Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Her Majesty's Guardian" is now out!

My short story, "Her Majesty's Guardian," is being sent out to Daily Science Fiction's e-mail list today.  It'll be appearing on the website in about a week.  Here's a small taste:

"The Council's vote was unanimous," Duke Richard said. He looked ridiculous in a bright yellow doublet. The color would make anyone look foolish, as the other old men seated around the table proved, but its gaiety was especially jarring against Richard's habitual dark expression. "You know your duty, Guardian."
Alric, in his customary black, stood out like a crow among canaries. He wanted to protest further, but he had no arguments left after the last hour's debate. More arguing would only convince them to give his task to someone else, and he couldn't do that to her. He felt a heavy weight settle on his chest as he bowed to the Duke. "I will do as you command, Your Grace. But I will never forgive myself." Or you.

 I hope you enjoy the story.  If you're interested in other stories I've published, here's a quick list:

My wife, Kristin, also writes science fiction and fantasies.  You may also be interested in her stories.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Writing vs. Blogging

I've been looking over my most recent blog posts, and I'm worried that my blogging skills have atrophied.  Once upon a time I wrote three posts a day, every day, generally on political topics.  Then I got a real job, started writing fiction seriously, got in a serious relationship, and got married, in that order.  My blogging dropped off to once a month or so.  I decided, fairly recently, to try to blog more regularly, and now I'm writing a post once a week.  But my blogging has taken a hit.  I don't think I'm as good a blogger anymore.  I'm not, however, a worse writer.  I'm pretty sure that I'm a better writer.  But the skills involved in blogging and in writing are different enough that I can be good at one and not the other.

There are several reasons for that:
  • Blogging is shorter.  When I write, I'm generally writing a story on the order of 8,000 words, or a novel on the order of 80,000.  For a blog post, 800 words is long.  My tendency to write longer does not help me write the succinct posts that blogging requires.
  • Blogging has little, if any, chance for revision.  My fiction has a rigorous, four revision process.  A blog post may get a quick once over.  I'm used to pushing through to the end of a story, then going back and making sure I get all the details right.  One of the most important parts of that revision process is waiting.  I can't go back and revise something right after I've finished.  I have to wait some time, typically weeks, to get some distance from it, before I can look at it with fresh eyes.  I can't do that with blog posts.  I might be able to give it an hour or two, but that's all the distance I can manage before it publishes.
  • Blogging has a different purpose.  This one's so obvious that it's easy to overlook.  In a story, I'm focusing on things like plot, characterization, and description.  In blogging, I'm writing about facts and opinions, often in bulleted lists like this one.  In a story I'm making things up; in a blog post, I need to get facts straight.  Oh, they aren't entirely orthogonal endeavors.  I need to get facts straight in stories too, when it comes to the real world parts.  Blogging can often benefit from detailed description, and even a clear plot structure.  Overall, though, they do have different purposes, and require different types of writing to meet those goals.
Since I don't intend to stop blogging, I'm trying to get better at it, or at least recover my atrophied skills.  That requires blogging more, but I don't want to blog so much that I don't have time for other things--such as fiction writing.  Still, I'll be making an effort to pick up the pace of my blogging.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Getting ideas

One of the most common questions writers get is "Where do you get your ideas?"  Their most common answer is "I don't know."  Writers have ideas.  They don't really know where they come from.  But as any writer can tell you, ideas are a dime a dozen.  They're plentiful and manifold, and not really worth anything.  The real work of writing is always the execution, turning the idea into a story.

That said, it's not, contrary to what some writers say, impossible to teach how to come up with ideas.  Writers don't know where ideas come from because they don't really think about it.  But there is a process.  Or more accurate, there are dozens, hundreds, thousands of processes for coming up with ideas.  One of the most common is to take two ideas which are out there and combine them.  But where do those ideas come from?  Newspaper articles, technical papers, real-life experience, movies, other stories, etc.  They're all around you.  Any real story is going to intertwine dozens of ideas.  Just about every story is about how someone reacts to something.  Psychology meets technology, sociology, or even just some more psychology.

But what I want to talk about is something a bit different.  Rather than talk about how you combine ideas, I want to talk about how you develop one.  What do I mean by that?  Well, to start, you need a concept.
  1. Concept. The concept is not the idea.   Rather, it is the basis for the idea.  If you're writing a science fiction story, it may be a technology--nanotechnology, or genetic engineering.  If you're writing a fantasy, it could be a magic system.  If you're writing something more down to earth, it could also be a social structure, an organization, or even a relationship.
  2. Research and Development.  This is where you figure out how your concept works.  This may involve real world research in the technology, or similar societies.  It will also involve some thought into how things work, and figuring out the details.  Some of this will be made up.  Even if you're working with a real society or technology, you're probably going to need it to behave differently than it does today.
  3. Destruction.  Now that you've developed your society or technology or magic system, it's time to break it.  Figure out what can go wrong.  Then ask yourself, "Is this too obvious?  Is it too easy?"  If it is, then maybe you need to fix it.  Things which are too easy to break are fragile, and anyone with half a brain wouldn't put their trust in that technology.  Readers won't be able to suspend their disbelief.  But some things aren't obvious, or just are very hard to break, even though these can have catastrophic effects.  Should you fix these too?  Of course not! 
  4. The idea.  By now, you have your idea.  Have fun with it! ... "What idea?" you ask.  The one you just came up with.  You figured out how to break your system.  You found the interesting part to write about for your technology or society: when things go wrong.  There's a great story there--go ahead and write it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hiking this past weekend

Kristin and I went hiking this weekend.  It was an adventure.  By which I mean, Irene and the following storms had left things a mess.  It started when we got to the road leading to the trail and found a sign saying Road Closed (though not actually blocking the road).  Not to be deterred, we continued until we reached the turn off for the trail head, only to find that the dirt road was impassable.  Rain had left huge ditches in the road, more than our tiny car could handle.  So we decided to hike 1.8 miles up the road until we reached the trail head.  After getting a little bit lost, we found it, and ate lunch.  Then we started on the trail, and got a mile into it before we reached a sign saying "Trail Closed" due to unsafe conditions.  After some discussion, we turned back, and returned to our car.  Overall, we hiked about as far as we had intended, but not on the trails we had planned.

Nevertheless, the hike proved a good chance for me to test out some new equipment.  Most notably, a new backpack which I had just received from my wife.  An Osprey Atmos 65.  It held up well for the hike.  It's most notable feature is the ventilation--the part that presses up against your back consists of netting, rather than solid material, in theory so that your back doesn't get overheated.  It was indeed better than normal, though my back wasn't really cool and dry, as some reviewers claimed.  Maybe I just sweat a lot.  I also wore my new hiking boots, a pair of Oboz Yellowstone II.  They also held up pretty well.  They had good traction, decent support (once I tightened the laces), and were comfortable, not raising any blisters.  The waterproofing on them seemed good as well, though I didn't tramp through any brooks.

So, overall, I thought the trip was worthwhile, even if we didn't reach any really good viewing points.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Upcoming Story

Daily Science Fiction has announced its stories for September 2011, and if you look there at the bottom, around September 29th, you'll see my name listed.  My story, "Her Majesty's Guardian," will be coming out at the end of the month.  But if you want to read it then, you'll need to subscribe to Daily Science Fiction, which delivers its stories via e-mail.  Of course, if you're willing to wait a week longer, it'll appear on their website, but as I know you're all eager to see my story, I'm sure you'll get a subscription.