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Archive for the ‘writing’ Tag

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!

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!

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.

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

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.

The Real Estate Transaction

I warned you this house purchase was going to occupy my attention this month, didn’t I? Well, we’ve secured all the necessary documents (one of them three times), acquired a VA appraisal, inspected a house, a well, and a septic system, and we’re on track for loan approval by Friday and closing next week.

If everything goes according to plan, this time next Tuesday I will be signing several inches of documents in McCall, Idaho (a somewhat touristy mountain town that hugs the south end of Payette Lake and abuts Ponderosa State Park). That’s not where the house is located, but it is where the title company has an office.

Then I will begin the process of moving Spooky Man to his beloved mountains and cleaning old, unnecessary stuff out of the city house without a retired spouse underfoot. There’s also a lot of mountain driving in my future, but it will give me plenty of time to work out plot and character issues.

I’m a bit frustrated with my current work in progress (WIP), because I don’t have a character arc for the heroine. And I’m being distracted by the house thing, so I don’t have enough brain left over to dig into her problems. Luckily, after next week the distraction should be over.

Then, Miz Danae, you and I need to have a heart-to-heart talk that I’m not sure either of us is really going to enjoy. Fair warning my dear, I’m going to push you so far out of your comfort zone you might never fit back in it. Sincerely, Your Author.

Thanks,
Val

World-building for fun and profit

This is a reprint of an article I wrote last month for my local romance writers’ newsletter, so it’s mostly for writers.

Worldbuilding is the gentle art of making stuff up to create a believable reality that isn’t necessarily the one we live in. You might think, “Oh, I write contemporary small-town romance, I don’t need worldbuilding.” Unless you want to annoy real people in a real small town, you need world building.

It begins with reality and then turns left once in a while where reality turns right. How far left is up to you. In the early aughts, I wrote a (very bad) ghost-story novel. Most of it was set in a Queen-Anne style house in Seattle (allegedly), but part of it was set in the small town of Ahsahta, Idaho.

Now there is no Ahsahta, Idaho—there’s an Ahsahka, but that’s not my town. My town was a combination of Horseshoe Bend, Cascade, and a little bit of McCall. A mountain town, not too far from the capital city, with a good airport and some empty commercial buildings. A little down on its luck but scrappy. The name is from Ahsahta Press at Boise State University (yes, with the blue Astroturf and also a remarkably good English department), which at one time claimed it was a Native American name for mountain sheep.

It’s only in one or two scenes, but I knew exactly what downtown looked like and could have drawn you a map, compete with a few house and storefront elevations, because I realized this small town was a setting I could use again, and it would become a nice little theme connecting stories in a series. Of course, I haven’t written another book in Ahsahta (yet), but I know it’s there.

Place is only one aspect of world building, though. Culture (religion, race relations, economics, etc.) is another big one. In Blade’s Edge, I made a point of the technological society being metric, polytheistic and patriarchal while the non-technological society used Imperial units, worshiped a single (female) deity, and inherited from mother to daughter.

In another series I’m working on, I had to think about capitalism after humans leave Earth. Heavy, deep stuff. What I came up with—the “cartel” system—was a combination of multinational corporations and constitutional monarchies of a sort. Different than what we have now, but…based on what we have now.

Consider HP, one of my inspirations—I’ve never been an HP employee, but I’ve worked there on six different occasions in the past thirty years. And it has two name lines: Hewlett and Packard.

And yet another aspect you need to look at is language. Since I write science fiction romance, one of the things I was poked about early on was swearing, which I found puzzling. They weren’t upset because there was swearing, but they didn’t like the actual words used.

Now, I’ve always figured language evolves, so whatever you’re reading from a thousand or 1,500 years in the future is translated into current dialect, even if it’s set in the same “language.” But once I went through the process of deciding what would be bad, really bad, and the equivalent of the f-bomb to people who routinely traveled in space (rip, rust, and dust), I stopped getting the dings.

So world building can be as small as a word or two, or as big as a new socio-economic system. Now go make up things to bring your worlds to life.

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