Thursday, January 27, 2011

Have you guys seen Heinlein's Rules?

Robert A. Heinlein had these five simple rules for making it as a writer, originally appearing in his essay "On the Writing of Speculative Fiction", but some people believe they're as true now, and for any genre, as they were then for speculative fiction:

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

Robert J. Sawyer has a great blog post that goes into a bit more depth on these classic rules. Rule number 3 is sometimes maligned, but he interpets it as "No tweaking" not "No polishing".

I've mentioned before that I'm doing Write 1, Sub 1, and in a way that's forcing me to follow Heinlein's rules whether I agree with them or not.  I have a story to write every week and I have to sub a story every week, so... I guess I'm doing things Heinlein's way. And as long as I'm doing that anyway, I guess I might as well follow these rules purposefully and see what happens. That means over the course of this year, I'll write over 50 stories (4 down so far) and submit at least as many times.  I'm curious to see where I end up in 2011 - publication credits or no, that's a lot of writing practice!

What do you think of Heinlein's rules?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Full Dark, No StarsFirst of all, I love the title of Stephen King's latest, and that's the primary reason I picked it up.  The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon is one of my favorite novels ever, but I'm not usually a big horror reader. Okay, I admit Apt Pupil seemed like a pretty good story, but I put that one down once I caught a hint of tortured cats. There are some things I just can't handle in my horror.

But I saw the title, Full Dark, No Stars, and I saw the gorgeous-disturbing-stark cover, and fine. I'll give it a shot. After all,  there's no denying King is one hell of a storyteller.

Full Dark, No Stars contains four long stories. In "1922", there's a man who kills his wife, convincing his young son to help with the murder and disposal of her body, only to find themselves "hainted". That story was disturbing, but effective. Even though the protag in 1922 is unsympathetic, it's still heartbreaking to see the damage unfold around him.

"Big Driver" was a hard story for me to read, about a woman who is brutally raped and left for dead - and then seeks revenge on her own. Brilliant characterization and pacing. The only fault I found was a few instances of word choice that pulled me out of the story thinking, "Okay, definitely a man writing from a woman's perspective." But even though I looked up numerous times during this story to ask MJ why I was reading about people being hurt - like the news isn't depressing enough - I thought this was a fantastic story. My favorite of the four.

"Fair Extension", the third and shortest story in the book, didn't work all that well for me. It's about a man who makes a deal with the devil, saving his own life - and allowing him to watch his best friend suffer instead.  I had a hard time accepting the characterization in this one - the guy who seems like a sort-of OK type at the beginning gets far too much enjoyment out of the unrelenting misery of others.

On the other hand, "A Good Marriage" was very, very good indeed, even if the marriage itself wasn't. What would you do if one day you discovered your spouse of twenty-odd years was, in fact, a notorious serial killer? That's the question Darcy faces... along with the serious face of her husband, promising he'll never, ever do it again. Really.

The stories are interconnected in that they explore the darkest side of human nature - the "stranger within us all", and I think perhaps that's part of why "Big Driver" and "A Good Marriage" resonated most with me - the two protags in those stories were the most sympathetic and relatable to me. I could put myself in their shoes, making their same choices.

Recommend for the horror fan, but also for the writing student - I think it's interesting to see how Stephen King does what he does, what makes him so effective as a writer even when he's breaking the rules - whether horror is your bag or not.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I am drawn to stories about geeks. I love geeks in movies. My excitement over Fanboys was serious (Star Wars? Kristen Bell? OMG, it was like I'd ordered up a movie just to suit me and someone made it) and I was pretty psyched for Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (which should have been titled Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Giant Letdown, just because Michael Cera's character, despite being a geek, was a misogynist prick. That ain't redeemable). The best ever example of geeks, for me, was the fantastic television show Freaks and Geeks, which I can't recommend highly enough, and actually need to go watch again right now having thought of it.

But I especially love geeks in fiction. Or want to, anyway. I rarely find books about geeks - especially girl geeks - that read true to life.  Far more often, it seems that the writer tells us a character is a geek, makes him or her strong at academics, and maybe puts them in ill-fitting clothes and ugly shoes. Aaand that's it.


Now this is where I have to make a confession. I am a pretty big geek. Over the years, I've learned to pass for normal. I married another geek who passes for normal, and in fact, I was so deep in hiding that, while MJ loves my dork side, he didn't even know I read comic books until we were married.  But I read every Star Wars novel published up until 2003, I have a rock collection, and I went to Geek U. (seriously, you would not believe the things I saw at my college) where I minored in Physics and crushed on a boy who wore a periodic table of the elements t-shirt.

I like to think that I know a little something about the subject, and these are the defining characteristics of how I'd classify a true geek:
  • Obsessive interest in one subject or more. Probably a subject most other people are not interested in, but regardless of whether it's generally considered interesting or not, their level of knowledge is Not Normal. 
  • Some degree of dissatisfaction with the world as it is - and a response of seeking out some type of escapism.
  • Disregard of some social norm. Yeah, you've got the serious geeks who wear their homemade chain mail to class (I went to school with multiple people who did this) and who can't make eye contact, and then you have the cool geeks who are just slightly quirky. But you're not a geek unless you sometimes slip up and talk too much about something you find interesting, only to realize you are being stared at blankly because no on else cares about the physics of A Wrinkle In Time, or linger over geeky t-shirts you know you shouldn't wear in public, or something. Something that says This Girl Over Here? Not Quite Normal.
For the record, it's not like MJ and I have matching Unobtanium t-shirts or anything.

Also, I'm beginning to realize I may have overthought this. Sorry, but that's sort of what I do. And I want to know, why the absence of the geek? Are they too hard for the average reader to relate to? Because I think, while not everyone will bounce up and down with excitement when someone makes  a math joke or a Star Trek reference, we can all relate to feeling a bit socially awkward or out of place in this world.

...can't we?

Anyone have any book recs to prove me wrong in my analysis of a lack of geekery in modern fiction?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I'm just doing two challenges this year, in keeping with my resolution to simplify (I still hate you, Thoreau, even if I sometimes take your advice).

The writing challenge: Write 1, Sub 1. For short fiction writers, this is such a fun idea.  You write a short story and submit a short story to a journal or 'zine every week (or every month, if you go for the lite version).

Why yes, it is a little nuts. But so far, I've written two stories and sent out half-a-dozen, and I'm excited to see what the rest of the year brings - it's cool to think that at the end of '11, I'll have over 50 new stories written and 50 (let's just say it) rejections or acceptances.

It's not too late to join up - I'd love to know if anyone else is doing W1S1!

The reading challenge: 2011 Debut Authors.  As much as I love to read, this challenge is special in particular. I love the idea of supporting debut authors - and discovering new authors that I'll continue to read. 

And, in other news, I'm going to run another marathon this year. To help counterbalance all that time I spend sitting at my computer, banging at the keys, creating stories and eating M&Ms.

What crazy (awesome) things are y'all up to in 2011?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

MJ gave me a Kindle for Christmas, something he's already claiming was a mistake, since all I want to do is read (and play the free word games I downloaded - don't tell him that though).
The Vespertine
I finished The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell last night (releasing March 7, 2011). It has a beautiful cover, but the story is beautiful too. 

The summer of 1889 is the one between childhood and womanhood for Amelia van den Broek-and thankfully, she's not spending it at home in rural Maine. She's been sent to Baltimore to stay with her stylish cousin, Zora, who will show her all the pleasures of city life and help her find a suitable man to marry.

Archery in the park, dazzling balls and hints of forbidden romance-Victorian Baltimore is more exciting than Amelia imagined. But her gaiety is interrupted by disturbing, dreamlike visions she has only at sunset-visions that offer glimpses of the future. Soon, friends and strangers alike call on Amelia to hear her prophecies. Newly dubbed "Maine's Own Mystic", Amelia is suddenly quite in demand.

However, her attraction to Nathaniel, an artist who is decidedly outside of Zora's circle, threatens the new life Amelia is building in Baltimore. This enigmatic young man is keeping secrets of his own- still, Amelia finds herself irrepressibly drawn to him. And while she has no trouble seeing the futures of others, she cannot predict whether Nathaniel will remain in hers.

When one of her darkest visions comes to pass, Amelia's world is thrown into chaos. And those around her begin to wonder if she's not the seer of dark portents, but the cause.

What's funny is that I actually wasn't sure about The Vespertine when I first picked it up. I loved the first sentence:

I woke in Oak Haven, utterly ruined.

Wow. There's a promie there that makes me want to read on. But what follows are some fevered, discombobulating paragraphs. The narrator, Amelia, is pretty much nuts and locked away in a bedroom, and while her madness comes through clearly, for me it wasn't the most engaging beginning.

But I read on, and once Lizzie, her sister-in-law, enters the picture to let Amelia loose, I was hooked. Sweet, spirited and wise, Lizzie is a well-developed secondary character, even though she's only in a few chapers. I enjoyed Saunders' skillful characterization and dialogue, and found myself caring for the fate of not just Amelia and Nathaniel, but for Zora and her friends and cousins. 

Most of the story is set in 19th century Baltimore, and I thought it felt well-researched and evocative; it was interesting to see through Amelia's eyes.

But. The real test of how much I liked this book? It could be considered in many ways a paranormal romance, complete with intense-love-at-first-sight, which usually has the combined effect of making me complain about reinforcing ridiculous teenage expectations of romance and toss books aside. But I didn't do that this time, because I was reading it on a Kindle and it might break. No, seriously, I didn't do it this time because it just worked for me.  It felt right for the story, that sheltered Amelia falls head-over-heels for the inappropriate "Fourteenth" (Nathaniel, an artist), especially since her paranormal powers begin to waken after they meet...

And, no matter how lovesick they are, Amelia and Zora have a strong friendship (cemented with clever and enjoyable dialogue), which is something I really love seeing in YA. Or anywhere. The friendships of women are just as important as our loves.

Definitely, I recommend The Vespertine if you like YA historical or YA paranormal romance; as if you couldn't tell I was recommending this one to read in 2011. Loved it!