Sunday, May 31, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: Romancing the Novel

June is named for Juno, Roman goddess of marriage, which is part of the reason why it's such a popular month for weddings. (Then again, we got married in September.) So even though I'm not a romance reader, I thought romance in fiction would be a good topic for this Blog Chain. Romance subplots are common in many types of books, not just the romance genre. However, sometimes when I read romantic subplots, I don't feel any chemistry between the characters; it's as if you could replace one of the characters and not affect the relationship. So, let's talk about romantic relationships in fiction:

Do you write romantic relationships in your books? If so, what do you do to show the attraction between your characters? What problems do your characters encounter? What qualities do you think make a romantic relationship work in fiction? If you wish, feel free to include examples of your favorite couples.

Before I continue, let's cue some theme music:

I've included romantic relationships in my books. In my Season Lord books, each of the Season Lords gets married. In my current novel, Across Two Universes, Paul romantically pursues his childhood sweetheart, Yvonne. She's pretty, of course, and she is the only eligible girl his age on the spaceship, but he has other reasons to go after her. He first declared his intent to marry her at five, and she refused by throwing ice cream in his face. Part of him still hasn't lived that down. Paul is straightforward about declaring his feelings for her, but since Yvonne feels that's coming on too strong, he has to learn to woo her more subtly. Yvonne has mixed feelings for Paul, but she is always concerned when he is threatened.

Paul and Yvonne are a typical example of a good girl-bad boy dynamic, and they do affect each other. Yvonne teaches Paul to rein in some of his worst impulses, and she provides a feminine side that he lost when his mother was murdered. In return, Paul's determination to pursue his own dreams helps Yvonne resist the influence of her relatives and figure out what she really wants out of life. But are their core values similar enough for them to succeed long-term as a couple? I'm not telling.

I like to read about couples who can work together as partners and fill the holes in each other's psyches. It's also good if they share a sense of humor. As a parent, I know these qualities are essential for a long-term partnership, especially if there are kids involved. Some books with romances I like include The Misted Cliffs by Catherine Asaro and The Time Traveler's Wife.

That's all I have for the moment. Head on over to Archy's blog for her thoughts on this subject. You can also find other members of the Blog Chain in the links in the sidebar.

P.S. This post is dedicated to my own friend and lover divine, Eugene.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Still Sick

I mentioned in my last post that I wasn't feeling well. I've been home the last two days with chills, muscle weakness, coughing, headaches, and all sorts of other fun stuff. I've been bringing Alex to daycare because I wouldn't get any rest otherwise. My symptoms come in waves; I think I'm doing better, then I start to get chills again. It's not fun. I've been spending my days on the couch, listening to 80's music and goofing off on the computer. It's pointless for me to try to sleep, as my mind just won't shut down.

Today I finally went to the urgent care clinic to get myself checked out. We did rule out swine flu, but there are still thousands of other viruses that could be causing this. (Gosh, could they possibly come from...daycare?) The doctor gave me a prescription for the cough (coughing fits and a postpartum bladder are a bad combination), but otherwise all I can do is continue to take it easy and ride it out. I hope I feel better soon--Alex's birthday is tomorrow, and the party is Sunday! I'm so grateful my in-laws are hosting the party; I don't want to deal with that while I'm sick. I have to pick up the cake tomorrow and assemble the favor bags; Eugene might be able to help me with that. I'm also supposed to make a salad, but if I'm still feeling horrible tomorrow it might be best to skip it.

Let's move on to better news. This is my 500th post! I started blogging back in 2005 as a way to keep in touch with long-distance friends. It's nice that it's helped me meet more people, so to speak. It would be nice to hold a contest in conjunction with this milestone, but I'm not up for it now. Maybe later this summer I'll do a giveaway for two of the books I bought at WisCon.

I also found out from a friend that electronic versions of her book With Strings Attached are now available for $3 here. The paperback version should be out soon. I may wait to get the paperback; to me, a book feels more "real" than another file on the laptop.

OK, time to make some orange juice and get back to work.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The WisCon That Almost Wasn't , Part Two

Saturday morning, Alex's fever was broken. That was good, as we could stay in Madison.

We spent the morning at the Farmer's Market. We didn't buy much, just a few jars of jam and a lily of the valley plant. Then we met a couple of people from the OWW for lunch. (Hi again to Jodi, Holly, and everyone else I met at WisCon!) Alex fell asleep shortly lunch and slept through most of it. Afterwards, I had my first two panels, the ones on Keeping Up with Science and Resolving Time Travel Paradoxes. They went well, though I think I contributed more to the first panel than the second. I also listened to a panel on bisexual characters in fiction. Meanwhile, Eugene took care of Alex, since we weren't sure if he was ready for daycare. That meant I had to leave my laptop in the hotel room so Alex could listen to "Yellow Submarine," so I don't have any notes from Saturday's panels.

After the last panel, we met some college friends for dinner. We walked around the Capitol building for a while; Alex proved he was back to himself by climbing all the stairs. When we stopped at a coffeehouse for dessert, he took my brownie. I guess it was more appealing than his cookie.

I went to some of the parties while Eugene put Alex to bed, but I didn't drink anything and was back in the room around 11:00. I'm fun like that. ;)

Sunday--We had breakfast at the hotel, then brought Alex to the daycare center at the con. One of the babysitters remembered him from last year. I sat with him for a while until he was content playing with some of their toys, then went to my final panel on Keeping Science in Science Fiction. Our moderator never showed up, but another panelist took over, and it went pretty well. I'm glad to say that people were engaged in all of the panels I was on.

Alex napped early again, sleeping through part of the lunch break. We decided to let him sleep and had lunch by ourselves at a Himalayan restaurant on State Street. Then Eugene bummed around for a while on his own. I wound up missing the first panel of the afternoon, since our lunch was late, so I stopped at the Soap Opera and shopped. I also brought Alex some leftovers from lunch, but after two bites of flatbread he refused the rest. I did take notes at the final two panels I attended (Wish Fulfillment in Fiction and Dear Writer, I Don't Want Kids!); soon I'll upload them to my website.

We met some friends for dinner at Ella's Deli. Alex really loved Eugene's meal, or at least the lunch meat. He's quite the carnivore! Then we gave him a few rides on the carousel; he didn't want to leave. I missed the guest of honor speeches, but I did get to go to some of the parties. They had a fancy dress party and a belly dancing party, among others. Those two were the most fun. I met a few more writers and tried belly dancing briefly. Since I missed part of the lesson, I was as graceful as an elephant with a broken leg. It would be fun to take lessons if I had the time. Of course, that'll never happen.

Monday: We checked out and had breakfast at a pancake house. Alex threw a tantrum because he was hungry, but chocolate chip pancakes and an apple waffle cured that. We planned to visit the zoo, but again he napped early. So we let him sleep in the carseat and visited Borders separately. (One of us stayed with Alex while the other browsed.) We drove around campus for a bit; it's changed so much since we were there. We did stop briefly at Memorial Union, where we got to see a mother duck with lots of baby ducklings--at least fifteen.

Then it was time to bid Madison a fond farewell and head home. We stopped in Janesville to eat and let Alex run around. He had a great time but fell asleep again on the way home. We got in late, but still managed to get most of the unpacking done before bed.

So, that was my WisCon. Sorry I don't have pictures. I did pick up several books in the dealer's room; I plan to give two of them in later contests. While I'm glad to say Alex is better, I seem to have the flu. Taking nighttime medicine at work was a big mistake; I was very groggy and sleepy today. I couldn't even write during lunch! If I'm not feeling better tomorrow, I might just bring Alex to daycare and head back home for some rest.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The WisCon That Almost Wasn't

I was so busy over WisCon that I didn't have time to blog or Twitter about it. So here's my recap:

Friday--After dropping Alex off at daycare in the morning, I ran a bunch of errands before coming home to pack. As if figuring out what clothes I wanted to bring wasn't hard enough, I also had to pack Alex's gear. I overdid it a bit with toys and books, but keeping a toddler entertained is important. Around 3:00, I got a call from daycare telling me Alex had vomited and I needed to pick him up. He was acting fine when I got there, so I thought perhaps it was a fluke. Eugene was home when we arrived, so after we dealt with Alex's tantrum (he wanted to go to the park) and packed the car, we were off to Madison. We ran into a few slow spots on the highway, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Since I couldn't remember where I'd put my Revolver CD, I had to play "Yellow Submarine" repeatedly on my laptop to keep Alex happy. At least I got some writing done along the way.

We checked in and went out for dinner. I missed the opening ceremonies, but I was able to pick up my badge. Alex didn't want to eat his pizza; he mainly had apple juice. We put him to bed in a Pack'n'Play from the hotel and went to sleep ourselves.

All was well until 2:00 or so in the morning, when we heard Alex coughing a whole lot. Then he threw up, getting it all over him. As if that wasn't bad enough, he was burning with fever. Eugene ran out to a 24-hour Walgreens for a thermometer and Tylenol. After we dosed him, we put him in our bed between us. He threw up again, this time partly on Eugene. We tried to sleep, but I was thinking we might have to drive back home in the morning.

It's getting late, so I'll post more of the story tomorrow....

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Work In Progress Wednesday

Here's a quick update:

Currently On: Chapter Nine, Page 89
Total Pages: 284
Total Words: 91,000

It's not much progress, but I had to delete a scene and start over, plus I didn't get any writing done over the weekend, as Alex napped very poorly. At least I finished the scene that was giving me so much trouble. Still, I'll be glad when I get Paul and his friends into Chicago so they can meet Sean.

I probably won't get much writing done this week, as WisCon starts this Friday! I'm on three panels (keeping up with science, paradoxes of time travel, and engaging the public in science), and I still have to prep for them. Remember the blog chain on wish fulfillment in fiction? That's going to be a panel, but I'm not on that one. (I did suggest the topic, however.) Hopefully I'll be able to attend parties and meet people this year; I didn't do too much last year since I had to stay at the overflow hotel. I also plan to pick up some prizes for contests, so keep on reading!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: Loving/Hating Characters

It seems like the Blog Chain keeps coming around faster and faster each time. This round was started by Michelle, who had these questions for us:

In your reading and writing, which do you prefer – a main character that is intriguing, or one that is likable? Who are the characters that you love the most? And who are the ones that you love to hate?

Annie posted before me. You can find links to all of the Blog Chain members in the sidebar.

When I see either/or questions like the one posted above, for me, I usually have one answer for them: both. When people can argue both sides of an issue, the truth is most often found in the middle. After all, traits like intelligence stem from both nature and nurture, and even light is both a particle and a wave, depending on the type of experiment you run....

Technical Writer Sandra interrupts this blog post to tell Science Geek Sandra: Um, explaining something by using a more complicated analogy only causes confusion.

Science Geek Sandra: But, but, science is cool!

Technical Writer Sandra: Yes, but most people don't know that much about genetics or quantum mechanics. Do you want people to run away from this blog screaming?

Science Geek Sandra: You mean this conversation won't make them run away?

On a serious note, this question presumes that likable characters are bland and intriguing characters aren't nice--like Amelia Sedley and Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, respectively. There may be times when you want your protagonist to be likable and ordinary--say, when they're in an intriguing alien world and you want your readers to experience it through your protag. In this case, the protag would be a stand-in for the reader. Or maybe you want to keep some space between your protagonist and your reader to make your hero seem more mysterious, the way A. Conan Doyle use Dr. Watson as a narrator to make Sherlock Holmes seem more extraordinary. In most cases, however, I think you would want your character to be both likable and intriguing, like Wesley in The Princess Bride. After all, as a reader, I don't want to spend hundreds of pages with a character who annoys me (which is why I'm not a big fan of Jane Austen), but if he or she isn't interesting, then that becomes tedious to read too. Perhaps that's why it's so common in SF/fantasy to have an ordinary character discover he/she has extraordinary abilities. And yes, I do the same thing in Across Two Universes.

To make this balancing act even tougher, a protagonist should be likable without being too perfect. Otherwise, he/she feels flat and unrealistic. There's also no room for character development if you start with a perfect character.

I'm having a hard time coming up with favorite and least favorite characters. As I thought about some of the series I've been reading, I realized that I'm losing interest in the lead characters because they're spending too much time on the same problems. For example, a paranormal mystery series I like has a 30-something small town single girl trying to choose between two boyfriends; I feel like this subplot has gone on long enough and that she should choose one. In a science fiction series, the heroine was active in the first couple of books, but now she's been put in a position where her choices are limited and she's not able to show the initiative she did before. Other subplots featuring characters I'm not interested in are taking over her story. I do like Hermonine Granger from the Harry Potter books as I can identify with her. Do I have characters I love to hate? Not really. Besides, a complex, multi-dimensional antagonist is more interesting than a cartoonish villain.

That's all I have to say on this topic. Go check out what Jess has to say. Be sure to come back on June 1, when I get to pick the next blog chain topic!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

QueryTracker Turns Two!, a database where authors can research agents and track their queries, is turning two! (Funny, I know someone else turning two in a couple of weeks.) To celebrate, they're hosting a carnival of contests, including a purple prose contest, an anagram contest, and two others. There will be separate prizes for each contest, and entering any or all of the contests puts you in the drawing for the grand prize: a custom website design for an author's website by Purple Squirrel Web Design. For more details, go here.

If you'd like a free entry into the drawing, you can advertise the carnival contest on your blog. Simply post an announcement like mine or Elana's, then either e-mail her at elanajohnson (at) querytracker (dot) net or leave her a comment with your real name and a link on her blog (at the post linked above). Your post must be up by Saturday, May 23.

Good luck to all, and congratulations to QueryTracker!

Lilacia Park

We made our annual pilgrimage to Lilacia Park in Lombard today to see the lilacs. We missed the peak of the season, and many of the tulips in the park were done, but we still got to see and smell many lovely flowers:

Friday, May 15, 2009

Week in Review

It's been a hectic week, which is why I haven't blogged much. It doesn't help that I haven't been sleeping well. Lately, my eyes keep popping open around 5 a.m., and I can't fall back asleep. Eugene jokes that that's because I'm addicted to Pet Dragons 2 on Facebook. Yes, I do creep downstairs to check on my dragon and send her on missions, but I don't think that's the only reason. WisCon is next weekend, and I have to prepare for the three panels I'll be on. The next weekend is Alex's birthday and party, and the week after that I'm off to California on a business trip. With all that's going on, it's hard to relax enough to fall asleep.

Last Sunday was my second Mother's Day after Alex's birth. When I came downstairs that morning, I found not only two bunches of flowers, but also a balloon almost as big as Alex. My two men gave me a gift certificate to a local spa. After Alex's nap, we had brunch with our families and gave them photos of Alex and picture frames he'd made in daycare (with a little help, of course). Eugene took some photos, but I don't have them.

Work has been busy too, as we're starting a new project. It's still in a state of flux, so I'm going to hold off on discussing it until it's a little more settled.

With the rest of my life in such a rush, unfortunately my writing has been a bit slow. Fatigue doesn't help; I took Wednesday lunch off from writing to lay down for a half hour. Sometimes that's more productive than staring bleary-eyed at the screen and writing "grnewksafh;e" over and over. The scene I started last week was too tough to write (neither Paul nor I knew what was going on), so I scratched it and gave him something easier to do (relatively speaking). At least the scene I struggled with helped me figure out how Paul would react to this situation. I also did some research for a later scene; Facebook put me in touch with some people who could help me. Finally, I returned to a flash story I started a while back to keep the muse busy while he stalled on Across Two Universes.

Eugene and I actually got a date night today. Our daycare center holds them periodically, so we take advantage of them when we can. We originally planned to see the new Star Trek movie, but since we got home from work later than expected, we just went out for a nice dinner.

That's all the news I have for now. Hopefully next week will be better for me on the blogging front.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Back on the Blog Chain: How Do You Keep Your Story Ideas Fresh?

It's time once again for another Blog Chain Pooooost! (I need to hire an announcer with a deep voice to do that line.) This round, Carolyn (better known as Archy) chose the topic:

How do you keep from telling the same story over and over? What are your tips and tricks for finding fresh ideas and adding new twists to your work?

Annie posted before me, and Jessica will finish the chain. This is different from our normal blog chain order, so feel free to explore all the links in the chain from the beginning or by visiting the blogs listed on the sidebar.

The Bible says there is nothing new under the sun, and that applies to fiction. There are supposedly only 36 types of plots, including some so specific to Greek tragedy that they aren't used anymore. So perhaps it's understandable -- and to some extent forgivable -- if an author repeats the same themes in different books. It becomes a problem if the books become too predictable for readers or if the author never pushes her limits and becomes stagnant, failing to grow as a writer.

I know I have repeated some elements from my first serious novel, Day of All Seasons, in my current one, Across Two Universes. Day focuses on the relationships among a quartet of female magic-users; ATU also has a group of four teenagers working together toward a goal, though only one of them has a supernatural ability. Both stories were inspired by the Beatles, so that explains the quartet. Oddly, though I initially conceived of all of these characters as straight, after I wrote each book, one of the secondary characters became bisexual and interested in the lead character. Talk about a way to create complications! I did address this in the sequel to Day, but I'm not sure how I want to handle it in ATU. It might put some readers off if Paul is in love with his best friend's sister while his best friend is infatuated with him. (It might be easier if Yvonne and Scott weren't related. Hummm...) Another trope I tend to repeat is altered consciousness, especially when combined with magic or anything indistinguishable from magic. In both books, when the characters use their special abilities, they become disconnected from the "real world" to manipulate organs, cells, or even molecules. As a scientist, I take a very rational approach to my magic. (That sure sounds rational, doesn't it?) The laws of the universe can't change too much, or else life would be impossible, and I wouldn't have any characters for my stories.

So, how do I keep these two books distinct? For one thing, the settings are quite different. Day is set in a fantasy land similar to Victorian England, while the other is science fiction complete with spaceships, wormholes, clones, and alternate universes. The plots also follow different structures. ATU is a quest story, with Paul forced to make a journey to obtain something and learn about himself. My characters in Day stay in their country, but they must learn to work together to ward off a national disaster. Most importantly, the characters are different. When I read a lot of books by the same author, I notice more if they reuse the same types of characters (e.g., mistreated teenager, older man in love with a teenage girl) than if they recycle the plot. (Sometimes, though, if they recycle the characters, the plot stays the same too.) The characters in Day come from different social classes: a noblewoman, a farmer's daughter, the daughter of a foreign merchant, and a seamstress. In ATU, the characters all grew up together on the same spaceship, but they still have widely different temperaments and skills. There are two boys and two girls, so that alone makes the interpersonal relationships much different that it is for a group of four women. Finally, the lead characters are different. In Day, the noblewoman Gwen is intelligent and rational but arrogant and full of class prejudice in the beginning. Paul is also intelligent, but he's more impulsive and intuitive, plus he's wracked with guilt.

I didn't consciously plan these differences; they arose over the course of the story. Instead, what I try to do is write a tight POV. Even though each character is a part of me, they have unique voices and perspectives. It was challenging to write Day using each woman as a POV character; I look back on it now and am amazed I managed to write it. (That said, it's way too long and needs a serious overhaul.) Paul narrates most of ATU, but I know how his friends would tell their tales. I'd also like to point out that there was a gap of several years between Day and ATU. I've been through a lot of changes in the meantime, and that affects how I write and what themes interest me. (Previous posters have made that point earlier in the chain. Remember what I said about there being nothing new under the sun?)

To answer Carolyn's question, I would suggest exposing yourself to new experiences and developing different types of characters in your stories. Brainstorming might help you come up with new backgrounds or personalities for your characters. Other than that, I would suggest focusing on improving your writing skills (it doesn't hurt to try new techniques) and your current WIP to the best of your ability. New ideas will come to you if you're open to them. After all, my next two novel ideas don't involve quartets.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Work in Progress Wednesday

Just a quick update, as I have to get back to my day job.

Currently On: Chapter Nine, page 86

Total Pages: 281

Total Words: 90,000

My goal for the writing throwdown was to finish Chapters Seven and Eight. I finished Chapter Eight over lunch, so this makes me a winner!

(Yes, this is the official badge of the RallyStorm Throwdown.)
Now let's see if I can get through Chapter Ten by the end of the month. There's always another challenge out there!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Surprise Party

My mother-in-law's birthday is next week. Since it's a milestone, my father-in-law threw a surprise party for her tonight. Eugene took the day off to help prepare, and I baked rolls and made a salad. My parents came down as well. When we got to the house, I was a little surprised to see my mother-in-law helping out in the kitchen. I guess she figured out that something was going on.

I, on the other hand, had no idea the party was also for me as well.

Back when Eugene and I started dating, we planned a double surprise party for two of our friends. (It was quite a surprise, as our friends' birthdays were about a month apart.) This was something similar, though the gap between my birthday and my mother-in-law's birthday is much smaller.

There was a lot of Filipino food, including a lechon (roasted pig). Alex was a bit short on sleep and was cranky at first (he fell asleep in the car on the way over), but after my dad found a ball, he warmed up quickly. (Alex spent most of the time with my mom or Eugene--he's Daddy's boy.) He also ate well, particularly of pancit (a noodle dish) and the pork. He also enjoyed the cake too. The cake had my name and my mother-in-law's name on there, with candles for both of us. I blew out my candles, but I leaned so close to the cake I got lots of frosting on my sleeve.

Alex fell asleep on the way home, but we were prepared for him. We changed him into his overnight diaper and jammies before leaving, and we gave him his milk sippy in the car. Hopefully he sleeps through the night--he ought to be tired enough!

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