Book Review: This Alien Shore, by C.S. Friedman

this-alien-shore

Stay with me here for a moment. The first modern science fiction book I read, many moons ago, was Frank Herbert’s Dune. I believe I read it after having an ex-boyfriend insist I watch the 1984 movie. Despite the movie’s flaws, I was hooked. The reason I bring up Dune is because of how well it has aged, perhaps becoming even more relevant now than it was when it released. The technology doesn’t date the book and its themes are eternal (at least within the scope of human existence).

C.S. Friedman’s This Alien Shore is another book that has aged well. It was originally released in 1998. Almost 20 years in a time when technology is exponentially advancing. I’ve read books written at the same time or even after, where the technology has dated the book (there’s nothing like reading a book about the future, especially the near future, that refers to ‘data tapes’).

I’m not 100% sure of this, but Friedman seems almost prophetic in This Alien Shore. Humans live among the stars, but the earliest who went into space “suffer” from genetic mutations, as do their descendants, and are known as Variants. However, these variants have discovered the ability to travel through space via Ainniqs, portions of space that function like wormholes. But therein lies the danger as other living things reside in Ainniqs – creatures that feed on human souls and only special inpilots can navigate them safely – at a price.

This timely and almost prophetic theme of prejudice the Variants experience by Earth and its “untainted” humans is woved throughout the book. Some Variants hate all Terrans because of the way their ancestors were treated once they mutated (due to the spaceship drive used during the first space age, where travel was slow and dangerous). Others, like the Guerans, have traveled back to Earth to invite the Terrans to join their fellow humans in the expanding galaxy now available to them. Terrans have followed but many are not happy and cannot stand the Variants, looking at them as less than human, as monsters.

Also, humans are wired into the datasphere. Most have implants surgically provided at birth. At one point, the hacker Phoenix is walking through one of the stations, reminiscing about teenagers using programs that overlay what they see in real life with fantasy images, everything from dragons to porn. Humans love data, love the datasphere which provides “viddie” entertainment. Also, the hardware also helps regulate bodily functions, providing warnings when the body is distressed and dispensing medication for everything from headaches to more severe illnesses and emergencies. How close are we to this? How many companies are working to get us there?

Technology aside, This Alien Shore tells a great story, which involves a young girl Jamisia on the run after her space station is attacked and destroyed. Jamisia hears voices – but is she crazy? Have these other personalities invaded her head in order to take over her body, or are they parts of her own fragmented psyche? These voices do not just speak to her. Different personalities have different skills and knowledge. Jamisia is being pursued – by Earth Corporations, by the Guild (run by the Variants, who have a monopoly on space ainniq travel) and who knows who else. They want what is in her head. The problem is Jamisia has no clue what is in her head.

She meets up with the hacker, also known as a moddie, Phoenix, who is trying to track down the source of a dangerous virus known as Lucifer that has killed several of his hacker friends, as well as inpilots who travel the dangerous ainniqs. Jamisia and Phoenix join forces with Dr. Kio Masada, a Gueran hired by the Guild Prima to find out who unleashed the Lucifer on the Guild pilots and why.

Intrigue, adventure, danger as well as a satisfying but by no means predictable, ending.

My one writerly nitpick – a lot of passive voice and filtering. Characters do a lot of telling and filtering (“she felt fear”). This can break the fiction spell slightly especially when something exciting is happening, but I feel like there’s a veil between the action and me. A small nitpick and as writing expectations have certainly tightened over the past 18 years, one I am not going to count against the book. I recently read a Hugo-winning book from the late 80s or early 90s, where this was a major problem; however, the storytelling was still fantastic. A good story with relatable characters makes up for a lot!

Workshopping My A** Off – PWC 2016

aa vintage-writer-at-desk

As I mentioned in my first PWC post, the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference offers three-day workshops during the bulk of the day, as well as single sessions workshops in the morning and in the late afternoon. I literally collapsed each night when I got home. The workshops were amazing but intense.

Have you ever tried to make a pita sandwich at home? No matter what kind of pita you buy, all the stuffing manages to fall down the front of your shirt at first bite. That’s how I felt at the end of day: stuffed with new information threatening to spill out (okay, maybe that’s just my lack of homemaker skills, but you get the point). Luckily I took copious notes. I just need to figure out my handwriting.

My three-day intensive workshops were:

My one-session workshops:

Master Class – The Sound on the Page: Finding and Using Your Voice (Ben Yagoda)

I have to applaud the PWC for booking such great workshop leaders (and from what I heard, the other workshops were equally awesome!). To give you a taste of what I learned, I’m going to share a few tidbits of information on writing and story craft. Obviously, I’m not going to recreate every note (I had pages and pages and it wouldn’t be fair to the presenters), but I want to emphasize how attending a workshop can help you, as a writer, learn more, build your writing toolkit, and really pump up your fiction.

Note: I’ve been a reader all my life. As I was discussing with Kathryn Craft, I think voracious readers, if they turn to writing, tend to learn how to craft a story through osmosis in the sense that we pick up some elements of writing naturally. That’s not to say we start writing and it’s perfect or that we can’t consciously learn, but as readers we love story and there are some things we do when we’re writing that we probably don’t think about. For me, I can feel the rhythm of a story when I’m writing and I know when I’m off. I can feel when the opening is dragging, or the middle sagging, or when the ending really isn’t pulling it all together. Now, I don’t always know how to fix it. I may not even be able to pinpoint what’s not working, but I can feel it because I know how good fiction reads, how it makes me feel, how it punches me in the gut when that emotional impact and connection is there.

So onto some randomly selected tips:

  • Story (this happened, then this, then that) vs Plot (this happens therefore that happens, but then that happens). Plot is what drives the story forward and introduces conflict and tension. (I actually learned this is a workshop offered by Barbara Barnett-Stewart last year, but it was good reinforcement). [Pastan]
  • For worldbuilding, think about locations and landscape (sketch a map!), societal hierarchy, cultural elements, weapons and technology, deities, language (curse and swear words!). You’re not going to use everything, but knowing it will provide you as the author a better sense of the world you are building and add authenticity and authority to your writing. [Kashina]
  • Interweave (or connect) characters and conflict as much as possible. How can you add conflict/tension between your MC and a secondary characters? How about between two secondary characters? [Craft]
  • A story isn’t powerful because of events; a story is powerful because of how a character reacts to the events and the emotional impact of the events. [Craft]
  • Ending a chapter in the middle of a scene does not increase tension. It creates a false tension. Let chapters have their own arcs. [Craft]
  • Your main character should have a desire. They can have more than one, but one above all should propel the story forward (the “spark”). [Pastan]

So. Much. Information. I literally have pages of notes I’m reading through, saying to myself, ah, yes, that! And that! Don’t forget that!

What’s one of the best pieces of information you’ve picked up in a writing workshop or class? What classes or workshops have you attended? Did you feel they’ve helped? Let me know in the comments!

Next up: Pitch and Query: the Double-headed Dreaded Dragon.

(Don’t worry. In my last Next Up, I mentioned Asshats. They’re coming. Kelly Simmons‘ speech needs its own post.)

 

a vintage writing

 

 

 

Introverts, Writing, and…People!

 

aa writing introvert

I think a lot introverts are writers because we spend so much time in our heads (or with noses in books, in many cases). Some of us may be published, some not, some want to be, some write just for the pleasure of creating a well-turned phrase, or a beautiful image in a poem.

So non-writers might ask, well, why then do so many writing conferences exist?

I don’t claim to speak for every writer. I’m sure there are plenty of extroverted writers (I know a few…I think). But what I can say is that for me, a conference of any sort is justification for learning a few new breathing techniques, spending a week talking myself into going, and popping some extra Xanax.

It’s not that I don’t like talking. Ask my co-workers, or my family and friends. Sometimes I’m overflowing with words. It’s not even that I don’t like talking in front of people. I speak in front of groups all the time for various aspects of my life.

But small talk? Introducing myself to someone I don’t know? Please, I’d rather be chained to a chair to watch Episode I from Star Wars, or forced to drink decaf. It’s painful, I’m awkward, and hey, let’s just drink some wine in silence, while we scan Facebook and Twitter and just look like we’re socializing, okay?

Which brings us back to writing conferences. Why we introverted writers put ourselves in the situation. Simply because a good conference is an amazing experience. We get to learn from some great authors, non-fiction writers, and social media gurus. We listen to opening speeches and keynote speakers that inspire us to new heights of wordsmithing frenzy. We get to hang out with friends (if we’re lucky) and *gasp* meet new ones [Again, personal experience only, it takes me a while to work up the courage and usually it’s because I’m with someone I know already, but I do manage to meet a few people]. Plus, through all this, we get to be immersed with people who get us. People who understand how important the written word is, how addicting good stories can be, and how painful yet exhilarating creating fiction and others works can be.

I’m lucky. Philadelphia is home to the longest-running writers’ conference in the United States, the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference (PWC), which just concluded its 67th conference from June 10th through June 12th. My friend, James Knipp, is the current president, a terrific writer with a wicked mind for horror, and all-around great guy. Once again, he helped lead the PWC Board into making the annual conference a memorable experience. Over the next several posts, I will delve a little bit into the weekend’s experience, including the speakers and workshops, the social events, and the cool stuff I bought (books, of course!).

In the interest of transparency, I won a half scholarship, sponsored by the PWC, through the South Jersey Writers’ Group. The PWC offers several full scholarships by application as well as half scholarships to eligible writing groups. For the past several years, we have held a random drawing to determine the winner for our group and this year I was the lucky duck. The SJWG Board of Trustees was inspired that we have added our own scholarship for 2017; therefore, we will be awarding two members of our group a half scholarship to next year’s PWC in fulfillment of our mission as a premier writing resource in the South Jersey region.

Next post: Speakers, Workshops, and…Hats.

 

 

Star Wars plus Twitter-sized trailer reviews

Today I finally got to see Star Wars: the Force Awakens. Finally, after having to cancel the tickets back from opening weekend due to a family emergency. It was so worth the wait.  I’m also surprised at how spoiler free the internet was overall. See, we can accomplish something if we work together!

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No spoilers here. All I will say is that I was completely immersed.  Some people have been nitpicky, but most things have a simple explanation that does not need a novel to explain away. So there…

Also, I really enjoyed John Boyega and Daisy Ridley as our up and coming heroes. The comedic exchanges peppered throughout were funny without being cheesy. And how could I forget BB-8? So cute, without the saccharine (or inspiring the impulse to scream a la Jar Jar Binks*).

And seeing the original cast brought tears to my ears, on many levels.

I can only hope that J.J. Abrams can keep up the momentum with the next movies.

Movie aside, let’s talk trailers. I swear we used to see like 4 trailers before movies when I was a kid, now we’re up to something like 8? Anyway, this is my twitter-sized reviews of the trailers:

Warcraft – looked better than I expected. A little generic as far as story, but it is the lore

X men something or another – meh. i lost track of this franchise a long time ago. Somebody did something, timeblip.

Superman vs Batman – we all know Wonder Woman is the real star here, while the boys bicker

Fifth Wave – based off a book, standard alien takeover movie

Independence Day, the unfunny version – standard alien takeover movie

Gods of Egypt – apparently in an alternate history, all the main people in Egypt were white. Who knew?

The jungle book remake – could be good kid movie?

and some other movie that didn’t have aliens, orcs, or explosions…

 

*Jar Jar, like the rest of Episode I, could have been kid friendly without being ridiculous. I know Lucas wanted SW to be for kids, but you can make a kid-friendly movie without it being completely implausible and annoying.

Jesus, Santa, and Hermione Granger: All white!

Here we go again.

It was only last year that Megyn Kelly from Fox News was insisting that not only is Santa Claus white (despite being based on St. Nicholas, who was from modern-day Turkey) but so is Jesus (who was a Jewish lad from the middle east).

This Christmas, people are complaining that a new play about the Harry Potter gang is wrong because it casts Hermione as a black woman.

Ron, Hermione, and Harry as adults.  Look, they got the teeth right. Ron, Hermione, and Harry as adults. Look, they got the teeth right.

Hello? Hermione is fictional! She’s a made-up people! She doesn’t really exist! (And anyway, J.K. Rowling pointed out that at no time is Hermione’s race mentioned in the books — only that she has “brown eyes and frizzy hair.”And then “large front teeth.” And there’s another mention in a later book that talks about her “looking brown.” Seriously.)

Not all of the complaints about this are…

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Meet and Greet 12/18

Looking for great blogs to follow…?

DREAM BIG DREAM OFTEN

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It’s Meet and Greet Weekend at Dream Big!!

Ok so here are the rules:

  1. Leave a link to your page or post in the comments of this post.
  2. Reblog this post.  It helps you, it helps me, it helps everyone!  So don’t be selfish, hit the reblog button.
  3. Edit your reblog post and add tags (i.e. reblogging, reblog, meet n greet, link party, etc.), it helps, trust me on this one.
  4. Share this post on social media.  Many of my non-blogger friends love that I put the Meet n Greet on Facebook and Twitter because they find new bloggers to follow.  This helps also, trust me.

Now that all the rules have been clearly explained get out there and Meet n Greet your butts off!

See ya Monday!

Danny

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Signs from the Rainbow Bridge

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Lilies (medioimages/photodisc/getty images)

Kind of a sad post today, but I hope you will have a little smile by the end. Late last week, my grandmother passed after a very brief illness. She was 88 and always in good health, so while I am sad, I will always love her and cherish her memory. The hardest part has been the suddenness of it all. At the beginning of November, she had some minor digestive complaints, but less than six weeks she is gone.

However, I’d like to share a little story. Back in the mid-90s I had adopted an orange kitten named Stu. When my then-boyfriend and I broke up, I moved home with Stu. My grandmother lived with my parents and she became very attached to him. So much so, that when I moved again, she asked that he stay with her. A few years later, when my parents divorced and my grandmother moved out, she had to call the police to have the cat go with her because my father (who never cared about the cat but wanted to spite everyone) was trying to keep the cat. Anyway, the judge had to order my father to surrender the cat and the cat was part of the property settlement agreement (“one large, orange cat”). Stu moved in with my grandmother at her apartment and lived a long, plump, and happy life with her. When he passed, she had his remains cremated and placed in a special box. She told my mom that she wanted the cat buried with her.

When my grandmother passed, my mom called the funeral parlour and had to laugh. The director assisting with the planning was named Stu! When she told him about the cat, he offered to have a memorial set up for the cat as well as my grandmother. My mom was laughing as she told me this. It was definitely a sign they had been reunited over the rainbow bridge.

Thanksgiving: A Place in Today’s World?

Harvest

The fourth Thursday in November is a special day for many Americans. It’s the day we celebrate Thanksgiving, giving thanks for what we have, for the people in our lives, for the things we should be grateful for every day.

I grew up on the traditional narrative: pilgrims and Native Americans, or indigenous people (Indians back then in our ignorance) coming together to celebrate the harvest. Obviously, today, the narrative has been [rightfully] challenged and we all know better but, I believe there are still reasons that not only is Thanksgiving important, but also the narrative.

Obviously, we should be thankful every day for what we have. That goes without saying. But that doesn’t mean that a holiday devoted to gratefulness is not needed, or is useless. Whether you have a large family or small, or you spend the day with friends who are like family, a holiday is important like a ritual is important.

It provides a sacred space to draw attention to something important in our lives.

It binds us together with those we live with and those within our community, whether that community is national, local, or cultural.

Additionally, acknowledging the true story of the pilgrims and the native peoples, understanding the dynamics, and the history is something we should remember as well on this day. We can’t go back and change things. It was a travesty what happened to the natives of this land. But we can acknowledge it, we can learn from it, we can grow from it.

And we can ensure that it never happens again.

This lesson is one that is especially timely in the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis and our encroachment upon native peoples from around the world, a problem not in the forefront of the news.

So go ahead and enjoy your turkey, tofurkey, or like me, the sides. Be grateful every day, but bring special mindfulness to your life today. Go forth and do a little kindness for someone every day in gratitude for what you have.

[Book Review] At day’s Close: Night in Times Past

Back in the day, History Channel used to show, you know, actual shows about history. Now we have pawnshops, gator hunters, and truckers, among others. But that’s for another post. I have since moved onto H2, which I can only get with Comcast’s (or Xfinity, or whatever they are calling themselves now) upgraded digital package. But at least there, the shows are by and large about history in some way.

One gem of a documentary I caught a few times was Afraid of the Dark. I really enjoyed the show, which highlighted several reasons why humans are, or have been historically, well…afraid of the dark. Included were the devil, being eaten alive, the supernatural, and for some reason, vampires and monsters seem to get their own category (not sure why it wasn’t lumped with supernatural, but, okay). Apparently, it’s not super easy to find a copy of the special, but you can get one through Amazon Instant Video.

Throughout the show various guests talk about their area of expertise, including A. Roger Ekirch, who was featured rather prominently and whose book, At Day’s Close, formed a substantial part of the show. Intrigued I purchased a copy of the book on the Kindle. I’ve included a copy of my review.

At Days Close
Thoroughly enjoyed this meticulously researched book, which delves into the way people lived through the night in pre-industrial times (the book’s main focus is early modern into colonial times with some references to earlier time periods). Ekirch’s writing is well-informed and entertaining. Using literature, news from the day, diaries, and journals, he traces the habits of people as they prepared for the onslaught of night, as well as the development and beginnings of our modern day night time world. While we learn much about the “darker” side of night activities (crime, lack of conveniences we take for granted, bug infestations), so there’s no looking back through rose-colored glasses, Ekirch makes is clear that modern people have lost something in our quest for a 24-hour lifestyle. It’s definitely something to ponder. My only complaint about the book is that it wasn’t longer…I wanted more!

Catching Up…

I have been relatively quiet on here due to personal reasons, but some things have slowly been happening. Mostly, I have been concentrating on my health.  Last year, I received some less-than-stellar news during a physical and since January I have been working on changing my diet and physical activity. Overall, it has been a success. I’ve dropped 30 pounds and finished a 5k at the end of June. I may have been slow but I ran a lot of it and I finished. I still have a lot more work to do, but it’s good to stop and take inventory of everything accomplished so far.

On the writing front, I’ve been working, albeit slowly. Besides actual writing and editing, there’s been a lot of work on my successor as vice-president for the South Jersey Writers’ group, as well as starting to edit for Tall Tales and Short Stories from South Jersey, volume 2. I also have a few other things in the pipeline since it’s time to take some chances. More on them when they come to fruition.

I’ve read several good books this year, but again it’s been slow going and I haven’t read as much as I would have liked. Currently, reading Joshua and the Lightning Road by Donna Galanti for our YA book club. I still have a couple of books to review, which I’d like to post at some point this month.

Through all this, i decided to take a social media break last week. I didn’t post on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc for about 10 days. In a way, it was refreshing. I didn’t feel the need to check the sites multiple times a day to Keep Up With It All. Sure I may have missed some good posts, but concentrating on living life and relaxing and DOING was much more rewarding. I won’t be giving up social media any time soon, but it did prove to me that sometimes a break is something we all need.