Sunday, December 20, 2009

Song of Scarabaeus - book cover

The cover for Song of Scarabaeus, out May 2010, ISBN 978-0-061-934-735.

Click to enlarge.

The artist is Christian McGrath and he captured Edie and the relationship perfectly.

The HarperCollins catalog website includes the following quote from Vonda N. McIntyre (a shorter quote of hers is on the back cover) - I was honored that she agreed to read my book and thrilled that she liked it.

“Sara Creasy is a new writer to watch, and Song of Scarabaeus is a novel to read and enjoy. . . . The biological speculation rings with truth and possibility, the terraforming-gone-wrong creates an environment of delicious creepiness, and Creasy’s imaginatively-constructed universe draws the reader in, to follow Edie and Finn’s quest for freedom.”

I must also thank Linnea Sinclair for the wonderful quote on the front.

I'll be revamping my website over the holiday season and also finishing off my book trailer using the book cover. Stand by!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

My first fan

Linnea Sinclair, who writes sexy science fiction romance/adventure novels (Gabriel's Ghost is my favorite), has added Song of Scarabaeus to her goodreads page with a five-star review! She also provided some lovely quotes to my editor that I think will end up on the cover of my book.

I haven't done much reading in the last 12 months and I really regret that - time to add Linnea's latest couple of books to my Christmas list.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Page proofs

Today the UPS guy delivered my page proofs for Song of Scarabaeus - exciting stuff! As a project editor I was on the other end of this process hundreds of times, but this is the first time I've played the author's role.

Page proofs are the typeset manuscript showing the layout exactly as it will appear in the finished book, but the pages aren't bound. These days, page proofs are created directly from the author's electronic file, so there's little actual typing involved.

The page proofs show the inside design of the book. For novels, design is a fairly simple matter (compared with text books, which is what I'm used to). My design uses a scarab icon on each chapter opening page, and a futuristic font for the chapter numbers and header (my name on the left - yay! - and the book title on the right). The relevance of the scarab is that my heroine Edie has an implanted scarab shell between her collarbones, and it has great significance for her.

So far, I've gone through the proofs checking that both the copyeditor's and my corrections from the copyedited manuscript were taken in. Next I have to read the whole thing for a final check - my last chance to make any changes (and at this stage, the author pays for changes other than typesetter errors). The publisher hires a proofreader to do the same thing - checking corrections were taken in, and giving the book a final read for other errors. As an editor, I am of course paranoid about any errors slipping through!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Perfecting the pitch

This weekend I had the opportunity to meet my agent Kristin Nelson, something that probably wouldn't have happened for a while except that my local RWA chapter invited her to be the guest speaker at our special end-of-year pitching workshop. Tucson's weather put on a good show, of course, but as there is nothing to actually do in Tucson we stuck to good food and good conversation, even bringing along the husbands for Friday night Thai. Overall I think we talked more mattresses than manuscripts - not at all a bad thing for someone (me) who craves a good night's sleep. Also, it was a pleasure to meet the bounding and occasionally squeaking Chutney!

At Saturday's meeting Kristin talked about perfecting the pitch (specifically in query letters). There's plenty about this on her blog, but to summarize:

Determine your plot catalyst (called the inciting incident in screenplay parlance). This is the event that sets the story in motion and should happen in the first 30 pages.

Shape the paragraph by adding the following:
a) Backstory elements
b) Other relevant plot elements
c) Character elements
d) A combination of the above

Aim for around 6-10 sentences. It should read like a back cover blurb.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sharing the love: homemade salsa

As I sit here eating corn chips and homemade salsa, my mouth burning with chili goodness, it occurs to me that I must share the love.

A few weeks ago, a friend was having a dinner party and asked everyone to bring something to put in a salsa. (As I didn't know what went in a salsa, I brought corn chips.) After watching her make the salsa, I went home and tried it myself. I didn't remember the recipe exactly, and it's not important. Just put all of the following in a blender in whatever quantities you like - mostly tomatoes, of course:

tomatoes (I use fresh, but canned will do)
chilies (I put three different kinds in mine, whatever the supermarket has)
onion (just a tiny bit)
garlic cloves
cilantro (a.k.a. coriander for Australian readers) (use lots!)
lime juice (I prefer more rather than less, because I love citrus)

Pulse until it becomes a mulchy mess and EAT.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Time to lop

Mailed back my copyedits today - extraordinarily expensive but it's tax deductible. Also, extraordinarily slow. It will arrive on the date of my deadline, assuming it's not delayed.

Now I'm nervous about all the things I forgot to change, because I won't get another chance.

But overall, it feels good to be DONE with book 1.

Book 2 is not behaving at the moment. I can see I'm going to have to write about 25,000 words extra on the back end and lop the same amount off the front end to fix the pacing. For this reason I've spent the last couple of days outlining instead of writing. I do love outlining and plotting (I even love writing synopses - yes, it's true) but it doesn't make the manuscript grow longer.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Working on the copyedited manuscript

I received my copyedits yesterday--a printout of the Word file with Track Changes showing. HarperCollins uses the Word document itself for typesetting (rather than re-keying... does anyone still re-key these days?) so someone in-house will "accept" or "reject" the copyeditor's corrections and take in any additional changes that I make.

For anyone wondering what this stage entails, here's how I approached it.

Firstly, I read through the covering note, house style, and all the CE's comments and corrections to check the extent of the job. The manuscript has been coded, which means codes are added to things like line spaces and chapter numbers to instruct the typesetter.

There were a few typos (let's blame Word, which stopped displaying errors after my document reached a couple of hundred pages), a few queries for "sense" (where something wasn't clear to the CE) and lots of house style things like hyphenation. Overall, the CE did a thorough job and, fortunately, there wasn't a lot for me to think about.

Then I went to Office Max and bought a pack of erasable Crayola colored pencils (because the instructions from HC told me to use a colored pencil) and a sharpener and some sticky notes. I never use pencils if I can help it because I don't like how they drag on the paper. As an editor I tried a mechanical pencil but kept breaking the point, so I was stuck with a grey-lead and frequent use of a pencil sharpener. I much prefer using ballpoints.

Note to self: Don't buy erasable colored pencils again! Although being able to erase is useful, the lead itself is chalky and crumbles as soon as you sharpen it.

Anyway, the next thing I did was curl up on the coach with my red Crayola and deal with the CE's comments and changes, adding sticky notes to anything that needed further attention. I gritted my teeth at the addition of serial commas, which as a reader I find distracting (especially in fiction), but the Chicago Manual of Style likes it so HC likes it.

Then I went to the computer and opened up my manuscript file. In the weeks since it's been out of my hands, I've made additional changes to that file (using Track Changes), so I copied all those changes into the hardcopy set.

Last of all, I went through the sticky notes and sorted those out. In four places I added a couple of sentences either for clarity or to make changes necessitated by the sequel, so I typed those in a new document and printed out each addition on a separate page, marked, for example, 77A for the insert on page 77. On page 77 itself I wrote "Insert 77A" in the appropriate place and slotted in the insert page behind it. This is all per HC's instructions but in any case it's the standard way to do things.

Oh, and I also worked on the dedication and acknowledgements. I'll go through everything one last time before sending it back--my deadline is October 6th but I think I'll be done before then.

The next time I see Song of Scarabaeus it will be as page proofs. At that stage it's too late to make changes (other than actual errors) because it's expensive to reset lines, paragraphs and sometimes entire pages when the text flow is altered. After 11 years as an editor, I can testify that this doesn't actually stop authors from fiddling with their pages...

One more thing: I went back to my electronic file and copied over all the changes, so I have a complete updated version. Next it's off to Kinko's to photocopy the hardcopy before returning it.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Today is Samuel Johnson's birthday. He was born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, in 1709, and is famous for writing the seminal Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, 150 years before the Oxford English Dictionary came into existence. Literary critic, poet, essayist, editor and more, he was cynical, often depressed, and frequently amusing, and is allegedly the second most quoted person in the English language (after Shakespeare).

There is a family legend that we are descended from Johnson's family (not from the man himself--he had no offspring--but from an uncle or brother or something). My maternal grandmother's name is Johnson, and that is the sole support for this rumor, but who knows... it might be true.

Coincidentally, I was born in Lichfield and lived there until the age of four. I revisited this gorgeous town a few years ago, with its three-spire cathedral and tudor buildings, and the house--now a museum--where Johnson was born.

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." - Samuel Johnson

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Words and blurbs

I found out I'm getting my copyedited manuscript back on 22 September. So my goal is to finish book 2 first draft by 21st, spend a few days cleaning up book 1 (whatever they allow me), which means a few days' rest from book 2, and then spend October revising book 2.

I've set myself the goal of 3000 words a day, which gives me a lot of leeway, but leeway is good. Today I'm at 1471 words so far. Made dinner for MCP and now we're both settled in to spend the evening writing.

Meanwhile, I'm excited about two authors who have agreed to read my book and - if they like it - blurb it. Meaning that they provide one of those quotes you see on the cover. I'm heading into the business end of publishing, the end you never see or really think about when you're writing the book. I have worked in publishing since the mid-90s so I know what goes on, but not specifically for fiction... and never as the author.

Having said that, tonight all that matters is words on the page. Time to get back to it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Writing is its own reward... must be, because I just went to the grocery store with a long list and yet left without a Toblerone.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Toblerone time

I wrote almost 9000 words on Saturday, which I think is my second-highest record. The morning session was punctuated by a tangello and some cookies. In the afternoon I worked non-stop.

Got home on Sunday morning after successfully evading Border Patrol (last year I wasn't so lucky) and did a million other things, like making my poor depressed husband lunch (nice to know I was missed). Determined to cross the Toblerone threshold, I buckled down this evening and wrote a couple more thousand words, bringing my total for the weekend to 10,994. That's good stuff, at least in terms of sheer wordage. The words themselves are going to need a lot of work, of course.

Must sleep.

And there are no Toblerones in the house, which isn't an unusual state of affairs, but it's a bit of an anti-climax.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Setting a target

So today I wrote 2000 words, which, okay, isn't great, but it's on target. Then I went through the rest of my scrappy manuscript (that I wrote ages ago) slotting various bits and pieces into place and deleting the repeated or no-longer-relevant stuff... and my final word count now is less than it was two days ago! That's disheartening.

On Friday I'm off on a writing retreat with my RWA buddies - this is the third time we've done this. The point is to brainstorm each other's plots, but I do not need any new ideas for this book and I don't want to put my mind on anything else right now, either. A few others are in the same boat - we just want to get lots of writing done - so I'm going to lock myself in a room on Saturday with like-minded individuals and buckle down to write.

Another Aussie Eos author

Tracey O'Hara is a fellow Aussie author (okay, I'm a fake Aussie, but still) (and also, she's not a fellow and neither am I) with fellow publisher Eos Books. Tomorrow she chats live on Romance Radio at 5PM, which is 2PM for me and... something like 7AM for her. I don't often read paranormal but my critique partner Sherrill Quinn writes paranormal romance for Kensington and her stuff is sexy and action-packed, so I'm getting the hang of this genre!

Tracey's debut novel is Night's Cold Kiss.

Canada ahead of the game

Look what I found on Amazon Canada...

I'm going to have to create a new label for this. In honor of Rove McManus, What the? But still, it's very nice. :)

They also have a listing for the sequel, along with release dates (which don't match what I was told, but I'm not complaining).

Sunday, August 23, 2009


I just spent $59.98 at Amazon. All books, all new. I removed Guitar Hero Aerosmith from my cart.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A recipe

Had a power outage for 3 hours this morning while some very agile men climbed the huge tree out the back of our street and lopped off half its branches to keep them off the power lines. I was worried something would go wrong and I'd be unable to use the oven this evening, because Friday night is... pizza night!

I never ate a pizza in America that I liked, at least compared with the Mexicana from Gabriella Pizza (Carnegie) so I started making my own. I used to buy the base and do the toppings myself, but I now make them from scratch and they are delicious. Here's how you do it.

Turn on the oven to 450F and leave to heat up while making the dough.

Make the dough using quick-rise yeast and bread flour and leave to rise for 30 minutes.

While dough is rising, spray pizza tray with oil and prepare the toppings. This takes exactly 30 minutes.

Sharpen a knife and cut cherry tomatoes into slices. Place in bowl with extra virgin olive oil and crushed garlic.

Open can of pineapple tidbits and put in a sieve to drain. Drink some of the juice because it's good.

Chop red bell pepper. Scoop a few pitted kalamata olives out of the jar and chop. Scoop a few julienned sun-dried tomatoes out of their jar and leave to melt (because they've been in the fridge and have congealed into a godawful mess).

Take a serrano chilli pepper out of the tub in the freezer, run under hot water for a bit, and chop.

Divide the dough into four, freeze three lumps in sandwich bags, and roll out the fourth. Cut in half. Note, MCP gets the "bigger half". Stretch dough into two thin rectangularish shapes and place on pizza tray.

Assemble da pizza! Oh, first get together all the things you forgot, like the pepperoni from the tub in the fridge. Give one slice to dog, who is telepathically aware of the moment you removed said tub from fridge and shows up with puppy-dog eyes. Check the fridge for basil. If you have some, it's probably last week's and black. Throw it out. Check the basil plant on the kitchen window sill. It's probably looking pathetic but may yield a leaf or two. If not, grab the dried basil or oregano from the spice rack, or both if you're feeling... I don't know. Italian. Don't forget the black pepper.

Give dog another pepperoni because she's not going anywhere.

Okay, now assemble da pizza. First the tomato+oil+garlic. Try to avoid too much of the juice that leached out of the tomatoes because it'll make the dough soggy. Then the bell pepper. Then it gets complicated...

Put the pineapple and pepperoni on MCP's pizza. Put the olives, sun-dried tomatoes and chilli on yours. Add herbs and black pepper to both.

Now for the cheese. "Cheese is not a garnish, it's an ingredient!" Heed these words of wisdom courtesy of MCP. Grab the shredded mozzarella from the freezer - you carefully divided it up into pizza-size portions last week because a packet in the fridge goes moldy in four days. Bash the frozen bag on the counter top until it breaks apart, and sprinkle on pizzas. Extra for MCP. Get the cheese box from the fridge and grate a little cheddar (the orange American stuff) on MCP's pizza. Remember at the last minute that you have a tub of feta in the fridge and you like it, and add that to your pizza. (Warning: It will roll off because you should have put it under the mozzarella.)

Place in oven and bake for 10 minutes.

Suddenly remember that you probably have anchovies in the cupboard... yes, you do, and you forgot to use them yet again. No delicious bursts of salty goodness for you.

While pizzas are cooking, clean up that mess you made, pour iced tea for MCP, and take out napkins, pizza wheel, forks and plates. This takes exactly 10 minutes.

Remove crispy golden pizzas from oven, put on plates and call MCP to dinner. Hide the bandaid on your finger because at some point in the last 40 minutes, you cut yourself.

While dog watches with puppy-dog eyes, eat!

Friday, August 21, 2009

D&A time

D&A means delivery and acceptance in publishing parlance. I D'ed my revised manuscript last Friday, and today it has been A'ed. No more edits! Well, there's the copy edit, and who knows what may crop up there, but the book is DONE. I'm so relieved.

Today I also saw the back cover copy, which needed some tweaking, and Diana, Kristin and I talked about cover quotes (that means sending out the manuscript to other authors in the hope that someone will like it and provide a nice quote for the cover) and I sent Diana my bio. Now I have to get a head shot. I know I was talking about this months ago, but I haven't been to a professional photographer since my grade ten school photo, and it's terrifying.

To congratulate myself for being D&A'ed, I am eating Haagen-Dazs's Five/Ginger ice cream straight out of the tub. (Dis iz permitted because I skipped lunch.) It's almost as good as my favorite ice cream in the world: gingerbread flavor from Jock's, Albert Park, Melbourne.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fuzzy no more

This evening, my editor Diana Gill emailed the cover for Song of Scarabaeus. When I saw it in my inbox, I confess I had to get MCP (that's hubby, for those just joining us) to look at it first while I hid my face in his shoulder... I was so nervous. I knew I would love it, because the artist is Christian McGrath and every one of his covers is fantastic. (See his website and be amazed.) But still, I knew that in the split second it took to look at the screen, Edie and Finn would suddenly become photoreal people after hiding fuzzily in my head for so long. I've known who they are for years, and now I know what they look like, too.

The great thing is, Christian sells prints of his covers from his site so I can order mine when it's up (and so can you). I'm waiting for permission to post it here, but I can tell you it has a lovely gritty spaceship interior as the backdrop, and then there's Finn looking all protective and hot, and Edie looking all sullen and cute.

I never describe these two in great detail because I prefer the reader to imagine what they look like. However, now that I see them staring me in the face, they're perfect. It's so good to meet them!


Friday's theatrical outing was sort of a celebration - I sent my revised manuscript off to my editor. Now I just have to hope the celebration wasn't premature. Next step is the line edit. Meanwhile, today it's back to work on book 2 and this afternoon I have my critique group meeting.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Exploding heads

I'm not one for exploding heads, but District 9 is a good movie and I can forgive.

Wikus is a hapless bureaucrat at a military contracting firm, sent into District 9 to serve eviction notices to one million aliens ("prawns") who've been living in squalor for 20 years ever since their mothership broke over Johannesburg. His opinion of the aliens varies from annoying pets to dangerous pests, depending on how they're behaving themselves. In his enthusiasm for routing out illegal activities in the slums, he exposes himself to some alien gunk and begins an icky transformation, and suddenly everyone's after him - to cut him up, to kill him, even to eat him.

That's when heads start exploding. Alien weapons will do that. But the more interesting story is Wickus' journey from a bumbling, casually racist desk jockey to a desperate hunted man forced to depend on the aliens, one in particular, for help.

The movie is filmed in gritty documentary style, for the most part, using news footage and interviews to effectively convey a sense of realism. Oh, and did I mention that it's gritty? I love gritty.

Like Moon, District 9 is a low-budget movie that relies more on story and character than special effects. I live in hope that the upcoming James Cameron movie Avatar, which cost many times more, strikes the same balance.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

An awesomely brilliant thing

Hubby, who calls himself MCP, and so shall I, read 11,000 words of my manuscript this evening while I watched House Hunters and Propery Virgins and The Unsellables and various other real estate shows on HGTV (to which I am addicted, ever since we moved).

The first thing we did when we met was exchange manuscripts. (Actually the second thing. The first thing was his correctly using a semi-colon and my being impressed by it.) He is a better writer than I am and will some day achieve huge success, and meanwhile he is a very useful person to have around when I've just written two new chapters that stink and Need Everything Fixed And A Pep Talk Too. He comes up with exactly the right word (slammed not pounded, that's perfect) and exactly the right twist to a mundane sentence.

In return, I edit his work by inserting too many em-dashes--because even though his semi-colon use impresses me, no one else needs to see those nasty things all over the place.

So now I have my 11,000 words back with Track Changes all over them and tomorrow there'll be no time for time for Real Estate Intervention or Curb Appeal because I have 11,000 words to polish.

It's awesomely brilliant to be married to another writer.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Writing and rain

I'm buried deep in rewrites at the moment. It's added 5000 words and I'm not sure that's a good thing. I have a few smaller changes to make by 14th August and then I can get back to the sequel, which is actually the book that's on my mind right now.

The monsoons are well and truly here. Me happy, dog unhappy. It makes little difference in Tucson, actually - humid heat replaces dry heat. It's still over 100 degrees, and no one leaves the safety of their airconditioned cars, houses and buildings. Walk around Tucson any time of the day, any day of the year, and you'd think it was a ghost town.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A foreign country

I saw Harry Potter and the Whatever this weekend and was thinking about writing a review but... eh. I guess I had my fill of boarding school stories when I was young (thanks, Enid Blyton) and I didn't get past the third HP book. I also skipped a couple of the movies.

Looking back now, I think I know how my love of boarding school stories (The Naughtiest Girl and Malory Towers series) morphed into a love of science fiction. I enjoy imagining new worlds, alternative societies and strange cultures - preferably in plausible settings. Boarding school was a big romantic mystery to me. My only source of information about the concept came from Ms Blyton, and those books were written in the 40s. ("The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."*) (I also like history books but my brain is like a sieve when it comes to remembering anything about history.) I guess I could've got hooked on travelogues to get my culture-shock fix, but my left-dominant brain also likes science. Mix the two together and you get speculative fiction.

Back to reality: The monsoons are here. It's hot and humid and our air con is broken.

*One first line I've never forgotten - from L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between, which we studied in Year 11 English lit.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Forty years on

(I wanted to post yesterday but Cox Communications is crap. It dies at the first clap of thunder.)

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The USA landed 6 missions and 12 men on the moon over a period of 3 years, and since 1972 no one has been back.

As a science fiction writer, I imagine a future where space travel is commonplace. Today, that future seems a very long way off.

When are we going back to the moon? When will we visit the next pretty bauble in the sky - Mars? In the 60s it wasn't too unbelievable to imagine that by the twenty-first century we'd have lunar shopping malls and a Martian Disneyland. Compare the state of technology then and now, and marvel at our lack of ambition and adventure.

Here are two ideas in the works about how to get to Mars and establish a base (after all, it takes 9 months to get there, so we'll be staying a while).

The first stems from Bush's 2004 Vision for Space Exploration initiative: we first build an outpost on the moon, both as a trial run for living on Mars and as a launchpad to the red planet. NASA estimates we may get to Mars by the 2030s.

The second is a quicker, cheaper method because it skips the moon altogether. Developed by the Mars Society, Mars Direct involves launching an unmanned Earth Return Vehicle ten months ahead of the manned craft, the Mars Habitat Unit. The ERV mines methane and oxygen from Mars, which provides the fuel for the return flight.

Either way - or some other way altogether - I hope we get there.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Man on the moon

Yesterday I saw Moon at The Loft, our local movie theater. We were in the upstairs screening room, which is even more loft-like than the lower. Small with fraying decor, and if you don't mind sitting up front you can lounge on bright red sofas.

I'd seen a couple of scenes from the movie online, before the musical score was added, so I already knew Moon was going to have a bit of a 2001: A Space Odyssey feeling about it. It certainly does feel retro. Director Duncan Jones also claims Alien, Silent Runing and Bladerunner as influences. The movie cost $5 million and is all the better for havng a low budget. The interior sets are wonderful, gritty and lived-in, just the way I like them. There are no expensive firefights or chase scenes - and really, who cares about those when the story stands on its own? Well, movie distributors care, so the movie will have no commercial success.

Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell), sole caretaker of Lunar Industries' mining operation on the far side of the moon that provides helium-3 for most of Earth's power needs, has two weeks left on his three-year contract. He's lonely and bored and can't wait to get back home to his wife. Gerty, a HAL-like robot that uses smiley faces to express emotion, is his only companion. Gerty is at first as sinister as you'd expect a robot voiced by Kevin Spacey to be, but admirably feigns compassion and other suitable emotions.

After an accident on the lunar surface, Sam wakes up in the infirmary with no memory of the incident. A few days later he recovers an injured man from a crashed rover - a duplicate Sam Bell in rapidly failing health. Sick Sam and Healthy Sam have to figure out what's going on - what the company is up to, whether there are any more Sam Bells, and what they're going to do about the situation.

There are no huge surprises, no twist ending, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. In some respects Moon reminds me of a watered down The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas (Ursula Le Guin's short story), although by "watered down" I just mean that the main theme is played out on a smaller stage. I hope Duncan Jones remains on the path of making thoughtful science fiction movies, because hardly anyone else is walking it.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Edit letter

Today my editor Diana Gill sent the "edit letter" for Song of Scarabaeus. The hardcopy with line-edits will follow in the mail.

The reassuring part of this process is that Diana says it does not need a lot of work. Of course, once my manuscript has been written, revised and done with, to my mind, any further changes feel like a lot of work to me. Most of the work will be on characterization, and for the umpteenth time I need to rewrite the ending a little.

I have a month to get this done, and then about 3 months to finish the sequel. And I have a date for publication: May 2010!

Friday, July 3, 2009

You say tomato...

When I first moved to the US from Australia and noticed the scarcity of 2-ply toilet paper, I intended to start a blog where I could log the everyday differences I came across as I settled in. (I never did get around to it.) I did not suffer a huge culture shock - it's the little differences that jump out at me. The following list is based on my personal experiences with living in the state of Arizona. Note: this is not a list of complaints, just differences. Other than the Vegemite issue, I love living here.

  1. Let's start with the obvious: Americans drive on the other side of the road. This isn't has hard to get used to as it sounds. What's hard is remembering to approach my car from the other side every time I get in it. 
  2. Americans have a quarter instead of a 20-cent coin, one-dollar notes (bills) not coins, and no two-dollar denomination. After 4 years, I still dread having to count change in public. For someone who didn't grow up with the coins, in addition to the 20/25-cent difference, it's somehow a much bigger problem than it should be to deal with the US dime (10c) being smaller than the nickel (5c), which is almost identical in size to the quarter. 
  3. The US mail comes on Saturday. This is a good thing. A fantastic thing is that you can leave outgoing mail in your mailbox, and like magic it gets picked up! But it's illegal to put mail into, or even touch, someone else's mailbox. I think they are booby-trapped. 
  4. US fruit yogurt is much too sweet. US cream is white instead of cream-colored. There are no brown eggs at my store. There is no custard powder anywhere. (This was the tragedy of two Christmasses ago, when I had to serve 16 people peach cobbler [crumble] with no hot custard.) 
  5. Milk and gas (petrol) come in gallons; fruit, veg and sugar come in pounds; make-up comes in ounces; maps come in miles. 
  6. Restaurant servings are huge, often coming with free biscuits, breadsticks or corn chips, and usually you don't have to ask to get water on the table. On the other hand, I once asked for water at Red Lobster and got a tiny, expensive bottle of Perrier (which I sent back). 
  7. Could these be the only three American things that are smaller than their Australian counterparts?—"large" eggs (which are tiny), dress sizes (yay!) and the chocolate biscuit section of the supermarket (criminal!). 
  8. US tampon technology sucks (sorry, it had to be said), while toilet-flushing technology rocks. (I'm referring to the noisy suck that completely clears out the bowl with 100% effectiveness, as compared to the random swishy business that goes on in an Australian toilet. However, half-flushes here are rare, which is a pity considering I live in a desert.) 
  9. You have to carry your registration and proof of insurance (two old-fashioned bits of paper) in the car with you, and when you buy a second-hand car you have to wait all morning at the DMV to register it and get a new licence (license) plate. Speaking of which, most cars don't even have licence plates on the front. 
  10. If you donate to charity or buy something online, you'll thereafter be inundated with free mailing labels, credit card offers, magazines (at least six a week) and even a free blankie for your dog. 
  11. You have to allow for sales tax at the register when purchasing from a store, as it isn't included in the listed price. In Tucson, state plus city sales tax is 8.1%. 
  12. Aussie cutlery is US flatware, manchester is linen, petrol is gas, jam is jelly, jelly is jell-o, mousse is pudding, biscuits are cookies, scones are biscuits, cheese biscuits are crackers, the main course is the entree, the entree is the appetizer, gravy is often white, and there is no Vegemite.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Crop circle mystery solved!

I don't write about aliens, although one day I may give it a try, but I love a good story about the supposed actions and motivations of planet Earth's alien visitors. They reguarly kidnap us ("us" being almost exclusively North Americans) and exhibit an extraordinary fascination with our rectums; they fly physics-defying craft over our planet for no apparent reason; and they use our paddocks as canvases for their art.

Or do they?

The BBC is now blaming stoned wallabies for crop circles in Aussie poppy fields. Outrageous! (The comments section of this article is as hilarious as the article itself.)

Recommended reading list:
The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan

Friday, June 26, 2009


Patricia Altner interviews Ann Aguirre on her blog today.

I read Grimspace, the first book in Ann's science fiction series about a "jumper", Jax, who navigates ships through grimspace (aka subspace, or what I call nodespace in my book), last year. It's a futuristic adventure romance novel that I was really excited to find, because at that time Kristin was shopping my book to publishers and Grimspace was one of the best examples of a book that was a similar genre to mine (meaning, "if you liked that, you'll love this!"). Plus it had a cool cover.

It's published by Penguin Ace, so we had high hopes for that editor. She said of Song of Scarabaeus: "It's solid and the author has talent... I enjoyed the writing," but rejected the book as being "too technical, with more science than I was looking for in an SF novel with romantic elements."

Definitely one of my nicer rejections, especially because I was aiming for a book that includes plausible science as an integral part of the story and the worldbuilding. I majored in cell biology and zoology (eons ago) and read Scientific American and Stephen Jay Gould for pleasure. Science, particularly biology and physics, fascinates me. I had great fun inventing a new science for Song, extrapolating from what I know about ecology, genetic engineering and retroviruses.

Having said that, my focus is always on the characters and the story - which is what I enjoyed about Grimspace, with its fast pace and lively dialogue. It's written in first-person present tense, which takes some getting used to but works really well. There will be four books in the series (book 2, Wanderlust, is already on the shelves) so check it out.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


I love Priority Mail envelopes, with their desperate little stripe that screams, Open me! Now! I got here in a hurry and I'm exciting! I received an exciting-looking Priority Mail envelope today and I opened it in a hurry. It was from my agent. It had a check inside.

My advance has arrived! (Well, half of it.) Actually, it may have come yesterday but did not scream loud enough, and I forgot to look in the mailbox because I was preoccupied with a million things to do around the new house, like shuffling furniture and unpacking boxes and putting this thing here and that stuff there so I can tame the obstacle course that aspires to be my living room.

So now I have an advance and a signed contract. The IRS is involved. I feel like a "real" writer... and I haven't had time to write a word all week.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Starry starry night

Here in Tucson, the night sky is an awesome sight. Thanks to the presence of the Kitt Peak Observatory just outside town, many suburban streets do not have street lighting - which means we see a lot of stars. When I moved here a few years ago from the other side of the globe, the first thing I noticed (after the absence of the Southern Cross) was that you can always see the entire moon here, even when it's a crescent. Its full shape is always visible as a circular shadow.

I'm terrible with constellations, but Orion is hard to miss - and it's visible in both hemispheres. I've learned to pick out a few more constellations now, as well as super-bright Venus and red Mars.

Living near both an airport and an Airforce base, we do of course see a lot of UFOs at night. It's fascinating how viewing an aircraft from different angles and altitudes, under different conditions such as cloud cover and other obstacles, can have such a major impact on your perception.

Tonight while walking the dog, we saw the most amazing shooting star. A green fireball exploded across the sky, trailing flames, then turned white and continued on like a flare. It covered a much larger arc than a typical shooting star and lasted about four seconds. It lit up the neighborhood. Incredible!

Bring on the scientists: The American Meteor Society website says that a green fireball means the meteor contained nickel.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Stories of yore

Today while packing I came across my old school exercise books from infant school (grades K-2). These attractive grey books were issued by the City of Birmingham Education Committee and came in various sizes, lined and unlined. We wrote in them our news and our creative writing efforts.

What I have learned from a quick browse... When I was five-and-a-half in Middles (first grade), I was obsessed with my baby teeth falling out, which they did with great regularity. My parents paid us a penny for each one (no tooth fairy in our house). I gave my "fat and natghty" brother for his 4th birthday all the letters of the alphabet (which I drew and cut into squares myself), in a homemade case wrapped in pink crepe paper. Someone gave him wood and glue and he made "a thing that he called a flying boat." As for my dad - "his name was Dennis when he was a little boy" and "he tells mummy off when she cuts her finger." (Now my husband does the same thing to me.)

In second grade I wrote in my News book, "When I grow up I am going to marry Andrew Cull he is my boyfriend." I don't think Andrew Cull knew about this plan. I wanted to be a teacher and teach "good children" who "are never going to the head teacher for a smake." Those were the days when smacks, wallops and canings from the head teacher weren't illegal. I wrote, "I wonder if I will like it when I grow up."

My second grade Creative Writing book includes stories with titles such as "The Ghost Ship," "The Magic Garden," "The Magic Shoes," "The Island of Magic," "The Island of Tiny People," "The Land of the Funny Faces," "The Day I Was Lost" (told from the point of view of a penny) and "The Invisible Pond," in which a fairy makes a pond invisible and the royal coach drives into it, angering the Queen. The fairy's mother admonishes the fairy with: If you don't make that pond back to normal I shall put you to death. The fairy complies.

If I ever run out of ideas, I could go back to my six-year-old self and see what she comes up with.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Today I learned who my cover artist will be (I don't actually know if I'm allowed to say, so I'll hold it in for now). I checked out his website and... I'm floored. His work - mostly urban fantasy and science fiction - is absolutely amazing. His style is gritty and moody, his characters are gorgeous. I'm so excited to see what he comes up with for Song of Scarabaeus.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Musical plots

Remember Jump? Not Van Halen, but the Pointer Sisters. It was playing in the car this afternoon and while it's a corny song, it's also a nostalgic one for me. Made me think about how music, good and bad, anchors certain moments in life - at least in retrospect.

I don't usually listen to music (or anything) while writing, but I've done a good deal of plotting while listening to one CD in particular: Jean-Michel Jarre's Rendez Vous. I don't listen to any other electronic music, but for some reason I ended up with Rendez Vous in my collection. 

I found the length (about an hour) ideal for running an entire "movie" of the plot through my head, even if I had no plot when I started. Plot arcs, scenes, emotions and other details emerge out of nowhere with little effort - no matter what the premise - because the musical pieces themselves form the overall structure of a story.

I've tried listening to instrumental movie soundtracks, as they usually include the same broad range of music styles, but unfortunately if I'm familiar with the movie, all my imagination comes up with is that movie. And I can't write at all to music with vocals, as my mind wanders to listen to the lyrics.

One of the pieces in Rendez Vous has an interesting history: it features a soulful sax, and was written for astronaut Ron McNair to be played and recorded in space. This never happened - McNair died in the 1986 Challenger disaster.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Vatta's War

I've been reading Elizabeth Moon's Vatta's War series. Currently finishing up book 3, Engaging the Enemy. The series revolves around Ky Vatta, daughter of an interstellar trading family, whose father gives her a ship after she's thrown out of Fleet Academy. The ship, though, is bound for the junk yard - not much of a first mission. Everything goes horribly wrong, of course, and by book 3 Ky is not so much trading as assembling a fleet of privateers to take on a bunch of pirates who are menacing the trade routes.

The books have a quasi-military feel but are mostly what I label "procedural" - very detailed descriptions of ship life (from the captain's perspective, anyway) including finances, trading deals and other interactions. The first third of the first book, for example, is simply a series of shopping trips to prepare for the voyage. The action amounts to only a handful of incidents in each book.

If I've made it sound kind of boring... well, this is not the usual guns-blazing all-out action you might expect from "sci-fi adventure", especially that with a military flavor, but I'm finding the series compelling for a whole other reason. The worlds are incredibly well realized, and it's easy and exciting to imagine what it might be like to live in them.

One gripe: no romance for poor Ky! She's too busy saving the galaxy...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cover story

"The Publisher shall consult the Author regarding the cover design..." Thus stateth my contract, and last week my editor asked me for cover ideas, so today I emailed her my "consultation." Basically, that means I scoured Amazon for sci-fi book covers and explained what I liked and didn't like about them.

In general I prefer a more stylized cover rather than a "scene from the book". The latter runs the risk of looking out of context and just plain bizarre, or alternatively too generic. I love hardware and hi-tech sci-fi stuff, but that typical "spaceship and planet" concept is wrong for my book. My idea is for something organic (since the story concerns alien ecosystems) merged with technology. If the title sticks, I guess there should also be a beetle on there somewhere.

In case the stylized thing doesn't fly, I listed scenes that could be illustrated. This most likely would include the main characters. In the book, I deliberately don't describe them in detail because I prefer books where the reader can imagine someone of their choosing in the main roles. But for the sake of the cover, I did provide descriptions, with photos of two people (a not-so-well-known singer and an even-less-well-known actor) who could (physically) fill the roles of Edie and Finn.

Now, of course, I can't wait to see what HarperCollins comes up with!

The most outrageous cover I ever owned was for an edition of John Wyndham's The Chrysalids. I haven't read the book in decades but have never forgotten the story. It concerns a post-apocalyptic society in which genetic imperfections are not tolerated. A group of children have to keep their telepathic skills secret in order not to face banishment or execution for this abnormality. The cover depicted... a green ant-lizard-monster.

In googling for this cover, I've discovered the book was titled Re-Birth in the USA. I also discovered very different covers from several other editions, so here they are...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Almost a real author

Kristin emailed my HarperCollins (Eos) contract today. After printing off 4 copies, signing, returning, and receiving an HC-signed copy back - can I at last call myself a "real author"? In any case, that's what my tax return will say next year and the IRS is The Authority on these matters.

The contract is for "two fast-paced, action-packed books of science fiction with a strong romance thread." The "tentative" title is Song of Scarabaeus, but considering how hard it is to spell and pronounce, I'm wondering if it'll stick...

We're heading off to Florida tomorrow for a few days - ahh, the humidity. Can't wait. I will pack my Alphasmart and try to survive.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Domestic rearrangements

My big non-writing-related news is that we have bought a new house! Exposed beams in the ceilings! Brand new kitchen and bathrooms! Swimming pool! Tomorrow and Saturday are the termite and house inspections, respectively, and assuming everything goes well we'll be moving in about a month. My husband Micheal wants to get a flat-screen TV, and I get to choose a new washer and dryer. I've already picked them out - they're sitting in my cart on the Home Depot website.

Micheal and I are not hoarders, so I feel like we shouldn't have much to pack. However, I know all kinds of junk will materialize once we get started, and that I'll be assigned sorting duties

And in writing-related news, I will have an office at last. Right now our computers and desks and paper-junk are side-by-side in the living room, visible in all their messiness to any guest who walks in the front door. I hate this set-up. Our new house has a third bedroom that we could use as an office, or we could screen off the large alcove off the dining area.

Most importantly, our new house has a linen closet and a cloakroom (well, the latter is also a closet).

One more nice thing: it's raining today, which is always a weird thing in Tucson.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

No contract? No peace!

I'm still waiting for my contract from HarperCollins. The hold-up revolves around the Google Partners Program that has been making publishing news lately, and so there needs to be something about it in the contract (as Agent Kristin tells me).  I admit this is all a bit over my head, which of course makes me all the more grateful to have an agent looking out for me.

But until I have that contract in my hot little hands, signed by both parties, I won't be able to convince myself it's all real.

Meanwhile, the sequel is plodding along. I keep putting off sharing it with my critique group (because my first drafts are so awful) but I've done that for long enough. Next time we meet they'll get a couple of new chapters. That is, a couple of fifth-draft chapters.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Living long and prospering

Saw the new Star Trek movie today. Lots of fun, especially the first half as the characters were introduced. Halfway through I suddenly realized - no Scotty! (Yet.)

They have messed with Trek canon just a bit, but this is explained by [minor spoiler alert] a time-traveling accident that means all of the movie's events happen in an alternate timeline. Very convenient when it comes to future movies, because they can basically do what they like.

There was a fair attempt to establish relationships and personalities, but I don't think it went far enough (particularly between the Big Three - Kirk, Spock & McCoy). Still, as an introduction it was fine.

But the funny-faced ewok? BAD.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

True crime

I always thought we lived in a nice neighborhood, but tonight just as we left the house to walk the dog, two police cars with lights spinning drew up and parked at each end of our quiet little street, and the police helicopter made a low pass overhead, spotlight blaring.

An ominous voice over the police car's loudspeaker ordered, "Return to your house!"

We did, locked the door, and waited a couple of hours before venturing out again.

I like writing about scary, dangerous situations, especially in the context of a sci-fi neverland, and who doesn't like to read that stuff? Living it - not so much.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Auction time

Go to Brenda Novak's site, where she's holding her annual On-line Auction for Diabetes Research.

I just headed over there to register and browse through the immense collection of offerings. Found some autographed books from one of my husband's favorite authors (which makes it sound like I have more than one husband... I really don't) so I bid on those.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


I've been keeping track of my total word count since I started writing the sequel - here's the graph. This shows daily totals rather than words written per day. The latter would be a bit more impressive, but I've been deleting so much of what I write that the total word count is rising very slowly. (Makes me grouchy.) That big drop a few days ago was a 17,000 word deletion... yikes!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What do you do?

House-hunting these past couple of weeks has given me several opportunities to say those words I've always wanted to say. We're looking for a house with a room that can be used as an attractive, conducive-to-writing office (as opposed to just a spare boxy bedroom with no view, or even worse a corner of the living room, which is our current situation).

Our two most promising houses so far do have nice writing rooms - one has a so-called "library" complete with built-in shelves and a sort of priest hole, and the other has a long bay window - both overlooking lovely gardens.

So anyway, each time we walk into a house, the first thing my husband says is "Where's your office?" Which makes the agent say something like "You work from home? What do you do?"

Which means I can say: "I'm a writer."

It would be more accurate to say I work part-time for a dot-com, as that's where the money comes from (the Eos contract is still in the works), but... "I'm a writer." I like saying that.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Publishing: intros, awards and deals

Today my editor, Diana Gill at HarperCollins, rang to introduce herself. It's great to finally make contact and learn a bit more about Eos and the process my book will undergo from this point forward.

Diana was excited about the announcement that Eos author Adam-Troy Castro has won the Philip K. Dick Award for Emissaries from the Dead. I'll have to take a look at that one.

And I was excited because my sale to Eos was announced today in Publishers Lunch! Kristin wrote the following blurb:

"Sara Creasy's SONG OF SCARABAEUS, about a young woman kidnapped by fringe world mercenaries for her ability to terraform planets and who must choose the life of her reluctant and permanent bodyguard over her freedom to Diana Gill at Eos, in a nice deal, in a two-book deal, by Kristin Nelson at Nelson Literary Agency (NA)."

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Over on PubRants, Kristin is blogging about her client Janice Hardy's YA book, The Shifter, and the rigmarole surrounding its title changes. I don't know if my book will get a title change (it hasn't been mentioned yet) but everyone I've met either mispronounces it or asks how it's pronounced. I'm not saying there's a right or wrong way to pronounce it, there's just the way *I* pronounce it (sca-ra-BAY-us). At a guess I'd say many don't know how to spell, i.e. google, it, either. Which means my title was probably a bad idea.

The book started life as Proximity Rho, which at the time was the name of the planet involved. This sounded science-fictiony but not at all interesting. The idea for the name Scarabaeus came from a beetle that makes a brief appearance in chapter 1. I changed the name of the planet and hence the title.

Always a good idea to google invented words, because there's nothing new under the sun. I did not take this advice. I now find that Scarabaeus is the genus name of the dung beetle. My biology degree let me down badly. Wikipedia: "The genus Scarabaeus consists of a number of Old World dung beetle species, including the 'sacred scarab beetle', Scarabaeus sacer. These beetles feed exclusively on dung". Okaaaaay...

Not that there's anything wrong with eating dung exclusively (if you're a beetle).

Scarabaeus is also a computer game "released for the Commodore 64 in 1985... The storyline features an astronaut and his dog [his dog??!] who become trapped in an Egyptian tomb..." Now this makes me all warm and fuzzy with nostalgia. Around 1984 my brother, sister and I bought a C64 (our dad paid for half). We never had an Atari or played Pong, but now we had a real personal computer! With a cassette tape to load up programs! I wrote a Basic program that played cricket (sort of) - my programming skills never progressed beyond that.

During one of my last rewrites of Scarabaeus, I decided to change the title to Song of Scarabaeus. The idea came from the main character Edie's experience of the datastream that she jacks into as part of her job. I knew when I started writing that I needed an analogy to describe this experience. For example, in The Matrix, Neo sees the code as vertical lines of glowing green numbers. In the novel Night Sky Mine by Melissa Scott, code is represented with holographic animals (hard to explain but it makes sense if you read the book).

I knew I didn't want a visual analogy so I went with an aural one. Edie "hears" the datastream as melodies and harmonies. When things are out of tune, she knows something is wrong. Every program has its own tune, or "song" - hence the title change, because the planet Scarabaeus is run by a sort of program, too.

When it comes to the names of characters and various other words I made up... that's a whole other post.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Last night we played Domaine (board game) for the first time. I grew up on Monopoly and Canasta. I never really got into computer gaming but we have several friends into board games and have a weekly opportunity to play. I am not great with strategy games so my two victories at Domaine must have been sheer luck.

Last week we played Giants (set on Easter Island, and I came last), which has the cutest game pieces I've ever seen. So many games these days cut costs by using wooden cubes for game pieces. We got into Puerto Rico last year, and I headed off to Michaels to buy beads to replace all the cubes that represent the various goods (coffee, indigo, corn, sugar and tobacco):

and purple glass pearls for the colonists (aka slaves):

I'm also writing my own game - science fiction, of course - but I think I need more experience with various game mechanics before I sort out exactly how mine will run.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Comfort TV and ethics

There's something very comforting about watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. I remember watching the first episode on video in the late 80s and thinking how stupid the space jellyfish was, but other than that I loved the series for the most part.

It's hard to believe how nostalgic it feels rewatching the show now. Has it really been 20 years?

I've watched most of Classic Trek, TNG and Voyager, and some of DS9 and Enterprise. The characters frequently face ethical issues that usually have or had analagous situations in real life, and I've come to the conclusion that Star Trek writers have some strange ideas about ethics. Last night on TNG, Picard had to decide whether to let 30-50% of his crew die in Nagilum's death research or kill everyone to spoil Nagilum's fun. He chose the latter, putting the ship on autodestruct, and fortunately Nagilum did not call his bluff. Aside from this questionable choice, the even more bizarre thing was the way Picard spoke admiringly to Nagilum at the end about the alien's sense of curiosity. "You may have powers beyond our capability, but we're sentient beings like you, and it's wrong to kill us to satisfy your curiosity." No, that's not what Picard said. Those are the words I'd have put in his mouth. Admiration for a would-be mass murderer is not an appropriate response.

Star Trek really does get it wrong sometimes.

I watched an episode of Enterprise last year that shocked me, and not in a good way. In Cogenitor, Trip is fascinated by an alien who is one of a small percentage of "cogenitors" among its species, a third gender required for reproduction, of equal intelligence but treated as nameless pets and denied basic rights. Trip teaches the cogenitor to read and to question. The knowledge leads it to wanting a better life, and it asks Captain Archer for asylum.

Archer's response is ridiculous - and I have to assume his reaction is the one the writers want us to agree with, given that Archer is the hero and Trip the dumb schmuck. He denies the cogenitor's request, and when the cogenitor kills itself he berates Trip for interfering. "You thought you were doing the right thing. I might agree if this was Florida or Singapore, but it's not, is it?" For Archer, what's good enough for humans is too good for other sentient beings. Respect for another culture trumps basic ethics. He's even pissed off about the non-existence of the baby the couple would have had. Instead of blaming himself for not saving a desperate person from a hopeless situation, he blames Trip for teaching it that it has rights.

I would hope that 150 years from now we'll have figured out that all sentient beings deserve fair treatment regardless of species. All sentient creatures are "people" regardless of their culture. Anyone who desires education and emancipation has as much right to those things as anyone else. So what if it wrecks relations between the Federation and an alien race? Why would the Federation want friendly relations with slavers anyway? So what if it leads to a cogenitor civil rights movement? Would that be a bad thing? That culture was broken and needed to be fixed.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sci Fi on TV and other thoughts

I heard the other day that Sci-Fi channel is changing its name to SyFy in July because the bigwigs think science fiction equates to nerds and geeks, and SyFy is sexy (makes me think of syphilis - oh well). Seems to me an excuse to show even less science fiction than ever.

Anyway, as I type the series finale of Battlestar Galactica is on. I watched the series in 1979 along with Buck Rogers in the 25th Century - I was easily pleased as long as spaceships were involved. I started watching the new BSG but lost interest because it seemed to revolve around a supermodel Cylon. So I don't have a clue what's going on in the finale (seems to be a lot of close-ups with people talking seriously to each other). I started googling a bit and landed on a page about Stargate Universe, which starts later this year. I thought the Stargate movie was dreadful but watched the entire TV show on DVD last year. I wasn't as interested in Atlantis.

In this new show, the third in the Stargate franchise, the crew gets stranded on a spaceship far from Earth and they have to fend for themselves (I'm not the first to call it Stargate: Voyager). I looked up the seven main characters (5 guys and 2 girls, of course) as I didn't recognize any of the actors' names, knowing before I even clicked on the IMDb links that the 2 girls would be super-hot and most of the 5 guys would be character actors (i.e. not hot).

I wasn't wrong.

I don't really have an opinion about this one way or the other, except to say I wish there were more female character actors (read "actresses over 35") allowed on TV. One of my favorite sci-fi women is Frances Sternhagen's Dr. Lazarus in Outland (with Sean Connery, 1981). I love the movie, too, although I'm probably in the minority there. It has a cool poster.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Earlier this year I switched to a part-time job working from home. Now that I'm home all day, I'm enjoying those delightful interruptions known as marketing phone calls. Recorded messages are ringing me up at least twice a day. Usually I hang up after 0.3 seconds, but I've twice pressed "1" to speak with someone. Both times, when I politely asked the human to remove me from their list, I got an aggressive "No!" and a dead line.

These are not companies I ever asked to call me. They're telling me things like my car warranty is about to expire ("This is your final warning!") or my credit card interest rate is about to increase ("This is your final warning!"). I don't have a car warranty or a credit card and I don't want either. Neither the recorded message nor the human ever identify which company they're calling from, so who do I complain to? How do I make it stop?

Meanwhile, I'm still getting my head around being a housewife and I fear I'm not doing a great job. This morning my husband had only one shirt to wear, which is all he needs but it's the one that's had a dubious stain on it through two washes. We ran out of iced tea yesterday, we're about to run out of milk, and I forgot to bring in the mail or refill a prescription. So right now I'm doing laundry and brewing tea while adding various "errands" (as the Americans call them) to my to-do list for tomorrow.

As for today, I'm ready to start writing!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Yesterday I workshopped the first two chapters of the sequel with my critique group. I met these ladies through my local Romance Writers of America chapter, although coincidentally I already knew one of them via an unrelated online newsgroup. (Small world - two women from opposite sides of the globe, both with an interest in writing, moved to Tucson in the same month a few years ago.) It feels good to be back in the swing of writing and workshopping. We meet every two weeks, and as well as critiquing chapter drafts, we sometimes brainstorm plots too. And eat chocolate.

Oh, my husband had a stroke of genius, as he often does, regarding the ending of the book. We often plot together while walking the dog in the evening. Maybe it's a kind of bedtime story for the dog (because I'm sure she's listening to every word). Anyway, I'm excited about this ending and the way it ties everything up.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The deal is on

This morning I accepted an offer from Eos (HarperCollins) for a two-book deal!!!! <-- Note excessive exclamation points. Song of Scarabaeus is going to be published! Here's a short blurb:

Edie Sha'nim has been trained since childhood by the oppressive Crib government to program advanced terraforming technology called biocyph seeds. She is kidnapped for her valuable skills, assigned a reluctant bodyguard, and coerced into working for mercenaries who steal biocyph and sell it to the outlawed Fringe worlds. They take her back to Scarabaeus, the planet she first visited seven years ago as a trainee, and her one terraforming failure. But Scarabaeus is no longer the serene and beautiful alien world she remembers...

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Double trouble

We now have two offers on the table - I get to choose! How exciting is that! I'll find out more details tomorrow...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

How I got my agent

Agent Kristin is on the verge of selling Song of Scarabaeus. I think it's really going to happen! Seems like a good time to tell my "How I got my agent" story.

By the time I had a manuscript that I deemed ready to send out to agents, my husband also had a (fantasy) manuscript ready so we did the research together. We gathered a list of about 30 agents who were asking for science fiction and fantasy and sorted them by preference. We prepared our query letters and submissions according to each of their specifications, and began mailing/emailing - starting at the top of the list.

By about a month later, I had five requests for partials. One agent didn't want simultaneous submissions (even on a partial) so I sent three chapters to the other four. This eventually resulted in three requests for the full manuscript. That was pretty exciting!

Then came the agonizing wait for what I felt sure would be three swift rejections. Two of the agents took about six weeks to get back to me (the third was very slow). And both rejected me. But both sent a long email explaining what they did and did not like about the book. They agreed on many points, so I knew they were on to something. Agent A said she'd reconsider after a rewrite. In writing to Agent B to thank her for her feedback, I mentioned that fact - and Agent B then said she would also reconsider after a major rewrite. Somehow I'd managed to turn a rejection into a "reconsider"!

Real life caught up with me at this point, and it was 13 months before I had finished the suggested changes. Partly this was because the changes necessitated many other changes, which stimulated new ideas, which created a mound of new rewrites. I also changed the narrator from first to third person and ran the entire book through my critique group, chapter by chapter, when we met every two weeks. Whew!

Agent B was my preferred choice and I resubmitted to her first. I reminded her of our previous correspondence and she requested the full. Three months later, when I was home sick with the flu, came The Call. Kristin Nelson offered me representation...

...and asked for more rewrites! But that's another story.

Kristin took on two new clients in 2008 and I'm honored to be one of them. And to think, it wouldn't have happened if I hadn't given her that little push that prompted her to say she'd reconsider a rewrite.

Most importantly, it just goes to show that you can score your dream agent by working your way up through the slush pile.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

First draft creator

I'm sure every writer wishes there was a way to get their brilliant thoughts into a Word document exactly as intended, perfect first time. Instead most of us labor away at a first draft, delete and rewrite endlessly, and then tinker (so-called "polishing") for far too long after that to end up with something that's not even halfway as fantastic as it was when our brains first thought it up.

There's no magic device to achieve the first stage -- the first draft -- but I have a tool that seems to work wonders: an Alphasmart.

It's a keyboard, nothing else, with six lines of text displayed in Courier font. No mouse, no formatting, very few editing tools (cut and paste, basically). It's these limitations that make it work for me -- I just write. I don't care if it's crap -- it takes too much effort with cursor keys to fix it anyway. (Using the computer, I spend most of my time going back to fix stuff I already wrote, which doesn't make the draft grow any longer.)

I can write at least 1000 words an hour like this, sometimes twice that. I know it's very rough stuff, but at least it's a draft. Writers write, then they edit. The Alphasmart stops me doing both at the same time.

(The Alphasmart is also a nifty travel companion -- light and robust, with a battery that lasts literally for months.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Choosing Star Wars

Kristin Nelson just blogged about The People Versus George Lucas - an independent documentary by and about fans (and ex-fans) of Lucas and the Star Wars movies. Like many who grew up with Star Wars, I was disappointed by the sequels. As the opening crawl of Episode 1 began, I held my breath at the words "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." only to feel my jaw drop in dismay when I read about the "alarming chain of events" with regard to taxation disputes.

I saw the second movie with low hopes but was let down nevertheless. I wrote a scathing review for the screenwriting class I was taking at the time. I remember scribbling on a notepad in the dark, wishing I knew shorthand, so I could later quote some of the awful dialogue between the lovebirds.

As for Episode 3, I've seen bits of it on TV but never paid enough attention to follow the plot.

Flashback to happier times... My dad took me and my brother to see the original movie in 1978. We children were given the choice - Star Wars with dad, or International Velvet with mum. My two sisters chose the latter - a "sequel" to the 1944 Elizabeth Taylor movie National Velvet. For some reason I picked Star Wars - perhaps because I wasn't quite old enough to have entered the "horse-mad" stage that many young girls go through.

We arrived 20 minutes late and sat in the front row behind a solid white barricade. Every time I rewatch the movie, I'm always surprised by the first few minutes that we missed, because my brain doesn't include them in my memory of the film. (Fortunately, in those days the movie ran in a continuous loop and you could stay as long as you liked, so we watched the start of the next showing to see the opening.)

We didn't go to the cinema much as children. I don't remember the movie having a huge effect on me (I don't think I even saw the next two at the cinema) but it's the only movie where I can recall exactly where I sat and exactly what the cinema looked like.

My favorite character was R2-D2. I had a tiny wind-up R2-D2 that may also have been a pencil sharpener. If only I'd anticipated e-Bay when I was ten years old, I would have held onto it...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Romantic elements

My book is currently on submission. My agent forwarded a strange comment this week from an editor (my science fiction has too much science in it) - which got me thinking about subgenres. I've heard from those who don't read science fiction that it's a limiting genre - it has to be about spaceships and rayguns and robots, right? The reverse is true. Science fiction is the most expansive genre there is because you can combine it with other genres and quite literally write about absolutely anything. You just need to include a "What if?" What if something about science, culture, or history was plausibly different from what we know now? (I say "plausibly" because the implausible, or more accurately the impossible, would push the story into the realm of fantasy.)

Song of Scarabaeus is science fiction with what I call "a touch of romance", or what the industry calls "romantic elements." (I use the former description because the romantic elements are very light - I wanted to allow room for development in a sequel.) Other subgenres include mystery, suspense, adventure, historical, literary, etc. Then there's "futuristic romance," which reads like a romance novel but in a sci-fi setting (the relationship is at least as important as the plot). Examples I've enjoyed are Linnea Sinclair and CJ Barry. I enjoy a good romance - in fact, I prefer to see a romance in just about any fiction I'm reading - and I belong to our local Romance Writers of America chapter.

And speaking of romance, it's Valentine's Day. I considered making my husband pink starship cookies but settled for something more traditional. I am Christmas-Cookiemaker Extraordinaire, but it was nice to try something different:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Last night I watched a couple of episodes of Morphed, the Nat Geo program that follows the evolution of one line of animals (dinosaur to turkey; land mammal to whale). The narrator has a gorgeous rich voice and sounds just like Worf's brother (but is not). Anyway, as a former biology major I love this kind of thing. The land mammal-to-whale story took millions of years but in Song of Scarabaeus I found a way to speed up "evolution" - quote marks used because it doesn't work the same way as normal evolution at all. It might be called "guided evolution".

And not guided in the sense of animal breeders creating new kinds of dogs through selective breeding. In Song, evolution occurs when tailor-made retroviruses alter the genes of plants and animals to change the organisms during their lifetimes. (These changes are also passed on to offspring.) This usually takes place on planets with very primitive life, organisms with short reproductive cycles, so an entire ecosystem can get a facelift in a few months or years.

The objective is to create an ecosystem suitable for human life - removing the toxins, balancing the oxygen and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, creating topsoil and nitrogen-fixing bacteria, and so on. At least, that's when things go right.

When things go wrong, anything can happen... anything my imagination can dream up!

Monday, February 9, 2009


Australia's southeast just had its worst day of bushfires on record, reporting 96 dead and hundreds of homes lost. My sister and her family live right in the middle of the affected area. They stayed with their home after spending days "preparing for World War Three," as my sister put it. Their home is mudbrick, not wood, and is surrounded by grassland, not trees. And they had a brick shed to retreat to if a grassfire (lit by burning embers) came through. As of today, the fire has moved through and doesn't seem to have hit their township.

All this reminded me of Ash Wednesday - Australia's previous worst bushfire disaster in 1983. Our family had just immigrated to Australia a couple of years before. My grandfather in England heard of the terrible fires on the news and called us to see if we were okay. We lived in the suburbs and could smell the smoke in the air, but were never in danger.

I was amazed he would think otherwise, but he had only the news reports to go by. He had no sense of the size of our city, the suburbs, or the proximity of the bushfires beyond that zone. It's hard to get a sense of scale when you're looking from the outside with limited information.

Friday, February 6, 2009


Joss Whedon has a new TV show starting next week, which reminded me about Firefly. I loved that show. My husband has the Serenity Role Playing Game book - he plays D&D but has never tried this game. We just like the pictures. My favorite part of the book - actually, the only part I understand because I don't play RPGs - is the plan-diagrams of various spaceships from the RPG 'verse.

Much of Song of Scarabaeus takes place on a ship, so I knew early on I'd need a diagram of it to keep directions and locations straight. Similarly, for an unrelated book I'm writing, I needed a plan of the huge house where my heroine lives. I was addicted to Lego as a child, usually making houses with the generic blocks that were more readily available in those days (these days it all seems to come in kits). Another addiction was drawing house plans, so all this is huge fun for me.

There's various software out there for creating house plans, although they're all modern of course and my story is futuristic. I ended up purchasing Punch Home and Landscape and it's pretty good. You simply draw the walls, windows and doors, add furniture and textures, and then "walk through" a 3D rendering of the house. (My system can't always handle the mansion I created...)

But now I desperately want the same kind of thing for creating spaceships. Or maybe I need to take a technical drawing class so I can draw blueprints like the ones in the Serenity book. Failing that, I'm stuck with my pathetic line drawings made in Word. Now don't laugh, but here's a deck of the Hoi Polloi, the ship from Song of S (click to enlarge).

This only includes the rooms actually mentioned in the book - there are various nooks and crannies, and of course the bulkheads are not 2mm thick as the diagram implies. The faint line around the edge is the outline of the lower three decks (topdeck is smaller).

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Permission to write crap

Until this week, I was an editor. I worked for 12 years in the publishing industry as a project editor and a freelance copyeditor, mostly in educational publishing. While this taught me a lot about publishing and writing, it's also turned out to be a hindrance. I can't turn off my inner editor.

When a writer is asked how one becomes a writer, a frequent answer (certainly the one I'd give) is that to become a writer you have to write. Write lots. And get something finished. Many an aspiring writer has a "bottom drawer" (i.e. computer folder) full of first chapters, myself included. You have to write something, finish it and then polish it.

Bear with me - these two thoughts are related: I have trouble finishing that first draft because I edit as I go. I hate leaving behind a sentence until I'm happy with it. I can't move on from a shoddy paragraph until its been edited to death. Rewriting a chapter until it satisfies me and moving on to the next is a major milestone. What this means is that even though I can write thousands of words in a day, my word count might rise only a few hundred or even go backwards.

I'm learning to overcome this. I have given myself permission to write crap. The important thing is to get that story transferred from my head to the Word file. No one else reads my first draft, ever. I wouldn't show it to my husband, let alone my critique group.

What made me think of this is that instead of writing my sequel, I spent the day re-reading the first book (fiddling as I went, of course - just a little) and remembering the long process of mashing that manuscript into shape from its pathetic first draft. A shape that scored me an agent, so it must have something going for it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Side-tracked by enneagrams

Today I got sidetracked by enneagrams, which someone mentioned to me on the weekend. According to this system, there are nine basic personality types. I took the online test from the perspectives of my two main characters, who turned out to be a "reformer" and a "challenger".

I don't know how useful the test is for real people, but the descriptions matched my fictional characters beautifully and have given me some ideas in terms of how they need to grow in book 2, and how their personal relationship will develop.