Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Fogonazos: The writing automaton

I spotted this on BoingBoing. I’ve got a weakness for automaton and wind-up toys. I had read about this writing automaton so it’s fairly amazing to see it in action.

In the eighteenth century, 200 years before little ASIMO started to walk or to climb stairs, the great Jaquet-Droz built an automaton which could scrawl any sentence on a piece of paper and had a chilling repertory of human-like movements. Read the story an then check it out at the videos:

Early fiction: A fable

While we’re on the wayback machine, I thought I’d share something I just found in the process of packing the house. A fable I wrote when I was 14 or 15. There are some other short stories in this folder, but this one makes me laugh. I have no memory of writing it.

Once upon a time there was a small squirrel who was convinced that the world was round. Daily he went leaping through the forest proclaiming, “The world is round like an acorn!”

And all the other animals would shout and hit him over the head, “The world is flat like your head!”

Then the little squirrel would wait till the next day when he would do it again.

One day, he didn’t come by and the other animals became worried and looked for him, but he was nowhere to be found. Since they had a large supply of things to throw at him, they began to wish that he would return. After a time, they appointed a new squirrel to proclaim that the world was round and the business went on as usual.

Moral: Even an unwished for habit may be called upon to return.

The earliest thing I remember writing was in kindergarten (I think). I wrote and illustrated a story for Mom as a Mother’s Day present. All I remember was the dutch iris that turned into a space ship. I thought it was cool because each part of the iris represented a different part of the ship. No idea at all what the plot (if any) was.

How about you? What’s the earliest piece of fiction you have?

Life with a touring puppeteer: 1998, Day 6

Sunday, October 11, 1998

Rabbits, Carrots and Whales set
Our day together started at 9:40am. Joe came to pick me up in the touring van and we drove to TOJ to do one last run-through of the “Brer Rabbit” part of the show. I was still shaky on some of the lines. Then it was off to Beaverton to set up for our first performance together. It was, as Joe says, trial by fire. The stage was too low for us to fit on. We have a 10 foot ceiling height, so we had to set up on the floor in front. But because we knew they were sold-out we tried to crunch as much as possible by having parts of the set on the floor, and parts on the stage. This created interesting staging concerns. We could no longer go behind the tree.

But things went okay. Since it was a public show, instead of doing our usual demo and Q&A, we just showed the audience puppets up close and answered questions individually. This lets the parents get out with the problem children. And it’s nice for us to have a closer contact with our audience.

Then it was time to pack up the van and head out. It takes us about an hour to set up, and an hour to take down. Everything goes in this van. We also have luggage and the bench seat too. So you can tell that it collapes pretty well.

Now we are on the road to Tacoma, WA. Jodi will be with us today and tomorrow. He and I have a meeting tomorrow with the man who is writing the script for Secret of Singbonga, a tale of India. Tonight we are having Canadian Thanksgiving with our friends, Aaron and MaryClaire.

IROSF reviews Shimmer’s autumn issue

Autumn 06 coverInternet Review of Science Fiction reviewed our autumn issue of Shimmer. Many thanks to all of our authors and artists and hearty congratulations to Silvia Moreno-Garcia, whose story “King of Sand and Stormy Seas” got a recommendation from Lois Tilton.

A man’s life comes full circle as he returns to his origins. When he was only a fisher boy, the sea had given him a gift.

The blade was blue with fine letters spelling conjures of protection. Once Lysander had taken the sword to a magician. He told Lysander the writing on the sword predicted that the man who wielded the weapon would become a hero. The magician, it turned out, had been a charlatan.

A nice depiction of the contrast between dreams and reality, and the pain of disillusionment.


The speed of blogging and oral story-telling

I biked down to Hawthorne to have lunch with Jay Lake, so that he could sign the limited edition chapbooks of his story Christmas Season. The wind was pretty ferocious and it was like biking uphill the whole way there, which was frustrating, since that’s the downhill direction.

By the time I got home, two people IMed me, knowing that I had been at lunch with Jay. Granted, he was closer to the restaurant than me, but still. There’s something a little odd about having lunch with someone in the same town, and having the news be instantly on someone’s computer, across the country.

Anyway, the lunch, as he reports, was fun. This is the first time I’ve gotten to hang out with Jay outside of a con, and he’s even more frighteningly intelligent when not sleep deprived.

During the course of lunch, we were talking about written versus oral storytelling. I think it sprang up, because I was talking about the cultural difference between a writers’ convention and a puppeteers’ festival. At World Fantasy, I told my Sleeping Beauty story, which is the tale of a puppet show gone horribly, horribly wrong. It’s always a good story, but the reaction that I got at WFC was much, much bigger than anything I get among puppeteers. At first I thought that it was because the material is familiar to puppeteers and unexpected to writers, but, after going to a party with a bunch of theater friends, I think there’s more to it. I think it’s that writers aren’t used to people who know how to tell a story, as a performance. When I was at the theater party, we all seemed to take turns telling stories, like miniature plays. We all have repertoires of stories that we trot out when they seem appropriate. I tend to tell the Sleeping Beauty story, the Stolen Van story, the Hot Chocolate story and the Time I Hurt My Wrist story with most frequency.

They do have titles. I love it when Jodi tells the Jello Salad story. Or when Sam tells the Beauty and the Beast Vomit story. It’s true in other fields, clearly. Ken Scholes’s Orange Bicycle story, is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard.

But none of these are written stories. I could write down any of them, but it’s not the same as telling them. Have you read Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories? He wrote them specifically to be read aloud by parents to their children. They are full of asides like, “O Best Beloved”

So the Whale swam and swam to latitude Fifty North, longitude Forty West, as fast as he could swim, and on a raft, in the middle of the sea, with nothing to wear except a pair of blue canvas breeches, a pair of suspenders (you must particularly remember the suspenders, Best Beloved), and a jack-knife, he found one single, solitary shipwrecked Mariner, trailing his toes in the water. (He had his mummy’s leave to paddle, or else he would never have done it, because he was a man of infinite-resource-and-sagacity.)

It’s a very different style of writing. In fact, Gentle Reader, it makes me wonder if that’s why the direct address to the reader used to be in style. Was it a holdover from when stories were predominately an oral form?

I’ve sometimes wondered if the blog and audio books will bring direct address back into style. Certainly, I address you much more than I would if I were writing Fiction with a capital F. As readers become used to that, will it come back into style? The Algebraist, which I’m reading now, begins with direct address. I quite liked it. It was exciting to feel as if an author were speaking to me. It’s one of the reasons that I’ve always liked Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series; I always feel as if Vlad were sitting across the table talking to me.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but I think there are some ideas that are worth exploring. If nothing else, it will help me be more aware of my audience next time I’m telling a story.

Livia Llewellyn is one smart lady

On Livia Llewellyn‘s blog she goes through her year end summary and then talks about rejections in exactly the same terms that I think about them.


I don’t keep stats for rejections. In fact, I have a shocking admission: I don’t even keep my rejections. Listen, I spent twenty years being rejected by THOUSANDS of casting directors. It’s not like I have a huge list of all the people who didn’t put me in their play or movie because of A, B, or C – I did my piece, was told “no”, and moved on without feeling the need to memorialize it or keep some kind of “souvenir” of my rejection. It should be the same principle for writing – at least for me, if no one else I know of.

If the agent or editor asks me to submit again in the future, I make a reference in a spreadsheet. I do keep track of where I send projects to and if/when they return, so I don’t send it to the same place twice (hey, I’m forgetful, it could happen). And if someone gives me good editorial advice, I take note of it. But keeping a box of actual rejection papers? I have a box labeled “Contracts”. I toss the rejections in the trash. I have no idea how many rejections I’ve received. It’s not relevant. Saying “I have ‘X’ total sales” is more important than saying “I have ‘X’ total rejections”. I know this attitude goes against everything most writers believe about rejections, but there it is.

I’ve kept a couple of good personal rejections, but more because the content is useful than for a scrapbook. I can tell you that I had five rejections before my first sale. I could add up all the places that stories have been, because I do keep track of that to avoid sending a story to the same place twice, but I don’t think it matters. Thank you, Livia, for saying it so well.

Sometimes it’s better not to know.

I’ve had three different people ask me how my day was, to which I answered “fine.” They then pressed for details expecting, no doubt, me to regail them with tales of puppets gone bad. Alas. I’m working on a spreadsheet, which I explained. Two of the people did not believe me when I explained that it is deathly boring.

For those unbelievers, here is one of the formulas that I’m writing.

IF(AND(B2< =5;OR(C3<=5;C3=11;C2=1);OR(B3<=5;B3=11));"in January - May, and November";IF(AND(B2<6;B3>5;B3<11;OR(C2=1;AND(C3>5;C3<11)));”in June-October”;IF(AND(B3=12;OR(C3=12;C2=1));”in December”;IF(AND(B2=6;OR(C3=5;C3=10;C2=1);OR(B3=5;B3=10));”in May and October”;IF(AND(B2>6;B2<9;B3>4;B3<11);”in May – October”;IF(OR(B2=9;B2=10);”year round.”;IF(AND(OR(AND(Formulas.C3>5;Formulas.C3<10);C2=1);AND(B3>5;B3<10));”in June-September”;”THE MONTH FIELD DOES NOT MATCH THE DATE ENTERED”)))))))

Bear head

I’ve spent most of the last two days trying to solve the issues with ventilation in ways that don’t make it really unpleasant for the actors. The thing about testing to see if the fogging still occurring is that really the only way to do it is to put the head on and start a timer to see when the eyes fog over. So, I’ve spent a lot of time with the bear head on. The other night, I edited the short video of the bear during bouts of testing.

Right now, I’ve got it on again as I’m writing this. Aðalbjörk and Josa, the actresses who will take turns being Hringur, came over to test my mock up. They agreed that it was only mildly obnoxious and that the fogging didn’t seem to be happening.

So, I’m putting the real one in now, or rather, I’m testing the real one before doing the last thing that will make it permanent. My assessment is that, while it does seem to stop the fogging, it makes the impression of heat in the head more intense. See, what’s happening is that the hot air coming out of my nose and mouth is bouncing around in a much smaller area before exiting the character, which means that it feels like I’m breathing in a steam bath.

Here are the steps I’ve taken. I had already replaced the fiberglass cheeks of Hringur with foam for a more huggable bear, but I used the standard upholstery foam rubber. I switched that foam out for a reticulated foam. You can see that reticulated foam (on left) is much more porous than your standard foam rubber (on right).

FoamsHringur bear

Next I honeycombed the new cheek to let even more air flow through. Although this allows more air through, it also makes the cheek weaker. I can get away with it here because the surrounding fiberglass adds structure.

Hringur bear

I covered this with netting and put in plugs as I did with the other holes that I cut in the bear.

Hringur bear

Hringur BearIn theory, the finished bear is not noticeably different from the original bear, but is cooler. What I’m finding is that when I’m moving around, enough of a breeze gets through all of these small holes to cool the head down somewhat, at least compared to what it was before. I’ve been in the head for about fifteen minutes now, including a dance break, and there’s no fogging. Björgvin is coming by to pick Hringur up for rehearsal. Oh, please, please, let this work when they rehearse with it.

Finishing NaNoWriMo.

Well, I arrived in Portland laaaaate on Thursday night, half an hour before the end of NaNoWriMo. Did I win? Sort of.

I went through the batteries of my computer and PDA and still had a hour and a half left of the flight. I only owed 431 words. I’d been writing an average of 1400 per hour, so I knew darn well I could finish those 500 words. I pulled out a pen and a piece of paper to keep writing, when my seatmate decided to start chatting. Eh. I decided that since I would be home by 10:30 that I could safely get those last 431 words in.

What was I thinking?

I got home an hour later than I thought, thanks to some fairly routine and dull transit glitches. At this point, with half an hour to go, the 431 should still have been possible, but I worried that I’d run into problems uploading so–I cheated. I pasted in 500 words from another story. Uploaded it. Validated it. And THEN finished the remaining words. So, I did finish on time, but once I validated as a winner I couldn’t update my wordcount, so the one showing there is not the right word count. At midnight, I finished with 50,274 words.

I think the novel wants to be between 70,000 and 80,000 words long. I’d like to have that finished before Rob comes home, which should be possible, but I won’t go nuts over it, since I also want to have the house stuff finished by the time he’s home too.

2000 year old computer

AntikytheraOh, baby. Forget steampunk. I am so writing an ancient Greek Gearpunk story or novel. Go check out this article in Gear Factor

An Anglo-Greek team of scientists has revealed what they consider the true workings of the Antikythera mechanism, a 2,000 year-old analog computer recovered from a Mediterranean shipwreck over a century ago.

The article also reference a 9th century book called, The Book of Ingenious Devices, which I now want a copy of.

For the moment, I’ll settle with picking up a copy of the new Nature, which has a really in depth article on the Antikythera, fortunately online. Aside from talking more about the details of how the thing works, the author asks the question, “How can the capacity to build a machine so magnificent have passed through history with no obvious effects?” No kidding! He speculates that it’s because it was made of bronze and that most of them were melted down to make weapons at some point, but still, you have to wonder what makes technology disappear.

Ignoring Thanksgiving

I’m sitting at home, wearing one of my husband’s sweaters with all of the lights turned on in the house. I’ve heated some frozen vegetable gyozas for a snack and taken a break from writing to, well, write something else. There are many things to be thankful for, but my husband is far away and being in a group of other people would only remind me more of that, so I’ve elected to ignore the holiday.

So, I’m thankful that he left one of his sweaters at home. I’m thankful that we can talk to each other even though he’s still in Iceland (and thank you Skype for making that free). And I’m thankful that I have time to write a couple of chapters while everyone else is eating turkey.

Research, Writing and Etiquette

I’m having a ridiculously good time figuring out the seating chart for the dinner that Lady FitzCameron is throwing to celebrate the completion of the mural in her dining room.

I collect etiquette books and every year throw a black-tie optional dinner party with place cards and everything. The rules for figuring out precedence or are surprisingly sensible. You start with the guest of honor, or the highest ranking individual. Then the oldest. Next, the one who has traveled farthest and on down until you come to those who are regular visitors to the house.

So in my case, I’m trying to finagle the guest list so that it is inevitable that Mr. Dunkirk has to escort Jane into dinner. Will anyone care but me? Probably not, but it is making me think more about the other guests’ ranks, ages and positions in their fictional lives.

No puppets?!?

Oh my. I just realized that, in Shades of Milk and Honey, I’ve created a world where it’s quite likely that shadow puppetry would never have arisen. In fact, I think that puppetry and mask work may only have come up as a form of sham glamour.

This is very strange for me.

I’m thinking that if it did arise it would be like the interplay of Kabuki and Bunraku, or even as the puppet operas did. A way to poor-man’s way to mimic what the “real” artists did, and then gradually become an art form of it’s own. Okay. Yes, I can see that happening.


Mind you, this has almost zero bearing on the story. But still. A world without puppets? Ugh. I shudder.

For those of you who are not reading along as I post chapters, I’ve posited that magic works, but it’s confined to glamour, so a glamourist can make illusions but it takes a physical toll in the form of energy, just like running up a hill or biking in the wind. The more complicated the illusion, the more energy. It’s relegated to a women’s art, along with painting, music and embroidery and they are frequently fainting from over-exerting themselves.

In fact, the vocabulary they use to discuss it is taken from dressmaking. If a piece of glamour is “tied off” then it can continue without costing the creator energy, but it is tied in place. So a person can use folds of glamour to create an image of a character but have to constantly work the folds if they want the character to move around. That would be its own form of puppetry and maybe someone would have created a physical puppet in order to work multiple characters at once, without fainting.

My waaaay deep idea is that it developed as a protective technique and then as people evolved it slowly had less importance until it became strictly a decorative art.

Maybe I should be writing the novel now instead of rambling about the imaginary relationship between puppets and magic in my Regency England.

My Orycon Schedule

I just received my schedule for Orycon. Holy cow. At least I won’t have to make decisions about which panels to attend.

Panel Start Panel End Panel Title
Panel Location Panel Description
Moderator in Bold

Sun Nov 19 3:00:pm Sun Nov 19 4:00:pm How to Write About Something You Know Nothing About
Salon A The joys of research. How much detail is enough to sound credible without bogging down the story. How to avoid “facts” that are irrelevant or inaccurate. How to become an instant expert in time to meet an editorial deadline.
Greg Gorden Theresa Reed Alma Hromic Deckert Mary Robinette Kowal Sara A. Mueller

Sun Nov 19 2:00:pm Sun Nov 19 3:00:pm Love, Romance, Dark Passion and Crossing the Genre Lines
Salon G Enjoy a little romance in your SF and fantasy reading? Where does one genre end and the other begin? The blurring between romance and SF/fantasy continues apace, as romance publishers launch new “paranormal” and “supernatural” imprints and SF/fantasy editors seek the same type of story.
Theresa Reed Mary Rosenblum phyllis irene radford Mary Robinette Kowal Kara Dalkey

Sun Nov 19 1:30:pm Sun Nov 19 2:00:pm Reading: Mary Robinette Kowal
Salem A reading by Mary Robinette Kowal
Mary Robinette Kowal

Sun Nov 19 12:00:pm Sun Nov 19 1:00:pm The Great Writers Blog
Salon A Blogging — everyone’s doing it! And blogs are a great way for writers to chronicle their creative process and track their progress, interact with fans and other writers, and get free publicity. So, what are the keys to a great writer’s blog? Come to this panel and listen to some veteran “bloggers” talk about what they’ve learned.
Cory Doctorow Dave Slusher Joseph E. Lake, Jr. Mary Robinette Kowal

Sat Nov 18 4:00:pm Sat Nov 18 5:00:pm Juggling Jobs: Survival Tips for the Beginning Writer
Salon B The delicate balance of job, family, and being a writer or artist. Assuming one has to have some income, is there a right kind of day job for writers?
Rob Vagle Bruce Taylor Ken Scholes Leslie What Mary Robinette Kowal

Sat Nov 18 1:00:pm Sat Nov 18 2:00:pm Turkey Readings
Medford Find out about some of the stories that really, really didn’t make the cut. Or what happens to a manuscript from the time it arrives at the publisher’s office to the time the editor actually looks at it. What should the writer do, and what should the writer not do, to get out of the slush pile.
Mary Robinette Kowal David D. Levine Anthony Pryor

Sat Nov 18 11:00:am Sat Nov 18 12:00:pm Remember to Breathe- The Secrets Behind Great Public Readings
Salon E Table 1 You may be a good writer, but reading aloud is a separate skill.  In this workshop, learn to make your words sound as great out loud as they do on the page.  Using both demonstration and audience participation, we will explore voicing, narration and pacing.  Come with one paragraph of your own work; sample text will also be provided.
Mary Robinette Kowal

Sat Nov 18 10:00:am Sat Nov 18 11:00:am We Don`t Need Another Hero
Mt. Hood From Kimball Kinnison to Dylan Hunt, strong-thewed heroes have strode the spaceways, protecting the galaxy from evildoers. But the trend in contemporary literature is shifting from “heroes” to “protagonists” to “viewpoint characters”. What are the ways that main characters can be used in science fiction? How can ensembles and event-based plots build great story lines and lovable groups?
Mary Robinette Kowal Sheila Simonson phyllis irene radford Jean Lamb Michael A. Martin

Fri Nov 17 4:00:pm Fri Nov 17 5:00:pm Other Worlds or the Same Ol`, Same Ol`?
Salem Once upon a time, every SF story introduced us to new worlds. Now, SF can be alternate Earths or just around a too familiar corner. Why do writers use other planets? Why don’t they?
David W. Goldman Jean Lamb Mary Rosenblum Richard A. Lovett Mary Robinette Kowal

Fri Nov 17 2:00:pm Fri Nov 17 3:00:pm Constructive Critiquing
Salon A How should a colleague/friend/editor go about critiquing a manuscript? Who is qualified to do a critique? How does a critique help a writer, and how should a writer use a good critique in their writing process?
Patrick Swenson Mary Robinette Kowal Mary Hobson Dianna Rodgers Louise Marley Mary Rosenblum

HorrorScope: Review: APEX Volume 1: Issue #6

My story has been given a nice notice in this review. HorrorScope: Review: APEX Volume 1: Issue #6

Another surprising thing happened when I came to ‘Cerbo en Vitra ujo’ by Mary Robinette Kowal. What started out as an almost light-hearted piece that could’ve been ‘romance in space’ suddenly dovetailed into dark regions I know of all to well of from my personal writing endeavors. Grete’s boyfriend has recently left Banwith Station to attend school on a planet-based school. Then he goes missing. Suffice to say the conclusion is unprecedented and I cannot say more than this. Only readers with a strong stomach may apply.

It makes me very, very happy that the reviewer understood the underlying love story between Kaj and Grete.

While you can no longer purchase copies of this issue, Apex #7 has just arrived in my hot little hands. I have to say that Sandro Castelli’s cover is even more gorgeous in person.

Edtied to add: In the comments, Mr. Sizemore says that he has twenty copies of Apex #6 left.