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!