Monday, September 28, 2020

What are you THINKING?

 This week the subject of SFF7 is What's on your mind?


Well, a lot of stuff, really. But I'll try to focus on just a few.


First off, I'm thinking about stories. In particular the ones I'm working on and the ones I should be working on. They are not always the same thing, though maybe they should be. As we get closer to the most wonderful time of the year (Halloween) I tend to focus more on the horror-oriented tales. I love fantasy and science fiction but my heart will always have a dark corner for the horror stuff. To that end I've just completed a short story I'll be submitting after I give it a thorough re-read. Remember how I said I seldom use beta readers? This is one of those occasions where I sort of regret that but it is what it is. I could probably find someone to read it, but I've always HATED being an imposition. Real or imagined, I have trouble getting past the idea that a favor asked is an inconvenience requested. That's strictly a one-way thing, by the way. I don't mind doing an occasional first read for someone, but in my mind asking that the favor be reciprocated is automatically inconveniencing a friend. Yes, I know it makes no sense. No, I really can't stop my mind from working that way.


In addition to that scenario, I have a novel past due (Angry Robot, my publisher, has been very gracious with the time allotted, especially in consideration of my bout with cancer, and I am grateful beyond words, but now, to prove I am grateful, I really have to get them the first draft of my novel.). I need to fix that. I am also working on a collaborative novel and a collaborative novella. I need to get both of my coconspirators the latest chapters. The ball, as they say, is in my court. I have two other short stories I need to finish and submit sometime soon. One is an invitation, the other is an open anthology that I'd like to be included in.  


I need to go to the dentist. I don't want to. I will eventually handle the matter but not today. 


My collaborative novel: THE TOURISTS GUIDE TO HAUNTED WELLMAN, is going to be a blast. I'm actually quite excited by the notion, the format, and what has happened so far. We're almost 50,000 words into this thing and it's a blast. we're probably at the halfway mark and already things have been terrifying and fun. The main protagonists are about to meet up for the first time in the book, and after that, things get really truly ugly. It's a Halloween novel that will probably be available next year. 


I MISS CONVENTIONS!!!


Last year I had the cancer issue, and that meant avoiding a lot of conventions simply because I was immuno-compromised and therefore at high risk for contracting whatever the heck was going around. This year, it doesn't matter if you're immuno-compromised, because we are living in the era of the PLAGUE. We've figured a lot of that out, of course. I'll be at several virtual conventions this year, but, damn, I miss the real thing. I miss seeing old friends, meeting new friends, and the general sense of camaraderie. Part of this is, of course, because I missed everything last year. Sigh...whattaya do? Maybe next year we're back to the real world? One can hope. 


How am I going forward with my books? Several of my older volumes will be released as self-published volumes as they have been out of print for years and years. It's overdue and I get a surprising number of requests. I am also hard at work on a special project with illustrator and storyteller Dan Brereton, that pertains directly to his NOCTURNALS comics. It's gonna be a blast!


What am I working on next? Well, that's several volumes of different works, actually. It'll be fun.


I'm going back to the day job after 15 months. 


This should be...interesting. 


What's on YOUR mind? 


come on, you can tell me....


Keep smiling, 


Jim


PS I've probably already done this, but here are a few hints about THE TOURISTS GUIDE TO HAUNTED WELLMAN. (Co-written with the amazing Charles R. Rutledge


                                                                                    
With Bonus Art by Dan Brereton!






Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is what's on our minds. For me, it's writing the novella for the upcoming anthology UNDER A WINTER SKY. With Kelley Armstrong, Melissa Marr, L.Penelope, and myself, this is going to be a bang-up collection of stories. Mine, The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon is a prequel novella kicking off my brand new series, Heirs of Magic. Book 1 in that series - directly following the events of The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon will be out in December.  I'm super excited for this new set of stories - quests! shapeshifters! magic! illicit love affairs! enduring friendships! - that it's really all I'm thinking about. Preorder links and more info below!


Four powerhouse authors of fantasy and urban fantasy bring you a feast of romantic midwinter holiday adventures. These heartwarming and pulse-pounding tales celebrate Hanukah, Christmas, the solstice, Yule – and holidays from worlds beyond our own. With fancy-dress balls, faery bargains, time travel, blood sacrifice, and festive cocktails, these stories will delight lovers of fantasy and romance, with a dash of seasonal joy.

Ballgowns & Butterflies by Kelley Armstrong

The North Yorkshire moors are always a magical place, but they’re particularly enchanting at the holidays…especially if one gets to travel back in time to a Victorian Christmas. For Bronwyn Dale, it is the stuff of dreams. Fancy-dress balls, quirky small-town traditions, even that classic one-horse open sleigh, complete with jingle bells. There’s just the tiny problem of the Butterfly Effect. How does a time-traveler make a difference without disrupting the future forever?

The Long Night of the Crystalline Moon, a prequel novella to Heirs of Magic, by Jeffe Kennedy

Shapeshifter Prince Rhyian doesn’t especially want to spend the Feast of Moranu at Castle Ordnung. First of all, it’s literally freezing there, an uncomfortable change from the tropical paradise of his home. Secondly, it’s a mossback castle which means thick walls and too many rules. Thirdly, his childhood playmate and current nemesis, Lena, will be there. Not exactly a cause for celebration.

Princess Salena Nakoa KauPo nearly wriggled out of traveling to Ordnung with her parents, but her mother put her foot down declaring that, since everyone who ever mattered to her was going to be there to celebrate the 25th year of High Queen Ursula’s reign, Lena can suffer through a feast and a ball for one night. Of course, “everyone” includes the sons and daughters of her parents’ friends, and it also means that Rhyian, insufferable Prince of the Tala, will attend.

But on this special anniversary year, Moranu’s sacred feast falls on the long night of the crystalline moon—and Rhy and Lena discover there’s more than a bit of magic in the air.

Blood Martinis and Mistletoe by Melissa Marr

Half-dead witch Geneviève Crowe makes her living beheading the dead--and spends her free time trying not to get too attached to her business partner,  Eli Stonecroft, a faery in self-imposed exile in New Orleans. With a killer at her throat and a blood martini in her hand, Gen accepts what seems like a straight-forward faery bargain, but soon realizes that if she can't figure out a way out of this faery bargain, she'll be planning a wedding after the holidays.

Echoes of Ash & Tears, an Earthsinger Chronicles Novella, by L. Penelope

Brought to live among the Cavefolk as an infant, Mooriah has long sought to secure her place in the clan and lose her outsider status. She’s a powerful blood mage, and when the chieftain’s son asks for help securing the safety of the clan, she agrees. But though she’s long been drawn to the warrior, any relationship between the two is forbidden. The arrival of a mysterious stranger with a tempting offer tests her loyalties, and when betrayal looms, will Mooriah’s secrets and hidden power put the future she’s dreamed of—and her adopted home—in jeopardy


 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

A Solitary Pursuit

 


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is: How do you define Critique Partners, Alpha Readers, and Beta Readers? Actually, there have been some great definitions and examples offered by my fellow SFF7 colleagues in earlier posts of the week.

I don’t have definitions handy because I don’t use any of these.

I write the stories I want to read. The stories unspool the way I want them to go. I’m very possessive of my characters and the events. I can’t imagine a better way to stop my writing DED than to invite people to read it while a book is in progress. The tender little green shoots of the book would wither and die under the harsh sunlight of premature feedback. No one has ever been invited to read one of my WIPs as far as I can recall. Yes, I’m saying I want no feedback during the process of writing my books. I don’t ask for it, I don’t go looking for it…I wouldn’t use it if there was any…writing to me is a completely solitary, individual creative pursuit. Me, my characters and I.

And my Muse.

I pay for a developmental edit when the book is pretty much close to done. I may or may not take the suggestions from my editor but I appreciate receiving them. At that stage the book is finished in my own mind and I’m ready to have the professional feedback on any issues or places where the existing book could be made stronger.

Fortunately for me, there’s no one right way or wrong way to go about being an author. I say go for it to people who relish and/or need all that feedback as part of their process. It isn’t something I’d ever do but the world is big enough for all of us to do our own thing. The more books, the merrier, however they arrive!

Speaking of arriving, Pets In Space® 5 will be out on October 6th and is up for pre-order. My story this time is STAR CRUISE: RETURN VOYAGE.

PETS IN SPACE® 5 ANTHOLOGY BLURB:

It’s time for an escape! Pets in Space® 5 is back for the fifth amazing year! Escape to new worlds with twelve of today’s top Science Fiction Romance authors. They have written 12 original, never-before-released stories filled with action, adventure, suspense, humor, and romance that will take you out of this world. The giving doesn’t stop there. For the fifth year, Pets in Space® will be donating a portion of the first month proceeds to Hero-Dogs.org, a non-profit charity that supports our veterans and First Responders. If you are ready to forget the world around you and make a difference while you are having fun, grab your copy before it’s gone!

STAR CRUISE: RETURN VOYAGE (The Sectors SF Romance Series):

Gianna Nadenoft is a reclusive survivor of one of the worst interstellar cruise ship disasters in the history of the Sectors. Now a renowned artist, she hasn’t left her home planet in decades, not since returning there after the wreck as a traumatized three-year-old. With her service animal at her side, she’s going to attempt to travel across the star systems to attend her brother’s wedding and reunite with her fellow survivors.

Trevor Hanson is a security officer aboard the cruise liner Nebula Zephyr with his own traumatic past as a former Special Forces soldier and prisoner of war. He’s assigned to provide personal protection to Gianna during her time aboard the ship but soon finds his interest turning from professional to romantic.

Onboard the Nebula Zephyr, powerful enemies are watching Gianna and making plans to seize this rare opportunity to gain access to her and the secrets they believe she’s still keeping about the wreck. Can Trevor overcome his personal demons and rise to the occasion to save Gianna from the danger waiting on his ship, or will she slip through his fingers and suffer a terrible fate deferred from her last disastrous voyage?

BUY LINKS

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2BRiWxU

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Pets-Space-5-SE-Smith-ebook/dp/B08F2XF73Q/

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/Pets-Space-5-SE-Smith-ebook/dp/B08F2XF73Q/

Amazon AU: https://www.amazon.com.au/Pets-Space-5-SE-Smith-ebook/dp/B08F2XF73Q/

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/pets-in-space-5

Apple Books: https://apple.co/30maDUg

Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/pets-in-space-5-s-e-smith/1137421518?ean=2940162669395

GooglePlay: https://play.google.com/store/books/details/SE_Smith_Pets_in_Space_5?id=AGH0DwAAQBAJ&hl=en

Friday, September 25, 2020

Who Do You Trust?

 
The story of critique partners, and alpha and beta readers starts with a couple of questions. Who do you trust? When is it safe to trust, and what problem are you trying to solve?

Critique partners tend to be other writers, people in the trenches doing the same work. In healthy groups, everyone works toward the common goal of making the books, stories, and writing better. A healthy critique group can foster life-long friendships, sure, but they can also make better writers. They're inspiring. If you like the group, you want to write just to have something to take to the meetings. Bad groups drain you. They leave you feeling diminished and exhausted even if everyone was pleasant. They zap your writing energy. If you find yourself in one, get out. A critique group needs to be a circle of people you can trust with tender, newly born ideas.

Critique groups, when they work, solve the biggest writer problems. They can help take a raw, nascent idea and brainstorm with you to flesh out the world, conflict, plot, and characters. A healthy group will not only identify your weak points as a writer, they'll actively help you strengthen them - while you help someone else strengthen theirs.

Alpha readers
These are the individuals you can trust with a crappy first draft. They're usually either authors themselves or very knowledgeable readers who can speak to things like motivation and goal mismatches. Or characters not following through on a piece of foreshadowing you dropped in chapter two. These brave readers search out plot holes and point out spots where the story map loses the reader. Usually, alpha readers already know the story. If only because most of us rely on our critique groups to be alpha readers. I can trust these readers to take a novel that's 2/3 written and tell me where I went wrong. Or right.

Beta readers
Beta readers read for sense, flow, and enjoyment. By the time a writer's idea gets to these readers, most of the issues have been ironed out. The story is generally complete and approaching polish. It might still be rough around the edges, but this group of readers - and they usually are readers rather than fellow authors - are the fine grit phase of running your story through the rock tumbler. You'll get grammar notes and maybe a few 'didn't understand this' beside some paragraphs or scenes. But by this point, no one should be pointing out plot holes you can drive trains through. 

As for when to trust - that's trial and error. When I first started writing, I needed a critique group while I was drafting. Now, I want a complete rough draft before I expose the work to other eyes. Receiving feedback while I'm drafting has become too disruptive. Finding all that out was pure process of trial and error. So was finding a critique group that didn't suck the joy out of writing in the first place. It took a few tries. 

Moral of the story: Writer know thyself. And if you don't, experiment until you do. Feedback fuels some writers and crushes others. Neither one is wrong.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Who helps make your writing better?

Tan, brick wall with the words: READ WRITE CREATE EXPLORE

Ooo, I like this week’s topic: how do you define Critique Partners, Alpha Readers, and Beta Readers? I was chatting with an author friend and she mentioned her beta readers. I asked her what they do for her and she answered that they read her chapters as she writes them and offer critique. 


Beta readers, that’s great! Only…that’s what I call critique partners. So, which is it—beta readers or critique partners? Or are they alpha readers?! 


You’d think these terms would have dictionary-esque answers, but YMMV is incredibly applicable here because every writer goes through the critique/editing phase differently which means what one person calls critique partners may be beta readers to another and alpha readers to someone else! It all depends on your own process.


Which means all I can offer are my own definitions:


Critique Partners: fellow writers who read and comment on chapters as they are written or offer critique on subsequent drafts of a novel. I mostly use this term, likely because these are my close author friends whom I swap material with, a perfect partnership.


Alpha Readers: readers/writers who read my first draft, usually as it’s being written. I look to alpha readers to deliver critique on any this works and/or any whoa what happened there moments. I need excitement from alpha readers to help keep me going to reach The End.


Beta Readers: readers/writers who read subsequent drafts. I look to beta readers to deliver critique on plot holes or catch inconsistencies. 


Those are my definitions of the terms, what do you call the amazing-wonderful-people who help make your writing better?

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Thank you to early readers

You're the person who slides into my DMs asking when my next story is coming out.

Asking if I got any words in today.

Asking if that one character you especially dig is ever going to get his own story.

Checking to see when I'll have pages for you to read.

Telling me I should get to work.

Telling me about a generally positive review you saw out there in the wild or a promo opportunity that I should jump on. Come on, girl. 

You're the person who remembers back when all my books were kittens, just little furballs of potential, and you helped me nurture them until their wee eyes opened and they took in the world.

You sent me detailed research notes in your field of expertise.

You were patient, educating me when I got it wrong.

You won't ever tell anyone how bananas that ending was before, at your suggestion, I changed it.

You read a chapter that was essentially dialogue with zero layers and honestly, probably zero commas, and you told me it was fun and to keep going.

That is your whole M.O., honestly. You tell me to keep going, don't give up. You swear that if no one else on this planet ever wants to read my words, you always will. 

Because you do right now, and you keep saying these amazing, hard-to-believe but critical things.

Because you are awesome and I absolutely could not do this writing thing without you.

I'm not sure what to call you -- alpha reader? beta reader? critique partner? friend? -- but you make this whole effort worthwhile.

Thank you.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

What Kind of Feedback Do You Need: CPs, Alphas, and Betas

Spin the wheel of feedback, whose input do you need? 

[insert The Price Is Right big wheel spinning sound effect here]

These definitions are by no means industry standard (mostly because there isn't a standard), these are my interpretations. YMMV.

  • Critique Partner (CP) -- A fellow writer with whom you exchange (not necessarily at the same time) works for developmental feedback. How's the pacing? The characters' development? The plot? The throughline for the plot? etc. Based on a CP's feedback, major structural overhauling may be required. 
  • Alpha Reader -- Similar to the Critique Partner, only these readers aren't necessarily writers and there's no exchange of works. They're reading for the Big Picture. Feedback from an Alpha reader can lead to major structural edits.
  • Beta Reader -- The book they get is baked. They're reading as consumers to gauge how the book is going to hit the market/fan base. Feedback from these readers may include fine-print corrections that slid past the teams of editors. Changes based on Beta's feedback should be minor and involve no more than changing a word here or a sentence there.
Don't let the terminology define your feedback-relationship. If you need more or less from a reader/partner let them know when you establish the relationship. With each book you send them, be very clear what you need from them and when you need it. We all work better when we know what's expected of us. 

Monday, September 21, 2020

How do you define Critique Partners, Alpha Readers, and Beta Readers?

 Our subject this week is "How Do You Define Critique Partners, Alpha Readers, and Beta Readers?


Hmm. How to put this delicately?


I don't define them, because I usually don't use them. I just don't. Oh, occasionally I'll pull in a good friend and ask for a quick edit, or I MIGHT ask them if Ithey think what I'm doing works for a scene, but normally I have a simple philosophy and that's to trust the story to evolve properly. If it fails to work out, I walk away from the project for a while or forever, depending. 


Listen I was raised in a family of people who simply do a thing and call it done I was never encouraged to ask for help. I wanted to know what a word meant and I asked my mom, she pointed to the big honking dictionary we had for just such emergencies.  Something more complex demanded the Encyclopedia Brittnica. More research? She might drive me to the library. 


I was raised, in other words, to do it yourself. 


and I normally depend on that. The first time my agent made suggestions in how to wrangle my manuscript into shape I was genuinely perplexed, because A) I agented myself for most of my career, and B) I had NO IDEA agents did that sort of thing {C) My agent was absolutely correction recommending changes and the book was stronger for the suggestions.}


On this subject I fear I am of remarkably little use. 


Keep smiling,


Jim


PS


Here, have some cover art!







Sunday, September 20, 2020

Critique, Alpha Read or Beta - Which Is What?

Here's a little tease for you of the cover of UNDER A WINTER SKY - the midwinter holiday anthology I'm doing with, well, as you can see! Kelley Armstrong, Melissa Marr and L. Penelope. An amazing lineup and a seriously gorgeous cover. Look for the reveal on Tuesday, September 22 on Frolic! Preorder links are here. 

Also, I’m super excited to be doing this online event “at” Love’s Sweet Arrow bookstore with my brilliant author friends Maria Vale, Amanda Bouchet, and Kait Ballenger. Danielle Dresser, Editorial Manager for Fresh Fiction will moderate. Join us on Saturday, September 26, at 3pm ET for fun conversation! You can register here. 

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is: How do you define Critique Partners, Alpha Readers, and Beta Readers?

I think this was my topic suggestion because I was sincerely interested in everyone's definitions. Seriously, I feel like writers use these terms very differently depending on the person. For me, I don't use "Alpha Reader" at all. I don't even know what that is except maybe a response to "Beta Reader." 

Can we divert a moment and discuss that simply adding the next Greek letter in either direction doesn't necessarily make the term meaningful? I mean, Beta Reader makes sense because it's like beta testing. The term "beta testing" comes from software development, where "the end-user (intended real user) validates the product for functionality, usability, reliability, and compatibility." Thus a Beta Reader is an end user - in this case, a reader - who takes the story out for a test drive by reading the completed work. Alpha testing, in its original sense, "is carried out in a much-controlled manner and it is not accessible by the end-users/market. Testing is carried out to simulate real-time behavior to match the usage of the product by the end-users in the market." To my mind, if alpha testing occurs entirely in-house, then Alpha Reading would be by the author. I am my own Alpha Reader, I suppose, which is just writing and revising. An "Alpha Reader" is not one step earlier in the process than a Beta Reader just because alpha is to the left of beta in the Greek alphabet. I won't die on this hill, but I did have to mini-rant about it.

Moving on!

What I think writers mean when they use the term "Alpha Reader" is actually a critique partner or group. Critique is the first pass by outside eyes. It's the thorough examination of the work by someone who isn't the writer. But, people don't seem to like the word "critique." It implies criticism and - let's face it - no writer loves criticism.

I think what's going on here reflects a level of author proficiency, too. It has certainly worked that way for me.

When I started out as a baby writer, lo these couple of decades ago, I took writing classes where we "workshopped" each other's writing. (Workshopping could be considered a deeper dig than critique, where other authors may actually help create and shape the story.) Some writers I met in those classes invited me to join their critique group. (Big milestone for baby writer me!) That first critique group really taught me a lot about writing and absolutely helped to launch my career.

After a few years, the group burned out - as these groups do, for particular reasons, though that's a whole 'nother topic - and I moved into using critique partners. These were writers I swapped work with. They've changed over the years, though some have been working with me for over ten years. (Hi Marcella!) We tend to hit each other up for specific projects/problems/questions these days, rather than regularly exchanging everything we write.

Fast forward to a few years ago and I was invited to join another crit group - this one specifically SFF. It ultimately didn't work for me. A writer friend suggested that the reason was that the group was trying to dig into my writing at a level I  no longer needed - and that I, in fact, found was harmful to my process. 

So guess what we've done? Formed a beta reading group! 

It's a group of writers all well-established in our careers, and we read each other's completed works. (Or completed chunks intended for submission on spec.) It's definitely a different level of analysis with thoughts on clarifications or missed opportunities. So far it's working great!

What's key is to figure out what will most help our process at that time. Not always easy, but like everything - a work in progress!

Saturday, September 19, 2020

What Can I Say? The Scenes Flow


Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is the easiest (or hardest) scene we ever wrote and why.

My writing process is that I sit here at the keyboard, open a new file in WORD, type the book’s working title, my name, the words “Chapter One” and off I go. The entire book is written as one uninterrupted chapter. (Yes, I do insert chapter breaks during the editing process.) I don’t think in terms of scenes. I don’t plot, outline or otherwise break my story into chunks, except on rare occasions. I’m telling a story and it unspools for me from beginning to end.

Usually when I start on a new book, I know the beginning, the ending and a few of the major plot events along the way. Every once in a while I’m really ready to write one of those key plot events ‘out of turn’. The last time I did that was for IVOKK, and I was eager to tell the part about how he and his mate Sandara were going to escape the Khagrish, who are the alien enemy. I ended up writing 7K words on that because it was in my head and ready to go. Then I went back to writing the rest of the novel in order and when I reached that point in the story, I inserted the already written material.

Shrug. Every author has their own process and if it works for them, enough said in my opinion.

Early in my career I did have a difficult time writing the steamy scenes. I grew up on hard science fiction books where not only was there no sex, there wasn’t even hand holding usually. Now I did read romances as well and some of them had very spicy moments but my author brain found it a challenge to mix the scifi with the romance and then allow my characters to fully experience each other. But I worked on it and I convinced my Muse it was necessary to show the closeness and intimacy between the hero and the heroine (I always write M/F with H/h) to fully present their story and their journey. I didn’t want to deny my readers the chance to see the entire story of how the man and the woman fell in love and carried that wonderful emotion to its logical fulfillment. Closed bedroom doors and fade to black weren’t going to be enough for the novels I was writing.

I find the love scenes flow much more easily for me now, after 40+ books in three genres. I like showing how much each person cares for and values the other and wants them to be happy. I worry a lot less about the mechanics and have I used the word ‘cock’ three times too many and what’s a good adjective to describe my hero’s amazing endowments. I get into the creative flow and let the moments unfold for the characters in the way they deserve and need to be with each other.

And always that Happy Ever After (or solid Happy For Now in the ongoing series) ending that a romance demands!

DepositPhoto


Friday, September 18, 2020

The Good, the Bad, the Easy, and the Difficult

 

Two fer one Void Bois, speaking of who has it easy in this household.


The good, the bad, the easy, and the difficult.

We're questioning which scenes are better, the easy or the difficult. I assume we're talking about easy or hard to write as opposed to read. I've read scenes authors claimed were a breeze to write, but they were really tough to read. Then I've read scenes authors struggled over that went down like syrup, lovely and sweet.

Now that I think about it, it doesn't matter whether we're talking about writing or reading. Easy scenes have their place. Difficult scenes have their place. 

If you're writing, you may run across a treatise by someone who likes to claim that ALL scenes should be easy. That you should always be itching to get to write those scenes because they excite you so much. Maybe it works that way for some people. Maybe there's a medication I could take that would make it that way for me. But writing isn't that way for me and I'll argue it's not for most writers. We all have different strengths. As a result, we're all going to be drawn to finding different scenes more attractive than others. For me, the easy scenes are the volunteers - the images, dialogue, and action that come to me from out of nowhere. There's a duel scene in Enemy Within that happened like that. Popped up out of nothing as I was trying to go to sleep one night. Little sleep was had that night while I got that scene down. It wrote itself, I just showed up to the go between for scene and keyboard. And it's a good scene. At least, I adore it.


But then there's the tough stuff. These are the scenes we agonize over. Well, okay. *I* do. I didn't get to do emo teen angst, okay? I make up for it when I write. 

The tough scene came at the end of Enemy Within when I sat staring at the last (unwritten) quarter of the book wondering what on earth to do. It took a critique partner snapping at me to go away and make everything much, much worse for the final climax scene. It was just the kick in the brain necessary to really start digging into problem-solving those final pages. It was torturous and it took long, hard hours of writing and rewriting to make things as grim as they needed to be. But you know, a funny thing happened on the way to bloody and grim - I began enjoying myself. It was mighty damned satisfying to hack my way through the weeds and uncover something worthwhile. Hard as the scene was to write, I suspect it's an even better scene than the one that volunteered so readily.

And regardless. Both scenes were crucial to the arc of the story. So easy? Hard? Who cares so long as the end result is a finished novel.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Elation to Damnation

The husky pup, Ullr, riding in the car with his head out the window. Eyes closed, ears back in the wind, and a smile on his face.
Ullr's elation face

  The easiest scene I ever wrote and why? 

I could go one of two ways with this one…so which way do I want to go. The easiest way I guess! 


The easiest scene I’ve ever written was the very first scene I ever wrote in the first book I ever wrote, the book that went on to earn me the national recognition of a Golden Heart.


If you don’t know, I started writing because after seeing me come home with armloads of books one too many times my husband told me to write one. And I seriously though about it decided I wanted to write a book that I could put on the shelves in the treatment rooms of the cancer centers where I worked. I wanted to give the gift of escape to my patients. 


But how do you start writing a novel? I knew how to read them—I was really really good at that. But actually writing a book was HUGE and I was at a loss. 


Then I had a dream. 


In my dream I was a young woman—yeah yeah not much of a stretch there but hey, start with the familiar—who had left her lover sleeping in their cabin and was in search of breakfast. I love food, even my subconscious loves food. 


My shoulders tighten as I walk. I know I shouldn’t wander out of my cabin—I haven't been safe since the night—but that only fuels my need to get out, even for a moment. The weight of my skirts are heavy against my legs, holding me back. I press my palms against the silky fabric, steeling myself, and continue on.


I follow the gilded handrail to the dining saloon, or perhaps it's the warm aroma of croissants and coffee that draws me there. I peer through the open door and my stomach cramps at the first sight of a pastry basket on an open table. Without a second thought I breeze inside without a glance at the room's occupants.


After the waitress pours my tea I look up and met the gaze of the man seated a table over. He absently nods and turns back to his discussion with the white-haired gentleman next to him…a man in uniform, a uniform that matched his highly decorated one.


My face goes numb and a chill spreads down my body. I glance around the room—at all the nearly filled tables—and my chest squeezes. I know who they are, and they're here to kill me. 


I sit frozen, waiting for them to recognize me, to jump up and point and scream my direction. But of all the soldiers conversing and eating around me...no one notices me. 


No one notices me. 


A heady rush fills me and lightens my limbs. I almost laugh out loud. I'm safe. I could get up, walk out of the dining saloon, and disappear. I'm more than safe, I'm free.


My heart rips in two and painfully exhale, "Hawkin—" 


I’ve left him sleeping in my bed...and our friends in the next room. What kind of a person am I that I could think to walk away? That I could leave them to die? 


A voice in my head whispers of freedom, telling me how easy it would be to stand up and leave it all behind, to never be hunted again. My breath fill my ears.


But is being safe worth the nightmares? My hand fists on the white table cloth. 


I half stand, and drop my handkerchief near the general. He notices—as I intended—and retrieves it for me. I give him a warm and demure smile of thanks, a mask that he believes. Then, I accept his invitation, since no lady should dine alone, and seat myself next to my enemy.


Yes I’ve written this scene before, yes I’ve even rewritten this scene a handful of times—the first time I wrote this was 8 years ago—and yes I’ve since written better ones for other books. But this version is as I recall experiencing it and I typed it out in under five minutes because it’s still the easiest scene I’ve ever written. 


The why is actually very simple. I experienced this scene by smelling it, breathing it, and touching it. So, putting it to paper comes naturally and even though it’s gone through a few revisions—steampunk aspects removed, a little magic added, some secondary character tweaks, and added clarity for my main character—the heart of the scene remains the same. 


This scene’s about being trapped in a cage only to find out you have a clear path to freedom…but that choice means having to leave something you love behind and you have to grapple with that reality before you can decide which direction you’re going to go. 


Elation to damnation. 


Alright, your turn. Do emotions drive your scenes? What about your easiest scene, was it driven by circumstances or the character?

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

I'm for easy till I'm not

On the surface, the question "do you prefer to write easy scenes or hard scenes?" seems like a gimme. Who doesn't like easy? I mean, really? And dude, when I'm in the zone and the words are flowing like the titian tresses on a historical heroine, I'm right there with Team Easy. But hold up, gotta couple of caveats.

  1. Science thinks I'm wrong. Apparently, tackling the hard scenes in bite sizes would be better for me than flying blithely through the easy scenes and putting off the ickier, sloggier work. (Or so say some researcher folks at Northwestern University.) Typically, I ain't one to argue with science.

  2. You know how there are all those people who are like, "Well, some day when I have a lot of time, I'm going to sit down and write a novel because how hard can it be?" Yeah, those people. If writing every scene was easy, writing a novel would therefore be easy, and those people would be right. They could totally just faff out a novel whenever they wanted. No work necessary. And that, my long-suffering, craft-book-reading, working-on-the-seventy-sixth-draft-right-now friends, would suck mightily. So, to make it harder for those people, I happily embrace the difficult scenes, the agonizing revisions, the doubt, and all the rest of this messy, glorious, brain-melting life of being a writer.

So maybe I'm only sort of for easy. When it's, you know, easy to be. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Easy Scenes = Total Immersion

 

Easiest scene I ever wrote and why...

Let's start by defining "easy." For me, "easy" is not about how quickly words come to me. "Easy" is if the movie playing in my head flows smoothly, clearly, and in great detail. Great detail. I need to see the dust motes in the moonbeam and hear the white noise from the speakers set six feet apart in the acoustic-tiled ceiling. I need to know if that funk in the air is from mold, cold tobacco ash, or a broken perfume bottle. Is that creaking from leather or a tree branch? The level of detail that goes beyond the conversations and broad-stroke setting. The mood. The small actions the characters perform. I need all that excessive detail to feel immersed in the scene.

Total immersion is critical...and so is total control.

How many times can I rewind, pause, and play that exact scene without losing clarity or changing anything? The more I can do it, the more I can live and relive each moment while the camera pans left, right, and 360, the more I exist in the scene.

All that is what makes writing a scene "easy" for me.

Now, of all the scenes I've written, which scene was the easiest? The one before the one I just wrote, of course! 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Which scenes are better? The Easy Ones or the Hard Ones?

 That's a fruit that can be cut a hundred different ways. 

Easy scenes are better, because writing them was EASY. I mean, come on, people, easy is always preferred.


Hard Scenes are better, because, damn it, you draw emotional blood and use that to pen your words and heartfelt emotions. 


See? entirely different slices and different answers, but at the end of the day, I have to agree with Jeffe. I can't tell the difference four months later. I can't look back and KNOW for certain if a scene was easy or difficult. There are a few exceptions, but only a few. 


It's about discipline for me. I write every day. (Excusing illnesses like that annoying bout of cancer that knocked me off my writing horse for half a year and left me crawling in the dirt for another four months.)


It's rather like being a runner. After a while, you build up mental muscles and it all SEEMS easier because you've learned to muscle through the hard stuff. That's why I write EVERY DAY. Its how I build up the muscles. I may not be able to run a marathon, but, kids, even after that cancer thing, when I got back on my feet, I was writing faster than most writers I know.


So I'm afraid I can't really answer this question for y9u. It's all about the same for me. 


The Season of the Witch is on the way, and I'm in a Halloween mood. So here are



the covers for my Halloween collection of stories, and for my Halloween Novel. Both by the amazing Dan Brereton. 







Sunday, September 13, 2020

Which Are Better - the Easy Scenes or the Hard Ones?

 


This is a band of smoke from the California fires streaming into New Mexico. It's fascinating what an obvious demarcation it makes in the sky. Compare this to where I am (the blue dot) on the smoke map. So happy to be in the blue sky section today!

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is the easiest scene we ever wrote and why. 

I have no idea what the answer would be for me - but I can tell you exactly why that's the case.

Easy writing or hard writing: doesn't matter and isn't worth thinking about. 

It's tempting to assign value to hard work. We grow up learning to focus effort and that hard work will be rewarded. We also celebrate talent and marvel at those people who accomplish amazing things when they're very young, challenged, or with brilliant ease.

So, we think: that was really difficult, so it must be valuable!
Or, we think: that writing poured out like clear spring water so it must be really good!

I'll tell you what I've learned. 

  1. The hard-to-write scenes are exhausting and make me want to pull my hair out and give up being a writer. 
  2. Those scenes that pour out are a sheer joy and making being a writer totally worth it.
  3.  When I go back over the writing later, I have no idea which was which. I can't tell the difference.
I can't tell you what was the easiest scene I ever wrote, much less why. There's no rhyme or reason to it. Some writing comes easy, some resists so hard that every word is like pulling a tooth. The only effect is on my attitude, so I do my best to remind myself of this:

Easy, hard, fast, slow - it's all progress and that's the only thing that matters. 







Thursday, September 10, 2020

Why we need characters with mental and physical disabilities.

 Every character you write should have a weakness. You want believable characters and real people have faults, even the superhero and supervillain. 

Writing lesson for the day, done.


What’s that? You wanted an example? I guess the topic of the week is which tic/tell/weakness have you given a character that they’d rather foist on their worst enemy. 


Well, that's complicated. Or maybe not. I do have a character in my fantasy novel, The Dark Queen’s Daughter, who has a tic. Why did I give him a tic? A very specific, chin-jerk, throat-clearing tic? Why bother to give a character a flaw caused by a medical issue? 


Because I'm the mother of a child with PANDAS, Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections. And because I want my child to see a character that has to deal with the same mental and physical challenges, but also see that character make a difference in their world.


If you’re not familiar with PANDAS, it’s basically a strep infection gone wild. Strep is exceptional at hiding from our immune systems and eventually confuses it enough that it starts attacking our bodies. It messes up parts of the brain, like the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. To sum up, your brain gets stuck with the gas on and it can’t stop. There are so many symptoms to this but for some it comes out as OCD tendencies and for some it’s a tic—motor, verbal, or both. 


Figuring out unsolvable health issues is definitely not fun. It’s emotionally draining. But it’s worse as a parent and you feel helpless to provide for and take care of your kid. Trying to explain why they can’t have certain things that all the other kids are having or can’t do things that everyone else gets to do is difficult. And then there’s the constant fear that their peers will turn on your child and ridicule them for something they can’t control. 


If you're a parent struggling to find a diagnosis for your child, or if you yourself are fighting to figure out what's happening with your health, my heart goes out to you. 


Mental disabilities and physical limitations are so difficult and so varied and leave you feeling so alone. That's why I believe it’s incredibly important to have characters that reflect what challenges us in real life. We need to see ourselves and those we love reflected in the characters we read and write. We need the emotional release of something finally working in their favor. And we need to see those flawed characters have a happy ending.


I’ll continue to write characters with mental disabilities and health problems. And I hope that my stories find at least one person that can relate, that can see themselves in a character, and cheer them on to the triumphant end. 


#NeverGiveUp

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Tics and Tells: Gettin' Gassy

Tics and Tells, what's the worst I inflicted on a character that the character wishes they could foist on their enemy?

This is a harder question than it seems. It's the "unconscious behavior or verbal habit" part that's tricksy. Uhm. Hmm.

That's not to say I have flawless characters because that'd be hecka boring. I've given my protags plenty of personal challenges to help with that whole "internal conflict" character-building requirement. Physical limitations abound with secondary characters, but those aren't tics or tells. Then there's the foisting on the enemy bit, which, some things in the hands of good people are inconvenient yet in the hands of bad people are disastrous for others.

See? Harder question than it seems. I think the winner of this one goes to:

Gurp the goblin from The Immortal Spy series has a flatulence problem, particularly when he's scared. It doesn't bother him, but those around him gift him with charcoal undies fairly frequently. While he's not the sort to wish ill upon most folk, he'd probably find it funny if an archangel developed a bad case of the flying farts.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Tic and Tell

 Tics and Tells: What tic/tell/weakness have you given a character that they'd rather foist on their worst enemy?


That's this week's subject matter. And I'm going to keep this one short and sweet, because I have serious deadlines.


Are you ready?


Jonathan Crowley is one of my recurring characters. How recurring? I have tales with him in Victorian England, the Old West, World War One and World War Two, the seventies, the eighties and all the way through to today.


He gets around. check out the illustrations at the bottom to see a FEW of the places where he ahs shown.


He has a MAJOR tic, and if he were real and had the chance, the odds are good he'd beat me to death for giving it to him


You ready? He is a completely normal person until he is invited to help someone. No special powers, no added perceptions, none of the things that keep him alive. But once he's asked to help and agrees, he is as powerful as the foe he is fighting.


You bet your butt he'd throw that flaw at his enemies if he could. I don't let him, though, because EVERY HERO SHOULD HAVE A FLAW. Without that, he has the potential to become a "Mary Sue."


It's his weakness and he's stuck with it.


He's survived despite his flaw, and that, too is a weakness. Jonathan Crowley is immortal. Should a supernatural threat be around, he will, inevitably, regenerate, whether he likes it or not. He has lost families, loved ones, friends, over the centuries and still he prevails.


He's a wee bit bitter about that, too, believe me.


Without a flaw, without a goal, a character is too powerful. That's why Superman needs the radiation of a yellow sun, and why Kryptonite will weaken or kill him. People always say "Superman is too powerful." He's supposed to be, but that doesn't make him limitless. That merely means he has more power than most, and he's tempered by his morals. He does not kill (Though one writer made him kill and I ignore that story) He does not break the rules. He has a strong moral compass, and believe me, Crowley would consider that another limitation.


















Saturday, September 5, 2020

Purple Striped Alien Mutant Plot Bunnies for Me

DepositPhoto

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is all about those Plot Bunnies: How/where do you corral them? How much room do you give them to grow?

I have what I refer to as “author brain” and no, it’s not an affliction. It’s the way I view the world and everything in it as possible points for a story. So I’m very good at recognizing the infamous plot bunnies, which for me anyway are the little factoids I run across in my daily life, especially when reading nonfiction articles and novels. Our own world can be a strange and awe inspiring place. Those quirky-but-true items set my author brain off on a flight of fancy – usually science fictional in nature – and I start to envision a story around the core idea. Like pearls build up around a grain of sand.

The rabbit analogy works because there are a zillion plot bunnies, an author can really “go down a rabbit hole” chasing one as they try to find out more about it and/or start working out a plot featuring it and often one plot bunny leads to more. Plot bunnies can be a real problem if they cause an author to keep abandoning whatever story they’re in the middle of writing (aren’t we always in the middle of writing something?!) to chase the newer, shinier idea.

Although occasionally an idea is so compelling an author can’t let go of it and then yes, I support switching gears and writing what’s really got the creative juices bubbling. Go for it!

As an author, I’m never very tempted to go chase those rabbits right away. Although I’m renowned as an impatient person, I have infinite patience for plot bunnies. I’ve been known to sit on them for years before one might make its way into a novel. In the old old days, I’d rip the article or the inspirational photograph out of the magazine – the Wall Street Journal and Vogue used to be two of the places I found the most bunnies, oddly enough, with Business Week close on their heels – and stuff it into one of the many bulging folders I kept in boxes, lugged around through various household moves and…usually never looked at again. Eventually I leveled up to merely writing down one or two sentence fragments for myself that encapsulated what it was I found so interesting and stuck those scraps of paper into newer, still bulging folders. Which again, I don’t look at very often, if ever.

Only when I’m moving and trying to cut down on the number of boxes…

No matter how many bunnies I capture by scribbling down the nub of a flicker of an idea, I’ve found the ones that really intrigue me stay with me. No need for paper or clippings. Not that they’re constantly running or hopping through my brain – perish the thought! – but my Muse will bring them forward when I’m at a point where they can be useful. Maybe I need a new Pets In Space® story (hint: PISA® 5 will be releasing on October 6th) and since I write those at a certain times of the year to meet the deadline, they don’t arise organically in my head, as in “Ooh, next I’m going to write that empath-in-love-with-a-Special-Forces-guy because it’s SHINY and I can’t wait to pound the keyboard and tell the story.” It’s more of a process that starts with “Okay, time to write my next annual PISA® story, what cool elements do I have that I could blend into a good adventure with romance, set aboard my interstellar cruise liner?

Some of the larger plot bunnies stay with me for years and do become the central theme of a novel, like taking the story of the Titanic’s sinking and setting in in interstellar space. More often though, the bunnies become small elements of an overall book. It’s really important for me to stress, these ideas aren’t the pure Angora plot bunny that first tickled my interest when I read the WSJ article or saw the arresting photograph. The idea, whatever it was, has gone through a lot of processing and revising and adjusting and sometimes the link to whatever prompted the particular plot point is visible to only me and I could never explain it to someone else. So by then I guess it’s a purple striped alien mutant plot bunny?

I’ve shared a few plot bunnies here with this post that played a part in inspiring story elements for a few of my books on these graphics…but there’s a lot more to each novel than the bullet points (or bunnies) mentioned here.

Happy reading!

PETS IN SPACE® 5 ANTHOLOGY BLURB:

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