Friday, March 30, 2012

Friday Shout Out

Happy Friday everyone. We're on spring break here at OSU and it's rained all week. Fortunately, the wife and I are headed out to the coast for the weekend. It'll be rainy there too but an least we'll be able to see the ocean.

I wanted to give a couple shout outs to wrap up the week. The first is a post from the great writing blog The Prosers discussing what it takes to write a believable female character and the difference between writing a strong character and a character that is strong.

My second shout out needs no introduction. If you don't know (and love) his edgy writing blog Terrible Minds then you just aren't paying attention. I've posted before about how female dominated the writing blogosphere is. I don't know if there's a direct correlation or not but the writing blogs I keep track of (because I love them) sometimes get a little sticky-sweet. Everyone's so darn supportive all the time. Chuck's blog is a good break from the sweetness.

ALTHOUGH...I have to admit I'm a little ticked at Mr. Wendig. That's not true. I don't know why I lied to you just then. I'm actually a bit ticked at myself for not coming up with such an awesome story idea as a vampire waking from his undead slumber to find himself in the middle of the zombie apocalypse!  Too cool! I haven't read Chuck's new novel Double-Dead but as soon as I get some free time (aka, when I graduate) it's first on my list!

Have a good weekend!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

So You Want to Write a Novel

I know this has been around for a while but I just love to watch it again every few months. Enjoy!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Write In Peace: What Happens to Your Work if You Die?

"I shall not die, these seeds I’ve sown will save
My name and reputation from the grave
And men of sense and wisdom will proclaim
When I have gone, my praises and my fame."

These are the last lines of the 11th Century Persian epic poem the Shahnameh written by Ferdowsi. In these four lines the author proclaimed that although his time on this earth was finite, his ideas would live on though his masterpiece. And he was right. The Shahnameh is still required reading for school children in a number of middle eastern countries. Through his writing Ferdowsi achieved what so many men have sought, a form of immortality. 

How many of us write for similar reasons? I get a thrill thinking that some kid 100 years from now might pull an old dog eared paperback of my novel from a used book store shelf.  Or maybe my writing will only live on in my family. Perhaps my great-grandchildren might get a sense of who I am by reading something that I created. I think that most authors hope that some part of them might live on after they're gone through their writing. 

But what if the end comes too soon? I know most folks don't like to ponder their own mortality but we're all going to die whether we think about it or not. So ask yourself, if you died tomorrow, what will happen to your writing? If you've already published every word you've ever written, then you don't have anything to worry about. But for the rest of you, do you know what will happen to the hundreds of hours of work, inspiration, blood, sweat, and tears that you have invested? If not, I have some suggestions.
  1. Take an inventory: I recently went through all of my notebooks, journals, and hard drives to take an inventory of what I've written and I was amazed at some of the projects that have fallen through the cracks over the years. I now have a list of all my projects, some of which I'm very excited to take another stab at.
  2. Consider your legacy: We've all written some gems in our time; stuff that we're proud of and want people to see. Likewise, most of us have some literary skeletons in our closets that should probably be encased in cement and dropped into the sea. Decide what projects you want to be your legacy.
  3. Hard copies and Google Docs: You know what you want to pass on, now you need to get your projects into a form what can survive. I recommend taking a two-pronged approach. First, start a hard copy file. Print out the desired projects and organize them into a 3-ringed binder (or several). Include copies of any notes, sketches, or outlines that you think are pertinent. Once you have your hard copies taken care of, create an online storage area for your chosen projects. I recommend Google Docs. It's easy to sign up for a Google account (if you don't already have one) and upload documents in almost any format. Another possibility is to save all of your work to a zip drive (aka thumb drive) and throw it in your safe, lock box, or bury it in a mason jar in the back yard (ok, probably not that last one).
  4. Make your withes known: The first three steps don't matter if nobody knows about them so tell whoever it is that you think should know. Tell them where the hard copy file is and give them your Google Docs password. Let them know why these stories are important to you and if there are any specific instructions for particular documents. For example, my wife knows that in the event of my untimely demise that she should try to get my current WIP published (or more likely find some other writer to try). Also, put this information into your will if you have one. 
Now I know what your thinking: I don't have the time for this! Well, that's kinda the point. None of us has all the time we want and we never know when our time will run out. Take steps to insure that all your hard work wont be lost if the worst should happen.

Who knows, maybe your great-grandkids will be thankful you did.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Free IMG Ebook!!!

I found this in my inbox this morning and wanted to pass it on. Enjoy! 

The ebook version of the IGMS Awards anthology is going to be free on Amazon this weekend, from Saturday, March 24 through and including Monday, March 26th.

InterGalactic Awards Anthology Vol. I is a collection of stories from Orson Scott Card's award-winning magazine InterGalactic Medicine Show, spotlighting the winners of the magazine's readers' poll for best artwork and best short fiction.

Edited by Orson Scott Card and Edmund R. Schubert, this anthology also includes other popular stories from the magazine's six year run, as well as a new introduction by Peter S. Beagle.

Includes stories by such award-winning authors as Peter S. Beagle, Eugie Foster, Aliette deBodard, Marie Brennan, Alethea Kontis, recent Nebula-winner Eric James Stone, and many more. 

Please visit this site at

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Flex Your Muscle: 5 Reasons Why Writing is a Lot Like Working Out

I'm not a gym nut. I'll admit that right off the bat. If I can get into the gym 3 times a week, I'm doing pretty good (although I should do 4 days/week). Basically I work out as much as I do for 3 reasons.

1. I LOVE food and I LOVE beer and if I didn't work out I would weigh 300 lbs (I'm not joking, I weigh 220 lbs as it is).
2. I need to keep slim and strong so that my back doesn't freak out.
3. I like to look good for my woman.

That having been said, I've noticed some strong parallels between writing and working out that I thought I would share with the class. Is everyone paying attention? Ok, here we go.

1. Quantitative Goals are Important
Everyone knows that setting goals is an important step for getting anything done. But how many times have you told yourself, "I'm going to get in shape!"? How about "I'm going to finish my WIP!"? Setting broad, over-arching goals like these is a good start but eventually you have to get down to numbers. How may times a week are you going to work out? How many pages do you have left to write? How many pounds are you going to loose per month? How many words a week are you shooting for? Setting quantitative (number driven) goals lets you see how far you've come and how far you have left to go. 

2. Setting Unrealistic Goals
This isn't a recommended first step; it's just reality. Everyone does it. "I'm going to work out 7 days a week and I'll have a 6-pack by the end of the month!" Laughable right? Kinda like, "I'm going to write 5,000 words a day and have a first draft out by the end of the month!" It's just human nature. We get excited and motivated and then we set unrealistic goals. The danger is that when we don't live up to those over-inflated expectations, we get discouraged and give up. DON'T GIVE UP...EVER. Just move on to #3.

3. Get Real
Ok, it's been a couple weeks and I don't look like Brad Pitt from Snatch (holy crap, how did he get so freakin' ripped?!?!). It's the end of the month and I don't have a flash fiction entry, let alone a first draft of my next novel. I guess it's time to settle down, get to business, and set some realistic goals. And when you do, keep in mind #4.

4. Scale Matters
I don't mean an actual scale that you weigh yourself on, I mean the scale by which you quantify your goals. Setting your goals at too large a scale (weight loss/words written per year) makes progress hard to measure. On the other hand, using too small of scale can send you on a progress roller coaster. For example, don't (I repeat DON'T) weigh yourself every day. An average person's weight fluctuates by 2-4 pounds per day due to factors such as water weight (especially if  you're female), when you eat, and when you...use the bathroom. Do yourself a favor and visit the scale no more than 1-2 times/week, max (Oh, and while I'm on my soap box, never pay attention to your "Body Mass Index" or BMI score, it's a bunch of crap).

Same thing with writing. Daily word totals are a good way to make yourself feel stressed and behind schedule. I prefer weekly writing totals so that the amount I write can fluctuate day to day as long as I get to where I need to be by the end of the week.

5. Set a Schedule, Rely on Routine
To make physical fitness work, you need to set a schedule and get into a routine. Pick certain times on specific days that will consistently work for you and set a work out schedule.  For those particular chunks of time, make working out your priority. Trying to get to the gym "when I can squeeze it in" doesn't work. Set a schedule and then make that schedule into a routine than you can stick to. I know it's easier said than done. I know life gets in the way but this is important. Stick to it!

The same thing goes for writing. Reserve certain times that are for writing only. Block them out on your day planner or calender. Write yourself reminders. Hire a homeless person to shout encouragement from the lawn. Whatever it takes, get into that office and write.

I've actually come up with a few more similarities while writing this post but I think I'll save them for another day. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Little Love on a Tuesday

I want to brag a little.

As you may know, the always-awesome ladies at the Nancy Coffey Literary Agency have a great writing blog, Confessions, where they run the occasional writing competition. I entered the last one, a 100 word flash fiction challenge for a chance to win Claudia Gray's new book "Balthazar".

While I didn't win, I did get an honorable mention with my post earning the title "Best Description" from non-other than Suzie Townsend herself!


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Unlikely Inspiration: The Bottom of the Barrel

I have read some amazing books in my life. Tolkien, Rowling, Herbert, McCaffery, Rawn, and Asimov have fueled my love of fantasy and science fiction. Old classics like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and new classics like The Art of Racing in the Rain and The Kite Runner have left me spellbound and hungering for more. There are so many great books and talented writers in this world and I will never have enough time to read everything that I want to.

But I have a confession: Great writing and great writers are not what first inspired me to write.  

Great books inspire me to read.

What first inspired me to write was an urban-fantasy paperback I bought at a used book store. I actually don't remember book's title or author (20 minute google searching didn't help) and I guess it really doesn't matter. The story line was disjointed, the characters were shallow, and the climax frustratingly ridiculous (some previously un-introduced character shows up and whisks the distressed main character away to another dimension). In short, it was the worst book I've ever read.


Not only did I read it but since I bought it at a used bookstore, presumably at least one other person also read it. The fact that this book had not only been published but actually purchased and read by at least 2 people completely blew my mind. I'm not trying to be negative or judgmental but the simple fact of the matter is that when I read that book I said to myself, "I can do better than this. If this book can get published and read, then I can get published and read."

I started writing shortly thereafter. It turns out that I love to write and that it's something I hope to do the rest of my life. And I owe that initial push that inspired me to a book that I hated.

What's my point?

It doesn't matter what inspires you as long as your inspired. Take your motivation in any form it may come it. Welcome it. Use it. Build on it.

And get writing!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Zombie Song

I dabble in song writing. If I feel inspired to write a song, its' usually because I've woken up with most of a fully formed song in my head and unless I get it down on paper ASAP, it will drive me insane.

I'm also learning to play guitar which, amazingly enough,  can be a good accompaniment to song writing. The thing is, I often have to prioritize among my many hobbies and more often than not, when I have to decide what to devote time to, writing wins.

So, since I'm not using the songs I write, I want others to. Take a look at my song page and see what you think. If you happen to be musically inclined and feel inspired to try one of them out, you have my permission to do so as long as you do 3 things:

1. Give me credit for writing the song
2. Tell me your using the song
3. Send me an mp3, video, vhs, dvd, chalk drawing, etc, of you playing the song so that I can have the satisfaction of knowing that something I've created has spread it's wings and fledged.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Little Non-Fiction: An Abstract for My Graduate Thesis

Time for something a little different. As I've mentioned, I'm a wildlife graduate student so I though I would share part of my research. This is an abstract I used for a conference where I presented some preliminary results from the elk portion of my study. Enjoy!

A couple of my ladies.
Ungulate behavior has been widely studied, however directly observing activity of multiple, free-ranging animals over long periods of time and large geographic areas has been prohibitively difficult. Recent improvements in technology, such as motion-sensitive activity monitors coupled with GPS collars, provide researchers with an alternative means of collecting activity data. Variations in motion associated with different activities necessitate calibration for each species of interest. To date, no calibration has been conducted for dual axis activity monitors for Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni). We conducted controlled field trials to collect detailed behavior observations of collared tame elk. We then used discriminant function analysis to couple our field observations with data collected by the activity monitors worn by the elk in order to determine what behaviors can be accurately classified. Preliminary results indicate that collar output can be used to distinguish among passive (i.e., lying down and standing still), feeding (i.e., grazing and browsing), and running (i.e. trotting and galloping) behaviors but that finer scale classification (e.g., between grazing and browsing) may not be possible. Better understanding the capabilities and limitations of these activity monitors will allow researchers to better design and interpret future behavior studies for Rocky Mountain elk.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Tips for Creating Believable Fantasy Beasts

I lead a double life.

By night I'm a writer of epic fantasy. I create exciting new worlds out of thin air and populate them with all manner of men and beasts. I dine with dwarfs, battle balrogs, and dabble in the magical arts. I am a warrior mage, a tavern brawler, and a gladiator-slave.

By day I'm a mild mannered (-ish) wildlife graduate student with a BS in zoology and over 7 years of field experience. I battle statistical software and brawl with my thesis.

My alter egos don't mingle much but one subject they can agree on is the need for thoughtful, believable beasts and monsters in fantasy writing. In fact, one of the main reasons I constantly drift back to the fantasy genre is that I love creating new critters from scratch. And I'm not the only one. Just about every fantasy, sci-fi, or horror movie that comes out has some new beast in it. But how realistic are they? How do movie monsters differ from literary beasts?  Here are 3 things to think about when you create your own mythical creatures.

1. Form follows Function: "The slime coated beast stalked through the forest toward the trapped maiden, it's two-hundred eyes glowing red with hunger. She smelled it before she saw it, the creatures vile stench bringing tears to her eyes."
A Pandoran prolemur from Avatar, by Neville Page

Ok, maybe not Hugo winning material to start with but this example passage would send up some serious red flags for a bio-geek reader such as myself. Why would an ambush predator (as stalking would imply) have glowing red eyes and a pronounced odor to announce its presence? Why would a creature that lives in a forest (a habitat with limited visibility) have two-hundred eyes? The point I'm making is that a believable creature doesn't have appendages, eyes, fur, slime, wings, odor, etc., unless there is some kind of biological reason.

Let's take a look at one of the fantastic creatures created by the genius concept artist Neville Page for the motion picture Avatar. I know from seeing the movie that he prolemur is a arboreal (tree-dwelling) forest primate. The thing is, I could have probably told you that without seeing the movie. Look at its grasping hands and feet, perfect for holding branches. Its obvious but relatively small patagium (flap of skin from the leg to the arm) means that it glides but not for long distances, probably only from tree to tree. Even the prolemurs large ears make sense in the forest, a habitat where calls go a lot further than visual cues. In summary, this creatures body form makes sense and that makes it believable.     

Star Trek's monster from Delta Vega created by Neville Page
2. Habitat Matters: I've already hinted to this but the habitat that your fantasy animal lives in will dictate what that animal looks like and how it will behave. Let's take a look at another one of Mr. Page's creations, the monster from the frozen world Delta Vega featured in the motion picture Startrek. This is one awesome beast and when it bursts onto the screen, the audience definitely has a "Holy Crap!" moment. But how believable is this monster?

The answer: not very. Don't get me wrong, the anatomy of this thing is awesome and it moves great but there is absolutely no way something that big, that lanky (consider the volume to surface area ratio), that hairless, could survive in that habitat. It would freeze to death, plain and simple. Also, Delta Vega appears to be a desolate frozen wasteland. So where the heck is something that big getting enough prey to move that fast for that long? The metabolics don't make sense. For a short action scene on the big screen, most viewers will be willing to suspend disbelief but if you had to paint that picture with words, it would be much harder for a careful reader to believe in that monster.

Creature concept art by Neville Page
3. Fantasy from Reality: The fact of the matter is that there are some pretty cool animals in our own world. Look to them for inspiration and for biological grounding. Research what kinds of animals live in habitats that are similar to the ones in your story. Find out what kind of adaptations they have. Look at a real animals body structure and use it to inform the creation of your fantasy animal (as Mr. Page does so well, transforming a dog into the prototype for the Delta Vega monster). The forces of evolution have crafted the animals of our planet over hundreds of millions of years. Make your job as a creature creator easier by taking some tips from the natural world.

So do you get the picture? Are your creatures believable? Prove it! Leave a description of your fantasy beast, where it lives, and what it does and I'll give you my opinion as a biologist about whether it seems believable.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Semantics of an Aspiring Author

I recently received a comment on one of my posts from fellow writing blogger Christine Henderson correcting my use of the term "aspiring author". She said:

"Remember, you are not an "aspiring" author if you have already written a story. You are just an yet to be published author."
Is this right? What's the difference? Does it matter?
In the words of  Reverend Lovejoy, "“Ooooh, short answer yes with an if, long answer no with a but…”
I love to cook and, if you'll allow me a moment to brag, I'm a pretty good cook. I also watch a lot of the Food Network. Here's the thing: nothing brings the contrast between what I do in my kitchen and what an actual professional chef does better than an episode or two of The Next Iron Chef or Chopped.  I am not a chef, I'm a cook. If I spend the next few years honing my culinary skills, improving my techniques, and training with a master chef...then I will still be a cook (just a way better cook). During that time I will also be an aspiring chef because I will be aspiring to become a chef. At the moment that my phone rangs and Bobby Flay asked me to come work as his sous-chef, THEN I will be a chef (actually I would be a sous-chef but those people rock too). In other words, when you get paid to cook, when you've actually made it, then you're a chef. At no point during that process would I be a chef that has yet to find a place willing to pay me to cook. That just doesn't work.

So until I get something published, until someone is willing to pay to read what I write, I am a writer and an aspiring author. 
Am I being nit-picky? Does it matter?

Yes! At least it matters to me. I want very badly to be an actual, full-blown, genuine published author. Earning the title "Author" will mean that I have done what I set out to do. It will mean that a goal has been reach, and that matters a great deal to me.

Does it matter to you?


Monday, March 5, 2012

Luck 7 Writing Challenge

Kate Larkindale at the wonderful writing blog Fiction and Film posted a great sounding writing challenge that I have to jump on and you should too. Here's what to do:

1. Go to page 77 of your current MS.

2. Go to line 7.

3. Copy down the next 7 lines, sentences, or paragraphs - and post them as they're written. No cheating.

4. Tag 7 authors.

5. Let them know.

Here are my 7 from my fantasy manuscript "Sol of a Gladiator". Please let me know what you think!

           The young woman standing before him certainly appeared to be in better shape than his last spoil.  Sol, on the other hand, was a good deal sorer this time around, a fact that worried him.  He was barely through the Emperor’s birthday week and he had the whole of the Winter Festival to look forward to.  Things seemed to get a little harder every season.  He tried to remind himself that he wasn’t that old but at the same time he couldn't forget how quickly the stadium could age a person.
            The woman was small; short with a petite frame.  She was slim but not the skeletal-skinny the ladies in the luxury boxes worked for and the slaves in the tunnels couldn’t avoid.  She had generous hips and relatively long legs for her short stature.  Long curly chestnut colored hair hung down over her face as she stood with her arms crossed, head down.  Even in the dim light Sol could see the bruises on her thighs and arms.  He could also see the goose bumps.
            He stood up, slowly so as not to startle her.  Taking the blanket from his bed he handed it to her.
            “Here, it’s cold down here.  You’re not exactly bundled up.”
            She took the blanket without lifting her head and quickly wrapped it around her, covering the sheer outfit she had been provided.
            Sitting on the edge of the bed Sol spoke gently, “I’m not going to hurt you.”  He wasn’t sure she could even understand him.  “I won’t even touch you without permission.  My name is Sol.  What’s yours?”
            “You won’t touch me?” She was trembling, “You’ll keep away?” It was obvious she didn’t believe him.

My Writing Partner

You must use the force...

Playin' fetch on top of the world.
I'd like to start this week by introducing you to my writing partner, my dog Pippin. While he's far more interested in a good round of tug-o-war, he does tolerate my writing and is always willing to listen to my crazy story ideas. You can usually find him under my chair, lending moral support as I type away.
Christmas Pippin

Saturday, March 3, 2012

How Do You Celebrate Writing Success?

I'm a firm believer that celebrating success is important. You need to reward yourself when you get it right; and not just for the big things. Just the other week I took my wife out to dinner to celebrate surviving a particularly brutal Wednesday. Part of the fun in life is giving yourself (and others) a pat on the back when you reach an ancomplishment. So when you have success in writing, how do you celebrate?

I have to admit, since I'm fairly new to the writing game I haven't yet had many successes to celebrate. When I finished the first draft of my current manuscript I think the wife and I went out to dinner (You might notice a theme and think I don't like to cook but it's not true; I love to cook. I just also love it when others cook for me.) When (not if) I finally get said manuscript published however, I have bigger plans.

I love tattoos. I find their aesthetics, symbolism, and permanence to be absolutely fascinating. Right now I have 2 tattoos, both of which are what I call "commemorative tattoos" or ink that I've gotten to commemorate an important life event. I also share both of my tattoos. My wife and I both have a tattoo I designed for our engagement and my wife, my brother, and I share a sea turtle tattoo I designed to celebrate a summer we all spent together in Florida.

What's all this have to do with celebrating writing success you ask? Drum-roll please.....when I finally get that manuscript published, I want to commemorate the event with a new tattoo. I'm not 100% sure what it will be but I have 2 likely candidates. The first are the last lines of the 11th Century Persian epic poem the Shahnameh written by Ferdowsi:

"I shall not die, these seeds I’ve sown will save
My name and reputation from the grave
And men of sense and wisdom will proclaim
When I have gone, my praises and my fame."

The second candidate is by French novelist Michel Butor. It's much simpler but along a similar theme:

"Every word written is a victory against death."

What do you think? Can you suggest any other potential candidates? What are your celebratory plans for your next writing success? 


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Shout Out Thursday

The end of another week is almost upon us and I feel the need to have another shout-out-day.

The first shout out goes to Cara Bertrand who's been good enough to give me some great feedback on a couple posts. Cara's blog is the place to be for all fashionable writers.

My other shout out for the day goes to Magical Words, a must frequent site for any writer, especially for us fantasy minded folks. 

Speaking of Fantasy, just a reminder that fantasy writers need to check out the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. This quarterly contest is perfect for new writers and is a great way to get your stories out there.

Hope your week finishes well and happy writing!