Friday, September 23, 2011

Zette's Take: Why NaNo?

It's nearly that time of year again.  You'll have already seen posts, tweets and general panic about NaNoWriMo.  At this point, November 1 is still a little over a month away (ack!  Only a month?  Oh no!), but we're already preparing.

And people are already snorting and sneering and pointing fingers.  They would NEVER take part in something so crass.

Good.  Stay away.  Go back to your own corner and sulk.  In the meantime, some of the rest of us are going to join in a literary marathon for a month of fun.  Many will not reach the 50k goal.  Some of us will go far over it.  Some will write silly ninja pirate stories for themselves and friends and some of us will write the first draft of a book that we intend to edit later.

There were two words in that last line that are the most important for anyone who is taking part in Nano: first draft.  This is something important for people joining NaNo to consider.  What you write will not be perfect.  Don't think you're going to get done at midnight on the 30th and publish or submit the next day.  Let the story sit for a couple weeks.  Go back and re-read and fix it.  Don't rush.  There is no hurry.

Yes, some will still send it out right away, before an edit.  Yes, some editors will be overwhelmed with very poor manuscripts in December.  It's unfortunate that people don't take the time to learn better what they should do.  I feel sorry for them -- but, having read submissions for a small press, I know that these are no worse than some of the others.  In fact, I've read some pieces that people told me took them years to write and found them no better than some first draft NaNo's I've seen.  So don't tell me this about time and quantity versus quality.  You cannot pick up a book and tell me how fast the author wrote the first draft.  Quality is not an aspect of slowness; it is a facet of being willing to learn to write well and to apply that to your first drafts.  No one is born knowing perfect grammar, nor is it ever too late to learn.

And that's also something people who sneer at NaNo need to consider.  Those of us who know anything about writing know that we are working on first drafts and will be working on the material again later.  Yes, some of the newbies (those who actually finish the work) are going to be so enamored of their lovely shiny new work that they'll send it right off, expecting an editor to grab it up.  Or and will be inundated with the work.  No, that's not particularly good.

It's not the end of the civilization or even the collapse of the literary world.  Those who moan and groan about all the 'crap' that is put out during NaNo fail to mention one little fact:

They're never going to see any of it.  Whatever is written in NaNo will have no effect on their lives whatsoever.  Well, I guess it does have one influence because it gives some pretentious, literary wannabes the chance to spout about how great they are without ever, you know, actually writing something literary and oh-so-important.

At any rate -- you don't like it?  Don't do it.  End of story, so to speak.

Push yourself in new ways

Okay, so why should you do NaNo?  I'm going to address those who  who aren't doing it just for the fun of throwing a bunch of dares together and writing silliness.  There is nothing wrong with doing that, but you don't need to think about anything else.  Go and have fun.

The rest of us?  We're going to have fun in our own way.  Yeah, we're an odd group, but for people like me, writing a story and making it the best you can is one of the great joys of life.

Sometimes, though, it doesn't hurt to push a little harder.  We can get complacent in our work.  So, sometimes (say for that month of November), it might not hurt to try something a bit more difficult because it gets the brain to work a bit more.  It's a wakeup call to look around and build some new links and tools to play with. 

Writers need to stretch.  Sure, you could do that any time, but if you are like me, you'll let everything else get in the way.  A goal like NaNo is just the thing to make you think about trying something different.  Go ahead.  You can stand to take a few weeks of your life to leap in.  And if you don't like it, you can leap back out at any time.

Try a different genre

One of the things a number of people enjoy during NaNo is working in a different genre than they usually write.  If you aren't sure you're going to like it, why not give it a month to find out?  Remember, it doesn't have to be perfect.  You may find that you need a lot more study before you can write a certain style of book, but at least you can get some of the flavor of it.

You might try a different type of POV than you usually write.  Those can be fun, too.

Or you might have a story you would really like to write, but you can't seem to get moving on it -- or find the time to fit it in.  Now is your chance to get at least 50k on the first draft. 

Ignore Inner Critic

Here's a problem many writers face: they get started and their inner editor/critic steps in and makes them stop.  It's really silly, when you think about it.  You are that inner editor -- no one else lives in your brain.  You let the idea of the inner editor scare you into not finishing, because that's actually more frightening than giving up.

Here is a chance to punch the inner editor in the face.  You won't have time to listen to him/her.  You're going to be too busy writing.  And there are going to be thousands of others cheering you on to keep you going?  What's one inner editor compared to all those others? 

This is your chance to say 'no, you get to wait until the editing phase' and just write for the joy of it.  It's a really incredible sensation.

Prepare or not

Some of us do considerable preparation for NaNo.  I do outlines, world building if I need it, and sometimes those things get extensive.  That's because I like doing prework.  If you don't, then don't do anything at all.  Just get your story in mind.  However, one way that can help you through NaNo is to have a list of at least one thing in your story to write about each day.  If you can come up with two things for each day, even better.  That means less words for each idea.

And no matter what, ignore anyone who makes rude comments about your work or NaNo.  This is for you.  Go into it believing that you are going to have fun.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sample Sunday: Summer Storm

Summerfield grew up traveling from one odd place to another while his parents searched for enlightenment.

And yes, he does work for the nation's leading paranormal publication, Wolton World News -- or Woo Woo News as the scoffing locals call it.

That doesn't mean he's prepared for all kinds of weirdness in the last place he expected to find it . . . Omaha, Nebraska.

An unexpected storm and the search for a large mutant cat are only two of the unusual things happening as a Wolton World News reporter finds himself involved in something a bit odd even for him!  

Read chapter 1 below!

Chapter 1
Lightning blinded me, the flash so bright that for one heart-pounding second I thought an atomic bomb had gone off over the city. I hit the brakes at the same time thunder shook the world and wind swept through the area in a frantic gust, driving dirt and debris across sidewalks and the street. I still feared the end of the world until rain began to fall in a sudden deluge.

Just a storm after all.

Although just didn't approach the description for the sudden fury unleashed around me. Rain obscured the view as though a semi-sheer curtain dropped between me and the rest of the world. A moment later hail the size of marbles fell in a pinging frenzy as they dented the car and shredded leaves from nearby trees.

Despite the weather, a wave of relief rushed through me at how lucky I had gotten this morning. If I hadn't played the good son and gone out to help with some paperwork at my parents' house, I would have been walking to work in this mess.

I contemplated my luck while hail approaching the size of golf balls hit the corner of my hood. I stomped on the gas and darted for the underpass beneath the railroad crossing about two blocks away. Various sizes of hail pounded against the windshield as the car slid on the slick street. I saw a half dozen other cars far ahead, but no one nearby as I came to an ungraceful stop beneath the concrete bridge. Torrential rain and large hail pounded the world outside my little shelter, changing my view of 13th Street into a veil of running colors, swirled by a vicious, erratic wind which changed direction with each gust.

Dangerous storm. Lightning hit a tree about three blocks away, shattering pieces of a limb. The roar of sound afterwards made the car tremble and I blinked as bright patterns played across my eyes. For a moment I thought I saw odd shapes racing across the intersection a block away. I blinked: They disappeared. Good. I had enough weird in my life.

With nothing better to do, I turned on the radio. Lighting cascaded across the cloudy sky and trailed static on the stations but I fiddled with the settings until I could hear voices.

". . . unexpected! An unusual cold inversion along the Missouri River came out of nowhere, and hit the warm front and . . . chaos!" The woman sounded breathless and static covered a few words before I could hear again. "We're getting some of the wildest readings on Doppler I've ever seen!"

Static rose over her words. I tried another setting.

". . . Lake Manawa," a man shouted, loud even over the storm and the interference. "Damnedest thing I ever saw! The sky lighted like a bomb went off!"

"There was no bomb," the DJ replied, cutting him off. Wise to quash that rumor right away. At least I hadn't been the only one who had experienced the gut-wrenching moment of fear. "This is nothing more than a very unusual storm. We have another call . . ."

". . . Angels calling out to hold tight, to hold back. This is the apocalypse . . ."

My. The storm had unsettled quite a few people. I fiddled with the radio, watching hail build up on the ground and looking like a fall of hard snow. The winds began to lessen, though the rain continued to fall as though someone had opened a spigot. A huge limb swept past in the growing rush of water and a pond began to grow in the depression beneath the bridge. I'd have to leave soon or risk water in the engine.

". . . Flying through the sky . . ."

When another limb wedged itself into my little sanctuary, I eased the car forward, despite the hail. The tires slipped on the slick road and leaving even the slight depression proved difficult.

"... Adams Park," a woman said over the static. "And it's raining huge rocks!"

I glanced towards grey clouds glimpsed between the snap of my windshield wipers and fervently discounted the idea of falling rocks. The hail proved bad enough, pinging off the roof and hood with loud thumps. I fought the wheel of the car and pushed on the gas, fearing the storm would sweep me away with the rest of the debris.

And my cell phone went off; Age of Aquarius rang out, startling me into a breathless curse. The tune repeated twice. My boss was calling, of course. She has an incredible knack for calling at the wrong time. I pulled over to the curb and yanked on the emergency break. My hands trembled as I took out the phone.

"Julia." I tried to sound calm while hail fell harder and a circle of cracks appeared in the middle of my windshield.

"Summerfield." She sounded distracted and I could hear the police band radio in her office squawking in the background. Things sounded pretty lively. I switched off my radio but could barely hear her. "Where are you?"

"Not far from the office."


"No. I drove out my parents' house today."

"Bless the Lady. I worried," she replied with such sincerity I remembered one of the reasons I enjoy working for her.

She must have leaned closer to the police band radio; feedback made me yank the cell phone away from my ear with a near curse. I thought I had heard someone yelling about Valkyries this time. Damned odd weather when you can get the Angels of God and Norse Valkyries in the same storm.

"You there?" she asked.

I dared to put the phone to my ear. "Yes. I'm waiting out the storm."

"What's that odd pinging noise?"

"Hail hitting the car." I could count the insurance money with each of those dings in the hood and the new chip in the windshield glass.

"We have hail here, too," she replied.

"About six blocks away. What are the odds?"

"I don't know. I'll have to find someone who can tell me." Sometimes irony is lost on this woman though she made me smile. "I'm glad you have your car, Summerfield. Tessa gave me a reading last night and said today would be important. Hold on. I have to check something."

Tessa, the astrologer, ran a little shop about two blocks from the office of Wolton World News, where I worked. The paper covers stories on the unusual side. Julia frequented Tessa's place for readings and Tessa had been right predicting this one with the angels and Valkyries and falling rocks.

Julia Wolton, owner and publisher of Wolton World News, had a knack for smelling out good stories for the paper, even here in Omaha which is not exactly the arcane capital of the world. People reported from several places around the world and she had hired two local reporters to cover stories she unearthed and to rewrite material from elsewhere.

I enjoyed my job, though I wasn't certain you could call my coworker, Jacobs, a reporter. He got far too many of his stories from the bottom of a beer bottle and I spent too much time fixing the man's prose to consider him a writer of any sort. He fabricated more than he investigated and we had to double check everything. He did answer phones, though, and sometimes we needed him in the office to catch things while Julia and I did the real work.

Someday there would be an accounting for his actions. Karma. I'd seen the power at work too often in the past to doubt the ongoing tally of good and bad. Jacobs' attitude and ethics inched him ever closer to a big fall. I'd try not to snicker.

The storm eased. Water, mud, bits of trees and other debris raced along the edge of the street. Stalled cars sat in the street ahead and a few people took cautious steps outside. A blue jay landed on the hood of my car, glanced around as though startled by the destruction, and took off with a raucous shout of protest.

"I've got something for you, Summerfield," Julia said, startling me. "Something came in about two minutes ago -- a report from out near Ralston, along the Big Papio Trail. Several people have spotted a huge, strange cat."

I held the phone out and stared. Angels of God, Norse Valkyries, falling rocks, storms like atom bombs going off . . . and she wanted me to go check into a lost cat story?



"The police have sent a couple squad cars already," she added, which at least made this sound a little more interesting. "They have several witnesses in the area."

"Something loose from the zoo?"

"The zoo says no. Maybe someone raising a big cat got careless. The people out there are saying this is a strange cat, though. Can you go check? Or I can wait for Jacobs to come in and send him instead."

I sometimes think she plays the Jacobs card on purpose because she knows I don't trust him to report honestly on anything. I snarled something rude under my breath.


"Yes, fine. Where am I going?"

"The police are at the Big Papio Trail along Towl Park. Stay off the main roads. I'm hearing reports of stalled cars and accidents throughout the city. And don't go anywhere near the Interstate or Bypass. It'll be hours before they clear that mess out!"

Good warnings. I inched the car towards a driveway where to turn around. I would have been closer if I'd stayed at my parents' place for a while longer.

"I'll see what I can find, Julia."

"Good luck. Goddess go with you."

I dropped the phone on the seat beside me and began the laborious work of going back the way I had come. I couldn't get through on 13th because stalled cars and downed power lines. I cut through side streets, helped clear two branches and found damaged trees all the way to the Henry Doorly Zoo. The Desert Dome stood to be intact. I hoped the botanical gardens hadn't been hit too badly.

I found less damage once I got south of the zoo. I didn't think I would have too much trouble getting to Ralston.

Where I would go looking for a big lost kitty.

The clouds moved in odd ways, and sometimes the wind gusts came so hard I had to fight the steering wheel to keep from careening off the road. Once I thought I heard voices somewhere above me; my imagination playing with me after the radio reports.

After more than an hour, I arrived at the area of the missing cat and found two police cars and big crowd. Given the weather, I would have thought they'd have better things to do. Ah, but maybe watching the Big Papio rise in its banks drew many of them out here. I could see it stood almost bank full already. Not a good sign.

I parked well back in the Towl parking lot with a half dozen other cars and dropped my cell phone under the passenger side seat for safekeeping. I hated when the thing went off in the middle of an interview. I also grabbed my press pass from the glove compartment and a camera bag from the backseat before I braved the weather and threw open the door.

I don't know how it could be so hot, humid and raining at the same time. I'm used to summer weather in the Midwest, but I paused, almost gasping this time. As I crossed the lot, the rain lessened to a drizzle, which was no help since I was already drenched. I could see trash rolling into piles near the storm drains and rivulets of rain water rushing through the street. However, the storm hadn't hit this area as hard as some locations I had driven through.

Clouds skittered across the sky in several layers and each chaotic mass heading in a different direction. I'd seen such movement happen with two layers before, but not four or five. I watched in amazement for a moment and then forced myself to head for work.

The cops were starting to herd some of the people away from the trial along the banks. Holding up my press pass won a couple grunts and nods until a tall, lanky cop with gray sideburns, a mustache, and a no-nonsense look stopped me. His plastic raincoat couldn't be comfortable, though at least he stayed dried.

"Summerfield?" he said looking at the press pass. The plastic made an odd crinkling noise as he moved. "I'm Officer Lenz and I'm in charge here. I have rules. Don't go down the bank to get closer to the water. It's moving pretty damned fast and the bank is slick. The cat was last seen heading south, so unless you want to chance meeting the animal by yourself, don't get out of sight."

"Did you see the cat?"

"Nah. But the first cop here did see some tracks before the rain washed them away."

"What am I looking for?"

"Huge golden-brown cat with glowing green eyes." He stared me straight in the face without even a glimmer of a smile.


I headed towards the closest group of people watching the water and asked who had seen the cat. After four tries I found a nervous, anorexic woman of about thirty who must have been out jogging. Her mascara ran in lines from the corner of her eyes and her bleached blond hair hung in limp strands, clearly showing the darker roots. She'd be appalled when she realized how bad she'd looked in public.

"Yes. I saw it not long after the rain started. The cat ran right past me!" She gulped air a couple times. "The zoo -- the zoo will be held accountable for this. They should do better!"

"The zoo hasn't lost any cats. Someone near here might have illegally raised something --"

"No one in this neighborhood would do such a thing!"

I buried an amused grin. "Well, cats can run for quite a ways. Can you describe the animal?"

"Golden and brown, ticked fur," she said and her eyes narrowed. She held up her hands, flashing perfectly manicured fingernails which didn't look any more natural than her hair. "A long tail, too. Not short haired, but not a Persian or angora length, either. Would have made a gorgeous coat."

"Thank you." I pulled out a little notebook I always keep in my pocket and jotted notes, hoping I could keep the paper dry enough to avoid the ink running like her makeup. Glancing upward, I could darker clouds moving in, promising more trouble soon.

The woman dabbed at her eyes, got a horrified look on her face, and hurried away without saying anything more. I moved on to another group of people, but most had arrived after they saw the cops show up.

One person had seen the cat sniffing around at the edge of the trail. He gave the same general description, adding that the face had been a little flat, the eyes huge and glowing and with paws a peculiar long and narrow shape.

Julia would love the part about the glowing eyes if I could get the detail confirmed somehow. I followed the path along the edge of the Big Papio with a wary eye on the weather and the water. The winds kicked up and rain fell in a sudden burst and stopped again a moment later. The crowd thinned out and one cop car took off so I didn't think anything more would come of this.

I considered leaving. I glanced at the clouds and felt as though I stood in the heart of a hurricane, with everything swirling around in different directions. The sight could almost make a person dizzy.

"Damned impressive, ain't it?"

A short, older black man moved along the path towards me. The weather didn't bother him in the least. He squinted through raindrops on his gold-rimmed glasses and brushed water from his short, coarse hair as he watched the sky for a moment before turning back to me.

"I've never seen a storm like this," I admitted.

"Me neither. Lived here all my life and the weather can still surprise a person. Sure hope it doesn't get any colder, though. Don't want snow."

"This is summer," I pointed out.


Okay, the weather had been odd enough. I couldn't tell what might happen next so he had a point.

"My neighbor told me you asked about the cat," he said. "You're a reporter?"

I held out a hand. "Summerfield, from the Wolton World News."

We shook. He had calloused hands and a good grip. "Tim Dorey, from the Retired and Damned Glad of It. Wolton World News -- that's the odd paper, ain't it?"


"Well, this is odd enough," he admitted. "Biggest damned cat I've seen outside of a Siberian Tiger. I worked for the zoo for twenty years and I've never seen or heard of anything to compare to this one. I'm going to call my old boss and tell him about it."

I grabbed my notebook and began to take notes not only on what he'd seen, but also who to contact at the zoo. He gave me an excellent description with the height of about four feet at the shoulders, lean, long legged and with big, odd shaped paws. The face had been somewhat flat like a tiger, with small ears and green eyes. He didn't say glowing, but I saw the way his eyes twitched at that point.

"Has to be some kind of cross-breed," he said, shaking his head. "You can cross a lot of the big cats, you know. Lions with tigers and such. Or something mutated. I don't know. It was just the damnedest thing I'd ever seen, though. The cat saw me, too. I couldn't have outrun it."

"What happened?"

"The truth? The cat nodded his head like he was saying howdy-do and walked down to the edge of the creek bed. Well-trained. Maybe something from a circus? You know, sometimes they dye the animals and trim them up to look odd."

"Maybe," I agreed. I could tell he didn't believe such a simple answer. I did not, suddenly, want to think about such an animal loose in Omaha.

"Odd day. Damn strange storms, damn strange cats." Tim Dorey glanced around as though he expected something else strange to turn up. "I hope things don't get worse."

Lightning flickered across the sky, several bolts darting from cloud to cloud. The wind bore down on us and rain began to pound the area in a torrent. We both glanced up and back at each other. Mr. Dorey shrugged.

"I think I'll just head back to my apartment," he said with a casual nod. "Before I provoke the Almighty into some other little show of humor. Get out of the rain before you catch a cold."

"Thanks for the information." I shook his hand once more. He appeared pensive. "You have something else?"

"Yeah. But this will sound odd."

"This is the day for it."

He laughed, brushing rain from his hair. "Okay, this is going to sound more than odd. I saw the cat there by the bank and I swear he searched for something. He'd dig a little bit at the weeds and then move on. Not hunting the way normal cats do, big or small. Cats, when they hunt, get all tight-muscled and slinky. This one acted annoyed and bothered in a . . . well, in a human way."

I glanced towards the Big Papio and measured the height of the water from the top of the banks. "Here?"

"Right there in the grass and weeds where everything is kind of flat. I don't know you should go down there, Summerfield --"

"You better get in out of the rain, Mr. Dorey," I said with a smile.

"You be careful. I don't care what anyone else thinks; I know what I seen and big cats are dangerous." He turned and walked away. He had a good point, and one to remember as I stood there in the rain. I knew I should head to the car, but I found myself staring at the flattened weeds and grass.

I had to know what might be hidden down there.

The joy of formatting and tweaking ebooks

A conversation on Twitter-- never the best place for full explanations -- apparently became confusing yesterday while we were discussing the art of formatting ebooks during #kindlechat. Looking back, I can see where at least one person, and likely others, didn't realize we'd made a jump from using 'Word docs to upload' to 'creating html docs to upload.' When I talked about using html in Word (and not letting Word create the html itself), someone assumed I meant you must do so to make the text work.

No. Many people (as they pointed out during the chat) use straight doc files without a problem. That doesn't mean everyone should use them, however.

The addition of html is for those of us who really love to play and tweak with how our work looks. Rather than being a waste of time, this is a step forward for anyone who wants more control over the end product.

I'm only doing very basic stuff right now. However, I'm teaching myself some of the more esoteric material, like working with Adobe InDesign, so I can do even more. I've played with CSS files in other areas, and I'm gradually getting a clear idea of what kinds of things can be done. This is really very exciting stuff to play with if you are inclined to that sort of work.

Writing your material in a plain text editor (and one assumes coding as you go?) may work for some people. I imagine shorter works wouldn't be so difficult. However, for novelists who are used to working with full-fledged word processors (Word, Open Office, etc.) this would be torture. Someone who has been working with Word for long will use control+i to get an italic font out of instinct and keep going without a thought. Stop and put the coding in? No, that's not going to work for many fiction writers who write in a flow with their stories. Go back and put the codes in after you write? Wouldn't that be a true waste of time when you can do a simple find/replace for the format if you even intended to use the html code? (And other code types, of course. Just using italics as an example.)

There is nothing wrong with typing your work up in a plain text editor if it works for you. There is also nothing wrong with work in Word, Open Office, etc., either. Neither is there a problem with creating your work in InDesign, Dreamweaver, Expression Web or any other program which might help you with html, if that's what you want to do.

Like everything else in writing, there is no one true way. The answer is always what will work for you. Never let any of us tell you that you must do something in a certain way. Many of us will say what works for us, though. How else will you ever know if there are other ways to do things?
The only thing you need to worry about is the finished product. Did you get what you wanted? Does it look good on various ebook readers? If you are only going to stick only with Kindle, you don't have to look at anything else. If you want to reach more readers -- and that's the main goal of most fiction writers -- then you need to be aware of what works across the board. Most of the coding does, so there's usually not a problem.

All the coding and what programs you use to create your work won't mean anything if you don't put your full attention into the text itself. Don't worry about what program you use to create it. Use what you are most comfortable with, because this is the most important part of all. Paste it all into a plain text editor afterwards if you think that will work. Or code from the program you are in if that's what you want to do. But first and foremost, get your text right. If you have spelling problems, then you better work with a word processor that can check spelling for you. Grammar can by iffy. Far better that you teach yourself to use proper grammar than to rely on any program or even on beta readers to help out.

For those of us who often take years from first draft to final product, the idea that ten minutes of find/replace for some special coding 'is a waste of time' is absurd. Even an hour or two playing with the output so that something we've invested so much time and energy into will look it's best is not 'a waste of time.'

Do what suits you and do the work you enjoy. Remember that there is no single right way.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Crossing Genre Lines: Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour3

I often hear things like 'genre is just a tool made up by marketing people.'

Yes, that's true.  That does not make it bad, though.  Imagine going into a store and wanting a new fantasy novel, only you have to search through every single shelf of fiction to find one.  Or worse, searching through places like, book-by-book.   So let's start by saying that genre distinctions are a great tool for readers.

But what about authors?  Yes, they can help you define what you are going to write and let you know what certain expectations might be.

However, that doesn't mean you have to write to fit a genre.  In fact, you shouldn't.  You should write whatever suits you for the story you want to tell, and genre should be the last thing you consider. And if that means you write something that crosses genre lines, all the better.  Genre designations are not meant to be walls. 

Oh, but how will you ever market such a thing?

How about by marketing it to all the genres included in it?  Hey, and doesn't that mean you will be marketing to an even larger audience than if it was just one?  So, let's not look at genres as something horrible and limiting.

Some of my earliest published material crossed genre lines combining fantasy with science fiction.  I loved writing the book.  (The third book of the Dark Staff series: Crystal and the Stars.)  I hadn't even considered such things as genres when I came up with the plot.  I only thought about how the new ideas would interact with the olds ones.

These days, the most common combination you see is romance and something else.  I don't write romance, so that's not going to happen on my end.  I have written historical (fiction) and fantasy combinations several times, though.  A bit more fantasy and science fiction as well.

I currently have a story for sale that combines science fiction with vampires, werewolves and shape-changers in a sort of science fiction/fantasy/dark fantasy/future urban fantasy sort of way:

. . . Oh yes, werewolves, vampires -- and worse -- are out in the stars with the rest of humanity. However, we're more subtle about our presence these days. Humans no longer believe in the old myths and sometimes that makes them easy prey, as vampires quickly learned. Many people had disappeared in Terra Nova lately. I'd heard about it in coffee shops and hotels; the places where humans gather to gossip and pretend they aren't worried. They didn't know what they faced or how to fight it and that left the vampires to prey as they wanted. They were getting bold.
The vampires hadn't counted on me, though.

Someone has to stand between the monsters and the humans.

This was a case where I worked with a couple different story prompts and suddenly something very odd blossomed out of the two seeds.  Something odd and wonderful and great deal of fun to write.

There are times when you want to write something genre-specific.  I love to write urban fantasy (though one of my best is a science fiction, near-future, post-apocalyptic urban fantasy that combines Cherokee and Egyptian mythology.  No, really.)  Most of my science fiction deals with cultural themes and alien places.  I love to write epic fantasy.

But really, what I love to write is stories that appeal to me.  Writers should never limit themselves or their imagination.  If everyone thought they couldn't step outside normal genre lines, there would be no steampunk, no urban fantasy.

Don't limit yourself.  Who knows what new great combination you might come up with!

If you want to get to read about nearly twenty other writers and find out what's on their nightstands, check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. Be sure to read tomorrow's post by Sharon Kemmerer

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Project Report 4: Water/Stone/Light -- The Pantheon and magic


Creating the gods and magic for this setting has taken a lot of trial and error work, and will likely require fine tuning once I start the novel.  I do not want specific spells, but I do want ritual objects, each of which has to be transported in a special blessed container to avoid contamination.

Obviously, in my mind, it is the magic associated with the gods that is more important than the gods themselves, at least at this point.  I want magic tied specifically to practitioners of specific groups.

The main Gods of Tygen are grouped in three sets of four each and are linked to the title I've been using: Water/Stone/Light.

The Gods influence, but rarely control, the different forms of magic.  They are all nature gods and powerful to those who can call upon the magic linked to them.  The magics listed here are in order of easiest to hardest, which makes them (in most cases) the least powerful to the most powerful.  Someone who can do River magic must then learn Ocean magic, and so on up the list.

There is an Outer (public) magic and an Inner (temple) magic for each group.  Outer is, obviously, most often used for public purposes.  Temple magic is something more closely guarded, but still used when needed.

Each magic also has a personal an a worldly component. 

Gods of Water -- River, Ocean, Spring, Storm

These four represent the power of water. 

Outer: Many things can be done with water, from fog to rain and including diverting water to other places.  This is a popular set of Gods and priests with the farmers along the river.

Temple: The magic system is The Water of Life, and this is regarded as a creative force and can rejuvenate so some can heal wounds.  Myth says that the highest level of priest can achieve immortality.

Personal - prolong life 

Worldly -- create life

Components needed for each type of magic:

River -- a specific type and shape of river stone. 

Ocean -- a special type of shell 

Springs -- water fresh from the mother earth, untouched by anything of the world. 

Storm magic needs a storm with lightning. 

Gods of Stone -- Earth, Metal, Sand, Quakes

These four represent the power of the stone in all its forms.   

Public: This is a particularly good magic for building and is more popular in the city than out of it.  Most important buildings use this magic for the foundations, if not more.  It is also good for people working in pottery or jewelry making.  Many potters learn Earth magic, and jewelers go on to Metal magic as well.  However, there is far more to the power -- like moving stone at will, which can create walls or caverns.

Temple: This is the Stone of Strength magic.  Obviously this is physical strength but some can also call on creatures of stone?  The legends say the highest level priests are invulnerable to any form of physical attack.

Personal - strength of body 

Worldly -- control stone

Components needed for each type of magic:

Earth: Fresh ground, never tiled by man 

Metal: Any of the three prime metals, unshaped by human hands.  Copper is the weakest, then Silver, then Gold.

Sand: White sand from a special place in the far desert 

Quakes:  The practitioner must be standing on or near a fault line, making this dangerous magic to perform.

Gods of Light -- Sun, Moon, Stars, Fire

Outer: This represents the most esoteric of the magic systems.  Calling of light can have various connotations -- like the light of truth, which is a difficult and powerful magic.  The simple sun magic is good for storing light in an object for later use, while moon magic can illuminate a trail in the night.

Temple: The final magic is the Light of Knowledge.  Priests have the ability to understand anything -- foreign languages, books they merely touch, and even animals.  Some, however, go insane.  The legend for  this one says the highest priests can learn everything from the other magics, which would make the person immortal, invulnerable and all wise . . . transforming them into a god.

Personal - Understanding (like languages)

Worldly -- Visions, Prophecy

Components needed for each type of magic:

Sun:  Noon is the best time for this type of magic 

Moon: Midnight is best for this type.  Full moon is best, moonless night no magic 

Stars: a moonless night is best.   

(It is possible to combine Moon and Star magic, but far more powerful is Sun and Moon magic, created when the two are equidistant in the sky at moments of sunset and sunrise.) 
Fire is one of the easier magics to call.  All you need is something to burn.  However, you can have a fire creature if you use a piece of wood from the sacred hearth at the temple of Winds.  Since the temple was disbanded this is very difficult.

Other notes

You will notice that I haven't given the 'price' it takes from the person performing the magic.  My basic feeling is that it takes energy -- plain, human energy.  For every minute of spell performed becomes the equivalent of running a mile.  The second minute is like running a mile uphill -- and so on, taking more strength from the body.  The strength and duration of something created this way sometimes depends on how much power the person put into it.  A fog might only last a couple minutes with a quick spell, for instance. 

Obviously, this drain on the body limits the amount a person can do.  Someone in good physical shape will do better than one not.  A person who has performed magic recently is not going to have as much power left to try again.

Learning to use power comes only from schooling in the various temples.  The types of magic are not combinable in one person, though people from different temples can work together.  This doesn't happen often.

There are also lesser gods.  Every city, town and village has a local 'power' which is more a protection than something from which anyone can draw magic.  There are also spirits of special locations, like an ancient tree (rare in the southern lands), a spring, a rock formation, etc.  Sometimes a priest can call up such a spirit, depending on the magic affiliation he or she has), and the spirit might be very powerful in its own location.

Marriage is usually a civil matter, with contracts written up and filed with the proper authority (the headman of the village a magistrate in towns and cities).  Divorce is relatively simple, going before headman or magistrate who will assign property and parental rights. Decisions can be appealed to the temple, local lords, governors or traveling judges.

Only nobles and royalty are bound by sacred oaths, first at betrothal and later in final vows.  Betrothal includes a psychic link that allows the two to become aware and comfortable with each other in the long years of betrothal, which often starts when the children are ten or so.

The links are formed by Priests of Light, most often the high priest when dealing with royalty.  The betrothal bonds can be dangerous for various reasons: incompatibility, one side dies, etc.  

The 13th God

One more major god exists. This is the God of the Path who leads the dead to the next world.  No magic is associated with him.

The temples of the Gate (the 13th God), are found at every cemetery, and even a lone grave in the wastelands will often have a crude model of the temple.  They are all based on the one true temple which is near, but not in, the capital.  Located slightly to the north and near the escarpment, this temple starts with a simple (1) gate into a dirt hall, symbolic of grave.   (2)Second is water, (3) then stone, then finally the (4) light gate with the sacred hearth, where families come on the holy days and burn effigies of their loved ones to assure they're passage to the next world.

There is a 5th gate beyond the hearth.  No one knows where it goes.  None who go through ever come back, though it is rumored it leads to paradise.  Royalty found guilty of a crime, or overthrown, are often given the choice of walking through the gate or dying.  Nobles are given the choice in some cases, and entire families might go.  Anyone can go through of their own choice, no matter what their station.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Something helpful for writers

Writers must learn to edit. Even if you are going to traditional publishing, rather than being an Indie Author, you need to put the best possible story out there.

There is a nagging knowledge that you will always miss something, but you still have to make that effort. Spelling corrections, grammar changes, etc. -- those are bad enough. You can go over the work a dozen times and you'll still miss something. There is, however, something that most people don't often consider. Repetition of words and weasel words that sneak in because you stopped 'seeing' them. 'That' is a big one. Just and Only are two others.

Here is a lovely, free program to help you out. You can run it on the site or on your computer. I do the download version so I don't have to rely on my connection to get to it.

From the site:

Manuscript Analyzer 1.3a - This is a pretty unique tool for analyzing manuscripts. There are a number of programs that let you count the frequency of words in a document, but this takes it a step further and helps you identify junk phrases, "frequent offender" word patterns, and adverbs. It also lets you ignore common words that clutter up the high ranks of other word-counting programs, and allows you to focus on words by size.

I recommend this as a regular part of your editing. Take a chapter at a time and start weeding out and changing overused words, as well as hunting out those pesky adverbs you really don't need. However, also remember that adverbs exist for a reason. The trick, as with any of the words you find in these lists, is not to over use them.

Also, the program will list every word, including the and a. Those you can mostly ignore. I click on the frequent offender list until they come up to the top and start with that group. This can truly help create a cleaner, more readable story.

Don't go overboard and rework things until they're unwieldy to get rid of words, but do be aware of the ones you overuse!

Saturday, September 03, 2011

The last couple weeks . . . .

It's no wonder my hair is going grey.  Stress lately has been a bit higher than usual.  It started on the 22nd when a neighbor coming home saw someone staring in my window at 1:30 am.  I was working on the other side of that window, so the knowledge someone had been staring in at me . . . right.  Not exactly what I wanted to hear.  Add to that the fact I had heard something at the porch door earlier and assumed a raccoon or possum trying to get to the food.  And I had been hearing odd noises outside for days.  I had even mentioned it to Russ.  The neighbor chased him off and called the police and then came to tell me.   

So you know, not a lot of sleep happening here right now.  Russ will be home in about two weeks and we'll get security lights and such up.  Until then, every noise at night sets me off. 

It was just as well I didn't sleep that night.  About six in the morning I realized the kitten was having serious breathing problems.  Have I mentioned the kitten?  Buffy the Vampire Mouse Slayer.  You can see videos of her here:  

Anyway, breathing problems.  I bundled her up and walked over two miles to get to the vet's office before even he was in.  She had an upper respiratory infection and various other problems.  They brought her back home the next day. 

On the 26th, Russ had a mandatory evacuation order.  Spent a couple long worrisome days watching hurricane news and worried about him. 

On the 30th I had several hours without power and then took almost three hours to get my computer to come back up again.  Yes, it's having trouble.  Yes, I will have to replace it. 

And then on the night of the 31st, my Internet went out.  Took 2 days to get it back. 

Had to restart computer.  Another two hours. 

Wind, who is my oldest cat, got very ill. (He appears to be recovering) 

And with all this, Russ's check was a week late and messed up autopay bills and various other things. 

Tonight my back is bothering me so much I can barely move from one room to another.  Not sure what I did this time. 

I truly, honestly, need a break from stuff.   

I spent part of the afternoon on Twitter at #kindlechat and I found that helpful.  I needed to step away from everything for a bit and do something that was not fraught with a dozen other problems.  

I need to have some time to work on my material.  I'll be in a better mood then.  But right now, I feel like I am falling farther behind on everything from my stuff to things I need to do for others.  Yeah, I'm getting a bit of writing done, but not as much as I would like.  I might just give up and do nothing but writing tonight.  I need it.  Really. 

Well, I do have to do a couple small updates on ACOA.  But other than that. . . . 

Ha.  We'll see if I can get much writing done at all tonight!