Friday, December 30, 2011

SF subgenres and plots

Back to io9 for their list of the Ten plotlines you'll find in science fiction: my favorite is definitely interstellar travel, with post-apocalyptic world and alien invasion coming in at joint second place (as long as neither is too militarized). Stargate is given as a modern example of the interstellar travel subgenre, and while that was a fun show, I gotta say I prefer spaceships running around in space to a magic portal and mostly land-based adventures. So Firefly would be my modern example - technically interplanetary travel, not interstellar, but you couldn't tell the difference.

The list does not include body snatcher, which is probably my least favorite subgenre (as a subset of horror). Every TV show had its version of a body snatcher episode. I really don't like watching a story where you don't know if someone is who you think they are, and in books the concept tends to come across as a cheap trick.

Also not keen on godlike aliens, although really powerful ones are fine. Arthur C Clarke said that "any sufficiently advanced alien is indistinguishable from a god" - but magical beings that can poof! things into existence are kind of boring.

What are your most and least favorite SF subgenres?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 and coming up in 2012

io9 lists their best and worst SF&F films of 2011. And, wow, I've seen only 1.5 of the 20! (Limitless and bits of Thor).

So many remakes and sequels coming up in 2012. Here are some of the SF movies I intend to see (eventually) (on DVD) (because Aussie cinema is outrageously expensive):

  • The Hunger Games (still  haven't read it, must read it)
  • Prometheus (Ridley Scott's prequel to Alien)
  • Men in Black III (because Will Smith is awesome)
  • Riddick (because Pitch Black was awesome)
  • Dune (Again?! Well, we have to see what they do with it this time around.)
  • Highlander (ditto)
  • Total Recall (double ditto)
  • John Carter (Edgar Rice Burroughs hero... could be good)

The Goodreads lists its top 10 Science Fiction and Paranormal Fantasy books of 2011. A few in there for my To Be Read pile.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What's hot for Christmas

What's hot in adult SF books this Christmas? Let's take a look at Bookscan's top 50 bestsellers this week. With a tie at #50, there are actually 51 books on the list and they break down as follows:
  • 16 older books published in the 1950s-1990s, including Snow Crash, 2 editions of Hitchhiker's Guide, 3 Ender's Game series editions and a box set, 2 Philip K. Dick novels, one classic each from Heinlein, Vonnegut, Herbert and McCaffrey, and 3 other books from the 60s-70s. Strangely, the "deluxe" edition of George RR Martin's Game of Thrones (book 1) is also on the list, despite it being Fantasy.
  • 16 media tie-ins (including the #1, 2, 5, 6, 9 and 10 spots: 7 Star Wars, 4 Warhammer, 2 Star Trek, 2 HALO, 1 BioShock)
  • 3 books published in 2008 (2 editions of Meyer's The Host and Card's Ender in Exile)
  • 2 books published in 2009 (The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi and Boneshaker by Cherie Priest)
  • 5 books published in 2010 (Echo by Jack McDevitt, All Clear by Connie Willis, Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold, Out of the Dark by David Weber and How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu)
  • 9 books (non media tie-ins) published this year (with links to Amazon):
#4 Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
#7 Hellhole by Brian Herbert
#11 Citadel: Troy Rising II by John Ringo
#15 March In Country: A Novel of the Vampire Earth by E. E. Knight (hardcover)
#16 Earthbound by Joe Haldeman (hardcover)
#21 How Firm a Foundation by David Weber (hardcover)
#32 Mecha Corps: A Novel of the Armor Wars by Brett Patton
#39 Kris Longknife: Daring by Mike Shepherd
#45 The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge (hardcover)
So in summary, around a third of the books are old classics, a third are media tie-ins, and a third are newish but less than a fifth are new this year. And only 9 books by women in that top 51, of which 3 are media tie-ins.

How many books do you have to sell to make it onto the list? Well, the bottom 7 sold less than 300 units each. Which, at most likely less than a dollar per paperback going to the author, isn't going to buy a Ferrari any time soon. Only the top 5 sold more than 1000 units each.

What can we learn from this? Don't quit your day job, and if you do, write Romance.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Eclipse: morality obliterated by sparkly lurv

George Takei, who rivals James Earl Jones in the "I'd listen to him reading a shopping list" voice department, sends out a plea for Star Trek and Star Wars fans to unite against the mutual threat of... Twilight. "There are no great stories, characters or profound life lessons to be had in Twilight." He's right.

I have read the first two books in the saga and last night watched the third movie, Eclipse, thinking to further my education. I'm writing this assuming the scene I'm about to highlight plays out more or less the same in the book. Once again I was stunned by the moral bankruptcy of the very people we're supposed to be rooting for - the Cullens. While the hero is busy impressing us all by saving himself for marriage, something happens at the end that makes me wonder just how badly characters can behave without readers noticing because they're - I don't know, blinded by the greatest love story ever told?

The head of the clan, Carlisle Cullen, has made it his life's mission to encourage and train vampires to not eat humans. He has assembled a family who follow his ways. In Eclipse, Carlisle and his wife Esme offer sanctuary to a "newborn" vampire (a 15-year-old girl named Bree) following a major showdown with the evil vamp Victoria. Victoria has been forming an army of newborns with the sole purpose of killing Bella, as vengeance against Edward for killing her true love (in the first book). Bree is shown in the movie hiding out during the battle. The Cullens take pity on her and she surrenders.

Then the head vampire clan, the Volturi, show up to see what the fuss is all about. They aren't friendly to the Cullens because of the Bella situation, but they don't like Victoria and her army either because they've been drawing attention to themselves. Vampires are supposed to munch on humanity under the radar. The Volturi feasted on a roomful of tourists in Book 2, and I've had a thing or two to say about that - specifically Bella's reaction to it, and the Cullens' complete disinclination to stop such behaviour. This time around, the Volturi decide that Bree must die because she was part of Victoria's army. Carlisle makes a vague protest about how he's given her asylum. The Volturi ignore him and one of them steps forward and kills Bree while the Cullens... all stand back and let him.

How are we supposed to feel anything but disgust for a man who offers zero resistance when a 15-year-old girl, who's already shown the potential to be turned to the good side of the force, has her head snapped off under his pale sparkly nose? Exactly what does "offering asylum" mean?

The take-home message: virginity before marriage = good; preventing the murder of innocents = not even a blip on the moral compass.

Do readers notice these things? Do they care? Why don't they care??

Thursday, December 8, 2011

SFR: What is it and why is it good stuff?

Heidi Ruby Miller writes a column called Geek Girl Underground for Inveterate Media Junkies. Today she's blogging about the sci-fi romance genre: Set Your Phasers to Love. She asked me and some other authors about how we view the genre - and why it works for us!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Geek Girls

Heather Massey at the Galaxy Express asked a bunch of us what being a Geek Girl means. Find out how other geek girls became geek girls and what it's like being a geek girl today.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Terra Nova's upside-down premise

I've been hanging out for a good sci-fi show for nine years - ever since you know what was canceled. So I've been watching Terra Nova. It's 2149, the world is a horrible place to live, and a one-way time portal is discovered that goes back 85 million years. Dinosaurs - yay! (We are asked to ignore the point that living among big hungry dinosaurs without adequate weaponry to deal with them is kind of silly.)

Deadly dinos aside, the world of Terra Nova is a nice one - these people are essentially colonists on a new world, and I'm up for that. They appear to live a self-sustainable lifestyle without being too annoyingly hippie. I've enjoyed most of the episodes although they are remarkably forgettable.

In a recent episode we discovered the (alleged) true agenda of the "Sixers" - a band of outcast rebels working for evil people back in 2149. What is the evil agenda of these evil people? To mine resources from Terra Nova and bring them back to the future once a two-way portal can be developed. Billions of people need these resources to survive. Taylor, the leader of Terra Nova, finds this idea abhorrent and refuses to cooperate.

Some awkward plot holes are apparent in light of these revelations. Firstly, the evil ones have had multiple opportunities to send back an army to take over Terra Nova and do with the past whatever they want. Instead they sent a bunch of rebel misfits who are now banished and live in tree houses, talking tough but accomplishing nothing. Another time they sent an elderly one-armed general to kill Taylor, and Taylor promptly shot him. That's it. That's all they've done to forward their grand mission.

Secondly, just because your plot is all conservationist and such, doesn't mean it's right. What is so bad about sending resources back to 2149 to help humanity, which is facing extinction? It's been established that Terra Nova is a different timeline, so it won't affect the future. There are only a few hundred people in Terra Nova and they don't need a planet's worth of resources. Nor do the dinosaurs. Apparently there are no plans to send everyone in 2149 to Terra Nova - presumably it's not possible - so why not use Terra Nova to save the bulk of humanity?

The lucky ones in Terra Nova are only there in the first place because they're rich, clever, or lucky (a few won the lottery for a ticket). Why should those privileged few get all the goodies and leave billions of innocent people to live miserably and die too soon? Isn't that exactly what's happening in 2149 as well?

I just don't get the moral dilemma here. (Brannon Braga developed both Terra Nova and Star Trek Enterprise - I've had problems with the latter's weird ethical code too.)

On the positive side, the show is filmed in Australia's tropical north-east and it looks great (it should - it's very expensive).

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

13-Step Program: What do I do next with my NANOWRIMO novel?

Mary Robinette Kowal writes an inspiring post on finishing up your NANOWRIMO novel. I agree with her that the important thing, whether or not you finished your manuscript or even reached 50,000 words, is that you're writing. Because writing is hard work!

I thought I'd add some comments about what to do next with your NANOWRIMO creation. I hesitate to call it a novel, even if it has a beginning, middle and end. It's a first draft manuscript. Anyway, a few tips:

1. Don't show it to anyone. Please don't. Go and buy some celebratory chocolate instead.

2. Put it aside for a while. Or not. It's been a month since you wrote the first few chapters, and that's probably long enough.

3. Write or rewrite your outline from scratch. This may or may not resemble either your original outline (if you had one) or your draft. Hopefully, it's way better than either. Whether you use the hero's journey or three acts with turning points or GMC charts or something else, I would advise shoehorning your plot and character development into some sort of structure, at least loosely.

4. With your new outline as a guide, figure out which parts of your first draft you can keep or delete, and insert notes where you need to add new material. Rewrite the parts you keep. Salvage whatever brilliant snippets you can from the parts you need to delete. Write the new material.

5. Congratulations! You now have a second draft, although the new bits are actually first draft, of course. But be kind to yourself - call it your second draft.

6. Write a new outline that matches the second draft, looking out for pacing problems, inconsistencies, and places where you can make things even more exciting and brilliant. You should probably delete the first three chapters entirely - they are unnecessary scene-setting and backstory.

7. Repeat step 4. Voila! Your third draft. You've now removed the boring bits, fixed the bits that make no sense, untangled the plot knots, and added a whole heap of compelling character development, logically sequenced action and thrilling turning points. You've probably also deleted all those brilliant snippets you kept in step 4.

8. Edit ruthlessly for grammar and spelling. You may call the resulting work your fourth draft, especially if you rewrote a chapter or two.

9. Fantastic! Your fourth draft is possibly ready to show off to the world at large. Okay, not at large. But your mother, friends and critique partners will no longer feel you're wasting their time when you ask them to read it.

10. Repeat step 4 with any beta-reader feedback in mind. You probably also have a hundred improvements running around in your head that you came up with while your story was in the hands of your readers. Yay, your fifth draft!

11. Put your fifth draft aside for a few days and this time try not to think about it, otherwise you'll be caught in an endless step 10 loop.

12. Edit again for grammar and spelling. Polish those awkward sentences. Reconsider the chapter breaks. Change the layout to standard formatting, if you haven't already.

13. Your sixth draft (or seventeenth, depending on how long you spent at step 12) is ready to be called a novel manuscript. And it could be ready for sending out into the world at large! If so, send it out already.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Trying not to be a technophobe

Earlier this year MCP and I got our first "smart phones". It was his first ever mobile phone, and my third. I got my first when I moved to the country and was worried about my 1980 Datsun breaking down and stranding me in the middle of Nowhere (Nowhere is a big place in Australia). I got my second in the US as a stranger in a strange land, and used it so infrequently that my $20-a-quarter flat-fee service accumulated to over $200 that's still sitting in my US account.

I love reading about new technology, and I love inventing new technology for my stories. What my mobile phone has taught me is that I've fallen years behind in the actual devices people are using today. Perhaps a lot of X-Gens feel that way about technology in general, but I'll bet most of them know how to Google on their mobile phones. Not me. I had to post endless questions on geek forums to learn how, and it still only works intermittently. Today I learned there's a difference between a widget and an app. I don't know what the difference is, mind you.

In 1983, my siblings and I bought a Commodore 64 computer for $600. It had a no floppy drive (we used a tape deck to load programs), no monitor (we used the TV) and no mouse. Back then I was a tech Jedi master! I could write Basic programs that simulated human conversation and played cricket. (I sense you are impressed.) Over the next 15 years I kept up with all the latest computers, graduating to an Amiga and then a PC. I used Macs at work. I could do anything! In the office I became the go-to person for Microsoft Word and Access questions. Once I got online in the mid-90s I learned everything there was to know about writing HTML web pages and image-editing. I used a dozen different graphics, desktop-publishing and book-keeping programs with ease.

Now... I can't keep up. Not even close. My PC is 7 years old and I'm still on Windows XP (which came out in 2001). I know no more about web pages than I knew in 1997. My graphics editing program of choice puts out a new version every year and I'm still using the same version I had 12 years ago. I haven't played a computer game since Sim City 3. Half the time I screw up the TV programming on my DVR because I can't figure out the menus. I gave up on my MP3 player because I don't know how to make a song list.

And I still think it's outrageous that I pay $30 a month - cheapest plan I could find - for a phone that I use once a week to text MCP to ask what time he'll be home so I can start dinner.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pre-new year's resolution

Today MCP and I arranged a babysitter for three days between Christmas and New Year. We are going to write for three days solid. That's our pre-new year's resolution. I am not placing any bets on whether we'll achieve it but we are very motivated. We have several works-in-progress between us, so the rule for this forthcoming writing "retreat" is Pick one!

(The babysitter is, of course, my mum. Grandma is slightly more popular than daddy and twice as popular as mummy these days.)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Heidi's Pick Six

I've done a quickie interview over at Heidi Ruby Miller's blog where I answer six questions: here. You'll notice I mostly didn't answer the writing questions. This is because my brain is still pretty much porridge these days and it's easier to talk abou food and cartoons.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review: The Time Guardian

The Time Guardian is an 80s Australian movie starring the man from Snowy River, a pretty Aussie woman, and, for reasons unknown, Carrie Fisher. I never quite figured out what was going on in this movie and I'm not going to watch it again to find out. I think it was trying to be Australia's answer to The Terminator.

In the far future, cyborgs have killed all of humanity except for some stragglers in a time-traveling city, which the cyborgs continually attack because they want the power source. Our hero Ballard, a soldier, makes a garbled speech that involves a plan to travel to the Aussie Outback circa 1988 - I honestly don't know why but he's very angry and very earnest about it, so it must be their only hope. He and Carrie Fisher go on ahead a day or so to build a rock pile so the damaged city can land without toppling over.

Yes, the fate of all humanity depends on two people building a rock pile.

In 1988 Ballard meets Annie, a cute geologist in pleated (arrgh!) white (arrgh!) cuffed (arrrrrgh!) shorty-shorts who's already been treated badly at the tiny outback township where half the action takes place. This town consists of one street and a dozen buildings, but has three, count 'em, three cops, all of whom are gun-totin' dicks. I can buy one or even two being dicks, but all three? There's a Confederate flag in the police station office. I'm not sure an Aussie audience would even recognize what that is, and I don't know what it's doing there.

Ballard needs an "earth transposer" to make his rock pile. On their way to town to find one, Annie and Ballard come across a truck with a dead driver. The guy was electrocuted or frozen or something by an energy whirlpool from a time disturbance. Or something. They put the body under a tarpaulin in the back of Annie's truck and drive it into town, where the cops are kind of suspicious even though Ballard says "It's not what you think."

The local earth-mover-store owner won't take credit, so Ballard throws him about 30 feet through a plate glass window, badly cutting up his face, to make him change his mind. Now, I can buy that Ballard would use violence because he's desperate (if he doesn't build his rock pile, the entire future will change, which come to think of it doesn't really matter when you can travel about through time at will). But Annie's reaction is to laugh about it as they drive off.

This kind of thing really really bugs me. See here and here.

After watching Ballard abuse an innocent man and beat up a couple of cops with his kung fu mojo, she's ready to have sex with him. Because, ya know, that's all it takes. He's not so sure until she whips off her top and shows him her wares. Then he's all for it.

Forgot to mention that some cyborgs followed Ballard and Carrie Fisher back in time and are hiding out until it's dark (they are light-sensitive, the poor dears). Also forgot to mention that Carrie Fisher gets shot early on and is out of commission for most of the movie, which is okay because she's not convincing me with her performance.

Actually, no one is convincing me, let alone elucidating the plot for me. We keep crossing back to the future where people are wearing puffy quilted costumes with big circles stitched on them and are yelling and speechifying and there's an old scientist who dresses in a duck suit, and he's trying to convince people that he can use the energy from the timestream to thwart the cyborgs but they just won't listen! He only now came up with the idea, which is a bit odd, but it turns out to be important.

Back in 1988, the nastiest of the cops gets pulled into the future by a cyborg arm that reaches through a fragment of one of the giant beach balls the cyborgs use to move through time. His demise serves no plot purpose, which is annoying. We never see him again. We don't know if he gets his just desserts for feeling up Annie in jail (see below) or if he becomes the cyborg overlord. We just don't know.

So, Annie and Ballard end up in jail - I don't remember why, probably because of the dead body. A handful of cyborgs arrive at the police station thanks to one of the cops setting off a beacon while he's fiddling with Ballard's futuristic armband. This armband serve two functions: (1) it sets off a beacon that the cyborgs respond to, which is frankly a stupid feature, and (2) it sends you to sleep when you've been injured, which is more useful but somewhat unrelated to (1). It's like having a gum boot that also hangs curtains.

Our favorite couple escapes and Ballard finds the police station's arsenal of semi-automatic weapons. In case you didn't know, every outback town has one of those. While he has fun with his new toys, he leaves Annie defenseless in the kitchen. She upturns a fridge to no avail, and then sets a cyborg on fire from the handy dandy stove and throws a propane bottle on it. It explodes. Yay. (These cyborgs seem rather easy to kill.)

At some point the rock pile gets built, no thanks to Ballard who spends his time shoveling sand from here to there, there being half a meter from here. The city from the future materializes, the cyborgs show up, and a dramatic battle ensues. Did I say dramatic? I meant to say dorky. Idiot Annie refuses to leave and gets herself into trouble, which inspires Carrie Fisher to suicidally leap into the arms of a cyborg in order to save her.

The scientist/duck, who has been shot, tells Ballard about his under-appreciated idea with the timestream energy. Ballard goes off to stick his arms in the timestream and before you know it he's wielding a big fat energy cannon. I don't know how that happened. Just take my word for it. He vaporizes the cyborgs, but not before making an angry earnest speech. All the cyborgs stop fighting to listen to it, which makes them easy targets when the vaporizing begins.

Annie puts on a futuristic outfit (admittedly an improvement over the shorts) because she's going to live in the future now, and kisses her man. (That's Ballard, in case you're not following me.)

I couldn't help but notice that the entire plot - the time travel, the rock pile, the cops, the fridge, the geologist and her nipples, all of it, although possibly not the duck suit - is totally irrelevant. The timestream energy cannon that saves the day has nothing to do with anything else that happens. Also, who the hell puts a dead body they just found into the back of their truck? 

But there's a happy ending: I picked the DVD out of the bargain bin - only $2 for a painful yet hilarious night's entertainment for myself and MCP.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembrance day grammar

At 11AM today I happened to be checking out at the supermarket when we stopped for a minute's silence, preceded by someone reading the ode over the PA system.

She said "Lest us forget."


Is this some new-fangled grammar-mangling version I don't know about? Am I wrong to have my editor's hat on at such a time? 

Actually, I was more concerned with picking up the bits and pieces my baby was throwing out of my purse from her perch atop the shopping trolley. Still, I'd like to know who's responsible for this horror.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What's wrong with this picture?

From the picture book Shopping Day (c) 1974, found on my mum's bookshelf. Click to enlarge, for it must be seen in all its glory. 

And I haven't even taken it out of context. 

Ah, the seventies! They were so awesome.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Nostalgic for comics

Comics... not superhero stuff. I never read those and today I can't follow them when I try. I'm talking about comics for girls, or picture stories, which I think are just called magazines today. In fact, I'm not sure the comics of my childhood even exist any more. Today they're about make-up and pop stars. Then, they were mostly about orphaned girls enduring terrible hardships at the hands of mean relatives.

My older sister bought the comic Mandy every week during the mid-to-late 70s. I had a couple of favourite artists, and the way the strips were drawn was sometimes more important than the story. Wikipedia lists some of the stories - I don't recognise most of them so I think they must not be from the era I was reading. One of my favourites - it may have been called "Darla" - was about an alien named Darla who joins the household of our heroine. Everyone else is brainwashed into believing that she has always been there, the younger sister, but our heroine knows better. I think Darla could blast mind-control rays from her eyes. The heroine learns that relatives far from home don't know who Darla is, so the brainwashing only extends so far. She eventually discovers two people from the town have been replaced by aliens, and along with Darla are plotting an evil takeover of some sort.

Some of the stories were rather more mundane. "Rita the Record-Breaker" is determined to break a world record - any world record will do. One of her attempts involves eating a lot of macaroni cheese. In the end I suspect she broke the world record for attempted world records. "A Ticket For Timmy" is about a family emigrating to Australia who can't afford the £100 ticket for their dog. Our heroine finds ways to raise the money herself, week by week. And how's this one for a great YA novel idea? I don't remember the title but it's about an orphan living with cruel relatives (of course), forced to be the voice of her talent-free cousin. During stage performances, she stands in the wings and sings into a microphone while her cousin lip-syncs.

I also remember stories about a girl with a terrible scar on her face, a girl terrorized by the ghost of her dead twin sister (who turns out not to be dead), a girl faking deafness, a girl faking blindness, and the touching story of a magic music box that has been passed down 13 generations from mother to daughter, and takes the heroine back in time to meet each of her ancestors, where she has to help them out with some problem.

And that, along with Enid Blyton's boarding school and secret club stories, comprised the literary influences of my early childhood.

I now recall that Mandy was also my first publishing success, although I didn't receive a penny. The comic published a letter of mine in about 1980.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Nostalgic for toys

Been feeling nostalgic lately - perhaps brought on by Christmas shopping for my 16-month-old (she'll be 18 months at Christmas). Wow, have toys changed since I was a child! The best toy I ever had was a xylophone made from blocks of plastic. You could stack them with the metal xylophone keys in any order, then drop marbles down the middle of the tower. The marbles bounced back and forth as they went down, playing the keys.

I played with that toy from a young age until I was about 12. I can't find it anywhere now. My nieces and nephews have marble runs, which are always fun, and I've found you can get (expensive) wooden marble runs that incorporate xylophone keys, but not in the same way.

To console myself on behalf of my daughter (who is too young for marbles anyway), yesterday I bought her a wooden kitchen on eBay for Christmas. Today I opened the box to check all the pieces were there... and what the hey, I decided to put it together 8 weeks early. It took two hours but I did almost the entire thing by myself (MCP helped out with the hinges and a few tricky attachments). I ache all over from crouching on the floor. But it's the cutest thing in the world. My baby is obsessed with all things housework, which I suppose means I must be finding time to do some chores around the house, or she wouldn't have the role model to copy. She loves putting things in and out of the washing machine (including things that were never meant to be washed), mopping the floors and windows with her special cut-down mop, cooking Cheerios in her tiny pots and pans and serving pretend food at her teddy bear tea parties. So the kitchen was a must.

Let's call it a Halloween present. In Australia there is no trick-or-treating, so she doesn't get to wear a cute costume. She gets a kitchen instead. In this pic she's peering through the curtains over the sink. This thing also has a stovetop, oven, microwave, fridge, freezer, washing machine, pegs for pans, knobs that turn and click - even a chalkboard and phone.

With her birthday being in June, I get to shop for cute things every six months. I can't wait! (Seriously, I have not been able to wait - I already have half her presents for the next three birthdays and Christmases.)

But back to nostalgia: when I was four, the girl next door had a penguin slide. These things are rare as hen's teeth in Australia, unless you're prepared to pay exorbitantly. It's actually cheaper to order one from the UK and pay the shipping. Then last week I walked into Sam's Warehouse to buy $2 gardening gloves and found a penguin slide for $8!

This is rather too advanced and confusing for a baby, much as she loved it - she kept "helping" the penguins up the steps, to their detriment. But I have fulfilled my childhood need for a penguin slide. 

Just wish it didn't play such godawful music.

Friday, October 21, 2011

At any price?

There are a few TV shows I don't miss - my favourite right now is probably The Big Bang Theory, which is unusual for me because I don't normally go for sitcoms. But this one is just so funny. I used to love House but it's getting repetitive. Incidentally, both shows provide evidence for my theory that overtly atheistic characters on TV must be portrayed as either grumpy old men or weirdo nerds (viz. BeckerBones, Dexter)*. (Futuristic shows are the exception, where religion seems to fall by the wayside on a regular basis.)

One show I tried to watch was The Mentalist. It's about a guy who once earned a living by using his keen sense of observation to pose as a fake psychic, but now uses it to help solve crimes. (This premise has been copied a few times since, e.g. Lie to Me and Unforgettable, and is itself a rip-off of the awesome show Psych, which makes the occasional hilarious meta-reference to The Mentalist.)

From what little I saw of the show, I gather the main character Patrick Jane (Aussie Simon Baker) is another atheist. He's not a nerd, and certainly not a grumpy old man, but he is an eccentric weirdo. This is probably because his wife and child were murdered by a serial killer. And that's why I couldn't stick with the show, despite being in agreement with Jane over the redundancy of the term "fake psychic". But Jane's background is just too much. As a viewer I can't recover from it. I can't watch a character with that sort of torment in his past. I think it's because in this story, the hero can never win.

Anyway, in an early episode I remember he came up against a "psychic" who held seances to contact the dead. At the end of the show, she gently tells Jane that she's talked to his dead wife, who told her his daughter was never scared during the double murder, that she never woke up. I waited for Jane to tell the woman to shove it. Instead, he listened stony-faced and cried when she left the room.

Such a cop-out.

Today I happened to catch a more recent episode and I'm sorry to say the cop-outs continue. A woman consulted Jane ten years ago when she was trying to conceive. He used his "gift" to tell her she would have a son called Connor and it came true - she believes in his powers even when he confesses ten years later. She does finally accept that it was all a trick. He says (from memory), "Sorry about deceiving you." Instead of replying, "Yeah, well, I was eager to believe", she says "Oh, but you gave me hope!"

To rub salt in the wound, after Jane points out to his cop partner that he didn't give her hope, he sold her hope, the cop says "I think hope is worth it at any price."

How nice it would've been to hear Jane retort, "I think truth is worth it at any price."

Oh well. The episode guest-starred Kelli Williams, who I've liked ever since seeing her on Earth 2.

*I've now found two examples of young, attractive TV atheists:
Dr Cameron from House (but she's kind of nerdy)
Britta from Community  (but she's kind of not always likable)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Guest blog and giveaway

Today I'm blogging over at Marie Treanor's Romantic Theme Party. Marie has a week of SF writers guest blogging, so don't forget to check back each day.

I'm giving away my books as well as an exclusive Children of Scarabaeus bookmark - just comment over on that blog post (not here).

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Judges' report on Song of Scarabaeus

I found something today I thought must exist but couldn't previously find even though it's sort of in plain sight: the Judges' Report on the 2010 Aurealis Awards finalists, which is linked from the Aurealis Awards main page. I'm not sure when it went up but I only just stumbled upon it. Generally speaking I'm interested in what others think of my work, as I'm sure most authors are. In this case I was interested in finding out why Song of Scarabaeus was nominated. Anyway, the judges called the book a "well balanced" and "excellent debut" with "the feel of a contemporary thriller in the way it pulls the reader through a number of emotional and action-based conflicts."

The award went to Marianne de Pierres' Transformation Space. I'm reading the first in that four-part series now - unfortunately slow going because I'm concurrently reading three other books. This mirrors my writing process - I'm working on multiple things. Focus has not been my strong suit lately.

Friday, August 19, 2011

eReader recommendations?

My mum is about to go overseas and has been persuaded by friends that buying an ereader would be a good thing. I've never met anyone who owns an ereader who didn't find it indispensable, which means of course that eventually I'm going to have to get with the times and buy one myself.

There are loads of models around now, mostly around the $200 price range. I think my mum will end up with a Kindle but it seems to have just too many buttons and functions for my liking. I want an ereader that does what a book does: displays words on a page. The most popular options in Australia are the Sony Reader and the Kobo Wireless, about which I know nothing except that they seem to be very hard to come by. Either unavailable or sold out almost everywhere online that I've looked. (Hello, eBay.) And that both come in pretty colors (as well as more serious tones).

That's it, the sum total of my knowledge. I'm leaning toward the Sony Reader Pocket Edition (oh! but the Kobo has has a quilted back!), while simultaneously trying to imagine my life with bookshelves that no longer need to expand.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wildlife and wineries

MCP and I took a short vacation (following our long vacation - did we deserve it?) this week with our agent Kristin Nelson and her husband Brian while they were in Victoria. MCP and Brian, it turns out, are in the same industry (environmental monitoring). (Also, Kristin's dad was a chemical engineer like mine, and of course we both married engineers.) We toured the wine country - the Yarra Valley. Beautiful views, beautiful sunshine on the second day, wonderful food and some very tasty pinot noirs.

View across one of the wineries we visited.

Me and MCP, pondering lunch.

We went to Healesville Sanctuary on Monday where Kristin proclaimed the koalas to be "the cutest things in the world". It was a chilly overcast day and they were quite "active", which isn't saying much for a creature that sleeps 20 hours a day digesting toxic leaves, and barely moves from one spot the rest of the time while it munches.

Me and Kristin waiting for the "Spirits of the Sky" (parrots and birds of prey) show to start.

We stayed overnight in a couple of gorgeous cottages up the side of a mountain, in the middle of a forest and with a clear view to Melbourne's skyline 50 km away. The sort of place where I'd love to spend a week without Internet or baby to get some serious writing done. (Well, no, not without baby - I missed her too much for the 36 hours we were apart. I would have to take Grandma with me to babysit.) We talked a bit of business, not too much. The men proved eminently useful: MCP was our designated driver, and Brian saved our bacon at breakfast, or more specifically our pancakes, after my cooking efforts failed miserably.

Now, finally, we are back home with a chance of settling into our normal routine again.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Pick one

Met with my agent Kristin Nelson and her husband for lunch yesterday (both are, to use her word, exceedingly "nice") - Kristin is here in Melbourne for the RWA conference and after that on vacation, and what better place for a holiday than Australia (perhaps not in winter, but we are getting some sunny days at last).

We didn't talk too much about writing, which is a good thing as I don't have too much to say at the moment. "You do know that you don't have to write a complete novel before you show it to me," says she out of the blue. "Three chapters is enough." Yes, it's taken me a year to not come up with three presentable chapters, although I have in fact written more than that - just not all the same book. And it seems like there's always something else taking up my time - emigrating, Christmas, moving into a new place, overseas trip, organizing photos from overseas trip... And I have a part-time job (in addition to full-time mummy/mommy), which sounds minor on paper, in that it's only 10 hours a week, but those hours tend to come in 15 or 30 minute intervals spread throughout the day.

Plus we've had Game of Thrones and The Tudors to catch up on.

The good thing is that my lack of progress hasn't quelled my excitement over the - um... five projects I'm working on. I know, I know, I must pick one.

Friday, August 12, 2011

I'm still here

On Sunday we returned from two weeks in the USA - a quick trip to visit family and friends. "Quick" sounds like "easy", doesn't it? Well, with a 1-year-old in tow everything was just a little more challenging, but she was an angel for the most part, adapting well to different locations, cribs, time zones and people. She's quite the social butterfly (unlike her mother) and had some wonderful new experiences such as playing the piano, pretend-playing with a tea set, and getting knocked over by waves in the Gulf of Mexico. She developed a new fascination for water bottles (ubiquitous in Arizona and Texas), airplane seat belts and graham crackers.

I took along my trusty Alphasmart but my trust was betrayed - it refused to switch on, so I got exactly zero writing done. Despite this, or because of it, we had a fantastic trip with no serious complications other than a diminished bank account.

This weekend it's the Romance Writers of Australia annual conference here in Melbourne. Agent Kristin Nelson is a guest speaker, and MCP and I will be catching up with her next week. Not at the conference, though - I failed to get my act together in time. Didn't book before the sessions sold out. Didn't even join the RWA in time. Next year, next year...

So the long and the short is that I have no writing news. MCP, on the other hand, received his signed contract from Tor this week so his SF book Fireaxe is 100% official. The publication date is 2013 so I doubt anything else will happen for a while. Trivia time: Tor rejected an early version of Song of Scarabaeus when I sent it unsolicited in 2005. Tor then made an offer on the book when Kristin was shopping it around in 2008 (we went with HarperCollins).

Monday, July 4, 2011

Five former jobs

I'm featured in the Writers Gone Wild Blatant Promo Weekend.

Find out what five jobs I've had and never want to have again. A couple of them are even vaguely related to writing.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Evil Editor flashback

Back in 2006, I sent my fledgling query letter for Song of Scarabaeus to Evil Editor, who snarkily savaged it. This is a free service provided by the sheer graciousness of the Evil One, for anyone who dares approach. Evil Editor just chose my query as the first in his new Classics line, and reposted it here. It's been almost five years since the original post - I've since got an agent, sold two books, had two nice award nominations, not to mention the baby, moving countries, and MCP's writing career taking off as well.

You'll notice there were three books planned at that time: Song 0f Scarabaeus (then called Scarabaeus), Children of Scarabaeus, and Soul of Scarabaeus. I amalgamated the second and third story ideas into one book, once I'd decided the series would be a duology, and wanted to call it Soul of Scarabaeus, but my editor thought Soul was too similar to Song. I'd felt compelled to name the books in an alphabetically chronological (or is that chronologically alphabetical?) manner so they'd appear in the correct order in a search engine. That's the editor in me being all anal retentive. Oh well.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gritty sci-fi movies... with women!

Book Chick City is having a Women in Science Fiction Week and I'm guest blogging there today about a few sci-fi movies I love that feature not only women, but my other favorite thing - grit. Head on over there and comment to let me know what sci-fi movies have stuck with you over the years. I'm always interested in hearing about movies other than the usual blockbusters, although I'm a sucker for those too.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Excerpt and giveaway on RomCon

The RomCon blog has an excerpt of Children of Scarabaeus today, along with a brief intro by me and a giveaway. Head over there to check it out. (You know how hard it is to pick such a short excerpt that makes sense on its own and doesn't give away too much?) (Well, it's hard.)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

2010 Aurealis Awards

Just got back from Sydney's Aurealis Awards - a very impressive event! Even MCP dressed up and he doesn't do that except for job interviews and his wedding. Caught up with some old friends from my Aurealis magazine days. Lost in my nominated category, best SF novel, but to the very worthy Marianne de Pierres who won for Transformation Space. It's the fourth in a series, so the first thing I did when I got home was order the first couple in the series. I have a space in my reading schedule coming up soon... Judging from a comment in her acceptance speech, I think she was as chuffed as I was that it was an all-girl finalist line-up for Best SF novel. How often does that happen?

MCP has a thing or two to say about our other Sydney adventures. I will say we had a great view from our sixth-floor hotel room, met some new and interesting people at the after-event party, and I even had the chance to give away my books to a couple of ladies at Sydney airport (who, like us, were caught up in the drama of a cancelled flight) (hi to Sharon and Robyn!). All in all, a lovely weekend...

...but I'm so glad to be back home again with my baby.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Another giveaway

Over the Edge interviewed me and is giving away two copies of Children of Scarabaeus. So, would I go forward or backward in time? (Duh!) Read all about it here.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

How big is Finn, anyway?

Finn is about two meters tall, for the record.

On a related note, much genre fiction these days is written in first person or close third person. In this point of view, the character, not the author, is the narrator. It's as if the POV character sat down after the events unfolded and wrote what happened, as she experienced it, using either "I" as the main character, or describing herself as a "she". This narrator knows that others are going to read the story - in fact, she's writing for a presumed audience.

Which makes me think about why someone writing for others would write a dramatic account of their very exciting life hunting vampires or saving the galaxy or whatever... and include graphic sex scenes.

In certain contexts these scenes strike me as misplaced. Don't they belong in the narrator's diary, where no one else will ever see them? I know why writers include them. I'm just not sure why the narrator would include them.

Again, I'm talking here only about first person and close third person narratives, where the character is the narrator. If the narrator is someone else (that is, some unspecified author who knows what happened and may have been privy to certain characters' thoughts), there's no particular reason not to include details about the sex, if he's so inclined. He's the narrator, he's in charge, and he doesn't need the characters' permission to write their story or describe the ins and outs of how they make love.

So, back to our character-as-narrator. We've all come across the POV character who describes herself as gorgeous or witty. (Advice to writers pretending to be characters narrating their own story: probably best not to do that.) I find it a bit irksome. I'm more inclined to believe that she, rather than some other writer, is the narrator of the story if someone else tells her she's gorgeous, and if she demonstrates wit in her prose.

And by the same token, I'm more likely to believe she's the narrator of the story if she shows a little restraint with the sex scenes. In real life there might be people who don't care that everyone knows who they slept with and how good it was and even what positions were assumed and who came first and how often. If that's the kind of person our fictional narrator is, then fine.

But for most fictional narrators I've come across (just like most of us for real), making all this public would be very much out of character. Even if we don't keep the whos and wheres and whens private (and most of us do even that), we don't write and publish the hows. Especially not five times, fifteen pages each, covering every microsecond of every encounter and describing every last tab A and slot B.

I'm not suggesting that authors tone things down to a more realistic narration, writing only what that character would actually write given that she supposedly knows others will read it. This is a case of where we suspend disbelief. While it's unlikely anyone would actually write their autobiography that way, we choose to ignore that little fact because we want to read every juicy detail, dammit. We are especially lenient, I think, when the genre is romance - that is, when the relationship is the main point of the story. A character who sits down to write the story of the Love of Her Life might be forgiven for expending 700 words on her orgasm.

When I was writing Children of Scarabaeus (which *SPOILER ALERT* has a couple of sex scenes, if you didn't know by now), I thought a lot about how Edie, the only POV character, would write about what happened. The story is third person but we never leave her head - either she wrote that book with herself as a character, or she told her story to someone else who faithfully recorded it. She was aware that it would be read (not by you, but by readers from her own time and possibly even Finn). Given her personality, what would she tell her readers and what would she keep private? And would she really dish the dirt on how BIG Finn is?

I don't think so.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Understanding understatement

I was listening to an old recording in the car today: Maybe by Thom Pace, the theme song for 70s TV show The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams. There's a You Tube version here (if you can handle the beard and lip-syncing).

Have a listen, and then listen to Firefly's theme song (written by Joss Whedon, performed by Sonny Rhodes) which you probably already know because how could you not?

The fugitive who finds sanctuary in nature. The captain of a starship who'll do anything just to "keep her in the sky." Separated by seven centuries, their core emotions are perfectly captured in these two simple songs.

What I love about both these pieces is the emotional punch they pack while being both musically and lyrically so minimalist. When it comes to deep-seated feelings, give me understatement over histrionics any time. It's something I appreciate in lyrics, in acting, in books, in art, and because I'm British (at least, that's my excuse) in life.

In writing, I think I gravitate toward that mode naturally - I write characters who don't give long speeches about their feelings and who don't fly off the handle or declare undying love at the drop of a hat. There are exceptions, because drama requires highs and lows and a good mix of personalities. Cat Lancer tends to say what she thinks even if it gets her into trouble. Haller has his little temper tantrums. Liv Natesa's infamous poise can be shattered. But even these characters don't barge through every page screaming "Here I am, and here's what I'm currently feeling!"

Understatement is of course most effective when emotions are running the hottest. Love, lust, anger, grief - for me, scenes that show characters struggling to hold in these feelings (because they fear the consequences, or because public displays are unacceptable, or because they're trained to be that way, and many other reasons) are more powerful than big splashes of overt expression. Holding it inside also builds tension - for the character and for the reader - and that has other interesting consequences. When will the character finally break loose (if ever)? What does all that suppressed emotion do to a person (if anything)? Most importantly, how will those emotions find their way out? Because it's bound to happen. I'm reminded of Colin Firth's Darcy, as uptight and controlled as they come. He's enjoying a quiet, humorous moment with Elizabeth at the piano when his aunt's overpowering voice from across the room ruins the mood: "What are you talking of? ... I must have my share in the conversation!" He doesn't lose his cool and burst open with all that suppressed upper class frustration. But the way he rolls his eyes... You know exactly what he thinks of her intrusion. Better still, he thinks that way because Elizabeth Bennet is in his life and in his sights. Last week it might not have bothered him at all.

And for the reader, or viewer - as I learned in a screenwriting class a long time ago - the fewer tears a character sheds on screen, the more tears the audience sheds. If the reader knows from other clues what the character is feeling but the character reins it in, all that pent-up emotion has to find another outlet... it's released via the reader instead.

And now for the problem in all this: I'm not so sure that the majority of readers would agree with me. I'm not sure the majority of people in life are like this. Depending on their tastes and culture and gender, a lot of people evidently like to watch movies exploding with anger and violence, and soap operas drenched in melodramatic acting. A lot of people like to watch out-of-control displays of emotion in "real life" too - see Springer, Dr Phil, and any number of reality shows.

How far this translates to reading, where there are no additional clues from actors (whether talented or overwrought), I don't know. I like to think the reader should work just a little bit to extract emotion from the page, instead of having it handed to her on a platter by characters who act out (or describe) every last gram of what they're feeling. I think it makes the experience interactive.

And that's what happens when I listen to the two simple songs mentioned earlier. Because the lyrics are understated, the onus is on me to feel the emotions inferred by them.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cover blurbs - where do they come from?

With a baby-addled brain these days it's sometimes hard to come up with blog ideas, so once again I'm cribbing an idea from agent Kristin Nelson's Pubrants. This week she's posted about blurbs - those words of praise from other writers that you see on the cover of a novel.

This can certainly be a tricky area, with successful authors wanting to help new authors while at the same time not wanting to be inundated with requests they can't handle. I have no insights there but my advice to new writers is to have faith in your work and bite the bullet - just go ahead and ask. 

Firstly, ask your agent or publisher for contacts. They can approach their own clients and authors who may enjoy your book and will agree to blurb it. Kristin asked her client, successful SFR author Linnea Sinclair, on my behalf to read Song of Scarabaeus. Fortunately for me, Linnea was not only hugely gracious and agreed to read the book, but she gave me a fantastic cover blurb as well. Eos put it on the front of the book.

As my release date approached, the publicist at HarperCollins set me up with Borders' sci-fi blog Babel Clash. As luck would have it, Eos's bestselling fantasy author Robin Hobb had the same release date as me, so we were paired up for a discussion on the blog. HarperCollins sent us each other's books (hers was Dragon Haven, the sequel to the evocative Dragon Keeper - love those dragons!) and she emailed my editor with some thoughts on the book. We asked her if we could turn her email into a blurb, and she agreed. This came too late for the cover, of course, but was used in publicity material for the book.

I wrote to a couple of authors myself, completely out of the blue - they had no idea who this debut SF writer was asking them to read her book! As Kristin recommends, make the request personal - these should obviously be authors whose work you're familiar with, and who write a similar genre. In addition, think carefully about your wording: I didn't ask the authors to "please blurb my book." I asked them if they possibly had time to read it, and if they enjoyed it to consider blurbing it.

These authors could not, in the end, blurb the book due to their own deadlines. I told them I understood and that was that.

I did have one other contact of my own, but it was never planned that way. Years ago I joined the online critique group A call went out on behalf of a published author who had just converted her classic novel to ebook format, and she wanted proofreaders. With no idea who the author was, I volunteered my services - I was, after all, a book editor, and thought my skills would be useful. 

The author turned out to be Vonda N. McIntyre and the book was the Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Dreamsnake.This was one of those serendipitous moments that life sometimes throws your way. Dreamsnake, along with Vonda's other novels and short stories, had had a huge influence on me in the 80s. This was the author who made me realize that science fiction didn't have to be space battles and high-tech widgets and talking heads (I'd been reading 50s and 60s short story collections and really didn't know that anything else existed). Her books had talented female protagonists and quieter stories, and I loved them.

I (and several others, to my knowledge) did the proofreading work for Vonda and she thanked me, and that was that.

But a year or so later, I wrote to Vonda, reminded her who I was, and asked her if she would read the book I'd just sold to Eos. And, if she liked it, to please consider blurbing it. I have no idea whether or not she'd have done so anyway without the prior connection, but I don't think it hurt. She did agree to read it and gave me a lovely blurb that Eos used on the back cover of Song and the front cover of Children of Scarabaeus.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

“But that's not fair!”

Using the word morality in fiction is dangerous -- it conjures up images of high horses and religious dictates, which aren't really things we want in our fiction.

To me the word means just one thing: fairness.

Life, as they say, isn't fair, but that's not an excuse for people to not be fair. In fiction, protagonists who prioritize fairness are people I want to root for. Those are the characters I find appealing and the stories I'm interested in following.

A character might not know what's fair or she might be misled about what's fair -- she might have wrong or incomplete information, for example. She might have to revise her opinion about what's fair along the way. But to be appealing to me as a reader (or author), a character wants to do the right thing. If her world is small, she might only be concerned with doing the right thing for those in her immediate environment. As her knowledge of the universe grows, her priorities shift and she gains a wider sense of what "fair" can mean.

She has to be fair to herself, too, which may be how she avoids becoming overly self-righteous or self-sacrificing. We expect our heroes to make sacrifices, of course, even sacrificing their lives if it's "worth it", but only when they're backed into a corner with no options.

"But that's not fair!" -- it's the eternal whine of children all over the world, but sometimes those children have a point. A character who considers what's fair, and is concerned with making things fair, is far more appealing to me than a character driven by selfish or petty motivations, including righteous revenge.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Author copies are here!

I finally got my big box of author copies of Children of Scarabaeus this week, so I'll be sending out signed copies to the people who have won them over the past month or so...

... assuming they survive Babyzilla.

An octogenarian

This weekend was my dad's 80th birthday. We four children put together a little booklet with 80 things in it -- our childhood memories of him (like the huge bonfires he built every year on Guy Fawkes Night), his pearls of wisdom ("Never leave a wingnut in the gutter";  "Hamsters don't go to heaven"), and his little quirks (such as his obsession with logging every penny and cent spent on petrol, and charting the fuel efficiency of his vehicles over the years).

He's a retired chemical engineer, able to build and fix anything. In fact he spent yesterday afternoon re-engineering croquet hoops with a blow torch and sander so the grandchildren could play a game when they came over for his party. He's put up more shelving and cup hooks for us than any man should have to in a lifetime. He dug up and leveled our entire quarter-acre lawn at the house in England. I do not know why, but I'm sure his engineer brain drove him to it.

The above photo of the half-completed job was taken (in the late 70s) from the roof, which he was wont to climb on occasion to fix the tiling. No small task on a three-storey home. He climbed all the way up on a very long, narrow, scary ladder.

He's also an artist, lately expressed through photography, but he sculpted and painted when he was younger. When my sister, at a very young age, painted a face on the bathroom chair, he had to be angry, of course, but took a photo of it for posterity.

I dedicated my first book to him because of his willingness to answer any question -- a child's curiosity and a parent's patient indulgence help imaginations to grow. If he didn't know the answer, he took a stab anyway using logic (working it out from first principles) and common sense (drawing on his vast engineering knowledge).

He's had a huge influence on my life, which becomes more and more apparent to me as I get older.

Happy birthday, daddy!

Me and my dad, on a beach in England with "Black Cindy"

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Kristin reading from my book

Norwescon has put up some videos from the Philip K. Dick award - see/hear Kristin Nelson reading an excerpt from my nominated book Song of Scarabaeus

It was kind of hard choosing an excerpt - it was supposed to be only 2-3 minutes (although some did go much longer, but I was being a good little nominee and sticking to the request) and I wanted something that stood alone and made sense without an intro within that time frame. I also wanted to choose something technical rather than a plain action sequence. In the end I went with the same passage that's excerpted at the start of the book (although that's a cut-down version). And Kristin did a great job!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Kristin at Norwescon

Well, I didn't win the Philip K. Dick Award but Kristin sent me this awesome pic from Norwescon, where the ceremony took place today (noon my time - I watched it via their live video stream).

Doesn't she look great? I was honored to have her represent me and she did an amazing job with the reading excerpt from Song. And, of course, I was honored to have been nominated. The winner was The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, by another debut author, Mark Hodder. Congrats to Mark!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Interview and Aussie giveaway at Kylie Griffin's blog

Today there's another Aussie giveaway of Children of Scarabaeus over at Kylie Griffin's blog, along with an interview with yours truly.

Don't forget these giveaways that are still running: - win Children of Scarabaeus (closes 15 April)
Literary Escapism - win Children of Scarabaeus, Song of Scarabaeus, and a signed bookmark (closes 12 April)
Tez Says- win signed Children of Scarabaeus and Song of Scarabaeus (Aussies only, closes 14 April)
Reading Between the Wines - win one of two signed Children of Scarabaeus bookmarks (closes 22 April)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A punk for every occasion

So many punks! It all started with cyberpunk, which comes from cybernetics and punk. Wikipedia tells me one Bruce Bethke wrote a short story with that title in 1983, and the term was coined. These stories feature high technology and broken-down societies, with marginalized main characters who tend to be hackers of some sort. Well-known examples are William Gibson's Neuromancer and the movie Blade Runner.

Then came steampunk, which is currently a top trend. It features alternate (alternative, dammit!) historical settings, usually Victorian, where electricity was never invented. Anachronistic machinery and technology that we might recognize, such as computers and robots, run on steam power.

We also have clockpunk, which uses clockwork power instead of steam. I have never read any stories in this genre but apparently they tend to be set in the Renaissance, using Leonardo da Vinci-style inventions.

Biopunk is a term I only heard of this year but should have had a handle on sooner, because apparently my Scarabaeus books fit the bill. This subgenre focuses on biotechnology, genetic engineering and the like, and the consequences of such things going Horribly Wrong.

I heard about icepunk for the first time during DABWAHA last month, when Kate Elliott's Cold Magic was up against my book (she beat me, of course). It's "steampunk on ice" according to Kate. I've ordered this book and can't wait to read it.

And now we have bugpunk, thanks to Kameron Hurley and God's War -- which I must read even though it has a kickass female (I find kickass females a bit irritating). She uses this term in her tagline and, for all I know, invented it. The technology and fuel in God's War run on alien bug power, which sounds downright cool.

So did I miss any punks? What kind of punk should sci-fi writers turn to next?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

SpongeBob celebrates my new release

At the Mall of America Barnes & Noble in Minnesota, celebrations are ON for the release of Children of Scarabaeus. As you can plainly see, SpongeBob SquarePants is jumping for joy, while Dora the Explorer and friends can hardly contain their excitement.

And here's my book among the new releases...

Many thanks to Lynn for snapping these shots! If anyone else sees Children of Scarabaeus in their local store, please send along a pic.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Another interview and giveaway

Crystal at Reading Between the Wines has interviewed me for her blog - check it out, and comment over there to go into the draw to win one of two signed Children of Scarabaeus bookmarks! Ends April 22. Crystal has included a couple of bits of artwork that I did from Song of Scarabaeus (portrait of Cat, and diagram of the Hoi Polloi).

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I plotted it my way - guest blog and giveaway!

Tez Miller has a great UF & Futuristic review blog and she's kindly hosting my guest blog today. The topic is plotting and how I did (or didn't) plot my Scarabaeus books.

Aussie readers can enter to win a set of signed books, Song of Scarabaeus and Children of Scarabaeus. These books aren't readily available in Australia so here's your chance!

Mousepad: We have a winner!

Using I've drawn a winner for the Edie & Finn mousepad, and the winner is...

Sheila Dorsey

Sheila, I've emailed you for your mailing address and will send out the mousepad as soon as I receive it. Happy mousing.

Thanks to everyone who entered! I have a couple more cool giveaways coming up, so stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Science Fiction: What’s in it for Urban Fantasy fans?

I'm guest blogging at Literary Escapism today. The theme du jour is "Science Fiction: What’s in it for Urban Fantasy fans?" If you're put off sci-fi by the impression that it's all tech-talk and ray guns, think again. UF fans may find much to like about gritty, action-packed, character-driven SF.

Enter over there for the chance to win a set of both Song and Children of Scarabaeus, along with a signed bookmark.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Game's on!

Reader Jessica Basset sent me just about the coolest thing last week. She read Song of Scarabaeus and was inspired to write a role playing game (based on Ars Magica 5th edn) using ideas from the book such as biocyph technology and the Crib and Fringe.

She's written up a player guide and it's wonderful. It includes lots of flavor images along with her unique take on biocyph, infojacks,  the Saeth, mash, the leash etc. She's even written some additional history for the eco-rads and the Crib and more, and expanded on that world-building with a detailed caste system (somewhat prescient because one of the books I'm writing now takes place on a world with a strict social hierarchy).

I know some authors are a bit uncomfortable about the idea of readers using their characters in fanfic, and it's a discomfort that goes beyond copyright or other legal issues. (Jessica's game is for her personal use with friends, so she's not profiting financially.) As for me, I'm flattered and thrilled. I love it that people are talking about the characters and places and story that I created. Not only talking about these things, but using them as a springboard for their own creativity. Anyway, you read it here first: bring on the fanfic! (I think here I'm supposed to say "For legal reasons I can't admit to reading it.")

I'm not a gamer but MCP is, and is always threatening to write a sci-fi RPG set in a world much like the one I wrote, so that I'll have no option but to play it. For now, I'm just happy that someone out there has enjoyed my book and incorporated some of its ideas and "essence", as Jessica puts it, into her own creative outlet.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

O mother, where art thou?

Supernatural Underground and HarperCollins author Helen Lowe has just blogged about Three Fabulous Moms of SFF. It got me thinking about why there aren't more heroines with children in character-driven SFF and SFR.

I think the answer might be found in the Hero's Journey, which most genre writers follow to some degree -- even if subconsciously. The tale of someone who wants something, can't have it, goes on a quest to get it, and succeeds or loses, is an age-old storytelling structure. It's used because it works. That is, it provides a satisfying experience for the reader.

The hero of these stories wants something -- wants it so badly that she's prepared to leave her safe world and venture into the unknown. Her adventures -- the plot -- are driven by the decisions she makes. Often, towards the end, she realizes the thing she wanted isn't as important as something else -- often an ideal such as love, honor, truth, or the greater good -- and her priorities shift. A dedicated hero will risk everything for this ideal, even her own life if she deems the sacrifice worthwhile.

Now imagine our heroine is a mother. A mother's first priority is her children. Assuming the character is going to remain sympathetic for the reader, can a mother ever change this priority? Can she put something else first? Can she ever risk her children? Even when the galaxy's at stake?

A compelling plot gives the hero difficult decisions. Each option has to tempt her -- for example, will she choose the safe option with little reward, or the risky option with greater reward? But when one choice is her children, the decision is easy. A mother chooses her children over option B, every time.

Of course, a heroine can be a mother whose children are not involved in the main plot. But in genre fiction, where a large amount of wordage is already needed for elaborate, imaginative world building, there isn't space to give your heroine attributes that aren't directly relevant. And even if her children are sitting safely at home, what mother is likely to risk her own life to save someone else or to promote an ideal, when her children need her?

So if we want a sympathetic heroine and she's a mother, we're telling the story of someone who always puts her children first, never changes that priority, and won't risk her own safety. In genre fiction, those aren't usually the ingredients for a memorable story.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Somewhere between Cherryh and Czerneda...

Okay, as I can't be in North American bookstores right now, I need your help. If you see my book in your local store, please take a moment to snap a photo and email it to me ( When SONG came out, I went to my local stores and signed copies and took pictures and generally hung around the area feeling special. I desire the vicarious pleasure of seeing my name on the shelves a second time around.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Another giveaway! - interview at Scifichick has an interview with me and a Children of Scarabaeus giveaway: here

Don't forget to read the posts over the last few days for other links to giveaways, and for my mousemat giveaway too. Follow the blog link tours on the right for interviews and stuff.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


Once upon a time I had three copies - yes three (my big box of author copies hasn't arrived yet) - of Children of Scarabaeus. Now I have none. My mum took one. I sent one off as a prize. And MCP stole the last one to give to his boss, who is in the middle of book 1 at the moment.

So now I have no copies of my own book. At least there are none for my baby to rip off its cover like she's started doing with other paperbacks in the house.

By the way, I really hate that the abbreviation for this book is CoS... Church of Sc_. Ugh. SoS was livable-with. Henceforth they will be SONG and CHILDREN.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Reviews, interviews and giveaways

The Qwillery has an interview with me along with a Children of Scarabaeus giveaway, where I talk about research and favorite characters.

Angieville has an interview too, and another Children of Scarabaeus giveaway, with a discussion of my book covers and how I met my writer hubby (MCP).

And don't forget my mousepad giveaway (posted below).

Some early reviews:
My Bookish Ways - 5 stars
Dirty Sexy Books - 4 stars

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Supernatural Underground - WIN book and signed bookmark

I'm blogging at Supernatural Underground today. Head over there and answer a simple question for the chance to WIN a copy of Children of Scarabaeus along with a signed bookmark.

Celebrate release day: WIN Finn & Edie mousepad

Five hours to go until Children of Scarabaeus goes on sale in North America. To celebrate I'm giving away a Very Cool Thing!

For your chance to win a fabulous round mousepad of Finn and Edie, email me with MOUSEPAD CONTEST in the subject line. I will choose one random winner.

The contest is open internationally and closes Tuesday 5th April (11:59PM EST) or Wednesday 3PM AEST in Australia. I'll notify the winner by email and post their name. (Mouse not included!)

Meanwhile, get yourself a copy of Children of Scarabaeus from your local bookstore or online store, and follow my blog tour (list on the right) for more chances to win.

Edie Sha'nim believes she and her bodyguard lover, Finn, could find refuge from the tyranny of the Crib empire by fleeing to the Fringe worlds. But Edie's extraordinary cypherteck ability to manipulate the ecology of evolving planets makes her far too valuable to lose. Recaptured and forced to cooperate - or else she will watch Finn die - Edie is shocked to discover the Crib's new breed of cypherteck: children. She cannot stand by while the oppressors enslave the innocent, nor can she resist the lure of Scarabaeus, the first world she tried to save, when researchers discover what appears to be an evolving intelligence.

But escape - for Edie, for Finn, and for the exploited young - will require the ultimate sacrifice... and a shocking act of rebellion.

Monday, March 28, 2011

One/two days to go

Tomorrow is sort of Children of Scarabaeus release day, except that due to the time zones it's really not until the day after. I can't wait! Meanwhile, here are the dates for my upcoming blog tour. I'll post actual links once each post is up.

29 March The Qwillery - interview
5 April Literary Escapism - interview and giveaway
7 April Reading Between the Wines - interview
11 April Kylie Griffin - guest blog and Aussie giveaway

Dates to come:
Tez Says - guest blog
SciFi Chick - interview
Angieville - interview and giveaway
Book Chick City guest blog - Women of Science Fiction Week 23-28 May

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Edward's second chance

And now for something completely different.

The other day I was at my sister's place. She lives in the country with her 6 children, 2 goats, 2 cats, squillions of chickens, 1 husband and a rusty old dog. I was surprised - nay, shocked - to see someone she once loved lying on top of a pile of junk that was headed for the rubbish tip. It was Edward the giant teddy bear. He was a gift from our parents on her 7th birthday. He was hiding in the cloakroom when she came home from school. She went to hang up her coat and there he was in the dark corner, waiting for her.

Edward is - was - a bright yellow bear about 4 feet tall. My parents bought him second-hand for five pounds sterling, so he's of unknown vintage but is in his mid-thirties, at the very least. His seams are coming apart, his stuffing is leaking out, his nose has gone completely flat, his ear is half ripped off... But he's Edward! And my sister was just throwing him out! No room, she said. Too many toys filling up the house already, and she didn't have time to repair him.

When I was little, every stuffed animal I owned was a person with a soul. I loved them to bits, sometimes literally. I remember walking to school one day with my sister and seeing a garbage bin on the street overflowing with old stuffed toys that the local children's home was throwing out. We were devastated. We wanted to rescue them but didn't dare raid someone else's bins.

So I rescued Edward. I'm going to pull him apart, wash him and patch him, refill him with new stuffing (nice clean polyester from Lincraft instead of nasty foam chips) and stitch him up like new. Edward the giant teddy bear has suffered (in a good way, mostly) at the hands of my sister and her six children. Now he will be my baby's giant teddy bear so she can love him to bits all over again.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Aurealis Awards - SONG nominated!

The Aurealis Awards shortlists were announced today, and the judges have put Song of Scarabaeus on the Science Fiction Novel shortlist!

These are Australia's big SF&F&H literary awards, started in 1995 by the publishers of Aurealis magazine. There's a gala event in Sydney on 21st May to announce the winners.

Song of Scarabaeus is not (yet?!?) published in Australia but you can find it in online stores (see here for a list of retailers that currently stock the book).

Two features about the SF Novel shortlist this year: there are only 3 nominees, the other two both being for books by the ever-prolific and popular Marianne de Pierres (her 6th  & 7th nominations), and the fact that a woman therefore is going to win! Looking back over the 16-year history of the awards, only one other woman has ever won this category (Maxine McArthur in 2004, for Less Than Human -- NB. read her Time Future/Time Past books!).

For several years from about 1999 I worked on Aurealis magazine, as a copyeditor, slush pile reader, and eventually associate editor. It was a remarkable experience, helping me in both a writing/editing capacity, and in introducing me to the work of dozens of Aussie authors. Now that I'm back in Australia, I hope to reconnect with the SF community here -- when my little one deigns to give me time off -- and being nominated for an Aurealis Award is a fantastic way to come home.