Category Archives: Posts from Patreon

Random Rant: Get the basics right, yo

from Patreon

I’m pretty open minded when I read other people’s works, especially if it’s something I borrowed from the library or got as a freebie. What really chaps my hide: when the writer doesn’t do basic research or gets basic facts about something wrong.

I started a book recently, where the main character is a kindergarten teacher. The opening chapter has the MC holding a meet-and-greet for the parents of the new students. So far, okay.

Then this MC hands out syllabusus, or is it syllabuses? (both spellings used in adjoining paragraphs.) Then he mentions a precocious three-year-old who will be in his class.

That’s when I metaphorically threw the book against the wall.

a) The plural of “syllabus” is “syllabi” – although, the OED does grant that “syllabuses” can be used. Syllabusus, though? Not a word.

b) In what world are three-year-olds in Kindergarten? In most states, the youngest age is 5. Something easy to Google.

That’s what really gets me. Not the fact that it’s wrong so much as they didn’t even bother to get basic facts right. If you’re writing a teacher, a mechanic, a soldier – at the very least, do a little research. Make sure you use the right terminology, you know the correct length of a tour of duty for the specific branch of the military.

No, teachers don’t just get off school at 3:45 p.m. and lollygag the rest of the afternoon/evening. There are things like grading papers, preparing upcoming exams, lectures, etc. Most teachers work way more than a 40 hour work week. (Yes, I saw this in another book. This one featured a high school teacher.)

Also, chefs, especially head chefs, of any restaurant aren’t going to show up to work at 4 p.m. and then get off work at 10. What planet is this dude living on? I know something about this because I’ve read a few of Anthony Bourdain’s books and I watch a lot of shows about restaurants and cookery, but also, a minute on the Google gave me Job Monkey’s Chef & Cook page and many, many others.

It might seem ridiculous to spend the time on these small details, but it’s those little bits of verisimilitude that make a story grounded.

Heck, for Matters of the Blood, I spent ridiculous amounts of time and ended up with pages and pages of research on hunting deer, butchering deer and biological facts about various kinds of deer…something I barely used in the book itself. But I needed it to be right – or if not completely right, enough so that it made sense and didn’t jar the reader out of the story.

I’m never going to claim to be an expert on everything I put into my writing, but I definitely intend to get the core things correct. And I expect that from every author I read.

Many-times-award-winner and longtime buddy, Laura Lippman once said that it’s the little things that trip you up. The stuff you think you know. She put a minor fact in a book that turned out to be wrong, because she thought she knew it and didn’t bother to double check. Of course, that’s the first thing a reader discovered and wrote her about.

So I look stuff up.

Do I always get it right? Nope. But I know that I did my best to find out the information, and that’s okay. I’m human. I will make mistakes. But I don’t want those mistakes to be because of laziness or assumptions.

Blast from the Past: Original Blood Kin Notes

I’m totally a hoarder. I hoard my files – the electronic ones. Some time in 2008, I discovered the writing program Scrivener. At the time, it was only for Mac and was ridiculously low priced. I downloaded a trial version, and never once looked back. Word seemed cumbersome and annoying, especially since I write completely out of order. Scrivener saved me.As I write, I save each day’s output as a backup file, appending the date, which means I’ve got gobs and gobs of versions of all my writing. It’s fascinating to go back and see my thought process.

For my third book, Blood Kin, I knew I wanted to set the book in Vancouver, but needed to figure out the logistics and the storyline. If you’ve read Blood Kin, you also know there is a HUGE reveal…one which came to me in the middle of writing. I admit it – it was not at all planned, but damn if it didn’t work out.

Sometimes, that’s just the way the way it rolls, especially if you are a seat-of-the-pants writer, like I am.

This week’s blast from the past is the original set of brainstorming notes for Blood Kin. Enjoy!

Structure, I can haz it?

from Patreon

Originally posted online 8/2011

So…what happens next? That’s the question every single writer has to ask from the first keystroke forward. Some folks like to have a plot lovingly outlined and planned. Me? Not so much. I call myself a plantser – a hybrid between a plotter (outliner) and a pantser (writing by the seat of one’s pants). I tried outlining once. For my second book. I nearly never finished it. For me, the outline was a short-cut storytelling method and the story was done, so I didn’t need to tell it again. Luckily (and since I wasn’t on any deadline because I hadn’t actually sold the book yet), I was able to rethink the whole thing, discard about 85% of the so-called outline and start over.

Isn’t that tough, you ask? Starting blind, not knowing where the story’s going? Sure. It’s tough, but no matter if you outline or not, at some point, you have no idea where the story’s going to take you. I just like to travel that path while I’m writing the narrative, not before.

That said, I do *some* plotting beforehand. Because I write a series, I need to know basic story arc beats. Plot points that I need to hit in order to move the overarching storyline forward. In BLOOD SACRIFICE, I knew that I had to wrap up a bunch of threads that began unsppoling in the very first book of the series. I kept a list – mostly in my head and made sure to address those as part of the discrete story of this most recent book.

Did it work? I think so. Does this process work for me. Absolutely. Will it work for you? Maybe.

Seriously. The key isn’t how I do it, or how anyone else does it. It’s how it works for you. How can you keep track of overarching themes? How best can you keep your plot moving forward and track the various trails? Try out various methods, see what you’re most comfortable with. Then write!

Caturday: Blue under the couch

blue-couch

Blue loves to hide under, behind, between…when he’s not underfoot.

A few weeks ago, we needed to herd the cats into the back bedroom because the cleaners were coming. We searched forever–all his usual haunts: under the bed, under the couch, on the shelves in my closet, but no Blue. We even tipped up the love seat/recliner to see if he was under there – no Blue.

After about half and hour, we found him. He was behind the love seat/recliner, in a cubby hidden by a flap of fabric (which we didn’t even know existed). Somehow, he managed to stay there during the several times we tipped it over looking for him.

We’ve got a new loveseat now. The purchase wasn’t prompted by Blue’s hidey hole, but by the fact that the other one broke after only a week. Blue wanders behind the new one several times a day, probably looking for the cubby that no longer exists.

Silly kitty.

Sneak Peek: Dracula/Mina/Jonathan…oh, my!

from Patreon

Back in September of 2015, there was an article in The Guardian about Urban Fantasy. It was well-written and made some excellent points. A illustrative paragraph caught my eye:Were Bram Stoker’s Dracula rewritten as an urban fantasy in today’s style, Mina and Jonathan Harker would form a polyamorous relationship with Count Vlad and the trio would become a crime-fighting threesome.

I linked to the article on Facebook and mentioned how I’d love to read that, or maybe even write it. When people like Tanya Huff said they’d read it if I wrote it, I immediately started down the rabbit hole of Ooh, SHINY!

Here we are two years later, and not much has been written. Bah. I’ve not actually nailed down the “what it’s about” part. I know some of the world, and some of what happens, but I’ve not yet grasped the shape of the story.

I’m okay with this. I’d rather do it right than spend a lot of time messing about. I’ve not given up. Eventually, this book will be written.

One day…. 🙂

Here’s a peek at one of the opening paragraphs (which may or may not get used in the final product):

It got easier every time: the sorting, packing, the moving away from what had become home, if only for a little while. We never lasted long in one place. Had to keep moving, keep trying to find the one home where we could flourish. Never used to bother me so much as be nothing more than a mild irritation, part of our existence.

But this one; this grated. It was all my fault, this one. All down to me. I couldn’t blame the men (though, it was usually them who’d crossed a line.) No, this time, the fault lay most delicately at my two slippered feet.

To be fair: I hadn’t meant to kill the vicar.

From the Vaults: Critical Essays and Pop Culture

from Patreon

Back in the early 2000s, I discovered the then unknown-to-me world of meta-essays on pop culture, primarily via Smart Pop Books. This discovery came by virtue of the fact that two of my friends were writing/had each written an essay for a collection.

Immediately, I was hooked. Because this was the kind of nonfiction writing I adored. I not only wanted to buy all their books, I wanted to write for them. Outside of hitting my friends up for contact info, I wasn’t sure how to proceed, not knowing what they were soliciting essays for.

Then it happened. In March, 2008, I read a post in author Jenny Crusie’s blog that she was writing an essay for an upcoming Supernatural Smart Pop book. Dudes! This was MY SHOW! So I figured, what the heck, sent an email to the editor, asking if any slots were open. The answer was “yes, and send me ideas and sample writing.” I LITERALLY sent an email to my friends/beta readers with the subject line: EEEee! (no, really, because I totally just found the email.)

These are the topics I sent:

(1) Getting Your Kicks on Route 666: Mytharc vs. Road Trip
— The story of Supernatural as all-American road trip show vs. the over arching mytharc.

(2) Two hot guys and a hot car – why do we watch?
— It’s not the urban legends, nor just the ongoing storyline, but the characters–including the Metallicar–that keeps us tuned in.

(3) Another Roadside Attraction: the role of the Trickster in Supernatural
— He’s only been in 2 episodes, but has had a strong impact.

(4) If It’s Thursday, It Must Be Demons
— More than just a creature feature; how Supernatural uses the urban legend structure as a blueprint to build from.

(5) Send in the Clowns
— How the show uses humor to accentuate the horror.

For my writing sample, I sent her an essay I’d written to a private Buffy discussion group in 2003, entitled “Why I Like Spike vs Angel.”

She loved a few of the suggestions and asked me to elaborate. So I did:

 (1) Getting Your Kicks on Route 666: Mytharc vs. Road Trip
— The story of Supernatural as all-American road trip show vs. the over arching mytharc.

At its core, the show celebrates the quintessential American road trip, as the Winchesters travel from coast to coast via the back roads and small towns that are the backbone of American culture. In such unexotic locales as Lawrence, Kansas, Broward County, Florida or Richardson, Texas, the brothers investigate unnatural phenomena, usually involving a series of deaths. However, the story doesn’t stop with the Kolchak/X-files-like investigation. Each trip, each encounter, reveals yet another piece of the overarching puzzle that is the Heroes’ Journey, which eventually, we hope, will bring Sam and Dean to the Heroes’ End: completion of the quest and the return to normal life to share what they’ve learned.

(3) Another Roadside Attraction: the role of the Trickster in Supernatural
— He’s only been in 2 episodes, but has had a strong impact.

From his introduction in Tall Tales, as jokester/mischief maker, to his darker incarnation as the Chaos-bringer in Mystery Spot, the Trickster plays a seminal role in the mythos of Supernatural. Though only physically appearing in these two episodes, we find that his role isn’t just to provide humor, but manifests as the catalyst, bringing realization through upsetting the norm. As in the many myths and stories, this Trickster is a transformative character who by his actions, changes the primary characters at an essential level.

(4) If It’s Thursday, It Must Be Demons
— More than just a creature feature; how Supernatural uses the urban legend structure as a blueprint to build from.

Supernatural began as “urban legend” of the week during season one, but like Joss Whedon did with Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Eric Kripke uses demons, vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters and other creatures as a blueprint on which to build the real meat of the show: the brothers’ journey to self-discovery. By fighting, by continuing the quest begun by their father and by other hunters, Sam and Dean come to accept their sibling bond and begin to realize that the reason they fight, the reason they hunt, is for Family.

They picked #3, and my essay was published in In The Hunt: Unauthorized Essays on Supernatural. My essay went through several iterations, but the process was loads of fun (yes, I know, I’m weird and love editorial feedback!) and I went on to do two more essays for Smart Pop and other nonfiction work for other publishers.

For you wonderful patrons, I’ve attached a notes file that I compiled as I was pondering the shape of the essay.

Sadly, I’m not as up on pop culture shows as I was then, so haven’t really done more of these types of essays, but I thoroughly enjoyed getting paid to think critically and to expound on topics near & dear to my heart.

Oh, and nifty side note. As a result of the above essay, I reconnected with one of my college professors, who is a renowned Trickster scholar. Bill (CW  Spinks) was a brilliant professor and is still a lovely man. We’re Facebook friends now. 🙂

notesspn

How is it Thursday again?

from Patreon

Seriously, how did this week catch up to me so fast? I usually have a couple of posts written and scheduled, but not so much this week.

On Monday, I went back to work fulltime after being off for a month, then half-days following my broken wrist. It’s definitely taken all my energy. I’m very much looking forward to my weekend, which starts tomorrow (Friday.)

I’ve read a LOT of books over my time off/half-days, taking advantage of Kindle Unlimited, the library and my freakishly fast reading speed. With the world in such a turmoil, I’ve mostly been reading fluffy gay romances with definite HEA. Pure, unadulterated escapism. It’s been great.

I can’t tell you exactly how many books I’ve read in the past 2.5 months, but it’s more than 100 (yeah, I know, freakishly fast!) Granted, a lot of them were novella length.

I do intend to make a more concerted effort in tracking books on Goodreads, as I have this awful tendency to forget titles and sometimes end up checking the same damn book out multiple times.

Fly-by Reading Rec:

One of the books I read was one I’d purchased eons ago (when it came out) and only recently rediscovered it: The Ayah’s Tale by Sujata Massey. I’ve been reading Sujata’s books since her first: The Salaryman’s Wife, and know she’s an excellent writer. The Ayah’s Tale was wonderful! It’s a novella, and a great read. I highly recommend it.

I’m hoping to get more of my Reading Rec posts done – but I really want to do each of them justice, and this week just flew by.

I’ll post something later on just for patrons, but in the meantime, hope you all have a great day!