Monday, January 29, 2018

Writing a told by emojis

For today's blog post I give you:

I've slogged through the middle 80% and am in the final 10% of my WIP. I can finally see the finish line! But there is still a lot ahead of me . . .

How does your process compare?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

On defining moments, returns to writing, and what to do when all your old writing communities disappear...

A Post By Jonathan

Defining Moments:

There are defining moments in everyone's lives. I've recently had one that I wanted to share with y'all.

There was a time, not so long ago, when I fancied myself a world traveler. Someone who had an eternal thirst for travel that could never be quenched. Through work and college study abroad programs, I've been lucky enough to be able to travel all over Asia, Europe and parts of the Middle East. Because of this love/passion for travel, I've kind of always been looking for a day job that would allow me to work with international audiences, in the hopes that I could occasionally see the world on the company's dime (not gonna lie, it's nice).

Well it finally happened. Over the holidays, I was offered a job that would have had me overseas (mostly in India and China) for six months out of the year. It would have been a promotion, more money than I'm currently making and would have offered a number of other "perks". I would have also been working with someone I respect(ed).

As a result, I spent the majority of December doing a lot of soul searching. Questions like: "Who am I really? What do I really want in life?" To my wife's credit, she let me make the decision completely on my own. Said she would support me no matter what I chose to do.

Well, it turns out that I'm someone who loves his family too much to be away from them for half the year. No matter the excitement, glamour, other (probably unrealistic) things I pictured the job to be. To my surprise, I realized that I've changed. I'm not the person I used to be. I've grown up. Started taking pleasure in things that are close by--like my three-year-old son, my daily routine, and all the other things my area has to offer (biking, hiking, other small adventures that don't require jumping on an airplane and being gone for months on end).

Returns to Writing:

I also realized that I love reading-- and I love writing. I love traveling to other worlds/countries/places through my mind, using my vivid imagination. You've probably already guessed that I turned the job down. And since then I have felt much more sure and comfortable with who I am. I'm very thankful I went through the process. Now I'm on a quest to learn even more about myself.  

Now that I know I'm not the big world traveler I thought I was, it's time to see if I'm the writer I think I am/want to be.

After a bit of an extended absence (maybe three years ((after working on the same project for probably fourteen years)), I've decided to give this writing thing another try (take 50?). If it doesn't work out this time, then I'll have an even clearer picture of who I am (and can move onto the next thing...). But I guess the great thing about the writing craft/hobby/however-you-define-it-for-you is that it is always there waiting. It's not something you have to say no to/goodbye to because of location, career choice, this or that. If I can't get my act together now (because of my day job, the kid, other commitments), if I want to come back to it when I retire I suppose I can.

But there's another side to all this (which I am more than familiar with). If you never take your writing seriously, or commit to it in some way that manifests, you can just keep spinning your wheels and never get anywhere with it. So it's time for a change. Time to get down to business. Time to get serious.

What to do when all your old writing communities disappear...?

So now that I've decided to get all serious about my writing again, I've decided to become active in my old online writing communities again. Only problem is: they're all gone! Apparently a lot can change in three years...

Across the Board is always my first stop for writing news/hints/help (and we've been together for over three years now!), but beyond that I was also pretty active in the Backspace: The Writers Place forums and Harper Collins' Authonomy. I knew Backspace was going inactive, but they said they were going to leave the forums open so that the old members could still converse. Well, every time I try to login I get a big ol' database error. Bye, bye Backspace. And here's the article talking about why Harper Collins shut Authonomy down... I also recently went to check a blog (written by a previous Boarder) and even she has put things on hold.

Scribophile seems to be the only forum I used to be a part of that hasn't called it quits. I still go to the Absolute Write Water Cooler occasionally, but that place just overwhelms me.  

Now I'm looking for a few new places to go for writing engagement. So, dear readers, does anyone have any recommendations (besides Across the Board of course!)? Would sincerely appreciate it! 

Thanks for reading and thanks for stopping by!

Monday, January 22, 2018

"Breaking" Good

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!
Hey all!  Last week I got my first opportunity to work in a writers room and I thought for this month's blogpost I might give you a rundown of how it went.

Late last year I was tapped by an exciting new NYC-based company to work on a project very similar to a television show.  It's not quite TV in that it won't be filmed, but the process will be, for all intents and purposes, the same as television production.  I and my other collaborators have signed NDAs, so in public we've been referring to the project as "The Door."

My friend and mentor Brian Keene has been acting as the head writer/showrunner.  Former literary agent Lydia Shamah is our producer and contact with the company.  Filmmaker Tony Valenzuela is part of the creative team, and authors Rich Chizmar, the Sisters of Slaughter (Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason) and myself will be writing.

Left to right: Rich Chizmar, myself, Lydia Shamah, Melissa Lason, Michelle Garza, Brian Keene, Tony Valenzuela

We all met in Phoenix, AZ last week to conduct a process known as "breaking" the show.  This basically consists of boiling the show down into its component parts - characters, episodes, settings, etc. - talking it over, ironing out any issues, and creating a final game plan.

"Breaking" begins with the head writer, in this case, Brian, creating what's known as a "show bible."  You can find a few show bibles online to see what this looks like.  One I particularly enjoyed was "Batman: the Animated Series," but YMMV.  So, as you can see, a show bible outlines background for the characters, descriptions of the setting, episode ideas, and it may include illustrations, character arcs, and possibly plans for an entire season or seasons.

A show bible can be fairly short, around, say, twelve pages, to very long and intricate, several hundred pages perhaps, depending on how complicated the series is.  I would imagine your "Star Treks" and your "Doctor Whos," with their decades of history and baggage, would lean more toward the latter category, while something like a children's show or a lowbrow sitcom would lean more towards the former.  Writing a bible or episode of a show that gets produced is one way to earn your Screen Writers Guild card, if you're interested in that.

(As an aside, I actually do something very similar to a show bible when I'm doing the worldbuilding for my more complex science fiction novels.  I might be a weirdo, but in addition to everything listed above I'll also usually include a glossary.  You can see examples in BRAINEATER JONES and EVERY KINGDOM DIVIDED.  As a linguist, it's one of my favorite parts of writing.)

Brian's bible for "The Door" intricately plotted out all the episodes of season one.  I wasn't 100% sure if that was going to be the case or not, so I planned to have a few episodes to pitch.  At writers room sessions where the plotting is less complete, all of the writers get the chance to pitch episode ideas.  Most television shows in the U.S. are either 13 or 22 episodes long, so there's a lot of plot in there (or, as our friends in the UK with their six-episode seasons often say, a lot of padding.)  So I can't really speak to this process (but if one of our readers knows more about it, please let me know in the comments!)

Next we went over the characters and brainstormed.  The brainstorming process in the writing room is to scribble on sticky notes and post the notes on a wall or whiteboard.  The purpose is that you can then move stickies from one character to another, add or delete as necessary.  So, for instance, we ended up gender-swapping one character, and for another couple we ended up flipping their backgrounds.  The sticky notes made this easier.  I've also heard this process called "making an ugly baby."  You make an ugly baby by throwing all the spaghetti at the wall (is that mixing metaphors?) then you cull away notes until it's a beautiful baby.

Next we went over the episodes, using the same "ugly baby" process.  This turned out to be the most fruitful part of the process.  Brian had outlined the episodes he had envisioned, but as we went over them, each of us was struck in turn by clever, better, and often, yes, worse ideas.  But in hammering that out as a team we ended up with a exceptionally strong season plan.

The next step was to compare our character notes to our episode notes.  This way we ensured that no characters were getting short shrift, or that we were missing out on untapped potential.  In a few cases we said "fuck it" and disposed of some character notes that weren't serving the story.  But also, having a physical entity to look at we were able to determine story problems at a glance.  Did we leave this character for too long?  Why is this character's in seven episodes but does nothing?  Are we just marking time with this character?  Asking questions like this let us sharpen the season plan.

When that was complete, we assigned the episodes, and again, I saw the value in the "ugly baby" process.  We were able to see at a glance which episodes suited each writer's strong points.  (Obviously, Brian had baked some of this into the story bible after choosing us - or perhaps before - but at the end of the day it was almost blindingly obvious which story belonged to who.)  We were able to discuss, with very little bickering, who might enjoy writing which episode.  As with anything, for me some were "must-haves" some were "I can do this" and some were "I'll do this if you need me to."

The final step we took was looking at our worldbuilding.  As much as we'd discussed our various story elements - tainted pollen, an evil sap-like substance, a monstrous bear - I'm certain we were each picturing them appearing and behaving in different fashions.  So by going over this, we knew we were all starting from the same baseline.  And it gave us one final chance to pitch ideas, this time with less worries about how it would deeply affect storylines and character arcs.

There are pictures of each of these steps, and I'd love to show them to you, but that, of course, would be a violation of my contract.  So Lydia let us pull a few stickies from each of the walls for a sort of sizzle reel of fun ideas.  ("Sizzle reel" is another industry term, but I'll let you look that up yourself before I go fullblown Hollywood on you.)  And that I am happy to share:

Various brainstorming concepts from "The Door" secret project

Now, I'm going to close with a caveat.  First of all, this was my first writers room experience, so I'm less than a novice at this.  Second, according to all of the veterans present, this was by far one of the smoothest and fastest experiences anyone ever had.  They told a couple of horror stories.  There were the antics of boneheaded empty suits who feel like they have to contribute ("What if, instead of an orangutan, we pair Clint Eastwood up with a moose!")  But I was also warned about personality conflicts, egos getting in the way of the process, and stories that just left everyone creatively constipated. 

So while I am super excited to get to my next writers room, I'm also tempering that with a grain of salt (boy, I'm the king of mixed metaphors today, aren't I?)  I'm preparing to be in a writers room where numbskulls are not open to ideas that aren't their own, where bickering and backbiting ruin the day, and where any number of things might go wrong.  Certainly, one imagines we didn't end up with the Geico "Cavemen" series or "My Mother the Car" because everybody was firing on all cylinders in the writing room.  But for me, "The Door" was nothing like that.  It was a highlight of my career, and I'm excited to get to go through the process again, hopefully starting with a "Door" season 2.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Spirit in the Sky

By Cheryl Oreglia

I love observing how the darkness slips over the evening sky as if a silk gown covering the stark nakedness of the day. It draws me in like fine wine, compelling me to linger over the fragrant images, it has become a ritualistic devotion regardless of the tedious tasks in need of tending. It is something I never tire of watching "the spirit in the sky" as it prepares to rest.

The beauty of the evening sky is as unique as the people it shelters. I've yet to see two exactly the same. Crystal Woods says, "a sunset is the sun's fiery kiss to the night." A sultry take on the relationship between day and night but murder might be more accurate with those glorious crimson ribbons rippling through the "marmalade skies." 
"How strange this fear of death is! We are never frightened at a sunset." George MacDonal
Tonight the sky appears unassuming, unfolding itself with such style and grace, as if a slow dance between lovers. The intensity of the colors might have something to do with the silence that has surrounded me for the last two days. I escaped up to the lake on my own, my husband had plans, and I had a todo list as long as my arm. The silence was the unexpected result, but I'm beginning to appreciate the subtle gifts of quietude, everything speaks so loudly when I finally shut-up. 

It's as if I've been estranged from my thoughts for years, ever since the kids came along, and I sort of lost track of them (my thoughts, not the kids). It seems odd that silence feels so natural after such a short amount of time. Normally I'm besieged by so many distractions I wouldn't notice a thought if it came right up and slapped me in the face. Not that my thought are abusive but you know what I mean. It's as if I created space in my head for inspiration to grow. 

The other complicit circumstance messing with my normal routines is a thirty day cleanse I got roped into. Larry and I radically cut down on bread five months ago in order to rein in his triglycerides, but with his follow-up test coming up in thirty days, I begrudgingly agreed to participate in a thirty day cleanse in hopes of boosting the results. Of course this translates to no happy hour which is ironically correct. 

I grew up in what one might call the "cocktail era," circa 1960's and I carry around this picture in my head of Mom and Dad lounging on the couch, early evening, stemmed glasses in hand, debating the topics of the day. 

It occurs to me now that I don't really know those people, so young, fearless, and full of life. I been caught unaware in the web of their sweet romance, in tribal rituals that held us together like glue, and formed us in ways that continue to give life. 

My parents had an unusual sort of love. I don't say that just because they have both passed away. They were truly madly in love with each other. Each afternoon around 4:45pm Mom would jump up, comb her hair, and apply perfume because Dad would be arriving soon. Corny as it may sound she actually lit up when he walked in the door. 

He knew the drill, leaning in to give Mom a chaste peck on the cheek, he would promptly pour two glasses of wine, and lead her into the family room for their evening rendezvous. We were always welcome to join in the conversation and by the time we were eighteen we were even allowed a small glass of wine. That is definitely when the conversations got more interesting.
"She wished it were evening now, wished for the great relief of the calendar inking itself out, of day done and night coming, of ice cubes knocking about in a glass beneath the whisky spilling in, the fine brown affirmation of need." Michelle Latiolais
As I sit down to the computer the words just seem to flow especially now that I given my thoughts free rein. The quieter I remain the louder my interior voice becomes. This might be the reset button I've been searching for as we enter 2018. Stepping out of the world once in a while, allowing the more subtle elements of life to take center stage, might be wildly beneficial for creative types, especially writers.

So quite unexpectedly I find myself consorting with my wayward thoughts, noticing the unique facets of each passing hour, and avoiding the things that can take the edge off the vibrancy of the day.

What practices help you "reset" or "revive" your creativity? 

I'm Living in the Gap, with no one to talk to, but the dog. For the love of God please come find me. 

Notes to self: A friend of mine recommended a new app called Insight Timer for practicing meditation. It's awesome, if you get a chance check it out, and it's free!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Reading is FUNdamental - Help!

     Hey guys, happy new year!  I know it's like halfway through the month, when do we stop saying that?  Winter break was looooooong, and half my kids have December birthdays, so I am BURNT OUT.  I just wanted something fun to read this month, and my collection of Rumpus Room Reads to be read were piled somewhere under all the gifts that had yet to be sorted.  So I went to my local library (their holiday party featured a harpist in a red plaid suit, it was very Wes Anderson).  I was looking for "Stranger Beside Me," Ann Rule's book about Ted Bundy.  I'm very late to the podcast game, but now that I do a lot of mindless scanning work (not to mention mindless housework), I've started listening to true crime podcasts, and the ladies on "My Favorite Murder" were talking about this book like back in 2016.

     They didn't have the Bundy book (which I then put a hold on and promptly forgot about when it did come in and had to renew the hold, damn this past month has been busy), but Joyce Carol Oates' works caught my eye.  I remember reading "Foxfire" as a teen and loving it, but that's overshadowed by my memory of a frenemy co-opting the story and trying to pass off the idea that she was in a similar gang at her old school (ah, the freedom of teenagers to make up outrageous lies in the days before social media).  I also read at least one collection of her short stories in college.  So I picked up "The Corn Maiden And Other Nightmares."  It seemed to be marketed as horror, which I obviously dig.

     The titular tale about a young girl's disappearance was good, very good.  Was it scary?  Eh.  Each story got progressively less entertaining and less creepy, more just off-putting and vaguely unsettling.  A tale of revenge.  A sad baby story that I didn't really get.  Some weird twin stuff that I particularly disliked, two twin stories in a row actually.  I don't know which twin story I disliked more.  I quit in the middle of a story about a widow bringing her dead husband's clothes to a second hand store and returned the book to the library.  When I looked the book up today, it sounds like one of the two stories I didn't read, something about a brain surgeon and a voluntary surgery, might have been the only genuinely scary and disturbing tale in the book. 

     There was a friend of my ex-husband's whose company I never enjoyed.  He just rubbed me the wrong way.  He was handsome and nice and responsible, very grown up.  I knew him for years and couldn't figure out what I didn't like about him.  Then one day we met him and his wife in New York, and I invited a college friend of mine who lived there to come to dinner with them as well.  She instantly put her finger on it when the first thing she told me after they left was "I don't like that guy, he doesn't smile."  This book, and so many other books I randomly pick up, felt like that.  It's not so much being humorless, because I know some people find humor in Joyce Carol Oates, it's more like it wasn't smiling.  I like dark books, but there's got to be some humor, some self-awareness. 

     Guys, what should I be reading for fun?  Short story collections would be very welcome suggestions, both for their compactness and because they're a great way to get to know new authors.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

How to Write a Review of a Novel You Didn't Like

I don't know a single person alive who's enjoyed every book they've read. I know a lot of people who try really hard to like a book because "everyone else" has loved it -- me included. But it doesn't always work because reading is super subjective. And that's OK.

Faced with a book you don't like, you have a myriad of choices. Easiest? Close the book (or switch off your e-reader) with a sigh and move on to the next. Life is too short to hate-read and your TBR is out of control anyway. But say you finished the book? Also super easy? Go mark the book as "Read" on Goodreads without giving it a rating or review. (You get credit towards your yearly reading goal this way, too.) 

But I don't want other readers to fall down the same trap I did, thinking this was a good book when it's not, you say.

And that's where the slippery slope gets slippery.

"Good" books are subjective, just like "bad" books. Yes, there are some things that make one book stronger than another -- clear goals, motivation conflict; character development; proper editing; progression of plot -- but even a book that has all of these things isn't universally loved. And I totally get wanting to warn others because friends don't let friends read "bad" books. So, if you must, a few suggestions:

  1. Focus on the BOOK and what you didn't like about the STORY or even the WRITING. One 2-star review of my recent release, A BRIT COMPLICATED, says: What a disappointment this book is. It started well enough, but the writer couldn’t refrain from going down the sex route. Being a little older than sixteen I found it unfortunate to say the least. Perhaps the author will grow up one day. I think of myself as quite grown up normally -- except for those times I'm dancing around my living room lip-syncing Taylor Swift with a wooden spoon microphone. But unless this reviewer is my neighbor, that kind of comment takes away from the overall point of the review. (Which is that there is sex in a contemporary romance book, but that's another thing altogether.)
  2. Remember, the story is FICTION. I just finished reading WARCROSS by Marie Lu, which is a YA fantasy. I loved it. The Boy loved it. But there are over 300 people on Goodreads who've given it 1 star, including someone questioning whether Lu knows anything about gaming, herself (she talks about her love of gaming in her acknowledgements) and another reader who questions in detail the whole virtual reality scenario she's created in the book. Um, it's her book and her world and just because she's set it up differently than you, the reader, would have done it doesn't make it invalid. Inconsistencies are one thing, but the glorious thing about writing/reading fantasy is that it can be way outside the proverbial box.
  3. Reconsider your 3-star review. I've read 3 star reviews where the reader absolutely LOVES the book and 3-star reviews where the reader HATES the book, which proves everyone has a different rating scale and 3 stars is confusing. On my scale, 3 stars is kind meh. If you genuinely don't like a book, give is 1 or 2 stars and own it. Likewise, if you enjoy a book, 4 stars is always better than 3.
  4. Whatever you do, do NOT @ the writer in your bad review. Most writers stay away from their reviews on Goodreads because GR is a platform for readers, not for authors. Avoiding reviews on Amazon is a little harder because the only way to know if your promo dollars are working is to keep one eye on your sales/rankings. If you put a bad review on a retail site, eventually we'll see it. Keyword being eventually. In other words, go ahead and write a bad review as you must, but for the love of God, there's no reason to tweet or tag the writer so he/she knows it's out there. 
Pretty simple, right? Anything you'd add here as either must-do or seriously-please-don't etiquette?

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Author Interview: Edwin Peng

A post by Mary Fan
Hey everyone! Sorry my post this month is a few days late! I'm interviewing author Edwin Peng, who recently released his debut novel, Star City. It's a YA sci-fi novel (first of a planned trilogy) about alien first contact... what might happen if a race of enlightened, peace-loving extraterrestrials showed up tomorrow asking to share knowledge? You'd think that would be a good thing, but never underestimate humanity's foolishness...

The book's two main characters are Emma Smith, a college freshman chosen to be a student liaison to the aliens, and her counterpart on the alien side, Sepporinen. I read Star City a few weeks back, and I loved it! It's a fun YA sci-fi read, but it also has some interesting social commentary. And the world-building for the alien culture is magnificent.

Star City is preceded by three prequel short stories, "The Announcement," "The Test," and "The Meeting," which provide some cool background on the characters (though you don't need to read them to read Star City -- they're like bonus scenes).

I was thrilled to be able to ask Edwin a few questions about his book and his writing life.
Edwin Peng

Hi Edwin! Welcome to Across the Board! Can you tell us a bit about your background as an author? What got you into writing?

Thank you for having me!

I’m originally from Monterey Park, CA – a suburb of Los Angeles. I credit my parents with instilling in me the love for reading and writing. The Monterey Park Bruggemeyer Library became my second home when I was a kid. I’m sure I’m not the only child who dreamed of writing a book that would be on the library and bookstore shelves.

I continued to write stories and novels, but it was hard to find the time to be a productive author as I was paying the bills and working day jobs. It wasn’t until four years ago that I got serious as an author. I began my PhD studies at the University of Lincoln-Nebraska, which gave me quite a lot of inspiration to write science fiction (I’m doing high power laser research).

Star City was my second novel that I completed and the first that I felt confident enough to pitch to agents and publishers. After a year, I finally found a publisher, Evolved Publishing, who was willing to give me the chance to share my stories with the world.

Cover of Star City
You recently released your debut, Star City, a YA sci-fi novel about alien first contact. What was the first idea you had for your book, and how did the story grow from there?

I was inspired to write Star City because I want to tell an exciting and funny, but at the same time realistic and socially conscious, first contact young adult story.

As an avid young adult reader, I felt that there weren’t many novels about aliens and/or first contact scenarios. There’s certainly a lot of science fiction YA, but since The Hunger Games craze a decade ago, this subgenre is overwhelming dystopian. There are many paranormal romance novels, but alien love interests are few compared with vampires and werewolves.

Like many science fiction fans, I love a great first contact story. I fear I may sound like a pretentious MFA, but I really think that a “first contact scenario” is the most fascinating and thought-provoking of the common science fiction plots. Unlike time travel or space opera stories, the discovery of alien life (whether that be a microbe in a Mars asteroid or a SETI signal) is something that can actually happen within our lifetimes. First contact stories not only prepare us for encountering real extraterrestrial life, but are also great for discussion of many historical and current issues.

One of Star City's three
prequel short stories
Star City features some amazing alien world-building. How did you go about creating the Ba’ren culture?

Thank you for your compliments!

When I world-build for Star City, I consciously sought to avoid the “Planet of Hats” trope. Making the Ba’ren a full-fledged, realistic alien species ironically meant making them more “human”. A technologically advanced, spacefaring species will have many different cultures, multiple worlds that they inhabit, and a long, complex history.

I also think it’s important for science fiction/fantasy authors to not only create a rich world, but to consider how that world influences their characters and plots. For instance, each alien character in Star City has at least one culture that he/she/they identify with and which influences what they do in the story.

Among your characters, who's your favorite? Could you please describe him/her?

I hate to play favorites among the many characters in the Star City series. If I’ve to choose, my favorite human character is Liam Smith and favorite Ba’ren character is Arnbejoerg.

Liam is the coolest big brother who parlayed his nerdy love for science fiction into an awesome job working with real-life aliens. He may crack a joke during inappropriate time, but his heart is in the right place.

Arnbejoerg is the rebellious pilot/smuggler who proves that not all Ba’ren Juveniles are well-behaved, rule-abiding teenagers. She is a great foil to Sepporinen.
The second of Star City's
three prequel short stories

What's your favorite scene from your novel? Could you please describe it?

Obviously, I can’t describe scenes which would spoil Star City too much. From non-spoilery scenes, I’ll have to say the part where Sepporinen visits the university’s dining hall with Emma as my favorite scene. I’m sure all of us who grew up in American schools have experienced eating at a school cafeteria at some point, so it’s fascinating to see such a scene with literal alien eyes (or, since they are Ba’ren, smell such a scene with literal alien noses).

What's your favorite part of writing? Plotting? Describing scenes? Dialogue?

World-building is my favorite part of writing. I enjoy imagining a different world than ours – and the challenge of making that world full-fledged and internally consistent.

For example, the Ba’ren sent eight spaceships to Earth. Like many science fiction authors, I’d fun imagining these spacecrafts: what they look like, how are they powered, and where can they travel to. But I also enjoyed brainstorming about social science aspects: Who will the Ba’ren send to make contact with humans? How is the Ba’ren on their starships governed? What do the Ba’ren do to relax after a hard day’s work?

How long does it take you to write a book? Do you have a writing process, or do you wing it?

Too long!

Star City took me two years to write – one year of writing an OK draft and one year of editing.

I’m always improving my writing process. My goal is to write the sequels to Star City at a pace of one novel a year.

I basically have 2 rules that I follow when writing: 1. Plan the scene before writing it and 2. Keep writing – even a few words a day is better than none.
The third of Star City's
three prequel short stories

What drew you to sci-fi?

Science fiction to me is the premier genre of our time. We live in a world that, for the last few hundred years, have changed dramatically and quickly due to scientific and technological changes. Good science fiction can prepare us for future changes as well as provide important commentary on our current social conditions.

Are there any books or writers that have had particular influence on you?

Instead of actual young adult/science fiction books, the two pieces of media that influenced Star City the most are a pair of CW television shows: Roswell and Star-Crossed. Considering that the CW is basically the YA channel, it’s not surprising that they experimented with two first contact/paranormal alien romance shows. The good – and the bad – of these two series are important parts of the research I did for Star City.

Did you ever surprise yourself when you were writing your book? Characters who took on lives of their own? Plot elements that took unexpected turns?

I think what surprised me the most when writing Star City is how my characters can sometimes write the plot by themselves.

Thanks for stopping by!


36461157An alien race, the Ba’ren, makes contact with Earth. To jumpstart diplomacy with humans, the Ba’ren offer their advanced medical technology, prompting the United States government to create a joint research project, and to call for the best of the best.

Eighteen-year-old Emma Smith, ready to capitalize on this historic opportunity, beats thousands of applicants for the position of student ambassador. She knows helping the Ba’ren cure osteosarcoma will kick-start her biomedical engineering career, not to mention give her a front-row seat to learn more about the mysterious aliens.

Sepporinen, a young Ba’ren asteroid miner, cares little about meeting humans. He seeks only riches and glory in prospecting the solar system’s asteroids, but the Ba’ren government inexplicably sends him to Earth to assist with the research project, and to work with a young Earth girl.

Emma and Sepporinen draw closer as they work together, and discover far more is at stake than what their respective governments have let on. As political struggles intensify between feuding human and Ba’ren factions, anti-alien sentiment on Earth reaches a lethal pitch. The unlikely pair, determined not to be pawns in this complicated game of life and death, must risk everything to help maintain the fragile peace between their two species.

Edwin Peng lives in beautiful Lincoln, Nebraska with his beloved Pokémon buddy, Eevee. During the day, he indulges in super-villainy by performing high-power laser research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. At night, his secret identity is that of a literary superhero fighting to make the Young Adult Science Fiction genre less clichéd and more inclusive.

Edwin is the author of the Star City series, which features badass heroines and space aliens who love blueberry pies. The first novel is released by Evolved Publishing on December 4, 2017.


Edwin Peng's official website:

Where readers can learn more and get Star City:

Here are my social media links:

Emma Smith’s character Twitter:

Thursday, January 4, 2018

"Okay, Google..."

Happy New Year, folks! I'm writing this on the very first day of 2018, although you're reading this on the 4th. I decided not to procrastinate this month. Let's not call this a resolution because I will break it before the week is out, but on this final evening before everyone goes back to school and work, I am sitting at my kitchen island, ice swirling around my whiskey glass, and getting ahead on this one thing. Go me!
As for resolutions, I create them although I typically don't proclaim them. For you, though, I will make an exception. This year I vow to reduce household waste and do without all the crap. Which means deleting all the company emails the minute they hit my inbox and not buy stuff, even though it fills a void inside me that this current political climate seems to be eating away at. But I digress...

On to the Google search. I'm going to do something a smidge out-of-the-box for this post. After four years, I had to part with my iPhone 5s because it looks liked this:

And the battery wouldn't charge over 4%. So I decided to deintegrate somewhat and buy the Google Pixel 2 because it was HALF the price of the damn iPhone 8. Simply put, I like the phone. My favorite feature is the Google Assistant. I can ask it to do things that take me several swipes through various apps. It's crazy efficient. Thus, I thought it would be fun to simply list the dumb stuff I have asked my phone to look up or do for me since owning it a week. And I wanted to share that all with you.

And these are in order as they appear...

1. "Can I listen to my voicemails?" Yup, I had no idea how to access my voicemails. Turns out, I had a lot saved. I never noticed that on my old phone. Great job, 5s!

2. "Find me a recipe for mulled cider." And when I realized it's non-alcoholic, I then said, "Find me a recipe for mulled wine." Result - delicious.

3. And then, "find me a recipe for a hot toddy." I've had a wicked head cold for a month. Don't judge. Whiskey is the cure for most ailments.

4. "Find me the 'make it nice' meme." Apparently, I thought this was a thing. It is not.

5. "Show me a picture of a reindeer." For the kids, of course.

6. "How do you pronounce Ghirardelli?" There was debate on this with my Italian in-laws. I was right. Hard G.

7. "Find me magical Santa handwriting." Santa needed to leave the kids a note, and it better look authentic.

8. "How do you spell bialy?" I was posting something to Instagram and I needed to maintain my Jew cred. No misspellings here.

9. "Find me a horseradish cream recipe." My husband bought an actual horseradish root which BT-dubs stinks to high heaven. It was for steak. I did not eat it.

10. "Find me a recipe for vegan cream cheese." My other resolution is to eat vegan more often. For the planet and my longevity. I want to live to be 100. Easy.

11. "Set an event for Millie's Old World in Morristown, NJ for Friday at 1pm." This is my favorite feature. I will not forget things if Google tells me about them.

12. "Tell me a pun." Because why not? It replied, "Did you hear the one about the chicken crossing the road? It was poultry in motion." Oh, Google.

13. "Define 'altruism.'" I know the meaning, but I was testing the app. I swear.

14. "Show me pictures of tropical beaches." Do you know how cold it is in the northeast right now? My app says 5 degrees. This week I saw a negative sign. My next command is going to have Google book me a plane ticket to Costa Rica.

Anyway, that's my Google Assistant demands. So far, she has complied. What else can I ask her to do? Sound off in the comments.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Back Jacket Hack-Job #24 - All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

Happy 2018! I hope you are all recovered from a night of celebration. I partied like the old adult that I am by staying home and playing a game with my husband and daughter. It was a new game she got for Christmas called Dicecapades, and it was a lot of fun. Now I’m trying to stay warm and not fall behind on the very first day of the year.

I get to kick this year off with another installment of our Back Jacket Hack-Job. Since 2017 was a year of extreme controversy, I figured I’d take a hack at the most controversial book I read last year—ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS by Bryn Greenwood. I’ll start by saying that I really enjoyed this book. So much so I convinced my book club to make it our next read because I REALLY want to talk about it. This book stirred up a lot of emotions and questions and I love a book that can do that.

If you haven’t checked it out yet and can read with an open mind, you should definitely pick up a copy.

Now, on with the hack . . .

Hey. I’m Kellen. It’s Wavy who should tell you about this book, but she don’t like to talk much so I’ll do it.

Like the title says, it’s about all the ugly and wonderful things in Wavy’s life. There’s a lot of ugly, that’s for sure. Wavy’s parents are the ugliest. They don’t care about Wavy at all. They only care about their drugs and alcohol and beating the shit out of each other. And then there’s Wavy’s aunt. She doesn’t know she’s being ugly. She thinks she’s doing her best. And maybe she is, but I’d say her best isn’t so pretty.

With all that ugly I try to show Wavy not everything is so bad. But I guess I’m pretty ugly too. At least that’s what I’ve been told all my life. Some people tell me I’m ugly because I like little girls. But I don’t. I just like Wavy.

So anyway, like I said, there’s a lot of ugly. So what’s wonderful?

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