The Next Research Triangle Writers Coffeehouse is This Sunday

Yes, we know it’s Palm Sunday — but it also happens to be the second Sunday of the month, and we decided to keep to our usual schedule. Which means that all writers in or near the Research Triangle are invited to come to The Writers Coffeehouse this Sunday at 2 p.m. at at Quail Ridge Books (4209-100 Lassiter Mill Road, Raleigh).

Briefly, the Writers Coffeehouse is a nationwide set of free monthly networking events, originally started in 2002 in Pennsylvania by NYT-bestselling author Jonathan Maberry. All writers — young or old, published or unpublished, struggling or accomplished — are welcome at every meeting. As Jonathan says, we’re just “a bunch of writers sitting around talking about writing … with coffee.” (Note that you have to bring your coffee [or the beverage of your choice] with you, but there are a couple of places nearby that are pretty convenient.)

The Writers Coffeehouse

You can learn more about (and join!) our local group at the Research Triangle Writers Coffeehouse Facebook page. But if you’re free on Sunday afternoon, we’d love to meet you!

And, rest assured: It doesn’t matter what you write, where you write, or how much you write, you’re welcome at The Writers Coffeehouse!

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Reminder for anyone who missed the announcement, but I’m running a series of giveaways for Audible downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook. The last giveaway drawing will be Monday the 15th, but you can still sign up at this link!

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Congratulations to Our Latest Winners!

Yesterday we held the second Monday drawing in the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook giveaway — and because it was the second drawing, we had two winners!

I also enlisted the aid of more family members in this week’s drawing: my sister and my dad each pulled a name out of the hat! So congratulations to our two winners,

  • Andy Benicasa, the “Duckman” from Georgia
  • Todd Wilkinson, Trivia Geek and amateur 360° photographer from West Central Wisconsin

Congratulations, gentlemen!

Audio Book
(Image: “Audio Book,” by The Preiser Project, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Our next drawing will be on Monday the 15th — Tax Day — this time for three prizes! As I’ve said elsewhere, I want to make sure that someone gets a little good news on Tax Day. If you haven’t entered yet, you can do so by signing up for Gray’s newsletter at this special link. (You’ll get three gifts just for signing up!)

And if you’ve already entered, you can improve your chances each time you share the signup link on social media and tag Gray. Enter early, enter often!

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P.S. Of course, if you can’t wait to listen to the audiobook, you can find it on Audible or on Amazon!

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A Hazard of Haphazard Songwriting

I debuted a song last night in the first RavenCon “open filking” session that illustrates that my slapdash approach to songwriting is often more slap than dash. (I don’t know if that makes sense, but I didn’t get much sleep so it’s all I’ve got.)

Anyway, with this particular song I’ve been having trouble with the transition from the chorus back to the verse — thinking it was a key issue, because keys are a thing that songs have but I don’t know much about (being pretty much theory-less when it comes to music). But then I played through it a couple of times by myself — here’s the chorus, if you’re interested —

Tommy’s up for fighting, Tommy’s up for risks
Never shies away from danger, or putting up his fists
So pick up your shillelaghs, boys, and bring ’em to the fight
‘Cause Tommy’s going to make a lot of noise in the spaceport pub tonight

— and I finally tried to count out the beat … and discovered that while the chorus is in 4/4 time the verses are actually in 6/8.

Did I do that? Apparently I did, and now I have to finagle my way out of (or around) it.


(Photo by Christopher Rinehart.)

I imagine other songwriters — those who have some amount of musical knowledge — think rather deliberately about things like keys and time signatures when they begin writing a song. Or, if not, then I imagine they figure that sort of thing out fairly early in the process. But not me! Me? I just do this for fun!

And it usually is fun. That chorus is fun (do you like it?). And the process itself can be fun, until I write myself into a proverbial corner and have to figure out how to cut my way through the wall. Not that demolition isn’t fun, because it can be … it’s just usually pretty messy.

Anyway, that’s one of the hazards of haphazard songwriting: having to figure out weird transitions and things. But, at least it’s fun!

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Reminder for anyone who missed the announcement, but I’m still running a series of giveaways for Audible downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook. The next drawing is Monday, so sign up at this link!

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What’s That? Another Winner? Yes, Indeed!

Congratulations to Elaine Isaak — an author of historical fantasies, from Bedford, New Hampshire — for winning our second Audible download of Walking on the Sea of Clouds!

congratulations
(Image: “Congratulations,” by Sean MacEntee, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Elaine is proof that the more times you enter, the greater your chances to win. She shared the news about the drawings on social media and responded to my newsletter for an extra entry.

So if you want to improve your chances of winning — and the next drawing be on Monday the 8th, for TWO prizes — just share out the signup link and be sure to tag Gray in the post. (Alternately, you could share out either the Audible link or the Amazon link to the audiobook itself….)

And if you’re not registered, sign up today!

But for now, join us in congratulating Elaine on being our latest winner!

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Thus Quoth the Raven: RavenCon!

This weekend I’ll be at the RavenCon science fiction and fantasy convention in Williamsburg, Virginia. RavenCon is a terrific convention, run by a great group of people, and I’ve enjoyed attending and serving as a guest at it for many years.

This year, in addition to a number of panels, I get to play two concerts! Here’s what I have going on, if you’re curious:

Friday:

  • 5 pm — Guests Meet and Greet
  • 7 pm — Opening Ceremony
  • 8 pm — Panel, “Music and Art Influences in SFF Stories & Novels” (Moderator)
  • 10 pm — Open Filk

Saturday:

  • 10 am — Concert: Gray Sings Silly Songs! (one of which might be “Tauntauns to Glory”)
  • 11 am — Reading
  • 1 pm — Panel, “Purple Prose” (Moderator)
  • 4:30 pm — Baen Books Traveling Slide Show & Prize Patrol
  • 10 pm — Open Filk

Sunday:

I hope to debut a new serious song (that I just finished last week!) in my Sunday morning concert, and I may also debut a work-in-progress silly song during one of the open filking sessions. Should be fun, all around!

Safe travels to everyone who’s headed anywhere, and especially to all my fannish friends coming to the con!

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Related Items of Interest:
Enter to win one of several free downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook by signing up for my newsletter at this link — and check out the audio sample on the Audible site or at Amazon
– Listen to both of my albums for free at Bandcamp — Distorted Vision, and Truths and Lies and Make-Believe — or, if you prefer, buy them there or at Gray’s Online Store

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Hear Ye, Hear Ye — We Have a Winner!

Congratulations to Chip Brazell — a workforce analyst from Cherokee County, Georgia — our first winner of an Audible download of Walking on the Sea of Clouds!


It’s an audio book — get it?

We have more drawings planned for between now and Tax Day! If you’re not registered, you can enter by signing up for my newsletter using this special link.

And if your name is already in the hat, you can improve your chances each time you share that link (or the Audible link, or the Amazon link) and tag Gray in your post. (We have to know about it, after all.)

So, once more for good measure: Congratulations, Chip! Hope you enjoy listening to the story.

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More on Motivation: Try to Catch Up

This post will express my frustration at an article on KQED’s MindShift blog entitled, “Intrinsic Motivation is Key to Student Achievement — But Schools Can Crush It”.

As the Valley Girls used to say, back when I was writing about intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation in the original version of Quality Education: “Duh.”

Here’s an excerpt from the blog post:

It all comes down to motivation. In many schools, students do their work because their teachers tell them to. Or because they need to do it to get a certain grade. For students like Destiny, getting a good grade and outshining their peers — not learning itself — becomes the goal of school. For other students, they need minimum grades to be on sports teams or participate in extracurricular activities or please their parents, and that becomes their motivation. Students who do their work because they’re genuinely interested in learning the material are few and far between.

But that’s exactly backwards.

The teacher demands, the grades, the promise of additional opportunities — they’re all external rewards. Decades of research, both about educational best practice and the way the human brain works, say these types of motivators are dangerous. Offering students rewards for learning creates reliance on the reward. If they becomes less interesting to the student or disappear entirely, the motivation does, too. That’s what happened to Destiny in middle school when she no longer got the reward of being celebrated as the top of her class.

Inspiring students’ intrinsic motivation to learn is a more effective strategy to get and keep students interested. And it’s more than that. Students actually learn better when motivated this way….

That echoes very closely what I wrote — in both the 25-year-old book and its new, improved version.

Just a few weeks ago, though, I posted here about “The Aspect of Motivation that I Missed” when I was writing about students’ motivations to learn. Basically: yes, there’s a lot to be gained by recognizing internal and external motivators, but even more if we recognize that motivators represent (and in some cases are) expectations — either that students have for themselves, or that they perceive others having for them — and students’ tendencies differ depending on whether they are prone to rejecting or trying to meet those expectations.

So my frustration is two-fold: one, a bit of “I told you so,” and two, an annoyance at being reminded that I failed to imagine a more elegant approach.

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P.S. Not related to education, but a reminder for anyone who missed the announcement: I’m running a series of giveaways for Audible downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook. Sign up at this link! And note that one of the three gifts you get for signing up is an e-book excerpt of Quality Education — but not the part that deals with motivation.

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Writers, What’s Your Main Character’s Tendency?

A few weeks ago I posted about Gretchen Rubin’s “Four Tendencies” model,* and specifically how it revealed a mistake I made in my book on education** — not an error of fact, but an error of omission due to my own failure of imagination.

Since then I’ve been thinking about the Four Tendencies as they might apply to characterization in fiction.

To recap, Ms. Rubin identified four categories into which we sift ourselves according to how we respond to expectations — both our own, inner expectations, and the expectations we perceive that others have for us. Some of us readily meet expectations, and others of us resist expectations, generally as follows:

  • Upholders: Meet both outer and inner expectations
  • Obligers: Meet outer expectations, but resist inner expectations
  • Questioners: Resist outer expectations, but meet inner expectations
  • Rebels: Resist both outer and inner expectations

Like many such schemes, this one has its strengths and weaknesses (e.g., I wish she had explored in more depth the areas where the tendencies overlap), but I find that it has some excellent insights into our choices and behaviors. As statistician George Box said, “All models are wrong. Some models are useful,” and the Four Tendencies is a quite useful model.

So how can this model apply to writing fictional characters?

Writer's Block I
(Image: “Writer’s Block I,” by Drew Coffman, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I think anything that helps us understand that mysterious thing called “human nature” is useful in creating characters who readers will find interesting and believable, let alone relatable and sympathetic. And understanding the Four Tendencies has the potential to make a big difference in writing characters who have clear motivations and consistent reactions to the expectations of the other characters around them.

When I think about the main characters in Walking on the Sea of Clouds (now available in audiobook***), for instance, I think Stormie Pastorelli fits the pattern of an Upholder. She’s driven to succeed, and to help the lunar colony survive and thrive, with a strong “by-the-book” approach and a heavy insistence on living up to her high expectations of herself. I think her husband Frank, on the other hand, is an Obliger: he is ready and willing to do things that other people expect of him, even sometimes at the expense of his own well-being.

Of the other main characters in the novel, Barbara Richards is probably also an Obliger, and that makes her struggle about whether to stay at the lunar colony realistic. (It makes sense to me for two of the main characters to have that tendency, since Ms. Rubin points out that Obligers form the most prevalent tendency in society; honestly, I don’t think society would function if Obligers weren’t the largest group.) I think Barbara’s husband Van, though, is primarily a Questioner — perhaps with a bit of Rebel thrown in.

If you’ve read Walking on the Sea of Clouds, what do you think? Does that assessment sound right to you? How do you think I did in keeping their characteristic tendencies consistent?

If you’re a writer, do you think the Four Tendencies might help you better understand the personalities of your main characters, in order to keep their characterizations consistent? I’d be interested to know your thoughts.

As for me, I’m working on a fantasy novel these days, and I’m keeping the Four Tendencies in mind as I try to figure out my characters’ motivations and their feelings about the expectations placed on them. I hope I’ll be able to make them seem realistic! But that, in the end, will be decided by the readers.

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*Full (and somewhat unwieldy) title: The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too).
**Quality Education: Why It Matters, and How to Structure the System to Sustain It (a fairly unwieldy title of my own).
***Reminder for anyone who missed the announcement: I’m running a series of giveaways for Audible downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook. Sign up at this link!

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What If No One Wanted to Be a Doctor?

A thought experiment: What if literally no one — not you, not anyone — had any desire whatsoever to be a doctor, nurse, emergency medical technician, or any other healthcare worker?

Imagine, for the purpose of this thought experiment, that no one had any interest in anatomy, physiology, or the like; and no one studied fields like radiology, oncology, pharmacology, or whatnot; such that the entire medical profession was unknown and therefore unavailable.

Then, under those conditions, you get sick or injured.

How would you obtain care? Upon whom would you rely?

If you were alone, you would have to treat yourself as best you could; or, even if you weren’t alone you could make the attempt if your symptoms or wounds were slight. Maybe you remember some First Aid from the Boy Scout Handbook, or some folk remedies from one of the Foxfire books, or maybe your parents “doctored” you when you were young and you recall what they did. (In this modern era, you might even try to pull up a YouTube video in hopes that someone had documented their own ordeal.)

If that failed, or your case was beyond your (or the Net’s) abilities, you would likely try to find someone else to help you. You might first ask someone you know, who you know cares about you, to treat you as best they can. If they couldn’t help, you would have to venture further afield and ask someone outside your immediate circle if they might deign to treat you.

Does that sound about right?

How would you ask them? What would you offer in exchange for their trying to help you? Would you promise? Would you plead? Would you threaten?

Doctor
(Image: “Doctor,” by Matt Madd, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

If asking didn’t get you the help you sought, would you demand it? Would you — could you — force someone to help you? Would you recruit others to do so? How far would you go, if you had the power?

Thankfully, we don’t live in the world of this thought experiment. We can be grateful that so many people choose the caring professions and study the medical sciences, so that we don’t have to treat ourselves when we’re in distress.

Their numbers, alas, are relatively small; and whenever limited supply meets significant demand, economics can deal heavy blows with its invisible hand. But even though their numbers are small, their impacts are tremendous. How we show our gratitude for their knowledge, skill, and dedication, of course, is up to us.

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Apropos of nothing, other than the fact that this is my blog: If you missed the announcement, I’m running a series of giveaways for Audible downloads of the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook, which includes what I’ve been told are rather realistic emergency response and medical scenes. Sign up at this link!

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Audiobook Giveaways … Plural!

… and you can enter as many times as you like!

As announced previously, the Walking on the Sea of Clouds audiobook is complete and available for your listening pleasure direct from Audible or, if you prefer, from Amazon — and between now and Tax Day, we’re going to hold multiple drawings to give away free Audible downloads for it!

Why Tax Day? Because somebody ought to get some good news on that day!

Why multiple giveaways? Because anything worth doing is worth doing more than once! (And because the good folks at Wordfire Press gave me several download codes to do with as I pleased, so I’m giving a bunch away.)

How do you enter? Just sign up for my newsletter using this special link, and then every time you share the link and tag me, I’ll enter you in the drawing again!


(Image from Wikimedia Commons.)

If you’re not quite sure whether Walking on the Sea of Clouds is your kind story, here’s what some folks had to say about it:

  • This book will be treasured by anyone who has ever dreamt of visiting the Moon, walking on another world, or bathing beneath the light of a distant star.
    –David Farland
  • If you’ve ever wanted to be a colonist on the moon, this is as close as you will ever get without going there yourself.
    Abyss & Apex
  • … as entertaining as some of Heinlein’s early fiction, …. closer to the type of fiction Jerry Pournelle wrote in the 1960s and 1970s…. captures a pioneering era that once was and could be again.
    Ad Astra
  • Much like The Martian, Walking on the Sea of Clouds puts you on a lifeless rock and makes you think about why we explore new frontiers even as it explains how it can be done.
    Booklist
  • Everything about Walking on the Sea of Clouds feels amazingly authentic.
    –Edmund R. Schubert
  • Annoyed you haven’t been to the Moon yet? Then pick up Walking on the Sea of Clouds; you’ll feel like you’re there.
    –Charles E. Gannon
  • This is meat and potatoes for the hard science fiction fan.
    –Martin L. Shoemaker

It’s a near-future story of survival and sacrifice during the very early days of a lunar colony, and explores the reasons why people sign up for such daring enterprises and the price they’re willing to pay to help them succeed. In addition to Audible, you can also find it in other formats on Amazon and other online sources including Baen e-books.

I hope you’ll give it a listen (or a read), and let me know what you think!

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