Thursday, July 31, 2014

SF genres: where do I fit in?

mixing it up in SF genres
One of the really difficult things I have found about writing SF is that there are so many subgenres. I have been doing research so I can be certain which one(s) I fall into.

After reviewing the various sites that explain SF subgenres, I sat down to list the qualities that exist in my Students of Jump series: 
  • time travel 
  • crisis of character 
  • interpersonal relationships 
  • alternate history 
  • family dynasty 
  • Retro Futurism: I write in a style I remember from my days of reading science fiction as a preteen and teenager, and apparently they have a name for that. 
  • strong female characters 
  • light romance 
  • genetic engineering
  • artificial intelligence 
  • soft science

I found a pretty good list at SciFi Lists.  The explanations were brief but adequate enough to help me decide if my work fit in the category.  

My intention for looking into the subgenres was to make sure I was tagging mine correctly.  After all, I don't want to have people searching for novels in the style I write and have mine slipping by them because I have used tags that don't describe my work well.

I found three that seemed to cover my series: time travel, alternate history and artificial intelligence under the umbrella of Retro Futurism.  Three of these tags I need to add to my books.
Now I am not certain I fit under Retro Futurism, but I do know I was heavily influenced by the writers that it is named for: Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury, Anderson, Savage, the list goes on. I've read plenty of Crichton, Pohl, Niven, Pournelle, and Norton, but I don't feel they influenced me as much.

How did you decide what genre best described you?  Did you look at what authors influenced you, what you read, make a list like I did or some other means to select what best covered your work?


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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Regional word choice: would you rather a frappe or a cabinet?

Not just plants are regional: words, too.
I moved all over the place when I was a kid, and I collected words and differences in pronunciation of words like most kids collected bubble gum trading cards.

Milkshake, cabinet, frappe

Even though these words reference the same thing, each brings a different feel to the image. When I think of a frappe being served at my table, the imagined tall glass of white is full of lumpy froth at the top with condensation on the glass so thick it is opaque, and the only places where I can see the milky fluid is where the fingertips of the waitress touched.  And the container is cold, and I cannot view it as any color other than white, with the smell of vanilla beans thick in the breath I take before slurping in the first taste of half air half tantalizing sponginess that sounds like distant firecrackers as the tiny bubbles pop against my lips. 

Tennis shoe, sneaker

I wore sneakers into my teens.  When I first heard there were shoes called tennis shoes, I thought I had to play tennis to wear them.

route: route (root) or route (rout)

Don't ask me for directions unless you are prepared to hear me switch back and forth in my pronunciation of this word and not even know I am doing it.

aunt: aunt (ant) or aunt (awnt) or aunt (tante)

I only used the first two of this one.  I had two aunts, one on each coast.  I met them when I was a child.  I thought saying Aunt (ant) Sue and Aunt (awnt) Peg was just a case of that being their names, similar to Sally Ann or Jim Bob. Later I understood that they resided on different coasts and geography made all the difference.

submarine sandwich, hoagie, grinder, sub, Italian, hero, wedge

I can still remember when my family was moving from Massachusetts to New Jersey.  We had been traveling for what seemed like all day, and we went into one shop to get something to eat.  I looked at the menu and had no idea what they were offering.  I wanted a submarine sandwich, but there were none listed.  Would a hoagie taste good?  I was about 12 years old and thought this was probably the only place in the US silly enough to call them hoagies.

purse, pocketbook, bag, handbag

This one still gets me in trouble.  I say pocketbook and my students give me blank looks. They trust that I know what I am talking about, but they don't know what I am talking about.

toilet, john, head, loo, porcelain pony, commode

I only came across the first three of these in my travels.  Toilet is my word of choice, but recently my husband was explaining what a room in the house we are building was and said "commode."  My daughter looked at me unsure of what we were putting in the house. So I had to explain.

The second one I am very familiar with, but "john" is one I just can't use.  Both my grandfathers were named John, my brother and my father.  But my mom thought it was quite funny to say things like, "John is in the john" or "We have several johns, are you looking to talk or use?"  My dad was a Navy man, and when out on the ocean fishing, he always said "head" but never in the house.  And he never referred to a toilet as a john.

What makes word choice so important? It adds characterization and settings if you are picking a specific region for your story. What regional words have you noted?  Do you know the reason behind their use?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Seeking the perfect junction: crossing the gap between what is written & what is read

Readers need to connect the content to their own lives.
Recently I was reading Jane Eyre.  The narrator and main character Jane was describing a view of Rochester seated alone in a darkened room, and suddenly I was transported back about ten years and the memory of walking into my father’s office to see him seated at his desk, quiet, lost in thought, came quickly to mind. 

My father had lost much of his vision, which for a man who loved to read and tinker with electronics in his retirement was tragic.  He did not know I had entered, so for just that brief moment I saw how disappointed he was in his situation.   One of his hands reached to run fingers over his watch and prompt it to tell him the time. A magnifying glass mounted on an articulating arm was close to his face, and just inches beneath the glass a second magnifying glass hung. 

Of course, as soon as he was aware I was there, his whole countenance changed to one of pleasure and good cheer.  He joked, worked hard to track my movements with his eyes, told me how much I looked like his father, but I knew I was mostly blur for him.  His once lovely penmanship was a broken scrawl, and the confidence at which he moved about the house or located things was because he had memorized where everything was and was precise in keeping each to its proper place.

Moved by this memory of my father, I could not but be moved by poor Rochester's fate.  This is how writers connect their work to their readers.  They strike a chord that links to some piece of our lives, one we have or one we wish we had, as well as those we wish we didn't. 

My beta reader, Marcy Peska, read the first book in my series Students of Jump (In Times Passed).  In her notes on my draft, she would comment on what a scene triggered in her or how a piece of dialogue caught her attention.  At one point halfway through the novel, she had written in a note "Nooo, I did not see this coming. I have to break away."  Then the note continued explaining that she had needed to stop for a "mini-meltdown."  Marcy had been immersed in the scene and what occurred had caught her up so emotionally, she could not go on reading without some distance to recover her equilibrium.  She loved the scene and hated it at the same time because it had bridged the gap between the text and the imagination.  Goal achieved.  It was a tough scene to write and tough to read, which was precisely what I was going for.

Rochester's injuries had that effect on me.  I hated seeing my father that way, but because of the quality of Bronte's writing, I could imagine what Rochester must look like and what Jane must be feeling. The scene was real to me. I had sympathy for both characters, and the scene was authentic because it bridged the two events: fiction and reality.

This is the challenge of every writer and the need that every reader wants filled.  We want to connect, to find some essence of our own experience that draws us into the scene.  The writer must still supply well-written dialogue, description, imagery, finely drawn characters, etc., but what is most vital is that the reader have a way to travel the created moment with a sense of familiarity and originality combined.

What work of fiction or biography caught you, the reader, in such a moment?  Please share that moment of connectiveness, the author, text scene.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Reading the Heinlein Biography, part 2: the writer's personhood

My previous post on William H. Patterson, Jr.'s, Heinlein biography focused on what I learned about the writing business.  But that wasn't all I gained from the reading.  In many ways, Heinlein's life provided general rules to live by as a writer and a person.
  • Take care of your mortality: physical health, mental health, diet and process of aging.  Heinlein had numerous health problems. And he was immediate about making change to improve his chances of continuing doing what he loved: writing.  So he changed his diet to deal with his many allergies, changed his diet again to deal with his heart health. He studied a variety of mental viewpoints to find a strong way to approach life positively and honestly (self-honesty in particular). He wanted to live a whole lot longer than he did, but considering what he had to battle, he lived a whole lot longer than expected.
  • Maintain and foster friendships inside and outside the field of writing.  Heinlein kept his Navy friends, childhood friends, and writer friends as part of his life no matter what changes were going on.  He moved every few years for various reasons and made close friendships with neighbors and maintained those from his previous residences.  I noticed that Heinlein was also slow to let go of a troubling friendship.  He wanted to be certain that he was taking the friendship as it came, not molding it into some prerequisite construct.  He seemed to dislike a great deal having to cut off a friendship and was willing to reassess if it appeared the person had changed.
  • Travel: He was interested in other cultures and enjoyed experiencing new viewpoints and lifestyles. I got the impression he did not want to get his information from books.  He wanted to see it for himself, talk to people, see the worst and the best in their countries.  I haven't been too many places: Mexico, Canada and Sweden, but each offered me different outlooks on life that I came to embrace.  I have been all over the US, which has offered quite a bit of difference in diet, interpersonal communication between sexes and personal philosophy. Travel and exposure to variety is a growing experience as a person and a writer.
  • Stand up for yourself.  Heinlein had to deal with plagiarism in writing, TV and movie production.  There were times he had to fight for his rights (The Puppet Masters) and times he had to clarify a point, less the legal applications (The Rolling Stones vs. Star Trek's "Trouble with Tribbles").
  • Work to aid humanity. Aside from his political endeavors and his efforts to encourage education in the sciences in his juvenile (YA) books, I think Heinlein was most pleased with the work he did in blood drives, especially as it related to rare bloods.  I had not been aware of all his work in this area and was much impressed with his effort to improve participation and increase availability of rare blood. There is a platform for each of us, small or large that can bring positive change.
  • Make friends with your agent, editors, etc.  Much of his communications in the biography came from his interactions and friendships with those involved in the publication of his novels, stories and essays.  I think often we think of the publishing world as a necessary enemy.  Heinlein built lifelong friendships with many of his contacts.
  • Keep family close and value them.  Heinlein was not a "I remember you when" kind of writer.  His friends prior to writing and his family were important to him.  Sometimes it seems that the writer is assumed to separate him or herself from the family as if such contact will ruin the muse.  Stay close.  It is from family that we grow into who we are and gain our greatest strengths.
  • Be responsible for your self and your family.  When Heinlein's mother needed to go into a nursing home, it occurred when he had the money to maintain her care.  His sister had been the main caretaker for many years, and he was ready when the responsibility needed to be moved. He volunteered to be the main provider taking the financial burden off his siblings when it was a struggle for them, and he was able to carry it.
  • Recognize your own belief system and be tolerant of others. Heinlein had strong beliefs, , but he seemed to be willing to accept a variety of differences as a natural right. He did draw the line at love of country,  patriotism.
  • Use your medium to teach and challenge your readers.  Heinlein advocated patriotism, blood drives, right to bear arms, education, sexual equality (but give him some latitude, he was born in 1907), racial equality, and a variety of political viewpoints.  As with everyone, as he aged, his beliefs evolved, some growing stronger, others altering based on society, new experiences, research and personal evaluation.  He had an agenda, two main ones: make his readers think and entertain them.
What author has helped your grow as a person?  What about them strengthens your resolve, provides focus or motivation?

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Smashwords eBook Summer Sale:

I am pretty excited because I have put Book 1 of the Students of Jump series (In Times Passed) in for a coupon for 100% off (SW100), so if you want to try out the series, now is the best time!


 See all my trailers for the Students of Jump  series on my Book Trailers tab above.

Book 2 (No-Time like the Present) is set for 50% (SSW50) along with my anthology Gardens in the Cracks & Other Stories and my non-fiction The Little Handbook of Narrative Frameworks.




Book 3 (Next Time We Meet) is slated for publication at the end of July 2014, so any time in the next two weeks.  Wish I could get it out sooner for this sale.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Reading the Heinlein biography, part 1: an immersion in the writing process

I have been a fan of Heinlein's for more than forty years.  When he was alive, I watched constantly for his next publication, and I have read nearly everything he has written and a great deal of what has been written about his work.  Learning only recently that there was an official biography about him leaves me rather late in following up my past diligence, but I am glad I didn't find these two volumes by William H. Patterson, Jr., until this month.  Now was the time for me to read about Heinlein's writing experience and process. 

I learned so much more about writing and my favorite author reading these texts. I found numerous levels of understanding about the process, organization and publication of writing, working with agents and editors and publishing in general (though, of course, there have been changes, the human element should not have altered much).  There was also the personal element of being a writer, champion of ideas and role model that was just as provocative and informative, but that will be for another post.

Below is a list of what I found important to Heinlein's process, important to any writer's effort to write well.

  • Use index cards to organize and maintain ideas. Sure there are numerous electronic organizers, but I like the inspiration that comes from being able to shuffle, redistribute and overlap ideas on a 3x5.  I am definitely going to work with this approach. Heinlein used index cards to jot down ideas and even carried them around with him when working on a story. When enough ideas started to come together, they were kept in a group, and he would refer back or add to them as his story grew.  The system gained structure as his ideas and completed writing grew.  So they (his wife Virginia Heinlein came up with his indexing structure) set up a filing system that categorized the ideas and identified each published or work in progress.  Each book or WIP acquired its own indexing number. I am going to use his system to build one that will work for me.
  • Gather research: he was constantly researching science, technology, engineering, etc., to ensure accuracy in his writing.  I do research, but I think I need to develop this process more and in a less isolated manner – both broad and deep so there is more overlap and more connections built and therefore more material for writing. 
  • Read up on a lot of topics: Heinlein was not afraid to read a tome far above his level of understanding. He was known to seek out specialists in his field of interest and have them teach him what he needed to know so he could understand in-depth writing in the field he was curious about. This is an area I need to work on. 
  • Gather a cadre of authorities to tap. No explanation needed here. 
  •  Let ideas stew, even for years.  Some books half written sat around waiting for the right idea, the new understanding or experience before they were ready to be completed.  He fought for every piece he wrote to get to its end, but he also was ready to recognize when something just was not ready for prime time. 
  •  Have an overall plan for a book.  For some writers this is not a useful tidbit. But for me it is. I realize more and more that I am playing catchup with my stories about two thirds through.  I knew where I wanted to start and where I thought it would end.  I often have a set of events I expect to fill the middle with on the way to start and finish, but I realize at that 2/3rds point that I failed to consider the reader interaction that goes with the connecting of these two points.  I think that is what that overall plan means to me.  I need to have the bones organized earlier for my books.  Even if I deviate in the process of writing, I will have still worked out much of what the intercourse will be between the story and the reader that is essential. 
  •  Use mythologies and connecting images or principals in a work.  The underlying pieces are so essential.   Heinlein would work out what mythology or images he wanted to imbed in his stories to link events and ideas together within a work.
  •  Making use of personal experience. I suppose this falls under "write about what you know," but I think it is deeper than this, and I think writers naturally incorporate their own accumulated bundle of tragedy, comedy and drama. We all can take an experience and pick out the magic pieces that add depth and authenticity to our work. 
  •  The benefit of a participating spouse: providing ideas and feedback and being a resource of information.  Heinlein was fortunate that both ex-wife Leslyn Heinlein and his wife Virginia Heinlein were willing to be a part of his writing process and business. Not all writers have a spouse who is willing to provide this deep of a commitment. Mine hits at about the 5 percent when it comes to involvement, but he is tremendously supportive. He uses the word "work" when he asks what I am doing as I am typing on the computer.  He'll say, "Is that for school or are you working?"  I love that. And he's growing in this area.  After all, he is the one that made sure the plans for our house included an office for me. 
  •  Reading inside and outside your genre.  Heinlein kept up on both scientific writings as well as contemporary fiction.  He believed it advanced his writing quite a bit and resulted in his hybrid Science Fiction style which ultimately changed the scope of the genre. I write also contemporary short story and poetry, read for pleasure and read for study, but I could still enlarge on this. (I read three biographies in the last month, and that is more of that genre than I normally read in a year.) 
  •  Don't be afraid and even seek to write something different, challenging or disruptive.  Several of Heinlein's works, according to his bio, he did not expect to be accepted for publication. They were just too different:  Stranger in a Strange Land, Time Enough for Love, and Number of the Beast. But they were accepted and each were met with near instant success. 
  •  Don't be afraid to create your own genre. Heinlein moved away from the strict confines of what constituted Science Fiction. (What was new and different in his time is very much the norm of our own.) 
  •  Submit to small presses and lower-end magazines to begin with. Submit?! Okay, I am working up to this. There is a time commitment here because of the research, selection process and keeping track of what is out and where it has been. I am going to squeeze it in. I promised myself and I am going to do it. So Submit! 
  •  Submit repeatedly and continuously. Since we're on the subject, Heinlein just kept things heading out the door until it found a buyer. Just keep flinging them off the merry-go-round until they land on their feet. 
  •  Take all criticism under consideration and follow what feels right.  I like this especially about Heinlein.  His stories had to meet his internal critic and his external (spouse).  Once it passed those two road blocks, he fought for it.  He took criticism that would make a work better but routinely refused to castrate or turn a work into weak milk. None of my current work is a challenge to society being largely written for entertainment, so this mandate does not apply too heavily to my work. But should I write something that pulls hair, I won't let myself be forced to back down in order to keep a segment of society from having to take off their rose-colored glasses. 
  •  Join groups that augment or support your genre/subject/intentions.  Heinlein wasn't much for writing groups, but he did form his own quasi-feedback groups.  Lucky stiff, he had Pohl, Azimov, Savage, the Smiths, Bova, the Sturgeons etc. They talked shop, shared ideas, helped develop plots, kept each other informed of new technology and writing aids.  Heinlein once bought another writer a typewriter because he felt it had been such an aid to lightening up his work load and time spent in production. 
  •  Keep organized files and sift through them.  This is much related to an earlier point, but the reason why it is separate is that one must do more than just organize the works and ideas.  You must review them, add and combine.  If they sit in a drawer than all they will ever do is sit in a drawer.