Tag Archives: Mary Robinette Kowal

WorldCon (aka MidAmericon)

It. Was. Awesome.

I loved seeing people I knew from various past writing classes like Mishell Baker, Stina Leicht,  Ada Milenkovic Brown, Vanessa Rose Phin, and Will Gordon, receiving hugs, and generally hanging out.

And Spotting a wayward T.A.R.D.I.S.

And fun with Ann Leckie novels, like:

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Grabbing Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy swag
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Morgan Swim

as Lieutenant Tisarwat

And any awesome panels and presentations (more than I can fully represent) including:

Ready, Set, Flash! starring Lee Harris, Deirdre Murphy, Chris Phillips, Vivian Trask, and James Van Pelt: a game show where brave authors wrote a complete flash fiction piece in five minutes based on prompts supplied by the audience.

Enjoying Urban Fantasy with Yanni Kuznia, Melissa F. Olson, Max Gladstone, Stina Leicht, and Diana Rowland,  wherein authors formed Venn diagrams with their bodies in order to explain what urban fantasy is.

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Diana Rowland and Stina Leicht at the urban fantasy panel

Sarah Pinsker’s concert. I love Sarah Pinsker’s fiction, especially “Our Lady of the Open Road.” Sarah’s also a singer-songwriter. Her lyrics are fully as awesome as her stories, so I’ll be picking up some of her music. She played a few songs from her new CD. Can’t wait until it drops!

…And Yesterday was Already Tomorrow: Ancient Greece and Rome in Science Fiction with Robert Cape and Timothy Phin. Tim delineated many ways in which you could find the Roman Empire in the Radch (aka the civilization Ann Leckie builds in her Ancillary novels).

And of course, the Hugo awards ceremony. Pat Cadigan was a highly entertaining toastmaster, and the results were much as I would have wished.

In other news, I missed most of the drama, of which there was apparently plenty:

 

But to finish on a more positive note: I think the most fun I’ve had in a while has been playing along with the launch activities around Mary Robinette Kowal’s Ghost Talkers.

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Cracking this code led to the next clue…

So much code-breaking! Sadly, I wasn’t able to make it to the Tor party Friday night. One lucky code-breaking winner received an original story, written by Mary to their specifications, on a 1913 Corona #3 portable typewriter, while they waited!

Now that’s how you launch a book.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year — Again

nano

Of course I’m doing NaNoWriMo. Sorry I didn’t blog about it before this. Has it really been three weeks since my last confession, er, blog post?

I’ve just been totally wrapped up in the planning and the writing involved in NaNoWriMo. However, instead of writing a novel this month, I decided to write a bunch of stories. Or, to be more precise, to start a bunch of stories. I had ideas for three or four novels and many more short stories, and I thought I’d get to work on a few of them. Part of this came about because I keep hearing from published science fiction and fantasy writers that an important component of learning to write well is finishing your work.

It’s hard to finish a novel, even if you have a first draft. I’ve got one novel I care enough about to keep working on. I started during November of 2012. It’s still not done. So I thought, heck. If short stories are good enough for Ray Bradbury, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Aliette de Bodard, maybe there’s something there.

Then I learned about Ray Bradbury’s 52 Week Short Story Challenge. Hmmm. That might be just what I need.

After November, in which I’m writing (actually, starting) #30Stories30Days, I hope to have plenty of material to mine for the entire following year. Then I’ll finish a story a week. Even if I take a few of weeks of vacation and/or get caught up in whatever drama life chooses to present, I should still be able to finish 45-50 stories. As Ray Bradbury would say, they won’t all be bad. Unless of course, you really have to write all 52 stories to end up with one good one. Then I’m screwed.

Still, I think I’ll learn a lot. I’m looking forward to it.

Thirteen lines…what’s the gee-whiz?

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Regular readers of this blog may remember that I’m following along with the Writing Excuses master class in fiction writing. Slowly. As in, I’m still working on assignments that were given back in April, but at least I’m working on them.

For the assignment I’m on right now, I’m supposed to share the first 13 lines of a story, and then ask alpha readers—that would be you, if you choose to accept the assignment—what they think the “gee-whiz” of the piece is. In other words, what is the reason for telling the story? Is it a certain interesting society, character, piece of tech, kind of magic, or what?

In that spirit, I’m sharing the first 13 lines of a story I’m writing, and asking for responses. Can you guess/predict the gee-whiz?

Kimberley savored a celebratory caramel macchiato in the coffee garden across from campus. Her eyes rested on a bed of pink tulips under a flowering crabapple tree as a light bubble of joy filled her chest. Her old implant pinged. Even before installing her upgrade, she was already thinking of her implant as the “old” one. Marco’s tone. She bit her lip. She’d hoped to tell her mother about her placement first. Mom would have the perfect reaction, but Kimberley’s ping to her had so far gone unanswered. She planned to tell Marco, too, though his response might dampen her mood.

As if anything could. He might not be as happy for her as she might wish, but they would both get over it. And she wanted to hear about his placement. She clicked her tongue to open a line, said, “Hey.”

“Did you find out yet?”

“Yes. How about you?”

“Skank! You first.”

There they are. The first 13 lines, at least in my web browser. Any impressions regarding genre, tone, conflict, story question or characters are welcome, but I’m particularly interested in what you think the “gee-whiz” might be.

In other news, Cookie, Sis, and I just got back from England and France. Photos and anecdotes coming soon…

Friday afternoon hooky

I should be writing. Okay, this is writing. What I meant was, last Friday I should have been writing, Instead I went with Cookie and Cookie Junior to the Art Institute. We especially wanted to hear the gallery talk on Cassatt, Sargent, and Whistler, but we stayed afterwards to appreciate a few other things.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures because 1-all I had was my phone, and 2- the art is usually there, and better in person than any snapshot I could take of it.

That said, a few things either caught my eye, or were going to be gone soon. Here’s a small sampling:

Our gallery talk lecturer showed us this picture by John Singer Sargent.

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John Singer Sargent – Venetian Glass Workers

It made me think of Mary Robinette Kowal’s novel, Valour and Vanity, a novel which is set in Regency-era Italy and is the kind of novel you might end up with if Jane Austen wrote Ocean’s Eleven. There are Venetian glass workers in it.

As long as we were thinking about Mary Robinette Kowal, who is a puppeteer as well as a writer, we decided to scoot into the Puppets exhibition. It was slated to close two days after our visit, so if we missed it on this trip, we weren’t going to see it. I say “we” but we couldn’t talk Cookie Junior into puppets, as she thinks they are creepy. She looked at 20th century art while we checked out the puppets.

Some historical puppets hung out inside a display case. You weren’t allowed to play with those.

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Historical puppets from distant lands
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Puppet closeup

Good thing Cookie Junior wasn’t with us to see the next one; creepy on so many levels! I don’t watch horror movies, but I want to know what kind of story someone could come up with about her.

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Creepy puppet

The part that was most fun was the shadow puppet theatre. There were shapes on sticks that you could move behind a scrim, but that’s not all!

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Shadow puppet theatre

They also provided instructions for making animal shapes using nothing but your hands. I’ve done the wolf one before, but that was the only one I knew how to do. We learned how to make dogs, ducks, horses and rabbits.

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Cookie makes a bird!

We also visited the Asian collection. I found this incense burner shaped like an insect cage:

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Incense burner from the Asian collection

Possibly the most interesting find of the day was the one Cookie described as “something that belongs in a Terry Pratchett novel.” We must have spent 15 minutes admiring it.

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Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs lock

Here’s what the Art Institute says about the item that so captivated us:

Frank L. Koralewsky served as a traditional ironworker’s apprentice in his native north-German town of Stralsund. After obtaining journeyman status, he worked in various German shops before immigrating to Boston in the mid- 1890s. By 1906 he was a member of the Boston Society of Arts and Crafts, specializing in locksmithing and hardware. This extremely intricate lock, which took seven years to complete, exemplifies the early-20th-century taste for sentimental medievalism and represents the pinnacle of the metalworking tradition at the turn of the 20th century. Exhibited at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition, where it won a gold medal, the lock illustrates Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

We’ve been going to the Art Institute for how many years, and we just now discovered this? Inconceivable!

I want one.

By the way, there are only six dwarfs on the lock. Bonus points to the person who can either state definitively what happened to the seventh, or come up with a convincing story…

Writing Excuses 10.14 – Beginnings, part 3

Part 3 of 3

quill

Today’s post is my third 500-word beginning for the story outlined in my July 14  post.

Elise ran her hands along the cool, brushed nickel box, over its rounded corners. She closed her eyes, the better to focus on the sensations from her fingers, seeking the recessed snap opening that was discernible only by touch. The whole container was barely larger than her fist. So much more elegant than the big plastic box her University upgrade had been packaged in. Though at the time, four years ago, she remembered being excited by that, too, and the future it seemed to promise.

But this box, with its subtly raised FMI logo—this was truly what she’d been working for. What her mother had worked overtime and sacrificed to make possible. She wanted to wait for Mom, and she didn’t.

“Time?” she subvocalized to her implant. In the cool, well-bred tones she’d set it to use as soon as she entered the business college of [NAME] University, it informed her that it was nine-oh-six, . Normally Mom would have been home by now. On a night like tonight, she should have been home an hour ago, even if she had charts to finish. Why didn’t she answer Elise’s message?

Elise felt she might explode. She’d done all the busywork she could think of, filling the time preparing for tonight’s celebration. She’d stopped to buy bratwurst, the cheap pink bubbly wine her mother loved, and a fresh deck of playing cards. A salad was already made, the table set. All the poker supplies were on the wood laminate coffee table in front of their sagging couch. Mom would sit on the couch, hunched low over her cards, trash-talking Elise as they played. The worse her mother’s cards were, the more colorful her mock insults grew.

Where was she? Mom knew Elise was supposed to hear about her job placement today. Didn’t she want to be home, whether to comfort or to celebrate? Elise had expected her to message much earlier in the day, as soon as she got any kind of break at work, but there had been no communication of any sort, and no response to Elise’s message sent—how long ago was it now? Over half an hour.

Well, at least she could access the documentation she’d been sent with her offer. She kicked off her knockoff Feruccis and lay down on the couch. Closing her eyes, she said, “Open email for FMI offer details.”

“Read it out, or will you read?” her implant asked.

“‘l’ll read.” She’d listened to the details already, but she wanted to process the information visually. When she was jumpy like this, it sometimes settled her to read. Scrolling across her interior vision field, the details of the offer still delighted her. Two hundred K to start. That was twice what her mother made. Even if she didn’t get a salary bump at full employment, she would be able to pay her loans off in five years. And she would get that raise. She’d done her research. FMI kept interns at base pay for a year, then bumped it by at least ten percent. She’d heard of some rookies getting fifty percent after the first year, if they were real hotshots. She was just such a hotshot, and she knew it.

No one who started in [the projects] got into FMI, even if they had the grades for it. That is, no one but Elise.

Which of the three beginnings works best for you, making you want to read further? What do you expect to happen in this story?

Writing Excuses 10.14 – Beginnings, part 2

Part 2 of 3

Today’s post is my second 500-word attempt to begin the story outlined in my previous post.

Elise was enjoying a celebratory light caramel macchiato when her implant pinged with Marco’s tone. She swallowed, clicked her tongue to open the line, said, “Yes?”

“Did you find out yet?”

“Yes. How about you?”

“Skank! You first.”

“Okay.” Her joy threatened to bubble out every orifice in her body. She couldn’t have held out long anyway. “I’m in.”

“At FMI? Shut up.”

“Yes, at FMI. I already have all the docs, but I haven’t downloaded them yet.”

“What about your upgrade?”

“They’re messengering that to the apartment. Should be there in the next couple of hours.”

“Shit. You better get there before someone lifts it. You don’t want to miss your big chance to join our Uno overlords.”

Elise laughed. She’d learned about ten years earlier—courtesy of the business etiquette class her mother arranged for her when she was still in middle school—that none of the one-percenters ever referred to themselves as Unos. It was déclassé, and if she’d done it, she would either have betrayed her common origins or been seen as too irreverent to be taken seriously. But Marco could get away with it.

“Just finishing a coffee, then I’m on my way. You want to come?”

“Does [insert futuristic Pope Catholic thing here]? I want to see that implant.”

“Let’s meet up and take the bus back. Where are you?”

“Just picked up my own shiny new upgrade.”

Elise knew someone would hire Marco. From the sound of his voice he was happy about his offer, but he’d never said who he wanted to work for. He’d mentioned some private corps, the university, even a couple of non-profits, but he’d never given her any indication of his top pick. He was like that. He worked his ass off all four years—just like she had—but where Elise had only ever wanted to work at FMI after graduation, Marco had good things to say about several different paths.

“Spill. Who took you?”

“The Uni.”

“Oh.”

“Elise. It’s a good thing. We don’t all want to rule our inferiors.”

“That’s not what FMI is about.”

“I’m sure you’ll explain it all to me once you get through brainwashing—uh, orientation.”

“Let’s not fight about it, Marco. Can’t you be happy for me?”

“If you can be happy for me.”

“Of course I can.”

And suddenly he was across the metal table from her, his backpack making a hard thunk as it landed, causing her cup to shudder and jump. Thank god she’d left the lid on.

“Glad to hear it, ’Lise.” He grinned and picked up her cup, taking a large swig from it. “Are we going now, or what?”

She shook her head, stood, and settled her shoulder bag crossways on her body. She wrested the cup away from him. “We’d better. I don’t want any of the little delinquents or their more professional parents getting ideas about my package.”

An aubergine sedan with a silver FMI logo on the driver’s door was just pulling around the corner as they approached Elise’s building.

Back to the Writing Excuses – 10.14 – Beginnings

Part 1 of 3

I’m back to sharing some of the work I’m doing as part of the Writing Excuses Master Class in Fiction Writing. The episode that prompted this post (and the two following) can be heard here.

Here’s a basic outline of the story I’m working on:

In the near future, people use specialized implants to help them succeed at their jobs. Implants are given when children start preschool, and based on how the children respond and what they seem most suited to learning, their implants are updated/refined as they approach maturity.

Elise, 22,  lives with her mother in a bleak apartment, paid for from her mother’s salary as a nurse. Elise has always longed and worked for a better future. Finally her dreams seem to be coming true. She is about to graduate from the university, and has been selected for a training program at the prestigious [Financial Management Institute]. The company has delivered her new improved [implant]; once she replaces her student implant with the new one and accepted the Terms of Service, she will be contractually obligated to begin her new life. She has some problems with the tutorial and asks a friend to help. The friend disapproves of Elise’s plans; they fight and the friend leaves. Elise’s mother finally gets home from work, Elise can tell it was a rough day, but her mother won’t talk about it. Finally Mom asks Elise what’s up. Though Elise is surprised Mom doesn’t remember that today was the day the training program was choosing recruits, but she tells her Mom about her triumph. Far from being genuinely enthusiastic, Mom simply goes through the motions. Elise realizes this is because Mom still has work turned all the way up on her implant. She requests that Mom turn work down, which is how people are normally able to maintain genuine relationships. Mom either can’t or breaks down when she tries to.

A frightened Elise is left to decide whether she’s willing to forgo her personality in order to succeed in a demanding career.

  • Main story element from the MICE Quotient: Character
  • Number of characters: 3
  • Exciting parts/promises: 1- a fabulous new life of wealth after years of poverty and sacrifice, 2- the tech implants, 3- the fight with her friend, 4- the revelatory scene with her mom
  • Probable story length ~4000 words

And here’s my first 500-word attempt at letting the reader know what to expect from the story:

Elise looked both ways down the hall before setting her messenger bag on the floor. It was safer there than over her shoulder; she didn’t want to jostle her precious FMI package while she fiddled with the three locks they used to ensure their apartment’s safety. Once she started the new job, it wouldn’t be long before they could afford something better than this dump. Luckily the corridor was empty. Too late for the parents to be scooting their kids out the door to school and too early for the dealers to be trolling the halls for customers.

She and her mother had reported the broken vidcams in their own hall too many times for security to take them seriously. Never mind that they were telling the truth: the cams were actually broken. Security had only so much budget for these buildings. Keeping the halls safe wouldn’t become a priority unless and until some One-percenter got a bug up her ass about the less-privileged segments of society and came along to do good. That hadn’t happened in their neighborhood yet. If Elise had her way, she and her mother be long gone before anyone got around to it. It would probably take a few years for her to gain One-percent status. Maybe once she did, she’d become a do-gooder. If she remembered and still cared about anyone in this shithole. She was taking Mom with her, so she might not.

Her fingerprint applied to the last lock, she elbowed the door open and lifted her bag over the threshold, this time setting it carefully on the laminate table by the door. She locked everything again from the inside, kicked off her knock-off Feruccis, and hung her blazer on the peg next to the table.

The living room smelled of synthetic lemon, and she smiled. In spite of how exhausted Mom always was, she’d still cleaned the apartment before leaving for her hospital shift this morning. She had to be almost as excited as Elise, though she’d been asleep  when Elise left for school.

Neither of them could know if FMI would choose Elise for an internship, not for sure. Despite her stellar academics and extracurriculars, despite the years she and her mother had sacrificed a better home for the extra classes and social opps Elise would need in order to blend in with One-percenters.

Anyone could get into some kind of financial management slot if they had the grades and no criminal record. To get into a firm like FMI, one that raised their employees from nowhere to the heights—that took more. You needed to show you could be one of them. Elise had spent over eighteen years—ever since she got her first implant—doing what it took to fit in.

She couldn’t have anyone over to their drab apartment, of course, so she had to be better than the usual one-percenter at almost everything, including making people care about her. She’d done it, though. Finally.

The packet beckoned. She opened the clasps on her bag and pulled out a brushed-nickel box.

Based just on this beginning, what do you expect this story to be about? What would you read further to find out?