Archive for the ‘Books’ Tag

The Takeaway   Leave a comment

Jennifer Armentrout

Last weekend I attended the Liberty States Fiction Writers conference. As always, it was a splendid affair, full of other writers and readers eager to meet old friends, make new acquaintances, freshen up skills and even make a few pitches to agents and editors. I managed to do all of the above, and more.

Perhaps what influenced me the most was the above speaker – Jennifer Armentrout. She’s widely known as a Young Adult and New Adult writer, but one glance at her list of books reveals her prolific ability to write just about anything. Ms. Armentrout was the keynote speaker on Saturday, delivering one of the memorable speeches I’ve ever heard.

Jennifer Armentrout delivering the keynote speech at the LSFW Writers Conference

After listening to her, it wasn’t difficult to understand why she writes as much as she does. Sure, she loves her craft. Has a fantastic imagination. Can spin tales out of nothingness and make them live in universes not quite explored by others. But that’s not what hooked me. It’s what she does: take risks.

Anyone in a creative field has to either take risks or quit. It’s not a wimpy business for sissies, no way. Although there’s plenty of self-doubt to paint the Sistine Chapel over and again, one learns quickly that if one keeps that up, one’s going nowhere in the publishing world. Yeah, in drearier moods I count myself among the talentless and weak. And sure, who doesn’t need the occasional pat-on-the-back to be reminded that your prose is worth reading?

Jennifer won’t have it. She’s got books to write. Amazingly, she’s stuck with the same agent for her entire career, but she’s taken some incredible risks. Taken offers from publishers who might not have paid her what another would, but offered her greater freedom for her creativity. Not afraid to tackle a subject she knows little about. Maybe even try self-publishing and see what happens. At any rate, she sits down in front of her computer and composes her works for eight hours every day. Sometimes more. But she has to. It’s part of her, to dream, to create, to write.

Perhaps the most powerful engine driving her is a simple matter of her health. At a routine eye exam, it was discovered  she has retinitis pigmentosa, or RP. It’s the gradual withdrawal of one’s ability to see. It’s a cruel disease. As it progresses, the peripheral vision fades, resulting in ever-increasing tunnel vision, until the curtains close forever. There is no cure. At the present time, her vision is still with her, although her peripheral vision is fading.

No one can predict when or how long her vision will last, but Jennifer isn’t waiting for the lights to dim forever. She’s got stories to tell. She’s not waiting for blindness to set in. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself, nor does she expect anyone else to. So there she is, eight hours a day, writing like there’s no tomorrow, taking risks, and nothing will ever stop her.

It gave me a whole new perspective on not only writing, but life. We are put here on earth to succeed. If we don’t, we’ll fade. Why should I let anything hold me back from trying my very best to endure? Aren’t my words worth the risk?

Why, indeed?

Why I Write Science Fiction   Leave a comment

Tomorrow I’m going to a writers conference. I’m expecting the turnout to be a little low, mainly because of the awful weather we’ve been having.  Unless you’re planning to go skiing, two feet of snow with more expected tends to put people in a sour mood. That doesn’t mean the conference won’t be fantastic; it will. We have two huge NYT bestsellers as keynote speakers, a whole batch of editors and agents from big names will be taking pitches, fantastic workshops to take and panel discussions to watch, among other things. Besides, there’s going to be friends I hardly ever see in attendance too, so that means some serious catch-up time over a few, so we can discuss our works and lives.

I joined this well-respected group several years ago, under the influence of my sister Gwen. It’s called Liberty States Fiction Writers and it’s been around for longer than I care to admit. We’re in the process of making many changes, including the website, to accommodate our growing membership and genres represented. Most of our members are published, some by big names. There’s even New York Times bestselling novelists that are part of the team.

If anything, I’ve invested a lot of myself with LSFW, and in turn, they’ve given me the confidence to forge ahead, even when I’m sure I’m a failure. Even the most confident of writers need a bonk on the head occasionally, or a few words of encouragement at least, to get moving towards that computer and be creative. I never imagined I’d be able to write an entire book, and here I am well into the second.

Many writers I’m around are romance novelists. They’re all great at it. Come up with real tear-jerkers and tales of sorrowful gladness. Stories range from no-holds-barred sentimentality to BSDM. That’s fine. Even LGBT romances are on the upswing – good news.  One of the best LGBT writers I know is a fine, humorous man and an excellent teacher whose lessons I apply to my work.

Me, though, I’ve never been one for sentimentality. You might even call me a cynic. True love didn’t conquer me. It led me down a golden path and kept me hidden, until it gave me the boot. I’ve never had much success with romance, so anything I’d write regarding that subject might sound dismal, hopeless and anything but happy. No Hollywood endings for me, no siree!

Instead, I found solace in situations that simply didn’t exist here on Earth or in our timeline. Sure, the characters might inhabit a strange world, but it’s my world, dammit, and if I want my characters to explore the possibilities of atomic substructures in subspace, so be it. Scientists quibbling over launch trajectories in equatorial locations seemed so much more interesting than, let’s say, getting flowers from a handsome fella. Not knowing what lies within that abandoned research facility on the moon and worse, who – or what – attacked it is definitely more intriguing than what dress the bride’s going to wear. Genetic mutations, nanoscience, coded machinations set to manipulate and govern sure beat the heck out of will she or won’t he.

That’s not to say my characters don’t believe in romance. They do, they engage in it and it doesn’t turn out well for them, either…but they find themselves working on scientific issues and dodging conventions while building worlds using insane technologies and writing sick codes. They don’t have time for flowers and chocolate. They get right down to business, then figure out how to beat the enemy at his/her own game.

They say you write about with what you’re familiar. To me, that’s sci-fi. It’s been my best friend since post-toddlerhood, has never let me down (although I’ve been disappointed a few times) and keeps me on the level. And creative.

So that’s my story. What’s yours?

The Surreal Life   Leave a comment

sleep

I’ve been asleep at the wheel lately. Dali’s picture best describes how I’ve been feeling as of late: melted, propped up, in a barren landscape far from any civilization save for a remote outpost of questionable value.

Life isn’t always fair. It splays out an awful lot of unwanted changes, blitzkrieg-style. For the past year, I’ve been caught in that proverbial rock-in-a-hard-place spot that makes it hard to go forward. Seems like I’m forever exhausted. Depressed. Unmotivated and uninspired.

Last autumn, I shared these sentiments with a fellow writer friend. He’d been thrown a horrible loss – his father was killed – and said that writing was the best therapy to work through his grief.

Took me a long while to sink in, but yes, he’s right. Absolutely right. I have to force myself to lose myself in dreams, not to sleep, but to write.

It’s been so long that I’ve created anything meaningful that I nearly lost faith in my abilities. What if my words amount to drivel? Shapeless streams of verbiage? Worse, an over reliance of adverbs?

I sat down with my second manuscript, still uncompleted, and gave it a good, hard look. It’d been months since I added anything to it, plus I have about two-thirds more to write before it’s finished. Sure, there’s a lot of changes I need to make, stuff needs to be tightened up and fleshed out. But you know what? It’s not bad. It’s not even a real first draft yet.

As I read through it, I gathered the plot’s flow in my brain. The characters arose from their long rest and seemed refreshed to resume their roles in my imagination. They even gave me a few clues as to how they’d like to beef up their storylines and get that action rolling once more. After going through it a few times, misty sketches became solid outlines. And here’s something positive: once I got that manuscript back inside me, the holes in the plot that dogged me so much are now filling in. No more potholes, but real patches to sketchy patches that vexed me.

My sister Gwen’s been egging me on, too. Said I need to get on with it. Claim my talent back from the dead and stop crying zombie. Get on with it already. Of course, she’s right.

Perhaps the best words of wisdom I found was from a friend on Facebook, yet another writer. He posted this link from Cracked.com – “How To Be a Better Person.” It’s REALLY hard to admit to the truths in it, but the short of it is that if you want to be a success, you’re going to have to work your ass off, accept failure as a learning opportunity, and expect to keep working until you either give up or shrug off frustration, obstacles, naysayers, pests, pessimists, and your own laziness and limitations in order to succeed. See, the longer you work at something – and it doesn’t have to be writing – the better you become. That, and all the losers quit, therefore opening your field a little wider. And that, my friends, is where an opportunity might show up.

Now, I need to take my own advice. I’ve been out of the writing loop so long that it’s a little scary sticking my feet back in the icy pool. It’s going to take a few dips before I get used to the numbness, but after a while I’ll get used to it again. And I’ll swim.

Here’s to 2017. My year of literary triumph, and yours too.

 

 

NY ComicCon 2016 – Reading the Small Print   Leave a comment

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The Mad Geniuses Behind First Law of Mad Science, and Me

So I went to NY ComicCon on Saturday, October 8, 2016. And sure, I could tell you about all the mind-blowing, bigger-than-bejeezus and whammo-bap-biff sights that assaulted my senses during my visit, along with the claustrophobic cosplay crowded aisles.

But no, I won’t. Instead, I’ll tell you about what everybody should be noticing, and that’s the large imaginations behind the smaller prints just waiting to be discovered.

Instead of jamming my way into the bigger, more crowded booths, I took the path less travelled – the Small Press section of the convention.

There, I found extraordinarily friendly, helpful, entertaining people, even if I didn’t make a purchase. All of these people readily shared their stories about how they managed to make it to NYCC 2016, what inspired their work, why they keep going and the sacrifices they made along the way. Clearly every one of these people are devoted to their craft, often a labor of intense love rewarded each time someone turns the pages of their works…or contributes to their Kickstarter project.

So it’s with that spirit I introduce to you some of the representatives of small presses that I met. I only wish I could write about all 40+ of them, but time and space only allows for these. Please support their works and visit their websites. I’ll guarantee you it’s time well spent.

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First Law of Mad Science, Written by Oliver Mertz and Mike Isenberg, Art by Daniel Lapham, Colors by Jeff McComsey and Oliver Mertz, Lettering by Mike Isenberg and Oliver Mertz, Cover by Ryan Brown and Issue 3 Inks by Lonny Chant. Published by Noreon Labs. Website: http://www.firstlawofmadscience.com.

I met the creators on a casual stroll, when I gazed up at the title of the first volume, “Work Until Your Family Is Sad” made me break out in laughter. Please forgive me if I get your names messed up, guys, but I think it was Oliver who gave me the impressive elevator speech that hooked me to buy this book. And while I didn’t have a chance to read it today (sorry, I had to go to work!), the bit I glanced through LOOKS GREAT! I also have a to get through FLOMS Science Club Mixtape. It’s a compendium of several artists’ works and stories.

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Man Vs. Rock, Volume 1, Written by Victor Detroy and Kevin Bieber, Art by Jared Lamp, Colors by Summer Fitzgerald. http://www.manvsrock.com

 I knew I had a winner yesterday when I walked up to this booth and one of the artists responsible for its creation acted it out for me. Obviously, I had to buy it. The creatives behind this project are a team from Maine and Texas who now live in Las Angeles but came to New York ComicCon. And as my personal dramatic reading demonstrated, this graphic novel features a strong female character AND a rock. While the female character is a strong as a rock, it’s the rock who’s the heavy hitter here. Don’t ask me to reveal all the severe consequences throughout history that the rock foisted on humankind, but if you get your hands on this book, you’ll certainly find out! Learn the truth and purchase, folks!

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Toolbox, Written by Kyle Gnepper (website – http://www.unshavencomicsonlin.com), Art by Kristen Gudsnuck (website – http://www.henchgirlcomic.com).

Another charmer of a work, this is a family-friendly graphic novel anyone can enjoy. It looks like fun and I can’t wait to read it! To quote the back cover, “Robot Justice Is Efficient Justice! Toolbox is about a future off world human settlement that reprograms a construction robot to protect them from bandits and dangerous wild life in the area. It’s equal parts science fiction and western adventure. At its heart it’s about technology, sisterhood, character and what it means to be a family.”

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Agent 81 and the Black Train, Written by Robert Geronimo, Illustration by Chilly Bliss, Ascalon Press, NY http://www.ascalonpress.com.

I spoke to the author, Robert Geronimo, for quite some time and his enthusiasm is infectious. He came up with a twisty take on World War II. I’m going to quote the back cover because it explains the plot better than I can remember. “AGENT 87 AND THE BLACK TRAIN – A true master of disguise, martial artist and linguist, Agent 87 is the world’s greatest spy. With the Second World War coming to its peak, 87 goes undercover to investigate a lethal weapons project in a Japanese-occupied region in China. With the help of a French weapons expert and a greedy mercenary, 87 unravels a plot filled with death and horror, discovering she must stop a deadly train carrying the destruction of mankind as its cargo.”

I must also add that Ascalon Press also has a division, Ascalon Games, and they’ve created an app called “Little Maia and the Lunar Express – a game where the player evades enemy rockets, aliens and a giant space monster.

Graphic Novel Projects   Leave a comment

On my Twitter feed, I follow all sorts of sci-fi creators. Writers, aficionados, artists, designers, editors, fans…everyone’s got my attention. While I simply don’t have time to click on every link I get, I do check out quite a few. That’s the beauty of Twitter – tons of information packed in a sliver.

It doesn’t take long to discover there’s a lot of people out there doing their literal best to breathe life into their loves. E-published works pop up all the time. So do gorgeous illustrations with nary a book to grace. But like many of us, the means to take these works to the next level is woefully absent. Let’s just say if .000000000000000000001 of the amount of money wasted on this year’s presidential was put towards good causes, including arts in all forms, this nation could nurture, educate and launch many artists careers.

So once that art teacher’s been let go, or the music teacher is split between 6 schools in the district, or grammar goes out the window when the English teacher teaches to the test, we all lose.

But I’m only slightly digressing here.

Determination will get you everywhere, and out of the ashes of worthy causes rose Kickstarter. For every project, there’s believers just like the you. Come up with a good idea, spread the word and eventually, if that project’s worthiness commands attention, Kickstarter investors will support even the most humble projects.

Two Tweets caught my attention recently, both graphic novel projects, using Kickstarter and other means to raise money for their projects. I like them both and thought I’d bring them to your attention.

Paradox Girl

“Paradox Girl” Credit: Cayti Elle Bouquin/Yishan Li

“Do you know what happens when you violate causality? By definition, nothing.” These are the opening words of the first “Paradox Girl,” written by Cayti Elle Bouquin, illustrated by Yishan Li, edited by Peter Bensley and published by Georgina Bensley. It’s the story of a girl who shifts back and forth in times so frequently, she runs into herself constantly…and therein lie the often humorous plot.

These dedicated artists wish to share Paradox Girl’s dream with all of you, but realize you might want to figure out who she is first (and actually, so would PG!). Their website introduces PG to you and shows the reader who charming she is. If you like what you read, there’s three different graphic novels to choose from available for purchase. They’d appreciate it if you bought a copy or two, plus left a little something in the tip jar. Join their mailing list and they’ll let you know when their next Kickstarter campaign begins.

Have Space

Credit: Eric Gignac

“Have Space Suit – Will Travel” is the second Kickstarter project that’s come across my Twitter feed. Since I can’t explain it any better than their web page does, I’m quoting it directly below:

“Have Space Suit – Will Travel is the second graphic novel adapted from Robert Heinlein’s Virginia Edition, which is the complete and definitive 46 volume collector’s set of all of Heinlein’s works. This follow-on project is approved by the copyright owner, the Heinlein Prize Trust and will be produced with the support of the Virginia Edition Publishing Company. The purpose of the Heinlein Prize is to encourage and reward progress in commercial space activities that advances Robert and his wife Virginia’s dream of humanity’s future in space. The Virginia Edition Publishing Company is responsible for the production and distribution of the authoritative text of all of Robert Heinlein’s published fiction and non-fiction – The Robert A. Heinlein: Virginia Edition Collection.”

Click on the above link and you’ll be take right to the Kickstarter page. Eric Gignac only has until July 16, 2016 to raise fund for his project. He’s more than halfway there, and if you’re will to share in his dream, show your support and donate.

As with both projects, your donations will go towards an artistic worthy cause, support science fiction folks just like yourself, and leave you with the warm and fuzzy feeling that your money didn’t go towards a campaign run by people who neither understand nor appreciate just how otherworldly and bizarre this year’s campaign has become (or fodder for yet another graphic novel?).

Real-Life Dystopia Spawns Future Life Sci-fi   Leave a comment

Basma Abdel Aziz

Basma Abdel Aziz (Credit: aalbc.com)

An article in the New York Times caught my attention today: “Middle Eastern Writers Find Refuge in the Dystopian Novel.” In it, the above-pictured author, Basma Abdel Aziz, goes on to describe her inspiration for writing her novel, “The Queue.” A psychiatrist by trade, she gained inspiration for this novel by watching people waiting for hours in a long line at a closed government building. “The Queue” takes this real-life situation and uses it the foundation for its plot: people forced to wait in an interminable line to petition for basic services…and never receiving them.

Other authors to watch,  according to the New York Times article, include Yasmine el-Rashidi, author of “A Chronicle of Last Summer”; Ahmed Saadawi, author of “Frankenstein in Bagdad”; Shukri al-Mabkhout, author of “The Italian”; Salem Haddad, author of “Guapa” and Khaled Khalifa, author of “No Knives in the Kitchen of This City.”

Each of the above novels goes on to describe a situation that mirrors actual events in the Middle East, and incorporates the frustration and anger from both current and past events. Basra Abdel Aziz uses her writing to depict how much things have fallen after the promising Arab Spring and, in some instances, have gotten worse.

While the world has never truly known peace, we’ve had glimpses of it and know that life can be enjoyable if we show a bit more humanity towards everyone. For some reason, it seems that world leaders, as well as potential ones, believe we’re better off blowing each other off the face of the earth, kicking them out of a particular resident country, or engage in ethnic cleansing. While I’ve never quite understood how or why this philosophy makes any nation better, it certainly gives lots of authors something to write about.

We go on to fight our wars, exclude citizens from our nations because they look different or pray to a God we don’t quite understand, or what what the other country has, especially if they won’t share it. And with each episode of these international and domestic tragedies, there gives rise to authors whose means of protest is a science fiction novel that speaks the truth.

Perhaps on this Memorial Day weekend, as we munch on our burgers and shop for great savings, we should take a few moments not only to recognize that soldiers give up their lives to protect ideals, but the authors who take witness to these events and lightly shroud the truth in their writings. Buy their books, take them to the beach, and support their efforts. After all, they’re asking you to read between the lines and experience their real-life dystopia through sci-fi colored glasses.

Random House Open House   Leave a comment

Gretchen at RH 4-29-16

Yours truly, causing problems

Oh, what a day I had last Friday! I got to walk in the temple of literature amongst the gods. That’s right – I went to Penguin Random House.

So many distinguished authors have had the blessed fortune to be published by this institution, it’s mind-boggling. Seriously, one can’t take it all in. To wit: here’s a wall (and it’s only a partial view) of the Nobel Prize winners that have had their works published here.

Nobel Prize Wall

PRH’s distinguished and honored literary lineup

Why was I there to begin with? To ask/beg them to publish my work? Pssh. If only. No, I went with my sister and a bunch of our friends (also writers) to their quarterly open house. If you’re interested in books, writing, publishing, or just stretching your mind, it’s the best place in the whole world.

PRH presents a lineup of great writers of all genres, plus a little insider stuff. The day started off with Questlove, best known as the bandleader for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. He wrote this wonderful book entitled SOMETHINGTOFOODABOUT, a collection of essays and interviews with chefs who raise their culinary talents to the artistic level. It’s a beautiful book, full of amazing photos of food worship. I longed for a snack after gazing through its pages. He kindly autographed it.

QuestloveGretchen & Questlove

Questlove chats with his cowriter, Ben Greenman;

Gretchen gets his autograph – very nice man indeed!

 

Later on in the morning, Justin Cronin and Pierce Brown held a discussion regarding their books. Both had such camaraderie, one might think they knew each other forever. They’d only met fifteen minutes before taking the stage. Still, their engaging conversation gave writers (like me) hope that even if you have 137 rejections (like Pierce Brown did), you still might get lucky. And boy, did he ever. Justin Cronin was a college professor whose daughter, quite young at the time, told him not to write boring books.

Justin CroninPierce & JustinPosing with Pierce Brown

Autographing it up with Justin Cronin, listening to their chat (I know, bad photo) and chatting with Pierce

After lunch, two in-house art directors, Greg Mollica and Joe Perez discussed the finer points of creating a cover. They used several books for examples, some going through several dozen attempts to reach the right look. It’s really true that a book is judged by its cover, because without reading a word, you’ve got to attract the reader’s attention. My favorite story was that of Mark Maron – he’s a favorite of mine and I love his podcast. Mark loves cats. Getting a cat to cooperate proved to be an exercise in patience, as the cat wrangler tried very hard, as well as Mark, to get the cat to pose. I think we all know what comes next:

Maron Covers

Some of the shots trying to get THE shot for the cover

PRH saved the best for last: Anna Quindlen. In case you didn’t know, a New York Times columnist and NYT bestselling author many times over. She was interviewed by no less than Lee Woodruff, an author whose husband, Bob Woodruff, was a correspondent for ABC news and suffered a serious head injury in the Middle East – a story in itself. She discussed her writing process and the fact that one of her sons thought it was entirely gross that she wrote sex scenes in her books (he was a kid at the time). Fortunately, she had the best snacks on the block and all the kids hung out at her place after school.

Anna Quindlen

Anna Quindlen and Lee Woodruff, a little on the dark side

The day went by like lightning and was over far too soon. As I sat on the train, staring out at the window on my way home, reading Questlove’s book and feeling hungry, I thought to myself how lucky I was to have been in Random House, thoroughly enjoying the day. Who knows? Maybe one day my books will grace their library walls for all to see. But for now, I’m glad I went and can’t wait for the next one.

Gwen, Me & Linda at RH

Me, my sister Gwen Jones and our friend Linda Parisi

GOT Coloring Book

My souvenir for the day

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