Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Another Year and Another Draft


I am 22. Whoo! I don't feel any more mature, though.

That alone wouldn't be worth a blog post, but I happen to have something much more awesome to say:

I have finished my third White Echoes draft. I had celebratory cake for the occasion, of course. :)

Then I immediately got back to replanning the entirety of Part 1. It looked real good in outline form, but when I wrote it, it felt all kinds of wrong. It had months to stew in my head, however, and is much smoother now. As soon as the last kinks are worked out, I start writing again.

I'm excited and relaxed. Vacations are going well.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Vacations in the Sky!

Ten days ago I announced I would be taking a blog vacation*, to go along with my actual vacations from work. I love you guys, but I believe this is a great time to take a real break for my brain. I'll try and keep up with the blogs, will certainly keep an eye on my e-mails, and might throw an extra post here and there, but I make no promises.

These are my vacations. I intend to do as I damn please with them! Enjoy these three visual clues of what that implies:

Morning inspiration - tommorrow #mostreet

Creative Commons License photo credit: maxymedia

Yeah, I'm taking off with the whole house.
For real. Real real real! Weeeeee.
Fun times ahead. I will, of course, bring a notebook to the balloon flight and harass the pilot with every single question I can think of. Who wouldn't want to do research when it promises to be so fun?

Oh, and I have a little something special in the works again. You'll hear more of it when I return. Secrets!

Enjoy your summer. See you around the interwebs!

*Wicked & Tricksy is excluded in blog vacation. I'll still post on Thursdays. We have a blogfest coming, after all!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Internet Ripples and Geek Astrology

Our wild talk of alcohol must have crossed the internet, because it was the topic of xkcd's comic today. More or less. Here it is, because it's downright funny:

Ever wondered what your geek astrology sign would be? Undead, wizard, superhero, treasure hunter? It's time to find out!

I'm a pirate. I wouldn't be half as pleased as I am if, upon seeing the image for pirates, I hadn't immediately recognised Guybrush Threepwood. Of all the famous pirates out there, they picked my favourite! Whee, Monkey Island.

Don't forget, I'm at Wicked & Tricksy today, with a post on dialogue!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Writing and Drinking

Hello, my name is Claudie, and I am a drinking writer.

In one of my frequent Wicked & Tricksy Twitter Takeover, yesterday, I asked the twitter-verse for research tips.

This was Hektor Karl's fabulous answer:  "I spend a lot of time "researching" the wine, whiskey and beer that the characters drink. I should win a Pulitzer."

OK, raise your hand if you do this kind of research, too!

It's an old tradition to associate writers with alcohol. Ages old, I daresay. After coffee, wine is my favourite fuel. Not too much, otherwise I can't line up words into a correct sentence, but there's no resisting a glass of good wine to go with a little creative juice.

What's your favourite alcoholised writer fuel? Wine, scotch, cocktail, beer? Name it!

(You are welcomed to start your post with "Hello, my name is _______ and I am a drinking writer. Even if your answer is "coffee" or "water"!)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

DOOM Is Upon Me

Good gracious, I was tagged with the most explosive blog award yet, by the Queen of DOOM, Margo Lerwill. Yes, you have just earned yourself a new title.


1. When you receive the Blog Award of DOOM your task is to post a short selection of your writing, 100-300 words, in which your favorite character suffers a horrible fate. It can be your favorite character from your own writing or from something you've read, it can be from a finished manuscript, a WIP or something you just made up on the spot. Your choice, but it has to be full of DOOM!

2. Pass it on to one other blogger and let them know their DOOM has come.

3. Remember that the person who passed the award on to you also received it as well. Go back to their post to read and comment on their writing sample. Make sure to thank them for sending the DOOM your way.

4. Whenever you use the word DOOM in your post, you must capitalize the whole thing.

I should say, right away, that I changed my mind about the excerpt I'd post it 5 times. I couldn't decide. I browsed through WIPs both old and new, seeking a DOOM scene that would be worthy of Margo's incredible DOOMish DOOMsday post. Let's be honest, I have nothing that DOOM-y.

Maybe SB, at Writing the Other, can do better. I bet you have some juicy celtic DOOM in store for us! (that's me tagging you, for the record)

As for me, I do have a DOOM excerpt, from White Echoes no less, which does feature a character I love to write. It should be noted that I haven't edited it. This is pure first draft. In short, Vermen is trying to get to the army's general by bluffing his way as someone carrying an urgent message. He has a captain uniform on.

Enjoy the DOOM!


He started down the street, to enter where there were more soldiers. If he appeared too close and out of nowhere, it'd alarm them. Three hundred feet ought to do. This entire plan hinged on balancing speed with believability. Vermen gave a silent prayer to Henry's winds and plunged in the open as Kurtmann continued to confess.

"... every word of the following recording is true. I have heard it in the past and done nothing. I am unworthy of the trust ... "

Vermen managed a hundred feet at a jog before anyone called for him to stop. He brandished the papers – "Message for the general!" – and hurried on. Soon another man grabbed his forearm.

"Slow down, soldier."

"That's Captain to you, corporal," Vermen said, before pushing past.

He bullied several more soldiers, repeating he carried a message for the general, with the occasional half-hearted apology. One hundred feet. He'd drawn too much attention. An officer called for him to stop and reached lowered his riffle.

" ... the Clarin twins are responsible for engineering and spreading the Threstle Plague ... "

The officer turned toward the radio for a second. Vermen barrelled into him and sent the man to the ground before speeding past and burst into the inn's street. He had the general's attention now. Fifty feet. Clarin examined him with a confused frown. Vermen threw aside the paper and flicked the blade out. Fifteen feet. Omar grabbed his pistol in a hurry and aimed it. Vermen took one stride. Two strides. Threw himself forward.

The pistol banged as he sliced with his blade.

He felt the bullet plunge in his midrift as warm blood splashed from Clarin's throat and in his face. General Omar Clarin would die. They fell to the ground together, his vision blurred out by the pain. Another bullet hit his shoulder, from the officer, and his tenuous link to consciousness went with it.

The last thing he knew was a flash of bright white light.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Downhill Slope

I love writing endings.

Planning them is a tough cookie. You have to make sure all the parts fit, and that they carry enough significance and strength. It needs to be tense and heartwrenching and all kinds of other hard things. Fitting the pieces correctly plays a big role in this, and that's one thing I do through planning.

The rest comes with good writing. Conveying all the powerful emotions with the right words and the right actions.

Here's the thing. I like my ending's plan. When I talk about it, I get carried away and excited like no other part of the novel. When I put it down? It comes out all wrong, of course.

I'm not worried, not even for a moment. NaNoWriMo has taught me to ignore the lame writing and keep moving forward. As long as I am confident that I am writing the right scene, I don't mind the lameness level of what is inside.

I just want it there. I need something to work with later and I need a first feel of how these imagined scenes play out. There's no editing a blank page, and all that.

Last week, I hit this point in the novel where everything goes downhill. I know exactly what goes where, and when, though it was a real headache to puzzle it out. Now that's behind me. All I have to do is write, write, write.

Slide down the hill until I reach the finish line.

The End!

Friday, June 17, 2011

HeLa Cells and the Cold War

We're back with HeLa cells! There's so much to say here, I could go on a whole week.

For all the good they did to science, HeLa cells also brought their share of problems. Their incredible ability to grow and divide made them aggressive invaders of other cell lines. Because they were sent to laboratories all over the world (since, you know, you could discovery so much with them), HeLa cells were given an opportunity to contaminate nearly all laboratories cell cultures.

At the time, cell lines were at their beginnings, and identifying contaminations wasn't an easy task. Growing cells had been so hard until HeLa that no one really expected it to happen.*

They found, however, that normal cell lines seemed to become malignant cells. At the time, the growing belief was that there was a cancer virus, which could be isolated and defeated.

Fast-forward to the Cold War. The US and the URSS are at odds with each other (to say the least). They are competing in nearly every science field.

Just when the Americans began to doubt the cancer virus theory (they found an alarming number of top security laboratories with HeLa contaminations and wondered if the cells "becoming malignant" weren't simply all HeLa cells that had contaminated), the Soviets claimed they'd found it. In five different cell lines, no less.

The US' research on cancer was, otherwise, more advanced. The two countries decided to collaborate.

The URSS sent the five cell lines with the cancer virus to the US scientists. They proceeded to verify all the information give by soviet scientists -- and in that process, they sent the cells to Walter Nelson-Rees, the cell biologist who'd tracked down HeLa contaminations across the country.

What did they find? HeLa cells, of course. Contaminated with a monkey virus, which is what led the soviets to believe they'd found the cancer virus.

It didn't go over well.

Both sides were upset, suspicions were raised, but thankfully they downplayed the incident as much as possible rather than calling it foul play. This was one of the final blow to the cancer virus theory.

Thus did HeLa participate in the Cold War, despite dying decades earlier.

If HeLa cells got you half as fascinated as I am, I recommend you check out a one-hour documentary on them, The Way of the Flesh. It's available for free on Top Documentary Films, right here. The image quality isn't top, but to be honest, you don't need images to get engrossed in the power of HeLa cells, who will most likely outlive us all.

*Funny aside here: one of the way they could tell the difference between HeLa and other was that HeLa cells had enzymes unique to black people, and nearly all other cell lines came from white subjects. Many scientists had cell lines from themselves, in fact. One had a line derived from his daughter (I find that creepy, for the record), and he called his wife to know if she had a black lover. They were that convinced they hadn't contaminated their cell lines.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Transfection Winners!

Gather round, ladies and gentlement, because it's time to determine our lucky Transfection Winners. Because, really, who never wanted to see his or her cells subjected to transfection?  (Everyone, that's who)

 There were fourteen participants. As a good old-style geek, I dug out my d20 and rolled it until I had five different numbers under fifteen. It sounds simple, right, but by the time I was done, #9 had come up four times. Someone really wanted that copy!

So, let's not mess around any longer! Drumrolls, please!

Winner #1: Watcher55!
Winner #2: Sommer Leigh!
Winner #3: Josephine Wade!  (you're commenter #9, by the way!)
Winner #4: Larry!
Winner #5: Will!


What you guys need to do is e-mail me at claudiea.writer AT gmail DOT com and tell me what format you want the e-book in ( .mobi for Kindle, .epub for everything else).  Don't forget that if you don't have an e-reader, you can always read e-books from your smartphone, iPad or laptops with this free amazon app!

I'll be watching my inbox for you! (like I don't watch it tight anyway).

Meanwhile, you know what this post is missing? More exclamation points! Have some: !!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Henrietta Lacks' Immortal Cells

"Here lies Henrietta Lacks (HeLa). Her immortal cells will continue to help mankind forever. Eternal Love and Admiration, From Your Family"
-- Henrietta Lacks Epiteth

I'm bending the rules already, as our next stop with women of importance in science isn't a scientist. She did, however, bring more to science than the vast majority of those who claim the title, including the big names of any field.

Henrietta Lacks was a thirty-one-year-old black woman with a cervical cancer when her science-related story begins. It was in February 1951 and she visited the John Hopkins Hospital in order to receive treatment. They did a biopsy, which allowed the cancer diagnosis, but which also led to one of the biggest scientific discovery of all times.

Unlike normal cells, which die after a few life cycles, Henrietta Lacks' cells were immortal.

Eight days after the initial biopsy, Dr. George Otto Gey returned to remove a second sample of cells from the tumor. No one told Lacks what they were doing, or asked for her consent.

This is where it gets a ethically gray. The Supreme Court later declared that he did not have to, as "discarded tissues" are no longer considered someone's property. One would argue, however, that when you have discovered cells with properties that will revolution the way science is done, you should at least inform their previous owner or her family.

That being said, I'm not convinced Dr. Gey did this with any malice. It was in the 50s and she was a black woman about to die of cancer. He was not the doctor treating Lacks, and I wouldn't be surprised to hear he never met her.

At least he knew her name. He called this new immortal cell line the HeLa cells.

What bothers me more is that Henrietta's family did not hear of this until 1976, twenty-five years after her death.

By that time, HeLa cells were used across the globe in nearly every lab, in "research into cancer, AIDS, the effects of radiation and toxic substances, gene mapping, and countless other scientific pursuits." It was the cell line used by Jonas Salk to test the first polio vaccine in the 1950s (now called the "Salk vaccine", for the record).  There are over 11,000 patents that concern HeLa cells, and in 2009, more than 60,000 scientific articles about research done using the HeLa cells had been published.

What's so special about the HeLa cells?

I said that they are immortal, which might not mean much to most of you. What has to be understood is that before the HeLa cells, scientists spent more time trying to keep cells alive than doing research on them.

The HeLa cells aren't only immortal. They grow fast (they are cancer cells, after all) and easily. In fact, their growth rate and adaptation abilities has become a problem, as HeLa cells have this bad tendency to contaminate the other lines. They are the weed of our labs.

The truth is, HeLa cells' propensity to contaminate almost led to an important Cold War incident.

But that, my friends, is a post for Friday. Tune back in!


Thanks to TL Conway for suggesting this topic! I'd heard the story before but had forgotten to put it on the list. Mistake corrected!

Since we're on a cell-related topic, don't forget this is your last chance to participate in the Transfection contest! Follow the link, tell us what your biggest science creep is, and you could win a free copy of the David's old school science-fiction short story!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Scratching the Paint: My Hidden Genre

For a long time, I struggled with my current WIP's genre. I remember back in December, I did a few posts with this question. I couldn't quite pinpoint it. Fantasy? Science Fiction? Steampunk? It seemed to me, White Echoes had elements of all.

The more I planned it, the closer to science fiction it got. And I fought this.

I was a fantasy writer, and yet my leading project was a science fiction? No, I thought. Surely the fact it was set in an alternate world and had nothing to do with space, aliens or robots disqualified it. I couldn't perceive myself as a sci-fi writer. It didn't work.

Fast-forward to the recent weeks. My rewrite is about 66% complete. There was a lot of talk about science fiction, and where it was headed or why it was awesome. Some of it here, with David's guest post, and more on the Bransforums, where Watcher sprang a thread to discuss the guestpost further. Combined with the increasing amount of sciency topics on this blog, I started to rethink how I saw myself as a writer.

I love fantasy. I have many fantasy novels waiting for me to give them attention (and clamouring for it). I remain a high fantasy writer.

But I'm a science-fiction writer, too. And today, I'm proud of it.

I love science. It is a part of my daily life, and for all its weirdness and potential creepiness, it is freaking awesome. Scientifics in the fundamental research fields are often gifted with a great imaginations. They constantly come up with theories to explain their results and ways to test these further. Most are hardworking, honest and passionate.

I'm proud to be a part this group, just as I am proud to examine the potential consequences of our acts and the dangers of abusing science. I am proud to take a closer look at how we, as humans, relate to science, to microscopic cells, to life itself and the ways we play with it.

I realised this past weekend that the reason I was so confused about White Echoes' genre was simple: I did not want to admit the obvious. It was a science fiction, but I brought my fantasy manners over to it, attempting to cover the truth with another colour of paint.

Rewrites are scratching the paint, and revealing a bright new novel, more powerful than it could've been sitting across genre, aimlessly searching its themes and purpose.

I am a fantasy and science fiction writer. I love both genres equally. It's time I accept this fully, and revel in it  (because revelling in stuff is fun).

Out of curiosity, what's your genre? Did you ever change? Doubted you wrote in the right genre?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Something Wicked..!

It would seem June is the month for giveaways and blogfests. The little contest to win a copy of Transfection is still going on, and you have until Wednesday to participate. Hurry! All you have to do is answer one tiny question.

In addition to this, my awesome Wicked Teammates and myself have collected items and books related to our genres and put them into Secret Boxes of Mystery. Which you can win!

Wicked & Tricksy
You can click on the button for more instructions, but it's actually quite simple. When we launched Wicked & Tricksy, we told you why we loved speculative fiction. Now it's your turn. There are three potential questions you can answer.

The blogfest is from June 27th to July 1st. We'll reveal the Secret Boxes of Mystery content right before that. We promise it will be epic. If I could, I would hoard them all and breath fire on whoever dared to try and steal them.

Now, one more thing about that week. It happens to be both my birthday, and my first move out of my parent's house. Important things, I daresay. As such, I will be taking a vacation from blogging, between June 27th and July 8th.

I promise to read your awesome entries to the blogfest, and I will still be featured on Thursdays, on Wicked & Tricksy. The rest of my freed time will be spent enjoying myself with a sangria out in the sun (or crouched over my keyboard, finishing my first draft. Whichever!)

Now go and check out the blogfest! It'll be worth your time.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Science that Creeps ME Out

Yesterday I asked you what aspect of science you found the most terrifying. Creepy. Shiver-inducing. I love the answers I got. It's fascinating how some of your fears are another person's great love, and how many are directly related to my field.

Not that I spend my time modifying the genetic bagagge of plants or animals. I spend my time trying to determine what makes leukemic cells grow faster and how -- which does mean, yes, that I am researching on ways to stave off cancer. And when I put it that way, I feel like a superhero!

Back on topic. It wouldn't be fair if I didn't share my own sciency fear.

Photo by Sebastian Kaulitzki

It's not a particular virus that scares me. It's the way viruses are built. It's both fascinating and utterly terrifying.

Viruses are death machines on a microscopical level. The basic structure is a DNA or RNA strand, with the virus' information on it, protected by a capside (proteins). The virus, through many different ways, will try to force its DNA (or RNA, but I'll stop repeating RNA now) into a cell and hijack all its resources. 

Okay, a parasite like any other, no?

The scary thing comes in the virus' simple structure. I just explained it to you with a single sentence! One DNA strand and proteins. Yes, there are variations, but the simplest virus won't need anything else to invade and duplicate. 

There isn't a single DNA base wasted on a virus. Everything it needs to take over your cell is comprised in its strand, and the strand itself is super short. The smallest has 3,569 bases and needs only 20 minutes to kill a cell (it's a bacteria cell, we're safe!). The biggest has 1,181,404 bases. 

To compare, an E. coli (one of the simplest and most studied bacteria) has 4,600,000 and the human genome is 3,200,000,000.  If you do the math, that means that even the biggest virus has a genome that is 2709 times smaller than ours.

When a virus invades a cell, it forces it to create a hundred copies (on average) of itself. That means there are suddenly 100 more viruses in the environment that can invade other cells. And on it goes. 

Think about how efficient this is. If I had to find a way to wipe out any living organism, I'd tamper with a virus until it could infect and kill said organism.

Yes, we have defences. So does bacterias, and yet in 48 hours, phages (virus that solely infect bacterias) wipe out half the bacteria population.

Killing machines.

And that, my friends, is why my villain is a genetic engineer*. Because I'm terrified of what a genius could do if he managed to bypass ethic commitees and surveillance to develop his own super-viruses.

There you go! Nice fodder for the weekend, eh?

*If you're going to use viruses or other such things in your novel, I invite you to do the research for specific effects/modes of infection. OR, if you know what you want but aren't sure what viruses would do that, you can send yours truly an e-mail. I did have a whole class on the subject, and I'm aware how confusing it can get even when it's your domain.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Science, Fiction & Truth

This is a special Thursday, everyone! I am having my first guest post and my first giveaway, all at once! Please welcome David Gaughran, author of If You Go Into the Woods and Transfection (I expect clapping, folks). On a normal weekday, you can find him on his super-helpful blog Let's Get Digital, Digital.

EDIT: Forgot to say, I'm on Wicked & Tricksy as usual. It's Villainy Week!

My science fiction tastes have always been very compartmentalized. Space operas must be TV shows. I’m not convinced they work as well as movies, let alone books. Anything to do with robots, I prefer as a movie. I want to see the robot, and only movies have the budget to make it look really cool.

I’m a little more democratic when it comes to books. A good story will trump all, but I do gravitate towards near-future dystopia. Spaceships and aliens and all that are okay, but I would rather have a story about a man who struggles to form relationships because he can read minds, or about a cloning experiment gone wrong. For me, the further the story is away from the real world, the less it says about it in a clever way.

This latter qualification is important to me. Sure, you can have a version of Romeo & Juliet set on an interplanetary cruiser, or have an alien encounter story that teaches us about racism, but I prefer my messages a little more subtly coded. I don’t like neon signs telling me what to think.

Philip K. Dick is a favourite. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was great, but I liked Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said even more. He was a master of creating this sense of unease in the reader, which perfectly mapped what the character was feeling.

In many of his stories, it takes a while to figure out if this is taking place on our world or not, or whether it is set in the future or not, or whether the main character is crazy or not. That sense of dislocation is a brave move for a writer. So many feel compelled to do their world-building right from the start, with unwieldy explanations of various technological advances or geographical quirks that signify to the reader, right from the off, that you are somewhere else.

Instead, Dick deliberately keeps that from you, and the overall effect is very disturbing. You really get under the characters skin, and start seeing this strange world through their eyes, and begin questioning yourself, just like the character does.

I call that old-school science fiction. We used to have a lot more of it before Star Trek, the comic-book movie explosion of the 80s, and the alien boom of the 90s. I’m talking about guys like Ray Bradbury, movies like Soylent Green, and shows like The Twilight Zone – where there was more of an emphasis on the science than the fiction.

I think the distinction comes from the genesis of the story and the priorities of the writer. In the space operas and alien splatter-fests, I think the idea of “world” comes first and story second, whereas in old-school science fiction, the story always comes first.

My favourite kind are “what if” stories – which Hollywood likes to call “high concept” stories – and science provides fertile ground here. What if no-one ever became pregnant again (Children of Men)? What if we lived in a society so controlled that even thought was a crime (1984)?

The first half of the 20th century was a period of such massive technological change – cars, airships, televisions, airplanes, tanks, nuclear bombs - that there was this feeling that science could accomplish anything.

But there was also an undercurrent of fear. Scientists were often depicted as weak, amoral people who could be easily co-opted by nefarious governments and corporations.

Maybe I’m just reading the wrong stuff, but I think we have lost some of that from science fiction today. It’s a pity, because science is providing is with just as much material as before: cloning, cryogenics, nanobots, in vitro meat – there is so much great stuff there.

I wanted to write a story with that old-school vibe. Like most of my short story ideas, it came from a conversation with a friend over a few beers. We were talking about genetically modified food, and some of the fears out there, and whether they had any basis.

Then, as the night went on, we started going in ridiculous tangents about tampering with organisms at the most fundamental level, and what potential side-effects there could be that we haven’t even considered.

I remembered the story of the Radium Girls.  They were a group of factory workers in New Jersey during World War I, whose job was to paint watches with glow-in-the-dark paint for the military.

They were told the paint was harmless and were instructed to lick the paintbrushes to keep them pointed. The girls often painted their nails and teeth for fun.

The paint, of course, was radium-based, and the girls’ continued exposure led to radiation poisoning. The company attempted to smear these women, and claim their symptoms were caused by syphilis, and medical records were withheld by doctors and dentists to aid in the cover up.

It is still unknown how many Radium Girls died.

The point is that science and truth don’t always go hand in hand, not when there is money involved. It’s in these cracks that stories are born, and I think science fiction is uniquely placed to share them with the world.

Transfection, an old-school science fiction short, is available from Amazon and Smashwords for 99c.
That story about the Radium Girls gave me shivers. It goes on the list of scary science things from Sommer's post this Monday.

Now, about the contest. I am giving away five copies of Transfection*, because it is awesome and creepy, and I think you should all read it.

All you have to do is to answer this question: "What area of science do you find creepy?"

You can do so here in the comments, or on twitter. If you use twitter, tag it with #creepyscience so I can see it (and feel free to link to this post if you have room)! I'm giving four copies to the comments, and one to the twitter participants. So, yes, you can technically enter twice!

The answer can be a whole area of study, an anecdote (such as the radium girls) or, well, pretty much anything science-related that creeps you out. Go wild!

You have until Wednesday June 15th, 11:59 PM EST to answer. I'll announce the winners next Thursday!

*If you don't own an e-reader, you can always read e-books from your smartphone, iPad or laptops with this free amazon app.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Made In Québec - Bobby Bazini

Can you believe that when the entire planet talked of nothing but Justin Bieber, the teenager star was only second place in the English Palmares sales here in Québec?

We had eyes ears for another young singer, a twenty-one-year old musician from the province with a rich and deep music: Bobby Bazini. He hold off the charts against Bieber and Rufus Wainwright for over seven weeks.

Don't be tricked by his age. He might be a month younger than me (I still have trouble accepting that fact), but Bazini is a professional in his field. His music is authentic, smooth, both uplifting and melancholic. Somehow it manages to both relax me and renew my stack of energy.

I'm not good at music classifications, so I'll run with his website's information, along with some of his known sources of inspiration.. that is "a disc that snakes between soul, jazz and pop." So if you like Otis Redding, Johnny Cash, Ray Charles and Jim Morrisson, you might want to give it a try (those are his stated favourite artists, among others).

Now, here are three of his tunes, handpicked from his album...

Mellow Mood - 'cause it's my favourite!

 Turn Me On - This one is a jolt of energy, and SO fun to sing loudly

 I Wonder - A more relaxing song. Lovely lyrics. Also, it has an official videoclip.

I meant to put Freaky in there, because it's my "writing song" from this album. I love the mood it creates.

I hope some of you like this kind of music, because Bobby Bazini is a gem. I find he mixes very well with Mumford & Sons.

Don't forget to come back tomorrow. It'll be a special day!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Twins in Fantasyland

I think I should give you a warning and say, right away, that this post might come off as ranty. This is a topic on which I am easily annoyed.

Twins are cool.* Readers and writers seem to like the idea of two human being so close they spent nine months stuck next to one another in their mom's womb. Like it makes them share something extra special. 

Here's the problem. There is a ton of clichés about twins in fantasy, and threading too close to almost every one of them will make your twins (or their relationship) two-dimensional and mediocre. I'm extra-sensitive to this, probably because I have a twin sister and some of these spill over in real life.

So, let's take a look at them!

The Telepathic Twins
This is the one I hear the most about outside of novels and movies. I don't know why and when people started to believe twins had this telepathic link between them. They don't. I don't get sad when my sister is sad. I don't feel her pains and joys. And I certainly don't hear her voice in my head, though I sure can imagine what she'd say. This is an annoying myth in real-life.

In speculative fiction, well, you have a little more leeway. Magic could explain the telepathy. In a world where such connections are frequent between close friends or members of the same family, well, I'm willing to admit twins might have increased chance of developing a link.

If the only trace of telepathy in your novels, ever, is those two shiny special twins... Cut it. Seriously. Randomly giving twins powers no one else can have is bad. It's a serious affront to all your worldbuilding. It discredits the characters. It discredits the story. Just don't do it unless it is completely in line with everything else.

And even then, consider not doing it. For me, m'kay?

The Mirror Twins
This is perhaps the most frequent and most annoying of them, because it reeks of rushed characterization. There's typically two types of mirror: the morality mirror and the ability mirror.

The first is our classic Good Twin/Evil Twin. Two twins were separated at birth, one grows to be a valorous knight and the other an evil conqueror? I'm sure that rings a bell. Or perhaps they grew together, and one kept bullying the other.

The problem here is that there is often little to no explanations as to why one turns out so well and not the other. You get a little more room when they were separated, but the moment your readers see "twins separated at birth", they're likely to roll your eyes and not give you the chance.

The morality mirror twins is alluring, I know. It's a blast when done well. There are ways to make it less cliché. Play in the shades of gray instead of having it all black and white. Put the Good Twin on the wrong side, maybe? If you must make one change the others' belief, why not make it the evil twin convincing his gentle counterpart? There are other options here. If you must have a good and an evil twin, play with them.

The second, the ability mirror, can actually be combined with the first for maximum Claudie-Facepalm. The ability is when one twins' powers or appearance is the exact opposite of his other twins. One has Fire Magic, the other Water. One is a great warrior, the other a scrawny wizard. You know the drill. Intelligent vs Stupid. Paranoid vs Naive. Blond hair vs Black hair. Scientist vs Artist. The physical ability mirror is very frequent with fraternal twins.

Because really, if they're not going to look the same, they must look opposite, otherwise what's the point?  (Feel free to imagine me banging my head on the desk. Because I am)

The Copycat Twins (and the switch-place plot)
We all have read a novel where one twin takes the other's place. Where identical twins are concerned, this is a frequent plot device. It can work, if they aren't supposed to switch for a long time.

This is one of those I'm less bothered with. Most of the time when a writer does this, he has taken the time to give distinct personality to the twins, and the difficulty of hiding the differences is where the tension comes from.

Here's a reminder, though: identical twins, despite their names, aren't the exact same. There are always differences that allow a quick identification, especially as the twins get older (because environmental factors have an increasingly big influence on appearance). Yes, twins can switch place. In face of those who know them well, however, it isn't likely to last.

The Point of This
Here's the message, because I'm not just writing this to vent. I swear I'm not!

Twins, identical or not, are two separate human beings. They deserve to have complex personalities, unique outlooks on life and abilities that do not depend on their other twin. They have to be someone on their own. Build your twins as two humans who just happened to be born on the same day, not as a single unit meant to be together.

To end on a positive note, there are a lot of cool twins in litterature. I don't hate twins by default. In fact, when you get past my initial reserves, I tend to give unconditional love to cool twin characters. Here are a few...
Jaime and Cersei Lannister, from A Song of Ice and Fire  (though I do hate Cersei on her own. grr)
Fred and George Weasley, from Harry Potter.  (of course they're here!)
Raistlin and Cameron Majere, from the Dragonlance Chronicles. (they're a case study of all these cliches done in a way that actually works for me!)

There are others, such as Luke and Leila. And I bet you can come up with more! Who are your favourite twins?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Idea Worm

Something happened to me this weekend that I bet happens to every writer. It's both exciting and irritating. I'm not sure yet. I haven't decided.

It started on Friday with a simple thought. The possibility of a new scene, not in the outline. You know... "It'd be really cool to have a scene where X, Y or Z happened."

You tell yourself there isn't room for this scene in the story. It doesn't work with the greater storyarcs - heck, it doesn't work with the subplots either. Except... well, there is that one place, you know, where it'd fit?

Not quite, though. So you put this cool scene aside and stick to your earlier guns. Let's not derail the whole plot for one epic action scene, right?

The problem is that as time passes by, you can't help but think back of this scene. You list what needs to be changed for it to work. You mentally smoothen transitions from this scene to others, and all the build-up around it.

It'd be a lot of work, changing it. Too much for what it's worth? This is where it starts to get messy. This new scene has consequences on the entire outline. Changing it will require a good deal of rewrite, and replanning the end before you get there. You ask yourself if you should. If it really makes your book better.

You list all the ways in which it does. More tension. Bigger stakes and obstacles. A whole new world of dangers and complications added, both at the scene and for the climax.

The writer in you sees the potential. The human being recalls the hours of plotting and the pain of yet another rewriting.

Tough choice.

Except... we all know it's not really one, right? Once I find a way to make my story better, there's no way I can abandon it.

That's where I stand right now. I'll have to rework the ending and rewrite quite a number of scenes. Perhaps add a POV and cut another one. Right now I'm not sure if I have a handle on this story anymore. All I know is, my brain is fried from thinking through all the possibilities over and over...

At least I still have one scene to write where this whole new storyline branch doesn't change much. Gives me a bit more time.

Does this ever happen to you? How do you deal with it?

Friday, June 3, 2011

My Microscopic Soulmate

I always thought I was a big coffee drinker. I've drank so much of it in the last five years that I can now spend a whole evening drinking it non-stop and still fall asleep at regular hours (regular for me, mind you). At times, like many friends in a similar position, I have joked that I could live on caffeine.

Little did I know, my caffeine consumption is a real joke compared to Pseudomonas Putida CBB5.

Like Watching a Fire

Pseudomonas putida  is a soil bacteria strain that was recently discovered on an University Campus. It has the epic capability of breaking down the caffeine molecule - which is made of carbon, nitrogen, oxygene and hydrogen, the four fundamental organic elements - into dioxide carbon and ammonia. And when it does that? It creates energy.

As humans, when we process caffeine, we break it down into useless part and excrete it through urine. We don't create energy from caffeine (the boost your getting is the molecule's influence on other parts of your system, not actual energy).

This little bugger can live on a caffeine-only diet. It doesn't need anything else to survive, and will thrive in a highly-caffeinated petri dish. We had the dowright scary flesh-eating bacteria. Now we also have the epic caffeine-eating bacteria.

So to Ryan Summers and his team, thank you for discovering my microscopic soulmate.* Now when I drink over 30 oz of coffee over the span of a few hours, I know that on university campuses all over the world, thousands of billions of Pseudomonas putida** CBB5 are doing the same.

*For the record this research has an actual point. The enzyme could be used in treating heart arrhythmias or asthma, or to boost blood flow. They could also help clear out excess caffeine from the process creating decaf coffee.

**I have no actual idea of how common this strain is.

***I like asterixes. I'm also unsure that's their English name (educate me, dear readers!)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Dis, Reaching 50,000 Words and Other Cool Things

As always, Thursday is news day, and I have another full post at Wicked & Tricksy!

First order of business: Dís! (Fancy French keyboard lets me do the accent super easy!)

This gorgeous cover and most awesome short story belongs to my Wicked & Tricksy partner-in-crime and friend, Margo. She begun her journey on the path of self-publishing last Friday, unleashing her awesomeness into the world.

Here's the Amazon blurb, for your enjoyment:

Colbie Moss has bigger concerns than being one of the dísir, the undead avatars of the Norse spirits of fate known as Norns. She has lost a mythic blade entrusted to her by her uptight yuppie mentor, no less than a Norse god of old. Now the blade is in the middle of a gang war that has left a beloved friend on the brink of death. Colbie will have to decide how far she is willing to go to recover the blade, save her friend’s soul, and keep gods and Norns alike from getting wind of the collateral damage.

“Dis” is an Urban Midgard short story, approximately 8,900 words (or roughly 30 pages) of urban fantasy with a noir sensibility that will appeal to fans of Jim Butcher, Seanan McGuire, and Laurell K. Hamilton.

I've tried to come up with a cool way to express how I feel about Dís. Seriously. But the truth is that I can't find anything to do it justice, except... SQUEE! and Moooore. So that's all I say. Oh, no wait, one more thing: go buy it. Now!

In less epic news, I continue to progress in the novel and should get to the 50,000 words landmark today. Not just that. I get this tingling feeling when I write these days, a sense that these words I put on the page are way better than what I wrote earlier in the year. I may be making it up, but it's a good feeling to have while pounding out a first draft, so I'll blissfully enjoy and keep going.

A quick warning before the end: there'll be something a bit special going on here next Thursday (nice coincidence, since I just reached 100 followers). I'm not telling what, but make sure you come back!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

I Am Versatility

Or so I like to think. Apparently, someone agrees, because Tricia passed along this fantastic blog award!

The rules of the award are:
1. Thank and link to the person who nominated you. (Here, have a box of thank-yous! *hands box*) 
2. Share 7 random facts about yourself.
3. Pass the award along to 0 - 100 deserving blogging buddies.
4. Contact those buddies to congratulate them.

 Ookay, so I did the 7-facts thing before, for the Stylish Blogger Award. Then I found 5 more for A to Z Blogger's challenge. Let's see if I can feed you seven more little bits of my life, hm?

1. When I write, I eat my nails so much I end up bleeding. The only exception is the second half of NaNoWriMo: by then I don't have anything left to eat!

2. I am a die-hard Pokemon fan. I still play the game, and I still own my old PKMN Blue. It was the first video game I ever bought for myself.

3. I always check immatriculation plaques on cars. When I find one that is not from Quebec, I wonder what his story is and why he's in Quebec City. The furthest I've seen is British Columbia (for Canada) and Arizona (with a shout out to the Texas I saw this week). I started this when I travelled with school in the states. Now it is a speed game with my boyfriend.

4. When I visited England for the first time, I had 20 full days without rain. I heard the weather was shitty at home throughout the duration of that trip.

5. I had to stop writing this post because I couldn't find anything else, and came back later with #6 and #7.

6. My day is not complete without Nutella. I put it on untoasted bread, first thing in the morning. If I don't get my Nutella, I am grumpy.

7. My collection of giant microbe plushes continues to grow! The cashier was so confused when I arrived at the counter with these. M'hahaha. 

 Deserving Blogging Friends

SB at Writing the Other: SB is one of my fellow wicked author, and I have to say, her personal blog is full of thoughtful posts about just every aspect of writing fantasy in the world. I say fantasy, but most can apply elsewhere too. Food for thoughts, every single post.

Elizabeth Twist: I got hooked to Elizabeth over the course of the A to Z Challenge. She's funny, creative, knowledgeable about illnesses in Middle Age (yeah, that's what drew me in, I'll admit) and super cool to hang with. Go visit!

Sarah McCabe at The Aspiring Subcreator: It's a real mystery that it took me so long to hang out at Sarah's place (not that I've commented yet, but I'm def there!) When you think about it, someone who did her entire A to Z on worldbuilding should've been right up my alley. 

So there, three new sites to visit! Have fun.