Writing Excuses 9.4: Artificial Intelligence with Nancy Fulda

Nancy Fulda, herself a lettered student of artificial intelligence, joins us to talk about writing artificial intelligence believably. We fire questions at her so that you don’t have to!

We talk about what’s current, what’s coming, and what it is that we’re all expecting. We also cover some of the things that writers get wrong (at least insofar as they knock the cognoscenti out of the story.)

Liner Notes: Here’s the article Howard mentioned, “Evolving a Conscious Machine,” from the June 1998 Discover. He got the details almost 100% wrong, but the gist of it was still there.

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Go to the Internet and look up Bayesian learning, neural networks, and genetic algorithms. Yes, it’s more of a reading prompt.

Rainbows End, by Vernor Vinge, narrated by Eric Conger

(note: Howard got this wrong — no apostrophe at all! And yes, a lantern got hung upon that particular missing bit of punctuation.)

Writing Excuses 9.3: Character Perception vs. Narrative Perception with Nancy Fulda

Nancy Fulda, who was a guest on the cast clear back in Season 2, joins us to talk about using the narrative to call out or offset character perceptions. Sometimes the POV character “knows” a thing which is not just incorrect, it is something the reader will recognize as incorrect, and if this isn’t written correctly the reader may get knocked out of the story by the concern that the author might have his or her information wrong.

For instance, one character might refer to a small-arm magazine as a “clip,” while other characters in the story, those more experienced with firearms, know that the word is “magazine.”

Mary talks about the historical fantasy novel she’s writing, set in Regency-era Antigua, and which steps squarely into issues of race. Nancy talks to us a bit about language drift, and about how our understanding about lots of things will change. Brandon then raises the question of using “author’s notes.”

Speaking Of Things The Characters Got Wrong: One of those episodes Nancy was in back in 2009? Yeah, we all got it wrong.

 

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Take something that you believe to be false, and write a character with the opposite belief.

Movement, by Nancy Fulda, narrated by Marguerite Kenner

Announcing the Writing Excuses/Carl Brandon Scholarship

As we announced in November, we are holding the second annual Out of Excuses Retreat this year, September 29 through October 5. Last year’s retreat was a huge success, and we’re excited to be doing it again, and we’re especially excited to be offering another scholarship. Even better, this year’s scholarship has a twist: instead of just need and merit, we’re also looking for diversity.

Why diversity? Isn’t it enough to just look for the most qualified applicant, regardless of other factors? No it isn’t, and this is why: we make our choice based on merit, but we can only do that within the small, self-selecting group of people who feel comfortable applying. Out of last year’s thirty attendees, we had only one writer of color, which is not even close to a realistic representation of the speculative fiction market. This was a sign to us that something was wrong. Our ratio of men and women was about half and half, which was great; that meant that both men and women deemed our retreat a safe and welcoming environment. Our ratio of white writers to writers of color was a clear sign that some writers did not necessarily feel the same welcome, and we want to change that.

To that end, we are proud to partner with the Carl Brandon Society, an organization dedicated to increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction. We hope that focusing our scholarship in this way will not only give a great opportunity to a worthy writer of color, but encourage other writers of color to sign up for the retreat as well. No matter who you are, we want you at our retreat! The scholarship applications will be reviewed by a selection panel from  the Carl Brandon Society, consisting of Wesley Chu, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, John Lawson, and Tempest Bradford.

Registration for the Out of Excuses Retreat opens on January 18, 2014, at 9am EST. As of this posting, that’s TOMORROW. If you can afford a full membership, don’t hold out for the scholarship because you won’t get it. If money is tight, though, the Carl Brandon Scholarship can offer you free registration to the retreat, a fully paid room in the nearby hotel, and up to $500 toward airfare. Note that the registration fee includes most of your food already, so this covers almost all of your expenses for the week. To apply for the scholarship, submit the following to retreat@writingexcuses.com by midnight, March 15, 2014:

  1. A brief example of your writing, consisting of 1-3 separate pieces and totaling no more than 10,000 words. These can be short stories or novel excerpts. Don’t feel obligated to fill the word count: if you can wow us in less, more power to you.
  2. A 450-700 word personal essay explaining why you are a good candidate for the scholarship. What makes you unique? What can you bring to our group that no one else can? Keep in mind that even as we focus on “need,” the panel will be reviewing your writing in terms of “merit” as well.
  3. Three brief letters of recommendation (no more than 300 words each) from people who are not your relatives. Friends, bosses, people from your writing group, anyone who can tell us exactly how awesome you are. While the fiction and the personal essay should be included in a single email, these letters can be emailed individually by the people who write them, just make sure they include your name in the subject line.

We anticipate a huge response to this scholarship, so please be aware that we will be culling the applications relentlessly, and those who don’t follow the rules will be the first to go—just like sending a manuscript to a publisher, submission guidelines matter. Send your fiction and essay all in the body of a single email (no attachments), with the subject line “Scholarship Application: [name].” Your three recommendation letters should go to the same address, with the same subject line, and they can be sent by you or directly by the people who wrote them. Follow the word limits exactly, make sure you’ve got all three items covered, and don’t miss the deadline: March 15, 2014. We will review the submissions and announce our decision on May 4, 2014, which should give you plenty of time to work out vacation time and babysitters and so on for the retreat in September.

We look forward to reading your submissions!

Writing Excuses 9.2: Hard Science Fiction with Eric James Stone

Eric James Stone joins us for a discussion of hard science fiction. We begin with a discussion of definitions, and then we take care not to spend the whole episode just talking about that. We talk about what we like about hard science fiction (with examples) and of course we address the crux of the matter: can you write hard science fiction without having a degree in the hard sciences?

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Think of a way to combine two technologies that are currently not combined, and weave them into a story.

Bowl of Heaven, by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven, narrated by Zach Villa

Writing Excuses 9.1: Chronology of a Book Deal with Eric James Stone

Happy New Year, and happy new season of Writing Excuses!

Eric James Stone joins us to talk about his latest book deal. These things are different for everyone, and the marketplace is changing so quickly that it’s worth noting the differences and the similarities between our deal experiences (three of us were sitting on brand-new deals as of the recording of this podcast.)

Eric in particular walks us through the chronology of his current book deal, from the original writing, through the agent representation and multiple rejections and revisions, all the way to the current contract. Did Eric’s Nebula win (for a different story) help this deal along a bit? Oh, it may very well have done exactly that.

Liner Notes: Here’s Jim Hine’s “First Novel Survey” results page.

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Write a story about someone who has amazing, incredible, wonderful news, but they’re not allowed to talk about it.

Ender’s World: Fresh Perspectives on the SF Classic Ender’s Game, a collection of essays by numerous writers, and narrated by lots of narrators. Both Eric and Mary wrote for this collection. (Note: it’s currently not appearing on Audible’s site, but Amazon shows it as being available through Audible. Weirdness!)