The Writing Excuses Baltic Cruise, part 1

I’m baaa-aaack!

Did you miss me?

As you might be able to tell from the title of this post, I’ve decided to break up my Writing Excuses Retreat (WXR) experience into parts. There was just too much writerly (and other) goodness going on for me to pack into one post, even in summary.

And that is what I intend to provide for you here: a summary. An event like this really has to be experienced to appreciate the impact it can have on a life. Not just a writer’s life, either. Any life.

I’ve never been outside continental North America before. Simply going to Europe and getting a taste of seven different countries changed me as a person. If you haven’t travelled, I highly recommend it. Even if you think you can’t afford it, save up (preferable), ask for financial assistance, or, if you have the means (i.e. stable employment) and aren’t too far into debt already, commit to some medium term debt and a reasonable strategy for getting out of it. Planning is everything in this last instance.

It was so worth it for me.

As you may remember from my last post, pre-departure, anxiety was having its way with me. I knew once I got in the air, I’d be fine. Once the first plane is boarded, there’s really no turning back. Even my anxiety can’t argue that point.

The journey was nonetheless fraught.

I got up at 5 am, so I could get to the airport by 6:30 and check in to board my flight at 7:30. The usual Skycheck service wasn’t available, but Air Canada checked my baggage (I only had the one, carryon-sized case) at no extra charge.

I arrived at Pearson International at 8:30, retrieved my bag, and had time for a leisurely breakfast. I had time to search out the Iceland Air registration desk and find out when it would open. It turns out that contrary to the general advice to be in the airport three to four hours ahead of your departure time that you can’t even check in or start the security process until two hours before boarding.

Still, I’m glad I gave myself a wide margin. I could have caught the next flight if the first one had been cancelled. I would have had the time to take an Airporter to Pearson, if necessary.

The journey from there was similarly without incident. The eight hour layover in the Reyjavik airport was, if anything, a little boring. I worried a bit about my flight not showing up on the information board until about an hour before departure, but there was no real problem.

KeflavikAt3am

HamburgAirport

When I landed in Hamburg, I wandered around for a while before I found a group of  WXR cruisers and caught the shuttle to Kiel. I made friends right away on the shuttle (virtual hugs to Margaret Dunlap), while I fought the exhaustion of travel. We arrived at the Atlantic Hotel, checked in, and I met my room mate (more hugs to Becky!).

AtlanticHotelinKiel

I did not nap. I kind of got my second wind in the afternoon and made some more friends (waves at Mike, Oliver, and Alex—Strumpwaffle bonding!), met Mary Robinette Kowal again, Kathy Chung who, in addition to being Security Officer for the cruise, is also the Coordinator for the Surrey International Writers’ Conference (SiWC), and K. Tempest Bradford, with whom I took the spring offering of Writing the Other.

A group of us went to Vapiano, a popular European chain of Italian restaurants, for supper, and then returned to the conference room for the evening orientation session and taping of the Tea and Jeopardy podcast (!) featuring His Majesty, Dan Wells 🙂

At this point, I’d been up for nearly 30 hours, and, after a much-needed shower, I collapsed.

The next morning, after breakfast, there was the embarkation information session, during which we were divided into groups for our first event—a scavenger hunt, we collected our baggage, and prepared to board the MSC Fantasia.

The thing I dislike most about travelling is all the queuing. There are line ups everywhere: to check in, get through security, and to board (for each flight), for the shuttle, and to check in to the hotel. Cruise embarkation was no different.

We were bussed to the pier in shifts, based on our scavenger hunt groups, and, once there, had to relinquish our luggage to the handlers, prepare our boarding documents, and—you guessed it—queue up for embarkation.

It was like an amusement park line. Looooong.

MSCFantasia

But once aboard, I located my stateroom, outside of which my luggage had been left, got unpacked, and got my credit card registered before it was time to gather for the scavenger hunt.

MyStateroom

WXR instructors hid throughout the ship, and each team had to solve riddles to find them, hopefully ending up in the buffet at the end, in time to have lunch. My group was a little late starting out and we missed the final check-in point, but we had fun solving the riddles and did bond over the experience.

There was an afternoon workshop that I ended up choosing to miss, on writing through distraction. My more pressing need at the time was for some food and I acquainted myself with the buffet 🙂

I had time to sign up for a wi-fi package for the trip before muster, which is the emergency drill for the ship, and returned to my stateroom in time for our departure from Kiel.

FearAndWritingEmmaNewman

That evening, I attended Emma Newman’s (yes, she of Tea and Jeopardy) presentation on Fear and Writing. Mary intentionally organized Emma’s presentation for the first evening, as fear is every writer’s worst enemy. It was hoped that Emma’s presentation would allow us to set appropriate goals for the cruise. I’ll just say that it was brilliant, and one of my favourites of the cruise.

SunsetDay1

At supper, I sat at Howard and Sandra Tayler’s table. It was a great first night getting to know a couple of our hosts, and some of my fellow WXR participants.

Normally, for a cruise, the passengers sit at the same table every night and the serving staff is able to develop a relationship with them. For the WXR cruise, we would be assigned different seating each night at supper so that we could get to know one another better. It made for more difficulty for the serving staff, but a better experience for the retreat’s participants.

Supper that first night was a late sitting (9:30) and by the time I got back to my stateroom, I was just in time to watch the ship (it’s huge—18 storeys I was told) pass under the Øresund bridge between Sweden and Denmark. Other cruisers went to the uppermost deck of the ship to take pictures, but I didn’t have time to get up there (!)

UnderTheBridge

And that’s where I will leave my journey for now.

In my next instalment, I hope to cover Copenhagen and Stockholm. After that, it will be time for my Next Chapter combination update for July and August, and then I’ll continue with my adventure through Tallinn and St. Petersburg. Then, I think I’ll write a couple of posts to cover my Finland adventure and WorldCon, before I turn to other topics.

Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday will resume through to NaNoWriMo when my next blogging hiatus takes place.

Recent events in Charlottesville, Barcelona, and Turku have my heart aching. Still, the battered thing goes out to all of those affected by extremism and terrorism. We can resist, heal, and make a better world.

Until next I post, be well, be kind, and stay strong, my friends. The world needs your stories now, more than ever!

Why you should enrol in Writing the Other

Disclaimer: I’m a total newb at trying to express my thoughts and feelings on diversity and cultural appropriation. If I inadvertently write anything offensive or harmful, I invite you to let me know. But I have to start somewhere, try and fail, or I might never improve. Thank you, in advance, for your time, attention, and kind intervention (if required).

I’m not rolling up content as I have in other posts of this nature.

Out of the gate, I’ll recommend Writing the Other (WtO) to any writer concerned about writing inclusive fiction with respect and dignity accorded to characters unlike the authorial self. If you’re not concerned with these vital aspects of craft, then stop reading this post now. There’s nothing for you here.

K. Tempest Bradford and Nisi Shawl deliver an amazing and thought provoking course, the point of which is not to police creativity, but to ask authors to examine their fears, context, and assumptions, and to do their best to write inclusively. WtO will give you the tools to write characters of other ROAARS (race, sexual orientation, age, ability, religion, and sex) characteristics with integrity, and the resources to deepen your knowledge and understanding.

The point is that writing well is hard work, and writing well and respectfully of otherness takes effort and practice, like any other aspect of the craft. You have to be open, willing to learn, willing to practice, and willing to think critically about the creative choices you make in your fiction.

Those of us who come from a background of privilege (white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, etc.) and those of use who align fairly closely with the unmarked state, still want to write inclusively. If we do so without due consideration, education, or research, we run the risk of harming the people from the same communities as the characters we write from sheer ignorance.

This can take the form of tokenism. Only have one character who is a person of colour? Why not include two, or even three, so readers can see that these characters are, first and foremost, people? Explore the experience of these characters in a fully-fleshed and respectful way. Give them voices. Compare and contrast them. Give them as much attention and thought to them as you give your main character. They may not have as big a role to play in your story, but they deserve to be real.

If your one gay character just happens to be the antagonist, you may inadvertently send the message that you think all gay people are like the antagonist. If your one trans character is the sidekick who gets killed, they become disposable, and that is another negative message you may unintentionally send.

If you have a disabled character who is “cured” by technology or magic, you effectively erase the character’s identity and struggle. If the character has to be able-bodied for the story you’re telling, then tell the story with an able-bodied character. Think about why you want to write a disabled character. If it’s to honour their struggle, then honour it. If you just think it’s cool, that may be true, but your choices may bear more thought.

Recently, in Canada, there was the “appropriation prize” debacle. [I’ve been curating articles and posts on the issues, in Tipsday and Thoughty Thursday, for the past few weeks. Peruse, if you’re so inclined.]

Last year, there was the Lionel Shriver controversy. [And yeah, I curated that one, too.]

Cultural appropriation happens when you take a story that belongs to a culture other than your own without permission and consultation (both are required) and write about it in a way that dishonours the originating culture.

This can happen in any of the arts.

The word diversity has been thrown about in publishing and writing so much in recent years that the word has almost lost its meaning. I’ve heard of speakers who have retreated from panels on literary diversity because they are often attacked or their statements taken out of context for the sake of theatrics or sensationalism.

Diversity, to me, means that people of colour, of other sexual orientations, of differing ability, age, religion, or sex, should write their own stories. And they should be welcomed into the publishing world. We need more editors, agents, and other publishing professionals who are from different backgrounds, too.

This doesn’t mean that no one should write a character that doesn’t share their background. If they do, though, they should be prepared to take the time and do the research to represent that character authentically.

For myself, I’ve decided that I won’t write a protagonist that is significantly different from me. That’s my personal choice, though. I won’t prohibit anyone else from doing that. And there are some writers who have written the other brilliantly, so I won’t say that it can’t be done. I choose not to.

But I want to write inclusively about a world that’s like the one I see every day. To do that, I have to educate myself. And WtO was a first step on that path.

As always, be well, be kind, and stay strong.

Muse-inks

Story Masters: May 11-14, 2017

This lovely workshop came to my attention last year through Jenny Madore, a writer friend. It was put together by Lorin Oberweger and Free Expressions. Jenny sent me a notice last spring, yes, that was waaaay back in March of 2016, with the notification and a special early-bird discount.

The notification? Christopher Vogler, James Scott Bell, and Donald Maass would be coming to Toronto to present their Story Masters workshop. Needless to say, I registered on the spot.

Fast forward to May 10, 2017, and I was on my way to the Crowne Plaza Airport and excited to learn from these three masters of story.

Day one: Christopher Vogler

ChristopherVoglerI’ve read The Writer’s Journey (and Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey and The Hero’s Daughter, as well as watching Campbell’s series with Bill Moyer, The Power of Myth), and I was looking forward to meeting Christopher Vogler in person.

One thing I’d forgotten, having read his book years ago, was that Vogler is a screenwriter. He’s been working with the hero’s journey for forty years, since his film school days.

Highlights of the presentation:

  • A knowledge of structure will help you see the bones of a story.
  • The map is not the journey.
  • Get all five senses on the page – Ray Bradbury.
  • They won’t remember your words but they’ll remember how you made them feel – Maya Angelou.
  • Economy of language.
  • Make invisible things visible.
  • Use dissonance.
  • Theme – boil it down to one word.
  • The chakra system can be used to orient where your story comes from. There’s a parallel between the chakras and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
  • Vogler’s rule – the story’s good if two or more organs are leaking fluids. Visceral, but accurate (blood, sweat, tears, vomit, pee—from fear or laughter, and, erm, sexual fluids—it’s true; a well-written sex scene gets the juices flowing, doesn’t it?).
  • A story should be focused, “in alignment with the grid,” a term from dance.
  • How your protagonist/main character enters the story is critical. Classically, protagonist means the first person to struggle. Now, that’s your hero or main character.
  • A story should evoke catharsis. The classical definition of catharsis was vomiting. Now it’s an emotional cleansing.
  • How stories work: want vs. need. Want is generally external or physical. Need is internal or emotional. There are two story questions, one inner and one outer. It creates suspense. There’s always a price.
  • Every world/milieu is polarized. The hero brings synthesis.

Vogler also showed us a number of movie clips to illustrate the 12 stages of the hero’s journey, discussed the two founders of screenwriting, Aristotle and Syd Field, three-act structure and how the hero’s journey works with it, storytelling aesthetics, and his own meeting with Campbell.

Day two: James Scott Bell

I’ve read some of Bell’s writing craft books and followed his collective/blog – Kill Zone. Again, I was looking forward to meeting JamesScottBellsomeone I’d only ever known as a virtual presence.

  • A writer needs to have an edge. What is it? Unforgettable writing. Seductive believability.
  • Write from the middle. The mirror moment. What’s happening to the character at that moment is what the story’s about.
  • The mirror moment can focus on one of two things: 1) Who am I? What have I become? What will I become? [emotional/spiritual struggle] Or, 2) I’m going to die. [Physical] The death can be metaphorical. Both result in the transformation of your character.
  • Once you know what your story’s about, you have your focus, your theme.
  • Pre-story psychology. Does your character have a moral flaw to overcome? Do they change or get their comeuppance? Is your character ordinary? What circumstances force the character to change?
  • Short fiction is about a shattering moment rather than a mirror moment.
  • Bell’s golden triangle: pre-story psychology leads to the mirror moment, which leads to the transformation. It can be applied in an individual novel, or over the course of the series, or both.
  • The shadow story – what’s happening elsewhere?
  • Keep a story journal to keep track.
  • Great characters jump off the page. They’re unpredictable, burning, wounded, complex, resourceful, courageous, noble.
  • Bell’s corollary to Vogler’s rule: you must have a fluid fight inside your character.
  • Ways to develop character: 1) The closet search – what’s the skeleton? 2) Throwing the chair (out the window) – why do they do it? 3) Best day/worst day. 4) What tattoo do they have, where, and why? Or, why would they never get a tattoo? 5) what would they do or think about in jail?
  • Opposition character: you must know what they yearn for, why they deserve it, and then make your closing argument (convince the reader).
  • Cut the boring parts, or, make them interesting.
  • Fear is a continuum. It raises the stakes. Fear of the known. Fear of the unknown.
  • Scene structure: every scene must have an objective, obstacles, and an outcome [yes, but/no, and].
  • SUES = something unexpected in every scene.
  • Every scene has a reaction: time for thought, perception, emotion, backflash (short remembrance), or flashback (full scene – use sparingly).
  • Dialogue: every character has an agenda. If those agendas are conflicting, even better. Dialogue creates conflict/tension, subtext, sets the tone for the scene, and sets the tone for the characters. Specific concerns: vocabulary, expressions, syntax. They should vary between characters. Dialogue should be unpredictable and compressed. Dialogue should reveal character webs, backstory, and theme.
  • Tools: Orchestration, transactional analysis (Google it), curve the language.

Bell, also from a screenwriting background, showed us clips from Casablanca and Now, Voyager and cited a number of novels (ranging from Gone with the Wind to The Hunger Games) to illustrate his points, linked to Vogler’s hero’s journey, and set us up for Donald Maass’s presentation on the next day.

Day three: Donald Maass

DonaldMaassI think Donald Maass was the story master I was most excited to meet. I’ve bought and read all of his books (except The Emotional Craft of Fiction, which I bought at the event), and I’ve read and shared all of his Writer Unboxed contributions.

I’m such a fan that when I met him in the elevator, I blurted out, “I’m here to see you!” like a total fangirl.

He paused. “Do I know you? You look familiar …”

“We’ve never met in person, but you may have seen me online—the white hair’s distinctive. I share all of your posts. I’m a big fan.” And then, mercifully, we reached the lobby and debarked. I was completely mortified, certain Maass thought I was a stalker.

It reminded me of a recent post by my friend, Kim, who said she becomes so distracted in the presence of a writer that she says the most inappropriate things. Happens to me all the time.

For those of you who haven’t been to a Donald Maass presentation, it’s a bit different from what you might expect. He presents a topic, speaks briefly, and then, he begins to ask questions. The questions are intended to guide you into the heart of your characters, your scenes, your story.

It’s very meditative, very zen. And totally effective.

Unfortunately, after a few hours, the brain stops working and you just write down the questions for future review and examination. At least, that’s what happened to my brain.

I just wanted to give you a flavour of Maass’s style.

Openings

  • Too many novel openings are written objectively despite the prevalence of first and close third person narration.
  • Where does the story truly begin?
  • Story does not equal plot.
  • What’s different and how does your protagonist know things will never be the same? What symbolizes this? What do they do differently? What needs to be explained? What expertise does your protagonist have? What do they know that the reader needs to know? How does the trouble come? Why?

Voice

  • Writers adopt a voice that suits the genre, but not the story.
  • What happens? What’s unique to the setting? What anchors you? What wakes you up to your reality? What’s unique to the character? Name, role/occupation, what task/goal/purpose do they think they have? What’s on the “to do” list of your character?
  • [We then did an exercise in which we rewrote the beginning of our works in progress with three different voices: ironic, academic, and spiritual.]
  • The inner life of the character is the true story.
  • Plot does not equal story.

Emotion

  • You have to write with emotion about emotion in a way that deeply engages readers.
  • What makes you angry?
  • Your protagonist feels a new emotion. Pause. Slow things down. Go deeper. How does that change your protagonist? What will they never do again? What will they never feel again? What will they never feel the same way about again?
  • How do you create the sense of an evolving human being rather than someone to whom stuff happens?
  • Does your character have flaws?
  • My Writer Unboxed colleague Lisa Cron wrote a book called Story Genius that I highly recommend. She states every character has a misbelief that shapes their story. What is your character’s misbelief? Who will be hurt because of their misbelief? What does the character get wrong? What do they believe that will cost them dearly? Who will walk away from them because of the misbelief? What will they lose? What can they do that shows they’ve changed? Is it big? Symbolic? What’s the secret they’ve never told anyone? Is your protagonist concealing something from someone else?
  • What’s the character’s origin story?

Other facets of novel construction

  • Summary. Lorin Oberweger posted on Writer Unboxed about this. When should you use it?
  • Scene structure. Things have changed by the end of the scene. Subvert expectations. Show the inner shift in the novel. Scenes must change either the plot or the character.
  • Enhancing the story world. What’s the environment? What does your protagonist see that no one else sees? What does your antagonist see? Is there a class structure? How does that play out with your characters? What historical events have shaped the world? What are the political structures? What is just not done? Is there a code of honour? How do you make a deal? How do you pay respect?
  • Telling and showing. Both have value.

What do readers want?

  • They want an emotional experience. They want to engage with your protagonist. They want a satisfying payoff. They want aesthetic value. They want a challenge. They want to figure it out. They want a feeling of success.
  • Readers have their own journey.

Third level emotion

  • Pick a pivotal scene in your novel. What is the character feeling? What else are they feeling (cancel out any similar emotions)? And again, what else (that is like neither of the first two)?
  • Use the third emotion you identify to frame the character in the scene. It seems counterintuitive, but it’s very effective. Readers use cognitive evaluation.

Mythic roles (archetypes)

  • What fairy tale character is your protagonist most like? Shakespearean? Biblical? Greek or Roman mythos? Indigenous or other cultural figure? Urban legend?
  • What symbology have you built around your character?

The four things your story must do

  • The macro level: structure/plot/character arc.
  • Scene level: structure and goals.
  • Microtension: every page, every line. Court cognitive dissonance.
  • Subvert reader expectations.

The big event

  • Think of the event that changes everything for your protagonist and the story world. What causes people to think it’s never going to happen? Think of three reasons why. How do we know it will happen? Think of three reasons.
  • Take out foreshadowing. Include misdirection. Manipulate expectations.
  • Choose a secondary character who is good. Invent a way to create doubt. Cast suspicion.
  • Make the reader wait for the payoff. What are three reasons it might be the wrong thing for your protagonist to do? Build a case for doing something different.
  • Every story has a moral map. Point the reader down the path. What makes a reader care even when nothing is happening? Hope. What is good? What can be saved?

StoryMasters

Day four was an analysis of To Kill a Mockingbird in which all three story masters brought their individual strengths to bear.

My brain was mush by the end, but I brought a lot of awesome back with me and twice as many pages of notes as what I’ve shared with you here.

RobertJSawyerOther writerly goodness: I met Jenny Madore in person, saw writer friends Jeanette Winsor and Sue Reynolds, and hung out with Robert J. Sawyer for a bit. It was comforting to know that someone I consider a story master in his own right is still learning 🙂

I had a fabulous time and suggest you check out the Free Expressions web site if you’re interested in attending one of their workshops.

As always, my friends, be well, be kind, and stay strong. The world needs your stories.

Muse-inks

WorldCon 2016: The state of feminist fantasy

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

FemFant

Panellists: Julia Rios, Ann Leckie, Dr. Janice M. Bogstad, Tessa Gratton

Joined in progress …

AL: In science fiction, feminist authors and novels are being recognized. Why isn’t this happening in fantasy?

JMB: In a culture where everyone is equal, can there be feminism? We’d have to step back and compare.

TG: The feminist conversation is very dynamic right now. Feminism is a tool for dismantling the patriarchy and the conversation is complicated by sexism, ageism, ableism, racism, etc. We can’t talk about feminism in isolation. There’s a lot of intersectionality. I think Kate Elliot and N.K. Jemisin are feminist fantasy authors.

AL: When someone looks at the genre from the outside, feminist fantasy isn’t identified as a sub-genre.

TG: Science fiction is more overtly political.

JR: When people talk about science fiction, everything gets lumped together. Aren’t the classical texts fantasy? Aren’t fairy tales fantasy? What happens when women authors retell myth and folklore? I’d put forth Catherynne M. Valente and Angela Carter as feminist fantasy authors.

JMB: People outside the genre depend on the frame. In academic circles, they call it the literature of the fantastic. Robin Hobb’s novels have feminist themes. Game of Thrones can be read as feminist. Does it have prominent female characters? Yes. Is it feminist fantasy, though? Perhaps that’s another discussion. How do we define fantasy separate from science fiction? Patricia Briggs and Kij Johnson write feminist stories. We’ve had realistic fiction for a very short period of time, relatively speaking. We’ve had fantasy forever. What else is Beowulf?

JR: Who influenced you as a writer?

TG: I have two big influences: Kate Elliot, because she interrogates the issues I want to explore, and Katharine Kerr.

AL: Andre Norton was a big influence on me. There’s a question as to whether she was feminist. C.J. Cherryh doesn’t consider herself a feminist. I didn’t identify as feminist initially.

JR: If an author identifies as feminist, are their novels feminist?

JMB: People describe a feminist author in relation to their work. Are there feminist themes, gestures, sentiments expressed in the work? We need to define our terms first. Is there a canon of feminist fantasy?

TG: I’m uncomfortable imposing a definition of feminism that doesn’t address intersectionality. You can’t talk about sexism in isolation.

JMB: The same people who wrote science fiction also wrote fantasy. Russ was a lesbian. Intersectionality was part of the discussion. We just didn’t call it that.

TG: Explorations of young adult feminist fantasy aren’t interested in anything before Twilight. It’s the opposite problem.

AL: In science fiction, all of the classic feminist authors are from the 70’s. But current novels are being used to say that this is a new conversation in isolation from history. We need perspective regardless.

And that was time.

This was the last of my session notes from WorldCon 2016.

Next weekend: I’m going to talk about changing things up on the blog a bit and reasons 🙂

Until then, as ever, be kind, be well, and stay strong. Tell your stories. We need them.

WorldCon 2016: Terraforming Terra

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

Terraforming

Panellists: John DeLaughter, Elizabeth Moon, Laurel Anne Hill (moderator), Gregory Benford, Patricia MacEwen

Joined in progress …

LAH: Haw can we reduce carbon dioxide, or eliminate excess carbon dioxide?

JD: Increase conservation.

LAH: It’s difficult to motivate large numbers of people to conserve, though.

PM: Hit people in the wallet.

EM: Stop killing plants to put in asphalt. Plants eliminate carbon dioxide.

JD: Green roofs.

EM: Green roofs are a good idea, but existing structures can’t support the extra weight or handle the water. Support the creation of parks, green space, city gardens as part of urban planning.

GB: The US is the only country in which tree populations have risen. It’s also the only industrialized country that’s reduced carbon dioxide emissions.

JD: Going for a clean energy solution means more nuclear power.

LAH: What about ocean iron fertilization?

JD: Life growth is based on the amount of the rarest nutrient in the ocean. That’s iron. So far, things haven’t worked out as well as they’ve hoped.

PM: California has lost an entire youth class of sea lions for three years running. It’s happening all over. Stop over-fishing. Lower polution.

LAH: There’s a great book, Stung, about the unprecedented increase in the numbers of jellyfish. They could be a vehicle for carbon capture and storage.

GB: Thirteen years ago there was a study done on farming waste and disposing of it underwater. There’s a place, 3.2 kilometres down just off Monterey Bay. CO2 is trapped in particles. Crabs eat them and it gets bound in their shells.

JD: In Louisiana, they burn their excess silage. They have ash fall. They call it “Cajun snow.”

GB: There is no will to do the necessary research.

JD: It’s going to take a long time for global warming to become serious enough for people to care.

LAH: Are efforts to reflect sunlight back into space effective?

GB: DARPA has a project. They want to pump sulphuric oxide into the atmosphere over the arctic. It will screen out enough of the sun to slow the melting of the polar ice cap. There is no will to proceed.

PM: There are 50 to 100 mile wide gaps in the ice in the arctic. We’re heading for a crisis.

JD: NASA is involving student observers in their S Cool project.

GB: They could also look into reflective paving materials and roofing mats.

PM: 95% of our living reefs are disintegrating.

And that was time.

Next weekend, I’ll be sharing the notes from my final WorldCon 2016 panel: The state of feminist fantasy.

Until then, be well, be kind, and stay strong, my friends 🙂

WorldCon 2016: Two suns in the sky

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

TwoSuns

Panellists: Eva Elasigue, Courtney Schafer, [Mel’s note: Joe Haldeman was unable to attend.]

Joined in progress …

CS: Kepler discovers exoplanets by observing the subtle signs of a planet passing in front of its star. It’s focused on a small area and it’s only covered 3% of that space in detail so far. The number of exoplanets discovered is large, but only a fraction of circum-binary systems have planets that might be habitable. The planets discovered in those systems are massive, though. It’s exciting that so many planets have been discovered.

EE: One of Larry Niven’s conjectures is that a planet in a binary system would have an off-center core.

CS: It’s possible that a planet in a binary system could have a figure eight orbit. It could also be more easily ejected from the system. Since circum-binary systems are fairly common, there might be a large number of rogue planets out there. To discover the composition of a planet, you need to use spectroscopy.

Q: Is there publicly accessible software for fact-checking the plausibility of an invented system?

A: There are solar system simulators.

CS: You can also check with your local amateur astronomy club.

Q: Is Alpha Centauri A, Rigil Kentaurus, a binary star?

CS: That’s the current understanding. One thing to keep in mind is the force that would be exerted on planets in these systems. If we look at the moons of Jupiter, they need to have their own magnetospheres to maintain an atmosphere. Otherwise, Jupiter strips it away.

EE: You should check out Galaxy Zoo. It’s a citizen science initiative.

[At this point, the ideas starting coming fast and furious. To be honest, I’m not sure who said what.]

The most favorable binary systems for planets are those in which both stars are around 80% of the sun’s size. They’re also fairly close to each other. The minimum stable radius for a planet in a binary system is 2-4 times larger than [… sorry didn’t catch this. I think it’s Jupiter. Wikipedia indicates this would be correct. If the planet is a gas giant, it may not support life, but its moons might. Smaller stars would accommodate smaller planets, but the planets may not be habitable, depending on their orbits and the relative light and heat they receive from their suns.]

They probably didn’t form in their current orbit. There’s an instability in binary systems which could result in the planet spiralling into one of the stars, or being flung out of the system. Planets in binary systems would move around unless they could find a stable orbit.

There are also mismatched binary systems. A blue giant with a red dwarf, for example, or a sun-type star with a black hole.

And that was time.

For more information: If you Google the term circum-binary systems, you will find a lot. Navigate to dependable sources, like NASA, or Space.com (unlike yours truly). Or head for fun but dependable sites like Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy column, currently hosted by Blastr.

Next week: we’re terraforming terra 🙂

Until next I blog, be well, be kind, and stay strong.

WorldCon 2016: Political worldbuilding in science fiction

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

PoliticalWB

Panellists: Bennett Coles, Christopher Kastensmidt (moderator), Ken Liu, Ada Palmer, Mari Kotani

Joined in progress …

KL: I’d recommend Malka Older’s Infomocracy.

AP: Historically, monarchy is attempted repeatedly. Even after the French Revolution there have been two monarchies. There have also been failed attempts at democracy. There was a Polish city that became a haven for heretics. All of this successive change creates layers of symbology.

KL: Narratives of the past inform the future. The ideal of the Roman Republic is the basis of modern democracy but the reality of ancient Rome was nothing like the ideal.

MK: Godzilla is a political movie at heart. It grew out of the horror of Hiroshima. Now we have Fukushima.

CK: What about the process of political worldbuilding? What makes it effective?

BC: The vast majority of any worldbuilding will never appear on the page but you have to work it all out. Wars are started for reasons. Those reasons could be economic, religious, political, or ideological. Battlestar Galactica is such a political story. Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers from this question: what if our heroes are fighting on the wrong side?

KL: You have to explore and categorize the problems of your milieu. How does political technology, like lobby groups, solve some of those problems? What other problems do they bring to bear? Look to history. Coups d’états are not used in the west (why not?), but other countries elsewhere in the world have them all the time.

AP: Work out more political detail then you need. Compare the world two centuries ago to the world that exists now. The structure of a family has changed over time. The family used to be not just the extended family, but also the servants. Then the nuclear family became the dominant domestic arrangement. Extend that into the future. Sometimes not mentioning something is telling. If there is news from every country but America—what happened?

BC: You have to be consistent. You have to know your world well enough to accommodate creative change. Starship Troopers has fascist trappings.

MK: Shin Godzilla. Shin means this Godzilla is true or new. It’s a katagana character, not a hiragana character. Disaster in diaspora stimulates nationalism.

KL: In “Folding Beijing,” the city itself is a metaphor. There are three dimensions, one for each class. The largest class is the useless class. By journeying through the three dimensions, the protagonist gains a deeper understanding of the way things are. He finds hope without change.

AP: The Gundam series was a way to discuss WWII. Gundam Seed was the same for 9/11.

And that was time.

Next weekend, it’ll be April and time for another next chapter update.

Until next I blog, y’all be well, be kind, and stay strong.

WorldCon 2016: Alienbuilding

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

Alienbuilding

Panellists: Caroline M. Yoachim (moderator), G. David Nordley, Ctein, Larry Niven, Sheila Finch

Joined in progress …

GDN: To build aliens, you have to start with the system, planets, and so on down.

C: When it comes to the aliens themselves, a top-down approach means psychology first.

LN: I’ve created aliens with handles on the skull. Humans have bilateral symmetry on the outside. Inside, not so much. An alien can have two dominant arms for fine manipulation, or one extra-muscular arm for heavy lifting. Why not a dwarf elephant with two trunks and fingers on the trunk-tips?

SF: It happens all at once for me. I have an image of the alien. I take a step back and consider what environment might have produced it. Then, I develop the psychology and language. The metaphors used are linked to physiology.

C: I’m happy to steal if it works. I have a species I based on puppets.

CMY: Do you have to balance strangeness with relatability?

GDN: I’m not bothered by aliens that have commonalities with humans. Our basic drives are all the same.

C: There are special, species-related characteristics. Will aliens have religion? Will they be acquisitive? Are they into body augmentation?

SF: Corvids are acquisitive.

LN: I ask myself, what’s the weirdest thing about an alien? Then I extrapolate back.

SF: Sentience and self-awareness have been proven to exist in animals.

C: One notable characteristic of humans is that we build. If there’s an advanced species out there that doesn’t build, what do they do?

LN: What’s the process of adapting humans to their environments?

CMY: What pitfalls do you see? What are your pet peeves?

GDN: Characters that don’t have survival value.

LN: There was a story based on a hospital station—everyone got sick. [Mel’s note: not every disease will attack every species by the same vector. Zoonosis is not common on Earth. And then, there’s immunity.]

SF: Plant aliens that aren’t done well. Sequoias, for example, would have a chemical intelligence.

C: When the physical worldbuilding isn’t related to the story. If it’s all about the display of worldbuilding prowess, it’s essentially scenery.

CMY: When all the aliens are the same, are they truly “alien” aliens?

GDN: Silicone and oxygen might be able to produce something similar to DNA and RNA. Truly alien aliens are difficult to figure out physiologically and biologically.

SF: With truly alien aliens, their physiology becomes the story. It’s all about explaining how they function.

And that was time.

I’ll have one more WorldCon 2016 session to share with you this month, and it’s more worldbuilding (are you sensing a theme?). Next weekend: Political worldbuilding in science fiction.

Be well, be kind, and stay strong until next I blog.

WorldCon 2016: The art of worldbuilding

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

Panellists: Peter Tieryas, Carrie Patel, Luke Peterson (moderator), Amanda Downum, Greg Bear

Worldbuilding

Joined in progress …

GB: Edgar Rice Burroughs was the first worldbuilder. He delved into culture and economics. Read Olaf Stapledon’s Star Maker.

LP: Where do you start?

AD: Use the character as the starting point. Develop the city, country, and world around them. Move outward to weather and so forth.

CP: Ask, what does the society value most and what does it fear the most?

PT: If you see a movie with a good story but bad effects, it’s ok. A movie with good effects but a bad story is just bad.

GB: I work from the top down. Sometimes a complete vision of the world will take years to form.

LP: How much do you need to know?

GB: I’m an English major.

CP: You don’t need to tell your readers everything. What’s important to the story you’re telling?

AD: Have a friend ask random questions and build your world or research based on that.

PT: sometimes the best research is done by people who have no expertise.

AD: Find someone who doesn’t read your genre. That’s the acid test.

LP: How do you set your limits? When do you stop?

AD: It’s hard to tell. When you’re drafting, it’s okay to leave some things undefined for later. Get the bones of the story down first.

CP: You might have to dive back in, mid-draft, if you write yourself into a situation only worldbuilding can get you out of.

PT: Hitler exempted artists, and later scientists, from war. It was dark material I had to research for my book. I didn’t want to continue, but I needed to get a grip on the story.

CP: Does the research or detail of the world tell the reader something about the character or the plot? If not, it shouldn’t be in there.

And that was time.

Next week, we move from worldbuilding to alienbuilding 🙂

Be well until then, my writerly friends, and work to make your dreams come true.

WorldCon 2016: The dark side of fairy tales

Disclaimer: I am not perfect and neither are my notes. If you notice anything that requires clarification or correction, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things post-hasty.

darkside

Panellists: Ellen Datlow, Brooke Johnson, Erin Wilcox (moderator), Sandee Rodriguez, Dana Cameron

Joined in progress …

DC: Fairy tales are the intersection between the known and the unknown in a way that other stories aren’t.

BJ: Tone is the defining quality. It’s a sense of magic realism or normalized magic. I’m currently reading the Turnip Princess. It’s meant to be read. Oral storytelling. Fairy tales are mythic, grand and meaningful, larger-than-life, and yet the things that happen are everyday occurrences to the characters of the story.

SR: Folk tales have the element of reality. Fairy tales have no sense of history.

DC: Domesticity is addressed in fairy tales.

EW: There’s a marked different between fairy tales intended for children and those intended for adults.

ED: Modern retellings add sex. The originals were dark enough, though. Look at Hansel and Gretel—they were going to be eaten but ended up stuffing the witch in the oven.

BJ: Fairy tales were cautionary.

EW: In his book, The Uses of Enchantment, Bruno Bettelheim says that the reader divines whatever they want from the fairy tale. What is it that scares you most? Is it that your parents didn’t want you?

DC: Fairy tales were didactic, warnings. What happens when you go out into the world alone? There are only a handful of clever, successful kids who survive. There’s a tale about the young servant of a king, He discovers how the king became so wise—he ate a white serpent. The kid tried it and goes out into the world. He’s kind and curious and eventually becomes a wise king himself. I took the basic tale and moved it into space.

SR: Reading dark fairy tales to young kids beneficial. The story is internalized. They imagine what they would do in that situation. How would they escape? It develops creativity and problem solving skills.

EW: Do fairy tales need to be sanitized? Should they be?

BJ: Disney sanitized everything. Snow White is about persecution and stalking.

ED: Tanith Lee sexualized fairy tales. You can retell fairy tales over in different ways. Hans Christian Andersen had a thing about sacrifice and death. Look at his versions of The Little Mermaid and The Little Match Girl.

EW: Fairy tales from all over the world overlap.

DC: I read Japanese fairy tales when I was eight. There was a boy who drew cats. His drawings came to life at night to save him from a rat demon.

EW: In India they don’t really have fairies, but the national epics are being adapted.

BJ: Tiger’s Curse has Indian influences. It didn’t appeal to Disney. I’m drawn to the dark tales. I write tragic stories.

ED: Read Bullfinch’s Mythology, The Illiad, The Odyssey. Myth isn’t magical enough.

DC: Fairy tales often have bittersweet endings because you can’t go back.

And that was time.

Next week, it’s time for my next chapter update 🙂

Be well and stay strong until then, my friends.