Stuck But Not Blocked

Writer problems.

For the last two weeks, I’ve been stuck at about 29,000 words on Kindness of Strangers. I’m not blocked, because I know what I need to write, but I open the file, read a few pages before where I need to start writing, and then stare at the page. After a heavy sigh and a sentence or two that will probably be removed the next day, I shut the file.

Usually this means there’s something wrong with the story—wrong point of view, bad plot turn, female protagonist is too passive/reactive…something that my subconscious (that woman in the basement) hasn’t chosen to share yet. Maybe it hasn’t quite got it figured out.

A lot of the time I get just beyond the halfway mark of a story where it stalls out. After hitting my head against a metaphorical wall for a while, I realize I’m trying to write the male protagonist as the hero. In my core story, the female protagonists are the heroes. And…OMG, it just clicked. Chandra isn’t active enough—she’s taking the initiative with the colonel, but not with the [blocked due to plot spoiler].

Ha! Now I can open the file without that sinking feeling. Some days it’s good to be a writer (and some weeks, well, it’s not).

With luck, I’ll have a lot of progress to report in a few days.

Why Bronchitis Stinks on Ice

After taking some time off for the holidays (and the mandatory shutdown at the day job), I lost two and a half weeks of January to a cold that went bronchitis. And that was me, the one who watches like a hawk at the first sign of a cold, because they almost always try to settle in my lungs (walking pneumonia back in high school left me susceptible).

It’s always worrying when, 28 hours after the first weird feeling, your doctor listens to your chest and says, “Wow. You just earned yourself a chest x-ray.” Luckily, said x-ray ruled out pneumonia, but showed a nasty case of bronchitis. Yay? Antibiotics and an inhaled steroid to get the coughing to work better, and I was on my way.

The constant coughing wasn’t too much of a problem (cough syrup kept it to a minimum and the Albuterol made it more effective), the rumbling and crackling when trying to breathe (or sleep) was annoying, but the bone-deep fatigue—probably from not being able to breathe properly—kept me from doing much of anything for two weeks. Do. Not. Like.

However, azithromycin is amazing. Six pills over five days and I’m back to me. Like. Very much.

So, now back to our regularly scheduled writing: finishing up the Kindness of Strangers novella to round out the first Strike Force anthology (Open Mike at Club Bebop, Getting Lucky, and Kindness of Strangers), plus telling the slightly skewed Sleeping Beauty story of Ekaterina Avondale’s parents, Dane Avondale (Hero of Ararat) and Aurora Ivanov (the Dragonkiller).

With luck, which hasn’t been in large supply for writing in the last few weeks, I should be able to get them edited, formatted, covered, and up for sale by the end of February (and I probably just jinxed myself by setting a deadline).

I’m also planning to release my first historical romance at the end of this month, under the pen name Jane Reynolds. Look for A Ruined Woman in about a week.

And then I can start on the writing I had planned for this year, LOL.

 

Baby Groot, the Lazarus Hawthorn

We had a scarlet hawthorn tree in our front yard. It died a few years ago.

I gave it every chance, we watered it for a year and then let it stay an eyesore for another six months before we gave up and had it removed. And I mean removed.

We had the stump ground down four feet below the soil surface, because we wanted to plant another tree there eventually. This is important, because that tree was not just dead (really, a year and a half with no living leaf on it), it was gone.

Then we had the worst winter in decades, fondly known as the snowpocalypse of 2017. A carport collapsed, warping the air conditioner so that it had to be replaced, destroying the chest freezer, and damaging the paint of my car. And blocking our access to the back yard for about four months.

By the time we got the mess cleaned up and the carport replaced, the back yard was a shambles–and it hadn’t been in great shape before. So plans were made, money saved up, and in June 2018 we had both front and back yards taken out and redone simply, keeping a couple of rose bushes in the front and….

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Hey, where did this little hawthorn tree come from growing in exactly the same spot as the original tree?

Yeah. Our hawthorn came back not just from the dead, but from the dead-and-removed. The landscapers weed-whacked it a bit before Spooky Man noticed what it was, and he saved it. Because it’s either a zombie or our very own Baby Groot. Yeah, our tree has a name now, and we are babying Baby Groot.

She is ours and we love her.

 

Working on Dane and Aurora’s story

Dane Avondale and Aurora Ivanov Avondale are the wise mentors and parents in The Ocasek Opportunity. Some parts of their life together and their love story are mentioned in that novel, but I happen to know the whole story. I mean, how does a woman who has been in cryostasis for a century-plus end up killing the queen of an alien race in single combat? Over who has ownership of a human male, no less….

Yeah, it’s a great story. And while I’m letting “Kindness of Strangers” and “A Ruined Woman” percolate before editing, I’ll be getting words onto virtual paper for “The Briar Rose”–Dane and Aurora’s story that kind of rhymes with Sleeping Beauty. Kind of. And since it takes place a couple of decades before all the other stories in that universe (that start with The Valmont Contingency), when I get it out for sale, it will be free (or 99 cents at Amazon if they choose to be jerks about price matching).

Because why not?

Wish me luck; it should be a fun ride to write this.

 

 

I won NaNoWriMo….

When you’ve been a professional writer of one kind of another for three decades (which still freaks me out–how did I get old enough to have that much experience?), writing 50,000 words in a coherent narrative during a calendar month isn’t that big of a deal. I actually wrote 71,000 on the official project, and then noodled around with another project yesterday for another thousand words of brainstorming.

However, most people are not sick and twisted enough to have spent three decades putting words down for a living (mostly instructions–I don’t yet make a living wage from novels). For normal people, writing 50,000 words of a coherent narrative in 30 days is a big deal, and it should be celebrated. For all you wonderful people who made it through to word 50,000 by midnight tonight (your local time), major congratulations are in order, along with confetti and a marching band.

You did it. Get your badge, pat yourself on the back, take a relaxing bath and have a celebratory beverage of your choice. You’ve earned it.

Me, I’ve finished a terrible first draft of a historical romance that will never see the light of day under the pen name Val Roberts, because I don’t like the plot anymore and it’s way different from my regular genre. If I can beat it into shape, I’ll probably publish it as Jane Reynolds, which is also a name I can claim as mine. But it sounds more like a historical romance writer, at least to me.

Just as an FYI, Val Roberts is a pen name, but it’s a slightly shortened version of my legal name, in case I ever get the chance to sit next to Nora Roberts. Hey, a writer can dream. 🙂

 

Quick Check-In: I have won NaNoWriMo, now to finish the book

On November 19, I crossed the 50,000-word threshold for winning National Novel Writing Month. Why so early? Because my plan is for this to be a 75,000-word first draft finished before December 1.

It’s going to be a first draft with issues, as some plot points have changed along the way, but it will be a first draft completed in a calendar month, writing approximately 2,500 words per day (this takes me a little over two hours when working steadily, but only if I know exactly what scene(s) I’m going to work on).

So…back to the keyboard for me.

National Novel Writing Month – one week in

After sort of finishing Kindness of Strangers (all of the words are written, but it’s currently in three files and a mess), I started a new work in progress for National Novel Writing Month.

This is the book told my RWA chapter I was going to finish this year, so I have this month to get the first draft done. The working title is A Ruined Woman (there are also characters for A Married Woman and A Suitable Woman poking at my brain, so it’s beginning to look a lot like a series…), and it’s about a duke who isn’t quite a duke and a ruined woman who isn’t ruined, somewhere between the Regency and the reign of George IV.

I know, I can never do anything straightforward. This probably says something about how deeply my subconscious is twisted and in what direction, but I don’t want to know exactly what because it’s working.

So far, I’m on track; in seven days, I have written over 18000 words. Go, me!

I’ll let you know how next week goes.

 

Writing, writing, writing

Progress report: In two weeks, I have a net gain of three thousand words (which includes rewrites, expansions, and cutting material that is now redundant or no longer part of the story at all). I’m getting there, slowly but surely. I have to get it done by the end of October, because…

I’ve also started plotting work on my “NaNo” book; the story I will be working on in November, as part of National Novel Writing Month (fondly known as NaNoWriMo, or NaNo for the truly lazy). This is going to be something completely different: a historical romance about a duke who isn’t quite a duke and a ruined baron’s daughter who isn’t really ruined.

I never thought I would try to write a historical romance, but the characters popped into my head and wouldn’t go away, so here we are, LOL.

One other thing —

For writers who publish independently: I attended a workshop called the Indie Unconference October 12-13. It was mostly about marketing, but there were also discussions about the latest developments in wide vs. Kindle Unlimited (Amazon exclusive), and the best way to do print-on-demand now that Createspace is no more (may it rest in peace).

Back to the work in progress,
Val

 

Progress Report – Kindness of Strangers

Kindness of Strangers is the working title of the third book in the first Strike Force trilogy. It’s the story of the colonel, Rahmsin Singh, and Chandra Ramasamy, and how she solves the mystery of what was the inciting incident that ended with the friendly-fire shelling of the Charlie Company electronic warfare unit (along with most of their behind-the-sharp-end field facilities), while he saves her, the miners who tried to save her, and starts the ball rolling to save the human race. Of course, because I always have people tripping over true love at the most inconvenient times, LOL.

It’s a tricky story, since both of them are, um, well, physically dead for most of it. She’s actually physically dead due to kludged cryogenic freezing (but getting better because Singh gets her into a regen unit where she regains consciousness and can move from her auxiliary brain chips into the Strike Force network), he’s in a hasty version of real cryostasis after the miners hit him on the top of his head and dump him into a cryostasis unit while he’s rebooting.

So it’s almost all inside “The Matrix” (so to speak). And it happens simultaneously with Getting Lucky, which made the timing tricky. And it’s also the climax of the political/industrial intrigue. And it introduces the bridge between this series of stories and the world of the human diaspora books (which start with The Valmont Contingency). It has a lot to do for a 35,000-word novella. Yeah, it might bulge out to 40K. I guess we’ll see.

Back to the progress report — it was supposed to be finished by the end of August, but that didn’t happen.  Then it was supposed to be finished by the end of September, and that didn’t happen either. While I was in Seaside, I stopped in at a palm reader (as one does on vacation), who figured out I’m a writer by looking at my non-writing hand (spooky!), then told me I wouldn’t finish my work in progress by the end of September, and I should forgive myself for it, LOL.

I made progress, I really did. I fixed plot problems, I created 12,000 words of new content that works with the existing content. I straightened out the bits that didn’t mesh with Getting Lucky. If I hadn’t had to fix the gigantic plot hole (which required cutting…a lot of cutting), I would have been finished by the end of September.

But I’m going to get it done this month, because I have a different project lined up for NANO in November. NANO is short for NaNoWriMo, which is short for national novel writing month. It’s an international organization all for the purpose of writing a book in November. That is, writing, from start to finish, a 50,000-word (minimum) story in 30 days. Which means Kindness of Strangers draft 1 has to be finished in October, by Grapthar’s hammer!

 

 

What is ‘too stupid to live?’

I live with a first responder. My husband (known here as Spooky Man), is a veteran living with disability. He has been a caregiver for the developmentally disabled, a correctional officer, a correctional emergency response fireman, and an army medic.

My father was a communications specialist for the Boise National Forest, and he was involved in the original formation of the National Interagency Fire Center (then known as the Boise Interagency Fire Center). He was a first responder, too. My family never took summer vacations, because my father was always on wildfires all over the West.

What does this have to do with the title of this post?

Years ago, a reviewer accused Tasha Ocasek of making a too-stupid-to-live decision at the end of The Valmont Contingency. My response then was laughter, because I knew immediately three things about the reviewer:

  1. He/she was not a first responder
  2. He/she had never lived with a first responder
  3. He/she does not (and might never) understand a first responder’s way of thinking

The recent anniversary of September 11, 2001 made me think about this again, and it took a few days to get my thoughts in order.

Obviously, Tasha Ocasek is a first responder, who becomes a respected trauma surgeon by the time of The Ocasek Opportunity’s main action. But the mindset came long before the training, the residencies, and the board certifications. She’s the kind of person who runs toward danger, because she knows she has the ability and the responsibility to protect others.

I know about this mindset because of the first responders in my life. (Me, I’m a lab rat; I’ll wait for them to bring stuff to me and then I’ll tell them what’s in it, thank-you-very-much. Adrenaline gives me a hangover.)

Tasha refuses to be protected from the space zombies — no, just because the Republic Navy has their best minds working on the problem it doesn’t mean that she’s not going to work on the problem; she gets lucky and find the source of the problem, but she doesn’t find a solution. Then she walks into her worst nightmare because she knows the source of the attack on the ben Khalids and, guhdammit, She. Is. Going. To. Fix. It.

Yes, complications ensue and she nearly dies (a couple of times), but her determination and conviction that she can make a difference never wavers. That’s a first responder.

If she’s too stupid to live, so is every fireman, police officer, EMT, or other hero who runs into a burning building to save a kitten, wades into floodwater full of sewage and pollution to collect a house-bound hurricane survivor, jumps out of a perfectly good airplane with a pulaski and parachute to put out a raging inferno, or charges into a building with an active shooter inside.

Thank heavens there are people out there who are too stupid to live. And if you’re one of them, thank you for everything you do.

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