fbpx

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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and after the circumstances around the original complaint came out, the national office announced the ruling was rescinded pending a review of some stuff that might not have been done according to written policy and procedure.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

National Novel Writing Month Projects, Maybe

Last week I wrote five longhand pages on the first draft of Beta Tested (or whatever the title ends up being), my first work on Beta Tanaka’s story since August.

I had no idea my subconscious mind was so stubborn. Don’t go there, for that way madness lies, bwah-hah-hah-hah-hah. Conscious mind, yes, but apparently it goes all the way through.

So now that the characters are actually working again and I have a few ideas to fill the gaping plot holes, I think I’ll be working on the book during November, possibly as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short; NaNo for shorter).

Or not, because there’s this other story that keeps floating into my head when I’m trying to go to sleep at night. It’s the tale of Lord and Lady Danbury, coming up on their 10th anniversary when it comes out she wasn’t quite of the age of consent at their marriage of convenience.

Yeah. Another historical, when I vowed I would never write a historical because there’s so much research to do it properly.

Speaking of research, did you know the age of consent in England was 12 until 1875? 12! And I found that out accidently while watching something on the War of the Roses. Gah!

But…maybe I’ll work on that during NaNo too, just to get them out of my head. Maybe. I still have two days to decide, right?

And whatever I decide, I’ve broken the block. Onward….

Best Laid Plans

I was supposed to have a first draft of Beta Tanaka’s story finished this week. I don’t have it finished.

I am…disappointed with myself. Not punch-in-the-code-to-make-my-head-explode disappointed (Fifth Element reference for those of you who aren’t old like me), but not entirely sanguine either.

I could give reasons—there are always reasons, from sleep issues to new medications to new routines. (I’m now the only lap for two housecats and I can only be that lap from 5-10 p.m. The pressure!)

But the truth is, and always has been, you make time for the things that are important to you. I need to look at my priorities and decide if I want to get this story told this year. I only have three months left to make that happen.

And of course I want to get it down on virtual paper this year, before the details start to fade from memory. It’s a good story. Beta and Danae save the Dozen Worlds and find a way to overcome the obstacles to their relationship at the same time. Who wouldn’t want to find out how that happens?

So now that September has evaporated (September?! What happened to April!?), it’s time to pull up my big girl yoga pants and get some words down. In the right order.

See you soon, hopefully with a finished first draft.

As my penance, here’s a photo of me on lap duty, while trying to work out a troublesome plot point.

Stuart the lap cat

Corgi Problems

This is my dog Smokey. He’s a Welsh Corgi (purebred, but that was kind of an accident). A family who had raised him from a puppy was selling him because they had leased a house with hardwood floors, and the landlord didn’t want indoor dogs on the hardwood floors.

Let that sink in, and you’ll realize why I ended up with a purebred corgi. They were selling a family member for someone else’s convenience, but the two outside hunting dogs (the husband’s dogs) got to stay.

To quote Miss Scarlet of the movie Clue, “Flames. Flames shot out of my head….” Of course, Smokey had to be rescued from that situation. The labradors kept outside did too, but I didn’t have that option.

And Hank, who had always loved small dogs, thought Smokey was the best present ever. Corgis are really medium-sized dogs with achondroplasia dwarfism, but it was close enough for Hank.

Now, corgis are shepherds. And nobody told them they’re supposed to be little dogs (or if they did the corgis didn’t listen). So Smokey has the attitude of a police dog when it comes to doorbells, strangers, and perimeter patrol. And it really bothers him when the cats mess with him—they’re about the same height, but they’re cats. “It’s like being told to move along by a civilian, Chief. It’s not respecting the badge.”

But aside from just being a corgi (stubborn, protective, adorable), he has a bad habit of snacking out of litterboxes. I know—euw. We still don’t have all the furnishings in the mountain house, so there are two litterboxes within his reach. And Spooky Man isn’t good at policing his, ah, activities.

Yesterday, Smokey made himself sick enough that Spooky Man couldn’t drive to town for our wedding anniversary and to pick up his medications (Spooky Man’s, Smokey doesn’t take any medications).

Naughty corgi. But I can’t stay annoyed with that face. Sigh.

So I’m losing another weekend to a long-ish drive into the mountains, but I get to have my anniversary dinner in a trendy tourist spot, so it’s all good. And I can figure out a way to keep Smokey out of trouble while I’m there.

Then…back to the word mines.

A Quick Public Service Announcement

If you ever read something I’ve written and have constructive feedback, please feel free to let me know! I edit as thoroughly as I can, but after so many repetitions through the material, the brain starts to make it look like what it’s supposed to regardless of whether it actually does.

Something like that happened recently with The Unique Solution — which had been edited, critique-partner read, beta-read, and edited some more before it was published, with a certain plot element repeated thirty pages apart. Head, meet desk. Repeat.

Thank you Lieselotte, for noticing and saying something. You rock!

Comments and constructive criticism gratefully received at valmroberts (at) gmail (dot) com.

Hey, and if you feel like saying something nice, I’m up for that too.

News from the Word Mine

House purchase accomplished. Furniture purchase accomplished. Now I am back to the word mine, hard at work on about four projects.

First Working Title: Finding the Briar Rose

Set in the Human Diaspora universe. The story of Dane and Aurora Avondale’s courtship; he wakes her up from a century of cryosleep. He’s kidnapped by Saurians (friendly-ish aliens who evolved from their version of dinosaurs). He prevents the kidnappers from killing her after she nearly fights them off.

It is a Sleeping Beauty trope, but it’s Sleeping Beauty done properly. She wakes up with this guy kissing her and punches him, as one does in the real world. Eventually, Aurora kills the evil fairy in dragon form Saurian queen to free Dane, then takes over as regent for the late queen’s offspring that he saved when they were eggs. Hey, the kids didn’t do anything wrong.

I’m having trouble with the middle bit, where they discover they have far more in common than not, and the irritation turns to attraction. Apparently stubborn people live in my subconscious.

Second Working Title: Beta Testing

Set in the Dozen Worlds universe. The story of how Beta Tanaka and Danae Childress re-establish contact with Earth while overcoming their own relationship problems (he’s a customer-relations ninja for the Hauptmann Group, flitting around the Dozen Worlds fixing things; she’s a stay-at-home Zonan art expert–which makes for a really long-distance relationship). Oh, and did I mention alien cephalopoids (evil squids) might be coming to kill them all? Still fighting with this story, so the plot’s a bit murky yet.

Third Working Title: A Married Woman

Set in Regency England. Michael and Elizabeth, Lord and Lady Danbury, are coming up on their tenth anniversary…he was “blackmailed” into a marriage of convenience by her seedy father right before he leaves to be a field surgeon on the Peninsula. They discover she wasn’t quite 12 (who makes 12 the age of consent?!?—England until 1875! Gah!) at the ceremony.

A lot of living has happened since that wedding—both his older brothers died four years ago and he’s now heir to the big title—and he’s fallen in love with her, but she’s not so sure about trying the vows again. I never planned to write even one historical, but this is the second set of characters that refuse to get out of my head, so I’m writing it. FYI, Michael shows up at the end of A Ruined Woman as the physician for the duel.

Fourth Working Title: Temptation of Tetsuo or The Hitsugaya Harridan

Set in the Dozen Worlds universe. If you’ve read The Nobinata Gambit, you know a bit about Tetsuo Nobinata and Yuki Hitsugaya. This is their courtship—alpha male imperial warlord and alpha female survivor of sexual violence. And I’m still plotting it so that’s about all I know right now, but I do know that her strength and resilience is one of the things he finds highly attractive.

I also know Tetsuo is a great fighter but not so smooth with the ladies, and his awkwardness, and to some extent vulnerability, is something she finds attractive about him.

I’ll try to surface about once a week and think of something interesting to type, but…yeah. Those are pretty much the rest of my year if I can keep from getting distracted again. Wish me luck. And let me know if you come up with better titles, because I struggle with them.

Remembering the Moon Landing

Do you remember where you were when the first humans landed on the moon? I was in my parents’ living room, watching CBS on a black-and-white television at oh-dark-thirty. I had just turned five earlier in the month (which tells you how old I am now if you do the math).

You might not have existed yet (I’m getting pretty old), but those were exciting times. Except…we didn’t have the video, so we really only got half the story.

The footage of the LM descending, with its foot visible through the window, makes me hold my breath every time I see it, but we didn’t see that at the time. That camera had to come back to Earth and have the film developed.

And now, knowing that (a) the onboard computer was overloading so they had to land manually, (b) the original landing area was full of boulders that would have destroyed the LM, and (c) they had 17 seconds of fuel left when they finally set down, the story is even more intense.

You’d never be able to tell how fraught the situation was from those calm voices we were hearing at the time. Even reporting how little fuel was left or the error codes on the computer, they didn’t sound like they knew they had a pretty good chance of dying, although I understand (now) Commander Armstrong’s heart was beating like a hummingbird’s.

I just need to say here, he was a very, very, very good pilot. I’m sure Aldrin and Collins were also very very good pilots (they wouldn’t have been there otherwise), but that landing is proof that Armstrong had Mad Skilz-with-a-capital-M-capital-S.

I’ve been a passenger in a small aircraft landing on some questionable surfaces (dad was a pilot and we went into Idaho wilderness areas once or twice), and, well, I’ll say it again. That footage makes me hold my breath every time I see it, and I’ve been watching it almost obsessively for the last week or two every time someone else shows it on one of the 50th anniversary shows.

First Man On The Moon, yeah, but that was opening a door and climbing down a ladder. The landing was where Neil Armstrong-the-legend was made. We simply didn’t know that until later.

There are so many story lessons in the Apollo 11 moon landing. Raising the stakes for the hero, putting him up a tree and throwing rocks at him, taking away supports to force him to solve the problem on his own. Making use of the fact that he’s a [bleep!]ing fantastic pilot. That might be why it’s so compelling 50 years later. For once, reality makes a great story.

And the story is also making use of what isn’t said. There’s a pause after the telemetry says the Eagle has touched down before the famous announcement. You know, we all know, that Armstrong and Aldrin were looking at each other thinking, “Holy [bleep!], we did it. We’re sitting on the moon!” during that silence.

Much like when Captain Sullenberger and his co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles (and I had to look up his name, which is a shame) turned to each other and said, reportedly almost in chorus, “That wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be!” after landing an Airbus 320 on the Hudson River.

Neil Gaiman tells a story of being at a function and standing in the corner next to Neil Armstrong (both introverts, so of course they were standing in the corner). Armstrong said to Gaiman (paraphrasing), “I’m not sure I belong here. These people have all created things. I just went where they sent me.” Gaiman said he reminded Armstrong that he had been sent to the moon.

If I had been there, I might have been able to remind him that he made the whole billions-of-dollars mission work with that landing. But that would be a different story.

%d bloggers like this: