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Friday, May 29, 2009

Going to Yosemite

Just thought I should let you know that I won't be blogging for a few days as I will be taking deep breaths of mountain air. It will be fun. Maybe I will meet a marmot and it will try to speak to me.

Everyone enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Language Communities, or, The Foreigners' Dorm in Kamisoshigaya

When I was writing a bio for my appearances at BayCon and Westercon, I decided to get silly and couch all my language experiences as though they'd taken place on other planets instead of just other countries. What the hey - it made me giggle, right?

But in fact, this is how the analogy translates. It's where I get my culture clash and miscommunication ideas. It's not where I get my language structure ideas, typically, but in the linguistics stories I write I always need language structure *and* cultural ideas.

So I thought I'd tell you a little about the Monbusho foreigner's dorm in Kamisoshigaya, which is essentially where I had my first "spaceport" experience. The dorm was located in a nice neighborhood, a fifteen-minute walk from one train station and a twenty-minute walk from the other. (Commuting to university sure got you in shape.) The building had four wings, and five floors; all the rooms were singles. D wing and the fifth floor were occupied by girls, while the first four floors of A-C were for boys. This gender division did make for some interesting dynamics in itself, but the real complexity was in language communities.

Three hundred and sixty students lived there, from about 60 different countries. It was amazing. The student population naturally formed itself into groups and specialized. It was well known, for example, that if you wanted to throw a really good party, the Americans had to be in charge of the scheduling and food, the Australians had to be in charge of drinks, and the Brazilians had to be in charge of music.

The language groups were stronger than the functional groups, though, and they came in layers. The entire dorm population could be divided into two main communities:

1. People who spoke English better than they spoke Japanese
2. People who spoke Japanese better than they spoke English

This division was made possible by English's status as an international tongue, and the fact that everyone at the dorm was studying Japanese. If it came right down to it, everyone there could use Japanese to communicate on some level, but the Japanese-dominant and English-dominant groups were the strongest. Usually if you were in the English-dominant group, you wouldn't know the students from the other group very well, and vice versa.

Chinese, Thai, Korean, and other Asian students usually fell into the Japanese group. So did a number of Brazilians and Peruvians of Japanese descent, and some eastern Europeans (like Bulgarians).

Filipinos, however, fell into the English group, as did western Europeans and a goodly number of South Americans (and naturally the Aussies, South Africans and New Zealanders).

Within each of these two groups, then, were linguistic sub-groups. Native English speakers had their own group, which given the status of English as a popular lingua franca, was pretty open to anyone who wanted to speak English. The French and Italians tended to clump together for some reason (romance languages that aren't Spanish, perhaps?). Spanish speakers from all over the world had their own social group and they spent a great deal of time together, including having amazing parties that would last until 4 or 5 in the morning. The Chinese-speaking students had their own social group within the Japanese-dominant group.

So how does this apply to our visions of a spaceport, then?

If a lingua franca is available (or more than one) then this kind of fluid group-membership can probably be expected. If there is no obvious lingua franca to use, then pidgins might result (basically, mixtures of words from more than one language with a very rudimentary grammar - but more on those another time).

There's nothing quite so reassuring as hanging out with people and knowing that when you open your mouth, they will actually understand what you need. Of course there are cultural commonalities that can apply when people are accustomed to using the same language.

One little caveat: just because you and another person share a native language doesn't mean you can assume that cultural expectations associated with its use will also be the same. My Australian husband and I learned that early on when we started dating!

But that's a whole different story.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Some Thoughts on Endings

There are a couple things to keep in mind about writing endings. One is that they must be prepared for properly. The other is that they can't be entirely expected.

These two things can actually work against one another, because if you've prepared throughout your manuscript for a particular ending, people will generally expect it. You then need to defeat their expectations. So if you reach the ending and experience reader protest, then there are two possible sources for a solution.

1. Change the preparation
2. Change the ending to beat the expectations

I've done #1 quite a lot: discovered that readers felt an ending I wrote was unsupported - that is to say, not given a proper foundation - in what came before. The solution to this problem is to go back and build a proper foundation in the earlier material. Set up the right convergence of characters and motives, set up the proper world knowledge, etc.

I've also done #2. When my plot gives a person a choice of two options - either the protagonist gets one thing or gets another - there can be a different kind of problem. Sometimes the reader can feel unsatisfied with either option, because they saw the choice coming a mile away and neither one answers the story problem particularly well. In that case, you can do one of two things: satisfy yourself with a sense of ambiguity, or look for a third alternative.

Naturally, any solution you choose does have to fit well with the preparation. One of the things that is most important to me is that the solution be the best one for the protagonist's particular character. An ambiguous ending requires both options to be just about equal in attractiveness from this point of view. And any third alternative has to have both a benefit and a price. If the protagonist has wanted one particular deal through the whole story, and at the end must decide to try for another outcome, there must be a big risk involved, and possibly a sacrifice. If your character gets to have it both ways too easily, then readers will feel like it was a cop-out, that all the difficult lead-in was let down at the end. And you don't want that either.

This stuff is very difficult - not only coming up with the options but deciding which one will serve the story best.

A couple of examples from my own work.

I had a big complicated solution planned for a novel which involved negotiating with multiple parties and then confronting a single heavily recalcitrant party to use the masses to sway his opinion. When I got there, it seemed foregone. So I decided to go back and set up the expectation for a bimodal (one-or-the-other) solution. The protagonists decide the only way to reach this recalcitrant person they must convince is to bring him someone he knows, through great peril, to convince him. Then readers ask, "Will the convincing person arrive or not?" They believe his arrival is the only solution, and then when he doesn't arrive, they find the planned ending much more unexpected (and hopefully persuasive - I'm still working on it).

In another story, I had the hero striving for a goal that he would either get or not. When I wrote it with him achieving the goal, all the difficulties that I'd set up for him seemed flat. Of course he was going to succeed, ho, hum. And anyway, readers weren't at all sure that the deal he got was the best one for him, because it came with a lot of strings. So that time I backed off and tried to get to the bottom of his motive. This is what my husband calls trying to find the real goal of the negotiation (in a business context): not looking at the offers that the two parties have put on the table, but looking past that to the actual desired outcome, and trying to find a way to satisfy that outcome independently of the existing offers. When I did this, I found a much more satisfying ending for the story.

Right now I'm in another quandary situation, looking at the ending of a story and trying to evaluate the building blocks, the lead-in, the characters' needs, and what kinds of options I have. It's never easy, but if I can manage to think about it clearly, I'll have a better story on my hands.

Have any of you had an experience like this? If you have, I'd love to hear.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Some thoughts on Religion in Japan

The panel I was on today about metaphysics, science and religion got me thinking about belief systems. While there is a lot of variation in belief systems across the world, I think that it's hard to understand what an alternate belief system entails unless you've lived in contact with it - and really paid attention - for some time.

I've spoken here before about syncretic traditions, and mentioned the coxistence of the Shinto animistic beliefs and the Buddhist beliefs in Japan. Essentially, if you were to take a poll of the Japanese population, over half would describe themselves as Buddhist, and over half would describe themselves as Shinto.

Mathematically, that means a good portion of the population believes in both.

When I first heard this, it surprised me - probably because I was accustomed to hearing about religions that claimed exclusivity. However, Buddhism has a tendency to blend with whatever beliefs pre-exist its arrival in a geographical area, and that's what happened with Shinto. This is why, for example, you can have stories about bird-goblins (tree and mountain spirits also called tengu) tormenting overly proud Buddhist priests who use their power for their own gain. Indeed, a powerful tengu is said to be able to change its form into that of an itinerant Buddhist priest (usually one with quite a long nose).

When you see this syncretism in action, it's quite fascinating. A bit like two kids who, when asked to share, decide to take turns. From what I've seen of the Buddhist and Shinto traditions, one or the other will be associated with particular types of life events or activities. Some holidays call for Buddhist celebration, and others Shinto. Birth ceremonies are often in the Shinto tradition, as are weddings, while funerals are generally Buddhist. The two aren't exclusive of one another, nor are they exclusive of other traditions. Sometimes you can even see a Japanese couple being married in a western-style ceremony - or a western ceremony followed by a Shinto one, each with its own elaborate style of dress.

Before experiencing it first-hand, I would never have imagined that kind of a system of beliefs. And I always find it broadening to encounter things I have never imagined before, in part because it helps me to imagine more diverse ideas in the future.

I don't want to go into the history of Christianity in Japan in detail here. If you're curious, one fascinating source of information is Endo's book entitled "Silence." The part that I found most saddening about the story was that when Christianity first came to Japan, the Japanese were very open to it. Problems began to arise when Christian missionaries enforced the exclusion of the pre-existing traditions, and those problems worsened when areas of Japan, complete with local lords, their towns and armies, used Christianity to separate themselves from the rest of the population. Fortunately, at this point all the ugliness has become ancient history.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Looking forward to tomorrow...

Things got exciting when we started planning costumes for BayCon tomorrow.

Given that I'm a writer and want to be able to take myself seriously while I talk about writing, I don't usually dress to the hilt - just nicely. But we got talking and my son wanted to be a Japanese wizard and I offered to do Kabuki makeup for him, and then we got watching Kabuki on the internet...

So now I'm missing Japan, and our whole family is planning to dress up in Japanese style tomorrow. I suppose given the inspiration that Japan has been for my writing, it's rather appropriate.

Now, if I can only remember how to put on my yukata...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Songs to Sing

Okay, so you're creating a world. Does it need songs?

My answer would be yes, if you want to have a complete sense of world culture - but you shouldn't necessarily include them in your story. They should appear in the story only if they are doing something meaningful for the narrative.

Songs have an inherent difficulty to them - let's face it - because you can't really put the music into the book; only the words. But they can be very effective in creating atmosphere, and they can drive a story forward - or even do both.

Tolkien includes songs in his work. Along with the ruins and ancient places he puts in his stories, these suggest the deep history of Middle Earth. They also suggest the differing culture of the elves and the men. I think Tolkien's songs are great, but I love this kind of stuff anyway. Not everyone feels the way I do, and I know some people skip songs when they're added just for local color and world detail.

Anne McCaffrey uses songs as well, and I particularly liked the way she handled them in the Dragonsong/Dragonsinger/Dragon Drums series. Not only were they there to show culture on Pern, the songs were Menolly's central driving motivation, and there was an inherent conflict in the fact that the songs were used to teach lessons, but that Menolly's pursuit of music went against all the lessons she'd learned. That is a way to integrate songs thoroughly into a story! And come to think of it, that's the way I like to treat language in my own stories - on multiple levels.

Think about what songs - and the surrounding description of the music that you include with them - might do for the world you're creating. They can help to place the world chronologically, by invoking technology sets associated with the era in which those musical styles were typically heard. A story that includes lesson-songs has a very different feel from one that includes rock ballads, folk songs, etc. They can give emotional associations to a scene, or to the cultural group (elves, Harpers, etc.) with which they appear.

As with everything you choose to include in your story, I urge you to use songs with intent - not simply because it was fun to create them, but because they do something specific for the story as a whole. This function can be on the level of world alone, but you'll find the songs will be read by more readers, and enjoyed by more, if they can do more than this alone, but function on a plot and character level as well.

It's something to think about.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

BayCon 2009: May 22-25

I just got my panel assignments so I now know where I'm going to be next weekend.

I'm going to be appearing on a couple of panels at BayCon 2009, which will be at the Hyatt Regency in Santa Clara, California. Look for me at:

Meet the Guests, Friday, 8pm

World-Building: More Than Just Filing Off The Serial Numbers, Sunday, 10am

Metaphysics: Supernatural & Spirituality in Science Fiction, Sunday, 11:30am

If you live near the San Francisco Bay Area, it would be fun to see you there!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

It's touching...

Today's post starts with a story from the first time I lived in Japan. At the time I was going to the Kyoto Center for Japanese Studies, which was located behind the zoo. We had a joke about how it was an appropriate place for gaijin...

But anyway.

It was a wonderful school, and while I went there, I did two different homestays. The first one was what I would call sub-optimal - but how was I to know? I soldiered on for quite a long while, believing that my dissatisfaction must be caused by cultural intolerance, until I realized there were really some substantive issues there (like not being given a heater and waking up to find the temperature at 3 degrees C in my room) and switched homestays.

This is not so much about them, as about how I felt about a month in. I got depressed, and I couldn't figure out what I was missing until one day I walked into school and saw one of my friends and said,

"Please give me a hug!"

I can't tell you how much better I felt after that. I'd gone for about a month with nobody touching me at all. It made me terribly lonely.

Touching is one of those things that varies widely across cultures. I remember seeing a show once about an African group of people who engaged in constant social touching, and finding this to be very interesting (but not particularly appealing). On the other hand, I love giving hugs to my friends, and I missed it very deeply for my first few weeks in Japan (before I knew my classmates too well).

In high school I remember there were marked and unmarked forms of touching. Shoulder massage was considered flirtatious but didn't "mean" anything; hugs were safe with just about anyone; holding hands was something you never did except with that someone special.

This is a place where you can really create nuance and social meaning for the purposes of your world. It's not a binary "we touch" or "we don't touch" kind of thing. It can be "this kind of touch is safe," "this kind of touch is awful," "this kind of touch is sweet" - or embarrassing, or not to be done on penalty of death, etc. My only suggestion would be not to make it random. There are always reasons for the consequences of different kinds of touch: social messages like those of male-female bonding, or taboos associated with parts of the body or particular types of activities (for example, a certain type of touch might only be permitted when in mourning etc.).

As you create your society, think through the rules of touch, and you'll find you can send many more messages about your world than you could without them.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Workshop: Wrapup (remaining final subs?)

Let me extend my thanks to all of my workshop participants for their hard work. I've now seen revised excerpts from Khajidu, Catreona, and David, and all three show distinct improvements - at least from my personal perspective - over the initial drafts submitted.

I realize I didn't give enough time for the final assignment, and I'm sorry for that (making note for next time to give a whole week). I still hope I may be able to see something from Colin F and from Jeanne Tomlin, whenever you have it ready.

All participants, if you have any remaining questions, please know that I'm happy to address them even once the workshop is officially over.

Thanks again, and I'll look forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My New Site Organization

Some of you may have noticed that I've been reorganizing the blog site over the last few days. I've essentially decided that I need to be a better-connected site for people who want to do worldbuilding, so you can come to this site and find links to research and reading sites as well as listening to my own musings. Over the next few days I'm going to be trying to expand my research site list - so I would love to hear from you about the sites you use when you do your worldbuilding research. If you know of an excellent site for worldbuilding research, put it in my comments and I'll consider adding it to the general TalkToYoUniverse research site list.

Thanks so much!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Thanks to my Fans - wow, I have fans!

Yesterday I got my Analog July/August issue. I felt the usual anticipation of good stories, and also a bit of nostalgia for last year's July/August issue, in which I had my first ever publication. When I opened it up I found the results of the Anlab voting - Analog readers' favorite stories of last year, by length category. I was shocked and thrilled to discover that my story, "Let the Word Take Me" was voted in third place!

For all of you who voted, thank you so much. I'm so glad you liked the story of David Linden and Allayo. To go from being an unpublished writer to a writer with so many fans in just one year has been amazing and wonderful.

For all of you who may be curious to hear the story, I will in fact be reading it aloud at the Westercon convention, this coming July 5th in Tempe, Arizona at 2:00pm. Look for me!

And again, my heartfelt thanks.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Unexpected Differences: Japanese Taxis

Ever since I did my post about doors, I've been looking for another simple object to use as an example of unexpected differences across societies. Then the other day I got thinking about the day I arrived in Tokyo as a Monbusho exchange student, and the craziest taxi ride of my life - and I had it.


Say you're writing a story, and your character has to get from here to there, so you need a way to move him or her. One way is to stick this person in a public paid conveyance of some sort. Give it a non-Earth appearance, an alien driver, pay in the local currency, and you might think you're done.

But the fun has just begun. There's a possibility for difference at every step, even in something so seemingly ordinary.

Let's start with the way you find a taxi. In Japan it's not all that different from large cities in America, where many taxis are on the road. The only thing you have to remember as you approach the curb is that the cars are driving on the left-hand side of the road, not the right, and that will influence which direction the taxi will be able to take you. So you stand at the side of the road, and raise your hand. (Of course, there's also the calling-ahead option, which was what we had when we arrived in Tokyo; the government had sponsored our scholarship for us, so they called us the taxis.) For story purposes, I could imagine possible alien variations on the curbside stance - do you hold up two fingers or five? Does it matter, or should you really be waving your tail instead?

Anyway. For now, assume you're on a street with a sidewalk, standing at the curb. Do you yell "Taxi" at this point? The Japanese word for "taxi" is "takushii" which sounds almost the same, but yelling in the middle of the street is generally frowned upon, and let's face it, the taxi driver probably won't hear you.

Next comes the first major sticking point of taxis in Japan - or, it was, when I lived there. If you're a foreigner, the taxi may choose to ignore you completely. In your story world, think about what kinds of qualities might be used to justify excluding your character from service. Pure foreignness? Possibly. Or maybe a particular feature that the hosts find alarming. Or maybe when this transportation is sponsored by individuals with diplomatic clout, there's no overt objection, which could set your character up for an unfortunate surprise later (when he tries to procure his own ride).

Let's say the taxi stops for you. Great. In the US, you reach out and open the back door on the passenger side. If you do this in Japan, you might end up with skinned knuckles or possibly a major bruise. Japanese taxis are equipped with a special mechanism that allows the driver to open and close the door, and this is part of their job. They don't want you moving the door. This for me is interesting because it's a difference in the construction of the vehicle, but also a difference in the way that you are supposed to interact with the vehicle - which functions of the interaction are your job, and which belong to others.

Once you're in, you discover that in most Japanese taxis, the headrests and seats are covered with white doily material. It's a weird but charming touch. Also, the drivers generally wear white gloves. These aren't just signs of charm, though - they're also evidence of Japanese concepts of hygiene.

Next, you ask for your destination. If you're working in a fantasy or science fiction setting, do think through how your people organize their cities. Japanese streets are generally not named unless they are quite large, and blocks are numbered, and houses numbered based on their position on the block - so houses across the street from one another aren't consecutively numbered, but in fact dictated by the separate numbering sequences of the blocks they are on. In the city of Kyoto, streets generally run North-South or East-West, so it's easy to navigate, but the addresses almost sound like walking directions. In Tokyo, things are wacky and a single missed turn can get you lost in seconds, but their addresses are pretty reliably tuned to the block numbering system.

Once you're moving, consider whether you want to worry about road rules or street signs. Road manners are a question as well. In Japan we'd sometimes see people stop their cars in the middle of the road and leave them running while they ran into 7-11 to buy an ice cream or a drink (because there is no parking to be had anywhere). Our general response to this was "whaaaaa?" But it happened often, and often when we were in cars our hosts or taxi drivers had to navigate around stopped vehicles.

I couldn't actually tell you whether it's standard for Japanese people to talk to their taxi drivers. Taxi drivers generally seemed to like talking to me, but that could have been because I was something of an oddity there: a light-haired foreign girl who spoke Japanese fluently. That would be another place where manners might differ in a fantasy or science fictional environment.

When you get where you're going, you have to pay. Money is a great source of potential strife. Taxis in Japan are expensive - usually 1000 yen or so base, just for getting in, and it meters up from there. On my crazy ride from Narita Airport to Setagaya-ku, the meter kept going up so far that the guy I was riding with and I were incredulous, praying that we wouldn't be asked to pay when we finally arrived. Just a tip? Never try to take a taxi from the Narita Airport to anywhere in central Tokyo. It will cost about $300. We were lucky, because it turned out that the price didn't have to come out of our arrival stipends. A standard taxi ride costs more like 1850 yen, and don't ever try to pay with a 10,000 yen bill. The one time I found I didn't have enough smaller change, the guy wouldn't even take what small change I had - he yelled at me to get out, slammed the door and drove off. A free taxi ride, I guess, but I felt awful. And of course, in Japan, you don't tip, but in America, a taxi driver who hasn't been tipped may actually leave his vehicle and pursue you on foot.

Now, I'm not trying to say that when you get your character from one place to another, you have to include every one of these details. No way. Maybe the trip itself is unremarkable in the context of your story; in that case you should put as few words on it as possible. But paying close attention to the physical and social details of transportation can give you ideas for unusual elements to change, or especially pertinent details to include. And even one or two of those can be enough to make your reader think, "Wow, this place really isn't like Earth. It's a whole new world."

And that's what we're trying to do here.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Janice Hardy's new website

Here's some fun news: my friend Janice Hardy has just launched her new website, where you can find out all kinds of great stuff about her, about her forthcoming debut novel, The Shifter (known as The Pain Merchants in the UK), and even about chickens! Seriously, the hidden chicken factoids are awesome.

Here it is:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Workshop: Revision Requests

We've reached the final step of the workshop! Participants, look in the comments area; in the next day or so I'll be posting your original excerpts with comments on how you might approach rewriting them. I hope you can all run with the ideas we've discussed here, and try either revising or rewriting your short excerpt. I know some of you have already started. If possible, I'd like to see those by Monday, May 11th. I'll respond to those, and that will be the end of our workshop. Thank you all for your hard work and patience.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Defining a Scale of Details

One of the things that my worldbuilding workshop has got me thinking about is defining objects. I think objects generally fall into a sort of scale that ranges from the ultra-specific to the generic. A specific object is something where the mention of its name brings to mind only one thing. "Mr. Spock's ears," for example. A generic object is one that comes in so many different types that simple mention of its name brings up only a prototype image. "House," "wall," "window," and "dog" are examples of this category. In between is a large range of different kinds of objects. The word "pulley" is pretty specific; if we want additional information it will probably be what the pulley is being used for, or what it's made of. The word "fan" is in the middle - heavily informed by context, but depending on whether it's included in a description of a Japanese woman, or of kids in a house without air conditioning in modern-day California, it need not necessarily be explained.

When I talk about explaining a word, that doesn't mean explaining it in depth. It only means making sure its meaning is specific rather than general. A "brick wall" is very different from a "steel wall," which is very different from a "stone wall" (and fortunately all of these are very different from "a wall"). If you want to get more specific, you can say "a crumbling brick wall" or "a used-brick wall." If you want a Japanese wall with a foundation of granite blocks the size of cars and an upper storey of white plaster topped with gray tiles, you have to go so far as to say that, because you can't rely on all your readers to pull that image up from context.

Explanations like these can help to adjust the knowledge sets you establish in your world. A reader entering an unknown world for the first time is going to be looking for cues to the world, and hoping for enough specificity to establish a unique world sense. When I introduce my Varin world, I like to specify that this is a world where wood is scarce, so I'll often describe a room and specify that the bed frame is made of brass, or that though there's a heavy mirror framed in wrought silver, the most expensive-looking object in the room (from the character's point of view, of course) is a wooden cabinet in the corner.

Gradually, as you enter your world further and further with the reader, the details you provide will build up into an overall impression of this world in all its uniqueness. And if you've done your job well, you may discover that by the time you're halfway through, you've actually redefined common words like "table" or "wall," so that the objects that your reader imagines are generated world-appropriately. You will have trained your reader to know that tables aren't made of wood, or to know that they must expect walls to be made of light, or to know that it means something special when this character uses the word "friend," because it wasn't a natural concept within his world.

In effect, world details aren't just details. They're not just stuff sitting in the room because otherwise the room would be empty. They are tools by which you draw your reader so far into your world that they judge the objects they read about as though they lived there.

As a reader, that's what I always loved - feeling like I was part of that world on paper. And as a writer, I can hardly imagine anything more exciting than being able to bring others into my world with me.

It's something to think about.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Workshop: Pushing Further

Thank you all for the responses you've given me. (Catreona, will I be seeing more answers coming from you? I hope so. I'm also waiting on Khajidu.)

I'm fascinated by the answers I've seen; I'm also fascinated by how different they are from the ones I got in my last workshop. Last time I started with questions to the author, and moved on to questions from the POV of the character. This time I went straight for the character questions - and the interesting thing is, they turned into interviews with the characters!

This is very cool.

But I'd like to see us, as a group, push our awareness a little further. Maybe the way I'd describe it is instead of interviewing the character, giving the character an opportunity to speak as he or she would in public, go a little further into your own sense of the psychology of the character. Many characters have things they feel instinctively but for personal reasons (embarrassment, standoffishness, shame, lack of self-knowledge) are unable to describe. Many have past experiences that give them pride, strength, or vulnerability. What might some of those things be for your character? Below, I'll respond directly to each person's questions, both to let you know what I'm getting, and to be more concrete about what I'm still looking for.

Catreona and Khajidu, I don't have all your answers and I'd like to address them all at once, so they won't be here below.

Jeanne: Wrai
I loved your answers, because I really got a sense of Wrai's personality from them. At the same time, from a worldbuilding perspective, they left out a lot. I know that Wrai wouldn't go explaining the little details of things, but what would happen if someone asked him to, and he consented? What exactly is "nice" about the southron, for example? What exactly is going on with the "dung-eating father"? I think that's related to Wrai's contempt for nobles. Can you explain some of the backstory experiences to me? Also, are there police in this world, or just "guards?" I'd also like to know a little bit more about Sharista and the extended circumstances around her. What has his relationship been with her? How often would he think of her, and why, and what experiences would he think of? That sort of thing. Because your setting is quite strongly detailed in its physical aspects, I'd like to see about pushing further on Wrai's personal views and feelings about the things he experiences.

David: Jasmine
Wow, David, it was great to see you get into first person answers! The voice is fun. I think you've got some interesting possibilities going in the family of telepaths thing. It makes sense that she'd try to find a way to escape it, given her background. I'm getting the sense from you that engineered abilities are common in her world, and thus that she's part of a larger community where telepathy isn't so unusual? How would that affect her view of herself and her ability? In the Ben situation, you have some serious stakes for whatever it was she did. I think the question of her crime, and her motive, are critical here, and I'd love to see that appear somewhere in your piece. In the musical Chicago, one of the characters says "I didn't do it, but if I'd done it, how could you tell me that I was wrong?" I think that's a little like what I might like to see from Jasmine - tailored of course to voice and circumstances. I like Riko; also it seems her mother (or whoever grounds her) might be an authority figure here. You seem at a certain point to suggest that she dresses in embarrassing clothes intentionally to hone her ability. This is an interesting angle you might want to pursue. I'm not "getting" her father's ability at all, and I wish I knew more about broken mental powers (how were they broken? what broke them? if she doesn't know, then what does she know about others with similar problems?) Is the wardrobe large? Is it with her on her VoidWatch sentence? Finally, I'm curious about the coexistence of high-tech future with the Goddess of Justice. This is something unusual enough that you might want to mention it early, just so people don't get comfortable in a high-tech future mindset and then refuse to go with you when you go there later.

Colin: Lanuz
Your past world seems rather medieval England-y at first glance. I'd like to see you pin down a few concrete details of Lanuz's personal experience, so that he'll have some memories to use to judge the world into which he gets dumped later. You say for example that "in light of our job, petty squabbles are meaningless." This makes me curious, so give me something more. Maybe an instance in which a petty squabble led to something seriously bad (because just because people aren't supposed to squabble doesn't mean they don't). Would Lanuz have been the type to start the squabble and then learn his lesson? Or would he have been the horrified bystander who then became a zealous enforcer of the peace as a result? I hope you see what I mean. He sounds from his voice like the kind of guy who's actually pretty highly regarded in his group; why would this be? What has he done to prove himself? How does he feel about this? What is he proud of, and where might he be vulnerable? Your answer about clothing is vague, simply because for him it's normal, but for us, it doesn't say much. So is he in plate armor? Chain mail? Something else? I like the relation between his possessions and the village. Does he have a strong sense of his vocation? If this is indeed a medieval-like setting, he's got to be pretty well off if he doesn't consider himself lucky to eat meat regularly. Is this sword of his the sword of power? If he's tempted to get rid of it, does that mean he uses another sword in his work? Maybe you could clear that up for me. Also, the Reijak - are they considered a superior, peer, or inferior race? What are the general perceptions of them and what they do? (Are they going to show up in the future world?) I like what you say about the watch feeling estranged from the villagers; they've seen the harder side of life. Do they consider the villagers to be lucky lambs? How might that affect how Lanuz sees the barman and young mechanic in your scene? Finally, about Order. Who embodies Order? Who teaches it? Why is it considered to be of value? Is it something people perceive that they have lost? I'd love to know more about this.

These questions are intended to open a discussion, so I look forward to your comments. I know the workshop has been strung out a bit by my Nebulas visit etc. but I'm working toward suggesting some revisions to the scenes I've seen from you, and I hope to give you my specific requests in the next couple of days. Thanks for all your great responses so far.

More soon...

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Thoughts on Speaking with Aliens

I was recently directed to this terrific post. If you are interested in the various ways that science fiction authors have dealt with the language problem, it's a great source, because it covers many years and many approaches to language, and it also cites the authors who have taken these various approaches (everyone from Douglas Adams to Vernor Vinge and C.J. Cherryh, etc.).

Take a look, and then go read the books - why not?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A new market for novellas

I'm happy to announce that new market for science fiction and fantasy novellas has just opened up, thanks to my friend Dario Ciriello.

Panverse Publishing will be looking for pro-level stories of fantasy and science fiction between 15,000 and 40,000 words. Those of you familiar with the markets will probably remark on the fact that there are very few novella markets out there, so if you've been looking for one, here it is. They are currently accepting submissions for a Winter 2009 issue and will pay $60 per story. Details can be found at their website, and their page about submissions is here.

Good luck to all you novella writers!