Monday, December 3, 2007

Paranormal Gadgets

As an unpublished author, I try to look at elements in the work of successful writers and try to understand if it applies to me, does this type of element exist elsewhere, is it overdone? Etc.
Something that struck me was a remark in a keynote address by Bruce Coville about the success of the Harry Potter series in part (no telling how large a part) due to the coolness-per-page factor. Meaning, JK Rowling has all these cool things on every page: wands, jelly beans, invisibility cloaks, Quidditch "technology", the list could go on and on and on.
I've thought about this. Most of the successful paranormal romance books don't really have paranormal gadgets. You might expect to see interesting technology and toys in SciFi, you might have a magical sword in Fantasy, but not too much in paranormal. Perhaps one might count the paranormal elements themselves here, but as a techno-geek I'm interested in man-made/paranormal-made technology.
Any PNR books out there with gadgets?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

RT Convention –drive or fly

Weighing the pros and cons of driving or flying to the RT Convention in Pittsburg, I needed an estimate on how much it would cost to drive, how long. How much does it cost to fly? Using the AAA Fuel Cost Calculator, I have the following estimate:

Results

Start City:

MA, Boston

End City:

PA, Pittsburgh




One-Way Trip:

578

Miles


23.12

Gallons Used


$70.78

Fuel Cost




Round-Trip:

1156

Miles


46.24

Gallons Used


$141.56

Fuel Cost

According to Google Maps, the drive will take 10 hours. Self parking is $21.25 a day. I believe I'll be there five days, total parking $110. Total cost, factoring in only half of the daily parking, to have a "one-way" cost comparison, $196.

Using Travelocity, the best fare is $185 BOS to PIT, flight under two hours, 30 minutes drive to hotel. Courtesy bus to hotel is $17, roundtrip $34. It takes me an hour to take the subway to the airport, so roundtrip, that's another two hours, cost is pocket change, rounding up to $5. Total trip time should include three hours of airport time, one way. Total trip time one way, even flying, 6 ½ hours. Total cost, approximately $204.

Price difference is negligible. Time difference, 3 ½ extra hours if I drive, hopefully. The driving time estimate is sketchy since I drive fast, but traffic and construction is always a problem, course I could use a GPS with traffic updates, so maybe drive time will be good.

One last thought: packing. Having the luxury of not fitting a fairy costume in a suitcase (yep, I will be going to the Fairy Ball), and bringing back any extra stuff I pick up, bringing the car or van would be good (I did the cost estimate based on the van, as the slightly higher cost factor).

Yet another thought, if I share the drive with someone, the cost difference is more significant.

Hmm.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Writing Tools II

Speaking of writing tools, this is my first blog entry using Word 2007 to create and publish to my blog, without using the Blogger website to enter my post. We'll see how it goes, and if it's any improvement.

The writing tools I mentioned in my previous post were downloaded, installed, and evaluated. As this type of software evaluation is something I do at my day job, I'm comfortable with comparing features and making a judgment on ease-of-use. I quickly found that the feature set varies widely, but I honestly didn't find any of the tools to do much more than I can accomplish with Microsoft Office—with the exception of Liquid Story Binder, which I'll discuss below. Granted, I own Office and am comfortable using it, but I also believe that a fair number of authors use it, and if not, there are other office suites that are just as easy to use, with just as many feature sets. A well-known one being Open Office.

To start with, I currently use Word 2007 for manuscript writing, using the sections and table of contents to track pages in chapters, and I use the outline feature to view the manuscript by key points. Excel 2007 to track daily progress, word counts, goals (per page and per word count), number crunching if I decide I want to be done by deadline, daily averages, etc. For word count analysis, I looked into several, and decided on Textanz. It evaluates words, phrases, and even creates a concordance. This is useful to look for phrase overuse and word repetition. As mentioned before, for brainstorming, timelines, flowcharting, I use an inexpensive tool, Flow Chart Maker Pro. Not sure where I picked this up or how I ended up with it, but it works. On the other hand, when I evaluated Freemind, I found it to be useful and will give it a try next new project. To gather all my research, notes, tasks, images, links to all project documents, and more, I use OneNote 2007.

To wrap this up, two tools are worth a trial run. The first, Power Writer, because of the ability to lay out GMC, Goal Motivation Conflict, and other tools for plotting beginning to end. While this is attractive, I found the interface to be a little confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, the use of screen real estate wasn't optimal, so the work space just wasn't setup well, nor was it comfortable enough for me to spend hours a day using it. The other tool, Liquid Story Binder, was intriguing because of the ability to use any external editor, and other features not found in the other tools I evaluated, such as word count stats, repetition visualize, scenes & timelines, checklists, sequence planner, and character dossiers. There actually so many features, that I'm putting off a full evaluation until I'm done with both 70 days of Sweat, and Nanowrimo.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Writing Tools -- Investigation

After seeing a few different discussions, blogs, etc. on software to support authors, I decided to evaluate some of the tools out there. In this first entry, I'm going to outline the products I'll be evaluating and then will post follow-ups as I go.

First, let me start by saying that I received a free copy of Microsoft Office 2007 and already had a copy of OneNote 2007. Another caveat, I use excel and flow-charting software for my day job. I'm extremely comfortable using all types of "business" software, and so far have been fairly happy with my hobbled together system, which I'll outline in my next posting. But, I've found some holes, especially in analysis of word usage (for instance, a word count to determine if I'm over using a particular word). I also currently use CutePDF and Flow Chart Maker Pro.

I'll be evaluating Windows apps only. I do have a Mac, but I work on my Windows laptop. Here's the list I'll be reviewing:

Liquid Story Binder
Writer's Cafe
FreeMind
Write Way
WriteItNow

Power Writer

Another evaluation of writing software, worth reading:
http://crystalking.wordpress.com/2007/10/29/ready-for-nanowrimo-check-out-these-creative-writing-tools-software/
And a collection of open source tools:
http://nothickmanuals.info/doku.php/articles:writerapps
Am I missing anything?

Besides the tool suites listed above, I'll be compiling a list of word analysis tools, later.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Off topic -- caramel popcorn

Just had to share.

I was in bed, finally asleep at a decent time, when a horrendous smell woke me up. I mean, bad. Mind you, once I’m asleep, I’m asleep. Not an especially light sleeper. I got up and hunted down what was somewhere between a skunk, a plastic electrical burning, and a strange burnt butter smell.

My DH had a midnight snack of microwave caramel popcorn. Now, I used to like caramel popcorn from a can, but after this, I’m not sure I can anymore. It’s disturbing to wake up to such a strong, weird smell. I’m traumatized. Now, after trying to work for an hour, I think I can once again hit the hay. It’s almost 3am, and I can still smell what had to have been popped around midnight.

Lessons learned… If I need to stay awake for meeting a deadline (I wish) in the future, then I’ll just pop this popcorn. What is in that stuff?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Work, Work, Work

Between the 70 days of sweat, a deadline at my day job, and watching the Red Sox in the World Series, posting to this blog hasn't been my highest priority. However, Sven has been a great motivator. I've been getting more and more done each day as I get in the swing of things. Goals you set for yourself, for no one else, can be the strongest of all. After all, you can't lie to yourself. Or can you? I suppose you can. But no lies here, I hope to be sweating buckets once I'm really rolling.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

To Breed, or not to Breed

In romance fiction with paranormal elements, at one time or another, the idea of breed usually enters into the story. With one character being essentially either human/ordinary and the other being paranormal/alien. Continuity of blood lines and breed can also be the major conflict in a story. Having recently read a book where this was the case (a vampire/human story) and in looking at my own manuscripts, I thought I'd take a look at "Breed".

How does it really work? Can a child --theoretically, of course-- inherit every trait from its paranormal parent? Admittedly, in any world-building, a story can be created to defy our current understanding of biology. Anything can go, and does. But if we were to keep to the rules of today, what does "Breed" mean?

Breed is certainly an important element in raising livestock. The Department of Animal Science at Oklahoma State tries to define breed in their article, "What is Breed?": "Animals that, through selection and breeding, have come to resemble one another and pass those traits uniformly to their offspring." The article continues to explore the problems in defining breed, which is in large part, opinion of the breeders.

For a male vamp to pass only vamp DNA and none of the human mother, then this could be termed "true-breeding." In the real world, this is closer to what happens within the plant kingdom. Picture a self-pollinating plant which will produce a plant with all the same characteristics. In this case, though, the vamp would be contributing all of the DNA. Nothing from the mother.

There's also the now common idea of genetic inheritance and dominant traits. You cross a plant with a recessive trait to produce white flowers with another with a dominant trait producing red flowers, you'll always get a plant with red flowers. If anyone is interested in this, check out Mendelian Theory, based on the work of a Austrian Monk, Gregor Mendel, now known as the father of common genetic theory. An easy to follow diagram of genetic inheritance is on the National Biological Information Infrastructure website.

What does all of this mean? You can create a hybrid of your ordinary/paranormal couple, combining dominant and recessive genes, or you could assume your paranormal side of the equation always passes dominant genes. Thus, one vampire parent will always produce a vampire offspring. Vamps breeding true does actually have some real world biological basis. And who couldn't believe an alpha-type male would be dominant, even on the genetic level?

Now I can think about what that means to my own world building.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Sweating Begins

And so it begins. Last night I wrote 942 words. It was just shy of the 1,000 goal mark I set for myself in the 70 Days of Sweat Writing Challenge. 69 more to go!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Environment in Literature

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day Light bulb moment. I'm struggling with trying to find a topic for my Master's Thesis in Literature. In doing so, I look at my manuscripts. Turns out, all of my work have moments of green. All have environmental issues buried in them. Yes, buried. I'm not one to enjoy an author stepping onto their soap box while I'm reading for enjoyment. That said, some of these issues are almost characters in themselves.

I have a short story with werewolves who are sensitive to the scent of petroleum. I have Phoenix who are worried over the gluttonous use of energy in their futuristic world. I have a faerie goblin who is angered over damage to his river and forest. There's more, but the point is that these issues are deeply important to me, and I was completely unaware that everything I'm writing has these elements in them.

Why should I be surprised? Forget my own personal views, look at the genres I'm drawn toward. SciFi is a perfect fit for environmentalism. Many of the major themes in these works come back to the damage that men can make on their world. Paranormal heroes in Paranormal Romance also tend to be friendly to the environment, if not completely tied to it. A common theme is even a fear of extinction of species.

I know that the environment is one of the most important political issues for me, but I have to wonder if the readers of SciFi, Fantasy, and Paranormal realize they are reading thinly veiled stories promoting conservation, preservation of wilderness, species protection, etc.

I'm doing my part. Recycling, teaching my kids about the environment, and writing from my conscience. I'm also participating in Blog Action Day, which is a day for bloggers to unite. Topic is the environment.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Seventy Days of Sweat Writing Challenge

The Seventy Days of Sweat Writing Challenge is on Round Two. I missed the first one, but I'm looking forward to participating this go around. By signing up for the challenge, I've committed to writing a little over 1,000 words a day for 70 days, starting Oct 15 and finishing by Jan 15.

Another popular writing challenge is National Novel Writing Month. But, I've decided to sweat with Sven instead. Good luck to anyone diving into either of these challenges. The water's deep.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Two RWA Conferences

I haven't been posting because I've busy for the past several weeks both preparing for and attending two conferences. Moonlight & Magnolias in Atlanta and Put your Heart in a Book in New Jersey. Both were great. Informative workshops and lots of good opportunities for editor/agent appointments. I'll attend both of these again next year. Worth the effort.

Everyone gets something different from these events. In Atlanta, the highlight for me was the pitch workshop I attended. The workshop was set up with about ten per table, with a published author at each to run the workshop. I was at Kelley St. John's table. Lots of really good information. She runs a pitch workshop that must be excellent, based on how things went at this event. If you have the opportunity to take her class, you should.

The best part of the NJ conference was meeting many of the members of my crit group. Until this weekend, I knew most of them primarily through email. It was great.

More later...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Phoenix Warrior is a finalist!

My Science Fantasy (after all the genre talk, I've decided it's a Science Fantasy), The Phoenix Warrior is a finalist in the futuristic category in "On the Far Side 2007". This contest is run by the Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal (FF&P) chapter of RWA.

Wow! That's really all I can think.
My fingers are crossed!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Women Warriors

I like to read about strong women with a romance worthy of her. No dominating male. No subduing her strength. RT has a list of books with "Women Warriors." Looking through it, there are some interesting entries there, but obviously they weren't making an all inclusive list. Of note, quite a few of these are sci fi/fantasy. Probably because that genre lends itself well to the idea.

One of my favorite "women warrior" books is not on the RT list. The Light Bearer, by Donna Gillespie. This is well worth a read. This is a historical romance written with a fantasy flair. The heroine, Auriane is a warrior. An extremely strong character. Set in the Roman Empire, it gives a realistic feel to that time and place. With the amount of research and care put into this novel, the reader gets sucked right in, and the sheer strength of surviving that time is obvious. Her hero Marcus is strong, noble, passionate. Excellent book.

Does "kick ass" chick apply? Maybe that's another question, who are some kick ass military/detective/agent women in romance today? J.D. Robb's Eve Dallas comes to mind, but even though she fights physically as well as with a gun, I think the idea here is a swash-buckling, sword toting, fight-to-the-death, age-old warrior-type.

Question is, what are other good "women warrior" novels?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Genre Wars III

In my previous post I discussed a Futuristics cover story in the Oct 2007 RT. That same issue has a story about Sci-Fi / Fantasy. Timely, huh?

The article poses questions about the genres to successful authors, namely John Scalzi, Linnea Sinclair (I couldn't write a "Genre Wars" post w/o mentioning her, now could I?), Catherine Asaro, Elizabeth Bear, Jo Walton, and Kristine Smith.

The article is the standard: "what's the difference between sci-fi and fantasy?"
But, it had two different lists for recommending books to get started in the genre. One list was compiled from their message boards, the other from their senior sci-fi/fantasy reviewer. These are pretty good lists for the romance reader (or anyone who's just a little leery of that part of the book store). Anyway, check out the message boards for those recommendations:
Do You Read Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novels?

The RT board responses listed a fair number of books that would appeal to the romance reader: once again, Linnea Sinclair. But also, Lois McMaster Bujold, Jo Walton, Sharon Shinn, and others.

Another book popularly mentioned, which was hands down my favorite when I was a kid, is Marion Zimmer Bradley's Mists of Avalon.

One of my other favorites, which may not belong in a discussion of romance, but darn it, I love this book: The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut was unique. Genius. This book in particular managed to say so much with such a simple plot. Well, maybe not simple. It's actually quite convoluted. Simple in that the main character becomes "unstuck" in time, but everything gets twisted. You just gotta read it to know what I mean. Really, go read it! It's strange, but wonderful.

Futuristics featured in Romantic Times

The October 2007 Romantic Times cover story is on New Concepts Publishing and their futuristics, including an interview with Kaitlyn O'Connor and an excerpt from her upcoming book, The Portal.

Futuristics from New Concepts have been a favorite of mine for quite some time now. It's good to see the attention given to them. They have some really creative authors there. The ones I've read and enjoyed are Michelle Pillow, Marie Harte, Mandy M. Roth, and of course, Kaitlyn O'Connor.

I have to be honest, I read these for the hot sexy scenes between two people in a relationship (yeah, I'm old fashioned--or can I say that about reading erotic romance?), set in an exotic location. It's fun, hot, and escapist. My favorites are:
So, even though I've kicked up my writing and haven't been reading as much, I'll be sure to get The Portal when it comes out.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Genre Wars II

In my first Genre Wars post, I started trying to dissect my project, The Phoenix Warrior, to determine its genre. Not that I truly care about genre, because I don't. It's artificial. But that's another discussion. However, if I were to finally send this out to an agent (or publisher), it helps to know exactly how to classify my manuscript. And, to understand which publishers and editors are looking for work in specific genres.

But really, this is also an interesting exercise, and a good way to look at similar work, etc. When I first started to look at the market, I immediately saw flaws in the first version of Phoenix, and have since started to rework it. So, although "genre" may be a confining concept, the overall effort has been helpful to help me understand what people like to read, what they want to read, what I like to read. That all needs to come together with what I like to write.

What is Science Fantasy? Space Opera? SF Romance?
After looking around to find the definitions, I found that most authors generally fall back on, "whatever the reader thinks it is." Good answer.

In response to my first posting, author Linnea Sinclair pointed me to her interview at Sequential Tart, in which she explains SF Romance perfectly. Read it! There's really no reason for me to try writing a definition when she explains it so well.

My conclusion? I would describe Phoenix as SF Romance, because it does include technical elements. I actually do care what type of engine might be in a spacecraft if space travel were common place. I don't make my ship go faster than the speed-of-light. But what about the unexplained phenomena, such as shape shifting? Well, even there I couldn't just say, "it's magic." I have an explanation for the origins of the shifters, even though SF Romance doesn't really exclude paranormal elements.

Enough said.

Genre Wars

Considering my initial posting "on paranormal romance," and my recent reading of "Finders Keepers" by Linnea Sinclair, on which I also posted, I thought long and hard about genre.

To get down to a real definition of Paranormal Romance (PnR), a posting here on blogspot does a decent job of it, titled: Teach Me Tonight: Definition of Paranormal Romance by Sarah S.G. Frantz. Greatly condensing Frantz's essay, PnR is a romance with:
  • central love story with a Happily Ever After (HEA)
  • paranormal--beyond normal
  • of this world
  • primary theme--the interaction between the "normal" world & the "beyond normal"
When I'm describing my *unpublished* writing to anyone who does not read romance, sci-fi, or fantasy, I lump all my works in progress (WIP) into PnR. Not really caring to carefully define the genre. Now, discussing WIP with professional authors or within professional or crit groups, the genres are taken a little more seriously.

This presents a problem.

How would I describe my WIP, The Phoenix Warrior? Does it have a central love story? check. HEA? check. Beyond normal? check. Of this world? maybe not. The setting for Phoenix is a futuristic Earth-based space vessel. According to Frantz, futuristics may not fit. Does Phoenix have the tension between the mundane and the paranormal, yes it does.

For the sake of argument, let's say that since it's futuristic, and not set on "Earth," and will in fact be set on another planet in the planned book 2, that Phoenix is not PnR.

What is it? Sci-Fi? (it's certainly not hard SF, no doubt there)
Certainly it could be considered Speculative Fiction. Science Fantasy? Space Opera? SF Romance?

I'll try to narrow this down in my next posting, Genre Wars II.
In the meantime, I'll be checking out the blog Romantic SF & Fantasy Novels which has reviews on books right up my alley. Including a reference to Karin Lowachee’s Trilogy: WARCHILD, BURNDIVE, and CAGEBIRD, reviewed as Best Space Opera in a Long Time. Gotta check those out!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

On Paranormal Romance

And they lived happily ever after...
Paranormal Romance (PnR) is first, Romance. There is the obligatory happy ending, which let's face it, is a big draw in today's world. It allows escape and a sense of safety. We all know where we'll be at the end. If you add to that the paranormal, the escape is truly out of this world.

There are a few definitions floating around. Two of the more accessible are from Wikipedia and Juno Books. Another good resource is PNR (ParaNormalRomance.org). I'm sure there are more out there, but these came to mind first.

A more formal essay from Juno Books editor Paula Guran can be found, in pdf, on the Juno website. Introduction: What is "Paranormal Romance"? is a fairly in depth look at the history of PnR. It's worth a read, as well as the book in which the essay was published, Best New Paranormal Romance.

The important elements in this genre are romance and of course, paranormal. Paranormal encompasses fantasy, the unexplained, the mystical, psychic abilities, horror, and sci-fi. Anything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Stargate to X-files fits the bill.

But really, let's not forget that PnR lets the cave men back out. Big alpha-male shape shifters. Sword toting female warriors. Lots of sweaty, steamy sex. This genre tends toward steamy to downright erotic. While the author is taking you out of this world, setting you up for a happy ending, the sexual fantasies get satisfied as well. Think Sherrilyn Kenyon, Christine Feehan, and Lori Foster is jumping in, under the name L.L. Foster.

Speaking of sword totin' women, the before mentioned Juno Books is looking for good published short stories with female warriors, for an anthology. Can't wait!

To wrap it all up, PnR is basically fantasy wrapped in a sexy package with six-pack abs.
Yum!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Reading -- "Finders Keepers"

Finders Keepers
by Linnea Sinclair
Saw a blurb about Linnea Sinclair's upcoming book "Down Home Zombie Blues." I have to admit, I haven't read anything by her and was surprised I haven't, considering she's a "SF Romance" author, writing about daring space captain heroines. I love "space opera" type SF. And, even better, people who know me have often heard me say how much I love "women with a gun" movies and books. This fits the bill, and it's romance to boot!

"Finders Keepers" does not disappoint. Both starfreighter captain Trilby Elliot and downed fighter pilot Rhis Vanur are strong characters who both feel instant attraction, but have to overcome the problems inherent in coming from very different worlds, literally. The action is fun, the pacing fast, the plot was easy to follow--not always the case with SF. The world building was straight-forward and airtight. I was able to understand the other-worldly names and politics.

I really enjoyed this one. When I was done, I wanted more. What's next for Trilby and Rhis?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Reading -- "Riding the Storm"

Riding the Storm
by Sydney Croft
Got an Advanced Reading Copy (ARC) of this at RWA.
HOT!
Let me say it again, HOT!
The jacket cover and Amazon description both give you a glimpse of a Remy (with a name like that, of course he's from from New Orleans) Ex-SEAL, storm magnet who is troubled by insatiable and uncontrollable sexual appetites during strong weather.

The heroine Haley works for an agency filled with others with various paranormal abilities. She does not have any special powers--she's an expert on weather, thus she's brought in to approach Remy to join the agency.

What the cover and other descriptions of the book don't tell you is that really, this is a complete world building. The book takes a great deal of time dealing with two other story lines. One, a ghost hunter and a woman who controls electricity, both from the agency, who get it on in a haunted house. The other, the head of the agency and his tortured longing for a lost love, giving into his strong bi-sexual libido--several times. These two other story lines are also sexy and are a hint of what's to come.

If you like paranormal erotic romance, take a look at this one. It kept me interested and entertained. The authors (Sydney Croft is a pen name for two authors) created eroticism without losing the romance and emotional connections, which were strongly built.
Highly enjoyable and definitely HOT!

The two authors behind Sydney Croft:
http://larissaione.com/soapbox/2007/08/28/riding-the-storm-releases/
http://www.stephanietyler.com/blog/2007/08/28/riding-the-storm-releases-today/

Reviews:
http://www.alternative-worlds.com/2007/08/09/riding-the-storm/
http://romrevtoday.blogspot.com/2007/08/ask-five-withsidney-croft.html

Friday, August 24, 2007

Reading -- "Tag, You're It"

Tag, You're It (Berkley Sensation)
by Penny McCall

Okay, so this isn't a paranormal. Since the topic is "Paranormal Romance," you might think that the first book in this list would fall under that category. But, no. I've got stacks of books to read, among many I obtained at the RWA National Convention in Dallas. I spoke briefly to Penny McCall when she autographed the book. We talked about the cover, which I really like. That is how I decided to read hers first. Funny how someone just strikes you when you spend half a minute speaking to them. She doesn't know me from a hill of beans, but she made me want to read her book simply by exchanging an interesting word or two with me.

The book--
This is treasure hunt meets stung female imposes seclusion on herself. Throw in some organized crime, lots of snow, and you've got a story. The hero and heroine are strong characters who maintain their strength throughout, no gushing female subdued by the alpha male. Plenty of laughs, and mutual attraction. This is fun, fun, fun. Now I have to go back and read her first in this series, All Jacked Up. Great title, and once again, great cover. But, it'll have to wait. I have a HUGE stack to go through first.

Monday, August 6, 2007