Writers Injuring Characters

Toothache

Ouch.

I went to visit my dentist for a particularly difficult tooth extraction today, so as I write this I’m sitting nursing a sore jaw as the anaesthetic is wearing off. I can’t deny that I felt a bit wobbly after the extraction. Since the tooth had broken off below the gum line, it came out in pieces. No it didn’t hurt at the time, though obviously I could feel the pressure, and just knowing what was going on as the root came out in bits, was somewhat stressful. This is the first stage in having an implant to replace the tooth. It’s likely to be next March before I get a final replacement tooth. Luckily it’s not in a position that shows.

Anyhow I tell you my dental woes because it made me think of what we do to our characters in our books. We treat them appallingly and expect them to shrug off the pain and stand up and fight again. But it’s not so easy in real life.

stapled stomach

Not my surgery thank goodness.

I’m reminded of the do-it-yourself Caesarian Section in the 2012 movie Promethius. (Not seen it? I’d say, don’t bother, but your mileage may vary.) Basically our heroine, Elizabeth Shaw (played by Noomi Rapace) is pregnant with an alien offspring. Using an automated surgery table, she has the offspring cut out and her belly stapled back together. About five minutes later she’s using her arms to pull her own bodyweight up and over the lip of a doorway, and running like mad from a pursuing wheel-structure. Anyone who has ever had a hysterectomy, or any kind of surgery will tell you how improbable this is. You can’t even lift a kettle afterwards. Did it make the movie more exciting? It just made me wince because it was so unbelievable that it pulled me right out of the flow of the story.

And let’s not forget the number of times we’ve watched Hollywood westerns and detective stories where the villain knocks hero unconscious by the application of a gun butt to the back of the head. Any blow hard enough to cause unconsciousness, is going to cause other things, too… like concussion (and that’s no joke) memory problems, double vision, massive headache, debility etc. Here’s a link with some information.

So how do we damage our characters and make our stories thrilling without making the whole thing totally unbelievable? It helps to have a handy medical professional to ask, of course. I asked a GP friend where I could shoot someone and keep them functioning in the story. The short answer was the fleshy part of the upper arm, which is a bit limiting if you want to be really cruel to your character. He was also most insistent that knocking someone out with the barrel or butt of a gun, would likely immobilise your character for weeks (or maybe longer) with concussion – presuming it didn’t break their skull, cause internal bleeding and kill them. Hollywood tells lies. Who’d have thought it?

Bruise Day 2 to day 14

Yes this is me after tripping up and bashing my head on a stone step a few years ago. The pics chart the course of the bruise progression from Day 2 to Day 14. It looks evil, but I was lucky – no concussion.

The main thing to remember is to build in adequate recovery time.

I’ve recently been catching up with Peaky Blinders on Netflix, and have been impressed. When a character is hurt he stays hurt for an appropriate length of time, whether it’s a gunshot wound or a fractured skull. The main characters have recently returned home from the trenches of the Great War when the story opens, and there’s no doubt that they are suffering from PTSD, though the term hadn’t been invented then. Shell shock was the common term, but there were many different varieties of PTSD, most of which were not recognised at the time. The injuries in Peaky Blinders are not just physical – though there’s plenty of blood and gore. The main character, Tommy, sums it up when talking about the First World War. He says, ‘No one came back.’ Meaning no one came back the same as they were.

3bookpsitech

Psi-Tech Trilogy

In my Psi-Tech trilogy one of my main characters, Ben Benjamin, is involved in an incident which almost kills him. It takes some time to get over it. In fact I’m not sure he does get over it completely, but he eventually learns to live with the fear that it could happen again at any time.

In the book that I’m currently working on, The Amber Crown, I have a character attacked. His injuries include a blow to the head which knock him insensible. It takes him weeks to recover.

Peaky Blinders gets round the recovery time issue by (sometimes) skipping forward with a ‘three months later’ caption. I found my character gentle things to do while he was recovering. In fact his recovery time adds to worldbuilding and also ties two character arcs together.

What are you going to do to your characters and how are they going to recover?

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Home from Milford – Tired but Happy

Wall hanging 03

A section of the delightful wall hanging by Eta Ingham Lawrie that decorates the main meeting room at Trigonos

I’ve just arrived home from Milford SF Writers’ Conference in North Wales, and I could sleep for a week. I’m not ready for the real world yet. After a week of intense writing critique punctuated by meals taken with fourteen other science fiction and fantasy writers, the real world seems a bit tame, even though I’ve come home to husband, dog, mother, and two lovely visitors.

Milford Group 01

The whole Milford 2019 group L to R: Steph Bianchini, Sue Oke, Mark Bilsborough, Mbozi (Tania) Haimbe, Russell Smith, Terry Jackman, Tiffani Angus, Sam Tovey, Tina Anghelatos, Kari Sperring, Jacey Bedford, Powder Thompson, Liz Williams, Victor Ocampo, and Pauline Dungate.

Fifteen science fiction and fantasy writers submitted close to 200,000 words between them – a total of twenty pieces, which we critiqued at the rate of four pieces per day. Critiquing is hard work. You have to read and evaluate, get your thoughts into some kind of sensible order, and deliver a verbal critique in not more than four minutes (after which you can send your written critique, often with extra notes, to the author). Four minutes doesn’t sound like long, but it’s plenty of time, especially since thirteen other writers also have to deliver their four-minutes-worth and the author has to have their say at the end. Each piece takes about an hour to critique. This is widely known as the Milford Method. We current Milford committee members (I’m secretary) can take no credit for inventing it because Milford began in 1956 in Milford Pennsylvania (started by Damon Knight) and was brought to the UK (to Milford on Sea) in 1972 by James Blish. It works as a method of keeping group critiques user-friendly. Critique is constructive and never directed at the writer personally, but at the piece of writing. Even the best piece of writing can be improved upon, and our intention is to make each piece the best it can possibly be.

Caernarfon 04

Russell Smith, Liz Williams and Victor Ocampo have captured Caernarfon Castle, and are now popping out for a nice cup of tea.

We had fabulous weather. After a little rain on the Sunday, the sun came out and bathed us in warmth for five days. We read, ate, critiqued the submitted pieces, went for walks in Trigonos’ lovely grounds, took photos of the delightful scenery, made time for a short trip into Caernarfon where Russell, Liz and Victor, captured the castle before lunch, then having done that popped out for a nice cup of tea.

On the Friday, crits finished for the week, we headed to Criccieth, schlepped up (and I mean UP) to the castle, then headed off to Dylan’s excellent fish restaurant for a leisurely lunch. For me, mackerel pate followed by a ‘small’ chowder and a sticky toffee pudding. I’d be afraid to see what size the large chowder is. The small one was enormous.

Then we took the opportunity to do a little retail therapy. The first craft shop I walked in to was lovely and I was just admiring some hand made cards when a voice from the counter said, “Jacey Bedford!”

“Yes,” I confessed.

Criccieth Castle 21

Criccieth Castle

It turns out that the lady (a silk artist) is an Artisan fan and also reads this blog. <Waves in the direction of Criccieth.> I was amazed. I never expect to be recognised. It’s only happened a few times before – and most of those in the USA, strangely enough. But it was really nice to find someone who listens to our music. The rest of the group was mightily impressed! Brian was really pleased when I told him.

You might have guessed I love going to Milford. It always gives me a tremendous boost of writerly enthusiasm. I make new friends, and learn about new markets for books and short stories (and pick up some gossip about the publishing world). I’m pretty sure that if it hadn’t been for a contact I made at Milford I would never have landed my first book on the right editor’s desk at the right time.

Milford 2020 still (at the time of writing) has a few places still open, and the application process for the Writers of Colour bursaries is open. There are application forms and details on the Milford website.

We open applications for Milford two years in advance, so you can book now for Milford 2020 and 2021, and also for the Milford Writers retreat in June 2020 and May 2021. The Writers’ Retreat is just what it sounds like. Held at Trigonos, you get a week, in glorious surroundings and without interruptions, to write to your heart’s content. And you get to meet up with other writers doing the same thing. It’s fab!

Crit room 02

Trigonos’ main meeting room, waiting for a critique session to start

Here’s a link to the Milford blog with a slightly different perspective and more pics.

And here’s the Milford website.

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Retro-Blog of a Pre-published Writer from March 2008

A few more interesting notes from my old blog. Long before I got my book deal I was working on Empire of Dust and Winterwood,  the books that were to become the first books in my two trilogies. At the same time I was looking for another agent. This is what I wrote then

March 4th 2008

The thing about being a musician’s-agent is that there are certain parallels to being a literary agent. Part of my [music] job is to gently turn people away from my door. I get more approaches from hopefuls than I can possibly deal with. A couple of weeks ago I’d had eight acts call me by lunchtime on Tuesday. It would be impossible to take on all of them–or any of them, for that matter–even though they are mostly excellent. So what makes an approach from one musician stand out above the rest? Why do I sometimes say yes to an act even though I know, strictly speaking, that I need another act on my books like a fish needs an umbrella? Maybe if I could figure that out, I could apply it to my own literary agent search, make my ‘package’ memorable–and no, I don’t mean perfumed pink paper and purple ink–and snag my agent of choice.

Unfortunately, more often than not, with musicians… it just depends what mood I’m in when a package lands on my doormat. I suspect it’s like that with literary agents too. However professional you are, there are some days when you’ll be more receptive to certain ideas than others. I’m sure I’ve turned down some winning acts… in fact I know I have. Right now it could be the Beatles’ reunion tour knocking on my door and I’d have to say no because I’m just too damn busy.

Writing the Breakout NovelSo next time I get a negative from a literary agent I’ll just remember it’s a lottery.

[HINDSIGHT NOTE: I did get a new agent and then she got out of agenting, so I got another agent with a big firm in NY. Then she left the firm and as a result my agent is now Donald Maass! Yes, THAT Donald Maass. Whoo-hoo!]

 

March 8th 2008

Trip to York. I met up with Sue and her best beloved for lunch at Cafe Concerto before going with Sue to what was supposed to be a NaNoWriMo get together in the cafe of York Art Gallery. All I can say is that I’m glad Sue was there because the three young women who turned up were pleasant enough but were either shy or…

nano_08_winner_large

Winner’s Badge 2008

Why do people come to meetings if they don’t want to say anything? Why do people join NaNoWriMo if they aren’t passionate about writing? (Note: I don’t expect everyone to finish NaNo because it’s a hell of a thing to do, write 50k words in 30 days, but at least you should surely be interested in the writing process or else why are you signed up?) I think I’ve been spoiled by the level of commitment of Milford writers. Or… maybe the three quiet ones thought Sue and I were a couple of cackly crones who totally took over their  contemplative meet.

Oh well…

Empire of Dust

Empire of Dust – Cover

But one great thing was that, over lunch, S & R really helped to noodle a world-building glitch that had been troubling me in Empire of Dust. (Thanks, guys.)

Another good thing was that last night I started to read the first draft of the magic-pirate-adventure-quest novel that I did 50k words on under NaNo conditions last November, and having left it to mature for three months I actually found I was a) enjoying reading it and b) wanting to turn the next page because I’d semi-forgotten what happened next. This has to be A Good Thing. Of course the first draft is not quite complete yet. I have the final chapter to write. I intend to read through once and then write the last chapter. The outline (yes I actually wrote this one to an outline rather than my usual write-it-and-see mode) merely says: stuff happens and the good guys win.

This is the book I took to Milford in October 07 – then entitled The Elf-Oak Box – the one that got critted on International Talk Like a Pirate Day. At that point I only had 9k words, but now I have 78k and I reckon it will come in at about 85 – 90k when finished. That’s just about the shortest first draft I’ve even managed. (Longest being 240k which was ridiculous!) I think (and hope) that this one has legs.

 

9th March 2008

It must have been seeing Sue yesterday and going to the NaNoWriMo meeting, but I got a double dose of writerly enthusiasm. I redid the synopsis for of Empire of Dust. It doesn’t make a huge difference to the plot or the characters, but it does make a bit more pseudo-scientific sense in the storyline. (i.e. the technobabble is a little less unbelievable even though the science is still so soft it’s dripping off the bottom of the page).

Winterwood front cover

Winterwood by Jacey Bedford, published by DAW, Feb 2016.

So I got up at 8.00 this morning (an unheard of time for me, especially on a Sunday) to finish reading and start writing the last bit of the magic-pirate-adventure-quest novel. I’ve written 3k words so far today and worked out most of what’s going to happen in the stuff happens and the good guys win outline of the last two chapters.

In re-reading it I was amazed. It didn’t read like a first draft at all – especially a first draft done at the rate of 50k words in 21 days under NaNoWriMo conditions. (I did my 50k words in November even though I was away for a week!) In fact, I think the book might seriously have legs. I was gobsmacked. I’m not saying it’s deathless prose or anything, but it works better than something written so quickly has a right to.

It could even work as YA though the protag is 33 and it’s got a couple of f*cks in it (the word not the action) and also a couple of f*cks in it (the action not the word). Though they do happen on the page, they are not graphic. (BTW can I say f*ck without the net ghods stomping on me?) I think the protag being 33 is more of a contraindication than the f*cks for a YA these days.

[HINDSIGHT NOTE – it’s definitely NOT YA and the protag is 25.]

15th March 2008

The first draft of the magic-pirate-adventure-quest novel is in the bag. It’s come it at 87,700 words, less than 3k over my estimate and I’m really happy with it. I’m less happy with the title. At the moment it’s ‘The Elf-oak Box’, but I’m open to suggestions.

Whoo! I’m still grinning. I love typing: The End.

[HINDSIGHT NOTE: The Elf Oak Box eventually turned into Winterwood and came in at 133,000 words.]

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Open Submissions for Anthologies – a guest post by Joshua Palmatier

ApocalypseZombies Need Brains’ latest Kickstarter started up on August 7th and with the possibility of an open call for submissions if we fund, I thought that I’d spend some time talking about how you can better your chances of getting from the ZNB slush pile into one of our anthologies.  The competition is pretty steep and only getting worse with each Kickstarter.  (Last year, PORTALS had 550 submissions alone and we ended up taking seven; we had a lot of anchor authors for that one, though.)  I’ve talked before about how to brainstorm your way to an idea that isn’t standard, but also isn’t so far out there it’s off theme.  So let’s suppose you already have an idea of what you want to write.  A core concept.

As you can guess, that’s not enough.  We get a ton of stories submitted where, when I’ve finished reading the story (and I usually read all of the stories all of the way through, just in case), I end up saying, “OK, that was a cool concept, but there isn’t a story here.”  In essence, the author wrote out their idea, but they haven’t yet taken the time to develop a story around that idea.  And that’s key.  It’s extremely rare for ZNB to accept a submission based on idea alone.  This is why we rarely accept stories less than 2500 words or flash fiction–it’s not that the writing isn’t good, it’s that it’s difficult to get across a completely developed story in that short a timespan.  It’s possible (I think we’ve accepted one or two in our past anthologies), but it’s rare.

The biggest element missing from the “only an idea” story is a character arc.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s usually a character in the story, but the character is only there in service to the idea.  The story needs to be turned around.  The idea should be in service to the character, causing the character to change in some way throughout the course of the story.  That’s what’s typically missing in the stories that I read from the slush.  I want to be drawn into the characters and change along with them.  So the character needs to be interesting, sympathetic, and above all engaging.

After capturing my attention, you need to hold it, so the pace needs to be fast.  Remember, this is a short story.  Each word needs to matter, so keep things tight and focused.  Don’t let yourself wander into subplots and secondary threads or secondary characters, as you would with a novel.  Keep yourself on track with the main idea.  You can always expand the story later on into something larger if you want, but for now, focus.  If you’ve already written the story, then during revisions you need to look at the main idea and cut everything else out.  Narrow the story down to whatever is needed for the idea and the character arc.  Everything else must go.  Tighten, tighten, tighten.

Along the way, make sure that the character arc you’ve developed actually relies on the story concept.  They can’t be two separate threads that you just happen to have woven into one story.  If you remove the cool idea from the story, does the character arc still hold up?  If the answer is yes, then you haven’t really found the story behind that idea.  The character arc should collapse when the cool idea is removed, making the story impossible.  The character’s change during the course of the story should come about BECAUSE of the cool concept.

So, when thinking about submitting a story to ZNB’s slush pile, start with a cool concept.  Build an engaging character arc around that concept.  Mesh the two together.  Tighten the prose.  Let it sit for a few weeks, then go through and tighten it again.  Because that’s what we’re looking for:  a tight, focused story where a cool concept and interesting character arc merge into a stunning work.

Now, take these words to heart, sit down, and write that story.  Good luck!

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This post is brought to you by the Zombies Need Brains Kickstarter currently going on at tinyurl.com/ZNBApocalypse. Swing on by and check out the details for the three new anthologies we’re hoping to fund, including APOCALYPTIC, GALACTIC STEW, and MY BATTERY IS LOW AND IT IS GETTING DARK. Pick a reward level that suits you and back our project!  We can’t do an open call for submissions unless we get funded. And once we are funded, sit down and brainstorm a cool idea, write it up, and send it in!

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CandidJoshJOSHUA PALMATIER is a fantasy author with a PhD in mathematics.  He currently teaches at SUNY Oneonta in upstate New York, while writing in his “spare” time, editing anthologies, and running the anthology-producing small press Zombies Need Brains LLC.  His most recent fantasy novel, Reaping the Aurora, concludes the fantasy series begun in Shattering the Ley and Threading the Needle, although you can also find his “Throne of Amenkor” series and the “Well of Sorrows” series still on the shelves.  He is currently hard at work writing his next novel and designing the kickstarter for the next Zombies Need Brains anthology project.  You can find out more at www.joshuapalmatier.com or at the small press’ site www.zombiesneedbrains.com.  Or follow him on Twitter as @bentateauthor or @ZNBLLC.

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Generating Ideas – a guest post by Joshua Palmatier

Apocalypse

The three new themes for Zombies Need Brains’ Kickstarter have been revealed (apocalypses, food, old tech finding new life) and I thought I’d offer up a suggestion here for how to generate an idea that fits a theme AND make certain that it’s an idea that will stick out in that slush pile.  After all, you don’t want to submit a story with a fairly standard concept fitting the theme, since we’ll receive a ton of those.  And while we take a few “standard concept” stories for each theme, we usually only take one or two and you don’t want to be in competition with two hundred other people who used that same idea in some form.  Much better to submit a story that’s NOT standard and that catches our attention, one that is unlikely to have been used by anyone else.

Here’s the suggestion/writing tip for generating this non-standard idea that fits the theme:

  1.  Sit down, open up your notebook or blank file, and set a timer.
  2.  Spend the next half hour trying to come up with 24 ideas that fit the theme.

Don’t think about it, just brainstorm.  Write out whatever idea comes to mind.  Don’t worry if it’s standard or not, if you’ve seen it in a hundred other short stories or if it’s just way too crazy.  Let your editing brain go and dive completely naked into the creative pool.  And don’t worry about what the “story” may be yet (unless that comes along for the ride with the idea).  Focus on ideas.  Story can come later.

This process should start out in a frenzy of activity for the first ten minutes.  This is likely because the first ten ideas that pop to mind will be what we’d call standard concepts, the ideas that have been done to death by everyone and their cat.  That’s fine.  Let the frenzy drive you into the next ten minutes.

This is where you’ll start to slow down and where your brain begins to stretch and reach for those non-standard ideas.  You’ll probably smile with some of the thoughts that flit through your mind here.  Or maybe groan and mumble, “That’s stupid.”  Or maybe you’ll mutter, “Ooo, that has potential.”  You’ll maybe get another ten ideas jotted down here.

The last ten minutes will probably seem like forever, because this is where you REALLY have to stretch.  You’ll probably be tapping that pen against your chin as you think.  Every time you get an idea, you’ll laugh hysterically because IT’S JUST TOO INSANE!  But write it down anyway.  Reach for more!  Insanity is fun!  Embrace it!  Drink it in and gargle!  Don’t choke!

You may not reach 24 ideas.  You may end up with more.  The goal is to force yourself to brainstorm and stretch beyond your limits and beyond those standard ideas.  In general, the first ten ideas you’ve scratched out will BE those standard ideas.  The last ten will be just too crazy to really contemplate.  They probably stretch far beyond the theme and wouldn’t make the cut because of that.  But right in the middle–those elusive four in the center–you’ll likely find some great ideas that fit the theme but AREN’T ones that will appear in a hundred other slush pile submissions.  Those are the ideas you should focus on and start developing stories around.  Those are probably the ideas that have the greatest chance of getting picked for the anthology.

This isn’t an exact science, of course.  The best idea on your list may come earlier or later.  Obviously you need to consider each idea individually and decide whether it has merit or not.  Sometimes, trying for that totally insane idea works.  Sometimes, with the right twist, that standard idea will stun us.  YOU’VE got to make that final decision on what idea works for YOU, because if it doesn’t excite you, then it’s already failed.  Find the idea that speaks to you the most.  That will generate the best story.

Then sit down and write it, revise it, polish it up, and send it in.  We can’t wait to read it!

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This post is brought to you by the Zombies Need Brains Kickstarter currently going on at tinyurl.com/ZNBApocalypse. Swing on by and check out the details for the three new anthologies we’re hoping to fund, including APOCALYPTIC, GALACTIC STEW, and MY BATTERY IS LOW AND IT IS GETTING DARK. Pick a reward level that suits you and back our project!  We can’t do an open call for submissions unless we get funded. And once we are funded, sit down and brainstorm a cool idea, write it up, and send it in!

******************

CandidJoshJOSHUA PALMATIER is a fantasy author with a PhD in mathematics.  He currently teaches at SUNY Oneonta in upstate New York, while writing in his “spare” time, editing anthologies, and running the anthology-producing small press Zombies Need Brains LLC.  His most recent fantasy novel, Reaping the Aurora, concludes the fantasy series begun in Shattering the Ley and Threading the Needle, although you can also find his “Throne of Amenkor” series and the “Well of Sorrows” series still on the shelves.  He is currently hard at work writing his next novel and designing the kickstarter for the next Zombies Need Brains anthology project.  You can find out more at www.joshuapalmatier.com or at the small press’ site www.zombiesneedbrains.com.  Or follow him on Twitter as @bentateauthor or @ZNBLLC.

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Dublin Worldcon 2019

This was my third Worldcon. I attended in 2014 in London, and 2017 in Helsinki.

The first thing to note is that Worldcon is BIG, with thousands of fans, authors, publishers and industry professionals with an enormous choice of panels, events, readings, kaffeeklatsches, signings, book launches, and, of course, the big events like the Hugo Awards ceremony (Sunday night) and the Masquerade (Saturday night). I went to the Hugos, but not the Masquerade as that was the night my publisher (DAW) had a dinner for DAW authors (DAWthors?).

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Okay, starting at the beginning.

I flew into Dublin on Tuesday morning and met up with my friend C at Dublin airport, Aer Lingus being kind enough to delay both our flights by 30 minutes, so neither of us was hanging about for too long. We used the airport bus which dropped us right outside of our hotel. The Hilton Garden Hotel on Custom House Quay is right on the riverside. It still being early, we dumped the bags in the hotel lock-up and did the Hop-on Hop-Off bus tour without hopping off. It was really just to say we’d done it, since we knew we wouldn’t be taking time for tourist stuff. On this occasion we hadn’t built that into our schedule like we did in Helsinki. The bus whizzed us past all manner of famous places almost too quickly to see them, but that was OK. We arrived back in time to check in. Hiltons are fairly reliable and we were comfortable enough, though it was a half-kilometre walk to and from the conference centre and there was no hotel attached.

Arriving early gave us the opportunity to check into the convention on Tuesday night with no queues. The folks who checked in on Wednesday and Thursday weren’t so lucky.

On this occasion I’d booked a table for Milford SF Writers, to promote the Milford Conference, workshopping week, the Writers’ Retreat and our bursaries for writers of colour. I’d managed to order a mini version of the ubiquitous pull-up stand which fitted into my suitcase. Though I have to say that stand and glossy leaflets weighed my luggage down somewhat. We set it up on Wednesday morning and then ran into Charlie Stross and had a pleasant coffee and catch-up at one of the local coffeeshops.

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If I had one criticism of the event it was the amount of queueing for EVERYTHING. Queues for panels, queues for tickets (free) for events with limited space. Not everyone who wanted to could attend the Hugos, so tickets became available at 1.00 on the day of the event. That meant that I didn’t get into the panel I wanted to see that also started at the same time. By the time I collected my tickets and got to the panel, hoping to slip into the back of the room, it was full.

Having the Milford stand did give a few of us somewhere to retreat to when the crowds became overwhelming and we spoke to quite a few potential Milford attendees. Milford is always sold out, but it’s nice to get new faces in there.

I attended some good panels, though I’m not going to list them all. Special mention for a late addition to the programme – ‘Writing Thomas the Rhymer: balladry and storytelling’ with Ellen Kushner, which turned out to be half talk and half Ellen singing some of the ballads that inspired her. I’m a sucker for ballads.

Friday was my day for doing panels rather than attending them. I had three panels all at the Point – one stop away from the Convention Centre on the Luas Red Line. There were panel rooms in the Odeon and in the Gibson hotel next door. Unfortunately there was nowhere to hang out (that I found) so though I’d planned to be there for the whole day I ended up going back to the CCD between my first and second panels. Hopefully they sorted out their queueing failures as the weekend wore on but the queues were such at the Point Odeon, that people who had arrived in plenty of time didn’t get into the panels until ten minutes after the start time. Since panels MUST finish ten minutes before the next panel is due to start, that cut down a 50 minute panel to 40 minutes.

Here are my panels:

You read my mind’: telepathy in SFF romance
Whether it’s the ability to read your partner’s mind or mutual telepathic communication, telepathy adds the potential for both conflict and closeness in a romantic relationship. In what ways do science fictional and paranormal romance novels use telepathy? What are the potential pitfalls and complications of writing a mind-reading character? With Donna Maree Hanson (M), Sarah Rees Brennan, Chelsea Mueller, Jacey Bedford

Unwritable Stories
Every author has that perfect story that just refuses to be written. From willful characters to wandering narratives and gaping plot holes, our panelists share the stories that would have even defied the Greek muses themselves. What made these stories so hard to write? What traps did they hold? And whatever happened to those old untold tales? Will they ever see the light of day or will they remain locked away in a hidden drawer? With Karen Haber, Nina Allan, Jay Caselberg, Michael Swanwick, Jacey Bedford

Only Happy When it Rains: Water in SFF
Water has provided SFF with a rich source of inspiration. Its presence (or absence) colours every climate change story, gives us drowned worlds, desert planets, or eerie low-gravity waves on a terraformed Mars. Water is the setting for journeys of 20,000 leagues and contact with minds beyond our own. This panel will discuss how water can shape themes, settings, and narratives in SFF stories. With Jacey Bedford (M), Paolo Bacigalupi, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Dr Cat Sparks, James Patrick Kelly

I was moderating that last one. Unfortunately Paolo Bacigalupi didn’t turn up. I don’t know whether he missed the convention altogether, or just missed that panel, but there was no message to say he wasn’t coming. Luckily James, Cat and Adrian all had plenty to say and I got away with asking questions rather than providing answers.

During the convention I managed to have successful one-to-one meetings with my editor, and agent (who I usually talk to on Skype).

On Saturday I spent more time on the Milford stand, had lunch with a friend from Australia and managed to miss most of the panels I’d intended to see because I couldn’t face the queues and also because I spent time with friends. Saturday evening was the DAW dinner with editors Sheila Gilbert and Betsy Wollheim, plus authors – including Kari Sperring, Seanan McGuire, Michelle Sagara, Joshua Palmatier, Pat Rothfuss. Great company and delightful food at the Ely Wine Bar.

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On Sunday my favourite panel was: An army marches on its stomach, an empire on its gold. Fantasy economics. I even took NOTES! And then in the evening we attended the Hugos in the CCD auditorium. A posh frock event for some and casual for others. It didn’t matter, everyone enjoyed it. I hadn’t voted in every category, but it was interesting to see how my votes stacked up against the winners. My editor, Sheila Gilbert was once again up for Best Editor, Longform, but since she won it last year, she was sure she wouldn’t get it this year. Some people accepted gracefully, their speeches short and sweet. Others were witty and charming. One went off the deep end somewhat spectacularly (mentioning no names). But all-in all it was a lovely evening, and a great way to end the con (for us).

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The event went on into Monday, but C and I had booked return flights for Monday early afternoon, so with check-in times, we were heading for the airport by 11.00. Aer Lingus very kindly gave back the half hour it stole on the way in, by making my return flight half an hour late, too. Ah, the joy of travel.

Next year’s Worldcon is in Wellington, New Zealand. I’ve already bought my membership.

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My Other Journal in a Galaxy Far far Away

In 2008 I started a blog on LiveJornal (and later moved everything over to Dreamwidth, but that’s another story). These days I mostly keep Dreamwidth for book and movie reviews, but in those early days my blogs were much more diary-like. Here’s a series of entries from early 2008. It’s a perfect illustration of thoughts of a (then) unpublished writer. The book I’m talking about revising in 2008 was written in 1998, bought by DAW in 2013 and came out in 2014. Only sisteen years from first draft to publication!

11th February 2008

Ah the joys of titling your work.

I’m currently working on a fairly major revision of the book that started out as Cora (working title). I’ll chew through the reasons for the revision in another post, but… the title is still driving me nuts.

It’s a space-opera / colony adventure with bad corporations, black-ops fleets, aggravating settlers who mean well but do the wrong things, some cool techy stuff, some romance, a lot of betrayal and a some rollicking action. No hard science.

Cora was only ever a working title – it’s a bit too McCaffreyesque (‘Damia’ etc.). So before the darn thing got submitted to HarperCollins (that’s a long story) I changed the title to ‘Written in Dust.’  It’s from a quotation: “Who then to frail mortality shall trust, But limns on water, or but writes in dust,” – Francis Bacon (1561-1626). Since the whole novel has an overarching theme about the nature of trust, it seemed like a good title, if a little pedestrian.

Then I figured that a better title might be ‘The Settlement’ because a) it’s about a settlement / colony and b) at the end the good guys have to make a deal – a settlement – with the bad guys because they’re in a lose/lose situation and they manage to pull a win out of the hat after some hijinks.

That was the stage I was at until a couple of nights ago. I marginally preferred ‘The Settlement.’ [personal profile] maeve_the_red preferred sticking with ‘Written in Dust’ and [personal profile] mevennen, who read an early draft at Milford in 1998, probably still recognises it as ‘Cora’. And then I was half listening to a song on TV and a phrase leaped out at me that really fits. How about ‘Empire of Dirt’?

Go on. What do you think of it as a title? ‘Empire of Dirt.’ It’s from the song ‘Hurt’ by Nine Inch nails, written by Trent Reznor.

Okay, back to the revision, whatever it’s called.

-o0o-

14th February 2008

Spent all of today very productively revising the multi-titled novel. I think I’m leaning towards Empire of Dust  – a combination of Written in Dust and Empire of Dirt.

Anyhow, it’s coming along nicely, though this started out as a not very big revision and it’s become huge. I’m going to have a new ending to write and I’m going to need to make sure it’s compact enough that I can lose at least 20k from what’s currently in the file. I don’t think that will be a problem as the way it’s shaping up, the ending will be much snappier and less convoluted.

I’m also still agent hunting and have discovered a new one, just taking on, whose quoted likes very much parallel my own. I’m going to send a query. It’s several years since I parted company from the last agent and about time I got my act together to get a new one.

-o0o-

18th February 2008

I just lost three scenes from the new ending of ‘Empire of Dust’ with a single careless click. All today’s work, in fact. I thought I had Word set to save automatically every ten minutes… in fact I did… so WTF is it?

I hate bloody Microshaft. (Okay, it’s my fault, but I still hate bloody Microshaft!)

Nuff said.

-o0o-

26th February 2008

I finished the new ending to Empire of Dust.

Let me say that again.

I FINISHED the new ending to Empire of Dust.

It didn’t end quite how I thought it would end and I’m definitely set up to commit sequel if I ever get the opportunity. I saved a minor character I had previously killed and killed one who had previously come through unscathed. I rewarded my characters with their very own cool spaceship and a new home on an underworld space station. I left a slight loose end in case I want to go back to it, but it’s not so loose as to be annoying (I hope.)

I’ve now got a couple of incidents and a little bit of set-up in the earlier part of the book that were echoed in the previous ending and have now been orphaned, but I’m not sure that matters. I need to ask my beta-readers. It also means that one of the plot threads which previously ran right through to the final solution now ties up a little earlier and the final solution is purely about the central conflict.

And I’m still liking the title.

-o0o-

And yes, I kept the title and this is how it ended up – with added sequels. Thank you, DAW.

Psi-tech trilogy

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