Monday, November 2, 2015

Bring out your WIP!

It's NaNoWriMo time again. I am rewriting a novel whose first draft I started in April's NaNoWriMo and finished sometime around Midsummer. While there were definitely elements in there I really liked, the plot ended up being kind of a mess, the characters being illogical, and the settings unsatisfying. So pretty much everything goes into the rewrite bin and NaNoWriMo is perfect to help with getting that done!

All this being said, here is the first page or so of my second seriously written novel, The Avatar Legacy.


The sight of the corpse told Miki Kim that it was time to leave home. Again.

Victoria Bleedwell wasn’t the first corpse Miki had seen, nor was she even the first corpse of a friend and crewmate. Victoria’s wasn’t even the worst she’d seen. But as she stepped fully into the chill of the medical bay currently housing Victoria’s body Miki promised herself that Victoria’s would be the last corpse she would ever see.

Victoria’s nanocolony swarmed over her body, visibly making the remainders of her clothes shift. They were looking for something to fix, just as their programming directed them to. There was nothing wrong with Victoria anymore. Beyond her being dead.

Miki cupped Victoria’s cheek.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

She half expected Victoria to grin and wink at her like she had so many times. When nothing happened, Miki took her hand away and squeezed it into a fist. No room for sentimentality. Not in this life, or this home.

She walked around the table, keeping her eyes off the body. She pushed a wall cabinet open and grabbed a habitat container. She turned to another cabinet and added some feed into the habitat before turning back to the body to coax the colony inside the habitat. They would need to be fed by something and Victoria was no longer producing new skin cells to create dead ones. Miki had once seen what a colony could do to a body when left to sit too long and she wasn’t eager to try that again.

The colony moved into the habitat in waves and soon Miki had to brace the container against the operation table to make sure she didn’t drop it. The colonies always weighed more than she expected them to.

Once no more visible waves were forthcoming, Miki took the container away and sealed it. It would automatically maintain a suitable environment to keep the colony relatively active while also lowering their mobility to the point that they wouldn’t burn out before they were applied to someone else.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Weird Search

My web browser history will never be something that I'm ashamed of. It's one of the many joys of not looking up inappropriate content. That being said, I'm not quite sure what a person would decide about my character if they looked over the things I've been looking up lately.

That's because I've been snorkeling out* some research for a few various projects. To the untrained eye, and that's really the only kind I allow to read my web history, they might come to a few interesting conclusions.

"that snorkel's been just like a snorkel to me" (If you know the reference you are my hero)
I've been researching the following things for projects I'm working on: military bases, Alaskan culture, books about Alaska-including travel guides, traveling circuses, earthquakes, fashion and toys from 1964, news headlines from the 1940's, the character C.J. from the West Wing, a statistics class,  PR class, a specific professor at a local university**, and obscure monthly holidays.

A free clip art calendar with Alaska-esk mountains? Score!
This is within the past two months. This doesn't include all of the additional searched done later through ye' olde library. Yes, people still use them and I still value verifying information through an interview or a published book. Must be the journalist inside of me***.

What do you think my searches say about me? I imagine they say that I'm thinking of running away to alaska to start a vintage style circus? I'm planning to take statistics **** to decipher the best place to set up a circus due to the frequency of earthquakes in Alaska. The PR class is obviously because I want to promote my circus well. Then during the off season I will make money doing an impression of CJ from the West Wing. These appearances will only be held during obscure holidays. It will be by niche.

One day I'll have real pictures of you Alaska, one day.

What about you? Do you ever rack up a weird list of searches because of a project or projects you're working on?

As always I would love to hear about them. Especially if they involve incriminating...I mean hilarious stories.

*I call it snorkeling out research because it's just skimming the surface and not getting very deep. When I go deeper it's called research....What else would I call it? Scubaing out research? No, that'd just be silly.

**You know who you are

***Not because of my journalism experience, but because I once ate a very tiny journalist. They were the size of a jelly bean and were squishy and delicious....on second thought that might have just been a gummy bear.

**** Yeah that's probably not how statistics class knowledge works, but I never took the class so I'm going to make my reality up. It's sort of the theme I've got going here.

Monday, October 19, 2015


Swag! Everyone wants some! The time for physical bookmarks seems to be well over. A lot of books that are sold these days are sold digitally. I don't think I remember keeping the various and sundry bookmarks I was given even back when I was reading physical books. I've never just kept my book on the nightstand where a bookmark would stay in its assigned place. I've always taken the books I was reading with me more or less everywhere and bookmarks just wouldn't stay put in transit. They're even less useless to me these days, now that almost all of my books are in digital form. But swag is an integral part of putting your best foot forward in conventions and such. It's a way of getting your work remembered even when it's not on a billboard.

If not bookmarks, then what kind of swag should you get to promote you and your book? Here are a few examples of the swag given to me during this year's Worldcon.


Pins for Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear, Schlock Mercenary by Howard
Tayler and All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Pins seem to be the new go-to these days. The round ones are fairly cheap to either make for yourself or to have made. The shaped ones are more difficult (I may have to bug Howard about where he got them made the next time I see him) but they perform the same basic function. Although I have to admit that the Schlock pin is a lot cooler than the book pins. It's all exposure during the con, when everyone is paying loads of attention to your badge and everything that's hanging on it. And if even a fraction of the people getting the pin at a con wear it in their normal lives that's still quite a lot more exposure than without. Personally I tend to favor fan enthusiasm such as carrying around pins about books you loved over paid billboards. And from what I can tell, the same applies to most people.

Something people use

Squishies to promote The University of Iowa libraries and Montreal in 2017
Giving readers something they'll use all the time that's still somehow related to the thing you're marketing. The stress toys pictured to the left were both given out to promote generally science fictional causes. University of Iowa Libraries have a science fiction department that is busily gathering science fiction history. Montreal was trying to get the 2017 Worldcon, which, as you probably know, is the World Science Fiction Convention.

Objects from the book

Memorial pins from characters in Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Mercy
This is very possibly the best swag there is. There are objects in any book that the characters notice or use, things that may or may not be important to the plot. The first example of these that I've come across was James A Owen's Here, There Be Dragons. In the books there are Caretakers, each of whom is identified by a pocket watch they carry. Owen later formed a study program for middle schools where the students and teachers participating were given one of these pocket watches. At last year's Worldcon, Mary Robinette Kowal gave out sandalwood fans, which were mentioned in her book Valour and Vanity. This year I never did get to meet Ann Leckie but she was handing out the pictured pins, which were both featured in her two books, Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Mercy. These are things to be treasured.

Have you come across any particularly good swag?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Diving into process

I still haven't quite found a novel writing method that reliably works for me. I inevitably end up pulling apart huge chunks of my first drafts because they make no sense, structurally speaking. My characters do things that make no sense and apparently I'm unable to see that in the outline or while I'm writing. So I'm still tweaking.

I wrote the first draft of the novel I'm currently editing, The Avatar Legacy, using Cathy Yardley's Rock Your Writing method and while it's significantly better than what I had at the start of editing the novel I'm currently querying, Familiar Phantoms, I'm still going to have to rip out the entire middle of the book, which I'm frankly not too happy about. Which is not to say that it's the fault of the process at all. Regardless, for my revision outline, I'm trying out a different approach. Libbie Hawker's book Take Off Your Pants looks like an interesting take on story structure. It's largely based on John Truby's The Anatomy of Story, although Hawker presents her method in a much more approachable way.

Hawker describes her method as a three-legged stool. The three legs are character arc, theme,and pacing. Without any one of them the story will not stand, or it will be wibbly wobbly. The story's core has five elements; a character (1) who wants something (2), something that prevents them from getting what they want easily (3), leading them to struggle against that force (4) leading to either success or failure (5). That's the very basics of the method, but the book goes into more depth and is absolutely worth reading.

This is the third process I'm trying out for novel writing. Well, fourth, to be completely accurate, since I pantsed my way through the first two novels that I wrote that will never see the light of day, at least not as they are now. My first was the one covered in Rachel Aaron's 2k to 10k, parts of which I'll be likely to use pretty much always since they really help me focus in on what I want to say with the book I'm writing. I used Cathy's Rock Your Writing method to revise that book and write the next one, the one I'm now using Hawker's method to revise. I'm planning to use Hawker's method to write the next one (a project with no name about a fairy godmother temp agency).

What do I want off my noveling process? I want to be able to identify possible problems earlier. I want to be able to consistently and fairly easily create an outline that helps me get through the book faster. Part of this is most likely a matter of experience too, but anything that can help me get there faster is a-okay in my book. I keep getting these vague concepts that I can't figure out the actual story to and from what little I've seen from Hawker's method, I think it might get me closer to that than my previous ones. I doubt that this will end by being the last time I tweak my noveling process, but at least it's a step forward. The idea is to keep tweaking until I manage to find a process that consistently works for my needs. Take the things that work and discard the ones that don't.

What is your novel writing process? Are you happy with it? If not, what are you using to develop it further?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Loosing your readers in a good way

Last night I spoke with one of my friends about my sense of direction, or rather my lack thereof. This way in no way connected to the fact that I had pulled out of an event and began driving in the wrong direction. Nor did it have to do with the fact that I didn't notice I was going the wrong way for an embarrassing amount of time. I was caught up in the moment and it's even worse when I'm a passenger.

When someone else is driving I turn into a golden retriever. I have no sense of how long the ride should take and sometimes loose sight of which direction we should be going.

It's as if I am saying"Are we going somewhere? I get to go play? You are so amazing. Thank you." I'm there for the ride and happy to get out of the house. If I'm lucky I might even get a treat.*

A really good story puts me in this mindset. The world around me disappears and I'm there for the journey.

For some odd reason this picture strikes me as funny. Probably because A: I totally don't remember taking it, B: When I first saw the thumbnail of this picture I thought it looked like I was about to run over a person....and was documenting the evidence & C: Because I'm have an odd sense of humor, namely because I am odd

I'm not focusing on the external aspects of voice, grammar and style. I appreciate them, but on an instinctual level. They don't pull me out of the story to prove how glorious their prose. If the prose is glorious it melts into me with a seamless enjoyment.

Have you ever read a book where it felt like the author was saying, "Look how clever I am. My vocabulary is bigger than your vocabulary.  Did you see how I wove the complex theme into the story? Did you see it? What about all of the foreshadowing and symbolism? You never would have been able to create a masterpiece like this."**

This is different from having a moment of introspection and thinking back on a particularly acute or fluid way of storytelling. I'm talking about when you're pulled out of the story or never get sucked into it. It's almost as if the writer is hovering over your shoulder asking if you've made it to a certain page or paragraph.

I know that I often find myself getting so wrapped up in a certain article about writing, or the style of another author. It effects me and I begin to try to work my new found knowledge into my prose. What happens is that I end up creating a disjointed collage which hinders the storytelling. It also comes off as obnoxious rather than engaging.

But enough about me... 

Have you ever written something which felt awkward because it was trying too hard to be clever? I challenge you to look over your current project and get rid of every third word....only joking. That's exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about.

The actual assignment is to look over your current project or projects and see if it feels fluid. Does the story and style ring true to you? Don't worry about how it would sound to your Uncle Ted who adores you***, but really wishes you'd finally take over the family business and sell wickets like a respectable person.****
When I think of journey's I think about hiking in the mountains. 

While not all those who wander are lost, sometimes the best thing you can do for your readers is to give them a place where they can get lost. You don't even have to worry about providing a treat.

The footnotes

*To my credit, I don't get distracted by squirrels. However, I will break up a conversation to shout out something like, "Hey look at that dog!"...So maybe I'm not that far from yelling out "Squirrel."

**I probably went a little over the top in this example. Even though it's a fabricated example I still want to punch the fictional writer in the nose.

***Don't pretend you don't have an Uncle Ted. You know the guy Im talking about. The one with the hair.

****Props to you if you know what the obscure wicket reference is from. Hint, it has nothing to do with your Uncle Ted

Monday, September 21, 2015

McGuffins and sexy lamps - Lessons from Mad Max: Fury Road part 3

Yes, I am still on about Mad Max: Fury Road! This time we're talking about ancillary characters. Before we really get started, let's define two concepts:

MacGuffin (a.k.a. McGuffin or maguffin) is a term for a motivating element in a story that is used to drive the plot. It serves no further purpose. It won't pop up again later, it won't explain the ending, it won't do anything except possibly distract you while you try to figure out its significance. In some cases, it won't even be shown. It is usually a mysterious package/artifact/superweapon that everyone in the story is chasing.

- Read more:
If you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.

- Kelly Sue Deconnick
Which means that it's time to talk about The Wives!

The Wives are a fairly traditional McGuffin. Everyone is after them. For Immortan Joe they're a precious commodity, for the Warboys they are a way vehicle into Immortan Joe's good graces and for Furiosa they're a way to hurt Joe in a way he'll remember being hurt. Many storytellers, I would go as far as to say most Hollywood storytellers, would be content at that. In other words they would be happy writing sexy lamps.

What makes Fury Road unique is that the Wives all have their own opinions, wants and needs. They effect the events of the story by their actions which are based on their own motivations. They use what little power they have to cause changes in the world around them.
So how can you do this in your own story? First of all

Know what your characters want

It always seems to come down to that, doesn't it? Have your characters want something and want it badly. Even if it is for their lives to remain the same, the kind of thing they're comfortable with. Everyone wants something and everyone considers themselves to be the main character in their own lives. On Fury Road the Wives want to live free, and they're willing to die for that.

Make them unique

Let's start with the notion that McGuffins are people too. On Fury Road, the Wives form one huge McGuffin with many limbs in terms of plot. But each of them has something they're good at, something the others don't have. Toast is good with guns, Capable is good at listening, Cheedo has an actual arc that goes from being afraid to being brave while The Dag is all about the future.

Give them agency

This is a seriously hard thing to do. Characters with agency cause disruptions. They make your neat and tidy plot into a rambling mess. They also breathe life into the story. They create conflict when what they want collides with what the main character wants. This can cause problems if you're not careful since the ancillary characters can easily take over the entire story. But that might also be a sign that your main character is not interesting enough. On the Fury Road the Wives' agency shows up in Cheedo distracting Rictus so she can help Furiosa, in Angharad's lean out of the cab to mess up Joe's shot, in Capable harboring Nux and many other small ways. They don't steal the show because Furiosa and Max are much more interesting than anyone else on the screen.


You knew this was coming too. Take whatever thing you're working on. Grab one of the peripheral characters you (meaning not the main character or the antagonist), preferably one that has some dialog lines. Grab whatever scene they're in and rewrite it from the point of view of that ancillary character.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Book review - The Martian by Andy Weir

(Cross-posted from my personal page and from my Goodreads page. Please feel free to friend/follow me there. I love books and love to talk about them!)
I LOVED THIS BOOK. I shall shout about it to anyone who cares to hear me. I listened to it in audiobook, over the course of about 4 days, which is very fast for a 10+ hour audio. (pro tip: listen while you cook dinner, fold laundry, or other mundane household stuff. I also listen on short, long, and medium length drives, and while I walk the dogs. My dogs are very well exercised at the moment.)
What I liked: this book has so much technical depth and detail. While that can be a bit burdensome at times (particularly in audio) I had a lot of appreciation for the manner it was told in, as the technical stuff was all very accurate and very tangible in terms of what the protagonist was doing with the information. No info dumps, just the protagonist dealing with Mars atmosphere and the equipment he had to survive. I mention this first because it’s something that is probably a barrier to some who aren’t traditional science fiction fans. Please, realize that the author isn’t expecting you to solve differential equations nor talking you through the boring bits. He’s focused on the life and death details of space travel. Pressure, chemical reactions, ways to change states, microbes, terrain, distance. These are fascinating when set in the context of an extra-terra exploration. THIS is why I read science fiction. THIS is why I write science fiction.
I also liked the author’s use of humor. There are many laugh out loud moments. To that end, though, a bunch of the humor is due to the very appropriate use of swear words. For example, when Mark has to compute a distance by figuring the length of the long side of a right triangle, and he concludes (since he has to travel the hypotenuse) “Because Pythagoras is a dick.” — I laughed loudly in the middle of chopping something and almost lobbed off a finger. As I try to mention in all my reviews, the curse words are the ONLY mature content (other than a mild reference about a man and woman sharing a room) and to me are an excellent introduction to appropriate emphatic cursing to make your point or convey your aggravation. Definitely fine for 14 and up, but would be appropriate for younger readers so long as you don’t mind the opening of the book which implements the f word several times. To good effect. Conveys mood, attitude, situational details all in a four letter word. Quite economical.
I have always enjoyed science fiction, and this book just blew my socks off because it blended that geeky science-y stuff (which I really don’t have a firm handle on anymore, lo these 20+ years since anyone asked me to care about any of it in detail) and human nature, and the little details of what it would be like in space. I write books about kids in space and like to include the details of what they would eat, whether there would be pets (I’ve come to the conclusion that OF COURSE there will be cats in space. Because cats.) what you do with your hair in zero gee, what you wear, etc. I loved the little details of Mark dealing with his daily routine. The communications with NASA were fascinating. The story kept me engaged the entire length of the book. The audio narrator talent is excellent and I will seek out other books he has narrated. Highest recommendation. Best book I’ve read this year.