What I’m working on…

These sorts of updates don’t happen very often, mostly because my vicious plot-a-corn will decide to go running off into the trees, and whatever story I thought I was writing goes riding off with him. That could still happen, but considering that this story has been causing me various kinds of trouble for 3+ years, and that I’ve already got over 80k words churned, I’m hoping it doesn’t.

This is probably the toughest enemies to lovers relationship I have ever done. I like to challenge myself, and it’s certainly a challenge to get a sociopathic crime boss (Mercury) and his police escort (Sean) to fall in love. I was (am) hoping to have it out in July, but it could be August (betas have to get hold of it first!) because this is certainly not the kind of relationship that can be rushed. There will be no magic pill to fix Mercury, and he’s pretty broken.

It’s a science fiction story this time as well, so it’s going to be a little darker all the way around. Hopefully there will be enough snarky banter to make up for it. 🙂

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Methods to Madness

The other day while driving, I saw a sign at the local library for creative writing course, and it got me thinking about how every author teaches his or her own techniques

Take outlining, for instance; it’s not like putting on your pants (pardon the overused abstraction). When putting on your pants, there are really only a couple of ways to do it in order to reach the end goal, and not be arrested in public (“…but officer, I’m a bunny-rabbit!”). If writing a book had a recipe, everybody would be using it and we’d all be reading meatloaf and mashed potatoes for the rest of our lives.

Allow me to lead you now down my paths of digression:

My “outlining” method has its own madness. Once, or twice (okay, about 800 times according to my story folder), I have yearned for the right road map that would give me direction and maximize the short time I have to get more stories done. The way outlining has always been presented to me, you do all the work up front, then you just follow the map, allowing the occasional side trip and potty break. I get this, because my day job involves hardware and software. You build something without requirements and you end up with six hoses and a wagon that bends time when the customer only wanted a blue rubber ball. Desperate for this map, I followed a guide a fellow author had recommended and ended up with a beginning, middle, and an end that was all very satisfying.

However… when I sat down to write it all out, my brain became a rock. I was bored already, and I hadn’t even gotten to chapter two.

I mentioned it to a friend who had been listening to my excitement build as I put the thing together. I know now she was behaving like a good parent–listening kindly to a child’s delusions of grandeur without throwing logic at me. These were lessons I had to learn for myself. So when I asked why I felt the way I did, she said, “you’re bored with your story because you’ve already written it.”

Oh. Duh.

I have always had a weird relationship with planning vs. pantsing. Even as an artist, I never understood preliminary sketches. I draw what’s in my head until it’s not there anymore, and that’s all there is. Pretty it up with ink, erase the sketchy pencil marks, shade it with some watercolor and I’m done. With writing, I often only have a rough idea of where the story will end (often it comes out quite differently) and once I have a first draft, I go back and clean it up. I like to think of it as constructing a body, starting with the skeleton, and ending with its fashion-sense. Of course, the skeleton may begin with a thighbone protruding from its eye-socket, but it all works itself out before jewelry.

My initial way of getting to that point, where others will use an outline, I use what I call the Crazy Quilt method (or just plain crazy). If you’ve never seen a crazy quilt before, it’s basically a whole bunch of scraps of material, from velvet to burlap, stitched together to make a final product. There is no clear pattern, yet by the end you have a solid piece fitting within a geometrically pleasing shape.

My “technique” starts with a cup of strong coffee, exploited by an overuse of non-dairy creamer (not because I’m lactose intolerant or a vegan, I just think it’s amazing that they can make chemicals resemble a dairy product).

>>Please allow me a stumble off-track: would somebody please invent a coffee-filter that has measuring lines drawn in? I can’t believe I am the only person who has trouble with math in the morning (okay, always–plus I am so easily distracted that the sound of the furnace coming on can make me lose count…it’s 8 stinking scoops fergodssakes!<<

Anyway, coffee, and–probably–pants.

Then I fire up my laptop, put on the fan (white noise–I live on a busy street and have crappy windows that I haven’t gotten around to replacing yet), and start putting down words. Sometimes I start with what I think will be chapter one, though by the time I reach the end, it’s become chapter two or three. I keep going until the words run out. It could be 30 words or 3,000 in one sitting. Words is words.

And then I have an idea, which may or may not actually fit into the story, that gets jotted down and set somewhere. Maybe it’s an entire chapter, but it could just be a sentence hanging out on its own page (Scrivener is perfect for my style of writing, by the way, and it’s affordable. No, I’m not being paid to endorse it but hey, if they want to throw some money my way, I wouldn’t complain).

After I have a bunch of these pieces, I begin rearranging and stitching them together. One of the other cool things about a crazy quilt is the final decorative stitching. For anybody who understands sewing machine lingo, it can be done without a pressure-foot, so you can make random meandering stitches that circle and cross however, you like. When that is all done, it gets trimmed into a four-cornered shape and hemmed.

One of the most important lessons I learned from my outlining experiment was that there is no right way to write a story. It’s about self- acceptance, forgiving yourself for “flaws”, and silencing the “shoulds”. If it works for you, it works, and while it’s always a good idea to experiment, don’t assume that if it doesn’t work, there is something wrong with you.

 

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“The stench of loneliness” and “sweet sorrow”

I try to put sensory descriptions in my writing, and one I like to use a lot is the sense of smell. This morning I was researching autopsy rooms (what do you do with your Fridays?). I came across an older blog post, written by forensic pathologist and author, Jonathan Hayes, which imparted some interesting information from his perspective, but still no real answers.

I have been around a few dead bodies in my time. Fortunately, most of them were very recently deceased, in a bag, embalmed, or in the process of being embalmed. The scents I remember are from early “removals” when I was about 12 years old, and the smell remained part of my memory as I worked (for a very brief stint) at a nursing home. Death there smells like old milk, urine, and powdered eggs. A co-worker of mine worked with formaldehyde, which he called a smell of “sweet sorrow” (I’d probably call it burning sugar, acetone, and mud).

But a nursing home death and the bodies already prepped for embalming are “clean”. You get to them quickly, before putrefaction sets in. Death outside of these relatively controlled environments has a very different smell, something Hayes had heard described as “the stench of loneliness”. It’s the smell that a neighbor notices after someone hasn’t been seen around in a while, something the cops refer to as NCFO: Neighbor Complains of Foul Odor.

Some of that can be considered poetic. Beautiful words wrapped around a dark subject, but those words do little to put the reader there—in the harsh, white lights of a cold room—staring down at something that until a few hours or days ago was a living person.

To try and convey any sort of smell requires exposure to, at the very least, its byproducts, with the awareness and ability to make a comparison. While there were powdered eggs in the nursing home, I don’t remember any spoiled milk, but something triggered that comparison in my brain. It’s this awareness and identification of similar things that can take description beyond pretty metaphors. Skin that tastes like coffee, salt, and smoke is a lot more evocative than skin that “tastes like a man.”

If you want to impart a sensory knowledge on the part of your reader, it’s important to take the time to get your comparisons believable. We all like to think our kisses taste like honey, and for a mainstream romance novel, that might very well work (I knew someone whose kisses always tasted like garlic). But a coming from a jaded detective, “honey” sounds out of character or at least cynical (which could also work). Writers who want to give the full effect of the suspension of disbelief have to be able to impart information to readers through the character who is experiencing the sensory stimulation.

So the next time you’re tempted to put in something poetic and flowery to describe a smell or a taste, you may want to sit back and think about how you—how your character—would experience it. Try to conjure up those comparisons, and see if you can put your reader there. It takes a little more time but can be very worth the effort.

Comment and let me know what kinds of descriptions put you “there”. ☺️

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Buried under covers…or not…

With the relative success of Their Precious Own (henceforth, to be known as “TPO”, cuz’ I’m lazy like that), I’ve decided to invest in some new covers for it and Fidelity (which will always be known as ‘Fidelity”, cuz’ I’m not that lazy).

See, as an indie author who actually worked in design (this was the bygone days of plate printing where each color in a design had to be transferred via massive UV light to a sheet of metal, then slapped onto a printing press and inked… we rode dinosaurs back then, too, BTW), I thought I could “fake-it-till-ya-make-it”. I kind of did for a little while, but now it’s time to get off my 12-cylinder brontosaurus and pay somebody to do something that would take me a few months/years of dedicated learning to do (wrong).

Where to start?

Well, I’d actually found at least one m/m cover that wasn’t a nekkid’, headless torso and I looked up the artist. She’s wonderful, BTW….but more than a little pricey, and not quite what I was looking for. I found a few others, then realized that I was seeing the same models (with heads this time), using the same colors, in slightly different poses (or not) on books by different authors. Eh, no. Not good.

That’s part of the problem when you write anything that isn’t “mainstream”—it’s difficult to find models who are okay being portrayed as a leering sex-addicted millionaire (erotica) or a gay school teacher (m/m romance). I’m dating myself here again, but I remember one “Friend’s” episode where Joey finally got a good modeling gig only to realize he was the poster boy for a campaign against STDs (which also explained why women were not interested in dating him anymore). So yeah…it sucks, but if you’re not writing mainstream fiction, you’re an ad for STDs…or something like that.

…But I digress…

My next stop was DeviantArt. I waded through many, many pages of many beautiful and WTF things and—lo’ and behold—the perfect style! The artwork was being posted by somebody on behalf of the artist so it took some hunting to find a link to the actual creator. Aaaaannnnd the website was almost completely written in Chinese. Google didn’t even ask if I wanted to translate the page, because I think most of the text was actually pasted in as images.

*sigh*

So the long and short of it is I’m still hunting…and once I find, I’ll need to figure out what it is I really want. I’m tempted to just say: “Here! Fix this!” and run away, because the second hardest thing to come up with after a coming up with a title (after coming up with a blurb, that is—which is the hardest thing, hands-down), is figuring out how to make the world notice *your* book in the sea of nekkid’ torsos.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/scalzi/1969216237 Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

 

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So what do writers write about when they aren’t writing about other people?

I’ve surfed a few author blogs; some are filled with helpful “how to’s”, often aimed at other authors, some are made up of tidbits of their writing, what they ate for breakfast (seriously, save that for Twitter); or angry rants about reviewers, readers, other authors, and life in general; or multiple memes of their kitty cats. As for what I’m doing starting (another) blog? Hell if I know. “Social” and “media” sound like an oxymoron to me. I won’t even play an MMORPG because there is a chance I’ll have to interact with a stranger (worse still would be them noticing that I didn’t pay for the yearly membership to get the upgraded weapons and armor pack). It’s hard to talk about myself without being a little self-deprecating, because my agony is someone else’s comedy, so I let my characters handle things for me.

I hate to jinx myself, but currently I am working on two (possibly) follow-up stories to Their Precious Own. It’s the first time I have attempted the dreaded sequel. Other people seem to thrive on them, but my brain switches gears so quickly sometimes that everything I have initially grasped about a character’s personality is now sort of lost to me. I have to get into a character’s head and crawl around in their (imaginary) skin. This morning I finally grabbed hold of a character’s cerebral cortex. Kieran is another one of my boys who is difficult to figure out, and if you weren’t able to “hear” his rationale for his ideas, most people probably wouldn’t like him. He’s Count Fourie’s (Kayle’s father—Lucius…because I don’t think I ever gave him a first name in TPO) younger (half? Half for now) brother, and as politically conservative as Clan can get. I think this line, which I wrote this morning (unedited, etc…), sums up their relationship pretty well:

Kieran and Lucius often locked horns politically. Despite Lucius being older by at least three centuries, he was far too liberal for Kieran’s taste. That, and the fact that they were half-brothers made politics that much more difficult. Sometimes he wasn’t certain if his oppositions were sound or just a case of sibling rivalry. Unfortunately, his peers wondered much the same.

So I’m enjoying it so far, and I’m hoping anything else in this series (and duh, any other books I write) are as enjoyable to other people as TPO was. And apparently, I’ve answered my own question, which is the title of this post. I’m not sure about other authors, but I write about writing about other people…apparently.

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First blog post

It seems to be as good a title as any.  Until I actually get some content, I leave you with Zombie Ipsum:

Zombie ipsum reversus ab viral inferno, nam rick grimes malum cerebro. De carne lumbering animata corpora quaeritis. Summus brains sit, morbo vel maleficia? De apocalypsi gorger omero undead survivor dictum mauris. Hi mindless mortuis soulless creaturas, imo evil stalking monstra adventus resi dentevil vultus comedat cerebella viventium. Qui animated corpse, cricket bat max brucks terribilem incessu zomby. The voodoo sacerdos flesh eater, suscitat mortuos comedere carnem virus. Zonbi tattered for solum oculi eorum defunctis go lum cerebro. Nescio brains an Undead zombies. Sicut malus putrid voodoo horror. Nigh tofth eliv ingdead.

 

 

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