Sunday, October 9, 2016

Back in the saddle again?

Sorry, no ideas for sale today.

But I just thought I'd check in and say I'm working on the lesbian western again, despite weirdness with the sleep schedule and other factors.

Mind you, this is the easy kind of work - revision. Can I face the hard stuff, the querying and the hunting down of people to query? That remains to be seen.

But it's good to be with Len again. And I can't query till revision is done, so this is a start.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Idea Garage Sale: Looking Back

Yes, I'm still alive. And I have mysteriously received this brief list of historical novels published in 2116, concerning the anniversary of so very much. Of varied quality, what they have in common is 20/20 hindsight - either the protagonist, or the narrator, keeps throwing a backward-glowing light on events, finding significance and drawing conclusions that those of us living through them couldn't because we lack the context of what's coming. From that direction, it all looks inevitable. From this direction, nothing looks inevitable, or even probable, as we bungee-jump into the future.

Pokemon Bro - A middle school transboy must confront his own latent misogyny when girls face off against boys in the neighborhoodwide race to "catch 'em all"
Coup de Theater - The members of a theater troupe in Ankara get through the night of the coup in various ways, their stories and personalities intertwining with the play they're rehearsing to throw ironic light on near-future Turkish history.
Battle of the Thames - A black comedy centered on (and improving on) the watergoing shenanigans of campaigners for and against Britain's remaining in the European Union, soon to be a major holomotion picture with an ensemble cast of big names, all of them prettier than the people they'll be portraying.
Traffic Stop An unforgiving but ultimately hopeful story of police brutality, racial injustice, and indomitable courage. The protagonist is an idealistic African-American policeman.
Su Vota es Su Voce - Originally written in Spanglish, a romantic comedy about a political blogger and the campaign manager she hounds for information, set against the background of the American primaries. Contains several significant anachronisms.

This has been such a weird year; and we're only half done with it.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Idea Garage Sale: Mice in the Alien Museum?

You have, of course, had story dreams, brilliant plots and situations that melted away and/or turned to nonsense as you woke. If you cultivate a certain habit of mind, you will start working on turning them into usable stories before you even wake up, and may even stave off the disappointment of realizing that it wasn't, in fact, brilliant for several minutes after waking. The one I had the other day sprawled out in so many directions that the viewpoint-I in the dream pulled out paper and started putting down notes, as fast as I could, and quickly came to realize that it sprawled way too much. I'd have to cut out 3/4s of the potential to make it a book; and all of the characters to make it an RPG campaign. But, as I woke and started putting my brain in order for the day, I realized that what I had here was a perfectly viable computer game scenario. Something I don't have the skills to develop, and insufficient force of will to learn at this juncture.

Or perhaps I should say that my creative engagement with the idea does not reach the threshold necessary to give me the force of will to learn. The subconscious doesn't care in the slightest whether you have the practical skills necessary to make the vision it hands you into something approximating reality. If it did, far fewer people would produce a sufficient number of works to gain the necessary skills to produce them (because the only way to learn this stuff is to do it, and you need an idea urging you on).

Anyway, the dream involved a small group of people who had been in some sort of aircraft (something orange and vaguely resembling a space shuttle) when it crashed in some isolated rocky frozen location. Deprived of all their communication technology and lacking almost all survival gear necessary to survive there, when they spy a set of Cyclopean metal doors set into a snowy cliff-face they have no hesitation about getting through them, though they assume it to be a secret installation of some government's. (Bypassing the security of these doors would presumably be the first challenge to solve in the game, but the dream hand-waved it, as all the Good Stuff was on the other side of the doors.)

Inside, they find themselves in a vasty shadowy warehouse/museum style place, full of computer banks and displays and stored modern human artifacts, all oddly mundane, but neatly labeled in a weird alphabet. Everything a modern human needs to survive is in this place, though arranged according to some inexplicable system, so that washers and dryers are on opposite ends of the place and there are no chairs anywhere near the tables, etc. Moreover, the place is frequented by Cyclopean metallic bipedal figures, who may be cyborgs or exosuits or straight-up robots, who are apparently maintaining the facility, but whose movements make no intuitive sense. Moreover, they don't seem to be using familiar senses - they can't detect a human running between their feet, but may inexplicably home in on one holding still behind a refrigerator. They are alien, truly alien - the survivors of the crash can't find a point of commonality that makes their behavior intuitive in any way.

The characters were all civilians who had deep distracting backstories and personal motivations that provided a lot of the sprawl my Viewpoint-I notetaker was trying to cut out. The game would ideally offer a selection of character avatars who could be played solo or in groups, possibly with AIs that could (simlike) run uncontrolled to allow a player to head-hop if she chose, all with individualized backstories and abilities that would affect gameplay. Pregame prep would involve choosing your team of survivors (I don't think the setting would lend itself to single-avatar play - you'd need to be in two places at once too often, given the hugeness and the lack of human-logical spatial connection among the exhibits), or perhaps being assigned one randomly and having to figure out how to make the best of it. You could have a lot of mini-adventures and puzzles, but the main three plot problems to solve would be:

1) Rescue/escape - using the materials at hand either to communicate with the outside world, or to repair the orange shuttle and leave.
2) Survival - as effective mice in this environment so full of useful stuff, yet so poorly designed from the point of view of human survival, dodging aliens whose behavior is bizarrely inexplicable.
3) Figuring out what in tarnation the aliens are doing here. Are they hostile, benevolent, or neutral? Are the scientists, soldiers, automata, reality TV stars? And what is the appropriate human response to whatever it is they are doing?

The biggest storytelling challenge here would be to establish the alien abilities, logic, and purpose in such a way that all the counterintuitive stuff in the warehouse's arrangement and the bipeds' behavior becomes logical when the character finally figures out the correct angle of view, without destroying the alien vibe. The chief coding problem would be to transfer that kind of logic to the AI, so that it behaves in a consistent manner that appears inconsistent.

I don't even play this kind of game. How in the world did I come to dream about it?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Warp Drive!

No, seriously, it's working!

It's too late at night to discuss this in depth. I'm just going to leave this hear for people to get their space opera geek on.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Idea Garage Sale: Intrepid Girl Reporter!

So my husband sent me a link this week to a story of a 9-year-old intrepid girl reporter who scooped adult reporters in breaking a murder story, and took some heat in the comments section for it.

And of course my first thought was: "Whoa, book!"

Possibly series, because Intrepid Girl Reporter is a premise that can keep right on giving.

The author of this theoretical book/series would do well to sit down and work some stuff out ahead of time. The very first question is: What kind of tone to go for? Because there's no question that a comedy/adventure 9-Year-Old Girl Reporter would get better marketing and fewer challenges than a realistic contemporary or suspense 9-Year-Old Girl Reporter. But there's no room for the murder in the comedy/adventure book, and the realistic contemporary or suspense book would get much the same reaction from the gatekeepers as this little girl is getting in the comments section. Do it well enough, you might get awards; do it not quite well enough, or (even worse) do it well enough and be let down by your publisher and marketing department, and all you'll get is grief, banning, and vitriol.

Because we live in a world that is hysterically determined to pretend that 9-year-old girls would be safe if we could shield them from the knowledge of bad things. Which is BS, especially considering what happens to so many real 9-year-old girls who are living in poverty, or in affluent cages, or hospitals, or refugee camps, or INS holding pens, or -

Well, you get the idea. I'll spare you the rant.

But you won't be able to spare yourself your own rants as you look into the kind of news that a 9-year-old could report, and observe the kind of abuses that they're subjected to in the name of preserving their innocence - I'm sure most of the people who came down on her in her comments section felt self-righteously certain that they were only trying to protect her. You will get angry in the process of working up the material for this book, even if you go the comedy/adventure route.

A lot of questions need answering before starting Chapter 1. Is the focus on solving a mystery, or on doing her self-appointed job? A reporter's life is a series of stories moving by at breakneck speed, many of them unresolved; but a book, even one that is structured as a string of anecdotes, needs some cohesive structure. Will this be a plot structure, or a character structure? What resolution will signal the end of the book? Will such a resolution provide a solid platform for construction of another book, should you want to go the series route?

Either way, What motivates her? In real life, 9-year-old girls are perfectly capable are deciding out of the blue that they were born to report the news, and then making it happen. In a book, this is artistically unsatisfying and will be read as poor characterization. She needs, if not some specific precipitating event, a backstory and character arc that "explain" the reporter vocation. If she's an Asperger's kid who has found that the structure of formal interview situation makes talking to people more interesting than uncomfortable, or if she has some deep mystery in her own life which she plans to solve once she's got enough experience in tracking down The Truth, or whatever, the audience will Get It - but you'd better talk to actual Asperger's kids, or have a pretty good idea of The Truth of her deep mystery, or you're getting called out.

What about her parents? Not just any set of parents will support and encourage any vocation, let alone one that involves knocking on doors to interview strange adults, in a child this age. Parents exist in the background of children's stories, and cannot be allowed to supply motivating forces or solutions; but they should not be shadowy nonentities either.

Finally, you'd need a clear picture of her community and her place in it. "Realistic contemporary" versions of the story with identical premise and plot would have very different effects, if one is set in a middle-class suburb in Ohio, one in working class Houston, and one in affluent gated community in Connecticut. In any of these settings, the heroine would have very different relationships to the community she was trying to serve, if she went to private school, public school, charter school, or was home-schooled. Her resources and challenges will vary with her setting and social position, as will her supporters and her detractors.

Or, you could do some investigative reporting, find out the real story of the real little girl (which will be messy and full of loose ends because life's like that), and write a non-fiction book.

But I really think that's her book to write, eventually, don't you?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Idea Garage Sale: Miscellany

I'm still here, in a weird place creatively and not at all to be trusted with the responsibility of a query. But have a few scattershot ideas scrounged from the universe.

Natural scientists who routinely tag themselves like the animals they study. No, seriously, there's scientists who do this. (I read it on Tumblr so it must be so! Or at least it can be rendered plausible, which is all the story really requires.) Obviously, this is a murder mystery.

Vampires doing scientific work in hostile environments. How do the pressures of the Marianas Trench affect them? How do they fare in the darkness of space?

Someday, society transcends capitalism (which, face it, does not work for the majority of us; if we lead lives of quiet desperation, the economic system we try to live in bears a huge part of the blame) and realizes that there's enough wealth in the system for everyone, not just those who are good at manipulating money, to survive and pursue lives free of the fear of poverty. What does that society look like, really? Resist the morphic field that pushes you to turn it into a dystopia, or a utopia for that matter. Who does the system work for? Who does it fail?

All systems, after all, fail somebody.

Consider your favorite fairy tales and myths from the perspective that all the different forms of gender expression and sexuality have always existed as a normal part of human experience. Which myths, tropes, and archetypes, which stories, bloom with unexpected possibility if we go looking for those experiences in them? Was Daphne asexual? Are the fairies intersex? How did Hercules feel during the time he spent disguised as a woman? Was it really a disguise?