Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Drones Part I

A few weeks ago in Seattle, a woman looked out her apartment window and noticed a drone hovering. As she put it, she was not fully dressed. She managed to take a picture of it before it took off.

Some people came forward and said it was theirs. They’re an architectural company that evaluates buildings, and they had even asked the relevant federal agency if it was okay to use it. These were so open about it, I believe them when they say they were not spying on anyone.

file photo
photo by Clement Bucco-Lechat

Well that’s nice. But are you really comfortable with the idea of a drone outside your window when you’re not dressed? Or when you are dressed?

More recently, tourists at the top of the Space Needle in Seattle (which is over six hundred feet tall) saw a drone circle them. Some said it hit the Space Needle, but none of the footage people took with their personal devices showed that. They pointed out to the police the hotel room the drone returned to, and they had a little talk with the guy. He won’t fly it in public again during his stay.

photo by Kevin Noone 

At a science fiction convention, I attended a session given by drone hobbyists. They had all the interest normally associated with a favorite hobby, and let’s face it—these things fly! But at the end, one of them said, “Don’t be that guy . . . or that gal. The one who ruins it for all of us by doing irresponsible things.”

So all this is an excuse to show an excerpt from my science fiction manuscript Day 10K. On a colonized planet where civilization collapsed and the colonists have only managed to work their way up to a mid-twentieth century technology, a minor character named Poni is in a bad way. Then she sees something she has no way to interpret.

She wrapped her arms about herself for warmth, then cried out when she touched one of her cuts. Wincing, she knew she couldn’t stay out here in the open greensward, but had to find cover. She headed for a couple trees, dark in the moonlight.
Poni had no way of cutting down branches for shelter. She would have to find some loose branches to cover herself after she snuggled into a big enough hollow of a tree. No food, no water. Did anyone hear my message? Her throat was dry. She would have to find some succulent shoots and suck down the contents, no matter what the taste.
She kept walking, stumbling, almost falling. More tired than she thought—the ordeal of being booted out into the night. Poni wasn’t even close when she looked up into the dark sky.
Her doom approached, in the form of a cross flying towards her.

Don’t get too upset, readers. The more advanced people controlling the drone get in an argument about how badly they’re scaring her. And here's what I mean by cross-shaped.

Friday, July 25, 2014

PNWA – Pitching

The pitch sessions to agents and editors were the main event for most attendees at the PNWA writers conference. Each session had dozens of aspiring writers pitching their manuscripts, trying to get a request for sample pages.

People start gathering an hour before each pitch session. Right before we’re allowed to enter the auditorium, it looks like this:

Inside, people line up in front of the desired agent or editor. Each aspiring author is given four minutes to pitch. When the bell rings, that aspiring author has to leave and is then free to go to another line, while the next person in the original line walks up to pitch.

Again, each pitch lasts four minutes. The description of the book that you’ve worked on for a year or more should take less than a minute, then the rest of the time is spent answering the professional’s questions.

One agent I thought would be a sure thing said my manuscript of The War of the Worlds and Fairies wouldn’t be right for her. I was stunned but made sure not to show it. However, she said someone else in her agency might like it, so she gave me that person’s name. I’ve submitted sample pages to that other agent, saying the first one recommended me. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

PNWA – Synchronicity

At this year’s PNWA writers conference, I was hoping to see Halie Fewkes, whom I met last year. On Friday when I arrived, I walked into the hotel rather purposefully, then realized I might be going the wrong way. While I was looking at a map on the wall, I heard someone say “Mark?” I turned, and it was Halie. She had recognized me instantly. See her Facebook page here.

Halie Fewkes is on the right
with her agent Katie Reed

Later on, when I was in a crowded hallway going to see James Rollins speak, I realized I had forgotten my ticket. Feeling hot and bothered, I retrieved it from my car and returned to an empty hallway. Except for Halie. She had also forgotten her ticket.

So we joined a couple of her friends in the banquet room, looking for a table. None had four seats left, so we sat at a table marked RESERVED. Someone (not me) took the sign down, and we had a good time. As I said, “The worst they can do is sic the dogs on us.” 

Monday, July 21, 2014

PNWA – Speakers

The Pacific Northwest Writers Association holds an annual writers conference down in SeaTac, Washington. Last year’s conference was great, so here’s my account of this year’s.

The first day of the conference I had the pleasant surprise of seeing Richelle Mead again. My previous post shows the last time I saw her was almost three years ago. I would attend her readings when she first started out, when maybe a dozen people would attend. Now if it’s announced that she’s doing a free book signing, she’ll be mobbed by hundreds.

Richelle Mead is on the right

A key to talking to an author like this is to say something intelligent, instead of, “I really liked what you just read.” I noticed she used to teach comparative religion at the University of Washington, so I would ask her about Greek mythology. So even though she’s met so many people during her meteoric rise, and it was so long since I last saw her, she still recognized me. I told her I was touched by that.

The main speaker that evening was James Rollins. He talked about his struggle to have his first novel, Subterranean, published. I had a copy with me for an autograph. I had fond memories of how several years ago, he volunteered to critique manuscripts that were sent to a convention. Instead of just a verbal critique, he printed out his comments, noting I had “a keen ear for dialog.”

When I went up for an autograph, he said, “I’ve seen you before, haven’t I?” I was quite shocked he remembered me from that one encounter.  He’s obviously trying hard to encourage new writers. 

Friday, July 18, 2014


There’s a lot of advice online and in books and at seminars on how to write a synopsis of your manuscript, much of it contradictory. They all agree that the synopsis must be interesting enough to grab the agent or editor, but disagree on how it’s done. How do you summarize your novel in two to three pages?

Could you summarize part of The Lord of the Rings? It’s been done.

Look at the start of The Two Towers, and you’ll find a synopsis of The Fellowship of the Ring. The start of The Return of the King repeats that and adds a synopsis for the The Two Towers. These are fine examples, so rather than coming up with a method, I’ll just say study those.

They have to be converted to present tense to pitch something new rather than summarize something already published. Also the beginnings have to be changed, so the synopsis of The Fellowship of the Ring would start with “Gandalf,” and the first paragraph of the synopsis of The Two Towers would be rewritten with active verbs, but these are the best examples I know.

With that in mind, I modified the synopsis for my vampire satire. Here is the original first sentence:

Dee is a homeschooling mother of two in a Seattle suburb who would rather teach her kids math or prepare them for a field trip to a salmon run than strangle the occasional vampire who invades their home.

And here’s the revised version:

As a homeschooling mother in a Seattle suburb, Dee would prefer to teach her kids math or prep them for a field trip to a salmon run, but right now she has to strangle another zombie-like vampire that has invaded their home.

I think that’s an improvement. Learn from the best. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Book Review – Star Trek: No Time Like the Past

Things are going bad for Captain Kirk. He’s already had one security office vaporized, red shirt and all. Now he’s caught dead to rights by a traitor on a diplomatic mission, a rifle aimed right at him. But salvation comes from an unusual source: a woman with implants on her face takes deadly accurate aim and fries his opponent.

From Seven of Nine’s perspective, things are equally puzzling. One moment she was on a planet in the Delta Quadrant trying to save some fallen shipmates, the next moment she’s on a completely different planet, trying to save an officer in an outmoded Starfleet uniform. What possible explanation could there be?

I don’t normally read Star Trek books, ironically, because of the advantage books have over television or movies. With books, we can delve into what a character is thinking or feeling, rather than just guessing from the facial expression on a big or little screen. The problem is, the characters in the Star Trek books often think or feel differently from the way I expect.

But this novel by the highly prolific writer Greg Cox worked just fine. The coolly detached Seven of Nine was somehow a good fit with the “riding shotgun” style of the old Star Trek. Oddly enough, the best scenes involved Seven and the highly emotional Mister Scott, as they crawled through access tubes, hid underwater, and got in firefights. I’m sure Scotty is the only person to address Seven as “Lass.”

So this is a fun romp for people who like the old Star Trek, or Star Trek: Voyager, or both. Keep in mind, it’s mostly set in the old Star Trek universe. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Book Review: 30 Days of No Gossip

Maddie is the Queen of Gossip at her middle school, and why not? No one can beat her at finding out who’s dating whom, who’s been dissed, who’s wearing what, and all other essential pieces of gossip without which, school would be a bore. And everyone pays attention to her when she gossips, except her best friend Vi, who is around her regardless.

So what could it hurt if Maddie reveals that Vi has a crush on someone, even though Vi would die if word got out? The answer is plenty. The only way Maddie can regain Vi’s friendship is if she goes thirty days without gossiping. At all.

Things get worse when it looks like a reality show is coming to their middle school, and Vi would be perfect for it. Should Maddie blab about it? Does that count as gossip, and is it worth risking what’s left of the friendship?

Writers are told to read outside of their field to be more well-rounded, and I can’t get much farther out of my field than a middle school novel centered on girls gossiping. But 30 Days of No Gossip by Stephanie Faris is a middle school novel I actually enjoyed reading. The writing style flows smoothly, and the dialog is—dare I say it—fun.

Maddie does more than keep her lips shut. She has to make split second decisions: What’s the difference between reporting news and gossip? If she says something positive with good intentions, does that count? If her friends who have relied on her for gossip take her silence to mean she’s affirming some wild story they’ve come up with, how can she correct them without gossiping?

And Vi turns out to be a little complicated, gossiping herself a couple times. Is it really the gossip in Maddie’s life that she’s concerned about, or something else?

30 Days of No Gossip is a good novel, whether you’re looking for something in that age range or not. And it won’t hurt to leave a copy lying around for middle school girls with a certain problem to read. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Not a review of Transformers

Since this is not a negative blog, I won’t review the movie Transformers: Age of Extinction. I’ll just say that people are a lot more forgiving of a plot inconsistency than they are of inconsistencies in characters.

To my surprise, I recognized a bridge in Chicago that the humans jump off of to board an alien ship. Worldcon 2012 was held there, and the bridge was near the hotel. This bas relief was at one end of the bridge, though the movie did not show it.

I had a chance to take the picture with the sun shining directly on it, but I realized anyone could do that. I waited until early next morning, when the sunlight at an angle would show the depth of the sculpture.

The reason I recognized the bridge so easily (including the part that was just a grating underfoot) was I spent some time on it, trying to get the best picture of the Chicago River. To get the scale of the buildings, I waited until a ferry was in view.

Also, a character in the movie approached Anish Kapoor’s “The Bean” from the same angle I did. You can see pictures of it at my Worldcon post.

So I definitely enjoyed that part of the movie. 


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