Thursday, May 27, 2010

KS Augustin talks about characterization

It is my pleasure to introduce my first ever guest blogger on SFOO, KS Augustin. Let her entertain you and make you think while finish packing for BayCon. She promised not to trash the place while I'm gone. I don't know. I just might be out of a job when I get back. :)

Firstly, my thanks to Ann for letting me post to her blog.

My husband, J, has a skill I don't have and one I'm terribly envious of. (Forgive the dangling participle, and let's move on.) He reads in three languages: Polish, English and Russian. At the moment, he's reading a Polish anthology of science-fiction from a few years back (it contains an early short story by Jacek Dukaj), and one story in particular both intrigues and repels him.

Now, before I continue, I should explain that J's reading habits are confined to hurried snatches as he plies the ways between two countries on an almost daily basis. In between reading, he has to know where his passport and entry cards are, position himself strategically in the bus, and be ready to fly out the doors and dodge the crowds of meandering tourists as they wander their somnambulist paths from one tour-guided resort to another. Occasionally, he also has to instruct newer Immigration officials on how to process his visa (a most diplomatic process). And he's on a clock. So, he's not what you'd call a relaxed reader.

Currently, he's frustrated. "This story I'm reading is great," he tells me. "The technology is very interesting and the premise is novel. I haven't read a setting like this before. But the characters! There are three main characters, and you can't tell them apart. They're all supposed to do different things, but they're blurring together in my mind. I'm getting very confused. You're a writer. Is it me? Explain this to me."

I love science-fiction. I adore it. I credit my remaining sanity to having science-fiction books available to me while I was growing up. (Living opposite a library didn't hurt either.) But, in my opinion, if there's one area where science-fiction falls down, this is it. Characterisation. When reading characters with similar characteristics it's difficult to tell them apart within stories not just across them. A joke I have that will put you all off side is that George Clooney was perfect to play Kelvin in Lem's Solaris (2002) because both the character in the book, and Clooney, are so wooden.

"This is where romance has it all sewn up," I told my husband. "As a result, being a romance reader as well, I'm completely spoilt. The characters tend to be drawn to such a degree, in such detail, that I only need to be given a fragment -- "a flash of emerald eyes", "the hint of a dimple", "a vase crashing against the wall" -- to know which character did it and what they're probably thinking."

"Ah," he said, "that's what's missing. The technology is there, but I can't get a feel for any of the characters. They're not described, no quirks are outlined. They are just three guys with different names, all interchangeable."

Ann has detailed in a previous post of hers why she prefers male sf writers. And lots of commentators chimed in to come up with female sf authors who don't touch romance. (There was a bit of cheating in that list, as you well know.) I myself have an sf novel currently on submission that doesn't contain any romance, as you'd probably define it. But, boy oh boy, what you learn when you put it in! And that learning keeps on giving, even when you don't focus exclusively on it.

Romance is not merely about the kissing and the sex. Romance is about the psychology of the people involved and how they try to establish connections while the universe is against them. What a lot of sf writers have forgotten, in my opinion, is that you take yourself with the technology. We have PCs and tablets and mobiles and what-have-you. They were all originally meant to be productivity aids. And what have we done with them? We've connected. We've commented. We've hated. We've loved. We've laughed. You are connecting with me right now, drawing conclusions about what kind of person I am, whether you would like the kind of stuff I write, whether you would like *me*, all separate to―and yet an intrinsic co-effect―of the technology that's delivering these words to you. To say that we can have one (the setting) without the other (the human connections) is to live in sterility, where one primate-shaped block can easily be exchanged for another, without any harm coming to the unfolding storyline. Such thinking debases our individual and precious humanity, reducing us all to ciphers.

Romance teaches us that everyone has the potential for intimate connection. Science-fiction teaches us the wonder of what-if. If that isn't one of the most perfect matches ever thought of, I don't know what is.

COMPETITION: I'm giving away two copies of IN ENEMY HANDS at my blog, Fusion Despatches []. To be in the drawing, stop by and comment at the Competition post, telling me at which blog you read about my book. You have till 30 June!

Kaz Augustin is a Malaysian-born writer of science-fiction, romance, and permutations of the two. Her website is at and she blogs at You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter; just look for "ksaugustin".

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

TSA stole my camera...but I sold a story

As I logged in to my gmail, bleary-eyed from wasting my time on LOST the night before, I discovered that, alas, yet another story had been rejected. However, later in the day one was accepted. :) And I have a lead on a possible venue for the rejected one. All in all, a good Monday.

That's if we discount the certified letter I went to the post office for. It was from the TSA. Apparently their you're SOL policy regarding missing items in luggage that has been inspected by them is firm, in spite of their claim process. Why am I not surprised? My husband packed my digital camera into his suitcase for the trip home about a year ago and found that they had traded a your-bag-has-been-searched tag for his camera. Stupid TSA employee stole my camera! And it wasn't cheap, either. >smolder, smolder< I can see it now: The underpaid TSA inspection clerk has decided that he or she is going to quit. So why not take a few souvenirs before leaving?

I posted about this on facebook and Jeff Lemkin invited me to check out Jon Udell's solution. Jon found himself minus a camera as well. Now he includes a starter pistol in each piece of checked luggage so he can declare a weapon. The TSA agent has to lock your (required) hard case and give you the key. Then they take extra care of that piece of luggage. Of course, this was in 2007. They might be on to that scheme by now. At any rate, now I don't pack anything but clothes in my checked luggage when I check luggage at all. I gained a valuable lesson, but I still don't have a camera. :(

On a brighter note, Robert Sawyer won an Aurora Award for www.Wake. Visit the awards website for a full list of award winners.

I'm determined to finish the first draft of my new Awesome Lavratt story this week. That's long overdue. But I have a deadline. Have to fire it off to my crit group before leaving for BayCon on Friday. I'm still waiting for a review on iTunes of my shiny new Awesome Lavratt book app. (hint, hint)

Here's a peek at the new story:

A clicking noise broke him out of his reverie. Like metal on metal. Or.... He remembered when he'd heard that sound before. The seven-foot-tall Askaran's talons clicking on the station floor the last day Horace spent on his salvage station. He'd left him unconscious and confined when he left with Aranna.

Horace's gut clenched as he recognized the salmonella-rich odor of Askaran wafting in his direction from the recirculation fans. He turned in his seat, hoping he was not quite sane after all. Better that than ....

Look for a guest post by KS Augustin on Thursday. You can read it while I pack for BayCon. San Jose, here I come.

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sci-fi vids to make your Friday brighter

I'm making preparations for BayCon. I have my Indiana Jones hat, which I'll catch heck for not wearing. And my steampunk goggles. But where do I get a Dr. Who mile-long scarf? I'm still undecided about the new Doctor and am watching his first episodes a second time, since I'm on a Dr. Who panel again.

For your viewing and listening pleasure, Dr. Who clips set to Rocky Horror Show's Double Feature song.

I loved this video. Of course Dr. Who would have plenty of appropriate clips for this. I think it's the longest, continuously running science fiction show ever.

Here's two of my favorites - Queen and Dr. Who!

While I'm sharing videos, here's a sneak peek at the new Predators movie coming in July.

You have to wait till December for this movie. Remember TRON? I think I'll have to watch that again. I only vaguely remember it now.

And here's an oldie, but a goodie: Star Trek Meets Monty Python.

That's all folks. It's so way past my bedtime. zzzzzzz

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Monday, May 17, 2010

The good, the bad and the "Nebulous"

This week I'm guest blogging at Fusion Despatches for author, K.S. Augustin. She'll be guest blogging here the night before BayCon (May 27).

Human nature hasn’t changed much since man discovered fire or Cain killed Abel. People still have the same motivations. Man kills, steals or lies for land and money. The material things we fight over have changed, but the base motivations and plots have not. Our lives have grown more complex because of our possessions, but our motivations at their core are just as simple.

We’ve heard or read all the stories before. There is nothing new. That’s why writers recycle.
Finish reading my entry on Recycling Storylines Well now.

Then come back here for some mostly fantastic SF news.

The Nebula awards were presented this weekend in Cape Canaveral, FL. And many went to my friends! :)

The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade Books, Sep09)
The Women of Nell Gwynne’s, the late Kage Baker (Subterranean Press, Jun09)
“Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast” – Eugie Foster (Interzone, Feb09)
“Spar” – Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, Oct09)
“ District 9” Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell (Tri-Star, Aug09)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making – Catherynne M. Valente (Catherynne M. Valente, Jun09)

Not so good news - ABC cancels Flash Forward. Condolences to Robert J. Sawyer on this one. For those of you who don't know, it's based on his novel of the same name.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is going to the big screen with Natalie Portman playing Elizabeth Bennet.

I'm going to experiment with a different blogging schedule. Interviews will go up on Thursdays. And an entry on writing, science fiction, sf news, etc. will go up on Monday or Tuesday. Now that I'm working at home, I can be more flexible. My back is doing great two weeks post surgery. The home office reclamation has begun -- one shelf at a time. Darn! Should have done a before picture. The boys really had it messed up.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Steve Hockensmith - crossing genres and mashing it up

Steve Hockensmith spoke at the Redwood Writers conference I presented at in October. I was impressed by a lot of things he had to say in his keynote speech. I subsequently received an offer of Dawn of the Dreadfuls from the publisher. I didn't even look at the author's name. Dawn of the Dreadfuls sounded like great fun. Discovering that it was written by Steve was a bonus.

I'm also thinkin' Quirk (the publisher) knows just my kind of funny.

Steve's other books have been more western/slash mystery, but they all have one thing in common: his unstoppable wit. Anyone who can be so consistently, and seemingly effortlessly funny, is aces with me.

Read more about Steve on his blog/website and you simply MUST watch the book trailer. Where do I sign up for these? It's fabulous! My review of Dawn of the Dreadfuls is available at Mostly Fiction.

AW: How did you arrive at the idea of melding zombies with a Jane Austen classic?

SH: The person who deserves all the credit is Jason Rekulak, an editor at Quirk Books in Philadelphia. He was the one who had the brainstorm: “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we took a public domain classic and threw monsters into it?” I’m just glad he decided to start with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and not War and Peace and Sasquatch or something. The Austen/zombies combo really was a stroke of genius. I’m lucky that Seth Grahame-Smith did such a good job with the first book, too, because if that hadn’t been a worldwide phenomenon, Jason wouldn’t have wanted a prequel...and I would’ve missed out on the gig!

AW: How many books have you written so far and in what genres?

SH: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls is my fifth published novel. The previous four are all in my “Holmes on the Range” mystery series. They’re whodunnits about a couple of 1890s cowboys who set out to solve mysteries using the methods of their hero, Sherlock Holmes. I’ve got one more horror/comedy coming up (which I’m not allowed to say more about, at the moment) as well as another “Holmes on the Range” novel, then I’m not sure what the future holds. Hopefully, more of everything: I’d love to try my hand at every genre under the sun!

AW: What's your favorite genre to write in? To read?

SH: I had more fun doing Dawn of the Dreadfuls than anything else I’ve ever written, which was a surprise. I thought I’d feel a lot of pressure, and I wasn’t a huge horror fan before, yet that book was a blast. Maybe I just needed a change of pace, since I’d done four “Holmes on the Range” books in a row. I grew up loving science fiction, yet I never got the hang of it as a writer. I’d really like to give that another shot, one of these days. As for my reading, I’m all over the map. I dabble in mystery, SF, fantasy, and “literary” fiction while mixing in a lot of non-fiction, as well. I say “dabble” because I’m a very slow reader -- I probably only get through 14 or 15 books a year. So while I haven’t read deeply in any particular field, I have read broadly...which I hope counts for something.

AW: Can you share with my readers about your wall of inspiration and achievement?

SH: Well, looking up from my computer monitor, the first thing I see are the reference materials for my latest Work In Progress. But right above all that is a shelf containing every bit of fiction I’ve published professionally: not just my novels, but the magazines and anthologies I’ve appeared in, as well. Whenever I feel like a phony, I can just look up there and see physical proof that I’ve accomplished something. Just to the left of all that are reminders of the things that inspired me as a kid (a Raiders of the Lost Ark poster, a DC Comics calendar), while to the right is an advertisement for an early ’90s exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art called “High and Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture.” That reminds me what I’m trying to produce -- pop entertainment with (hopefully) something interesting or offbeat mixed in. On the wall directly behind me, meanwhile, are all my award nomination certificates. So if I’m feeling really low, I can just spin around and say, “Hey...I was a finalist for the Edgar Award, dammit!”

AW: I really enjoyed your keynote at the Redwood Writers Conference. Have you always been a good public speaker, or did you have to work at it?

SH: Thanks! I enjoy doing speeches and workshops, but I’m always terrified beforehand. It comes pretty naturally to me once I’m up there, though. I know I have my weaknesses as a public speaker, but the trick I’ve learned is not to care. As long as you’re comfortable at the microphone and project an aura of friendliness and fun, folks will cut you a lot of slack.

AW: How important is it for an author to make public appearances? How has it helped your career?

SH: Good question...and one that’s hard to answer. Are public appearances vital? No. Can they help? Yes. I’ve attended a lot of mystery conventions over the years, and doing panels at those kinds of events has helped me connect with many, many readers. Enough to make me a bestseller, though? Not by a long shot. And my experience with bookstore signings has been extremely spotty. Sometimes the place is packed, sometimes I end up chatting with the store staff until it becomes obvious no one’s going to show up. But even when it’s the latter, that can be helpful, in some small way. At least you end up with signed copies on the shelves, and the people who work there know you...and maybe even feel sorry for you! It can’t hurt -- which is, I guess, my bottom line when it comes to public appearances.

AW: Awesome book trailer! How much involvement did you have with that process? Has it measurably boosted sales?

SH: Thank you! It is pretty cool, isn’t it? My involvement was limited to getting an e-mail telling me the publisher was having a trailer made. Oh, and then linking to the trailer from my site once it was on YouTube. That’s it! It’s hard to say if it’s boosted sales, but I know it made a splash when it was first showed up on the Internet, and that counts for something.

AW: In which order do you recommend reading the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies series?

SH: The nice thing about Dawn of the Dreadfuls is you can read it either before or after Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Either you know the characters and the set-up already, so the prequel fills in interesting back story and answers questions you might have had, or you don’t know anything about the premise at all, in which case you can watch the story unfold from the very beginning. Hopefully, it works either way.

AW: What are you writing now?

SH: Funny you should ask! I just e-mailed my editor the second draft of my next “Holmes on the Range” novel. It’s called World’s Greatest Sleuth! and it should be out in early 2011. After that, it’s on to the top secret horror project, which will carry me through to the end of the year. So my plate is full, as they say. Heaping, even. That can be a little stressful, at times, but I infinitely prefer it to the alternative!

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

BayCon and beyond

My back surgery went well. I now have BayCon, a family reunion, and my son's wedding back on my calendar. It would have really been the pits to attend my son's wedding on a gurney. Now I just have post-op pain, which is minor and temporary. It's good to be back (pardon the pun).

One thing I won't be going back to is work. The magazine I worked for couldn't wait for me to have my operation and recover. Monday, May 3rd, was my back operation, my termination date and my 25th wedding anniversary. So what now? I'm going freelance to fill gaps between book sales. I've also monetized the blog. I'm sure you noticed the ads on the right. If you know anyone in need of a writer/editor for a job here or there, send them on over. :)

I received my BayCon schedule this evening. For those living further afield or close by, yet in convention denial or under a rock, BayCon is one of the best science fiction conventions on the west coast. It's in San Jose every Memorial Day weekend. Come by and say hi. My schedule is tentatively as follows:

UPDATE!! This just in. I have Sat. panels now! Woo hoo!
10 AM Writing Workshops: Hit or miss with Jon Cory, Morgan Hua and Jay Ridler (M).

8 PM Character I want to _________ with TBA. If you see TBA, let me know. ;)

10 AM Self-promotion and publicity for writers. I suggested this so get to moderate it. :) Joining me are A. Kovacs, Emerian Rich, Scott Sigler and Tony Todaro.

noon The new Doctor, again! with Mette Hedin, Bryan Little and Tom Saidak (M).

10 AM Stop me if you've heard this one with Andrew Clark (M), Valerie Frankel, Kevin Andrew Murphy and Lorrie Wood.

So, yeah we'll have hang out Friday or Saturday, no?

I received Android Karenina in the mail today for review. Shiny! :0) It's a mash-up with Leo Tolstoy (may he still RIP) and Ben H. Winters.

I'm polishing reviews for Coyote Horizon by Allen M. Steele and Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. Friday, return here to read my interview with Steve Hockensmith and then read my review of Dawn of the Dreadfuls at Mostly Fiction.

And as LOST nears its mindlessly muddy end, here are some fun imaginings of the last 10 seconds.
LOST: The Cast Says Goodnight

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Saturday, May 8, 2010

Laurel Anne Hill, writer and youth mentor

I had the opportunity to interview my fellow writer and club member, Laurel Anne Hill, at RadCon in February. I thoroughly enjoyed our chat. Because of technical difficulties, I created an article rather than a straight interview. I love interviewing people, but hate transcription, so this may be the last of its kind. Enjoy.

Laurel Anne Hill started writing before she could read. "My sister was older than I by four years and I would tell her my stories and she would write them down. And then I'd cut out little pictures from magazines and comic books to illustrate the stories that she had written and so that's when it all began. And I think really she encouraged me because she liked to write, too.

"I got to my teens and I started what I think of as more grown-up writing, essays and stories that weren't quite so cliché and childish. And I started entering them in contests. I had mentors in high school and I kept winning contests."

Laurel paid for four years of college tuition with writing contest winnings. She won a cash prize and a full-sized $600 stereo from a writing contest conducted by a military group out of the Presidio (San Francisco). She won a watch. For one of her essays, she won $500 which covered her tuition for many semesters.

When it comes to entry fees, Laurel advises writers to look at who is sponsoring the contest, what the prizes are, what kind of exposure winners get, etc. She said a small fee is reasonable for covering administrative costs of a contest. She suggested giving yourself a limit of how much you will spend for contests per year.

After college, Laurel stopped writing in lieu of a career and raising children. In 1991, a mysterious illness assailed her, which was never identified. "The muscles in my back went into continual spasm. It lasted almost six weeks. ... After I recovered from that, I looked at life in a different way. You know, they had me on several medications that made me hallucinate. Usually when I hallucinate, I hallucinate spiders; but in this case I could envision the grim reaper. But instead of holding a scythe, he was holding a giant pen." This drove her to get back to writing.

Laurel had recurring dreams that she was going back to college and taking courses in literature. In these dreams, she would sign up for the courses and then be unable to attend because she couldn't find parking, the professor moved the class to another city and other various obstacles.

In another recurring dream, she had to return to high school because her diploma and records had been lost. Once again, the standard dream obstacles. When she started writing and working with youth, those dreams ceased.

Laurel was fascinated with the worlds in the books she had as a child. She cited a favorite story in which a carrousel horse could communicate with children, but only until their legs were long enough to fit into the stirrups of its saddle.

Though her career had been in science, Laurel loves to create her own worlds with her own rules and scientific laws.

Laurel belongs to a number of writing groups and encourages others, including younger writers who are no longer in writing courses to do the same. Her affiliations include Broad Universe, California Writers' Club, Women Writing the Web and Women's National Book Association. She has been in critique groups for 12 or 13 years, one of which she has been in for 8 or 9 years.

Because she believes in giving back, she now sits on the mentor side of the table for writers' workshops at sci-fi conventions, especially BayCon.

When I asked Laurel what themes run through her work, she said, "There are things that are rewarded in life (honor, faith, love). I guess I have a very optimistic viewpoint about life regardless of what I've been through. Which is odd since I grew up in a poor family with an alcoholic father and had a brother that did not turn out well. Yet I continually have this feeling that there's hope for almost all of us."

Read more about Laurel and her writing at

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