Nonfiction Books and a Green Mars Update

Hi, squiders! How are you doing? My washing machine is leaking out the bottom and I’m trying to figure out if I need a new one, but it’s kind of a two-person job (one to tilt the washing machine, one to look under it) so I will have to wait until I have another adult to solve that one.

I know we’ve had a lot of media updates lately, but I wanted to let you know that I am working on the nonfiction books. I’ve re-ordered them for release based on the steps of the writing process, so they’re looking like this now:

  1. Finding Writing Ideas
  2. Common Writing Problems and Fixes
  3. Outlining
  4. Writing Consistently
  5. Writing Around Life
  6. Working on Multiple Projects at Once
  7. Submission and Publication

I wrote 6 first, as part of a training course I was taking at the time (kind of wondering if I should go back through the training course real quick), so I’m using that as the format for the other books. Plus, you know, the rest of the books are mostly a collection of blog posts at the moment.

So I’ve started working on the Writing Ideas book, adding in new material and streamlining the posts so they’re not repetitive, make sense, etc. I planned a workbook to go with that one (and also the multiple projects book) so I need to work on that as well.

Any thoughts on the publication order, squiders? I can’t decide whether Outlining should go before Common Writing Problems. Also, if you’d like to beta any of the books, let me know.

Also, I know we were supposed to discuss Green Mars as part of our Mars Trilogy readalong, like two weeks ago–or was it longer?–and I haven’t mentioned it recently, but I am working on it. It’s just slow going. The viewpoints are a little denser than the first book, which makes sense in context, but requires me to pay closer attention when reading.

Also I got eaten by Gemina. (If you’re not reading the Illuminae series and like science fiction + weird typography, you’re missing out.)

So, anyway! Green Mars is still coming, the nonfiction books are making good progress, and I’m feeling pretty good about how February is going in general, even with the sinus surgery.

I hope you guys are feeling pretty good too.

Bunnies and Pom-poms, Oh My

Nobody had school on Monday, so while my instinct is to distract them with things they can do themselves unsupervised (admittedly not much) so I could do some writing, I decided to be a decent parent and plan a craft project for us to work on.

Both the small-ish, mobile ones enjoy crafts, and I’ve been stockpiling them on Pinterest, so I picked two that seemed like they’d be doable and where it wouldn’t be too hard to find supplies for them.

The choices were pom-pom bunnies or glove monsters, and to be honest I’m glad they picked the bunnies, because cheap gloves are very hit or miss this time of year, and this way I didn’t have to deal with any meltdowns if/when we didn’t find them.

(I should probably pick up some gloves when I come across them next. Just in case.)

On the surface, this looked pretty easy. Make pom-poms (I actually grabbed a fuzzy brown yarn from my mom a few months ago for this exact purpose), glue pom-poms together, glue on eyes/ears/nose/tail, ta-da.

The tutorial is here, if you’re interested:

Of course, nothing ever goes according to plan, and I kind of have to just let them do it, because creativity is something I value and I want it to be something they value as well. Instead of two pom-pom guides I had to make four, because the bigger mobile one wanted a giant rabbit, and the littler one wanted a tiny rabbit. And our yarn was too fluffy, so our bunnies look like long-haired guinea pig/rabbit hybrids.

But, whatever. We had fun. And I only burned myself with the hot glue twice.

Here’s our version (complete with $4 worth of tiny birds because they puppy-eyed at me at the craft store, and I already don’t have much craft store willpower):

The bigger one is named Fluffy and the smaller one Purple, because, well, still working on the creativity thing.

(They have red inner ears instead of pink because the craft store was sold out of pink felt. The employee I asked about it said that they were out of pink everything due to Valentine’s Day.)

Done any fun crafts lately, squiders? Tips to help me stop burning myself with the hot glue?

R.I.P. Opportunity

I woke up yesterday to the news that NASA had officially declared Opportunity to be dead, which has made me sadder than I expected. I was working in the aerospace industry when Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars back in 2004, and I remember it being a very exciting time at work.

(I did not work on Mars-related stuff at the time, but it was all anyone wanted to talk about. You couldn’t get three feet around the office without the rovers coming up in one form or another.)

And, to be honest, I hadn’t thought about the rovers in years. Spirit was declared dead a long time ago, and then Curiosity was launched, and Opportunity slipped my mind.

For a rover meant to last 3 months, the fact that it lasted almost 15 years is pretty dang amazing. And NASA did such a good job of getting us all to care about some little (I say little facetiously–neither Spirit or Opportunity is that small, and Curiosity is freaking huge) robots exploring on another planet.

But I will admit I cried a little, when I learned that Opportunity’s last message was “My batteries are low and it is getting dark.” (And it makes me feel better to know I wasn’t the only one.)

I know it’s just a machine, but Godspeed, Opportunity. Thanks for all your hard work.

It seems to me you lived your life
like a rover in the wind
never fading with the sunset
when the dust set in.

Your tracks will always fall here,
among Mars’ reddest hills;
your candle’s burned out long before
your science ever will.#ThanksOppy. I owe you so much. pic.twitter.com/x0i5WqA9sL— Curiosity Rover (@MarsCuriosity) February 13, 2019

Sinuses and Landsquid

Hey, squiders, hope you’re having a good February!

I had to have sinus surgery yesterday, but all things considered, it went well and I’m recuperating fine. However, I am a bit woozy and tired, so, while I hoped I would have the energy to blog today, I just…don’t.

But I did draw you a landsquid.

(He’s getting more done in the hospital than I did.)

Anyway, we should be back to normal on Thursday. Til then, I hope your week treats you well!

Alternate Universes

Morning, squiders! The bigger, mobile one has a “virtual day” today, which is the worst. Basically, when the district declares a delayed start, his school just has everyone stay home and do work on the computer. Let me tell you how self-motivated a first grader is.

(Hint: Not especially)

So, since I have an added complication today, I thought I’d dig up another of those old, old saved blog drafts. Today’s comes to us from Dec 2010, where my notes say:

“ALSO AWESOME”

Once again, this is so helpful for deciphering what I wanted to talk about.

(Also, this begs the question, if this is “also awesome,” what was the thing that was originally awesome?” Alas, that knowledge is lost to time.)

I did go back and look at December 2010 and who knows. There’s a post about Turtleduck Press (which launched in Dec 2010, so that makes sense), a bunch of link round-ups, and the periodic rant about how I’ve tried to do much. It might potentially be about the lunar eclipse. The word awesome is used.

But, hey, alternate universes! I wonder if I meant “alternate universe” in the Sliders sort of way, where characters travel to universes that are essentially ours with some tweaks, or more in the “Man in the High Castle” or “Iron Moon” sort of way, where something in history went a different way and changed everything that went after it.

Or maybe I wanted to talk about the fanfiction concept of alternate universes, where you take characters from a book or a movie or a TV show and stick them somewhere else. Like, instead of galloping about the galaxy on a spaceship, everyone’s in high school. Or vice versa, for that matter.

Anyway you look at it, alternate universes are kind of fun, and a mainstay of science fiction. A lot of science fiction comes from “what if?” questions, and alternate universes are a direct response to that. What if Columbus didn’t find the Americas? What if we discovered space travel in the 1850s? What if gravity wasn’t automatic? What if the United States had rejected capitalism?

They’re good for fantasy too, though they work differently. Alternate universes in fantasy tends to be more synonymous with portal fantasy, where characters are actively traveling somewhere else, often using magic.

But, really, you can’t go wrong.

How do you feel about alternate universes, squiders? What’s your favorite example (of any kind)?

WriYe and Romance

Afternoon, squiders. WriYe’s going well so far. I’m still remembering to check in, and through the challenges I’ve finished my serial story (which I’ve worked on almost every month since January 2009! It’s insane to think that it’s done), wrote a 4K short story, and started revisiting some of my universes which will help with longer projects moving forward (I wrote a Shards verse drabble this morning, which was very enjoyable and came really easily).

But now it’s February, which means there’s a new prompt up for the blog circle, so let’s get to it.

Is romance necessary in all fiction? Why or why not?

I wouldn’t say romance is a necessity. It can be nice, or it can be terrible (in the case where it’s forced in, or comes out of nowhere, or is just really badly written). I don’t mind romance, but I do think it needs to be done well and serve a purpose.

But a necessity? Nah. I’m perfectly happy to read about a group of friends, or siblings, or cousins, or any other relationship. It doesn’t need to be romantic in nature. And to have all stories rely on romance is, frankly, a little unrealistic and uninteresting. Some people don’t like romance, and plenty of people get through life without it showing up every time something exciting happens.

Bonus:

If you do have romance in your fiction, tell us about your favorite pairings. Why are they your favorite?

I am not great at romance (I suspect because I’m not a romantic person myself), but if I had to pick, I think Syvil/Chism from my story For Justice in the To Rule the Stars anthology (which you guys might remember me mentioning under its working premise, which was space princesses) is probably my favorite romantic couple that I’ve written.

Don’t tell any of the other couples, I guess.

Despite including romance in a lot of my stories, it doesn’t come naturally to me in most cases. I often have to go back through in the editing stage and add in things like significant looks, and feelings, and things along those lines. It’s a known issue.

What do you think about romance, squiders? Essential to a well-rounded story?

Library Book Sale Finds: The Glimpses of the Moon

Howdy, squiders! I dug back into my collection of library book sale books and came out with The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton, circa 1922.

This is another one of those books where I try to imagine what I was thinking when I picked it up. Did I like the title? Did I think I should read something by Edith Wharton? Who knows?

Title: The Glimpses of the Moon
Author: Edith Wharton
Genre: General Literature
Publication Year: 1922

Pros: Beautiful writing. Just, really pretty.
Cons: I wanted to strangle the male lead for 75% of the book.

As a caveat, I use “general literature” for basically everything that’s not an obvious genre. This is a story about two people, married on a lark with an agreement that they can divorce if something better comes along for the other. They are fringe members of society, spending time with the wealthy, but not having money themselves.

This is not an overly plotty book, so I won’t spend a lot of time there. What it is is a look at the opulence of the twenties and what is important, and how relationships work in a world where you can buy anything you want. A lot of social commentary. Somewhat reminiscent of The Great Gatsby (which I despise) but less likely to drive you to depression.

I do take a bit of umbrage with the male lead, Nick. (See?) He has a mild crisis of morals over something the female lead, Susy, does, and instead of doing anything useful, runs off and doesn’t talk to her for the next five months.

Dude. You suck. I know the whole point of the book is about love and realizing what matters and blah blah blah, but you are trash.

I admit I got so mad at one point that I flipped to the back of the book, which I NEVER DO, to make sure things were going to get resolved, because if I had to read 250 pages of shenanigans with him just running off for good, well, it wasn’t going to happen.

The writing is so so pretty. The characters are so so frustrating.

So! Would I recommend this book? Not sure. The writing is gorgeous, the human study is great, the moral is…iffy. There is kind of the implication that whatever Nick did in the interim is okay because he came to his senses in the end, which maybe was a good message back in the day? But I really just wanted to slap some sense into him.

So! Up to you, really. You know what you like. I thought it was okay, but I’m not going to be picking up other books like it for a while.

Movie Round-up

I don’t get around to a lot of movies (a combination of small, mobile ones combined with just not liking to sit still for that long in one go), but I have actually watched three in the last week. Madness, I know. And since movies seem to be more of a common element than books (i.e., a person is more likely to have seen the same movie than have read the same book), hey, let’s talk about them.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

While we are generally Star Wars people, we didn’t go to see this last summer, partially because summer was very busy, and partially because the hype around the movie was very lukewarm. (We did however, get tickets to go sit in the Millennium Falcon’s cockpit.)

But I actually really liked this. I thought the story was fun and while the guy playing Han doesn’t look like Harrison Ford, he did sound and act like him. And I ? Chewy. So if you missed this for whatever reason, I’d give it a try. I’d watch it again.

Lego Movie 2

So, hey, my sister-in-law got us tickets to a special preview showing of Lego Movie 2 (which comes out on Feb 8). In general, I liked it. It’s about what you’d expect, though I had this weird feeling for a bit, like, uh. How to explain this. Like, the Lego Movie is self-contained and I’ve seen it so many times (it is a favorite of the small, mobile ones) that it felt like the existence of a sequel was some sort of weird fever dream. I missed part of it because the smaller, mobile one had to go to the bathroom, but I don’t think it was anything terribly important.

Also, there are Lego velociraptors.

The Greatest Showman

The husband came home and was like, “I ordered us a movie from the library!” Like, weirdly excited. This is the movie from 2017 with Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron, which is honestly all I knew about it going in (and I think I also knew it was about P.T. Barnum but I’m not 100% on that).

Guys, I enjoyed this stupid movie so much.

The music is amazing. And the story itself is mostly fluff, which I appreciate in a time when it seems like everything has to be gritty and realistic. I have already watched it twice.

(I got chills during the first number, which probably means I have to buy the movie now. That’s why I own the 2004 version of Phantom of the Opera. Have you seen that? When it goes from black and white to color and the Phantom theme starts…that’s my favorite part. Sometimes I watch just that part. The last time the play came through they’d taken that part out of the musical which is SACRILEGE.)

(I’m not a huge Phantom fan–I think the characters are dumb, except for Meg–but I do like the music. And the beginning.)

ANYWAY, that’s what I’ve seen lately. Watched anything good yourself? The new season of Star Trek Discovery has started, so I need to get on that ASAP.

Picture Books and Progress

Happy Friday, squiders! I hope you’re doing well. It keeps snowing on my plans over here in these parts.

I think I’ve told you guys about my plan to try out writing some picture books. I tried once before (waaaaay back in 2012, before I had small, mobile ones of my own) and it was hard, but now that I’ve read a ton in recent years, I feel like I have a better handle on the whole thing.

(hahahaha we’ll see, won’t we?)

In an attempt to have this go better than the last time, I’ve been doing some research. One of the things I’ve been looking at is how many pages you get to tell your story, since, unlike a novel, a picture book needs to fit in a set, industry-standard range, and it seemed important to understand what that was before I wrote the book and potentially ended up with too many or too few pages.

My research tells me the story tends to make up somewhere between 26 and 30 pages (with 28 being most common) with their being four pages of administrative stuff (such as title pages, dedications, copyright, etc.).

I’ve also been taking classes various places, studying illustration and narrative art and comics, all of which are very interesting. But I kind of feel like I’ve reached the point where I’m still poking around because I’m nervous about actually doing the work, if you know what I mean.

The last time I tried this (seven years ago! Good Lord!) went poorly. It is scary trying a new format. But I know what I need to know, and I just need to do the dang thing.

What else have I been up to so far this year?

  • I wrote the second-to-last section of my serial. The last part will be done next month.
  • I edited my anthology story. Just one more rounds of edits before publication. I’ve also spent some time making mock covers and poking titles.
  • I joined the genre stretch challenge over at WriYe (this month is dystopian + Gilded Age romance) and am about 1.5K into my story.
  • I also joined the prompt challenge, picked universes to work in (decided on Shards and the Trilogy), and chose prompt lists
  • Siri and I are actively working on CoHaR II now that we’ve survived the holidays (and Disney World)
  • One of my writing groups is doing their winter critique marathon, so I’ve got my space dinosaur story in there. So far, so good.

For the rest of the month, I’m going to work on the genre stretch story, CoHaR II, and the picture book. For February, I’m pondering a few different things.

  • Now that the nonfiction books are drafted, I should go back through them, compile them, add new sections, and get them ready for publication.
  • I’d also like to start a new draft of something. I’m pondering going back and doing Holly Lisle’s How to Think Sideways class with something, which I’ve never gotten all the way through. But now could be a good time to do so.

How’s your January going? Thoughts on February? Things to note about picture books?

Troubleshooting Your Outlining Issues

All right, squiders! I think this is the last bit of the outlining book. And from here, it’ll be time to go back through all the nonfiction book posts, put them together, and see what’s missing. Woo.

Outlining issues essentially fall into three main categories:

  1. Over-outlining
  2. Under-outlining
  3. Feeling trapped by your outline

Over-outlining

Problems stemming from over-outlining typically lie in overplanning, i.e., all your creative energy goes into the outline, and there isn’t any left over for the actual writing.

So, how do you fix this?

This is one of the hardest issues to fix. After all, you can’t un-plan. The best thing here might be some distance. Work on something else for a while. Let the story get out of your brain. Test different levels of outlining, so you know where your limit is.

Then, after you’ve given it enough distance, come back and give it another go. It might be that without directly working on, the story has regained some of its mystery. Or, if you’ve discovered you need less of an outline, skim what you have instead of re-reading everything to avoid overwhelming yourself again.

Under-planning

Do you often find yourself staring at your story, having no clue where to go next? This is often a symptom of under-planning. If you don’t have enough of an outline, you might not have a good idea of where your story is going or what you’re trying to accomplish, which can directly lead into writer’s block.

The good news is that this is the easiest outlining problem to fix. Just plan the story out some more. If you’re not an outliner and don’t want to be, try something more stream of conscious, like a mindmap or a freewrite. I find that phase outlining the next section can be extremely helpful for this problem.

At the very minimum, you can try a simple fix–leave yourself a clue about where to go when you stop writing for the day. Some authors like to stop in the middle of a sentence (forcing yourself to try to recreate your frame of mind), while others prefer to jot down a few notes about where to go next.

Feeling trapped by your outline

Let’s say you’re happily writing along, following your outline. Everything is going great. But then, instead of following the plan, at the height of the climax, your character suggests an alternate path forward, one that makes more sense, both to the plot and to the character’s personality.

Your outline says one thing, but it feels right to do something else. What’s the solution?

Remember, above all, that your outline works for you. It is a tool, designed to help you move the story forward and avoid stupid issues in plotting (like forgetting a subplot, or accidentally introducing a deus ex machina). Once you write yours, there’s no rule that says it is an immutable document that cannot be changed.

If something better comes along, give it a look. If you don’t want to get rid of your initial outline, make a second one with the new information and see how it looks. And the next time you run into something that needs to change, do the same thing.

(I would caution not just making the change and running blind into the wind. Take a second to give the new storyline the same level of scrutiny you gave the original, to make sure you’re not introducing anything terrible that will be hard to fix later.)

Any other issues you can think of when it comes to outlining, squiders? Solutions for these issues?

Also, I’m moving back the readalong discussion for Green Mars. The holidays and the Disney trip got away with my time, and I’m not ready to discuss it next week. Let’s look at mid-February for that discussion.

Books by Kit Campbell

City of Hope and Ruin cover
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Shards cover
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Hidden Worlds cover
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