August 30, 2012

The Unchained Tour: Coming soon, to a theater near ME!!!

Late last week, I got an IM from Charles.

"Are we in town for this?" he said, and then he sent a link.

I squealed, checked our calendar, and then squealed again.

Because OHMIGOD HOLYCOW ICAN'TBELIEVE IT!!!

Neil Gaiman is coming to Charleston!!!

A part of the Unchained Tour, he's touring around the southeast in an old, painted schoolbus, with an incredible lineup of musicians and storytellers.

But wait...let me just repeat that. Because I'm not sure you understand.

NEIL GAIMAN IS COMING TO CHARLESTON!!

Yep, that's right. The author of American Gods, The Sandman series, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book...is  coming here....to Charleston!!!

Has it sunk in yet?

It's just starting to, for me. We have our tickets and a babysitter (ok, my mom) lined up.

And it's going to be an incredible night.

A quick review of the performers lineup shows an Edgar-award wining author, a Harvard grad from Trinidad, some awesome rockers, and, oh, Edgar Oliver, best know to me as "that creepy-sounding guy who goes to the store in Oddities sometimes."

Yeah. I'm excited to see him, too. I want to get my picture taken with him, to frame and give to my father and brother for Christmas. They both love Oddities, too.

Oh. And along the way? They'll promote independent bookstores, a staple for book lovers like myself. Here in Charleston, they'll hit up one of my faves, Blue Bicycle Books, where I have spent many an hour browsing through the stacks, and where I even found one of my older copies of Anne Frank's diary.

Our show will be held at the Charleston Music Hall, a gorgeous old downtown space (picture exposed brick, shiny hardwoods, and cozy seats) beside one of our favorite local restaurants, 39 Rue De Jean.  Expect to find Charles and me there, ahead of time, for drinks and appetizers. 

So, let's recap. Neil Gaiman. Edgar Oliver. Storytellers from around the country. Drinks. Live music. And an after party at Blue Bicycle Books!

I'm thinking this is going to be the best night ever.

For more information, to see if the tour is coming to your hometown, and to purchase tickets, go here. And if you happen to be here in Charleston and plan on going to the show, I'll be the girl breathlessly excited, bouncing about in anticipation.

Oh, and if you're interested in volunteering at the show that night, ushering or ID checking, please let me know - I know the Music Hall is looking for some extra hands.

Hope to see you there!

August 29, 2012

Book Review: vN

vN, a novel by Madeline Ashby and released by Angry Robot Books this summer, is the first book I read on my Kindle. I downloaded it on a whim, curious about straight-up sci-fi as written by a woman who isn't Ursula LeGuin.

It turns out, vN felt more Philip K. Dick than Ursula LeGuin, but either way: that's good company to be in, don't you think?

vN by Madeline Ashby
Angry Robot Books
July 31, 2012
416 pages
vN is a fun ride through a futuristic world in which humanoid machines (Robots? Androids? They're called vN, after their creator...) exist to protect whatever humanity remains on earth after the Rapture.

But when the Rapture never happens, the creator of the robots retires in disgrace, and the robots themselves self-replicate (iterate) with abandon, creating a new class of sub-people who, in turn, make up the new face of homelessness, poverty and exploitation.

Because these robots were designed to help humanity, they have a "failsafe" built in.  They physically cannot hurt human beings. If they even see a human being getting hurt, their failsafe fires, and their hardware fries.  So the vN quickly learn....if a person's in danger, look away.  It's the only way to protect their internal systems.

And the looking away thing? It reminds me a hell of a lot more of human indifference than any robot reticence...and I don't think that's an accident.

In this world we meet Amy, a little vN-girl who lives with mixed parents: her mom's a robot, dad's a human. They keep her small so she can grow up like a real girl.  She's got the emotional maturity of a kid, but the intelligence and skills of a full-fledged robot...so when her mother comes under attack from her evil Granny, Amy steps up and defends her mother...ingests her Granny...and sadly, also Granny's memory, which infects Amy like a cancer.

Because Granny? She's bad news. And Granny? Her failsafe's broken. And Granny? Yeah, she's a killer. With Granny stuck inside of her, Amy's all those things and more.

TO me, it felt like Pinocchio meets Blade Runner. (And in a nice Dick reference, there's a chain-restaurant in the book called Electric Sheep, paying homage to Blade Runner's original title: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.  Love it.)

The plot's exciting...in fact, the first few chapters are so utterly action-packed that I wondered more than once if Ashby was ever going to slow it down and let her readers catch their breaths.  She did...but I was soon panting again.

Amy grows quickly to full-size after eating Granny. She suddenly resembles any other vN of her model, and tries to evade capture from those who want to punish her, study her, eat her...you name it, people and vN are after Amy for it. She has only one ally: Javier, a handsome vN with incredible jumping skills, and a penchant for trouble and iteration. (Translation: he's made so many new versions of himself, the law's after him, as well.)

There's an interesting dynamic here, though. He's suave, Amy's gorgeous, but I spent much of the second half of the book hoping they wouldn't get it on, if only because in my brain, Amy stayed nearly the same age as my daughter. It felt rather icky to imagine her with Javier in that way, because emotionally, she's a child.

They're chased up and down the West Coast, hitting up a futuristic, earthquake-ravaged San Francisco Bay Area before attempting to cross the ocean to a vN safe haven. Chaos follows them, though, and the action continues up to the very end.

Ashby's prose is tight and smart. She speaks the language of techies everywhere: prototypes, iterations, patches, memory leaks, bluescreens, viruses. It's accessible science fiction, grounded here on Earth and in a reality that doesn't seem too farfetched.

So I say check it out. It's available online and in bookstores, so get it! What are you waiting for?

Happy reading!


August 27, 2012

When it's just too much...

Every so often, I get to feeling sorry for myself.

Sometimes life feels too busy.

Sometimes juggling work, and husband, and daughter...it all mashes together and feels like TOO MUCH.

These past few weeks have fallen into the TOO MUCH category.

Zoe started a new school year, with a new teacher and new routines for the first time in two years. A child who doesn't respond well to change, this has been hard on her. Nightmares have surfaced; stomachaches are feigned.

Last weekend added to her feelings of upheaval. She had a minor surgery (one tube pulled out of her ear, adenoids removed). She was old enough to be scared, but not old enough to really articulate it. When they pulled her from my arms at the surgery center, we both cried.

The nightmares and the stomachaches worsened, and we all grew sleep deprived. I enlisted the help of my mother and mother-in-law to keep Zoe for one each night this weekend, a huge treat for all of us. Zoe got to have special grandparent time. Charles and I were going to have grown-up time, AND get some sleep.

But then Charles got sick. A sinus infection run amock. He spent the weekend on the couch.

So much for replenishing grown up time, eh? I spent my weekend running errands, cleaning, and playing soccer with Zoe (ok, that last bit was super-fun...but still...).

This morning, I handled Zoe's school drop-off on my own. It was better, but still...

"Mommy, my tummy hurts," she said, ten minutes from school. 

How do you tell a 4 year old that, even if it really does hurt, it's just from separation anxiety? The answer: you don't. You just comfort as best you can, and you send your kid to school anyway, all while feeling like a terrible mother for abandoning your one and only child.

It's awful, in short.

It makes me want to leave work, go pick her up, and take her for ice cream.

Even though I KNOW that's not the right answer.

But in truth, I'm overwhelmed, too. I'm tired. I'm run-down.

But.

BUT.

This weekend, I watched my first ever TED talk.


You should watch it too. Because we all need to care about this.

It's odd: In Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne rails against her mother's instructions to, when she was feeling down, think about those in more dire trouble than her.  To think about those Jews already in camps, already starving and tortured.

Anne wanted, instead, to contemplate the beauty of nature, to let it fill her with joy.

When I was young and impulsive, I agreed with her. It was all about finding joy in the little things, even on a bad day.

Now I think they were both right. There's beauty in this world, and we always need to work to find it and appreciate it...but damn. The troubles of enslaved people around the world certainly make my trivial complaints seem...well...trivial.

As well they should.

Sometimes that's a reminder I need. And it's also a call to action. It may not (ever) be enough, but I'll be supporting Lisa's organization from now on. And so should we all.

August 24, 2012

Books, books everywhere...and so much left to read!

Hey you guys!!!

I got a Kindle!  Wanna see it?

Isn't it beautiful?
I thought you would!

Charles ordered it for me after I spent weeks badgering him. (Does that make me a Honey Badger?). He also ordered me the pink plastic skin because, well, after growing up a total tomboy, I grew to love girlie things...typically in an ironic fashion, but still. Girlie.

I opened it up and started using it immediately. I ordered a book from Amazon about life in London during the Blitz, to read for research for a story I plan to write.  I also sent myself a copy of a book I'd downloaded to review.

I love it, so far. It's light, easy to navigate, and easy on the eyes at night.  I've used it every day so far, and plan to take it pretty much everywhere with me moving forward.  The reading possibilities feel endless!! Plus, now, I can buy my own ebook when it comes out this fall! And I can support all the indie-published friends that I've made in the past year via Twitter and other social networks.

Basically, this Kindle feels like a win-win for me.

*************

But....lest ye think I am nothing more than a walking Amazon advertisement...you should also know....

BOOOOOOKS! I love books!! I love to hold them, to read them, to collect them. I love to use them for decoration in my house. I love to smell them and see them, and feel their weight in my hands. I love to have signed copies of them, to hold in my hand tiny pieces of authors I admire so greatly.

I'll never give up print books.  Hardcovers, paperbacks, they're mine for the purchasing, and they always will be a part of my life.

And in case you don't believe me...the proof.  These are photos from my house, of our ever-expanding collection of books that threatens to burst out of the room we use to house most of them (and...sadly...our cats' litterbox...making sitting in said lovely book room and reading a near impossibility at this time...but still! Books!).
This shelf lives downstairs,
beneath the Kurt Vonnegut print 

This is our sci-fi/fantasy
mash-up section
Here we have my
history collection


Fiction, literature, leftover college
English texts

Aaaand...Zoe's room...because...
you have to start 'em early
That's not even all the books we have. There are more shelves. Filled with more books. And somehow, we keep buying them. We keep collecting.

Because we love them. And as cool as new technology may be, my (and my husband's) love of print books will never change.


August 20, 2012

Aaaahhhhhhhh....


'scuse me.  That was only the sound of total relief, uttered by me last night as I finished a round of on-paper edits on my latest novel.

Seriously. I set it down and said, "Ahhhhh."

Because...it's been a long haul for this one.

I always edit on paper. It's important to edit on paper. Writers know this. You can see things on paper, laid out on pages, better than you can on a screen. I catch more on paper than I ever can on a screen.

But this time? It took a while.

I took my time. I read and re-read each page, crossing-out and rewriting with abandon. Seriously. My pages were covered in minute writing that I'll maybe one day be able to read (with a magnifying glass); arrows criss-crossed from top to bottom, margin to margin; X's covered full paragraphs and, in one startling move, three full pages.

I wasn't messing around.

And it took a forever!

So long, in fact, that I started to think it would never end.  I got fed up, frustrated. I have other stories I want to work on, you see, and yet my own sense of self-discipline, however misdirected, won't let me move onto something new when I'm immersed in the old. So I kept at it, my hands covered in ink-blots and papercuts.

So when I reached the page that said "The end" last night, I wanted to throw a little party.

Tonight? Tonight I get to start manually adding all those changes into my manuscript. Should be tedious...and fun. I swear! I'm not just saying that to convince myself! (I'm totally just saying that to convince myself). 

But when I finish that, I'll finally be able to hand this crazy book off to a handful of my most trusted readers. I can't wait to hear what they think!

**************

In other writing news:

  • It seems we're still on track for an October-ish release of my first novel. It's still tentatively titled HOW TO SURVIVE A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, but I'm still not in love with that title. Still, I love the book itself, and have some fun things coming down the pipeline for it.  Like....a book trailer!! And an event!! At a Zombie Race here in Charleston!! Stay tuned for more info in the coming months!
  • I do seem to get writer's block when heavily immersed in editing. I never turn on my computer. I don't write blog posts; I don't write for Pink Raygun. I barely even email! This phenomena should pass this week as I'll once again be at my computer for the majority of the time I'm working.
  • I started my own little "idea bank" today, in which I briefly outlined three stories (one short, two novels) on which I want to work in the coming weeks and months. I'm not sure where I'll start, but once I finish getting these edits into the manuscript, I'll be generating new stuff! I can't wait!!! All are some mix of sci-fi and adventure stories - my favorite stuff to write. Yay!
  • And finally!! I got a Kindle!!!! I'm so excited about this I could just squeeze you! Yep, I really could! This allows me to support in a more concrete fashion some of my indie-writing pals, who mostly publish in the e-book sphere. It also allows me access to downloadable review copies from one of my favorite publishers, so I can read great books and hopefully write more reviews! In short, this is going to be awesome!! 
*****************
So there.  Huzzah and cheers and happy Monday evening!!

August 13, 2012

On novels and triathalons, and why I do random things sometimes

A long time ago (we're talking years, here, people...maybe even a full decade), I traveled to Vermont to watch a friend run a marathon.

The prospect of standing around with utter strangers for two and a half hours while I waited for my friend to finish his run seemed daunting, so I signed up for the accompanying half-marathon (13 miles) that morning.

I'd never gone more than seven miles in a single run.

The run was long, and hilly, and I made it through ten miles before I decided that sitting around, eating apple cider donuts with strangers would have been the smarter choice, but when I finally limped across the finish line, it was with a sense of accomplishment, of pride.

Years later, I trained for, ran, and actually enjoyed another half-marathon. I'm signed up for another one in December. The training hurts sometimes. I get blisters, sore muscles, tendonitis in my left foot. But if I want to do something better than limp across a finish line, I have to train.

Lesson learned? Not quite.

Yesterday, I completed my first-ever triathalon. Like with my first half-marathon, it was an impulse decision. I've been swimming a bit this summer, loving it, and Charles and I took a semi-long bike ride together a few weeks ago, so clearly, in my mind I was ready. 

Heh. I so wasn't.

I did the biking portion on a mountain bike, in the wrong gear. I exerted a ridiculous amount of effort to go slower than everyone around me, and though I did fine in the swim and the run, my bike time was so bad I finished last in my age group.

But. When I finally limped (ok, danced giddily thanks to a final surge of adrenaline) across that finish line on jelly-weak legs, it was with a sense of accomplishment, of pride.

And now I know - I need a better bike, I need to train, and I NEED to try another one. The training will hurt, and I don't even begin to know what'll happen the first time I crash a bike, but I have to do it.  Especially if I ever want to stride across that finish line on iron-strong legs.

But this makes me realize: this is just who I am. Random. Impulsive. My athletic pursuits closely mirror my literary pursuits.

Case in point:

I wrote my first novel after a friend suggested I give it a shot. I'd never written anything longer than 5,000 words; I'd have told you my fiction was terrible. And still, I did it. When I typed "The end" on my 59,000 word manuscript, it was with a sense of accomplishment, of pride.

But it was terrible.  Poorly written, plot gaps the size of the Grand Canyon.

In short, I had to train.  I had to go back, re-write, add, subtract, and turn it into something with which I'd eventually fall in love.

See? The editing? It's like the training. Painful sometimes, not as exciting as the races themselves, but necessary to ultimately succeed.

I've written two more novels since, and as with races, nothing matches the unbridled joy of creating something out of nothing, of filling a once-blank screen with words that mean something to me and (eventually) to readers.

But what makes the writing good, what makes the books good, is the time spent in the trenches, day in and day out, editing, tweaking, and honing my skills to make a story shine.

So for me, this is the secret.  If I want to do something new, I have to try it. Get out there and do it. Running, biking, writing. It doesn't matter. It doesn't work to sit around and think about doing it. I just...go try.

Only then will I have the incentive to do the dirty work needed to make something truly fun and exciting.



August 7, 2012

On music, soccer and living with a kiddo

Yesterday was a banner day for the Rhyne family.

It was our first day back to work and school after a week away in Asheville, North Carolina. (Awesome hippie city in the mountains, by the way - if you ever have a chance to go, do.) We were all a little tired from the return to the daily grind. (5 a.m. comes early! Have I mentioned that before?)

On the way home, though, we kept up with the U.S./Canada Women's Soccer Olympic Semi-Final game via a live blog. We got home only a minute into the extra periods, so we all sort of dropped everything (except, in Zoe's case, for a large plastic Light Saber, but who's counting) to watch the final minutes of the game.

And MAN! Those were some crazy final minutes. We were all three of us on edge, jumping up when it looked like we might score, cringing when it looked like things were going in Canada's favor.

Then, when Alex Morgan scored in the final 30 seconds, we screamed and danced for joy. It was...awesome! (Although...since I just remembered my publisher in in Canada, can I also say that if Canada had won, I'd have been happy for them as well...yay North America!).

Anyway, then we threw back a quick dinner (matzoh ball soup and cheese and crackers anyone??), and headed out the door....to....you'll never believe it...The American Idol Live Tour!!!

Yeah. We did that.

Ok, to be fair, we did it for Zoe. She started watching American Idol performances last year, and this year, she watched every episode. We usually recorded them and then watched them after soccer on Thursday afternoons. She LOVES it.

So we got her tickets for her first concert for her birthday.

She was pumped for weeks ahead of time. "How many days till American Idol?" was a frequent question, even while we were on vacation.

Riding over to the concert venue, she vibrated with excitement. 

We got her a Sprite (ok, Sierra Mist, but whatever) and a giant pretzel and took her to her seat. She looked so small in the big stadium.

Still, she oozed enthusiasm.

Then...oh, then.

When the show opened with video footage of the Idols coming to Earth via...comets (??)...Zoe hid in my lap.  When they sang their first song as a group, accompanied by lots of flashing lights, she ducked her head further down.

She didn't know the song, you see, which confused her.  

Shouldn't they sing stuff I know? her little face said.

By the fourth unknown song, Zoe crossed her arms across her chest angrily, even though it was sung by her favorites, Skylar and Hollie.

"I want to home," she said, crestfallen.

Oh. Shit.

We asked her to tough it out, and luckily it wasn't long until a song came on that she recognized. Zoe started to shake her groove thang.  

When Elise sang "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin, a performance Zoe recalled from the show, and then Adele's "Rumor Has It," which happens to be Zoe's all-time fave, my child grew positively radiant. 

She danced. She grinned. She glowed. It was the high point of the show for me.

Of course, then there came a few more songs she didn't know, more crossed arms and pouty faces, and a LOT more flashy lights, and we called it quits.

Walking out of the stadium, Charles asked, "So, what did you think?"

We both braced for the worst.

But Zoe smiled, ear-to-ear.  "I LOVED it, Daddy!"

**********************

Later that night, as I tucked Zoe into bed, I reminded her that we'd watched a great soccer game AND gone to her first concert, all in one afternoon.

"Do you want to do either of those things when you grow up?" I asked quietly. "Sing or play soccer?"

"Soccer player," she said.

"Great.  I can't wait to watch you in an Olympic match."

"Yes, Mommy, but first will you come to my regular games?"

Leave it to the little one to remind me to keep my feet on the ground.  

"Of course, Zoe," I said, and I kissed her on the head. "I'll come to every game."