Category Archives: Science Fiction

Eclectic Reader Challenge Update

It’s been a while, a long while. Well, I’m sorry. Next week, I’ll explain where I was but for now, here’s an update of of my progress in the ERC.

The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Having never read a Sherklock Holmes novel makes my adventure into House of Silk strange because I am well acquainted with his many, many popular incarnations throughout the media today (and my childhood). That said, I probably will check out the originals after this because it was quite fun and has been said to stay in the same vein (albeit 2x longer for current audiences).

I found Watson and Holmes interesting characters to read and tried very hard to separate them from the BBC’s Watson and Holmes and Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law’s interpretation, though I think the BBC’s modernized men would fit quite well into Horowitz’s world. The story line shocked me but overall the book was really enjoyable. I’d definitely recommend it and would love to hear what Holmes’s fans have to say about it!

Extremes: Surviving the World's Harshest Environments

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Middleton’s book is a telling of how some indigenous peoples live in extreme environments. I read this to research survival to help my boss write a survival unit. Middleton is a geographer so he has a great perspective on the actual environments but he’s also entertaining to read. He has the knowledge but knows he’s a Brit that couldn’t survive a day on his own. If you want to learn a little about the world, specifically Greenland (arctic wasteland), the Congo (jungle), the Tenere Desert (part of the Sahara), and Papua (swamp). I kept a great many notes to help me with my book so this is a great piece for research when world-building.

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I’d heard good things about this book, it even has a 3.99/5 on Goodreads.com! You know what though? That was all phooey. It is a bad book. The “mystery” is melodramatic and a bad play at a crazy dystopian-style experiment. The main character is horrible and unrelatable. I have one word to explain this book and that word is “stupid” if I’m going to expend a few more, those would be “a waste of time.” If you’re curious, read the Wikipedia page for it.

Surviving the Extremes: What Happens to the Human Body at the Limits of Human Endurance

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

This is another book I did on survival research and it’s amazing. Written this time from the point of view of an adventure-seeking medical doctor, Kamler explains quite a few things about surviving in extreme cold, extreme heat, and many other (including space). It’s another book that is not only entertaining but educational. Another one to keep an eye on for world-building research!

Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #1)

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I’m a bit on the fence about this book. I may read the sequel in the future, if I get through a bunch of other books and I remember to come back to it. The thing is that the main character has blue hair. Now, I recognize that it’s explained and yada yada yada but there is just something about characters having blue hair that bothers me. I don’t know what it is, it’s a me thing. Anyway, this is a decent story. It’s got a lot of interesting plot points but I feel like it’s only touches the surface of the story. If I had the sequel on my night stand, I’d read it. But I don’t and I’m not rushing out to buy it any time soon.

Me Talk Pretty One Day

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Sedaris’s memoir is entertaining. I wouldn’t call it a comedy because I didn’t laugh out loud at it at all and definitely not as much as other books. That said, it’s a good read. Sedaris is a good story teller with great moments to talk about in his life. I find his honesty enjoyable and the truth behind his experiences is really cool, for lack of a better word. He has some really unique experiences but he moves through them as a lazy human that makes the stories real and relatable.

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Late Post

Have you ever listened to a song that you’ve heard and sung along with multiple times and then one time, at one moment–it clicks? Songs are written to convey something, but that doesn’t mean listeners always get it, especially not right away.

Tonight I was listening to Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly” and I got it. I don’t know if it was the snow, the bonafide snow that falls so quick and so thick you just know, that in a few hours, your world is going to be a new place. You quite literally will be transported somewhere else where a dark road in the dead of night is an interstellar flight to a winter wonderland. I don’t know if it was that, but I think that promise put my mind in the right place. That place was to understand the meaning of the song, at least as I see it.

Well I started out down a dirty road
Started out all alone
And the sun went down as I crossed the hill
And the town lit up, the world got still

I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing

Well the good ol’ days may not return
And the rocks might melt and the sea may burn

I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing

Well some say life will beat you down
Break your heart, steal your crown
So I’ve started out, for God knows where
I guess I’ll know when I get there

I’m learning to fly, around the clouds,
But what goes up must come down

I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing

Learning to fly is about learning to be happy. Good comes and good goes, but being happy, not euphoric, not ecstatic, is something some have to learn to do. There are no wings, there is nothing that can put you up there. It’s just you, learning to be happy.

This reminded me of Arthur Dent who, to fly, had to simply forget to fall. As you throw yourself at the ground, you must be distracted by something as you plummet towards the ground. What does this say about happiness, if the symbolism follows through? That it can’t be forced. One must learn, that as they fall, to look for the distractions. I’m not sure if the two tie together, but for me, there is a simple lesson about happiness in both.

You can learn to fly, or you can develop a knack for missing the ground. Either way, be happy. Happiness isn’t the euphoria of our best moments, but the acceptance and enjoyment of the moments in between.

 

Though this isn’t about writing, this is something I felt compelled to share. I hope your Saturday brings you a wingless flight or forgetful fall.

Back to the Drawing Board!

This weekend I spent hours and hours reading for my thesis. I stumbled upon this book called “A Writer Teaches Writing” by Donald M Murray which made me really think about my writing process for my book but also for other stories. He breaks the process down as COLLECT PLAN DRAFT. The thing is, for his process, it’s not linear. It’s not just collect, plan, draft, DONE! It’s a revolving cycle until the final draft–meaning revision is just a rehash of the process. He refers to editing basically how I referred to correcting.

What does this mean? I’m re-thinking the Abassi Expedition. I’ve collected, planned, and drafted and now as I look at it–it doesn’t feel right. Something, mostly a fire, is missing from it for me. I think that I need some more collect, another plan, and another draft.

So, I’m probably going to collect my thoughts–break the draft down into the issues that I’m having, which for me, is primarily Alice and William at the end of the book. Morris grew into the most perfect character for me, save for maybe one or two scenes that feel forced. But Alice and William? They were planned before they were collected. So I’m back on the collect. I really want to better understand who they are, their backgrounds, how they’ll act as life comes at them. I had planned to be done with the Abassi Expedition by fall but honestly, I don’t know if that will happen.

After I collect, I’ll plan… I have legitimate scenarios for Alice and William to experience but I don’t think I have the right responses and actions on their part. So I might re-plan the rising and falling action. I like the climax, I like the end.

Then I’ll draft and when I do, I might use some old scenes but I also plan to use some techniques in that book like writing my lead over and over again in the different options (direct statement, anecdote, quotation  news, informing detail, dialogue, surprise, description, mood, face, scene, first person, third person, tension, problem, process, voice, second person, rhetorical question, background, introduction) with a focus on honesty, simplicity, immediacy, information, and voice.

I think it’s time for me to accept and be okay that my first draft is a discovery draft and it helped me to discover what I need to know, what I need to explore, what was left out. I have that draft off to my good friend Sabrina right now, so we’ll see what she says.

Another thing I’d like to do is to answer all the questions Murray gives that are more directed for non-fictional writing but still carry meaning to me:

  1. Do I have enough specific, accurate information to build a piece of writing that will satisfy the reader?
  2. Do I see an order in the material that will deliver information to the readers when they need it?
  3. DO I hear a voice that is strong enough to speak directly to the reader?
  4. What do I know about my story?
  5. What do I need to know?
  6. Do I need to expand or narrow my scope?
  7. Will my reader’s questions get answered?

Murray also gives some great ideas about keeping the writing going such as setting a quota and keeping score, writing in parts instead of focusing on the whole, don’t stop to look at notes.

Before I start any of that, I need to figure out what is working well in my draft. My prose is good, concise, to the point, active, but my characters aren’t working for me the way they should. They’re not in the story enough. This plot is driven by the characters and the story needs to reflect that.

To really assess my work, I need to read it thrice (YES THRICE!) for content, structure, and language. Lately, I’ve been reading, instead, for language. That’s just not working for me. Because I can fix the prose but if the content isn’t right, that means nothing!

SO, now where am I? Well, I’m mired in the collect for my thesis. So the Abassi Expedition will have to wait a few months (hopefully just until March) before I can really delve into it’s collect. But I have a few books that I’ve recommended but never *fully* read, I’m going to link them AGAIN and finally read them this time! Cover to cover!

  1. Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time by Jordan E. Rosenfeld
  2. Word Hero: A Fiendishly Clever Guide to Crafting the Lines that Get Laughs, Go Viral, and Live Forever by Jay Heinrichs
  3. Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction by Jeff Gerke
  4. How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
  5. New to my list: On Writing by Stephen King
  6. New to my list: 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias

If I can work these into my thesis, I may, but until then, I’m stuck reading books and articles about writers teaching writing (if you know any, pass them on!).

Peep Show of The Abassi Expedition

Sabrina passed the Peep Show Challenge along to me and so here it is:

The Peep Show rules are, go to the 77th page of your WIP, count down 7 lines, write the next 7.

I promise, despite the fact that it only looks like 6 lines, it was 7 on my manuscript!

“She must be killed.” His handler downed a glass of scotch. “Your punishment isn’t over,” he added with another puff from his pipe. He nodded and men grabbed Morris from behind. They pulled him from the hook and he sighed at the relief on his muscles before they threw him to the ground in front of a trough of water.

They thrust Morris’s head in and out of the water, never drowning him but never giving him enough time to breathe before shoving him back in.

I’m going to pass this along to… AK, Jason, and Nat Russo! I can’t wait to see some of their MSs

Publishing, some other stuff, and a Poem!

I lied. I said I’d share my work this month but then my friend Sabrina started talking to me about helping her get published. SO I did some searching on query letters and then I thought, well where will I submit to and blah blah blah.

So here’s the thing: the best way to get published is to get published first (I know, I know) and win prizes.

I am submitting to OWFI’s annual contest this year. I also found this great site: http://writersweekly.com/this_weeks_article/004256_09122007.html. Maybe, if I win some sort of prize I can fund a drinking binge submission to paid contests.

I’m also going to try to write a short story and some poems for publication. While I do that, I’ll finish my novel. THEN I’ll start querying agents. Hopefully, I make some progress. I’m looking forward to making a lot of progress on it this year.

But the thing is, I have to start writing shorts and poems in speculative fiction, which I almost completely do not do. I have some “I love science fiction” or “I’m a book nerd” poems but nothing… really in the genre.

I do however, have this blog and the 50 followers whom I dearly love. Thanks guys, you’re the best.

I also recently got reblogged! I know, super cool, right? Check it out: SingleInACollegeTown.

Also, I ordered a treadmill that will be here Friday which means that all my reading/tv time will ALSO be exercise time. This, to me, is the lazy way to exercise. But hey, it’s good for the brain and energy and living forever.

I dredged up this painting I made and a poem:

 

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Where Crimson, Blue, Green, Yellow, and Lilac Come Together

The sky is a clear white, as if the oxygen forgot
its favorite blue and left naked this morning.
Crimson, lilac, blue, and green grow
as living things in places they don’t belong
while my yellow hangs not as a ball in the sky
but as rays shaking around me.

Life laps, touches down and picks up again.
Lilac, soft, sweet tweeting.
Blue, leaves and paper and paper rustling.
Yellow, a lively violin playing.
Crimson, a soft, steady heartbeat.
Green, steady humming.

My yellow is aglow, the touch
of spring after a long winter.
Blue is the splash of salty water on lips.
Green is the caress of grass.
Lilac is calm in a storm.
Crimson the blush on cheeks.

On Revision: Eliminating Passive Verbs

I like to revise. I really like it. I love to help people revise too. I am also for hire should you want me to help you out. If you don’t want to pay me (why not?), there are lots of little things YOU can do to make your own WIP stronger.

First, you can check out a few blog posts that I’ve published that are really helpful:

Reblog Wednesday: The Fantasy Novelist’s Exam – This is great for speculative fiction writers to work on making sure their content isn’t rife with cliche.

Revision and Critique Group Tips – This is pretty self-explanatory! 🙂

An Exercise in Detail – This is great for practicing slowing down your writing to gather details.

Wordle and Poetry – This is a post about writing exercises and ideas to help you develop your writing.

One of my obsessions thanks to a grammar class in college is passive verbs. Passive verbs slow down your writing and steal the heat away from your prose. However, passive verbs, if you’re not familiar with them, hide from you and eliminating them can be difficult.

So first, pick a color of pen or highlighter and go through and circle/highlight every instance of: are, is, was, were, had, have, will, could, would. I also think looked, turned, watched, started, heard, gave, hoped, smelled, and thought should be eliminated as much as possible. They’re overused, blah words. Also, if you work to eliminate them, your work will be stronger.

Now, you have a wall of red… what next? Figure out how you can eliminate them. Here are some examples of ways I’ve eliminated some:

“he started to reel his line in” changes to “he reeled his line in” – simple enough

“there were apprentices running in between delivery carts” changes to “apprentices ran between delivery carts” – again, still simple because a great action verb stands ready

When you use passive verbs in situations like, “It was cold.” Cold is an adjective. So, either use it that way or use a metaphor… “it froze his fingers” or “it froze.” Or from “the car was red” to simply “the red car.” This is not to say, just add adjectives, because adjectives are lazy ways to add description, but once in a while, it’s okay. Be careful doing it. Sometimes, you have to rearrange the whole sentence or paragraph to eliminate your passive verb so don’t be afraid to look past the period for help.

For rearranging, try something like “Alice was used to Xui’s primping so she waited…” to “Alice, used to Xui’s primping, waited…”

Try this active verb exercise from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Make a list of ten nouns. Pick a profession and find 15 verbs associated with that profession. Now match them up and make some sentences. She has sentences like “Dinosaurs marinate in the earth.” “The fiddles boiled the air with their music.”

Use -ing/-ed verb phrases to add detail (Running through the store, Mary slipped and fell.)

Use metaphor effectively (that takes practice) and not fall back on cliches or simile. “She laughed like a hyena” is both cliche and a simile. Using a metaphor effectively means using those verbs to do more than be literal: The buildings of the colony drew a jagged line across the sky. The buildings didn’t really draw anything, but that’s better than “The buildings were all different sizes.” And thoughtful practice: knowingly work on your passive verbs. The more you do, the easier it is.

I’ve found some really great sites about how to work on your passive verbs, so please check them out and please give me YOUR tips if you have any!

Let’s Have Fun Writing | Spike Those Verbs

Active and Passive Verbs

Passive and Active Voice

Active and Passive Voice

Updates on The Abassi Expedition

I haven’t shared a lot lately about my WIP so I thought I’d spend today giving an update.

First, I finished my first draft in the middle of December!

To celebrate… I printed out the first five chapters and started my revisions…

My first big change came in the form of developing two satellite characters (the parents of MC Alice Hadley). I read through the prologue searching out passive verbs (ick!) and -ly words (boo!). Afterwards, I thought, “These two characters who are are essential to the plot really need to be fattened up!” So I developed their physical image, their motivation in the prologue, their mannerisms. Then I got to work. I re-wrote the prologue which can found on my WIP Page. I’m very pleased with the change.

With chapter one, it’s really the first introduction to New London so I wanted to do something really important with it. I took some inspiration from Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and used the social structure of New London to tell its story… I’m also very pleased with it:

The buildings of the colony drew a jagged line across the sky as wide swaths of sunlight illuminated the fresh paint, perfectly lain bricks, and smooth trim. Parliament lay in the center of the colony with its clock tower rising high into the sky, a beacon of order and direction visible from everywhere in the colony. The ministers, lords, and ladies all woke to their staff ushering them to new committees and meetings while workers diffused through the city collecting garbage, fixing cobbles, repairing buildings. Down the streets, apprentices lumbered into the light while their master’s still slept. The farmers were already on their way towards the fields that blew and shifted in the wind, ready to welcome the warm sunlight. The slums, hidden by the rest of the city, slept into the day.

To create that, though, I had to figure out the social structure and the layout of the city. This is the best I’ve got because designing cities is nigh impossible:

I do not have any colored pencils so it’s not colored but basically the top part is a lake with two rivers that descend through the colony. The hexagon shape is the barrier that keeps the colony safe from the wildlife of Kepler and filters the air so that the humans can survive on this alien planet.

My biggest goals with this revision are: eliminating passive verbs, catching POV violations, trying to get everything into place. I’m trying to rush (I’m not doing a good job of it though) so I can finish with a second draft by January. The big thing is to get it readable for beta-readers because the writing process means that some things that you wrote in the beginning don’t match up with what developed towards the end. Writing in itself is discovery so the whole thing needs to be molded for the best story. So far, I’m doing really well and happy with my updates.

Today, I wanted to work on chapter six but got derailed trying to figure out the military that two MCs and one satellite character is in. William is a captain, his father is the Lord General, and Morris is a Lieutenant. I wanted to know how big their army should be for the 400k population of New London (I put it at 20k) and what that meant for the structure. I also developed the enlisted and officer structure. The most fun part, however are the drawings I made for their uniforms and rank insignia:

On the far left is the universal combat uniform. You can see I have a little triangle on the left sleeve, that’s a lazy person’s drawing of the star in the center of the shoulder strap in the center. The right sleeve has the slashes for ranking. The officer’s uniforms have shoulder straps with insignia, while the enlisted uniforms do not.

On the right is the dress uniform which is the one that William most prefers (while Morris prefers the left uniform). I’m not done with it. I think the shoes should be shinier, have spats, etc. But for the most part it has the same shoulder strap in the center, is worn maybe with the flight cap on the right (the triangle one). Anytime you see a weird squiggly half-star, that’s my way of saying “some sort of insignia should be here.” But on the hats, I’m worried it might not work.

The center image is the shoulder strap. The circle at the top is meant to be a silver button that is a relief of the planet of Kepler (known to us real life people as Kepler 22b). The insignia of the sun is meant to be a star. I wanted the choices of insignia to reflect the new planet, not the old. This is really one of the first places that I’ve gone with the sci-fi thing which feels great! Because The Abassi Expedition is steampunk, I’ve tried to stick with mostly Victorian style, so I played with the insignia a lot. The other two symbols I used are a symbol of the parthenon for the governent and a scythe over a rapier.

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Okay, that’s the last of my crappy drawings I’m going to submit you too. I hope that your eyes aren’t bleeding!

If you have any suggestions for city-planning, revision, uniform design, etc. Please let me know!

Also, if you follow me on Twitter, @MelanieSokol, you can get more frequent updates!