Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Worldbuilding, and the Real World intruding on that

OK, this is how much of a complete dork of a worldbuilder I am.

If you follow astronomy news at all, you'd know that the star Gliese 581 has been in the news today, as they discovered a planet in the "habitable zone" for the star.  This is, by the way, the seventh planet discovered in the Gliese 581 system.

So I go through my Space Opera setting worldbuilding files, noting I don't even HAVE Gliese 581 on it.  How did that happen?  I'm supposed to have an accurate list of all major stars within 100 light years!

What do I do?  I go to wikipedia, look up Gliese 581, get its Right Ascension and Declimation and Distance, plug that into my ChView program, and see where the star pops up.  Right by it: the boringly named BD-07 4003.  Go back to Wikipedia, and lo and behold, that's one of its alternate names.  Back to my own database, what do I have?  Zero planets.

(I should note that the number of planets in any star system, and by "any" I do mean all 4,660 in the 100ly radius of Earth, was determined by a random algorithm taking into account a star's spectrum and mass.  Said algorithm makes in that most M-type stars have zero planets... so I may have to redo that since Gliese 581, as an M3V star, serves a fairly good example of the flaw in said algorithm.)

So, even though this would probably have ZERO impact on the actual stories I write in my Space Opera Setting, I feel a compulsion to Fix It.  I know Gliese 581 actually has seven planets, so I can't have it say zero on my database.  So I went through, fixed it, declared it a protected system of the alien alliance (who would keep grubby human paws of the place), and called that fixed.

And that's how much of a worldbuilding dork I am.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I'm not sure who's Teddy Roosevelt in this metaphor.

It is said that a school of piranha can skeletonize a cow in minutes.  This bit of trivia is apparently based on something of a deception-- some South American officials had intentionally starved a school of piranha so they would be in an eating frenzy when they threw the cow in, all as a ploy to impress Teddy Roosevelt-- but it is technically true.

Authors querying agents are trying to impress said agents, but given the market out there, they start to feel like those starved piranha.  And I can see how for the agents, they can feel a lot less like Teddy Roosevelt, and more like the cow.

While we, the querying authors, don't really see the level of electronic assault I'm sure most authors get, one easy way to get a sense of it is to look at Nathan Bransford's blog today.  To celebrate his 1000th post, he offered a query + 5 page critique to the 1000th comment on the post.  Nathan is probably one of the bigger agents out there in the agenting-blogosphere, so this offer was widely read and amongst the querying, a highly coveted prize.

How coveted?  Said 1000 posts took less than two hours.  The last 250 posts of that thousand? Six minutes.   And that's probably not even counting the attempts (like myself-- I'm not claiming I'm any different) that tried to post in that window and got hit with some sort of server-crashing error.

What's my point?  I'm not completely sure, other than while it really sucks to be one of a swarm of hungry fish... it's important to remember that it's pretty tough on the cow, too.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Food, Cuisine and Worldbuilding

At an ArmadilloCon panel a couple years ago, when asked where he starts with worldbuilding, Steven Brust answered, "Food."  Given Brust's nature on any panel, the moderator at first thought he was making a joke, but he clarified that he was quite serious.  "When you have a character eating a piece of beef, just with that, the process of raising a cow and bringing the meat to market, you've already made a hundred decisions about that society."  Food, what and how people eat, always plays a strong part in my writing.

Along those lines, today I've been working with my mother-in-law to prepare chiles en nogada, which are possibly one of the finest examples of Mexican cuisine in existence.  Part of the process involves blanching and peeling walnuts, which is a time consuming and meticulous process.  I spent the better part of two hours at it.  And that is just one aspect of this dish, which has several more.  It occurred to me, while doing this, that the preparation of this meal is so involved, with so many small parts that were so labor intensive, that it was indicative of the culture it came from.  Namely, a meal like this can only come with many people working long and hard in the kitchen... which typically implies servants.  Without a servant-culture (with, possibly, a strong faith or work-ethic), meals like this wouldn't become part of the cuisine.

I think about these things, that how food is made, the level of preparation, is just as important as what the food itself is, in showing the culture and the worldbuilding.  In Thorn of Dentonhill, my main characters take most of their meals at University, so their meals are prepared by a staff, so there are some elaborate elements, but at the same time, the meals have to be made for crowds.  Holver Alley Crew, the food is mostly communal to a small group, and cooked simply from basic sources-- mussels collected in the river, at one point.  Maradaine Constabulary, with the characters constantly on the move, needed street-food, fast and cheap.

How much does a recipe say about the culture it comes from?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Going over Workshop Notes

I'm going back over the first 5000 words for Maradaine Constabulary-- the piece I used at the ArmadilloCon Workshop-- and making tweaks based on the notes I received.

One thing I'm noticing that's different from earlier years is most of the notes are along the lines of, "This is good", and "This works well" and questions that arise from things in the text.  Questions that are, for the most part, addressed in the next 5000 words.

So that makes me feel pretty good about this piece.  It's coming together pretty well, I think.   Now I just have to finish it.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Raves for Muses IV

In addition to the excellent review from Now Playing Austin, you can read the many glowing reports from audience members, including this gem:  

Some of the best playwrights in Austin contributed to this awesome show...
Also this:

Each scene is a unique snapshot of one family, and the audience gets to act as a sort of fly on the wall, but sometimes more. The script holds strong and thought provoking material, and the acting is excellent.  
I have to say (having not seen the production yet), that's pretty impressive that the "script holds strong", especially consider there were eight of us working independent of each other.  Of course, the good folks at Vestige picked pieces that worked well together.  I know I'm honored to once again share stage space with Aimee Gonzalez and Sarah Saltwick, two fellow Austin playwrights that I highly admire.