What Do Shrimp and a Group Blog Have in Common?

002They’re both things that are new for me.

Shortly before Christmas, my son got to go on a Toys-R-Us shopping spree with my father-in-law. One of the toys Alex picked out was a kit for growing triops, or prehistoric shrimp. We tried it once before, but it didn’t work very well. This time, we used a larger tank and kept a light on above it 24/7. Two shrimp hatched a couple of days later. One was thin, so I called him Needle. He unfortunately didn’t make it (he never changed, so I don’t know if he got enough to eat), but the other shrimp, which my son named after himself, is thriving. That’s a picture I took of him last night.

The other thing that’s new is a group blog I started with some other indie science fiction/fantasy writers I know. We call ourselves Indie Writers Monthly, and you can find us on our blog, on Twitter, and Facebook. Come check us out! (And don’t worry; I’ll still have time for this blog, even if I have to borrow a Time-Turner from Hermione to write all my posts!)

As for writing projects this year, I only have about two more months left of my haiku-a-day project. Each day, I write a haiku based on something that happened that day. My last day will be March 17, and afterwards I plan to publish my haiku collection. Some more conventional projects include Season’s Beginning, the first book in my fantasy Season Avatars series, and the next story in the SF Catalyst Chronicles series.

What’s new with you for 2014?

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Julia Kee’s Thanksgiving

Author’s Note: I decided to take the topic in a new direction by showing something one of my characters is thankful for. I can’t show what Thanksgiving is like for Paul Harrison in Twinned Universes for fear of spoilers. Hopefully you’ll find this scene with Julia Kee, a minor character in the book, interesting. The next story in the Catalyst Chronicles will feature her. This scene was written especially for this blog.

Although Julia wanted to hurry her father into the Sagan’s mess hall, he stopped in the entryway to gawk at the mural. Yesterday it had shown a stretch of colorful fall foliage, but today it featured pilgrims gathered around a table groaning with roast turkeys and vegetables. There were a couple of Native Americans–not her tribe, since the Diné were far away from Plymouth–pictured off to the side, carrying in their bounty . Julia wondered how many of them would be invited to sit at the table. Certainly the women would be expected to serve the men. What a contrast to the crew of the spaceship; men and women mingled in the food preparation area, and all races and ethnic groups sat at the tables.

“How did they change the picture so quickly?” her father whispered to her in Diné.

“It’s called a holo.” Julia had to switch to English for the last word. “It’s not painted but made with light. Almost like a sand painting.”

“Strange.”

“Let’s get our meal.” She ushered him into line and grabbed trays for both of them. “I hear today they have fresh food and no rations!”

He cocked an eyebrow. “For that, I could have stayed on our own Earth.”

Her throat tightened. Dad hadn’t wanted to come with her at first, on this possibly one-way journey to Mom’s universe. Maybe it was selfish to want him with her, but Julia trusted him more than she did Mom. And she needed her parents to wake her up when she used her quantum quirk.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Julia and Mr. Kee!” Cass grinned as she collected double portions of turkey with gravy, roasted squash, mashed potatoes, and some other dishes that smelled like nothing Julia had ever eaten. She must be bringing everything back to her family suite. Too bad. Julia would have liked a chance to talk to Paul again. They had the quantum quirk in common, and she wouldn’t have minded studying his sharp jaw and intense blue eyes for a few hours….

“Have you heard the news?” Cass asked.

“About Paul?” Julia said before she could stop herself.

Cass rolled her eyes. “No news there: he’s still a pain. No, about Professor Sanchez.” She drew closer to Julia, bumping her and making her slosh gravy over her squash. “The officers found out about his other program, the one you were in,” she whispered. “They want to shut it down.”

Julia’s heart beat faster. “Do they know about me?”

“They know you were enrolled in SPUGS, like us, and that’s why you’re on the Sagan. But they don’t know you have the quantum quirk. Scott erased that from the records.”

Julia sighed with relief. Now maybe no one else would try to exploit her for her talent.

Cass grimaced as she shifted her two trays toward the display of pie slices. “Could you help me bring these back to the suite? They’re too heavy for me to manage both.”

“Sure.” Maybe if she was lucky she could get a glimpse of Paul. “Just let me and Dad find a table first.”

Freedom, a new world to explore, new friends…Julia had a lot to be thankful for this year. Now if only she got to talk to Paul and have dinner with both of her parents talking to each other, her Thanksgiving Day would be just as happy as anyone else’s.

Spend a Restful Summer in Victorian Times:

I take the topic “Summer Reads” to mean that I get to recommend a book—and my mind promptly boggles over how to pick one book from the many I love. But for a number of reasons I’m going to offer you Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog.
I generally describe Connie Willis as the Jane Austen of science fiction. Her stories all have some SF element, but they’re realistic stories about real people leading real lives—and as far as I’m concerned, she’s one of the funniest authors ever. (Note: some of her books are tragedies, where she’s still funny, but notorious for killing lots and lots of important characters.) But her comedies are pure delight, and To Say Nothing of the Dog is my favorite.
In Willis’ time-travel system the space-time continuum protects itself from paradox (people changing history, etc.) by having her time travel mechanism simply refuse to work if someone tries to go back and do something that will have any historical impact. You can’t go back to pivotal events, you can’t take anything back that doesn’t belong in that period—and you can’t bring treasures forward to make yourself a fortune, either. This means that time travel has stopped being of interest to everyone except historians, who have a safe and sensible system for using it to study the past without disrupting anything.
Until a crazy billionaire, Lady Shrapnel, offers Oxford a whole bunch of money to help her build an replica of Coventry Cathedral, exactly as it was before it was bombed in WWII. The universities of the future are no more immune to big donations than the universities of today, and she’s turned the whole historical department on its head doing her research.
Historian Ned Henry has been sent back to discover what happened to a supremely ugly piece of Victorian iron-mongery, the bishop’s birdstump, that may or may not have been in the cathedral during the raid. But Ned’s been sent back so often that he’s suffering from a horrible case of time-lag. The symptoms of time lag are: maudlin sentimentality, difficulty in distinguishing sounds, fatigue, a tendency to be distracted by irrelevancies, slowness in answering…well you get it. The only cure is rest, and no time travel.
But before he can find a place to hide from Lady Shrapnel Ned gets called to the boss’s office, where he overhears parts of a conversation that indicates that some historian has brought something from the past into to the future—and due to difficulty in distinguishing sounds (a rat, a fan, a cab) Ned doesn’t even know what this thing is. But whatever it is, it being brought forward could endanger the whole space time continuum, and the boss tells Ned he has to go back in time to return it. The Victorian era is supposed to be restful—just what he needs. Ned’s being costumed, briefed on his mission, and prepped on the Victorian era through an earbug, all at the same time. And these are the instructions he hears, for his mission to save the space time continuum:

“There’s nobody else to send,” Mr. Dunworthy said. “Ned, listen carefully. Here’s what I want you to do. You’ll come through on June 7th, 1888, at 10 A.M. The river is to the left of the dessert fork, which is used for gateaux and puddings. For such desserts as Munching’s End, the dessert knife is used with the…”
Knife. Nice. Naiads. That was what they were called. Hylas and the Naiads. He went to fill his water jug, and they pulled him into the water with them, down and down, their hair and their wet sleeves twining about him.
“As soon as it’s returned, you can do whatever you like. The rest of the two weeks is yours. You can spend it boating on the river or to the right of the dessert plate, with the blade pointing inward.” He clapped me on the shoulder. “Have you got that?”
“What?” I said, but Mr. Dunworthy wasn’t listening…

If you like gloriously funny, intelligent, comedy-adventure-romance, I’d highly recommend that you spend part of your summer in the Victorian era saving the space time continuum.

Hilari Bell writes SF and fantasy for kids and teens—and the best of her books for summer are the Knight & Rogue series.

Last_knight_coverRogues_Home_coverPlayers_Ruse_cover

Science Fiction/Fantasy for the Summer

Here are a few recommended summer reads in the science fiction and fantasy genres. I chose the first three for the weather theme:

To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis-Time travelers must search in Victorian and WWII England for a missing bishop’s bird stump. (Don’t know what that is? You have to read the book to find out. Trust me, it’s a priceless description.) A fun read that does feature a few Victorian summer activities. I love this book so much I own it in both paper and eBook formats.

The Snow Queen/The Summer Queen, by Joan Vinge–The politics of a planet shift with the seasons, or at least they’re supposed to. But the Snow Queen has plans to continue her reign…Unfortunately, it looks as though The Snow Queen is out of print. It’s still a good read if you can find it.

Brood of Bones/Fox’s Bride/Gravity’s Revenge by A.E. Marling–For another series with hot and cold settings, visit the Lands of Loam. The second book is set in an analogue of ancient Egypt, and the third takes place during a blizzard at a magic school.

Forged in Blood II–This book, the finale of Lindsay Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge series, is slated to come out in August. While the series doesn’t have a weather motif like the other books, it’s a fun mix of steampunk, action, and humor. Plus, Lindsay ended Forged in Blood I on a cliffhanger that’ll send me straight to the next book as soon as it’s available.

Lyon’s Legacy/Twinned Universes–Admittedly my books aren’t set during the summer, but I can’t resist mentioning them since they’re part of the Smashwords summer sale. You can get both of them for 50% off with the coupon SSW50 through July 31.

Do you have a science fiction or fantasy book that you think is a good summer read? Recommend it in the comments!

The transition from behind to in front…

The 1st of the month was my first book signing. I signed copies of PODs at Book Expo America. And if you ask anyone who was there, I was scared to death. I’m not a huge fan of large crowds. I’m the type of person who loves to chat and joke with people in small 419112_553233378052400_1138348766_ngroups, but I’d rather have a root canal than speak in public. To this day I’m convinced my public speaking professor in college gave me a passing grade because she felt sorry for me. I mean, how could she not? I turned into a blotchy, hived covered, squeaky voiced, mess every time I had to give a speech. I get hives just remembering it.

But this month I found myself transitioning from the writer hiding behind her computer to an author in front of readers and bloggers. And while my hands shook and my voice wavered (and I’m positive I had a hive or two), I realized that the readers and bloggers weren’t going to bite. They were as excited to see me as I was to see them. Unbelievable!

By the time my signing was over I found myself having something I never thought I thought possible while in the public spotlight…fun. I loved meeting the readers. Their excitement was almost intoxicating. And it was wonderful to meet bloggers in person whom I’d been emailing for months.

I won’t say my book signing cured me of my fear of public speaking. In fact, I’m positive it hasn’t. But it has helped me transition into a person who is more willing to push her boundaries and step outside her comfort zone and step into the public speaking arena…hives and all.

Oh, and one more transition for the month…I went from pre-published to debut young adult published author. PODs released the 4th!

Michelle 🙂

Do I write about zombies…or am I one?

And there it goes down the road. A cheery yellow blob disappearing into the horizon, and with it, my carefully planned, but rarely kept, writing schedule. *Sigh*Evan

It’s May and the end of the school year is here. And that means I can kiss my writing time buh-bye.  At least writing during the day. I’ll find time to write/edit. Usually between the hours of ten p.m. and three a.m. with a few hours of sleep before the twins plop in the middle of my bed at approximately seven a.m. demanding breakfast between sticking their faces so close to mine my eyes cross trying to focus. After I drag myself out of bed and plod downstairs to pour Trix for one girl and Fruity Pebbles for the other (I know, very healthy. I give them fruit, too. Don’t judge me! ha-ha), hand the wrong bowl to each girl, exchange the bowls, pop open a Red Bull (because that’s my coffee), walk by the rec. room and tell my son to turn down the Xbox, because surely there are parental abuse laws somewhere that state those things can’t be played at the volume he plays them that early, I’ll drop on the couch and wonder why I stayed up so late the night before and it’ll hit me.  Oh, yeah. I love writing.

So bring on the obstacles of summer vacation, because I actually love having my kids home. Larry and I tried to get pregnant for ten years before Evan was born and another four years before Aleigha and Alana were born. So, summer vacation isn’t an inconvenience, DSC_4675just a minor bump in my writing schedule that I need to work around. The endless trips to the pool, the park, the play dates, summer camps, day camps, sporting events, water parks, the beach, the zoo, Sea World, and the general taxi service I drive for my kids and my mother (who doesn’t drive), I’ll take it all and smile, enjoying every second of it, even if I’m a little (or a lot) bleary eyed and feeling like a member of the walking dead in one of my novels.

And later, when my family is dreaming in their beds, it’ll be my turn to dream…just me and my laptop.

Michelle 🙂
Author, PODs available June 4th
Milayna available March 11, 2014
The Infected, a PODs novel available November 2014

(photo: Alana on the left and Aleigha on the right)

Do Your Characters Say, “Mayday! Mayday!”?

The entire topic for this month is, “Mayday, mayday! Obstacles, unseen dangers and challenges.” We’re supposed to discuss writing-specific obstacles and challenges; however, I’d like to approach this topic from a different angle and apply it to characters, as that’s what popped into my mind as soon as I saw “Mayday!” It’s a call for help, and that makes me think of characters asking for help.

Although protagonists in science fiction and fantasy may have high-tech equipment or special powers, often that’s not enough for them to overcome the challenges they face. What makes them look for assistance? My science fiction Catalyst Chronicles series illustrates some situations where characters may seek help from others. These situations apply to characters in other genres too, but for discussion purposes I’ll use the ones I’m most familiar with.

In Lyon’s Legacy, Book One of the series, my heroine, Jo, starts off as the last person who’d ask anyone for help. She feels her family has abandoned her, particularly those on her father’s side–that is, except for her uncle, who wants her to become a musician like their famous ancestor, Sean Lyon, and that’s the last thing she wants. Consequently, she projects a tough shell to protect herself from other people. However, the events of the story crack that shell. When she realizes she can’t accomplish her goal on her own, she reaches out to someone she’s neglected for a long time and asks for help. This is a sign of emotional growth for her, especially since her goal is about helping someone else.

Twinned Universes features another character, a teenager named Paul, as the hero. He’s the alpha male of his group of friends, but he has to face some powerful, ruthless antagonists. At stake isn’t just Paul’s future or one person’s life (Sean Lyon’s), but Sean’s effect on history. Paul doesn’t mind asking other people for help. He’s an actor, and he knows it takes more than one person to produce a play. However, he does underestimate how much help his friends can give him, and he doesn’t always pick the right person to ask for help.

I’m currently working on Book Three of the Catalyst Chronicles, called Catalyst in the Crucible. The costs and stakes have gone up, while the main character has undergone a reversal of fortune. He needs support more than ever before, but the one person who can help him the most has reason to dislike him. (I’m being vague to avoid spoilers.) This book is going to stretch me as a writer, but I hope it’ll be a good read when it’s done.

Asking for help isn’t just an admission that the character is facing a touch challenge; it can be a sign of emotional growth that makes the character (and the story) stronger. Plus, if a character goes it alone, then there are no interesting sidekicks or partners to add spice to the story.

Do you think characters should stand on their own or seek aid from others? Do you have examples of either situation? If so, please share them in the comments.