Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Book signing pics and SF writer news

Had a great time signing books with Alice Henderson at the Comic Book Box on Saturday. One young lady who bought a copy of Awesome Lavratt recognized it from one of her friends' shelves. Awesome! ;)

And here we are getting killer promo ideas from Kathy Bottarini, the book store owner.

Facebook friends to the rescue. I'm too tired to blog, but apparently am never too tired to hang out on Facebook. Here's news from my SF/F author friends there:

Alma Alexander posted an essay at Storytellersunplugged.

Gareth Powell has news on his upcoming book, Silversands.

Robert Sawyer's imprint of Red Deer Press is set to launch this nifty volume, Distant Early Warnings: Canada's Best Science Fiction.

I'm putting together a list of all my myriad writerly social networking sites for a post on the Redwood Writers Blog. Look for that probably next week.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Two gigs this week and more social networking mania

For those of you in or around Sonoma County, I'll be at the Comic Book Box in Rohnert Park on Saturday from noon to 4PM.

On June 27th, the Comic Book Box, 1451 Southwest Blvd #103, Rohnert Park, CA 94928, will be having a CREATURE FEATURES event! The Producer of WATCH HORROR FILMS, KEEP AMERICA STRONG, a journey into Creature Features, Tom Wyrsch, will be here to show classic interviews by Bob Wilkins and John Stanley! Ann Wilkes the author of the SF book, AWESOME LAVRATT and Alice Henderson author of VORACIOUS will also be on hand! For more information call 707-792-0100!

If you're in the East Bay, I'll be in San Ramon on Thursday.

Date: 7/2/2009
Start Time: 7:00 PM
Memorable stories begin with intriguing ideas. But where do writers get these ideas? Science fiction author Ann Wilkes will take you on an odyssey of "what ifs" to generate unique scenarios on the spot which she will help you grow into viable story lines. Bring your imagination and notebooks.

Celebrate Summer Reading with us!

Library: San Ramon Libraries - San Ramon
Contact Number: 925-973-2850
Presenter: Ann Wilkes

I really am a social networking junkie. I don't stop with MySpace, Facebook and Live Journal. So, I've had to start a list of all the social networking sites I'm on. There are 15 LinkedIn writing related groups that I'm on, six Book Blogs groups (Ning), Book Place, Book Marketing Network, Goodreads and two groups Goodreads groups. Then there are Yahoo groups. I haven't visited the sf forums in months.

And still, I refuse to Tweet. ;) But, for those who do, my friends over at Oxford University Press asked if I'd share this with my readers: Set Phasers on Tweet: A Star Trek Snowclone Blizzard on Twitter

I convinced my hubby to join Facebook last night. He just returned from a trip to Mississippi to participate in the Gathering Hearts Poverty Tour. He spoke on the labor abuses that are going on in California, what he's calling part time slavery. Now he has another way to get the word out.

On the submitting front: I have already received 2 rejections from the 9 stories I sent out this month. Sent one back out already. It's all a numbers game, like job hunting. Well, talent helps, too.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

engrossing scenes, memorable characters and awesome review of Awesome Lavratt

I have to get right to the best news of all. For those who are still dragging your feet on social networking and thinking it has no real value for you and your career, read and weep -- then cheer. I met this reviewer because someone had an Ning group that they posted to their FaceBook wall. It was over at book blogs, so naturally, I checked it out. The reviewer posted responded to a post there. I checked out her site and found she reviewed Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- favorably, of course. So, I took her up on her offer to review my book. She read it the same day it arrived and gave me this glowing review of Awesome Lavratt at A Journey of Books. I didn't pay her for it, honest. ;0)

Here's a great post on amping up character tension by my writing friend, Becky Levine.

I sent out 8 stories in 8 days this month. How much writing did I get done? I finished a flash piece. :( Most of the stuff I sent off was reprints. And one piece that had just been rejected. I already have one rejection back from this latest batch. I should have popped that one back out last night, but last night was my catch up on sleep evening. Came home from work and crashed.

This isn't a SF flick, and it's not new, but I have to mention it. It's been a while since a movie has really made me think. You might recognize the victim as a character actor, but I didn't recognize anyone else. The movie is Stuck. It does come by its R rating honestly. I muted the intro because of the filthy rap music (luckily no dialog happened during it), for example, and there was some nudity. A young woman, high on pills and booze, drives home. She hits a homeless man crossing the street. He shoots through her windshield and is stuck halfway through. She drives to the ER, can't pull him out and is scared of being spotted so jumps back in the car and drives home. She locks the car in the garage with the man still there. She knows he's alive. She tells her boyfriend, but leaves out the part about him still being attached to her car. During most of the movie this poor guy who had already been experiencing the worst day of his life - before the accident - remains stuck in the windshield. Five people know he's there before the story is over, yet no one helps him.

The really creepy, incomprehensible thing is that she sees the man bleeding all over her car as an inconvenience and a threat to her looming promotion -- to head nurse's assistant! She's very gentle with the patients in the convalescent hospital where she works, but is ready to have this guy die rather than lose a measly promotion she will most likely never get anyway. The even trippier thing is that it's based on an actual event. !!!!! I said her behavior is incomprehensible, but the thing that got to me is knowing that there are people out there like that character.

And how do we apply this to writing? Now THAT'S an unforgettable character!

PS - Rob Sawyer has made the text of his novella, "Identity Theft", which is up for an Aurora Award, available online. There's also a film in the works.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Peter Hamilton, The Man Behind the Void

I'm an admirer of good world-building. That's the exception I make when I pick up the odd fantasy novel. Peter F. Hamilton is truly a master world-builder. He's been writing since 1987 and has steadily built momentum. For a full bibliography and bio, visit Peter's website where you'll also find links to four fan sites.

Peter Eyre/LRPS

AW: What was the first SF book you read?

PH: White Mountains By John Christopher

AW: When did you first know you were going to make it as a SF writer?

PH: My confidence to try a novel built up when the short stories I submitted to magazines in the late 80’s started getting accepted on a more regular basis, so I began to write Mindstar Rising which was eventually published professionally. When I got the first set of reviews for Reality Dysfunction I thought I could probably make it commercially.

AW: What writer most influenced you starting out?

PH: No one author in particular. The list would include, but not be limited to…
Asimov, Clarke, Julian May, Haldeman, Heinlein, Niven, Bova, Silverberg.

AW: Do you have people you bounce ideas off of?

PH: Not at the start, my initial creative process is a solitary one. The nearest I get to feedback at the beginning of the novel is drawing up a brief proposal for my publisher. After that (if they say yes) I’ll write the whole novel and send it to my agent. Once he’s made his comments it goes to the editors for their notes and my wife will sometimes make suggestions at this stage.

AW: How do you keep track of all the characters and details in a universe with so many complex story lines such as in your Void trilogy?

An awful lot of notes. I plan everything out at the start, from characters to the nature of the civilization the story is set in, to the techno-economy of the worlds, to starship technology. I also have fairly detailed chapter notes. This is essential to me, especially given the size of the series I write. The Void Trilogy took 6 – 9 months just to plan out before I even started chapter one.

Which of your books was the most fun to research?

Looking back I suppose it was Mindstar. This was way before the Internet and I spent hours at the local library finding out about the airship industry of the 1930’s. It was a topic which completely drew me in, and I read far more than was strictly necessary for the book. I wish I had that luxury of time nowadays.

AW: What advice do you give to aspiring writers?

Always; just keep writing. It’s the only way to understand the whole process of writing. That and remember there is no set way to go about writing a story or novel. Whatever method works for you, if it’s middle of the night, or a thousand words before breakfast… whatever.

AW: What defense do you offer when you get the dreaded, "You write SF? I used to read that when I was a kid"?

After I’ve finished cringing? I try and explain that the genre has probably moved on, and you should give the modern stuff a try. After all there are some great writers out there now.

AW: I have enjoyed your Void series. In fact, I'm having withdrawals. When will the next book be available?

PH: I finish (in theory) writing the Evolutionary Void around Christmas (2009). So the publishers will shove it into their schedules for I believe mid/late 2010.

AW: If you could live anywhere on this world in any kind of home, where would it be and why?

PH: Having spent a fortune and years extending my own house I’m tempted to say I’ll just stay where I am. But if I did ever win the lottery I’d go for a new solar powered eco-friendly but still ultramodern house overlooking either Rutland Water or a beach in Cornwall. As to why, I’d like to see a shift towards more off-grid housing, reducing the strain on the ecology. The technology is there or is being developed.


For my review of The Temporal Void, visit Mostly Fiction.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kicking chicks out of the nest

As most of my readers know, I'm a member of Broad Universe. Just now, over at Broad Universe, we're having a mailing party. This is a week-long submission party. We try to get as many of our stories sent off as we can during that week. Of course, it's all honor system and no prizes, but peer pressure can be a good thing! :)

This evening, I sent out three reprints. The shocking thing was being able to find three paying markets that take them. I spent the majority of this evening reformatting each of the stories to the specific guidelines of the mags in question. At least most submissions these days don't SASEs and trips to the post office. Fingers are crossed, as well as toes. I also sent out a review copy of Awesome Lavratt today. And had two offers of books for me to review. I don't think I'll ever have to buy another book. Of course, I will, though. Starving authors and all. We have to support each other.

So, I didn't get any writing done. Hopefully Thursday evening will be for writing. That's the plan now.

I watched Dead Like Me, Life After Death on Saturday. It was delicious. But, mind you, I'm a die-hard Dead Like Me fan. The series and the movie have several winning elements: dark humor, a cynical narrator, and absurd supernatural circumstances. The movie brought back most of the original cast with the exception of Daisy. Sarah Wynter plays Daisy in the movie. The other notable exception was Rube. The movie opens with our favorite grim reapers meeting their new boss outside of the remains of the waffle house Rube used as their meeting place. Rube had "found his lights" and moved on. Or so the suave, rich replacement said. He's played by Henry Ian Cusick - the guy who played Desmond on Lost.

I'll be joining Tom Wyrsch, producer of Watch Horror Films, Keep America Strong (a journey into Creature Features) and Alice Henderson, author of Voracious on Saturday, June 27th at the Comic Book Box in Rohnert Park. If you're local, please stop by for this Creature Features event from 1PM to 4PM.

Here's the particulars:

Comic Book Box
1451 Southwest Blvd #103
Rohnert Park, CA 94928

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday writing and reading links

The editor at New Myths would like you all to know the new issue is up with stories from Owen Kerr, Bob Sojka, Brandon Nolta, Lydia Ondrusek, and Jason Heller. And Sue Lange's piece about Book View Cafe is there as well.

There's an in-depth review of Neil Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle trilogy over at Speculative Fiction: The Term That Didn’t Die In The 70s.

It was interesting to compare after having read and reviewed Anathem.

My review of Peter F. Hamilton's The Temporal Void along with an interview with the author is slated for next Friday, June 19th.

Jennifer Brozek at Apex books just announced their Halloween short story contest.

My friend, Gustavo Bondoni has yet another story at Anthology Builder, the site that I completely forgot about. Now if only I could remember whom I was going to tell about it...

And what is writing without revising?
Nathan Bransford’s Revision Checklist (He’s an agent with Curtis Brown Ltd.)

My new flash story has to be completely rewritten. But then it will be amazing! I know just how to fix it. >rubs hands together, eyes gleaming<

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Story in online mag, SF news and writing progress

My story, "The Visitor" is up over at Chaos Theory: Tales Askew. Also there is a story by fellow Broad Universe member, April Grey. And an article about Book View Cafe by another BU member and friend, Sue Lange.

The story is an oldie, but a goodie. Of course I would say it's good, right? Imagine that you're on a supposedly uninhabited planet and the rest of your team is out exploring. Now imagine you see a creature. Imagine you don't know if you just imagined it...

I finished editing my new SF flash fiction piece. It's getting a once over from beta readers before it goes out the door. I'm anxious to finish the other new story and start on a Lavratt story, but have been barely keeping up this week. Just realized I didn't blog yesterday. In fact I did nothing but eat and crash when I got home from work.

My local writer's club is hosting a conference in October in Santa Rosa, CA. I'll be presenting on Developing Your Online Presence.

Two of my favorite writers have big news:

Robert J. Sawyer's Flash Forward series will air in September! :)

Ben Bova's B-Four Prods. and Red Giant Media are developing a feature adaptation of The Immortality Factor which came out in April.

Reading The Book from the Sky by Robert Kelley and Valis by Philip K. Dick at the same time. What a trippy tandem!!!

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Allen M. Steele interview

Allen Mulherin Steele has been a full time science fiction author since 1988. Prior to that, he worked in Journalism. A frequent contributor to such august magazines as Asimov's Science Fiction and Analog Science Fiction and Fact, his novels include several multi-volume works and anthologies. And he's a Dead Head. ;)

AW: What's the craziest quarter from which inspiration has struck you?

AS: Well, to understand the strange places where I sometimes get my ideas, you have to first understand that my inspiration usually comes from rather mundane sources. I might be driving or washing dishes or cleaning up the house or something like that, thinking about nothing in particular, and then something suddenly connects and I have a brainstorm. I can’t explain it, nor do I want to be able to. Nine-tenths of the time, though, that’s where and how I get my ideas.

However, over the years, I’ve reliably been able to get ideas – and some pretty good ones at that – from an unusual place: Grateful Dead concerts. I went to my first Dead show over 20 years ago and have seen them countless times since then, and quite a few of my novels and stories were not only inspired, but actually plotted, while I watched them perform. I take a notebook and pen with me, and when I get an idea, I write it down so I won’t forget. After the band formally dissolved following Jerry Garcia’s death, I attended shows by band members like Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, along with the occasional reunion tour, and have continued to get ideas from them. The most recent incidence of this happening was my novel Galaxy Blues; Part Four was almost entirely conceived during a Phil Lesh and Friends show in Hartford, Connecticut, three years ago.

I don’t know anyone else who gets their inspiration in quite the same manner. But it works for me.

AW: Do you know when you sit down to begin a piece, how long it will be: short story, novelette, novella, novel?

AS: I pretty much know, from the git-go, whether the story I’m going to write is going to be short or long, and if it’s the former whether it’ll be a short story or a novella (I don’t distinguish much between a short story and a novelette). It depends on the complexity of the idea, the setting, and if the plot is intricate. If the idea is big, the setting is large-scale, and the plot is intricate, it’s going to be a novel. If any of these factors are smaller, then it’ll be a short story or a novella. It’s that simple, really.

On occasion, I’ve taken an idea for a novel and reduced it to novella length, but in those instances I’ve almost always gone back later and expanded it again to become a novel. I did that with Labyrinth of Night, which was expanded from “Red Planet Blues”, and again with Chronospace, which was expanded from “`…Where Angels Fear to Tread.’” And the first two novels of the Coyote series, Coyote and Coyote Rising, are comprised of linked stories … I’ll get to why I did that later. For the most part, though, I know what the general length of the story will be almost immediately.

AW: How much time do you spend on research? Does it ever suck you in?

AS: Some stories or novels require more research than others, and a lot of that depends on how familiar I am with the subject matter and also the complexity of the story. But I rarely have a story that I don’t have to research one way or another. However, I like doing research. For me, that’s half the fun of writing … learning something I didn’t know before. And when the subject is interesting, I really start getting into it, to the point where I have to remind myself that I’ve got a novel to write.

Ninety percent of that research is reading everything on the subject that I can find, and fine-tuning my story as I go along. But written material can’t cover everything, so now and then I’ll do something that’ll give me a better idea of what I want to write about. I learned scuba diving in preparation for Oceanspace, for instance, and went to Germany to do research on the Hindenburg disaster for Chronospace. And I did a lot of hiking, canoeing and kayaking before and during the time I was writing the Coyote stories. That’s when doing my homework is a lot of fun.

AW: Which form do you enjoy writing more, novels or short stories?

AS: I don’t prefer one form over another, really. Both have inherent advantages and drawbacks. With novels, you have the ability to stretch out and tell a story in great detail and complexity … but since they necessarily take longer to write, I’m usually exhausted by the time I finish. Short stories and novellas aren’t as difficult and are more elegant, but you’re also confined by length. It’s the difference between a song and a symphony. When I’m into writing songs, I like doing them a great deal … but I also enjoy writing symphonies.

AW: Tell me about your most memorable book signing.

AS: To tell the truth, I’m really not that much into book signings. I do them out of necessity, and sometimes they can be fun, but on the whole I’d rather spend my time doing research or writing than promoting my work. Some writers enjoy the role of Science Fiction Author, but that’s their thing. It’s not mine.

Having said this, I think my favorite signing was the one where almost no one showed up. It was at a World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, I think, and the autograph table had been tucked away in a corner where it couldn’t be easily found. So there was almost no one to bother Hal Clement and me while we spent the hour having a great conversation. Hal and I had met before, of course, but until then we’d never had much of a chance to talk. Now we had an hour to ourselves, and by the time it was over we’d become friends. I think we signed only a couple of books during that time, and neither of us cared.

AW: Have you ever abandoned a story or novel, never to return to it?

AS: Plenty of times. I’ve got about a half-dozen unfinished novels in my file cabinet, and about twice as many story fragments. No one will ever read The Gomorrah Encryption, which was to be the sequel to The Jericho Iteration, or an interstellar war novel called Slipknot, or a Near Space novel called The Mountains of the Moon. And by much the same token, I’ll probably never finish “Frank”, which was supposed to be about the adventures of Boris Karloff’s android replica in Hollywood, or … well, a lot of other stories that I left incomplete after five or ten pages.

I’ve been writing for most of my life, and in that time I’ve built a pretty good bullshit detector. I know when something is working well, and when it isn’t. And while I’m willing to struggle with a story or a novel to make it work, or even put it aside for a long time until I get a better idea of what I want to do with it, I’ve learned that, sometimes, I’ll get an idea that seemed good when it came to me, but in practice wasn’t so great after all. And when that happens, perhaps it’s better to let it die than to finish a story or a novel that might have been a stinker.

AW: Your stories which appeared in magazines such as Asimov's and Analog before they became parts of your books – did you write them with the intention of a later novel in mind? Did you write them individually?

AS: As I said earlier, I’ve occasionally taken an idea for a novel, removed some aspects of the plot, and turned it into a novella, and later gone back to expand them again to novel length. I’ve done this when I have a story that seems like it should be a novel, but I don’t know yet how to write it at that length. So I’ll write it as a 25,000-word novella, and later come back, when I have a better handle on what I’m doing, and expand it to a 100,000 word novel.

The first two Coyote novels, though, were something else entirely. Coyote went through a decade-long gestation period, during which I attempted twice to write it as a normal linear novel. But the story was much too complex for the traditional novel form, so I had to come up with a different way of doing this. Until then, I also had a problem with writing very long novels. Most of my previous books had been 100,000 words or less, and I figured that Coyote – or, as it was then called, Year of the Coyote -- would be longer than that.

I read and collect a lot of old SF, including magazines from the 30's and 40’s, and it was around this time that I re-read some classics – Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, and also Clifford Simak’s City – in their original forms as story cycles published in “Astounding.” And it occurred to me that this form, which had largely fallen out of use during the last few decades, might be my solution to the problem. So I proposed this to Gardner Dozois, who was then the editor of “Asimov’s”, and he agreed to go along with my idea, and so Coyote was first published as a series in his magazine, with Coyote Rising following a year or so later. Both cycles were extensively revised before publication as novels, though, so there’s considerable differences between the “Asimov’s” stories and their final versions as novels.

This approach was a means of solving a couple of problems, and since it was a success, I continued the mosaic-narrative format in the subsequent books of the series. It’s not the usual way a novel is written these days … but it worked, and that’s what counts.

AW: The Coyote books are in a frontier setting with similarities to the Wild West. Did you grow up watching westerns or reading them?

AS: The Coyote series is a shadow-text, or thematic retelling, of American history, with the first three novels about the settlement of a frontier. However, the Old West wasn’t my source of inspiration. Instead, I was thinking more about the first American frontier: New England, where I live now, and the South, where I was born and raised. If you look at what was going on in those regions during the 1600’s and 1700’s – the exploration of the New World, the gradual expansion of early settlements, the political conflicts between Europe and its colonies – then you’ll see where the parallels lie.

I can see where this misunderstanding comes from. Nathanial Philbrick, a historian whose books about early America have been one of my sources of inspiration, points out that many people have a sketchy idea of American history. First Columbus came here, and nothing much happened after that until the Revolution, and when that was over everyone rode out west to become cowboys. So when readers see that I’m writing about a frontier, they automatically think I’m writing about Dodge City, and not about Plymouth.

AW: Tell me about your current projects.

AS: I turned in Coyote Destiny a couple of months ago, and at this time I believe that it will be the final novel of the series. I’ve said everything that needs to be said, and if I go any further I may repeat myself. So I’m stopping now, just as I said about 12 years ago when I finished work on the Near Space series.

However, I may well continue writing novels and stories set in the same universe, as I did with Spindrift and Galaxy Blues (which are often erroneously identified as Coyote novels: they’re not). I recently had a story like this published in an anthology, Federations, called “The Other Side of Jordan”, which has lead me to think in that direction. So while I’ve finished writing about Coyote itself, I’m looking forward to writing more about the human exploration of the galaxy.

AW: What's the next milestone you're shooting for as a writer?

AS: To write my next novel. Every one presents a different challenge. My first novel was a milestone, and my seventeenth will be, too.

Learn more about Allen Steele at AllenSteele.com.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Shifting writing gears

I've spent most of my allotted blogging time today on upgrading the blog. Adding more buttons for your bookmarking pleasure and added more links to my blog roll. SEO is a never-ending struggle. The good news is that SFOO is popping up all over the place. And since the blog is taking off, I'm going to devote more energy to it and quit some of my other myriad things I'm involved in to keep it current and vital.

I have author interviews with Allen M. Steele and Peter F. Hamilton scheduled for this month. My author interviews will always post on Fridays, but not (yet) every Friday.

Last weekend I cleaned the clutter in my house and it seemed to do wonders for the clutter in my brain. I had two new story ideas on Saturday. I finished the first draft of the flash piece and got a good start on the longer one on Sunday. I even managed to work in the credit card industry in answer to a co-worker's challenge. (I work for a trade journal for said industry by day.)

I also made a pivotal decision regarding my sequel to Awesome Lavratt. I'm going to write it in stand-alone chunks and submit them to mags. You won't have as long to see what Horace gets up to next and I'm hoping that will keep the same punch that Awesome Lavratt had when I wasn't trying too hard.

Please tell your friends about the new and improved SFOO blog, add me to your blogrolls, bookmarks, feeds, etc. Check out the new options on the right. Even new places to vote me up. :)

I'll be blogging over at Redwood Writers this week on Flash Fiction, complete with oodles of places to submit.

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