That Very Fine Line: Science Fiction or Fantasy?

When I first started my novel–the one I’m revising, right now–I thought it was Science Fiction. I mean, it had aliens and spaceships, and it was all on a different planet…. Right? Well, apparently, it’s a fine line.  It’s obviously not sword and sorcery Fantasy, but there are elements that lean toward that genre, instead of Sci Fi.

Some of the people who have read it, or parts of it, have flat out told me it’s Fantasy. And the truth is, I suspect they may be right. The “science” end of the thing isn’t really central to the story. It’s there, but I could just say “magic” and then explain it that way. I think. Plus or minus a few Faraday cages–which I’m comfortable with–in exchange for some dang spell–which I’m not.

I could go either way, for this one. I can see that.

But as part of the overall brand… Well, the science is much more integral to the next novel. For that one, it almost has to be science.

That may be what makes this one very soft science fiction as opposed to very sciency fantasy. Overall, I’m moving in the Sci-Fi direction.

So, while I’m still working out the marketing on this one… Can you define that line–the one between Science Fiction and Fantasy–in a really clear way? Or is it more of a know-it-when-you-see-it kind of arrangement?

Got some sleep, and…

I had the strangest strange dream I’ve had in a while, today. Clearly, lack of sleep is catching up with me. I dreamt that someone came to the house to bring me an English muffin (don’t ask) and that as I was rushing to answer the door, I passed out. So, she just reached in to put the muffin inside the door, and shouted something to the effect of “Your muffin is here!” before she left.

It was a very real dream. Me unconscious on the floor by the cupboard in the kitchen. Of course, most of the dream was dreaming I was unconscious, so a certain, uncomfortable–when is someone going to notice? feeling.

Of course, no one did notice, and I went on dreaming about being unnoticed and unconscious. Now, exactly how did I not figure out it was a dream?

None the less, when I finally did wake up (on the sofa. Under a warm blanket) I still had to go look for that English muffin. Just to be sure I wasn’t in a health crisis of some sort.

No English muffin.

That was reassuring, somehow. I did not pass out today (not that there was any chance of it) and I am not suffering from Hyaline Membrane Disease, either. Life is good.

Yup. That hypochondria thing has not gone away.

On Strange Interests and Peace

One of the things I love about meetups groups is that list of “Members of this Group Also Belong To…” Now, this one varies. If you’re looking at a huge, popular interest, the list doesn’t do much for me. Yes, of course, the members of the Elvis Fan Club also belong to Elvis Forever, Cooking Graceland-Style, and the hunka-hunka-singles group. The computer groups are pretty similar, although they do have their differences: Wait! You mean there’s a Red Hat user in this Linux group?!! I’m going to have to bring my hand sanitizer, aren’t I?

The ones, though, that really fascinate me are the groups for some obscure little hobby or interest, where the members have absolutely nothing in common except for that particular activity.

The ones where… well, let’s be honest… if the members didn’t share an interest in Noh theater or Gatka, or percussion instruments from Borneo, the only time they’d meet would be on opposite sides of a police line at a protest somewhere.

Give them a little brains and a weird hobby, and suddenly… we have face-to-face tolerance and butt-in-chair cooperation.

Wouldn’t it be strange, if the whole future of civilization rests on the strings of an Aeolian Harp? Or if Armageddon is averted by tuvan throat singing?


A Little Late

I know I wrote a post today. It wasn’t a great post, something banged out over my lunch hour, and **allegedly** uploaded from my phone, but now, it seems to have vanished. I’m sure nobody particularly cared about my lunch, anyway. (It was protein powder. This saves me the hassle of actually making or buying lunch, and thus, ten or fifteen extra minutes a day. Personally, I prefer boiled eggs, but you know… in a pinch.)

There are a handful of people at work who aren’t fooled by the fact I have ear phones in my ears. They KNOW I’m not listening to anything, and I know they know it. A quick glance over my shoulder to be sure I’m not doing anything important, and they just start talking.

I’m going to wind up re-writing the middle of my book. Right now, the tension is low, the conflict is non-existent, and it’s almost as though my main characters are taking a romantic vacation in the middle of a violent revolution. I leave them alone too much. So, new rule: any major character who is NOT dead, and who has NOT turned traitor will remain present and accounted for throughout the middle of the book.

It will also allow me to squeeze in some subplots I’d more or less given up on, and not add too much length to the book.

Take that, sagging middle.

Brick By Brick

I found my villain, today. My antagonist, that is. I’m not sure how much mustache twirling he’s going to wind up doing, or how many little old ladies he’ll tie to the railroad track. Safe bet? Well, there just aren’t that many trains on spaceships, so… Any ideas on how to get a train on a spaceship?

He was sitting on a good chunk of my plot, as well. Most of it, in fact. I’m a little relieved, because the first chunk of plot I came up with was just a wild and weird love triangle. Well… uhm… sort of a non-euclidean, love polygon with at least two non-fixed coordinates. Because I’m not really a romance writer.

(Pay no attention to that manuscript in my trunk.)

I’m still putting things together, of course. I’m still working toward something coherent.

And I’m still hoping–as always–for a cleaner draft. (I have index cards! And math. And… how can I only have 45 index cards?!!! How will I survive?!!! People have died in possession of more index cards than that.)

Right now, the plan is to come in at 90,000 words-ish.

The Doomsday Book Has Arrived

A couple days ago, my current selection from the reading list of things that have won both the Nebula and the Hugo arrived. It’s a mass market paperback, and it’s been a while since I read something that way instead of on an e-reader.  Oh, wow, it’s been a while.

The e-reader files show up pre-adjusted to my preferred font, and my preferred size, and they’re always purse-ready on my Kindle or my Nexus. I have gotten used to this. Ordering a paperback is…. at least in part… a political statement. A social statement, maybe. I ordered a book, because I want a book sitting on my bookshelf. I don’t always. My more recreational reading doesn’t have to sit anywhere in particular, but this… well, I want children to live in a world where they walk into peoples’ houses, and see good books. Where they’re allowed to pick up and read books, and not just realize in some hazy way that there are books on that device their family friend keeps in her purse.

Call me idealistic.

So, here I am, looking at a book in book form. It’s nearly six hundred pages of book, and it looks like nearly six hundred pages of book. The paper isn’t the greatest quality, sorta news print gray… and the print is small. Not insanely small, but if I were on my e-reader, I’d be bumping it up.

I might be having e-reader withdrawal.

So, anyway… I’m about to delve into Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. It smells like paper and ink, and I’m probably going to wind up breaking the spine at some point, but I’m getting started on that list.

If anyone wants to join me on the great quest to read all of the books that have won both the Hugo and the Nebula, the list is here.

Trust Your Instincts

I’m having one of those near-miss moments, where you look at the bullet hole in your hat, and breath a sigh of relief. Maybe look at the dead guy next to you, and think, At least it wasn’t me.

I just got out of a forum conversation about showing creative work to the people around us. To close family. And what–if anything–we’ve gotten out of it, and what the cost is, when we do.

And I thought about the people I’ve thought about showing work to, and the people I have shown work to, and honestly… there were a couple of real stinkers. Particularly early-on in my creative development, when I was most insecure, and showing my work to the fewest people.

Funny how that works.

I have one of those relatives. You know the kind. English teacher. Keeps a journal. Maybe she wants to write books, and maybe, she just wants to know that she’s smart enough to be around the kind of people who write books.


When I was isolated and desperate, I might have gone to her for advice. And yes, I know the kind of advice I would have gotten. Why are you writing science fiction? You’re smart enough to write real literature. You know what you should do? Something like Gravity’s Rainbow.

And she would have pointed me in the direction of the only literary agent she knew. Who was–at least–wildly inappropriate, and at worst… well, I never heard the name, but there are a few alarms going off in my head, right now.

Sometimes, it pays to trust your instincts and keep looking for better options. The closest option isn’t always the best. It’s not even necessarily good.

I guess that’s  the whole, entire moral of the post, unless it’s trust your instincts and get out there, and get to know your creative community. Go find good options. People who know what they’re doing and who are doing the same thing you are.

Maybe something along the line of “You always have a better choice than to let toxic people into your creative space.”

I don’t know.

People Leave So Many Ideas Lying Around!

I was at the movie theater this week, taking in the bargain-basement special. If you get up early enough, tickets cost less, and I’m always up pretty early, anyway. The movie wasn’t bad, or maybe even good.

Somewhere toward the beginning of the movie, my mind latched onto some little detail of the thing that appealed to my Muse. I’m not talking about something like “It should be about a girl who gets caught up in a tornado, and whisked away to a strange land, but instead of OZ, in my book, it’ll be Macy’s.” More like watching Gone With The Wind, and focusing in on “This is set in the south. What a cool idea. My next book’s gonna be set in the south.”

Except, you know… the south on a space-ship, ’cause that’s more my thing.

So, at that point, half my brain goes scooting out along a “Well, what if I did this?” track, while the other half is still sitting in the theater, keeping an eye on the movie and its plot.

It wasn’t a bad movie. It held enough of my attention, even though I’d found a bunny to chase, and maybe that actually makes it a good movie.

But it wasn’t my movie. It wasn’t my story. This other thing–the other train of thought–it was mine.

So, there I am… fiddling with one set of ideas while I’m watching a different set on the screen in front of me. No, I really don’t know how that’s possible.

I’ll tell you about the idea sometime. I’m still building it, right now. I’m about a million miles away from having a plot. Or, you know, characters, conflict, structure, or a name for my spaceship.


Thank you. THANK you. Thank YOU.

One of the blogs I read from time to time–I subscribe to a tag(Science Fiction), and this is one that keeps coming up–is an author who uses blog posts to “Thank” the recent readers of his book. You know, thanks to the two people who bought (Title) yesterday, or I’m really grateful to whoever’s reading (Title) on Kindle Unlimited. There’s a picture of the book, and a link, and that’s more or less the entire post.

The choice to do that interests me, partly because you can sorta guess how many copies he’s selling, and if there’s any increase in sales from what he posts, and partly because I can’t remember seeing any other content from him, at all. Just a series of thank you notes that all blend together after a while.

I don’t think it’s a good way of attracting new readers to the blog (or to whatever else he has going), and honestly, I don’t think most of the people who are reading his book ever see it. I read a lot more authors in book-form than I ever track down on their own websites.

But it does make me wonder how to thank customers without turning it into a meaningless programmed response, and how to actually connect with them

The truth is, this blogger, and a lot of other thank yous I’ve heard remind me of those big-box stores that hire people to stand by the door and greet people coming and going. Thank you for shopping at____ And you roll your eyes a little, slightly annoyed at the interruption, and fully aware that what they mean is, Thank you for not shoplifting at________ After a while, it just doesn’t seem sincere.

The kids at one of the restaurants I go to thank me whenever I go to the bathroom. It happens to be located close to the exit, but in all honesty, it’s a little disconcerting. They’re lucky the ice cream’s good.

I like the idea of a link in the back of an e-book. Something that leads to something of substance, and not a thank you note. I like the idea of rewards–thank you rewards–on Patreon, and to a certain extent, for donor recognition in other arenas.

But it seems like it’s easy to over do it, and when someone thanks you a little too often, or a little too enthusiastically, it becomes awkward. Needy. Something….

So, here’s the question? How do you thank your readers, and when is it really too much? Where do you draw the line?

And have you ever had someone thank you for something and had it make you feel really uncomfortable?

Valentine’s Day: A Brief History of Disaster

One of the benefits of being a writer is that you wind up looking at your own culture through the eyes of your characters, and you start to see the things that are… well, a little bit weird. Valentine’s Day is… well, let’s be honest… about as weird as they come. It’s a holiday dedicated to romantic love which adults celebrate with booze and lingerie, and which is simultaneously celebrated by grade school children. This, despite very clear cultural taboos against combining romantic love of any kind with children.

Humans are weird.

Valentine’s Day has never been my holiday of choice. As an adult, it’s hard to celebrate, if I’m single, and it always gets me in trouble, if I’m not.  And as a child, mostly, I remember the general stress of finding just the right card to say “The school rules say I have to get you a card, so here.”

Actually… if I could find a card that says “The rules of dating say I have to get you a card… so here,” that would still be appreciated.

So, in honor of a weird holiday, weirdly celebrated, an overview:

  • Second Grade: First Valentine’s Day, and BEST VALENTINE’S DAY EVER: I came down with chickenpox and missed school. Missed the party. Missed the handing out of cards. When I got back, the teacher handed me an enormous bag of candy and cards from my classmates. Also, by then, most of them had already eaten their candy, so whatever I brought was really, really cool.
  • Fifth Grade: First real valentine from a real boy. It opened and closed, and had an envelope and everything. Also two sticks of gum taped very neatly inside the card. Admittedly, he was the kind of boy who got thrown out of movie theaters, and who was later seen bungee jumping his(?) bicycle off a railroad bridge, but he was a boy, and that counts, and I win.
  • Seventh Grade: First invitation to actual dance. He was a geeky friend of mine. (Yes, I do have a few friends who aren’t geeky. Not close friends, but still.) This one had all the makings of a teen movie, except that 1.) I wasn’t allowed to date until I was thirty-two, and 2.) He asked in front of a classmate who looked at him and asked “Why the hell would she want to go out with you?” Boy sinks into the ground. I assume they let him up for air and meals, but maybe they just make him eat earth worms.
  • High School: Let’s be honest… guys loved me for my mind. Yes, I know that’s supposed to be a good thing, but do you have any idea how annoying it is in real life? Most of the phone calls to my house begin with the phrase: “Hey, what did you get for problem 43?”
  • College: Oh, great. We’re moving into that phase where “Marry me and have my babies” is not just an option, it’s encouraged. Me: I got you a Hallmark Card. Him: Marry me and have my babies. Me: It’s a funny card.

So, even though there’s nowhere left to go but up, I’ll be spending this Valentine’s Day locked in a convent, with ballistic missiles aimed at the local florist. One inch closer to those carnations, and it’s mutually assured destruction, baby.

Don’t think I’m serious? The last one actually mentioned his and hers matching cemetery plots. However old you have to be for that to be romantic, I’m not there, yet. Not even close.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all the brave souls who are willing to risk it. To everybody else… see you when we all crawl out of our bunkers after Armageddon.