fbpx

Spooky Man is in Town

My husband has come down from his mountain lair this week for a visit, a resupply, and to get someone else to brush out the corgi’s undercoat for a while (and he had a magnificent undercoat this year from the mountains).

My six weeks of working from home in peace allowed me to forget how disruptive it can be to have a retiree in the house. He has no respect for my Zoom meetings, deciding he needs to talk to me right as I’m trying to listen to the head of our team giving the daily update from management.

Plus, he drinks two pots of coffee a day, while I go through about two a week. I’ve been to a grocery store three times since Wednesday (because he’s finishing off stuff that should have lasted through the week or longer), when I normally venture out once a week, usually on Sunday. And he wants the food he can’t get in the mountains–sushi, bacon cheeseburgers and sweet and sour shrimp, for example.

He’s adorable, but disruptive.

On the writing front, I’m stuck again, but I’ve got a few vague ideas as to why. This weekend I’ll try to flesh them out and solve them. Have a safe and sound weekend (please don’t defy any public health orders–they exist because people died, and you’re intelligent, thin, and attractive so you know this isn’t a hoax), and I’ll be back at the word mines.

Covid-19: Thoughts from an Ex-Public Health Analytical Chemist

Thirty-mumble years ago when I was in organic chemistry lab, our professors created an experiment specifically to teach lab technique. We had to recrystalize and purify a compound called methyl orange. It’s basically a bright orange dye that sticks to skin particularly well.

We had to start with a given amount, go through the procedures and turn in the amount we ended up with. We also had to submit to an inspection of hands, face, and clothing. If there were any spots of orange anywhere, that was a fail.

Because the point was that chemists work with very dangerous material all the time. All. The. Time. And being sloppy with it gets people killed.

Then I spent five years in the Idaho state health lab. For four of those years, I was up to my ears (figuratively) in hazardous waste two or three times a week, because I received all the samples into the lab. I extracted the bad stuff from water, soil, whatever, into organic solvents that themselves weren’t good for me. We had high-volume fume hoods and we double gloved.

We also washed our hands a lot. Thoroughly. With soap and hot water. Everything was assumed to be contaminated until we could prove it wasn’t. Everything.

Same thing with the novel corona virus that causes Covid-19. You need to assume all surfaces and all air are contaminated. Wearing a face mask won’t protect you from contaminated air, but it will protect other people from your coughs and sneezes, at least a little bit.

You can catch the damn thing and be shedding virus for two or three weeks before you start to feel crummy. Weeks. Think about that. My state went into Stay-At-Home five days after the first case was confirmed, and that was only two and a half weeks ago. We’ve already had 10 deaths, and there are only 1.3 million people in Idaho, which is about the size of Great Britain.

I worry about the staff at my local Neighborhood Walmart. They’re essential employees, so they at least still have jobs. But more than half of them are over 50, and they’re in a place and a profession where they can’t exactly stay away from customers or each other. The last time I was there (a week ago), customers weren’t social distancing even a little bit.

I worry about doctors, nurses, and the truck drivers who keep delivering in spite of having difficulty finding places to eat on the road. I worry about the Amazon delivery drivers who bring me stuff I’ve ordered to be able to work from home.

I worry, and I stay at home, and I talk to my friends and colleagues over video chat. I keep doing my job. And I try to write stories about people in a situation just as worrisome, but who have a little more agency than I do.

They are going to emerge victorious at the end of the story, after a lot of sacrifice and strife. I can only hope that we do, too.

Quarantine: Day 11

Most writers have day jobs. I happen to have a great one: I work as a localization project manager for a contractor at HP. I mention this because we were ordered (all HP employees and contract workers) to work from home on the evening of March 12th.

I have a background in public health, working as an environmental analytical chemist for the state lab for five years back in my misspent youth, so I was happy about this. The next day, as we were all gathering up equipment to go virtual for at least the rest of the month, the first Idaho case of COVID-19 was announced.

So I have been practicing “Social Distancing” since Friday the 13th. One trip to the grocery store (where are people storing all that toilet paper?), one visit from Spooky Man, a couple of trips for takeout—trying to keep at least a bit of the local service economy going without a lot of social interaction—and that’s the extent of my physical interaction with the human species for the last week and a half.

Now I know that any extroverts reading this are probably horrified right now. But I’m an introvert with good Internet service. Between Skype chats and Zoom meetings, I’m good. My cats are quite pleased that the servant is here all day. Other than eliminating the (short) commute, my life hasn’t changed much.

Except that I haven’t written a word of fiction since we went to working from home. And I don’t know why. I just…I guess my coping beans are being used for something else, but I have no idea what. I have given myself until the end of the week to be lazy, and then it’s back into the trenches.

I have to figure out the new plot hole that has appeared in my work in progress. And format the first HD collection (Valmont Contingency, Nobinata Gambit, & Ocasek Opportunity). And work on the historical that my critique partners keep asking about. There’s no shortage of author work.

See you after the quarantine!

The Valmont Contingency’s new cover

Ta-dah! Cover by Kanaxa, who is amazing.

Now to get the editing finished, LOL.

2020 Cover, Valmont Contingency

In Other News…

I have received the rights back to The Valmont Contingency, which means that I am no longer a Harlequin author. Well, right now.

It will be published in a second edition (the first Wylde Hare Press edition!) in the next month or two—gotta save up for a magnificent new cover and re-edit.

Next up will be The Beta Test, the third book in the Dozen Worlds series. I’m about halfway through the first draft, so that’s going to take a bit of time to be ready for real readers.

Happy dancing over here. February is going to be an excellent month.

Master Class with Screenwriting Guru Michael Hauge—in Boise!

On October 3, 2020, Coeur du Bois Chapter of RWA and the Idaho Writers Guild are co-presenting Michael Hauge on Story Mastery.

There will also be a hands-on workshop October 4th, but that is limited to 12 writers and I think those seats will be snapped up in a matter of minutes. But Mr. Hauge is a master of storytelling, and anything he has to say on the subject is well worth listening to.

This will be his first live master class in approximately two years, so we are giddy with excitement. Michael Hauge! In Boise! In October!

The date and place details have only just been nailed down in the last few days, so I don’t have any information on registration as yet, but the class fee will range from $110-135, depending on early bird status and group membership.

FYI, it will be held at the Hillcrest Country Club, so bring your good jeans or some khakis and nice trainers if you decide to go—they have a business casual dress code.

We’re still working on a block of hotel rooms; we have a hotel, but we haven’t signed anything yet.

I guess that means, technically, that this is a “save the date” post — watch this space, and cbcrwa.com, and https://www.facebook.com/groups/cbcrwa/ for more information.

Michael Hauge! In Boise! This October! Squee!

When Life Kind of Explodes

I became the president of my local chapter of Romance Writers of America on January 1, 2020. No big deal, right? Should be able to keep writing to provide a good role model for my chapter members, as our chapter is happy, healthy, and functioning well. Unfortunately (you may want to have a snack for this; I recommend popcorn)….

On December 23rd, the RWA national office sent out an announcement of an ethics censure of a prominent former board member and current chair of their ethics committee, including revoking her membership for a year and banning her from holding a leadership position forever. All Heck broke loose, mostly on Twitter.

It must be noted that this particular woman is an Author of Color (specifically, her mother is ethnically Chinese by way of Hawaii–I had an uncle, may he rest in peace, who was ethnically Filipino by way of Hawaii so this doesn’t sound at all odd to me) with a large Twitter following who had spoken out about what she perceived as racism. Her private account, her opinion. I’m an extremely white woman of a certain age who does not get to decide what is racist to someone else.

Then, on Christmas Eve, when the national office is supposed to be closed and after the circumstances around the original complaint came out, the national office announced the ruling was rescinded pending a review of some stuff that might not have been done according to written policy and procedure.

What the what?

The more information that came out, the more sketchy the whole thing began to appear. By December 26th, half of the board of directors had resigned, including the president, possibly in total fury at being wholesale-lied to, but I don’t actually know. Merry Christmas!

RWA members began pulling entries from their prestigious writing contest, The Ritas, and began resigning their memberships in droves.

Now the way RWA’s corporate direction works, there’s a president and a president-elect who becomes the sole candidate for president in the next election, and takes over as president if something happens to the president, such as resigning.

The new president appointed five board members to replace the eight who had resigned. Then it came out that he might not be eligible to be either president-elect or president, as he hadn’t published enough books. Who approved his nomination? The executive director is in charge of vetting election eligibility (this will become important).

Fast forward by a week. The national office hired a law firm to audit the process and procedure that had or had not been followed on the original ethics complaint. A petition to recall the new president was sent to the national office. The Ritas were cancelled. Prominent agents and large publishers pulled sponsorship and participation in the national conference.

Somewhere in the middle of this, my chapter (Coeur du Bois), held its first meeting of the new year and discussed the situation for nearly an hour. We were remarkably civilized, given that we were all appalled and furious at the same time.

The same day as our meeting, one of the people who had filed the original sketchy ethics complaint said she had been strongly encouraged by a staff member, and that some of her statements in the complaint might not be true–okay, she admitted she had lied about material harm to her business.

Dear Lord, give me strength.

By last Thursday (January 9, 2020), both the new president and the executive director had resigned.

It had turned up that the new president had convened a secret second ethics committee to take up the now-claimed-untruthful ethics complaints and presented their findings to the board without any supporting documentation. It also turned up that he hadn’t published five books in the last seven years, which is one of the basic requirements to hold the office of president-elect and president.

The executive director had passed the ethics complaints to the new president in spite of several sketchy things about them (even before one of the complainants admitted she lied). She also had deemed the new president eligible to run for president-elect when he hadn’t been.

I had already made popcorn and spiked my tea, so I laughed hysterically and revised my chapter statement to the board yet again.

This is in no way meant to be a comprehensive or detailed history of what happened over the last 3 weeks, just a brief discussion of the high points that I remember.

If you’re intrigued and want to know more, a Google search on “RWA Courtney Milan” will give you an entry into the whole thing. Yes, Courtney Milan is the pen name of the author who was originally censured. She writes very good historical romance.

Also last week, Spooky man requested I drive to his lair with a snow blower, as it was scheduled to dump 1 to 3 feet of snow over the weekend and he was already having difficulty negotiating the driveway. He drives a Hummer H3 (the smallest version, but still…). I had to be winched out of the driveway to return to the big city on Saturday as it had snowed at least 12 inches overnight and the snowblower had missing parts.

And the winching was after more than an hour of snow shoveling to be able to get into my small SUV. I did not have spiked tea for that little mishap, but the cats were more attentive than usual when I got home, after which it immediately started snowing in the big city. I think they can smell stress and realize it could mean extra treats.

Of course, they got extra treats.

And three more board members have resigned since I last checked. Lovely.

At this point, I have no idea what’s going to happen to the corporation Romance Writers of America. If it folds, I have no idea if it’s going to take our local chapter with it. We’re independently incorporated, but we’re incorporated as a chapter of RWA, Inc. We could lose everything, including every dollar in our bank account, and be forced to start over from the articles of incorporation.

And that’s why I haven’t had a blog post since well before Christmas. Non-writing life grabbed the wheel and drove the bus, possibly over a cliff.

Dammit Jim, I’m a Writer, not a Robot

I’ve been seeing a number of items on social media recently about writer burnout, caused by years on the “write faster” treadmill. One thread on, say, a writers’ Facebook group I could ignore. Two, hmm, interesting coincidence. When it topped three separate platfoms and groups of writers, it started to look like a trend.

If you’re a reader, I’m about to say something blasphemous, but it’s meant with love—after ten years of being published, I’m still astonished and ecstatic that people actually read my stories. I’m not a best seller by any means, but I love all my readers and I want to give them the best experience possible.

Here’s the blasphemy: Your favorite authors don’t owe you another book. Not another book this month, nor another book this season, not yet even another book within a year. They don’t owe you another book. Period. They are people, with lives, with problems of their own, and they never have to write another word if they are not so inclined. I’m sorry, but it’s true.

Here’s another dark secret (which is not really dark or a secret): Writers want to make readers happy.

We’d love to be able to turn out great stories like a factory turns out widgets, but creative endeavors don’t quite work like that. And if writers try to force it, bad things generally happen—depression, exhaustion, complete and total burnout showing up as raging writer’s block where they have difficulty making grocery lists.

Writing—using words to create worlds and people that didn’t exist before—is freaking hard. Creating people with real problems who overcome those problems and earn their happy endings cannot be done over the weekend. Dear lord in heaven, I wish it could.

Sometimes, if one is redeeming a villain created as a foil to a previous heroine (Talyn Penthes, I’m looking at you), it takes—wait for it—nine years. Of course, there were other books written and published during that time, but they had difficulties show up, too. My subconscious mind is weird.

And finally, a piece of unsolicited advice: Be kind to your favorite authors. They are working hard to bring you the next story; sometimes, they are working too hard, driving themselves toward burnout. Try, maybe, a social media message like this, “I love your work and I can barely wait for the next book, but please take care of yourself because I also want all the books after that, too.”

May you get all the new books you want for Christmas. My break is over, time to go back to the word mine.

How to Structure a Story

I have so many writer friends who don’t outline at all; they sit down at the computer and just write off into the mist with complete faith that a story will emerge somehow.

This makes me cringe. I used to do it, and I have four manuscripts that will never see the light of publication because of it. The last one I ended up writing three times. First I had to fix the first half after I got completely stuck three-quarters of the way to the end. Then I had to finish the story. Then I had to rewrite the whole thing to actually make sense. Mostly.

I filed it in the “never publish this” folder and decided there had to be an easier way to create stories, and that led me down a research rabbit-hole where I didn’t get much writing accomplished for several years, but I learned a lot.

The game changer for me was story structure. Every good story has a certain structure to it — folklorist Joseph Campbell analyzed the master stories in myths and fairy tales and found the universal structure along with approximately eight billion variables that could be thrown in. Since the analysis was pretty much his life’s work, he can be forgiven for over-complicating the structure.

Since his work, many others have broken it down into a how-to-do-this format, including Robert McKee, Christopher Vogler, Jack Bickham, Larry Brooks, James Scott Bell…and a dozen others I can’t think of off the top of my head (but who are very good novelists and technical writers). You can even find the crucial information on the internet, broken down into diagrams.

Every single time I sit down to write a novel, I have to relearn the lessons of story structure. The current projects I’m working on stalled completely sometime in September, and I finally figured out why when I tried to outline the story structure. In both cases, it was totally whacked.

In one story, I had the first and second turning points happening almost simultaneously. Argh! In another, there was no second turning point, although there were three weak turning point-wannabes. Heavy sigh. The historical novel had no final climax where the conflict was resolved. Double argh!

So, I got them all figured out, although it took a while. And the words have started coming back. Finally. Which is usually a good sign that I have the story structure worked out.

If only I didn’t have to re-learn this with every book (and also that my romance heroes are the women — I have to remember it at some point in every story and usually end up rewriting a few scenes), my life as a writer would be a lot easier.

But not nearly as interesting, LOL. Happy holiday writing and reading!

Poison 101 at LTUE 2020

About a million years ago (actually it was the early 1990s), I worked as an environmental analytical chemist for the State of Idaho. Technically, we were the forensic lab for the Department of Environmental Quality, but we also consulted on criminal cases—the state police’s forensic lab was in the basement for the first few years I worked there.

After I left that job due to certain health effects, I started noticing this weird thing in books, movies, and other entertainment.

People were not portraying poisoning correctly. And over the years it didn’t get any better. So in the early 2000s, I wrote a workshop to teach people the biochemistry of poison, hence Poison 101.

I gave this workshop in my local area for several years, and even at the RWA National convention in 2005 and the Emerald City Writers Conference a few years after that. However, it’s been at least a decade since I last gave it, and the recordings are no longer available.

And then RED 2 did the stupid-stupid-stupid 5-second thing with a knockout drug in 2013. This. Does. Not. Happen. Le Sigh. For dog’s sake, the Bulgarians injected writer Georgi Markov with ricin in 1978 and it took him four horrible days to die. Four. Days. May he rest in peace.

So. It is time for this workshop to be presented again.

On February 14, 2020, at 6 p.m., Poison 101 will be presented at the Life, The Universe, and Everything conference in Provo, Utah. If you’d like to attend, here’s the website: https://www.ltue.net

If my workshop is chosen for video recording, you might be able to find it on the LTUE YouTube channel later. If this happens, I’ll post a link to it.

%d bloggers like this: