Writing Update – April 2022

I haven’t quite finished another book in time to get a review up today, so I’m going to give an update on the status of my writing instead.

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For last week, I made steady progress on my current novel, East of the Sun, finishing about 2500 words. This is a hard science fiction novel set on a space station orbiting Enceladus. Here is the current blurb I’m using for the book and you can see some artwork I created that I felt captured the feel of a possible cover.

After her laboratory is destroyed and her career is threatened, a damaged scientist must investigate a new life form that has infiltrated Etna Station; but when crew members begin vanishing and life support fails, she must put her past aside and embrace a new existence if there is hope for any of them to survive.

I’m experimenting with using the Save the Cat! technique for novel writing that I found in the book Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. I have a lot of the plot outlined but I have to fill in many of the details as I go.

When writers talk about their technique for writing, we usually break it into two subcategories: plotters and pantsers. Plotters are writers who map out most of the book ahead of time and then write off of extensive outlines. Pantsers are writers who fly the the seat of their pants. These writers come up with a story idea and/or character and then just write to see where it takes them.

I am some awkward hybrid of both types of writers. This makes learning the process of how to create a coherent plot an exercise in frustration and a lot of rewriting.

I have a couple of short stories making the rounds at markets. I need to find some time to rewrite or revise some of my other short fiction because I don’t have enough ready to submit to magazines. Before I do that, I want to gain more momentum on East of the Sun though.

For the writers out there, are you a plotter or a plantser? Let me know in the comments above.

SFWA Changes Membership Requirements

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I wanted to write about this change because I only happened to discover it when one friend made brief mention of it on Facebook and I thought other writers might not be aware of it. In any case, SFWA is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the professional organization for fiction writers in these genres. For many aspiring writers, membership is an early career goal. Former requirements for full membership were either publication of one novel or two short stories in approved “pro-level” markets.

With changes in publishing models, the requirements for SFWA membership have changed a few times in recent years. This latest update changes the requirements for both full membership and associate membership to be based around a writer’s total income from their writing, setting the bar for full membership at $1000 and associate membership at $100.

You can find the full details at the SFWA site here.

With this change, I was eligible to join. So as of last week, I’m an associate member of SFWA! You can find the benefits of membership listed here. I’ve been browsing the forums and have already received an issue of the newsletter.

If I want to upgrade to full membership I’ll have to publish additional short stories or a novel. But that has always been the goal, memberships and associations aside.

Who else is new member of SFWA? Let me know in the comments above.

March Reading and Writing Updates

Wow! Somehow it got to be March already! And of course I’m behind schedule from where I wanted to be on my reading, but I’m not surprised, given that I set a bit of an unrealistic goal.

Looking back at February, here is how it went: I managed to finish Magical Midlife Madness by K. F. Breene (review here) and All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai (review here). I just finished Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert this past weekend (technically in March) and I have a review coming up on that book later this week. With some work-related projects and other obligations, I got bogged down and didn’t get through all the other books I wanted to.

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The other books I’m currently reading are The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan and Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. With a long drive this weekend, I’m making solid progress on Harrow the Ninth because I’m listening to that as an audiobook. I also pulled out The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett (my physical non-e-book read) after I finished Magical Midlife Madness, but then decided I needed to catch up on The Dragon Reborn before starting it.

I haven’t given any writing updates recently. I hardly made any progress in February, but I’m expecting that to improve in March. Current projects include the first draft of a hard sci-fi stand alone novel with a working title of East of the Sun, continued work on a stand along sword and sorcery novel called Daughter of the Sun, and a rewrite of a short story involving dream magic. I don’t know why both novel projects involve the sun, but I think East of the Sun will get renamed at some point.

Also, if you haven’t seen it already, Brandon Sanderson sort of shamed all writers out there in regards to productivity last week. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out his video here. So clearly I need to up my writing game.

Are you reading as much as you had hoped this year? Are you a writer? Tell me about your projects in the comments above.

How to Write Book Reviews

Since I haven’t finished either of the two books that I’m currently reading, I thought I’d step back and put together my thoughts on how to go about writing book reviews.

The first part of this is deciding which books to review. I read mostly science fiction and fantasy, so that is what I feel most comfortable reviewing. I do read in other genres and review some of those books, but in many cases, I’m not the right audience for those types of stories. My reviews may be less helpful to potential readers than a review by someone who actively reads in the genre. So generally pick a genre that you like and are familiar with.

Finding Books for Review

Once you decide more generally what to review, you also need to have books to read. I purchase a lot of them myself, but as you get more experience doing reviews, you may be able to sign up for a site like Net Galley, or get on lists from publishers where you will be sent advance copies. I’ve picked up bags of books at conventions – mostly World Fantasy Con or New York Comic-Con. Sometimes a few minutes spent chatting with a vendor will result in books for you! I also receive email offers for books to review, as well as having friends who will ask me to review their books. I’m never out of books to read!

Books

All that being said, if you accept a book for review, you should really try to read it and review it. Net Galley tracks your percentage of books reviewed and shows it directly on your profile. This also relates to whether you choose to write negative reviews. Different book review sites will generally have a policy about this. If you’re reviewing on your own blog or web site, then you need to decide this for yourself. If you aren’t going to write negative reviews, then it’s okay not to post your comments on a book that you didn’t like.

A Bit on Negative Reviews

I will write negative reviews, but when I do, it’s important for me to explain why I didn’t like the book. It shouldn’t be an attack on the author, but a professional and well thought out critique. Instead of:

This author’s ideas about space travel are stupid and I thought the plot was boring.

A different way of writing this could be:

The explanation of the faster-than-light travel was unbelievable to me, and the plot lacked tension because I never believed that the characters cared about their goal.

An example from a review that I published:

The plot never went anywhere either, and this may be a personal tic of mine. I prefer a plot-driven story, or at least a character-driven one in which the plot has some motion. I kept waiting for the antagonist or some conflict to appear. There were some interesting revelations near the end of the book, but their impact was minimal to me because I had stopped caring by that point.

What to Include

I don’t think that there is only one way to write a book review. I’m just going to explain my process here. You can write longer or shorter reviews that I do. You can go into greater detail about the plot or delve into symbolism and themes. Here is what I try to include:

  • Set the scene: I list the title, author, and any relevant associations, such as whether this book is part of a series, has been made into a television series or movie, or my history with the author’s other books. If I listened to the book as an audiobook, I usually make note of that because I find that the experience can be a bit different.
  • Picture of the cover: I put a picture of the book cover somewhere near the top.
  • Plot summary: I give the basics as far as genre, main character, and the conflict. Try to avoid spoilers. For a later book in a series, this can be tough, so give a warning if this is the case. The length of my plot summary will vary based on the size of the book and the number of point-of-view characters.
  • Likes/dislikes: At the end of my review, I’ll put some of my personal thoughts about the book. What was my favorite aspect? What was I most excited about? Was there an aspect of the setting or the magic that I found particularly unique? You can compare the book you’re reviewing to other books in the same genre.

That’s about it! In general, think about why you’re writing a review. For myself, I’m trying to write something that will help prospective readers decide if this book is something they’d like.

Have you thought about writing book reviews? Do you run an active book blog? Tell me what and where you review in the comments!

A Quick Update

I’ve been rather inactive on updating this page, but I’ve had a lot going on lately. I should have a little more time now to catch up and to get back to posting here. In no particular order, here is what I’m going to be working on:

I should be back to posting some reviews for books, comics, and television shows.

I’m getting back to writing some fiction, so I may have an occasional update on that.

I’ll be back at fencing practice next week, preparing for competitions as the spring nears. I’m also training for my first triathlon, which will be easier when the weather warms up.

converted PNM file

Mars – Photo courtesy of NASA

Lastly, my main focus for the next few weeks is to work on submitting my application to NASA for the upcoming astronaut selection. The requirements to apply are straightforward, but the odds are very long. I may post an update on that process here if I hear anything more than the standard “thank you for applying, but no” postcard.

Looking for a Few Reviewers

Is anyone out there interested in becoming a book reviewer? I’m looking for a handful of new reviewers over at Book Spot Central for genre novels. The site covers mainly fantasy and science fiction, but books with some mystery or romance elements are fine. You can also review graphic novels.

Benefits include the ability to get a Net Galley account where you can find e-book advance review copies of the latest books. If you may be interested, fill out the form below explaining why you want to write book reviews and a link to anything similar that you’ve written (or paste it into the other box if it isn’t available online).

Inside the World of Longsword Fighting

This video from the New York Times has been making the rounds on Facebook, but I thought that it also may be of interest here.

Inside the World of Longsword Fighting

If you are writing a story with this style of fighting, this group may be able to give you some invaluable practical tips about what it is like to practice this style of sword fighting. I didn’t know that this existed, and while the clothing and armor are not intended to be historically accurate, it sounds like they are trying to faithfully recreate the techniques out of the fencing manuals that we still have.

Video

A Positive Outlook – On Sexism in SF/F

There has been a lot of controversy and commentary in the SF/F writing community of late centered around the last few issues of the SFWA bulletin. I am not a SFWA member, so I have only heard about this second-hand and have not been able to find the cover art in question or all of the articles. Jim C. Hines has a nice summary of links here, but it centers around accusations of sexism in the SF/F publishing industry over the course of three recent issues of the SFWA bulletin. I’m not going to rehash the details here because others have already done a more informed and thorough job than I can. What I do want to say, is that most of the writers and editors that I have met at conventions or through the internet have not shown any overt sexism or unprofessional behavior. Perhaps I’m lucky. Perhaps I’m just unobservant. But whatever the reasons, I wanted to share some of my positive experiences that, I think, illuminate how much progress has been made for women in recent decades.

First off, I work as a veterinarian in my “day job” and veterinary medicine is a field which has experienced a dramatic gender shift. From the early 1900’s through most of the 20th century, veterinary colleges admitted primarily male students, citing reasons such as a woman’s lack of physical strength required for work with farm animals and the concern that women would leave the field to start families. I’m sure that at that time, some of this reflected the applicant pool. But from the late 1960’s up to the past decade, the ratio of female students admitted to veterinary colleges in the United States has flip-flopped, going from approximately 11% to 77%. The data from 2009 showed that for the first time, women outnumbered men among practicing veterinarians. This shift in gender in the profession is not completely understood, and there are still gaps in pay between women and men in the field, but I take it as a sign that such a shift could occur in other traditionally male-dominated fields. For more information on this change in veterinary medicine, here is a good summary article.

I grew up a tomboy, playing street hockey and manhunt with my brother and the neighborhood boys. I never felt singled out as the only girl among them. I was bigger than they were (for most of the time), and I played just as hard as they did. Even in college, if I showed up at the local roller-hockey pickup game, I might have received some odd looks, but I was never told that I couldn’t play. At a purely physical level, sure – I was at a disadvantage, being only 5’2″ and lacking testosterone – but we weren’t out there to play professional hockey. I could skate and stick handle better than some of the men. In any group activity there will be players of different skill levels, and this was not an elite group, just a group of friends enjoying the day.

When I began fencing, this was also a male-dominated activity. In my event (saber), there weren’t even competitions held for women. It wasn’t until the 1998-99 season that the NCAA added women’s saber to collegiate competition, followed by the first Olympic individual event in 2004. In fencing, afficianados of a particular weapon are usually ecstatic to have more people train and compete in that weapon. I never experienced anything I could verify as sexism from any competitors, coaches, or tournament staff. Like I said before, maybe I’m oddly fortunate. I’m sure there are others who have had a different experience.

I’m also a PC gamer, and I did have one recent experience that could be loosely called sexism. My cute blond human female character in Guild Wars 2 was busy pursuing quests in a pastoral area of farmland, cows, and peasants. I had just finished one task and was headed off to fight some monsters, when another character began to follow me around. The game allows you to pick up buckets of water and dump them out – presumably you would do this in the correct place to fulfill the quest goals. Instead, this other character asked me, “Do you want a bath?” and proceeded to dump the water on my character repeatedly. I ignored this, never engaged the other player in any conversation, and when I had decided to move on, teleported to a different location. That ended it. Was this a sexist attack on me? The other player had no reason to know that the person behind the character was female. I think rather than label this sexist, I would prefer to call it “being an asshole”. People are going to behave like this at times, and if there is a hint that the target’s gender plays a part, it may be sexist or discriminatory, but I would venture that when you’re being an asshole, you don’t stop to think about those facets of your behavior. There will always be individuals who act out in a malicious way against others, but this shouldn’t be accepted as normal by our modern society.

I don’t want to discount or discredit the experiences of those who have endured serious discrimination. There is still work to be done, and I don’t think that comments on a female editor’s appearance in a bathing suit belong in a commentary about her work. The research studies and case reports that I read in my professional veterinary journals don’t relate information about the author’s bra size or shoe size, be they male or female. Why would they? It’s not relevant. I just want to say that if veterinary medicine and sports can show a willingness to change and be more inclusive to women, then surely SF/F, the field that purports to speculate on the possibilities of the future and imagination can also make progress in this regard.

When Stories Have a Mind of Their Own

The past few weeks have been taken over with holiday recovery, that icky sinus crud that has attacked everyone in the area, and this one persistent story that seems to have a mind of its own.

First, a little news. I have two short stories that will be available in the near future. “Those Magnificent Stars” will appear on February 12 in Perihelion SF. This is an online magazine and is free to read. It focuses on hard sci-fi, so there’s no fantasy to be found here. My piece is a story about a teenage girl whose only birthday wish is to take an excursion outside the dome to see the stars.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) - ESA/Hubble Collaboration

NGC 602 and Beyond. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) – ESA/Hubble Collaboration

The second story to be published is “Princess Thirty-Nine”. This is a fantasy tale and will appear in the Universe Horribilis anthology from Third Flatiron Publishing. This is a themed anthology about an uncaring or hostile universe. My story follows a captive princess and her struggle to understand the world from her limited perspective.

Now back to that story. It started out as a fun exercise. I wanted to take a break from trying to craft a “more serious” story. I decided to write a short adventure tale about space pirates. Somehow a plot device involving nuclear physics crept in. It never managed to get beyond the opening pages, but it was fun. I put it away and went back to other tasks.

A couple of months ago I resurfaced from a writing hiatus after Hurricane Sandy swept across our area. My husband and I were lucky that we only sustained minimal damage with a few downed branches and buckled siding. I rewrote a fantasy story and kicked it out the door (submitted it to an online magazine). I needed a fun project again, and that silly space pirate story called to me. It needed to be written from a different point-of-view, perhaps with an added complication to the plot and more depth to the characters. Maybe it would end up at novelette or novella length. I started typing.

Last week I found myself floundering as the plot branched into avenues that I had not fully considered. I decided to outline the plot threads to help extricate myself from this mess.

Now I have a novel synopsis.

I don’t need another novel idea, but there it is. All laid out in pretty synopsis format. Half the science behind the fiction is physics, half is biomedical. The main character is clear in my head and the secondary ones are lining up to tell me about themselves. So I guess I’m writing a novel. Maybe I’ll finish this one since it seems to have developed a mind of its own.

For any writers out there, do you ever find that one of your stories takes off like this? Do you ever have the opposite experience in which a novel turns into a short story?

Many well-known novels began as short stories (Anne McCaffrey with Weyr Search/Dragonflight; Orson Scott Card with Ender’s Game). Do you ever read a novel and wish that you had only read a short section of it? Is there a particular short story that you would love to see extended into a novel?

Goals – Do You Set Them?

It’s a new year, and also a time at which many of us think about goals and accomplishments. This may be retrospective – thinking about your activities over the past year. Or if you look forward, then it’s more about making new goals for the future. It can also be both.

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For myself, I had several different goals that I had set for 2012. I’m not sure that I met any of them. BUT – I worked at these goals. For one example, I decided that I would participate in a 2012 reading challenge over at Goodreads. I set a goal of 50 books. I think I read 28. I blame George R.R. Martin and his long, long books for slowing me down on this one. But you know what? I still read a lot of books. More than I probably did for 2011. I’m trying it again in 2013 and I have a better idea of what it will take to read all 5o.

One of the larger goals that I had set was to write the first draft of a historical fantasy novel. I did manage to start much of the research, outline characters and some of the plot, and write a few chapters. I took a break from it, but instead of halting all my writing, I went back to short stories. I wrote at least eight of those through the year. So while I finished other tasks that weren’t my original goals, I still feel like I’m making progress on my writing.

I also try to constantly fling rejected stories back out to other potential markets. I had done pretty well with this in 2011, but mid-2012 I slacked off. My rejected stories would linger in my files for weeks before I would research the markets and send them off again. I regained my focus around August, and now I have two stories that have been accepted for publication and will be out in 2013.

So, as a writer, do you set goals for the upcoming year, next month, daily? Do you go back and assess how you did? What are your plans for 2013?

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