Friday, January 29, 2010

ROML* Rolls Over Another Week

Photobucket While I still have two days left to log writing time for this week, they will be the weekend, so I think it's highly unlikely that I will get to my goal hours this time around. Maybe it serves me right for getting cocky about how well last week went (614 minutes) and upping my goal by half an hour. When I think about it, though, it was mostly *Rest Of My Life issues that kept me from writing.

I'm really not sure what I can do about that except try to plan better (the things I CAN plan) and try to find catch-up time when the planning doesn't work.


In other news, I came to a huge and sad realization last night. I need to get rid of some books.

I've been buying books since I was in university and the city offered a variety of used book stores, of which I would make the rounds almost every weekend. The book acquisition habit has continued over the years, and although I do get more titles from the library these days (especially when trying an author for the first time) I still like to buy books. Part of me would like to count the number of books in the house--and part of me is afraid to do that.

However, when I was doing some pre-housecleaning housecleaning in the bedroom last week, I realized that I have at least 50+ books in that room alone waiting to be read or in various stages of being read. And when I do read them--I have nowhere to put them if I want to move new to-be-read books into that space. Every bookshelf in the house is already packed or over-packed. I don't see us adding a new room to the house just to hold books. Sooooo...the only conclusion is that I have to get rid of some. And while we're planning a Great Purge of the house this spring, the idea of sorting through the books and moving some them out of here is more daunting than all the rest of the things that I know need to be done.

*Sigh* I wonder if I could convince my husband to add on that extra room...

Photo courtesy of mzacha @

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

2009 Reading Roundup

I'm diving into a new pile of books, but thought I'd take a moment to look back at some of the reading I did in 2009. Sadly, I didn't read as much as I would like to have. That seems to be a perennial complaint for me of late. Maybe it's because I am writing more, but I'd like to find a way to balance the two. What follows will not be in any particular order, just as things occur to me.

By far, the standout book of 2009 for me was Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson. It was the first fantasy I've read in a long time that pulled me in from the beginning and offered something different. In fact, it's the first fantasy I've read in a long time, period, because I've seemed to put them down almost immediately for lack of those elements. The characters in Elantris were highly engaging right from the start, and the situation and conflicts very involving. Sanderson is part of the Writing Excuses podcast team, which I've also only recently started following, and I'm really enjoying that as well. It's like a master class in genre writing, in 15-minute lessons. Highly recommended!

Near the end of 2009 I read The Affinity Bridge by George Mann. This was also a very enjoyable read, in the Steampunk genre, although I found the author's frequent use of passive voice somewhat distracting. This is probably the writer/editor in me coming out, as most readers likely wouldn't even notice it, but I found it especially strange since Mann is an editor himself. At any rate, I'll be looking for future stories about these same characters, as the other elements of the book were good enough to overshadow that one complaint.

In the summer I devoured a batch of Stephanie Plum mysteries by Janet Evanovich. These books are just plain fun, if some of the jokes do get to feel a bit old if you read too many of them at once. Before those, I caught up on some Sue Grafton mysteries, with Q, R, and S in her Kinsey Milhone series. I wonder, when she began writing these, if she thought they would take up so much of her writing career? They've certainly been good to her, I think, and I am still enjoying them; she has done a good job of keeping the main character interesting and evolving over so many books. Grafton has made the choice to keep them all in the same time period, though, instead of keeping pace with the times, and I also wonder if this is difficult. Anyway, I hope to keep reading them to the end of the series.

Other good reads from the year included Into the Green by Charles deLint and Marvellous Hairy by Mark A. Rayner. I met Mark at WorldCon in Montreal and heard him do a reading, then had to read the book! It was fun and funny and kind of strange (in a good way!). I'll be interested to see what he writes next.

In non-fiction, I read most of (still reading) The Language of the Night, by Ursula LeGuin. This is a collection of her essays and lectures on science fiction, and really excellent reading for anyone interested in the genre. Some of them seem a bit dated, but are still very relevant in many ways.

I also listened to some audiobooks last year, including three notable ones: Murder at Avedon Hill by P.G. Holyfield, Playing for Keeps by Mur Lafferty, and Space Casey by Christiana Ellis. All very different books, but all very enjoyable. And I really love being able to "read" this way when I can't read, if you know what I mean.

Rounding out the field are a few short story anthologies. I am always surprised at the number of people who say they don't like reading short stories. I am very fond of them. Last year I read three collections that I really liked: Many Bloody Returns, edited by Charlaine Harris (all stories about vampires and birthdays), My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding, edited by P.N. Elrod (all stories about, well, weddings and the supernatural), and Extraordinary Engines, edited by Nick Gevers (steampunk).

And I think this post is long enough now. I've just added a new page to the site, The TBR Shelf (see the new link in the right sidebar), to try and keep track of what's on my to-be-read list, so you can follow along with that if you'd like, and by all means friend me over at Goodreads if you're a member. Happy reading in 2010!


Sunday, November 15, 2009

NaNoWriMo & Miscellaneous Updates

2009 NaNoWriMo participant Well, it's a good thing I was not also participating in NaBloPoMo this year, because my blog posting has taken a serious backseat to novel-writing. However, in the circumstances, I am not berating myself about it.

Last night I actually caught up on my word count for the first time since the month started. (Of course, I haven't written yet today, so now I'm behind again, but that's NaNoWriMo for you.) I'm really liking the story I'm writing. It's turning out to be much more complex than I had realized, and of course I don't have all those complexities planned out, but that is a big part of the fun of writing for me, so it's a good thing. I'm about at the point now where I need to sit down with a stack of index cards and figure out the shape of the thing, and I may get to that this afternoon. Looking forward to it quite a bit. It's my first real stab at alternate history, and I'm finding that aspect of it a blast.

The slipped disc problem has improved considerably in the last few days, although I'm still constrained in what I can undertake. I was able to attend my writing workshop session yesterday morning, which made me very happy since I did not want to miss out on these last two sessions. I went to the mall last night to pick up a birthday card for my brother and came to the realization that my mall-walking limit is about half an hour. Good to know, and it's fortunate that I am in the habit of doing a large part of my Christmas shopping online. I'm doing a little of that today, too.

One side effect of being confined to be for a large part of the past two weeks is that the puppies have managed to infiltrate the house to the point of sleeping on the end of my bed, mostly because it's just easier to keep an eye on them there and I haven't had the energy to keep shooing them away. So if anyone came out of this experience to the good, it's the furrier members of the household.

Something fun: a tweet from Elizabeth Bear today pointed me to these random fractal backgrounds, which are lovely, and poking around the site I found the free program to make your own. You can tile them to fill whatever size background you want. Take a look and try it out; they are really beautiful! Here are a few I got on the first run of the program (it generates 20 every time you run it):

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009


As some of you may know, October was Steampunk Month over at The month was jam-packed with interesting blog posts, steampunk tips for DIYers, beautiful free wallpapers, and tons of giveaways. I didn't stumble upon things until at least partway through the month, but then I entered every giveaway after that.

And, I won one!

My copies of Jay Lake's Mainspring and Escapement arrived in the mail today, quite promptly I must say. Also included in the parcel were a Tor bookmark and a handful of buttons, so it made a nice little prize package.

Jay Lake prize package from

I was especially pleased to win this prize, because I am a big fan of the columns Jay Lake writes (often with Ruth Nestvold) over at IROSF (I always snag this one to proofread when I can!). If you are not familiar with the columns, I recommend you click over and check some out. They are available in the archives, many under the "features" tab, and are easy to find. Sadly, I haven't had an opportunity to read enough of his fiction, so I'm really looking forward to these books. They may even jump the line in my TBR pile, since I just finished reading George Mann's The Affinity Bridge last night and need something new to add to my being-read list.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Reading break

I've read more short stories in the last few days than I have in the last year, I think. But no, it was not simply for pleasure. That was just a welcome side benefit.

In a couple of weeks, I'm giving a presentation on writing speculative fiction, to a group of writers who don't write specfic as a usual thing. Some of them have likely never written anything in the speculative genres, and possibly never read anything in those genres, either.

For that reason, I thought I'd like to assign them a few stories to read before the workshop, just so that we would have a few more talking points and all be on the same page (no pun intended). I had a few criteria--the stories had to be of short-to-moderate length, available online, accessible to readers outside the genre, and had to exemplify a couple of the things I'm planning to talk about. For example, the importance of good writing regardless of genre, the difference between story and mere anecdote, a certain depth of characterization.

I found that "accessibility" was the most difficult criterion to fill. For readers who are unfamiliar with standard genre tropes, I felt that stories with a minimum of SF jargon and a setting that was at least somewhat Earthlike might be best. However, it becomes obvious that we speculative fiction writers expect a lot from our readers--or is it that our readers expect a lot from us? I begin to think that specfic writers tend to start invoking the "sensawunda" as soon as possible at the beginning of many stories, dangling a tempting hook for our readers so that we can quickly reel them in. For readers coming to specfic for the first time, however, I think many of these stories would be too unfamiliar, offering too much "difference" too soon, for non-genre readers to stay with them long enough to become invested in the story. To get their specfic legs under them, so to speak.

And of course, personal taste enters into it and can't be separated from the selection process, so the stories I chose would not necessarily be the ones someone else would choose. Still, it was an interesting exercise. I've asked the workshop participants, if they begin reading one of the stories and don't finish it, to make a note of where they stopped and why. Could be some interesting comments there.

Anyway, after a few days of (mostly) enjoyable reading, I settled on four stories to recommend. Three are science fiction, and one is fantasy. Since I'm recommending them in my workshop, I thought I'd recommend them here, too. They are:

SF Short story - "Jimmy's Roadside Cafe" by Ramsey Shehadeh

Fantasy Short story - "Sun Magic, Earth Magic" by David D. Levine

SF Short story - "Ghosts and Simulations" by Ruthanna Emrys

The last piece is a novella, but since it won a Hugo award at WorldCon in Montreal this summer (and I was there to see it!), it is definitely worth the time investment:

SF Novella - "The Erdmann Nexus" by Nancy Kress

If you read any of the stories, please tell me what you think of them. Happy reading!

*Magazine cover art from

Thursday, September 17, 2009

But when is it ready?

Yesterday morning I opened an email from a publisher I'd queried about The Seventh Crow. To my delight, they were requesting a look at the full manuscript.

Now, this manuscript has been pretty thoroughly edited, revised, redrafted, read by three trusted readers, run through the trusty Cliche Cleaner, etc. I made sure it was ready before I even thought about sending out queries.

Or so I thought. To make the submission, I had to convert the file to MS Word, so I thought, "might as well run it through Word's spell/grammar check, too." Two days later, I have just now sent the file out.

Now, much of this is due to the fact that Word's grammar checker is...weird. I know, I know, this is one of the most difficult things to program because of context issues, style issues, usage variations--but still. Of everything it flagged, I would guess I changed less than one-eighth. Don't get me wrong--I am not saying I know better than the program when it comes to strict right-or-wrong questions. It was useful to me in pointing out a number of things I'd missed along the way. But the vast majority of issues it flagged were non-issues. Hence the two days it took to go through 324 pages (and not counting kids, puppies, husband, laundry, meals, and sundry assorted other distractions, of course).

At any rate, the real point of this post is in the does a writer know when a piece of writing is ready? Really ready to go out into the world and stand on its own?

Two answers spring to mind for me: feedback and critiquing. I think it's extremely important to have some trusted readers (or at least one!) who will provide honest feedback on a story at various stages, and who have some facility with the technical end of writing--who can tell you that you're using too many passive sentences, or semicolons, or that you've used the word "recalibration" three times in two paragraphs. And of course, you have to be willing to listen to them.

Conversely, you need to develop your own critiquing skills by reading and commenting on the work of other developing writers. It's the best way I know to become a good self-editor, which is one of the most difficult skills to master; and in today's publishing world, one of the most important. It is crucial to be able to bring your own work to a highly polished level before submitting it. By critiquing stories for other writers, you learn to view the work with a detached eye, and in time will be able to apply a similar level of detachment (although never quite the same) to your own stories.

But still...when is it ready?

Honestly--I don't know. Some say, if you're changing less than 10% of the words, send it out. Some say, when you feel like you can't improve it any more on your own, send it out. Some say, when you can't stand to read the damn thing one more time, send it out.

All good advice. I think the main thing to take away from this post is that you make the work the best you can, and then you send it out. And cross your fingers and wait.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Less than 46 cents per story!

Last year I was pleased to have my short story, "Summer of the Widows," appear in an anthology titled Speculative Realms: Where There's a Will, There's a Way. It's a wonderfully eclectic mix of fantasy, science fiction, and horror stories from a global collection of writers.

In "Summer of the Widows," one of my recurring characters (a young female wizard's apprentice with a knack for attracting trouble) is suspected of murder, and must find the real killer AND save her master from an even more dangerous threat--marriage!

Right now, I see that is offering the anthology for a sweet $5.88. That's less than forty-six cents per story for the thirteen stories in the book. At that price, I'd suggest you get it while it's hot!

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The afternoon so far

I almost bought a new sewing machine this afternoon. I mean, I was *this* close, I'd done the haggling, and the deal was practically sealed. But I came home empty-handed.

It was one of those "inventory clearance"-type things at a local trade and convention center, huge overstocks, great deals, etc. The place was busy and people were walking out with machines in droves. And there were some half-decent machines, although most of them were a generic name that I didn't recognize or know anything about. My mom and I strolled around and saw demonstrations on a number of machines that were very nice.

But there was one sewing/embroidery machine that I sort of fell in love with. It was a Brother, so a good name, and had nice lines and great features. Over the past few years, when my mom and sister have both bought new machines and I've looked at a few myself, I've come to the conclusion that buying one is a lot like buying a car. You can look at all kinds, test-drive them, compare features, but in the end there'll be one that just speaks to you, and that's the one you want.

So this one spoke to me, and it was fairly pricey, but not completely out of the range of what I'm willing to spend. My current machine is quite ancient, and although it still sews beautifully, I suspect and fear that one day it's just going to stop.

Now, I'm not a haggler. I like to think I will haggle, but when it comes right down to it, it's not really in me to do it. With my mother egging me on (she's not a haggler either, but she can encourage others to haggle) I got the price down to a point where I could live with it. At THAT point, I found out that this particular machine was not available on-site (except for the demo) and I had to pay for it and have it delivered next week.

That's when alarm bells went off in my head and I walked away from the deal. Most likely there was nothing to worry about and all was on the up-and-up, but--I didn't want to chance it.

So I almost had a beautiful new machine, but decided to err on the side of caution. *Sigh* It was awfully nice...

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