Sunday, 31 January 2010

Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Coming in March 2010

Hardcover:

Not Less Than Gods - Kage Baker
Forgotten Realms: Avenger - Richard Baker
Shalador's Lady - Anne Bishop
Spellwright - Blake Charlton
Warriors - Gardner Dozois, Ed.
The Long Man - Steve Englehart
A Magic of Dawn - S. F. Farrell
The Crucible of Empire - Eric Flint
The Midnight Mayor - Kate Griffin
Secrets of the Fire Sea - Stephen Hunt
Pinion - Jay Lake
Divine Misfortune - A. Lee Matinez
The River Kings' Road - Liane Merciel
Oath of Fealty - Elizabeth Moon
The Dream of Perpetual Motion - Dexter Palmer
Watch - Robert Sawyer
West of the Mountains, East of the Sea - Brian Silbey
The Collected Works of Clark Ashton Smith, vol. 5 - Clark Ashton Smith
He Walked Among Us - Norman Spinrad
Coyote Destiny - Allen Steele
The Trade of Queens - Charles Stross
Cholly & Flytrap: Center City - Arthur Suydam
Reincarnations - Harry Turtledove
City of Night - Michelle West
Shadowrise - Tad Williams
Sorcerer's House - Gene Wolfe

Trade Paperback:

Werewolf Smackdown - Mario Acevedo
Elves: Once Walked With Gods - James Barclay
Star Trek: Seven Deadly Sins - Margaret Clark
Cinkarion: The Heart of Fire - J.A. Cullum
The Mystery of Grace - Charles de Lint
Geosynchron - David Edelman
The Point Man - Steve Englehart
Riverworld Omnibus - Philip Jose Farmer
Deep in the Woods - Chris Green
The War of the Dwarves - Markus Heitz
Battle of the Network Zombies - Mark Henry
Bound in Blood - P.C. Hodgell
The Journey - Gary Jennings
Ancient Shadows - William Jones, Ed.
Hell Can Wait - Theodore Judson
Parasheres 2: Extending Beyond the Spheres of Literary & Genre Fiction - Ken Keegan & Rusty Morrison
Mind Over Ship - David Marusek
Gardens of the Sun - Paul McAuley
Succubus Shadows - Rachelle Mead
Hawkmoon: The Mad God's Amulet - Michael Moorcock
Starplex - Robert Sawyer
Full Moon City - Darrell Schweitzer
The Last Man - Mary Shelley
Petrodor - Joel Shepherd
The World Inside - Robert Silverberg
Where Angels Fear to Tread - Thomas Sniegoski
Dragon Lance: Raistlin Chronicles - Margaret Weis & Don Perrin
And Falling, Fly - Skyler White
The Stories of Ibis - Hiroshi Yamomoto

Mass Market Paperback:

Before They are Hanged - Joe Abercrombie
War Hammer 40K: the Lost - Dan Abnett
War Hammer 40K: Prospero - Dan Abnett
The Stoneholding - James Anderson & Mark Sebanc
War Games - Christopher Anvil
Never Cry Wolf - L.A. Banks
Master of None - Sonya Bateman
Weaver - Stephen Baxter
Embers - Laura Bickle
The Shadow Queen - Anne Bishop
The Devil's Playground - Jenna Black
Ghostlight - Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Warded Man - Peter Brett
Silver Borne - Patricia Briggs
Turn Coat - Jim Butcher
Mind Games - Carolyn Crane
A Grey Moon Over China - Thomas Day
The New Space Opera 2 - Gardner Dozois, Ed.
Traitors' Gate - Kate Elliott
Night of Knives - Ian Esslemont
A Magic of Nightfall - S.F. Farrell
Slow Train to Arcturus - Eric Flint & Dave Freer
Timeshares - Martin Greenberg & Jean Rabe, Ed.
Key to Justice - Talia Gryphon
The Temporal Void - Peter Hamilton
Ex-Kop - Warren Hammond
Dead & Gone - Charlaine Harris
Conan the Magnificent - Robert Jordan
The Last Stormlord - Glenda Larke
War Hammer: Nagesh the Unbroken - Mike Lee
Nine Gates - Jane Lindskold
A Local Habitation - Seanan McGuire
Corambis - Sarah Monette
Escape From Hell - Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
Mortal Coils - Eric Nylund
Warbreaker - Brandon Sanderson
Wake - Robert Sawyer
Salute the Dark - Adrian Tchaikovsky
Roadkill - Rob Thurman
Born to be Wild - Christine Warren
Fifth Harmonic - F. Paul Wilson
Soldier of Sidon - Gene Wolfe
Eberron: Dragon War - James Wyatt
War Hammer 40K: Flesh & Iron - Henry Zou

Bad Apple - Stop Motion PV

This is a cool animated short that will appeal to anime lovers as well and those who like shadow pictures. I found it on DJcream13's youtube site, who got it from nicovideo.jp

Dogbert sqeeze toy & dancing 'robot'

The Human Resource Professional trade show ended well, and I got two more fun pieces of 'swag'. The first is a Dogbert squeeze toy (they had the other main characters but I was trying to not be greedy). I can't remember which booth I picked it up at, but the name stamped on his feet say Parle, which seems to fit as they're advertising the squeeze toys on their website. I must say, they're a fun form of business promotion. (Their website refers you to Amazon.com to buy them, but I could only find Dilbert, and with the search term 'toy' rather than 'squeeze'.)

The other neat thing I got was from the Taleo booth. It's a dancing 'robot'. I thought it looked cute.
video

Thursday, 28 January 2010

The coolest 'freebie' I've seen in a long time.

I haven't had the chance to post anything before now this week because I've been working the HRPA (Human Resources Professionals Association) Conference. The WBB acts as their bookstore for the 3 days of the tradeshow.

There are always interesting giveaway items at the HRPA. One of the best I've ever seen however, is this, a desk caddy by Universal Links. "Smooth PVC Leatherette Contains two 3” x 2” and two 2” x 1.5” sticky pads and eight neon coloured stick note flags. Two-sided 2009/2010 calendar."

The one I got from the Renascent booth had promotional material rather than a calendar, but it's awesome nonetheless.

After the show ends I'll have time to review some of the books I've read on the bus & subway as well as a few movies I've seen lately.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Broken - By Stefan Voigt

If you've got red/blue 3D glasses, put them on to watch this amazing animated short. (If you don't there's a normal, non 3D, version on his Vimeo page.


Broken - Anaglyph Stereoscopic 3D Version - in HD with NEW SOUNDTRACK and EVEN MORE OPTIMIZED ANAGLYPH! from Stefan Voigt on Vimeo.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Parable of the Sower, Book Review

Parable of the Sower
Octavia Butler
ISBN: 9780446675505

Pros: highly original in that it deals with a society in the midst of collapse (as opposed to being post-apocalyptic), good writing, examines racial issues (realistic portrayal of the diversity of the US population)

Cons: excessive religious overtones (not preachy but close), towards the end some of the relationships seem contrived (given the timeline of the novel and economic conditions)

This is another book I read in university and decided was worth a reread. It's the only novel I've come across that, rather than showing how humanity rebuilds after an apocalypse, shows the gradual collapse of society.

The book is told through journal entries of 15 to 18 year old Lauren Olamina. When the novel begins, she lives in a walled community in California. Conditions are bad - limited food and necessities, paying jobs are hard to come by, multitudes of homeless beg or steal or kill to survive, and pyro (makes setting fires more fun than sex) is becoming the drug of choice.

When a new presidential candidate comes into the oval office things get even worse. One of his policies is "to get laws changed, suspend 'overly restrictive' minimum wage", opening the way for indentured slavery (as the wages new communities offer are not enough to pay for the supplied room and board).

Laruen is working on a new system of belief called Earthseed, and when the walls around her neighbourhood come down, she sees it as an opportunity to start spreading the word.

My complaint about the religion is that it's more of a philosophy. She argues (perhaps rightly) that prayers only helps the one who's praying, "and then, only if they strengthen and focus that person's resolve". Her God, on the other hand, is Change. It "doesn't love me or hate me or watch over me or know me at all, and I feel no love for or loyalty to my God. My God just is." In that case, why have one? Change is an aspect of life. Call it that. Luckily, Butler does stop short of having her character preach to the reader.

Her civilization's collapse is very realistic, citing climate change among other factors. And having a racially mixed cast gives her book a verisimilitude many others lack.

**** SPOILER ALERT ****






One problem I had with the book was the speed with which Lauren forgets the man she's in love with and was planning to marry, and falls in love with another man. She never really grieves the man she left behind (most likely dead) and the man she falls for is old enough to be her father. Their attraction is not adequately explained, especially considering they sleep with each other within a week of meeting, when they still don't trust each other. I can accept that (they're both living through difficult times and humans want physical comfort). What I can't accept is their deciding to marry only a short time later, while constantly learning new things (that they don't necessarily like) about each other. Yes, the future is uncertain, but that doesn't mean you should do stupid things.

On the other hand, so much is happening that I actually had to go back and look at the dates for when they met vs when they agreed to get married. It feels like more time has passed so most people probably won't notice.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Stranger Than Fiction - Movie Review

Most movies nowadays depend on special effects to hold the audience's attention. Stranger Than Fiction has very few special effects. Your attention is held by something else: the writing.

The plot is fairly simple. IRS agent Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) starts hearing a woman's voice correctly narrating aspects of his life. He quickly comes to realize he's a character in someone's fictional story. And the author's going to kill him.

The narration is exquisitely written. The dialogue is sharp and often hilarious. There's no slapstick (which is why I normally avoid Will Ferrell movies). This is verbal humour a la British comedy. And it makes for a great film.

My favourite part is when Harold visits literature professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), who tries to discover what kind of novel Harold is in. Freakin' hilarious!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Grass, Book Review


Grass
Sheri Tepper
ISBN: 9780553762464
Published: 1993

Pros: several complex plot lines that all get resolved satisfactorily, interesting characters that develop over the course of the book, detailed world building - for the planet Grass as well as Earth and the rest of the universe (even though the rest of the universe isn't mentioned much)

Cons: can't think of any

Grass is a novel I read in University. Unlike all the other books I read for my SF/Fantasy class, when this book came into the store I had no recollection of it. I couldn't even remember if I liked it. All I could remember was a vague idea about how one portion of the plot gets resolved.

So I reread Grass as though reading it for the first time. And it is a terrific novel. So much is happening and yet Tepper keeps it all tight, and resolves all the various ends that a lesser author would have left hanging.

Grass is a planet with no reports of plague victims in a universe of worlds dying of the plague.

Lady Marjorie Westriding Yarier and her family are sent by Sanctity, the dominant religion in the universe (though they are old catholics), to see if it really is free of plague, and/or if there is a cure for the plague on the planet. They are chosen because the nobles on Grass ride the hunt, and the Yarier family is good with horses.

Unknown to them, the bons ride Hippae, and the Hippae are not horses. They are malevolent creatures with unknown motivations.

The green brothers live on Grass, digging up the ruins of a civilization that died out centuries before. A race that may have died of the plague.

There are a lot of politics and a lot of revelations you won't be prepared for. It's a creepy novel at some parts, a tragic one at others. It is well worth the read.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

How to Make a Book Trailer

Literary Agent Nathan Bransford's guest blogger, Myrlin A. Hermes, explains how he made his own book trailer for The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet. True, it's not science fiction or fantasy, but the information is interesting and he made a fantastic book trailer. (I laughed, I was intrigued, I may pick up the book in time, when I'm off my SF roll and looking for some historical fiction again.)

Here's the trailer for those of you not interested in heading over to the other blog (it might just change your mind).

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Robert Jackson Bennett - Author Interview

Novel: Mr. Shivers

Website: shufflingandmuttering.blogspot.com/

> What made you want to be a writer?

I can’t remember exactly when I realized this, but when I was a kid and was just starting to read on my own, I started to notice that some stories did something to me. Not all of them did it, only a few. It was sort of like just opening up the hood of a car and poking around in it, rearranging a few gears or so. The change wasn’t always huge, and it wasn’t always a good change, but it was there. I figured that I’d like to do that, maybe, that I could someday reach out and poke people and make them feel the same thing I was feeling, or see the things I saw, if only for a second or two. It seemed like a nice idea.

> In the books you’ve written, who is you favourite character and why?

I’m not going to mention any works in progress, ‘cause that’s cheating, so I’d have to say Connelly, the protagonist of Mr. Shivers. He’s got a watchful inwardness that I find extremely appealing. He’d sit on a hill for days watching what’s in front of him, just figuring out what he wanted to do. And he’s also an extremely wounded creature, something so spiritually marred that he can barely move or speak. Somehow I knew exactly what he’d do, or what he’d say and how he’d say it. He was the easiest thing in the world to write.

> If you could live in your fantasy/sf world, would you? Would you live in somebody else’s?

Oh man, absolutely not. The fantasy world I created is meant mostly as a crucible, something with immense pressures and temperatures so you can put a person in it and see what they’re really made of. Pare them down so you can find out what makes them tick. There’s always that urge to push ourselves to extremes to see what shows up in us, but what if you chose wrong? What if something showed up you didn’t want to know was there? Under the right circumstances, that can happen all too easily.

If I could live in any fantasy world, I suppose Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere would be an interesting place. Sure, there’s a hundred ways you can die, but you can say the same about normal life.


> What was the first novel that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

This is my first novel, and I started it somewhere when I was twenty-two and finished it when I was twenty-three. Writing doesn’t stop there, though – it seems to keep going on, whether it’s in editing or for promotions. A lot of the time I feel like I’m still writing it. Maybe it won’t ever stop.



> What was the most fun book signing, convention, etc. you’ve attended and why?

I went to the World Fantasy Convention last October, and that was a hoot and a holler. I sort of feel like I’m out on my own a lot of the time, writing and reading the stuff I do, so it was nice to meet fans of all shapes and sizes and chatter on with them. Also, they had parties on the upper floors about every night, so if you wanted to pound absinthe and rub elbows with Jeff Vandermeer and Garth Nix, you had plenty of chances.


> When and where do you write?

When I wrote Mr. Shivers, I was a tech support agent for The Home Depot, a home-supply store. It was a call center, but nothing genuinely technological – sometimes I got the impression that when they needed new hires they just swung by a bus station and asked if anybody wanted to make a buck. My job was supporting the paint machines, which took a painfully long time to reboot, anywhere between five to twenty minutes, and since rebooting was the first line of defense, we had a lot of waiting during a call. So, whenever that down time happened, I’d open up Mr. Shivers and just start pounding away on it. I’d say about forty to sixty percent of that book was written waiting for the damn paint machines to start. Maybe that’s colored the book, I can’t tell.

Nowadays I write at home. I try to write in silence, while over-caffeinated. It helps my mind, but it’s rough on my heart.


> What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

The worst thing is that writing is sort of like building a house from the inside-out in the dark. You have a general idea where you want the living room to go and what kind of wallpaper to use, but you can’t be sure if you actually got it where you want it or not. You’ve got to wait for someone else to come along so they can see it from the street and tell you what you’ve done, or even if it’s going to stand up on its own.

Sometimes it turns out you were actually building a cabin instead of a mansion. Other times you’ve put the toilet in the kitchen. And sometimes you’ve just knocked it out of the park when you thought you just had a real fire hazard on your hands. It’s hard to tell.

Sometimes you can, though. Sometimes you can just feel it working, fitting together, becoming a whole. That’s the best thing about it.


> What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

In these internetty days, you can do everything from your home or office. This means you can get a book published almost purely by email, and only talk to people on the phone a handful of times. That surprised me. I bet it’s easy to have a real career going and never see your agent or editor face-to-face. I’ve only seen mine once for both.

After a while, it kind of feels like being in a shack out in the middle of nowhere with a telegraph and trying to keep track of the stock market, or a war. You get these odd little messages letting you know what’s happening, but you never see it in person. Sometimes you wonder if it’s actually going on, or if it’s a hoax. When the box of hardcover books with your name on them arrives you can be pretty sure it’s actually happening, but I was still suspicious.


> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Read widely. Read everything, and not just in the genre you want to write in. There’s some really interesting stuff going on out there in the corner of bookstores, and it’d be a shame to miss it.


> How do you discipline yourself to write?

It’s more about how I discipline myself not to. For me, it’s an addiction. Every time I get an idea I pull out the Blackberry and send myself an email. One day my wife’s going to throw that damn thing out the window. It’ll be interesting to see if I jump after it, if she does.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Why I Interview the Way I Do

I stumbled across Justine Larbalestier's site explaining how to conduct an interview and complaining about blogs that do 'generic interviews'. Sites rather like mine. Here's John Scalzi explaining why he won't do such an interview (good to know). On both pages they complain that interviews don't bring in traffic.

I beg to differ. My best traffic days are ones where I have interviewed an author. Now, whether people enjoy my interviews is another question. But having the interview up attracts attention, showing (to me at least) that readers are interested in author interviews, to some extent at least.

Why do I send a form interview, with the same questions going to each author? Isn't that lazy?

In a word, yes. It is lazy. I'm doing this blog purely for fun. Unfortunately I don't have time to read everything the author's written. And since most of my interviewees are debut novelists, in most cases their book isn't even out when I interview them.

And make no mistake, even without coming up with new questions each interview they still take a fair amount of time. I have to discover who has a book coming out (I like my interviews to coincide with recent publications to showcase authors throughout the year), I have to find contact information for the author (not always easy). When they respond positively I have to remind them when the due date is coming (though this isn't always necessary). I have to read over the interviews and make sure there are no editing errors. I have to cut some answers so I only have two pages for the store (any more than that and there would be no room and a typical interview comes in at 5 pages long). I have to put up the display at the store and post the interview to my blog. I then often send a photo of the display to the author (but not always) and send a follow up email asking the author to check the blog for errors (whether in book titles or typos that were missed in the interview, etc.). This is all done in my personal time. Time I could be spending working on my own novel.

So why do I do interviews? A few years back I couldn't work a day at the bookstore without getting at least one (and generally more) person complain about the price of books. "Why do we have to pay $10 when in the US it's only $7? Don't you know the dollar's at par? Can't I pay the US price?"

I decided to post interviews with authors in the store showing the work that goes into writing a novel. So instead of asking questions about their specific work (which is, alas, only interesting to someone familiar with their work and interested in that genre) I asked general questions that could be of interest to anyone walking by who wants to know what it's like to be an author. That includes people Christmas shopping who would never read SF/Fantasy themselves but want something interesting as a gift for someone who does read the genre. That means people simply walking by the SF section who spot the double sign and wonder what it's about. I have sold many books this way. To people who wouldn't otherwise pick up fantasy or science fiction books.

It is also a good way of introducing a new author to readers. These are authors whose books are often overlooked by browsers and relatively unknown unless they have a lot of pre-publication internet buzz. I have introduced a lot of debut novelists to readers using these generic interviews.

Why keep them generic? I personally find it fascinating learning how different authors do the same things.

Did you know that Bernardine Evaristo considers writer's block a dirty word? Gail Carriger suggests reading something non-fiction that relates to your writing to get over it. Peter Brett on the other hand considers it a state of mind that writers use to defeat themselves.

Speaking of Peter Brett, did you know that he wrote The Warded Man on his smartphone while commuting to work in New York? Or that Kevin J. Anderson goes hiking and talks into a tape recorder, getting two chapters done each walk. Or that Mark Teppo doesn't get much writing done at home so he goes to coffee shops to write. Robert Bennett (whose book Mr. Shivers just came out) write a lot of his book while waiting for paint machines to reboot as part of his tech support job at Home Depot.

I have never published a boring interview, because each author brings their own slant to the questions.

But maybe I'm not a good judge of that. What do you think? Are my interviews boring? Would you stop at a store display and read one? Do you come to my blog to read any? Have you discovered a new author through one of my interviews? Are there questions you would like to see asked?

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Planet of the Apes - Pierre Boulle

My husband reminded me when he got home yesterday, that one of the booklets he printed out for my smartpen didn't look right. Which seems to be why one page uploaded properly yesterday and the page with my book reviews didn't.

So, on to the review. First published in 1963, Planet of the Apes was considered a social fantasy. Three men from earth take a two year voyage (their time, it would be several hundred years earth time) to visit the Betelgeuse system. They land on one of the planets and discover that apes, not man, have risen to the top of the evolutionary chain.

The apes are obviously analogous to the former class system of France. The gorillas are the nobility, the ignorant orangutans (in charge of education though they refuse to teach modern science) the Catholic clergy, and the brilliant chimpanzees the masses.

One of the men from Earth, Ulysse Merou, manages to convince the apes that he is intelligent, starting off a string of events leading to a dramatic conclusion different from that of the film.

What is most apparent in the book however, is the arrogance of mankind (embodied in Ulysse), which cannot reconcile a state of life different from the known. In time Ulysse comes to disregard the differences between the apes of Soror and the humans of Earth. And yet he continues to believe that somewhere in the apes past there must have been clever humans.

Ulysse's character in the book is no more likable than Charlton Heston's Taylor from the movie, which caused problems for me reading the book. On the other hand, it's a short novel and has several points that make you think about humanity, where it's gone and where it might be going.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Behold the Man - Michael Moorcock

I'd planned to cut and paste the review, as written using my pulse smartpen and translated into text, but for some reason, this page didn't get properly recorded (letters were missing). This is doubly strange as I wrote two pages at the same time, in the same place/posture, etc., and the other page uploaded perfectly. In fact, I got the most accurate translation thus far from that sheet. (I've discovered that bracketing things I want edited out rather than putting a line through them allows the translation program to read the page more accurately. It still doesn't like how I write contractions ('don't' turns into 'don 17')). Still, it takes time to master all new forms of technology, so hopefully I'll be able to post something I've handwritten and translated soon.

I've been in a real SF mood recently, so you'll see a lot of classic SF fiction reviews over the next few weeks. Some will be more well known than others.

One of the lesser known is Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock. Written in 1969, it tells the story of Karl Glogauer's remarkable trip back in time to Palestine, 29AD. He's there to witness the crucifixion of Christ. Though he's not a Christian, he needs something in his life to believe in and fixed on this event as proof that belief in something beyond yourself serves a purpose.

The novel is told mostly through flashbacks as he lives in the past. We see Karl at various times in his life, confused and unhappy. Ultimately he wants to know who he is. He wonders if his personality is due to the outward pressures and expectations of his mother and friends or if, even without their influences, he would be the same person.

But nothing in the past is what he was expecting. And when he finally encounters Christ, he must make some difficult decisions to make sure history proceeds as recorded.

This is an interesting novels which asks some intriguing questions. How accurate is our view of history? Why do we act the way we do?

If you're a dedicated Christian, you won't like how his history plays out. And Karl is not an easy character to like. However, it's a short book and a good introduction to Moorcock's style of writing.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Film Rights Optioned for Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn Trilogy

Fans of Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy will be happy to learn that the books have been optioned for film by Paloppa Pictures.

Find out more and read the full press release on Sanderson's site:
http://www.brandonsanderson.com/blog/856/Mistborn-Movie-News

And get your Mistborn miniatures here.

A Canticle For Leibowitz - Walter M. Miller, Jr.

It's difficult reviewing a classic. Especially if you didn't particularly like it.

A Canticle For Leibowitz takes place after a nuclear holocaust decimates the world. What's left in regards to knowledge after the bombs stopped falling, was systematically eradicated by the Simpletons, those who blamed men of learning and their books for what had happened.

The novel details three periods in the life of a monastery dedicated to preserving what little knowledge a few people were able to rescue; the memorabilia. As more and more time passes people pass from ignorance to learning, receiving the secrets of technology with varying degrees of suspicion.

The writing was superb. Each word carefully thought out before being relegated to the page. He's very rigorous in terms of creating his character, setting, time, etc.. The jumps occur and the reader is thrown into the action (or lack thereof) of the new time and given no explanation of what is happening. As a reader, half the fun is trying to figure out the new politics.

At least, it's fun the first time or two. By the third time I simply wanted something, anything, to happen. It's a book of morals and ideas. Not a book of action. The characters are fleshed out, real human beings, but you're taught not to get too close to them early in the book. And by the end I found my attention wavering.

Miller presents a bleak world wherein humans are doomed to repeat the mistakes of their past, no matter how advanced we become. It's a world I would never want to see.

Having finished reading a few books on the craft of writing, Miller exemplifies many of the techniques editors recommend. Which makes it a great study guide for any aspiring authors. Pay close attention to his use of dialogue and how he gives natural clues at the beginning of each part, allowing you to piece together what's happening without resorting to lectures, unrealistic dialogue or other cumbersome practices.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Margaret Ronald - Author Interview

Novels: Spiral Hunt
Wild Hunt


She has also published numerous short stories.

website: http://mronald.wordpress.com/

Pitch the first novel of your series.

Spiral Hunt follows Evie Scelan, a bike messenger and Red Sox fan, as she navigates her way through the magical undercurrent of Boston and attempts to evade the still-powerful remnants of an organization that once ran the undercurrent. Wild Hunt, its sequel, explores the consequences of Evie's acts, the current power vacuum in the undercurrent, and those who seek to exploit or protect it.

What made you want to be a writer?

There's an anecdote that some members of my family tell: a relative, sick of how the conversation had been bouncing back and forth from one convoluted tale to another, remarked with disgust, "You Ronalds! You don't talk, you just tell stories!"

Well, it's true, and I'm no different. I told stories to my stuffed animals as a child, made up new ones, added on to old ones . . . bit by bit, that desire crystallized into a need to invite people into these new worlds I've created.

In the books you’ve written, who is you favourite character and why?

I love writing in Evie's voice. She's a fun character, and someone who I think I'd like sitting down with for a little while. In terms of minor characters, the Reverend Woodfin was also a lot of fun to write, to the point where I'd let him ramble on for far too long and then have to cut the scene to fit. And one of the villains for Spiral Hunt was unsettlingly easy to write. But I really enjoy spending time with any of my characters; that's part of how I can tell I've made them interesting enough.

If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

Probably not. I do horrible things to my characters, after all, and I don't like to think about what they'd do to me in revenge.

If you could live in your fantasy world, would you?

I don't think I would. There's much about it that's similar to the Boston area I already live in, but the undercurrent I've constructed is not a friendly place; it's too tarnished and paranoid.

What was the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

I wrote one in seventh grade, but as far as I'm concerned that doesn't count. Nor does the clumsy fantasy epic I wrote the year after that.

It took me a little over three years to write Spiral Hunt, partly because I was still figuring out how a novel should go. It's one thing to say "just write the story as it occurs to you" but there's a lot more to consider than just what to say. Pacing, plot, characterization . . . I was still learning how to use all of them at once. Some days I think I still am.

What was the hardest scene for you to write?

Strangely enough, some of the scenes that I labored on and sweated over in one draft got cut in the next. That's how it goes with revision, but it's still a little annoying to put in so much work and then realize it had no place in the story.

I do remember having a lot of trouble writing a scene where a very young character is in immediate danger. I was composing the scene from scratch and found myself trying to rush through it just so I could make sure the character was okay. Which is very strange, because I'd planned the scene that way to begin with, so I knew it would end fine -- I just felt very uncomfortable writing that particular moment. Revising it was fine, though.

What is the strangest question you have ever been asked by a fan?

"Do you know anyone famous?" was probably the strangest question I've ever got, so that's pretty tame. (And the answer's no, not really.)

What was the most fun book signing, convention, etc. you’ve attended and why?

Definitely WisCon. It's fun, thought-provoking, intelligent...it's as if someone took all the things that I enjoy about conventions and packaged them all together in one.

If you still have one, what’s your day job?

I work for a large mutual fund company, laying out shareholder reports and prospectuses. It's exactly as exciting as it sounds.

What is your university degree in and does it help with your writing?

I have a B.A. in English from Williams College. It's helped somewhat, in the sense that I'm aware of certain trends or subtexts as I'm writing. I think it mostly helped to instill the sense of discipline that's necessary to finish a work. The smaller classes -- particularly a science fiction writing course taught by Paul Park -- were more directly useful.

Do you think it is easier to write fantasy or science fiction?

It depends on the writer. For me, fantasy is easier just because that's a genre I feel at home in; even my science fiction stories tend to be fantasy wearing a science fiction hat.

When and where do you write?

Mornings, before I go in to my day job. I make a cup of coffee, stay off the internet (as much as I can!) and settle in for an hour before getting dressed and catching the bus. I write in a little closet of a room that my husband and I have turned into a study of sorts. From here I can either work or watch the traffic go by, or both at the same time.

What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

The worst thing is knowing that no matter how good a book ends up being, it'll only bear a superficial resemblance to that original, shining idea. The best part is when you reread your work and realize that yes, this came very close to the idea -- or that it even topped the original idea. (A close second is working out plot and finding the one element that makes everything else click into place. It's immensely satisfying, like finishing a puzzle in six dimensions at once.)

What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

I didn't realize how much work there is between turning in the manuscript and having the book on the shelf. It sounds silly now -- there's a lot more to publishing than magical manuscript fairies who turn a stack of pages into a cogent, well-crafted book -- but I was a bit astonished at how much work was still to be done at every stage of the process.

Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Write, and write, and write again. Revise, revise, and revise again. Don't be afraid of criticism; even if you disagree with it, it's got something to say about your work, and it will help. Send your stories out and keep sending them out, and keep writing so you'll have something new to send out when an editor says "this one isn't right for us, but send more."

Any tips against writers block?

Keep writing, even if you feel uninspired. Play with new ideas, take your characters in a new direction, anything you like -- just keep writing, so that when inspiration does come creeping in around the edges of things, you'll be ready for it.

How do you discipline yourself to write?

Coffee, usually. Ideally, I try to have something written or revised every morning before I go to work. This way, no matter how the rest of the day goes, I've accomplished something worthwhile.

How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

I'm not sure, but I was well over one hundred rejection letters by the time I sold my first story. They weren't all for the same story, though. It took me almost a year and a half to find an agent for Spiral Hunt, and I'm very fortunate that my agent eventually took me on.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

A Handwriter's Dream Christmas Present

I love writing, but I'm not as enthusiastic about typing. So, my husband bought me what must be the best Christmas present for someone in my position: A Pulse Smartpen, using Livescribe software. (There may be other similar pens on the market that I've not heard about, in which case I'm not pushing this one in particular, but this is the one I received and the one I know something about.)

The pen has a camera near the tip that records your pen strokes, so that it can later upload your handwritten notes to a computer. It does require you to use special dot paper. As their website states: "Microdots printed on Livescribe dot paper enable the infrared camera at the tip of the Pulse smartpen to track everything you write down." This raises the cost of the pen, though the pen can save up to 8 different notebooks at one time (then you have to archive them to use the same numbered notebook again) and you have the option of printing out 4 notebooks yourself.

The pen also has a microphone so you can record speech (or lectures) as you write. In the playback mode, you can tap your notes and the lecture/talk/etc. will start playing from that point.

For a little more money you can also buy a conversion to text program called MyScript, which I'm currently testing with their 30 day free trial. So far it does a decent job, though some of my more hurried handwriting gets misconverted (which may mean I'll have to print more clearly henceforth). The software has a dictionary you can add your own words to (a helpful thing for a fantasy writer), which I have added names to and seen converted successfully. The software does not like page editing (crossed out words, added words etc.). Nor does it like individualized signs, like my & (which looks more like a reversed 3 with lines coming from the top and bottom). I'm trying to see if there's a way to add handwritten symbols and personal handwriting quirks to the dictionary for more accurate conversion.

The pen has a calendar feature and allows you to draw a piano and play music to entertain yourself. :) What more could a writer want?

Learn more at their website.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Science Fiction Authors Read Their Stories

Eric Solstein has done a remarkable job putting together video clips of several classic science fiction authors reading their work. In some cases the video is of the author, in others there's varied imagery to accompany the words.

Check it out:

http://www.youtube.com/user/agentb27

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Stein on Writing - Sol Stein

Sol Stein starts his book on writing by reminding you of something. You don't write books for yourself (at least, not if you want them to be published), you write them for readers. And readers want something from the books they read. They want to be entertained.

They might want other things as well, but ultimately readers want to be entertained, so that is the thrust of Stein's advice. How to make your chapters end suspencefully, creating tension that makes the reader want to read on. How to add colour to your novel (description, touch, taste, etc) in such a way that the reader can imagine it and wants to read on. How to pick your words and your metaphors and eliminate weak phrases, unintentional (and unnecessary) repetition of ideas, so that your story is better and the reader wants to read on.

In other words, this book teaches you some of the nitty gritty aspects of editing and reimagining writing so that your work becomes the best you can make it.

I would recommend reading it after Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King, as that book has more focused points for specific editing problems. Stein on Writing covered some of the same topics, but its treatment of them was a little different, and the examples used were more numerous and often longer, which was sometimes detrimental. It's in the matter that Browne and King didn't cover that Sol Stein's book is useful. Both for pointing out the obvious (that you've missed) and in teaching you the less obvious that the other book didn't have room for.

The downside to the book was that he tried to give hints for both fiction and non-fiction, which didn't allow him to focus on either one as much as I would have liked. Separate books for each might have allowed more room to further elaborate on some of the topics.

If you want to improve your writing,fiction or non-fiction, this is a great book.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Coming in February 2010

As usual, I've tried to make this list comprehensive, but if I've missed something please mention it in the comments and I'll add it to the list.

Hardcover:


Able One – Ben Bova
The Dark-Eyes' War – David Coe
The Motley Man – Daniel Duguay
Falconfar – Ed Greenwood
Black Magic Sanction – Kim Harrison
Moonshine – Alaya Johnson
World of Warcraft: Stormrage – Richard Knaak
The Conqueror's Shadow – Ari Marmell
Shadow Prowler – Alexey Pehov
Live Free or Die – John Ringo
Blackout – Connie Willis
Except the Queen – Jane Yolen

Trade Paperback:

Captain Flandry: Defender of the Terran Empire – Poul Anderson
The Empress of Mars – Kage Baker
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, volume 2B – Ben Bova, Ed.
Red Inferno: 1945 – Robert Conroy
Tales of Wonder & Imagination – Ellen Datlow, Ed.
War Hammer 40K: Soul Hunter – Aaron Dembski-Bowden
The Complete Hammer's Slammers, volume 2 – David Drake
Jade Man's Skin – Daniel Fox
Metro 2033 – Dmitry Glukhovsky
El Borak – Robert Howard
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – N. K. Jemish
Spirit – Gwyneth Jones
Star Wars: Clone Wars: Stealth – Karen Miller
Raven's Ladder – Jeffrey Overstreet
The Folding Knife – K. J. Parker
Fathom – Cherie Priest
Britonomicon – Robert Rankin
Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse – Robert Rankin
Knees up Mother Earth – Robert Rankin
The Toyminator – Robert Rankin
Heavy Metal Pulp: Pleasure Model – Christopher Rowley

Mass Market Paperback:

David Falkayn: Star Trader – Poul Anderson
Chill – Elizabeth Bear
Cat's Claw – Amber Benson
Unknown – Rachel Caine
The Horseman's Gambit – David Coe
Star Trek: New Frontier: Treason – Peter David
Earth Strike – Ian Douglas
The Alchemist's Pursuit – Dave Duncan
Forgotten Realms: The God Catcher – Erin Evans
Shadows Past – Lorna Freeman
Wing of Wrath – C. S. Friedman
Xombies: Apocalypticon – Walter Greatshell
A Girl's Guide to Guns & Monsters – Martin Greenberg & Kerrie Hughes, Ed.
The Dark Storm – Kris Greene
A Madness of Angels – Kate Griffin
Demon Possessed – Stacia Kane
State of Decay – James Knapp
Caliphate – Tom Kratman
Steal Across the Sky – Nancy Kress
Fledgling – Sharon Lee & Steve Miller
Monster – A. Lee Martinez
War Hammer 40K: A Thousand Sons – Graham McNeill
Imager – L. E. Modessit, Jr.
Blood of the Demon – Diana Rowland
Fall of Thanes – Brian Ruckley
War Hammer: Call to Arms – Michael Scanlon
Bad to the Bone – Jeri Smith-Ready
Star Wars: Luke Skywalker & the Shadows of Mindor – Matthew Stover
Dead Matter – Anton Strout
Heretics – S. Andrew Swann