magic beans and godmodding

Bear & Underwood Giveaways! A few words about Storium!

Earlier this week, Cooking the Books took a road trip - Michael R. Underwood and I piled everything in the car and headed out for new frontiers… Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 8.52.57 AM

We set up camp at GeekMom to talk about Mike’s latest novella Attack the Geek! Mike brought along a great pizza recipe, as well as a giveaway. There’s still time to enter to win – head on over there.

 

The next day, over at Apex, I interviewed the amazing Elizabeth Bear about Steles of the Sky, the third book in her Eternal Sky series.  (more…)

Algorithms Love You and Want You to Be Better!

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a seminar on disruptive technology given by the director of Singularity University, Salim Ismail, his colleague David Roberts, and Banning Garrett, Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council.

Heads up — this post is going to be higher-geek-octane than usual. Specifically: robots, 3D printers, gene-hacks, exponential technology growth, pristine-algorithm-theory, self-replication, and godmodding. If those words make you clutch your bleeding ears, Cooking the Books is over here, and there are fine fiction links here and here.

Still with me? Sweet.

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Gratitude: friends & monsters

lakeWriting and freelancing can be lonely territory.  It gets very quiet.

Quiet is the kind of monster that wants to keep me with it and feed me junk food.

Then a ‘ping’ on chat, a text, or a random postcard breaks the quiet. Sometimes there’s a box packed with lip balm and a new book about the origins of monsters. They come into the quiet and they remind me to look up, look out, connect. The quiet fades away.

I went out in the world earlier this week to help the friend who sent the monster book prepare for a big move. I didn’t do a lot. Mostly I lifted halves of boxes that were too big to lift alone.  I spent some time practicing a different kind of quiet, and getting better at it. The kind where you listen for what a friend needs, and try to do it without too much trouble.

The trip got me thinking, about friends and the monsters we make for ourselves. I’m so grateful for my friends. And I’m grateful for the quiet too. Both the kind that allows me to listen, and the kind that is there to be broken.

Think I’ll go send a couple random postcards.

Cloudy, with a Chance of Algorithm

Photo credit: by jshj on Flickr (CC/Attribution)

We just received a package. I know, because I heard the thud.

I’m old enough to remember when a delivery person rang your doorbell and asked you to sign something, but now, what with drone-deliveries and scheduled paper-towel-updates, the cardboard boxes just land on the stoop, or in the yard.  

We ordered one of those extend-grabbers for getting boxes off the roof, but it hasn’t arrived yet. Instead, we received a…


Just musing over the possibilities of algorithm-driven shopping experiences, with no human involvement.  Back to work, as you were. Nothing to worry about…

I wonder what kind of stories my pals can spin from this? Take the idea and run with it, or not – if you do, let us know where we can find the story. Or you can read some things:

The Next Big Thing

Pages from one of DaVinci’s notebooks, which is much better organized and more clearly written than my notebooks. Also, darn cool.

A.C. Wise tagged me in her Next Big Thing blog post and told me to talk about my WIP, then tag other authors and ask them to talk about their WIPs. I’m used to asking other writers questions about their work with Cooking the Books.  Let’s see what happens when I put myself in the hot seat.


Ten Interview Questions for The Next Big Thing

1. What is the title of your Work in Progress?  

Bone Arrow, Glass Tooth

2. Where did the idea come from for the book? 

In October 2011, I was challenged to write a story at Viable Paradise workshop and given the following clues: a wind-up monkey, mega-cities, and the briefest mention ever of a Bach cantata. The story I wrote then, called “The City Goes Up,” occurs after the events in Bone Arrow. But writing that story opened up the world where Bone Arrow takes place. So, in January, when I finished my first novel, Moonmaker’s Debt, I started writing short stories set in the world of “The City Goes Up.”  I sent the first of those to my writing group and they all told me it wasn’t a short story at all, that it was a novel. Things happened. They were right. Bone Arrow is a novel, complete in itself, but it’s also the start of something bigger.

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For the Greater Good

The Internet and one of its many, many kittens. Wikimedia Commons image. Photo Credit: Sasan Geranmehr

Ok, some Sunday morning musing for you: How do we as a culture determine what is ‘good’?

In any field, at any point in history, a pulse-point of ‘good’ has been established. That’s where we get various canons – quite often the creative works of a dominant culture, to the detriment of other voices, other data.

Also throughout history, arbiters of taste abound, marketing studies flourish, trends analyses bloom like algae (or tulips) all over the surface of ‘good’ in the marketplace. And sometimes the only result is noise, or mundanity: a horse designed by committee, versus something sleek and fast and wonderfully new. That’s not good at all.

Now though. Now we can quantify good. We can see how and where the market reacts to what we give them, we can establish datapoints, and we can give the market more of what it wants. And we will make the market happy and that will be good. Right? This is the message I’m getting from Fast Company’s article on Amazon’s Serialized Novel program. A cautious sense that -hooray- we will Finally Know What People Like And Be Able To Give Them More Of It. With data. (more…)

Your Newly Enhanced Experience

What is it about social media that requires constant redesigns of the interface? Is it a desire to stay ‘fresh’?

Or is it the need to feel like you are once again the new kid on the block, when, in actuality, you are getting a little creaky and the new apps are breathing down your neck and offering to walk you across the street?

Hey, Google, Facebook, Twitter… once again, you’re giving us design changes we do not want and have not requested.

Google+ redesigned itself yesterday into a minimalist-facebook, complete with banners in user profiles and a shrunken space for user content.  It’s this second item that should be the biggest clue about who their audience is now. Hint, it’s not us.  What we say and do in these spaces matters less and less, so they’re giving us less space to do it in. As evidenced by the page real estate being sucked up by buttons, advertising, and things that we didn’t ask for and do not use.

In short, we are spending more time finding our way around the new layouts of these mediums than we are using the medium to communicate with others.  This makes no sense, since the stated purpose of twitfaceboogle is to help people communicate with each other.

It’s time for the social media user experience folks to sit down with the VPs and the design consultants and come up with a way to let the users -us- control our own experience, at least in part.

Make us part of the experience again.  That’s enhancement enough.

The Submission Cycle: Schrodinger’s Story

Maybe you have one of these.  Something you’ve sent out to the great beyond, and it’s been out there for a while.

Maybe it’s not even a story. Maybe it’s a résumé. Or a request for information. Or a sculpture for a show.

Whatever it is, it’s out there, and you’ve noticed it hasn’t been batted back to you as quickly as those things sometimes are.  In fact, it’s well past the time when you were told to expect a response. This happened to me about a month ago.

With stories (and résumés), it’s not always the case that you get a receipt-confirmation. Sometimes you do.  Sometimes you get a note saying the story is being held over.  That’s always good.

For the others, the ones that go into the ether at the press of a ‘send’ button, there is a point where they enter the realm of Schrodinger’s Story.

Your story (or résumé) is neither dead or alive.  It could be either, or both. It’s quantum.

And you don’t necessarily want to ask after it, because opening the box will have its own results.

So what do you do, when you have one or more of these? Personally, I find myself wondering if I wrote the address wrong, didn’t attach enough postage, or missed a reply.   And I try to forget it, until things have gone so far past the query date, that I open the box and send a polite note checking in with the journal’s editors.  But other times, I just sit and stare at the box.

None of which, I should note, is remotely related to writing.   I should go do that.


Read the other Submission Cycle posts, “The Submission Cycle as Story Trunk,” by Nicole Feldringer, and “Schrodinger’s Slush,” by Kelly Lagor.

Don’t be (more) evil

There hasn’t been a tech post in a while. Granted, this only marginally qualifies…

Watching last week’s roller coaster response to Apple’s iAuthor app, and this week’s gaining response to Google’s account-information merge with no opt-out, I’m again thinking about needs vs. wants, standards, and the greater good.

I have no answers.  I can’t tell you how devious the intent was when Apple shifted iAuthor’s product from epub standards and towards an iPad-only model.  I can’t tell you why Google wants All The Info in one spot, though I have some guesses.

What I know is that both decisions limit the choice of the individual (producer or consumer), in favor of what benefits the company providing the technology.  From a programming standpoint, less individual choice may make some sense – it’s easier and cheaper to manage; from a marketing standpoint, it means your audience is captive, not just captivated.  But.  Technology is about personalization.  Which doesn’t just mean a company gets to offer me more things that I might enjoy reading/buying/liking.

It also means that I, as the consumer of technology, should be able to personalize my level of control over the information I create to use on that system.

and, truth be told, I would love to play with HTML5 in my ePubs.

Hopefully, someone out there sees this the same way I do.  Or, perhaps, I’m completely in the wrong here.  Hoping someone can tell me so.

The Thing

Something happened to me last week that I’m finding strikingly difficult to write about.

photo by Phoebe North

In simple terms, I went to a writers’ conference.

In larger terms, I found my people.  (Cue lump in throat.)

And in terms of my writing, I passed through a forge.  I’m still processing all that I learned about myself and my community, but I know that I feel sharper, stronger, and less likely to break under pressure.

The workshop started out normally – a group of strangers assembled, packets were distributed, names were offered, misplaced, and found again.  It helped that many of us weren’t strangers, thanks to Twitter, and to the efforts of the workshop staff, who had been checking in with us since June, and who were there for us throughout the workshop.

In a group like this, things move fast: friendships, opinions, stances on subtext and the Oxford comma. One minute you’re munching on a veggie burger cooked for you by a well-known author, and the next you’re sitting in a circle, trying to convince everyone you’re not an alien.

But the truth is, most of us at the workshop probably felt like an alien at some point or another. We’ve felt like aliens for a long time.  For instance, when I try to explain my goals as a writer to a non-writer, I probably sprout antennae in their eyes. When that very kind note from the editor who doesn’t want to publish a story arrives, voila, seven tentacles – just like that.  I try to keep the tentacles tucked in during meetings, but occasionally I’ll slip and refer to Zelazny or the laws of robotics and I get that look.  If you’ve read this far, you know the look I mean.

Don’t get me wrong. This wasn’t a woo-woo writer’s retreat.  It was a gathering of people who intend to be professional writers. Playing The Thing (where players must find the aliens in their midst, before the aliens take over) was an icebreaker, and a way to remember names, at first. Then it became kind of an obsession.  So did jam sessions, sunrise walks along the seawall at Martha’s Vineyard, and writing, writing, writing.  The last is what we were there to do.

That first day became one long day with very little sleep.  I remember thinking I should call home, and realizing a day later that I hadn’t done it because the next workshop had eaten my brain.  Then the critique group had filled my skull with new ideas. And then the one-on-one conversation about my short story with a writer I admire so much it was hard for me to do more than wibble sent me spinning.  I realized what was happening to me, and I wanted as much of it as I could possibly get.

You see, the first wonder of the workshop was realizing that, actually, being a Thing isn’t so bad.

The second wonder was working as hard as I could (and I got sick, which was frustrating) to meet as many other Things as possible, and to learn more about them and how they do their work.  One day, over lunch, an editor asked me a question about community, and connecting, that melted all of my understanding about who I was, and who I’d been pretending to be. I’m still sorting that insight through, but it was a big one.

The third wonder happened on Thursday – four and a half days in.  We’d been assigned to write a story for a group of anthologies, and given two days to do it.  Two days in which we’d also need to continue reading, critiquing, attending lectures, and connecting with people.  What happened was that I, and most people there, did some darn fine writing.  We taped our stories up on the walls and spent an hour before supper reading each others work.  People pulled one another aside to talk about theme and genre.  Later, during evening activities, someone got up and started editing his story on the wall.  We were immersed in writing, and it had become us.  You should expect to see a number of those stories out there in the world, soon.  They’re incredibly good, and not one of them resembles another.

Finally, the fourth wonder came when we all said goodbye.  Farewell turned into something else entirely.  It turned into plans to meet up again, to help each other along, and to connect online.  In short, to keep our community of Things going for as long as it took.

I don’t feel like I’m the only one anymore.  Even better, I feel like I can do this.

There are more stories to tell, like “When a Short Story Arrived, and Left A Novel,” and “My Journey to the Midgetland Labyrinth,” but they’ll have to wait for another post.  I have a 2,000-word wordcount to make today, because I’m writing a book.

To my friends, to my teachers, and to the wonderful staff at Viable Paradise, thank you so very much.  Let’s do it again, soon, ok?