giveaway: Daisy Yellow Zine #8

I’m super-excited to announce a giveaway of Daisy Yellow Zine (Issue 8). This digital art journaling zine is full of inspiration, including blogging ideas for creatives and journal prompts. My article, Embrace Imperfection, also appears in it.

Daisy Yellow Zine #8

Tammy, the awesomely creative person behind the zine and the site, has graciously offered to give away TWO copies of Issue 8 (available only in digital format). Please leave a comment if you’d like to enter. Giveaway is open until Monday, July 29th, 10pm EST. 

If this is your first introduction to Tammy and Daisy Yellow, check out some of my favorite parts on her site, such as the Index-Card-A-Day Challenge she runs every summer. If you’re stuck for ideas, check out Tammy’s post on What Can You Do With an Index Card? She also introduced me to the delights of drawing mandalas and the fun of practicing fonts.

If you art journal–or have ever thought of doing so–Daisy Yellow is a great place to go for ideas, tips, and inspiration.

note to self: about summer

One would think that summer would be a time of awesome productivity for me. After all, it’s school vacation!

One would be wrong.

And I’ve finally decided to adjust my expectations to take into account that I get very little writing done in the summer.

For one thing, summer is not a creative season for me–at least not for writing. My stories are ice flowers–they blossom in the darkness of winter nights, the grey chill of a fall day, or in the bluster of an early spring wind. Summer is too big and gorgeous and golden; somehow the overgrowth of vines and weeds, the bloom of showy roses and peonies, sap my creativity rather than inspiring it.

It’s strange, I know, but it is what it is.

Two, the very lack of school-imposed structure, the daily and weekly march of education, works against me. With a summer full of vacations, camps, and swim lessons, every week looks different from the next. The mental adjustments of getting one kid to swim and another to camp, of coordinating pickups and dropoffs, of making sure I have the right kinds of snacks for camp lunches–all of these take up a lot of headspace.

Three, what creativity I have is taken up with planning the upcoming school year. So far, I’ve pored over catalogs, checked a gazillion samples online, scanned through pages of reviews, thought and pondered and talked at poor David, and finally, finally, ordered our books for next year.

And four–my house. Summer is the time to reorganize the pantry, straighten out the school room, go through toys and books and clothes. You know, all the stuff I’ve been avoiding all year, becausewell, school.

Four, it’s nice to just relax and have lazy days. To be plain Mom instead of Teacher Mom. To play five games of Forbidden Island in one day or work on puzzle of a dragon on a rock or the Oxford Skyline.

When I start pining to go back to school (feeling that way now), when stories start sneaking into my head, when I feel the loss of creating something with my mind and hands, when summer is sliding fall-wards, then… then I know it’s time to write again.

Balticon 2013

David and I attended our first Balticon this past weekend. We were there for two out of the three days, and had a blast. I’ve attended a writing conference (Pikes Peak) and a writers’ workshop before, but this was my first convention. It was a very different experience!

The People

What I loved about this con was that it drew in readers, movie/TV fans, costumers, artists, and film-makers, as well as writers. We met a guy in a steampunk Tigger costume, a retired mailman into historical re-enactment, and a woman who’d sewn an Inara costume for a Firefly-themed wedding. I LOVED meeting people with these kinds of passions and skills.

(And, I also got to meet Linda Adams, although briefly. Hi, Linda. *waves* Update: Check out Linda’s thoughts about the con in Tidbits from Balticon)

(Also, this was the first family-friendly writing-type thing I’ve attended. We’re thinking about bringing our own three next year.)

The Panels

Most of the panels I attended had to do with self-publishing (social media, podcasting, marketing, business) which fell in the New Media track (and so many of those were in a room tucked all by itself in an end corridor, hmm *wink*). There wasn’t much there that I didn’t already know–and when the panelists touched on anything new, it was in a cursory way, making me go, “Hmm, I’d better go research this when I get home.”

(I believe that cons are all-important for meeting people and getting that valuable face-time with them. Information you can get in spades online, usually in more depth and detail than can be crammed into a 50-minute panel.)

Things that I learned/need to look into:

* Google + for writers. There was an entire panel on this, but most of the panelists admitted they didn’t utilize this as well as they could. If you’re a writer using Google + extensively, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Also–I’d like to do a Google hangout sometime. Anyone interested?

* Podcasting fiction is a LOT of work. I think I’m better off hiring narrators down the road.

* At some point, I need to look into setting up a LLC.

* Why you need a business plan: So that you can gauge whether an opportunity is worth pursuing or not. Will this opportunity take you closer to your goals, or off in a different direction altogether? (Thanks to Gail Z. Martin for this insight).

* Advice on shopping around rejected stories you wrote for a themed anthology: Other writers are inundating the market with their rejected Machine of Death stories, so wait a year for the deluge to die down and then submit.

* Note to self: Science presentations are awesome. Attend more of them next time.

Special Events

The highlight of my weekend was the Steampunk Ball (and yes, David and I attended that in costume. We had hats and everything!). Susan de Guardiola, the instructor, was awesome. We did line dances and circle dances, and quadrilles, and much fun was had by all.

It’s amazing how being in costume can help you meet people. They will naturally stop by to comment on the costume or–in a few cases–ask to take your picture. Also, doing something with other people (like everyone failing to learn a dance) is a great ice-breaker. The next day, when you run into them again, you have something to chat about. (Though you might need to remind them who you are. They may not recognize you without the hat/goggles/hooped skirt.)

 

Have you attended science fiction & fantasy conventions? Which was your favorite?

 

how to collaborate with another writer: a case study

One Small Step: an anthology of discoveries launched last weekend at Conflux. I’m honored to have a story (co-written with the super-talented Jo Anderton) included in it.

This was my first ever collaboration, and I thought it’d be useful to talk about how the process worked out for us.

The Setup

Last fall, Tehani Wessely, editor of the anthology, contacted Jo and me with the idea of collaborating on a short story for One Small Step. We (metaphorically) looked at each other, looked at Tehani, and said, “Sure!” After all we’ve been friends for almost a decade now (has it really been this long, Jo?) and have a lot of experience with each other’s work. Even though our styles are different, we have enough common overlap that we could (probably) handle writing a short story together.

It was also the perfect project for collaboration. Neither of us was playing in the other’s sandbox (“hey, want to write a story in my world?” “Er… no.”) nor was our canvas unlimited (“So what shall we write together?” “Uh, I dunno”). We had a theme (discoveries), a form (short story), and a deadline.

So, we got to it.

The Idea

Almost immediately, we ran into some uh… differences in our processes.

Me, I come up with an idea, then run with it. I churn out several pages to see where it’ll go. Sometimes the idea works, sometimes it doesn’t. I have lots of unfinished short stories on my hard drive. I consider them regrettable but expected casualties of my writing process.

Not so with Jo. She isn’t willing to latch on to the first shiny idea that floats by. She wanted to wait for something special, the idea that set her story senses a-tingle.

So we waited for the lightning strike (some of us more patiently than others). A week or so later, Jo emailed me a photo of an old woman huddled in a doorway with an ornate doll next to her. “I think there’s a story in this picture,” she wrote me.

By golly, she was right.

We were both fascinated by this picture and traded speculations back and forth for days. Both of us agreed that dolls were creepy (I kept having flashbacks to Child’s Play). Then I remembered Hinamatsuri, or Dolls’ Day in Japan. We put the two together and I–yes, well I did what’s natural to my style–forged ahead and wrote a bunch of snippets exploring character, plot, and setting.

I think Jo knew I was chomping at the bit, so she let me. We talked over the snippets a lot (and I learned something about Jo: she doesn’t like to write about royalty). Both of us were very excited and creeped out about what we were getting. And I really appreciated Jo’s insistence on digging deep into the idea and taking it from good to great. “Good enough” doesn’t exist in her vocabulary, and it’s a lesson I’m applying to my own writing from now on.

An Aside

I’m going to pause here to mention one very important thing: do not look at a collaboration as something that will save you time. More likely, it won’t. Jo and I could’ve probably written two stories each in the time it took us to write Sand and Seawater.

Think about it this way. When you’re writing your own story, you only have to satisfy two people: You and Your Muse. When you’re writing with someone else, there are two Yous and two Muses, and they all need to be on board. It’s bad enough keeping one pairing happy, but two…!

(Oh, and apparently, our Muses have some telepathic connection that doesn’t go through us. Now that is also creepy.)

The Actual Writing!

All right, so once we were happy with our ideas, we started writing! Luckily for us, there were two POVs, so Jo took the doll and I took the old woman. We alternated scenes, and I noticed a style difference right away. My scenes sprawl, while Jo writes tighter. Once we hammered out the plot and nailed the climax, we each went through to cut out redundant material and tighten everything up. (I may be a first-draft sprawler but I’m ruthless when wielding a red pen).

A fitting concluding scene took us a bit of back-and-forth, but I think, again, we nailed it.

Checklist For Success

I would call this a very successful collaboration. Not only did we sell the story, but:

  • We are both very proud and pleased with it.
  • This is a story that neither of us would’ve come up with on our own.
  • And–most importantly–we’re still friends. And we both see this experience as a net positive, not something to be quietly shoved into a closet and never ever done again. We’re both too much of loners to do a lot of collaboration, but who knows? In the future you might be seeing more work with both our names on it. *is deliberately vague and mysterious*

Jo has her own thoughts about our collaborative experience here (link might not work until later in the day, since she’s already gone to bed). Update: Link works!

Have you collaborated? Share your experiences!

tell me about deserts

It’s been a long time since I’ve lived in a hot climate (over ten years now). And even when I did, my experience was of a coastal urban environment.

Right now I’m writing a story set in a desert.

I’ve read up on real-life deserts. I’ve looked at dozens of pictures of sand dunes, barren hills and salt flats. I’ve watched videos.

But none of those gives me the sensory details I crave. What does the desert smell like? How does the wind feel on your face? What’s the light like? What sounds do you hear in the desert night?

Since I can’t just hop on a plane for some first-hand research (I wish!), I’m asking for details from some of you who might’ve experienced a desert environment. If you live in, or have visited, the American Southwest (like the Death Valley area) or any other hot desert, I’d love to know some sensory details that’ll bring the setting to life for me.

behind-the-scenes sunday

Oops. I didn’t get around to planning, writing and scheduling posts for this week. Life has been busy of late, but in a good way. So, let’s go behind the scenes and see what I’ve been up to lately.

Homeschooling

We went back to school after a week’s vacation. That required planning on my part, some of which included:

  • Find copywork sentences and passages for the olders
  • Correcting school work and ordering new workbooks as needed (math for Sir I., spelling for Miss M., phonics for the Baron)
  • Looking over the next few history chapters, picking supplementary books, and checking them out from the library
  • Choosing which science topics to cover and gathering supplies for experiments (current list includes cream of tartar, a head of red cabbage, and graduated measuring cylinders!)

And then there’s actual school time, which takes up all of the morning and an hour or so in the afternoon.

Writing

Folks, I’ve been struggling through Ironhand (working title of the Mourning Cloak sequel).

I’m a weird breed of fantasy writer. Barring a set of loosely-related short stories featuring the same character, I’ve never written a sequel. None. Zilch. Nada.

And I realized that I’m terrified of sequels. Yes, I would rather build a whole new world and bring a whole new set of characters to life than write a sequel.

Sequels come with baggage. Other people’s expectations.  The sinking feeling that you might’ve broken the story. The duh moment that you wished you’d added that one detail in book one that would’ve set everything up so well for book two. The feeling that you’re writing yourself into a corner and you can’t do a darn thing about it because the first book is already published!

Working on Ironhand was like being a rabbit running away from a big scary dog.

It wasn’t pretty. One should not get that anxious and sweaty-palmed over a scene in which characters aren’t even being attacked.

So I took some time out to write a very short story, and a few nights ago the right brain and I had a little talk. In which right brain handed me some ideas for how to finish up the Kato/Flutter story in one novella, gave me some truly scary monsters, and some helpful plot guideposts along the way.

I’m calmer now.

In other writerly news, I’ve started a fantasy novel about a girl and a pegasus for 6yo Miss M. and a sci-fi collaboration with 8yo Sir I.

O.o

Yeah, that was my reaction, too.

This and That

Things are happening with the Quartz serial! I went through the novel and divided it up into 90 episodes. I’ve polished, proofread and stuck the first four into WordPress. My tech people and I are working on figuring out how to integrate the serial into my site (current plan is to give it its own page and RSS feed). A weekly episode will run on Tuesdays, with Saturdays open for a bonus episodes (at $5 each).

I also have a very tentative production schedule for this year (always subject to change), but it includes Ironhand, a follow-up anthology to Shattered, the completion of a Kai’s book that is sitting (still) at 80K, and a Snow White-inspired novella with electricpunk elements (and no, I don’t know if electricpunk is really a word).

 

How about you? What projects are you working on?

dragons I have known

When I first started writing fantasy, I swore that I would never ever include something so cliched, so stale, so overdone, as a dragon.

Riiight.

Whether I wanted them or not, dragons crept or stormed into my fiction anyway.

The sleeping dragon whose awakening would restart an ancient war. The cultured dragon who likes books and foreign travel. The continent-sized space dragon whose skeleton is home to humans and humanoid species.

And these are all in some way influenced by the dragons I have known, and fall in one of the categories below:

Force of Nature/Actively Evil

The dragons of Western literature dragons are seen as forces of nature–like a destructive storm–or actively evil. These are the dragons that Beowulf and St. George battle. These are the dragons from the movie Reign of Fire. The ones that are intelligent as well as malevolent are the most compelling and frightening of all–from Smaug in The Hobbit to the transformed Maleficent in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

Loyal Companions

Two words: Pernese dragons.

Admit it, you were thinking about Pernese dragons too when you saw the “Loyal Companions” heading

These telepathic dragons are genetically engineered to bond with human riders and fight Thread. They are sentient, but they are also totally, irrevocably loyal to and protective of their riders. These dragons fulfill a powerful human fantasy to command the utter devotion of such fearsome beasts.

They’re also from my grown-up perspective, a little boring. (I wonder what would happen if a genetic mutant in that sort of world didn’t bond with a human, didn’t die from lack of such bond, and grew up wondering what made humans so special that dragons had to obey them?).

Cute and Cuddly

These abound in children’s books, from the little kitten-sized dragon in There’s No Such Thing As a Dragon to the three, darling troublemakers in Good Night, Good Knight.

See, dragons just want to be cuddled and petted. Hmm, also sounds like Pernese fire lizards.

Very cute story. And look at those adorable little dragonlings!

Just Like Us

They may have sharp teeth and be overfond of princesses and sparkly stuff, but they are like us. They talk, they give dinner parties, they form governments. They argue and form alliances. Some of them are inquisitive and question everything. Others would rather read poetry than fight. They are easy to identify with.

Who are your favorite dragons? Any dragon categories I might’ve missed?

weird worlds in fantasy and science fiction

I love weird worlds. Tempt me with a clockwork universe, a planet with two suns, or a moving city. Immerse me in the details of how life works in such a bizarre place. Entrance me with your imagination.

Give me a weird world, and I’m halfway there for your book.

Some of my favorite strange worlds are:

Upon Another Living Creature

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld rests on the back of four elephants which stand upon the shell of Great A’Tuin, the cosmic turtle. In Martha Wells’ The Serpent Sea, a large part of the action takes place in a city built upon the back of a sea creature magically compelled to swim at the water’s surface (and you can just tell what would happen if that compulsion failed, can’t you?). In Leviathan, Derryn Sharp is a midshipman on a living airship engineered from a blue whale, with its own ecosystem of flachette bats, strafing hawks, hydrogen-sniffing canines, and many other (fun!) creatures.

Non-Earth-like Planets

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Green Mars (second in the trilogy) has delightful sections on the terraforming of Mars and the creation of colonies on other planets and moons. A giant umbrella shades Venus. The human settlement on Mercury is on a moving train. Denizens of the moons around the gas giants genetically alter themselves to survive the environment.

Life on the Edge

Living in extreme yet Earth-like environments also works for me. Kat Falls’ Dark Life takes place on Earth–but in human settlements built undersea. Brandon Sanderson’s world of Roshar is battered by massive storms and much of the natural life, including botanical, is able to retreat into shells.

In the Air

Flying cities show up in games, movies, and books. From Skies of Arcadia to Studio Ghibli’s Castle in the Sky to The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier, habitats in the air are toe-curlingly wonderful to this reader.

Build Your World

Some habitats, notably in science fiction, are entirely man-made. Space stations and generation star ships are good examples. An interesting megastructure is Larry Niven’s Ringworld, an artificial ring orbiting around a star like our own sun.

 

Weird worlds also creep into my writing. The world of Quartz is a disc in a mechanical universe. The world of Riven is folded, like a paper fan. And in Rainbird, an entire community lives upon the skeleton of a continent-sized dragon.

What are your favorite weird worlds and environments, in fiction and out of it?

more on science fantasy: language and vocabulary

Sorry that this is a day late! Instead of cleaning up the rough draft of this last night, I worked on my fiction. Which only goes to show that I have my priorities straight, right?

Last week’s post on defining science fantasy (and the subsequent discussion) had me pondering more on the differences between science fiction and fantasy. This week, I want to focus on one aspect of those differences–the language and vocabulary of the two genres.

Fantasy is rooted in the past, and often draws inspiration from historical Earth cultures and societies. The literary traditions in fantasy novels often take the form of mythology, religious and prophetic texts, epic poetry, and song.

The vocabulary of science fiction, on the other hand, is drawn from the modern age, reflecting the huge leaps in technological and scientific progress. It’s unlikely that you’ll find epic poetry in science fiction; instead, you’ll find lines of code, snippets from scientific lectures and academic texts, extracts from instruction manuals, and transcripts of video and audio recordings.

So, even if science fiction and fantasy concern themselves with the same themes, they’ll use different language to do so. Take, for example, encounters with non-human sentient races. Fantasy draws its races from mythology and folklore, populating the world with elves, dwarves, dragon and sea monsters. Their origins are explained through myth and folklore. Science fiction has its aliens, but these are described in terms of their evolution and adaptation to their natural habitats.

Clarke famously said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. I’m currently reading Michio Kaku’s Physics of the Future, and his predicted technology looks an awful lot like magic. While the effects of technology and magic might be similar, fantasy and science fiction employ different vocabulary to describe their use. Fantasy’s mages are science fiction’s genius physicists. Witches and wizards create portals between worlds, while space ships cross interstellar distances using FTL drives, hyperspace, and wormholes. The magically gifted might mind-speak to each other across fantasy continents; ordinary people take advantage of advanced communications to do the same in science fiction.

The processes of magic and technology also differ. A wizard’s workshop is often at the top of his lonely tower, and he makes magic by using arcane language and ritualistic gestures, maybe aided by mysterious bronze instruments and jars of dragon liver pickled at the dark of the moon. A scientist, though, is one cog in an industrial-military machine. Her lab is of steel and glass and plastic. Robotic arms and computer screens are the way she interacts with what she’s attempting to change. The end results may be the same–say, creating a whole new species–but the vocabulary used is not.

What happens when the terminology and processes of one genre creeps into the other? A mage might manipulate matter by knowing the True Names of objects or seeing a pattern of living energy. But when a mage manipulates matter by moving subatomic particles around with her mind, as in Jo Anderton’s Veiled Worlds trilogy, your fantasy just got a little bit more science-fictional.

Similarly, when you use a mystical, unmeasurable energy like the Force in your spaceships-and-guns science fiction universe (and follow that up with swords, robes, and prophecies) you’re dangling your feet in the shallows of fantasy.

This crossover of language between science fiction and fantasy is what leads me to characterize some of my work as science fantasy. I have no problem with science and magic running parallel through my worlds. Ward magic exists alongside reality-altering radioactive elements. New species are created through a hybrid process that uses magic and genetic engineering. And I like being able to use precise technical language even in my heavily fantasy-skewed worlds. I like calling an atom an atom.

Do you find the language of science fiction and fantasy to be different? What about sub-genres like steampunk and urban fantasy? Do they fit right into the middle of the spectrum where the lines between science fiction and fantasy blur?

are you my genre? on defining science fantasy

There is no doubt that I write fantasy. The whole secondary-world settings kinda give that away.

The trouble starts when I try to narrow my work into a sub-genre.

My stories don’t have the scale and scope of epic fantasy. They don’t have the the coming-of-age themes or adventures of heroic fantasy. I stay away from writing in a historical or alternate Earth setting, so those genres of fantasy (including steampunk) are out. Some of my work is obviously based on fairy tales, but a large part is not. YA fantasy is a nice catch-all, but my protagonists are mostly older and I write with an adult audience in mind.

But, Rabia, why not call your genre traditional fantasy and be done with it?

Well, see, that’s what I started writing, way back when. My first novel was set in a pseudo-medieval world, with its attendant attitudes and technology. But since that book, my worlds have become more modern. They feature indoor plumbing and firearms, trams and trains, elevators and radios. My societies perform great feats of science and engineering, whether its using a radioactive element to punch portals into other worlds or hanging an artificial sun on a track made from the skeletal remains of a cosmic dragon. I have magic in my worlds, but my sorcerers are just as likely to be scientists as they perform genetic experiments and create mechanical constructs.

And not only that, but I have a fixation with what goes on in high above the ground. My first novel featured a sorcerer-made flying fortress. I love to deprive worlds of their suns and create weird universes. The back stories of many of my races has them traveling from other planets. Events on my worlds are affected by what comes from the sky, whether it’s space dust or the aforementioned cosmic dragons.

You could blame all this on too many episodes of The Universe. But truth is, science fiction elements have always crept into my stories and woven themselves into the background.

Can it be that I’m really writing science fantasy?

Turns out that it’s not too easy to define what science fantasy is. It’s a fluid genre with fuzzy boundaries. Often it looks to be straightforward fantasy, with the science fiction elements so well-hidden that they come out either in later books or in bonus material. Or it might look like science fiction until the elves and dwarves show up.

Take for example, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern book. The first book, Dragonflight, has a pseudo-medieval and low-technology setting that is familiar to readers of traditional fantasy. It contains dragons, another classic fantasy element. Yet the threat to Pernese society comes not from Dark Lords rising from their underground tombs, but in the form of Thread falling from the skies when the Red Planet draws near to Pern.  In later books we learn that the dragons were genetically engineered to fight Thread and that the Pernese people can trace their origins back to our Earth.

The Star Wars movies are often classified as science fantasy, and I can see why. When you take fantasy conventions (princesses, a brotherhood of mage-monks with arcane powers, swords–even if they are made out of lasers and called sabers) and plunk them into a universe with spaceships, firearms, and tanks, you’re blending the two genres. I think one could even put Cameron’s Avatar in the same sub-genre.

I love both science (chemistry and anything space-related) and the humanities (literature and history). When I write science fantasy, I’m free to draw inspiration from both these wells. And that makes for a happier writer and better stories.

Do you read or write science fantasy? Do you have any other examples of the genre? How would you define it?