Monday, June 26, 2006

Seeds I Can Borrow

Every idea, great or small starts with a seed. Sometimes it’s a comment, other times it can be something you’re witness to. That little speck of almost nothing takes root and grows in our imagination. From a small sprout it branches out as our brains insert it in plots or use it’s static details to flesh out characters and settings.

So I wondered where do you start in your brainstorming process? What roots a story in your mind so that it can blossom?

For me it’s intriguing tidbits that jump out from a plethora of information intercepted via my four senses—taste, hearing, sight and touch. I can’t smell, so that leaves me at a disadvantage. (I actually had a contest judge ask why I didn’t use smells in my description. That forced me to take a closer look at what I might be leaving out that could enrich my story.) Since I have a visual background I’m also very open to things I see because I think in pictures. But of course that can get me into trouble if I try to describe too much. And as we all know that's a hard balancing act in itself.

I’m a huge movie buff (except for horror) and love to people watch. Which means I look like I’m staring off into space a lot. Really I’m mentally recording bits of conversation (people can talk about strange topics), fashion that my characters might wear (especially tweens since it was years since I fell into that category), and interesting finds (ie. pics of black holes, star systems, etc.)

Touching back on strange conversation, I was at a jam-packed Wendy’s yesterday where there weren’t many seats to choose from. I decided to sit in the one with four booths laid out like a cushy pinwheel. To the back of me sat a group of two thirty-something men and one of my old high school class members. They were talking loudly about work shifts, what kind of job they’d heard such and such got and of course Harley’s. To the left of me were two older men, who I’d guesstimate fell into the range of late fifties or early sixties. Though they weren’t my peers, they caught and held my interest because I’d never heard anyone discuss their topic. Back and forth they traded insights on the similarities and differences of medieval war (Japanese clans) versus modern day. Don’t tell me your interest wouldn’t be piqued if you heard a couple old guys comparing the Al-Qaida beheadings to Japanese warlord “hits”.

What caused my ears to zero in in the first place? One asked the other a question. “When were more lives lost—at Pearl Harbor or on 9/11?” They went on to talk about how altering the course of actions during World War II and other strategic missions could’ve changed the world today. Not only did they discuss military issues, but also factored in economics! My mom thought they were boring as plain `ol garden variety dirt (without the white sprinkles), but I found them fascinating. It made me wonder what else they knew, and astonished me that they’d retained so much in an age when it’s in one ear and out the other.

Will I use anything I learned from them? Maybe, later on down the road. Right this second I’m going with Dippin’ Dots, a food I heard all about on Unwrapped (from the Food Network) last night while eating dinner out with the family. Touted as the “ice cream of the future”, how could my ears not perk up? I’ve already set up my heroine to crave some of that sweet delicacy, so how can I not use this “happy little accident”? Of course, if it didn’t work with my character arc or GMC then I wouldn’t put in just because it’s “cool”.

The “greenthumb” magic comes from how you filter the information you receive. You can take it in, twist it up and make it come out your fingers anyway you like. But that whole process starts with a seed…and preferably not one that sticks between your teeth.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

You'll Go Blind...

In the course of researching my new novella (which is now, praise all gods and little fishes, done), I came across an interesting tidbit here at LiveScience.com, that says when people see dirty pictures, they fail to pay attention to what comes next.

""If you are simply driving down the road and you see something that is sexually explicit on a billboard, the odds are that it is going to capture your attention and – for a fraction of a second afterwards – you will be less able to pay attention to other information in your environment," he [Vanderbilt University psychologist David Zald] said.


Hee hee. Hee hee hee. So you really do "go blind," like mom said, at least for a fraction of a second. This makes me giggle unendingly, for some reason. ;)

To be fair, it's erotic or violent images that seem to encourage what the article calls "attentional rubbernecking." But the thing is...biology continues to support that both men and women "like to look."

I'm always amazed at the reactions I get when various subjects come up. In fandoms, I notice that it's always a bigger deal for the grrl-gamers or fem-fans to go gaga over a male character than it is for the guys to ogle Lara Croft or Seven of Nine. Some men seem very uncomfortable with the idea that women look--and like to look--as much as men do. Of course, we do our looking in different ways, but we look, and we like. And when I tell people I write erotic romance, many (quite a few men) seem genuinely astonished (or at least, they act that way) that there's a market for it targeted towards women.

So look away, ladies. Science supports you, and your brain will love you for it. :D

Friday, June 23, 2006

HEXED?

Last night I was finally able to catch an episode of the new series Hex, which appears on the BBC America channel. It was some of what I expected, and some not...

I expected a Buffyesque camp/action feel, but the action got bogged down by endless dialogue and long dramatic expositions that stalled the story. There is a serial aspect to it, ala BSG and SG-1, that I like, and which will no doubt take me a few more episodes to understand all that is going on. (Yes, I plan to watch more episodes.) I don't think it was a bad show, but not like what the advertisements made it seem. Which brings me to my point:

Back and flap copy as advertisement for your books.

How many times have you picked up a book and read the back only to be disappointed once you got between the covers? I have several books that sit on my shelves as monument to the misleading back copy. I know I should read the back then immediately open to the first page and read that crucial first paragraph. If the first line/paragraph doesn't grab me I shouldn't buy it...but I do, because I'm a sucker for books. Especially books that take me to distant worlds, or lands filled with magic, or some twist of reality that puts our known world on its ear.

When writing my own blurbs, I try to find that one key element that sets my book apart from others, that will make it stand out, or illustrate the emotional impact the plot has on the characters. Does everyone do this? I don't think so. Or perhaps the one's writing the copy are not the same one's writing the book and therefore there isn't that same emotional committment to selling the story that is actually there when the author writes their own. It's very frustrating to be hooked by a blurb and then read the book and discover the blurb had it all wrong. Why do publishers allow that to happen when the book goes to the shelves? I've not been able to figure that one out. Here's a prime example:

I read a sci-fi novel about six months ago that had been on my shelves for a couple years. Though I loved the book, I kept going back to that crucial flap copy and rereading it...something didn't sit right with me...then it hit me. Not only did the flap not have the hero's name spelled as it was in the book, but the hero and heroine didn't meet in the manner that the copy said they did. It was totally wrong!!! Don't they have people checking these things before it goes to print?
I never considered myself a perfectionist, but I guess on some things I am. I want my characters on the front cover to look like the one's discribed in the book, and I want my copy to be a true representation of content.

Anyone else have a peeve about this topic? Maybe we should start a support group.

-Kat

Monday, June 19, 2006

Clones

I've had my fill of clones lately. Not only did we have Attack of the Clones a few years ago, but I just finished reading SL Viehl's Stardoc - where the main character, Cherijo, is a clone - and I watched The Island on DVD on Saturday night.

Warning: Movie spoiler!

The Island is the story of clones hidden away from society who think they're winning a lottery to leave their underground complex for 'The Island' - the last uncontaminated place on earth - when in reality they're being harvested for their organs. The storyline was predictable in many places, but kudos for the really outstanding action sequences. They could have fed a small country on the cost of the cars they destroyed in the making of the film. For me it's always a mixture of "Wow! look at that!" and "Geez, what a waste!" whenever I see Hollywood blockbusting stunts.

The problem with a clone films/books is that the whole plot seems to lie in the discovery that they're actually a clone, and then meeting their real maker - who usually turns out to be a nasty piece of work. Check on all counts for The Island. And StarDoc. But where else can a clone story take us? I'm not sure that there's much drama in clone stories except for this. Let me know if I'm wrong.

BTW, didn't the ending seem remarkably like Logan's Run? Actually, a lot of plot elements in The Island reminded me of Logan's Run. Mmmm.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

George Lucas Always Wears Plaid

As I was busy doing dishes yesterday, my hubby came into the kitchen and without preface states, "You know, I think the Jedi were a bunch of arrogant bastards."
Without missing a beat I turned to him and said, "Well, except for the Alec Guiness Obi-Wan and Yoda. You can't blame Yoda for not acting fast enough to save the Jedis. I mean, it's the difference between pre-destiny and freewill. He had to let the dark side take over and not interfere. History had to come as it will. You can't fight fate."
He gave me a contemplative look and shrugged. "Yeah, I guess you're right. If he would have acted, things could have been worse."
"And," I said putting a soapy finger in the air for emphasis, "Luke and Leia may have never been born to help with the rebels, and the final shot that blew up the Death Star may have never been made, thus the Empire would have prevailed."
As the conversation progressed from there, I began to realize that this is a typical conversation in my household. Anyone listening in would probably think we'd totally gone off the deep end discussing characters and situations as if they had as much impact in ours lives as peace in the Middle East. But for a couple of writers, dissecting and critiquing stories over and over, and putting it in a different perspective is a very healthy and helpful way to spend an evening. Arguing back and forth over Empirial politics and the continuity problems of episodes 1-3 helps both of us figure out plot problems in our own stories. It's nothing for us to watch a television show and put the tv on pause.. (Ahhhh the wonders of Dish Network) .. to discuss scene structue, plotting, or character motivation. Being a more observant watcher has made me a more competant writer. So, by all means if you feel the need to shout at your television or rewrite a scene from you favorite movie the way you want...go right ahead. It's a great way to explore what could be potential problems in your own books.
Oh, and I'm beginning to think my husband may just be a Empire sympathizer. I'll have to watch closely.

-Kat

Thursday, June 15, 2006

WHO is the hero?

Lynda’s post from yesterday got me thinking about Dr. Who and naturally about romance...since I look for romance everywhere.

I wasn’t disappointed in the budding relationship between the Ninth Doctor Who and Rose Tyler until the last episode of the season.

Warning: There may be spoilers ahead...


As a romance novelist, the dynamics of any relationship intrigue me. It wasn’t the baby-faced aliens or the manic sounding Daleks that kept me coming back to Dr. Who, but naturally the ‘ship’ that was hinted at over the course of the way too short first season.

From the beginning, Rose and the Doctor were thrown together in tight situations and everyone around them saw that little spark between them – even Rose’s long suffering boyfriend Mickey [or is it Rickey?] - soon figured out no one was going to come between Rose and her Time Lord. Despite their cavernous age gap – she’s 19 and he’s ...forever and a day - they became the best of friends, a couple who didn’t quite know they were a couple. Naturally I rooted for them right up until the supremely satisfying moment that the Doctor takes a tearful, TARDIS-infused Rose into his arms and kisses her...SIGH.




Moments later, poof. He’s somebody else. The Tenth Doctor is born.

How does a hopeless romantic deal with this? Naturally I spent some time working out what I would do if I were writing Dr. Who’s second season and forced to put a new face on an existing character. I’d have the Doctor [depending on how much he remembers from his Ninth incarnation] still carry a torch for Rose, and Rose mourn for the man she’d obviously loves, not being quite able to accept his new ‘self.’ Over time, she’d come around, get used to his less hawkish new face and piercing brown eyes and realize she still felt the same way about him no matter what he looked like on the outside.

How a similar plot would work in a romance novel? If the hero’s appearance changed dramatically in the middle of the story, what would the average romance heroine do? Well, she’d probably have to be above average, much like the adventurous Rose Tyler, in order to make the relationship work. I explored that very idea in my first published story, Hunter’s Moon where Adam, an alien visitor to earth, uses his ability to shapeshift from his native feline form to human form. My heroine, Alliana has already fallen in love with the six foot tall panther-black felinoid, and when he puts on a new, and equally gorgeous face, she’s not quite sure what to make of him. Ultimately love prevails for Adam and Alliana, despite coming from two vastly different worlds.






He’s hoping things go well for Rose and the new Doctor, too. [Those of you who may have seen the second season already, spoilers welcome! I’m curious to know how things turn out!]

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Dr Who & the Daleks


A few weeks ago, I saw an episode of Dr Who on the SciFi Channel. In this episode was featured a version of the old The Weakest Link game show.
You may remember the show? Lean, red head, glasses, ascerbic with? It was a show that made you think--quickly. Well, on Dr Who, it was no different. Okay, well, maybe it was a little different. Anne Robertson's part was portrayed by a red-headed android and if the answer was wrong, the contestant was blasted with a laser.

Ahem, not a game I'd want to play.

The reason I bring this up is that in the past, if my favorite shows used a ploy like this (dragging a cultural icon in) it would be to boost ratings. It rarely worked. Indeed, it was often the harbinger of a series finale. The writers of Dr Who don't appear worried and they shouldn't be--this time. That episode was as fresh and innovative as all the others.




I will, however, worry when I see an android chef imitating Gordon Ramsey of Hell's Kitchen. Any contestant on that show needs a 'time machine' so they can go back and prevent themselves from the abuse which is not witty, just nasty.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Playing With Dolls

I had a weird dream the other night. I was sitting in a park with a case of Barbies and playing with them like I did as a girl- though as a girl, I mostly played with my Jamie Sommers/Bionic Woman doll. She was the only doll in the toybox that could kick GI Joe's butt. Then, suddenly a thought struck me...What are you doing playing with dolls...you're forty years old? Well, that woke me up. And as I lay there in bed, staring at the ceiling, it dawned on me—writing is my adult manifestion of playing with dolls.

The situations and storylines may be a bit more sophisticated than they were back then, but the imagination used to fuel those playtime antics is the same.

To me, someone without imagination is not a fully realized person. It's what has made the human race strive to create art, cuisine, technology (no matter the time period), clothing. It's made them explore the farthest oceans, and fly to the stars.

Friends and family members often ask me where I come up with some of the farout ideas that show up in my plots, and I just smile. I was lucky enough to grow up in a time without video games or the internet and had to rely on my own ideas to pass the long summer days. Books would pass the endless Michigan winters, and take me to places I would have otherwise not known about -(Barbara Cartland romances are pretty darn hot when you're ten!) . Both of these activities gave me an early appreciation of creativity and using the mind to create entire worlds.

I still let my imagination run wild, though I can't say I use dolls as a catalyst for my ideas, but I will always be grateful to them for giving me that first push into exploring storylines and plots.

When In Doubt Act It Out!

During edits on Take Me in Your Heart I reached a point where I couldn’t move forward. So I called in reinforcements (ie. my boyfriend).

“Joey!” I paged. (Now he get’s IM-ed because he supposedly can’t hear me when I scream for him at the top of my lungs eventhough he’s in the next room).
“Come stand right here.” I motioned to a spot on the living room floor.
“Why?” he said, scared like a child who has done something naughty.
“Put your arm up.” I grabbed his hand and positioned his arm for a block.

Yep, that’s right, I use him as my fight scene dummy.

Choreographing helps me in three ways. First off I can visualize what’s going on around my character (who I’m subbed in for). Secondly, it shows me if I’ve done a bad job of imagining something that’s utterly impossible. Last of all, I can feel what it’s like to land those blows. And no I don’t pummel my boyfriend. I simply look at the situation as just rewards for his decision to get involved with a chick that loves action movies and dabbles in action romances.

I don’t believe I’m alone in doing this. I’ve heard several other authors talk about how they couldn’t visualize certain aspects of their hero or heroine, so they had to put themselves in their shoes. For example, how would a double amputee get around following a devastating injury during war? To see life through his eyes, you’d have to get down on your knees to equal his new height and learn how strong his arms should be to compensate.

How can you do that? By acting those scenes out.

These days details can make or break a manuscript since readers demand the entire experience via all five senses. You can’t act out every aspect, and some things you wouldn’t want to, but try to push the envelope within reason to satisfy your readers. If you already do this feel free to post an example:0)

P.S. If you get your significant other to sub in for your hero (or villian), grant him a few perks (like acting out a hot scene) to keep him coming back for more.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Princesses in Peril

I'm currently writing a futuristic where a princess needs to be saved by the heroine as the main story plot - with bounty hunters, mercenaries, and slave traders thrown in ;-) What stumped me for a while was the feeling that the 'princess in peril' plot was slightly cliched, if not over-used. So I did a little research.

The most famous princess in peril is Princess Leia of the Star Wars Trilogy (I was going to add her mother but of course she's Queen Padme Amidala) who of course is kept by Jabba the Hut as a pet, thereby spawning the obsession with Leia's metal bikini amongst geekboys (according to Ross and Chandler in Friends ;-))

Looking at books, one of the earliest SF princesses in peril was Edgar Rice Burrough's Dejah Thoris, who was introduced in the first of the Mars series, A Princess of Mars thus:

She was as destitute of clothes as the green Martians who accompanied her;
indeed, save for her highly wrought ornaments she was entirely naked, nor could
any apparel have enhanced the beauty of her perfect and symmetrical figure.



It seems the obsession with nude or nearly-nude princesses started back a long time ago. However, I'm not here to delve into the male fascination with the damsel-in-distress archetype (we need only read most pulp stories written in the 1930s-1960s for copious examples), but specifically the princess. John Carter of Mars saves and marries Dejah Thoris and becomes ruler of Mars. So maybe the fascination with the princesses in peril is not just the damsel-in-distress situation but the idea that the hero will afterwards be rewarded by endless power.

OK, so in my story the heroine saves the princess (yes, there are a few f/f elements *g*) but my question is this: Is the princess-in-peril archetype a little bit cliched? Or are do we still find it as fascinating as ever?

(BTW, has anyone read the Star Wars spinoff books where Han Solo married Leia? What happened there? Did he become Prince Han? Just curious *g*)

*Picture of Deja Thoris from Overlander at Deviant Art

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Sci-Fi Day at Ciar and Leigh's!

Ciar Cullen and Leigh Ellwood are holding a Sci-Fi Day today on their loop CiarandLeigh.

Drop in to talk about your favourite SF books, TV series and characters and read some cool excerpts!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Fandom = Fundom!

A few weeks ago, I spent a mad, mad few days wearing pantyhose on my head.

This is not that abnormal for me, and before you ask why while slowly backing away and surreptitiously dialing the number for the Looney Bin, just relax and understand that I am one of Those People. Fen. Fans of SF and Fantasy. We gather together at conventions - Cons, if you will. Many of us go in uniform. No, not military uniform--at least not any military currently found on the planet. Our uniforms bear the logos of the United Federation of Planets, the Galactic Empire, the Sith Empire, SGD, or the Rebel Alliance. Many of us don pointy ears, funny foreheads, wings, and/or other appendages (some best left unspecified).

Why? We do this in homage...in homage to the wonderful imaginations and talents of storytellers and artists who have, for a time, managed to take us all, at one time or another, into a different world, an exciting place full of action and adventure, and possibility. That magic extends so far out, has such amazing repercussions of creativity, that we in the audience seek to make it a participatory experience--to ourselves engage in that creativity, and make for ourselves a shadow of that same magic place. To transport ourselves and each other into a place where Stormtroopers and Jedi Knights meet and clash in (good-natured) spirit of adventure and play. Or to where the distant sounds of a room party down a hotel hallway could lead to worlds imaginative and fantastic. Or simply to an open wet bar and good conversation with like-minded people, where for once, you don't have to provide an explanation proving your sanity before you start conversing. These are our Tribe gatherings, and this is our Tribe. We're safe here.

Edit Note: I didn't realize I'd cut off the bottom sentence of this post until Cassandra pointed it out. Blogger has it in for me, I swear...

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Guilty Pleasures

As a lifelong SFF&P fan, I get a lot of strange looks from ‘regular’ people when I talk about the books, movies and TV shows I love. While it’s not unusual to be a Lord of the Rings fan or to admit that you love Star Wars, I’ve found that if you’re a self-proclaimed Trekker, Gater, Whovian etc. people tend to give you sidelong glances.

I learned long ago just to shrug it off. I’m not ashamed to say I own every season of Angel and Stargate SG-1 on DVD or that I read Alan Dean Foster’s ‘Splinter of the Mind’s Eye’ ten times. [That’s the very first Star Wars follow-on novel, written back when nobody even knew Luke and Leia were brother and sister.]

I met my husband at a Star Trek convention and yes, he’s put my name in the yearly ‘Get in the Gate’ sweepstakes to win a walk-on role on Stargate. [I’d faint dead away if I won!] We’ve kicked around the idea of building a Stargate [just a small one of course] in our garden, and my idea of a great Friday night is three hours of the sci-fi channel and a bowl of popcorn.

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a friend of mine about favorite movies. I told her my husband had just bought me my all time favorite movie on DVD. She tried to guess what it was – Gone with the Wind? Titanic [close second, btw], It’s a Wonderful Life? She almost fell over when I told her it was ‘Buckaroo Banzai.’ You can’t beat science fiction adventure. You just can’t.

After 39 years in sci-fi, fantasy and paranormal fandom, I’m used to the reactions. I know I’m from another planet. And I plan to go back there some day.

What about you? What are your guilty SFF&P pleasures?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Ideas, ideas, ideas!

Once, long ago, I took a college level creative writing class. The instructor, Professor Larry Pike, was more a poet than a fiction writer but he had an excellent grasp on how to develop a story and what tools the writer needed in his/her arsenal. I enjoyed the class so much, that I took the next level course the following semester. Unfortunately, Professor Pike had succumbed to cancer and was replaced by one of his former students whose main claim to fame was that he was a Professor of Industrial Management at another local university. He didn't want us to write science fiction. He didn't want us to write romance. He didn't want us to write fantasy. To be honest, I'm not sure what he wanted us to do unless it was to bask in his glory.

This fellow seemed to think that we couldn't come up with our own ideas so he spent inordinate amounts of time giving us 'imaginative' items to create stories around. That approach might be necessary for first year creative writing students but it didn't do a thing for me.

Ideas are one thing I've never lacked. Big ideas, little ideas, tiny tidbits that worm their way into plots I'm already working on...they hit me like the salvo from a battle cruiser.

My first novel, Heartstone, arose from the idea of colony insects but I morphed it one step (okay, a couple of steps) further. Instead of a colony or hive mentality, I gave the villainous alien life form a single mind. Lots of bodies, yeah, but all controlled by one mind.

My second novel, Devil's Choice (which has just been bought by Triskelion Publishing and is now titled Altered Destiny) was predicated on the idea that major, world changing decisions could create alternate worlds. Okay, that's been done a few times but my twist involves the elf-like Qui'arel whose science is based on belief.

The third novel, Rider, involves a sentient nanobic life form that lives as a symbiotic parasite on its host.

Then there's my short fiction--a disabled man who lives in computer generated worlds and whose job is to act as both an escort for and counselor to normal humans who rely more heavily on those worlds than the reality they live in; explorers investigating a planet revolving around a binary star system; a cleaning lady who is jolted into a bubble universe with a handsome scientist; a woman warrior who is brought back from death by an evil sorceress...you get the picture.

Ideas are not a scarcity around here.

I've been asked by some of my students (I teach fiction writing techniques at my local community college) where do my ideas come from? A lot, I admit, come from reading Scientific American or watching the Discovery channel (I have a passion for the science shows), some come from dreams (the cleaning lady gets bopped into the bubbleverse by a dust bunny--don't laugh, the ones in my house could probably transport us all into a different universe!), some just show up knocking on my mental door with a big cheesy grin and a 'Hi, wouldn't it be cool if--'

Nope, ideas are not a scarcity.

Oh, and the Professor of Industrial Management? For my final, I wrote a short story depicting him as the victim of a gruesome murder using the items he'd laid out to 'spur' our imaginations. I believe that was his last semester teaching Creative Writing.