October 31, 2012

The Character Costume Challenge

As I mentioned yesterday, Gillian Adams has issued a challenge to writers and readers: the Character Costume Challenge. You can read the full details here. And, since my Scottish ancestry forbids ignoring a challenge ; ) I have accepted. (Actually, my ancestry had nothing to do with it. The truth is, it was just too cool to pass up!) I was torn between two of my characters, though, so I decided to dress and take pictures as both of them.

First up is Celeste Harper, from my WIP, Empathia's Hope.

Celeste lives on the surface of Eclectia - a highly unstable, volcanic planet in the 94 Ceti system. Having lost both parents to the planet's hostile conditions, Celeste supports herself and her younger sister Celia by excavating artifacts from a city that was buried by a volcano over a century before, and then selling the artifacts on the black market.

Harsh conditions require a lot of protective gear - goggles, a mask, the works. Blowing ash and dust aren't pleasant to breathe or get in your eyes. The seasons are a bite to deal with too - there are only two, winter and summer, but they cycle every five days so you're never able to adjust fully to either one, and both are extreme. So you're either miserably hot or miserably cold. No happy medium.
Celeste tends to have a very cynical outlook on the world, since she's convinced herself there's nothing better than what she has to hope for. It's up to her sister and an archaeologist named Robin to convince her otherwise.

Next up: Ann Morgan, from my 2012 NaNoWriMo project, The Sword Masters of St. George's Academy.

Ann is a bright, brainy young lady who lives with her parents and siblings in Victorian-era London. (Yes, London - as I stand in front of an American flag in the bookcase. *sighs* Oh well.) She works as a watchmaker's assistant in his shop not far from her home, and loves learning about the art and science of watchmaking. She also loves experimenting with different clockwork and metalwork projects of her own... including a derringer that she made for herself and carries everywhere.

Ann is the daughter of my main character, Thaddeus Morgan, who is a master swordsman and teaches fencing at St. George's Academy - one of the finest schools in London. Thaddeus has taught Ann to use swords, knives, and firearms in self-defense, and she loves it. (Sadly, I don't have a derringer, so I had to use my great-grandpa's revolver for the picture instead.) She always has a gun and a dagger with her.

And of course, like all good home-schooled kids, she loves a good book. : )
Mom and I had a lot of fun 'steampunking' a corner of our living room for this picture.
Well, that about wraps it up for my end of the Character Costume Challenge. Special thanks to my mom for taking all the pictures, serving as wardrobe adviser, set adviser, etc. And of course a special thanks to Gillian Adams for inventing the Character Costume Challenge in the first place!

I'll be spending a lot more time with Ann Morgan starting tomorrow - November 1st, the first day of NaNoWriMo! You can track my progress at my NaNo profile, or follow my progress here at the Lair. I'll be journaling NaNo here just as I've done the last two years.
And if you'd like more pictures of characters, settings, weapons, and inspirations and ideas from The Sword Masters of St. George's Academy, well, you're in luck! I've set up an entire board on my Pinterest page dedicated to nothing but NaNoWriMo 2012. Click Here to check it out!

October 30, 2012

Where has October gone?

Agh! I cannot believe October is almost over! Where did it go and how did it get there so quickly?!
(They say time speeding up is a sign of getting old... should I be worried?)

Well, since October is nearly over, I suppose it's time for news and updates.
First on the list: I'm being featured as a guest blogger over at Stories in the Mind, the blog of my dear friend and fellow writer Pure Grace. She's an amazing writer, and I'm honored by the opportunity to be a guest blogger there. So hop on over and check it out. I talk about the weirdness we writers all share/suffer from, and even share a few of my own embarrassing and humorous writer moments. I'm sure Pure Grace would love it if you all stopped by and shared your own writer moments with us. ; )

Second: While I am no fan of Halloween, I have accepted a challenge issued by Gillian Adams over at Of Battles, Dragons, and Swords of Adamant to enter the Character Costume Challenge. The challenge is just what its names implies: writers dress like a character from one of your stories; readers, dress like a favorite fictional character. Then take a picture of yourself in costume and post it on your blog on October 31st. Anyone and everyone is encouraged to participate and/or spread the word. Click Here to read the full details in Gillian's post.
I'll actually be dressing and posting pictures as two of my characters - one from my current novel in progress, Empathia's Hope, and one from the NaNoWriMo project I'm about to begin, The Sword Masters of St. George's Academy, so look for those pictures tomorrow!

Speaking of NaNoWriMo brings me to announcement number 3: NaNoWriMo is about to begin!!! As I'm sure you've gathered already, I'll be participating yet again this year. This is my third year to undertake what is probably the most insane event known to man (next to the running of the bulls), and I'm very excited. The last two years I've written fantasy stories; this year I'm turning to Steampunk for a high dose of fictional epicness! Swords, conspiracy, intrigue, action, and more swords, all coated with a thick layer of awesome steampunk style. Just as I've done the last two years, I'll be journaling my progress here at the Lair for those of you interested in following it. But of course, if you're participating in NaNo as well and would like to be my writing buddy, just look me up at my NaNo Profile. I look forward to seeing you there!

Well, I think that's all the announcements for now, so I'm off! Between Character Costume Challenge tomorrow, and NaNo beginning the day after tomorrow, I've got a lot to do! : )

October 27, 2012

Please, Don't Insult My Intelligence

This afternoon I was looking through this month's issue of National Geographic Magazine and came across this:
The computer makes it hard to see, but just to the left of center in the photo is a little circle outlined with a dotted white line. That portion has been enlarged in the circle you see just right of center. According to the caption, that dark-colored smudge in the enlarged circle is a remnant of "feathers up to eight inches long". At top right you'll see an artist's concept of a tyrannosaur-like dinosaur covered in furry, fluffy feathers.
Now, first of all, while I am not a paleontologist and don't claim to have any kind of expertise in this field, I think I'm smart enough to recognize a fossilized feather when I see one.
This is a fossilized feather:
This is a fossilized feather:
Sorry, but I don't see any feathers in that NatGeo photo. Those smudges are far more likely to be collagen fibers, created during the decay process of the fossilized animal's body.

The brief writeup on the photo states that the feathers were "soft down (that) may have kept the animal toasty during a Cretaceous cold spell", not rigid feathers meant for flight. It describes the dinosaur as "a supersize chick".
I'm a little confused about the idea of "soft down" eight inches long, though. The closest thing I can think of to that is an ostrich's soft body feathers, which do get that long but would, one would think, show up in a fossil as more than a smudgy spot or two, and well enough to be defined under a term a bit more precise than "filaments" (the NatGeo writeup's word of choice).

I also have to wonder how this fits together with the new theory that dinosaurs' own methane emissions (i.e. burps and gas) caused global warming. (No, I'm not kidding. That is an actual theory, and you can even read about it in the LA Times here.) If dinosaurs went extinct during the global warming they caused between 161 and 145 million years ago, how did they have the time or foresight to evolve feathers for the Cretaceous cold spell 125 million years ago? And if they were adaptable enough to evolve feathers in time to keep from freezing to death, how did they manage to go extinct in the first place?
All that aside, the most glaring problem with the downy insulation theory is the fact that dinosaurs are reptiles and therefore, we can reasonably assume, cold blooded. If their bodies are not generating their own heat, a layer of insulation is totally pointless. If anything, it's going to have the opposite effect: keeping out the warmth that needs to be coming into the animal's body from outside.
Secondly, down only works as insulation if there is a course outer layer over it. Back to my ostrich illustration, you'll notice that an ostrich's feathers are all very soft and down-like. But the ostrich lives in the desert. The feathers help it keep cool, not warm. Even a goose-down sleeping bag is covered with an outer layer to hold the warmth in. Those of you who have raised chickens know that baby chicks (covered only with soft down) are extremely susceptible to even slightly cool temperatures, because they have no outer layer of feathers to hold in the warmth. Where is T-rex's outer layer? Shouldn't that be showing up in the fossil too?

I could go on. The entire writeup (less than half a page long) is so full of items and points I could challenge, but I'll stop here. I'm sure you all get the idea, though I would encourage every one of you to look up the article at your local library or online and see it for yourselves.
I would also encourage you to learn more about these so-called feathered dinosaurs scientists have found and touted as powerful evidence confirming evolution. Answers in Genesis has a fabulous article on the very dinosaur pictured above, explaining details about it with tremendous depth and clarity. Click Here to read AiG's article. Learn the truth about these controversial fossils, so that you can always be ready to give an answer for your faith when people question you or make false statements like this.
And lastly, don't be afraid to stand up and speak out about things like this. The propagation of evolution is dependent on intelligent people keeping their mouths shut and not asking too many tough and embarrassing questions because they don't want to challenge an 'expert' opinion. You may not be an 'expert', but the people who are learned from other experts, who learned from other experts, who learned from looking at fossils and making up theories. You're an intelligent human being who can see a fossil just as well as they can. Don't let them insult your intelligence by making you feel ignorant, and don't be afraid to respectfully challenge their expertise.

Don't be afraid to call a feather a feather, if indeed it is a feather. But don't be afraid to say it isn't a feather, if it isn't.

October 26, 2012

Author Interview - Fred Warren

Back again to interview yet another author whose work is featured in the Avenir Eclectia anthology. This time around we're talking with Fred Warren.

MRP: Thanks so much for joining us today, Fred!

FW: I’m very pleased to be here, Mary. Thanks for inviting me.

MRP: You're very welcome. So, what first brought you to the world of Avenir Eclectia and got you interested in the project?

FW: I’d been working with Splashdown Books as an author for a couple of years, and one day, publisher Grace Bridges announced she had a concept for an innovative web-based collaborative fiction project that would connect back to the Splashdown brand and attract new readers and authors. I’d been involved with something similar in a game-based format some years ago, and enjoyed it very much, so I was definitely interested, though I also knew it was going to be a lot of work to set it up and keep it running. I’m pleased with how it’s progressing.

MRP: What do you consider your unique 'trademark' as a writer, and how does that come through in your Avenir Eclectia stories?

FW: I try to season my stories with humor and unexpected twists. If I’m having fun and surprising myself from time to time, I’m hopeful that I’m having the same effect on my readers.

MRP: Your stories tend to focus a lot on what goes on beneath the surface on the Avenir, the things that aren't visible to just everyone. Can you tell us a bit about that (your inspiration, goals, etc.)?
FW: The idea of exploring what goes on in the spaces where nobody is looking is what it’s all about. The two story arcs I wanted to develop exist on two ends of that spectrum.
The Dreamers exercise great influence over the colony’s affairs and see themselves as inheritors of the original command crew’s legacy and its responsibility for Avenir Eclectia’s survival. They work from within a virtual reality world physically isolated from the rest of the colony, manipulating events and people behind the scenes. For most of the colonists, the Dreamers are an urban legend—or a ghost story for frightening little children at bedtime.
The Orphans, on the other hand, live on the margins of the otherwise very prosperous Avenir space station, in the cracks, crevices, and abandoned spots no one thinks about. Their poverty makes them invisible. It also makes them vulnerable to criminal elements who see them as expendable tools and want to exploit them.

MRP: What do you see as the biggest advantage of a multi-author project like Avenir Eclectia?

FW: The diverse viewpoints and voices help create a universe that is incredibly rich and almost limitless in opportunities for storytelling. You feed off the imagination of other writers, and hopefully are inspiring them in turn.
MRP: The biggest disadvantage or challenge?
FW: The flip side of a multifaceted environment that encourages so much creativity is that it quickly develops challenges in consistency and continuity. We’re not just telling unrelated stories in a common setting—we’re building the history of this colony, told from innumerable individual viewpoints. Those viewpoints will, of necessity, overlap and collide. Writers have to be conversant not only with what other writers are doing right now, but also with everything that has gone before, and you need some editorial oversight to avoid or referee conflicts. Things get complicated, like the layout of the space station and other communities, social/political/economic issues, plausible technologies, and the flow of time. In compiling this first volume of stories from the project, we’ve sorted and disentangled some of these problems and have created a user-friendly introduction to Avenir Eclectia for new readers, and a helpful reference for fans who have been with us from the beginning.

MRP: Do you have a favorite memory or experience from the Avenir Eclectia project so far?

FW: The community had an extended, lively debate on the “Bug War” that’s currently developing across multiple storylines. I wasn’t in favor of it at first—AE was barely a year old, and we were planning something that looked very much like our equivalent of the Apocalypse. However, this was the first time nearly everyone got fired up about a cooperative idea, and that’s absolutely essential. In the end, I think it’s brought a lot of fresh energy into the overarching story of the colony, and despite my fears, I expect it’s going to both survive and prosper.  

MRP: Can you give us any kind of hint at where your story/character arc is going from here?

FW: Well, my main protagonist in the Dreamer thread has cut all ties with the outside world and is at this moment being integrated into his new life in the Dreamers’ virtual community. I’m curious myself to see how he handles it. The Orphans have just gotten in way over their heads in a conspiracy that threatens to destroy the Avenir station, and they’re going to have a tough time surviving, much less disentangling themselves from the bad guys who got them into this mess. Fun times ahead.

MRP: Fun times indeed! : ) Thanks again for taking time to share with us, Fred. It's always fun talking to another writer, especially one involved with a shared project like Avenir Eclectia. 


That wraps it up for this time, friends, but there are more coming. There's a lot yet to be learned about the amazing collage of minds that have been shaping the world of Avenir Eclectia, so stick around!