Blowing away the dust, aka the magic spreadsheet is kind of awesome

Today I had a migraine.

Today I also went swimming.  Today I am also on the (hopefully) tail end of a respiratory infection.  Today I also went to the movies (though that was somewhat stymied by the fact that the cinema basically broke midway through the movie, resulting in many, many refunds and movie vouchers given out to patrons).

Today, I also wrote just over 1,000 words.

I’ve been frustrated at my general slowness as a writer a lot of late (and for “as late”, you can read too damn long – as anyone who gets to hear about me talking about writing will no doubt attest.  I actually don’t have a problem getting words down, but one of the peculiarities of my process is that I find it very difficult to move forward with a story or novel if I know there are things that I need to fix in stuff I’ve already written.  I don’t actually have a problem with doing that, but it makes me much slower that I’d like to be.

The solution of course is that I just need to be generating new words on a project.  I’ve tried doing a basic don’t break the chain thing, but for some reason that never gelled with me.  I think the reason there is that I’d set a target – say 1,000 words – and then get frustrated at the odd day where I was too sick or busy to make that target, so breaking the chain.

I’ve been listening to Mur Lafferty’s podcast I Should Be Writing for a long time.  Like, I’ve actually invested many hours while walking listening to the podcast from the very beginning.  I recommend it highly to all writers – both newbies and old hands.

One of the things that Mur’s talked about for a long time about being key to her productivity is the Magic Spreadsheet (link to the google group and shared spreadsheet in there, as well as link to the podcast talking about it).  I’d kind of shrugged it off for ages, thinking it was just another don’t break the chain thing.

Then, exactly two weeks ago, I thought, I might as well give it a go. It’s pretty simple – you write at least 250 words a day, and you get points for word counts and consistency.

I’ve written every day for the last 14 days.  I’ve written just over 30k in that time.  Weekdays, I’m trying to reach 2.5k, dropping back to 1k for the weekends, but just knowing that I’ll still get points if I write just 250 words is kind of awesome.

I’m also making a concerted effort to work on just one project – at the moment, it’s the first draft of Never, after which I’m going to spend a little time working on some short stories and maybe some outlining.  If I can keep working this way, I’m going to actually be able to finish this draft in a timely manner.

I’m kind of feeling like I’m levelling up as a writer right now, and it’s kind of awesome.

 

AWW2014: The Other Tree by D.K. Mok

(I had decided to only post my AWW reviews on Goodreads, but have decided to cross-post here as well.  Adding reviews to date.)

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It’s been four years since Chris Arlin graduated with a degree that most people think she made up, and she’s still no closer to scraping up funding for her research into rare plants. Instead, she’s stacking shelves at the campus library, until a suspiciously well-dressed man offers her a lucrative position on a scientific expedition.

For Chris, the problem isn’t the fact that they’re searching for the Biblical Tree of Life. Nor is it the fact that most of the individuals on the expedition seem to be fashionably lethal mercenaries. The problem is that the mission is being backed by SinaCorp, the corporation responsible for a similar, failed expedition on which her mother died eleven years ago.

However, when Chris’s father is unexpectedly diagnosed with inoperable cancer, Chris sees only one solution. Vowing to find the Tree of Life before SinaCorp’s mercenaries, Chris recruits Luke, an antisocial campus priest undergoing a crisis of faith. Together, they embark on a desperate race to find Eden. However, as the hunt intensifies, Chris discovers growing evidence of her mother’s strange behaviour before her death, and she begins to realise that SinaCorp isn’t the only one with secrets they want to stay buried.

(eARC provided by Netgalley in exchange for a fair review)

“The Other Tree” is Australian author D.K. Mok’s debut novel. Caught somewhere between fantasy and thriller with religious overtones, this books is inevitably going to be compared to blockbusters like “The DaVinci Code”. The bonus here is that Mok’s writing is almost flawless, and her characters live and breathe (and snark at refreshing intervals) and actually act like real human beings.

Chris Arlin is a cryptobotanist who is approached by the company SinaCorp (who seem to be involved in pretty much anything and everything scientific and technical) to search for the real Bibical Tree of Life. Not only does Chris not trust SinaCorp’s motives for searching for the Tree, but she blames the company for her mother’s death, and, naturally, rejects their offer. Instead, she becomes determined to discover the Tree on her own, enlisting the help of conflicted priest Luke, on her quest.

Both Chris and Luke are complex, but extremely believable characters. There are several tropes that I feared would occur during this book – a romance between the two, for example – that Mok, thankfully never goes near. Chris and Luke always act within the bounds of their own beliefs and knowledge, and I never got the impression that either they, or the events of the book, were being forced into situations simply to serve the plot.

Chris, in particular, is a fabulous character. She never wavers from her interests and beliefs, and is more than strong enough to carry the story, even without Luke. Together, they give a fascinating perspective into this Indiana Jones-like quest for the Tree of Life. It would be very easy for an author to lose any character development against the background of such an enormous plot, and Mok never does – these characters remain vivid and real the whole way through.

Recommended for anyone who likes adventures and good, character-based fiction.

 

Tin Duck!

Soooo, I kind of won a Tin Duck last night.  Second time winning for Fan Writer.

(for those not in WA or Australia, the Tin Ducks are the Western Australian science fiction achievement awards – this years nominations can be found here; I’m guessing the wiki will be updated with the winners when everyone is home from Swancon).

I am very chuffed that my friend Pia van Ravestein won the short fiction category for her short story Street Dancer.  I beta read that story, and I still think of the cat in it (and the world, but hey, the cat kind of won my heart) all the time.

 

 

Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it

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Books on my bedside table.  As well as my Kindle, spiky ball for self massage and evidence of the latest respiratory infection.

I’ve been away from blogging for a while.  I’m not really certain why, to be honest – maybe it’s just pure burnout on the whole act of blogging.

Possibly related, I’ve also moved away from keeping wordcounts over the last few months.  Just as an experiment – the scientist in me cannot accept just doing something because everyone (or anyone) says that you should.

And, as a result, I’ve been spending a lot of time pretty much just meandering.  I’ve done some work editing a few short stories, and submitted one for hopeful publication.  I need to finish editing the second one and submit that, as well.  I really hope that I can sell these two – they’re interlinked stories set in a post-apocalyptic steampunk world (because why not?) and I have plans for a novel following them as well.  Because apparently I don’t ever write standalone short stories.

I’ve been doing some writing not intended for publication as well – just stuff for the pure fun of it, which has actually been really enjoyable, and shown me a few things about what I like to write.  And reminded me that I do love to write, which is important.  This year has kind of been hell, health-wise, and I’ve found it difficult to settle down to any kind of decent novel writing.  I’m hoping that next year will get a little easier, since my son will be in kindy two days a week (increasing to three days in the latter half of the year).

And because sometimes the universe is awesome and tosses a really great thing in your path, I watched a documentary – The Wildest Dream – and have subsequently gotten kind of obsessed with the whole idea of high altitude mountaineering.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to go and start scaling the Eiger (but hell, I wouldn’t mind trekking to Everest Base Camp sometime in my life), but I have an awesome idea for a short story which may become a novella which may become a novel.

I do want to start making myself accountable again for my work, and am planning to try to start blogging at least weekly again.  I’m thinking about what I want to do with some of the other novels I’ve been working on for way too long, and I have to start kicking myself in the butt to get the work done.  Which means that you will start seeing word counts posted again (probably on a weekly basis).

Bloodstones review

Bloodstones, the anthology which features my story, The Skin of the World, got a lovely review from Andrew J McKiernan at Thirteen O’Clock.

In particular, McKiernan said this about my story (which is probably the best review anything I’ve written has gotten to date):

Stephanie Gunn’s ‘The Skin of the World’ takes us deeper yet, away from the suburbs and those who’d ply their coastal fringes, peeling away the layers to reveal a darker world beneath. ‘The Skin of the World’ was, for me, a perfect end to Bloodstones. Like the places revealed, the story has a depth had that me wanting more, feeling there was more going on in this world than a single story could reveal. Very pleasing then to read in the author’s introduction, that ‘The Skin of the World’ is only a small part of a much larger series of stories and novels, of which I’m certainly keen to read more.

I need to get cracking on Wintersun, the novel which follows on from The Skin of the World, I think.

Hugos Challenge 2012: Novellas

And onto the novellas nominated for the Hugos for 2012.

I read all of these on the Kindle, all of them from the Hugo packet apart from the Valente and the Grant, which I already owned (I also own the Valente in hard copy, which I am gleeful about. I had a few issues with the formatting of a couple of these on the Kindle, but they were ultimately readable.  It’s a small quibble, and hey, the Hugo packet is provided for free, essentially, and the love.  Not complaining, just putting it out there in case anyone is wondering.

 

Countdown by Mira Grant
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the Newsflesh trilogy, for which this novella is a prequel.  I was pretty excited to read it, and overall, I wasn’t disappointed.  I don’t know how any voters who haven’t read the trilogy will fare with this one, since it is vastly enriched by the reading of the other books.
Basically, this novella relates some of the events that led to the Rising, where humanity and animals over a certain mass rose as zombies.  The Newsflesh books are an awesome look at the potential the zombie outbreak has on humanity, and I loved the way that Grant incorporated the world of bloggers in the events post-Rising.
I don’t feel that this novella is as strong as the novels.  One of the major strength of the other books are the protagonists, and here, the reader is given a variety of viewpoint characters (which would be very hard to relate to if you hadn’t read the other books).  There are a lot of “aha!” moments which call back to events of the trilogy, and there’s a decent amount of stuff that’s genuinely heartwrenching.
I really enjoyed this one, but I feel that, standing on its own, it’s not strong enough to be a Hugo winner.

The Ice Owl, Carolyn Ives Gilman 

This is the weakest story on the ballot, to my thinking.  There is some genuinely beautiful stuff in here – the ice owl itself, and its story arc – but overall, it felt scattered and nothing captured me.  I felt like there wasn’t consistency or conviction in the characters, and as such I didn’t feel invested in their stories.

There are some fascinating glimpses into the larger universe this takes part in, which just aren’t explored enough in the context of the story.

Not for me, but there are obviously people who see more in this story than I do, since it’s on the ballot.

 

Kiss Me Twice, Mary Robinette Kowal

Another of my favourite authors, who I am very happy to see on the ballot.

I loved a lot about this novella – I loved Metta herself, and I think the use of Mae West quotes and imagery for her was an inspired choice by Kowal.  I liked Huang as protagonist, and even though the police procedural isn’t really my thing, I found myself really caught up in the plot.

I do feel like the ending let this one down a bit.  I felt as though there was a bit too much luck involved in the resolution, which detracted from what otherwise was a wonderful and strong story.

In another ballot with different competition, this would probably be a winner for me.

 

The Man Who Bridged the Mist, Kij Johnson

Here’s where I have to admit to some sacrilege and admit that this is the first Kij Johnson story I’ve read.  I’m just not someone who tends to seek out short stories in general, which is one of the reasons I was really keen to get a supporting membership and get hold of the Hugo packet.

This one really surprised me.  The plot is really pretty basic: man builds a bridge over the mist (populated by fishes and Big Ones, who are clearly lethal and angry and gloriously enigmatic).  I honestly thought this one would totally bore me, and I was completely wrong.

I am someone who reads for character, and this novella gave it to me.  I really liked Kit as protagonist, and I adored Rasali.  I even liked the end of this one, though I can imagine that it would be frustrating and anti-climactic for some readers.

Definitely up there in competition for my vote.

 

The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary, Ken Liu

And here is where I have to admit that this is the first Ken Liu story I’ve read.  I have a handful of his sitting waiting on the Kindle and in various publications, I’ve just not gotten around to it (despite many people enthusing about his work, and justifiably so).

I don’t think I can say that I enjoyed this one.  This novella is a punch in the gut.  It is amazingly written, with the documentary style coming across flawlessly, and it is a very realistic look at what could be done with time travel, and the motivations behind people’s choices to travel back.

This one should definitely come with a trigger warning, and I know several people who wouldn’t be able to read this because of the war crime content (I have a pretty strong tolerance for such, and this one pretty much had be revolted/weeping/despairing in general).

I’m torn on this one, because it is amazing, but a lot of the amazing and wrenching content comes from the history and not the science fiction elements.

 

Silently and Very Fast, Catherynne M. Valente 

The novella category is one that really spoiled me, including three of my favourite recent authors.  And this novella pretty much propelled Valente to the status of being one of my favourite authors of all time (as well as being an incredibly awesome person in general).

And tangent – if I ever get a cover like this one, I will be an extremely happy author.  Happily, the story within is just as awesome as the cover.

I can understand that Valente’s lyrical style probably isn’t for everyone, but I adore it, and it’s especially amazing to see her writing science fiction in that same style.

This novella is just incredibly beautiful and complex, like the jewels that Elefsis begins “life” as.

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I think this is a pretty damn amazing list of nominees, and all of them would be deserving winners in their own right.   For me, the race is between Countdown, The Man Who Bridged the Mist and Silently and Very Fast, but I think it is the latter that truly deserves to win.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons from the slush pile

I’ve been reading slush for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine for a while now.  As an aside – I highly recommend slush reading for anyone who’s learning their craft.  It gives back to your community, and you get to learn a lot about writing in general.

We’re pretty lucky in general with the quality of submissions that ASIM gets.  I rarely see anything that is truly dreadful – mostly people are good about checking their spelling, getting formatting right etc.  It’s pretty heartening, actually.

However, in my experience, while I’ve rarely seen anything absolutely awful, it’s also pretty rare to see something that is truly amazing.

And as an aside, you may be reading this and thinking that you want to take this post with a grain of salt.  Go ahead.  I’m still learning the craft of short fiction writing myself, and though I have a handful of short stories published – some of which I am pretty darn proud of – and I’m willing to admit that I have a lot to learn.  See my first paragraph about learning from slush reading.

I’m thinking that I want to make this a bit of an ongoing thing.  I’m not referring to any specific story, by the way, in case anyone is worried about that.  These are just going to be things that I’ve noticed again and again.

How to make it through the slush pile, in three parts:

  1. If your first line is poorly crafted or downright boring, I will not be compelled to read on.  I will read on, because that’s the way I slush, but unless I am interested by at least the end of the first paragraph, the story is not going to be a win for me.
  2. Rewriting Biblical stories, especially Adam and Eve (even if they are in space) has been Done.  I don’t know if anyone can make this work any more, even the best short story writers (and please, if you know someone who has, let me know!).  I have no problem with allegory, but when your story literally ends with “and they were Adam and Eve all along!”, you’re going to want to rethink it.
  3. Ditto for most of the myths and stories that everyone knows – if you think you can do it well, go ahead.  Just be aware that many of them have been done to death.  And again, allegory can be fine, just make it original.

To be continued and added to…