A new beginning…or how I write

from Patreon

Like moviemakers, I do my best work out of order. That means I don’t write chapter 1, followed by chapter 2, etc.I see scenes in my head, work out the dialogue and action and then go to my project and write it down…no matter where it fits in the overall story. I use Scrivener, a blessing of an app that was first launched in 2006. Scrivener works like I do. I can add, remove, move around scenes/chapters without having to scroll down an interminably long Word document. When I’m done, I can compile all the files into a finished product–whether a Word document to submit to publishers or a finished e-book or print manuscript.

Tools like this make it easy for me to think outside the box. I’m not fighting technology when trying to write, and it’s just easy.

So, why am I telling you all this?

Remember the first chapter of the new project I posted a while back? Yeah, well, it’s not the first chapter anymore.

This past Saturday night, going into the loss of DST (yay!), my body decided that 3:30 (now 2:30) was the best time to get up and be AWAKE. I fussed at myself, but then the brain started working on the the story and I couldn’t stop.

Knowing that I would be really angry at myself if I didn’t write this down, I got up and went to my computer. I never went back to bed. I spent the next many hours writing and typing up notes.

By the end of the day, I had slightly more than 5000 net new words, a bit of a new direction and a new first chapter.

Here it is, in all its first draft glory (and with a lot of placeholder text).

Enjoy!

Where wolf? There.

from Patreon

Despite their origins in horror and war, werewolves continue to hold a strong place in fictional supernatural beings (with our favorite bloodsuckers as number one). Okay, so zombies are on the rise (yes, yes, I know…) but if you scan most urban fantasy/paranormal romance novels, you’ll still find vampire and werewolves running neck and neck. (Egads, the puns!)

Seriously, though–why the wolf? What is so fascinating and fabulous about these furry predators that not only do we have centuries of legends about humans becoming them, so many fantasy novels either feature or include these lycanthropes?

It’s not like most U.S. writers have much personal knowledge of actual wolves outside of stories, TV or movies. They’re not easy to find in the lower 48; the grey wolf has been hunted nearly to extinction. The red wolf, once extinct, now have a small officially endangered population in the Southeast.

Perhaps it’s because a full grown wolf is a sexy beast, reminiscent of man’s best friend, yet with a wildness and danger adding a hint of spice–although, in reality, it’s a predator and maybe not so sexy. Could be that our collective unconscious is reminded of the many legends of the hypermasculine warriors, leading long-ago tribes into battle and translating that into a need for an alpha male (or in some cases, female). Or maybe, just maybe, there’s that part of us that knew that there was more to the story of Little Red Riding Hood than was on the surface–we internalized its sexuality, its underlying themes and wanted more.

Whatever the reason, wolves and their fantasy counterparts (whether wer, shapeshifter or skinwalker) definitely add a bit of je ne sais quoito our reading. We love them. We love to hate them if they’re the bad guy or gal. We love to read about them, tell stories, make them part of our fantasy world.

Personally, I love the fascinating family structure in the wolf world. The pack, with its extremely defined and complex make-up, thrills the social/cultural anthropologist in me. I adore watching people and the way they interact. The way a wolf pack works (at least, so far as my non-scientific understanding) is so very easy to translate into fiction; mimicking its strict hierarchies and morphing those into human/wer behavior totally flips my tortilla.

This is where it gets really fun: making my own world, adapting legend, myth, as well as historical, cultural and physiological facts into my version of what reality is. For those of us that write, isn’t that part of what makes it so damned sexy? Making up a fantasy world, especially one set in contemporary times, like my Blood Lines series, gives me the ability to build in my own rules and behaviors, making it work for me and and getting to create challenges for my characters.

For example, in my world, shapeshifters and werewolves are completely different–ahem–animals (pun totally intended). Shapeshifting is a magical ability, inherited by certain members of the supernatural clan my protagonist belongs to. If you’re a shapeshifter, you can choose which animal to emulate, and, once changed–a process that is neither painful nor physically draining–you retain your humanlike qualities, including the ability to reason.

Wers, on the other hand, become the animal (their human sides are there, but suppressed) and are limited to one particular species (wolf, deer, etc.).

In my first three books, I only dealt with shapeshifters, but in book 4 (Blood Heat), I introduced an actual werewolf clan, with troubles and social rules all their own. I very much enjoyed creating their culture, the shape of their family and how they fit into modern society.

Though I’ve not gone back to the wolves, it’s definitely something I consider doing. One day…

If you’re looking for some reading choices, here are some of my favorites:

Werewolves:

Mercy Thompson series (Patricia Briggs)

The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman) (Mrs. Lupescu!!)

Women of the Otherworld series (Kelly Armstrong)

Blood Trail (Tanya Huff)

Mercy Hills Pack series (Ann-Katrin Byrde)

Silver Moon (Catherine Lundoff)

Other recommended reading/watching in general:

Iskryne World series (Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette)

Brotherhood of the Wolf (an obscure but fascinating French film)

The Howling (cheesy, but so tasty)

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Rant: There are no basements in Texas

from Patreon

I freely admit it. I can be a pedant, a grammar nerd and am ridiculously annoyed by things that other people probably don’t even see. I have a great passion for words and language and how language evolved, so yeah, I probably get a bit wound up.

What gets my goat most, is when professionals commit these heinous acts. I go through the roof. Simple things that should be caught by copyeditors slip through…oh yeah, some major publications actually think copyeditors aren’t useful.

Seen recently in professional publications (both online and print):

Homonym Misuse

Lynchpin – NO, the word is linchpin. It is “a person or thing that holds something together” and has ZERO to do with lynching. Merriam Webster accepts the incorrect spelling as a variant, but honestly? It’s only because people don’t know the real word and use the wrong one that it’s gained in use.

Woah – not a word. It’s whoa, like in “Whoa, horsey.” Again, seen in somany places. It’s related to the other pet peeve:

Reign – I see this as in “loosened the reigns” or “reigned in,” neither of which are correct. Reign involves ruling over, like a king. Reining in, loosening the reins are related to you know, reins, as in the things you use to control a horse.

Geography Gone Wrong

All the characters fly (from another country) into Dallas/Fort Worth to then drive to a ranch in Johnson City.

Uh, no. Johnson City is north of San Antonio and in the Texas Hill Country, just off Highway 281. To get there, you might fly into DFW because it’s a hub airport, but you’ll end up in San Antonio or Austin/Bergstrom, then drive. DFW is 228 miles from Johnson City and a mere 64 miles from SAT or 53 miles from AUS.

As for the title of this rant?

Many years ago, someone I knew wrote a story that set the characters in San Antonio. A major plot point had Character A go down into his mom’s basement. I live in San Antonio and know that basements are not a thing, mostly because our entire city sits on a massive sheet of bedrock limestone that is mere inches below the soil. Building anything below ground requires blasting and costs $$$$$$. Thus, houses do not have basements. I wrote a private note to the writer and mentioned this (the story was not yet published.) Said writer refused to make changes, but whatever. It just irks me to no end when something is factually wrong and it takes less than a minute to look up.

/rant

Reading Recs: Abroad by Liz Jacobs

I posted this on my patreon as a public post, read here or there.

Abroad by Liz Jacobs

It’s the story of an immigrant student, now studying in London who is coming to terms with who he is: as a Russian Jew, as gay and as he figures out where he belongs.
Nick’s story really hit home for me. Although I’m not a Russian Jew, I am an immigrant. Born in Cuba and brought to the U.S. at age almost-3, escaping Fidel Castro’s regime. I can’t tell you how much I identify with Nick’s struggle–as an immigrant, being in a new place and (eventually) coming out of the closet. 
I remember being in first grade (or kinder) crying because I didn’t understand what the teacher wanted, because I didn’t speak English well enough.
I remember being ashamed of my mother’s accent, because kids in school teased me about it. We never spoke Spanish at home, as my parents figured we’d assimilate better if we concentrated on English. There were so many cultural differences that I just didn’t get. 
My father had wanderlust and we moved house pretty much every year until they divorced when I was 16. We never got a chance to settle and become part of a community and I was always the “new kid;” the outsider. This is something that helped me out in later years, as I find it fairly easy to connect with new people now, but as a kid, it was so very tough.
Coming out as not-straight: a tough one. I’m old enough to be a tail-end baby boomer, and my generation did not just come out. I wasn’t sure how to tell people that I was bi/pan. We just did not talk about our sexualities so freely. Friends knew, especially fannish friends, but family? Not so much. Though, once I finally did say something, my mom told me she’d known for a long time – go figure. 
In Abroad, Liz captures the essence of all of these feelings so very well. I’m not a college-age Russian Jewish guy, but I understand Nick deeply and I very much want to get to know him and the other characters better. Can’t wait for the sequel.

Writing: Vampires Suck

from Patreon

Another Blast from the Past essay

Sometimes, vampires truly do suck…and not in the good way.

I mean, take writing them. You go along, line by line, chapter by chapter and then, all of a sudden, the sucker (pun intended) won’t do what you wanted them to do. That goes for all types of characters as well.

Now, I do realize that characters don’t really have a life of their own and that it’s mainly my subconscious trying to make me realize that I’m about to go down the wrong writing road (because if I really thought that Keira Kelly or Adam Walker or Tucker or any of my characters were whispering in my ear, that’s when they’d come to take me to the asylum to be a roomie for Renfield, and I’m so not going there).

What I’m really talking about is the little voice inside that nudges you when the book you’re working on is branching off into boring land, or maybe just repetition road. I know. I’ve just been there, done that.

About seven eighths of the way to a finished draft of Blood Bargain, I decided to make a huge concerted effort to finishing the the draft in a week. Not so bad, a couple of thousand words a night, every night for six nights. I could do this. Part of my angst involved my day job, a fairly demanding position which was about to become even more demanding after losing two of my peers due to life moves. I knew that in order to make sure Blood Bargain had even a remote chance of getting done and getting turned in, I’d have to knuckle down and write more than usual.

I went along, first night, about 1500 words, second night, 3000, third night, 1700. As I wrote, I polished, trimmed, sorted and re-sorted actions and sections to make more sense in the narrative flow. I cut out part of the prologue, move most of the rest of it to within the body of the book, making it more dynamic. (Thank goodness for Scrivener, which lets you do this with relative ease. I fought a long hard battle with Microsoft Word in the past, and it lost, but that’s a tale for another day). I expanded one scene, trimmed another, made sure that my timeline made sense. I was doing great. I felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment, basking in the euphoria that happens when you’re in the writing zone and you know it.

The euphoria lasted three nights.

On night four, I got home loaded for bear and ready to attack. I just knew that I could do at least 2000 words, maybe even more. I sat down, opened up Scrivener and reviewed the last couple of chapters I’d written. In less than fifteen minutes, I realized that  there was a totally extraneous chapter where nothing happened. I don’t know why it took so long to realize. This was a chapter that had been written eons ago, long before I’d actually gotten to this point in the overall narrative. It was one of those scenes that I’d conjured up so very clearly. In fact, I could visualize just about everything, including the lighting, the sounds, the smells. Oh yeah, baby, this was golden!

Only thing is, I also knew that I’d had trouble with this chapter for a long time, but kept thinking it was the lead in from the previous chapter that was the problem. A couple of my beta readers had even remarked on the abruptness of introducing this scene. I could fix that, no problem. Just make sure to write a scene before it that gets my characters here.

Except..not so much.

Turns out, it was a problem because simply, the scene existed. It wasn’t the writing. The words were good. The dialogue was good. It’s just that absolutely nothing happened. Without giving away the plot (a crucial part at this point), my protagonist, Keira, finds something out about Adam, who is her lover and the chief of the local vampire tribe. In the original version, Keira’s at her house, with her brother, telling him why she’s not at Adam’s, when they get a call and rush over to Adam’s ranch to find out that [insert spoiler here that I won’t give away]. It was about 2500 words of Keira saying & thinking: “I’m at my house, being all angsty and oh, is that the phone?”

What’s wrong with this picture? There was absolutely no reason for the entire scene at Keira’s house. None. Nada. Rien.

After going through the five stages of writing grief:

  • Denial (No, I can’t cut it. It’s a good chapter)
  • Anger (Damn it! I just wasted all that time!)
  • Bargaining (Well, maybe if I just tweak it a little…)
  • Depression (Sigh. That means I’m 2500 words further away from “the end”)
  • Acceptance (Cut, paste into a separate file for posterity, rework the discovery of [insert spoiler here] where Keira is at Adam’s house),

I realized that the lessons I’ve learned from hanging out with writers over the years are very, very true and that ignoring them will just lead to bad writing.

(1) Writing is not for sissies.

(2) Show, not tell.

(3) Sometimes, you have to kill the puppies.*

(4) When in doubt, cut it out.

Oh yeah, and vampires really do suck…but mostly in very good ways.

* Killing the puppies = deleting a well-written scene because it doesn’t advance the plot.