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>Your Favorite Bad Guy

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OK, I’ve been well and truly out of the picture over the last week or so. I could say that I have been kept prisoner in a deep, dark dungeon by an evil overlord – and it might be true if the evil overlord is visible by electron microscope and is portrayed in the press with a pair of pig-wings. Yes, you guessed it – swine flu. The most voracious little pest. I’ve never seen anything hit so quick. Luckily my family and I were all reasonably healthy to start with. Make’s you glad to live in a western country with access to medicine.
All it took was one irresponsible parent in the lower grades of our school sending their swine flued kids back to school while they were infectious and bang – half the school was down.

But talking about evil overlords, have you seen the evil overlord list? More specifically, the Top 100 Things I Would Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord? There are a few version of this, this one is Peter Anspach’s. This is the link: http://www.eviloverlord.com/lists/overlord.html

Its a nice bit of fun.

Having tooled up on the Evil Overlord list. Who is your favorite villain?

>Romancing the Cliche

>I’ve done a lot of browsing lately over at TV Tropes, and it’s interesting to see how many different ways all sorts of incredibly common tropes get used. Possibly the biggest eye-opener is how much really good fiction uses the exact same worn out old cliches everything else does, proving that it’s not the package, it’s what you do with it.

In the same vein, Diana Wynne Jones The Tough Guide to Fantasyland takes apart the fantasy cliches everyone has seen – but an awful lot of those self-same cliches can be found in the great books. Terry Pratchett – you can stop rolling your eyes, they gather far too much dust that way – has sold ridiculous numbers of books that use (and usually skewer) any number of the cliches. Interesting Times has a wonderful collection of them, including the barbarian horde, the inscrutable oriental, the innocent abroad (‘innocent’ in this case should be taken with a grain of salt, since we’re taking about Rincewind) and much, much more. What Jingo does to political machinations, the ugly cross-dressing male, and any excuse for a war has to be seen to be believed.

What stories have you enjoyed that used one of the old standards in a fresh and interesting way? And on the flip side, what are some examples of recycling the cliches and beating out whatever life they still have?

p.s. Tolkein does not count. He pretty much pioneered the multi-racial group of mismatched questers battling existential evil.

>Sarah’s Off —

>to Portugal this morning. Knowing how much she loves to fly — NOT! — I’m sure Dan and the boys are dragging her kicking and screaming onto the jet. She’s promised to do her best to keep us updated on how the trip is going and will try to post next week at her regular time. In the meantime, something she said yesterday started me thinking (quit snickering in the back. I do think at at times. Yes, I know, it can be dangerous. But I promise, this time it’s okay — I hope.)

In case you guys haven’t figured it out yet, Sarah and her metal tipped, pointy-toed boots are responsible for dragging me kicking and screaming out from under the bed and actually admitting to the world that I’m a writer. She’s pushed me into submitting — and selling — and writing things I never would have imagined myself writing. Short stories have always scared the heck out of me as a writer because — duh — I don’t do short. But my first pro sale was a short story. A romance/mystery — EEP! — historical fantasy and now I’ve just started a steampunk novel set around the time of the Jubilee Plot in England.

As a result of her prodding and pushing and reminding me that I am not a hack — although I’m still not convinced of it — I’ve had to pay more attention to the actual structure of my stories. One of the best sites I’ve found for an explanation of what a makes a technical aspect of a story successful is http://aliendjinnromances.blogspot.com

Recently, Jacqueline Lichtenberg has written several posts on the 6 Tricks of Scene Structure. She analyzes the scene and then gives examples. I highly recommend both posts. You can find the first here and the second here.

Now here’s my question for you: what makes a scene work for you? Tell me your favorite scene and why. If there is a scene that had you wanting to throw the book against the wall, tell me why. You don’t have to tell me the name of the book. But tell me what it was about that particular scene that had you wanting to tear the author’s hair out.

>Time Management for Female Writers

>(Warning, this is tongue in cheek. Male writers are not to feel slighted!)

I once heard a highly successful male writer thank his wife for taking care of the children, while he shut himself away in a room and wrote. She brought him his meals and cups of tea and made sure no one bothered him.

Believe me, every female writer I know would like a wife!

There are tips on the internet to help writers manage their time. Here Michael Stelzner makes suggestions. And here Annette Young talks about planning your writing day.

As a mother of six I used to think, ‘When all my children are in school, I’ll have time to myself’. I had one year where they were all in school. During that year the youngest broke his arm so severely he needed therapy to regain use of it. So I spent a lot of time driving him to specialists and appointments and doing his therapy with him. Then the following year, the eldest left school and went into part time work and study and I spent my days driving her to and from work and the train station to get to college. And how could I resist therapeutic coffee and cheesecake when she and I would have a D and Ms (Deep and Meaningful conversations)?

Meanwhile, I was still trying to find not only a room of my own to write in, but the mental space in my head to tap into creativity. Washing, cooking cleaning, driving kids to jobs, music lessons, tutoring and sport. Here are some tips wise women have passed along to me over the years.

Where possible, buy clothes that don’t need ironing. If it is winter, only iron the collar of a shirt, the rest will be hidden by the school jumper.

If it isn’t dirty, don’t clean it. (Don’t laugh. I used to vacuum the hallway, just because it was between the living room and the bedroom).

When the kids can be trusted in the kitchen, teach each of them to cook their favourite meal. If you have three kids, that’s three nights of the week when you don’t have to cook.

Learn to say ‘No’. If you’re a competant person, people will thrust responsibility on you, president of the school committee, treasurer, tuckshop convenor, run a stall at the school fete. It never stops. At some point you have to decide, I’ve done my share. Let someone else do it now.

And the last one is really important. At some point in your life, things may get too much for you. (Moving house, coping with illness in children or elderly relatives, stress on top of stress). Don’t run yourself into the ground trying to please everyone all the time. Be your own best friend. Best friends can be honest with each other, they have their friend’s best interest at heart.

So be kind to yourself. Imagine what you would say to your best friend if they were going through what you are going through. Now, give that advice to yourself and follow it!

How do you juggle work and family, and still make time for your writing?

>Letting go – the post partum blues

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Now speaking of books and stories-as-children I’m the old woman who lived in a shoe (well, silver-bearded old lady living in a miner’s boot) with somewhere between 30-40 out and I find myself doing something like the famous “You -yes you – you live here. I KNOW you’re one of mine. I’ll find out just what your name is again eventually,” about some of my stories. OK so maybe not quite that vague, or that many, but I find readers who just read RATS BATS and VATS expect me to remember the precise details of a dialogue I wrote 10 years back… interesting delusions they have about my memory! Hells teeth, my mind is an anti-computer collating vast amounts of good data and turning it into chaos, not the other way around.
But that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten just how hard it is to send your beloved manuscript out there (it actually gets harder, not easier, because unless you’re that rarer than diamonds author who sold for vast sums off that first submission you know that there is a good chance it’ll bounce back with a rejection that really doesn’t suit your present needs. I’ve done it with a huge number of proposals and stories. I have seventy-four rejection slips in my top drawer.)

That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to do it, be it ever so hard.

My boys have just gone back to Uni, and them going hurts. I miss them. I worry about them. I would also be insane not to help them to go. To do go off into a life where I probably won’t see them often. They’re my sons, and I want the best for them. That means letting them go out there, letting them get into trouble, accepting that they may come home with their tail between their legs, needing succour, and yes, sometimes listening to unpalatable comments about them… and learning from that. A book or a story isn’t a child… really. Nothing like as important in final analysis (although listening to the outraged squeals when someone dares to not love the little authorial oeuver you might think otherwise), but the same kind of rules apply to making it a success. (You know: ‘beat the keyboard to sleep with a broken bottle and make it get up from the family home in the middle of the road, three hours before it goes to bed, lick the Encycloepeadia Britannica clean of ink with tongue and then go and work seventy hours a day down pit – we writers ‘ad it tough – but you tell the young authors of today and they won’t believe yer’ – with apologies to Monty Python) or give it the best prep you can and send on to the best place to go further that you can… and prepare for that wholly inadequate rejection.

And one day it won’t come.

Your story will be out there making it’s way in the world. But it can only do that if:

1)You keep sending it out. Really, it’ll never get published from you hard-drive. And trust me, it’s NOT going to be stolen. (and even if this wildly improbable thing happened is that worse than it sitting on your hard-drive or in your story trunk, rotting?)

2) If when you get that rejection or piece of advice from a fellow writer… you curl into a defensive ball and refuse to accept that it wasn’t perfect (even for their needs/kneads). Sometimes, they are idiots. Yep. Happens all the time. Books are rejected and go on to become bestsellers with someone else. And sometimes they’re NOT wrong. Sometimes the book is fruther edited and polished by the author… and sells. Be dispassionate and sensible. It’s weird but it works ;-).

And sometimes it doesn’t sell. Ever. (shrug) The best way forward is to write the next, and send it out again (and while you wait, write the next), until you’re sure it doesn’t have a home to go to. Because… well if you have one story you’ve obsessed about and tried to sell for 20 years… when the dam bursts there is no weight of manuscripts to sell. Otherwise, when the dam bursts finally on that 23rd manuscript… you might find a great future for all the other 22.

OK so who is sitting on those ‘children’ polishing them that little more more before letting them out? And who got really shirty at a vaguely harsh comment? And who wrote a snotty comment back to the rejector?

Don’t all shout at once 😉

>Follow the Rules — of Submitting and other fun things

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I’m a little late posting this morning because, miracle of miracles, the dog and cat decided to be nice and wake the rest of the household instead of me. So, without further delay, here goes….

Several months ago, the local library asked if I’d be interested in helping start a critique group there. Mind you, it’s been something I’ve asked about off and on for a year or more. The problem has always been space. Our library is bursting at the seams right now and we are anxiously awaiting the completion of the new building next year. Any way, I digress.

The critique group has been an interesting experience for me because I’m the “pro”. I’m the one with the experience and the only one with any pro publications under my belt. More than that, it has shown me the importance of research. Not only about your current project — you know, making sure you don’t have your character from Tudor England using plastic toothpicks or your aliens from a totally non-Earth planet drinking coffee on their spaceship — but also about your target market, be it an agent, an editor or readers.

Part of knowing your target market for an agent, and even for a publisher, is knowing what they want AND knowing their submission requirements. There have been several blogs this week where agents discuss the how-to of their submission processes. Jane Dystel, of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management, discusses the “etiquette” of submitting to their agency. First on her list is “read the agency’s submission guidelines”. That seems so simple and yet it is ignored so often. As writers, we sometimes seem to think the rules don’t apply to us. After all, if we send our murder mystery to Agent X printed on blood red paper and little hearts with tiny knives sticking out of them decorate our envelop that will have to get us noticed and moved to the top of their to be read stack, right? Wrong. It will get you noticed. But you’ll find the bottom of File 13, not the top of the TBR stack.

Another one of Ms. Dystel’s rules is to be sure you include all your contact information. Apparently, there are some of us out there who think agents are also mind readers. They don’t need our email addresses or phone numbers. If they like our project enough, they’ll be able to magically devine how to contact us. (That sound you near now is my head thudding against my desk as I wonder if I remembered to put my email address on the last submission I sent out…oh, I did. Whew!) More to the point, in my opinion, than Ms. Dystel’s rules of how to submit is Jessica Faust’s blog entry on how to get an instant rejection from her agency (BookEnds, LLC).

In short, you need to read up on the agent and what he represents, what he’s looking for and then, if submitting to him, follow the agency’s submission guidelines. In other words, reseach.

(steps off of soapbox)

Some links of interest this week:

  • Rachelle Gardner wrote a five-part series on “Proposal to Publication” this past week. While I might not agree with everything she says, there are some good points there.
  • WriterJenn has an interesting post about how, as a writer, you need to be patient.

And, as always, ebooks are in the news:

  • Barnes & Noble announced the launch of its own ebook store. It will have something along the line of 700,000 books and, in conjunction with this, B&N announced it has entered into an exclusive agreement with Plastic Logic to provide ebooks for its reader.
  • PBS took on the issue of how the publishing industry is confronting “changing reader habits”. It’s an interesting article/interview about how ebooks are changing not only the face of publishing but also how they are impacting the brick and mortar stores.
  • Finally, the Idea Logical Blog discusses “A context in which to evaluate ebook strategies” and the four phases that will, or have, occurred in the process of ebooks becoming a true major player in the publishing landscape.

Lots of links, a little soap boxing, so how about discussion now? What are your thoughts on any of this?

>The biology revolution

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As some of you know, I am a (semi) retired research scientist in the field of biology. Much, maybe most, biological research is now molecular. Molecular biology started with the deconstruction of a DNA molecule by Watson and Crick in ’53, very close to my birth date. The development of PCR in ’84 by Mullis was the first key step in molecular technology.

Molecular biology has turned out to be far more complex than it first appeared so, as yet, practical impacts of molecular research have been felt mainly in the field of identification. Bioengineering is still largely a matter for science fiction but that will change. Drug companies are moving out of random screening of likely organic molecules into a race for gene-based designer drugs.

Bioengineering is likely to have the most tremendous impact on our social system because, unlike the products of the industrial revolution and the electronic revolution, it will affect us directly.

The interesting point about technology is not that it gives new or better gadgets but that it changes society itself. Consider how sewage systems, pesticides, mass transport, electronic media and contraceptive pills have changed the way we do things, the way we think, our very morality.

Molecular technology will challenge our society and conventions of morality as has no other technology because it will be used to change ourselves and create new life.

The churches seem to have no idea what is about to hit. The CoE vicars that I have spoken to seem mainly worked up about cloning copies of individuals. That will be the least of our issues. We will start by eradicating genetic disease and then run straight into problems with the definition of ‘disease’. Does that include cosmetics such as nose size, hight, breast size, or penis size? Will we have generations of little girls all looking like the contemporary celeb bimbo or should we just make showgirls with extra long legs?

Is it a good idea to up the anti-cancer immune response to people working with cancerous materials? How about manufacturing worker classes to do specific jobs?

Good SF is about people, not things.

So, here is a challenge.

What bioengineering development’s impact on society do you think would make a good SF story?