March 20, 2013
Usually, research is a lot of fun. Digging up unusual information, finding cool little gems, generally learning more about the world so I can make my stories richer and more real. Sometimes, though, it’s kind of a drag, not because it’s tedious or there’s a lack of information, but because of the subject matter. Recently, I’ve been researching the current rise of militia movements. There’s enough overlap between militia movements, white supremacist groups, and other realms of violence and hate, that the reading gets pretty grim. Especially when I think about how this isn’t history, this isn’t happening in some far off place or time. It’s right here, right now.
But even this kind of research has its moments.
One difference between the 1990′s militia movements and the current resurgence? Some militia groups now have Facebook pages. Open to the public Facebook pages. With pictures of their latest deep-woods training expedition. The takeaway: if you are ranting online about the evils of government surveillance and how the New World Order is coming to take your guns and put you in a concentration camp, perhaps you best not do it on a site where you have posted pictures of yourself and granted easy public access to your home address. I mean, y’all are doing the FBI’s work for them!
February 27, 2013
Research can be a mixed bag. There are always exciting gems to be discovered, but if you find yourself writing about an obscure enough topic, you may not find anything at all. In the Harry and Marlowe stories, I’m writing about an actual historical figure — but the only comprehensive biography about her is in Norwegian. If I want to know more about Maud of Wales, I have to come at it sideways. This week, I’m excited because I got a package in the mail, an out-of-print book that I managed to find and order:
Maud is the one in the middle, with her two older sisters, Victoria and Louise. This is the book that’s going to help me write more Harry and Marlowe stories. I’m to a point in the sequence where I need to know more about her family, her relationships with her siblings, her grandmother, and the political situation of the real history and how I can use that to shape the alternate history. I’ll learn more about Maud, and about her brother George, who also appears in the stories. I’m only a couple chapters in and I’ve already learned a bunch.
- Maud knew Russian.
- George had a productive career in the Navy. On an early training voyage, he tried to bring a pet kangaroo home from Australia to give to his sisters.
- I had forgotten that her oldest brother Prince Albert Victor has been proposed as a possible candidate for the identity of Jack the Ripper in some of the wilder Ripper theories. (This is a very wild claim, as he was most likely not even in London during the murders.)
- Her father, Edward VII, was a bit profligate and there were very likely at least a couple of illegitimate half siblings.
- She was an avid chess player and a patron of the International Ladies Chess Congress. In other news, there was an International Ladies Chess Congress.
And all the photos of young Maud and her family are just wonderful. She always seems to have this very impatient look in her eye, as if she’s thinking, “Pictures are silly, let’s get on with it.” This is all stuff I can use. Bwah ha ha!
February 20, 2013
Remember those Harry and Marlowe stories I just mentioned? They’re out now! I should have waited a day to post!
More info about The Mad Scientists Guide to World Domination, including “Harry and Marlowe Meet the Founder of the Aetherian Revolution.”
So I watched Arbitrage, and it drove me a little batty that almost every character was from Hollywood Central Casting, Cliche Department. (The exception was the main character’s daughter, who was smart, ethical, savvy, a mother, and a generally decent human being. I think this would have been a better movie from her point of view.) In fact, when the Euro hipster art dealer mistress went to the back of the gallery during the big opening to snort cocaine, I busted out laughing. Dude, that is so 1988. **SPOILER** I also think the movie would have been better without the car wreck, which turned the whole thing into a two-hour episode of Law and Order, but what’re ya gonna do? **END SPOILER**
Fortunately, I didn’t stop watching there because the next scene was Tim Roth playing Columbo…and he really was playing Columbo! It wasn’t my imagination! “My deepest condolences, I’ll leave you alone now…but if I could just ask one question…I couldn’t help but notice that cut on your forehead. You mind telling me how that happened?” It was beautiful.
And did you know that Columbo isn’t actually original to Columbo? That character, the bumbling detective who is completely despised and dismissed by the criminal suspect, but who in reality is the smartest one in the room and trips up the suspect through roundabout questioning? That character has been around for a long time. Petrovich, the detective in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment is this type. And before that, Inspector Bucket in Dickens’ Bleak House. That’s right, Charles Dickens invented Columbo!
I love being an English major!
January 14, 2013
This post is for people eligible to nominate works for the Nebulas (active members of SFWA) or the Hugos (attended Worldcon last year, or will be attending this year and have already purchased your membership).
I’m mostly putting up this post because I’m actively campaigning to get Something Else Besides Doctor Who on the Best Dramatic Short category in the Hugo. So many works are eligible, there are so many good shows, good webisodes, good creative work being done. And seriously, Doctor Who just isn’t what it was five years ago, and can we please move on? So what am I going to be nominating?
“Happy Birthday, David.” Prometheus may have bombed, but this promo video is still astonishing, a two and a half minute bit of flash fiction on video that illuminates the emotional uncanny valley. It’s creepy, intriguing, and I love it.
“Absolut Greyhound.” I ought to be embarrassed recommending a vodka commercial for the Hugo, but I’m not, because this is another astonishing bit of flash fiction on video: a complete story about a certain kind of technology and the culture around it. Decadent and gorgeous.
Best Dramatic Long: I just want to remind everyone about Chronicle, the amazing Wild Cards-like found footage superhero flick from earlier in the year. I’ll also probably nominate Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome, which hit all my big spaceship SF buttons and mostly did a great job, despite a mis-step in the plot. (Notice how them sleeping together didn’t actually change a darned thing and made little sense and didn’t need to happen?)
And a couple of recommendations for best Novel:
Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone. I talked a lot about this novel at cons last year, pretty much on any panel where someone asked how important it is to stick to strict genre categories, because this proves that good story trumps any kind of marketing category. Write a good book, the publisher will find a way to sell it. This one got marketed as urban fantasy, with the hot chick with a weapon on the cover. But it’s also a post-apocalyptic fantasy with gods that’s also a legal thriller. It’s pretty much unlike anything you’ve read.
Caliban’s War by James S.A. Corey, because I’m a fangirl of this series.
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. Something I’ve learned with all the young adult books I’ve been reading over the last year: there really are some SF&F readers who refuse to read YA because they think it’s beneath them. And there really are YA fans who won’t read SF&F because they think it’s beneath them. So SF&F YA really gets the short end of the stick, and what that means is a lot of people are missing out on books that they’d really enjoy. Like Seraphina, a traditional fantasy with dragons, great worldbuilding, a complex society and politics, that’s also a book about passing. If you love Robin McKinley and Patricia McKillip, you should read this book. Don’t overlook it just because it’s labeled as YA.
More as I think of them…I’m woefully behind on reading shorter fiction this year. We’ll see if I can catch up.
December 19, 2012
Observing people’s reactions to The Hobbit around and about this here Internet, it’s pretty clear that many people have a deep, personal, and powerful relationship to the book. Their parents read it to them when they were small. It’s the book that brought them to fantasy. I’ve gotten to wondering how unusual — or not — my own relationship to the book is. Because to be honest, I’m not a fan. I recognize it’s a classic, it’s a fine novel certainly. But I don’t have any kind of deep personal relationship with it.
My parents are strict science fictionist. Growing up, we got lots of Star Trek and the Heinlein juveniles, but not a lot of fantasy. They never read The Hobbit to us. Actually, I’m not sure if they’ve even read The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, even though Mom and Dad are both avid readers. (Mom, want to chime in?) They’re just not fantasy readers — pretty much the only fantasy they read is mine. All the fantasy I’ve read, I did on my own, and it was Ray Bradbury and Robin McKinley who made me love fantasy.
What this means is my first introductions to Tolkien were the Bass-Rankin animated Hobbit and Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings. What this means is that I really hated The Hobbit. The Bass-Rankin film? Couldn’t stand it. Hobbits were these weird apple-headed creatures who were kinda boring and obsessive — like that creepy neighbor down the street — and the songs were twee. I really wanted to like it. But gah. No. Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, however, intrigued the hell out of me. I mean, it had ELVES. (Don’t judge me, please.)
When I finally picked up The Hobbit, I had a really hard time getting through it. It was all creepy apple-headed people and twee songs. But Lord of the Rings…ah yes. Elves. Except I really wanted to skip all the chapters with Hobbits in them so I could go back to reading about Elves. (Again, don’t judge me.) And what does all this mean? When I discovered The Silmarillion, it became my favorite Tolkien book because it was all Elves and no Hobbits.
I will be forever grateful to Peter Jackson for rehabilitating my mental image of Hobbits and making them awesome. I’m now able to go back to the books and read them for what they are, rather than imprinting on whatever horrible images the Bass-Rankin film managed to shove into my brain without meaning to.
I’ve only read the whole shebang twice — once as a teenager, and again starting ten years ago so I could compare to the movies. My take on them was quite a bit different. As a teenager, I read them and wanted to be an elf. (It’s really hard being a teenage girl, but elves are automatically awesome. Therefore, if I were an elf, I would be awesome. Just trying to explain my teenage reasoning on the matter.) Years later, I read them and thought, “These people are all going to need therapy.” (And then I immediately wrote “Strife Lingers in Memory,” now available in John Joseph Adam’s anthology Epic. End commercial plug.)
Lots of people for whom The Hobbit has been their favorite book since they were wee sproglings, who re-read it all every year, are awfully emotional about the movie. On the one hand, I’m grateful to be able to experience the movie without the emotional investment. On the other hand — how wonderful, to have a book mean so much. And this book means so much to so many people, it’s amazing, really.
I imagine if a movie ever gets made of The Blue Sword I’ll know what the true Hobbit fans are going through right now.
December 5, 2012
I’m reading a lot right now. I finished Bujold’s new Vorkosigan book, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, the long promised “Ivan” book, in three days. It was adorable and hilarious. That may be the last of my fun reading for a few weeks, though I have some newish Erikson and Esslemont that I’m saving for Christmas.
I’m also working hard to catch up on my reading as part of this year’s Norton Award jury. I don’t want to talk too much about that until the reading period ends. Boy, there are a lot of young adult and middle grade books out there.
The third bit of reading: I’m launching into research for the next Kitty book, which is actually going to be a Cormac book. Or Cormac and Amelia is probably more accurate. I’m delving into the history of the Front Range in the nineteenth century, and associated folklore, particularly Native American lore.
Here’s a snippet from my reading, taken from Images of America: Manitou Springs: “For entertainment in early Manitou Springs, nothing could beat the Park Skating Rink…Both sexes enjoyed the activity: men because they could catch the glimpse of a lady’s ankle during a tumble, and women because they could ask a gentleman’s aid in getting up. The local newspaper claimed that the falls at the park could outdo those at Niagara.”
I kinda want to go skating now.
October 10, 2012
Another scattered post, because it’s that kind of week.
First, I would like a pat on the back for not drunk-posting to Facebook last night. I took the day off yesterday because I finally sold my old condo, came home exhausted, celebrated with a bottle of champagne, and collapsed into a hot bath. I could feel the stress boiling out of my system. I’m feeling much better now.
NPR ran a great story yesterday on research about what happens to our brains when we read. Preliminary data show that when reading in a good book, parts of the brain involving touch and movement were also activated, suggesting that “readers were physically placing themselves within the story.” Which we all kind of knew, right? Don’t we all love how a good books makes us feel like we’re “right there?” I love that it turns out that isn’t just a metaphor.
August 24, 2012
I wrote recently about my discovery of my new favorite comic, Planetary, and how it makes allusions to about a million other comics, books, movies, and so on. One of the things it references is a primarily Silver Age comic called Challengers of the Unknown, about four heroic American dudes rendered largely invincible by a freak airplane accident. They use their freak invincibility to basically go around, you know, challenging the unknown and stuff. Axel Brass’s group in Planetary is kind of a cross between the Challengers and the League of Extraordinary Gentleman. The Planetary group itself is partly inspired by the Challengers. That comic’s fingerprints are all over Planetary.
So I wanted to get my hands on some Challengers of the Unknown, which I knew about but had never read. I can always count on my comics friend Max to come through for me — he’s got the DC Archive Edition, and I got to work reading it, and it’s about what you’d expect in a comic featuring four true-blooded heroes battling the weird. It’s, you know, weird. As usual, though, I got hung up on something completely different, right on the first page, and it hasn’t let me go.
As the story opens, the four men who are to become the Challengers — Ace, Red, Rocky, and the Professor (yes, I know) — are on their way to a radio station to be interviewed about their amazing achievements so far. This is what’s happening in the radio station before they get there:
And that’s the only time we ever hear about these four women. BUT I WANT TO KNOW WHAT THEY DID!! Who are they? Where did they come from? What happens to them next? What secret lives do they lead when they aren’t being interviewed on radio shows? WHO ARE THEY?!!!!!!!
They are the Challengerettes of the Unknown. And I want to write a book about them.
August 8, 2012
So there I was poking around the web while writing that post I did on Choose Your Own Adventure books, when I made an amazing discovery: the existence of Find Your Fate: G.I. Joe. A Choose Your Own Adventure-style series about G.I. Joe. Or, as it will henceforth be known: Crack for Carrie.
Of course, I had to acquire them, which was a little tougher than I was expecting. Apparently, there’s been a run on this kind of thing in all the used bookstores. In other words, people who read them as kids are now old enough and have enough money to be collectors and are eating stuff like this up. (People like, oh, me?) But with the help of a friend and eBay, I got a set of six.
How did I not know about these back in the 80′s? Well, the copyright dates say that by the time these came out, I’d discovered Robin McKinley, Wild Cards, and a slew of other books and authors, and I never looked back. But it’s never too late. First impression: these read a little like my teenager G.I. Joe fanfiction. Which, you know, cool. Second impression: HOLY CRAP! These things are super traumatic. Because it turns out everyone in them are way better shots than their counterparts in the cartoons.
So like, you know how in Choose Your Own Adventure books there are quite a few negative outcomes. Like, “You fail, something terrible happens, you die. THE END.” Well, in the GI Joe ones, it’s even worse, because the negative outcomes go something like this: “You fail, something terrible happens, you die, YOUR ENTIRE SQUAD OF BELOVED GI JOE CHARACTERS DIE, THE ENTIRE G.I. JOE TEAM IS DESTROYED, AND COBRA TAKES OVER THE WORLD!!! THE END.” Or, “You fail, and maybe Cobra takes over the world, but you’ll never know because you’re dead and the GI Joe team has to clean up your mess, loser. Maybe they’ll succeed, or not. THE END.”
Oh my God. I can’t handle it. I have to go take a walk or something.
Okay, I’m back. Just long enough to show you this:
So yeah, a little wobbly on some of the details. I cannot tell you just how wrong it is, reading those words.
July 18, 2012
When people ask about my literary influences, I have my pat answers: Ray Bradbury and Robin McKinley were early inspirations and teachers, through their work. The classics I studied for my degrees have influenced me, I learned about writing series from reading Lois McMaster Bujold, Iain M. Banks’ Use of Weapons gave me the idea for part of the structure of Discord’s Apple, and so on.
I’ve long been coming to the realization that while my craft may have come from respectable literary influences, my aesthetics were heavily, embarrassingly molded by the cheesiest pop culture the 80′s had to offer. Given how much I talk about GI Joe and Captain Power, this should come as no surprise to anyone. But what does the literary side of that look like? My friends, it looks like this:
Photon. It is my understanding that the author, David Peters, is a pseudonym for the great and prolific Peter David. This makes perfect sense to me, and explains why I was so much in thrall to these things. I read them many, many times. I understand there was a TV show of Photon. I probably would have watched it, if I’d been able to (even thought the production values look about on par with those of the MST3K intros). The story has that familiar pattern I latched onto so firmly as a kid: a close-knit cadre of freedom fighters in a wacked-out universe. The storylines were pat — the only one I remember clearly is the one where Bhodi wakes up in the hospital and is told that he’s been in a coma for months and all his Photon-related adventures were a dream. In fact, he’s been kidnapped by the bad guys who are brainwashing him into becoming one of them. This is also essentially the storyline of the great GI Joe episode “There’s No Place Like Springfield,” in which Shipwreck wakes up from a coma to be told that years have passed, Cobra was defeated, and the whole GI Joe team is now retired and wearing polo shirts and playing golf. Everyone uses this story, I think because it allows so much rich psychological torture of the main characters, and that’s always fun, right?
I ate this stuff up like chocolate ice cream during my pre-teen years. And I’m not even sure why, except that I loved the idea of being part of a group of awesome people who were made of pure awesome, having really traumatic adventures. Trauma, action, betrayal, redemption, larger than life chaos that put the whole world on the line — these things had all the best, pure, essential stories.
Micro Adventure: Same damn thing. You (and like Choose Your Own Adventure these were written in second person, so it’s all about you) are part of an elite group of superspies traveling the world and doing awesome things. (The front page tells me that I am a member of the Adventure Connection Team, fighting against the Bureau of Random Unlawful Terror and Evil. That’s right, it’s ACT against BRUTE, y’all.) In fact, you’re the team’s computer expert, and the text would periodically break so that you could solve some kind of computer programming riddle by actually programming your own computer. Like this:
I should probably explain that in the early days of home computing, this was mind blowing. You, the eleven year old kid who picked up this book by chance at a Scholastic Book Fair, can be a super hacker (sort of)! Wooooo! In fact, I knew some BASIC, back in the day, and the programs were simple enough that I never bothered actually programming them, I just read them over, figured out what they did, and moved on with the story, which was way more interesting. And that right there probably explains why I became a writer and not a computer programmer like so many of my peers. (Though I am, right this minute, having to physically restrain myself from seeing if I can get a DOS prompt on this machine to try these programs out now.) All I really remember of the stories now was that there was an actual ongoing through-line — you caught malaria in one book, you had malaria for the rest of the series. And the really clever bit where the bad guys travel back in time to the American Revolution, the heroes go after them, and track them down by looking for the people with the best dental hygiene. (Isn’t that clever? I thought so, when I was eleven.)
And then there’s Choose Your Own Adventure. Full of enough WTF to make even the oddest child (me) happy. As it happens, I no longer seem to have what was my very favorite CYOA: Inside UFO 54-40. I don’t know if I tucked it away somewhere, if my brother has it, or what. But there’s a scene in this book emblazoned into my memory in a spot that will never, ever be erased: in one of the more horrifying endings, you end up in a room where your physical development starts going backwards, until you end up as a sentient fetus in a glass jar, waiting for oblivion. HOLY SHIT, PEOPLE! This is good stuff! These books are entirely chock full of existential terror, which I think is exactly what I needed as a military brat growing up during some of the most tense years of the Cold War.
If my writing, at least some of it, can be characterized by fast-past adventure, teamwork and camaraderie among characters, and odd bits of uncomfortable horror, I think I have to attribute some of that to my early reading. And I’m actually not embarrassed about it, because what I’m also coming to realize is that so many of the things I adored when I was growing up have helped make me the writer I am today, and contribute to my own unique and special writerly voice. I’m the writer I am, the writer I’m happy being, because I grew up with GI Joe and Captain Power, and reading Photon and Choose Your Own Adventure, not in spite of those things, and I wouldn’t change it.