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Welcome to my blog. Here, you will find information about my novels, life in Japan, as well as author interviews, discussions on writing, and more. Feel free to browse and if you enjoy a post, please comment. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Japan: Coming-Of-Age Day

Time for another post about Japanese holidays and festivals. I hoped you enjoyed the last one. Here we go.

The second Monday in January is an important day for young Japanese. It's Coming-of-Age Day. They are officially recognized as being an adult. The day is a national celebration for all the boys and girls who turned twenty years old the year before. In Japan, the legal age of being an adult is twenty.

The newly-minted adults are recognized by the city government. Each city usually has a special gathering for them. Invitations are sent out ahead of time and an official party is held. The parties and events are different from city to city. Chiba, for example, holds its Coming-of-Age Day party at Tokyo Disney.

Wearing special kimonos is an important part of the day. Young women want to look their best on this day.

Young men and women get together for parties. It's a chance to meet up with old high school and junior high school pals they may not have seen since graduation. It's a time to reflect on what their lives were like before, and to take stock of their plans for the years ahead. Now that they are adults, they have responsibilities to perform and careers to attend to.

In America, turning sixteen is a milestone. It's the age you can legally drive by yourself. It's the beginning of your independence. But I like the idea of being recognized as an adult. It's a moment of being welcomed to society. You've taken your first step into a larger world.

Japan: New Year's

Sometimes I love being an expat. Knowing that a culture is different and celebrate the same holidays as you differently, and actually experiencing it, is exciting. Sometimes you think your customs are a given, pretty much the same across the globe. Everyone has New Year's, so everyone celebrates it pretty much the same, right? Not quite.

This post is late, I know, but I'm going to talk about New Year's in Japan. It will be the first in a series about Japanese holidays and festivals, ones I will post every month (as long as there is something going on that month).

New Year's is the most important holiday in Japan. If there is ever a holiday to be with family, to travel the country and visit your relatives, it's New Year's. For most Americans, Christmas is for family, New Year's for friends. Not quite in Japan.

New Year traditions start on December 31. That day is for cleaning the house. It can be anything from a nice vacuuming and polishing to a Spring Cleaning-style pullout-the-stove-and sweep-behind-it massive deal. The point of the cleaning is that you are getting the old out. You're starting the new year fresh and clean. Americans do it in spring because it is the season of renewal, plus after getting cabin fever in winter, you want to get rid of all the old stuff you've been staring at all winter long. The bad thing about cleaning in Japan is that it is winter. Twice now, I have cleaned the outside of the windows of my wife's parents's house. Not fun.

After cleaning and dinner, it's time to watch TV. America has the Rockin' New Year's Eve telecast. In Japan, the must watch show is Kohaku Uta Gassen, broadcast on NHK. Literally meaning "red and white song battle," the show is broadcast before midnight. Popular and well-respected singers are split into teams: red is female singers, white is male singers. The artists then sing in alternating turns; red, white, red, white, etc. A panel of judges, made up of famous figures in Japan, then judge which team did the best at the end of the show and award a trophy. Artists include SMAP, Arashi, Hamasaki Ayumi, Fukuyama Masaharu, and others. It is often a mix of pop and enka singers. Most artists have performed on the show before, some forty times or more. The show ends just before midnight.

Speaking of midnight, there is no nationwide countdown, no ball dropping from the 109 building in Shibuya. Midnight comes with little fanfare and the traditional New Year's kiss among couples is almost unheard of. It's common to visit shrines either at midnight or first thing in the morning. We did it right at midnight, this year. You pray for a good year ahead.

New Year's Day has its own special meal called osechi. Either homemade or store bought, most of the 
items have a special meaning. Shrimp is eaten to symbolize longevity; the bent shape resembles elderly people. Sweet black beans called kuromame are eaten for diligence. Mame, which means bean, also means hardworking. Fish eggs are eaten to symbolize many children.

This year's osechi.

New Year's Day and the day after are home to two popular TV programs: the ekiden, or long-distance relay race. The first is held on New Year's Day and is called the All-Japan Men's Corporate Ekiden Championship. It covers 100 km (62 miles) in seven stages. It is a popular event, and an important one for male runners.

But the most popular ekiden by far is the Hakone Ekiden. Spread over two days, five sections per day, and around 217 km (134 miles), the race consists of male university students. Women aren't allowed to compete. It is a big draw for TV viewers.
After the ekiden is over (January 3), there isn't much left to New Year's. Depending on what day New Year's is on, people may have time off or go back to work. The new year has officially started and it's time to begin life anew.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Look forward to more about Japanese holidays and festivals. You might be surprised how different some common holidays are celebrated. As always, comment below and thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Author Spotlight: Christopher L. Bennett

I am extremely happy to have interviewed one of my favorite authors, Star Trek and science fiction scribe Christopher L. Bennett. His works include numerous Trek novels, such as the Department of Temporal Investigations series, Orion's Hounds for the Titan series; as well as his original science fiction novel, Only Superhuman, an interesting mix of hard science fiction and comic book heroics.

Here is his official biography from his Facebook page: CHRISTOPHER L. BENNETT is a lifelong resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, with bachelor's degrees in physics and history from the University of Cincinnati. He has had multiple works of short fiction published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact as well as the online magazines DayBreak and Alternative Coordinates, and has written critically acclaimed science-fiction tie-in novels including STAR TREK: EX MACHINA, STAR TREK: TITAN: ORION'S HOUNDS, STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION: THE BURIED AGE, two STAR TREK: DEPARTMENT OF TEMPORAL INVESTIGATIONS novels, X-MEN: WATCHERS ON THE WALLS, and SPIDER-MAN: DROWNED IN THUNDER, all of them with a hard science slant. ONLY SUPERHUMAN is his first original novel.

His novels are known for their hard science slant, and I asked him about research, science in stories, and what else he would like to write. 


Thank you for being interviewed on this blog.

CLB: Thank you for inviting me.

Your novels have a hard science slant to them. Is that a style you purposely adopted or did it evolve naturally? How did it come about?

CLB: I’ve always been interested in science, and always been a fan of hard science fiction. And it’s just the way my mind works; I’m a pretty logical, meticulous kind of person. I need to understand why something is happening, what the basic mechanism behind it is, in order to write about it.

Which comes first: science or the story? Do you have a scientific theory or premise and work a story around that, or do you come up with a story first and work the science in later?

CLB: It depends on the work, but often my story ideas do come from asking what-if questions based on a scientific or technological concept, or an aspect of worldbuilding. For instance, my first published story, “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide,” came from thinking about the asteroid defenses an interstellar ship would need and wondering what would happen if such a ship accidentally destroyed an alien space habitat.

In the Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigation series, you obviously had to research theories of time travel. In your newest book, Only Superhuman, there are a lot of scientific concepts:  transhuman modification, space habitation, artificial intelligence. How do you decide which subjects you need to research? Does the story or plot dictate what you need to study up on?

CLB: Those are both cases where I started with the scientific idea. DTI came from wanting to tackle the mess that was Star Trek time travel and find some reasonably coherent explanation for it all. Only Superhuman began with the realization that the technologies for human enhancement that were on the horizon—bionics, genetics, robotic exoskeletons, and the like—could one day give us superhuman powers, and that made me wonder if something like superheroes could ever really exist.

When reading a novel, is bad research easily spotted? Does it take you out of the story? Have you ever stopped reading a book, saying "that's impossible!"

CLB: It does bother me when there’s an egregious failure of research, whether in science or any other subject I’m knowledgeable about. If it’s clear that the writers just didn’t bother to find out something that they could’ve found in two minutes on Wikipedia, that’s annoying. But I try to respect the difference between research failure and intentional poetic license. Some stories try for more realism than others. If a story is deliberately taking a more fanciful tack, that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with telling a story set in a more fantastic reality than our own, so long as it’s consistent within itself.

Have you ever had to change a story significantly because the science didn't support it?  Was there ever a scene or concept you wanted to write, but didn't because it wasn't scientifically accurate?

CLB: Yes, that has happened more than once. I’ve even abandoned short stories when I realized the science wouldn’t work, or at least put them on indefinite hold until I could figure out a way to fix them. In Only Superhuman, the original version of the opening chapter involved a space station disaster caused by the station being blown off its axis by an atmosphere leak, but then I learned that the thrust imparted by such a leak would be far too inconsequential to have that effect, so I had to come up with a whole new version of the sequence.
Of course, the level of accuracy I strive for depends on what universe I’m working in. My “default” universe, where Only Superhuman takes place, is the one I try to keep the most credible overall. My standards are looser in my Star Trek work or in the universe of the two “Hub” stories I’ve had published in Analog, and they were looser still in the Marvel Comics-based novels I did a few years back, X-Men: Watchers on the Walls and Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder, though I still tried to work some good science into both.

Tell us about your writing process. Sometimes you get assignments, sometimes they are on your own. What steps do you take from the first kernel of an idea to final draft?

CLB: First off, I just think about various ideas and aspects of the story, often while going for long walks, and get a rough sense of what I want the story to be. This tends to be a fairly disorganized process and can take a long time to fall into place. Eventually, usually after a lot of procrastination, I start writing stuff down, just as scattered notes to begin with, but putting my ideas on the page (usually a computer file, but sometimes I still write notes on real paper) usually helps me get more of a handle on it. I usually do a rough written summary of the story structure as part of my development notes, though this can go through a lot of changes.. Then I start writing a fuller, more detailed story outline and work out the specific plot and character beats. If it’s a tie-in, I submit the outline to my editor for licensor approval, and start writing when I get the go-ahead. I usually write fairly linearly, going forward from scene to scene and only going back if I think of a new scene that should be added or something I forgot. In the past couple of years I’ve started to be more flexible; if I have different subplots that are largely separate, I may focus on one for a while and then go back and fill in the other, even if they’re interspersed in the final work. Sometimes the writing comes more easily than others; I have a tendency to work slowly until deadline pressure looms and then pick up the pace, but it tends to come more quickly once the story begins building momentum toward the climax. Once I’m done with the first draft, I go through several revision passes to catch errors and oversights, refine things, trim unnecessary or redundant verbiage, and the like. Once I turn it in to the editor, they’ll usually make suggestions on things to fix or refine, and the licensor may have some input as well. Copyeditors usually catch some textual or conceptual errors I missed, and those get fixed in the copyedit stage.

How long do you do research? Do you do it all before writing? During? Write the first draft then research and incorporate it into later drafts? What's your writing schedule like?

CLB: Oh, all of the above, depending on the work. I try to do adequate research in advance, but I have an unfortunate tendency to take some things for granted until I’ve already written a scene and then think, “Wait a minute, I should check that,” which often leads me to discover I made a mistake and have to rework something substantially, as with that Only Superhuman action sequence I mentioned before. These days, with the ease of going online, I often research while I write—for instance, if I’m about to write a scene set in a certain star system, I’ll look up information about that star and what it’s like and incorporate that into the scene. Although I often prefer to write without being connected to the Internet, in order to avoid distractions, it can be very useful to have it right at my fingertips while I work.
As for my writing schedule, it’s very inconsistent. I try to develop more discipline, but I just have a weird attention span—I get very focused on one thing for a while, then it shifts to another and I kind of have to go with it. So I tend to work in fits and starts, going from periods of high productivity to periods of low productivity. Ideally I can make the best of that by working on multiple projects at once—when my attention starts to wander from one project, I try to shift gears and work on a different one for a time.

You said worldbuilding is one of your favorite aspects of the writing process, and it is something you're very good at. Which world that you created is your favorite? How much more information do you have about your worlds that don't make it into the final book?

CLB: Well, “worldbuilding” isn’t necessarily about literal worlds as in planets, but about developing universes, civilizations, technologies, anything that’s part of the setting and background of a story. So the “world” can be an entire galactic society. But in terms of specific planets and the civilizations thereof that I’ve developed, I think my favorite may be one that I haven’t actually managed to get into print yet. I went into great depth developing its civilization and even have a written outline of its whole history, and I hope that at some point I’ll get to publish a novel about that world.
Of the environments and civilizations I have gotten into print, there are a number that I’m quite proud of. In my original work, I like the diverse asteroid-belt society of Only Superhuman and the alien ecology of the title planet in my novelette “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele.” In my Star Trek work, I’m particularly proud of the Gum Nebula interstellar community and ecosystem from Orion’s Hounds, the Manraloth and ancient galactic history from The Buried Age, and my interpretation of fluidic space from Places of Exile.

Research isn't just for science fiction. It can be anything to add plausibility to a story: law, auto mechanics, plumbing, what have you. What advice would you give to writers wanting to research their topic? Any tips on how to research smarter and not harder?

CLB: Well, be more thorough and organized about it than I usually am. Be wary of your assumptions—double-check everything. And don’t assume you can just read Wikipedia alone and have the right answers. It’s always good to check multiple sources. Talking with people knowledgeable in the fields you’re covering is helpful, though it’s not always easy for shy people like me.
On the other hand, you don’t really need a university-level expertise in a subject to write fiction about it. You’re just telling a story, so creating the feeling of believability is the most important thing. If the needs of your story require ignoring or fudging certain facts, then don’t hesitate to do so, although it helps if you can concoct a plausible-sounding handwave. For the purposes of a story, it’s often enough just to sound like you know what you’re talking about. Like the saying goes, “The key is sincerity—if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

Are there any genres slightly outside your comfort zone you'd like to try (political thriller, murder mystery, etc.)

CLB: I have made a couple of attempts at writing fantasy, though I haven’t sold anything yet. Generally I’m pretty content sticking with SF.

What other hobbies/interests do you have when you're not writing?

CLB: Not many, I’m afraid. Mostly just going for walks, watching TV, and websurfing (though the latter two are increasingly converging), and sometimes listening to music, mostly film and TV soundtracks.

What work are you most proud of?

CLB: I can’t single out just one. There are a lot of things in my Star Trek work that I’m proud of achieving, particularly Orion’s Hounds and The Buried Age, and I think my two Marvel novels hold up quite well too.

With Star Trek: Enterprise - Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures, you've fulfilled a dream of writing for each live action Trek show. Do you want to continue with Trek or are there other projects you'd like to explore?

CLB: I’m not tired of writing Trek yet, and I have no plans to walk away. But I am hoping to do more original fiction alongside it.

Any chance of seeing more of Emerald Blair from Only Superhuman?

CLB: I’d like to do more with Emerald and the Troubleshooters, but it remains to be seen whether it’s in the cards.

Once again, thanks for taking the time to be interviewed.

CLB: Sure thing.


Once again I'd like to thank Mr. Bennett for being interviewed for my blog. His novels can be purchased at most retailers. Christopher L. Bennett can be found at these links.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Book Review: Digitus 233

This book is hard to describe. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but for the most part, I was pleasantly surprised. It starts slowly, alternating between Zander and his compatriots trying to survive in the Arctic, and Zeph, Zander's brother, looking for him in a secret instillation in South America. In the middle of the book, the pace picks up and continues at breakneck speed, with twists and revelations coming every few pages. Emerson sets up several intriguing questions and plot threads and leaves the book on a cliffhanger. I am anxious for the sequel.
The book seems to jump around, some scenes not really seeming connected but it comes together, not tidily, but together, near the end. Most of the characters have their distinct personality but this is definitely a YA novel. The "global corporation taking over the world" scheme may seem cliched but Emerson puts enough twists on it to keep you guessing and wanting to know the history of Digitus and their methods.
All in all, a solid debut. If you can get past a slightly dull and somewhat confusing beginning, the book picks up steam and is hard to put down. At only 200+ pages, it is an easy, quick, enjoyable read.

Interview: Vickie Johnstone

I was interviewed by UK author Vickie Johnstone and the article can be found here on her blog. Read more about my novel, hobbies, and pictures of my writing space. Don't forget to read Vickie's blog and check out her books of poetry, as well has her novel series for kids.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Does Word Count Still Matter?

I saw a link on the Master Koda Facebook group and I wanted to comment on it, but I realized it would be too long and decided to blog about it instead. It deals with word count in writing and how much is enough. Please read this link by BookEnds, LLC about word count before going on with this post, since it ties directly into the aforementioned post.

I agreed with with the post but what struck me was the tenth paragraph, especially the passage "...as long as we're still selling books in primarily a paper format..." That part really got me thinking. I wouldn't call myself a techie, but I am an advocate of independent/self publishing and ebooks and ebook readers. Traditional publishing is in an upheaval and I think the future lies in ebooks. Yes, I know there are many who still prefer physical books, but ever since discovering ebooks and getting an iPhone and iPad, I no longer buy physical books, unless it isn't available as an ebook and I really want to read it. I think physical books will eventually be replaced by ebooks.

The article stated word count was related to printing costs, because more words means more pages which means the book is more expensive to print. Ebooks have no paper to print, it is all about file size. They can be as short or long as they want to be. Without printing costs, authors can sell their books at the price they want (and that pricing dilemma is whole other topic I won't get into).

With ebooks having no printing costs, does word count still have validity? Should certain genres have a set range for their word count? In my opinion, no. Word count is no longer a matter of expense. Word count should be ever how much the story needs in order to be told. Adventure Hunters, my first novel, runs about 63,000 words. The first draft of The Super School Uniform is at 96,000 words and is a little bit over three-fouths of the way done. It may well be over 100,000 words. Of course I'll shorten it, I follow Stephen King's formula of 2nd draft = 1st draft - 10%. But if it needs 90,000 words to tell it, it will be 90,000 words.

Ebooks are measured in kilobytes, not pages. Digital books have no weight. You can fit the contents of the Library of Congress in your pocket if you want. The point is, you no longer have to worry about the weight or thickness of a book.

With that freedom, the real issue of word count comes down to the author and pricing. Pricing, not expense. Let's say you've written an epic fantasy or sci-fi book (since they tend to be longer, even BookEnds says so) that is over 200,000 words. It's an ebook, there are no pages to print, thus no worry about expense. But as the author, you have a variety of options on how to sell and price your work. You could sell it as a single volume for the same price as your other works. You could sell it as a single volume for a higher price, reasoning that more words should mean a higher price. But why sell it as a single, split it up like Lord Of The Rings and sell it as two or three volumes. The choices are almost limitless. At this point, the pricing is in the hands of the author (if they are independent or self published). One volume for $4.99, one volume for $8.99, three volumes for $3.99. Really, anything is possible.

But what about the reader? I admit, without the physical thickness of the book, it's a little difficult for me to judge where I am in a book. Am I approaching the middle, is it about to end? I like that most apps have a progress bar to tell you where you are. But word count doesn't matter to me. I would have no problem reading a short story as well as one of King's massive tomes. In fact, I'd prefer larger single volumes to multiple parts. I found Lord Of The Rings on Kindle as a single edition for $17.99. A little steep for my taste but I'd rather pay more for a single volume than separate ones. Plus, with no weight or thickness, I'd be more likely to buy it as an ebook than looking at the massive physical book. Do I really want to buy a book thicker than my wrist? Imagine the workout of lugging that thing around! No, I'll take the ebook, thank you very much.

Obviously, people will still print physical books and word count still matters to some. But as we move away from it, it will become a moot point in the future. I plan on writing my books as ebooks, perhaps only printing them as gifts for friends and family without e-readers. But authors, especially independents and selfs who market primarily ebooks, shouldn't worry. Word count isn't important, telling the story is. The story sells the book. Write ever how many words it takes to tell the story.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

The First Post Of 2013

Ok, not the most original title, considering the title of my last post, but it gets the point across. I'm sure most of us have made our new year's resolutions. To restate mine, I plan on becoming a more disciplined writer and to improve my marketing. I'm glad people are enjoying my blog and I'll keep blogging this year, with (I hope) some exciting entries. I may continue doing my book reviews and the occasional Book Versus Movie posts. What about my followers out there? What would you like to see from me in 2013? Keep your eyes on your screens for more stuff from me in the coming year. Until then, thanks for reading.