Category Archives: school

Confessions of a Writer, Part 3

To celebrate next year’s release of my first science fiction novel, The Curiosity Killers, I will be posting my responses to the Confessions of a Writer Tag survey (http://nicoletteelie.com/2015/10/02/the-confessions-of-a-writertag), with a few responses to each of the twenty questions parsed out over October and November interspersed with other news and events.

1. How much time a day/week do you get to write? When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)?

I don’t get to write every day, but I try to, even if it’s just for fifteen minutes. I write either on my lunch hour or for a few hours in the early evening. Weekends are tough while the weather’s still good, because I like to get outside and gather inspiration. When I do NaNoWriMo, I sometimes do a bootcamp weekend day of writing for up to eight hours with just a few breaks. When I start to get in the “zone,” I try not to stop! The last few chapters of The Curiosity Killers were written on weekend-long writing binges, and I distinctly remember working for hours on my laptop at my dining room table one fall evening, beaming with excitement when I could finally type “The End.”

2. Did you go to college for writing?

I did my undergrad in communication, focusing on radio and TV broadcasting. At the time, I thought I wanted to be a disc jockey (instead, I used that experience as inspiration for Sam Brody’s career and workplace in The Red Eye). As I took more classes in literature and writing, however, I considered changing my major to English but was too far invested in finishing within four years. I went to grad school, first getting an MA in literature with a little creative writing coursework and then in June of ’15, I finished an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. Even my com major had a lot of writing in it, however, including a course in TV screenwriting, which is something I’d like to do more of in the future.

3. What bothers you more: spelling errors, punctuation errors, or grammar errors?

None of these are awesome. Spelling errors bother me the most, because in this age of spellcheck, we should all know better. I am a comma perfectionist and realize not everyone else can be, so punctuation errors don’t bother me quite so much. Grammar errors get fuzzy once we’re talking about creative writing or style choices, and grammatical rules evolve over time. I’m becoming less of a prescriptivist the older I get.

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Time Travel Media March: 10 Greatest Time Travel Novels

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All this month, I’ll be blogging about time travel media (TV, film, and literature). For the past two years, I’ve been working steadily on a time travel novel, The Curiosity Killers, as my thesis project for Seton Hill University’s MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. As I inch closer and closer to graduation this June, I want to celebrate some things that inspired the writing of that book.

For today, I offer my favorite time travel books. What are yours? What have I missed?

1. The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger, 2003

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I read this when I had the flu, and all I could do was cry and sneeze, becoming a snotty, snobby messy. Clare and Henry are like any other couple—except that Henry randomly time travels without control or warning. This results in twisted interconnected existences, with the two crossing paths from childhood to old age at different stages of each other’s lifetimes. There is also a broader metaphor at work here of genetic disorders—if you knew your child would suffer from something dangerous and heartbreaking, would you still try to become a parent? Clare and Henry have to decide all this and more in this twenty hanky tearjerker.

2. The Anubis Gates, Tim Powers, 1983

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The Anubis Gates is sometimes cited as one of the first steampunk novels, though it contains no actual steam-powered technology; it is, however, steeped in Victorian atmosphere. Professor Brendan Doyle goes on a time travel trip with an eccentric millionaire and winds up stuck in 19th century London. Forced to assume a false identity and scratch together a living, he falls in with a group of pickpockets, is kidnapped by magicians, finds love, and causes a paradox. This novel is especially appealing for literature nerds, as Doyle has a very special connection with one of his favorite poets.

3. Kindred, Octavia E. Butler, 1979

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I’ve been teaching Kindred in my college literature course for several years, and students tend to respond well to it. This is a study not just in paradox (although it’s a great tool for discussing this concept, as well as questions of logic in literature) but also historical fiction, African American literature, and feminist literature. Dana is a 20th century African American woman married to a white man. She begins time traveling abruptly to the pre-Civil War South, where she meets her ancestor, the son of a plantation owner, and cannot return to her own time until she saves him from some dangerous situation that threatens his life. If she’s physically connected to her husband, she can bring him back to the past with her as well, which leads to the couple having to pretend to be master and slave. Stark, upsetting questions about identity and privilege are raised, and Butler is unflinching in her portrayal of plantations as sites of unspeakable violence. This is a time travel novel about so much more than just the science fiction/fantasy elements; it’s about the human element and trauma reprocessing, both on a personal and cultural level.

4. The Time Machine, H.G. Wells, 1895

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When we think of time travel fiction, we think of The Time Machine. H.G. Wells may not have invented the concept but he certainly popularized it in this story of an inventor who hits upon a way to travel through time. He goes far into the future and encounters post-human creatures engaged in class warfare and suffering grave societal ills. Much of the Time Traveler’s observations of the Eloi and Morlock factions of beings exemplify Wells’ own social and political leanings. This isn’t a mere surface novel of adventure but rather a castigation of the stratification of elite and working classes in the Victorian era.

5. 11/22/63, Stephen King, 2011

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This book is 880 pages long—not the weightiest tome Stephen King has ever penned, but longer than I normally have time to devote to a single novel these days. However, I devoured this in less than a month, binging on it whenever I had a free second. I distinctly recall reading it while walking to meetings, even, reading the ebook version on my phone as if my life depended on it. High school English teacher Jake Epping discovers a portal connecting the back room of a diner in 2011 to September 9, 1958 at 11:58 a.m. Jake eventually decides to use the portal to live in the past for five years and try to save John F. Kennedy from being assassinated. As Jake learns, preventing a tragedy on this magnitude is no easy task. The main reason I love this book so much is the clear attention to detail and research King took with it. He began work on it as far back as the early 1970s, and then later worked with a researcher to make every detail period appropriate and accurate, down the price of a pint of root beer. My own research for The Curiosity Killers took a long time, particularly for my Jack the Ripper, Black Dahlia, and Mothman storylines. Readers appreciate it when time travel stories exhibit as much painstaking historical accuracy as possible.

6. Outlander, Diana Gabaldon, 1991

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This series is making a big splash these days via its TV series adaptation on Starz. A World War II British Army nurse is pulled backward in time to mid-18th century Scotland. There, she falls in love with a highlander and marries him, despite being married in the 1940s. This is a tale of culture clashes as well as a love story with enough ambiguity to keep it from simply being a standard romance.

7. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut, 1969

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A work of tremendous experimentation, Vonnegut’s novel is less a plot-driven story and more an examination of how fiction works. Books are referenced within the text. Events are told non-linearly, both through time travel devices, flashbacks, and a jigsaw puzzle order of scenes. The gist of the work is that it describes the aftermath of the WWII bombing of Dresden, which Vonnegut himself witnessed. When taken as an allegory for war experiences, it can read as a study in PTSD (protagonist Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time” as a result of what he went through in the war), decades prior to its formalization as a psychiatric diagnosis.

8. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle, 1962

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To be clear, the characters in A Wrinkle in Time do not travel to different times. Thus, this isn’t often classified as a time travel novel per se. However, the method by which the Murry children travel to other planets and dimensions is through a concept called a “tesseract,” which the novel defines as folding the fabric of space and time (very Doctor Who’s TARDIS, in fact, which is a device that can travel in both space and time). If one folds this fabric, after a fashion, they’re able to use it to shorten great distances and reach places otherwise inaccessible to one another. Though “tesseract” is a real term in mathematics and geometry, the concept as described in this and L’Engle’s other Murry novels is akin to a wormhole, which is often put to great use in other SF works dealing with space and time travel.

9. Lightning, Dean Koontz, 1988

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Lightning was probably one of the first contemporary novels about time travel I ever read. A mysterious stranger named Stefan rescues author Laura Shane at several pivotal points in her life, culminating in the reveal that he’s actually part of a World War II time travel experiment. Unlike some of the other books on this list, Koontz employs a mechanism whereby paradoxes are impossible, although I would argue that Stefan’s repeated rescuing of Laura by itself represents the creation of a paradox. But hey, paradoxes are fun to dissect and untangle, and I’m a big believer in readers cultivating a willing suspension of disbelief.

10. The Door into Summer, Robert A. Heinlein, 1957

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This is the brand of time travel that doesn’t only involve machines and wormholes but also sustained sleep. Dan goes into suspended animation in the year 1970 and awakens in 2000. Through using time travel, he is able to witness alternate versions of himself and work out his best possible future. Here, paradox is used to its fullest effect to manufacture personal and professional change—a fantasy very relatable to audiences of the mid-1950s, struggling with the aftermath of WWII and the beginnings of the Cold War.

Watch this space for my top ten time travel movies, coming later this month! You can see my top ten time travel TV shows here.

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Time Travel Media March

TTMM_blog

All this month, I’ll be blogging about time travel media (TV, film, and literature). For the past two years, I’ve been working steadily on a time travel novel, The Curiosity Killers, as my thesis project for Seton Hill University’s MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. As I inch closer and closer to graduation this June, I want to celebrate some things that inspired the writing of that book.

For today, I offer my favorite time travel TV series. What are yours? What have I missed? A few I like that didn’t make the final cut include Fringe (which, while great, is really more about parallel universes than time travel as its central SF trope), Alcatraz (a very cool series but cut so short we never found out much about the time travel mechanism), and Sapphire and Steel (super fun and creepy, but limited appeal today based on its glacial pacing and relative obscurity).

1. Doctor Who, BBC, 1963-1989, 1996, 2005-present)

The quintessential time travel show. Long-running, cheesy, and ever-changing, Doctor Who is the love story of a man and his time machine/spaceship. There are essentially three kinds of Doctor Who storylines: time travel, space travel, and aliens rampaging modern-day London. Give me a dozen gimmicky time travel stories over the others any day. The best always include a historical figure (e.g. “Vincent and the Doctor,” “Tooth and Claw,” “The Girl in the Fireplace,” “The Shakespeare Code”) battling robots, aliens, or both.

2. Quantum Leap, NBC, 1989-1993

Instead of a visible time machine/spacecraft or a time traveler observing the events of the past or future, Quantum Leap rewrote time travel rules for the twentieth century. Our time traveler, Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula, later of Star Trek: Enterprise) can only travel within his own lifetime (roughly the early 1950s up through a near future in the late 1990s). Furthermore, when he “leaps,” he appears as someone else in the past, their “physical aura” replacing his own. A convoluted concept, but the series executed it much like a historical anthology series, full of period-appropriate music and fashion.

3. Lost, ABC, 2004-2010

Lost didn’t start out as a time travel show. In the beginning, it was almost a cross between Survivor and Gilligan’s Island: how will a group of plane crash survivors make a new life for themselves on a desert island? But then the smoke monster showed up, and there was a hatch, and suddenly in season 5 a group of the survivors are marooned in the 1970s for reasons that—much to the show’s rabid audience’s chagrin—are never adequately explained. If you view Lost as an allegory, with the survivors being “lost” as people even before and after their island adventures (in much the same way The Walking Dead refers a bit more to the survivors than the zombies), then this series still holds up as an interesting study into the dark spots of the soul. The video above is a set of fan-made opening credits, as the series famously had only a title card to start each episode.

4. Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, BBC One, 2006-2007 and 2008-2010


First of all, ignore the American remake, at least until you’ve finished with the original. The first series, Life on Mars, deals with twenty-first century police detective Sam Tyler being inexplicably sent back in time to the 1970s. Those around him think he’s a newly-transferred detective, but they don’t know he’s from the future. Throughout the series, Sam picks up clues that he may be hallucinating while in a coma from injuries sustained in a car accident. The spin-off series, Ashes to Ashes, features a new detective character, Alex Drake, being sent from the present back to the early 1980s and once again being stationed in the same precinct as Sam Tyler with many of his former colleagues. Like Sam, Alex thinks she might be languishing in a hospital after being shot. This sort of time travel device is more fantasy than science fiction, and the David Bowie-inspired titles, music, and imagery give both shows a trippy, post-psychedelic patina. LoM has a recurring Wizard of Oz motif threaded throughout as well, and AtA makes constant Alice in Wonderland references. In both cases, the series also serve as a kind of homage to the cop dramas of their respective eras.

5. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Fox, 2008-2009

It’s easy to forget if you’re not a hardcore fan that the Terminator franchise of films and TV series is technically based on a time travel premise: in order to save humanity from what is essentially a sentient internet, freedom fighters are sent back in time to ensure the birth of humanity’s savior, John Connor. Flesh-covered AI robots called Terminators are also sent back in time, to ensure John Connor (and his mother) are instead killed, preventing the human uprising. The Sarah Connor Chronicles focuses on John’s mother and her quest to keep her son safe at any cost. They’re aided by a female Terminator model who is actually on their side. The time travel in both SCC and other Terminator properties is unique in its focus on future travelers coming back to what the audience thinks of as present day. We may not see the effects of the time travelers’ efforts as much, at least not until 2009’s Terminator Salvation film, set in the year 2018.

6. Being Erica, CBC, 2009-2011

What if you could have a second chance at all the pivotal moments of your life? That’s what happens to aptly-named Toronto book editor Erica Strange, who finds herself receiving therapy from a mysterious man named Dr. Tom. During Erica’s sessions with Dr. Tom, whenever he pinpoints something from her past that is indirectly affecting her present, she goes back in time to relive the original moment—in her previous body but with all her present memories and experiences and knowledge intact. The fun of this series comes from reliving the ‘80s and ‘90s, but at times it gets pretty deep. The underlying theme is, at its heart, understanding that even our most painful of experiences shape who we are.

7. Tru Calling, Fox, 2003-2005

From the Groundhog Day school of time travel: what if you could relive a day over again to intervene in a tragedy? To stop a crime? To save someone’s life? That’s what happens to medical student Tru Davies (Eliza Dushku) when she starts working in a city morgue. This series is notable for its premise as well as the presence of pre-Hangover Zach Galifianakis as Tru’s boss.

8. Journeyman, NBC, 2007

Journeyman was a victim of the Writers Guild of America strike of 2007; not enough episodes were produced before TV series experienced schedule-crippling hiatuses, and as no new episodes were available past the original 13-episode order, it was cancelled. This is a shame, because what started as a Time Traveler’s Wife-inspired fantasy romance gradually turned into a complex SF system of multiple time travelers from multiple eras working together to solve a large-scale problem in time.

9. Voyagers!, NBC, 1982-1983

To watch this series now is to see something almost proto-steampunk at work. Time traveler Phineas Bogg and his teen sidekick are part historical tourists, part solvers of time errors. Whenever history doesn’t unfold the way it’s supposed to, it’s up to them to correct it. Episodes usually featured famous historical figures. Bogg’s time travel device and vaguely pirate-like costume lent the series a quasi-Victorian sensibility.

10. The Time Tunnel, ABC, 1966-1967

The series that really started time travel on American TV. We see the starts of various themes that later spring up in Voyagers! (encounters with historical figures) and Quantum Leap (mysterious government program in danger of losing its funding). Though reboots were attempted in the 2000s, they have thus far been unsuccessful, perhaps because we now live in an era where time travel on TV isn’t quite so rare. A full-length pilot for a 2002 reboot attempt is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mETHT5npqOI and while it was aiming for gritty and dark, it comes off weirdly more dated than the original series at this point.

Watch this space for my top ten time travel movies and books, coming later this month!

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What I’m selling, pitching, writing, and doing

Happy Thursday! I’m starting a new blog series today called “What I’m…” Every few days, I’ll update this site with what I’m selling, pitching, writing, or doing. Today I’ve got updates in all four categories!

What I’m selling

I’ll be at the Dayton Book Expo on April 25th at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, where I’ll have copies of The Red Eye available for sale (and signing, which I’m also happy to do if you’ve already purchased it earlier). If you can’t make it to the DBE but also haven’t gotten a copy of The Red Eye yet, you can purchase it via the DBE’s Amazon store to enter me into the running for DBE’s online bestsellers! And remember, too, that owning an Alliteration Ink title in print means you also own the ebook!

What I’m pitching

I’m nearing the end of my studies in Seton Hill University’s MFA program, and so I’m starting to see if my thesis novel can get any agent nibbles. The new web site Writer Pitch connects authors and agents. If you feel so inclined, you can share my pitch for The Curiosity Killers on social media to help me generate some buzz!

What I’m writing

In addition to making final tweaks to TCK, I’ve also got three short stories out on submission; two short stories, two novels, and one non-fiction book all in the editing phase; and twelve projects actively in the writing phase. Other projects are still being outlined or planned, but I wouldn’t call them “active” yet (and besides, I have to get through these other works first!). My 2015 goal is to finish all active works in progress before really digging into the next wave of planned projects. I’m really excited in particular about The Curiosity Killers, Blood Makes Noise (an urban fantasy novel), and the horror/mystery/urban fantasy novella The Skittering, which may just be the next work in The Red Eye series!

What I’m doing

In just seven weeks, I’ll be done with a graduate certificate in instructional design. This has been a challenging program, but I just adore it. I can now toss around fancy terms like “learner-centered teaching,” “course management system,” and “beyond bullet-point design” like a pro.

I’m also spending a lot of time with the kitten my husband and I adopted late last summer. She is a whirlwind and—parental bias aside—insanely cute. If you don’t already follow me on Instagram, head over there for an embarrassing amount of kitten-related amateur photography.

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What I’m working on

I owe this blog some posts about my time this spring at both the Pennsylvania Literary Festival and the In Your Write Mind book signing, but while I sort through all the amazingness that was those events, I thought I’d stall with an update on my works in progress.

What am I working on?
– Three different horror short stories
– Two science fiction short stories
– A fantasy flash fiction story
– A new edition of my short story chapbook Grinning Cracks with new cover art, as well as an abridged audiobook edition
– Three different urban fantasy novels and one novella (two of which are set in The Red Eye universe)
– Four different YA novels of various subgenres
– Two different science fiction novels, one of which is my MFA thesis, The Curiosity Killers
– A literary fiction novel
– A non-fiction writing craft book on drabble writing
– A non-fiction writing craft book on speed writing
– An academic non-fiction book on gender and media

This might explain my recent bout of insomnia, actually. I have too many ideas swirling in the brain, and when I’m trying to rest it all keeps me up. In addition to all these things, I keep a file on my phone for new ideas, those nagging bits of story that you can’t write right now but you have to document lest they’re lost. Yeah, that file is ridiculous, but it has actually gotten me through some idea droughts in the past. I heartily recommend that every writer with a smart phone keep such a notepad file and mine it when you’re feeling stuck.

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#PALitFest!

Next week, I’ll be appearing at the Pennsylvania Literary Festival, along with a lot of fabulous authors of a variety of genres. The keynote speaker is John Dixon, author of Phoenix Island, which was the inspiration behind the CBS series Intelligence, starring Josh Holloway. Lots of authors, faculty, alumni, and students from Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular fiction M.F.A. program will be appearing, including horror authors Michael A. Arnzen, Lawrence C. Connolly, Jason Jack Miller, and Stephanie Wytovich; science fiction and fantasy authors Ann Kopchik and K. Ceres Wright, and suspense author Randall Silvis. Leading the charge is science fiction author Heidi Ruby Miller, who just released Book 1 in her Ambassadora series, Marked By Light. I will be there to read excerpts from the first two volumes in my Red Eye series, The House on Concordia Drive and The Red Eye. I’ll also be on a panel discussing feminism in genre fiction, alongside Kopchik, J.L. Gribble, Carole Waterhouse, and Christina Fisanick.

This is one of my first such events on the other side of the microphone, as it were. I’ve done several readings/signings on panels with other Alliteration Ink authors. I also used to host a semi-regular reading series at a local coffeehouse, where I served as organizer, master of ceremonies, and read some of my own work, and I attend writing-related events and workshops as a student all the time. But I look at this event as an unofficial launch party for The Red Eye, in part, and it’s great to be experiencing such a thing with so many Seton Hill folks; this is my writing family in many ways, and the greater Pittsburgh area is becoming a second home.

There are events for folks of all ages, musical performances, and much to do every day, so come on out to the Uniontown, PA Mall, Friday May 30th-Sunday June 1. Hope to see you there!

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Low-Residency MFA Programs

I’ve written a little bit before about my experience in Seton Hill University’s MFA program. A low-residency degree is a good fit for me, due to my job and mortgage and family, but it’s not for everyone. If you like working independently, online learning, and intermittent travel, then a low-residency degree is a great option. However, if you need face-to-face contact and constant encouragement from classmates and faculty, a low-res design may be a poor fit. MFA programs—particularly in fiction—are uniquely well-suited to a low-residency model, but other types of degrees wouldn’t work this way. I’m extremely happy with my choice of SHU’s program. I’ve learned so much and worked with fabulous people, both faculty and students, and my graduating cohort is a tight-knit bunch full of encouragement and creativity. SHU’s degree specifically focuses on Writing Popular Fiction, which is perfect for the types of writing I do. Literary fiction or poetry writers should look elsewhere, but if it’s a sideline (and I do write a fair bit of literary fiction as well) this is still a good program. I can track the improvement of my writing over the course of the first half of the program, and my rate of publication acceptance has increased .5%.

If you’re considering a graduate degree in creative writing, decide whether you want to attend school traditionally or not. Furthermore, a low-residency MFA is not the same as an online degree program but should be seen more as a mixed-mode learning option with face-to-face class time compressed into several shorter blocks of time rather than spread out over an entire term. SHU’s MFA involves attending six week-long residencies, where you may wind up doing coursework or attending events that relate to your studies for up to sixty hours for each of those weeks. Thus to call it just an “online” program is super misleading, in my estimation.

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