28 December 2011

Five Up

A sorta weekly feature of things I co-sign:

(1) Evaluating a Traditional Publisher. Kristine Kathryn Rusch takes you through some question you could ask. I generally just say "Sign where? Here? OK!" But maybe you're more discerning.

(2) Neesha Meminger on From Margin to Center: Writing Characters of Color (2009)

(3) The Art of Leviathan. Part one with Scott Westerfeld, part two with artist Keith Thompson. (2009)

(5) Portlandia: Did You Read? I don't watch this show but many of the clips are hilarious.

23 December 2011

Brand New

When procrastinating I generally turn to redesigning blogs. Ameer and I just finished redoing our music blog, The End Starts Today, and now I turn my attention to this thing here. Sure I just redid it ten months ago but sometimes you just get sick of a look right?

I'm gonna miss that fun photo slider thing from the old template but 2012 is about cutting things out and paring everything back to the basics. And compartmentalizing. To that end, this is going to be all writing and books all the time, and everything not related to those two is going over to my personal blog. Well, except for dance movie reviews, those have to stay here.

One of these days I need to learn to actually code. I'm starting to suspect that copy/pasting and pecking takes me ten times longer than a real designer.

While you're here, please head over to Sophia Chang's blog to read about the "Top 3 Things Well-Meaning Bloggers Do that Drive Readers Nuts." Number two on her list, partial RSS feeds, is also a huge pet peeve of mine and if you know what's good for the world, go full feed please. And if you're not using Google Reader, well, I pity the fool.

21 December 2011

A Reading Nightcap

  • Beijing Welcomes You, Tom Scocca
  • Scalzi on Writing, John Scalzi
  • The Search for WondLa, Tony DiTerlizzi
  • Cross My Heart, Katie Klein
  • Huntress, Malinda Lo
  • The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Gothgirl, Barry Lyga
  • The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, E.Lockhart
  • Boy Meets Boy, David Levithan
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Seth Grahame-Smith
  • Behemoth, Scott Westerfeld
  • How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery, Edward Winkleman
  • Fury of the Phoenix, Cindy Pon
  • School of Fear, Gitty Daneshvari
  • Dragon Rider, Cornelia Funke
  • Super Zero, Rhonda Stapleton
  • Bras and Broomsticks, Sarah Mlynowski
  • Moriboto: Guardian of the Spirit, Nahoko Uehashi
  • Beyond the Valley of the Thorns, Patrick Carman
  • Dragon's Blood, Jane Yolen
  • Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
  • King of Ithaka, Tracy Barrett
  • Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson
After a three year layoff, Stuff I've Been Reading is back! Well it'll be back next month but since I'm reviving the long dead "what I just read" format, I thought I might as well cover this past year in reading.

I started 2011 off with The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Gothgirl and finished up with The Search for WondLa. In-between there was stuff like the surprisingly enjoyable Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery. The latter doesn't indicate any actual plans to start an art gallery, but it sure was interesting. If I had a spare hundred thousand dollars lying around, I'd like to throw together a combination book store, art space, and comic book store. We'd serve some sort of sweets too. Maybe ├ęclairs. Actually no, we'd serve shaved ice, of course.

The oldest book I read this year was from 1996, Clay's Ark by Octavia Butler, an author I'm ashamed to say I've never really read. I promised myself to, for years and years, but haven't actually gotten there. My friend Irene gave me a copy of Clay's Ark back in March and now that I'm over the initial hump, I need to read all of Butler's stuff so I can slowly work away my embarrassment. Perhaps I'll take a minor in Butler for fiftyfifty.me -- as a major would be probably impossible.

My biggest non-read in 2011 was A Visit From the Goon Squad, which was my very first Kindle purchase. I have no doubt it's amazing but for some reason I just keep it sitting there. That error will be rectified shortly.

Back in 2008, when I last did the Stuff I'm Reading thing, I was not yet an author who met other authors. Now I meet them, get to say hello, maybe hang out a little bit, and then when I head home, I look up their websites, check out their Wikipedias, and try to read their books.

As you can imagine, this order of operations changes how I take in their work. Oftentimes the authors I meet write amazing stuff I knew nothing about so when I'm hurtling through their book, I have to stop halfway through and try to wrap my head around the fact that I just interacted with this person in a previous life. I'm speaking of a previous life where I hadn't read their book and wasn't able to gush all about them.

I mean, it's probably better I met these authors before I read them, because then I wouldn't have to be that weirdo asking about things they wrote years ago. "So how did you come up with this, this and this? Can I just touch the hand that wrote this passage?" Or some such. I tend to turn fanboy pretty quickly given the proper provocation and who knows what I'm capable of when properly wowed.

Another way to describe this feeling is when you hear someone incredible sing. You are talking to them like a normal person -- work, weather, what's on television -- but then they get on stage or pick up a microphone and blow you away. Suddenly it's impossible to look at them without being aware of the massive talent inside.  And every conversation you have with them from there on out is tinged with "soooo amazing" echoing inside your head.

The "meet before fan" situation is very strange, as usually it's the other way around.

A highly recommended blog that features a lot of Stuff I've Been Reading type posts is Claire Light's. Her blog in general is a favorite of mine but I especially look forward to her reviews and views on books.  And may I again recommend Slightly Foxed, which is some of the best reading about reading one could ever hope for.

16 December 2011

50 Things I Love About You

It's been a bad year of reading for me. Not because I read bad books -- quite the contrary actually -- but because I didn't read enough of them. My total for the year, including a library fueled blitz last month, was twenty books. That's less than two a month. Pathetic.

For a guy with a lot of time on his hands, I fell completely off the reading wagon this year. Well no more. Lilly and I are starting up fiftyfifty.me, a books and movies challenge. Basically we're going to read fifty books and watch fifty movies in 2012. That sounds like a lot maybe. I mean, who has time for fifty of anything anymore?

Actually, we believe everyone does! And if you don't have the time, what are you doing? Watching television? Going outside? Hanging out with friends? Overrated.

I marvel at other reading challenges where people crank out over 100+ books a year. "How is anyone reading that much?!" I think to myself. Personally I'll have no problem hitting the movies watched mark, but fifty books a year could take some effort. But life's about setting goals (so I hear) so I'm gonna start with Dan Simmons' Hyperion on January 1st and not look back till I'm across the finish line.

We'll be blogging fun things on the fiftyfifty.me site, hoping you join up, and rocking out to the New Kids On The Block: Christmas Special all the way through! "50 books. 50 movies. 1 you."

14 December 2011

Five For Fighting

A weekly feature of things I co-sign: 

(1) Bark: A Blog of Literature, Culture, and Art. Everything is just good on this.

(2) Forces of Nature, Acts of God, and Other Reasons a Book Can Flop. Oh, good to know. Actually, Rachel Stark's entire Trac Changes blog is quite follow worthy.

(3) Days of Yore. Interviews with artists before they made it.  The one with Daniel Chun initially caught my eye. Other ones with Jennifer Egan and James Franco will catch yours.

(4) Saundra Mitchell's "I Have a Life!" Marketing Plan. Saundra knows so much about book marketing it's scary. And here she is with a fantastic bare bones solution.

(5) Writer's Guide to Hunger Games. I just finished Catching Fire so I'm ready to examine why the series captures the attention so. Thankfully Jenna Cooper is taking care of this for me.

12 December 2011

Consider the Seating Chart

Have you ever had this problem? A big group of people go out to dinner, you all sit down and conversation just dies. Maybe not right away, maybe not even obviously, but the fun spirit of eating out with people is totally gone. This wasn't a problem until a few years ago. In college, you can roll to dinners with twenty plus people and spirits remain high for hours. But that's college. Who has the energy nowadays?

For years, my friend and I have undertaken a rigorous course of observation about what makes group dinners "work" and we've decided that seating arrangements are the key. Given the chance, I'd socially manipulate every dinner I attend. Oh what power! Oh what fun! Is there a job where I can just seat arrange people all the time? Like a supplementary service to a wedding planner? I'd do it for free.

Let's come up with a scenario and work through it. A group of eight have reservations for a nice sit down meal. Most of them at least know each other, a few are close friends, and there is also a semi-stranger in the mix. First, let's consider the formation. Assuming a rectangular table, do you go boy-girl-boy-girl style like Emily Post suggests, or do you do something entirely different? I think we should forget Ms. Post, since she's slightly outdated and too formal for this crowd.

My seating arrangement philosophy centers around noise. Generally speaking, if talking, laughing, and discussions are happening, the dinner is happening. So where do you place the loud talkers? The ones with all the stories, the ones who make people laugh, the ones that spice up the place? More than likely, loud talkers congregate toward the middle, as those are the traditional power seats. I think this is a terrible mistake. If all the loud people are centered, the two edges are suddenly relegated to, well, the edge. The loud talkers need to be interspersed otherwise their sheer volume will make it look like their end of the table is having all the fun.

In fact, I prefer to stack the ends of the table with the two loudest people. They are the anchors for each side, #1 and #8. Plus, if they need to speak to each other, there's a great chance their voices will travel. The person least familiar with everyone must be nestled in the middle at #4, eliminating the chance that they'll feel left out.

Put the person closest to #4 at position #3, or if there isn't one, throw in someone good at being engaging and welcoming. That person is #4's lifeline, should they need it, and in charge of taking care of the newbie. A common mistake is to put the add-on and their friend (#3) next to each other. This just turns into them having a side-to-side conversation while facing each other, forcing everyone else out. Don't make this mistake, put them across from each other.

Your third loudest person goes at position #5. They must provide the energy to bridge the two sides of the table. And then there's the most crucial position of all, number six. Whoever sits at #6 has the potential to ruin everything. If they decide to turn away from the stranger at #4 and instead focus on talking to #5, 7, 8, the group conversation is done and the table is bifurcated. Disaster!

Number Six is the glue seat, the one that requires the most versatile talker and listener. This is the person that makes sure the group meal stays a group meal. It's a big responsibility, so be careful who you choose. A good number six will bond with #4, occasionally interact with all the odd numbers on the board, and shush #8 when he gets too loud. Which he will.

For seat #2, put a good friend of #1 there. These two need to have an easy relaxed rapport together. They'll be in charge of double teaming #4 when needed (to give #3 a break), or sometimes just interact amongst themselves for a moment. However, they can't be the type of duo who exclude everyone else, otherwise they just downsized an eight top into a six. The worst person to put at #2 is a quiet person, especially someone #1 doesn't really know. The reason is because #1 will then have to keep tossing "getting to know you" darts to #2, instead of being loud like their position requires.

Now there's two options as to what happens at #7. You can safely put a quiet person here, as they will be sitting near #5 and #7. Sure they could be volumed out but at least they'll feel like they're part of the party if #5, 6, 8 do their jobs right. The other thing you can do with #7 is to make it a dump seat. Sometimes someone is having a bad day, or they have a headache, or they just aren't into it. If they're going to be checking their cell phone all night or craning their neck to see the television, just put them at #7. That way they can be easily x'ed out without the table losing any momentum.

So that's my ideal formation/arrangement. How would you set up a table to maximize interaction and fun? You can ignore all this if for some reason all your big group dinners are sterling and super fun. Your fabulous friends must just magically coalesce around a table. Congratulations.

Lest you think all I care about is noise, that's not actually true. "Loud" is a catch all category for people who are engaging, socially (over-)adept, able to maintain constant chatter, and have the innate ability to just grab attention and entertain. Actual decibel level is not as important as a nice mix of these other characteristics. If you are simply loud without any of these qualities, you should probably just fucking pipe down.

A few notes: You cannot allow the good friends to clump together. They will leave everyone else out. Four people is a clump, sometimes even three. Split the friends apart, they'll get to see each other later. This splitting also applies for clumps of any kind. Like if you get me and two or more of my tech dorks sitting together, we're going to be talking about torrenting or the optimal way to set up your keyboard configuration or something. The rest of the table starts nodding off and that kills the mood.

Also, in a perfect world, you could switch seats mid-meal. This would be awesome and is a tradition I'd like to see ported over from wherever people regularly do that kind of thing. Short of doing that, it's good enough if people feel comfortable about temporarily switching seats when someone pops out to the bathroom. A quick seat swap always changes the dynamic and change is good. Nothing feels worse than feeling stuck at your seat. Move around, shake it out. Play musical chairs if things aren't working! Truth: Sometimes my friend and I will text each other to swap seats real quick to see if it makes a difference. Results are mixed but at least we try.

Another take home life assignment: What's your favorite/most qualified position to sit in assuming my positions and formation? Under normal circumstances, I generally like to be #2, sometimes #3.

Okay this is getting way too long. I may be too passionate about this topic. Perhaps I need to make a podcast about this so I can go more in-depth and also explore some alternate plans. Next time out I'd like to address specific types of people and where to seat them. For example: The Conversation Killer, The Quiet Talker, The Rude One, The Exclusionaire, The Sad Sack, The Platitude, The Couple, The Attention Hog, The Person Who Always Eats Too Loud, The Instant Food Coma-er, The Laugher, The "I don't want to talk about anything of substance" hater, etc. Basically it'll be a post calling out my friends.

07 December 2011

High Five

A new weekly feature of things I co-sign (actually "feature" is a bit grandiose):

(1) The Other Side of the Story. Most writing advice blogs lose my interest pretty quickly but Janice Hardy's is great because it's organized well and filled with tons of content. Also, Super Hero Nation, a blog specifically geared toward writing the super powered.

(2) Nova Ren Suma's "What Inspires You?" blog series. I found myself coming back over and over the past month.  Also, I can't wait to read Fade Out, formerly known as Dani Noir.

(3) Kirkus On Demand.  I didn't realize you could just pay Kirkus to do a review for you. I wonder if you can also just buy a star like you can a vowel.

(4) Stephen Sondheim on critics. "If you're going to believe your good reviews, you're going to have to believe the less good ones as well, unless you're deeply self-delusional."

(5) Malinda Lo looks at YA sci-fi covers. I believe that is a harmonica on the cover of Singing the Dogstar Blues. I love it.

01 December 2011

It's time now to sing out, though the story never ends

If only NaNoWriMo's winning requirement was for 525,600 words, then I could make up NaNo lyrics to Seasons of Love more accurately. "Fifty one thousand one hundred eighty one wo-rds / Fifty one thousand one hundred eighty one moments so dear" just does not have the same ring as the original. Of course, writing five hundred thousand words in a month would probably explode my mind and leave my fingers crippled.

I'm still in recovery from doing 51,181 words over the past four weeks.

In the past, I never considered doing NaNo because I thought that (in theory) every month should be "write a novel a month" for me. I mean, wasn't I already a disciplined and productive writer by trade? Haha, yeah right. After being a little more honest about my output, I decided that getting into the spirit of NaNo might be something I should try once. Like eating stinky tofu. Or riding roller coasters. Or watching an American Idol concert. Live.

So I did it this year. National Novel Writing Month. And as of yesterday, I'm a winner. Please, hold the applause till the end. You may not want to clap after you hear me out.

Aside from crossing the finish line with 50,000+ words in November, my goal was to just write as many consecutive days as I could. Normally my writing style is to cram when deadlines are looming. That means I'll just hunker down for a week or two and pump out words in-between sleeping and eating. Shun sunlight, social obligations, and all other forms of sanity. With this "method," I'd never written for more than ten days at one shot, much less sustained a whole month straight. NaNo would teach me to put my ass in the chair every day and throw down some words.

The good news is that except for a brief unproductive mid-month excursion to Los Angeles, I wrote just about every single day. The bad news is, all of my writing was pretty much drivel and I'd hardly call it even a first draft. I'd consider it more like an expanded outline. Some of my characters don't have names, there's a whole lot of "insert action scene here" notes, and if there was ever a plot or a point, it got messed up way back.

At the beginning of the month, I took my time and tried to outline and research and write some quality words. I even attempted to follow along with Scott Westerfeld's NaNo advice posts (from last year). But that was taking too damn long. By the end, I was just trying to get through my daily 2,100 words as fast as possible. I did my best to just keep churning without looking back or editing. And now I have fifty thousand plus words that will probably all need to be re-written.

Heck, I even cheated a little. I wrote about 30,000 words of one book before starting another and then going 20,000 on that one. Basically I had two different stories I wanted to try out so I just sort of did both. One was high fantasy, the other cyberpunky. Both all over the place.

What is nice though, is that these were the first projects I've ever tried that weren't already under contract or headed for some sort of editor to look at. So it was fun to just write down whatever I wanted and not worry about the end product. If my swords and sorcery veered into superhero land and then back across to techie science fiction, so be it. Nobody's going to read these things in their current iteration and they didn't have to make any sense. Rainbow colored elves? Yes please. Coffee powered androids? Gimme some. I just threw in whatever I was thinking about that day and figured I'd sort it all out later.

I'm going to try to carry on the momentum of writing daily, but dial it back some so I can do editing on what I did for NaNo and try to whip it into semi-cohesive shape. To all the winners past, present, and especially future: I salute you! (And we can all say "I have that t-shirt.")