Friday, December 28, 2012

Inspire Your Sci-Fi With These Four Night-Sky Ideas

Kitt Peak National Observatory
It's been quite a while since I've been on a professional observing run at a telescope.  When not writing spec-fic, I've been focused on astronomy educational opportunities.  So it is both fun and refreshing to once again find myself at a telescope actually doing some science.  (Well, I would be doing science instead of writing a blog post if it hadn't been snowing just two hours ago.  We're still waiting to see if the sky clears and the humidity comes down enough to open.)

Getting out under the stars can be a great way to inspire some writing.  With the constant encroachment of city lights and the general pace of life, we don't often take the time to put ourselves under a dark sky, let alone at the eyepiece of a telescope.  If you are looking for some inspiration for your next science fiction story, here's a list of things you can do to get your muse in motion.

1.  Attend a Star Party.  Astronomy clubs love to have visitors come to their open public events.  Amateur astronomers are often very enthusiastic and know a great deal about their telescopes and what they observe with them.  Even if you consider yourself an expert at astronomy it can be very motivating to mingle with amateurs and the public.  Conversations you have might spark your writing creativity or give you a new spin on an old idea.  To find a club you might try Sky and Telescope, the Night Sky Network, or the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.

2.  Grab Your Binoculars.  Many people have a pair of binoculars they use for bird watching, sightseeing, and such.  Any pair of binoculars, however big or small, can be turned to the night sky.  It is amazing how much more is available to see with a little help.  Check out the moon in particular, then go on a hunt through the constellations and see if you can find things you never noticed before.  A web search on "free sky chart" or "free sky map" will give you a number of options for a reference for your personal tour.  

3.  Watch for Astronomical Events.  Every year there are eclipses, meteor showers, comets, and more that can be seen with little or no equipment.  Many of these events are highly predictable, so you can plan far in advance to be at a good location.  To find a list of events for 2013 you might try Sea and Sky, something like the Farmer's Almanac, or the exhaustive Astropixels.  Most importantly, keep an eye out for the coming of two potentially amazing comets in 2013!  Try the Planetary Society or this article at the Alamagordo Daily News for more info.  One of these events might find its way into your next story.

4.  Go to a Planetarium Show.  It isn't always possible to get to a dark sky.  The next best thing is a good planetarium.  Find a show that talks about the stars, constellations, and observing at night.  Sit back in a nice warm room and comfy chair as an expert guides you around the heavens.  Let your mind wander, if you like, and see what worlds real or imagined, demand your attention.  Some lists of planetaria can be found at the International Planetarium Society, or the always useful Wikipedia.

Side-note.  You may know that with science funding in its current state, some of the most amazing and productive astronomy telescopes on the planet may be shutting down over the next few years.  The Kitt Peak National Observatory (where I am right now) is expected to divest several of  its telescopes, which puts the future of the Observatory as a whole in question.  Several smaller, mid-sized, and older telescopes are being divested in favor of a small number of larger, newer ones.  This in itself is not unexpected, but as an educator, it is my personal concern that changes like this will make it harder for certain groups to get observing time - like graduate students, early career astronomers, astronomers from non-traditional backgrounds and minority institutions, and those with smaller programs. You can read more at Universe Today here, the NOAO site here, and the AZ Daily Star here.  I'm hoping some of these telescopes will be picked up by, say, consortia of small universities or science institutes, large amateur groups, and overseas astronomy agencies, rather than actually being shut down permanently.  Righto, enough of that serious stuff. 

Now, back to seeing how the weather is doing ... hmm.  Snow is stuck to the dome, and the humidity hasn't budged.  It's going to be a long night, I think ...

Image Credit:  NOAO Education Programs

Monday, December 3, 2012

Moving on from November and NaNoWriMo

It's been ages since my last post - but given that NaNoWriMo takes up all of November, I'm only going to count myself out of the blog posting for three months :)  Real life can be like that, as we all know.

But in spite of things being even more insane than usual, I did manage my fourth straight win with NaNoWriMo.  I was behind the whole time, but not quite as behind as last year.  I was also home more towards the end of the month, and usually I'm away over Thanksgiving.  So it was easier to come up the final stretch and finish off the 50K.

As usual, I think it is a good exercise, as well as fun.  I am always tempted to write and edit at the same time, and will sometimes derail myself if I do that.  NaNoWriMo helps get you into the habit of just writing the story down and seeing where it wants to go.  There are plenty of times it heads off somewhere new and better so long as I let it have that freedom.  Editing while writing seems to limit some of that mutability.

I love the badge with the "0 Excuses" part, but it isn't quite true.  I have plenty of excuses even when I win :)  November's a rough month to write half a novel.  But it does help to remind me that there really is no easy month to write a novel, after all.  And the lightning bolt is also misleading.  NaNo is not like motivation by lightning bolt.  It's like trying to charge yourself up by holding a D battery to your tongue for a month.  Still, I definitely enjoy it.  I always like lurking on the forums, seeing what interesting ideas folks have, the trouble they get into, and then eventually how things come out.  NaNo is like it's own little story every month.  The kind where everyone involved hopes they already know the ending.

Still, I'm about 20K or 25K away from finishing this draft, so I have some more December work cut out for me before the editing can begin.  I'm thinking I might let it mellow a bit and tackle that in the new year. 

Image Credit:  Winner's badge 2012 National Novel Writing Month.


Monday, August 6, 2012

Speculative Writing Prompt - Land Disaster

Image: Europa's Surface
Your characters encounter a land that has suffered a major disaster.  They look for clues in the land itself to see what happened.  What clues do they find?  Was the disaster natural, or caused by some artificial means?  Write your characters observations and conclusions in 200 words.

Image:  Broken ice on Jupiter's satellite, Europa.  NASA, Galileo Spacecraft.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Guest Post and Blog Swap with Author Lynn Mann

Mr. Smith's Errand
by Lynn Mann
And now for something completely different ...

I've long been wanting to have more guest posts and interviews here on the blog. So I'm happy I have the honor today of presenting a "Guest Post" of Maryland author Lynn Mann. She and I agreed to answer the same six questions about ourselves, and then post the responses on each others' blogs. You can find the pair to this post with my responses on her blog at

To try to present something other than the same old interview, we agreed to each provide three fun-and-different questions for the other writer (for a total of six). Here are Lynn Mann's responses to the questions. Her bio follows, with more details on her publishing and awards.

1. Which of the seven wonders of the ancient world would you have wanted to see at its most glorious?

"I want to see the pyramids, clad in their coats of shining white limestone, topped by pure gold at their apex. I want to see the sun rising over the desert, its rays striking the gold, turning it into a blinding beacon daily demonstrating the king’s power and wealth. I want to see the grand processions, taking a recently deceased courtier or noble to his final rest in a mastaba near his king’s pyramid, with all the chanting and wailing (professional mourners were de rigueur). I want to see the grave goods piled high, the ceremonious sealing of the tomb and, as soon as night fell, the tomb robbers (usually the same people who built and decorated the tombs) coming out to pillage them."

2. You can have any superpower / magical ability / force - what is it and why?

"I want to power of silence. I want to be able to flip an internal switch and make all the chattering idiots be quiet. I want to make all the negative voices in my head to shut up long enough for me to do whatever it was they said I couldn’t. I’d also like to make that annoying woodpecker in the woods behind my house stop tapping."

3. Do you have houseplants? Are they in good condition?

"When people hear that I grow orchids they think it’s something special, a talent that only extremely green-thumbed people have. I’m living proof that this theory doesn’t hold up. I grow phalaenopsis - those orchids with the long arching stem full of gloriously colored flowers you often see at various big box hardware stores and grocery stores. If you truly want to learn to grow orchids, please find a professional grower to buy from. The ones in grocery stores, or any other place that doesn’t specialize in orchids, are typically culls that the pros refused to buy. The plants will bloom for a few weeks and then, because you don’t really know how to take care of them, they will die, convincing you that orchids are hard to grow. They really aren’t but just as you wouldn’t go to a plumber to set a broken bone, you shouldn’t buy orchids from people whose expertise is selling hinges and lawn mowers. Phals make excellent houseplants and start blooming right around Thanksgiving, when my outside garden is dying. Phals will bloom for 6 months or more, and they each have their own cycle. At any given moment 4 or 5 will be looming at once, which fills my bedroom with glorious, jewel-like colors and gets me through the winter doldrums. A few years ago I installed a rain barrel on my back deck. The orchids have thrived since I started using rain water and not the chlorinated stuff out of the tap. I have found that a regimen of benign neglect seems to work best with them."

4. Which performer would you like to meet backstage and what would you say to sound cool even though you're totally star-struck?

"I would love to meet Paul Simon, although I can’t think of a single non-geeky thing to say to him. What question hasn’t he already been asked? I always wonder whether performers stop enjoying hearing how much you love their music, that their music has meant so much to you, etc., etc. I think just seeing the show from backstage, to see the inner-workings, would be magic. I guess the short answer is there isn’t anything I could say to Paul Simon that wouldn’t make me sound like star-struck to my bones."

5. Three world heritage sites you want to visit before you die.

"I’m having too much trouble with this question. The Great Barrier Reef, Petra and Angor Wat are the 3 that leap to mind. I visited the World Heritage website and was overwhelmed with the number of sites listed and how endangered most of them are. I’m going to cheat and add one more: Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord in Norway. Guess it’s time to get out the calendar and start planning 2013’s trips..."

6. If you see a clothing tag sticking out of a friend's shirt, what do you do? What if it's someone you only know casually, not a real friend?

"I hate having the tags sticking out of my shirts and always appreciate being told when they are. I assume most women (and some men) are like me and will always tell a friend (of either gender) or even reach over and fix it for them. Someone I know but am not friends with I’ll still tell and a total stranger depends... I guess it mainly depends on the vibe I get from them. I love that so many manufacturers are now printing the tag rather than sewing it on."

Bio: Lynn Mann resides in Columbia, MD with two rescue cats and a supportive husband. Her writing reflects her eclectic reading, unusual education and far-flung travels. Several of Lynn’s stories have been published on-line and in small magazines, and her short story collection, Mr. Smith’s Errand on is available on Amazon (Mr. Smiths Errand). Her awards include 1st Prize in the 2011 Maryland Writers Assoc. New Novel Contest (Do You Do Murders) and 3rd Prize in the Windmill Women’s Writers annual Short Story Contest. Lynn’s story “Taking Care of Business” will be published by Rhino Press in Uncommon Assassins, due out in Sept. 2012. Along with her full time job she writes, raises orchids and sails on the Chesapeake Bay whenever possible. For further information or to contact her please visit

Hope you enjoyed the blog swap! We'd love it if you visited both blogs and left us some comments to ponder - say, how would you answer these questions, anyway?

Pax, all

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Quick Guide to Watching the Mars Landing of MSL Curiosity Rover August 5th

Artist's conception of Curiosity roving Mars.
I realized this week that the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity Rover was coming up fast, and that I hadn't planned out how I would be watching!  Unacceptable.  So I put together some facts, websites, twitter addresses and such to use to follow the events as they unfolded.  I realized the blog was a good place to put the info, and that others might want a quick guide, too.  So here it is.

Of course, I'm always excited about any spacecraft from anywhere pretty much doing anything.  This mission does have some special significance, however.  I've done plenty of crater research on Mars in the past, and have lots of friends colleagues currently involved in the mission, so it all feels very personal.  I'm wishing the best for my colleagues who have spent years of their lives working on this, as well as those who will spend years analyzing the data afterwards.

Okay, on to the mission.

What's Happening, Anyway?

NASA, in partnership with several space agencies from other countries, is about to land the most most sophisticated rover ever built.  The rover is named Curiosity.  Previous rovers were like slowly moving robotic geologists.  This rover is a full laboratory with a suite of instruments designed to act more like a geochemist.  It will be landing on Mars at Gale crater in a rather spectacular fashion (more on that later.)  Afterwards, it will spend at least two years on the surface roving about and collecting data.

What's All the Excitement About?

The landing is happening very soon!  And it is going to be an interesting process.  If you have not yet seen the animated "7 Minutes of Terror" simulation video, you'll want to watch it.  Go ahead.  I'll wait here.

Seven minutes from atmosphere to surface.
Now you see why some people are pretty excited, and nervous, about this landing.  Mars has proved to be a tough place to visit in the past, but we are starting to get very good at it.  Statistics being what they are, one can accurately say that only about 40 percent of the missions to Mars have succeeded, and only a third of the surface landings.  This is some evidence that landing spacecraft is very difficult.  However, one can also say that of the last five NASA missions to go to Mars, all have succeeded.  Of the last three rovers NASA has sent to Mars, all have succeeded.  We've learned a lot, and in spite of the drama, MSL Curiosity's odds look very good. 

What Should I Do To Get Ready?

First off, you might want to follow a few twitter feeds to be kept up-to-date.  I'm following:

MSL Curiosity @MSL_101
Curiosity Rover @MarsCuriosity
At the Planetary Society I'm following Emily Lakdawalla @elakdawalla and @exploreplanets

If you are a Facebook person, look for

There are a million possible websites to check out, and since this is a quick guide, I'll keep it simple.  The best touchstone as far as I'm concerned is Follow Your Curiosity.  Their front page lists landing times by timezone and additional places to follow/watch.  You can cruise around the site here and learn more about the mission, the instruments, the experiments and all that fun stuff.

If you still have time on your hands, you can watch the video "A Grand Entrance" twice - once with a voice over by Wil Wheaton, and then again by William Shatner, and decide who does it best.

When is the Landing, and How Do I Watch?

Time at landing for JPL is 10:31pm PDT Aug 5th.  If you are in another part of the world, it will be at a different time - either the night of the 5th or the morning of the 6th.  UTC is 05:31 August 6th.  I'm on the east coast, where the landing time will be 1:31 am the morning of the 6th.  Check the Follow Your Curiosity site for more times.

I'm planning to watch from the comfort of home, on my computer - no doubt while tweeting constantly with my friends and colleagues from @grierja.  I'll be on Ustream at - This link will have NASA TV commentary.  The link at /nasajpl2 will be a "clean feed."

You can also check your own TV/cable/satellite situation and see if you get NASA TV on your actual TV.  I never watch TV at all, so I can't really give any advice on that.

If you prefer to be in a group, go ahead and throw a landing party, or attend one that's already been set up.  Check NASA's list of events, or their interactive map.

The party, either at your home or another location, will start well before landing time.  So tune in early!  NASA TV will start broadcasting the lead up to landing two hours before actual landing time (at 8:30pm Pacific and 11:30pm Eastern.)  

What Will I See?

First of all, Mars is 14 light minutes away - the distance it takes light to travel in that amount of time.  This means that there is a time delay of 14 minutes between what is happening on Mars and when we actually get the data about it.  It kinda creeps me out.  By the time we detect the spacecraft hitting the atmosphere, it will already have landed.

So you will not see a "live feed" from Mars of the spacecraft dramatically going through all of its stages and then landing.  To do that, we would need to have sent another spacecraft to follow it like a cameraman.  NASA will be tracking the landing using instruments on the spacecraft that measure acceleration, heat, etc.

So instead, we get true "Reality TV."  We'll be seeing a lot of shots of the control room, with engineers and scientists bent over computers and examining screens on the walls.  We'll probably get some shots of people watching excitedly from other locations.  NASA will probably show video simulations of what they think is happening right now to the spacecraft, showing the heat shield fall away, the parachute deploy, and that sort of thing.  They will tell us what the instruments are telling them.  It will all vacillate between intense and exciting punctuated with minutes of 'it doesn't seem like anything is happening.'  You know, real life :)

Then NASA will announce the landing, and we will all cheer wherever we are!  Then we will get to go to bed.  The NASA folks won't.  They will be on shifts day and night for months and months, having adjusted their schedules to "Sols" - Martian days, not Earth days.

I hope you'll join me, and lots of other space nuts and generally interested citizens!  Feel free to comment here on your plans, what sites you plan to check out, or if you have a question or two.  I'll try to get an answer up promptly :)

Pax, All.

Image Credits:  All images are from, thanks to NASA and JPL, and our tax dollars at work.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

52 Stories - A Story Every Week - Update

Stories coming to life on the screen, yep.
As noted previously, I decided to take this year and write a story a week (starting May 1).  Last week was my quarter-of-the-way-there mark.  It's time for a progress report to keep me organized and honest.   (Follow along with Twitter hashtag #52Stories.)


Some weeks have seen the production of multiple stories, while others (especially when I was on vacation) saw no stories.  All in all, I'm one story behind.  I'm pretty happy with this progress, since while I've been writing the short stories I've also been writing and submitting poetry and continuing with edits on two novels.  Not to mention the blogs and ... well, you know how it is.
Here are the stories by working title, genre, and word count.
  1. Priorities, Science Fiction - Robot, 99
  2. A Natural Disaster, Fantasy - Urban, 697
  3. +Hidden Things, Science Fiction - Dystopian, 850
  4. ++Nanostories, Various, ~100 (Stories for Twitter zines, 140 characters each)
  5. New Year's Resolution, Horror - Zombie, 4925
  6. Walking on Eggshells, Horror - Paranormal, 6136
  7. Hobby, Horror - Serial Killer, 100
  8. How My Dog Almost Ended Poverty, Science Fiction - Humor, 7003
  9. ++For Sale, Horror - Humor, 243
  10. What God Says, Science Fiction - Urban, 995
  11. Dark Gold Spinner, Horror - Fairy Tale, 4360
  12. Learning to Taste, Horror - Werewolf, 6496 
  13. ooops.
Observations and Issues

Total word count is 32,000 words, which is an average of 2667 for each of the twelve weeks.  I was thinking it would be closer to 3500 but there are a lot of flash pieces in there.

Good Stuff

Three of the stories above have (+) marks next to them.  "Hidden Things" has one + mark.  It made it to the very last round of screening for a professional journal.  I've yet to sell one of my stories or poems at a professional rate, and so this is a benchmark for me.  The journal sent the piece back with lots of great comments, and a lot of encouragement.  So I'm going to let it sit a while, go through another round of edits, and see if a different pro journal wants to pick it up.

The story "For Sale" and one of my nanostories "Blind Date" were selected for publication.  Another nanostory "The Skeleton" won a small online Twitter contest.  (I also had three poems published this quarter, and another scheduled.)  

Plans and Issues for Next Quarter

So during this next quarter I'll need to write 14 stories, and I'm going to see if I can write a little less flash.  I'd like to see more stories in the 3K to 5K range.  But there are going to be a couple of other challenges for the second quarter, which for me runs from July 30th to October 28th.

I had already decided to dedicate the month of September to finishing the next round of edits on one of my novels.  I don't know if I'll have time to write anything else at all in September.  I also have a week in October where I'll be at a professional science conference, and I suspect writing time will be hard to come by.  That means I lose five of my thirteen weeks.  If I am going to stay on track, I will need to produce two to three stories every single week in August.  I do have a week set aside for a writing retreat, but it might not be enough.  We'll have to see.

I am also continuing towards my goal of having a horror chapbook of poems ready to submit for contests and publishing sometime next year.  That process includes writing, editing and submitting individual poems to journals up front.  I had a few poems picked up so far this year, so I'm hopeful.

Well, I have my work cut out for me.  How about you?  What does the next quarter have in store?

Pax, All

Image Credit Computer,

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Five Ways to Motivate Yourself to Edit That Writing

Writers seem to fall into two categories when it comes to editing.  Either they struggle to produce a first draft, and then relax and edit; or they happily pound out a first draft, and then look forlornly at the fruit of their labor and wish it could edit itself.

I am in the latter category, and so I am very interested in how to stay motivated to do what I find to be the most difficult part of the writing process.  Here are a few tips that work for me, and I hope they will help others with my mindset.

1.  Learn how to edit.  This one seems like a no-brainer, but I actually had to realize this consciously at some point.  I thought I knew perfectly well how to edit, because my idea of editing was moving around a few paragraphs, cutting out a sentence or two, checking for consistency errors, and then fixing up the spelling and grammar.  Those are certainly things you do during editing, but that isn't the heart of the process.  I had to go back to the drawing board and really dive into the nature of editing.  Until I did, I had no idea how to address issues with major and minor plot arcs, how to rewrite entire sections, how to check the progression of character growth, and so much more.  The short version is, that in becoming a more skillful editor, editing has become less tedious.

2.  Rally your support network.  If you don't have people to help support your writing efforts, it is worth the time to build a network.  This might include a personal writing group in your local area, joining a writing association or society, connecting with people at local small bookstores, finding like minded people via social networks, using online writing forums, and more.  They can be there to help motivate you, just as you can be there for them.

3.  Make a schedule and set benchmarks.  Any job seems daunting when you look at the whole thing at once.  Break your editing project down into pieces.  Set reasonable deadlines for each of those pieces.  Set benchmarks so that when you reach certain points, you can go back and reassess how your plan is working, and tweak it up if necessary.

4.  When editing, don't do anything else but edit.  It's easy to get distracted if we allow ourselves to constantly multi-task.  We find ourselves texting, tweeting, checking email, seeing if we have any phone messages, eating at our desk, etc., all while we occasionally take a stab at editing.  Instead of taking that kind of a approach for a long time, take a single-task approach for a short time.  Take a twenty minute chunk and do nothing but edit.  Stay on task.  It will be easier to swallow if done in small increments, but as you develop focus, it will be more natural to just do editing, and ignore the email.

5.  Celebrate when you reach intermediate goals.  So many times we deny ourselves any celebration or congratulations until a project is utterly completed.  It is more motivating to set intermediate goals along with your long term goals, and then be sure to celebrate all of them.  Have others join in when you celebrate, and do something to mark the occasion, however small.

Well, that's five!  There are a lot of other ways you can motivate yourself to get those edits done.  What are your favorite ways to keep yourself chugging away?

Pax, all.

Image Credit:  Editing, Nic's Events, Flickr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Monday, July 30, 2012

Prompt the Muse #40 - Speculative Writing Prompt

Photo:  Crow at Night
Every culture has one or more animals whose passing are considered bad omens or bad luck.  Choose any animal and create a myth that explains why this creature is so feared, and what happens if a person encounters one.  Write your explanation in 150 words.

Image Credit:   Full Moon Night by Luz Adriana Villa on flikr via Creative Commons CC 2.0

Friday, July 27, 2012

Create Your Own Definition of "Writer"

Reborn by Ruth-Tay
I don't think it's a good idea to let others define who and what we are.  Still, I did it myself when it came to deciding whether or not I was truly a writer.  I have a tendency to seek the black and white answer - to look for the special formula that will give me a closed-form analytical solution to any problem.  I sought out the "definition" of writer, and tried to locate the benchmarks that would let me claim the title without reservation.

It's ironic, because when I first started writing I wasn't thinking about being a writer.  I just wrote.  I had stories in my head, and I started writing them.  A point came when I felt like I needed to defend it.  I still don't know why, but other people had things they were doing that seemed worthwhile and important.  My writing was worthwhile and important to me, but I had a hard time believing anyone else would see it as more than a hobby.

Again, why do other people's definitions matter?  But I hadn't yet thought about that.  Instead, I started looking for the definitions, the benchmarks, and the perfect indicators of true writer-hood.

One of the benchmarks floating around out there is that if you do something for 10,000 hours, you will become an expert.  It was an idea originally suggested by Ericsson, a psychologist, and then developed in more detail by Gladwell in his book Outliers.  Ten thousand hours means essentially pursuing your interest 40 hours a week for five years (or fewer hours a week over a longer time frame, of course.)  I've definitely put in those hours, and then some, so I was happy to check that one off.

Another important benchmark I've heard bandied about is the one million words of crap idea.  I can't find the original source for certain, but it is probably Hemingway, and then rephrased by other sources like Henry Miller and Michael Crichton.  The concept is to just write, since the first million words are bound to be garbage, anyway.  After you put in those first million, then you can start with the good stuff.  Well, I have more than two million words of fiction on this computer as we 'speak.'  I was relieved to find I could cross that one off twice.

Still, I kept looking.  How many of other people's definitions did I need to satisfy me?  One was that a writer wrote every day.  That one was too ambiguous and caused me anxiety.  Write what?  Just the fiction stuff?  How about the blog posts I love to write, could I count those?  I've already published a textbook - did that writing count?  Then it got worse.  Some people said they only felt like writers when they got a story published.  Others said they had to get paid for that story.  Still others said it had to be a 'professional' level sale.  Then onto the novels - had to be written, or edited, or published in small press or big press or with an advance of whatever size and then ...

Finally I got a clue.  It was actually a difficult paradigm shift.  I decided to ignore all the other definitions, and chose my own.  It simply came down to the canonical "I write therefore I am."  I am a writer because without writing, I'm not me.

I chose "Reborn" for this post because I wanted to express the feeling of leaving behind the old, of becoming powerful, and of flying above it all.  When I realized that only I had the power to define myself, it was both wonderful and scary.  I'm a stickler for rules, and I wanted to do it "right."  Yet it is something only my gut could really tell me. 

No amount of formulas will make you feel like a writer.  It is something you come to understand about yourself, to claim, and finally say to #@*& with anyone else's ideas of what you are.

How do you define yourself and why?

Pax, all.

Image Credit:  Reborn by Ruth-Tay on  Used with generous permission from the artist.  Ruth-Tay is a young concept artist who lives in the Netherlands.  Her gallery is filled with hordes of fantastical creatures, especially dragons.  All have excellent color and sense of motion.  The artist sees the phoenix as "beautiful creatures with magical healing powers. They can become hundreds maybe thousands years old. When they die they burst into flames and are reborn out of there own ashes."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Top Ten Cult Movie Favorites: Horror

Do Not Touch Chain.
There is no question that this was the hardest list of the three.  It took me a while to figure out why, since I've seen plenty of horror movies.  But it turns out that horror movies don't often become movies I want to watch over and over, unless they have something to offer other than just scares.

You'll note my list is completely devoid of the standard pulp horror fare like Halloween, Friday the 13th, Saw, Chucky, and so forth.  Movies like that are good at producing shock and scream-surprises, but once you know what's coming they lose their appeal.  I've never been fond of gore for gore's sake or cheap frights you get from just being startled.  Humor-horror, or psychological-surreal horror are more my style.

As before, my reasons for picking movies as "cult" is in my first Top Ten Cult Movie List: Science Fiction.

And as before, I had to define "horror" for myself in order to decide which movies I would consider.  That ended up being broken down into two factors:  (a) movies that contained ample horror tropes such as haunted castles, zombies, vampires, ghosts, etc. OR (b) movies that had moments where I was actually really scared, regardless of genre or tropes.

10.  Ghostbusters - 1984 - Really campy beyond words.  Plenty of laughs even when you already know the jokes.  A few scenes are even mildly scary, and I can say I hope I do not find a Zool in my refrigerator.

9.  Trilogy of Terror - 1975 - There really weren't any horror buffs around me growing up, and so I was alone for a long time thinking that I, only I, knew the true terror of the trilogy.  The first two were scary enough, but I was frightened out of my mind when I saw the third.  The Zuni doll was the scariest thing ever.  Now I know others also worship this 25 min long bit of horror movie gold. 

8.  Night of the Living Dead - 1968 - Old, hokey, and really pretty darn scary.  Except for the scenes where they show the zombies eating, and then it's funny.  The ending is a shock, too, which isn't the case for most zombie style horror films.  Good, wholesome cult horror entertainment.
7.  The Dead Zone - 1983 - There was a time when I'd say "Dead Zone" and no one would know what movie I was talking about.  Then there was a TV version, I think (I don't watch TV).  But I was making cult movie madness of this flick back before all that TV nonsense.  Nice, quietly creepy stuff, with a really despicable presidential candidate who gets what's coming to him.

6.  The Lost Boys - 1987 - Yeah, I know, "how many times can you say 'Michael?'"  This is mostly so stupid, but I love it for how bad it is - and the great soundtrack.  It is so corny and so overdone you just can't look away.

5.  Heavy Metal - 1981 - Okay, you are wondering why this is in my horror category.  First of all, my fantasy category had four times as many movies in it.  But mostly, this movie is here because it scared the crap out of me.  The only common element between the stories is an evil green ball that mutates people or just obliterates them completely.  The funny bits did not make the flick less scary.  Oh, and of course the animation and soundtrack are righteous.

4.  Little Shop of Horrors - 1986 - At this point you have probably lost all faith, but I can't help it.  This is definitely one of my cult favorites, and I adore the soundtrack.  The movie is just creepy and gross enough that it is still definitely horror, even though it is much more campy than previous versions.  The dentist is such a wonderfully greasy egomaniac.

3.  Fright Night - 1985 - Truly a cult wonder.  Even though it was remade, this older version remains on my list.  It was my definition of a vampire film that remained entertaining and watchable even after you knew what was coming.  The makeup effects on the protagonist's girlfriend kept me up at night.  Reminded me of the Zuni doll, actually.  Brrrr.

2.  Young Frankenstein - 1974 - This is camp horror movie perfection.  It lampoons all the tropes while delivering great laughs and some very unsettling moments with the monster.  Filmed in black and white, it retains an edge that color might have washed away.  Igor eating the fur stole is a brilliant moment.

1.  Alien/Aliens - 1979, 1986 - This is where I hope to regain your faith.  Alien is the number one scariest movie I've ever seen.  Nothing has kept me up nights like Alien.  Aliens, while a very different movie with it's high action, brighter lighting, and constant explosions, is still really amazingly frightening.  In spite of the terror they inspire, I'd watch these over and over.  The style, sets, and the ambiance are so compelling.  You'll note Alien 3 is not on here.  I saw it, wasn't impressed, and then I lost interest in the franchise.  But Alien and Aliens will always be there for me.

Alright, I know this list simply must cause some scratching of heads in bafflement.  What are your horror cult movie favorites?  Leave a comment here, or link up to your blog with a relevant post and I'll go read it for myself.

Pax, all.

Image Credit - Zuni Fetish Doll.  Promotional image.  Trilogy of Terror with Karen Black

Monday, July 23, 2012

Prompt the Muse #39 - Speculative Writing Prompt

Image: Squiggly Lines
Take a look at the image to the right.  Make a list of ten things that this might just be picturing.  You do not have to be literal or concrete.  My list is below, but make yours first before reading on!

Image Credit:  Dust devil tracks on Mars, NASA.

1.  Grape Vines
2.  Particle tracks from a supercollider experiment
3.  Singed hair
4.  Crackled ceramic glaze
5.  Monster fingerprint
6.  Tangled spider webs
7.  Alien runes
8.  Road Map
9.  Disease
10.  Blood Vessels

Friday, July 20, 2012

Celebrating Inclusive Spec-Fic and Poetry with A Zombie Anthem

It's no surprise that speculative poetry and fiction are growing to include more diverse points of view.  In this kind of writing, everyone gets to define "normal" in their own way.  As we as a species learn to value our differences, spec-fic offers an excellent platform for working out our unconscious (and conscious) ideas of how we can view the "other" as "just another one of us."  Here we can teach ourselves how to see all humans (and perhaps someday all robots and aliens) as "normal."

So along these lines, I have to say how happy I am that my poem "A Zombie Anthem" was picked up by Eye to the Telescope for their July 2012 themed issue of LBGTQ Speculative Poetry.  The poetry reflects a range of moods, concepts, and experiences which play with the whole notion of gender.  Also, keep your eye on this "Eye" since ETTT has a different editor for every issue, which offers up its own kind of diversity in themes and styles.

In the process of submitting for the above, I encountered some publications I didn't know were out there.  This is hardly an exhaustive list, but I thought I'd mention one or two.

Back in January, Stone Telling produced Bridging: The Queer Issue. This speculative poetry quarterly has been inclusive since its inception, stating, "we are especially interested in seeing work that is multi-cultural and boundary-crossing, work that deals with othering and Others, work that considers race, gender, sexuality, identity, and disability issues in nontrivial and evocative ways."

The speculative fiction magazine The Future Fire has published feminist and queer themed issues, and actively "seeks stories by women, people of colour, LGBTQ folk, and other groups under-represented in genre fiction."  They have an upcoming issue requesting "new stories told from the perspective of the colonizedWe want the cultures, languages and literatures of colonized peoples and recombocultural individuals to be heard.  We want stories that neither exoticize nor culturally appropriate the non-western settings and characters in them."

The twice yearly publication Collective Fallout is "dedicated to queer-themed sci-fi, fantasy, horror, mystery and other speculative short fiction, poetry, and art.  We hope what you find here opens your minds and makes you think about what queer literature means to our culture. It is not just entertainment. It is a teacher and a tool. It is a statement of past, present, and future."

The Outer Alliance is a group of "SF/F writers who have come together as allies for the advocacy of LGBT issues in literature. Made up of individuals of all walks of life, our goal is to educate, support, and celebrate LGBT contributions in the science-fiction and fantasy genres."  Their site offers news, links, and updates on upcoming themed issues of interest.

Of all the publications I've run into so far, the "encouraging diversity" award goes to Expanded Horizons.  Now I consider myself a very inclusive and welcoming individual, but EH has a list of types of diversity I had not even considered.  I mean it.  Beyond issues of gender, ethnic background, the physically and mentally disabled, they specifically call out those who are "otherkin" and those with unusual sensory perceptions.  The success of this approach is evident in their May issue, of which every single story is unique and engrossing.

I'm always looking for more.  What inclusive speculative fiction journals and resources are your favorites?

Pax, all

Image Credit:  Chalk Rainbow, by Pink Sherbet Photography, on Flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Top Ten Cult Movie Favorites: Fantasy

Tim Curry as Darkness.  Oh yeah.
I'm back for more fun with my personal cult movie favorites.  Last week I gave out my Top Ten Cult Movie Favorites: Science Fiction.  In that post I go into some detail about what "cult movie" means to me, and how I decided if a movie could be considered for the top ten.

Interestingly, this list was the most fun to make of any of my top three (I'll post horror next week.)  I'm not sure why - perhaps because most of my fantasy cult favorites are also adventure films in one way or another.  My sci-fi seems more serious, and horror can be, you know ... scary.

In any case, trying to pull this together was both very entertaining and very frustrating.  I had to drop a huge stack of fantastic films in order to whittle this down to ten.  Fantasy ends up being a catch-all genre for anything with supernatural elements that are not horrific or futuristic.  I had to cut Raiders of the Lost Arc, Clash of the Titans, The Hobbit, Highlander, Yellow Submarine, Conan the Whatever, The Beastmaster, Charlotte's Web, and on and on.

10.   Krull - 1983 - There was more hokey, campy fantasy in the 80's than Max Headroom could shake a stick at.  Here we have witches, horses with fire coming out of their feet, a cyclops, a magical ninja throwing star, and the whole prince-saves-princess thing.  At least that last cliche is busted when it takes both of their powers (their love, actually, yikes) to defeat the big bad.

9.   Wizard of Oz - 1939 - The oldest film on all three lists, this classic is still one of my favorites.  Based on Baum's book published in 1900, this movie is still entertaining (sometimes in ways it wasn't meant to be).  The fantasy elements are handled beautifully, with joy, awe, horror, and a nice neat little moral all rolled up into one.  The color is of course phenomenal, because (egads) every single frame was hand painted.

8.   The Last Unicorn - 1982 - Okay, back to the 80's.  This one has that creepy Rankin Bass animation style, but is still fun to watch.  It's also surprisingly disturbing for a kid's fantasy flick.  The voice cast is canonically star-studded again, and the group America did the soundtrack.  Really.

7.   Legend - 1985 - More eighties bizarre camp with so many stars it just does not make sense.  Tim Curry as "Darkness" (in a costume that makes Rocky Horror look subtle) is the best thing in the film.  Oddly juxtaposed music from Tangerine dream and the lead singers from Yes and Roxy Music add to the sense of the surreal.

6.  Excalibur - 1981 - This movie was the first full-blown treatment of high fantasy I ever saw, so it made a huge impression.  The movie also doesn't really make much sense, as it is cobbled together from a mass of different legends, and blends historical features from a span of several hundred years.  I still enjoy it for the epic feel and the amazing images.  Still have to laugh at the sex scene where the dude does not even bother to take his armor off. 

5.  The Dark Crystal - 1983 - Okay, yes, you think I am crazy now.  I can't help it, I really like this movie.  It has so much fun fantasy, great puppeteering, and excellent voice work.  I re-watched it recently for the millionth time and realized that I Am Fizgig. 

4.  Sleeping Beauty, Disney - 1959 - The style is so lush and iconic.  It formed a strong idea in my head of what was meant by "medieval."  The real stars are the fairies, who mess up the day and then save it.  Oh yeah, I Am Also Merryweather.  Make it blue.  Seriously. 

3.  Ladyhawke - 1985 - Once again, stars all over the place in this one.  This movie has an 'A' movie feel with a 'B' movie plot.  Some great sets and good acting, as well as a really creepy story and nasty villain, make it a favorite. 

2.   Monty Python and the Holy Grail - 1975 - Fantasy at its absolute craziest.  This movie truly defines 'cult' for me.  You watch it over and over and laugh every time, and then get pissed off at the stupid ending.  The foul tempered rodent and the holy hand grenade are total genius.

1.  The Princess Bride - 1987 - Too romantic?  Too mushy?  Well, probably, but this just has to be my number one in this category.  It simply must.  Wonderful jokes, more star studded than the other stuff I said was star studded, gorgeous sets and scenery, as well as fencing.  As the bad guy says, "a trifle simple perhaps but her appeal is undeniable."

Well, there you have it.  I'm really curious to find out what your personal cult fantasy favorites are, and how you chose them.  Drop me a comment, or point me towards your blog!

Pax, all.

Image Credit:  Character 'Darkness'.  Actor - Tim Curry.  Promotional photo for the movie Legend.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

Rhysling Spec-Fic Poetry Winners

The Science Fiction Poetry Association has announced their winners for the 2012 Rhysling Awards (which I blogged about just this Friday).  I was happy to see a number of my personal favorites from the contest anthology on this list.  These poems are of excellent quality, with that fascinating twist one only gets from speculative writing.  It is great to see that speculative fiction poetry is alive and very well!   

Short Poem
  1. Shira Lipkin, "The Library, After" (Mythic Delirium 24)
  2. Erik Amundsen, "The Lend" (Stone Telling 5)
  3. Lyn C. A. Gardner, "In Translation" (Tales of the Talisman, vol 7, issue 4)
Long Poem
  1. Megan Arkenberg, "The Curator Speaks in the Department of Dead Languages" (Strange Horizons, 27 June 2011)
  2. G. O. Clark and Kendall Evans, "The 25-Cent Rocket: One-Quarter of the Way to the Stars" (Dreams & Nightmares, issue 89)
  3. Mary Turzillo, "The Legend of the Emperor's Space Suit (A Tale of Consensus Reality)" (, issue 17)
Pax, all

Credits: Format taken from Strange Horizons, here,  

Prompt the Muse #38 - Speculative Writing Prompt

Image: Warrior with Gun
Your main character wields an unusual and powerful weapon.  Choose an item that is unexpected for the genre (i.e. if fantasy, no swords or wands, if sci-fi no ray guns or light sabers, etc.)  Take 150 words to describe this weapon, what makes it strange, and what it can do.

Image Credit:  Warrior with Gun, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Friday, July 13, 2012

What's the Best Spec-Fic Poetry? - Reading the Rhyslings

Did you get your Rhysling award votes in on time?  It certainly wasn't easy this year, given the excellent lineup in the 2012 Rhysling Anthology.

If you enjoy poetry about science-fiction, horror, fantasy, science, astronomy, slipstream, and the otherwise speculative, then you will want to take a look at the Science Fiction Poetry Association.  The SFPA is the society that produces the Rhysling Anthology, and one of the best perks of being a member is being able to both nominate and vote for poems to win this award.  Poems are nominated from those published in the previous calendar year of 2011.

This year the anthology holds 175 pages of entertaining, creepy, thought-provoking, bizarre, humorous, scary, technical, inspiring, awesome, quirky, and unique poetry in a range of forms and styles.  A lot of poetry anthologies come out every year, but if you are a fan of the spec-fic genres, then this one is a definite must.  You don't need to be a member to get a copy; they are available on the SFPA site.

I'm not going to give away my personal tops from the book ... but I am going to mention a few of the pieces that really struck me for one reason or another.

The Witch's Heart by Nichole Kornher-Stace is a nice slice of dread.  The witch represents a host of what humans grieve, regret, and fear.  The language is colloquial but not contrived, and the pace clips along evenly to the creepy end.

the more space by Ann K. Schwader is just a tiny thing, only five lines and sixteen words.  But with great conservation of language, it conveys a powerful sense of loss.  Taking it somewhat literally, it brings to mind the loss of the night sky to the light pollution of cities.

The Curator Speaks in the Department of Dead Languages by Megan Arkenberg is a well woven piece that brings the reader in immediately.  The speaker laments the struggle of translating ancient texts when the languages have completely vanished, yet the poem conveys the hope found in tenacity and fortitude.

Speaking to the Hangman is Not Permitted by J.E. Stanley is a poem describing a corrupt trial in a dystopian future.  The piece conveys apprehension that grows into horror when the reader realizes that either the (apparently innocent) defendant will be executed, or the whole jury.

Did you have a favorite poem published last year that didn't get nominated?  What (and where) was it?  Do you have your own favorites from this anthology to share?  Let me know your opinions.

Pax, all

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Top Ten Cult Movie Favorites: Science Fiction

Logan 5's time has run out.
What is a cult movie?  There are a mind-numbing number of possible definitions.  I read a bunch of them for the sake of being educated.  Then I figured I would go ahead and make up my own definition and rubric for that extra-personal touch.  

Most definitions I read online focused on the movie doing poorly at initial release, but later becoming an underground success with a niche audience.  But for me, the most important aspect of "cult" is that I have - and will - watch the movie over and over and over.  It has to be a movie that isn't just a personal favorite, but is one I'm obsessive about.  You know, like a cult sort of thing.

So here is how I picked my top ten ...
  1. Has to be at least 25 years old.  I took anything from 1987 or older. 
  2. I have to have seen it at least five times.  Points for every time over that I've watched the film.  Special bonus points for anything I've seen 25 times or more.
  3. Points for movies my family and friends can't stand
  4. Points for movies that didn't do well at the box office
  5. Points for movies that have not been remade/rebooted, and have not lead to any sequels. 
  6. Points if I own a copy.  I don't buy many movies, so this is a pretty good sign of my feelings towards a film.
Then I realized I also had to define "Science Fiction," since there are plenty of movies that mix genres.  I decided I'd consider anything with a science-fiction setting like spaceships, other planets, or the future.  If the movie had elements of either fantasy or horror that overwhelmed the impact of the sci-fi setting, then I moved it to that category.

So okay, in proper top ten style, starting with number ten ...

10.  Tron - 1982 - Some think it's too bad to be good, but I really enjoy this film.  The vision of what goes on inside a computer is fascinating, and of course the difference in tech between now and then leads to many laughs.  I didn't see the sequel, and probably won't.  (You're a user!)

9.   Blade Runner - 1982 - This is of course an amazing movie that has great acting and an overwhelming atmosphere.  It's a bit darker and more drama-like than most of my preferred sci-fi, but was too awesome to leave out. (It's too bad she won't live.)

8.   Logan's Run - 1976 - Amazingly hokey and predictable, but still an entertaining romp through a bizarre future world.  It was supposed to be serious, but seeing Farah Fawcett try to act in a bit part here pushes it over into the realm of the ridiculous.  York is good, as always.  (Renew!)

7.   The Andromeda Strain - 1971 - Even though this movie has been remade, the old version still makes my list.  This was one of the first sci-fi movies I wanted to see anytime it came on the tube.  (Flashing lights remind me of my time in a bordello.)

6.   Dark Star - 1974 - A lesser known dark comedy about a crew of humans who have the job of destroying planets that might become orbitally unstable, thereby making the universe safe for human colonization.  The scenes with an alien beach ball creature eventually gave rise to the concept behind the movie Alien. (Phenomenology.) 

5.   Robocop - 1987 - I love the juxtaposition of "real" gritty city life against the shiny corporate machine (literally), all set against dry gags about our dystopian future.  There is so much ass-kicking, too.  (Sun Block 3000)
4.   Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan - 1982 - In spite of the massive Star Trek franchise, The Wrath of Khan is very high on my cult movie list.  In fact, I have to say it's an awesome movie all around, with a very tight script, good acting, excellent pace, solid plot, and great special effects. (Khaaan!)
3.   The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension - 1984 - A fabulous, bizarre adventure with the canonical star-studded cast.  The humor ranges from surreal, to dry, to dark, to utterly absurd.  The concepts are so whacky you just can't stop watching. (What's that watermelon doing there?)

2.   Flash Gordon - 1980 - This fantastically campy comic book of a film has a score by Queen and a huge number of disturbingly famous actors.  It is in my top five cult films of ANY genre, time, or place.  I can hardly say why, but I love this film. (Fly my hawkmen!)

1.   Star Wars Trilogy - 1977, 1980, 1983 - In spite of its popularity, the fact that it is a huge franchise, how much money it has made, etc., I was forced to put the original Star Wars Trilogy at the top of my list.  I have long, long since lost track of the number of times I have seen Star Wars.  Added to the number of times I've seen Empire and Jedi, it's probably over a hundred. (It's a trap!)

A brief moment of silence for all those great movies that just didn't make the cut like The Road Warrior, Time Bandits, and the Planet of the Apes.

I want to hear from you!  What are your top ten cult sci-fi movies?  How did you pick them?  Go ahead and put your thoughts in the comments here, or do your own blog post on the subject and post the link in my comments so I can come and check it out.

Pax, All

Image:  Logan 5 from the movie Logan's Run, Wikipedia

Monday, July 9, 2012

Prompt the Muse #37 - Speculative Writing Prompt

Art:  Horned Man
One of your characters has traits that others in the same culture consider to be indicators of evil.  However, this character is in fact very good.  What are these traits that the others mistake for signs of evil?  How does this character convince others that they are mistaken?  Express your thoughts in 200 words.

Image Credit:   Horned Man, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Honoring Your Guru - A Few Callouts on the Fourth of July

July 4th seems to be a good moment in time to consider the idea of honoring our "gurus" - the people who have inspired, encouraged, taught, motivated, and generally allowed our dreams to take form.  Sarah Noble, the artist of the piece Guru Purnima chose to honor her science gurus, and more, with this meeting of Moon and lotus.

I've always been troubled that for some people, the fourth of July is only about military achievement.  While I deeply appreciate the sacrifices of service men and women, and was raised by two service people myself, I don't choose to emphasize that element on the fourth (I do that on Memorial Day and Veteran's Day).  On the fourth of July, I choose to focus on great endeavors by Americans that have enhanced our quality of life, deepened our sense of shared culture, expanded our minds, and paved the way for a new future.

I do not mean to suggest that the people on my list were perfect, or had universally noble lives.  But for me, each has added something to my personal world that I appreciate.  I can't offer my full list since it would go on for hundreds of pages, so here are just a handful of Americans that I'm going to call out:

George Washington, mostly for refusing to be king
Martin Luther King, Jr, for promoting civil rights
Edgar Allen Poe, for creepy literature and poetry
Harriet Tubman, for sneaking slaves north, like herself
Jonas Salk, for polio vaccine and other research
John Muir, for institutionalizing conservationism
Nikola Tesla, for incredible and bizarre inventions
Jackie Robinson, told not to fight back for two years and did it 
Clara Barton, for founding the Red Cross

Although I have to add a couple specifically related to my own fields of specialization in astronomy/planetary science/and especially the Moon, like: Gene and Carolyn Shoemaker, Carl Sagan, everybody who made the Moon landings possible ... I could go on for a while ...

So, who are some of the people that would be on your list?  Who has inspired your dreams, from both near and far?

Pax, All

Image Credit: Artist Sarah Noble, Piece Guru Purnima.  Sarah's words - "The next full Moon is Tomorrow, July 3rd. The Moon will be opposite the Sun at at time when we cannot see it (2:52 pm EDT), but will appear full for about 3 days centered on this time, from late Sunday night/early Monday morning through early Thursday morning. This month's painting is from Hindu tradition, this is the Guru Full Moon (Guru Purnima) and is celebrated as a time for clearing the mind and honoring your guru."

Monday, July 2, 2012

Prompt the Muse #36 - Speculative Writing Prompt

Image: Planetary Nebula
A civilization is using a special device to monitor another people.  The device remains undetected even though it is in plain view because it looks like something else.  What is this device and how is it disguised?  Will those who are being monitored ever figure out that the object isn't what it seems?  Give yourself 200 words to put down your ideas.

Image Credit:  Planetary Nebula NGC 6751, NASA, Hubble Heritage Project

Monday, June 25, 2012

Prompt the Muse #35 - Speculative Writing Prompt

Art: Battle at Sea
A craft carrying one of your characters is attacked and badly damaged.  Your character manages to escape, and also manages to avoid getting captured.  What kind of craft was your character traveling in, and how did your character get out without being seen?  Write your thoughts in 150 words.

Image credit:  Battle of the Nile, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain   

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

More of the Joys of Mixing Genres

Art:  "Dragon" by Raymond Minnaar
The idea of genre-crossing stories has always intrigued me.   I first wrote about it in a post entitled "Mixing Genres in Spec Fiction - Some Pros and Cons."  Some of the most influential movies and books that I loved in my youth were those that mixed genres.  Movies like "Alien," which brought science fiction and horror together so masterfully, and books like "Mirror of Her Dreams" and "A Man Rides Through," which mixed science fiction into a fantasy world - these were the sorts of influences that really crystallized my ideas of the boundless nature of all these genres.  Then of course there is art like "Dragon" by Raymond Minnaar, which feels right at home in the area between horror and fantasy.

This piece of art has made its way onto my blog via my business card.  As I was looking for art to help me represent my current efforts, I came across the gallery of Raymond Minnaar, who has pieces both on deviantArt and his own official website.  I enjoyed seeing the breadth of speculative genres represented in his portfolio, and I got it into my head that his art would be a perfect match for my own current place in literary space and time.  After working with the artist, I now have this particular piece of amazing art to grace my new business card.  

It is an interesting sort of commitment, and a strong statement, what one chooses to put on their card.  After all, you want a card to be something you are proud of, something that reflects on your interests as a writer, and something that will be remembered.  This is also a darker piece, which I wanted because my stuff seems to be largely cross genre horror at the moment, particularly the poetry. 

When I began writing, I was surprised and baffled to find that people drew hard lines between genres.  Science fiction over here.  Fantasy over there.  Literary books someplace else completely.  That was the hardest to swallow - the idea that my novel couldn't be a genre novel and also literary.  Seemed to me like a solid, character driven story with a crisp plot and an inventive setting (my definition of good novel in most any genre) could be as literary as anything else.

That was before I'd even come across the term "Speculative Fiction."  Just to have found that term was an immense relief, since some people were concerned about an author who wrote different genres in different books, let alone in the same book.  I found and happily embraced this term, finally feeling like it was a way to fit myself into the picture without too many constraints.  (For those who want more info, here's a wikiattack: Speculative fiction is an umbrella term encompassing the more fantastical fiction genres, specifically science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural fiction, superhero fiction, utopian and dystopian fiction, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and alternate history.)

Since I wrote my last post on the subject, I've seen more interest in work that crosses genres.  When a mixed genre becomes popular, say like urban fantasy, steampunk, or slipstream, it can expand the idea of what is included under the speculative fiction umbrella.  Some publications are specifically calling for mixed topics, settings and perspectives.  These kinds of opportunities are something I love to see - watching the literature adapt and grow.  I think it increases both the chances for bringing in readers, and the chances of something really new and interesting being available to read in the first place.

Pax, All 

Image Credit:  "Dragon" by Raymond Minnaar at deviantArt.  

If you are interested in commissioning art from Raymond Minnaar, he is available, and has his full portfolio and prices available at his website.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Prompt the Muse #34 - Speculative Writing Prompt

Photo: Two Aliens
Two of your characters have entered into an unconventional romance.  There are at least three issues that make the relationship unusual within their cultures.  What are the three issues?  Do you think your characters will remain together, or will these issues create a permanent division between them?  Write your ideas in 200 words.

Photo: Science Fiction Museum Restroom Signage, marcin wichary on flickr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Monday, June 11, 2012

Prompt the Muse #33 - Speculative Writing Prompt

Art: Painted Wood
Ancient art has been found depicting a creature that only exists in myth.  Some people believe this art was made before the creature went extinct, while others dismiss the art as whimsy.  Describe this ancient creature, and how the art supports one of the previous points of view.  Take 200 words for your writing.


Monday, June 4, 2012

Silent Energy Creeps Into Niteblade

Image: Logo for Niteblade Fantasy and Horror Magazine
My poem "Silent Energy," which was sold to Niteblade Fantasy and Horror Magazine, has now been published in their June 2012 issue CarnivoyeurNiteblade is the kind of small-press magazine that reminds me of the periodicals I was reading in the 70's and 80's - the sort of mags that got me hooked on the genre in the first place, right down to the internal line art.  The issues have a bit of a retro feel, and the stories and the poems tend to more straightforward forms of storytelling.  I love reading and writing the surreal, but I still enjoy reading the kind of stuff I can actually understand from the very first sentence.  There are times you want to focus on the question "I wonder what is going to happen?" rather than "Why does nothing that is happening make any sense?"  Niteblade delivers genre entertainment that feels both authentic and enthusiastic.

I submitted my work to Niteblade for a host of reasons, one of which is that they are now on Issue #20 of a quarterly magazine.  That's practically tenure for a genre publication these days.  So many genre mags and ezines don't make it past the second year.  Twenty issues is a sign that both the creators and the readers have a long term investment and interest in the magazine.  So another reason I submitted here was that I wanted to support them.  We often think that the only way to support a publication is to buy it.  That is naturally a great way to offer support, but sending a magazine a piece that they think their readers will love is another way to make them happy. 

I also like their strategy for selling issues.  They ask a nominal ($2.49) price to download the current issue in pdf until they have reached their financial target.  From their site - "The web version of each issue initially offers only teasers of the stories and poems for free. With each issue we set a monetary amount that is a portion of the hard costs of producing that issue. Once we reach that goal through advertising, sales and donations, we will release the entire web-based version of the issue to everyone for free."  I do most of my own reading online these days, so I love a site with stories that are freely available, but of course a magazine has to find a way to get an income stream going or they won't last long.  Niteblade's financial model allows them to do both.  Best of all, their issues are completely ad-free.

Many thanks to Niteblade for buying and publishing my poem!  You can support them by downloading the issue (before financial goal if you have a couple of extra $, or after if you don't), linking, blogging, donating, and by spreading word-of-electronic-mouth.  You can support my writing by following and commenting on this blog right here, following my twitter @grierja, and of course, reading my pubs.

Pax, All

Monday, May 28, 2012

Prompt the Muse #32 - Speculative Writing Prompt

Art: Absinthe
A new substance has been discovered that causes bizarre dreams and visions.  A character has partaken of the substance, and had a vision of becoming an evil villain.  Is the vision real?  Does the character think it is real?  Does she or he tell anyone?  Write your answers to these questions in 200 words.

Image Credit:  Absinthe, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain