Friday, February 6, 2015

Idea book

So, Writing Excuses, which I listen to semi regularly, is structured as a 'master class' this year. I'm going to follow along and do (and post!) at least some of my exercises. As I said, I'm only a semi-regular listener. I listen to them all, but sometimes I'll go a few weeks without listening and then binge on three or four episodes at once. This being January, and summer, I'm just getting started.

The first episode focuses on coming up with ideas. I have lots of ideas, most of which I think of and promptly forget. Not so useful. I'll try to be better here. These were the prompts we were supplied for the exercise:

From an interview or conversation you've had:
*Pigs, baby cows, chickens, and other farm animals destined for slaughter are kept in deplorable conditions that cause them to go crazy. What would happen if they were released suddenly? What would happen if their craziness was somehow transmitted to whoever ate the meat?
*Pests evolve ways around pesticides and herbicides. Overuse of pesticides and herbicides brings about the demise of said chemical.
From research you've done (reading science news, military history, etc): *Hackable pacemaker.
*Man who lies (stealing identities, going into debt and walking away from it) in order to get an education because he's otherwise too poor to get education he wants. Succeeds in getting an education but is later pulled down by revelation of his past.

From observation (go for a walk!):
*Man in a pink helmet, climbing off the side of a bridge toward something I can't see. What is he going toward? What if he falls?

From a piece of media (watch a movie):
*Morality of the TV show Grimm--it's okay to steal a baby from a woman to keep that baby away from a group in leadership. Also okay to kill a bunch of people who are enforcing a racist rule. Why are rules so flexible and what will the consequences of that moral flexibility be?

From a piece of music (with or without lyrics):
*Sylvia is a girl being pestered by an ex boyfriend. She's leaving on a train with her new boyfriend and the old one just wants to say goodbye, but her mother won't let him. How does Sylvia feel? Is she grateful to her mother, or annoyed, disappointed to not have some closure with the guy?

Other random ideas:
*A woman who relishes swearing because she's been in a situation where she can't swear for a long time. Enjoys the feel of the swear words in her mouth.
*Polygamist wives who are steampunk engineers

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Like many stories, my current WIP involves a revolution (two, actually). While I love many fictional stories that include revolutions, most of the time they fall flat for me for a variety of reasons. In most of the stories I can think of off the top of my head (Hunger Games, the Madd Addam trilogy) the thing that bugs me is the attitude people have toward human life. There never seems to be enough 'othering' of the subjugated or lower classes to justify the abuse that's allowed.

By othering I mean ascribing negative qualities to a group in order to differentiate the ruling or upper class and justify why the lower class deserves its lower status. You know, like poor people deserving to be poor because they're lazy.

In our society, where we don't literally cart off poor black or Hispanic kids into fights to the death, we still have so much more othering than exists in most of those worlds. I understand possessing negative attitudes toward others isn't socially acceptable, but I think it speaks to the privilege most white writers have that we don't recognize its absence. Recognizing, of course, that as a white woman I don't actually include such othering in my WIP at the moment (though in large part I'm going to claim that's a failure of world building and will fix it in revision. Yeah, revision...)

Anyway, that's not what I wanted to write this post about. This is more of an, I want to keep this link handy 'cause someday I'm going to want to think about these issues more. iO9 posted a fun article on what fictional dystopias ignore about revolution that I found just a teensy bit interesting. My favorite: the head honcho isn't always the problem. It's a lot harder to have a neat plot when you're fighting against an entire class rather than a single bad guy, but let's be honest, how often is the ruler the only source of the problem? Right, never.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I don't want to go to bed

I've done my writing (300 words! Wahoo!) and I'm so tired my eyes are sagging, but I don't want to go to bed yet. I don't want the evening to end and the morning to be that much closer. I've read everything on facebook, I've responded to important and not so important emails, I've read responses on my writing group's website. I can no longer write a useful response. Honestly, I haven't been able to write a useful response for the last hour or so. I should go to bed now, but I just want to read one more thing...

Sunday, August 24, 2014

somethig to keep track of

I did write thiswee, which is a definite improvement, but I did not write every day. Even so, I wrote  928 new words in three days. Wahoo for me!

Unfortunately, it's all pretty un-compelling writing. Back story stuff I need to write but nobody else needs to read. Next week I'll have to do more, both in terms of writing and in terms of making things exciting.

In the pursuit of making compelling writing, here's a check list of items tothink about for every scene. Lots and lots to think about, but will be critical to go though during revisions.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

New goal

I'm struggling to get back into writing, both on my blog and on my projects. I think about them (more about the novel than about the blog, to be honest) but sitting down and doing the writing is hard right now. I don't have any of the excuses I've had for the last, oh, nearly year (no visitors, no pregnancy, and my baby is very nice to me sleep-wise so I'm not terribly sleep deprived) but I'm having trouble sitting down and forcing myself to write.

The best I ever do with writing is when I sit down and write a little bit every day, like 300 or so words. It's a little more than a page and I can usually bang it out in 20 minutes or so if I've even remotely planned. So, here's my new plan: I'm going to write about 300 words a day for the next week and then post next Sunday what I've done. Then I'll have something for both writing and blog. Win-win!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Best cinnamon rolls

Sometimes books are about food, even when they aren't.

I read Robin McKinley's "Sunshine" a few days after I had Kip. It's a book about a girl and a vampire, but in addition to being our protagonist, that girl also happens to make the world's best cinnamon rolls (something that's only mentioned every third or fourth page of the book). Perhaps unsurprisingly, I craved cinnamon rolls for weeks after I finished devouring the book.

Today I made my favorite cinnamon rolls.

My husband and I disagree on how the best cinnamon rolls are made. He thinks cinnamon rolls should be spread out so they don't touch, so every roll is completely separate. I think cinnamon rolls should be baked in a pan, in as much contact as possible so they come out soft, almost gooey when they're fresh from the oven.

He loves a straight cinnamon roll, with lots of cinnamon and butter, and with raisins and pecans in the filling but not much else. I'm less of a traditionalist and love to throw in hints of orange peel and cardamom to make my cinnamon rolls almost like a Christmas Julekage, though I'm not opposed to other fillings, like chocolate or brown sugar and marmalade, though I'm not sure I've ever gone quite as crazy with toppings as these.

No matter how I make them, they must be topped with cream cheese frosting.

Sadly, I took a nap this afternoon and, in my absence, my children ate all the cinnamon rolls. The only evidence of their existence, dirty plates and small piles of discarded raisins and pecans.

Thanks to the connection with the world's greatest cinnamon rolls I will think about "Sunshine" every time I make my own world's greatest cinnamon rolls. The power of food, not to be underestimated.

Sunday, May 18, 2014


Oh, Margaret Atwood. How I used to love you.

What burgeoning feminist teen wouldn't love "A Handmaid's Tale"? Especially with the science fiction-y vibe.

Oh, excuse me. I mean speculative fiction-y vibe. Because, as Atwood reminds us subtly in her acknowledgements, she doesn't write science fiction. What she writes could really happen. Really.

Okay, that's probably enough snark.

"MaddAddam" is the third and final book in the MaddAddam trilogy. I read them out of order, starting with "The Year of the Flood," which I enjoyed, and then moved on to "Oryx and Crake," which I finished.

"The Year of the Flood" is primarily a survival story about two women who, through luck and their wits survive a global pandemic. The two women were both for a time part of an organization called God's Gardeners, where they knew each other and learned some skills that helped them keep themselves alive. The story was compelling for me largely because the women, Toby and Ren, were sympathetic, compelling characters. Toby is especially compelling as she survives some pretty terrible circumstances; Ren perhaps a bit less so, though largely because she's young and lackadaisical enough to just be less interesting. The world Atwood imagines is an interesting one, if dystopian in ways I simply find unbelievable, particularly regarding painball (convicted killers fighting one another to the death and then being released if they win).

"Oryx and Crake" wasn't as enjoyable because most of the story is about Jimmy, who I found whiny and unsympathetic. Part of the problem is that the protagonists in the story are Oryx (a former child prostitute) and Crake/Glenn (super genius), Jimmy's friends. I find reading a story from the perspective of a character other than the protagonist is often less satisfying, most especially if the non-protagonist main character is slimy and whiny. You can kinda get away with it if we're watching a likeable character, or if the story is short, but this is a novel and Crake is just about as slimy and ultimately far less sympathetic then even Jimmy.


I didn't dislike "MaddAddam" as much as I disliked "Oryx and Crake" but it wasn't a book I enjoyed much. Atwood is a literary writer and so she does some literary things that I found tiresome, like telling parts of the story as a story being told to the Crakers (the noble savages Crake/Glenn engineers before destroying the rest of humanity). The Crakers come off as imbecilic with the constant interruption, the dumbing down of events to something my two year old would find overly basic, and their perpetual misunderstanding of 'adult' concepts is a little too much for me. The one 'joke' in the book is a misunderstanding of the term, 'fuck,' which the Crakers interpret basically as a prayer to a demi-god/helper of Oryx named 'fuck.' The joke isn't funny when it's first told and it doesn't become funny through repetition.

I'm also not a huge fan of the literary conceit of giving every character a terrible childhood. Yes, parents are all monsters in some way. I'm a mom and sometimes I'm aware I'm being a monster, even when I try my best not to be. But I'm not that bad. This time around we get to hear about Zed and Adam's childhoods, which involved horribly degrading abuse and murder. Yes, I know, it's a novel, but seriously, is it feasible for that high a percentage of your population to have such terrible backgrounds?

I also can't turn off my science brain enough to suspend disbelief about the world Atwood creates. Despite Atwood's claims about the realism of her science, I found her science severely lacking. Sure, there are transgenic organisms out there, but assuming putting human frontal cortical tissue into the brain of a pig is going to make it super smart, and assuming the genetically engineered noble savages will be able to communicate with the super smart pigs is a bit of a stretch beyond 'speculative fiction.' If she just asked me to sit back and enjoy a piece of science fiction that we all know is only partially feasible, sure, I could do that. I'm not capable of letting her claim pigoons and Crakers and diseases that turn victims into frothy jell-o in a matter of minutes are truly speculative, as in within the realm of truly possible.