my TBR list just exploded

Since I discovered SFR I added The Galaxy Express and Smart Girls Love Scifi blogs. I read along, entered a contest, and randomness chose me to win free ebooks. I was going to buy many of these books anyway, but I think that the writers’ generosity should be…followed? Repaid? Anyway, those authors will get reviews for their newest books on this blog and on Amazon. It’s another great way for me to put pressure on myself! I love adding things to my To Do list!

Why review if it takes time and effort? I want to advance the interests of the SFR community. I love science fiction, I love romance, I read both, but I did not put the two together as something I could find until a few weeks ago. Reviews boost the signal so the books and authors can get more exposure and all of us can get (and write) more awesome stories. Also, reviewing will help me understand what does and doesn’t work for me in SFR, so I can learn what to look for when I want a curated list, and how to get more articulate about what I love. I was working on a cyberpunk romance story months ago, went on hiatus, and have picked up writing again, fueled by the inspiration the SFR community has given me.

I’ve been reviewing lingerie for years now, and I have a format I use: basic commentary, why I bought the article I did, the properties of its construction, how it fits and looks, and who would like it most. I haven’t reviewed books much before, so I’m reading up on review formats. Short summary, my critical and emotional reactions, and what else I found noteworthy. Many reviews end with a quantitative evaluation. I don’t like assigning numbers, stars, or letter grades, since they are far too easily influenced by when I last ate. Instead I’ll try for who I think would enjoy/dislike this book and reasons to read/skip it. All four should get a mention. A short version of the review will go on Amazon, since those are pretty widely read. This format is subject to change as I learn how to best contribute. It’s an eight book project. If I or others find the reviews useful, I’ll continue reviewing SFR books.

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Reading scifi romance voraciously

Writing

The past winter I took a writing class for short stories, and I found it rewarding. I had not written fiction in fifteen years, and I was unsure whether I’d enjoy another solitary hobby.  The experience has been rewarding afterwards, albeit in fits and starts. I had a story I wanted to flesh out, and there are plenty of sticky points in the plot I have not tackled. I have another story I’m thinking of expanding beyond four hundred words. They’re both science fiction romance, or will be once I get more into them. The idea is to have fun and write something I can look at and say “yeah, that’s kind of cool”. My ambitions lie in finishing projects, the bigger the better. I have no deadline because I’m just doing this for me, but I try to set aside some time a few days a week to devote to books.

Part of my writing-time is actually reading-time. Plenty of authors encourage this, but it’s a no-brainer to me. I read what I love (and some other things for variety) so why wouldn’t I write what I love! My first exposure to science fiction romance must have been the first three books by Dara Joy and some Johanna Lindsey when I was a teenager. They were quite campy, and that was pretty representative of the genre at the time. I loved reading science fiction and romance, why not the two together? Fantasy romance was so much easier to find, and I had a higher chance of finding a story with Serious Stuff in it. There were exceptions that I stumbled upon and treasured: Gena Showalter’s Alien Huntress series hit the spot especially with Savor Me Slowly, in which our heroine is a killer cyborg, and Marcella Burnard’s Enemy Within left me wanting more than just one other novel in the series.

During and after my college years, Ellora’s Cave pioneered lots of electronic romance novels, and with the lower overhead cost of e-publishing (I assume), they could take more risks with niche genres. Of the authors there, Nathalie Gray wowed me the most with Demo Derby and the Femme Metal series. Publishing has by now changed so that books that traditional publishers would never have taken before can see the light via self-publishing or small e-press. I imagine that some of it may not be good, so I’ve been on the lookout for curation.

In March I took the Seattle Public Library’s recommendation of Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach and devoured the book (and its sequels). Better than flourless chocolate cake. While it was a science fiction novel with romantic elements instead of having the romance as the central plot, I realized that this is what I want to read and if the library’s carrying it, what have I been missing? The answer was plenty. Great novels had been published when I wasn’t paying attention and I found myself with some more library books to read: Ann Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax series (I have read Grimspace and Wanderlust), and Linnea Sinclair’s everything (I adored Games of Command and am reading The Down Home Zombie Blues). Holy Lego Man, I’ve hit pay dirt!

As if that weren’t enough in my queue, the publishing world continues to change, and there are communities on the internet dedicated to science fiction romance, complete with reading lists and networking. Why didn’t I look at this before? I’m mystified by the oversight, but now the spread in front of me is overwhelming. I am trying to wrap my mind around the Science Fiction Romance Brigade and the Galaxy Express. A new world awaits me, and I hope it helps spur my own work on. Even if it doesn’t, I’ve got months of delight to come!

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Words are difficult

Writing

I have never fancied myself a writer. I loved writing when I was young, and I have always loved reading. As I aged, I stopped writing fiction. My internal editor and censor was too loud to squeeze much out. I would have plenty of stories in my head, but I would only jot down notes and use them as inspiration for the pen-and-paper/LARP games I was involved in. Writing is a craft that requires plenty of dedication and practice. Since I have so many hobbies, I’ve never thought I’d have the energy to give writing my stories. However, I recently had an idea that learning to write could improve my communication.

I believe I have many communication difficulties. Explaining my emotions is difficult, since most of the time I don’t completely understand them. They tend to be tangled together, tethered tightly so that when I try to tug on one experience or feeling, a whole bunch come to the fore with it, all yarn-vomit like. Explaining my thoughts is a bit easier, but since my thoughts form patterns instead of lines, expressing them in a way that other people can grasp and understand often takes a long time. It’s work to unwind all of this and give it to people in formats they can digest.

I realized recently that I like reading romance because it is a genre where the focus of a given book is supposed to be feelings. These books are about relationships and are quite plentiful on the library shelves. Genre romance is my favorite! Mix up feelings and cyberpunk, or relationships and gritty fantasy, and I’m a happy human.

I took a writing class through the Experimental College because iI thought it would help my putting my feelings into words. I need deadlines and structure to start anything I am unfamiliar with. Writing about people and their feelings with the chance to edit the words afterwards (words cannot be unsaid) seemed less risky than doing a verbal braindump. I learned some interesting tidbits about myself during the process, and by continuing to write I hope to learn more.

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RPGs and the tour bus

I’ve changed how I run tabletop games over the past thirteen years. I used to define everything about the world, leaving the characters fairly constrained in an approach referred to by M. Joseph Young as trailblazing. My partner John has referred to trailblazing before as ‘the tour bus’. The GM drives you to Plot Point 1, points out some stuff, and entertains the PCs with a canned scene while they act the peanut gallery and do their quirks/traits at each other. Sometimes there’s a scripted fight. Then back onto the tour bus for the next destination.

I eventually realized that I find it exhausting to author the story. I like building a world, but I’ll leave gaps and such that I’ll want the players to fill in out of game because it’s tiring to figure out etiquette systems of fourteen different countries. Also, during the game, other people will often have better ideas than I do about what and who is in the world and what they want. I mostly learned this from having co-GMs. A game is a big thing to put on just one person. I like to think that I know some of my weaknesses and can find people to shore them up to contribute to a richer game.

What I value most in the games I’ve been involved in is the PC’s interactions and relationships with each other. The environment that I make when I run a game is to facilitate and complicate these. All the giant machines, crystal owls, mathemagicians, foreign spies, and elemental rituals are there to define the characters and how they see each other. It’s about what they do in their environment. For me it’s more interesting when the character goals and values do not completely overlap the original GM plot. The character Lorenzo of Logos had concrete goals he started with: recover a stolen statue from a thief, investigate and discredit a secret society, fend off his mother’s matchmaking. He discarded, changed, or attained more of these during the course of the game: have another PC actually confront her sister about her shady blood magic cult, buy as many diamonds as possible, stop one country from invading another, create the ultimate sympathetic-magic guitar solo. Some of these ideas and events I had a hand in, others were completely proposed by the PCs. They took me in directions I’d never think to go myself, and I think there’s much value in that.

Whenever I run a game now, I talk to the participants beforehand about this more hands-off approach. It definitely should be explicit that I’m not asking them to play any specific characters or themes, that there is nothing they are ‘supposed’ to do. This is a jam session, and I’ll help keep the time and drop a few hooks, but it shouldn’t just be my story.

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Theming this site

My day job is as a web application developer, so I feel it’s only right to make my own website for my creative output. The tailor should wear half-decent clothes principle, I suppose.

I’m making this site in Drupal because it’s powerful and I know at least some of how to administer it, as my site is on a DIY server. I learned Drupal theming on the job and it’s quite idiosyncratic, and it’s a bear trying to remember where everything is. That said, it’s kept up-to-date and secure and I can even use a package manager to update it. I’ve used CMS Made Simple, but that, though easy to use for editing, was not the easiest to maintain. This is just the single-user-who’s-also the admin case. If you have multiple non-technical users, CMS Made Simple is less work for them to use and learn than Drupal.

Today I am trying to iron out templating and CSS. That’s always the hardest part for me, as I am not a designer. A web developer may be able to make you a website, but even a great one may have almost no design chops. Those are separate skills. At work I implement the themes given to me by our designer. If you’re looking to make a snazzy web site, I recommend hiring a designer along with a developer: I think everything looks fine in big black and white sans serif text without pictures, never mind transitions. I know this. If you give me the theme, I’ll do what you need me to. I take existing themes and play with them. Find why elements are jumbled, spaced oddly, why text may overlap, why everything might go berserk if I size my screen. As Mr. Saturn once said, “Got to take it apart. Got to figure out how it works.”

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