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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fabulous web art by Jared Fiori!

The news of this morning is that I have officially got completed web art! These pieces are intended for my official author website, which isn't running yet. I'll let you know when it gets to that point, but for today I'd like to thank my artist, Jared Fiori, and introduce him to you. He's a freelance self-taught illustrator from Maine, and I came across his work on the Scribblerati website, right about the time they were trying out different banner styles. I asked him if he'd be interested in working on some illustrations of my characters, and off we went! I love his style, and he's quite indefatigable, even when I am at my pickiest. I'm terribly happy with the result, and I've been waiting for this moment to share it with you. If you like what you see, you can check out more of his work at

This you may recognize as the gecko-girl, Allayo, from "Let the Word Take Me" (Analog July/August 2008). I chose her to represent my Allied Systems stories, which take place in a universe where humankind is exploring and colonizing the stars - and of course, encountering aliens of many different types. A new story in this universe, At Cross Purposes, will be appearing in the upcoming January/February 2011 issue of Analog, scheduled to hit the stands on November 7th of this year. Jared is a natural with comic-book style poses and grasped this image intuitively from very early on.

This is the History Keeper, a young lady of Heian Japan who falls into tragedy and loses her mind, with very unusual consequences. She features in a nearly-completed short story of mine, and in my novel Through This Gate, which is currently with my agent. Jared and I often discussed what a challenge this piece was because the layered clothing of Heian Japan was highly complex - but he handled it wonderfully. The cherry blossoms were his own idea, and I think they're brilliant. I hope you all will get a chance to meet the History Keeper in print very soon.

Last, but not least, we have Nekantor and Xinta, whom some of you may recognize from my story "The Eminence's Match," currently out in the Eight Against Reality anthology from Panverse Publishing. They represent my world of Varin, and while I currently only have one story of that world publicly available, I'm working to change that! Jared once told me that this piece was really all about subtlety in the body postures and facial expressions. I think he did a great job of portraying these two and their relationship through slight shifts of line and posture.

I'm going to be working on the web design aspects of my new website now, and I'll let you know when it comes together. Thanks again to Jared Fiori for his persistence, his versatility, and most of all for three totally gorgeous pieces of art!

Monday, August 30, 2010

The First Day of School

When you read the phrase, "the first day of school," does it give you an emotional reaction? It does me. Today was my kids' first day back at school, and between excitement and jetlag they both woke up about 4:30am. I know lots of moms who are sentimental about the departure of their last-born to kindergarten, but I was more excited for her than sad. It's different if you've had the baby at home the entire time... but my girl wanted to go to preschool with her brother from age 2, so I guess I'm used to it. I also love the idea of more time for my writing!

If you're like me, and you are thinking about worldbuilding, there's an incredible richness of opportunity in something as simple as a day like this. Many societies have big transition points built into them, though they differ across cultures and within cultures as well. Here's a real life example: because I grew up with a professor and a school teacher as parents, our entire life schedule revolved around the school year and summer vacations - and it took some time for me to adapt to living with my husband, who works the 9-5 job all year round.

I always find a story more exciting and real if I can share the emotional reactions of the characters to what is going on around them. Think about the emotional reaction you get just to the phrase "first day of school" - and then think about what you might do with that. You could create a society where the first day of school means something totally different - maybe something scary and horrible instead of scary and exciting. If school is something where you don't see your parents at all, that changes things too. Take a pre-existing emotional reaction and tweak it - send it in a different direction. Or take a pre-existing event, and change it, but keep the emotional response the same. On an alien or fantasy world, what kind of life-changing day would there be to inspire "first day of school" feelings in its inhabitants?

It's something worth thinking about... and now I have to go pick up my daughter!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Building materials

Since I accidentally posted my stub draft of this yesterday, I've decided to make it my official re-opening post!

One thing I was struck by when in France and the Alps (France, Italy, Switzerland) was that most buildings were not made of wood, but stone. Of course, if you look around when you're there, it's easy to see why. There are rocks. Lots of them, available everywhere. Reason number two, a rock wall makes very good insulation, and when it's cold and snowy, that's a really serious advantage. We stopped in a restaurant in the Italian city of Chatillon, and the lower floor had walls of rock that came up into low arches, while the upper floor had higher walls of rock topped with wooden beams and ceiling. Then on top of the roof, the tiles were made of - you guessed it - rock. Most of the roofs in town looked like snake backs because of the overlay pattern of diamond-shaped tiles.

This has consequences. Buildings made of rock stick around for a very, very long time. People become accustomed to the sense of permanence around them. It infuses itself into the culture and into people's self-awareness. My friend Dario says he feels like something's missing when he can't see the evidence of permance, of history, around him.

Of course, any people will build with the available materials to suit local conditions. If there's a lot of good mud available, you can make brick walls - but if there's no stable soil, then there's no point in trying to build a heavy wall on it. Or if there are constant earthquakes (or even occasional ones!) there are distinct hazards involved in building with brick.

When you're creating a society, think about what the environment offers for building. A place built with locally available materials will have a sense of rightness, and that sense of rightness will be evident in the attitudes of its people. A place built with imported materials will be somewhat different. If properly planned, it can really stand out. If done badly, it can be laughable, or a disaster. If done with materials imported by humans across space (for example) it can look entirely out of place - another way to "stand out."

The architecture of the place you're building has a lot more to say about your setting, and about its people, than you might realize. Think through it, because it will be worth the trouble.

I'll have more thoughts on this soon!

It's good to be back.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

On Hiatus

Well, I was hoping to get in one more content post before my vacation started, but I'm afraid today is looking way too frantic. So I'll explain once more: I'm headed off to Europe, which I'm sure will give me lots of stories to tell you. Given that this is a family trip with lots of adventures in various locations, I can't count on being able to blog. At all. So I'm officially going on hiatus until September 1! I will miss you.

There is an outside chance that I may be able to post from one of my European locations, so you may get an unexpected bonus post, or possibly two; unfortunately I can't make any promises.

Thank you to all of you for your continued interest in TalkToYoUniverse. I still really enjoy blogging here and discussing things with you, and even after two whole years of posting, I still seem to be finding things to say!

See you on September 1.