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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

I had most of a blog post written about convention programming at the intro level, the 101 level, how the internet has changed what 101 means, what “this is my first convention” implies about where you will be in conversation about genre. I like to think it was thoughtful. Maybe.

This is not actually about how the mean evil computer at my post, because it didn’t. I’m just having a hard time finding the right tone for that kind of interaction. “I have ideas about how this can be done better” is something that I want to do collaboratively. It is something that I want to do cheerfully–joyfully, if I can–with other people who want to do it well. This is what I like about well-chosen critique groups, for example. “Here is what is awesome about your book! Here is how I think it can be even better!” It is sometimes a feature of supper at my house: “This soup! It is good! With more basil, even better!” “How would you regard roasting the garlic?” “Roasting! Give it a go, why not!”

I don’t really enjoy the tone of conversation that is “you are doing something tediously badly, let me accost you about that.” It’s better than “you are doing something malicious,” certainly. But even a certain amount of “this thing: it is mediocre and can be actively good” can get to be a tedious conversation to have. Even though it can also be a necessary conversation to have for moving from mediocre to actively good.

I can’t even say no one has asked me. People have asked me. On this topic, recently. What I’m saying is: there are lots of things I’m having a hard time finding my way to right now, and last week was full of a giant pile of things, very few of which were particularly great, and right now? Right now it is very hard to wrestle my brain into the right configuration to get “I have observed very tedious examples of thing” into “how let’s do better than that together yay go team of positive people.”

I guess the positive thing I want to say is: I think giving people more credit tends to work out well–and when it doesn’t, it’s worth doing anyway. (In life! and in convention programming.) I think that saying very quickly “is everyone familiar with [idea, theory, essay, author]? no? okay, here’s the quick version” at the beginning of a panel often works far, far better than trying to pitch a lot of panels on the theory that no one is familiar with anything and you should rehash “how to write really technical hard SF” and “SF vs. fantasy: where exactly is the line” and the other ten ideas that have not only gone around conventions but also now the blogosphere and professional SF writing outlets forever.

So this got a little meta: reaching for the doing things better collaboratively conversation you want to be having. Even when you’re not at all sure it’s there. Yyyyeah.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

The cover of this graphic novel says only the two names listed above, but the title page has, in smaller letters, “colors by Hilary Sycamore.” Comics are almost always a group endeavor, but this is the first time I have specifically wanted to mention the color work as making the book. The nature of the story is such that having psychedelic, violently variable colors strongly reinforces it, to the point where I’m not sure this story could exist in black and white. Well done, Hilary Sycamore.

This is clearly the first volume of a series. The story ends on a cliffhanger and doesn’t do all that much besides setting up the characters and scenario. Regular readers of comics/graphic novels may be used to that; it’s not something I really like. I also found that the tropes it leans on (non-verbal child character, creepy doll, “haunted” hospital) had not, as of the end of this volume, been revitalized into feeling like something new and special here.

I did think that the idea of Addison attempting to use her camera to document the horrors her family had endured was a cool one. She seemed to approach it far more in that vein than as an artist, but the spectrum of documentary photography to art photography is an interesting one anyway. I’m interested in a heroine who wants to shoot monsters in a non-fatal way–I just wish we’d gotten more of the story to see more of that.

Please consider using our link to buy Spill Zone from Amazon.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

This is a memoir of Hale’s grade school struggles with friendship and group dynamics, and also her relationship with her oldest sister. It’s trying to be aimed at kids–it’s trying to give kids the message that they deserve friends who treat them well–and I really like that message.

But truthfully I feel like this is really more of an adult-appeal book. I can easily imagine adults giving it to kids in their lives who are struggling with friendship and group dynamics, and maybe some of those kids will find it useful or comforting. But for the most part the ’80s references don’t feel intricate enough to be fascinating to kids for whom they’re historical, just touchstones for people who lived through it. And the semi-nostalgic, semi-rueful adult perspective feels very present–it’s definitely “here is an adult telling you, kiddo, a story.”

Part of my problem here, I think, is with the graphic novel format. This is a very short graphic novel, and there are sections where LeUyen Pham’s art is given a chance to shine, notably the imagination games little Shannon plays with her friends. But none of the things that make Shannon Hale a unique individual have enough *time* to feel very developed here. It’s short even for a kids’ graphic novel. It’s not offensive. I’m definitely behind the message. I’m just not sure about the target audience really connecting with it.

Please consider using our link to buy Real Friends from Amazon.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Gary Clayton Anderson and Alan R. Woolworth, eds., Through Dakota Eyes: Narrative Accounts of the Minnesota Indian War of 1862. One of the really great things about having an entirely Dakota account of this conflict, from a variety of sources, is that it makes clear what diversity of opinion and experience there was among the Dakota people, between different ages and sexes and bands and obvious demographics of that sort but also between individuals. Which is a very good thing indeed, always. It also made it clear what a terrible time mixed-race people had in this place and time, facing distrust and worse from both ethnic groups. I actually expected this book to be more depressing than it was–I think because many of the worst stories would have belonged to people who died in one way or another. Not that there wasn’t plenty that was sad here, and the measles epidemic at the end was pretty bad to be reading about right now in particular.

Marie Brennan, Within the Sanctuary of Wings. Discussed elsewhere.

Becky Chambers, A Closed and Common Orbit. One of the nicest science fiction books I have read in quite some time. It’s a semi-direct sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, in that the events follow on immediately and feature some of the characters, but only some of them, and there are two parallel storylines that inform each other directly as two people learn how to person in full-on science fiction style. This is a good book to read when you feel terrible.

Dan Egan, The Death and Life of the Great Lakes. …and this is not a book to read when you feel terrible, especially when you have a deeply committed, lifelong, highly emotional relationship with one of the said Great Lakes. (If you are new here: Lake Superior. OBVIOUSLY.) I now know more about lampreys, alewives, quogga mussels, and a great many more things than I did before. I am glad to know it. I am not sorry I read this book. But oh lordy this book. Up side: there is a reason why life comes second in the title. It is trying to end on a hopeful note. Down side: I am aware of several of the topics he could have delved into and didn’t aaughhhhh. (But seriously, if you are from a lake state/province, read this book. If you are not from a lake state/province, probably read this book anyway. In conclusion: lakes.)

Ruthanna Emrys, Winter Tide. I critiqued this book in draft, and now it is a real live book. I am excited. I have been talking about this one for awhile, and now other people can too. Among other things I love about this book: it is so much easier not to let fantasy races stand in for human racial/ethnic/religious groups when the human racial/ethnic/religious groups are standing right there having their own perspective and history and opinions. Ruthanna’s cast is large for a reason: she is doing things with everyone, and they are not the things ol’ HP would have liked. Good. He’s not here, and we all are.

Masha Gessen, Where the Jews Aren’t: The Sad and Absurd Story of Birobidzhan, Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Region. This is short and a bit rambly and does not do entirely enough of what it says on the tin, about Jewish populations and migration and assimilation vs. not, but it’s interesting anyway.

Peter Godfrey-Smith, Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness. Lots of cool tidbits about the brains of other animals, particularly but not limited to octopus and their cousins. I like this sort of thing so much, but even if you don’t like it in general you might like this one; it is a pretty good example of its type.

Judith Herrin, Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire. Hint: only surprising if you were not paying that much attention. Sorry, there are lots of surprises available, it’s just that this is a generalist history; it is not where the surprises are to be found. It’s a good generalist history from what I, a non-Byzantinist, can tell–it feels like it hits the highlights of all the topics you would cover in detail if you were doing several courses on Byzantium. Like these are the bits you would have a vague memory of decades later if you didn’t tend to retain your courses all that well. Which is a decent way to start. If you’re hoping for more depth, go with something else she wrote, which is quite a lot really. There’s a lot of fun stuff here, just not quite enough of any of it.

Shirley Jackson, Let Me Tell You. Short stories of various kinds, personal essays, general stuff by Shirley Jackson. I really enjoyed this quite a lot. Some of it had not been published for decades, some not ever. The thing that kind of threw me was that it was her mimetic fiction and her thrillers and her fantastic fiction all jumbled together, so I was sometimes drastically misreading cues, and I would get to the end of a mimetic story and think, “And…they had an unhappy marriage? that was it? nobody killed anybody or was cast into the outer darkness or anything? oh.” Which does not make them bad mimetic stories, it was just that my reading protocols were wandering around quite a lot from story to story.

Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin, eds., The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories. Sometimes I read a book like this and think, what did I used to read? who was there? because so many of the best authors, the ones whose names I see and look forward to, are people I had not heard of twenty years ago, or even ten, or sometimes even five. This makes me happy and excited about the future. Lots and lots of stories that were positive stand-outs here: JY Yang’s “Glass Lights,” Helene Wecker’s “Majnun,” Maria Dahvana Headley’s “Black Powder,” Amal El-Mohtar’s “A Tale in Seven Birds,” Catherine Faris King’s “Queen of Sheba,” and Usman T. Malik’s “Emperors of Jinn.” See, and of those people, two of them I don’t think I have read before, and the other four I am saying, oh, and I loved their this, their that–and it is less than ten years old. Excited. If I had one complaint, it’s that the opening of the volume felt more uniform than it would later be. But not in a direction of badness, so…not even really a complaint, that.

Sofia Samatar, Tender. This is a book filled with stories that would be my favorites if they were published in other things. I know because many of them were my favorites when they were published in other things, so I don’t have to guess. But not everything here is something I’ve read before, and some of the new things remind me of the old things I liked but different and are paired with them, a new thing late in the volume reminding me of the one from LCRW…oh. Oh, I just like this, I’m so glad to have it.

Emily Skrutskie, The Abyss Surrounds Us. YA about genetically engineered battle sea monsters and the (violent, not happy fun fakey type) pirates involved with them. I wanted to love this, but there was too much girlfriend, not enough sea turtle for me, and also there should be at least one sea turtle book where the sea turtles are not drastically injured. It may just be me and Tim and our godson Rob who feel that way, but we feel that way very strongly. It is not Emily Skrutskie’s fault that we feel that way, and if you are wanting rising sea levels and battle turtles and teen love-angst, this has that. I just would like to have been able to say that no turtles were harmed in the plotting of this book, and welp.

Dava Sobel, The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars. This is a very straightforward book, first this thing, then that thing, then the other thing. And it is full of women doing astronomy, and I like that. It is not one of the tales of past science that comes with compelling narrative through-arc, so if you do not have at least a little of the same thoroughness that animated these ladies in your soul, it is perhaps not your book. But: first this variable star, and then another, and then a glass plate that might not have any at all, but look, it does. Yes. There. Good.

Bruce Sterling, Crystal Express. This is the sort of short story collection from my past that doesn’t make me baffled or sad at my past self, because I never adored it, it was sort of workmanlike, and it is now too, but…it is not enough really. It sits there with ideas that tried very hard and characters that did not quite get there, and if you are on an airplane or in a hotel somewhere you could do a lot worse than these stories but also generally better. They are not laughably bad, not shameful, not…anything that strong, really. They’re all right I guess. I think you can do better than all right I guess.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Review copy provided by the author, who is a personal friend.

In the last decade or so I have met more people who are reluctant to begin a series that isn’t published in its entirety, with the objection that the author may drag it on forever or may die without finishing it. Marie Brennan’s Lady Trent series has, with its fifth volume, reached its conclusion, so if you’re one of those people, please know that there is not just a stopping point but an ending here.

The series has followed–with lavish illustrations–the career of a lady naturalist specializing in dragons in a world that is not ours but has some very clear analogs. Her own country is not-Victorian-England, and in this book she travels to not-Tibet, following the trail of very rare and unusual dragon specimens. What results calls on all the skills she has spent the previous four books acquiring–in her own science but also in linguistics, archaeology, diplomacy.

If historical approaches to science are your jam–and they are mine–you will want this series. If you like adventure fantasy, there are plenty of death-defying feats and hairs-breadth escapes too. And it’s all told in the chatty tone of an elderly lady looking back on a life well-lived. Recommended.

Please consider using our link to buy Within the Sanctuary of Wings from Amazon. (Or if you’re just starting, A Natural History of Dragons.)

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

The politics of the last year have clarified a lot of things for a lot of people. For me, it’s the futility of the argument that comes of the form “you should care about this thing I don’t. I can see why it feels like a winner. It looks like a slam-dunk! By my values, this person or thing is bad for x reasons–and by your values, this person or thing is bad for y reasons–and therefore even though we do not agree, we should both oppose this person or thing! Yay! Logic prevails and everyone emerges better off!

Here’s where this goes wrong: 1) Making an argument that something you don’t care about should be important to someone else is hardly ever convincing. Quite often you don’t understand the nuances of what it is they care about fully since it’s not your thing. Even when you do, it’s hard to put your back into the argument since it’s not your thing. “But you said!” does not sound sharp and politically savvy, it sounds like you are 6 years old and trying to get another 10 minutes before bedtime. “But you said you believed in family values, you said!” Even if they did say. Being technically correct that they did say does not change the other person’s position.

2) Let’s say you win! “You’re right!” says the other person. “I will bump this thing you don’t value up my priority queue for decision-making in future!” Oh…good…now you’ve reinforced that people should not be allowed to flee abusive marriages, or that we should all spend a lot of time angry about what color the president’s suit is, or any of a number of other things that you don’t believe.

I’ve seen people do this across the political spectrum, and it basically never works. When people say “find common ground,” this is not actually what they mean. They mean the points where you can honestly mean it when you say, “I think we can agree that this is important. I think this deserves your attention.”

When I was taking my first high school debate class, my debate coach (who was otherwise great) got really excited about gotcha questions, “when did you stop beating your wife” questions. He acted like they would be a key skill. But gotcha questions in debates were pretty rare, and they were only as good as your opponent’s willingness to run with them, which was usually pretty minimal. In real life they’re even less useful, because literally nothing forces any human brain–including mine, including yours–to be internally consistent. I suspect that this is what we find so appealing about the stories where robots and computers can be done in with a logical paradox: it’s because we can’t. Finding a gotcha where your sibling, your next-door neighbor, your co-worker has said they believe in one thing politically and then are supporting someone who does another thing–or are even doing another thing themselves–does not force them to say, “You’re right, I will change my position on one of these two things.” Let’s find things we really do value in common–or find ways to maneuver around the people who don’t. Because “you ought to react this way” has never once gotten a person to react in the specified way.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

I have a story out in Nature today, Running Safety Tips for Humans. Go, read, enjoy! And when you’re done with that, they’ve asked me to do a blog post on the story behind the story.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Mary Alexandra Agner, ed., A Bouts-Rimes for Hope. A bouts-rimes, I was reminded by this project, is when you give people the end rhymes for a sonnet and they have to fill in the sonnet. This one, a free project, was specifically aimed at post-election optimism. The poems came out extremely different despite their common rhyme scheme. An interesting thing to do.

Nadia Aguiar, The Lost Island of Tamarind. Near-shipwreck, hidden magical island, and other buttons that you might have had factory installed to push as well. This is a children’s book that doesn’t have astonishingly beautiful prose, but it does have a cranky adolescent protagonist trying very hard for her family. Entertaining, but I was not really very drawn in–there were some quite awkward points.

Danielle Mages Amato, The Hidden Memory of Objects. The speculative premise in this one starts subtly–I was not even sure it would be speculative rather than mimetic YA. It’s about a teenager who is grieving the loss of her beloved older brother, and all the emotional beats are there for relationships being central. However! The speculative premise is also very well thought-through–better, in fact, than in some projects where it is more front and center. This is a book I found through asking what had gotten released since the election and might be falling between the cracks, and I’m really glad I did.

Mishell Baker, Phantom Pains. A sequel to Borderline, and a worthy one, too; this is a novel not just about the interplay between Los Angeles and the world of Faery, not just about disability and accommodation, but about consequences.

Maurice Broaddus, The Voices of Martyrs. This short story collection is divided into past, present, and future tales, and I liked the third category best, but there were interesting pieces in all of them.

Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia. What it says on the tin, written in the ’70s. There is a weird obsession with Dacron, and he pretty much comes right out and says that the denizens of Ecotopia are like hippies but less distasteful. There are lots of points of unintentional hilarity–the more so if you happen to be named Marissa. There’s a certain extent to which he has the ecological utopia being, “Nobody wears Dacron! and people recycle voluntarily!” and I’m like, honey, I have good news and bad news. I think this is most interesting to people who are particularly wanting to have breadth of field on either utopias or ecological speculative fiction; it is very, very dated for the casual reader.

Charles de Lint, Tapping the Dream Tree. Reread. This is a Newford collection. I really imprinted on an early Newford collection when I was a teenager, and for awhile I read everything de Lint wrote. This is not a terrible collection. It’s also not a collection that felt like it was doing anything in particular that he hadn’t done a dozen times with slightly different costuming. Don’t start here, and unless you’re a de Lint die-hard, I don’t see any good reason to continue to this point either.

Taiyo Fujii, Orbital Cloud. Discussed elsewhere.

Robert Graves, Poems 1968-1970. On the one hand, the things that he labels “songs” sing on the page a great deal more than 99% of poems I have read that are labeled songs/lyrics. So that part was a great success. On the other hand, he is weirdly obsessed with female virginity and other gender dynamic issues that do not hold up well. I picked up some Graves because A.S. Byatt contended that he was one of the great love poets, treating the beloved as an equal, and this is one of the times when you realize what low standards people of previous generations had to have for such things and feel very, very sad.

Paul Gruchow, The Necessity of Empty Places. Reading ’80s nature writing is not entirely dissimilar to reading ’80s speculative fiction. Some of the points of florid inspiration are completely disproven at this time, some of the worries are mitigated and others completely underestimated. And there are moments when race and gender pop up suddenly in order to be handled badly. On the other hand, there are some lovely and personal observations of the natural world. I’m glad this isn’t the first Gruchow I read, because I know he learns better, and I’ll keep reading for the gems.

Bernd Heinrich, Summer World: A Season of Bounty. Heinrich writes about the Maine woods and birds a lot. I like that sort of thing. I bet some of you like that sort of thing too.

Grady Hendrix, My Best Friend’s Exorcism. I am really not sure what I think about this book. It’s about a teen friendship, and there is a coda that makes it clear that it’s meant in some ways to be an ode to teen girl friendships. At the same time…the friendship turns really toxic, and everybody in the book has a horrible time, and once I was clear that it was actually going to be about teens in the ’80s who did drugs and one of them got demonically possessed, it felt kind of gross. The way that it was very vivid about the emotions and the experience was particularly unappealing knowing that that gets used as What Really Happened. Really well done, I’m just not sure I want what it’s doing.

Faith Erin Hicks, The Stone Heart. Discussed elsewhere.

Claire Humphrey, Spells of Blood and Kin. This is a great companion volume to Sarah Porter’s Vassa in the Night, which also came out last year. They’re dealing with the same chunks of Russian mythology in completely different ways, so they’re more enjoyable together rather than detracting from each other. This is an urban fantasy with egg magic. Egg. Magic. I know of one friend who definitely does not want that but other than my friend who is secretly the Nome King I totally recommend this book. (There are no Oz jokes in this book. I like it a lot otherwise though.)

Justina Ireland and Troy L. Wiggins, eds., Fiyah Issue 2. If anything, an even stronger issue than the first. I particularly liked Maurice Broaddus’s “Vade Retro Satana,” Christopher Caldwell’s “The Beekeeper’s Garden,” and Eden Royce’s “Graverobbing Negress Seeks Employment.” There was a lot of variety of voice and theme in this issue. Keep going, Fiyah.

Elaine Khosrova, Butter: A Rich History. Long-term, this may be the most expensive book I will ever read. I got it from the library and returned it on time…but it has motivated me to get The Great Butter at the store, and I will want to try The Really Good Butters after that, and yeah. Yeah, butter, there’s a lot to butter. The recipes in the back of this were pretty pointless, but butter technique, butter industrial detail, butter butter butter. I like microhistories, and also dairy. Major complaint: Khosrova only talked about the Iowa State Fair butter sculptures, which are done on wire forms come on people, not about our butter sculptures, which are done out of solid blocks of butter like Princess Kay intended. I’m just saying. There’s a reason they sing that their state fair is the best state fair in their state, and it’s because you cross the border and the people in Albert Lea will immediately tell you that there’s a better one just one state over. (I did not read anything about seed art this fortnight but trust me, you’ll hear it when I do.)

Yoon Ha Lee, Ninefox Gambit. This is not what people mostly mean by military SF at the moment, but it is entirely military and entirely SF. It’s just a little more off-kilter–Lee is doing the SF part, he is not doing Hornblower In Space Take 257. Major lesson learned by putting this book at the culmination of a lifetime of SF reading: not being a tactical genius is the road to a happy life in a science fictional universe, and maybe you should try not being a tactical genius just in case ours becomes a science fictional universe.

Henry Marsh, Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death, and Brain Surgery. I wanted to punch Marsh at several spots in this book. On the other hand, I think it’s very well worth reading, not just for the tactile experiences of different kinds of brain surgery (although–!!!) but also for the way that he is very clear about his own mistakes. He not only knows that he has not lived up to the title, he is willing to let us know too. I think we need more of that.

Adrienne Rich, Fox: Poems 1998-2000. None of these jumped out as crucial to share, but I enjoyed the experience. I think I would have enjoyed these poems more in a Collected Works sort of volume. They felt like they were in conversation with things I wasn’t quite catching, and I could easily believe that a fairly large number of those things were Rich’s past poems. I’m glad my library buys poetry at all, but it has a habit of buying one slim collection from 2-3 years of a poet’s life and then saying, oh, we already have some of their stuff and stopping there. Ah well.

Sonia Shah, The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years. This is a good introduction to malaria (far more fun than, for example, contracting it). I didn’t really need another introductory-level book, but if you haven’t read about the effects of malaria on human cultures, this is a quite reasonable place to start.

Bill Streever, And Soon I Heard a Roaring Wind: A Natural History of Moving Air. This was a very weird book. It was far too short for what it claimed to do, and then it did even less of that than the space would have allowed, because a lot of it was “Streever and someone else sail around the Caribbean.” I might have read a memoir of sailing around the Caribbean in a small craft. I really was a lot more interested in the history of storms and meteorology here. This was basically half a history of meteorologists and half a travel memoir. So…I mean…fine, but ignore the title.

Christie Wilcox, Venomous: How Earth’s Deadliest Creatures Mastered Biochemistry. Kind of great about hemotoxins and neurotoxins and how they evolve and how they get used and what kinds of animals use them and why. Yay venoms. Fun and reasonably short. (Fun. Um. Okay, mileage varies, but if you can’t have fun with a book about venoms….)

Maryrose Wood, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place. The titular characters were raised by wolves. This is a kids’ book that has some features that will be slightly more eye-rolling to adults–the way the Incorrigibles’ speech is affected by their wolf upbringing is a lot more aimed at kid sense of humor–but there’s other stuff too, the ongoing horse book series their governess is obsessed with. I liked this enough to get it for my goddaughter.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

I have a space salvage story, “Vulture’s Nest,” in the May/June 2017 issue of Analog. Go, read, enjoy!

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

I have a favor to ask. There are a lot of difficult conversations in this world right now, and I would like to ask you to pay attention to the first question you ask in those difficult conversations. Because it often gives a sense of your priorities–and sometimes it gives a sense of your priorities that is not the one you want.

Let me give you a couple of examples. When we’re talking about sexual harassment at conventions, if your first question is, “What do we do about the false reports?”, that tells me something very different than if your first question is, “How do we make sure that people trust us enough to report?” or “How do we keep clear records so that all the information we need is preserved?” And do I think, “I bet it’s because the people who are asking about false reports already have thorough answers to those other questions”? HAHAHA YEAH SURE I DO.

Similarly, disability and accessibility. If your first question is, “What about the times when accessibility needs conflict?”–and oh Lordy, that is so often the first question–that tells me so very very much about your priorities. And what it tells me is not great, frankly. Because again, I promise: the people and organizations who have this as their first question about disability and accessibility are not people and organizations who have smoothly and effortlessly handled all the first-tier, obvious accessibility needs and are now moving on to the hard ones.

Yeah, I know, sometimes the first thing that pops out of your head is something trivial, something random. I don’t think these examples are that. They’re too consistent to be random, and if you think they represent something trivial, you’ve probably never been on the wrong end of them.

Try to make sure your first question is not, “How do I put this problem back on the people who have been bearing the brunt of it all along?”, actually. That’s pretty important.

Oh, and if your stunningly insightful political question that “no one” is asking boils down to, “What if this group of people is actually just inferior? what if they just suck?”–guess what? It turns out people have asked that before. It turns out people ask that a lot. You are not new, you are not insightful, you are not hard-hitting. You’re just being an asshole. Social scientists have done a lot of research into whether one gender, one race, one ethnicity, etc. etc. etc. is inherently inferior to others, and it turns out that the scientific answer is, NO, AND ALSO STOP BEING SUCH AN ASSHOLE.

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Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

Review copy provided by Haikasoru Books.

This is very, very near future hard science fiction. The vast majority of the action takes place in 2020, which in some ways is bravely near and in some ways safely near: I know that various things will change between now and then, but I was able to buy the world the characters live in being basically the same as ours in ways that would have bugged me if it had been set in 2040 or 2117. There is a lot of “basically right now” stuff in this book, including using brand names for things like the Raspberry Pi. (So many Raspberry Pis. So many. Wow. On the other hand, yay for a science fiction writer noticing they exist and can have stuff done with them.)

This is a very speculation-heavy book. It’s set on and near Earth, and the focus is entirely on the in-orbit technologies. The characters largely exist to fulfill their speculative plot functions; they are sketched in, not delved into deeply. Emotional and personal growth is not the engine of this plot. And that’s okay.

It’s particularly okay if you want a hard SF angle on another culture. Orbital Cloud is a bit like The Three-Body Problem that way, but only that way–it’s about a million times more cheerful. A billion times. Look, I would need to go into scientific notation to express how much more cheerful this book is than The Three-Body Problem in any kind of compact form. But my point is: same tropes plus different authorial cultural background gives a cool new angle. Fujii is also young/enlightened enough that the sexism here is minimal compared to some of the old hard SF I’ve been revisiting of late, which is refreshing. There are still a few moments where something is a little obnoxious, but it’s definitely a book with more modern standards in that regard. It’s also the good kind of mentally dislocating to watch a Japanese author talk about group dynamics among Americans with Japanese cultural assumptions about what people want or will perceive–gives me, as an American, some perspective about what it looks like when Americans do that about people from other cultures in their hard SF.

There were a couple of hilarious moments when translation was an important plot point–I found them funny not just because of the meta, but because this book does have a flavor of “translated from the Japanese,” obvious points where the translator was trying to figure out how to render “so desu ne?” and other things that are completely natural in Japanese but look weird if you repeat them literally in other languages, less obvious points where it was just a different feel. But translation plot points aside, I think it’s generally easier to translate hard SF decently because the technical terms are more obvious and the prose is not haring off after a lyric in the bushes.

I keep saying the genre over and over again: hard SF, hard SF, hard SF. I really think that this is one of the times where it matters a lot to whether you’ll want to read it. If you hate people doing calculations about orbital dynamics, you will straight-up hate this book, because that is the kind of book it is. It is all that flavor of nerd, all the time. But that flavor of nerd is a fine thing to be, and this is a fine example of it.

Please consider using our link to buy Orbital Cloud from Amazon.

mrissa: (Default)

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux. You can comment here or there.

I was reading a middle-grade book last week, contemporary setting with adventure fantasy elements, written this decade, la la la fine yay. And suddenly in the middle of it, the little brother was telling the protagonist that changing diapers was girls’ work. And she basically stamped her foot, and the book went on.

…except that he was the little brother, so it made sense for her to keep doing more of the care for their baby sister, because he was younger than I’d expect for that task. So…the idea kind of stood. It was embedded there in the text, and the next two most helpful adults with the child care were also women, and suddenly there’s a subtext.

It’s not a book about misogyny. So far as I can tell, it’s not a book that meant to portray a society that told girls that their role was having and caring for babies–either in a positive or a negative light. But there it is, a random line that just sat there being frankly kind of gross. That just sat there reinforcing to girl readers that this is how boys will view them and their lives, reinforcing to boys that this is a normal thing to say and a normal way to behave, not worthy of comment.

I’ve talked before about how I’m trying to not write misogyny in fiction any more. And this is simultaneously why I have that determination and the hard part of keeping it. It’s easy to not write misogyny that seems important at the time–at least comparatively easy. The large plot points like “society tells our heroine she cannot be a phoenix wrangler because of her gender” tend to jump out at you. “Big fight with family member over proper gender roles”: that takes up enough space on the page that it’s hard to miss. And it’s also easier to actually deal with head-on in the text, if it’s not something you actually believe in, if it’s something you want to fight or refute. It’s a lot easier to let your heroine show that girls can too be phoenix wranglers, or to have family members bend on “proper” gender roles.

When it’s a single line, a throwaway bit of dialog, it may not even register. It may just be the way of the world in the author’s experience. But depending on how you write it, you can help to make it more the way of the world in the reader’s experience, too, because hey, it was in all the books they were reading growing up. I’ve been revisiting a lot of ’70s and ’80s SF I read in high school and college, and it’s really striking to me how much blatant, hostile sexism I was completely used to. It’s really astonishing how much was just “how things are” and not a reason to find a book gross or upsetting.

Writers who are writing today: that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re setting norms. We’re building readers’ data sets about the world. Every. Day. It is very much worth paying attention to what assumptions we’re reinforcing with “unimportant” lines of dialog and bits of description. The larger points, the things we hoped to be writing about, the things we were conscious we were writing about, are by no means the only things that matter.

mrissa: (thinking)

I’m at a crossroads with a new piece I’m working on. I am peering down the roads rather dubiously.

You see, this is not going to be a very short piece. I’m not sure there’s anything I can do to make it under the official short story limit (7.5K), and the unofficial ones are right out (anything longer than 4-5K is de facto harder to sell). I could basically do that if the story was a summary of events and had no voice and no detail, and it would not really be worth doing, because the voice and the details are what I love about this story idea in the first place. I am 2.5K into this story and can tell you that I am not halfway through, nor even a third of the way through.

And usually when I’m at this point, I shrug and go on as I have started, because stories have a natural length, and it’s far better to hit the natural length and try to sell a good story than to cut it off or draw it out and try to sell a mediocre one.

But this story. This has the potential for subplots.

Subplots change everything.

If I am setting up subplots, the beginning goes differently. There are at least two more important characters, and they have to come in early. The beats in the first scene fall completely differently if Rhia gets to make friends with the offbeat Lady Victorine and get drawn into her schemes. (She has a name. Characters with names are dangerous.) If I am setting up for the long haul, there are other people, and the other people do things, and it ramifies.

Short stories can ramify. They can, they should. But. Fewer details in them are allowed to ramify within the story. The ramifications exist either as a string of things in the reader’s head (which can be good) or as separate stories (also can be good). But in novellas and novels, there can be the kind of ramifications that come all at once, woven in, rather than later, like beads on a string.

I can see this story going either way. I can see it being a good novelette or possibly short novella. I can see it being a good long novella or full-length novel. So the question of what will best serve the story is not helping me here.

The problem is that I can do almost anything that’s a short story. Short story length, no problem. I don’t have to ask myself, “Is this the best use of my time?” Well, okay, I do. But the bar is much lower when I know I can do a different one next week. “Is this the novel I want to be writing now?” is a much harder question. This is the story that’s vivid. This is the story that’s drawing me in. And I like a lot of things about the novel potential. But I’m pretty sure it’s not the wisest novel to be writing now.

So the other question is how much we really care about wisdom, I guess. Whether I want the shorter, theoretically more manageable version. But also whether I want to throw caution to the wind and just let the thing unfold more.

I don’t think there’s one right answer here. I think a lot of writing advice I see online is of the form “go for the gusto.” But there’s gusto in more than one place. Sometimes being able to do a completely different form and type of story next week is more…gustavian. (Wait, that’s not the right adjective.) And sometimes flinging yourself in really deep is. And right now my choices are all good.

This is beyond First World Problems. This is Awesome World Problems.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (Wait -- what?)

I’ve heard people talk about dreaming in a foreign language as a sign that they’re getting really fluent in it. I have a step that is much, much, much earlier in the process, and that is dreaming in foreign language gibberish. Yesterday I watched two hours of The Eagle (because Netflix is taking it away from me! WOE!), and last night I went to bed and dreamed that people were speaking in Danish I couldn’t quite hear and mostly couldn’t understand. The vowels were right, the proportions of consonants–it was clearly Danish. It was clearly Danish like listening to hockey announcers with the sound turned down gets your clearly northern North American accents.* I don’t speak Danish; I’m certainly not fluent in Danish. But I now dream in Danish gibberish; oh good.

(I cannot see anyone else to blame for this but myself.)

I really don’t understand why the subtitler made some of the choices they did when they were phonetically obvious and not false cognates. I write for kids even though this blog is not for kids, so I’m going to be a little coy here: there are all sorts of English obscenities and profanities that sound exactly like their Danish counterparts. “Like which ones, Mris?” All of them. You cannot get away with fooling a 7-year-old by swearing in Danish, so why would you subtitle a heartfelt obscenity as “No”? Also, the phrase “after min mor” is practically identical to English–when someone compliments a new grandmother on her granddaughter’s name and she says that it is “after min mor,” you don’t have to speak anything but English to know that she has said that the baby is named after the speaker’s mother (the baby’s great-grandmother)–why, then, would they translate that as, “Yes, it is a lovely name”? Why not just say what she said?

One of the most systematic differences between the spoken Danish version of S1 of The Eagle and the subtitled English version, though, was the obscuring of ethnicity. I complained before that the switches in language were not marked, and this is true–people spoke all sorts of languages at all sorts of times, and the only one that was marked is that English was not subtitled. But within the commentary the characters were making, almost all ethnic and religious references were obscured. “Islamisk” is not a subtle word, people. Even people who can’t pick out what the rest of the sentence is will know if it has “Islamisk” in it and you did not use “Islamic” or “Muslim” in the translation, there’s something missing. Frequently the original Danish talks about something happening all through Scandinavia or someone being the Scandinavian this or that, and the subtitles say nothing of the sort, leaving the linguistically inert viewer not knowing whether someone or something is global, European, Scandinavian, Danish, local to Copenhagen, what. This is important to the plot. And I can’t really see saying, “Americans don’t care about this,” if you’re already dealing with a subset of Americans who are willing to watch subtitled Danish cop shows in the first place. And having to come in at the end and say, “Oh, by the way, these people are Serbs, these other people are Chechens, it matters, now you know,” is just less effective. And frankly weird. And I don’t get it.

(The Protectors is even worse about subtitles in the current Netflix iteration. I hope they get it back, but with better subtitles; there are places where two people are talking and the dialog of only one of them gets translated. Not what we do.)

*That, for those of you just tuning in, is how I became a hockey fan: I was a homesick Minnesotan in California, looking for vowels in all the wrong places.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (reading)

One of these days, I will get through an entire half-month without getting sick. This is not that day. In the meantime there are books.

John Joseph Adams, ed., Federations. Mixed bag, and I had been hoping it would be focused on actual federations (federations are cool!) rather than just vast space thingers. Not that vast space thingers are not also cool! It just seems unlikely that I’ll get an actually-federation-focused antho now that there’s been one titled that way but not. Aaanyway. Favorite stories were Genevieve Valentine’s “Carthago Delenda Est,” Alastair Reynolds’s “Spirey and the Queen,” and Mary Rosenblum’s “My She,” although Reynolds should note that naming someone Wendigo and not doing something interesting with it is like naming them Vampire or Werewolf. Or worse. There’s a reason nobody has a glamorous sexy wendigo urban fantasy trend. Don’t name people Wendigo. Sheesh. You don’t have to be from a state or province endowed with Ojibwe people to know this.

Marie Brennan, Deeds of Men. Kindle. Politics and the Ware family in this Onyx Court novella. The more politics, the better I like it, but I would recommend not starting your Onyx Court experience here–I think some things just won’t make sense, and others won’t have the emotional weight they need. Start with one of the books, preferably Midnight Never Come.

Stephen Budiansky, Blackett’s War: The Men Who Defeated the Nazi U-Boats and Brought Science to the Art of Warfare. Kindle. Operations research people (mostly indeed men, but…sigh, title). This was substantially a biography of PMS Blackett, called Patrick Blackett throughout because physicists have since discovered PMS, I guess. He was a navy nerd who became a big ol’ lefty and also did some pretty cool physics stuff, and he is worth knowing about. I don’t know if this is the best book to find out about Blackettry in some hypothetical ideal universe, but in this universe it may well be.

Paul Collins, The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime That Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars. Kindle. Mostly a book that made me want to read more about Pulitzer and Hearst in crunchy non-pop-history detail, but it was a fast read.

James S.A. Corey, Caliban’s War. So Jo and Mark eventually convinced me to give the vomit zombies series another go, and there were two major improvements over the previous vomit zombie-ridden volume: 1) fewer vomit zombies (duh), and 2) female characters of note. That helped a lot. It still did not make me love the vomit zombie series, but at least there were interesting things going on, and I will not need persuading to read the third one.

Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage. Grandpa’s. An American classic I’d never read before. (I skipped that year of high school and only filled in intermittently.) I think the thing that struck me most about this was how much it had an attitude I learned to see as a result of WWI, but before WWI. The Victorians and Edwardians were not nearly as universally enthralled by dulce et decorum est as we are sometimes encouraged to believe they were.

Roger Crowley, City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Seas. Kindle. If you read another history of Venice and thought, “What this needs is more Adriatic,” this is the book for you. It still left out a great deal of what I find interesting about Venice, but there were more pieces of the puzzle, particularly more Byzantine pieces.

M.F.K. Fisher, Serve It Forth. The interest of Hanne Blank and Jon Singer in M.F.K. Fisher finally got me reading her, and I was greatly entertained thereby. Many of these essays felt short to me, but I think that was just a matter of getting used to her style and form, of accepting that she had said what she wished to say and was done. For those of you who don’t know Fisher, this is food writing, not recipes or restaurant reviews per se but writing about the experience of cooking and eating. Very quick read, very pithy.

Stella Gemmell, The City. This reminded me of K.J. Parker to the point where if somebody said, “K.J. Parker is secretly Stella Gemmell,” I would not be in the least bit surprised. (I don’t think K.J. Parker is actually Stella Gemmell, mostly because someone said we had learned–much to my surprise–that K.J. Parker is male.) The main difference–and for me this is an important one–is that amidst all the muck and betrayal, there are functional and even loving human relationships. There is overwhelming empire, there is fighting and despair and horror in the more general rather than genre sense, but there is a stained glass maker, and there are people who actually like each other. And since that’s more or less why I stopped reading K.J. Parker, I’m glad to see Stella Gemmell on the scene filling that niche.

Barbara Hambly, Good Man Friday. The latest in the Benjamin January mysteries. Ben and some of his family go to Washington DC in search of a missing nerd. Several politicians and Edgar Allen Poe make guest appearances, and Hambly is not able to resist a few sneaky Poe references, and also a few not-so-sneaky. While I am not generally keen on that kind of thing, Hambly (Hamilton) is one of my major exceptions, and this is a very reliable series for me–perfect thing to have on hand for a sick day.

Christopher Hibbert, Disraeli: The Victorian Dandy Who Became Prime Minister. Do you want a bio of Disraeli? Because this is one. Otherwise it is not outstandingly meritorious. But if you want a bio of Disraeli with no particular argument or thesis about his thoughts, actions, or life, boy howdy, here ya go. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes that sort of thing is handy. Still.

Penelope Myrtle Kelsey, Tribal Theory in Native American Literature: Dakota and Haudenosaunee Writing and Indigenous Worldviews. Extremely useful, interesting stuff here. The section about late 19th century American regionalism/sentimentalism being deployed in service of Dakota philosophy/worldview was breathtaking and exciting and, honestly, was just one of those moments where you read a bit of lit crit and say oh, of course, I mean naturally. Probably not a book with a very wide audience, but very solid for the audience it has, which includes me.

David Liss, Mystery Men. One of my favorite historical fiction writers does 1930s superheroes for Marvel: yeah, okay, I’m in. This felt like a string of origin snapshots–not even developed enough to be full origin stories for any of the characters–so I probably would have wanted one mystery man at a time. Still and all, the 1930s setting really was a 1930s setting and not an idealized one, and I am a sucker for the Great Depression.

Hilary McKay, Indigo’s Star and Permanent Rose. Rereads. I love these books. They just make me so happy. Both of them made me giggle almost more on the rereads than on first reading. I picked them up because they’re in a stack to lend to a friend, and I can’t wait to talk about them with her, because we had the same favorite bit of the first one. (With Rose and the signs while Caddy is driving. I was reduced to helpless squeaking rather than laughter at that point the first time I read Saffy’s Angel. And I think Permanent Rose may be the best of them. And maybe I should reread Saffy’s Angel one of these days, also, and have I said I want a Sarah book? Because I want a Sarah book. Lots.)

Brian Switek, My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road With Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs. I think I am the dead-center audience for this book, because it’s mostly a summation of how dinosaurs are not like we thought they were when I was a kid, yes, me, when I was a kid. (Many “overturning what you were taught when you were a kid” books are aimed at Baby Boomers or older Xers and are overturning things I was never taught–like by the time I was in sex ed in school, we were having repeated to us that you can’t get AIDS from a toilet seat, no no no no, when we never thought you could and why were the adults obsessed with toilet seats? Well, this is like that, but with feathers. Um.) It’s also a physically lovely object, with a fold-out cover that’s really well-done. A lot of what’s in it I already knew from reading science magazines, but still, yay dinos.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (ohhh.)

1. Tim is having a print sale of sunrises. Amazing photos, amazing prices. The Belle Fourche Reservoir one particularly knocks me over–if you think it looks intense on the screen, wait ’til you see what he does with it as a print.

2. Today’s Google Doodle fills me with joy (thanks, Catherine, for pointing it out). Maria Mitchell! Hurrah!

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (helpful nudge)

Last week, when I was preparing for a birthday and a house guest, my friend Kethry asked for advice on how to get in the habit of writing stories, and I promised her I’d try to give some. And now the birthday has passed and the house guest has gone home and I am completely full of head cold, and I am trying to wade through my to-do list, and here we are. So.

1. Figure out what you want to do. I suppose it’s possible some people manage to write consistently and successfully–where by “successfully” I mostly mean “to their own satisfaction”–without having any idea what they want to write. But one of the most common problems I see among new writers who aren’t writing is that they don’t really know where they’re going. Occasionally you can wander into something interesting without knowing what it is, but on a day-to-day basis it helps if you have some idea what you want.

So: Do you want to finish something you’ve already started, or start something new? Do you want to write a novel? A short story? A new short story every week? Do you want to write for submission to professional editors? Fanfic forums? Your own website? Your own desk drawer? What elements would you like to have featured in your writing?

That last question, what elements, can be a very useful one to attack from whatever angle appeals to you. You can freewrite about it, or talk it through with a trusted friend, or just think about it while you’re brushing your teeth, but be as concrete as you can. If you’re a setting person, think hard about what kind of setting appeals to you; ditto for character or plot. If you start thinking, “I want to write about a 15-year-old girl…no, wait, a bunch of 15-year-old girls…who are in their high school’s marching band…”, that’s a very different direction to start that story than if you ended that with “who are drawn together by their experiences with a ghost” or “who live in the Black Hills”–and very different altogether if you put in all three. And “I want to write a scene in which A can say X to B and have it be devastating” gives you all sorts of variables to work into the rest of the scenes.

2. Figure out where you’re stopping. Not writing as much as one wants is a pretty common problem through all walks of writing life. Are you just not writing anything at all? Are you starting ten million stories and not finishing any? Are you drafting stories but not revising and polishing them? The change in habits needed for someone who never picks up the pen or touches the keyboard is very different than for someone who writes their head off and never revises. I’ve seen lots of journeyman writers having to readjust their habits and their ideas of success because they had fixated on raw word count as the signifier of success, and now they need to revise and polish, and that doesn’t have the same milestones. And the remedy for “I tend to wander off and read the internet instead of putting words down” is far different than the remedy for “I write 500 words and can’t go further.”

3. Try to make it not hurt. Of course there is the literal version of this–ruining your wrists with a non-ergonomic setup is not conducive to anyone’s goals. But also it’s easier to keep a good habit if the only “painful” parts are the parts inherent to the thing. If you want to try scheduling the same time every day to write, don’t make it 5 a.m. if you’re a night owl or midnight if you’re a lark. If you love the feel of a fountain pen on paper or the convenience of typing title ideas and story notes into your phone, do that. Writing good fiction is hard enough without making it externally harder.

4. Know your own tendencies. I’m a list maker. Earlier this week I had an item on my (general to-do) list that involved making another list. The list I made had another set of three sub-lists. I love me some lists, and they are incredibly useful for me in getting myself together. But at least two people dear to me find lists counterproductive. The way their brains work means that making a list will interfere with them getting stuff done. It’s best to roll with this kind of thing, not fight it.

Similarly, I know that I work best in the morning and right after meals. But not everyone works that way. A lot of people apparently do well with promising themselves food “rewards” for getting writing done, and good for them! It gets them a banana and something written! Me, I work on fuel, not rewards. I say to myself, “We’d better have this banana so that we’ll have good energy to write well.” And for me that works.

A lot of people also seem to find “accountability” useful: they make writing dates, either in person or online, with writer-friends. Do not ask me to do this with you, because it will make me resent every hair and eyelash on your head. If you want to get together and drink tea and talk about our projects, grand, but the only way I could get through a writing date of that kind is by telling myself that my real work-time is some other time that day. (I’m like this with workouts also. Workout buddy my sweet patoot. Leave me alone and let me do what I’ve got to do.)

Another trick that is good for non-me people is the writing every day strategy. I write six days a week. I don’t write seven. Writing may or may not be your main job, but it is in fact work. You will need to not do work on some days of your life. Some people work best in spurts, so they’ll write every day for a month or two before crashing out; some people work best steadily. But having a regular writing time, whether it’s daily or not, is really helpful for a lot of writers.

The nice thing about asking yourself what you want here is that not only do you have a means of going forward by thinking about it in more detail, you also have a means of evaluation as to whether the different ideas are working for you. Because that’s the thing about writing: there’s no one thing that works, there’s just what works for you–and it helps to be able to evaluate concretely and say, “Okay, I got a novel and two short stories written since I started trying this, I’m going to call that a win,” or “Hmm, I got half a story written, but I also had mono, so let’s keep taking data,” or, “Ugh, this was miserable and did not work, let’s try something else.”

A lot of writing habit advice online seems to be geared for the idea that you want to do this full-time as a professional. Many of us do. Some of you don’t. It’s okay not to. It’s okay to write part-time. It’s okay if the habits you form are the habits for you to write one or two short stories a year, if that’s what you want and can fit in with the rest of what you want. It’s also okay if the habits you form are letting you write multiple novels per year. You get to be the judge here.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (out with friends)

Tomorrow (Friday, July 26) is my birthday. I’m telling you this now because one of the main ways to celebrate my birthday worldwide–by which I mean it happens in both Eagan and Apple Valley–is to have something unusually awesome for breakfast.

I am a big fan of breakfast. No matter what a crappy day I have had, I can go to bed and think, “Well, in the morning I get breakfast.” Even when I have a stomach bug or food poisoning, I go to bed thinking, “Maybe in the morning I’ll feel good enough for breakfast.” Sometimes it’s really very simple.

So! I always felt weird about having no better answer than “Thanks” when people said happy birthday to me, so now I answer, “Happy my birthday!” Because really! There’s no reason you shouldn’t have a happy my birthday as well as a happy your birthday. And one of the best ways to do that is with a croissant or apricot breakfast crisp or weird fruit fridge porridge or french toast or…breakfast stuff. It’ll be good.

I am like a twelve-year-old when it comes to my birthday. I have been poking at the packages on the hearth for days now. Poke…poke…pooooooke…. It also turns out that Amazon will display your wishlist with the items obscured, so you just see how many there are, which is like the digital version of poke…poke…poooooke…so, being mentally 12, I do that too.

I love birthdays. I really think this is going to be a good one. For all of us, I hope.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (ohhh.)

I have had my share of horrific cover art/illustrations for a short story writer, or possibly more than my share. So when I get really good art not once but twice from the same artist (and the same art director: thanks, Irene and staff!), I sit up and take notice. That artist is Julie Dillon. I’m so glad other people are noticing her work enough to nominate her for awards like the Hugo, because she is doing just lovely stuff.

You can look at Julie’s website here, and it’s full of links. She did a zodiac calendar with images like this one–no, I’m not a Pisces. My birthday is Friday. But I really really like this Pisces. There’s also a place to order prints, like this one I dearly love.

Or, of course, you can get a closer and more detailed look at the two illustrations she did for my post-nuclear fantasies. Mmmm, art.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

mrissa: (dead vikings)

Last week I was doing a polishing draft of a book of mine, working with my agent* to make sure it’s the best it can be when she shows it to editors. And one of the questions we’d talked about was a name change.

In the first version of this book, there was a major character whose name began with the Kj- dipthong. But when I was first writing this book, I had a different idea about its audience than I do now–specifically, I was imagining the average target a few years older. I don’t want to make young readers bounce very early in the story with something that can be fairly easily changed, and it turns out that this character’s name actually could be. This took me a bit by surprise, because the last time I did a name change on even a minor character, I had to change parts of her dialog and even some of her actions. She was going from Laura to Lucy, and Lucy simply would not do the things Laura would, or at least not in quite the same way. (This got even more difficult because my brain decided that Laura was Lucy’s younger sister, rather than being nonexistent, and now there is a Laura story rattling around somewhere in here waiting to be written. SIGH. BRAINS.)

But this time around, it only took a few hours of letting the idea percolate before I decided that Kjartan could become Tryg. Readily, happily, no emotional balking whatsoever. Hurray! Surprise! But. This meant switching from someone who mostly went by his full name (Kjartan) with occasional uses of a nickname (Kjar) to someone who mostly goes by a nickname (Tryg) with occasional uses of his full name (Trygve). So while it was a lot emotionally smoother than I expected, there was no way I could do a simple search-and-replace, even with a name that was not going to have any false positives. I had to read each line that referred to him and make sure that it was not one of the rare cases where his first name would appear.

This was not hard, but it was a bit tedious, and with obsessive brain tendencies, I ended up doing it and the rest of that polishing draft work…all in one day. So that was Friday. Go team Mris. But uff da.

I appear to be growing brain back now. I seem to be able to do useful things in a fictionward direction. But even when name changes appear easy, they’re not. Really, really not. Because names are complicated.

*Yep, as those of you who read the briefer social media (G+ and FB) know, I have an agent now. Tamar Rydzinski of the Laura Dail Agency will be representing my long-form works. Many thanks to my good friend Jaime Lee Moyer for introducing us.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux

July 2017

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