Monday, May 16, 2016

The Future is Here: Virtual Reality for Your Living Room

You may have seen one of my popular posts on near-future technology. Well, this weekend, I had the opportunity to try out a virtual reality system that isn't merely "near-future," but on the market today—the HTC Vive.

I didn't have my phone with me, so there are no embarrassing pictures of me waving in the air. Too bad because I may have looked like this.
image by Rusty Blazenhoff via Flickr

Anyway, I played two VR games:
  1. Audio Shield: where I used hand shields to protect myself from orange and turquoise blobs flying at me (to the tune of the Imperial March, of course).
  2. Job Simulator—Gourmet Chef: where I played a cook in a cartoony, yet futuristic, restaurant.
I preferred Gourmet Chef because I could work at my own pace. My son also played several games and was instantly hooked, regardless of which one. His favorite was also Gourmet Chef, but for other reasons. He could throw tomatoes and bacon across the restaurant, burn steaks and put them out with a fire extinguisher, and use a whisk to smash bottles of grape juice. Heh. Isn't that nice?

Based on my short experience, what are the downsides of VR? Not every game is for everyone. I saw some people become nauseous during one game, but be fine with others.

Also, I wear glasses, and it was suggested that I just leave them off because it's difficult to fit them under the headset. I was told I could read the text if I went up close enough to it. Unfortunately, that was a little optimistic. I'm quite blind without glasses. Next time, I'd try to squeeze them under the headset.

As for the upside of VR, it is absolutely amazing how quickly you adapt to believing the world is real. I only played for about 15-20 minutes, but when I was done, regardless of how child-like, animated, and clearly not real the environment was, I tried to lay the plastic controllers on the kitchen counter. The virtual kitchen counter. It's easy to imagine tech like this taking over the gaming industry.

If you're interested in how Gourmet Chef looks, click here for a demo.
And this is Audio Shield.

Have you tried VR before? What did you think?

Monday, May 9, 2016

Flash Fiction - My Clone

I've been fighting with the manuscript I'm currently writing, so when I saw Operation Awesome's latest flash fiction contest, I decided writing a short piece might be good – like a palate cleanser.  And—yay!—I was picked as the winner.

So without further ado, here was my flash fiction piece (up to 250 words) based on the writing prompt "clone".

image by Neil Hester via Flickr

My Clone

You aren't supposed to move like that. Clones are supposed to sleep until revived. Not flutter their eyelashes when I stand before your pod. It's bad enough seeing my inanimate face through the milky glass. Seeing you move, seeing you twitch, is worse.

A knock. Your right pointer finger banged against the pod. I'm sure of it.

My hands shaking, I call the hotline, pressing 6 for I think my clone is waking up.

"The pod is filled with a sedative, nutrient gas that keeps the clone alive and in a coma-like state," the recording says. "Less than 0.000001% of clones awaken prematurely."

A scraaaaape fills the air behind me—I whirl around but you still—and the telephone voice rambles on. I press 7 for My clone is making noises.

"The gas filter in the pod makes a hissing sound once per hour. Beyond that, you may hear a pop when a new canister of sedative is punctured."

That wasn't a hiss or a pop. Now your hands are sliding against the glass, pressing so hard I can see your fingerprints.

You're crying. I have to help you, get you out of there. I press 4 for Emergency revival.

I fetch the transponder and—click!—the door swings wide.

"Do not attempt to revive your clone on your own. Improper revival can lead to dangerous results.

With a deep breath, you emerge from the pod. Your eyes are focused. Your stomach growls. You open your mouth.

I hope you enjoyed it!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Siblinghood of the World Blogger Award

Heehee - that's kind of a complicated blog post name ;-)

image by happy_serendipity via Flickr -> relevance explained in question 10 below ;-)
Nicole Evans was sweet enough to nominate me to answer ten questions about writing and my life. Click here to see her blog, and the questions she answered for the Sibling of the World Blogger Award. 
So, basically, I answer ten questions Nicole gave me, then I ask ten other writers from all over the world ten new questions (Ten nominations is a lot, so I think it's more than fair to reduce this number to 3-10! ;)

Here are my answers to Nicole's lovely questions!

1. Why do you write?
The stories are inside of me anyway, playing in my head when I drive or shower or take a walk. I love seeing the details come to life when I actually write them down.

2. What would be the hardest part about surviving the apocalypse?
Ugh. I like modern comforts, so all of it. But the worst would be the lack of modern medicine.

3. What author has inspired your writing the most?
I can't possibly choose just one, so here are two: I adore Leigh Bardugo's worldbuilding and the relationships between Maggie Stiefvater's characters.

4. Your top five animated films?
Places 1&2 go to Tangled, which is my absolute favorite; 3. Brave; 4. Cars; 5. I don't love Frozen, but I do like the Let It Go moment.

5. Have you ever read any books on craft? If so, which was your favorite and why?
Story Engineering by Larry Brooks really helped me with plotting!

6. Which fictional land would you have to visit and why?
A beautiful island setting in a WIP I read by Carissa Taylor because I love the water and the lush foliage there.

7. What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten about writing?
Listen to all the "rules," and then see what works best for you. Every suggestion doesn't work for every writer.

8. Which element do you wish you could control?
If I could control air, could I fly? If so, then air.

9. What is your current writing project about and what about it excites you?
I'm currently working on a YA sci-fi novel with a priest-in-training as a main character, and I'm enjoying how deep his faith is, and how it collides with a situation he gets into.

10. Most importantly: favorite type of cheese?
Impossible question, like choosing only one book – gah!  But I'll mention one many people probably haven't heard of: obazda, a spreadable camembert-mixture popular in Germany. Amazing with crusty, dark bread or pretzels. See picture above!

That was fun! In return, I nominate the following amazing writers, and I highly recommend you also follow them on twitter!
Ava Jae: blog  & twitter
Carissa Taylor: blog & twitter 
Caitlin Sinead: blog & twitter 
Mariam Kobras: blog & twitter 
Linda Sienkiewicz: blog & twitter 
Emma Adams: blog & twitter 
Patti Buff: blog & twitter 
Jennifer Austin: blog & twitter
Kimberly Ito: blog & twitter 

My questions for my nominees are:
1. Are you a plotter or pantser (or a combination)?
2. What are your favorite tips for beating writers block?
3. What are your drink-of-choice and snack-of-choice while writing?
4. What are some of the most interesting things you've researched for your writing?
5. Can you recommend a good blog for writers to follow?
6. Which twitter accounts would you recommend writers follow?
7. Which newly released or upcoming book are you most excited to read?
8. What book character would you love to meet?
9. What author has influenced you the most?
10. Name a place - real or fictional - you'd love to travel to and why. 

I look forward to reading your answers!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Drache means Dragon - Drachenfels and Schloss Drachenburg

Previously, I posted about our trip to Bonn and Cologne. The last day of our vacation was spent southeast of Bonn, in Königswinter. It's the home of Drachenfels (Dragon's Rock), fortress ruins from the 12th century which perch 1000 feet up on a rocky hill. One of the legends of Drachenfels is that Siegfried, the hero of the Nibelungenlied, killed a dragon then bathed in its blood to become invulnerable. No dragons were killed on our vacation.

I was hoping to hike up the hill, but was outnumbered three to one (sheesh!), so we took the cogwheel train. I'll admit, the train was fun too. For anyone who's been there, there is one change: the old restaurant was torn down, replaced by a fancy new one with panorama windows.

View from the ruins down to the Rhine, 1000 feet below
Halfway down the hill is Schloss Drachenburg. Built in the 1800s, it looks particularly dreary on this cloudy day.

After we descended, the kids played along the shore of the Rhine while my husband and I watched cars get off and on the ferry. There are surprisingly few bridges across the Rhine in this area, so the ferry is the only way to get across. We ended the day by sharing some big, yummy bowls of ice cream before heading back to our hotel.

Bonus: what's wrong with this picture?

Steep hills are steep.

I love mini vacations. Can't wait for the next one!

All pictures taken by me or my family members.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A Sweet (wink wink) Day in Cologne

The second day of our vacation, we went to Cologne.

Fun fact: the word "cologne" comes from Cologne. "4711 Echt Kölnisch Wasser" has been produced in Cologne since 1799, and it's is still sold today. It's even advertised in the train station.
See the big window for the ad
We arrived by train. As soon as you walk out of the train station - bam - it TOWERS over you: the Cathedral. It's so big, I couldn't manage to get a picture of the entire building.

Sorry. Couldn't get the entire tower in the picture.
Construction platform. Way up there.
Organ. Also way up there.
The Dom, as the cathedral is called in German, has one of my favorite stained glass windows (And yes, I do have several favorite stained glass windows. Thank you for asking.) My picture of the "Pixel Window" didn't turn out, so here's one from someone who knows what they're doing.

image by Daniele Civello via Flickr
As you can see, they're doing some restoration work (I'm pretty sure they're always doing restoration work). Strangely enough, from the time we walked into the cathedral until we wanted to leave twenty minutes later, the door we'd come into was blocked for construction.

After visiting the cathedral, I had the amazing luck* to meet up with a writer friend I hadn't seen in three years. She was traveling from Bremen to Paris and had a one hour wait between trains. So much fun!

Mayken and I in front of the cathedral
After we dropped Mayken and her daughter off at their next train, we wandered along the Rhine to the Chocolate Museum, which may or may not have been the entire reason for us traveling to this neck of the woods.

I found out that there's such a thing as Cocoa Wine.

In the Chocolate Museum, we strolled through an indoor tropical forest and saw a cocoa tree. Then...the smell! A miniature chocolate factory. There were machines for roasting cocoa beans, for mixing, for filling the forms, a robot arm to pick up the little candy bars, another machine for wrapping the chocolate pieces.

Yes, we did get free samples.

With all this chocolate, maybe that's why the train station has chocolate bar steps.

*Bonus screencap! How to spontaneously meet up with a friend who lives in another country. Via twitter. 

Next up, Drachenfels! And in case you missed it, I also wrote about our day in Bonn.

All pictures taken by me or my family unless otherwise noted.

Monday, April 4, 2016

An Extremely Short Trip Down Memory Lane: Bonn

Road trip! During the school break, we drove to the Bonn-Cologne area with the kiddos!

On the first day, we spent a bit of time wandering through Bonn. In keeping with family tradition, we managed to pick a rainy week for our vacation, but we were lucky to have a couple of dry hours when we reached the downtown area.

I was an exchange student many many (seriously many) moons ago in Bonn and used to walk everywhere in the city. So it was pretty horrifying to see how little I remembered. I couldn't even find my way from Münsterplatz to the Hofgarten. Sigh.

Since the day we arrived was a holiday (Easter Monday), the city was quiet and fairly empty. Here's the beautiful post office, where I once sent tons of post cards.

Beethoven (born in Bonn in 1770) stands in front of the post office, his eyes to the Münster, the big church.

Beethoven's looking a bit grouchy.
The Münster
Detail, above a door
Next, we stumbled upon the Sterntor, which is a section of a defensive wall from the 1200s. Now it sits in the middle of a pedestrian zone.

Note the sky growing progressively cloudier
We also swung by the Altes Ratshaus (old city hall), which kind of looks like it should be a wedding cake. One of my foreign study pals called it The "Politics Barbie" City Hall (hi Kevin). I compared our new pictures to some older ones, and it seems the paint has faded a bit since I last saw it. It used to be more baby blue and pale salmon.

I'm sad to say that I didn't get to stroll along the Rhine river like I did with my foreign study friends countless times. I also didn't see the Hofgarten where I once feel asleep in the sun. You see, my too-old-to-act-like-this kids were so exhausted, they couldn't walk more than an hour. Gah. I hope they read this someday when they're older and feel guilty.

Bonus for German speakers: this is a poster from a bakery

Be sure to stop by again. I'll describe Cologne and Drachenfels in the next posts! 

All pictures taken by me or my family members.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

I Have An Agent!

Sound the trumpets!
image by Hans Splinter via Flickr

Whew. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, here's how it happened.

At the end of October 2015, I started querying the novel that got me my offer. Before that, I had written six other novels. This was my fourth time in the query trenches.

Three days after sending the first queries, I got a full request. Yay! And a bunch of rejections. Boo. So I revised my query and sent out more. I had partial requests, full requests, and more rejections. My biggest thrill was receiving a full request despite writing "FIRS 10 PAGES". Yes. A typo in all caps, so the agent couldn't miss it. Gah. Then I participated in some twitter pitch parties and got a couple more requests. I entered Brenda Drake's Pitch Madness contest.

One crazy mid-March day, I was reeling from a month that had been tough in general plus a rejection on a full from an agent I'd been really hopeful about. I'd been querying for five months and had hit that lowest of all points. What had I'd been doing all these years writing? Maybe I was just wasting my time. Maybe it was time to quit.

That afternoon, the Pitch Madness finalists were announced. Out of 811 participants, I made it into the agent round! Naturally, my first reaction was a glance at my latest rejection and the nagging feeling that I should pull my manuscript out. Or at least try to squeeze in another round of revisions.

While trying to decide, one of my kids added to my misery by throwing a full-blown tantrum, and then my e-mail pinged. The subject line told me it was a response on another full. I wasn't sure if I could handle it right then, but I forced myself to open it, quick like a bandaid. Better fast and over with than to anticipate the rejection all night.

It was from the very first agent to request a full, back in October.

She said she read my manuscript with great enthusiasm. YAY!
But she already had something similar on her list. *sob*
So she let a colleague read it. Who loved it! And would like to talk on the phone with me.

I let my husband deal with my child's continuing screeches, and I re-read the e-mail until it sank in. It sounded like The Call.

We scheduled time a couple of days later, and the agent offered rep! Hooray!

Except the agent round of Pitch Madness had already begun. So when I was lucky enough to get a couple of requests, I not only wrote PITCH MADNESS in the subject line, but also OFFER OF REP.

Within days, I had a phone call with a second amazing agent.

After e-mailing back and forth, checking with clients, being almost drunk on my good fortune (oh, and stressful days and sleepless nights – you guys, there are some wonderful agents out there), I made my decision.

I'm thrilled to say that I am now represented by Zoe Sandler of ICM Partners!

The statistics (for this manuscript):
Queries: 46
Partials: 4
Fulls: 8
Contests: 1
Twitter pitch parties: 2
Offers: 2
And let's not forget the 6 earlier manuscripts I wrote and 3 previous rounds in the query trenches.

The moral of the story? Keep honing your craft! Take breaks when you need to. And DON'T GIVE UP!