Friday, September 23, 2011

To the Novel Experiment!

Earlier this month I announced that, in addition to the Superheroes of Science Blogfest, I would move to another blog. To Campaigners just happening by, I'm sorry you have an extra link to click. ;)

I'm a bit nervous half of you trusted readers will vanish, especially since free wordpress doesn't allow for Google friends connect. The new design, however, is totally worth the risk and hassle.

Without further ado... to The Novel Experiment !

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Wicked Reminder

Hey, just wanted to remind everyone that while I am absent here, today is my post day on Wicked & Tricksy. In case you've joined from the Campaign and have no idea what I'm talking about, here's a quick W&T explanation, from my first post on the topic.
Wicked & Tricksy is an initiative by four aspiring writers of speculative fiction to provide a place for the community to gather and share. There'll be plenty of craft talk, asking of hard questions and offering of insight, and we hope that you will be as much a part of it than us.
 My three wicked colleagues are Margo, Sommer and SB, three incredible writers I am honoured to work with. We've had a plethora of badass guest bloggers too!

Here's the interesting parts, guys: we are always on the lookout for more guest bloggers. Every Friday we welcome another writer from the community and share the spotlight. It could be you! We don't bite, I promise. We just take your soul. So if you want to join the fun, just head over to our guidelines!

Happy Thursday all!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On Creative Classes and Group Critics

Yesterday I started my third week in my Creative Writing program. If you've been around this blog for a while, you'll have noted my posting rate went down. It isn't a coincidence. There is a lot to read and a lot to write. I'm super busy.

The good part? I have never loved being buried under a pile of schoolwork this much. I'm having a blast!

I'll say this: most of the general writing advice I've received are things I've heard on the interwebs before. Watch out for the "feel", "realize" or "see" in the texts. Don't step out of the POV. Have a strong opening paragraph. Show don't tell (though this one was phrased nicely. My teacher said "Remember, you have little to say but a lot to show).

I expected this. I've been digging the internet for writing pearls for at least two years now. Not that I've heard it all, but I believe I have a fair grasp on what I should do. It's applying it that is difficult. I came to the program to write texts and be critiqued, to receive personalised advice.

This week I had my first taste of critique groups. I loved it.

I was insanely nervous at first, in no small parts because the first texts to be critiqued wasn't my favourite. As in, I was exhausted when I wrote it, and the structure was all wrong, and I was certain there'd be a dozen other things that failed about it.

It went well, and I was relieved. Then came the Novel Writing class, in which I presented pages I was really proud of.* And guys, I received lots of great comments. But not just that. They picked on everything that was wrong despite the praises. They found my real first sentence, trimmed the extra fat, pointed out the repetitions. Everything I'd missed, or just about.

And I discovered how some are great at finding overall problems while others will find your spelling mistakes. It's great to have a good range of readers, both strangers and writer friends. I feel like I've learned more in the last two days than I have in months. From receiving and giving critiques.

I'm aware critique groups aren't for everyone, or that not every group will fit every writer, but in the chance you get an experience that is anything like mine so far, I encourage you to seek other writers and try this group thing.

Also, related but not quite the same, my teacher loved my novel pages. *happy cloud*


Don't forget that next week is the Superheroes of Science Blogfest!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Three Blogfests or A Recipe for Frankenstein

It's blogfest season! Don't tell me there's no such things. There is no other way to explain the pile (read three) of new and awesome blogfests coming our way. One of which is mine. Yeah.

Anyway, here they are:

The I AM LEGEND blogfest

My blog isn't the only one who's nearing its one-year anniversary. I stopped counting how often I linked to Urban Psychopomp, but there you go. Once more! In her own words:

"The idea behind the blogfest is to give people an opportunity to share what is EPIC LEGEND WIN about their WIP or their favorite book. Is it a larger than life mythical creature? Is it a hero possessing such tenacity that he puts all other heroes to shame? Is it a war of such devastation that the human psyche will never be the same?"

This is going to be fun. There is Epic in all of our stories, and it's time to get it out. Not to mention, there are prizes! Hoorah!

Go to this post and sign up. You know you want to.

The great MonsterFest 2011!

Halloween is getting closer, and Sommer Leigh is preparing something big for it. It's no secret that we need to prepare ourselves from the onslaught of monsters that will rise on October 31st, and for that she is calling forward the League of Monstrologists.

Who are these guys? Well, us! Or, from the page: "Anyone who studies, writes about, reads about, hunts, loves, and/or is scared of monsters. There’s no formal education or training, no credentials needed. If monsters stalk your dreams, your waking curiosities, your writing, then you’ve been a Monstrologist all this time!"

If you're a monstrologist, it's your solemn duty to help us build a comprehensive informal guide of all things monstrous and terrifying! You can (and should) learn more on the MonsterFest's page

Superheroes of Science Blogfest

Yep, I know, this one is mine! I just wanted to remind you that sign-ups are ongoing for the Superheroes of Science Blogfest, celebrating the great scientists of our world, whether imaginary or not.

I want to stress this last point, because I'm well aware that today, scientists don't occupy a place of prestige and influence, and most people only know a few names. There are, however, a great number of scientists in movies, novels, TV shows and comics. It doesn't matter if your scientist is real or fictionnary, a hardcore physicist or an engineer. If you love him (or her) or if was an influence on your life or stories, this is the time to honour him.

Don't forget I'm giving away a copy of Forgotten Gods, a historical novel from fellow scientist and writer SB Stewart-Laing, at Writing the Other. It's coming out on the e-shelves tomorrow! So excited.

So this is it. Monsters, Mad Science and Stuff of Legends. I told you this was a recipe for Frankenstein!

Enjoy the weekend!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Gummy Embyo and Other Transparent Organs

Biologists have long relied on dissections to study the body and organ structures of different animals. We've all had that class where we cut up a bull's eye, a frog, a mouse or a fish. Sometimes all of these.

We've also used specific species to study the embryo's development, such as the zebra fish, which has the awesome particularity of being transparent at that stage, and which we engineered to remain transparent all the way to adulthood.

A team of Japan scientists just discovered another, madder way to study organs. They developped a chemical reagent, Scale, which turns biological tissue transparent.

Image courtesy of io9, very awesome science site

Those are two mice embryo. The one on the right was treated with Scale, and now you can see everything inside. 

Scale and Optical Imaging Techniques

The beauty of Scale isn't only that it can turn tissue transparent. It also does so without interfering with the fluorescent dye commonly used today in our best imagery techniques (these are very awesome, and I spoke about them in my three posts regarding the brainbow here, here and there).

This means scientists are able to colour specific tissues with a fluorescent protein and use the transparency reagent to remove all interferences. This gives them images of unprecedented clarity. The Japanese team used it to study the mouse's brain, but it is applicable to just every tissue under the sun.

What Remains to be Done

Scale currently has one big disadvantage: it's too potent to use on living organisms. Dr. Atsushi Miyawaki, the leading scientist on the japanese team, believes this could change. They're currently working on a "another, milder candidate reagent which would allow us to study live tissue in the same way, at somewhat lower levels of transparency."

If you want to know more, you can read the io9 article on the subject. I have to agree with them: the transparent embryo looks like a gummi. Yum! 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Blog Anniversary and the Superheroes of Science Blogfest

On September 25th, I will have blogged for an entire year. It's weird to think about it. Time flew by at an incredible speed, and the idea that I'll have written 200 of these little posts by then is mind-numbing. I mean, really? I found something to say on 200 different days through the year? And there's, what, 131 followers that found it interesting enough to stay around? Wow.

It deserves a little something special, don't you think? I sure do.

I'm doing two things. The first is a gift for myself, and the second is, well, something I thought would be fun for everyone. I sure hope so anyway!
Number One: I'm moving the blog! The new one will be on wordpress, with a new name and a new design. There are several reasons for why I'm changing from blogger to wordpress, including flexibility, comment threads and, well, just liking wordpress more. So, future new blog, whoo!

Number Two is the Superheroes of Science Blogfest!

One day, I swear, my buttons will be badass and awesome. One day!

The last time I organised something here (a guest blogger and giveaway), I asked you what aspects of science creeped you out. There were tons of awesome answers, and it remains the most popular post I have to date.

This time we'll visit the other side of science. It deserves some love! Here's how it'll go.

The blogfest takes place between Sept 25th and Sept 30th, on my new digs and your respective blogs. You can participate by answering to one of the prompts below (or anything related) and adding your name to Linky below.

There is a secret prize! At the end of the blogfest, I will use my awesome dice to pick the winner from participants. No extra entries, though you're welcomed to post more than once on the topic. It just won't count for the giveaway. (It'll count as points in my heart, though. I promise!)

Without further ado, the prompts!

Who is the most memorable scientist character to you? What's so special about him?
What scientists - dead, alive or fictional - made a difference in your life?
Is there a scientist you admire? What has he discovered or what is he working on?

This blogfest is as much about fictional science than real one - whichever suits your boat the most. Feel free to take "scientist" in the larger sense of the word. They don't have to be chemist with the beaker in their hands. They can be physicists with wild theories as much as the first mathematicians or philosophers who tried to understand nature. It's a scientist to you? Then it is for me!

Don't forget to join the linky and have a nice weekend!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Insecure Writers Support Group -- The Language Fear

Dear Insecure Writers,

I like to think I do something extraordinary. I'm writing a novel. It's not a fancy one, with Deep Ideas about Human Nature. Not that there's anything wrong with literary fiction. At all. But I'm not sure I have that fibre in me. I leave it to others, with a better understanding of what makes us human. And while sometimes I'm afraid of people judging me for writing commercial fiction, it's not my biggest fear.

No. I'm afraid they will judge me for writing in English. Quebec's fight for French preservation is old and never-ending. I am proud of my language, of its lyrical sound, of its peculiarities and culture and warmth. I love it. But often, so often, I feel like I'm betraying it. So many words on a page, in English, trampling on a heritage I ought to defend. 

You have to wonder if I'm a hypocrite. I fight for French's correct usage, I preach its presence at work even in English-dominated domains (hello, science), and I believe in immigrants learning it, along with English. French is an integral part of what Quebec is.

Yet when it comes to writing, an art so deeply tied to language, I write my stories in English.
When asked why, I don't know what to answer. Sorry. That's how the story spills. 

But I know I will be judged and critiqued for it. And I'm afraid, so afraid, it will come from my family and friends. That they'll be impressed that I can, disappointed that I did. 

I'm starting to go public with my writing life. Every step – every new person I tell – is terrifying.
I can't express how good it is to have you at my back. You're welcoming, reassuring, energetic, helpful, everything! Thank you for being here. 


P.S.: This is part of Alex J. Cauvanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group, every first Wednesday of the month. Your writing community is a great support for your fears, insecurities, problems. Don't be afraid to call on them, or to help your fellow writers. There are amazing people out there.

P.P.S.: I forgot to mention yesterday that you can vote for the pieces of flash fictions? I'm #214 on the list, if you wanted to go that way. :)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

First Campaigner Challenge - A Flash of Italian-ish Flavour

The first Campaigner Challenge is here! Rules-y:

Write a short story/flash fiction story in 200 words or less, excluding the title. It can be in any format, including a poem. Begin the story with the words, “The door swung open” These four words will be included in the word count.

If you want to give yourself an added challenge (optional), use the same beginning words and end with the words: "the door swung shut." (also included in the word count)

For those who want an even greater challenge, make your story 200 words EXACTLY!

You guys can blame Assassin's Creed for the italian names in there. ;)

The door swung open. His chains rattled on the ground as the guards led him out.

Silvio Sergenti kept his fingers in a tight ball around the fabric in his hand. The rough prisoner tunic scratched the soft skin of his noble ass. His underwear was hidden in the pail - all but the bit in his hand, with bloodied words scribbled over it.  They had taken his tongue but it would not silence him.

The bright light outside blinded him. The crowd hooted as they dragged him. They threw rocks, rotten apples and bread. It didn't matter. Silvio held his head high. The de Mezzi branded him a traitor and hunted his family, but their secret would not die with him.

"I will be at your back," Iaccopo had said. To take his words and relay the message.

Silvio Fergenti smiled at the nameless faces, distorted by anger, screaming colourful insults. He dropped the bloodied underwear on the ground. His message. Iacoppo would pick it up.

He took a shambling step forward, towards the noose. His heart twisted. Iacoppo stood there, shook de Mezzi's hand. Smiled. Laughed.

He would be at his back, he'd said. Stabbing.

The prison's iron doors swung shut.


Tada! The Campaign's Challenge page is here. Hope you enjoyed!

EDIT: I forgot to say, I'm #214 on that list, if you wanted to vote. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Back on the Blog

Wow, what a week. I'm sorry I missed the promised post last week but with the way my life went, it was the last thing on my mind.

But hey. I survived and I finished Camp NaNoWriMo in time. Huzzah!

In the meantime, Annalise Green tagged me for a 10 Random Facts Meme, which I will gladly do. You should check her out, because in the last week I've seen talk of Phoenix Wright, scary monsters, Earthbound, coffee and, of course, writing. All things that are downright awesome. (Also, she slays dragons with lasers. Epic.)

Also in the list of awesome writers discovered through the Campaign is Ari Susu-Mago, who just passed the Liebster award over here again.  Thanks a lot! Among other things, she posted this fascinating video. Sharing-worthy!

Now on to the ten facts, hm?

1. I love the letter W. I don't know why. It's one of those irrational, quirky love I carry around. It's a rare letter in French (worth 10 points in Scrabble), which is happily not the case in English. I once spent 20 minutes of walk making long W alliterations.

2. I used to think I'd read a lot of fantasy until I started hanging around fantasy writing communities. Then I realised I was missing out on most of the genre. It was one of the happiest discovery of my life.

3. I once joked to my ex that "Purple was Evil" in a very random context. The joke went viral in my circles of friends. All of them. Today Purple is my favourite colour (along with orange!)

4. I start school tomorrow!!!! I've been waiting for this day for about a month now. Although one could say that since this is the start of my Creative Program, I've been waiting for it for a year and a half.

5. My biochemistry program almost killed my love for science. Now that I'm (nearly) done, and with this blog frequently posting about it, I am finally rediscovering why it makes me so giddy.

6. I'm a squid. I even have a squid hat (which is cuddly and makes a wonderful pillow). True story.

7. I have Einstein in my bedroom. Not a poster. Not a plush. A puppet. It is from Prague, renowned for its puppet, and I love it to pieces. Best birthday gift ever! Look:

8. I haven't written a word in about a week now, and it feels so good. It was time for me to take a break. Apparently said break is called Minecraft.

9. I love to wake a hour earlier than I need to and enjoy my coffee and breakfast, read my newspaper and take it easy. It relaxes and awakens me. I don't do this often enough.

10. My bloganniversary is coming and I am planning something for you guys. Oh yes. To Be Announced this week or the next!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Last Hours of Mad Typing

I meant to have a really nice post here today, about the balance between writing craft and on-the-spot inspiration when writing or rewriting. It's been on my mind a lot lately as a struggled through the rewrites of my WIP.

Here's the thing, though. I have less than 24 hours to hit my Camp NaNoWriMo wordcount -- a goal for which I still need to write 8000 words. I'm typically a NaNoWriMo overachiever, and my pride as one will not allow me to fail the 50k. I can do it, I've written more in a day before. I just have to, ah, sacrifice the quality.

So I'm going to vanish for the next 24 hours and type like mad. I have a couple of new ideas I wanted to explore, and there is no better time than NaNo-speed surge of words to spill an exploratory drafts.

Check back on Thursday, all! I'll be a Camp Winner, and I'll have a nice, shiny post for you. :) Two, in fact, with Wicked & Tricksy.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Göbekli Tepe Or The Ruins That Predate Civilization

Most of the science on this blog is linked to biology or chemistry in one way or another, in large part because it's what I study in.

Today we take a look at something a little different. And by "a little", I mean a lot. I have the awesome Steph Sinkhorn to thank for one of the most major mindblowing discovery I've made in the last month: Göbekli Tepe. 

What is Göbekli Tepe?

Göbekli Tepe is a set of ruins discovered on a hilltop in southeast Turkey. The complex appears to be a sanctuary of sorts. It contains multiple round subterrean structures, each of which has a series of massive limestone pillars (we're talking 8 feet tall and seven tons here). The pillars themselves are decorated with complex carvings of animals, plants and other enigmatic pictograms.

The construction of Göbekli Tepe, which involved the carving and carrying of the pillars uphill, would take a staggering amount of manpower - estimations speak of 500 men.

Okay. But the Egyptians built the pyramids, so what's the big deal?

A Little Historical Context

The big deal came with the carbon-dating. At the moment, the oldest dating on Göbekli Tepe places it at 9000 BC. They are not done digging the site, however, and most archeologist estimate the ruins' beginning to be in 11,000 BC.

Mesopotamian writing systems are estimated to the end of the 4th millenium BC.
Animal husbandry is estimated to 9000 BC.

What this means, in short, is that Göbekli Tepe was built before the Neolithic Revolution, when humans were still hunters-gatherers. Before agriculture and animal husbandry.

The hilltop sanctuary speaks of a level of organization that was never associated with the time period. Archeologists now believe a priestly caste supervised the work (good job on gathering those 500 men, there) and, afterwards, the religious ceremony that took place there.

Kind of awesome, how wrong we were about the small packs of hunter-gatherers, eh?

And Now the Actual Crazy Inspiration Part

There is something else unique with Göbekli Tepe, and I'll admit that's the part I found the most interesting. It spoke to the writer in me, because it implies a story.

Göbekli Tepe was deliberately buried under 300 to 500 cubic meters of sand. They took the sand from elsewhere and filled their sanctuary with it, and no one knows why. Protection from invaders? Preservation for future generations? Respect for a religious site no longer in usage?

We don't know. Chances are, we never will.

If you're like me, though, you are weaving an epic tale that would lead hundreds of hunter-gatherers to work together and fill their holy sites with sand, in the desperate hope that when danger passes, they can return to it and honour their gods.

Images are from Ancient Wisdom, where there's a lot more to see.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Year in Creative Writing

If you've been hanging around here for a while (or, well, if you read the description next to my name XD), you know I'm a biochemist student. For the last three years, every class I've taken was related to DNA or microbes or proteins or chemistry.

I love sciences. I love it enough that I'll be going on to do a Masters. But before that, however, I am allowing myself a year of break. And by break, I really mean insaneness.

There is a short Creative Writing program at my University that can be completed in a year. I'm jumping in, and plan on completing it along with the two last Biochemistry class (which means I'm having extra classes each semester, which is why this is insane, but let's ignore that). Starting this September, I'll spend almost all of my time writing.

I don't know how useful it'll be. Very, I hope. I do know that a friend of mine did it, and loved it, and I hope that all of the critique groups and writing experiments will help me along the path.

That's my brand new adventure! You know the ironic part? All those classes... they are in French.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fire! Fire! And I Give In to the Campaign

Who knew I had a pyromaniac among my followers? Not that it should be surprising, considering the company I keep. It remains, last week the lovely Jennifer Burke set my blog on fire.

FWOOSH! (I like saying fwoosh)
Thanks Jen! What's not to love in an award that comes with multiple silly questions!

1. Are you a rutabaga?

  No, I'm soft and pink. But I can tell you the code for that veggie in on my till is 4747, and you pay by weight. Part of me wish I didn't know such things, but they make me an efficient cashier. Oh well.

2. Who is your current crush?

You mean, apart from my boyfriend? Luigi (yes yes, from Mario Bros). But Luigi has been my crush since I was 4-year-old. Some things never change.

3. Upload a heartwarming picture that makes you smile.

 That's my boyfriend making silly faces next to a snowman we built this winter. There was a snowshoe race on the snowshoe track the next day. Marco (the snowman) was there to cheer on them.

4. When was the last time you ate a vine-ripened tomato.

About ten days ago. They came from the above boyfriend's grandparents' garden. I had 4 such tomatos, all of which were super yummy.

5. Name one habit that causes others to plot your demise.

Acting as though I haven't heard sarcasm when I did. When people are sarcastic with me, I like to keep going as though I never noticed. Then they point out they were sarcastic and I answer "I know." Most people don't know how to react to this. It's rather fun.

6. What's the weirdest, most disgusting job you've ever had to do? 

In Quebec empty bottles of beers are brought back to the grocery. We bring them to the backstore, sort them and place them on delivery pallets for pick-up. Apparenlty people don't think they should rinse their bottles. It always stinks, and even with gloves I get beer juice on my hands and arms, and cut myself every two weeks or so.

Oh, and that lime in Coronas ? Not so nice after a month or two. Not at all.

7. Where da muffin top at?

It met this really nice croissant girl and they hooked up together, and they had chocolate croissant babies. Yum.

8. What author introduced you to your genre?

Tolkien. Is anyone surprised by this? It was Tolkien before Rowling, by a very thin margin. I started reading LotR at the same time as our teacher read HP in my 6th grade class. I finished long before her.

9. Describe yourself with a few latin words.

... I wish French would be enough for this. :P

"Et concitaverunt mulieres LASCIVUS" Yeah!

Now I'd love to pass this award to fellow writers, whose blog I enjoy every week:
Caitlin at Logically   (yeah, I know SB stole my fire, but you get it twice) 
Hillary J. at Impudent Hatchlings
Lynda at W.I.P. it  , whom I've just discovered but already love. 
Silent Pages at Pro(B)logue  - also a new find!

Last but not least! If you've been around the interwebs, you'll have noticed that Rachel Harrie started her third round of Writers' Platform Building Campaign. I have resisted joining in for, oh... four days? But my sanity's best pleas have failed, and despite the crazy semester I'll have, I just have to be a part of this.

What can I say? I love blogging. I love the community. And I'm already crazy, ah!

So there. It is official. I am a Campaigner!

You should give in, too. It promises to be so much fun.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The First Spark

Every now and then, a blogfest comes about with a concept so cool - or so close to you - that you just can't resist. The Sparkfest is such a thing for me. Every time I look back at why and how I started writing, I am amazed.

There are three prompts for this blogfest, all of which I'm semi-ignoring. It's the question on the bomb I want to answer.

Who set you off? 

My ex-boyfriend.

I've always maintained that you can learn and grow from every relationship. Well, my ex brought me to writing. There's no denying it. Without him, I'd have never tried a full-length novel. I would've stayed with short scenes related to roleplaying games, tied to each other with little structure. They were a blast to write, mind you, but they weren't novels.

They were for me and him, until the day he said they were really good. Not just fun. Good, writing-wise.

I don't know if he said it because it was true, or because we were, y'know, dating, but it doesn't matter.

It was the boost of confidence I needed to jump feet first into the adventure. It helped that I found NaNoWriMo just as I got my first novel idea, and that I managed to get to the end. It also helped that, just when I felt there had to be more to this writing-thing, I found Nathan Bransford and the Bransforums.

The very first spark, however, the one that set off the whole process, came from my ex-boyfriend. Some days I wonder if he'll ever know the wildfire he started.

So tell me, who set you off?

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Immortal Jellyfish

Nature is full of surprises and crazy exploits. Some are pretty and fascinating. Others are mindblowing.

Turritopsis nutricula is one of them.

This medusa is smaller than your fingertip, but you can bet it'll live on longer than you. In fact, barring environmental predators, it'll never die. That's right. Our friend T. nutricula is an immortal jellyfish.

Turritopsis nutricula uses a nice and simple (in appearance, anyway) trick to achieve this: it inverses its life cycle as it gets old. This jellyfish developped a special process that allows it, through the use of unique cell tissues, to reverse its aging and return to polyp form.

If you've watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, you know what I'm talking about. Imagine if we could from baby to old, then back to baby, forever and ever.

Crazy. Also, great fodder for far-off science-fiction or a magical race. But that's my writer brain talking.

It's a good thing T. nutricula isn't a four-feet large jellyfish, otherwise we'd have a Worldwide Giant Medusa Invasion on our hands. Meep!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Scientist and The Writing

I spent a lot of time in the last days examining my writing. Well, not the writing itself, but more my relationship to it -- why I do it, what I expect from it, what my goals are. You know the questions. You probably asked them for yourself before.

I've been writing for a little more than four years now, with something like 8 projects to back it up. I read blogs (and started my own), bought how-to books, participated on writer forums. I plotted, drafted, replotted, redrafted and edited, sometimes all on the same WIP.

Through it all I realised that the information I sought the most out of fellow writers was how they did it. Not necessarily how it should look in the final product, but how they got there (or are trying to).

Methods. Techniques.

I blame the scientist in me. Even knowing that every writer is different, and that someone else's technique might not work for me, I want to know. And with every new draft - every new attempt at this writing thing - he tries bits of other people's techniques.

Kind of the writerly version of the scientific method. Observe, Experiment, Note Results, Draw Conclusions. Try again?

I'm not done yet. My process is getting better and better, but I've yet to streamline it into a method that'll be flezible enough for most of my books, and fit my writing style.

As a side note, you should check Margo's mindblowing post (though perhaps not mindblowing in the way you expect it) at Wicked & Tricksy today. The content and title kinda prompted today's reflection.

And what about you? Do you steal bits of writing methods elsewhere? For what? Planning, writing, editing?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Set Up: My Writerly Kryptonite

Way back in February, I sat down and started to write the third draft of White Echoes (which has now been renamed, but that's beside the point).

I made this post, on the 17th, about how I didn't like set up. All the first quarter of the book -- establishing characters, foreshadowing the main conflict, bringing the world to life, tossing your MC's life to the high winds -- it's a vital part, but at the time I had so much problems writing it I began hating it.

At the time, Margo suggested it might be my subconscious picking on something inherently wrong with it. She was right, for the record. There was something super wrong with the beginning. So I reworked it, and decided to rewrite during Camp NaNo

Except, well, when I started having problems writing it this time, I stopped and looked at my outline. Any sequential problems with it? Undevelopped tension? Any failures I could find? I found tiny ones, but nothing major. Nothing warranting my unprecedented degree of writer block.

And I think that, just maybe, it's because I still don't like set up. These are awesome and all-important scenes, but while I know it, they remain hard to write. Super hard.

Conclusion? Part 1 is my writerly kryptonite.

Thankfully I am nearing Part II. With luck, things will pick up by then!

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Penicillin of Viruses

You know what can turn an oh-my-god-can't-write-to-save-my-life day into a fairly nice one? Good Science News. Promising discoveries! Hope for our Cure-The-Sickness related future!

That's what happened when I found this article on MIT news. A team of researcher from the MIT Lincoln's laboratory developped a new drug that can identify cells infected by virus and terminate them. And that, my friend, is full of awesome.

The Problem with Treating Viruses

Viruses have this badass and terrifying strategy in which they infect the host's cells, hijack their resources and begin to multiply. The cell does have a few defenses to prevent this, but most viruses have found ways to bypass and counter these. Otherwise they wouldn't, you know, still exist.

The point is that once the virus is inside the host cell, it becomes difficult to distinguish from the non-infected cells. We manage to develop specific drugs for specific viruses by hindering their unique ways to act, but viruses have such a vast array of techniques and molecules that it is almost impossible to produce one drug that affects them all.

That is what the MIT's lab achieved. One drug for most viruses.

How the hell?

OK. This is the science part. Let's try and keep it simple. Every cell has DNA, on which we have carry genetic information. In order to access that information, we create an RNA molecule (think of it as a close-cousin of DNA) from the DNA, which is then read and transformed into a protein.

DNA is double-stranded in humans -- you've all seen the double helix image. RNA, however, is single stranded. Just one long string that twists.

Basic human scheme:  Double stranded DNA --> Single stranded RNA --> Protein

Here are the key points.
1. There is never any double stranded RNA in the human process.
2. There is almost always double stranded RNA in the viral duplication.

Todd Rider's drug identifies cells with double-stranded RNA inside them and hits their self-destruct button.*


And you know the best thing about this drug? It's called DRACO. Not just for fun. The acronym means something. It is also badass.

They tested the drug against influenza (your day-to-day cold) and dengue fever (a cousin of Ebola), and it worked. These are two very very very different viruses. At the moment they're trying DRACO on other viruses in mice before moving to bigger animals, and eventually humans. So it's not ready or finished yet, but one can hope.

And for those of you who want to see more of the science, the drug's action mecanism is explained in more details in the article. Plus pictures of their tests. It's neat!

*Yes, there is such a thing in cells. It's one of the most broken mecanism of cancer cells. Self-destruct buttons: not as useless as in sci-fi movies.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hello, TMI Underwear Meme

It's caught up. The Underwear Meme is here, passed along by Margo. The first thing I discovered was that my undy-related vocabulary was severely lacking. Terms like 'drawers' and 'long johns' were not part of my daily usage. Mistake corrected.

The second thing I found was that this was a hilarious game and I wasn't going to back down from it. Off we are!

What do you call your drawers?

Bobettes!  That's kind of Quebec's version of 'undies'. Bobette.

Do you have any commonly used nicknames for them?
... Bobette! No nickname. When you have a word as fun as bobette to say, you stick with it. Bobette bobette bobette!

Have you ever had that supposedly common dream of being in a crowded place in only your bloomers?

That's a common dream?  Man, you people dream about weird things. I'll stick to my vomitting monsters nighttime fancies. Also, that sounded way too dirty.

What is the worst thing you can think of to make long johns out of?

In vitro skin tissue. I don't think I need to explain how disgusting that'd be.

If you were a pair of small clothes, what color would you be, and WHY?

Phosphorescent orange. I'd absorb the light present when you put me on and spend my day lighting your ass. Yeah, I'd be a LOOK AT ME pair of small clothes. Why? I don't know. I like to embarass others in harmless fashion.

Have you ever thrown your bloomers at a rock star or other celebrity? If so, which one(s)? If not, which one(s) WOULD you throw your bloomers at, given the opportunity?

... I don't think I'd ever do that. Which is ironic, considering how much of a groupie I can be. Although I might throw my small clothes at Johnny Depp if doing so was a sure way to enjoy a short exchange in French with him. You can't resist his accent when he does.

Might also throw a pair of small clothes with a tiny rock in it close to Andy Serkis, see if I can make him believe there's a precious in it.

You’re out of clean drawers. What do you do?

Assassinate the President of the United States. What do you think happened to all those other blokes who got killed? Dirty drawers are a plague to humanity.

Are you old enough to remember Underoos? If so, did you have any? Which ones?

I think I'm neither old enough, nor in the right geographical region. Upon googling it... O.o Woah. Poor kids.

If you could have any message printed on your long johns, what would it be? 

Peel to reveal canadian surrealist porn. *
How many bloggers does it take to put small clothes on a goat? 

One, and her name is chomsky-rabbit. We know from experience. ... writing experience!

That was it! Undy fun. Now who to pass the meme to...

First, to chomsky herself. I mean, she's part of the answers. She's got to give her own now!
Second, to LG at Bards and Prophet, who had it twice already but has yet to answer. We're waiitiing! ;)
Third, to Tricia at TL Conway Writes Here. Because... well, because I want to.

Finally, you guys should check out Caitlin's (from Logically) answers. They are hilarious.

*If you don't get this one, refer to the comments of this post.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Blogging Love Day

Last week I received the Liebster Blog Award from the wonderful Sarah McCabe. There is no good excuses not to move over there and check her out. I mean, come on, if you do so now, you will be welcomed with the funniest picture of Shakespeare ever. You do want that, don't you?

It isn't the first time I see this award in the blogosphere, and I love the idea behind it. The goal of the award is to spotlight up and coming bloggers who currently have less than 200 followers. What's not to love about highlighting awesome folks who deserve more bloggy friends?

The rules of the award are:

   1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.  (Thank you, Sarah!)
   2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
   3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
   4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
   5. And most of all - have bloggity-blog fun! (Check check check!)

Choosing who to pass the award is always the best and hardest part. Especially when half the folks you know got it already, ah! I'm splitting my award-giving in two categories. All of which fit in one category: Fantasy Devotee. 'cause Sarah called me that, and I think it should be an official title. There.

Shiny Dragon Header and Awesome Blogger

Taylor Roseberry at The Pen is Mightier. I met Taylor during last NaNoWriMo. I can't recall how, but I know we ended up pushing the last days together. A bond was formed, and it so happens he has a great blog with a super shiny header. Sarah tagged him for this already, but he hasn't answered. So there. You have no choice.

Anastasia at Labotomy of a Writer. Another Fantasy Devotee, another incredible header and tons of great posts. She just moved her blog from one site to another, and I think she deserves a renewal in love!

Self-Pubbed and Awesom

Two of my Wicked & Tricksy acolytes have or will launched themselves into self-publishing. I don't think they get near enough love (although I'm not sure I'd ever think they would) and while I'm aware I've pointed in their directions before, well, I'm doing it again. There.

First there's Margo, the Evil Mastermind of Urban Psychopomp and Unsafe Haven, who published the norse urban fantasy short story Dís this summer. Urban Psychopomp is full of incredible writing advice (and undy-talk, apparently), and Unsafe Haven is oriented toward the mythology behind Margo's stories. Both should be bookmarked.

Second there's SB, Great Scott* Overlord of Writing the Other. His historical fantasy novel, Forgotten Gods, will hit the virtual shelves on Sept 17th, and I'm dying for a fast-forward button. Oh, and you know what's best? His co-author, Michael Jay Chernicoff, decided to get his own blog. Watch that space, people! I predict awesomeness.

Whew, I think that's it! Sorry about the lack of recent posts. Camp NaNo is kicking my ass, and I'm fighting back.

*Did you hear Doc from Back to the Future in your head? Cause I sure do.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Juggling With Projects - How Much of A Multitasking Writer Are You?

Juggler at the Beach

Before I started writing, I couldn't imagine a writer working on more than one story at a time. While I had no idea of the actual scope of efforts and time writing demanded, I knew it was at least "a lot", and it didn't possible to stretch one's mind on two or three projects at once.

Fast-forward a few years later. I started roleplaying and realised I could hold more than one story in my head at once. It still wasn't writing, but I think life was trying to prepare me for the truth.

Today I alternate between six different WIPs. I tend give most of my writing time to one of them during a few months, with the occasional dabbling in another. Then the first is put on the backburner, the second becomes the main project, and a third takes the dabbler's place.*

I know, however, that not all writers work like this. The number of WIPs one consistently works with is like most other variables of the writers' journey: they vary from one person to the other.

So I'm curious, writer friends! How many WIPs do you work with? If you've got more than one, how do you usually function?

*Trying to pick the next dabbler is always tons of fun... in a very *head desk* I don't know which I prefer right now, aaaah!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Camp NaNo and A Big Thank You

Despite the coming month of August, and Camp NaNoWriMo's official launch next Monday, this week has been one of sad news for Wrimos across the planet. Every participant has received an e-mail announcing that Chris Baty, Executive Director of the OLL (NaNo's parent organisation) is stepping down this coming January.
It's hard to imagine that this man once sat with a bunch of overly caffeinated friends and decided that they would write a 50,000 word-novel in a month. They picked July that first time, and while others enjoyed cocktails next to swimming pools, they sat down and typed until their fingertips bled.
Now there's more than 200,000 participants attempting it every year, with varying degrees of success, and I know for a fact that there's a lot of these folks who think of NaNo as a life-changing event.
I wouldn't be where I am today without NaNo. I don't think I'd even be a writer. NaNoWriMo was my door to the writing world, and I know who I must thank for that.
So, thank you, Chris Baty. We'll miss you.
With that said, the NaNoWriMo programs come to a strange full-circle this year, with Camp NaNoWriMo (a lite version of the November event) taking place during July and August. I've prodded my region into joining the party, and we are now waiting for August 1st to begin our mad typing once more.
This is my occasion to go through my last revisions (for now, I mean) of White Echoes, a related short story I've been meaning to write, and to push forward some worldbuilding for the next WIP getting my attention (I've been map drawing again!).
Also, this is my occasion to organise a real kick-ass camping trips with close friends, eat tons of marshmallows and exchange stories around a fire. It's Camp NaNoWriMo, after all! We can't stay inside all month.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Map Evolution

Mapping is a progressive business for me. I can't sit down, draw a bunch of lines, sprinkle mountains and rivers over it and then draw circles where I want cities to be. Well, I could, but it would be meaningless. I've tried, and have a lot of trouble defining my world after the map is drawn.

My map-drawing goes hand in hand with the worldbuilding. I imagine kingdoms/countries and their relations to one another. I know which are bigger, which are more military, which should have what kind of climate. They aren't drawn, but I have an end goal in mind. I also know my major storyline locations, and have a good idea of where they must be located (one relative to another, at any rate).

Then I sketch. Sketching maps is perhaps the only art-sy thing I can do. It was made even easier with my touchscreen laptop. Now I sketch straight into Paint. (yes, Paint. I don't have nor need anything else)

So, let's have some pictures. I am admittedly proud of my maps.

First sketch!
Everything with a name on there is important plotwise. Once I had that map, I took a closer look at each country. I always have a good idea of what must go in each and how I want the map to unfold, but the actual drawing, to me, is setting in stones these details. It means I have something solid I can reference to in the novel.

I started with Regaria
It was at that point that I realised that for the balance of power to really make sense in the novel, I'd need more than three countries. The plotter in me facepalmed hard, ranted inwardly that I should've done all that before I wrote the latest draft, and I ignored it. No point in beating myself over it.

I went ahead, added two new kingdoms and finished the lines around this continent.

From that point it was mainly a matter of adding the details that were in my notes. Drawing maps to me is part basic geography knowledge (and I really mean basic. I'm not a geography buff at all), part imagination in order to create unique locations, part historical logic. There's a couple of rules and tricks I set for myself when I draw.

  1. Pay attention to your mountain ranges. They should follow a certain tectonic plate logic.
  2. Rivers flow from higher ground into the ocean (or lower ground, if you have some place below the sea's level).
  3. Most important cities will be near a waterway. Population is likely more concentrated in such areas too.
  4. Water currents, hot and cold, have a major impact on climate. 
The end result of all this map-drawing fun was this:
TADAM! (And I just realised my cold water current lines are wrong. OOPS)
It is, in truth, still missing details in Mikken and Durham. I'll have them before I launch another rewrite. Just in case.

And now it's your turn! Do you have any tips for maps? Where do you start yours?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Worldbuilding with a Timeline

Of all the things very characteristic of speculative fiction, worldbuilding is probably my favourite. There is something enchanting in the act of bringing a whole different universe to life, mashing up together original concepts (if there is such a thing) with classic trends of humanity. Not to mention the effect one idea has on the rest of the setting. Connecting the dots through explanations, consequences and other Cool Ideas.

It's all fun, almost no work. To me, anyway.

There comes a point where I have all a bunch of important ideas laid out, though, and while my head has a difformed map in it, I can no longer go on without one. Geography is IMPORTANT. Yep, capital letters and all.

It is a simple truth that almost eluded me when I started worldbuilding for White Echoes. Because, well, in science fiction travel is a lot easier. Distances don't quite mean the same. Important, yes, these days when we think of going from A to B, we don't often consider the geography. A plane will take us over.

Except I have a world where there are no planes, only zeppelins, and these are restricted. Not to mention a whole bunch of factors that make travelling costly and all.

Even more importantly... this world has a past. Unless there is a good reason for which humans could always travel easy and cheap, there will have been a point in history in which things such as rivers and mountains mattered. Even today, ships are an important way to move cargo and a large port will be an important economic advantage.

All of this to say, think not only of the present, but also of the past. When you place important cities on a map, create frontiers between kingdoms or invent epic conflict between nations, never forget to consider not only what is today, but how it was in the past.

It's an obvious lesson, but one I just had to remind myself of. Thought I'd share.

(Also, there will be a mappish post in the close future. Because I happen to like maps, and I happen to like sharing things I like. Yep.)

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Most Horrible and Perfect Sentence of A Dance with Dragons

First, a note: No spoilers, I swear. You can read on safely, fellow fans.

Ten days ago was the release date of GRR Martin's A Dance with Dragons, a book for which I, along with many fans, have been waiting a long time. Not that I mind - there's plenty of other books to read in the meantime - but once it was there, I wasn't going to wait another day.

I bought on Tuesday and spent my week doing little else with my free time than read through the thousand-page epic.* I was done Saturday afternoon, and "forced" the book in a friend's hand so I'd have someone to discuss spoilery goodness with.

Not that I'll expand much on the book. By now there's plenty of reviews out there if you're curious. 

See, Martin does grim and brutal super well. He's known for the frequent character deaths and general grittiness of his setting. And among a bloody description of a city's ruins after the war came by (bodies in the water, entire streets burnt down, etc.) was a sentence fragment so perfect  I just had to stop.

Maybe it's just me, but that sentence caught my attention, and that rarely ever happens when I read. And with all the set-up I just did, maybe you'll be disappointed. :P It's still one of the most horrible and perfect sentence I've read in a looong time (hence the title!)

So, here goes. Remember: part of a list of war-related horrors. It wasn't standing alone. And if you're eating anything, put it down.

Children fighting over half-cooked puppies.

And that's it! Tell me, do you remember powerful descriptions that made you stop and pause?

*It's 959 pages of actual text, but with the appendix it goes over 1000. So, I decide that it qualifies!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Six Thousand Feet in the Air

Chose promise, chose due.

 I promised to tell you all about my hot air balloon trip, and this is where it happens. This post is going to be long and full of pictures. You have been warned!

My first flight plan was cancelled due to bad weather. You don't fly if it's raining, or if the ground is wet. It'd be possible, but it takes more heat to rise, since water makes the balloon heavier. Plus, the view from the sky isn't as clear, and it's nowhere near as cool. So, we waited for the sun and a call from our trusted pilot.

The sun, it seems, decided to come one Saturday morning... at 5:30 am. Which means I was up at 4 am, a feat in and of itself! Honestly, though, I'd been semi-awake since 2 am, alternating between proper sleep and eyes-wide-open-with-excitement. Balloon Ride, my kid mind said. Proper research! my writer mind added. Happy times were to be had today.

So we got up, went there, and then moved with the four other passengers, the pilot and the rest of the crew to our take-off site. They took out the basket there, tied the enveloppe to it and only then did they begin to remove the enveloppe from its bag.

There it was. My first writerly heart attack.

When you read that something is X feet tall and X feet wide, you think "Wow, that's big."  But "big" isn't a concrete measure, and in my mind at least, it doesn't really click until I've seen it. Just like it's one thing to know the Eiffel Tower is tall, another to stand underneath it and look up. Or one thing to be told that northern lights are pretty, and another to see them. Some concepts are too abstracts to grasp with a solid exemple. Hot air balloon bigginess is one.

So we weren't in the sky yet and I already had one small plot problem to solve. But I took heart: that's why I'd come (in addition to the 'having fun' part).

Besides, I wasn't going to dwell on it. Not when they asked for volunteers to hold the enveloppe's mouth open!

Me with a crazy face, holding the enveloppe

So now I know how it strains the arms to hold it, how freaking complicated it'd be to take off alone, how hot the air gets once they use the burners to warm it (that's why the gloves) and about how long it takes. And yep, that's another balloon preparing for take-off behind us. We were three that morning.

Unlike the enveloppe, the basket was a bit smaller than expected. We weren't squeezed inside, but any tighter and it would no longer have been comfortable. But it was comfy. Also, you don't feel a thing when you take off. You're talking and enjoying yourself, and suddenly the world lowers and you wonder why. Then you look down and see this:

That's the third balloon. It was quite smaller
Once you're in the air, the entire world shushes down. Well, okay, not for the first half hour of the flight, because I kept asking questions to the pilot. "What's that rope?" "And that big red one?" "How does it feel when you go higher? In winter? In bad weather?" "How much propane do you need?"*

Once I shut up, though... complete quiet. Nothing but the soft whistling of gas heading to the burner, and the occasional WHOOOSH when he pushed the buttons. No cars, no birds, no people. Only you, the sky and the world, 6000 feet below.

Now, enough talking and more showing. This is what it looked like from above:

That's Quebec City on the other side of the St-Lawrence River

I call it the Brocoli Forest
We're at 3000 ft now. Nope, they did not crash in the river
Despite the fact that my mind kept wondering how I was going to fix my newly found plot problems, this hot air balloon trip is one of the most relaxing experiences I've ever had. It's an instant slow down. More than anything I've done in vacation, it took me out of my speedy-speed life and allowed me to take a breather.

The landing was super smooth too, and we shared champagne with the crew and the farmer whose field we'd used as a landing ground.

That's my pilot, in his super cool hat. He's awesome, funny and talkative.
My plot problems are now fixed, thanks to the boyfriend's many thoughtful suggestions and all I've learned on the trip. It's turned a cool scene into an absolutely epic one, and added a new storyline branch to the novel. The balloon trip was a great experience, both for the novel and for the pure awesomeness of it.

Oh, and just in case you'd consider flying around Quebec City or Montreal, my pilot is Jacques Brouard. He has his own little enterprise called Québec Montgolfière and has been flying for more than 20 years now. I recommend him. Seriously.

That's the little story of my brief time in a balloon. You can ask all the questions you want in the comments if there's something you wanted to know, and that I forgot to say. :)

*The last one is super important, considering propane is a rarity in my world.