Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013

Detroit Author in Residence program

So, starting in 2014, Write a House in Detroit is accepting applications for authors in residence. They'll give the deed of the house to the selected candidate, who will be rent free but responsible for property insurance and taxes.

A WAH Author-in-Residence will be expected to contribute to their blog, participate in local artsy things, and live there primarily. They'll be published in the Write a House literary journal. At the end of two years, the house is the candidate's. Should they decide not to remain in Detroit within 5 years, WAH retains the first buyer's rights option. There are professional connections to be had, and a cultural community to take part in.

Detroit has a bad rap. We all know it. I've learned about it in doing my research for The Last Song. But we also know that Bad Things are clickbait, and that the good things going on in Detroit aren't necessarily being reported. There's a lot of revitalization there. There's an artistic community there. The Riverfront Conservacy is another organization I've read about, and Detroit Dog Rescue. People think they're clever with their freaking Robocop jokes, but Detroit is still an American city, with people living there, struggling to get by, and struggling to make their city a thriving home again.

In another life, I could see myself wanting to apply to such a program. Who I am today, who I am now, I don't. I have a house, a job, a fiancè, a dog, none of whom are Detroit related. I have just one book that takes place there, in an Urban Fantasy way. Maybe I'll visit Detroit one day, but I don't want to live there, but I think this in the same manner I think about New York City; I visit there on occasion, but have never had any intent to live there. For the right person, though, the Write a House offering is a unique and interesting experience, and I do hope it's a successful project for everybody involved.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Female coworker: Oh, that shirt looks so much better on [other coworker] than it did on me!
Me: *blank look*
Female coworker: What, I gave her some of my clothes I wasn't wearing.
Me: I don't even know what my clothes look like, I can't be bothered to keep track of yours too.
Male coworker: I'm going on break. Bye.

Friend: Oh clowns, I hate clowns. They deaths they've caused.
Me: Geeze, you have one guy who's a serial killer and also happens to be a clown and you ruin an entire subculture.
Friend: I think more than one clown is a serial killer.
Me: I don't think that's true.
Friend: I found a list of clowns!
Me: If they haven't killed anybody, they aren't a serial killer, are they?
Friend: Look at this face and tell me he hasn't killed anybody.
Me: Isn't that Pennywise?
Friend: Oh. I guess this is a list of fictional clowns. Maybe it was just Gacy.

Me: I'll get a green pepper, I know you don't like the red ones as much.
Fiancè: Yeah, they're too sweet.
Me: And I'm all the sweet you need!
Fiancè: Well, you forget people exist, so how sweet are we talking here? Just how sweet?
Me: It's not on purpose. Does that make it worse?
Fiancè: Yes. Yes it does.

Male coworker: Really, how many bodies are we talking about? If you're only digging a single grave, you can't claim to be using gravedigging for cardio. You would need a constant supply.

Fiancè: I liked it better before you visited Imgur on your own, because then I could show you things.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Routines and Rumination

So, my hours changed at work, which is magical. I've got a 9-5 now like  a real grown up, still at the library. I do all the Interlibrary Loan stuff now, which fills my day and occupies my brain in an appropriate way.

The last time I had a job with this type of schedule, I worked for the Cat Fancier's Association. This was back when they were located in Manasquan, NJ. They've since relocated to Ohio, and I don't think any of the same people work there at all. Which is kind of a shame, because the woman who did the pedigrees and genetics and things was a descendant of somebody who'd started the organization.

But I digress.

My point is, years ago is the last time I had a 9-5 job as opposed to a noon-9 job or what have you. This is messing with me in a number of ways. It's really great, because the work day goes super fast. I get there, and two hours later have a break, and two hours later have a lunch, and two hours later have my last break. After that, home is just around the corner. So I get home between 5 and 5:30, and then at some point in our long murky evenings, I get super tired. I try to make it 'til 11, and go to bed and start all over. It's the first week, I'm still adjusting, to be sure.

But after 11 used to be "my writing time".

Of course, right now, I'm preparing my "submission package" for the Angry Robot Books open door. I'm counting my blessings that so many agents are willing to blog about their experiences and preferences and How Things Work in the industry, so I can write a synopsis without too much angst (Janet Reid even says specifically that it's supposed to read like a "book report from a third grader." This is a profound relief). Of course, this doesn't mean my synopsis is written yet. I started it! But I'm also re-reading the first five chapters of Learn to Howl with a critical eye. I've got another opinion and comments under my belt, thanks to the magnificent and magical Kelly!

It's always an agonizing process, when somebody else is reading your project. You suddenly think it's stupid. Or you hope they don't think it's stupid. Or you wonder about the things you should change. You think about the things you will defend because that is how they need to be for the story goddammit, the story demands it! And then, sometimes, a lot of time, you don't need to fight about anything.

Do I think I'm going to make it past the slush with the Angry Robot submissions? I don't know. And I won't know, if I don't try. If it's a rejection, well, at least I've got the experience. And at least I'll have the Learn to Howl synopsis done, for when I'm querying agents, and they ask for one!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Rethinking Skyler White

Back in August, I talked about strong female characters, and also Anna Gunn and her character Skyler White on Breaking Bad (there are some spoilers at the very bottom of the linked post). I've just finished watching Breaking Bad, and feel like I've got a more complete grasp of Skyler.

See, the show's writers have a very solid idea of who you should be rooting for. Walter White. At times, Skyler appears diametrically opposed to him, and that makes us boo and hiss her, even though Walter is Doing Bad Things™. It's brilliant in a way, truly. Because of my dislike for Skyler's passive-aggressive (and sometimes, it seemed, irrationally aggressive) reactions to things, I didn't take the time to try and get in her head, and empathize with her. She made some bad decisions, sure, on incomplete information, but everybody in that entire show made some bad decisions, I assure you. So why would I judge Skyler most harshly?

(in general, I'm kind of a misogynist, personally. Or perhaps less controversially, a misanthrope. I don't like people readily. I like being left alone. I frequently think people do dumb things, or like things I can't relate to, etc. So this is my first and most logical reason for not liking Skyler. But it's interesting to dig further.)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Issues of Bullying

There were a couple of times, due to news items, I thought about writing about the B word here. But I didn't. But then I read this...article? Blog post? The Bully Too Close to Home. And it bugged me. Because I think we should start using different words for relentlessly targeting people to treat like shit. In that blog post? Yeah, I don't feel that's bully, I feel that's child abuse. Emotional abuse specifically, of the bullying triad (I just made that phrase up, I think, though it might already be existent): emotional, verbal, and physical abuse. But is a parent a "bully"? 

I feel like "bully" is one of those terms that we've kind of outgrown. Bully used to mean, in my mind, a kid at school who roughed you up for your lunch money, stole your homework, etc. etc. Maybe that's the sanitized middle grade novels of yesteryear version of it (like The Bully of Barkham Street, by Mary Stolz), I don't know.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Found Object Inspiration

Working at the library, we find a lot of things in books. Hell, we find a lot of things just around the building. Some of these things are personal and we return them to the patron as soon as we can identify them and is possible. Some of these things are not traceable to any individual and they languish in lost and found until an arbitrary amount of time has passed and they are thrown away. Ephemera like this does not tend to be saved.

I apologize in advance for the cell phone quality of these pictures.

First up, the line "On Monday it rained", on orange post-it note, on a yellow legal pad. I could think of worse opening lines to a story, n'est-ce pas? I haven't written this one yet, but it's up there, in the stew of my subconscious.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Just a little space

It's interesting, what some space can do for you.

It's oft-repeated advice dispensed to writers. Just finished a story or a novel or whatever? Put it away for a little while. Gain some perspective through distance. Give it a little space. Read other things. Write something else. Watch movies, screw around. Just don't look at that work in progress.

Though unfinished, I put The Last Song to bed several months ago. I was a little burnt on working on it, I was nearing the end but not ready to write the end yet (though I know what it is). Yesterday, I took it out and started reading through again (mostly to keep from prematurely working on Learn to Howl again, though the clock is ticking there). The first chapter, even after my previous rewrites, is a bit too disjointed and clearly doesn't have the impact I'd like it to. I was able to trim away paragraphs that were dead weight. In places, I've had to maintain perspective, fix a tense, change a reference. But overall? I'm pretty damn happy with it. It seems, to me, like it's the non-beastie Urban Fantasy type of story that a lot of people are looking for. No vampires, no werewolves, no fairies. Its bones come from Greek mythology, but it got bigger than that in the writing (as things do). Comp titles would be things like Alice in Wonderland, American Gods, and The Book of Lost Things.

But, talking about it doesn't get it written and edited. And once I  get Learn to Howl back from my trusty reader, I'll need to edit that again, and write a synopsis, to make the Angry Robot Books open door submission due date of December 31. I really dig that they encourage taking all that time, because I'm sure all of us have felt the regret of pulling the trigger on a sub too early. I'm excited to go through that process, because for the past almost two years, Learn to Howl has been my primary baby (books two and three pending; I'm not sure more than three books is necessary, but I'm confident a trilogy would carry). So starting to get it out there would be good for it and me, even if I'm rejected promptly. And with Learn to Howl, I've had space too, so it'll be interesting to see what comes of that for me.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Books break rules

I arrived on this post after having posted about not knowing, necessarily, where my story should start. In general, the "rule" on that seems to be: it depends. Or, there is no rule. Or, it could derive from genre (see "It depends").

And that got me thinking, as one does, about just how many rules writers break. Regularly. Gleefully. A rule is a rule until it's in the way. A rule is a rule until the story needs it to....not be. And I'm not talking about lazy writing, or experimental writing (whatever that might mean); what I mean is good writers break rules.

Think about it.

Monday, December 2, 2013

When does the story start?

As I mentioned in my NaNoWriMo finishing post, I thought part of my problem with the novel I was working on was that I had started the story too early. This can be problematic, certainly.

It's hard to decide the point at which a story "starts". Sure, my story starts when I was born, say, but is that the most interesting part of my life? Certainly the circumstances of my birth might be considered interesting. When you're writing a novel, when do your characters' "on camera" lives start, and what is just backstory?

Backstory isn't bad, per se. You want to know what made somebody the person they are. But how much of it needs to be extensively narrated, and how much can be woven into the story as the action is taking place? You want there to be action, certainly. Action is what drives a story, what drives the characters from A to B to C. Action is what catches peoples' interests.

Nobody talks about Stepan Arkadyich's political tendencies and the running of his farm in Anna Karenina; they talk about Anna, and her affair. Really, she's in so little of the novel, it's strange to me that it's even called "Anna Karenina". In the edition I read, you don't even meet her until page 30, and she exits stage train long before the end of the novel. Maybe Russian novels aren't the best examples when talking about action, but in Crime and Punishment, certainly, everybody remembers the crime, and things like Raskilnikov's dream. The punishment is a bit longer in coming.

So, as I'm figuring out how to write a synopsis for Learn to Howl before entering a "final edit" stage (Angry Robot books is having an unagented, unsolicited submission period, deadline December 31), I'm keeping this in mind. Does Learn to Howl start where it ought to? Should the opening be reworked (again)?

How do you determine when your story starts?

Saturday, November 30, 2013

NaNoWriMo 2013: Fin.

And, I pulled through a win, 50,116 words at around 2 a.m.

I think part of my issue with my mid-novel slog was the fact that I started my novel too early. Not "too early" like I totally cheated at NaNoWriMo, but "too early" as in too early in the action. Too much exposition makes a reader lose interest, and the same is true for the writer. What I was writing technically "happened" to my characters, but could very well have happened off screen. Too much filler, not enough substance.

So, to make my novel (which I didn't even title) more workable, I would need to restructure the beginning third or so of it, switch some thing around, then write to the end. Or just write to the end; I'm not going to continue working on it now. Nor will I, for the love of God, be subbing it this month. People do that, apparently. People do that? Sigh.

But I digress. 50k words achieved. Winner shirt purchased. Congrats to those who participated! 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I got to the end and realized I didn't have a point. Ah well.

As previously stated, I was mildly ticked off by an article that seemed to directly opine that, in the absence of Moon Men, science fiction involving the Moon was a foregone conclusion. Of course I've found a .gif that loosely links to this on everybody's favorite "keep clicking" time water, Imgur

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

One Small Step....

Yesterday  morning, I was checking the results for agent Janet Reid's most recent flash contest (like you do). I'll save you the skip to the end, I did not win.


In the very first category, "Special recognition for Not Quite a story but man oh man" was me! (and another entrant)

Getting a mention, at all, is the best I've done in one of her contests. And I was very, very pleased and figured I'd share with you guys.

(it's untitled. I suck at titles and only title when I must)

There were enough alerts they became inured to the sound while applying their best quick fixes, sucking canned air and listening to Houston's directions.

They drew lots for who would be the heroic one, the one who would take his fragile flammable self outside the vessel to fix the breach. That was when they thought there was only one.

Eventually they silenced Houston, past caring what anybody on the ground had to communicate to the Heavens. It was easy to envision an uncaring God, with nothing to hold them to Earth.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Something to aspire to

So Janet Reid, from whom much literary wisdom flows, posted about Michael Seese. He's a writer who just spent all of October submitting a story or poem or something each day. Which is awesome.

See, if you want to get published, it isn't enough just to write. This is a grave disappointment that each of us reaches at some point in our, er, "development". As I commented on Ms. Reid's post, nobody's going to do this for me. It isn't like Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery where her Uncle Jimsy finds her trunked manuscript, thinks it's good, and sends it off to a publisher who accepts it right off and BAM Emily is successfully published. She's one of my favorite L.M. Montgomery characters and, unlike the Anne books, the Emily books are only a trilogy.

So. We write but it isn't enough. We much write and spit shine and sand edges and shellack and polish. Then, we must write the Dreaded Query Letter™, which must be hooky and snappy and explanatory and not clichè unless it's just the right kind, and which must be a distilled 250 word form of mind control to make somebody want to read your pages. And request your full. Then talk contract. Then sign. Then send it around to publishers. The Dreaded Synopsis™ is in there somewhere too (and I need to write one for Learn to Howl come December, if I'm going to make the Angry Robot Books open submissions deadline).

So it's important to get your work out there. Get eyes on it (or ears on it, as I did last week with the help of my friend Jacob Burgess). Write, write, edit, write, and submit. Since I just received a rejection from Glimmer Train, I looked the story over again, edited it a bit more, and sent it off to Agni. I sent another one to Lakeside Circus, which is published by Dagan Books (I actually almost sent this one to Strange Horizons, then realized I'd already received that particular rejection from them. It pays to keep a spreadsheet for your submissions and rejections, kiddies!).

I don't have 31 spit-shined works of fiction to sub so I can do 1 a day for a month, but I've been poking around in my "Writing" folders, looking at what I thought was finished, what I know isn't finished, and all of those irritating files I have which are only a couple of sentences and were clearly meant to go in a direction at one time. I have stuff I can work with, and stuff I need to "bring up to code", as it were (removing 'that' whenever possible, that kind of thing). It's funny how organic a process writing is, how things change shape even as you're doing them.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

"Put this in your earholes!"

Cribbed from my voice actor friend, Jacob Burgess, "Put this in your ears" is exactly the sentiment I want to put across to you.

See, Jacob is doing a project where he reads a new story every week. This week, he did a fun (and funny) Scifi short story of mine entitled "Housekeeping".

You can find Jacob here on Twitter, here on Facebook, and he even actually has his own website, Make Words Happen. Give it a listen, and check out other great things he's done. Like his page, share stuff far and wide, etc. etc.

I hope you enjoy!

(You can also just listen to it here on Sound Cloud, but Sound Cloud doesn't appear to link to anything else, profile wise or anything, and that's frustrating to me. If I find somebody I like, where are the breadcrumbs to lead me to them? Maybe I'm just missing it.)

Monday, November 18, 2013

NaNoWriMo at the library

At the library, we have a couple of different displays that change month by month.

This month? NaNoWriMo. It wasn't even my suggestion! But, we're using my notebooks, fountain pens, and hoodie (I shrank it accidentally. For winning this year, I might get a new hoodie instead of a t-shirt, since I'm not a huge fan of the 8 bit stuff). I even wore a NaNoWriMo shirt on Saturday (my winner's shirt from last year, if I remember aright) but nobody asked about it. I guess they'd rather not appear ignorant?

I managed to make par on Sunday, coming in at 28,590 words on the Asbury Park novel. The funny thing about my difficulty is I think appropriate tension between characters are there, and the situations are interesting, I'm just having a disconnect. Ah well. I'll soldier on. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Hitting the Wall?

Well, it's the halfway point through NaNoWriMo, and I am in fact at the halfway mark. I hit 25,000 words before bedtime last night.

I'm only so happy about it, unfortunately.

I am enjoying my project, in theory anyway. It's a topic and location I enjoy. Being "in" my main character's head feels natural and flows well. But my interest level? That's at low tide just now.

Inspiration and motivation are two different things, I feel. Inspiration can catch fire in your thoughts and make everything in the world seem golden and connected and fresh and new and and and. Motivation is a close partner, I guess, but it's different in that motivation is what aims inspiration. Without it, one might end up with unconnected word vomit.

Motivation without inspiration, though, is when you wind up having to resort to butt in chair. Maybe you take prompts, do word sprints, whatever. Maybe you listen to the music that gave you the idea in the first place, or look at pictures, whatever. Those -ions need to work up and get together. Mine...mine have kind of wandered. And I don't like the hair pulling and tooth grinding of working on a project that isn't setting my mind on fire, and that isn't engaging my thoughts when I'm away from it.

I haven't given up on my project yet. I also haven't decided if I'm going to write another half novel of something else and figure eh, 50k is 50k. If it's a new project, it isn't technically cheating, though it isn't one full novel either.

How are you doing, if you're doing NaNoWriMo?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Living History

The Smithsonian just came out with a book called The History of American in 101 Objects. They also had a full issue of their magazine devoted to said objects, if a bit more briefly than the book clearly does. Flipping through the magazine, I got caught up a moment on how many modern things were there. "How can it be history," I thought, "if it's modern?"

Well, silly me. Just because we're living it doesn't mean it isn't history.

Years from now, something that happened today will be history. Hell, something is history as soon as it's happened. Whether it's important history is to be decided later, obviously.

Some things are apparent. When Buzz Aldrin et. al. were on the Moon missions, it was history. They knew they were making history, living it. Funny thing: one of the 101 objects is Neil Armstrong's Space Suit. Another member of my household left the magazine folded open to that, and I happened to lay the book I'm reading, Moondust by Andrew Smith, on top before I took notice. I'm not very far into it, but the introduction was fantastic, and the first chapter is also delivering. I scored it in the library book sale for $1 the day after I decided I was writing a Moon novel. How's that for the universe taking notice?

I actually met one of the Moon landing astronauts, when I was 6 or so. He came to the Jersey Shore Medical Center, where my grandmother was a secretary in the Pathology department. I'm not really sure why the astronaut came to the hospital in 1989 or so, but whatever. The program was supposed to be for children 8 and older, but my dad lied so I could go. I didn't realize the importance, not really, but he realized for me. I'm thankful.

It was Charles "Pete" Conrad, and I have an autographed photo of him that my grandmother framed for me. He died in 1999 due to injuries from a motorcycle accident and is buried in the Arlington Cemetery. He was the commander of Apollo 12, and he was one of the first people to board Skylab.

One of the things I learned from American Gods, which I'm able to generalize a great deal, is a quote from Herodotus: "Call no man happy until he is dead." The notion being you can't take stock and make decision of an entire life until it is over (I may have paraphrased. I don't think it changes the point of the quote if I did.) I have, in the course of dog message board discussions, said "Call no man healthy until he is dead." Because that's the thing: if people are breeding dogs for health, they don't exactly know the "final results" until after a dog has lived his or her entire life. Some Dobermans drop dead as early as 2 or 3 from DCM. Others don't until they're 6 or 8. Some live a great deal longer. Some get cancer, some get bloat. But you don't know, not really.

But you don't know about anything. You just try to do the best you can.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Detail and Dichotomies

In the creation of characters, most of us try like hell to make them leap up off the page. a two dimensional character who doesn't get much screen time can still get the job done, but isn't it much better if you think about them even when you don't see them? Really, that's a way to make a villain worse; who knows what they're up to when you're not watching?

One way characters get rounded out is having their contradictions highlighted. As people, we all have them. Frequently, it will be when it comes to tastes (ask somebody their favorite movies and there will be at least one outlier in there). Somehow, though, when things get to the page, this gets a little stilted. You end up with precious characters, you end up with the hooker with a heart of gold. You end up with the tough "china doll" looking female character who can kick butt but still likes stuffed penguins. Could this be a real person? Yeah, probably. Does it work for fictional characters? It depends on who you ask, I guess.

The thing with characters is they have a life outside your story. They have to, unless you're detailing every second of every day of their lives (please don't). So there are things they like, or do, that somehow could and should get touched upon without becoming the focus of anything.

(now that I've laid this out, I need to think of examples. Hrm.)

In the television show Supernatural (you've watched that, right? You probably should. At least the early seasons. I won't give a cutoff), Dean on occasion mentions movies he's watched (porn and otherwise). In my memory, they don't go to the movies in the course of any of the episodes, but Dean watched "Black Swan" because it involved two hot chicks. Good on you, Dean. That also begs the question how Dean would have handled a Black Swan situation in a hunter capacity, which is an interesting and clever layer to add to the story. Both brothers constantly make culture references that they had to get from somewhere. Some of it is explainable by just having the TV on in hotel rooms, but not everything.

So, now play the game with your characters. When they're not in the book, what are they doing? What did they do before? What will they do after?

Friday, November 8, 2013

My whole world isn't NaNoWriMo, if you wondered

There are times I don't actually know what to put in this space. It's November, sure, but I've already posted a bit too much about NaNoWriMo. It's like how all the food blogs (it seems) are all of the sudden writing about Thanksgiving. It's like three weeks away, but we're wading through Thanksgiving dinner shit. I'm not all that interested. I mean, I'm probably cooking Thanksgiving dinner, but it doesn't mean I need to read about it all across the Internet for a whole month. I imagine it must be the same way when it comes to NaNoWriMo. Not all writers care about it. Not all readers care about it. Some people actively hate it. Sorry guys.

It might be dominating my writing right now, but it isn't all of my writing, actually. It's funny, sometimes, how many ideas I get once I've "locked in" to a project.

Like the Moon thing. And oh yeah, freaking India just launched a Mars probe. The process by which it's leaving Earth's gravitational influence is really interesting, actually. But India has people who have no access to things like clean water and the privilege not to be raped to death on buses for Christ's sake, why are they probing Mars? (And the article I linked just prior ends with: "Even so, some commentators have questioned whether India should be spending its millions on a planetary mission when a significant part of its population are in poverty and figures for childhood malnutrition are some of the highest in the world.")

Or, on this blog called Doug's Darkworld, I read about when the sun kind of didn't happen for 18 months in 535. That there is story fodder, fantasy or otherwise. I'm probably never going to write a hardcore historical fact medieval novel. But sword and sorcery fantasy? Or low magic fantasy? Yeah, sure. I've got an opening half envisioned. I've been poking at it for a little bit, turning it over in my mind.

My brain soup is always slow cooking, regardless of what project I'm working on. Or what project I'd like to be working on. I'm not one of those "My characters aren't cooperating!" people, but there are times my thoughts go their own way, to be sure.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

When Ideas Attack

So, here we are, day 6 of NaNoWriMo. I'm on track, with  10406 words as of Monday night/Tuesday morning. Pleased by that, I must say.

I thought out loud about this on Twitter a bit (as one does): as I've gotten "more serious" about writing, NaNoWriMo has become...easier for me. I don't mean I wrote my book in three days (clearly that hasn't happened), but sitting down for an hour and banging out a thousand words or whatever, I can do that like it ain't no thang. Depending.

Obviously, I have quite a lot of time I'm screwing around and not writing (which is why I haven't finished my novel in three days). And I have times I'm working on other ideas because my brain won't shut up.

I will not say I'm writing two novels this month, because I'm not. It's not my goal, I hesitate to want it to be my goal. But there are times I am rampant with ideas, and feel like I need a bucket to catch my ideas. And so I am working on a second "novel project". Let's call it that.

See, I read this article bloggy thing called 9 Scientific Breakthroughs that Killed Science Fiction Subgenres, and it kind of ticked me off, actually. Because why should real science fuck up our scifi? Yeah, that's what I thought.

But anyway, number 3 on the list is "We Put People on the Moon". Uh, okay. What's that got to do with Moon science fiction? I mean, okay, there's no Moon people. We get it. But Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress involved no aliens, but rather people who had originated on Earth and were subsequently functioning on the Moon for a variety of reasons, with obvious survival precautions taken. Sure, nobody just lives on the surface of the Moon. But "no existing Moon civilizations" does not, to me, preclude the existence of science fiction taking place there.

So yeah. Now I'm writing a Moon novel, because fuck those guys. You can't tell me what I'm interested in (and clearly I don't care about whether people want the current genre in which I'm writing, exhibit werewolves). This is not the kind of a thing I can comfortably "sprint" with, for NaNoWriMo, because I do need enough science to make the fiction work.

So what do you think? Are our Moon landings enough to make the moon entirely uninteresting? Should real Science get in the way of genre fiction? Personally, I think they can get along. We'll see.

Monday, November 4, 2013

This is what happens when I take a weekend off....

Me: That guy doesn't blink enough. He looks like a serial killer.
Fiancè: Sometimes you blink too much, and I'd think you were a serial killer if it wasn't for the cleanup involved.
Me: That's fair.

Friend: Oh. I wasn't expecting that. (while taking allergy pills)
Fiancè: Yeah, they're the off brand so they don't have the same coating.
Fiancè: Shut up, Julie

Fiancè: You just violated the Geneva convention with your mouth.

Me: Oh hey, there are Great Danes in the Pokerface video. They're all "Lady, what are you doing?"
Fiancè: Lady Gaga.
Me: They just want to know where the meat dress went.
Fiancè: You girly girl! You like Pokerface! You're all "Oh, I don't mind that song..." You LOVE it.
Me: Okay, maybe I like it.

Fiancè: I think that's the first time I've actually seen somebody wave their arms like they didn't care. Congratulations.

Friend: Honestly, I wanted flying squirrels, but couldn't have them in this state.
Me: You can just go to the library park and get a couple.
Fiancè: Those aren't flying squirrels.
Me: The fuck they aren't. Just get them little goggles and put them in planes.
Fiancè: Jen, you...actually, let me rephrase that. Shut up, Julie.
Friend: Well, there are some flying squirrels that make really good pets.
Fiancè: No, that's just brunettes. Have you met mine? We call her Julie.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Setting and Soundtrack

So I already discussed this in Theme Song: my actual 2013 NaNoWriMo project (as opposed to my original idea) is taking place at the Jersey Shore. And if you mention that reality show to me here in this space, so help me....

But yeah. Nostalgia city.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sharing is Caring

Folie à deux. Essentially, a psychosis shared simultaneously by two people. I'm sure I'd heard the phrase more than once in my life, but most recently, and specifically, heard it attached to Ursula and Sabine Eriksson (here's the Wikipedia, but here's the Cracked article where I first learned about them).

What causes somebody to "go crazy" (obviously, "crazy" isn't really the most PC to refer to this, nor the most effectively with regards to expressing diagnostics)? Granted, we in the business may call something like that a psychotic break, and as a total layperson who knows next to nothing about the case, I won't call it a schizophrenic break, as they appear to be free-range at this point and nobody in fact seems to bring up schizophrenia, that I've seen (or that I remember, anyway). But both twins? At the same time? That's some road trip.

You can watch the documentary about the Erikssons, Madness in the Fast Lane, at Documentary Storm, which has a number of free documentaries available to watch streaming (so you're aware, if you do watch Madness in the Fast Lane, they play the footage of the women getting hit by cars on the freeway repeatedly. Spoilers: they survive.). I don't remember liking documentaries much in the past, or maybe I didn't really think about it. But I like them quite a lot now. Maybe they've gotten better? Maybe I'm just a grown up? Whatever.

But, introduce a notion like folie à deux into a consciousness like mine, and I wonder two things: how many "freak occurrences" can be attributed to it, and how can I use it in a story? Is it useful in the case of establishing an unreliable narrator? Or is that too much? Just something to add to the subconscious stew.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Why are you making duck face, Julie?

Coworker 1: I've dreamed about babies two nights in a row.
Coworker 2: Well, let's hope you don't do it a third time, because it'll come true.
Me: Nah, it just means an incubus has been visiting you in your sleep.
Coworker 1: What is wrong with you?

Me: When I'm on, I'm on. When I'm off, I get told jokes are for other people.

While eating jelly beans:

Fiancè: Wow, mixing flavors is always a bad idea.
Friend: It's a party in your mouth and everybody is throwing up?
Fiancè: I can taste purple and aftershave.
Friend: Ralph Loren has a new
Me: Jellybean?
Friend: If there was a Polo jellybean, I'd do it.
Me: Of course you would.
Friend: Well, I had an incident once with Polo. I got some on my hands and then my hands got
Me: Your hand got in your mouth?
Friend: If it gets near my mouth, it goes in. But it was kind of peppery.

Me: So, I'm worried. You haven't said "What is wrong with you" for awhile. Not today certainly. Maybe not since last week.
Coworker: I guess I'm just used to everything.
Me: Oh, so I need to up the ante?
Coworker: I guess.
Me: Did you know that the raccoon penis actually has a bone in it?
Coworker: Why do you know that?
Me: Well, you can buy them on Etsy.
Coworker: What...why..what were you even searching that you found that out? What is wrong with you?
Me: I saw a snake vertebrae necklace once so I wanted to see what else was out there. There's a lot of taxidermied stuff on Etsy.
Coworker:  ....

Me: I'm not a total spaz, come on. I want examples.
Fiance: Okay. Well there's that time you ran into a concrete pillar while walking. And you punched yourself in the face. And you used to throw your fries on the floor every time we got McDonald's. And your perpetual toe injuries.
Me: Is that it?
Fiancè: You know that's more than normal people have, right?

Me: I just need to put on my jewelry, and I'll be ready to go.
Fiancè: Who's Julie and why are you talking to me like that?
Me: Jewelry. My jewelry.
Fiancè: Oh, okay. I'll be on the porch. Julie.
*call each other Julie for the rest of the day*
Fiancè: What is wrong with us?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Why "Learn to Howl" is different

I understand there are a lot of agents who don't want to see werewolves anymore. There are some agents who never wanted to see werewolves in the first place. That's cool. I didn't write a werewolf book (and start a second, with the third in a "notes" sort of stage) because I was thinking about what other people were writing, and reading.

Of course, now I have to. Once Learn to Howl has been read by people who are not me, had appropriate things added in certain places, and been edited within an inch of its pages, I need to write the query letter that says BUY MY BOOK. And the query letter that says why my werewolf book is different from the others.

I can do it in in "normal language", certainly. I can tell you that Learn to Howl is an Urban Fantasy novel about family, and the decisions people (or werewolves) make when people they love are involved. I can tell you Learn to Howl is about responsibility, and change (with an absence of puns), and about learning how to feel comfortable in your own skin. And oh yeah, there are werewolves. Obviously, that figures pretty heavily in the story, or I wouldn't be worried about having written the next To Kill a Mockingbird or something.

I can tell you the wolves of Learn to Howl do not need the full moon to change, nor does it affect them overly much. Silver does. I've kept the werewolf origin of the family to folklore that I've read, but of course made my own fictional changes. Werewolves are born, not "made".  No other magic is actually involved with the story; no telepathy, no "pack bindings", no Alpha theory. No dominance, no submission, or at least not any more than "regular folks" might use when being overbearing, or not. I use a lot of body language, because body language (canine and otherwise) is interesting and effective.

Any resemblance to people living or dead is strictly coincidental.

I have to learn how to express this in query letter language. I have to reflect these things so that I'm not expressly assuring the reader, "Oh yeah, it's in there" but so the reader takes it away from my 250 word or less letter and actually wants to read the pages. And then wants to request the full (Janet Reid, though I will not be querying her with Learn to Howl, has said that with electronic subs, if she requests, it's the full. Because why not?)

With NaNoWriMo looming, and Learn to Howl "resting", I'm not really working on the query right now anyway because, well, I don't wanna. I was perhaps correct, a few months back, when I wondered if I should query The Last Song first (to get my foot in the genre door, as it were). Of course, The Last Song isn't finished, or fully edited, so it's far behind in the process. And right now, while planning for NaNoWriMo, is not the time to start editing it.

And oh yes, of course I started planning for NaNoWriMo far too soon, and when I realized I couldn't start writing my occult biker novel, my brain put it on a shelf and presented me with another novel entirely. This one is actually based in a place I've been, if you can believe such a thing (Asbury Park). It will be Urban Fantasy; I'm just going to go ahead and embrace that it's my thing (like I've been fighting that anyway). And I've got that rosy "Maybe this one is the one" sort of feeling associated with starting a new idea I quite like.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

And then he was a she....

So, apparently they found a sealed tomb that's like, 2600 years old. They went "Oh, woo, Etruscan warrior prince!"

My title may have included spoilers.

You see, the warrior "prince" was a "princess".

Now, I am not an archaeologist, or a forensic anthropologist (though I wish I'd thought up that career path 15 years ago and I might be. Ah well). But I know, know, that there are people in those professions who are trained to tell sex from just skeletal remains. Which, y'know, they figured out eventually. But why did it take any kind of time? Was this just confirmation bias? Etruscans with spears must be male?

Well, evidently the Etruscans defied gender roles (gasp!) because the spear in said sealed tomb belonged to the female skeleton, and the jewelry belonged to the male. They think maybe the spear was a status thing. So maybe she wasn't a warrior princess. Or maybe she was! Who knows anything about Etruscans anyway? (They are not one of my niche interests, I must plead ignorance. I at least know how the word is pronounced.)

Bonus to every source which put a picture of Xena in their article on this topic. I will not, as I do not wish to be sued. But I loved that Goddamn show (well, until it got kinda wonky in the later seasons, SPOILERS with Gabriella also being a warrior princess and Xena having a baby and going to Tibet or some such. But Hercules got weird too, what with the Ireland trip and perhaps time travel? END SPOILERS)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Theme Song

I've talked before about listening to music while I write. Hell, my "Nirvana" station on Pandora helped me pull out my 2012 NaNoWriMo win. I think because music has been so ingrained for me, in the car, or at home in my room, or in the basement while I played pool against myself, or in college trying to do work, or even now, with my novel playlists and Pandora stations and whatnot, it only makes sense to seek out that connection. I want a piece of music to evoke a piece of writing. I want it to help me with the mood, the setting.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pieces of flair....

While I'm not a fan of the "8-bit" theme for this year's NaNoWriMo, I don't have a problem "representing". This one I dig, the coffee, the lightbulb, the.....sneaker? Well, whatevs.

I got super excited at the beginning of October, and started planning for NaNoWriMo. Then I was ready to write, and lookee here, it's only October 16. Freaking October anyway. So now I'm in the research/screw around phase, in which I don't want to start another project, or work on something else too intensively, which will make it hard for me to get to my occult bikers.

So, NaNoWriMo "writer flair", anyway. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Question of Voice

In the 90's, if you picked up and read a Stephen King book, you damn well knew it was a Stephen King book. Even if it was a Bachman Book (which is something he addresses in the introduction to my worn, red covered paperback collection of The Bachman Books, of which Roadwork is probably my favorite, though it fights sometimes with The Long Walk). His voice was strong, familiar, recognizable. There were certain bits of diction, and dialogue tags, that would make you smile and nod your head. Yup, Steve is in fine voice today. This one's good for the long haul.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Two Year Anniversary

Two years ago, I wrote the Pilot post of this blog.

At the time, I was under contract to publish an anthology of short stories with a small press. The date kept getting pushed back, though, and then the publisher went on hiatus. So I asked for my rights back. Said publisher seems to not be operating as such any longer. So, I guess I dodged a bullet?

I started this blog with the purpose of "building my platform", getting people interested in my writing, et cetera. My intent for this blog has always been more than Buy My Book! shilling, though. I wrapped up that very first post saying

"I feel that a good writer needs to read.  I believe that a good writer learns about the world, and never stops learning, regardless of whether there's a classroom. Writing, authoring, is a process and a journey, and I hope you enjoy coming with me. "
I still believe these things; it's one reason I'll post on seemingly random topics, like black market rhino horns and James Bond's pants. They're things I've learned about, and find interesting, and all of that is story fodder. I will probably never write a story that revolves around said pants or rhinos, but it might come up in conversation. I might throw it in for flavor, a cultural reference instead of a literary one.

So, to those of you who are still reading, thank you! To those of you who are new, thank you and welcome! I hope you enjoy my crazy train of thought here, and I hope to one day be able to write a post in which I do, in fact, suggest that you buy my book.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

My First Poe

My first Poe exposure was from the Simpsons. It was their very first Treehouse of Horror special, in the second season, in 1990. I realize now what a very long time the Simposons has been going, and also how long it's been since I've watched it (years and years). My dad would watch it with me, and In Living Color, which came on right before if I'm remembering right. He ascertained, correctly, that over-my-head jokes wouldn't bother me because they were, y'know, over my head.

But I digress.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Write 'em or Lose 'em

Typically, when I write, I write a story from beginning to end. I don't cherry pick scenes to write and then string it all together once it's finished. I don't write the end first, and then go back to the beginning.

When I'm planning to write, it's also typically in the loosest sense. I kind of think about it. Consider story angles. Think about characters I'd like to explore, experience, whatever. When the words start coming is when I start writing. If I don't write those words, I'll lose them.

It's one reason I'm what's referred to as a "pantser", in NaNoWriMo jargon. I write "by the seat of my pants". Because in NaNoWriMo, everything you put into your novel must be fresh words, not sentences or paragraphs or passages written in the time that came before.

If I prepare too much, I start getting sentences. If I don't write them, I lose them.

So, I've done my planning for NaNoWriMo. I'm doing the research bit now, though my library system is a bit slim on topics of the occult. Ah well, I can use the Interweb, which is not slim on topics of the occult.

I've also been doing more work on The Wolf You Feed. Not editing, mind you. The first portion of the book is still how I left it. But writing some end chapter stuff, which I do not typically do. But I know how I want those portions to go, and there is no rule that says you must write your book in order. Or if there is, fuck that rule. I don't care. I'm writing.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The importance of NaNoWriMo

I can sympathize, really I can.

I'm sure there comes a time where people are like "For the love of God, if I hear NaNoWriMo one more time, I'm going to pistol whip somebody." I know there are people who bang out a novel in November and then merrily start subbing it to actual publishing professionals in December and January. I hear that and I cringe. I feel that agents must cringe as well, when they hear about NaNoWriMo, then grit their teeth and wait for the aftermath.

As you might guess, I'm not one of those writers. Other than Suzie Townsend's query critique thing she did last month, I've yet to contact an agent with a query (I'll occasionally tweet at/with one, or comment on a blog, but that's been it so far). Sure, I've been participating in NaNoWriMo since 2007. Does it mean a single one of those novels is query-able? Not yet.

"But Jen," you ask, "doesn't that make it a waste of time?"

Well, no.

See, the beauty of NaNoWriMo, the magic of it, is that it's intended to be sheer madness. It's supposed to be pell-mell words on a page. Words you never have to read again, or words you can spit shin to your heart's content....after November. I've in fact discovered NaNoWriMo works best for me when it's a project I technically don't care about. When it's a project I'm not afraid of screwing up by throwing myself down its mountain.

It's a complex notion, for me. It doesn't really mean I don't care about the book. But if it's an idea that I thought was dreadfully clever, and have toyed around with and babied in my thought process....yeah, the first draft that NaNoWriMo will produce might not be what I envision for that project. Or I'll get all wound up about getting something right and choke halfway through (NaNoWriMo 2010, I'm looking at you).

I think that 2007 and 2008, my first two, were also my most complete. The novels are technically "finished", and though I've reread parts, I haven't edited, polished, nothing. Both would require severe rewrites, I daresay, but they have a story arc. 2009 was the year I wrote my Second Unfinished Steampunk Novel. 2010 I got to about 23k words and was dead in the water for three days before I started a new novel, blasted through 20k words, and ran out of time. So almost 50k total there, just not on the same novel. 2011 was Another Unfinished Steampunk novel, wherein I muddled my waters with zombies, and I won't be doing that again. 2012 I laid down the groundwork for The Wolf You Feed, the sequel to Learn to Howl.

And 2013, I have a plan, I've named my main character and changed it at least once already, and I've got a rough idea of the opening chapters.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Something unique

So, my NaNoWriMo idea is in the oven, or the slow cooker, or whatever food preparation mechanism my brain and subconscious have cobbled together when they're making novel stew but don't want to let me taste it yet. Solar oven? Whatevs.

But, I have a general idea that I'm doing an Urban Fantasy thing (big surprise there, right?) involving bikers and Something Supernatural™. So, to get an idea of what's out there on the market, I've been searching things like "supernatural bikers" and "urban fantasy bikers" on Amazon, in addition to my usual searches for new books on motorcycle clubs.

There's more stuff there than I expected there to be (and who expected there to be paranormal biker werewolf romance? Not I!), but nothing that appears to be what I actually intend. There's some demon slayer witch girl series thing, and lots of werewolves, though still not my kind of werewolves, even though they will not be making an appearance. Maybe werewolves of my urban fantasy world's type will get mentioned by somebody, it only makes sense, but this is not a werewolf novel.

I also saw some biker Kindle book that was listed for $199.99, no joke. I wonder if it was a typo? I probably couldn't find it again now if I tried, because of course saving it to link as an example (or whatever) clearly would've made too much sense.

Also, I'm still battling this cold...whatever that I have, which is making my attention span and comprehension skills a little interesting. I was transfixed by tea tree oil floss in the grocery store today, and though I do dearly love the smell of tea tree oil, I do not love flossing, nor the idea of spending six bucks on floss. And of course I have a headache too (though not a migraine, dear Elka would have told me about that, if I didn't notice on my own). So I'm simply left with the dear wish that the people at the grocery store don't just think I'm on drugs. Because I'm not.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Query bitchin'....

Yeah, I'm going to bitch about query letters more. It's a thing I do, fixate on something that I either bitch or rave about. Sorry.

Because, you see, I feel as though I've hit upon my primary issue with writing query letters: I don't like the diction in which they are typically written.

"When Protagonist has X thing happen to him/her, he/she must then Y if the world is to be saved!"

Crappy example, I know. And more of a log line, I guess, than a query. Query letters are evidently supposed to be around 250 words (a single page, anyway, not more than one). You're supposed to have
The Hook - logline
The Book - A paragraph or two about your book
The Cook - a bit about you 
to quote Pam van Hylckama Vlieg's post on an "Ask the Agent" Absolute Write (isn't her name just awesome? Her web site is here, and she's an agent at Foreword Literary [who are, by the way, closed to queries in November and December. If you wondered. Up to the minute news, that's me.)

Of course, sometimes there's an unusual query that just rocks everybody's socks. The query for Premeditated, by Josin L. Mcquein is such an animal, and you can read it at Query Shark (run by Janet Reid, who if you don't know [I didn't used to], is an agent with FinePrint Literary Management). I read the query, and went "GIVE ME THIS BOOK NOW WHERE CAN I BUY IT?????" (the publication date is October 8 2013).

So, when I think about a query letter, before I even sit down to write (type) one, I try to think of the Premeditated query. I read a bunch of jacket copy, and think about why I like them, and why I don't. I think one of my hangups is writing in the present tense; I rarely do so on purpose, and rarely read books written in the present tense. On its own, it isn't enough to make me put a book down, but it's a strike against, certainly. I also once put a book down because it referred to a person as having been "hung" in the very first sentence (it's "hanged").

 Also, "stakes". I know I need to show what's "at stake". I know the stakes need to be apparent. Etc. Etc. But mostly, the "stakes" I'm interested in are the homonym, steaks, which come from moo cows. It's just one of those words. I don't like it, and I feel it's a word people will frequently trot out when they're critiquing queries but don't have anything else to say about it. Granted, I also feel people critiquing queries are being deliberately oblique, in a manner that has me talking to my computer screen in a "COME ON, what do you mean you don't know what that means?" kind of way. Not my own queries; I've only ever posted one, and everybody's comments were (mostly) spot on. I knew it was bad. But there are others I peruse on Absolute Write in which I understand the words the author is saying, but nobody else seems to.

And you know, I get it. A query needs to be good. Stand out. Be that flag that gets your book pulled out of the slush while others are left behind. However, when writing a query, there's so much at stake (amIright?) that it's hard to just relax and let the magic happen. It's more like agonizing over your tax return.

 Have you queried agents or publishers with your novels? Successfully? Unsuccessfully? What did you feel worked best for you?


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dear Readers....

Hello, friends!

I was sick over the weekend, in a sudden and mysterious way. And, well, that's when my blog prep time typically is, so this week kind of flopped. Sorry about that! Thanks to you who came and checked in anyway.

While I was away, I

Clocked about 50% of Grand Theft Auto: V.

Finished re-watching the first season of Sons of Anarchy. I'm counting this as research for my NaNoWriMo novel. I think a bikerly theme is afoot, and I've long been interested in bikers, outlaw and otherwise. The outlaw types interest me in an anthropological way, in the same way the Maasai, Boers, or 1920's Irish might catch my fancy.

Watched The Last Stand. Y'know, the new Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. It was bad. So bad. Tragically bad. And I like action movies. But this one, it don't make no sense. In addition to having my "action females with hair in their faces" problem. The single good line was Arnold turning to Johnny Knoxville (see? I don't even know what their characters were named!) and asking "Do you have stupid names for all your shit?" (or something along those lines.)

Continued to go to work, most of those days. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, anyway. Though Tuesday was a half day because a different coworker was sick (the one who closes the library with me). And yet another coworker was out today. We're droppin' like flies here, I hope it isn't Captain Trips. Though I guess I'm one of the immune ones? I'll keep you posted whether I start dreaming about an old black woman, or the Walkin' Dude.

Started to reread Stephen King's On Writing, yet again. What can I say? Steve has a voice. I listen. I've also started reading Ursula K. LeGuin's Steering the Craft, which I've been meaning to read for a year or more but hadn't yet. I wish I had a writing group to work through the book's exercises with. Maybe I'll do them and post them here? Probably not. We'll see.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Whose family is that?

You've seen them, I'm sure. Boxes of sepia and black and white photographs in some corner of an antique or junk shop. Unlabeled, mismatched, scalloped edges. Nameless strangers staring from the past, some smiling, some not. Some dressed up, as clearly this was some occasion. New car, first day of school, the existence of the camera.

I've wondered, as I'm sure many have, whose family members those are. How does that happen, that those scraps of one's past end up in a store, a couple bucks each?

You can find them on Etsy too, of course. On this store, Family Tree Antiques, the seller even relates some of the history of the people in the photograph, which is pretty awesome. There are many stores selling many of these photographs, individually, framed, in lots, in digital downloads....pretty much every permutation you can think of.

But those unlabeled people, what about them?

I've been trying to decide if it's a great idea, or a creepy one, to look for pictures like this at the antique and junk stores in my area, to build the werewolf family tree of my main character in Learn to Howl.

I'm inclined to be enchanted with my idea, actually. I've spent some time relating the history of the family, not as a true infodump (I hope) but rather as family stories get told. You know they way, when somebody says something like "Did you ever know that your great great great aunt Hildegarde had a duel fought over her?" and "members of this family fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War", etc. More detailed that what I've just related, obviously, but you get the gist.

I've always loved old family stories (and more recent ones as well, obviously; few things beat hearing stories about people you know) and I hope to appropriately channel that in Learn to Howl and its sequels. I'm thinking this trilogy, and am currently editing what I have of book two, The Wolf You Feed, in addition to writing not-quite-a-story-yet notes about the still untitled Book Three.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Conversation I dreamed. Actually.

I dreamed this conversation. I'm not sure who the "characters" were; it was a Thanksgiving family get together that was apparently potluck. It was not at my house, nor a house I've seen before. 

Character 1: I'm very happy that anybody else is bringing well, anything, because I only bought the one steak that's a couple of pounds. I don't have a side of beef that's been turning on a spit since like, Tuesday, and don't have a meat fairy.

Character 2: Heh, meat fairy.

Character 1: I mean, I know we all want to have meat fairies....

Character 3: No, but you do have a purple Doberman statue, what is that?

Character 1: Oh, that? That's from when people from Jonestown were creeping about the house and I Nancy Drew'ed out their plan. And I had that purple SCUBA knife at the time, remember?

Character 2: How could we forget?

Character 1: And yeah, I stabbed one of them and it turned out to be the ringleader and then the FBI gave me that statue. To match the knife and because I like Dobermans.

Character 3: because who just has purple Doberman statues on hand.

Character 1: I know, right?

[non-dreaming note: It was the people in the Manson Family, not the Jonestown people, who would creepy-crawl in peoples' houses. So my sleeping brain mixed that up a bit, perhaps because my sleeping brain was thinking of the purple flavor-aid the Jonestown people drank.]

Monday, September 16, 2013

Character Questionnaire, revisited

Last year,  I posted briefly about using a character questionnaire, to ensure you knew your characters.

This is the kind of thing I think about a lot. Other authors/writers/creators do as well, I know it. I know (and of course I can't find it), that I saw Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content post that he had, in fact, worked out things like how much the baristas at Coffee of Doom make. But the reader doesn't need to know that.

This is an important consideration, I think, one I've kept in mind through editing Learn to Howl  and The Wolf You Feed these past couple of weeks. What does the reader need to know? What needs to be spelled out? What can one assume the reader knows?

Assumptions about what the reader knows can be a big problem for me. It's one thing if I make a literary reference nobody notices, because the sentence still makes sense. It's another thing entirely if I use a term not many people know, and go on at length assuming that everybody knows it.

But I digress.

Over at the Office of Letters and Light, they've posted The Official NaNoWriMo Character Questionnaire as part of their NaNo prep series. Since I did not post an actual questionnaire in my first post, rather assuming that people would write their own, I think it's both interesting and useful to look at somebody else's. Does it cover the bases?

As an example, it might be pertinent to know your characters' favorite band, or if they have a favorite band, especially if any of them fancy themselves a musician. With that in mind, thinking of the character's "theme song" (or even having a play list for the novel) is a further way to bulk up that snowball and keep it rolling. From there, if you're picking three words or so to describe that character, are their song lyrics that apply? What does the song as a whole evoke?

I write to music a whole lot. I think I reference it more often than intended, as well (other than in The Last Song; I wanted that baby to be chock-full-of music references). While I can't claim to do a questionnaire, officially, about every character I write, I'm confident I can answer the questions about my main characters. It would probably be a nice "stretch my legs" style of writing exercise to riff about somebody's favorite memory or their superstitions, and keep it in the "junk file" to add in at an opportune time.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Fears of Cultural Appropriation

As I've stated, I've never been to Detroit. I've also never been to South Africa. Why is this relevant?

Well, when I write Steampunk, though the first of my Steampunk novels starts in England,  it goes to Africa rather quickly, settling in South Africa as the location of Steampunk novels 2 and 3 (though 3 is severely flawed and will probably be cannibalized into another novel entirely). I need to do quite a lot of research about South Africa to make this work, even in a Steampunk world wherein I've altered the history of some things. Some architectural things still stand where in the real world, by the 1880's in which the first novel kicks off, they exist no longer. Or, they were a failed dream.

But alternate history does not change existing culture such that I can just run roughshod over it. I've avoided most issues of race and apartheid by writing about only displaced Europeans, or girls born to Europeans. A couple of my main characters are intended to be Afrikaner, though, and I need to know and represent, accurately, what that entails. I can't put words that do not exist into a culture's mouth.

Part of this is mitigated by the fact that my characters do tend to be teenage girls, and so have little to do with politics, or political current events. I've created a war that didn't really occur, but also rode on the coattails of the second Anglo-Boer war, about which I know more than the Wikipedia article, but cannot at current claim to be a scholar of. Being character centric helps, to a degree, as a fictional individual can think whatever he or she likes. However, I need to research my guts out, because I'm speaking from my white American middle class vantage point here. Hell, even if I was writing about the American Civil War, I'd do more research, versed though I am with Gone with the Wind. I've thought about doing American Steampunk, during about the same time period, but my thoughts go back to South Africa. I'm no sure what sparked my interest in the country; an anthropology professor I had several classes with in college used to live in South Africa, so that might be it.

My werewolf  novels take place in Appalachia and the American South, and I still need to know more, Yankee that I am. Being American helps here, and Google Maps is great for location, but it comes down to respect and accuracy. I'm creating a culture within a culture (wolfception), but even if I'm not hitting a home run on what people in the mountains of North Carolina are like (for the amount of time spent there), I still need to get to first base at the very least. Can't whiff or strike out. I need a reasonable facsimile of a place, not something that's only got the labels slapped on and is completely wrong otherwise.

Advice I read given to fellow writers is you can't worry about offending people. You can't let that paralyze you, or stop your writing, and I agree with that to a point. I use bad words (!), not everybody I write is nice people, very bad things happen sometimes. But as a writer, I feel a responsibility to be accurate, and to have respect for the types of people I'm writing about, even in the most fictional of examples. I am not the most sensitive of people; I'm occasionally an outright bitch, sometimes just for comedic effect and sometimes because I hate everything and really mean it. But I also hate getting things wrong, and I hate accidentally insulting people. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I do not think this means what you think it means

I don't want to get into any kind of "this isn't mine" trouble, so I won't link the actual picture here. But there was a political cartoon that happened in July that recently came to my attention: by Pat Oliphant

His cartoon was drawn to prove that racial profiling is appropriate, jacketed in his fear of BigScaryMeanDogs. Namely, two Dobermans in a dark alley vs. two...black kids? in a dark alley. "Don't profile, keep positive thoughts" are some of the words from the caption. He also added "approach them and pat anyway", not a bright thing to do with ANY strange dog (or random person) in an alley. "And run like hell" is in an itty bitty bubble at the bottom, a sure way to get a dog to chase you, even if he or she was not originally inclined to attack. If you approached two strangers in an alley, patted them on the heads, and then ran like hell, they would probably just be pretty confused about what your crazy ass was doing.

I assume Oliphant was commenting on perhaps New York City Mayor Bloomberg's July 23 vote to veto what was effectively a racial profiling law (though apparently in August, the city council overrode the veto). Wired magazine gives a brief overview to the percentage "success" rate of the stop-and-frisk implementation: 53% black, 89% innocent, .5% resulting in an arrest. The NYCLU compiled an "All the Stops" visualization, on the BKLYNR web site

I have a suspicion that Oliphant didn't want to challenge anybody's assumptions with his cartoon, not really; he wanted to show that hell yes we profile, for our safety, and we should continue to do so. Because of course Dobermans are scary baby killers and will always be. They will turn on their masters, they will attack you just as soon as look at you. Nobody should own a dog like that. 

If that's what he thinks about Dobermans (or if that's what he's assuming people think about Dobermans), now turn it back around. What is he saying about pretty much every population that is non white? He's saying black people and hispanic people will mug you and/or rob businesses, if they're not just drug dealers. He's saying Middle Easterners are terrorists. He's saying he doesn't want these people as his neighbors. He's saying....I don't even know what else he's saying. But it's these prejudices that the message of the cartoon relies on. Of course Dobermans are dangerous. Of course x non white population is dangerous (though I guess the "white Hispanic" category confounds these sweeping statements?)

It's bad enough when people make stupid assumptions about dogs they know nothing about, but it's "just a dog", right? It's unconscionable when people make stupid assumptions about people they know nothing about. 

I'm not in law enforcement. I'm not in corrections. I'm not an economist. I don't work with at risk inner city youth. I don't live in a city. But threat assessment has far more to do with "Hey that's a black kid" or "hey, that's an Asian guy". It has to do with context, and perceived behavior, and whether, at a glance, a weapon is present. Not all "profiling" is "racial profiling", to be clear. There is a certain criminal profile one works off of, and a certain psychological profile, and keeping things like that in mind solves crime and saves lives and all that jazz. The amount of innocent people who get accused and mistreated is alarming, and measures need to be taken to reduce that, not increase it, while still reducing crime.

Law enforcement is in an uncomfortable position in many, many places, and I don't envy them.

Monday, September 9, 2013

My "Dead" Genre Problem

I talk, frequently, about how I write for myself. Not many people are reading me, I might as well, right?

What's that? I need to write a query letter for that novel? Okay, trying it out. Up to 8 or 10 versions of the Learn to Howl query letter. Some are better than others.

What's that? Werewolves are a dead genre? Well fuck.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Use a Goddamn ponytail holder

I've bitched about this on Twitter a couple of times, but limited characters means limited bitching. Plus, I keep seeing new instances.

The issue? Inappropriate long, loose hair.

As a frequent owner of long hair that is occasionally loose, I'm aware of when I should have my hair tied back. When cooking, for example. While walking the dog. While driving. I love my long hair, and get many compliments on it, but that doesn't mean I need to be all flowing locks all over the place.

Televisions shows and movies don't seem to understand this. If a woman is a woman, then her hair is long, and loose, and flowing! Otherwise, how will she be free?  (while obviously wearing some kind of titanium bra, because boobs do not move).

In Masterchef, a "reality show" I confess to enjoying, I see this a lot (men and women). They're in kitchens, they're doing challenges, they're cooking. Their hair should be pulled back. Gordon Ramsay et. al flip their shit if they find a hair in their food. It's gross. Pull your Goddamn hair back.

If I'm watching a female do action-y things, she should pull her hair back. Or have short hair; that's a pragmatic decision. I will engage in combat today, I don't need hair in my face and mouth. I don't need a three foot long handle for my opponents. But you've probably seen, say, Elektra, or at least ads for it. Nope, loose hair. I yelled at the screen for a lot of the movie; my fiancè was not pleased with this. This was also a frequent issue on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though I loved it dearly for several seasons. Also Firefly and Serenity.

My latest example: forensic scientists on the television show Hannibal. What's that, you're investigating a crime scene? Looking through microscopes or whatever at evidence? Pull your fucking hair back, because you risk contaminating things.

Do we cling to Victorian ideals of "a woman's crowning glory is her hair" so much that we need a woman in any and every role to have long, loose hair? This has nothing to do with strong women, or gender roles. It's common sense. Hair gets caught on things. Pulled hair is painful. Use a ponytail holder.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dreaming, in Sixty Minutes or Less

I only had an hour left to sleep before work.

In that hour, I had a very vivid dream about somebody's....aunt? Girlfriend? Random girl roommate? Who was at our house. I was bitching about her to a clerk I knew at Walgreens when a local teenager I know from the library came by and we bantered. From Walgreens, I went home, where we lived with a police chief who was somebody's uncle or father or something (though not mine or my fiancè's); the woman was his daughter. She was also trying to kill him.

She was trying to kill all of us, actually, and it culminated in my doing combat and stabbing her in the chest with a pair of blue handled scissors, in a fight Elka couldn't help me throughout because she'd been shut outside. Then I called my boss to call out, because somebody tried to kill me and I had killed her. My boss said "Well, we really need you in. Can you just wait a couple of hours and come in at 1:30 or 2?"

And then my alarm went off and it was 9:00 am.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Steve was bitten by a zombie. Chelsea is coming down with cholera.

Me: I can't say I regretted going to Awakening, though.
Fiancè: I can. I wasn't even there, but I can regret it for the both of us. I'm Regretta Garbo.

Me: Wait, "The Girl From Ipanema" has words?
Male Coworker: Yes.
Other Coworker: Yes. Wait, why are you talking about "The Girl from Ipanema?"
Male Coworker: You're missing the point here. We both knew something that she didn't.

Me: So I was playing Organ Trail and live Facebooking it.  Like, my station wagon kept catching on fire---
Fiancè: Wait, you had fires in your station wagon?
Me: Yeah. Well, that would happen in Oregon Trail too, remember? But anyway, I blame that bitch Rolanda, who keeps getting typhoid and shit. And Larry got measles so I killed him. That shit's infectious.
Fiancè: Rolanda?
Me: Yeah. I was like "Rolanda, stop lighting up in here." And Larry got measles so I killed him. That shit's infectious.
Fiancè: What is wrong with you?


Bryan: and then you reach a point where you say "fuck this shit" and flip your goat. But you have to reach that point on your own. Nobody can teach it to you.

Fiancè: All right, but remember to share your flan
Me: After all, if you've got it, flan-t it!
Fiancè: .....it is so hard not to stab you right now.