Tag Archives: writing

Book Review: “Aliens and Alien Societies”

21 Mar

I just finished reading Stanley Schmidt’s book Aliens and Alien Societies: A Writer’s Guide to Creating Extraterrestrial Life Forms,  published by Writer’s Digest Books in 1995.

While the book is older, the basic concepts are valid. I wondered at first about the soundness of his overviews in the areas of biochemistry and astronomy. Then I read his chapter on language. Since my personal background is in linguistics (a master’s degree from USC), I felt competent to judge the accuracy and breadth of that overview. “Alien Language” is probably as good an introduction to the problems of human-alien communication as one can do in 15 pages. While I wish Schmidt had referenced Suzette Hayden Elgin’s Native Tongue trilogy or included examples from some of the very strangely structured Australian aboriginal and Amerindian languages, I have to give him kudos for covering the basics a sci-fi writer would need to know to not totally butcher the language issue.

I also give Schmidt bonus points for explaining why a “universal translator” is an impossibility in first contact situations.

One of my favorite features of this book is Schmidt’s use of published short stories and novels as examples to prove various points he makes. Since the book was published almost 20 years ago, many of the short stories are now available online for free, and I enjoy reading them. Here is a link to one of my favorites, “Microbe” by Joan Slonczewski: http://www.davidmswitzer.com/slonczewski/microbe2.html

In the final chapter, “A Xenologist’s Bookshelf,” Schmidt lists references that may prove helpful to aspiring science fiction writers. I will check out one that should help me calculate the “goldilocks” zone for planets circling different star types because I’m not sure I did it right for my current work-in-progress.

Because of the book’s age and the fact that the science is 20 years out of date, I don’t think I would pay the $15 Amazon suggests for a hard copy or the $10 for an e-book. I found my copy at McKay’s used bookstore for $2, and consider it a deal. If you could find this book used or at a library, I recommend picking it up, as it is definitely worth reading.


Much, much later —

20 Mar


That interruption lasted much longer than I initially thought it would.

I wonder why I find it so difficult to get back into the habits of a writing life after a break. Why do I allow so many other things – from urgent to trivial – to seduce my attention away from writing?

I continue to attend the Chattanooga Writers’ Guild meetings because the company of other writers inspires me. I read blogs by fellow writers for the same reason.  Tracy Cembor is proving particularly inspirational these days. [ See http://tracycembor.com/author/tracycembor/ ] If she can manage a paragraph or two while her newborn naps, surely I can write multiple pages while my teens are at school!

My new goal is five pages of notes or prose each week day. We’ll see how that goes….

NaNoWriMo, Interrupted

24 Nov

Life is what happens when one is making other plans, or so the saying goes.

Due to unforeseen circumstances (proving yet again I am not psychic), I had to quickly find a job. Fortunately, Amazon.com has a fulfillment center nearby which needs bodies for seasonal positions. Win-win.

Anyway, I am now working overnights. Between the physical demands of a warehouse job and normal family stuff, I have no energy left for writing. I refuse to feel guilty for this. Life happens.

I’ve written 32,000 words of the Baroness’ life, and I will come back to her. She has taken on a life and nobility that compels me. Once I have more than three free brain cells at a time.



To be continued….after Christmas….


The Looming NaNoWriMo

29 Oct

Today is October 29.

In just three days, another round of NaNoWriMo begins.


Last year, I attempted NaNo for the first time and was, surprisingly, successful. Of course, my daughter and I had a wager (a box of Godiva) riding on the outcome, so that may have had something to do with it. WILL WRITE FOR CHOCOLATE. I should have that printed on a t-shirt or something.

I am better prepared this time around. Last time I didn’t know preplanning was allowed. Now I have my outline set up in a Scrivener file and have already done some basic background work on the alien who will be my protagonist. I won’t be trying to research World War II Yugoslavia AND write 1,667 words a day. I am also more able to turn off my internal editor on rough drafts.

Unfortunately, this year I have more people commitments that I can’t just drop. It worries me a little. I hope I am now a faster rough-draft writer so that I can make my daily word counts, but I wonder. Do I really have 50,000 words to say from the alien Baroness’s point of view? Can I make her decision truly agonizing? And believable?

And why in this universe do I seem to be drawn to psychological/philosophical conflicts of this nature?

In any case, my goal is to post here each Sunday evening with an update of my progress and one other time during the week with a bit of backstory for Ahbee’s Universe.


29 Apr

It is time.

Time to get serious.

Time to stop procrastinating.

Time to stop pretending excuses are anything but excuses.

Time to recognize that the real reason I have not yet gotten serious about my writing is fear that I am not good enough, not talented enough, not creative enough.

Yet, my family has said they like my writing — and they are generally honest about my cooking and my parenting skills.

The Chattanooga Writer’s Guild peer review group I visited last week said they liked my piece, and they gave me helpful hints for improving it.

So. Time to begin. Time to set all my stubbornness toward this new goal. Which is a considerable heap o’ stubbornness!

I am a fledgling writer. I will be (with help) a published writer one day.

There. I said it — in print, in (semi)public.

Now. Once upon a time…..



New Year’s Resolution Achievement Unlocked!

30 Jan

One of my resolutions for this year is to get serious about my writing. As part of that, I resolved to start a blog and post at least twice a week. Basic math indicates I am six posts behind at this point, so I am dubbing February “Haiku Month”: one haiku each day. I may try to submit one (or more) to ThinkGeek in hopes of winning a snarky t-shirt. One can never have too many snarky t-shirts.

I have started two Pinterest pages which  are linked on this blog. The Nested Universe page has images from Winter Planet (working title), a fantasy novel. The Ahbee’s Universe page has images of space, asteroid mining, and terraforming. It will support my science fiction writing, including “Proof of Life”, a long short-story (or maybe novella) I am working on about an asteroid miner, Captain Hidaya Tsuvecki.