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“Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science.” - Girl Genius, by Kaja & Phil Foglio

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke

Perspective, it's all about perspective ...

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Link Gumbo - Worldbuilding

I'm up for critique next month in SPAMmers.  A science fiction short story that got out of hand and meandered on toward novelette during NaNoWriMo last November is calling to me today.  It needs tightening and a focus.  A title would be good ...

It also needs some worldbuilding.  I checked my handy file of linky things on the subject.  Here are a few that I particularly like: Scott Lynch via Elizabeth Bear:  "Some parts of it you can measure almost scientifically.  Some parts are mad whack inscrutable alchemy."  Okapi butts and worldbuilding as only Ursula Vernon could present it.  "... there's no okapi there at all, it's basically a big striped butt on a stick that the writer is waving through the undergrowth."  Patricia Wrede's wonderful list of thought-provoking ideas.  Unpack at your leisure. 

So this weekend I may intersperse preparing my taxes (I've industrially pushed the file around my desk for a month; push must move on to shove) with poking at this SF story. 

A lot of coffee will be consumed.  Probably with chocolate.

Friday, March 22, 2013


I can't settle on a blog topic, so here's a mix of stuff as it occurs to me.

Princess Cruises sends me emails with enticing sales.  I dithered for weeks in late January/ early February about taking a 14 day trans-Atlantic cruise before finally deciding I'd buy a new computer and attend at least one writing conference instead.

About writing conferences:  I'm going to WisCon, a science fiction writing convention.  It's in Madison, Wisconsin.  Shame they didn't name it MadCon ...

Another email from Princess Cruises.  This time I only dithered for a few days (up until today, actually) about a 12 day cruise around the British Isles that includes England, Ireland and Scotland, even the Orkneys!  Still need to buy that new computer, and this cruise, though shorter than the trans-Atlantic one, was half again more expensive.  I guess because there are more ports.  Really don't have that kind of money, but it sure is fun to dream.

I can't explain why this makes me so excited, but my blog got two hits from KERIBATI, someone searching on red imported fire ants.  Hi, Keribati person!  I sure hope Solenopsis invicta hasn't invaded your islands.

The Inkwell, a sort-of novel I wrote with a friend, is completely posted now - see tab at top of my blog here.  There are 40 sections of roughly 2000 words each.  We learned collaborating on a story can be so much fun it's amazing it's not illegal.  Have a look if you're so inclined.

I really enjoyed the cruise to Alaska last year and hope one shows up in these sale emails that actually fits my budget.  The sea, it is calling me ...

Three interchangeable responses to "You're a bitch!"
1.  You say that like it's a bad thing.
2.  Everyone has to have a hobby.
3.  And?

On Monday I finished reading a book (The World Until Yesterday by Jared Diamond).  Since then I've purchased three books (The Fire Ants by Walter Tschinkel; Queen Victoria's Book of Spells, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling; and Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear).  My TBR pile will never disappear.

Perhaps I need a large writing project to keep my mind focused.  (Rising Tide version 3 is out visiting Beta readers.)  Without one ...  ooooh shiny!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Fire Ant Research Team

I was trying to come up with an idea for a blog post, and what popped up was "Write about FART."  Well, that's a part of my life I haven't thought about in many years!  I hunted through three boxes of stuff to find this piece of letterhead; folded it so you could see the footer, too.  ;-)

For one quarter during my senior year in college, while I worked on my undergraduate research project, I was part of Dr. Walter Tschinkel's  Fire Ant Research Team.  From information at that link, there are now ten areas of research done in Dr. T's lab.  What I did fell under what is currently area Six on that list: allometry.  "Division of labor among the workers of ant colonies is based on worker age, but in a minority of species it is also based on worker body size (which varies greatly), a phenomenon referred to as polymorphism."  (Under Easily Amused:  when I highlighted that quote from the FSU link, the text turned gold and the highlight color was garnet = school colors.  Very nice touch!)

I investigated a small aspect of a red fire ant colony's response to threat.  I'd mentally outline an area on the side of a mound, stomp on the ground at the base of the mound, then collect every ant that crossed my 'area.'  Over the ten week quarter, I made many stops to collect ants.  Almost every time I was near a road at least one passerby would warn me that's a fire ant mound and I should stay away!  Folks in the south are nice like that.  I gave up on sampling near busy streets because too many people interrupted me.

You may be wondering how I collected the ants.  With a gadget made in the lab!  Nonscientists are probably unaware of how often we use something cobbled together at the bench from stuff in the drawers at the time.  I had a glass test tube, maybe an inch across and about six inches long, closed with a black rubber stopper.  The stopper had two holes in it.  Each hole had a short glass rod tube stuck through it.  One glass rod tube had a longish piece (about a foot) of rubber tubing attached.  The other had (1) a very small mesh screen tightly covering the end inside the test tube and (2) a shorter piece of rubber tubing.  The operator (me) sucked on the shorter piece of tubing and "vacuumed" up ants with the longer piece.  (That may have had a bit of glass rod tube on the working end, I just don't remember.)  Ants collected in the test tube.  The mesh screen prevented me from sucking up ants.  I think I had a timer for how long I collected for each session.

So, now I had a test tube with ants.  Angry ants, I might add.  This was where I could calmly watch what fire ants do when they sting you.  Yes, sting.  They hang on tight with their big jaws, arch up their bodies, bring their rump (with the stinger) around underneath and then jab.  There were times I watched them sting me, too.

This picture is NOT an ant on me, but from HERE, a good article from the University of California Riverside on red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta).

Okay, back to that tube of ants.  I only had one sampling gadget, so the ants couldn't stay in there.  The solution was plastic boxes with their edges dipped in talc powder.  The powder kept the ants from climbing out of the box while I was emptying the tube and before I got the lid on.

Back in the lab, I sorted them by size class (large stack of sieves with grid sizes from larger to smaller).  I remember measuring ant heads under a dissecting microscope as part of this.  At the end, my results hinted at a skew toward larger ants responding to the threat.  I think one of Dr. T's graduate students at the time used my work as a starting point for her thesis.

I can't end this without putting in a plug for Dr. Tschinkel.  HERE's an article from Discover Magazine on his work visualizing the shape of ant nests underground.  AND he wrote a book!

I'm going to order it today.  It may sit in my TBR pile for a while, or I may nibble at it until I finish it.  No telling. 

Edit:  Dr. T's book was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2007!  Wow!!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Isabel and the Grenade

Here's another piece of short fiction, this one written for the Library writing group homework.  We were instructed to write an opening sentence, then to pass it to the person next to us!  We were also to include some reference(s) to spring (the season).  Total length of no more than 500 words.

The opening line was written by Jeff.  The rest is my fault.

Isabel and the Grenade

Isabel pulled the pin on the hand grenade and slipped it into the library's book drop.  She ran like hell down the curve of the driveway.  Please work, please work.  Someone found a cache of old weapons and brought them to Michael, who'd scratched his head through the short grey bristle he called hair and declared them salvageable. 

She dove in front of the large brick sign that announced to the dictator-crushed world this was the Greater Metro Library, landed sprawling across bright pink tulips as the serenity of the spring morning was shattered.  Fragments from what was now a hole Josh could drive his Hummer through pattered down around her.  A smokey dust cloud followed.  Isabel lurched to her feet, staggered to the sidewalk, turned to gape at the damage and tried to look surprised, not elated.  It worked!  

As she steadied her footing and tossed long blond curls from her face, the black Hummer barreled past and did indeed fit into the opening she'd made for it.  A pipe of some kind scraped along one side, but Josh, Gerson, Kiko, Michael and Shelby were in.  She heard glass shatter as Josh accelerated through the lobby doors on the way to the conference room where there was an oh-so-secret meeting with The Dictator Himself, the Ministers of War and Economy, and the heads of agencies everyone knew existed but didn't dare mention.

Isabel held her breath.  The rattle of the AK 47s sounded distant, like old videos, like toys.  The screams, as short as they were, tore into her chest.  She fell to her knees, head hanging, fingers grasping the moist soil.  Why did it hurt, hearing the monsters die?  Gasping, retching, struggling to breath, she felt large hands grab her shoulders.  She was hauled upright.  Forced around.  The security guard kept one hand painfully gripping her shoulder.  The other held a gun to her temple.

"At this range it'll kill you," he said conversationally.

She swallowed hard, feeling if her eyes opened any wider they'd fall out of her head.  The guard's grey eyes darted from her face to the library.  He shook her, as if that would help her ragged breathing.

The Hummer should be coming back out.  If ... There it was.  The growl of the powerful engine.

Isabel folded her knees, slumped straight down as if she'd fainted.  The guard swore.  A single gun shot and he no longer had a face.  Isabel screamed as she was covered with his blood.

"Bel!  Bel!"  Gerson was half out the side door, one arm extended.  She stumbled, leaped, and hit him hard, both of them tumbling into the Hummer.  Shelby's long arm hauled the door closed as Josh gunned the engine. 

She looked around at the grinning faces.

The opening salvo of the Spring Revolt was theirs.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Business of Writing

Up front let me share I am as yet unpublished, but have spent time learning about the business end of being a writer.  If ever a publisher offers me a contract, I want some idea as to whether what is offered is standard or aberrant.  Having an agent would help with that, but, again, knowing what's standard is necessary to choosing a good agent!

On the off chance you haven't heard about this, there are several divisions of Random House focusing on ebooks - yes, that big name publisher - that have predatory terms in their contracts.  What John Scalzi calls "... A  HORRIBLE AWFUL TERRIBLE APPALLING DISGUSTING CONTRACT WHICH IS BAD AND NO WRITER SHOULD SIGN IT EVER."  (all caps is how he wrote it)  He has done a number of posts about it: Hydra imprint and Alibi imprint and even moar.  These contracts include the writer giving the publisher full world-wide rights to the work for the life of the copyright!

This issue is getting Random House a lot of publicity, but not the good kind.  A sampling includes Book View Cafe (a writers co-op), The Huffington Post, and Forbes.  Some folks have remarked these contracts are similar to what the music industry started offering musicians years ago.  To help prevent the same nastiness happening to writers, we need to spread the word and refuse to sign contracts like that!

Don't be so eager to publish that you give away your rights and future earnings.  You don't pay someone else for the work you did.  They pay you.  Remember money flows TO the writer.

Edit:  The good advice, it keeps coming.  Here's Chuck Wendig's 25 Things to watch out for.  (For those not familiar with Mr. Wendig, he uses "naughty language.") 

Daughter of Edit (3/12/13):  Hey, all the noise had an effect!  Looky here -->

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Spread the word to end the word

My friend Chris has posted a wonderful video on her blog.  About respect.  About caring.  About choosing your words wisely.  Made by high school students.

Go watch.

Spread the word.

Monday, March 4, 2013

My Monday Morning Observations

I had an appointment this morning to have blood drawn.  I waited almost twenty minutes after checking in.  It was good people watching time.

An older lady admired my purse.  She said she just couldn't find something that small.  I told her where I bought mine.  We had a brief discussion about the crazy large purses that are the current style, how you end up putting too much in them and then they're so heavy the strap hurts your shoulder.

The receptionist announced they would be testing the fire alarm shortly.  I hoped the nurse wasn't poking me with a needle when the damn thing went off.  It was my lucky day.  A man came from somewhere in the building, walkie-talkie at his mouth.  He told us again that the alarm would be tested, then pulled the lever and walked back to wherever he'd been.  The alarm started out at a reasonable level, not like the one at work that has me squealing and out of my chair in seconds, hands over ears.  This one slowly got louder.  It reached a point where I had to put my fingers in my ears or go outside.  Then it stopped.

A man came in, tall, strong-looking, wearing tan worker overalls, in his late forties (I overheard his year of birth).  He wanted a note from the doctor so he could stay home from work for two or three days because he was stiff from shoveling snow.  He said he'd called in earlier this morning.  The receptionist found no appointment for him.  He said he didn't need to see the doctor, he just wanted the note.  She informed him he had to see the doctor.  He seemed surprised by that.  She was able to squeeze him in with a just a thirty minute wait.  He reluctantly agreed.  He went to the far side of the waiting room.  I watched him.  Our last shovelable snow fell a week ago.  He didn't move like he was stiff or in pain at all.  Perhaps I'm overly skeptical, but I suspect the forecast of six to twelve inches of snow tomorrow has something to do with his wanting that note.

The nurse came and called my name.  Everything went fine.  I left the office wondering if the doctor gave the man his note.  I went to Egg Harbor for a nice breakfast after my fast.  I had a Tuscan omelette (artichoke, zucchini, spinach and tomato with oregano and melted mozzarella cheese on top).

I'm home, with the laundry going and a pot of coffee brewing.  Next is read a book.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Inkwell

Starting in December of 2009, my friend Cindy and I co-wrote a novel.  We didn't plan to.  We were having fun creating a story with some very cooperative characters and it sort of got out of hand.  Initially we thought we'd do it for about a month.  It ended up keeping us busy for more like four months.

We were posting on line as we wrote, in a thread in the National Novel Writing Month forums called The Smoking Pen.  That thread is set up for cooperative writing, and in the beginning other people were contributing as well.  When the story grabbed us and wouldn't let go, Cindy (who is known as Dixiegirl in NaNoLand), started a separate thread called The Inkwell.

In 2012, Cindy set up a writing group consisting of folks who met doing NaNoWriMo (The Asylum:  you don't have to be crazy, just committed).  On several occasions, The Inkwell has come up in conversations as an example of this or that.  Many in the group hadn't read it.  I'd say I should post that some time.

Well, that time has come.

I'm posting it.

That's why there's a new tab at the top here on my blog.  The Inkwell tab will always take you to the initial background post, whether there's a new entry or not.  On the right, under Archive, is the list of entries.  They're numbered sequentially and each is roughly 2000 words long.  Thanks to the magic of cookies, after you've read one the color should change and that can help you keep track of what you've seen.

I think the total length is about 70,000 words, so this will take a while.  I posted a lot in the last few days, but I'll slow down now, to probably just one entry per day.

I hope you enjoy our story.  We certainly had a lot of fun writing it.