A Few Observations About Space

I recently re-found these notes in a notebook I hadn’t opened in a while (okay, in an Evernote notebook folder, but still!), and thought they were worth copying here for posterity. For writing science fiction, they’re good to keep in mind.

These are observations from the STARSHIP CENTURY conference in 2013, but they still hold true.

Three things I learned at STARSHIP CENTURY:
1. There’s a big difference between what’s actually possible with right-now technology, and what’s possible given some major leap we haven’t made yet. The people who deal with the “major-leap”-possible believe fervently in that condition being met and their idea being possible, so it’s important to apply critical thinking and listen for those hand-waving moments.
Like the astronaut mining venture: all this is exactly right-now possible IF we presume an established base on the moon. Well, we haven’t established a base on the moon yet, so none of this is exactly right-now plausible.
Figuring out the composition of interstellar matter is right-now possible. Designing ships that run on electricity or nuclear fission is right-now possible. Designing ships that run on nuclear fusion is not right-now possible.
2. Light speed is FAST. Like, really fast. Like, at just 10% of the speed of light you’d orbit the earth in one second. At just 3.75% of the speed of light, a dust particle hitting the windshield would impact with the nuclear force of a hydrogen bomb.
[Which means I seriously have to recalculate my ship and its speed. I think I can use charged particles as a shield to deflect dust (“deflector” shields, go figure), but in right-now-technology hard science fiction, 85% light speed is just not practical or plausible.]
We can theoretically right-now see our way to about 5-7%, which with exhaust propulsion becomes about 10-14%, but that’s all.
3. Other stars are far. Like, REALLY FAR. An Astronomical Unit (1 AU) is 100 million miles — the distance from the sun to the earth. A light year is 64,000 AUs. The next nearest star to our sun, Alpha Centauri, is 15 light years away.
It’s unlikely that there are other stars between here and there. We’d have seen them by now. But there may be habitable planets and moons that are, at their closest, about that far. It’s much more realistic to surmise that the other “goldilocks planets” that support life in our galaxy, if there are any, are on about the same position on their spiral arms as we are on ours. That’s, as the Californians would say, hella far.

PaizoCon 2017

Here’s a selfie I took with my book (and a bunch of other great books!) at PaizoCon last weekend. Forgive the sunglasses and any apparent sleeplessness — if you’re well-rested at a convention you’re probably doing it wrong.

[Image: the author in front of a rack of Pathfinder Tales books]

paizocon2017

For many, PaizoCon was all about Starfinder, the shiny new science-fantasy RPG that Paizo is launching at GenCon this June.

For me, PaizoCon was all about Gears of Faith, and the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game.

I got to crash a panel with James Sutter and Erik Mona about writing fiction and comics. One highlight was a very interesting discussion about how the same things have to be portrayed differently in different media. For instance, take a “detect evil” spell. In the game, it’s a mechanic involving rules and dice. In fiction, a narrative medium, how do you know you’ve detected evil? Maybe the hair on the back of your neck stands up and your stomach feels unsettled. But in comics, a visual medium, you need to be able to show everything through visual cues and dialogue, so it might become a nosebleed and a character saying they’ve got a headache.

After that panel, I got sucked into the card game, specifically the “Mummy’s Mask” box, and kind of stayed there. Which was awesome. I’d never played the card game in organized play before. Designer Mike Selinker gets huge props for making the game mechanics fit the theme in fun and thoughtful (if infuriating!) ways. And I got to meet people I wouldn’t have met if I’d stuck to the RPG, which was also awesome.

The drive up to Seattle was gorgeous, and this was the first time I did it in two segments with a stop in the middle instead of just going straight through. There were rivers and mountains, and resident hotel-cats. Next time, maybe I’ll leave myself an extra day in the middle so that I can explore more on the way. For now, it’s nice to be home, happy, and inspired.

 

Gears of Faith – released!

grh_GoFBookwyrm RPG Convention in Fresno was kind enough to have me out as their Guest of Honor, the same weekend that Gears of Faith hit the shelves. A whole convention full of people got to see me with “new book glow.”

Thank you, Bookwyrm, Woodward Park Library, and Paizo, for making it all work out!

Hearts / Jerks

HEARTS ARE JERKS is complete at 50,000 words and off to a handful of brave first-readers.  It’s about 10,000 short of where I’d like it to be, but I know I tend to write short and that there are things that need adding / embellishing / fleshing out. I even have a margin note that tells me so.

self-note

Now I get to take a break from it, pretend it doesn’t exist for a while, and start outlining QUILLS 2, which doesn’t have a catchy working title yet, and also (because I have other things to do), I made progress on plotting a hard science fiction novel I’ve been trying to push into shape for years.

I’m really bad at pretending HEARTS ARE JERKS doesn’t exist. It’s going to be a great book. I’m proud of it. I’m looking forward to sending it off to agents. Soon!

Keeping Time – available now!

“Keeping Time” is a hard science fiction story about long-duration space travel.

It is also a story about a woman who goes to the very extremes to escape her relationship with an abusive and powerful politician.

It first appeared in When The Hero Comes Home. Due to its sudden, well… timeliness, I’ve released it on its own.

Now, for $2.99, you can purchase it from Amazon, with an added scene. Please click! And please leave stars!

kt_gh

Scariest House on the Block

14895610_10211183605129861_1881169354_o

The author, in her Halloween splendor.

I won Halloween last night.

Let’s back up:

I used to hide from trick-or-treaters. Over the years, though, hiding from the doorbell on Halloween has become a big anxiety fest for me. For the last several years I’ve been away at conventions on Halloween, avoiding the whole question about whether I’d give out candy at home. This year, I found myself home alone on Halloween night, so I had a long think about what exactly triggers my anxiety. Once I narrowed it down to the doorbell, I knew what I could do. I could make the doorbell inaccessible. So I covered it with a sign:

14923899_10211183379604223_1408604711_o

“If you are living, please knock. If undead, please ring bell.”

Then I realized I could avoid the door interaction entirely.

I didn’t dress up scary. I didn’t decorate the house. My last minute purchases were, literally, candy and a tissue box. I’ve had the wig since 2011. The purple and black velvet medieval-ish dress has been in my closet since 2002 or so. I’ve had the LED tealight “candles” since before we moved to this house, so they’re at least four years old. I took the tissues out of the box and wrapped it in black construction paper and then in a layer of lace (a tank top that was destined for the giveaway pile anyway). I stapled the lace to the top of the box. In the box, I put candy and the votive candle, so that some vague flickery orange light would come out of it.

I turned off all the lights in the house. My garage faces the street, and a walkway leads around the side of the house to the front door, which is in a recessed entrance, not visible from the street or the walkway. I turned on the outdoor light, stood on the walkway with the pouch in my hands . . . and waited. Because I was already outside, nobody had to ring the bell. Anxiety trigger: avoided.

But I hadn’t prepared. Nothing about my house said that anyone was home. You had to be looking down between the houses as you passed, or you’d miss me completely. And that, it turned out, was the best part.

That alone startled a few people, minding their business and then suddenly realizing someone was there. And when that someone didn’t move . . .

Groups of kids gathered at the foot of my driveway, debating whether I was real. From the street, with me mostly back-lit, and the glowing thing in my hands, they couldn’t tell. I didn’t move until they could see me clearly. I let them wonder and debate, and felt like an NPC in a Pathfinder game, listening while the players decided their next move. Would they take the risk and approach me, or would they decide I was too dangerous?

I honestly had no idea that I’d end up being so scary. I was going for “creepy statue,” not “scare the crap out of people,” but it just goes to show that sometimes less is more. The less description you give people, the more mystery, the more their imaginations fill in the blanks. And on misty Halloween nights in particular, imaginations go to some very dark places.

I scared an older group away. One of the boys said, “nuh uh, I’ve seen how this movie ends,” and dragged his group to keep moving.

At one point, from a group of about ten kids debating my scaryness from the street, a young high-pitched voice yelled, “Stop calling me a wussy!” It was really hard not to laugh. I was extra nice to the little ones in that group.

Another boy, about 13 years old, I’d guess, said: “Nope. That’s a trap.”

“It’s a person,” his mom said.

“Nope, it’s a trap. It isn’t real.” So I slowly lifted my arms, extending the bag forward. He screamed. Close to tears, voice trembling, he said, “Say something! I’m not coming any closer until you prove if you’re a person and say something!”

I wasn’t out there to traumatize anyone, so I chose to break character. I bent double with laughter and said, “You guys are cracking me up. That was awesome.” Tension broken, the two kids and the mom approached. I gave them extra praise because they’d been extra brave.

Two very little ones were terrified, digging in their heels as their parents tried to push them forward.

An older boy in a gruesome bloody wolf mask, the tallest in a group of about fifteen brave kids, said “Trick or treat!” and added under his breath, “Please not a trick. Please not a trick.”

But as a rule, after I said “Happy Halloween” and gave them candy — that is, after I spoke and moved — most of them relaxed, laughed, and were excited to tell me all about how scared they’d been. And the parents all complimented me as well, saying mine was the best house in the neighborhood. That surprised me, since other houses decorated more or did fancier things. It also made me extremely proud.

And, as always, it ties back to writing. There’s a tendency among novice writers to over-explain the gore and horror, especially in relation to the rest of the narrative, to make sure the reader gets the image loud and clear. This is an insecure way to write, because it means you don’t trust the reader to “get it.” The solution isn’t to spell it out more plainly, it’s  to manipulate the reader’s mind more. Letting the experiencer bring their own fears, anxieties, and perceptions to a situation makes it more powerful for them than drawing a complete picture, because if the picture is too complete there aren’t blanks for them to fill in. It’s not a conscious thing; it’s a result of us all being products of our experiences. But when you know that, you can play with it and twist it to your advantage.

I broke the Halloween script. I took away the preparation. I took away the doorbell. I took away what they expected from a trick-or-treat interaction. Some of them enjoyed it. Some of them took longer to adapt to it. Some of them were paralyzed by it. All of them were invested. All of them felt the endorphin rush of relief once they realized they were safe.

All of them will remember it.

Mile Marker 10

Ten years ago today — September 23, 2006 — was my last day at my last desk job. Ten years ago today, I became a full-time freelance editor.

In the last ten years, I’ve:

  • Edited about 80 novels, for at least 5 different publishers, written by new authors, major award winners, and nyt bestsellers
  • Read about 800 novel queries and submissions
  • Published 6 anthologies
  • Read about 3000 short story queries and submissions
  • Sold 14 short stories
  • Sold 2 novels of my own
  • Been a managing editor, a submissions editor, an acquisitions editor, a copyeditor, a proofreader, a special guest, an attending professional, a panelist, a lecturer, an apprentice, and a mentor
  • Been interviewed by 14 magazines and podcasts
  • Attended 5 workshops and retreats
  • Got a wikipedia page
  • Served on award juries 7 times
  • Acquired the first works of about a dozen great new writers
  • Acquired works that have won major awards
  • Met my heroes
  • Made countless deep and precious friendships and connections

Would I take a “desk job” again? Absolutely. I’d take one tomorrow, for the right desk and the right job. Am I supporting myself financially with writing and editing? No. Not really. But when I feel down about that, I look at that list above. No one goes into publishing to get rich quick. We knew ten years ago that getting established would be a long, long tail. I’m immensely grateful that I have the privilege to follow words rather than money. I promise to continue making the most of it.

No Weak Stories

Women in Practical Armor is out in the world, and the reviews are starting to come in!

“A great addition to any library.” –MySF Reviews

“There are no weak stories in this collection; all of them are enjoyable reads.” –Tiamatty, Goodreads Review

wipa

Buy your copy now: at Amazon, B&N, or other fine retailers of print and electronic books.

Of The Essence, In the Flesh

 

hm07-grh

The author, with her precioussssss 

So. Last weekend at CanCon, I got to meet my book. As anyone present can attest, I could not stop hugging my book. 🙂

Yes, that’s a hardcover, with a book jacket and everything! It’s also in trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook. I will be selling the print copies, signed, from this site…eventually. I won’t put ordering info up until I have a box of them safely in my hands. This one? This one is mine!

Here’s a sampling of what people are saying so far:

  • “Harbowy[‘s] ability to create realistic portrayals of otherworldly lives is astounding.” -Lambda Literary
  • “Harbowy writes with the precision of an editor, and the sensibility and passion of a writer.” -Leah Petersen, author of the Physics of Falling series
  • “Can’t describe the radness of Gabrielle Harbowy’s Of the Essence in 140 characters. You’re gonna have to hear it to understand.” -Angela Dawe, voice actor; narrator of Of the Essence