Saturday, November 18, 2017

Worldbuilding

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I've got a real deja vu feeling - I swear I've written on this topic before, for this very blog...

OK, so for my science fiction, I don't go too deep into the science because that's constantly changing and what was true today is wrong tomorrow but take a time machine and it'll be correct yesterday. 

So I went with the "Alien" and "Aliens'' kind of future - lived in, people are pretty much the same fundamentally, but with cooler tech...and there are aliens (duh), both on our side and very much against us in my future civilization, known as the Sectors.If I need to add something nifty and complex for part of a plot, I go off and research whatever we have nowadays that will help me make my ship/feature/alien/weapon/civilization feel more grounded in reality for the readers. so I've researched cruise ships, aircraft carriers, sequioa trees, ancient ball games, anatomy of insects, Special Forces training, synthesia, surgical techniques for penetrating abdominal wounds, Legionnaires Disease.....and some aspects of my world building just spring full blown from my own brain.

For my ancient Egyptian novels, there's the entire history of the land along the Nile to look at and draw from. 

I'm not trying to be dismissive, but as I've mentioned here before, I'm not a deep thinker of craft...I'm a story teller who puts in enough background to support the story and my characters, and have it all feel right to my readers. The more books I write, the more my universe becomes fleshed out and the more connecting links there are between the stories. It feels like organic growth to seat-of-the-pants writer me, versus sitting down and developing a Tolkienesque world with maps and backstory going generations into the past. I applaud people who can do that and want to do that and need to do that for their books - it's just not me. (I will not be writing any epic fantasies anytime soon, can you tell? I read them with relish though - give me more Jeffe Kennedy books any day!)

Here's an excerpt from my latest scifi romance, The Fated Stars, where the characters give a bit of world building history I've alluded to in various books but never detailed before:

Larissa swallowed hard. “Another fact you should probably know—most humans can’t even look directly at Mawreg. There’s something about them that can drive a human insane.”

Samell stared at her, even as Pete and Donnie nodded. “When we go on sorties into their camps to rescue people or take the entire operation down, we have to wear helmets with special filter goggles and even then a few guys have lost their minds. Mawreg are bad ass, spooky.”

“And we haven’t got any of those helmets here,” Donnie added. “Not a piece of tech I can whip up from spare parts either.”

“Are you serious? I find this concept hard to grasp—how can merely gazing upon the alien can make a person lose their mind?” Samell’s voice was polite.

“First encounter between our kind and the Mawreg was a peaceful scientific expedition, all excited to have met another spacefaring race,” Larissa said.

“The Peronelle. Learned about it in school, in Sectors history class.” Pete confirmed the tale. “Hundreds of years ago. Luckily the humans already had a few interstellar allies and fairly soon after met the Mellureans for the first time. Now they are badass.”

“The Peronelle survivors the Mawreg spared to tell the tale described in gruesome detail how their comrades went insane when forced to watch their hosts. The ship’s AI had vids to corroborate. The vids also showed the Mawreg eating people alive, and conducting horrific experiments on others. Apparently the aliens thought it would frighten us into surrendering and accepting their rule, but all it did was make us determined to do battle every chance we got. No truce, no quarter given.” Larissa sighed. “And the war’s been raging ever since.”

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Friday, November 17, 2017

What World May Be

In no way can I tell you where I got the bug put into my author brain, but here it is. We can dissect it if you wish.

The bug has many legs. It's tiny and hard to see, but it likes to talk. It says that the way to build a believable world/universe/magic system is to limit your change to one major concept. In UF that's easy. Magic happens. The details of how/why/consequences are where the interesting stuff comes in. In SF(R) the major accepted thing is generally space flight. Then it's a matter of what happens when our heroes encounter aliens or aliens encounter them or what happens when the onboard computer says, "I'm sorry, Dave. I afraid I can't do that."

For the most part, the broad strokes don't need a lot of research in my experience. It's the details that do. Take the space flight thing. We're in a space ship! We're getting away from the bad guys! Until they blow out our engine (right before you take the shot that destroys them - thanks for that.) And now we're adrift. We're inside a solar system. So hey! Solar sail! No problem! Uh. Wait. So. Exactly WHAT can I use as a solar sail? Oh hey look. NASA has a position paper out about a theoretical new kind of sail called an e-sail. Hey. That looks cool! So. How fast could we go with that? How far?

Funny. That summary white paper can't answer those questions. And neither can I. So off to ask people with actual training. You do know there are Reddits and forums and message boards where actual rocket scientists hang out? There're even a bunch on Facebook. A few of them will point and laugh when I ask newbie questions, but 99% of the folks really want the rest of us to be science-literate and will offer encyclopedic answers to questions about what kind of acceleration can I expect a ship to put on with a sail blah, blah, red giant, post helium flash, blah. 

Jeffe saw that question go up in one forum and can attest to the awesome answers I got from a handful of really bright people. Made me wish the solar sail figured into more of the story, but alas. We have aliens to vanquish yet. 

Yes. Searching the interwebs for stuff first is the right thing to do - I do find that I can usually garner a broad base understanding of something like nano - technology, but when it comes to how someone would harness nanotech to weaponize it, I didn't have anyone to ask. I had to read and read and then make some guesses. Guesses that I might have gotten dead wrong (though no one has said anything about it yet if I did.) 

And there's the other thing the bug likes to whisper. Don't get so caught up in the research and in being RIGHT that you sacrifice story. Readers will forgive a lot if they're shown a good time inside a story. 

So sure. Research. But make sure you get out there after those villians at great cost to your heroes and heroines. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Worldbuilding: Research for Invented Cultures

I've had one challenge that comes up in my worldbuilding process:  How do you research for a culture that doesn't have a real-world parallel?  Or borrows elements from several different ones in a way that makes it its own thing?  And how do you make it work on the page?
Part of the challenge is that, no matter what you do, some readers will bring their own biases to it.  What does that mean?  It means that readers will seek the familiar, and that includes trying to slap on some serial numbers on things that you didn't even scrub them off of.  What does this mean?  It means your readers will sometimes find parallels to real-world cultures that you never intended.
And then ping you for doing it wrong.
Can this be avoided completely?  No, of course not.  But there's things you can do to minimize it.
  • Don't make your racial distinctions stereotypical or offensive. Make your secondary words racially diverse, but try to be aware of how you depict that.  I've found Writing With Color to be a great resource to help with that.
  • Learn where your culture is coming from, from the ground up.  I'm not saying you have to build it entirely from the bottom. But if you understand some underlying basics-- what they grow, how they use that, what they eat, what they build-- that gives you the tools to guide them in their own unique way.
  • Steer their language away from the obvious.  If you're looking at your new culture and think to yourself, "this sounds like Eastern Europe", consider making the language base (and thus how you name places and people) something that is nothing like Eastern Europe.  Vulgar is a great resource for that.
All right, I'm getting on a plane early tomorrow, and plenty to do to get ready, so I'll see you all later.  Or perhaps in Portland!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Topic: What “Doing the Research” Means for a New Fantasy or Alien Cultures

Before I delve into the meat of this post, one short reminder: 

MY MUSIC IS NOW ON SPOTIFY! 
Look me up by artist (Linda Reinhardt) 
or by the album (JOVIENNE).


As for the weekly topic...
I’m going to talk about one admittedly narrow point, but it is dear to me.





LANGUAGE

With my upcoming and as yet untitled fantasy novel, one of the things that I spent a lot of time deliberating with myself on concerning this alien culture was language. Especially the titles of the military, as much of the story takes place around the armed force of the kingdom.

I had a real problem with the word Lieutenant.

It sounds and looks WAY to French to be showing up in my not-even-close-to-Earth-tale. But all the titles seem, in some way, objectionable to me from that point of view (General, Corporal, Chief Petty Officer, etc.)

There are two arguments for using our terminology.

1.)     If I use General, most readers will inherently understand that he is calling the shots and outranks a captain.

2.)   The tale is already presumed by the reader to be a translation from whatever language is native to that world – which would not be English. Use whatever understood words are closest. 

The argument for giving this new culture it’s own terms:

       1.) It feels more immersive.

But there’s a flaw:

       If I make up rank titles, I’m choosing to replace brevity with something that requires explanation – because the reader isn’t going to inherently understand who’s higher ranking, that very likely means I’m using exposition.

An argument specific to #2 above is:

Using obviously foreign-influenced words and modern slang (EX. - having characters refer to their best friends as either ‘chica’ or ‘homie’ which might ‘translate’ perfectly, might jar readers out of their suspension of disbelief because it doesn’t ‘feel’ true.

In the end I used—

Nah. You’ll have to wait and read it to see….


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Dodging the Bottomless Pit of Research: 3 Areas for Quick-Hit World Building

I do way more research for Urban Fantasy than I do for High Fantasy because in Urban Fantasy I'm borrowing from established mythology and folklore. For High Fantasy...What's that? What exactly is High Fantasy? I define it as a "second-world" setting; the story doesn't happen in an alternate version of a typically European country at some point in history. That sub-genre allows me great liberties and freedoms to build anew; however, I have to keep certain fundamental concepts and minutiae familiar so I don't lose the reader in irrelevant-to-the-plot details--like renaming an orange a pogwith; or that people walk on their feet, not their lips.

I learned a long time ago that there is such a thing as too much research; that it can cripple the story. Once upon a time, I fancied writing historical romance. WUT?? Stop laughing! My need for accuracy meant I spent more time researching than writing, and--in truth--not a lot of what I researched made it into the novel. It's the great "months of research ends in ten sentences." I'm not the author who can do historical accuracy well. There are those who can, and I'm an avid reader of their works. Bless them. For my stuff, Urban and High, I'm more of a "pinch of this, dash of that" researcher.

Here are my Top 3 Kinds of Research for Crafting Fantasy:

1. Minor Details
I'm not as smart as I want to be, so I have to look up what's probably common knowledge. For example, in Larcout, the first book of my Fire Born, Blood Blessed High Fantasy series, the type of an individual's innate magic is identified by the kind of rock in his/her forehead. I'm not a geologist or a gemologist, I had to look up "what stone is yellow and pretty?" Citrine fit the bill. Making up a name for it would've confused the reader.

2. Character & Place Names
Names are definitely a thing I research. Regardless of sub-genre. Sometimes I use totally made-up names like Vadrigyn or Beigreith. Sometimes, a made-up name has a plot-shifting meaning that will be revealed during the series. A lot of times, I take a "real" or "common" name and tweak it just a wee bit. Those more recognizable names serve to remind the reader of characters' general attributes. They also remind me of backstories (that only I need to know), including fatal flaws. Example: In my upcoming Urban Fantasy there are three Berserkers: Xipil, Hywl, and Runjit. Can you guess they're not pasty blonds from Scandinavia? Can you guess their origins? Yes, I'm riffing on the myth, and the names give you a hint.

3. Weapons & Armor
While my protags wield atypical weapons, and magic usually makes an appearance at some point, a lot of the supporting cast uses recognizable weapons and a few wear parts of traditional armor. Broadswords, flails, bevors, and vambraces. I research their proper names and jargon. I research the maintenance required for each piece. I research the material flaws, the situational disadvantages, and superstitions of each. This can be a rabbit hole if you veer into military tactics, battle history, weapons evolution. It's  a fascinating rabbit hole, but... if you want to get in and get out, then limit what you're looking for.

So, there you go, three types of quick world-building research I do for my two types of fantasy novels. We won't discuss image-inspiration research. That's my weakness, my time-suck, my "just one more gallery and I'll stop (maybe, maybe a week later)."

Monday, November 13, 2017

Researching the Future

If you want to research the future, research the hell out of the past. That's my suggestion.

Listen, theres an old saying "Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it." I'm paraphrasing because, well, deadlines.

I have been praised a few times for my world-building skills. I am always flattered when that happens, because I'm not really sure if I have any particular skills beyond looking at the past and connecting dots.

Let's look at the sociological ramifications of geography as an example. Let's say you have a kingdom that lives at the edge of the sea. Well, first off, history tells us they're going to need a source of fresh water. It also says that, statistically speaking, they're likely to have a good amount of fish in their diet. depending on whether or not there are ship building skills among the set of local talents, they're probably going to be traveling to other countries and either conquering them or trading with them. Those are the basics, as it were. Now you get to expand on that. What sort of sea life exists in this land/world? If we look back on history, that's going to make a difference. If there are no fish in the waters, they need a different source of food. Might be they've long since learned to live on sea plants, such as seaweed and kelp. Might also be that they've gone inland for their sources of food. 

No ships! They have surfboards. Okay..a little tricky, but the odds are good the society would evolve and adapt to take advantage of these miracles o science in an effort to travel to other lands. They might not always survive, but they'd make the best of it.

The only local fish are gigantic sea monsters that ravage the towns along the shore constantly. Either they're moving away (not likely) or they're going to learn how to combat/control these beasts. if they figure out how to "break" the sea monsters and then how to ride on them, we're got another form of transport AND a new weapon in the fight against other countries. MAYBE they were just going to trade with those countries but when the monsters that are only in their area are first seen, they will quickly realize that trading has less advantages than simply taking. "But Jim, why?"

Because history tells us that most often humans believe in conquest over negotiation, especially in primitive cultures. Mind you, as author you are god of your new world and you can change that any way you'd like.

Okay, so now we have a culture that a) owns the seas, B) is in the mood to conquer, and c) really feels pretty good about being in charge of the world at large, or at least the areas around the sea. What happens when they try to go inland?

They try the rivers, but those sea monsters they ride here and there aren't very good at traveling up through the shallow spots and they haven't evolved legs yet, so that's an issue. 

Now, at the same time, there's a group of people in the highlands who've learned to ride and domesticate massive bearlike things that we'll just call bears for this note. they, too, have mastered riding great beasts and have taken advantage of this to basically rule over everything around them.

They do NOT have a problem riding into the lowlands and taking over as much as they can and the poor slobs in the lowlands are only prepared for monsters from the sea, so there's a new challenge here. Bears versus sea monsters. Both sides have distinct advantages.

Historically speaking we can find analogs for both of these scenarios. Those with ships versus those without. Heck we can take a look at large land dwelling creatures like elephants, and the people who figured out how to make them weapons of war, and see another possibility. Bears the size of elephants, with big damn claws, mean teeth and thick fur that can deflect many spears, etc. Suddenly this fight has a different outcome.

We have a long history in this world and it covers many, many diverse cultures. Any of that history can be used as an example of what MIGHT happen and a great deal of that history has barely been examined.

Want to know how gods work? Look at your history books.

Want to understand the concept of the devil or a trickster? Same answer.

Need to see how a siege mentality can change a battle? Once again, look at the history of this world and combine it with the culture you are creating and the world becomes your playground.

The same thing, by the way, works for science fiction.

I'm working on an outline right now that involves world ships, colonization, territorial rights and, of course, an alien OTHER that disagrees. Should be a proper nightmare by the time I'm finished. But I started out by looking at colonization and the history of violence that it entails.

Sorry I missed you the last few weeks, folks. Turns out that storms and airports seldom work together and that I can't post as well without the internet. But I'll try to do better.

On an unrelated note: If you are a fan of horror and you love horror anthologies. Christopher Golden. yours truly and Haverhill House Publications are all working together to bring about a truly open anthology. No places held for big names and bling submissions. We know nothing of 2who wrote what until the stpries are accepted. But most publishers don't much care for that idea, so in order to make it happen we're having to do a Gofundme. If you are interested please look here: https://www.gofundme.com/the-twisted-book-of-shadows?utm_content=buffer3c233&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer If not, fully understood but we want to make this happen.


Also, coming soon to bookstores, here's the cover for FALLEN GODS, the second book in my TIDES OF WAR series.




Sunday, November 12, 2017

Researching the Future - How Do You Do It?



Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is "doing the research" - and what that means for building new fantasy or alien cultures.

I'm at a weekend conference sponsored by my local RWA chapter LERA. We brought in Michael Hauge to teach his Story Mastery. Great stuff. Yesterday was his general seminar, and today a dozen of us are doing an intensive advanced story mastery session where we workshop our concepts with him. I'm super excited because I'm working on SOMETHING TOTALLY NEW.

So new that it's science fiction.

Agent Sarah has already seen the concept and given it the thumbs up, so now I'm just working up the details. With my COLLABORATOR.

There are so many new and exciting things here that I can't wait to share.

At any rate, being science fiction, in a universe we're basically creating whole hog, albeit on the foundation of our own, there's a lot of worldbuilding involved. One interesting challenge is that my heroine is a scientist, but obviously operating at a much more sophisticated level technologically.

I know she's made a mistake in her past. I know the results of the mistake and that it has to do with genetic manipulation. I just need to figure out HOW she might have done it. This will require beefing up my current understanding of genetics and how genes are spliced using modern technology, then extrapolating that to a possible future.

I'll likely do this by going to the current scientific literature, but not the hard core stuff. I'll look for cutting edge research as explained in journals intended for broader consumption, like Nature, Science, or Scientific American. I have an advantage that I'm trained as a scientist, so I know how to read and assimilate that kind of information - but I also know that I'm pretty stale, and I never was an expert in genetics. I won't attempt to read the stuff intended for working scientists because I doubt I could keep up. Certainly not without devoting a lot of attention to it and... I probably don't want to do that.

My favorite way to tackle this sort of thing - the ideal shortcut - is to find someone who is a current expert and picking THEIR brain. There's still no search engine that compares to finding a smart person who knows their field really well and getting them to think about the answer.

So, if anyone knows a cutting-edge genetics researcher... :D

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Happy Veterans Day!

Thanks to every veteran (and their family!) for all the sacrifices and service given in the name of freedom. Today and every day should really be a day to appreciate and thank veterans!

My late husband was a Marine; my Dad was in the Army in World War II; my uncles were in the Coast Guard and the Army; I have other relatives who served in various branches of the military...and I'm grateful for the sacrifices they all made.


Tiny programming note: today is the last day to buy a copy of the Embrace the Romance: Pets In Space 2 scifi romance anthology and have us make a donation to Hero Dogs, Inc., which provides service dogs to veterans in need.

Buy Links:   Amazon   iBooks   Kobo   B&N 


Friday, November 10, 2017

The Cursed Blinking Cursor

Have you ever undertaken telling a story you love? You set up something to pass as office space. You sit down. You begin telling your story - the story that has haunted you and spoken to you for months, if not years. It's going great. You're making tracks. And then it happens.

Something in your head stutters and your story stumbles to a halt. And there you sit. Watching the cursor blink at you. Eventually, you imagine you hear it laughing in time with every pulse. Maybe whispering 'you suck' as it blinks. No? Just me. Huh.

Here's how to break it up, silence that cursor and get back into flow.

1. Master the mundane - find the most mind numbing household chore you can find. Get up and do it. For me, it was ironing. Hates ironing. HATES it. But. It's a mindless task of repeated motion that lulls your ego into a stupor. You may be pressing your pets by the time that happens, but when it does, tidbits of scenes, snippets of dialogue, and new story ideas will crop up because you are SO bored, your story-teller's brain will rise to rescue you.

2. Immersion - If you've exhausted yourself working in the word mines, stop. Cook supper, eat. Relax. Head to bed a few minutes early. Take a notebook and a pen with you. Not a computer. Not a tablet. Archaic tech is your friend here. Do all the things that get you ready for sleep. Then sit in bed and write. Long hand. Write about your story. Your characters. No scenes. No pressure for dialogue or situations. Write ABOUT your story. What do you want from it? What do you want to feel? What do you want the characters to feel? Do you feel like you've gone wrong? Why? Where? Ask the characters what they want. Why won't they talk to you? Do you have a plot outline? A character arc graph? Can you look at either of those and jot some notes about where you are in those documents and what has to happen to move your characters to the next step? Earphones and 30 minutes of unguided meditation piped into your brain from something like brain.fm is legal here, but not anything that will pull you out of focus. The point is to have your story on your brain when you turn out the light and go to sleep. This might take a couple of nights to kick you free. But it will.

3. Change your thinking - this has subheadings that I'm too lazy to enumerate in true a, b, c fashion. But here you go. Often when we're stuck, we're in a synaptic rut and just need a kick in the gray-matter to get imagination firing again. So first suggestion: switch your work space. Writing at home? Pick it up and go to the library. Or the coffee shop. Or a diner that will let you camp a table for an hour or two if you buy fries and a bottomless cup of coffee. See if the change of scenery doesn't shake something lose. Find a deck of tarot cards. No. I am not suggesting that you dive into the woo-woo with me. The water is fine, mostly, but this is about using the cards as story prompts, not divination. Make sure your cards have a book with them, so you can read the meanings. I usually do something like this: Tell me about the story as it stands. I lay out three cards. Then I ask what could happen next and lay out three more cards. It looks like a T laying on its side.
I am not looking for profound here. I'm looking for options. In a story that starts with someone looking for her happy place (The Sun), but buried in endless battles (9 of Wands), she's going to have to rise from the ashes and atone for who and what she's been to this point. (Judgement) What *could* happen next: The Magician at the bottom requires that she use all of her talents and skills - the light and the dark - it's a call to achieve internal balance. The next card, The World is another option - it's about having the world laid out at your feet and having to make a choice - one that will necessarily close all other options off. The final option: the 8 of Wands - just going for it. This is related to that 9 of Wands, right? It's a card about being a bull in a china shop - charging at obstacles all fired up. The problem inherent in that card is burning out before you've gotten very far. So there. One story arc. Three different ways it could go. BUT. Here's the thing. This isn't a means of figuring out what you SHOULD do. It's a means of stirring up how you think about your story and your characters. It's meant to put your brain in a Shake-n-Bake bag and toss it around so that story pieces rearrange or solidify in place as needed. It's meant to broaden your vision of your story and maybe get you to look at options you hadn't considered. 

Sure there are more tactics. But really, I've recently come to embrace the notion that I don't need to know what happens next in my story. I just write. And it is through the writing that I work out what the story wants and needs. Does it mean a lot of material that won't make the final cut? OMG, yes. But at least the writing is happening. 

And that damned cursor isn't laughing anymore. I am.



Thursday, November 9, 2017

When stories grind to a halt

As is inevitable when a bunch of writers get together (such as a gathering like World Fantasy Convention), there is a natural tendency to talk about process and craft, including the things that stop us up.

Now, I'm not immune to getting blocked or stopped up.  Even though I'm known as being efficient in getting books out, part of that is because I build a certain amount of "things might get stuck" into my schedule.  As much as I would want the writing of every novel to just be a powerhouse, "writing X words a day, every day", that's rarely been the case.*  Most of the time, even with my outline, there will be some point where the connective tissue from A to B just isn't apparent, and it's going to take me a bit of time to let my subconscious hack through it to figure out how it'll work.

So, what to do in the meantime?

I've got three go-to tactics.  (All of which were rejected by one friend who was stuck in her novel.)
  1. Write a scene further ahead.  I've not written a single novel in order. Not one.  There's always some point where I jump ahead and write some red-meat bit down the line and then go find the connective tissue later.  It's a simple solution to the Point A To B problem: just go directly to Point B and often the writing of it gives the answer of how to go back and fill in the details.
  2. Play with maps.  I do love messing with maps, and it's a good process to use a different set of brain muscles so the subconscious can grind away at the problem.  It lets me also do some worldbuilding work for other things down the line.  I've often said I really only have the illusion of being a fast writer, because I've spent a long time at planning things far in the future.
  3. Write something else.  There's always a "secondary" project in the works.  If not two.  Usually things that don't have a contract or deadline involved, so if and when I need to stop and get to the "real" project, it's not a big deal.  I've got a few things cooking along those lines right now.  
So, what are your techniques to break through the wall?

*- The one exception is The Alchemy of Chaos, which I did the draft of in a little under five months.  There were a couple weeks that dragged, in that I "only" wrote the minimum for that week.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Writing? Stuck? 3 Tips to Make Progress

Firstly, for our US readers, it's Election Day. Please, vote. Even if there's nothing more than a pair of issues on the ballot. Your vote matters. Care enough about your community, your local government, and your state government to have an opinion and to have it logged for the record.

"I hate writing. I love having written." -Dorothy Parker

Now, to the topic of the week, "When the Story Stops Coming: 3 Tips to Get Unstuck."

I'm going to share an ill-kept secret, I hit the "stuck" part in the beginning of the book. 

Every.Single.Book. 
~headdesk~

I'm currently at that stage in the fourth book of my upcoming Urban Fantasy series (pre-orders go live for Book 1 at the end of the month!). I've spent a week with my wheels spinning in the muck. It's frustrating as hell. I know why it's happening; I don't have the right inciting incident. I write to chapter 5, then cut all of it, because it's still not right. The characters aren't on the right trajectory. Last night, just before my brain settled into slumber, I think I finally figured out the right opening. We'll see. Give me to the weekend to be certain.

In that short bit of snivel and whine, is my first tip to getting unstuck.

1. Keep Writing, but Try Different Perspectives
Put. Words. On. Page...a slight variation on what Jeffe suggested Sunday that still reinforces the habit and ritual of writing. Instead of forcing yourself to go forward and gain word-count, allow yourself to indulge in what-ifs as you rewrite the last scene that worked from a different state of mind for your character (or a different POV altogether if you're writing a multi-POV book). Something as small as changing the POV character's attitude/emotional state could unclog the blockage and help you roll into the next chapter.

2. Change a Core Element
If a scene just isn't working--and you're positive it's a necessary scene--change a core element. Change the setting, the characters surrounding the protagonist, the nature of the challenge, or the means by which your protag achieves the goal of that scene. Maybe what you thought should be a physical battle works better as a battle of wits. Maybe a private scene should be very public. Maybe you need to change the weather. Hey, you're God of your world. Make your characters act out/up during a wicked thunderstorm. Not everything has to happen on a sunny day or a foggy night.

3. Exercise
Take an hour to boost the oxygen flowing through your system. Whatever your level of preferred exertion might be--Ashtanga yoga, rock climbing, stroll around the neighborhood--whatever gets you up and moving. Go without the earphones. Skip the playlists, the phone calls, the other distractions. Just you, your brain, and your body; reconnect with yourself. Might be surprised by the sort of ideas that'll come to you...some might even be relevant to your WiP.

Good luck!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Going for Word Count but Stalling? Three Tips to Get that Flow!

We're up in wintery Buffalo, Wyoming, for my mother-in-law's funeral. This is the pretty view out my (nicely warm) hotel room.

A lot of you out there are embarking on your second week of NaNoWriMo, I know. By now you might be running low on steam. Often the first few days are relatively easy. But, by this point, you might be hitting the "sophomore slump" - when the newness has worn off, but you still have the bulk of the effort ahead of you.

So, if you find you're stalling out, here are three tips to get that flow going again. Check back all this week for more tips from our group of seven professional authors!

1. Write Anyway

Seriously! I know this can feel like not helpful advice, but it's really the best there is. There's a reason that the NaNoWriMo folks say you can do whatever it takes to get that word count, such as having your characters sing all of Don McLean's American Pie. That's because writing feeds writing. The more you do, the better it flows. The analogy of running water through rusty pipes is a good one. At first the water just trickles and there's lots of back-pressure. But then the gunk gradually gives way, the pipes clear, and the water flows better and, eventually, with pristine gusto!

If you're totally stuck, then sure - have them sing a song. But I advise making up the song, even if it sucks or is nonsense. It's better to write something than nothing, but it's even better to write crap than copy someone else. Remember those rusty pipes! It's okay for the water to look mucky at first.

2. Don't Look at What You've Already Written

Resist the urge to self-edit before you're done. Nothing stalls the writing process more than going back and spending precious word-count time on revision. Especially if you're new to writing, there's just really no point in revising until you have a FULL, COMPLETED MANUSCRIPT. Yes, you will need to revise someday, but you *really* need to finish first. Besides - consider that rusty pipes analogy. If you're revising while you're still getting those pipes clear, all you're doing is trying to purify crappy water. Let it run clean and flowing first, then you can polish it.

Don't worry about revising until you're done writing. Just write. Go forward. Always forward.

3. Just Write

Do your best to write without thinking about it. Imagine you're running water through the pipes. Don't consider word choice or sentence structure or where the story is going or what that character's name should be. I have a trick that I use as I'm drafting. Every time I hit something like that - a character or place I need to name, or a word I can't quite think of - I put in [something], and keep going. When I'm done, usually after I've finished the book, I go back and search for "[" and fill those in. I might do it before, if a good name occurs to me. Or, sometimes when I have my word count for the day, I'll do some research and fill those in. But resist the urge to do that instead of getting word count. Don't try to rationalize that it counts as writing. It doesn't count.

Only writing counts as writing.

Just write.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

There Is No Meme

The theme this week doesn't even make much sense to me, frankly. It's supposed to be me vs my protagonist, expressed in a meme.

?????

Since that's clearly not happening, I'll give you some of my recent #bookqw and #scififri posts from twitter... meme-ish looking LOL.

Buy links (because it wasn't released when I talked about it last week and now it is!):
Amazon     iBooks     Kobo     B&N

From Star Cruise: Songbird in the USA Today Best Selling Embrace the Romance Pets in Space 2 anthology.



I love the CANVA tool and I enjoy making little mini posters each week for the word prompt on the various twitter hashtags...fun stuff!

Hope you're having a great weekend...



Friday, November 3, 2017

Kicked in the Teeth by My Own Protagonists




Here's our innocent, but intrepid author, as kitted out and prepared for this pair of protagonists as possible. And yet.


This is the pair of protagonists. When they aren't beating the crap out of one another, it's the author they're pummeling. As a result, this book looks like this:



Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween!

In honor of my favorite day, we here at the SFF Seven are roasting ourselves with a little meme of Author vs Protagonist.

May your candy be plentiful, your goblins wicked, and your potions potent.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Defying Themes - and Succeeding Anyway!

The sun cresting Pusch Ridge in Tucson, spilling light through the cleft at sunrise - so beautifully dramatic.

I came to Tucson to give the Saguaro Romance Writers my workshop on Defying Gravity: Writing Cross-Genre and Succeeding Anyway. They're a terrific group and we had a great time.

This week's topic at the SFF Seven is Make a Meme: You vs. Your Protagonist. And I... just can't do this. I'm staying at my mom and stepdad's house in Tucson, and my mom says she thinks memes (she pronounced it may-may) are silly and I should tell all of you that. 

I admit I'm not a huge fan of memes either - and I don't really think of my protagonists as other, so I'm coming up empty on that one. However, I thought I should let you all know that the SFWA Fantasy Storybundle sale is almost over - ending November 2 at midnight ET! Last chance to buy four books for $5 or twelve books for $15! My book, LONEN'S WAR, is part of the core four books, so here's a little excerpt of that, if you'd like to check it out!

********

Lonen had seen many strange things in the past weeks. Impossible magic and horrific deaths that would take him years to purge from his nightmares, if he ever could.
If he lived that long.
The sight of the woman in the window hit him with enough force to unbalance him. Through the blood-drenched night, he’d kept focus on one kill after the next and only on that, much the way he’d climbed the wall, except that he slit the throats of defenseless women, one after another, instead of reaching for holds. They died so easily, seeming oblivious to his approach, focusing their placid attention outward to the battle where the booming assault of the sorcerers diminished and ceased as their sisters succumbed to the blades of Lonen and his men.
The fact that they didn’t fight back, that they remained so vulnerable, sickened him, each death layering on unclean guilt that he’d ignored until the vision of the woman in the window knifed into him like an unseen blade. Maybe it was because her fair coloring was so much like the first woman he’d killed. After that one, he hadn’t looked at their faces, taking the dispensation offered by their featureless masks.
For whatever reason, the sight of her gripped him, standing in the open window, illuminated by candlelight in an otherwise dark tower that rose from a deep abyss. Her hair shone a copper color he’d never seen on a living being, like a hammered metal cloak that shifted with her startled movements. She put a hand to her throat, eyes dark in her fine-boned face. A creature from children’s tales perched beside her, staring at him intently. He would have thought it a statue carved from alabaster, but it swiveled its head on its neck to look at the woman, then back to him.
Lonen had seen illustrations of dragons in his boyhood books, but they’d been huge and…fictional. This thing looked very like those, only smaller—maybe as long as his forearm, not counting the tail. All white, it shimmered in the bright torchlight from the walls much as the woman’s hair did. It sat on its haunches, taloned feet clutching the stone windowsill, bat-winged forearms mantled. Large eyes with bright green shine dominated a wedge-shaped head with a narrow jaw and large ears. It lashed its long, sinuous tail against the stone, as a cat watching birds would.
Beautiful, both of them, and as fantastical as if they’d stepped out of one of those storybooks. The wonder of the sight swept away all the bloody horror. She was the bright face of the terrible magics—something lovely, pure and otherworldly. Something in him lunged at the prospect of such beauty in the world, a part of him he hadn’t known existed. Or rather, a part he hadn’t thought survived from childhood. That sense of wonder he’d felt looking at those storybook illustrations, long since lost to the grind of the Golem Wars. He lifted a hand, not sure what he meant to do. A salute? A greeting?
“Prince Lonen!” Alby ran up, bow in hand. “Why do you—a sorceress!” He reached for an arrow and notched it, a smooth, practiced movement that Lonen barely stopped in time.
“No,” he commanded. “Stand down. She wears no mask. She isn’t one of them.”
“They’re all the enemy,” Alby insisted through gritted teeth, resisting Lonen’s grip. “She’s seen us.”
“It doesn’t matter.” Abruptly weariness swamped Lonen. Far too soon for him to wear out, as much remained to be done. That bright bubble of the fantastic had distracted him, the shattering of that brief moment of childlike wonder more painful for the sudden loss of it. He’d have been better off not feeling it at all. “Her people are largely dead, their defenses falling around them. Look out at the plain.”
Alby followed his nod. Grienon, enormous and low in the sky, waxed toward full, shedding silvery light on the quiet field. None of the magical fireballs or earthquakes thundered through the night. The golems had dropped like corn stalks after harvest. The Destrye forces moved in a familiar cleanup pattern, groups of warriors methodically searching the field for the dying, to either save or dispatch, depending on which side they’d fought for—and if they could be saved. Other groups remained in pitched battle, but the Destrye had the upper hand. Without their magic, the Bárans would eventually fall.
For as many years as they’d worked towards this day, Lonen had expected to feel jubilation, triumph, the roar of victory. Not the drag of exhaustion and regret. Their plan had worked far better than any of them had dared to hope—and yet only bleakness filled his heart.
The copper-haired woman’s fault, for showing him a glimpse of a dream of something more than monstrous death and destruction. He’d been better off hoping simply to live to the next moment, or not to die in vain.
Hope and the promise of wonder could destroy a man’s spirit more surely than a well-wielded blade.
With one last look at the woman in the window, he turned his back on her and her false promise. “Come, Alby. Let’s find a ladder or stairway down to the city inside the walls, so we can open the gates.” One that wouldn’t plunge him into that dark abyss. “There must be stairs or ladders that the sorceresses climbed. By sunrise, Bára will be ours.”
Soon he would be done with this evil place.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Cover Reveal and Excerpt LADY OF THE NILE

I was excited to do a cover reveal this week for my next paranormal romance, set in ancient Egypt. I hadn’t written one in quite a while and it was fun to dive back into my version of 1550 BCE! I also have a new scifi romance coming in November – more on that next week.

Here’s the story:

Tuya, a high ranking lady-in-waiting at Pharaoh’s court, lives a life of luxury, pageantry and boredom. Khian, a brave and honorable officer from the provinces temporarily re-assigned to Thebes, catches her eye at a gold of valor ceremony. As the pair are thrown together by circumstances, she finds herself unaccountably attracted to this man so unlike the haughty nobles she’s used to. But a life with Khian would mean leaving the court and giving up all that she’s worked so hard to attain. As she goes about her duties, Tuya struggles with her heart’s desires.

When Tuya is lured into a dangerous part of Thebes by her disgraced half-brother and kidnapped by unknown enemies of Egypt, Khian becomes her only hope. Pharaoh assigns him to bring the lady home.

Aided by the gods, Khian races into the desert on the trail of the elusive kidnappers, hoping to find Tuya before it’s too late. Neither of them has any idea of the dark forces arrayed against them, nor the obstacles to be faced. An ancient evil from the long gone past wants to claim Tuya for its own purposes and won’t relinquish her easily.

Can Khian find her in time? Will he and his uncanny allies be able to prevent her death? And if the couple escapes and reaches safety, what of their fledgling romance?

The excerpt:

Facing down the attacking Hyksos hordes at the Meribe Pass had been easier in many ways than preparing to meet a grateful Pharaoh to receive the reward for not accepting defeat. Captain Khian walked the line of his small troop murmuring encouragement, straightening a sword here and making a joke there, anything to lighten the men’s tension as they waited outside the ceremonial chamber for their moments under Pharaoh’s eye. It wasn’t often that common soldiers had the chance to stand in front of the Living God who ruled Egypt. The idea was terrifying.

At last the scribe touched his elbow. “You can march in now, captain.”

He nodded, gave his soldiers one final, critical inspection. “We’ll do the Jackal Nome proud, men.”

Khian set the pace, walking behind the young scribe, keeping his proud military bearing, not looking to the right or the left but focusing on the glittering dais where Pharaoh’s golden throne sat and the Great One himself waited to honor them. He might be only a landholder, commissioned to fight in the war against the invaders, rather than one of the career officers, and his men might be farmers in their daily lives, but by the gods, they’d held that damned pass and saved the day for Egypt. Pride for what his troops had accomplished in battle filled his heart and pushed aside trepidation over being in a completely foreign environment now. He just wanted to get through the ceremony without disgracing himself or his men in front of the ruler.

The scribe had them line up off to the side, awaiting their moment with Pharaoh, who was still speaking with a group of ambassadors. “Your name will be called and then move forward in front of the throne. Salute and stand at attention.”

“We’ll do as you instruct.” Khian clenched his hand on the hilt of his sword. He gazed across the chamber while he waited, taking in the crowd of courtiers attending the audience. For the most part the nobles, officers and functionaries were a blur of painted faces, fine clothes and elaborate jewelry but one woman caught his attention. She sat near the queen, so was obviously high ranking, but her expression was sweet rather than haughty and she stared at him as if trying to give him encouragement. Could she tell he was nervous about committing an inadvertent error of royal protocol? The lady smiled, plying her ostrich feather fan flirtatiously. He made a slight bow to her, before he abruptly remembered where he was.

Ridiculous as it might seem, he felt as if he had a friend here.

Boredom had been weighing on Tuya all afternoon. She’d sat through many audiences at the court of Pharaoh Nat-re-Akhte and this one was no different—newly arrived dignitaries to greet, a few issues needing  Pharaoh’s judgment, gold of valor to be awarded to a deserving soldier or two. In her five years as chief lady-in-waiting to the Royal Wife, Tuya had seen all variations.

Pharaoh would present the gold of valor next, and Tuya found herself glancing at the assembled soldiers. The officer captured her attention instantly. Something about his face drew her gaze. He had the look of a man going into combat and she guessed his unfamiliarity with royal protocol and the customs at court might lie at the heart of his tension. Or he was worried for his men that they’d manage the moments under Pharaoh’s scrutiny with honor. Direct attention from the living god was a frightening thing to most people.  She wished she could take the officer aside for a moment and reassure him that Pharaoh was a kind man, a soldier himself in fact, and would most likely be tolerant of any minor breaches in protocol from overawed rural troops.


The captain was looking at the crowd now, as he waited, and when his attention turned to her, she smiled and tried to project encouraging thoughts for him. It doesn’t matter how the court perceives you, only Pharaoh’s opinion counts with the gods.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Nonfiction Flash

Nonfiction Flash:

My father is visiting until tomorrow. He gets all the attention. Sorry. Not sorry. I'll be back when I'm not playing tour guide.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Trick or Treat

NEWS: I'm starting a newsletter soon, so if you want to be in on the updates concerning the Persephone Alcmedi series, the Immanence series, or just want to be in on the fun, check out my website today. Note: It's a double opt-in, so there'll be an email to confirm. Thank you, kindly!

TRICK or TREAT   (891 words)

Andrea had fussed too long over her costume and make-up, but it had to be the best. She was the prettiest, richest, and most sought after among her film-school pals and had to maintain that reputation. Typically, she arrived fashionably late, but tonight she'd misjudged the traffic and now she was irresponsibly late. Night had fallen full before she arrived at the secluded address scrawled on the back of a tarot card. It was just trite enough that it had to be Annie's idea. It was like her to throw a last-minute party, and to add to the spirit of the season by a pseudo-anonymous invitation. 

After parking her pink Porsche, Andrea resettled her witch costume and made sure her breasts mounded above the bustier just right, then added her pointy hat and scanned the many vehicles lining the road. She recognized George's BMW, Annie's Lincoln, and Jimmy's jacked-up truck. No one was in them, of course. The party started almost an hour ago. She'd have to walk-in alone. But that was fine; she knew how to make an entrance. She'd just have to make up an excuse, like her agent had called to say he'd lined up a new audition.

Ahead, a bright orange arrow pointed across into the woods.

The beat of music thumped from the barn atop the distant hill. The illumination from within seemed minimal, as only a dull hint of light pierced through the filthy windows. But they had a good playlist on. She assumed Jimmy was in charge of the music. 

After a baleful look at her high-heel shoes and thinking up a good passive-aggressive scolding for whoever didn't advise her to at least wear wedges, she left the street and stepped onto the path through thick underbrush. When it suddenly ended, hundreds of costumed people stood lining the way. She halted with a gasp. Immobile and silent, each held a carved pumpkin lit within.

"Did you all wait for me?" Her cheeks flushed.

No one answered.

"What are you doing here? Hasn't it started up at the barn?" 

Still, no one answered.

"Stop being creepy!" She marched as best she could to the closest, and pulled at the silly plastic face mask. "Is that you, George?"

It wasn't her boyfriend. It was a mannequin. So was the next and the next.

Andrea felt ashamed for having been fooled, but no one was here to see her get fooled. Besides, who had hundreds of mannequins, let alone costumes? And who had time to carve hundreds of pumpkins? This had to be George's idea. He was going to be a great director some day soon.

Each unique orange face bore a wicked grin, and was positioned to leer as she passed. The flickering candles added an ominous ambiance. 

It was wildly spooky - perfect for a Halloween Dance party. That was the thought she kept foremost as she walked to the barn. It took her fifteen minutes to arrive. This grassy terrain was murder in her heels. 


When she stepped up to the door, she reached for the handle, then realized she heard no voices.

The hair on her neck stood on end, so instead of opening the door, she peered through the crack, shifting left to right to see the broadest bit of the room.

She saw no one, but they’d gone all out for the décor. Red streamers, bloody-looking sheets and plastic screening. Annie’s father worked at MGMs prop department. She’d obviously had him call in some favors. And, there had to be hundreds of candles burning in there, and red petals dotted the floor.

Oh! George is going to propose a la the Horror films he loves so much. Yes! Finally. And I’m late! They’ve seen me coming and are waiting for the big entrance.

She resituated her hat, squared her shoulders and threw open the door.

Still seeing no one, she stepped in. Were they hiding? “George?” she moved deeper into the barn…and realized the streamers looked like entrails. It wasn't petals on the floor either, but splattering of sticky red...blood? They really went all out for this. She touched one of the 'streamers' and her hand came away covered in red goo. “Ick.” 

She’d have to wipe this off. Scanning around for the food table where there would have to be napkins, she saw the rustic stairs leading to the upper floor. The upper steps were lost to darkness but the lower steps each had severed heads sitting upon them. Some had eyes open, some were shut. She gasped. That’s going too far.

Completing her scan, she saw no food table. What kind of party doesn’t offer some kind of drink and snack?

Something creaked. She spun back to the stairs as a boot slid into view. Someone was coming down. 

She watched the dirty boots descend, unable to see the person wearing them for the dark. But her eyes caught again on the heads. They were placed two-to-each-side, yet the bottom step was different. It had two on the left, they looked like Jimmy and Annie…and on the right…George.

There was room for one more.

Understanding and dozens of thoughts collided in her brain as air rushed through her nostrils and she emitted a shrieking scream that echoed across the hillside.

From within the stairwell, a deep voice said, "Cut." 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Taunt Not the Sprites on Halloween Nights



Toothfairy from Hellboy 2
Tit for tat.
You started that.
With actions so cruel and mean.

We were fine
On our own
In the forest, quite alone.
Until we heard the first widow scream.

Her fright
Pierced the night.
Halting our dances under the light
Of the bright, bright, bright, harvest moon.

In tribes and clans
We swept across our lands
Towards the sounds of terror mounting.

Atop roofs and deep doors
We crouched
Ready for wars.
Our countenance fierce and frightening.

For their charity
We defend
The spinsters and lonely women
Against the horrors of children flouting

All honor and respect
Shrill voices loud with threat
Their chorus a malicious chanting

Trick or treat.
Give us something good to eat.
Or by dawn, your house will be burning.

So we crept into the street
Shadows dogging their feet
Spells draining their youth and arrogance

Once the veil closes
The boyos
They knows it
Their souls are owned by the damned

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Week of Ups and Downs

(I don't have anything to add on this week's topic of trigger warnings. Neither for or against them. I've never included one.)

Purchased from DepositPhoto
I think the biggest down this week was an allergic reaction to a medication I'd safely used before - ulp. Really wasn't expecting that! The older I get, the more things I'm allergic to...hopefully I never become allergic to cats or chocolate. Everything else I can probably handle...

The biggest 'up' was HUGE and ironically the news came as I was sitting in the ER dealing with the allergic reaction - the scifi romance anthology Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2 made the USA Today Best Seller List!!! I'm the co-organizer and one of the authors so I was thrilled. Still am thrilled in fact.  Thank you to all the readers and bloggers and reviewers who've supported us...! (Not too late to get your copy......)

Here's the blurb for the anthology:

The pets are back! Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2, featuring twelve of today’s leading Science Fiction Romance authors brings you a dozen original stories written just for you! Join in the fun, from the Dragon Lords of Valdier to a trip aboard award-winning author, Veronica Scott’s Nebula Zephyr to journeying back to Luda where Grim is King, for stories that will take you out of this world! Join New York Times, USA TODAY, and Award-winning authors S.E. Smith, M.K. Eidem, Susan Grant, Michelle Howard, Cara Bristol, Veronica Scott, Pauline Baird Jones, Laurie A. Green, Sabine Priestley, Jessica E. Subject, Carol Van Natta, and Alexis Glynn Latner as they share stories and help out Hero-Dogs.org, a charity that supports our veterans!

10% of the first months profits go to Hero-Dogs.org. Hero Dogs raises and trains service dogs and places them free of charge with US Veterans to improve quality of life and restore independence.

Buy Links:   Amazon   iBooks   Kobo   B&N 


My new favorite review: