Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Auf Wiedersehen

I want to thank Chris for inviting me in the first place, and everyone else for being so kind and welcoming. I've enjoyed being part of this blog group, but after missing my last two appointed dates, it probably became obvious that something was going on. 

My life, at the moment, is a bit haywire. Okay, a lot haywire. I'm sure that's true of most writers and somehow, they manage to get things written nonetheless. I've been struggling a great deal, lately; 2014 has been a tough year and I finally told Chris that it was time for me to bow out of this blog group. I had to think about it long and hard, but I think it's a better idea to leave with some dignity instead of being invited out of the bunch for being unreliable!

Thank you, all of you, who were kind enough to read and comment to my little posts. I'm blown away by the amount of talent in this gathering, and I wish each and every one of you the success you so deserve. May all your writing dreams come true in the most resounding way possible.


Friday, November 7, 2014

Psi: Magic or Science?

I've always been interested in psychic powers in fiction. When I first encountered extrasensory perception (ESP) in my father's collection of science fiction, those abilities were either something that advanced species had or what the human race was acquiring as the next stage of evolution. Stories such as Children of the Atom (1953) by Wilmar Shiras (which inspired both the X-Men comics and the British television show The Tomorrow People) hinted that the radiation in Earth's atmosphere due to all the atomic bomb explosions and tests of the 1940s and 50s had affected human evolution.

Zenna Henderson's The People series (first published 1952) had advanced human-like aliens with psi abilities settling on Earth. Alexander H. Key's Escape to Witch Mountain (1968) and the later Disney movies using the book as inspiration have the similar plotline of psychic children from a more advanced planet.

Mark Philips in the early 1960s had an FBI agent slowly acquire psi abilities, first learning telepathy before picking up teleportation. In the "Psi-Power" series one could both be born with psi abilities as well as learn them. Anne McCaffrey's Talents universe (first story in 1959) and even her Dragonriders universe (first story 1967) supposed that humans in the future would have psi powers. James Schmitz's "Agent of Vega" (1949) and his Hub Universe stories have humans in the far future with psi powers teamed up with aliens with the same abilities.

Redheads with psi abilities in stories were common a long time before Jean Grey in The X-Men and Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series. That trope came about because of the stereotype of the Celtic people (Irish and Scottish primarily) having "second sight". All the stories I recall reading in the 1960s and 70s which had redheaded psychics usually mentioned the character's Irish or Scottish background.

Movies such as The Power (1968), The Fury (1978) and Firestarter (1984, based on the 1980 book by Stephen King) usually had a government agency studying the phenomenon in a scientific way before things go badly. Television series such as The Sixth Sense (1972) and Beyond Reality (1991-1993) had academics (sometimes at a university) studying psi powers and usually mentioning real life J B Rhine at Duke University who had tests for extrasensory perception. The Omega Factor (1979) television series went back to the government agency trope as did the recent remake of The Tomorrow People.

In real life, J B Rhine at Duke University (who coined the phrase "parapsychology") did have tests for clairvoyance, precognition and telepathy. There were rumors (and books written) of both the Soviets and the Americans having secret agencies using psychic abilities such as remote viewing to see hidden military facilities.

The list of psychic abilities has many different terms, but the ones commonly used in fiction are telepathy, telekinesis, teleportation, clairvoyance and precognition. Even before the overall term of "parapsychology" shifted over to "paranormal", mediums and communication with the dead was a trait that was felt to be more fantasy than science, but how well it was explained could shift the story into one or the other genre. In real life, psychics and mediums are still on television, but drama shows with psychics helping police departments have disappeared. Psychic telephone networks moved to the very very late night and seem to have faded from view. The Wikipedia entry for psychic mentioned a study in 2008 where neurological imaging was done to detect telepathy (which failed) and analyses (latest one done in 2011) of television mediums and how their shows are edited.

But back to ESP and psychic abilities in fiction. Various psychic abilities have been present in fantasy for a long time. The genres of "paranormal" and "urban fantasy" usually had those abilities labeled more as magic. Clairvoyance or precognition might require a crystal ball for focus, levitation may or may not need a wand, and teleportation (or apportation) would use a spell or magic portal. The terms used were not always the same between the genre, which was one way to distinguish them. Whether the story was categorized as fantasy or science fiction usually depended on the actual story itself and not just the inclusion of one element. I write stories with characters with psychic abilities. Some stories are fantasy with elves and wizards and an empath who can heal and some are stories about space-traveling agents who have psychic abilities as part of their job skills.

But at some point psychic abilities in a story stopped automatically tagging the story as "maybe" science fiction or fantasy and instead immediately moved the story into the realm of fantasy. I heard one author mention that her space opera (with space ships and numerous alien races) was labeled "space fantasy" because some of her characters had powerful ESP.

There are some times, though, when the author does have the say as to what the story will be labeled. Sarah Beth Durst's newest book, Chasing Power has one character with telekinetic abilities and another with the ability to teleport. While I was reading it, I was thinking it was science fiction and then the abilities were described in the book as "magic." The rest of the excellent book has adventure and even more magic, so the fantasy genre is a good fit.

What do you think when you encounter ESP in a story? Are psychic abilities magic or science? Or do you depend on the other story elements before you label it? What are some of your favorites?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

FACE YOUR FEARS

I'm cross posting this from my personal blog. Enjoy.

My post today is Face Your Fears.
 
 
The idea came to me last month when I had a table at the local library's annual Craft Show.
My table where I hoped to sell some books was on the second floor. The library is a beautiful building that once was home to one of the early settlers of the town. When he passed on, he left the home to the city with the stipulation that they make it a library. They did and it is quite fascinating.
 
Anyhow, back to my story. To reach the second floor I either had to climb the curved narrow stairs or ride the elevator. I hate small places like elevators, closets, and submarines, (that's another story) so I opted to use the stairs. That was okay, but then I decided I was silly to be afraid of an elevator, especially with all the books I had to take upstairs. So I swallowed a huge breath of air and stepped into the elevator with my books. I got to the top without fainting.
 
This reminded me of writing. Do you have fears when writing a story, whether a new one or one you've been working on for years?
 
Do you have fears when you send your baby off, to an agent or publisher? The baby you've pampered and loved for months, even years? Will they love it? Will they hate it? 
 
Do you have fears when they send you a contract to publish your book? What if no one reads it? What if they hate it? What if they give you horrible reviews?
 
Do you have fears when your precious story is published? Will it be ranked number ten jillion on Amazon?
 
Stop. Think. You wrote a story. How many people are always "going to" write a story, but never do. You sent your story off. Some people write, but stash their work in a box and never send it anywhere. You got a contract. Yay. You wouldn't have if you'd kept your story to yourself. And don't worry about your rankings. You've accomplished your goal. Many people never do.

So smile, say "I did it," and enjoy knowing that you faced your fears and overcame them. 
 
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Happy Reading and Writing.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end...

I can't remember the title of the song, but that line always strikes me as incredibly poignant. It's the last line of the song, and I know it, but I can't remember the title or the artist. Wait, Google is your friend: Closing Time, by Semisonic. 



I have been thinking about endings a lot lately. A friend posted a meme on FB -- you never know when it will be the last time you do something with your children. The last time they crawl into your lap, or the last time they hold your hand crossing the street. It'll be the last time, but you don't know it.

This year is my son's last year at elementary school. So many 'lasts'. Last Halloween parade and party. Last parent-teacher conference (hopefully!). Last holiday party. Last year staying at his pop-pop's before school. Later in the year it will be his last Field Day. Then graduation. I wasn't ready for it to be the last year, but here we are. Now I'm treasuring the lasts, because I KNOW they will be lasts.

How often do we get to realize in the moment that something is happening for the last time? That's a gift, really. I am dreading some lasts -- soon enough I know that it'll be the last time he wants to dress up for Halloween. We've had some real fun coming up with costumes-- Draco Malfoy, Doctor Who, Percy Jackson. This year Agent Coulson was a big hit. Eventually he'll want to go out without me trick-or-treating. And then he'll be done with it altogether. Someday soon I'll have to stop sending gifts from "Santa" -- that day is coming very soon, I think. He'll be twelve, he can't believe forever, though I'd like for him to.

Not trying to be a downer, but when you're a writer this kind of stuff gets stuck in your head.

It's not all doom and gloom. Like the song says, endings means new beginnings. Next year in middle school, he'll have all kinds of firsts. First time moving classes every period. First time coming home earlier than we do. First time using a locker (yikes!). I'm sure I'll have all kinds of new and interesting stuff to look forward to.

Meanwhile, I'll enjoy what remains of what we're doing now. Tempus fugit!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

NaNoWriMo Time Again

It's that time of year again - when the world is suddenly full of novelists trying to get in fifty thousand words before the end of November.

I've participated in NaNoWriMo several times, and all but one made the goal (the year I didn't, I got the flu and lost my momentum). This year I won't be participating because I'm in the middle of too many other projects to have it make any sense for me, but here are a few tips for those of you who are giving it a go.

1) Have a plan. You don't necessarily have to have your entire story plotted out and outlined, but you should know where you want to end up. Much easier to get someplace if you know where that place is.

2) Don't worry about editing - that's one of the major rules of NaNoWriMo - no editing - just write forward. Keep going. Don't worry about what you've already written, you can fix that later. Keep the story moving forward.

3) Connect with other writers - whether you attend a local write-in - or just cheer on your buddies when they post their daily word counts. The added incentive of other people doing the same thing, and being able to see how you are progressing are great ways to keep you motivated

4) Don't fear writer's block. When you get stuck, just write through it. You don't know what to write? Describe what the characters are having for breakfast or the room they are sitting in. Don't worry if it is nonsense, it can come out later when you edit, but if you keep writing you'll find the story again. It's there, waiting for you.

5) Have fun with it!

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Halloween Promotion!

I've been told it's Promo Tuesday here, and I have a sale to promote. My publisher, Amber Quill Press, has the electronic forms of my book, The Crystal Throne, part of its .99 Books and Bundles sale now through November 6th.

Just in time for Halloween! Why is that date significant for The Crystal Throne? Because it's set just before Halloween. Jeanne Tucker and Peter Burns' English teacher assigned their class to write about the "haunted tree" in nearby Wilson's Forest as a Halloween assignment. Like Peter, their teacher was new to town and didn't know about that particular tree. To most of the kids in town, it was just a creepy looking oak tree that people avoided. Jeanne Tucker's grandfather had told her all the legends about that tree, including what he had seen when he was a young boy. Jeanne planned to write about that for her assignment.

Peter Burns, on the other hand, came out to the forest to examine the tree and see why people were so freaked out about it. Unfortunately, his twin sister tagged along. Jeanne Tucker comes across the Burns twins arguing in front of the tree.

Little did any of them know that the tree had plans for them.

Along with the haunted tree, The Crystal Throne has witches, wizards, elves and talking horses. Peter and Jeanne are pulled into a magical world and asked to break a curse. The two twelve-year-olds must work together, which is hard because Peter doesn't believe in magic or even where they are while Jeanne, who loves to read fantasy, knows the real dangers they face.

On sale for .99 now through November 6th at Amber Quill Press, The Crystal Throne is available in several electronic formats, including those for Kindle and Nook.

Friday, October 10, 2014

So You Want to Be An Author

Two things came together lately. First has been a number of articles about writing and the publishing industry. Articles such as "My Best Seller Made Me Nothing" on what it means for your book to be a best-seller and what authors actually make, alerts from Writer Beware and Dear Author on problems with publishers plus even ones about various state IRS agencies considering artists and authors who don't make a lot of money as "not professional".

The second was the request from a student to answer questions about what it means to be a writer. This isn't new; I've had such requests before. The schools usually have a questionnaire that the students have to follow as they interview people in a career that the students are interested in. Some students do their own research to check on the field, and only ask some questions during the interview, but some will just pass along *all* the questions.

The questions that the student should research are the standard ones about job requirements, how many such jobs exists, possible salary, etc. As a former librarian, I know one of the best resources on occupations is the Occupational Outlook Handbook, and for future reference the url for Writers/Authors is http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/writers-and-authors.htm. And, yes, most of the answers to the questions on the questionnaire can be found there.

However, those researching this question should keep in mind that the "average" salary listed in the OOH for a writer doesn't quite reflect that of a lot of authors I know. Most of us have day jobs, and the college degrees are needed for that job rather than the novels we write (the summary is probably for newspaper and journal writers back in 2012. But even for those writers the field has changed). For most authors, average writing income will depend on how many books they have and how many of those are still earning royalties. Jim C. Hines has posted on his blog his writing income over the years (two posts here). John Scalzi posted about his various income streams (since it's best to have more than just one today) back in 2010.

As far as the education background needed to be a writer, the main one to me is English Composition courses (or the equivalent for those writers in other countries). If you have a good grounding in grammar and spelling, you're set. I didn't get an advanced degree in creative writing; back when I started writing those instructors teaching creative writing looked down on genre such as Science Fiction so I didn't waste time or money arguing with them. I know a few beginning writers nowadays who have gone on to get an MFA in creative writing and time will prove whether the degree is worth it for them or not.

Another requirement I would suggest is to read. A lot. In many genre as well as what you enjoy. Study the books of the authors you love and see if you can figure out what they did to make you love their work so much.

Another important requirement is to write. And not just the stories you want to tell. I know several writers, myself included, who worked on the student newspaper while in high school. That taught me how to write to a deadline, how to keep to a specific word count and how to write even when I wasn't in the mood. (this will also help later for student papers in college)

Are you an introvert? Great! You'll be spending a lot of time at your computer writing. Are you an extrovert? Also great. You'll need that side of your personality to go out and promote your book at conventions and book signings. Publishers nowadays expect their authors to do a good share of their own promoting. The days when an author could just sit back and let the publisher do that side of the job are long gone. And if you decide to go into self-publishing, you'll be doing even more promoting.

Any other suggestions you would give to a young writer researching this as a career?

Or, any reaction to recent articles on the industry?