Tuesday, 30 November 2010

SF Contario - Artist Alley

I'd meant to do a few SF Contario posts last week, but other things came up, so they've been pushed back to this week.

First up are some of the fantastic works from Artists Alley.

The artist guest of honour was Billy Tackett, 'art with BRAAAAINNNNSSSS!!'. He has some great pictures in his "Dead, White & Blue" series, like this one: A New Corpse.

Heather V. Kreiter had a nice display of "My Little Demon" ponies.

Margaret Chown's site won't let me save a picture for display. She's got watercolours and more, so go check it out.

Kerry Maffeo has steampunk inspired art. You can see some of it on her blog, and buy it on her etsy page.

If you like steampunk jewelry, there were two dealers. The first, Irina Pertseva,

the second, C. J. Grand-Cowan.

PBS to air "Pioneers of Television" Sci-Fi Episode

Press Release:


PIONEERS OF TELEVISION depicts the epic beginnings of the four featured television genres and explores the stories and influences of their groundbreaking pioneers. The hour-long episodes are:

“Science Fiction” (Tuesday, January 18, 2011, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET/PT):
Storytellers Gene Roddenberry, Irwin Allen and Rod Serling created the storylines and characters behind the best-loved futuristic television of their time. But as Roddenberry’s “Star Trek” competed for ratings with Allen’s “Lost in Space,” each show’s creator aimed for a very different direction. This episode explores how Roddenberry and Serling (of “The Twilight Zone”) used the future as a stage for modern morality plays, and William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Nichelle Nichols and other science-fiction stars describe how they prepared to interact on-camera with a malevolent alien force … or, perhaps, a giant radish.

“Westerns” (Tuesday, January 25, 2011, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET/PT):
Known everywhere as the quintessential American cultural identity, westerns filled small screens across the country night after night and were some of the most successful television shows in history. Fess Parker’s portrayal of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett channeled the bravery, independence, honesty and rugged individualism of a young nation — and made Walt Disney enough money to build an empire. Westerns introduced James Garner, who starred in the television hit “Maverick,” where he developed the reluctant hero character that would cement his successful TV and film career. Garner, in his only recent interview, and Parker tell their stories, and Linda Evans recalls how two strong female characters emerged with her onscreen interaction with Barbara Stanwyck in “The Big Valley.” This episode also examines the success of Robert Conrad in “The Wild Wild West,” the popularity of “Bonanza” and the creation of the classic series “Gunsmoke” with James Arness — one of the longest-running television series of all time.

“Crime Dramas” (Tuesday, February 1, 2011, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET/PT):
As viewers reveled in being transported to shadowy underworlds, creative geniuses emerged in the forms of Jack Webb (“Dragnet”), Desi Arnaz (“The Untouchables”) and Bruce Geller (“Mannix” and “Mission: Impossible”). Groundbreaking actors Bill Cosby (“I Spy”) and Angie Dickinson (“Police Woman”) reveal the methods behind their successes as the first African-American and breakthrough female lead characters in a television series. Barbara Bain and Martin Landau share the secrets behind the innovative hit “Mission: Impossible”; Peter Falk’s friends and colleagues recall the evolution of his “Columbo” character; and James Garner and series creator Stephen J. Cannell recount the success of the “The Rockford Files.”

“Local Kids’ TV” (Tuesday, February 8, 2011, 8:00-9:00 p.m. ET/PT):
Local kids’ programs shaped the childhoods of millions of American children in the early years of television. Performers such as Willard Scott and William Shatner honed their skills performing on live TV with small budgets and little support. With the flimsiest of second-hand store costumes and their own imaginations, they learned how to make their audience laugh, smile and think. One early talent, Stan Freberg, got off the bus in the middle of Hollywood, became a cartoon voice talent and created “Time for Beany” — a show that captured seven out of 10 viewers, including Albert Einstein, during its run in Los Angeles. Freberg’s story is told along with the stories of legendary Muppets creator Jim Henson (who started on local television as a teenager), actor Chuck McCann (originator of New York’s “Puppet Hotel”), Larry Harmon (who popularized Bozo the Clown) and Nancy Claster (who developed the Baltimore kids’ series “Romper Room” — the first franchised show in television history).

Don’t miss selected PBS programs streaming free online, the day after broadcast, on the PBS Video Portal (pbs.org/video/).

Monday, 29 November 2010

So you want to write a novel...

I found this on the Pyr-o-mania site, which got it from SF Signal, which got it from Mary Robinette Kowal, who got it from the creator, David Kazzie,'s youtube page.

I've also seen So you want to go to law school, which is also hilarious.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Put the Thesaurus Down

I don't generally rant on my blog, but sometimes things happen and you just have to speak up about it. I've read several books on writing and they all say one thing very clearly: use simple language when writing.

Now, I learned a lot of new vocab when I was 13 and 14, reading Terry Brooks. I have no problem with big words. I have no problem with literary fiction (I loved David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, and find it surprising that John Lanchester's The Debt to Pleasure isn't more popular). But there's a time and a place for big words and fancy writing. And more importantly, if you're going to use words the average (or even above average) reader doesn't know, don't use too many and don't make them have to look the word up. Work the word in so it's understandable in context.

Why? Because your job as a writer is to entertain me. You're trying to draw me into the story so I forget the real world. I can't do that if I have to reach for my dictionary every five minutes. Words are your tools. They are meant to paint a virtual world in my mind. The more I notice the words the less enthralled I am with what you're trying to do with them. The words should become invisible vehicles for the story. They should not take the limelight.

Why am I ranting about this now? I tried reading a book a few months ago, Shadow's Son, by Jon Sprunk. This was my first experience with an author who tried to be too clever with his words to the point that the words themselves made the book unreadable for me. Unfortunately, it hasn't been the last.

I thought it was a fluke, that Sprunk was just highly educated and wanted to prove that with his book, or that he liked his thesaurus too much and overused it in my point of view. The book wasn't right for me. End of story.

Earlier this week I picked up The Last Page by Anthony Huso. The first 50 pages were great. Interesting story, good characters, well paced, then bam! I'd passed over a few bizarre words and phrases already. There weren't enough of them to cause me to leave the comfortable world Huso had created, until pages 58-59. Suddenly I got 'horripilated flesh', 'purpurean shadows' and 'grume' (which auto-correct doesn't even recognize as a word, tried to make it 'grime'). I'm a university educated woman. If you know what these words mean without looking them up in a dictionary, than your education was better than mine. Luckily my husband was on the computer and was kind enought to look them up for me so I didn't have to get my dictionary. Under normal circumstances I wouldn't bother looking the words up. I got a sense of what 'horripilated' meant based on the context. I didn't care enough about purpurean as it didn't seem to matter to the story whether I understood that word or not. Grume I had to look up as it sounded important. Still, I no longer expect to need a dictionary when reading a fantasy novel.

This two page spread caused me to completely lose the thread of the story as I decided whether it was worth the effort of understanding the author's words. THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM I SHOULD HAVE AS A READER. I have tried to keep reading. Over the next 20 pages I've uncovered 'ogive' (a gothic architectural term that I never once encountered in the classes on gothic art and architecture I took in university), 'squamous' and 'crepuscular'. Seriously, I can't keep reading if every few pages I have to stop and look something up. I'm not enjoying the story anymore, I'm too annoyed by the author's word choice.

I was going to read 10 more pages before throwing in the towel. Ten more pages to see if Huso could bring his focus back to his story instead of his words. But I can't. I read for fun. And reading this book is no longer fun. Every time I find a new mystery word I have to close the book and think about what Huso has done. Why has he picked that particular word over all the other more readable words out there.

Let me reiterate, the job of a writer is to write in a way that their point gets across and the reader is entertained by the story the writer is telling. If the words the writer uses stops the reader from understanding and or enjoying the story, then the writer isn't doing their job properly.

Now obviously other people liked these books. They had agents, editors, etc. They were published. They must have a market. That market is, unfortunately, not me.

If you talk using fancy words and think in fancy words, by all means keep writing with fancy words. If you don't, if you're using a thesaurus to write because you want your book to sound 'literary', put it down. Some authors can do literary well. They can do the big words and the flowery phrases. They know what the words mean and they use them precisely. They also provide clues in the text for readers to understand the words without reading with a dictionary.

But seriously, if I want to learn what 'evanesced' means, I'd read the dictionary (and I just checked, it's not even in my dictionary). I'm reading your book for the story. Don't make me buy a bigger dictionary. Use your tools wisely.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

It Gets Better

There have been a number of "It Gets Better" videos produced to show gay kids that, as bad as things are for them right now, the future is a better place. Videos like this one, from the folks at Pixar.

But I have to agree with Hal Duncan. Had I seen this as a teen who had a difficult time in high school (not as bad as some but definitely worse than others), I'm not sure they would have reached me. The big question kids have that these videos don't address is when. When does it get better?
I'll let him answer that (there's a fair bit of swearing in this video, but he definitely makes his point).

The answer, for those of you who don't want to watch the video, is 'when you leave high school'. And it's true. Whether you head to university, college or the work force, life is better once you're out of the high school environment. It's hard to imagine when you're there, but the friends you have now (if you have any) won't be the friends you have 10 years from now. I heard (and disbelieved) this from a teacher in high school, the friends you keep as adults are the ones you make as adults.

If life is bad, focus on school. Get good grades and ignore the rest as much as you can. Make it to your twenties. Make it to a time when you can live on your own and meet more enlightened people than the jerks you know in high school. If you've got the education, once you're out of high school you can follow your dreams. Wherever they take you. You will leave all of those people behind, like in Katy Perry's song Firework.

And this message is for everyone whose high school experience is the pits, whether your gay, visible minority for where you live, depressed, ostracized, whatever.

It does get better. Just live to see those days.

And like Hal Duncan said, your being in this world is part of what will make that future a better place, for you and others like you.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Book Review: Hull Zero Three By Greg Bear

Pros: fascinating premise, hard SF, clever use of vocabulary, interesting characters

Cons: confusing descriptions, frustrating opening

Hull Zero Three begins with the birth of our narrator. It's a man, fully formed, with no memories beyond dreams of colonization. He's not supposed to be awakened until the Ship has found a suitable planet for colonizing but the frozen floor and dying bodies around him indicate that something has gone horribly wrong.

The novel is a mystery that takes some time to get into. While the narrator encounters other creatures - some friendly, others not so - no one has answers to what's going on.

The quest for information is superseded by the need to find food, water and to stay ahead of the freezing sections of the ship.

I found the novel very hard to picture. The descriptions were confusing and outside any imagery of ships that I could imagine. Even knowing the creatures the narrator encounters weren't robots, I ended up visualizing them that way because what they WERE wouldn't come together in my mind.

And yet, what Bear's done is fascinating once you're far enough in that the various humanoid characters you meet have started to remember more of their imprinting. It's neat how they remember words without context. And the end plot twist, what the Ship was designed for and why it's gone wrong, was great.

This novel is good for hard SF fans. Others, keep reading - the ending's worth it.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

My First SF Signal Podcast

I'm a lot more comfortable writing than speaking, so I've hesitated about joining the SF Signal Podcast. But, as it was the special (US) Thanksgiving episode, I called in and gave my 2 cents. The question: What are you thankful for this year? What genre fiction (novels, stories, tv shows, movies) came out this year that you're thankful for? Click on the podcast logo to go to the site. You can hear my piece from 15:37 - 16:08. And if it sounds like I'm giving a book report for school, well...

Angry Robot Books Launches Short Story 'Nanos'

Press Release:


On December 1st 2010, Angry Robot will be launching “Nano Editions”. Exclusive to the publisher’s own webstore at angryrobotstore.com, Nanos are digital short stories by Angry Robot novelists, sold at sensible prices in ePub format, ready to load onto the world’s most popular eBook readers.

Most Nanos will be in the 5,000 – 15,000 word range. Shorter works than that will be automatically bundled with another story to ensure value for money.

Talking of which – stories will cost just 59p each (approximately US $0.95). Readers can bundle a collection of any 10 by any combination of authors, for only £3.49 (US$5.59). The files will be DRM-free and available worldwide. If demand for the stories takes off, AR plan to also sell them via eBook retailers.

Angry Robot Editor Lee Harris said, “Publishing is changing, but our role as publishers remains the same – to find cool stories and bring them to readers. This is another step in Angry Robot’s ongoing plan to embrace the new opportunities digital formats provide – and an excellent way for readers to sample unfamiliar authors, without breaking the bank.”

Authors included in the Nanos series include multi-million-selling novelist Dan Abnett and award-winning short fiction authors Kaaron Warren and Aliette de Bodard, along with many others. We will have at least 30 Nanos available for the December 1st launch, with more added at regular intervals.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

ChiZine Publication's Book Launch at SF Contario

I knew I could only attend one day of SF Contario (due to the WBB's 30th Anniversary sale - remember 20% off ends today!), so I picked Friday, so I could attend ChiZine Publication's book launch. ChiZine has published several short story collections and a few novels - all of high quality - over the last year, and I wanted to see what was to come.

Co-owner Sandra Katsuri ran the prize draw and introduced the readers. She was assisted by 'cigarette girl' and managing Editor Helen Marshall. In total, 4 books were given away, and 3 authors read from their new books: Gord Zajac from Major Karnage, Craig Davidson from Sarah Court, and Gord Zajec from Robert Boyczuk's Nexus: Ascension. Thankfully I videotaped the last one (the first reading of the launch) because Zajec did a fun interpretive reading, with voices and motions. Considering it wasn't prepared in advance (Boyczuk simply turned the floor over to him) it was a wonderful performance. And here it is: (Please be advised there is some adult language.)

If you "like 'em weird", here are their upcoming titles for Spring 2011:

Napier's Bones by Derryl Murphy
Every Shallow Cut by Tom Piccirilli
The Door to Lost Pages by Claude Lalumiere
Eutopia by David Nickle
The Fecund's Melancholy Daughter by Brent Hayward
A Rope of Thorns by Gemma Files
Isles of the Forsaken by Carolyn Ives Gilman
Imaginarium 2011 Edited by Sandra Kasturi and Halli Villegas

Friday, 19 November 2010

SF Contario and the World's Biggest Bookstore's Anniversary Sale

I'll be attending the opening of SF Contario tonight. Looking forward to it. Because I'm working tomorrow, I won't be able to post anything about the con until later.

And speaking of work, it's the World's Biggest Bookstore's 30th Anniversary! And we are having a sale. From the company's events page:

Join us in celebrating 30 years of great books and great prices. From Friday, November 19th to Sunday, November 21st enjoy 20% off regularly priced in-stock products* with an additional 10% off for iRewards members.

I'm not sure what the * refers to (couldn't find it on the site) but I'd guess cards, magazines and possibly DVDs aren't included in the sale. Still, 20% off books? Come on down, it's a great time to get your Christmas shopping done!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Bookplates from a Bookseller POV

Bookplates are autographed stickers authors sometimes send out in lieu of being able to personally sign a book. When sent to individuals, the bookplates can be personalized. When sent to a bookseller, they're usually just autographed.

Why are bookplates useful as marketing tools? It's a great way of showing readers you'd like to connect with them more personally while acknowledging that it's impossible to be everywhere. The reader gets something not everyone has, and is happy. The author on the other hand can make sales that they otherwise wouldn't get.

How is that?

Books are not essentials (much as it pains me to admit that). They usually aren't impulse buy items. But when an author provides an extra, something that won't be available for long - like a signed bookplate - it can become something to pick up now rather than later.

Several authors have sent me bookplates over the past few years. I affix the bookplates to the books using a sticker on the front that explains there's an extra (Comes with an AUTOGRAPHED Bookplate!). We can't put the bookplates in the books (ie, stick them to the front cover) and just sliding them inside doesn't point out that there's something different about them, and they could easily fall out.

So, based on my experience with them, here are some tips for authors sending bookplates,

1. if possible, address them to a particular person who will do something with them (you don't want your time/effort/money wasted because the person who gets the bookplates doesn't know what to do with them or doesn't care enough to do something with them).

2. only send between 10-20. You don't want every book to have it or they lose impact (ie: I don't need to buy this now, there are a lot of them with the bookplate).

3. if your bookplate relates to all of your books, rather than just one, they can be used on your next title as well, if they're not all used for your current book.

Now for readers... do you like bookplates? I find authors have great designs on them, so even though I don't paste them inside my books I like to collect them when I can. Do you feel they add something to the book purchase?

* As an addendum, if your bookplate has your website on it, you can also use them for advertising purposes, much like how authors use bookmarks (ie, you can hand them out to people at book signings and conventions).

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Book Review: Hunger By Jackie Morse Kessler

Author's Website: www.jackiemorsekessler.com

Pros: good message that doesn't come off as preachy, realistic look at anorexia

Cons: the books length meant the story was less developed and detailed than it could have been

Lisabeth Lewis is having a tough time. Whenever her mother's around, which isn't often, she's super critical, her boyfriend's too good for her, and her (now former) best friend accused her of being anorexic. As if. She's too fat to be anorexic!

To top it off, she's been chosen by Death to become Famine, Horseman of the Apocalypse.

Hunger is a book with a message. That message is that eating disorders are bad, and those with them don't see the problem with what they're doing or that they need help. Often in books like this the message overshadows the story, becoming preachy. That doesn't happen here. While the novel is short (less than 200 pages), the Famine storyline develops naturally, as does the collapse of Lisa's life due to her eating disorder. And while becoming Famine helps her recognize that she has a problem, it doesn't solve it. Lisa must take steps to solve her anorexia, above and beyond developing a backbone to stand up to the 'thin voice' in her head.

The only cons are that I'd have liked more story development to flesh out her relationships more, and that Death reminded me of Terry Pratchett's anthropomorphized personification from the Discworld series. They both have bizarre senses of humour, but Kessler's isn't the skeletal spectre Pratchett uses.

This is a good book for teens, whether they have an eating disorder or not. Lisa's POV is stark and realistic. I liked how Lisa's problem bloomed from over exercising and obsessively watching what she ate to paranoia and suicidal thoughts. Teens need to learn that some secrets aren't meant to be kept. This book could help identify those who have problems - to themselves or their friends.

A portion of the proceeds from book sales will be donated to NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association).

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Ghostbusters Return

I've been sick the past few days, which is why postings been a bit erratic lately. On the plus side, I've gotten a lot of reading done. So expect more book reviews in the near future. In the meantime, here's a Funny or Die exclusive:

Monday, 15 November 2010

Author Interview: Skyler White


and Falling, Fly

In Dreams Begin

Website: www.skylerwhite.com

> What is In Dreams Begin about?

In Dreams Begin is a dark time-travel horror/romance based on my personal history and the occult movement of the late Victorian era. Laura, a contemporary graphic artist, wakes up on her wedding night channeled into the body of Maud Gonne, the famous Victorian beauty, Irish revolutionary and amateur occultist who was believed to be part faerie by some in rural Ireland.

In Maud’s body, Laura, our modern, professional woman, while still coming to grips with Victorian rules and outfits, meets WB Yeats, the Irish poet. He’s wildly romantic, ridiculously passionate, and she, of course, falls (rather embarrassingly,) in love with him, only to wake up back in Portland. The story tracks Laura and her new husband over two weeks, and Laura, Yeats and Maud Gonne over almost thirty years, all completely obedient to actual history.

> You did a lot of travelling while researching In Dreams Begin. Which place was your favourite and why?

I had one perfect day on the research trip. I was travelling with my daughter for the first half, before dropping her for a semester studying overseas, and this was our last full day in Dublin. We were staying in bunk beds in a youth hostel in Temple Bar, and woke up early to a dull, cloudy day. My main agenda item was to find Maud Gonne’s grave in Glasnevin Cemetery and scout the place for a scene I have set there. I’d planned to leave Kaki in Dublin to explore, but she didn’t want to prowl Grafton in the rain, so she came with me.

It was perfect weather for Irish graves. I bought a red Gerber daisy – the flower I wore in my wedding – and found Maud’s headstone. It was a surprisingly emotional moment for me, actually. I’m of Irish ancestry, but adopted, so this was my first flower-on-headstone moment in Ireland, and I had done so much reading on Maud, that she almost felt like family. Kaki took a photo of me with the flower and the stone that became the author pic at the back of the book.

We wandered for a while – it’s a beautiful, moving cemetery – and I got the notes and pictures I needed for Chapter Four, but we were enjoying the cool mist and the time together so much that when we finished there, we decided to walk back towards the hostel instead of taking the bus. Along the way we stumbled upon The Church, and went in for tea. I emailed my husband for the first time since I headed overseas and sent him a few notes and pictures which became the trip’s first blog post, and Kaki had a ball taking in the old glass and fixtures upstairs and the modern dance club downstairs.

Howth – a little fishing village/resort suburb north of Dublin – was low on my list of things to see. I don’t have a scene set there, but it was the only thing left that didn’t require a rental car (which I’d pick up after Kaki left) or a museum visit (which Kaki wasn’t keen on), so we took the train out of the city. We got to Howth (rhymes with ‘goat’) late in the afternoon as the setting sun burned off all the mist and rain. We walked from the train to the lighthouse (where Maud’s retired nurse had kept a cottage) in sudden, weird, golden light. And then, with no real work to do, we just wandered the beach. I don’t know if was the strange beauty of the Irish coast, with its made-of-magic mix of stark rock and tropical trees, or knowing that Kaki would be leaving soon, or just the sun, but I found a little intact scallop shell and broke the halves apart. She took hers to Germany. I keep mine on my desk.

> What made you choose W. B. Yeats as a character for your book?

Oh, so many things! He’s so delicious, for one. But my original intent had been only to base a character on him. I wanted to play with an honest-to-god, down-on-one-knee, utterly unselfconscious romantic. And he’s that. That he was active in the occult and that he loved the same women fruitlessly for thirty years were just added perks. But when I discovered that Maud and I share a birthday minus exactly one hundred years, the book started getting personal. The more I learned about him, the more intertwined my life and his past seemed to be. I did research until there was just too much real history to walk away from. I mean, Maud and her married lover had sex in the crypt of their dead son on Halloween night, 1893. As a novelist, how could I walk away from that history and make something up? Over and again my research was turning up that sort of thing. I had to just take it and write the story into the missing places.

> The book deals heavily with occult matters, what led to your interest in this topic?

I think I’ve always been interested in what we can’t see, but the interest for this book was specifically as a mechanism for the time travel. I knew I wanted to explore the similarities and contrasts between modern and Victorian womanhood by moving a contemporary woman’s consciousness between two bodies in the past and present, and having the real historical people not only active in the Victorian occult, but interested in sex magic and astral travel was really useful.

> What are your favourite three books?

I can’t do absolute favorites. I just can’t. I can do recent favorites though. I’m reading Stacia Kane’s Unholy Ghosts right now and really enjoying it. And I recently read and loved Elif Batuman’s The Possessed, and finally, because you know I have to, the poetry of W. B. Yeats.

> What made you want to be a writer?

I had questions I couldn’t find any other way of asking.

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

I think maybe I already have. ;-)

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

The first novel I wrote is interred for your safety.

I wrote a messy, sprawling, hundred-thousand word “practice book” in which I learned a great deal about what I can’t and shouldn’t do. I’m not even going to mention the name. We don’t speak of the dead.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

The first. Always.

> If you still have one, what’s your day job? If you don’t, how long did it take before you could support yourself only on your writing?

Writing is my day job, but it’s not supporting me. I used to work in advertising, but stopped when I was pregnant with my second child. I made a pathetic attempt at online entrepreneurship and then moved on to writing as a rewarding (and inexpensive) activity to maintain a tenuous hold on what was left of my mind.

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

I have a degree in theatre history. I’m sure it helps, but damned if I could say how.

> When and where do you write?

I write when and where I can. I’m still fitting it in around the kids and house and life. But I have an adorable little netbook, so I’m pretty mobile. I’ve written sitting on the floor of my car between track events and in almost every coffee shop Austin has.

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

The space between idea and word.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Write. Keep writing. Read. Keep writing. Get feedback. Keep writing. But keep writing. The world really needs more writers.

> Any tips against writers block?

Don’t forget to eat. Food, but mostly other things. Feed your mind. See things. Go to museums and movies. Have your heart broken. Travel. Read non-fiction. Meet your friends for dinner. Play. When nothing is coming out, it’s probably because there’s been nothing going in.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

I have more trouble disciplining myself not to. It’s all about balance, and I’m a bit of a dervish.

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

I have no idea. I didn’t count. I tried to think about them as “not a yes” and I was looking for “yes,” so it was like digging through the laundry looking for socks. I have no idea how many pairs of underwear or t-shirts there were in the bucket. I just kept submitting to agents and entering contests until I got to socks.

Skyler White is the nationally bestselling author of dark fantasy novels ‘and Falling, Fly’ (Berkley, March 2010) and ‘In Dreams Begin’ (Berkley, November 2010). She lives in Austin, TX.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Movie Review: Saw

Director: James Wan, 2004

Pros: terrifying, psychologically gripping, not especially gory


Adam (Leigh Whannell) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) wake up in an old bathroom, chained to opposite walls. There's a dead man in the centre of the room, a gun in one hand, a tape recorder in the other. In their pockets they find cassette tapes with messages from the man who put them in the room.

The film alternates between the situation in the bathroom and flashbacks as the two try to understand what's going on.

Like all the best horror films, each scene brings more information, with fascinating twists and turns. And of course, you'll never see the ending coming.

It's gory but not overly so. More is left to the watcher's imagination than shown on screen. The film really uses suspense and anticipation to provide its chills.

I'd put this up there with Jaws, Halloween and Cube.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

SF Contario - Toronto's Newest SF Convention

Have you heard about Toronto's new Science Fiction Convention? No? Neither had I until last month. If you're in Toronto (and not heading to the World's Biggest Bookstore's 30th Anniversary sale), SF Contario is taking place November 19th-21st at the Ramada Plaza Hotel at 300 Jarvis Street (only a few blocks away from the bookstore. Hint hint). I'll be working the Saturday (yay sale!) but may drop by on the Friday to say hi to people I know will be there. I'm interested in the ChiZine Book Launch. ChiZine Publications is a newer press that deals with high quality horror/dark fantasy novels. Some of which are written by local authors (who attend Ad Astra and, presumably will be at SF Contario). Two of the authors are even regulars at the WBB! :)

And if you don't have tickets yet, their website doesn't give day rates, so I emailed them and here's what I was told:
Our day rates will be $25 for Friday, $40 for Saturday, and $30 for Sunday. The young adult rate will be $20, $30, and $25. The child rate will be $15, $25, and $20.

Weekend rates at-con will be $65 adult, $75 charter, $50 young adult, and $35 child.
See you there?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Book Review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Pros: realistic teen male characters, positive reactions from teens under pressure

Cons: frustrating plot

Thomas wakes up in an elevator with no memory of his life. When the elevator stops, doors on the ceiling open and he's helped out by a group of boys living in the Glade, surrounded by a Maze. Once a month a new boy arrives and once a week supplies come up the elevator. The furthest back anyone remembers is two years.

The day after Thomas arrives something unusual happens. The elevator opens again. This time, there's a girl inside.

As I've mentioned in previous teen reviews, there are two types of kid/teen books. Those you read and appreciate only as a youth and those that are equally good when you're an adult. I'd put the Maze Runner in the first category.

I'll start off with the positives, as my complaints contain spoilers to explain my points.

This is a great book for teen boys. As a loner in school I can sympathize with Thomas, both in his desire to learn more of what's going on as well as his need to keep his own counsel on matters of importance.

I especially liked how, despite the problems facing them, the boys set up a community that focuses on hard work and co-operation. Too often visions of boys in solitude show social break downs, pitting each one against the other or banding together in small violent groups (think: Lord of the Flies). In this book, when someone steps out of line they are dealt with. Violently. Not because the boys are incapable of other forms of justice (they have a jail cell) but because they can't afford the break down of order that could arise with rebellion or psychosis. In a tough situation they act with the good of the many in mind. And it works.

The glade was well planned, with the inhabitants utilizing specialized vocabulary to explain their existence and the problems facing them. It also allowed the author to have the kids use realistic language without filling the book with curses, which I thought was clever.

Now for the bad points - from an adult perspective. The Maze Runner is a book of questions. Thomas is teeming with them, and the reader is too. The problem is, no one knows the answers. While Thomas learns more about the glade and the maze, there's no one to answer the more important questions - what is the purpose of the glade/maze and why were these boys sent there. This is a series, with the idea that answers will be forthcoming in future books, but I found it frustrating that so little was revealed, even at the end of this book.

The book depends heavily on repetition. Thomas mentions several times how odd it is that he has memories of a life - movies, school, etc. - but can't remember faces or names of people and places. Another aspect is the repetition of information. Someone would mention something and a few paragraphs later someone else would ask about it. And sometimes the information is contradictory.

***Potential Spoiler Alert (I'll make it as general as I can while explaining my point)***

At the end of the novel a group of characters try a risky plan to escape the maze. They have to reach a certain place and type in a code. Doing so turns off the Grievers - the monsters that inhabit the maze. They know this, but afterwards someone questions what might have happened to those who remained behind and the consensus is that the Grievers got them despite the fact that the Grievers were turned off by the code.

***End Spoiler Alert***

But my biggest complaint was that I never liked any of the boys. There was nothing wrong with them besides being a bit annoying at times. They were all three dimensional characters, with good points and bad points. Unfortunately, we only see them through Thomas' eyes. And as Thomas' opinions of them changed, waffling between liking them and hating them, so too did mine as a reader. It meant that when people started dying at the end, I didn't care. That always disturbs me. Fictional or not, if the author is doing a good job I should feel something when someone dies.

Still, the book had enough positives that I'd recommend it for teen readers, if not necessarily their parents. The book has no sex, a little violence (mostly off screen) and lots of fake swearing.

Friday, 5 November 2010

More Minecraft Videos

My husband's done some incredible things in our world. He made a program to calculate where blocks should go to create some nice geometrically designed structures. If you only watch one video, pick the glass elevator/floating island. There's a log cabin and some trees up top and a surprise in the basement.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Cold Earth - Book Review

By Sarah Moss

Pros: well realized characters with unique voices

Cons: plot elements under-utilized, lack of tension, unnecessary drama

Six graduate students converge in rural Greenland to participate in an archaeological dig. Internal and external forces threaten them and the job they've come to do.

The novel is narrated by the characters, one at a time. This style of writing allows the personalities of the characters to show, from Nina's prejudice against Americans to Ruth's preoccupation with a past trauma.

The narration starts with Nina. Dreams of the people who once lived in the settlement they're excavating plague her from the first night. She starts believing the ghosts don't want their remains moved. Her convictions start to disturb the other members of the team.

Meanwhile, there's news of spreading illness in the world, possibly an epidemic. And the team's contact with the outside world is severely limited.

While I found it an interesting, quick read, I feel the book didn't realize it's potential.


The story doesn't really succeed because the author tried to do too much without knowing how to tie it all together. The ghost thread could have made a good horror novel, but half way through the book it changes POV and that thread isn't as important afterwards.

Similarly, I got the feeling the author threw in the pandemic scare simply because apocalyptic ideas are popular right now. The isolationist fear could have been compounded in other ways (the internet crashes on me a lot without pandemics). Similarly, the tension about whether or not the plane would pick them up didn't require their belief that they were the last people alive on earth in order to succeed. There could be many reasons a plane might be late or not arrive - pandemic not being the first that comes to my mind.

The ending didn't use the plot threads, nor were important issues clarified (like the plane).

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Violette Malan Signing in Toronto

If you're in Toronto Saturday November 6th, Violette Malan will be signing books at the World's Biggest Bookstore from 1-4 pm. If you haven't read her books, now's a great time to give them a try.

Stephen King's Full Dark, No Stars

(If you saw the original version of this post where I got the book title wrong, please excuse it! I'm obviously not thinking clearly this morning. :P )

If you haven't heard, Stephen King's new collection of novellas, Full Dark, No Stars, is coming out November 9th. Here's a trailer for it:

And the cover copy from the book site:

“I believe there is another man inside every man, a stranger…” writes Wilfred Leland James in the early pages of the riveting confession that makes up “1922,” the first in this pitch-black quartet of mesmerizing tales from Stephen King. For James, that stranger is awakened when his wife, Arlette, proposes selling off the family homestead and moving to Omaha, setting in motion a gruesome train of murder and madness.

In “Big Driver,” a cozy-mystery writer named Tess encounters the stranger along a back road in Massachusetts when she takes a shortcut home after a book-club engagement. Violated and left for dead, Tess plots a revenge that will bring her face-to-face with another stranger: the one inside herself.

“Fair Extension,” the shortest of these tales, is perhaps the nastiest and certainly the funniest. Making a deal with the devil - never a stranger from most people with something to lose - not only saves Dave Streeter from a fatal cancer but provides rich recompense for a lifetime of resentment.

When her husband of more than twenty years is away on one of his business trips, Darcy Anderson looks for batteries in the garage. Her toe knocks up against a box under a worktable and she discovers the stranger inside her husband. It’s a horrifying discovery, rendered with bristling intensity, and it definitively ends a good marriage.

Like Different Seasons and Four Past Midnight, which generated such enduring films as The Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me, Full Dark, No Stars proves Stephen King a master of the long story form.

To celebrate the release, Simon and Schuster Canada is holding a sweepstake. The winner gets a Stephen King library, including Full Dark, No Stars, and his two most recent DVDs (Mist and 1408).

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The Day the Earth Stood Still (Remake)

Director: Scott Derrickson ,2008

Imdb listing.

Pros: good message even if it fails in the delivery, great special effects, the US reaction to an alien landing was well portrayed

Cons: Jacob as a character is annoying and unconvincing in his change of heart, the ending ignores the premise of the film

As with the original, the premise of the movie is that of an alien coming to earth to give a message. The message is different, and in this case, goes unheard. The alien, Klaatu (Keanu Reeves), proceeds to the second part of his mission, to destroy humanity so that the Earth - one of only a few inhabitable planets - isn't destroyed by pollution and global warming.

While the original film focused on the alien and his interactions with people on earth, building suspense as to what his message was, in the new film the focus is on the relationship between Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) - one of the experts brought in to deal with the lifeform - and her step-son Jacob (Jaden Smith).

The opening sequence is incredible. Given the technology available today, the fanfare surrounding the arrival of the alien ship is much bigger. But that's the only thing the remake did better than the original.

Bottom line: go see the original. It's brilliantly made and has a message that's still worth listening to today.

***Spoiler Alert***

Jacob is a very annoying character. He doesn't listen to his step-mom and complains endlessly. When he turns Klaatu into the officials and his mother is taken instead, his sudden change of heart towards the alien is unconvincing. As is Klaatu's sudden desire to stop the human's destruction.

Another difference was this Klaatu's casual disregard of violence. He smashes a car into a cop who's holding them up, and then heals the man. You'd think with the power he has he could have come up with another way of disarming the guy that wouldn't have required so brutal an action.

Oh, and the title no longer applies. In the original, Klaatu disrupts electricity, so the world is brought to a stand still. Nothing like that happens in this one. At no point does the earth stand still.

The ending ignores the premise that Klaatu came to tell humans to stop destroying the planet or they themselves would be destroyed. After stopping the destruction he simply leaves. There's no announcement telling the world they've got a reprieve, but they'd better shape up or the aliens will be back to wipe them out. Nope. He just leaves. So only a handful of people know why he came and only they know why he left. The rest of humanity - including those in charge who could set into motion the changes required - have no idea what happened.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Coming in December 2010


The Silent Land – Graham Joyce

Seer of Sevenwaters – Juliet Marillier

Songs of the Dying Earth – George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois, Ed.

Catacombs – Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

The Bards of Bone Plain – Patricia McKillip

Crossing Over – Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Star Wars: Red Harvest – Joe Schreiber

Back to the Moon – Travis Taylor & Les Johnson

Atlantis and Other Places – Harry Turtledove

Trade Paperback:

Sir Dominic Flandry – Poul Anderson

Yarn – Jon Armstrong

Polity Agent – Neal Asher

Dragons Deal – Robert Asprin

Demonstorm – James Barclay

People of the Book: A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction and Fantasy – Peter Beagle, Ed.

Darkwar – Glen Cook

Swordbearer – Glen Cook

Winter Witch – Elaine Cunningham

Star Trek: Stone and Anvil – Peter David

Stoneweilder – Ian Esslemont

Star Trek: Vulcan's Glory – D. C. Fontana (reprint)

The Castings Trilogy – Pamela Freeman

The Stranger – Max Frei

Chicks Ahoy – Esther Freisner, Ed.

Legend – David Gemmell (reprint)

Chicks in Capes – Lori Gentile & Karen O'Brien, Ed.

Star Trek: Myriad Universes: Shattered Light – David George III

Enemy of my Enemy – Christie Golden

Beloved of the Fallen – Savannah Kline

Cowboy Angels – Paul McAuley

Catalyst – Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Ann Scarborough

Elric: Swords and Roses – Michael Moorcock

Hawkmoon: The Runestaff – Michael Moorcock

Merlin's Ring – H. Warner Munn (reprint)

Army of Shadows – Stan Nicholls

The Topless Tower – Silvina Ocampo

The Witches of Chiswick – Robert Rankin

The Rats and the Ruling Sea – Robert Redick

Galileo's Dream – Kim Stanley Robinson

Forgotten Realms: The Sellswords Omnibus – R. A. Salvatore

The Markhat Files – Frank Tuttle

Battle in the Dawn: The Complete Hok the Mighty – Manly Wade Wellman

Mass Market Paperback:

The Spirit Eater – Rachel Aaron

War Hammer 40K: Prospero Burns – Dan Abnett

The Bone Palace – Amanda Downum

Chaosbound – David Farland

Shadow of a Dark Queen – Raymond Feist

Amortals – Matt Forbeck

Crimson Wind – Diana Pharaoh Francis

Dragon's Ring – Dave Freer

Star Trek: Typhon Pact: Rough Beasts of Empire – David George III

Mad Skills – Walter Greatshell

The Good the Bad and the Uncanny – Simon Green

Taken by the Others – Jess Haines

Starbound – Joe Haldeman

Black Magic Sanction – Kim Harrison

Hellforged – Nancy Holzner

The Iron Palace – Morgan Howell

Dungeons & Dragons: The Seal of Karga Kul – Alex Irvine

Warhammer: Giantslayer – William King

Alien Tango – Gini Koch

The Age of Odin – James Lovegrove

Uprising – Scott Mariani

The Conqueror's Shadow – Ari Marmell

Suicide Kings – George R. R. Martin

Warhammer: Time of Legends: God King – Graham McNeill

Law of the Broken Earth – Rachel Neumeier

Man-Kzin Wars XII – Larry Niven

Dark Waters – Alex Prentiss

The Tuloriad – John Ringo & Tom Kratman

Soul Hunt – Margaret Ronald

The Dracula Tape – Fred Saberhagen

Dungeons & Dragons: Hand of the Hunter – Mark Sehestedt

Engineering Infinity – Jonathan Strahan

The Dark Griffin – K. J. Taylor

Walking the Tree – Kaaron Warren

Torch of Freedom – David Weber

Warhammer: Wulfrik – C. L. Werner

Demon Underground – S. L. Wright