Archive for February, 2009

Miscellaneous writing-related tidbits

Word count: 6844 | Since last entry: 2637

I’m into the home stretch on the vampire story; it should be done today or tomorrow (which is good, because I need to send it to critique on Saturday at the latest). It’s already passed the 6000-word limit for the target market, but I hope that once I’m done I’ll be able to go back and cut a couple thousand words out.

Meanwhile, I have some other minor writing news to report:

  • SF Signal has a regular feature called “Mind Meld” in which they ask a number of writers to contribute short essays on a given topic. I’m participating in the latest Mind Meld, on the topic “what books and writers have influenced you and what influences do you hope to have on future writers.” Other participants include Tobias Buckell, Mike Resnick, and Jay Lake.
  • I learned from this blog post that my story “Firewall” has been translated into Chinese, in the magazine “SF King”. This was, shall we say, a surprise to both me and my editors. It’s the first time, to my knowledge, that I’ve been pirated, and I’m actually kind of proud, in a strange way. I found a contact email for the editor, and got this response: “We tried to get touch with you,but failed,which is really a pity. Now we will send you the copy of our magazine in which you can find your fiction.” We shall see. Ironically, the first sentence of the story is “It started in China, as I’d always feared it would.” (You can read the whole thing here.)
  • I learned from another blog post that the February issue of Realms of Fantasy was briefly reviewed in Locus (I had read the issue but managed to miss that somehow.) Rich Horton led off the review with my story “Joy is the Serious Business of Heaven,” which he called “a nice humorous story.”
  • I received payment for my story “Fair Play” from Circlet Press, and galleys of my story “Midnight at the Center Court” from Witch Way to the Mall.
  • I’m working on a Sekrit Projekt which is extremely cool and unlike any other kind of writing I’ve ever done. (This is not related to the other Sekrit Projekt I was working on earlier this month, which wasn’t writing-related.)

Now I’m off to Potlatch, with a few days of hanging around in the Bay Area afterwards. See some of you there!

My story “Galactic Stress” has been published in Diamonds in the Sky, an online anthology that is free for everyone to read; I have an essay in SF Signal’s latest Mind Meld, on the topic “what books and writers have influenced you and what influences do you hope to have on future writers;” Space Magic has been reviewed in the April issue of Realms of Fantasy (“Levine is a multitalented author whose fertile, wide-ranging imagination is — as his title implies — equally at home in the fields of fantasy and science fiction”); my story “Firewall” has been translated into Chinese, in the magazine “SF King”; the February issue of Realms of Fantasy was reviewed in Locus, where Rich Horton called my story “Joy is the Serious Business of Heaven” “a nice humorous story;” and I received payment for my story “Fair Play” from Circlet Press and galleys of my story “Midnight at the Center Court” from Witch Way to the Mall.

Revised specs

Got new glasses yesterday. The prescription in the left eye is a lot stronger and I can’t see very well with that eye yet. I’ll give it a week.

Land of the Lost – dreams of childhood, dashed

Word count: 4207 | Since last entry: 1323

Imagine this: it’s 1978, you’re a Trekkie, and you’ve just learned that, after a decade off the air, they’re making a movie of Star Trek.

Starring Jerry Lewis as Captain Kirk.

Punch in the gut, right?

That’s how I felt when I saw the trailer for the new Land of the Lost movie starring Will Ferrell. Oh. My. God.

Okay, Land of the Lost was a dopey 1970s Saturday morning TV show. But it was good, dammit. They had scripts by Larry Niven, Theodore Sturgeon, Ben Bova, and David Gerrold, which introduced concepts like time loops and closed universes to what had, I’m sure, originally been intended as an unexceptional kids’ show with dinosaurs. Remaking it as a stupidity-comedy with the star of Elf and Anchorman and Blades of Glory is… well, it’s like a bad, bad movie of a fondly remembered book. Yes, the book is still there, but the movie swamps it in the public consciousness and poisons one’s memories.

Feh, I say. Feh and feh.

(Footnote: Yes, I liked Ferrell in Stranger than Fiction. But the trailer for Land of the Lost makes clear that this is not, shall we say, a film in that mode.)

(Footnote 2: For more information on the real Land of the Lost:

Big to-do

Word count: 2884 | Since last entry: 557

To-do list management is always an issue around here, as I suspect it is for most people. Even the professional organizer we work with has admitted she has problems keeping up with her many things to do.

One of the biggest problems I have with to-do lists is that if you keep your list online, in any form, it tends to silt up with unloved items (things that you really want to have done, but just can’t be bothered to do). On the other hand, if you keep your list on paper, it becomes messy, or it isn’t there when you need it, or you have to recopy it, and things get lost.

I have used a variety of different techniques over the years. One of my favorites is to keep the list on paper and recopy it to a new sheet every day. This gives me a daily opportunity to reprioritize, including dropping items that I’m sick of copying over and over and realize I’m never going to do. But this technique becomes unweildly when the list gets too long.

The list of things I wanted to do right away when we got back from Germany was huge, and I spent much of January unsuccessfully battling it. It was so big that I was actually stymied sometimes — so unable to decide what to do that I did nothing.

In the last week of January I hit upon a way to break this list paralysis. I printed out the list and numbered each item, 0 to 68. These numbers were arbitrary, not in priority order. Then I rolled percentile dice to determine what to do next. There was no cheating allowed — once I had rolled an item, I couldn’t do anything else until I did it. If I rolled a number greater than 68, something I had already done, or something that was impossible at the moment, I rolled again.

Sometimes I rolled a number and, staring at the task, realized that the task simply wasn’t worth the effort it would take to do, and never would be, so I scratched it off. That counts. Sometimes I would notice other items that would dovetail well with the selected item (e.g. running several errands on the same side of town) and do those too.

This technique worked well. In a week I scratched off 41 of the 69 items, and made some kind of progress on several more. Some of the crossed-off items were perennials, like washing the dishes, but it still provided positive feedback to see the list getting shorter.

An important part of the technique was having one physical piece of paper that only ever got tasks crossed off, never added. New tasks that arose during the week were added to the online version of the list for future attention. Anything more urgent than that would be done immediately.

Well, between our trip to Chattanooga and the following trip to Radcon just a few days later, my list got huge again, so I’m going to use the same technique between now and Potlatch. The list has 93 items this time, and several of them have hard deadlines so I’m going to have to find some balance between “do something that’s urgent” and “roll dice to do something you might otherwise put off.” Wish me luck.

16. Blog about to-do list


Last weekend I attended Radcon, an SF convention in Pasco, WA. The name and theme of the convention are derived from the Hanford nuclear reservation that dominates the town, which sports plenty of cafes, drycleaners, and high school sports teams with “atomic” in their names.

Last year some of the attending pros got a tour of the nuclear waste clean-up project, including a nifty folding robot bulldozer. I was fortunate enough to get another tour this year, a visit to the “In Vivo Radiobioassay and Research Facility.” This is where Hanford workers are scanned for radioactive exposure. It includes several small rooms shielded with a foot or more of steel and concrete, in which the person under test sits quietly while sensitive radiation detectors listen for low levels of radiation in their lungs, bones, or other body parts. A rank of television monitors, each showing the quiet closed-eyes visage of an anonymous Hanford worker waiting for his test to be over, looked to me like an art installation. Also very cool were the plastic body parts they use to calibrate the equipment. Most of these are solid plastic, but a few include bones from people who suffered radioactive exposure during their lives. I took lots of pictures, but haven’t posted them yet; for now you can check out Jay Lake’s blog and Flickr set.

The convention was heavily populated with young people (mostly gamers, I think) who looked just like the fans at Orycon except that I didn’t know any of them. Most of them were in costume, a motley assortment of furry, steampunk, video game, and Insane Clown Posse. I felt terribly underdressed, and on several occasions I had to stop myself from running into one of the costume dealers who had set up shop in guest rooms and shouting “Give me sometihng that fits! Ears, goggles, faerie wings, I don’t care, I just need a costume!” But I stayed cool and professional and writer-like. Mostly.

I spent most of the time hanging out with writers and editors, including C.S. Cole and Kamila Miller (who gave me a ride to and from the con, thanks!), Janna Silverstein, Jay Lake, Julie McGalliard, Alma Alexander, Ken and Jen Scholes, Beth Meacham, Patrick Swenson, John A. Pitts, Miki Garrison, Elizabeth Coleman, Keffy Kehrli, Joyce Reynolds-Ward, Tina Connolly, Sara Mueller, Camille Alexa, Anthony Pryor, Beth Peters, and no doubt many others whose names I’ve neglected to remember.

I was on a lot of programming. My favorite was the “Who’s Line Is It Any Way” [sic] hour right after opening ceremonies, which was actually a series of theatre games ring-led by GoH Joe Kucan. I’d never done most of those games before and it was a real hoot. I also participated in Pictionary and Charades. Pictionary was, as usual, highly biased by MC Radcon Bob. The writers had to sketch words such as “smiley face” and “dog,” while the artists were stuck with “the Louvre” and “the Pythagorean Theorem.” Mind you, I could have done either of those in thirty seconds myself, but the artists were handicapped by a desire to draw properly rather than executing a quick sketch. The order in which the lines are laid down on the page is also key. Charades was cut short after two rounds due to lack of participants. The first round was a movie, which we quickly guessed was Star Wars. The second was announced to be a TV show; I said “Star Trek” and got it before the first gesture. I can name that song in no notes.

There was some kind of bug going around. I caught it, but never had any symptoms worse than sniffles and a slight sore throat. I’m almost completely better already.

Bottom line: Radcon is not very organized, but really knows how to show its guests a good time.

Writing update

Word count: 2327 | Since last entry: 2880

The word count figures above make no sense, I know. The “word count” is the count for the current story in process (“the vampires-in-suburbia story,” sequel to the previous witches-in-suburbia and werewolves-in-suburbia stories). The “since last entry” figure above is the total words generated on this story and the previous one (“the pupa story”) since my last post with a wordcount, which was 2/7. It doesn’t count 2719 words of notes and outline on the vampire story.

I’ve been maintaining my streak of 500 words a day since January 1, though that includes notes and outline and on a couple of those days I’ve had to state that 350 words is close enough to 500 for my purposes.

Apart from the daily grind of generating new words, I have a couple of pieces of writing news to report: there’s a great review of Space Magic in the upcoming (and final, alas) issue of Realms of Fantasy; and the online anthology Diamonds in the Sky has been released, including my story “Galactic Stress.” The anthology is free to read online, so go check it out. The hope is that this anthology will be used as a text by astronomy teachers looking for engaging SF stories to help their students understand astronomy concepts.

This is the first post with a new back-end script that should make it easier for me to post more than once a day. I know I don’t usually, but that’s been partly because it’s a pain. I hope that this will encourage me to do more brief posts rather than the big catch-up posts I usually do.

And with that… I’m going to post it! I hope to have another small post soon.

2/7/09: Launch Pad 2009 applications now open

You may recall that last year I attended the Launch Pad astronomy workshop. Well, applications are now open for this year’s workshop. It will be held July 14-21, 2009.

Launch Pad is a week-long crash course for modern astronomy held annually in Laramie, Wyoming, and combines traditional lecture, experiment, activities, discussion, and telescope visits that include a trip to the 2.3 meter telescope at WIRO.

Launch Pad is NASA-funded, and the workshop pays for lodging, travel, and some additional expenses (most but not all meals, textbooks). Attendence is limited to about a dozen participants, who are selected based on audience size and audience diversity. That’s a fancy way of saying they don’t just admit a dozen white male hard sf novelists who write for pretty much the same audience. They would love to see more applications from writers of all genres, non-fiction writers, screen writers, playwrights, editors and anyone with the ability to put more and better quality astronomy in front of interested eyes, although they expect many participants to continue to be science fiction novelists as they have dominated the applicant pool.

The special guest instructor this year is Joe Haldeman, science fiction novelist, who has a degree in physics and astronomy and is an avid amateur astronomer. Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy is also scheduled to present. Regular presenters Mike Brotherton and Jim Verley will do their thing as usual, and there will be other astronomers guest-lecturing in their specialties.

The application form, more information about the workshop, a history, and detailed reports from previous Launch Pad participants Alma Alexander and me are available online. Applications will be open until March 15 and final decisions should be made by March 31.

I had a blast last year, and I encourage any SF writer with an interest in astronomy to apply.

2/7/09: Iron Chef Pear Battle

Word count: 7203 | Since last entry: 561

All the writing I did today, I did first thing this morning.

Around lunchtime we went to the Tennessee Aquarium, which is a very fine aquarium. Highlights included seahorses, penguins, turtles, alligators, a caiman, cuttlefish, jellyfish, nautiluses, and otters.

The rest of the day was spent planning, shopping for, preparing, eating, and judging the Iron Chef Pear Battle. Steven Gould selected the theme ingredient, pears, and picked the names for the teams out of a hat. As it happens, all the couples present were split across the two teams. Mary, whose family home this is, handicapped herself by taking the smaller, less-well-equipped kitchen. Her sous-chefs were Steve, Kate, and Sean. I was on Althea’s team along with Laurel and Beth.

We had a lot of fun playing with food, cooking things we’d never even heard of before (Beth’s dad is a chef and told us how to prepare a gastrique), and both meals came out fabulous. Eight courses all told: soup, salad, entree, and dessert from each team, judged by Mary’s parents and a couple of her cousins. The competition was close — our team won the soup and salad courses, but Mary’s won entree and dessert, and her entree was Best in Show so her team took the overall competition.

Our team’s menu:

  1. Pear and brie soup (served with thinly sliced pears and croutons on top)
  2. Campari-poached pear and spinach salad with goat cheese, with house-roasted macadamia nuts and a pear reduction vinaigrette
  3. Duck breast with pear-basalmic gastrique (aka Awesome Sauce), served over couscous with chopped pears
  4. Oven-roasted Anjou pears with frozen pear-cognac mush

All served with kiwi-pear tea.

Some photos from the battle are available on Steve’s Flickr photostream, with more to come.