Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Current writing news:

I sold three haiku to the "Southern California Haiku Anthology" due out this fall.

I also just sold two short poems to "One Sentence Poems" (a very cool online magazine and also the sister magazine to the very fine "Right Hand Pointing" poetry magazine.)

The paperback of "Letters to an Android" will be available in the next couple of days on CreateSpace.

We just re-did the cover to look more pro for the paperback version. I think it's better now with the author name on top and bigger.

In the meantime, the Kindle edition is available and at the low introductory price of $2.99. The price will increase a bit by the end of the summer, so best to buy now...if interested.

Upcoming for this blog:

I have four wonderful writers lined up for mini guest-author interviews, and hopefully more coming. Author interviews to look for on this blog later this summer include:

Claire Chilton
Melody Clark
Michelle Scalise
Tom Piccirilli

Don't forget to keep up to date with my past author-guests, too, Christina E. Pilz, and Jenny Blackford. Christina has a new newsletter about once a month which I just subscribed to.

I'm working on a lot of writer-related things, but it's hard to start new projects when I know I'm going on the road for most of the rest of the summer. (I am working on a short story right now, though.) The muse can get quite upset over this. Thus:

terrible muse
cloud-skulking tonight
under moonlight the color of neglect


Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Letters to an Android" on Kindle...and a bit about process, too.

My new novel, “Letters to an Android,” is now out on Kindle. I’m very happy with it. Click on the title below and it will take you to the Amazon Kindle page.

Some very nice people have asked me to discuss my writing process on it, and I’m delighted.

Just over six months ago I wrote a tiny little story for an online challenge with the theme of New Year’s Eve. I wrote a glimpse of a far-future setting and two characters, an android and a star-traveler, Cobalt and Liyan, who’d become long-distance friends over many years and were meeting once again.

From there, everything took off. A tiny little scene written on a boring wintry afternoon suddenly blasted my brain with both characters’ entire back story and I knew instantly the novel that I next needed to write. I also knew immediately that I would employ, for about 80 percent of the text, the literary device of letters to convey a long and loyal friendship between two people whose lives take them in very opposite directions.

I wanted the sweeping vistas of far-flung, future science fiction landscapes, star-boats, and outer space for the backdrop. But my real story would be in the details of character and feeling, the poetry of wonder, the allure of longing, love and the unknown.

I often look to poetry for inspiration in my fiction. I have a tremendous backlog of my own and often use lines from it as “prompts.” I also love to read the poetry of others, at random, sometimes online and sometimes from old books I’ve collected over the years. Any combination of reading like this will get my mind burning with visions. But also, looking at pictures and art can prompt me. In this case, I wanted to reclaim inside myself that old, yearning feeling I used to get from childhood when I would look at the cover of a science fiction book and see an airless alien landscape with giant moons or Saturns in a midnight sky. Or a vast cityscape with spaceships shooting away toward the void. I wanted windows to the future. I wanted glossy ships but it was okay if they had rocket fins, too. I wanted that nostalgic combination of a past pulpy feel with a streamlined future.

The endless pages of pictures I found online filled me up. I would gaze at them and write lists of poetic chapter headings. I’d combine two or more images or scenes and decide: I want my character to go there. And there. And there. Suddenly I had lists of planets and places where my star-man, Liyan, would travel. He could write descriptions of these place to his land-trapped friend, Cobalt, and the book took off.

One of my friends asked, upon reading in the book about a place called Tower Probable, "Who thinks of names like this?" Well, I told her, with Tower Probable I needed a name quickly. I knew my characters were going to a tower but that is all. So I opened one of my more recent poetry journals at random and stabbed my finger to the middle of the page and decided I'd name the tower whatever word my fingertip touched. It was "probable."

She also asked about my reference to Azelfafage wine. Well, a lot of stuff like that and the star systems I mention (like where the star-mail package to Cobalt has traveled) are real (not all, but a lot.) All I did was Google star names and there are lists and lists and lists, endless. I don't know who gets to name stars, but there are real strange and wonderful names of the mapped skies. Azelfafage is a real star. I loved it so I used it. (Notice I didn’t even get past the A’s.) At another point in the novel, the character of Lark is wearing a t-shirt that supposedly says in an alien language, "Be bold, not boring." This is from a Facebook post that just popped up...the kind where people post quotes and sayings but don’t even give a credit. I was writing that very scene and I just clicked over to FB for some reason and there it was and onto the t-shirt it went.

The Robot Cliffs of Is: I saw a picture on Googleimages that had an image of a line of robots on a cliff. But I could never find it again. Did I imagine it? Searching the net, I found a landscape I remembered with a few sculptures (not robots) on alien cliffs and decided my own subconscious had embellished that one and made up what I thought I saw until I became convinced it was a real piece of art I'd seen. This happened to me over and over.

I don’t write from outlines. I write from notes. I write linearly (usually) but my notes are pure chaos. You should see my journal scribbles! In addition to lists of chapters, (out of order,) I’ll have lists like:

three winged ships
sky waterfall
pink peach clouds
the disks and the green moon
view of the black sun
speed of light
speed of space

I’ll have little scribbles that say: The indifference of the universe—the desolation of ecstasy and terror. The indifference of the android, the terror of his desolation, the ecstasy of an unlikely friendship.

I have a quote from (god knows why and never used) Homer: “Yea, and if some god shall wreck me in the wine-dark deep, even so I will endure…”

And on and on the note pages go. I wrote haiku from Liyan that was never used. And some that was. I hand-wrote some scenes in my journal while I was traveling for my business and too lazy to turn to my laptop.

This is my messy, ornery subconscious mind at work, with my conscious mind giving way to blind trust. For me, over the years I have found if I really over-think something too much I lose my way. If I find that happening when writing, I turn once again to my poems, writing new ones, remembering to try to capture the flavor, scent and feel of the wonder, the beauty, the vision I want. Before I wrote a pivotal scene that comes toward the end of the book, I actually wrote it in poem free-verse form first.

And now I wish to thank all my lovely readers. I hope you enjoy “Letters to an Android” as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Letters to an Android Cover Preview!

I finally finished the cover design for my new novel Letters to an Android. I'm so excited. Della Van Hise helped me a TON on this project, and taught me how to do covers, formatting and uploads to CreateSpace, Amazon, etc. It will soon be out from our publishing company, Eye Scry.

A lot of work has gone into this project in its final stages, not to mention the five months it took me to write it in between traveling for my retail business and other interruptions.

After I get my "proof" copy and approve it, the book will be available and I'll announce it here.

Monday, July 7, 2014

My Guest Jenny Blackford Answers Four Writing Questions

I recently became part of a blog tour, answering four writerly questions, as a guest of Kelly Dunn. My friend Christina Pilz was my guest last week and I decided to continue the trend of guesting writers on my blog.

Jenny Blackford is my next guest. It's is really serendipitous that we recently connected, because she had already just participated in a blog-hop tour with a bunch of Australian writers answering the same exact four questions. I offered to post her answers here, and she loved the idea.

I had, earlier this year, read Jenny's wonderful short novel The Priestess and the Slave and kept meaning to review it on Amazon. (My review is now up. I highly recommend this book.)
Then I saw her announcement on the Strange Horizons group that the book had just come out in audio, and it reminded me all over again how much I enjoyed the book and that I needed to do a review. I don't know what made me look for Jenny's blog and website, but when I did I realized I had read her wonderful poetry before, one of which was quite memorable from an issue of Pedestal Magazine, "Their Cold Eyes Pierced My Skin." Click on that title and it will take you straight to the poem!

So now, here are Jenny's answers. Enjoy!

Jenny Blackford

What are you working on at the moment?
As usual, I'm working on a poem – this one based on a trip to the hairdresser last week. More about that later in the post...

I'm also putting the finishing touches on a review of Leigh Kennedy's short story collection Wind Angels, which I've owed to New York Review of Science Fiction for several years now. It's a delightful book, and I'm feeling guilty that the review has taken so long.

I'm helping to organise the Annual General Meeting of the Newcastle Writers Festival; I'm Secretary of the Committee, so it involves me in quite a bit of administration. I'm also thinking about some exciting panel topics for the festival next year – 20-22 March 2015 in sunny Newcastle. Next year's will be the third NWF, and it will be the best one ever!

And I'm excited about the new audiobook of my subversively-feminist historical novella The Priestess and the Slave (HRB, 2009), which (I'm honoured to say) Pamela Sargent called “elegant.” I have a few promo codes for free copies (!) to give away in exchange for an honest review (on Goodreads or elsewhere.) It's expertly narrated by the crisp, delicate voice of Hollie Jackson. Please email me if you're interested – jennyblackford [at] bigpond [dot] com.

How do you think your work differs from that of other writers in your genre?
My work has always been odd, and quirky. I'm interested in too many things. Since I was tiny, I wanted to study Greek and Latin, though I ended up as a computer networking specialist before I gave up my day job in 2001. But I'd happily have become an astronomer, or a marine biologist, or an anthropologist, or a landscape gardener, or a food historian.

The things I find fascinating are pretty wide-spread: stars and comets, the strangeness of the world through mirrors, peculiar byways of the human genome, the Aegean Bronze Age, waste disposal in Periclean Athens, sea anemones, the way the sea sloshes in and out over sand and rock, growing things that flower and fruit (or that just have gorgeous leaves, or excellent gnarled bark), knitting, the motion of light on water, women's clothing (and undies and shoes) over the millennia, caterpillars, things that go gurgle...scrape...creak in the night, wasps, the strange ways of cats, the stranger ways of people, and on and on ...

My writing reflects all those things, not just the Usual Things. Also, no car chases. I couldn't do a car chase to save my life.

Why do you write what you write?
I write what I can't help writing. It would be much easier for me to spend my days out in the garden or having an endless stream of long (gluten-free) lunches by the sea – but then my brain gets itchy with unwritten words. The people start talking in my head, and the words have to get out onto the page. Or else.

What’s your writing process, and how does it work?
The moment an idea (usually starting with a phrase, or a few disparate words) oozes into my brain, I take notes on whatever's available – the iPhone, the back of an envelope, blank pages in my diary, odd pieces of paper left on the dressing table – often in the middle of the night. I've learnt that if I don't write down the inspiration immediately, however obvious and unforgettable it might seem, it will evaporate. Then, as soon as I get a chance, I edit the result to within an inch of its life.

I mostly edit on paper, with a red pen. I also edit on-screen, but it's never the same. I print, red-pen, correct the document on-screen, then print, again and again and again. Then I give a printout to my husband Russell Blackford, who can be relied on for sensible scribbled edits. Then I do another layer of editing, until I'm happy.

I've been primarily drawn to poetry over the last few years, and I always seem to be fiddling with a poem – changing one word, changing it back, changing the line breaks...

The current poem-in-progress is based on stories my hairdressers were telling me last week – one's grandmother keeps huge chunks of family wedding cake, which are apparently never intended to be eaten, the other's mother keeps the dog's ashes in the living room in a stunningly-expensive box. It gets creepier from there! Perfect poem fodder. I dashed out an outline on my iPhone while I was sittting in the hairdresser's chair, and I've been printing it, editing it on paper, and re-editing all week.

PS. If you want, follow me (Jenny) on Twitter!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Great Writer and Friend Christina Pilz Gives Her Awesome Answers to Four Writing Questions

My friend Christina E. Pilz was my guest for the Four Question blog tour I participated in a couple entries ago. I love her answers, which she posted to her blog 6/30/14 here:

Christina's Answers

I liked her answers so much I'm also posting them here as well, but you get to see all sorts of other pretty pictures if you go to her blog as well.

I read Christina's long novel Fagin's Boy last March and I was very impressed. It's a wonderful sequel to Oliver Twist with an amazing attention to detail and, of course, my favorite thing: characterization. I feel she successfully captured a "Dickensian" tone in such a marvelous way, but you don't need to be a fan of Dickens at all to completely enjoy this book. All you need is a penchant for rooting for the underdog and this book will sweep you up.

Here are Christina's wonderful answers to the blog tour's four questions:

What am I currently working on?

I’m currently working on a sequel to Fagin’s Boy. This is because I feel that Oliver and Jack have more to say to me as well as to each other.

At the end of Fagin’s Boy, Oliver and Jack leave London by going south on Blackfriar’s Bridge, and I was curious as to where they were headed and what they would find when they got there. I wanted more time to figure Oliver out, and more time to hear Jack’s laid back replies to whatever issue Oliver is all fired up about. More time to dig into the muck of the lower classes of the Victorian Era. I also wanted more time to do cruel things to my characters.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

I write historical fiction with a focus on the early Victorian era.

My first exposure to historical fiction was through children’s books such as Faraway Dream (http://www.amazon.com/Faraway-dream-Jane-Flory/dp/B0006BW4ES) by Jane Flory (http://janeflory.blogspot.com/), The Little Princess (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Little_Princess) by Francis Hodgson Burnett (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Hodgson_Burnett), and of course the entire of the Little House (http://www.littlehousebooks.com/) series by Laura Ingalls Wilder (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laura_Ingalls_Wilder). Through them I found a connection to characters whose concerns seemed more basic and essential than my own. Instead of being worried about running to catch the bus, Sarah is worried about slipping in the mud while out on an errand for Mrs. Minchin in the foggy streets of London, or that she might starve before she’s paid off her debt to the school. Maggie is concerned that the neighbor boy Seth will assault her while she’s drawing water from the pump, or that she’ll be thrown into the street for not keeping her mouth shut. Laura is concerned that the grasshoppers will eat all of Pa’s wheat, and whether there will be enough potatoes for everyone at supper.

The issue is survival, and the tools to provide it are almost medieval: a wicker basket and shoes where the leather sole has run down to the thickness of a sheet of paper; old boots that are sturdy but which instantly mark one as an orphan; a sunbonnet that cannot quite shield a young girl from the blazing sun of a grasshopper summer.

In none of these stories is a mystery solved, as can be found in the trendier examples of historical fiction of the Victorian era. In those very popular books, the streets run amuck with the daring do of Sherlock Holmes type heroines, who not only have the book learning and the knowledge to solve a string of bloody murders, they have the grit and fortitude to go out into the streets unescorted or dressed as a boy or whatever allows these stories to be, what seems to me, thinly disguised modern crime novels with a bonnet or a shawl thrown in to add verisimilitude. So when it starts to feel as though the heroine (or hero) could do the exact same actions, have the exact same conversations in the present day, and all without really changing anything (except for some clothes), then I’m actually looking at a modern crime or mystery novel (dressed up in Victorian garb), and my willing suspension of disbelief goes AWOL.

I’m not saying these books are badly written, because they are not. They are clever, and well-crafted and make for good reading if you’re in the mind for a mystery. Which I am, from time to time, but I prefer my characters to be attentive to the smaller details, the day-to-day issues. I want them pumping water from pumps that might be infected with cholera, I want them struggling to make it past Smithfield Market without gagging, I want them avoiding the streets with tanners and dye makers on the southern bank of the Themes because it smells so damn bad. I want them coughing into a handkerchief (a dirty one) because of the acrid coal smoke in the air. I want them worried about thieves and about tiny bits of ribbon that is their only valuable possession. I want them frying bits of bread in leftover fat in the pan that’s sat there unrefrigerated since yesterday and, along with a pint of warm, stale beer, call it supper. 

That’s how my novels differ from others in the genre. I don’t have coming out parties, debutants, no Real Person From History shows up unexpectedly in Chapter Five: At The Big Dance; mine aren’t books of manners, nor do they contain the posturings at an Elizabethan court. In my books, I want real people, living real lives. And if they happen to be one of the downtrodden, an orphan, say, or a bootblack, a scullery maid, or a crossing sweeper, so much the better.

Why do I write what I do?

I write what I do because I’m obsessed with my subject matter.

It started with the 1969 movie musical called Oliver! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oliver!), but really, it started before that. It started with the Disney-produced LP talking book of The Prince and The Pauper (http://www.gemm.com/store/06/item/DISNEY-WALT-PRINCE-AND-THE-PAUPER-LP/1417261868) by Mark Twain (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Twain).

The basic story is that of two boys who strongly resemble each other. One is a prince, and the other is a pauper, and one day they trade places. The main plot points of the book didn’t interest me much; court intrigue is another well-trodden path in historical fiction that I’ve no wish to follow.

What got me was the image of the pauper; a sweet-faced boy dressed in rags, trying to survive on the rough streets of Elizabethan England. Almost as interesting was the identically faced prince who finds himself in pauper’s rags and tries to make a go of it.

The contrast between the two worlds was enthralling to me, particularly in the way the two lives differed in abundance. The prince had more water to wash with, more clothes to wear, more food to eat, and a nicer bed to sleep in than the pauper. Plus, I always found it amusing when the prince, having willingly traded places, shouts foul when he’s fed up with having to live in squalor. Less amusing to me was the struggles of the pauper, who knows basic Latin, but has no wit to do any verbal parrying with the rest of the prince’s court.

I stared at the cover of that LP cover for a long time. A long time. I was completely absorbed in every detail of the appearance of the pauper: his shaggy hair, the ragged hem of the neckline of his common brown shirt, the line of grit along his jaw. I remember, also, my sister Diane pointing at the prince with insistent stabs of her finger:

“Why are you so obsessed with the Pauper? Look! They’re the same boy, he’s played by the same actor! The Prince is better looking! He’s better dressed! What’s wrong with you?” (She was eleven at the time, and very disposed to marrying a prince herself.)

She could not understand why, when it was the same boy, why I didn’t prefer the better dressed, more well off, more powerful one. Why I preferred the pauper to the prince. But I didn’t.

I still, to this day, don’t know why. Perhaps I related to the pauper more in some subconscious way that I find extremely uncomfortable to examine too closely, I do not know. Except to say that it has always been thus: give me a prince and a pauper, and my eye, my very soul, is unerringly drawn to the pauper every time.

 How does my writing process work?

I’d like to say that I took up the advice of so many smart and experienced writers that I had a regular schedule for writing. That I get up at 5 a.m., rain or shine and pound out 2,000 words a day. Every day. That I produce at least four books a year, like clockwork.

But that would be a lie.

What I do is I get an idea, a sequel to Fagin’s Boy, for example. That’s the easy part because writers are full of ideas! Then I pen extravagant outlines, tweaking it this way and that until the final idea is crisp in my head and needs no adjustment. Then I write it as fast as I can between work and other Real Life Events. I write and write and write until it’s done. There is no balance here; I’m full out writing and the laundry and other chores go to hell, or I’m sitting in a chair with my head tipped back, staring at the play of the shadows from the trees across the ceiling and allowing myself permission to slip into a deep snooze. (I do wish I had better habits!)

And, as always. I do research. Writing historical fiction is a treasure for people who like to do research; research provides the small details that make the story come alive. Besides which, it is the Most Fun Ever. Plus, I get to look up stuff all the time! Stuff like:

Question: What is the name of the coach that goes from London to Exeter?
Answer: Did you know that the coaches in the Great Era of Coaching had names? I didn’t, but I do now! This particular coach is called The Comet.
Question: What time does The Comet depart London for Exeter?
Answer: I’ve researched this till my fingers bleed and my eyes are crusty with lack of sleep. The best I can find is that the mail coach leaves London at 1 am in the morning, but the regular coach, the one intended for people, leaves “in the early morning.” I can find no better record than that. Of course, someone might advise to have my characters leave London on the mail coach, since the details for that is more specific. Which I did think of, but then, my characters are kinda sorta wanted for murder, so getting on a Government Owned/Sponsored coach is probably not a good idea. So I’m postulating that The Comet leaves London at 5 a.m., which means that the boys will pick it up in Staines at around 7 o’clock in the morning. (After a quick breakfast of beer and brown bread and cheese, of course. Those taverns are horrible places for healthy food!)
Question: Does The Comet stop in Lyme Regis?
Answer: No it does not! The hill is too steep and the mail coach doesn’t go down into Lyme!
And here’s the funny story – I wanted my characters to have to get off The Comet in the middle of nowhere, perhaps at the top of some bleak and rainy hill so they’d have to struggle the last mile or so into Lyme, and arrive looking muddy and disreputable. As chance would have it, the hill above Lyme is so steep that not even the mail coaches will descend into the village. There are coaches that follow the lower terrain along the seaside, but no mail coaches, and no passenger coaches go down that hill into Lyme. (Think of the coaches that do go into Lyme along the coastal road as local hop-and-skip transports that hold about 1/3 of a regular bus’s capacity and I don’t think you’d be far wrong.) So what I wanted to have happen actually turned out to have a valid, historical reason! Isn’t serendipity wonderful?
Question: What is the name of the hill that provides such a terrible barrier to mail and passenger coaches descending into Lyme?
Answer: I don’t know! Each map I’ve looked at gives the hill a different name! I’ve found “Preston” and “Rhode Hill” and “Penn Hill” and “Colvey Hill” and “Quarr Hill.” I’m about to give in and contact the local historic for the area, who is surely waiting with baited breath for my minuscule inquiry for the name of the hill that might only be mentioned once or twice in and among 150,000 words.
Question: What type of fish was caught and salted in Lyme? Was it cod?
Answer: No, it was mackerel!
Question: What does mackerel look like?
Answer: I don’t know! Let’s google that Right Now!

So by the time I get to actually writing the sequel to Fagin’s Boy, I will be chockablock with everything I need to know about the local fishing industry in Lyme Regis in the year 1846. And why? Because the sequel (the working title of which is “Oliver and Jack”) is going to take place there. Oliver, the dear boy, will be gutting and packing fish to pay for his and Jack’s keep. As for Jack, he will be lollygagging and mocking Oliver every step of the way.

I thank Christina for her lovely words!