Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Give me wide open outer spaces…

The Peas are randomly busy with random business this week so I'm recycling an old post about setting from my time with the Criminal Minds blog. I hope you enjoy. We'll be back with more random wackiness next week!

Space… The final frontier… These be the voyages of the starship Fortune’s Fool. Arrr five-year mission be to explore new worlds and plunder their riches, to be the most feared band of pirates in the Andromeda System, to discover the dirty bilge rat what be stealing arrr rum and keel-haul ‘em, and to boldly go where no pirates have gone before!

This week I be -- ahem -- I am talking about a setting I’d love to write about but haven’t…yet. As you may have guessed, I’d love to write a novel set in space. But not just any space novel. I want to write about pirates in space. Think Star Trek meets Pirates of the Caribbean. 

Why would I want to write something like this? Well, first of all, it would be a lot of fun. I enjoy the process of world-building and a space pirate novel would give me the opportunity to literally create worlds.

Second, and this may come as shock to some, I like pirates. However, I have an extreme phobia of large bodies of water. (So naturally I live on the Gulf Coast. Yeah, I’m still trying to figure that one out myself.) My phobia would prevent me from ever writing a novel based on the high seas. Space seems a logical alternative.

Third, it would be a challenge. In my other works, such as BLOOD LAW, even though my main character is a vampire, she is bound by certain laws of nature -- mainly gravity. In space, gravity takes on a whole new role. Some planets have less where as some have more. Stars create various levels of gravitational pull. Black holes are the universal bullies. Years of research have been conducted on black holes. If I were use one in a novel, I’d have to be certain the science (for the most part) is correct. If not, I’ll be facing a mutiny of epic proportions.

Then there are the actual ships to consider with regard to science. Do they have gravity? If so, how is it generated? If not, what are the long-term effects of zero-gravity and how might a humanoid race evolve in such an environment? Are the pirates recognizable as humanoid or are they completely alien? The possibilities are infinite.

For me, setting is playtime but is also one of the more important aspects of the story. It’s vital to get it right. When discussing setting, it’s often easier to refer to films simply because of their visual natural. Would Bladerunner be just as cool if it were set in the Old West? What if True Grit played out against the backdrop of feudal Japan? Would Darth Vader’s famous line deliver the same punch if he told Luke he was Luke’s father atop the Empire State building instead of the bowels of Cloud City?

I don’t think so. Setting, as in real estate, boils down to location, location, location. Some of us just choose more exotic locales than others. So drink up, me hearties -- yo ho!

Peas out!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Guest Reader Interview: Twenty Questions with Chris Hutchison-Jones

My final reader at this roundtable of book lovers is Chris Hutchison-Jones. This one's going to require some explanation. First of all, it's seventeen questions not the usual twelve because there's just no way to edit this. Everyone should have people in their lives they refuse to edit. My interviewee did not replied via email... but rather post. Yes, that box in your front lawn that holds catalogs... it receives honest to goodness mail too! As I couldn't very well copy and paste this into the Blogger window, I'm left to interpret his reply the best I can and offer visual aids.

The single sheet of paper I pulled from the envelope. It's more organized that it looks.

Chris Hutchison-Jones
What you should know about this reader...
Chris is a great friend as well as a musician/songwriter, social worker, and philosopher of life. Married to Crissy (my previous reader interviewee), I've know him for a lot of years. He's also the person I credit for influencing me to re-embrace my passion for writing. He challenges me, inspires me, and even now with this blog -- coerces me to leave pre-describe formats and try something new. I added some photos to this interview to help create the best and most honest mood for this installment I could. 

Here's my interview with Chris Hutchison-Jones.

1) What kind of reader do you consider yourself?

Scattered? A fisherman? Restless?
Scattered? A fisherman? Restless? Short attention span. I read like a songwriter. I'm just looking for something to steal. I have several books going on at once, at varying degrees and speeds. I read Slaughterhouse 5 in two weeks. I've been working on Moby-Dick for three years. A Levon Helm biography has put everything else on hold.

2) What kinds of books do you read and why? 

The ones I can see. The ones I wouldn't mind dating. I take commitment very seriously.

3) What author's (or stories) do you return to again and again? Why?

I think most males of a certain persuasion go through a Kerouac phase. And he is fun to read still, but he's more of an old friend who doesn't quite fit in with my current station. Someday i want to write a version of On the Road for folks that work 9-5 and take family vacations. An existential crisis with coloring books and pics of the family with the world's biggest ball of barb wire in Texarkana.

Spin me a yarn.
4) As a reader. what do you expect out of the author and the story you are reading? 

Spin me a yarn. Be a good liar so the story's so good that I don't care if they're lyin'.

5) How has the eBook revolution changed the way you read and how you buy books?

The revolution was postponed because of rain. 

6) What makes you pick up a book or author you've never read before?

A whim. First and last name of the author starting with the same letter. 

7) With so many books to read, why do you choose the books you do?

Momentary inspiration. At any moment I have five to ten books to read. 

8) Film before book, or book before film? Why?

Plead the 5th.

9) List the five books that stick with you and tell why they do.

Desolation Angels
"I have nothing to offer anyone but my own confusion."
The Undertaking
How did death move outside and defecation move inside?
House of Leaves
Not sure I finished ... or ever started it.
Dante's Commedia
The perfection of theft
Dylan's Chronicles
Dylan in New Orleans writing Man in the Long Black Coat

Paper cuts and dry eyes. Trying too hard to change the world. 
10) What does reading give you in your life that nothing else can?

Paper cuts and dry eyes.

11) Some people read, some people don't -- why do you think you became a reader? 

12th grade English almost killed reading for me. No one should read Shakespeare with a list of words next to them, having to write down the page they appear.

12) What makes a book disappointing to you?

Trying too hard to change the world.

14) Does the Internet (Facebook, Twitter, Good Reads), book reviews (blogs, Amazon, and B&N), or any media buzz influence your desire to read a book? How or how not? 

Um... yes?

Yes. Book choice is often a game time decision. 
15) Do you judge a book by it's cover? 

Yes. Book choice is often a game time decision.

16) Do author blurbs, cover jackets, and award seals matter to you when choosing a book to read?

Not for hardbacks. Dust covers are promptly discarded. 

17) Have you ever read a book that surprised you, one you didn't expect to like but did? 

Slaughterhouse 5 ... didn't know it was a Sci-Fi novel. 

19) Have there been books you didn't finish reading?

Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, I think I got lost in the navel gazing. 

20) Favorite villain of all time. Explain.

Dante ... a superior thief.

Instead of a bio I give you a somewhat shameless plug...
Check out Chris's band Dressing the Debutantes right here and learn most of what you need to know. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


<<<Wanted: Drama Llama for weekly exchange and to signify which Ninja Pea has endured the most drama during a given week. Requirements: llama must be adventurous and able to adapt quickly to new surroundings. Ultimate fluffiness and cuteness is preferred but not required. Llama must be able to thrive in a potentially high stress position, have an understanding and extreme tolerance of crying, bitching, and whining, as well as, possess an ability to bear those burdens when the sanity of a Ninja Pea cannot. An expected hazard for the chosen llama will be exposure to extreme mockery and ridicule by all manner of spouse, family, and writing colleague -- but this will be compensated generously with a near godlike status within the Pod. Please inquire within (the comment box below).>>>

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Jackson Hole Writers Conference Experience

June 28-30, 2012

There are a lot of reasons a person might choose one writing conference over another. Let me tell you, location really is everything. Jackson, Wyoming is an ideal place for a writing con. With breathtaking views and intimate access to faculty -- I couldn't have asked for more from my only planned conference this year.
Arriving in Jackson Hole
I'm a week out from my return and I must say it was much more than I could have hoped for. It was a little costly due to the travel expenses, but quite satisfying in the end. There were a lot of reasons for my decision to fly cross-country to a relatively (but not really) small writing conference where I knew no one and had no connections. And that ended up being the best reason for doing it. Other reasons included: the chance to tag on a Grand Teton/Yellowstone family vacation, the teen writer program (my thirteen-year-old niece was able to join me), the affordable critique program (with top agents, writers, and editors), the fantastic "beer tent" student readings, and intimate access to authors like Anita Diamant, Brandon Mull, Kyle Mills, and so many others.

I met a lot of wonderful people, got some great feedback, and I learned a lot that I actually didn't already know. That's the issue with doing an annual conference circuit, right? You start to hear the same things over and over. I was pleasantly surprised by my experience in Wyoming and learned and heard candid thoughts and opinions that were actually new to me after several summers of conference hopping. It was a good mix of all kinds of writers: poetry, Literary, commercial, screen, nonfiction, and YA. I even chatted with a southern writer who lives not too far from me. It ended up being a terrific hub of inspiring and supportive people. 

The panels and workshops touched on business and craft, and allowed a good bit of social time to make new connections and rekindle old ones. And the Arts Center where the conference was held was just a few blocks from anything one might want or need while away from home. With a cocktail party, wine and cheese nature walk, and a buffet dinner -- there was plenty to keep busy each evening when venturing out at night alone wasn't preferable.

Banner over the main congregation area at the Art Center
The keynotes and panels were what one would expect but seemed to sparkle a little more than previous experiences at similar sized conferences. Maybe I was looking to be inspired, but I think after JHWC's twenty years of experience --  organizers just do a great job of selecting dynamic speakers. Every writer should hear Dennis Pulumbo's Cosmic Rules of Writing. You'll be hard pressed to find a better more relatable writer, speaker or person than Michael Perry. Anita Diamant and Brandon Mull are gems of down to earth humans that are so generous with their time it seems incongruent that they are such rockstars in the industry. Naomi Shiyab Nye had my geologist husband on the edge of his chair with excitement about poetry, art, and life and Margaret Coel's knowledge as a writer with a fascinating lifelong career seems an endless well. I feel so lucky to have chosen this year and this faculty as my first JHWC experience. It'll stick with me for many years to come. Writers as a rule are pretty awesome -- but the collection in Wyoming this late June was impressive.

My specific critique experience put me in contact with invaluable feedback from writers Catherine McKenzie and Lise McClendon and agent Robert Guinsler. To boot, I had an extended critique I'll never forget over lunch with bestselling thriller writer Kyle Mills -- whose advice and honesty impacted me greatly. If that's not enough, Tim Sandlin might be the most generous and accessible conference organizer I've encountered to date. My experiences with getting my critiques lined up, getting my niece settled and comfortable, and all communications orienting me with what to expect were easy and friendly.

The Alpine House - our home away
All in all, I couldn't have asked for more from my one chosen writing conference experience this summer. I had told myself after the last few years of pounding the pavement from conference to conference that I'd take a break this summer and chose only one. I had a big year last year and needed a less overwhelming networking and travel schedule. What a conference to chose! It filled the space of a whole summer and has given me more to ponder and reflect on than I could have ever hoped for. There were so many high points and valuable connections and experiences made -- this little blog update doesn't touch them all. Clearly, I'd highly recommend the JHWC.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Healthy Level of Insanity

Okay, loyal readers, you've read our individual views of genre. It's a complex topic and as you've seen, even the Peas have similar yet differing opinions. Every writer will have his/her own view of genre and, indeed, of fiction as a whole. However, one issue that fiction often presents garners a nearly unanimous agreement: Fiction, regardless of genre, must be believable in the eyes of the reader. There's just one tiny problem with that statement. Fiction, by its very definition, isn't real. How can you make something that is wholly unbelievable seem believable? It's a paradox that drives authors insane. Fortunately, it's a healthy level of insanity so (for the most part) the Straightjacket Brigade stays far, far away.

Thomas C. Foster, in How to Read Novels Like a Professor, says this about the Un/Believable Fiction Paradox (a label I totally just made up on the spot here):
"...the essential artifice of the novel [is that i]t is a made-up work about made-up people in a made-up place. All of which is very real. We are asked to believe in and treat as potentially real a space that is manifestly imaginary." 
Think about it for a moment. Have you ever read a book set in a contemporary time/place that seems far-fetched even for a novel? Maybe the author failed to explain a crucial piece of world building, such as why a person suddenly takes on the appearance of a disco ball after joining ranks of the undead?* Writers, even science fiction and fantasy authors, constantly walk a tightrope between what is believable and what will cause a reader to stop reading. This tightrope is best summed up in the Law of Bogus Locales, as again stated by Foster: "Places in a work of fiction are never real but must behave as if real."

Essentially, the Law of Bogus Locales means that any real-world, identifiable locale in a novel is a fictionalized version of itself. A small Washington state town isn't the real town. Cincinnati, Ohio is a shadow of the real city. The same is true for St. Louis, Louisville, New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, London, Tokyo, and any other place that can be located on a map or through a Google search. The version you read in a book exists only in the author's imagination. But...there's still that annoying bit about believability. Someone familiar with the area around Grand Central Terminal in New York will know there's a restaurant called Pershing Square tucked beneath the Park Avenue Viaduct and that the Chrysler Building is to the left when exiting Grand Central on 42nd Street. If a writer places the Chrysler Building to the right, a reader who knows that area may stop reading. To have any reader stop reading your book before the end is a death knell for a writer. These are the issues that drive authors crazy, give us nightmares, keep up us awake at night, and force us to double--triple--check every fact before we send a book to the publisher. And even then we worry.

So what do we do? Well...we cheat. We're kids with Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs; we build and we destroy. We add our own bits of flair. We fiddle with geography to suit our needs. We leave out certain information and trust our readers to fill in the gaps. Yes, we still get called out from time to time by readers who want to know why we did/didn't mention X, Y, or Z. The answers vary from author to author, but the main reason usually falls along the line of "X, Y, or Z didn't fit with the story I wanted to tell so I added/deleted it."

The truth I'm trying to convey here is that all writers suffer from some level of insanity, but it's a healthy level of insanity. We chose to walk the tightrope. We accepted the challenge issued by the Un/Believable Fiction Paradox. We do it because we love the thrill. We do it because we can't not do it.

Until next time...

Peas out.

* This is in no way a slam or slight against such an author. Merely a well-known example used to illustrate a point.