Happy Leap Day/ List Day

time management threeBy Ellen Leventhal

The writer’s life and time management. Unfortunately, these two don’t always go together well. At least not for me. I’m sure I’m not alone in my wish for more hours in the day. Does anyone else end their days staring at the ceiling, ticking off all the tasks you did NOT get done that day? Please tell me it’s not just me!

So how happy am I that there is a full extra day this month? VERY happy. Surely, I will use this day to check things off my list. There aren’t that many things, right? I can do this! Here we go:

  1. Send poetry to that magazine.
  2. Dig out the email that tells me the name of the magazine.
  3. Type out texts of picture books to work on pacing.
  4. Go to the library and check-out said picture books.
  5. Begin work on that new website I’ve been talking about for years.
  6. Find someone to help me do that.
  7. Walk around the block. Sitting all day is bad for you.
  8. Finish three critiques.
  9. Call Comcast so I can get online to pull up the stories to critique.
  10. Re-write that short story in picture book format.
  11. Re-write that picture book manuscript into short story format.
  12. Have lunch!
  13. Stop at the Galleria after lunch to pick up those cute clothes for grandkids.
  14. Text daughters-in-law and double check sizes.
  15. Reply to store’s request for more books. Yes, the reissue of that book will be out by summer.
  16. Nag anyone who is responsible for getting the new book out.
  17. Have dinner.
  18. Climb into bed and tick off every item I did not accomplish. Sigh….

Sometimes it’s time management issues. Sometimes it’s computer issues. And sometimes life interferes with the best laid plans. But I will take this extra day for something. Even if it means counting my blessings because, although the book deals aren’t rolling in, a lot of other great things are.

Happy Leap Day, everyone! Use it to do what makes your happy.

 

 

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Romance Readers: A Dating Disaster Anthology!

by Monica Shaughnessy

UPDATE: Our Rafflecopter promotion is now live! Enter to win your own copy of our new anthology. Check out our Facebook fan page for more details. (ends Feb. 1)

The Space City Scribes are releasing a new romance anthology on February 5th, just in time for Valentine’s Day. But it’s available now through pre-sale on Amazon and Smashwords and only 99 cents. Months ago, we met to brainstorm fun romance ideas for the collection. We knew, however, that we needed to put a twist on what’s already out there. So the ever-creative K.C. Maguire suggested first date stories. But not just any first dates, bad first dates. Ah! How terrible could we make them? I’m boasting, of course, but I think my story, “Date From Hell,” sinks to a new low for lovers. You must read it, of course, to find out why a “hot date” isn’t necessarily a good time. Then again, my writing companions threw some pretty awful stuff at their hapless couples: hurricanes, bullets, community service, stalking…  Curious now, aren’t you?

FLF hands FINAL

Synopsis: Love them or hate them, we’ve all had first dates. From the blush of romance to the slamming of a door, nothing can capture—or repel—our hearts so fully. Do we swoon with desire? Hope for tenderness? Or does the first meeting shatter any chance of two souls connecting?

In First Last Forever, each story follows the passionate, sometimes accidental rendezvous between two people as they fight to overcome the one obstacle between them and happiness—the disastrous first date. Will they end with a promise, a parting, or a pledge? Read these stories to find out.

First:

“Valentine’s Date” by KC Maguire- Should we be friends?

“Salt to a Wound” by Mandy Broughton – First world dating problems

“Speed Freaks” by Monica Shaughnessy – Five minutes to find forever. Or just the next good time.

“Prima Facie” by Artemis Greenleaf – Say no to drugs and yes to romance.

Last:

“Date from Hell” by Monica Shaughnessy – Karma has never been so sexy.

“A Soliloquy of Survival or First Dates Suck” by Ellen Leventhal – Stalkers can be so hot.

“Dance” by Artemis Greenleaf – Killer dates come in small packages with excellent dance moves.

Forever:

“Cassie” by Artemis Greenleaf – High winds lead to high romance.

“In the Mood” by Mandy Broughton – Principal Charming

“Famine’s Daughter” by Artemis Greenleaf – Never force a woman’s hand.

“Auld Lang Syne” by Ellen Leventhal – Can we call a do-over?

Buy your copy now!

Imaginary friends and writing

by Mandy Broughton

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My daughter had an imaginary friend. My daughter treated her as a real friend. So real that it was six months before I realized she didn’t exist. Imagine my surprise when I asked the preschool teachers to point out Olivia to me and they told me, “there’s no Olivia in this class.” Turns out there wasn’t an Olivia in any classes at the school. I know, I checked.

Best friends. Olivia was quite the trouble-maker. I’d hear all about these wild parties my daughter and Olivia would throw while I slept blissfully through the night. I said more than once I was glad Olivia was good at cleaning up the house after a wild night of partying.

Olivia’s mom was quite the rebel too. I was informed one day that Olivia’s mom was thrown in jail for speeding. I found myself arguing with a three year old on whether or not her imaginary friend’s mother was thrown in jail for speeding. Sheesh!

I decided to research children and imaginary friends. I never had any. As a child, I was perfectly content to sit and read in my room all day. Friends–real or imaginary–would disturb that peace.

Imaginary friends are what we would expect from highly creative people. Active imagination. Intelligent. Creative. Verbal. What I did not expect was that many adults had imaginary friends. What?! Are these people in need of a mental health professional? Maybe, but mostly they are creative adults. And it turns out many of those creative adults are authors.

As a writer, I know I have proper characterization when I dream about my characters. I can hear what they say in certain situations. I know how they’d act when problems arise. Fictional characters should not be shooting gallery ducks forced to respond in a certain way when a crisis occurs.* Characters should be organic, growing as the story progresses. They should feel more real than some real-life celebrities we watch and follow in the news.

As a writer, have you ever needed a character to act a certain way and she just wouldn’t? She’s supposed to be angry but she’s acting all quirky and sarcastic on the page. Or two characters start flirting with each other and they’re not supposed to even like each other. Happens to me all the time. My characters have taken over the pages of my manuscripts. And many of them are completely unrepentant for derailing my plot. I guess I’ve developed imaginary friends as an adult. Maybe I’m a late bloomer.

So tell me, dear writers, how do you know when you’ve achieved proper characterization? Do you hear voices in your head? Do you dream about them? Do you mock-up a fake Facebook page and imagine what they’d post? I mostly argue with mine.

Back to work on this first work week of the New Year. I hope the New Year brings plenty of good books, lots of writing, and great friendships–real and imaginary!

Oh, and I can’t forget, as a longtime, die-hard University of Houston Cougar alumni and fan… oDPuclxr.jpgCongratulations on winning the Peach Bowl. GO COOGS!

 

*My editor once told me my characters were like shooting gallery ducks, they were cardboard and went back and forth like I was shooting at them.

 

Carl, the Vegetarian Vampire

by Artemis Greenleaf

Click here to see me in the Kindle store!

Click here to see me in the Kindle store!

No, he doesn’t sparkle.

Carl is a friendly vampire – he only drinks the synthetic blood (“synth”) invented by his hero, scientist Dr. Theo Tamas (Extra Iron flavor is his favorite!). But Carl has a problem. His dad desperately wants to be a real estate agent, but he can’t, because people don’t shop for houses at night. So he works at a warehouse job he hates, just to keep his family in synth. If he quits his job, there will be no more synth, and Carl will be forced to become a scary vampire, and lose his best friend, human Alex, forever. But not to worry – Carl has a plan.

In addition to Carl’s tale, I added his bat friends, Dari (short for tadarida braziliensis, or Mexican free-tailed bat) and Foxy (macrobats, or fruit bats, are commonly called flying foxes) on each page. If you double tap Dari or Foxy, they’ll share a fun bat fact with you. I thought I knew a lot about bats, but I learned so much more about them doing this research!

If you would like to read some of the amazing bat articles and resources that I found, visit my Pinterest page. There are a few other things there, as well.

 

Inside the Palisade – an Interview with K.C. Maguire

by Artemis Greenleaf

InsidePalisadeHello! It’s my turn to post, and I have the honor of interviewing our own fabulous K.C. Maguire.

Thanks for interviewing me this week.

Congratulations, K.C., on your upcoming release, Inside the Palisade. Your latest novel is a YA sci-fi dystopia about a teen named Omega who has been raised in an all-female community, and one day happens on a boy who is absolutely, positively not supposed to be there. Would you tell us a little bit about Omega? What is her life like inside the Palisade?

 Omega actually leads a pretty bland life until she meets Ghent (the hidden boy) and starts to learn the truth about her cloistered society. She lives alone with her mother and works in a clothes factory. She has always suspected she’s a little different from everyone else, partly because of her weird eyes in a society where everyone else is genetically engineered to be perfect, and partly because she’s always thought there must be more to life than what she’s seen so far. She discovers that she’s right, but it’s a dangerous journey.

The best journeys always are! Your protagonist is named Omega. The Omega symbol (Ω) was used in Vietnam War draft protests. In computer science, it refers to a missing (null) or inapplicable value. Is there a symbolic connection to her name?

 Partly. I decided to use Greek letters for all the women’s names as a way of “ordering” the society. Women are given Greek letters as first names which they often shorten or change to nicknames. I picked Omega for my protagonist because I wanted to be able to shorten it to “Meg” as an homage to my youngest daughter who was just born when I started the book.

What is the reasoning behind banning men from the community, and how was it accomplished?

 This is a dystopian society where war and violence has ravaged the world outside the palisade. Over the years, a mythology has developed among the women that the men were to blame for all the violence (which, of course, isn’t true, but it comes to be accepted). Men weren’t initially banned, but gradually died out and weren’t replaced as women figured out how to genetically engineer babies to be girls.

 What inspired this story?

In my other life I work in a very male dominated profession and I often leave meetings thinking things like “it would be so much better if women were in charge.” Of course, I don’t really believe this, but it was a thought experiment as to what *might* happen if women actually were in charge. I’m not the first author to experiment with this idea, but many YA sci-fi books have large male character presences even if the protagonist is a woman. I thought it might be fun to turn the idea on its head and see what happens.

My 7th grader is attending an all-girls school this year. What advice would Omega give her?

I went to an all girls school for a while myself and I didn’t like it much. Girls on their own can be very catty and bitchy, although they can also be wonderful and I made some great friends at that school. My advice to anyone starting any school or new social situation is to just be yourself. If you’re honest about who you are and what you want, you’ll never be disappointed in yourself. And if other folks can’t accept that, they’re probably not the best friends for you anyway.

 You’ve created a rich sci-fi world inside the Palisade, where women depend on technology for the survival of their community. What impact has this technology had on their evolution as a species?

 In many ways these women have over-relied on technology while resources and personnel have dwindled. If they’d had less technology and had to work on new ways to move forward as a society, they might have done better in the long run.

 You’ve gotten some rave reviews on Amazon. Is this book the first in a series, or will you leave readers guessing about what happens to Omega?

 I didn’t necessarily plan it as the first in a series but I always knew it had “series potential” in the sense that there’s a lot more that is likely to happen to the young protagonists after the story closes. I’ve actually toyed with an idea for a sequel based on another character’s perspective. In many ways, Omega has fulfilled her character arc in this book, but there’s a lot of room for growth for a number of the supporting cast featured in this book.

I know that you write across several genres, but focusing on sci-fi, who are the top five authors who have inspired you the most?

 I love so many authors that it’s hard to narrow it down to five. Of the more classic sci-fi writers, I love Ray Bradbury and enjoy Robert Heinlein and Philip K. Dick. Of the more contemporary writers, I love Karen Lord, A.M. Dellamonica, and Nalo Hopkinson. There’s also a short story writer (Ray Vukcevich) who is kind of like the Salvador Dali of sci-fi short stories.

There are so many genres because people enjoy different kinds of stories. What kind of reader will love this book

I really think the audience for this book is people who like a fast-paced action story and tend to enjoy “what if” scenarios. There’s a touch of adventure and romance, but it’s mainly a thought experiment about what an all-gal society would look like with past pacing, lots of twists and turns and (hopefully) unexpected reveals.

Finally, would you share an excerpt from the book with us?

 Here’s a little snippet from the middle of the book when Omega and Ghent are arguing about why the women use Greek letters for names and what the options used to be…

“Why the name Ghent? Where did it come from?”

He shakes his head, causing his matted hair to flutter around his ears. “My mothers never liked the Greek letters.”

“And I guess it would be weird for a boy”—I stumble over the unfamiliar word—“to be called Alpha or Beta or something.”

“You don’t think it’s weird for girls to have those names?” He seems upset. I turn away, not knowing what I said wrong.

There’s a rustle of blankets and in a moment he’s on his knees in front of me. The intensity of his gaze makes me feel weak. “Don’t

you see? It’s another way the society controls you. Forces you to conform.” He reaches for me, but I jerk away.

He massages his neck as if in pain. Then he looks over at the bookcase. “Hold on,” he says as he rushes to it and traces his

fingers along the cardboard edges that jut out along the shelves. Obviously searching for something. With a rush of breath, he

pulls out an object. An antique book with a tattered cover. He flips it open. I can’t hide my curiosity. I’ve never seen a paper

book before. I move over to him and kneel by his side. He’s not handling the object with the care I would expect. Instead, he flips

through the pages with his thumb. The paper makes a crackling sound. I lean across until I can see the words, printed in real ink.

“Here it is. Listen to this.” He looks up at me before turning his attention to the object in his lap.

He’s going to read to me. A thrill of anticipation shoots through me. In a melodic voice, he begins, and it’s as if a

thousand butterflies have been released in my stomach.

“My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing

longer or more explicit than Pip. So I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip. I gave Pirrip as my family’s name, on the

authority of his tombstone and my sister – Mrs. Joe Gargery, who married the blacksmith.”

My eyes close as the ancient words fill me, rolling from the deman’s tongue like silk. I’ve never heard anything this strange

before, at least not from a book.

“Do you like it?” he asks.

My eyes fly open when I realize he’s speaking to me.

“What is it?” I ask.

“It’s called Great Expectations.”

“I don’t understand. What does it mean?”

“This part”—he taps his finger over the paragraph he read— “means that people didn’t always use Greek letters for names.

They were able to choose names for themselves. Even make up nicknames, like Pip did.”

“That’s not such a big deal. We use nicknames now. You call your mothers Del and Epsie,” I say, but the words ring hollow.

Nicknames don’t seem like such a great innovation when we only have twenty-four names to choose from.

 

A Fantasy Interview: Almost as good as fantasy baseball–

by Mandy Broughton

Last Friday, Houston Writers Guild launched its new anthology, Tides of Impossibility. This collection of fantasy short stories is written by some of the field’s up-and-coming stars. And everyone knows what happens when I hear about a book launch–I find myself a new person to interview. After a flurry of emails, I was able to hunt down speak with one of the editors, C. Stuart Hardwick.

TOI

Mandy Broughton: I’m always curious how editors are chosen. Kyle Russell selected you as a co-editor on the Tides of Impossibility Fantasy Anthology. Is it true that when you gave Kyle a sample of your editing style, you used a gallon bucket of red paint versus a red pen? And you told him the tears of writers fuel you like Dilithium crystals do the Enterprise?

C. Stuart Hardwick: That’s a vile rumor started by the guy Kyle pays to clean out our buckets! Actually, editing an anthology is as much about time and energy as line editing. You spend a lot of time with each story, and you want it to be as pleasant as possible. Kyle and I had worked together promoting the scifi anthology, so we knew we had compatible tastes and temperaments. The guild has done a lot for me, so I was eager to give back. The rest was easy.

MB: Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. Hmm. I see distinct lines separating science fiction, fantasy, and horror, mostly determined on the basis if the story contains robots, magicians, or men in hockey masks. You write mostly science-fiction, but as an editor for a fantasy anthology, what do you see the differences among the three genres?

CSH: That sums it up rather well. It’s principally a topical difference, though fantasy readers are a bit more into world building, and horror of course has its own take on tension and pacing, and each follows its own tropes and conventions. But beneath all that, stories are about people, and the best are about interesting people in interesting circumstances changing in interesting ways. That’s what we tried to put into Tides.

I’ve found that the more I work in the field, the less I feel tied to any one sub-genre. If you asked me to recommend three books right now, they’d be Andy Weir’s The Martian, Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides, and Randy Henderson’s debut, Finn Fancy Necromancy. That’s one hard scifi and two fantasy, and all thoroughly enjoyable. What really drew me to scifi was how readily it skirts reality to act as a foil or lens through which we can view ourselves. But storytelling is more than social commentary. Space opera like Star Wars is arguably really fantasy with a technological aesthetic, and many of my perennial favorites, from Groundhog Day to SyFy’s Warehouse 13, are fantasies that I enjoy for the character arcs as mush as the plot conceit, which is why I think Robert Heinlein has the right idea in championing “speculative fiction” as an umbrella term.. 

MB: [An aside: Warehouse 13 BRILLIANT!] Okay, speaking of speculative fiction, umbrellas, and the great Robert Heinlein, you have been rubbing elbows with the top echelon of science-fiction. Tell us about your awards and publications.

CSH: I was fortunate enough to win the L Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest last year, and they flew me to LA for a week long workshop taught by Tim Powers and Dave Farland. I got to meet a whole slew of scifi legends, from Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven to Nancy Kress and Nina Kiriki Hoffman. I dined with Starlog founder, Kerry O’Quinn, shared pizza with Robert J Sawyer, and spent the evening of my birthday standing out on Hollywood Boulevard watching the lunar eclipse with my awesome new writer friends.

I was also a finalist for the Jim Baen Memorial award and a semifinalist for the BSFA’s James White award, and I’m tremendously proud of making those lists. WotF, though, really lit the fire for me. It’s oddly humbling to be welcomed by such an array of luminaries who tell you in no uncertain terms, that while you have the ability, making it or not is still a long slog of hard work and perseverance.

MB: Is it true when Orson Scott Card asked you for your autograph that you told him to get to the end of the line with the rest of the losers?

CSH: Nooo. I think when Orson stepped up, I may have giggled like a little girl while I tried and failed to think up something memorable to write. Ender’s Game is once of my absolute favorites. And Orson was wearing sneakers with his suit, the devil.

MB: Sneakers with his suit, I like that almost as much as I love Ender’s Game. In your bio, you’ve mentioned that you’ve worn a cape. Readers want to know, when wearing the cape, who do you most resemble Bela Lugosi, Snidely Whipslash, or Batman?

CSH: Lugosi, of course. I was in a college production of Dracula. I’ve been told I have a light foot-step. That experience was very valuable, as my Van Helsing was always loosing his place in the script, and I found that you don’t get stage fright if you have something outside yourself to worry about. The image on my website landing page is of me sharing that advice on stage at the Ebell theater in LA.

MB: Anything else you’ve like to share?

CSH: Yes, Everyone check out Galaxy’s Edge magazine, issue 14., where my story appears along with those of Robert A. Heinlein, Larry Niven, Nancy Kress, David Brin, and Alan Dean Foster, among others. Galaxy’s Edge is edited by the inestimable Mike Resnick and filled with scifi and unique and quirky fantasy far afield of the traditional fae and dragon fare My story, Luck of the Chieftain’s Arrow, is a good example, about an elemental spirit that learns about love and loss as the copper it’s trapped in is passed down through human history.

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MB: I do believe May, 2015 is when your story will appear. Everyone check it out, it’ll be on the final exam. Thanks again, Stuart. Great work on the anthology. I’m looking forward to the release of Tides of Impossibility.

CSH: Me too. It’s has quite a variety and some really compelling worlds and characters. I know everyone will find something to their liking.

MB: Artemis Greenleaf has an excellent story in the collection as well a humorous piece from yours truly. That’s it. I hope everyone enjoys. **looks around** Hmm, I believe Stuart still has my pen I loaned him last Friday at the signing…

TOI

Spooky Space City

Gargoyle_HeadThe next time someone tells you that Houston is simply a generic urban sprawl, you can gently shake your head, smile knowingly, and pat them on the hand as you disabuse them of their misapprehensions. I have been working on the third book in the Marti Keller Mysteries series, The Devil’s Advocate, and I’ve been looking into the spooky side of the Bayou City. Some of these things I knew about, and some were news to me.

Did you know that Houston has an active vampire community? Houston Press did the legwork here, so if you or someone you know is so inclined, perhaps you can go hang out at Numbers on lower Westheimer (I used to go there in the 80s – had no idea it was still around) and you might meet a few of the city’s vampire set. Or you can just like them on Facebook.

Seems like reality TV is crawling with ghost hunting shows, but did you know that ghost hunting groups abound in Houston? Houston Ghost Hunters, Ghost Hunters of Houston, Paranormal Houston, West Houston Paranormal Society, Lone Star Spirits, and G.H.O.S.T. Houston are just a few of them. Can’t decide on a group? Try going to a meet up.

You can take ghost tours with Ghost Tours Texas, Houston Historical Tours, or Houston Ghost Tour. Spring, Galveston, and Kemah also have spooky tours.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Houston Bat Man? No? On June 18, 1953 witnesses in the Heights saw an approximately 6’6″ humanoid with bat-like-wings that leaped into a tree, crouched there a few minutes, then apparently flew away over the treetops at high speed. A similar creature was sighted on multiple occasions at the Johnson Space Center in 1986. But that creature running across your roof at night? It’s just a raccoon. Probably.

Remember the movie Poltergeist? It was inspired by a true story. The Black Hope Cemetery in Crosby, Texas (just a little northeast of Houston) was turned into a subdivision, but the graves were never moved. Some homeowners reported strange activity.

But there’s plenty of creepy stuff, even if you don’t believe in ghosts. You can take a crack at solving the infamous Ice Box Murders, where an elderly couple was found dismembered, pieces neatly wrapped in butcher paper, and stacked in their refrigerator. Or, maybe take a stab at The Killing Fields, where the bodies more than twenty young women were found. One killer was brought to justice, but he was only responsible for a handful of the victims. But don’t worry – you’re much more likely to be struck by lightning than be murdered by a serial killer.

Sleep tight, y’all.