Andy Weir and Neil Stephenson in Conversation

There was a book signing and Q&A event for Andy Weir’s new book Artemis at a local book store, and I got to go! The talk was great, and it was fun visiting Third Place Books again. Totally worth going outside for, even for me.

Andy’s writing approach is really interesting. He said that he builds locations before plots or characters. That’s not exactly recommended practice, in fact it’s one of the commonly diagnosed causes for writer’s block, but clearly it works for him. He said that after he built the world for Artemis he actually went through several different plot ideas before he settled on one that he liked. The main character’s name in this one is Jasmine, so obviously that shows good judgement on his part; not that any further proof of his genius was really needed after the success of The Martian. The movie was even pretty great, although it was funny to hear him grumble about some scientific inaccuracy in the changed ending. Apparently, he had considered going that way when he was writing the book, but the math didn’t actually hold up. It’s accepted practice to fudge scientific details or do some hand-waving about future tech when writing Sci-fi, but it seems that’s not Andy’s style. The amount of research he’s done is truly impressive, and it’s clear that his writing grows around his real world interests.

I was feeling a little off, so I bundled up in basically everything I own before going outside. I think I could rock a Tardis in this outfit. Please feel free to mock my dorky excited face.
I opted for a plain signature, because I’m just low maintenance like that, but this is the heartwarming personalized note my husband requested for his copy. Andy seemed to find it amusing.
We had to walk through a foil airlock to get to the talk. It was quite a wild ride.

One of the highlights of the night: In response to an inevitable question from the audience, Neil Stephenson declared that, in his opinion, Andy Weir would be a Hufflepuff.

“The Girl Who Dared to Think”

I finished The Girl Who Dared to Think by Bella Forrest in one night. I didn’t plan to, but after a bit of a slow start it reeled me in. I was a little disappointed when I finished it and, unsurprisingly, it ended with a cliffhanger that leads into the second book in the series. That’s fine, and I’ll pick up the next one. I just really wanted a resolution when I hit that point sometime around dawn. 

Our protagonist, Squire Liana Castell, lives in a massive, glass-enclosed bunker called the Tower. Everyone in the Tower has a number on their wristband and a monitoring device in their head that checks for dissident thought-patterns and feelings. The number is a rating of their supposed loyalty to the Tower, with the highest score being a perfect ten. Her initial problems stem from the fact that she can’t keep her number high enough and she can’t seem to stop asking the wrong kinds of questions.

I was a little lukewarm about Liana at first, and very lukewarm about the apparent budding insta-romance between her and mysterious hot guy, but the setting and warped social structure were interesting enough to keep me going. I got to like Liana more as the story went on. She’s engagingly competent and not prone to convenient stumbles in the middle of the action so dudes can rescue her. Most of her decisions and reactions seemed internally consistent and logical from her point of view, which avoids a major pet peeve of mine.

The romance wasn’t as abrupt as it first appeared; the author seemed to rein it in after the first thrilling glances. I like that Liana has fairly balanced relationships with her friends, and that they don’t suddenly drop off her radar when a guy catches her eye. The story is refreshingly free of love triangles, as well.

The cast is pretty well gender balanced, although it would seem that LGBT people either don’t exist in the Tower or they’ve been forced into hiding/conformity, which I grant would fit with the general dystopian vibe. The cast also seemed pretty white to me. Again, that and other omissions could probably be attributed to the fact that they basically live in an unescapable totalitarian fishbowl, but it isn’t mentioned. I kinda hope that’s addressed in the next book, as Liana learns more about her world. The main diversity comes from the different social classes and communities, all of which are focused on a particular type of service to the maintenance of the Tower. The different vocations have their own micro-cultures, languages, and beliefs.

It was a pretty fast-paced read. I had some trouble picturing the architecture inside the Tower and the technology Liana uses to get around, but that could just be me. She seemed to put a reasonable amount of time into painting the picture, but it didn’t come together in my head, so I sometimes had to slow down to figure out exactly what was going on. (Also, this is just an editing nitpick, but there’s a chapter where she uses the word “statuesque” like four times in a row to describe the same woman and then once for her daughter. That is too many times unless they were literally made of marble and wearing drapey gowns.)

One interesting thing I learned after finishing this book is that it’s supposed to be set in the same world as The Gender Game, also by Bella Forrest. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that one from the description and title, but now I may give it a try when I’m done with these. Maybe.

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Moody tower window photo.

A Rant, a Personal Update, and a Writing Thingy

The rant: I’m re-watching Doctor Who from the beginning, because it’s fantastic! It’ll be a while before I hit the Clara train-wreck seasons. I really love the beginning even though Ten will always be my doctor. Even cranky old Nine still chose to see potential in the human species. That was the whole appeal to the show for me; it was hopeful. Plus, he respected Rose and everyone else he interacted with who did the right thing. Twelve, on the other hand, not so much. His vaguely misogynistic refusal to recognize Clara from other humans isn’t funny, and I super didn’t need another show in my life with a rude, misanthropic white man in the lead who everyone tolerates because he’s “brilliant.” Like, really. No one needs that. Ever. Remove the brilliance and that’s just everyday life.

It went from a show about adventure, and encountering and embracing difference, and the potential for good in every person and situation… to a show about a white dude who is awesome all the time, wearing the old show like a creepy flesh suit.

I stuck in there for quite a while after the spark had faded for me, but that season finale with Missy and “the cloud” just… ick. I’m viscerally angry that they got me to sit through it all the way to that appalling end.

I’m probably going to start watching again to see the female doctor, because that’s a big deal and because Moffat is gone. (Thank god.)

Personal update: I made a real human friend, which is very cool. I actually met people in person and did socializing correctly – it’s amazing! Also, I was able to help someone new to Seattle settle in and find cool stuff, so I must be a proper local now. Maybe eventually it’ll feel like that.

My love of caffeine has prompted me to pick up a new houseplant. I now have two little coffee plants in my living room. I must hoard cheerful green things indoors because winter is coming and I’ve got all the seasonal depression.IMG_20170914_212406_800

Writing Thingy: I’ve been using Skillshare for a while now to learn more about writing and marketing. It’s really handy. It’s like a streamlined version of what I use Youtube for, without all the distracting fish unboxing and college humor videos. You sign up for a subscription and then you get access to a ton of videos and classes on different subjects. I like that there’s a lot of info on marketing and business practices for artist-types, because that information can be pretty difficult to come by and sift through.

One tip: I’d recommend watching a lot of the videos on Skillshare sped up slightly. I don’t know if it’s intentional, but many of them are sort of slow going, possibly because the people who make them aren’t all experienced vloggers. They make it easy to speed them up, though, and I find that I get more out of them that way.

My Favorite Writing Vloggers

I’ve come across some really great writing vloggers (video bloggers) while wasting time on Youtube, so I thought I’d share them. Honestly, no source of writing information has been as helpful to me as these videos. They’re encouraging, educational, and it’s really easy to absorb the information and remember it. It’s great to be able to put on a video and soak up awesome writing goodness while doing the dishes, and watching one or two before sitting down to write helps me get in the right headspace. Plus, it usually cheers me up if I’m feeling floppy and unmotivated.

  1.  Jenna Moreci‘s videos are just really fun to watch. She’s funny, and she has great writing tips that I’ve found incredibly helpful. She’s also very blunt and honest. I think that creative types often need a kick in the pants more than sympathy, so I appreciate her no-nonsense approach; it’s generally what I need when I’m goofing off. Here is her great advice for getting over writer’s block. Her self-published YA sci-fi series, starting with Eve: The Awakening, looks really great. I have a copy sitting on my shelf but haven’t had time to read it yet, which makes me sad. I’m also really excited for her upcoming fantasy book, The Savior’s Champion.
  2.  Kim Chance is a total sweetie. She recently got a publishing deal for her book Keeper, and she offers a lot of support for people who are interested in traditional publishing. Her videos are super cute and heartwarming, and she also has great general fiction-writing advice. She teaches english, so she’s there for your grammar needs, too. Here is her video on giving your book a strong start, with lots of great info about what to do and what not to do in first chapters.
  3.  Kristen Martin‘s writing vlog is full of really detailed, really clear information, and she also has a cool personal vlog where she shares some of her daily life, including how she finds general balance and a healthy approach to her writing. A lot of writing sources romanticize stress, so it is really refreshing to see someone who really cares about feeling good and taking care of herself while pursuing her goals.  Here is her video on her writing process and how she gets her first drafts done in about two months, which is totally hardcore. Her self-published YA sci-fi series, starting with The Alpha Drive, looks really cool. She also offers first chapter critiques for a reasonable fee. She critiqued the first chapter of Somnolence, which was incredibly helpful and encouraging.
  4.  Bookish Pixie, also known as Ava Jay, is also traditionally published. She offers advice about that process, plus a bunch of general fiction tips and tricks. Here is her video on writing fight scenes, which can be really difficult to get right. She started pursuing her writing goals very young, and has worked incredibly hard. I think her videos would be especially encouraging for younger writers, although I still get a lot out of them. She wrote Beyond the Red, another cool sci-fi novel.

There are a ton of really informative writing vlogs out there, so I’d encourage anyone who’s interested to just search around on Youtube, because there’s almost certainly someone making videos that are perfect for your needs. And if not, you could always take it up yourself and help others while building an audience. 🙂