YouTube: Zillah Harmonia, a Carbon Run story

In a future decade when fixing the environment is the world’s top priority, an elderly homeowner must decide whether to fight a citation that might mean the loss of her home.

I’ve been experimenting with alternate ways to present my fiction, and I’ve created what I call a “vaudio.” It’s intended for listening more than viewing, while offering a way for me to reach the huge YouTube audience with something unique. Others have tried an audio track with an image, but what I’ve seen on YouTube uses a single still image.

For Zillah Harmonia, in which roses play a prominent role, I took a brief video of a rose in my neighborhood with my smartphone, downloaded it to my laptop, and combined the video with the MP3 file I built for SoundCloud. Using Adobe Premiere Elements, I added the “facet” special effect to soften the image, slowed the original image down by 75 percent, put in a couple of simple titles, and voilà, a vaudio.

Are you trying anything like this? Let me know what you think of my experiment. I’ll be posting more of these soon.

Reading: Living In Infamy, a Carbon Run story

skullAs I mentioned in a previous post, I wrote two Carbon Run short stories, Zillah Harmonia, and Living in Infamy. I’ve recorded the second story and posted it on SoundCloud. In a future when fossil fuels are banned, the captain of a US Navy destroyer, plagued by guilt over a friendly-fire incident, hunts a dangerous carbon smuggler and gets help from a disgraced, dead relative.

Let me know what you think.

I’m between projects and I need your help deciding what to work on next.

meme

Not sure if I’m carefully weighing my options or being indecisive.

I’m religious about my work habits. I set aside two hours a day for writing only. I decide what I’ll work on and do that thing until it’s done or the two hours are up. I’ll add 15 minutes here, cut 15 minutes there, work on a lower priority item if I finish the high priority task, that sort of thing, but the core principle is like a rock. As a writer with only a few fiction credits, this helps me feel that I’m moving forward.

There’s one point where my little method fails. When I’m between major projects, I’m all sixes and sevens. I’m uncertain what to do with myself. Start a new project? Tinker with an old project? Get a real job?

Take the current moment. On Saturday, I finished a major revision for City of Ice and Dreams, the second novel in my as-yet-unpublished Carbon Run series. I’ve incorporated suggestions from my editor, John Paine, and a half-dozen beta readers. I’ve worked on it an average of five or six days a week for half a year or more. It’s consumed much of my waking life. I capped this portion of the project by writing a synopsis and a template query letter to agents and publishers. I’m working to push this project out of the nest, if anyone will have it.

Now what? Continue reading

Why writers should stop using ‘redneck’ as an ethnic slur, and probably won’t.

Redneck meme

“Redneck” is a staple of internet memes, but it’s old and tired.

Science fiction is awash with discussion about diversity. Almost since its inception, the genre has been dominated by Anglo-European men. (Oddly enough, modern sci-fi was invented by a woman, Mary Shelley, with her novel, Frankenstein.) In the past few decades, however, more women and some African-Americans, e.g., Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delany, and N.K. Jemisin, have added their voices to the chorus. Recently, writers from China, notably Hugo Award winner Liu Cixin, have earned attention.

The emergence of female and minority voices, as well as LGBTQ writers, perplexes many and irks a few traditionalists, who decry stories that veer from the dominant tropes of sci-fi—ray guns, space ships, alien invasions, and so on—and take on social issues that reflect life as it’s lived in their communities. Reactionaries, such as the SadPuppies and RabidPuppies, resort to name-calling and worse to tamp down a trend unlikely to go away.

One facet of the trend toward diversity is pressure to avoid racial or ethnic slurs. Of course, if a word you’d never use in polite company is necessary for characterization or to move the plot forward, it should be available, like any other word. Too often, however, these words are used thoughtlessly or for shock value. More often than not, they’re unnecessary. However, ignorant storytellers label this reticence self-censorship or political correctness, meaning avoidance for fear of offending some group or individual. Well, duh! Using a word simply to offend is offensive. What would your grandma think?

However, there’s one word that has not, as yet, entered the lexicon of slurs that include n—, c—, or s—. The word is “redneck.” This fact was brought home to me in an interview of Charles Murray, a conservative thinker at the DC-based American Enterprise Institute. “Try to think of any kind of ethnic slur that you can get away with at a dinner party you attend without getting immediate pushback,” Murray says. He referred to a friend who had recently moved to West Virginia. The friend’s urbane social circle thought his new neighbors “would be dumb, illiterate, [and] have missing teeth.” Continue reading

Are we creating the dystopia we’ve always feared?

Utopia, Texas, sign

Utopia, Texas. Image courtesy University of Houston, Clear Lake.

This weekend’s opening of Star Trek: Beyond and last week’s nomination of Donald Trump to the presidency puts an interesting spin on the utopia versus dystopia debate in the speculative fiction universe, at least for this writer. Star Trek and Trump appear unrelated, but they represent threads of American thinking about the future. Do we believe things are getting better or getting worse?

Technically, the words “utopia” and “dystopia” refer to an environment of governance, one positive, the other negative. A better pair of words for understanding the choice are “optimism” and “pessimism.” The original Star Trek series represents the former. After watching Kirk and Spock save the universe, nerds like myself wanted to go on a mission to discover new worlds or make the cool things we saw. The show was a product of its time (Vietnam, civil rights, the Cold War, the War on Poverty), but its premise came out of a core American value: That life could be better, delivered by amazing technology in a society that rejected poverty, racism, and armed conflict once and for all. The show expressed a core tenet of America’s genius: a profound, pervasive optimism. Continue reading

Review: Augments of Change salient in a time of racial tension

Augments of Change cover

Augments of Change

America is going through another paroxysm of racially tinged violence, reminding everyone of our failure to reconcile our history with our ideals. In my own lifetime, the country has experienced urban riots (e.g, Watts in Los Angeles), violence after the Rodney King verdict, and last week, two more in a long string of deaths of black men at the hands of police, followed by the mass murder of five Dallas policemen by a African-American assailant with a military-style assault rifle. It’s as if a murderous virus is spreading through the culture.

The news has left the country morose and pessimistic. People feel that the issues of race, as well as related issues of immigration and income inequality, will never be resolved or mitigated. As citizens of a democracy, we’ve entered a time of madness when everyone whom we don’t know and don’t agree with is The Other. We’ve lost the ability to listen to and respect other views. Demagogues such as Donald Trump say out loud what many people feel, forgetting that civilized behavior in the public sphere requires a certain suppression of thought and feeling in order to get along without fearing someone will strike back in anger. Respect and tolerance are out of style.

Speculative fiction writers have long tried to tell stories of race. In an genre dominated until recently by white men, only a few black voices have stood out, among them Octavia Butler, Samuel R. Delaney, and N.K. Jemisin. Less well-known in the sci-fi mainstream is Kelvin Christopher James, whose most recent novel, Augments of Change, takes the myth of race, as well as it taboos and tropes, and turns it on its head. His unique voice brings a new clarity to race as an illusion that influences daily thought. Continue reading

Reading: Zillah Harmonia, a Carbon Run Story

RoseThis spring, I took a short story writing class through Hugo House, a Seattle non-profit dedicated to teaching and promoting poetry and literature. I wrote two stories during the eight-week class, and I’ve produced an audio version of one of them, “Zillah Harmonia“. In a future decade when fixing the environment is the world’s top priority, an elderly homeowner must decide whether to fight a citation that might mean the loss of her home. The story is told in the Carbon Run world, which I’ve created in three yet-to-be-published novels. Let me know what you think.

BTW, I’ll publish an audio version of the second story, titled “Living in Infamy,” later this summer.

My equipment for audio story recording and production

audio equipment

Audio equipment I use for recording short stories.

I thought I’d share my equipment and software setup for my audio storytelling project to satisfy all the gear heads and hope-to-be sound jockeys embarking on the great audio publishing journey. My gear is fairly minimal for pro-sounding results, but my equipment is not required to put your toe in the water. In the most elemental setup, you can record your voice via your laptop or phone mic and do some basic editing in any number of lightweight editing software packages. But if you want credible, well-crafted sound, upgrading to relatively inexpensive pro equipment is the way to go. Here’s the list, referencing the photo above. You can purchase most, if not all, this equipment in professional audio catalogs, such as Broadcast Supply and Guitar Center, as well as Amazon.

TASCAM DR-40 Linear PCM Recorder ($169) – This is one step up from a basic digital audio recorder marketed to musicians, but excellent for voice recording. The audio is recorded to an MPG or WAV file to an SD card for easy transfer to a work station for editing. I purchased it primarily because of its ability to take XLR connectors from a robust standard microphone cable. Take note of the silvery things at the top. That’s actually a stereo condenser microphone, which is fine for music demos and voice in a very quiet environment. I prefer a different mic, explained later in this post. Continue reading

Reading: A War Beyond War, And I Am the Only Soldier

I’ve been inspired by fellow writers, particularly my friend Ramona Ridgewell, to experiment with making my short stories available online as audio readings. It’s sort of a no-brainer, given my background in radio and skills in audio production, and I’ve been thinking about it for a long time as a way to promote myself and (hopefully) upcoming novels. I’m using the SoundCloud audio distribution service.

My first audio story (the word “audiobook” doesn’t seem to fit) is called “A War Beyond War, And I Am the Only Soldier.” You can download a free PDF version of the story here. Dominic de la Traversée is a young monk in a 13th century French monastery who undergoes a frightening transformation as he fights for the existence of our perceived universe. I wrote the original story in 2007, and it was published in an anthology called Satirica. The music is by Cory Gray, and it’s available at the Free Music Archive.

I’d love to know what you think of this project. I’ve got a couple more stories in my queue. Do you think I should record those as well?

The Girl in the Road: Literary fiction with a sci-fi overlay

The Girl in the Road cover image

Monica Byrne’s The Girl in the Road is literary fiction with a sci-fi sensibility.

As a writer who likes to look at speculative fiction through the lens of climate change, I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to read Monica Byrne‘s debut novel, The Girl in the Road, published in 2014. Though its portrait of two women connected across time and space is classified as science fiction by some, the novel has few of the trappings of sci-fi, apart from some gadgets and a sea-spanning platform that generates energy. This is literary fiction with a sci-fi overlay. However, the most pleasantly shocking aspect of this amazing story is how it subverts the received view of technology and economic colonialism as strictly a north-south phenomenon. In The Girl in the Road, these phenomenon are shifted 90 degrees to show it as a universal experience.

The novel interweaves two stories of women making harrowing journeys, both set in a future a few decades from now. Mariama is a West African slave girl who escapes and hitches a ride on a truck bound for Ethiopia with a cargo that’s not what it seems. In this world, the ancient kingdom, the only one never conquered by a European power, is dominated by India (China hovers nearby), which is practicing a colonialism not far different from the British Raj, though with money, rather than guns. The other journey is made by Meena from the far side of the Indian Ocean. Her destination is also the Horn of Africa, and over an accidental road made by a sea-crossing machine that generates energy from wave action. Continue reading