In the Creativity War, Sometimes You Need to Retreat

Even before the pandemic hit, I was having trouble getting traction on the new book. Lots of notes, more than a few false starts. Feeling like a blind badger trying to find its way through unfamiliar territory. Since we entered Covid-world, it’s only gotten worse. I’m sure you all have your own reasons why it’s hard to get things done these days. Add to that a degree of discouragement over how hard it’s been to get Reefs / Crucible of Time noticed within the SF readership, and the result has been a creative malaise that I’ve found very difficult to shake.

Allysen to the rescue. The moment certain outside stressors let up enough to allow it to happen, she seized the proverbial bull by the you-know-whats and made the call to get me a retreat-spot on Cape Cod. Sending me kicking and screaming, that sort of thing.

And now I’m here in Sandwich, near the sea, land of great bicycling and even greater seafood. I’m loving it. Her instructions were explicit: “If you can write, that’s great. But you are not going there to get writing done. You are going there to shed all this and find yourself again. You are going to rediscover what it means to you to write a book, and why you want to do it.”

So, here I am. Too soon to be sure, but from preliminary signs, I think it might be working. (And I did write a bit last night.)

Here are some pix from the motel and the Cape Cod Canal bike trail.

CapeCodCanalside bike trail sundown
Sunset over the Cape Cod Canal bike trail.

 

Coast Guard, heading out toward Cape Cod Bay. I’d like to have one of those boats, tough and seaworthy. I wouldn’t paint it gray, though.

 

Duck-mascots at the motel.

Dragon Con Greeting in Virtual Space—with Imp!

Author with imp

Dragon Con Virtual is underway this weekend! As a scheduled program participant for the torpedoed-by-pandemic real-life con, I was asked to shoot a two-minute video greeting about why I love science fiction and Dragon Con. It’s probably up on their site somewhere, but blast if I know where, so I’m posting it here.

In the course of shooting the video, an imp appeared in the corner of my screen during one take. Where’d she come from?? It wasn’t my best take, but the imp was too charming not to keep. So here’s the Outtake—with Imp:

Or directly on YouTube: https://youtu.be/oY6WWvkOtZY

If you want to see my actual best take, here it is (but no imp, alas):

https://youtu.be/L9R4RRL1w5A

Moving My Movies

It all started with Allysen looking at the shelf space my movie collection was taking up. Collecting movies and, to a lesser extent, TV shows, has been a hobby of mine for over twenty years now—especially since we got a Panasonic DVD Recorder back around the turn of the century. (That was motivated in part by the space taken up by the VHS tapes I was recording off cable; we knew DVDs were far more compact.) So now I have all these big binders full of DVDs I’ve burned, and that’s not counting all the commercial DVDs in their plastic cases.

“I know it’s your hobby and you love it, but can’t you put all those movies on a big hard drive or something? Then we could put books on those shelves,” intoned Allysen thoughtfully and a little beseechingly.

“Not that simple,” responded I instantly and a touch defensively. “How would I then play the movies on our TV?”

“Oh,” mused Allysen, frowning in pensive thought. “I never thought of that.” And she went off with a flip of her hair to do whatever women do.

(Actually she gave a heartfelt sigh and said, “Never mind,” and went off to ponder some other intractable household problem.)

Notwithstanding the obvious decline of my writing skills during the pandemic, I couldn’t let the idea, once broached, go without at least a little research. And soon I discovered Plex, the free media-server software that lets you do just what Allysen said: Put all your movies on a hard drive, and play them on your TV, using your home wifi and Roku or Firestick or whatever you stream with. You can even put them on a home server, and then you don’t even have to have your computer turned on to watch your movies.

Fast forward: We now own a little black box called a Synology server, and in the black box are two big, honking 12TB hard drives, one serving as a backup to the other. I’ve been gradually, over the past couple of months, using the free Handbrake app to rip all my DVDs into mp4 files, and saving them to the server. I’m maybe a third of the way through the DVD collection at this point, and those binders are going one by one down to a spare filing cabinet in the basement.

How did it take me so long to discover Plex? It’s amazing. It helps you organize everything, and pulls in poster art, descriptions, and similar data for each movie. It even cross-references the leading actors in your collection. You can stream your media on your TV, your phone, tablet, laptop—even when you’re away from home. And you can share it with your friends, and host “watch together” movie nights, with your friends streaming simultaneously off your server! That last we haven’t put to the test yet, but we hope to, real soon now. Oh, it can also do the same with your music collection and photos.

Plex logo

While we were at it, we cut the cord from Xfinity, but perhaps that’s a story for another time.

 

Jupiter, Saturn, and the Moon!

I came back from walking the dogs and saw a wonderful triad of the Moon, Jupiter, and Saturn—in a clear sky (by Boston standards), and right above my driveway. If I’m ever going to bring that beautiful Celestron telescope down from the dining room, I thought, this should be the time. So I limbered up with some back exercises* and lugged it downstairs. What a beautiful view! The Moon was glorious, Jupiter was spectacular, and Saturn was elusive. Finally I found it, though, with its rings tilted at a rakish angle. I texted my family, I phoned them: Get down here!

This is them, taking their turns at the scope.

And here is the worst astronomical picture ever: Jupiter and the Galilean moons, imaged with an Android phone held shakily to the eyepiece. I thought all I’d gotten was a blur. But when I checked later, I was pleased to see a recognizable picture of the planet! (The big blue smudge is an artifact. Either that, or it’s Neptune, photobombing my shot.)

In a world filled with wildfires, hurricanes, pandemic, and walking calamities in high public office, sometimes you just need a little piece of the cosmos to calm you down.

*Not really, but I should have. That thing is heavy.

How Are You All Doing?

posted in: personal news 13

McDuff and Captain Jack

Generally my posts, if they’re not about things of general  or quirky interest, are devoted to telling the world what I’m up to. (Not sure the world cares, but nevertheless…)  But the longer this accursed pandemic goes on, and the political surrealism and all the rest of the anxiety about the world, the more I wonder: How are all of you doing?

I’m not a big Facebook participant or I’d probably already know. I don’t tweet or retweet or read tweets, and I don’t light tinders, nor do I gram anything in an instant. I used to like tumbling, but that was when I was young; tumblering now usually means I’ve taken a fall while rollerblading, and am grateful for all the pads I strap on.

Long way of saying, I don’t keep up much with social media, but I do wonder how all my friends and family are. HOW ARE YOU? Please leave a note and let me know!

 

Blogging About Audiobooks on Cat Rambo’s Blog

Cat Rambo is former president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and an author of considerable note. Instead of writing on my own blog today, I wrote on hers—a fairly detailed piece on audiobooks and how I went about it with my books. I called it “How I Ventured into Audiobooks and Lost My Shirt—Or Maybe Found It.” If audiobooks interest you, and especially if you’re a writer wondering how that whole thing works, why not step over there and take a look. Here’s a teaser:

Audiobooks are the current gold rush in publishing—or so they say, and you know “they” always know what they’re talking about. If you don’t get on the audiobook wagon, you are sure to lose out.

That might or might not be true. But one thing that is true, without a doubt, is that listening to a book narrated aloud is an experience unlike that of silently reading text. An audiobook can make or break a book for the listener. In the hands of a poor narrator, any book can be crushed. But in the hands of a skilled narrator, even humdrum text can take flight, and sparkling text can soar.… [continue reading]

CoNZealand: 78th World Science Fiction Convention

posted in: conventions, worldcons 0

ConZealand banner

Here we are, in beautiful New Zealand for worldcon! Except, of course, we’re not really, because coronavirus. We’re sitting in our dining room in front of our computers. Virtually, though, we are here! Havin’ a good time—especially when we can navigate the befuddlingly complicated login procedure to get where we’re going. (The price, I guess of running a con on multiple virtual platforms.) We’re learning a new app: Discord. We’re also learning to radically convert time-zones. New Zealand time is 16 hours ahead of us, which means that most of the time, they’re already in tomorrow, while we’re still in today.

Today (my time) was the second day of programming, and I have already been on two of the three panels that I’m participating in, via Zoom. The first was “Staying Closer to Home: Science Fiction in the Solar System,” which I know a little bit about. Just enough to get me into trouble. It was a good panel! The second was “Writers on Writing: The Plot’s the Thing,” which was about, um, plot and character and motivation and story structure, and all that good stuff. It, too, was a good panel! I’ve got one more—on Saturday, America-time—called “Ghosts in the Ships: Sentient Ships in SF and Fantasy.” I hope that one will be good, too. And I’d better do a little research on the subject before showtime.

Wish you could all be here in New Zealand with us! (If you’re sitting at home on your computer, you’re already halfway there.)

Terrorist Furball

posted in: animal friends 0

McDuff, Jack, BillboardMeet Billboard the cat, not to be confused with Bill the Cat (though I often do). Billboard belongs to my daughter and her husband, who moved into our downstairs apartment a few weeks ago. His name comes from the fact that he was found, abandoned, under a billboard in South Korea, by Connor many years ago.

Billboard recently met our dogs. In short order, he struck terror into the heart of McDuff (at the top of the steps), and left Jack puzzled as to why this new resident hissed at him and hurt his feelings. Connor says that Bill loves to pick fights he can’t win, with animals who have no interest in fighting. He’s a good guy, though, and we love him.

Why, You Double-Dealing Little . . .

Oh, sorry—talking to myself. Bad habit. But it seems I’ve talked my way into an actual Double Deal. Audiobook and ebook!

Audiobook cover art - Neptune CrossingThe audiobook of Neptune Crossing, narrated by Stefan Rudnicki (think God gargling boulders), is on sale right now in multiple outlets! It’s $4.99 at Chirp, Downpour, Apple ($3.99 at Apple), Google, and Kobo—limited time only! It’s a great recording, and I doubt you’ll ever see it again for a price this low. Do you want to miss this? Of course not.

For you ebook readers, my omnibus volume The Chaos Chronicles: Books 1-3 will be going for the slasher price of $1.99! This is an international Bookbub special, and the email announcement will go out on Saturday. But keep an eye on those prices, because the way the logistics works is, you have to drop the prices a few days early. So you never know.

Summer reading, folks! These prices are good through the end of Worldcon.

Farewell, Book View Café! Hello, Treehouse and Faery Cat Press!

A few months ago, I withdrew from the writers’ coop Book View Café, in the midst of internal turmoil in the coop. I did so with great regret, because BVC had been a home and community and source of support for me for a number of years. I was the voice of Customer Support at the BVC bookstore, and VP of the organization. I began many friendships and working relationships there. (Most of those continue.)

Without going into detail, it was the kind of unrest that often occurs in volunteer-run organizations, where a lot of the work falls on a few, and people get burned out and frustrated and walk away. Disagreements in how things should run proved intractable, and the result was about half the members leaving. Many good people remain at BVC! I wish them all the success in the world. Do continue to check out their books!

Some of us who left formed another, much more informal group called Treehouse Writers, more to maintain social and professional connection than anything else. We are not trying to create a different BVC. We have a blog at https://treehousewriters.com.

About Faery Cat Press. One of my fellow Treehouse writers, Laura Anne Gilman, created Faery Cat Press as an umbrella group to pull in her own books and books of friends, partly as a way to purchase ISBN numbers at a group rate (they’re expensive, otherwise), but also to provide a more consolidated front where booksellers are concerned. For that reason, my newest releases now are listed (depending on where you look) as being from Faery Cat Press, or Starstream Publications in association with Faery Cat Press. But don’t go sending submissions to Faery Cat Press, because FCP lives in the aether, somewhere in the land of Faery! I can only go there in my head. For promotion and marketing purposes, I am and shall remain Starstream Publications.

 

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