but they all have the same author: Sandra Ulbrich Almazan.

Girl: Grandma, how did you manage to write so many books?

SUA: I started writing a long time ago, dear, long before the turn of the century.

The girl shakes her head. She knows her grandmother is old, but anything before the year 2000 is ancient to her.

Girl: But most of these books came out after them. Did you make them all by yourself?

SUA: No, I hired people to edit and make the covers. I even had your father help me with formatting when he was old enough for that. (smiles) But I never had a publisher, either. I take that back. I was part of an anthology once, but that was it.

Girl: What's a publisher?

SUA: A publisher or publishing company was the only way to make books when I first started writing. Back then, there were no such thing as eBooks or neuroBooks. They only came in paper, like those first editions there. And you couldn't make them on your own without a lot of money. So writers had to sell their work to publishers, who made the books. Once you sold them your story, they owned it--forever.

Girl: And they didn't make books from your stories?

SUA: No, I was still learning how to write back then, and even though I had the ideas for my stories (nods at holo), the publishers wouldn't buy them. Publishers were very picky about what they bought, and though they said they published only the best work, they also wanted to make money for themselves first. That's why they kept all the rights, only supported the best-sellers, and treated authors like interchangeable widgets.

Sandra falls silent, thinking of all the rejection letters she collected from agents and publishers. She always tried to be professional, but they didn't always treat her like one.

SUA: But when I was forty, I bought my first Kindle. That was a special device people used for only one thing: reading books, electronic ones. I loved it because I could read even more with it than I already did, and I was a big reader back then. Still am, of course. And the great thing about eBooks was that anyone could make them on their own, without a publisher. I learned more about eBooks and epublishing from people who were already doing it, like Zoe Winters, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Dean Wesley Smith. I learned from them that publishing your own books gave you more control over your own work and the potential to make more money. My stories had been workshopped and professionally edited, and I'd gone over them so much I didn't know what to change anymore. That's when you know the story is ready for readers. So I became an indie writer, and I enjoyed it. I chose my editor and my cover artist, and I had control over what I wrote and what I did with it. It took longer than I thought to get my stories ready and find fans, but I was able to write full time before your dad graduated from high school.

Sandra looks over at her granddaughter, who, bored by all this history, has opened a book and started reading. 

SUA: (whispering) And we all lived happily ever after...except for climate change. But that's another story.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Bootstrapping For Succes: Turning a Grilled Cheese Sandwich Into A Best Selling Novel

WHY DID I SELF-PUBLISH, and how did I know I was ready?

Wow, that’s impossible to answer. It’s right up there with trying to explain love to a man that's color blind. Or to describe what chips are to a Brit, i.e., impossible.

Those two questions are mingled all up inside each other like a tapeworm in a colon. It is, however, something worth looking into. It’s a long story. So please, sit back and enjoy.

FICTION WRITING IS JUST LIKE learning to be a gourmet chef. Yes, anyone literate can write. But that doesn’t mean they can do it well. I can make a grilled cheese sandwich that probably won’t make you throw up, so I guess that makes me a master chef, right?

Again, maybe. But probably not. The thing is, my kid thinks my grilled cheese is amazing, my friends are always telling me my grilled cheese is amazing. I mean, how much harder could it be to run a kitchen for a restaurant with a Michelin star?

I could probably stretch this metaphor out for a while, but hopefully, my point is coming through. How can I, the writer, know when I’m ready to open my fine dining restaurant for the world to enjoy?

Wait, instead of leaving that food metaphor behind, I started mixing it with writing talk. Dammit. See? This is exactly what I was talking about. Don’t know what the hell I’m doing. 

Anyway, if I’m going to pick back up on my cooking thing, I look at the craft as something that can be broken down into smaller bits. Some things are like chopping vegetables, necessary, and something that you get better at very quickly. You get that down, then you move on to the more complicated things.

Me, I’m the sort of guy that starts with the complicated parts, then works backwards to reverse engineer the skills I need to be competent. If that sounds unnecessarily complicated, well, welcome to how I do things. It’s not pretty.

The truth of the matter is, I decided that writing was something I wanted to take seriously about a decade ago. Already in my thirties, I figured I’d wasted my formative years on sports, girls, video games, music, and reading… oh wait, maybe that last part wasn’t so much a waste.

In fact, I’d been reading for so long that I thought I would make a great story just because I wanted it to be, well, great. And when I wrote something, the euphoria of creation made me think I was a genius on par with the very best this world has ever known.

In a stunning plot twist, that turned out to be, a lie.

If something like the Kindle had been available then, I probably would have put up the first thing I ever wrote, a slightly cleaned up first draft from a first time writer, and called it my masterpiece.

But that wasn’t an option. A year or so after I wrote that would-be novel, I took a class offered by a local author through our continuing ed department at my local University. Each week, we’d read the first 20 pages or so of someone’s work and discuss, in the Milford method, how it was.

And so I read critically, probably for the very first time. I learned a few things. There were local people, in my little town, that were way better than I thought they’d be. In fact, as I learned re-reading my own work with a critical eye, that almost everyone that submitted work turned in something much better than what I'd managed to write.

I was crushed. The way the class was structured meant I still had a few weeks before my first 20 pages were due to be turned in. During that time, I frantically read about three books on how to write a good story. I rewrote, revised, and all around, spent as much time working those first 20 pages as I did writing the whole damned novel in the first place.

I handed it in. It was critiqued. Turns out, it still wasn’t there. It wasn’t what people said to me that made me realize that. It was in their eyes. The way they danced around and politely suggested things that I should have known. You know, like when you tell the 4 year old from across the street that pooping in the kitchen floor isn’t the best place for that. People were having a hard time finishing my excerpt.

So, the class ended, but the group continued to meet. I keep rewriting, keep working out the bugs. I put up that story and started another, then another, and still another. I wrote short stories, more attempts at novels, but I kept coming back to the first story I ever wrote, the one that had been my ‘one great idea’ that I’d tinkered with throughout my twenties when I spent years just researching and never writing.

Eventually, Angry Robot books had an open door window. I’d felt like I was getting better. I might not have unabashedly loved my work when I reread it, but I also didn’t feel like it was unreadable, there were times I would laugh at a particular turn of phrase, or a plot twist I’d forgotten about would shock me during my annual reread.

So, that open door window I mentioned, the publisher, the same one that first discovered Lauren Beukes and Chuck Wendig, two monstrously successful writers, had that open call for novels. They asked for the first 5 chapters of your completed novel for consideration.
Just one more editing pass to go!

That first story, the one I’d tinkered with for years. The one that I’d submitted the first 20 pages for all that time before in that writer’s workshop. I’d not touched it in at least a year, aside to just read it again. But it was there, more or less finished. Collecting (digital) dust.

So, I took the first 5 chapters and sent it off.

I got a simple email a few months later telling me that they felt the story had potential, and asked for the full manuscript.

I felt like I’d won the lottery. I sent them the full, as requested, and then sat on pens and needles while I waited.

It was during this time that I decided I was ready. The kindle had been out by now for a year or two. People were starting to make waves in the wider world. Amanda Hocking was the soup de jour, and the wild west opened up for all of us would-be 49ers.

Damn, what did I just write in that last paragraph?

A Dead God’s Wrath was a story I’d just finished at the time. A novelette set in the south in the 1890’s. Of course with spec fic items all over it.

In retrospect, I wish I’d waited. I think another pass over the text would have helped (I have gone back and re-edited it since). But I never pulled it down, I feel like the work I’m doing now is better than what I was doing then. But I suppose I’ll always feel that way. It will be a sad day when I look back and think my best writing is behind me.

I slowly started trickling out stories to the kindle, I didn’t dump my whole backlog there, but as time goes by and new things catch my eye. I think fondly on the 5 novels or so that I’ve tucked away for safe keeping.

In the end, Angry Robot decided I wasn’t quite ready for prime time. I had been encouraged enough that I sent the manuscript out to most of the big 6 (that’s how many there were then) that would accept my unsolicited slush, and they all passed. I submitted it again somewhere last year, a smaller house, and they wrote me a very nice letter back and asked me to revise and resubmit.

I haven’t done that, by the way, I’m not sure why. Partially, It’s because I submitted the first 5 chapters and it was good enough that they wanted to see more. When I sent it out to a beta reader later, they said that the second half was what made the book good, and that they’d never would have read past the first 5 chapters if they’d picked it up in the bookstore (I asked for that kind of feedback, btw, they weren’t being mean). And since I'd gong over so many times, rewriting it over and over that I'd lost perspective. I couldn't tell what was good advice and what was bad.

And the other reason, and probably the main reason, is because it’s something I’ve had as a part of me for a decade now. And I’m almost afraid to do anything with it. For me, it’s like spending 17 years waiting for the next Star Wars movie and building it up in my head to be this thing that nothing can ever compare to. You know, if it doesn’t take the world by storm, or it gets lackluster response, then I’m afraid it will crush me.

So, it sits, it waits.

And in the meantime, I have fallen in love with self-publishing. I hope to continue putting stories out there forever. No matter if I have success with doing I the old fashioned way or not.

I Probably Owe These Guys Royalties (Briane Pagel)

This is "Indie WRITERS Monthly" and though I rarely give writing tips or even discuss my writing process, I've decided to open up a bit and see where that leads.  Most likely an embarrassing amount of oversharing and then you'll grow distant from me because every time you look at me, you think "Seriously: that many Cool Ranch Doritos?"

But for now, let's pretend we're still friends and we'll therefore be more than willing to discuss

Where Ideas Come From, Or I Seriously Hope Andrew And Rusty Don't Talk To Lawyers.

I am more or less as I write this hard at work on a new story of mine, one that started out as a short story but has hit nearly 50 pages now in just over a week, and that story came to me from the unlikely source of a joke about how few people bother to read my blog, and Andrew Leon's comment about being the man mentioned in that joke.

About 9 days ago, I posted one of my increasingly-rare forays into the world of sports, a guide to the then-not-yet-started NFL playoffs.  They're almost over now, but don't let that stop you from going and reading it, because it has very, very little to do with sports, as is the case with most of my sports posts.

I began that post with a joke about how if someone was a regular reader of that blog, there was a 90% chance that person was Andrew Leon. Get it? Because he reads it and nobody else does? And also because investigation will almost certainly prove that the person/web presence we know as "Andrew Leon" is merely a clever computer 'bot program created in 1997 by the same man who would go on to father nearly three members of "One Direction."  (I say that because although "Andrew Leon" maintains that he has a corporeal presence, has ANYONE other than his family members, friends, associates,neighbors, and people at the supermarket ever seen him in person? I REST MY CASE.)

Andrew, in response to that joke, posted this comment:

 But you're also saying is that there's a 10% chance that I'm -not- Andrew Leon... I don't know how I feel about that. I've thought all this time that I was Andrew Leon but, now, there's a chance that I'm not. How do I find out? Is there, like, a testing center somewhere? I think there's a story in there somewhere, but I'm not going to look for it, right now. 

To which I said:

 I'm not sure R2 is likeable. The more I think about it, the more I DON'T like him. Which is a lot like the Saints. I think there might be an even greater than 10% chance you are not Andrew Leon. If you stuck out a whole football post? I'd get tested, right away. Your right. There is a story there. Like a Philip K. Dick story: Find Out Who You Are.

There's two important points there: first, R2-D2 is not a likeable character. He's a blank, a cipher onto which people project their own emotions, much the way we do with other things that most likely have no emotions or separate reality, like cats, houseplants, 40% of our kids, etc. etc., but that's for another day.

The second part is there WAS a story there: I thought about that comment that Andrew made, and the one I made back, and about two hours later (after letting in the DirecTV guy who was here to move the box from downstairs to upstairs) I sat down and wrote this:

The store popped up one day, in the kind of minimall in which stores were always popping up one day and then disappearing the next: a lunch counter serving real, ‘retro’ sandwiches. A repair shop for servobots. A souvenir stand
 (Souvenirs of what, Robbie wondered)

That store was the "Find Out Who You Are" store, and from that beginning paragraph I've gotten nearly 50 pages, so far, of what (I hope) is a Phillip K. Dick type of story about Robbie and Archie and Louis and their boss (?) Koss Ernst and an unnamed corporation all in the near future, and featuring people who may or may not be who they think they are.

That was not the ONLY time I've gotten ideas from offhand comments people made.  My story for Andrew's contest, "The Electronic Fish Tacos From Jupiter Save The Day??!?" (which actually is a much, MUCH grimmer story than that title would imply) got its title from Rusty's mentioning fish tacos (and features Rusty, Andrew, and PT in cameo roles as near-godlike beings).  Earlier than that, I wrote a story called "This Stupid Pineapple Is..." which again came from a phrase Rusty threw out there.  (Rusty, apparently, is my muse. I hope he's not uncomfortable with that. He shouldn't be.  I'm still maintaining the 500 yards distance mandated by court order and I hardly EVER get pictures of him tattooed on me anymore.)

So the point is, from a trade-off of jokes and a reference to a style of writing -- Phillip K. Dick is a particular style of sci-fi -- I got a whole story idea, one that has grown beyond the 5-10 pages I planned on to become, probably, a novel when it's done.  (That alone is not proof that the idea is good: I could write 10,000 words on, say, building a walk-in closet.)  (My home-repair/gardening posts, like my sports posts, have VERY LITTLE to do with those topics, which I know almost nothing about.  They are, like most of my writing, 90% about pizza and the rest stuff I plagiarized from the second half of John Steinbeck books. Nobody ever reads an entire John Steinbeck book, so I'm pretty safe.)

That's how I get my ideas: something I see or hear or think about sparks something in me, and from there I decide to start writing and see where it goes.  Sometimes it goes nowhere -- I've had stories that I quit on, although rarely for reasons I'll go into in the future -- but mostly it goes in almost entirely unexpected directions.

And I know that I am supposed to end posts like this with a question to get people to leave a comment, so I will do that:

Where do you get your story ideas from, and do you agree that it would be really, really, mean for Andrew and Rusty to sue me?


Here is the story "The Electronic Fish Tacos From Jupiter Save The Day??!?" 

"This Stupid Pineapple Is..." was the second in a series of sci-fi stories starring nearly-failed UFO Maker Nick and his wife, Other Sexy Cop.  It's not available online anymore, but will be out in book form eventually.  Until then, the first Nick and Other Sexy Cop adventure can be found in a 99-cent ebook, "Santa, Godzilla & Jesus Walk Into A Bar: The Greatest Xmas Story Ever Told."

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Danger: Humans

I came across a link to this article which takes a fresh approach to human-alien relations: what if humans were more dangerous than aliens? Here's a video from the Interstellar Safety Council explaining why aliens might not want to take their next vacation on Earth:

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Here's How it All Goes Down

I'm a science fiction fan, through and through. Yes, I've been slumming it for the past several years with my fantasy friends, but that's mostly because that's where most of the authorial talent has drifted over the past decade or two.

So, boo.

Now, I list many of my favorite authors as fantasists, but that doesn't stop me from still loving the genre that I was weaned on as my first love.

And what, pray tell, was it about science fiction that appealed to me, moreso that fantasy? Well, it was the belief (right or wrong) that the future being presented was possible. Maybe not terribly likely, but possible.

Of course, along with that, comes the curiosity of what the future holds. What do we really understand about our future? Like, how long will Polaris actually act as our North Star? Or when exactly will our sun run out of fuel for sustained fusion?

Well, I'm glad I'm not the only one. This handy little poster I found at the BBC (via the fine folks at io9) lays out the future of the cosmos, given what the sciency types think given our understanding of biology and astrophysics (and chemistry and whatever other applicable discipline you care to throw in there).

Man, I'd love to have this poster on my wall.

Clicking usually makes things bigger. I'm not sure it will in this case. Go click on the BBC link above to see the original. Go on, it's okay.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Year of Change

This is one of those years when everything is going to change. Okay, maybe not everything. I mean, I suppose the sun will continue to rise in the east and all of that. However, a lot is going to change. In my house, anyway. It's like this big shift is going to happen.

1. My oldest is going to turn 18, graduate from high school, and, presumably, go on to some form of higher education. We're still working on what form that will take. There's the issue of the girlfriend that complicates the whole school thing and where he will end up since, of course, what they're trying to do is make sure they end up at the same place or, at least, places that are close together. Probably, though, he will continue to not drive, so that won't change.

2. My younger boy is becoming a teenager! Like next week! And he will be moving on from middle school to high school. Assuming he gets his applications finished. Yeah, applications for high school. Which is not to say that he won't be going to high school if he doesn't finish his applications; he just won't be going to where he wants to go. But he's going to be a teenager NEXT WEEK!

3. My daughter will be becoming a middle schooler. The days of elementary school will be behind us. She's already not looking forward to having to take creative writing from me, because she does not want her dad as a teacher.

And the cat.. well, I'm pretty sure the cat has been going to super villain school and is well on his way to trying to take over the world. I'm not sure when he's taking classes since I'm pretty sure it's not at night. I am sure, though, that keeping people awake all night is going to be his strategy. He's practicing on me.

Of course, none of that really has anything to do with science fiction other than that it makes me feel as if my life has veered into some alternate dimension where I don't have kids anymore. I mean little kids. I'm supposed to have little kids that want to cuddle with me and take naps and be sweet and lovable and stuff and, instead, what I have are these pre-adults that just want to get away from me in the morning without any of their friends seeing them getting enforced hugs. Okay, that's just my daughter. My younger son actually doesn't mind giving hugs to me in front of his friends. And, well, my oldest son wants to do his best to make sure that we never even see his friends. He talks about them, but we have no proof they exist. I'm sure there's something sci-fi in that.

But, okay, what's coming in sci-fi and fantasy in 2014 that I'm looking forward to? That's a good question. In general, there's nothing I'm super excited about. I want to be excited about Guardians of the Galaxy, but I'm worried that this is the one that Marvel is going to screw up. Admittedly, part of why I'm worried is how badly DC handled Green Lantern. Of course, Guardians does have Chris Pratt, which is pretty exciting all by itself. And there's the rest of  the Marvel movies for the year (not all by Marvel, but still): Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Come on Sony, you can do better than that. Everyone else gets a cool subtitle, but you left Spider-Man with just the "2"? I thought we were past those days.

I also want to see Robocop, though I'm not expecting much.

I am the antithesis of looking forward to the next Hobbit movie.

Mostly, though, if I'm going to talk about what I'm looking forward to this year, it is getting back to work on Brother's Keeper. It has been sitting and waiting for far too long. Besides, if I don't, Briane Pagel might disappear me in one of his time travel plots. Of course, then, he would never get to read it. Maybe, I'm safe after all. Maybe, I should never finish it? That would keep me safe forever, right? If I could just persistently dangle it out there at him?
No! This is the year Keeper gets finished, and that's what I'm looking forward to.

Grumpy Previews

This week's series of posts is supposed to be about what sci-fi/fantasy related thing you're looking forward to this year.  My answer is:  not much.  I don't really keep up with any book series to see what's going to be released this year.  I'm lucky if I know anything comes out even after the fact.

I'm more cognizant of movies, but this year seems like a real down year for movies.  It seems all the biggest sci-fi franchises will be releasing in 2015 like Star Wars 7, Avengers 2, Superman/Batman/whoever else we're throwing in there, and so forth.  I'm not sure what's really left for 2014 except The Hobbit and The Hunger Games, neither of which I've any interest in.

The only one I'd probably go see opening weekend is Captain America 2, though I fully expect to be disappointed by it.  I mean Thor 2 was good and Iron Man 2 was OK, but neither were great.  The fact there's a new director too also makes me leery.

There's also a new X-Men movie.  I read the two issues they try to pass off as a graphic novel--shame on you, Marvel!--and it wasn't all that great.  They are making substantial changes, like pretty much everything except the title.  So we'll see how that plays out.

If I'm really bored and it doesn't sound completely awful maybe I'd go watch the Robocop remake.  There's also another Godzilla remake, but I'd need to see more of it than a vague, blurry shot of the monster.  I'm not a fan of most remakes though.  About the only ones I've really liked were the Christopher Nolan Batman movies and I doubt these will be on par.

Speaking of Nolan he has some sci-fi movie coming out this year.  Something that sounds like Contact and features one of its stars.  The Prestige was good and Inception was OK, but like the Marvel sequels neither were great in my mind, so again expectations are not high.

While I've read a lot more comics in the last two years I really don't follow current ones that much.  I wait until later when they go on sale and then read them.  So I have no idea what big things are happening this year.

Are you psyched for 2014 yet?  More like psyched out, amIright?

[Shameless plug alert!] But if you want something new for 2014, the conclusion of my epic Girl Power trilogy just went on sale.  Plus I'm 4/7 of the way done with a collection of short stories featuring characters from that series.

Back!... to the present. (Briane Pagel)

Comic courtesy XKCD
The theme for the week is THE FUTURE!

Which is where I've been living for a long time, now. I mean, what with smartphones that can do more than the first four computers I owned, plus Pork Rinds you can make yourself in the microwave

(YES, That's a thing!)

we are clearly living in a time that Buck Rogers would envy.

(And speaking of Buck Rogers, you know you are living in the future when a reference to Buck Rogers is dated.)

So while I also am looking forward to the Future, which is actually the Present, because I'm already there and also because I am habitually behind schedule, the things I am anticipating in 2014 are, in some cases, things that have happened in the past, but they haven't happened to me, yet, so like the person in the last car of the roller coaster as it tops the first hill, I'm still waiting for the thrill.

Here's a look at what I'm hoping will be cool in 2014:

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Conventions 2014

When Briane suggested we share what SF/fantasy-related thing we're most looking forward to this year, WisCon immediately popped into my mind. WisCon is held every Memorial Day weekend in my favorite city, Madison, Wisconsin. I enjoy the chance to revisit my college town and see friends, including some that live in the city and some that are there for the convention. I'm a member of Broad Universe, so I usually participate in the Rapid-Fire Reading and sell my books at the table. I may also be a panelist, especially since I proposed two panels for indie writers. WisCon is less geared toward TV and movies than some other cons, so you don't see as many people in costume. However, it's a good networking event for authors, and I've learned a lot there.  I've been to other conventions, including some of the big ones like WorldCon, but WisCon is the con I attend every year (except for 2007, when I was nine months pregnant).

Do you attend SF/fantasy cons? If so, which ones?