Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Write to sleep

I was up until two in the morning putting thoughts on paper. A new story, completely separate from the science fiction world in which I have been living for the past few years. I finally broke down and bought a journal to shelter these new characters, mostly with a wish to get them out of my head so I can finish the other books.

The reason I started writing all those years ago was to be able to sleep. To end the reruns of scenes playing out before my eyes. To quiet the voices dialoguing in my head. Characters who torment me with their lives until I give them resolution, then return to make sure things played out right. How many times depends on the scene, the story and the characters. Some torment me for days, others for months and years. Until I write them down.

Hence, I collect journals. Each houses their own set of characters, living their own intricate lives. Most of the time the scenes are placed on the page in the order they popped into my head. This time I waited until the story thread was complete, until I knew where they came from and where they finished, even if the details are still vague.

I started at the beginning and wrote all the way to the end, noticing the ink flowing on the page more than the minutes flying through the clock. For four hours I let my hand outline the events, adding detail only when I had a clear picture of what was happening. I noted questions to answer later; I summarized when I just knew where I wanted the characters to go. By the end I was exhausted, drained, but relieved. I could sleep.

Friday, October 12, 2012


Instead of whining about describing my woes with revisions (novel, query letter, logline), I figured I should share the PhD comic posted today. Apparently this is a universal phenomenon.
If my novel is ever published, I must convince Jorge Cham to draw my book trailer like he did for this thesis.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


I thought it was hard to write a novel until I started revising the one I wrote. Apparently, revision is the process where you take the words on the page and polish them until they reflect what is in your mind. Not a feat I could accomplish alone.

I submitted several chapters to and the folks over there are amazingly helpful. They tore down my first few chapters and helped me rebuild a stronger structure. Criticism at its finest, as long as you think of words as hair: a trim will help it grow back stronger.

After the first full-length critique I even felt brave enough to type "The End" -- after I added a few more chapters on characterization to the beginning. And the folks at Unicorn Bell helped me polish up the first page of chapter 1 so it shines. I am extremely grateful.

Now there is more to finishing a novel than just the actual novel. I have been working on loglines, blurbs, and query letters. How to condense a 85,000-word book into about 50, 150 or 250 perfectly crafted words. I learned so much in Laurie Schnebly Campbell's BookBlurb class, it was full of marketing tricks. I also received very helpful critiques at Unicorn Bell and from Michael Ehret at Novel Rocket.

So here is my logline, in case anyone is curious:

Top graduates ever from the Academy of Demia, David and Catrine were a team until he discovers she is next in line for a hereditary throne -- one that should not even exist on a planet that valued merit over birthright.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The biased reader

I sent the first few chapters of my manuscript for critique at the Critters Workshop and I have been very pleased with the comments I received so far. Up until this point, the only people who had read my novel were readers, not fellow crafters of pen and keyboard. The critiques I received this time addressed missing form more than missing facts, and not just of the grammar and misused word kind. They pointed out what I was saying well and what I was not saying enough, both of which were very helpful towards making the story more engaging.

One of the things I found very interesting as I read the critiques, was that for every vague sentence I wrote there were many interpretations that most often were in tangent to what I wanted to portray. And the meaning associated to these passages were mostly based on the reader's perceptions of their own society, not the story I was weaving.

The one instance I found most unexpected was that as soon as I mentioned a man and a woman having a child, the immediate assumption was that these two people were married. The society I created has no marriage, but I did not think I had to explain that in the opening pages. It did not seem essential to the story. However, by not making that clear, I set some readers in such a frame of mind that they resisted the actual story. They could not accept the focus on extreme individuality I thought I was describing.

What I learned from this experience was that I can create any society I want, but if I want others to understand it I need to be very precise on how I describe things -- while being frugal with words so as to not detract from the story. Quite the task...

Friday, June 8, 2012

Thoughts on reading

Ever since I started writing, I have been reading less. My spare time is limited, so I need to choose between the hobbies I enjoy. I scrapbook less too, and movie watching is a rare event. When I ask myself what I would rather do, most often the answer is write.

I used to read books just for the pleasure of being immersed in a story, but nowadays it takes more from a book to retain my interest. If the writing doesn't grab me, I put the book down and pick a different activity. I do not find myself waiting for things to get better. I have been using the Kindle sample feature a lot -- reading the first pages before buying the book. There seems to be no point in purchasing a book if the story does not hold my interest to the end of the sample.

Not only do I read less, but I noticed I read differently nowadays. I am looking at form, not just inhaling content. I pay attention to word choices and descriptions that I used to just skim over. I ask myself what makes me keep reading or why I feel like putting the book down. There is much more to a book than just the story it tells. How the tale is told makes all the difference.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Recognizing worth

My PhD adviser was elected to the National Academy of Sciences yesterday. Not only does his membership recognize his accomplishments throughout his career, but it also acknowledges the work of those who helped him get there. My dissertation and publications are part of that package, but also the ideas we discussed that shaped the following grant and the next graduate student's project. In a sense my own worth is being recognized too.

His inclusion in the NAS has an even broader impact in my opinion. It is proof that someone can successfully move from industry to academia. My adviser spent many years working at a company, but he was able to move to a university because he never stopped publishing. Good papers are indeed a key to success. I joined his lab shortly after his move and his name was one other scientists recognized, even though he was not in a big name school. His membership to the NAS also shows that good science can be done outside the top 5 best ranked universities in the country.

Good ideas, hard work, publications. Recognition will come if there is something to recognize.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

My take on the Hunger Games

Dada and I watched the Hunger Games movie last weekend. I always worry about watching a movie based on a book I really liked. I never think what I see on the screen lives up to the images my mind created while I read. I have to say this time I was pleasantly surprised.

I enjoyed the books and the movie for different reasons. The books immersed me into the Katniss's mind, which was fraught with emotion. But the movie gave me a perspective of what was happening while she was in the arena that Katniss could not have known. The repercussions of Katniss's actions are only revealed to her later in the series, but in the movie you can see the effect she has on others as it happens.

I heard many complaints about casting, but I have to say I did not notice anything that bothered me excessively. Cinna was my favorite character in the book and Lenny Kravitz did a great job bringing him to life. I imagined Rue darker not lighter. Katniss looked a little too well-fed, but I am so tired of only seeing anorexic actresses on the screen that I did not mind. I was surprised that my favorite character in the movie was Haymitch. I did not care much for him in the book because Katniss did not like him, but in the movie he had the freedom to shine.

What really bothered me while I was in the theater was in the audience, not on the screen. I read the books. I was expecting the violence and the apathy of those watching the games at the Capital. I just did not expect parents to take their elementary school-aged children to see the movie. The books stress the point that society has become desensitized to violence. No kidding.

Friday, March 16, 2012

How does a molecular biologists write a novel?

Telling a story is like synthesizing a gene: you start at the beginning, make your way to the end, and check every letter in between to make sure it makes sense. You do not want anything lost in translation.

Of course, if you want to express yourself properly there are many other things you should consider. You have to be aware of the elements that can promote, enhance, or even repress your story. You need to read it many times for form, content, and flow. It might not be flawless, but you do not want any spots in the sequence that make the reader stop, get confused, or give up. The reader must stay engaged until the end.

Many aspects of the story are purely for the writer to remember when events are supposed to happen. You cannot include every single piece of information in a limited amount of space. Make choices, select, adapt. Remember that it does not need to be perfect, but if you manage to be successful then your product might hang around for a very long time.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A whole new world

There are some things you just do not wake up one day and decide to do. I never decided to be a scientist. I liked biology and math, so biology seemed like the logical major to follow. I also liked history, but my attraction to history seemed more of a hobby than a profession. I enjoyed doing research in the lab, so I continued that type of work all these years.

I never woke up one day and decided to write a novel. I did wake up many times in college with stories in my head that just needed to make their way into my journals. I needed to stop thinking about them and writing them down was the quickest way to get closure. However, one of those short stories kept nudging my mind like a recurring dream for years. I started giving it a setting to flourish and before I realized it I had created a world for it to inhabit - not just a planet but a whole galaxy.

It took me years to take those words out of the journal and type them. It took me months to fill in the gaps and create the whole picture. And now there are seventy five thousand words staring at me. Twice the length of my dissertation.Where it goes from here only time will tell. There is a whole new world I now need to investigate.