Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What I'm Writing

First, I apologize for the lack of posting this weekend. I started writing a post on swords and now it's 2,000 words long and I'm still not done. *hangs head* And it's not just me being long winded, either! There's so much to cover! So, obviously, I'm going to have to break it down into smaller posts. That's great in that I'll soon have a series on swords, but not so great because it means I still need to work on it. Plus, other random information keeps popping up when it really belongs in a post on say... armor, or non-sword weapons, or tactics or... Yeah. So, basically, the post draft is breeding like a tribble and I'm just trying to keep up. :-D

Other than that, I have finished Blood Home (Yay!! Finally!!), but I'm not sure that I'm happy with it. It's missing something. Maybe it's not scary enough? Maybe it's a little melodramatic? I don't know yet, and I haven't decided whether I would bring shame upon my house by posting it to be critted. I'll probably put it up anyway, but it may need another pass before it's ready. *shakes head* Is it any wonder a short story takes me forever? I find them so much harder than novels.

I've started working my way through Fated. It rambles in spots, and I can practically see how the cogs were turning in my head when I was writing it. I realized part of the reason I've had a problem with it was that the repercussions of some of my worldbuilding wasn't reflected in the world at large. Creative dissonance. *nods* So, I'll have to make some changes, and that's always dangerous because you never know when one little detail is going to mean massive rewrites. While I'm working through Fated, I'm going to write the last scene for the first re-draft of Glass and Steel, that way, even if Fated takes a while, I'll have two stories at least first drafted and nearly ready for crit.

I'm also working on the second round content edits for Getting Ahead. It's proving an interesting, if occasionally daunting, challenge! Sketching ostriches is oddly challenging as well. They're very... bumpy. :-D Technically I shouldn't be doing it until next month, because it's part of my worldbuilding for the NaNo novel. There will be bird-riders and I'd like to have some basic understanding of how an ostrich (and other large, flightless birds) move and look. Maybe I'll post my sketches next month and we can all have a chuckle. :-D

Lastly, a confession. I suck at Twitter. While I often bounce from one thing to another, when I'm working on something that's where my mind is. Tweetdeck flashes up in the corner, and it might as well be in the next room for all the attention I have to spare it. Sometimes, I'll sit back to consider a story and realize I've missed hundreds of tweets. So, I'll keep trying, but that's why I'm not the most talkative person when it comes to tweeting.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Author Interview: Chrystalla Thoma - Rex Rising

Today, I bring you Chrystalla Thoma, author of the science fiction treat Rex Rising!

Welcome Chrys! It's great to have you!

Hi dear Mary, thanks for having me today as your guest!

Tell us a few things about yourself.

I’m from Cyprus, speaker of Greek and eater of mousaka. I’m married to a wonderful Costa Rican, marine biologist and poet – Carlos. I am a reader and a writer, and my whole life revolves around these two things, which amount to just one: stories. I’ve had many different jobs, always centered around language: language teacher, translator, editor, writer. In the last ten years, I stopped writing fiction in Greek and only write in English, as I have come to realize that the English speaking public is more interested in the genres I write (mainly fantasy and science fiction) than the Greek one.

What do you do in your life outside of writing?

Currently I just left my very stressful job as magazine editor and scientific collaborator of an international patients' organization, and am returning to my life as freelance translator. What else do I do? I visit my family a lot (I was away from Cyprus for many years and am only now catching up) and friends, go to the movies and read, and spend time with my husband visiting ruins and museums and exploring the countryside.

What's the best book you've read recently?

You mean, apart from A Sign in Blood?

*G* Thank you! But what else?

Let me think. Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series. Wonderful, detailed worldbuilding, unforgettable characters – and talk of angels (let’s just say I have a small obsession with angels and all winged beings). I highly recommend these books.

I love those books, too. Do you write short stories as well as novellas and novels?

Yes, I write all lengths. Originally, I found writing short stories a tough challenge. As a reader, I usually find reading longer stories more satisfying. Since I am a reader above all – as part of my need to escape reality – I guess this makes sense. But recently I find myself drawn to short stories, both for reading and writing. They are a different species, and I love the challenge of creating a world in only a few pages, as opposed to the hundreds of pages of a novel.

Which is your most recent writing project?

Rex Rising, Young Adult Science Fiction novel. The story is about Elei, a young aircar driver in a world where parasites create new human races. He leads a peaceful life — until a mysterious attack on his boss sends him fleeing with a bullet in his side. Pursued for a secret he does not possess and with the fleet at his heels, he has but one thought: to stay alive. His pursuers aren’t inclined to sit down and talk, although that’s not the end of Elei’s troubles. The two powerful parasites inhabiting his body, at a balance until now, choose this moment to bring him down, leaving Elei with no choice but to trust in people he hardly knows in a mad race against time. It won’t be long before he realizes he must find out this deadly secret – a secret that might change the fate of his world and everything he has ever known – or die trying.

How much worldbuilding did you do before you wrote your book?

A lot. To me, worldbuilding takes up more time than writing a story (in most cases). Of course, that is also due to the fact that a lot of plotting and creating the story is intertwined with building up the world and history behind the actual story. For Rex Rising, the world building goes back many years before the story was jotted down. Many aspects of worldbuilding came to light before Elei was born. The world of the Seven Islands for instance was created around 2000 and the many ramifications of the origin of this world will come to light in the sequel (coming out toward the end of this year). The role of parasites became evident to me around 2006 when I was reading a lot of scientific articles and books on this topic, as well as on epidemics and viruses. The street violence and gangs were an aspect I worked on during the years I lived in Costa Rica, where I saw some of that violence and poverty live.

When's your next book coming out? What's it about?

I am currently writing the sequel to my novel, and it is called “Rex Cresting” (Book Two of Elei’s Chronicles). The story picks up exactly where Rex Rising left of. Still recovering in hospital on the north coast of Dakru, Elei is convinced that his part in bringing down the Gultur is over. Rex has infected the other race and their dictatorial system is starting to collapse. Not every Gultur, though, has been affected, and on top of that, inside Elei’s body, Rex has matured and goes through another transformation. Elei isn’t sure he can survive Rex’s new strength — but that is the least of his worries, as the Gultur descend on him again.

If you could have a meal with just one of your own characters, which would you choose?

I love all the characters of Rex Rising, but right now I’d love to have lunch with Elei so that he can tell me the rest of his story without interruptions! I am generally a plotter – I like to know where my story is going as I am writing it, and as a rule I have the conflict and the solution more or less set in my mind while I am writing. Nevertheless, my characters tend to talk to me while I daydream or write, and tell me things about themselves I never imagined. They take on a life of their own and sometimes, as a result, the story changes. I feel that Elei has a lot to tell me if only I pay attention...

I know that feeling! Where can one find you on the internet and read your stories?

Chrystalla: You can follow my ramblings and read about my writing and stories here: http://chrystallathoma.wordpress.com

You can watch the book trailer here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-6Gxf8oQas

Or check the book out at Amazon US | UK | DE or Smashwords.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Update!

The short stories are going slower than I'd hoped, but I now have a very clear idea of how to finish Blood Home. I'm going to hit it hard (write, write, write!) and if I don't finish it tonight, I will tomorrow. I'm looking forward to throwing it to the wolves critters ;-).

Then I'll start on Fated, and hopefully that will go more smoothly. I realized while trying to finish Blood Home exactly how it needed to be rewritten. This happens to me in the middle of many of my short stories, actually. I have to stop and re-think what I'm doing and what I'm trying to say, you know? I think I did a lot of that for Fated already, so hopefully nothing new will pop out of the woodwork to bash me over the head. We'll see.

So many short stories, so little time!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Time Telling Timeline

Time has permeated our society. Most people wear watches, or have cell phones to tell them what time it is. They get stressed out over ten minutes and punctuality is a virtue (one I absolutely don't have), but secondary fantasy worlds are often set in lower-tech environments. (I don't think they need to be, but generally if there's more than modern tech it's called science fiction, one way or another.) So how is time measured in lower-tech settings?

The first time keepers were the sun, stars and moon, of course. Their journeys across the sky and through their different cycles were, for a long time, the very definition of "time." Days are still the amount of time it takes the earth to rotate, months are still 28 -31 days as they were when they were based on the lunar cycle, and years are still the length of the earth's trip around the sun. These are the things that help us define time. The Mayans relied on the movements of the planet Venus through the sky to develop their yearly calendar, and in 3100 BC, the ancient Egyptians based their year around the "Dog Star" (Sirius) because it rose next to the sun every 365 days, around the time that the Nile began to flood.

Most interesting is that the need to know what hour it was doesn't seem to have come up until societies began to become more formal and organized. Urban societies were more in need of clocks than rural ones because bureaucratic governments, organized religions, and formalized social activities required more precise daily time keeping. In fact, much of the early clock work was done at and by monasteries.

Sun Clocks

The sun clock started with the obelisk being one of the first forms around 3500 BC. However, sun clocks require the sun, so it wasn't the only heavenly body used to measure time. Around 600 BC, the Egyptians developed the merkhet, which was an astronomical tool for measuring the movement of the heavens, and therefore time. By aligning it with the Pole Star they could mark off night time hours by noting when certain stars crossed the meridian.

Different cultures used different forms of sundials, from the flat, vertical kind to more elaborate ones such as the hemispherical dial. Since each culture had its own method of time keeping, it's not surprise that they also had their design preferences.

Waterclocks

The earliest waterclock that we know of was found in the tomb of Pharaoh Amenhotep I, who was buried around 1500 BC. Waterclocks don't depend on visual observance of the movements of celestial bodies, but they also don't always operate consistently. In cold weather, they can slow or freeze and the flow of water can be hard to regulate.

The Greek clepsydra of 325 BC consisted of a cylindrical tube or bowl with a hole at the bottom and another bowl beneath it. Water dripped from the top container into the bottom one at a pretty constant rate and the level markings of the bottom bowl told how many hours had passed. This is a very simple version of the waterclock, and later mechanized versions from between 100 BC and 500 AD were more sophisticated. Some rang bells or gongs and others were made with small doors or windows that would open to reveal model figures.

In 1088 AD, Su Sung created a 30 foot tall waterclock tower. It sported a rotating celestial globe powered by hydraulic pressure, as well as five stages which opened to display different manikins which rang bells and held tablets which told the hour.

Mechanical Clocks

There was little change in the mechanics of time through the European Middle Ages, but in the 1300s mechanical clocks graced the clock towers of major cities in Italy. Though mechanical, these clocks were driven by weights and regulated by verge-and-foliot escapements. However, they were still somewhat difficult to regulate. In the 1400s Peter Henlein invented the spring-powered clock. This made it possible for clocks to be smaller and more portable, fitting on a shelf or a table, or even fitting in a pocket. However, they ran slower as the mainspring unwound. In the 1500s, this portability created a boom in the demand, and their proliferation also tied people to the need for time pieces. The first pendulum clock was built in 1656 by Christiaan Huygens, although it was conceived of by Galileo some years before.

I'm stopping here for now, but I'm also planning on a post about how to address all of this in a fantasy worldbuilding context. Fun! :-D


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Author Interview: Katherine Amt Hanna - Breakdown

Today we have Katherine Amt Hanna, author of the post-apocalyptic book Breakdown.

Six years after a pandemic devastates the human population and unstoppable computer viruses have destroyed much of the world’s technology, Chris Price finally makes it from New York to Britain to reunite with his brother. But the horrors he’s witnessed and unresolved grief over his dead wife and baby have changed him. Can he let go of his past, unlock his heart, and learn to find love again?

Sounds fantastic, right? Check it out at Amazon!

Hello Katy! It's great to have you!

What was the first speculative fiction story you ever read?
Day of the Triffids, by John Wyndham. Ninth grade. Then I devoured the rest of his stuff. Thanks, Mom.

So what was the first thing you ever wrote?
Oh, lordy. It was a script for a SWAT episode when I was in eighth grade. I blush to remember.

I think we all blush over our first efforts! What's your writing routine like?
What’s a writing routine? LOL.

About how long does it take you to take a story from first draft to finished?
Far, far too long!

What personal experiences did you draw on while writing Breakdown?
Well, I had an experience with a deep friendship gone wrong. I never really got over it until I had a chance to resolve it with the person involved. In a way, the book was born out of that, and grew to include more.

So, which character did you find it easiest to relate to?
I definitely relate to Chris, with his losses and his depression. Been there. Felt that.

And which character was the hardest for you?
Freddie was hardest, I think. She has confidence in spite of what she’s been through, and that’s something I’ve always struggled with.

What did you learn from writing the story?
That you must have other people--objective people--look at your stuff. You can’t do it by yourself. Too many people are writing a book and slapping it up on Kindle with no input from anyone else. Ouch. It hurts to read that stuff.

Yeah, there's some rough reading out there. Do you participate in any writing communities or critique groups?
I spent nearly two years on Critique Circle. It helped me so much. I’ve let that slide since Breakdown came out, mainly because promotion takes so much time. I try to be active on the Kindleboards, and a bit on Goodreads.

How long did it take you to finish Breakdown?
Gack. I worked on this book for about eight years. The first few I dabbled at it. I went through a two-year period where I did most of the work on it. Then I dabbled again for another two, while I spent time on Critique Circle learning to write better, and lamenting the fact that my chances of getting it published were slim to none. Then, the whole Kindle thing exploded. When I decided to publish on Kindle, I got serious, and finished it up in three months. That was an awesome feeling.

Which part of the process did you have the most fun with?
I like revising best. Getting the original words down are hard for me, but revising is fun.

When's your next book coming out?
Well, I’d hoped to have it ready for release by December, but that’s not going to happen. So, maybe February or March.

What it's about?
It’s actually a prequel to Breakdown.

What gives you ideas for stories?
I have very vivid dreams sometimes. Some of my best ideas have come from them. Sometimes when I was stuck with Breakdown, a dream would propel me forward. Sometimes, the dreams had nothing to do with the novel, and I took a detour to write something else for a couple of weeks. I guess I can go back and work on those at some point.

Detours happen to me all the time. *G* If you couldn't write for an entire month, what would you do with yourself?
I keep busy sewing and reading. I haven’t written anything substantial since Breakdown came out in April. Just bits here and there. It kinda sucks, but I was never prolific. I don’t have the kind of life that allows for a set writing schedule.

Do you get "writer's block" and how do you deal with it?
I’m always struggling with writer’s block. Usually, when I’m at my busiest with other things like sewing, lightning will strike and I have to carve out time to write. At the moment, this is not happening. In January, I plan to put all else aside and WRITE.

What do you do in your life outside of writing?
I have my own business making medieval and biblical costumes, so I have my busy times of the year, like in the months before Christmas, making Nativity costumes. I have two boys, and I’m a Den Leader for Cub Scouts, so I definitely keep busy!

It sounds like it! Thanks for taking the time to drop by and tell us about your book!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Of Blogging and Books on Sale!

I'm so thrilled to have summer going out the door! Especially this year with all the heat and drought. I've always liked the transition seasons best, fall and spring. Fall being my favorite time of the year. Hopefully, we'll get some rain soon, in addition to things cooling down a bit. (Really, just a bit, but it's a start!) To celebrate my favorite season, and the fact that I'll be moving back to New Orleans in time to see the end of it there, I'm putting A Sign in Blood on sale at $2.99 from now until the end of November! Check it out here!

Unfortunately, this does mean at least some of my time during NaNo will be spent moving. It's totally worth it, but it's gonna be an interesting problem to work around. I'll manage. I'm hoping this years project will be shorter than last year's anyway. I managed 130k last year, but with the move I really just don't think that will be possible this time around, but I'd still like to manage a finished first draft.

Also, I'll be posting the first in a series of author interviews! Tomorrow we'll have Katy Amt Hanna here and we'll chat about her, her writing, and her book Breakdown, which is a post-apocalyptic story of a different stripe! Make sure to stop by and say hello! On Saturday, I'll be discussing clocks and telling time in fantasy worlds, which I'm having a lot of fun with at the moment. I've been researching it for an idea on the worldbuilding of my NaNo project (I know, I know, so early!) and it's inspired two other ideas that I think will be really fun, although one of them needs to be part of a larger story and isn't right for my NaNo project and the other is a story in itself. (Yeah, like I need another story bouncing around inside my skull!)