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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Deuteronomy 5:32-33

So you shall observe to do just as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right or to the left. You shall walk in all the way which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.

I like commandments with promises. Like, the Fourth Commandment: Honor your father and your mother so that it will be well with you and your days will be long on the earth.

I like it when God tells us the consequences of doing something, whether right or wrong. He doesn't have to. He's God. He could use that most annoying of all reasons: Because I said so. Sometimes He does. But sometimes, He gives us a reason, and I think He does it to soften the blow.

Fact is, following God's commands is hard. Not that the commands are particularly difficult most of the time, but they tend to go against our own desires.

Don't steal (yeah, but I want it).

Don't lie (yeah, but I'll get in trouble if I tell the truth).

Don't murder (but, he's really annoying).

I'm using some of the Big Ten as illustrations here. God gave lots of commands. Fortunately, Jesus boiled them down to two.

1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and
2) Love your neighbor as yourself.

Boy howdy, even those two aren't easy. My sin nature wants to put itself first all the time. It's all about me. Except it's not. God is all about the other guy. This comes up again and again in the Bible, how the real neighbor goes out of his way to do the right thing for the other guy, even if it means taking the hit himself.

I'm a ridiculously selfish person. My faithful readers may have a sense of that, but you really have no idea how truly selfish I am. I do not find it easy to follow those two commandments Jesus gave. I am trying, though. I'll be trying the rest of my life.

I'm just glad He gave me some reasons to keep in mind as I try.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


I begin to understand why people measure books by wordcount. It is thrilling to think, I wrote that much  (to achieve the full effect, imagine me holding out my hands like I'm measuring a fish)! But, when you consider I am a turtle and write about 1 single-spaced page or 500 words per hour, wordcounts don't make me feel very productive on a daily basis. The only time I write faster is with dialogue, but I always go back and add beats later, so it all evens out anyway.

Last night, I wrote for about an hour and added about 500 words. I started at 7, but the cats had other plans. It took some time to get everyone played out and calmed down. Just like kids, I assume. Mommy's at the keyboard? Time to act up!

I am thrilled with 500 words. I cut some old words and added new ones. I went back a chapter and added some description of the Guild uniforms (that was for you, Lioness). I am satisfied with the answers to the questions I'd debated the previous session. For now, they will work.

My biggest concern at this point is whether I really have a book on my hands. I was terribly surprised when I ran my initial word count on the old manuscript and discovered only 33K words. I'd thought I'd written a real book. I know generally what must happen and I expect to make some drastic changes from the original sequence of events, but here at the beginning I wonder whether it's enough.
I'm going to have to make it work somehow. Almost all of my future books (Star of Justice included) are based on the events in this story. This is a book I must write. I can't tell it in flashback; it's too long and nobody else knows the story.

I remember now that Jeff the Publisher requires 60K as his starting point. Combining Past Ties and Present Tense will no doubt get me that far.

And who knows? I'm a different person now than I was 15 years ago. Elementals changed considerably from my initial story. Perhaps Past Ties will take a different, wordier direction, as well.

This is another reason I don't write to wordcount. I can only do one thing at a time, and it's either telling the story or counting the words. I will post my wordcounts after every writing session, but I can't afford pay too much attention to them otherwise.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Useless Depression

Depression is probably the most useless emotion for a story character. A depressed character doesn't do anything. The very connotation - to flatten out - shows what happens.

I once role-played a manic-depressive named Pip. She shows up in the Star of Justice sequel. At the start of every "day" and after every traumatic event (like a battle), I rolled 1d6 (that's jargon for a six-sided die) to see whether she would be manic or depressive.

Manic was fun. Not for everyone, since she tended to do really stupid things in her manic state, like whistling happy songs while they were sneaking through enemy territory. Pip in her depressed state was not so fun. The only reason the party didn't abandon her at those times was she was their only cleric (source of healing spells). Chuckle. Too bad for them. Good for Pip.

Therapists tell us depression is anger turned inward. I buy it. It's the inward part that makes it useless for the writer. A depressed person doesn't perform great, heroic deeds. A depressed person doesn't think deep, philosophical thoughts. They don't do much at all, really, because they're depressed.

One good use of depression is as a respite from anger. If depression is the flip side of anger, it is natural for both to appear. Anger drives Caissa for a while in Star of Justice. When anger wears her out, she becomes depressed. She jumps between the two for a while and we get some interesting results. I don't leave her in depression, though. If she wallowed there too long, she would lose all motivation to seek answers, and what would happen to her story?

Stories are about emotion, and depression is an emotion, so you can use it. But use it with care in your major characters. It's one of those that a little goes a long way.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Few Housekeeping Chores

First, I added a picture of Caleb in the sink to yesterday's post. Scroll down to see how cute he is. He can't do it this morning, 'cause there's leftover dishes in there, so I'm glad I got it on memory stick.

Second, those Google ads are cracking me up (I know I said I wouldn't mention them again, but they're killing me). Yesterday, there was one about counter-espionage or something, I assume sparked by my submarine post. I sometimes scroll the blog just to see what word they've latched on to for the day. Hilarious.

Third, I've restored Avily Jerome, author of Dying for Dragons, to my blog list. She's decided to resume blogging on a regular basis, and I want to reward her for her effort. I enjoyed her irrefutable rules post. Kept me laughing.

Fourth, I also added W. H. Hayes' blog to my list. He's from The Anomaly, and I find his topics intriguing. Perhaps because he also was inspired by Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

Fifth, for my regular readers who haven't bothered yet, step up and sign on as a Follower. It isn't hard (mom did it). I haven't added an official Follower in a month or two. You don't get emails or anything. It just puts a little icon with your screen name up so I feel more important than I really am. Don't we all want me to feel good about myself for no reason?

Sixth, I added a link at the top to the NOAA weather map, so after you read my post, you can get your weather for the day. Isn't that thoughtful? Heehee.

I was going to write a real post, but I've run out of time this morning, so I'll leave it with this.

And for my non-authors, feel free to comment on your oddest search. We've all looked up weird things for odd reasons. I really want to know some of yours.

Maybe I'll write a book about it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

NaNoWriMo Do Ra Mi What?

Last November, Susie introduced me to the concept of NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month, or something like that. It happens every November and you're supposed to write like 50K words in 30 days with certain other rules about what counts and what doesn't. It's a way to get some serious writing done by setting goals and being accountable. Why it happens in a holiday month, I don't know. I guess every month is a holiday month for somebody.

Ooh. Now I'm craving turkey. How am I going to satisfy that? Grr.

I was pretty busy last November, plus I had Star of Justice in the MLS contest and had just finished my first draft of Elementals. I wasn't in an "intense write-y" kind of place.

But over at The New Author's Fellowship, Ren Black tells me that there's a more informal March version of the NaNoWriMo concept. You can pick your word count. You can write fresh or revise. You can pretty much do what you want. I doubt they give out awards, but if the goal is to get words on the page, awards can come later, in the form of a publishing contract.

So, I'm going to do it. Why not? This March will no doubt be as wet and soggy as this winter, which means no serious gardening. I'm still waiting to hear back on Star of Justice, and I have no other markets researched yet. Elementals isn't going anywhere (technically, you're supposed to let a manuscript sit for one year before revising. It lets you see the glaring errors more easily). I wanted to get started on Past Ties; I just haven't found the time. I'll make the time in March.

I started last night. I may take a while to decide, but once I do, I act.

I pulled out all my Past Ties soundtrack cds to load to my MP3 player (I write to inspirational music, and the inspiration depends on the story). Ooh, I forgot The Bodyguard soundtrack. I'll get that loaded tonight.

(I just looked over my shoulder and Caleb is sitting in the sink. I don't know why. Now he's lying down with his chin resting on the edge.)

Fortunately, I had my camera handy ;) Back to post.

Here's the problem. Why is there always a problem?

Technically, you're supposed to set a word count. I don't normally write by word count. I write by "sense." I keep going until it makes sense. I also don't "over-write." I tend to write spare and add detail when I edit. I call it "sketching."

So I sit down to write at 7. I run a word count and record it. When I stop writing at 8:40, I recheck the word count. I've removed about 300 words.


Now, some of those words were written 15 years ago and needed to be removed. I'm happier with what I have now. But it feels like going backwards. Also, you're not supposed to edit while you write these words. I get the impression you're supposed to just write, puking up your thoughts on the page and worrying about it later.

Yeah, I can't do that. I know self-editing is an issue for most authors, but I can't knowingly put something into the story that I will have to seriously correct later. I kept stopping on things like "what time of day is it in the story?," "do non-psychs know about teleportation yet and if not, how do I explain Shah's serendipitous availability?," "what airport is close to the character and would it be one that exists now or one that is created in the future?" You know, plot details that require a little thinking and possibly some research. And, yes, all these things do come up in the start of the second chapter. I can't write around them.

I've decided to write not by word count but by time. I'll devote 7-8:40 to Past Ties (God gets me at 9, so I have to have finished all my chores by then). I'll keep track of word count. I will not do research during the writing time, but I will keep track of questions I'll need to think about at other times.

We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What's In Your Browser History?

I seem to waive my "I hate research" rule under one condition: when I research a story I have no intention whatsoever of publishing. I assume I will research in those instances because I don't worry about being completely accurate. I'm going for flavor, not fact, and since no one else will read it, no one else will know where I'm wrong.

For my Xmen short story, I pulled out maps of North America and New York to set the scene (I didn't have Internet at the time). It led to part of the story taking place on a train on the way to Canada. I would never have done that without the research.

I have a serial story line inspired by Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. That was a terrible show for many reasons (I've posted about it somewhere), but I watched it when I was very young and it gave me some great ideas for characters and story lines (surprised me, too).

So I ran searches about owners of nuclear submarines, ports for nuclear submarines (and naval bases in general), crew compliments for nuclear submarines, schematics for nuclear submarines - it's a wonder the FBI didn't show up at my door. Or Homeland Security. Yes, I'm just paranoid enough to believe such searches are monitored. Fortunately, my nuclear submarine searches didn't segueway into nuclear bomb searches, so I'm probably good for now. Plus, I live in Kansas. Now if I purchase tickets to one of those places...

I have another serial where I need an isolated location with a population of 30-50K (not easy to find with a search engine, by the way), somewhat advanced medical facilities and no interference from US military for at least 24 hours. I'm thinking Mexico. It's close and I have a chance to use a little of that Spanish I'm learning in the dialogue. I don't want a real city, but I'd like to put my fake city somewhere reasonable, so I search for Mexico hospitals, which seem to fall into the categories of cancer and plastic surgery and oddly enough be located within walking distance of the US/Mexico border (this is listed as a positive in the ads). I did a thorough spyware cleanup after those sites, let me tell you.

I'd like a "shady element" in the story, so I look for cannabis and opium densities and put those next to cities of appropriate size and population density. If you didn't know what I was doing and only looked at my browser history, you'd think I have 4th stage cancer and want alternative healing methods and medicinal marijuana to deal with it. I'm thinking Mexico is the place to go should that ever happen.

I suspect most writers have some interesting history on their browsers.

What's your oddest search?

Monday, February 22, 2010

I Won't Survive a Zombie Attack

This is good to know. I learned it from a Facebook quiz appropriately titled "Will You Survive a Zombie Attack?"

It would seem the prerequisites to survival include the ability to run, to survive on only breath mints for weeks at a time and a willingness to abandon any and all dead weight, including my family.

I'm okay with getting eaten the first day.

I suffer from chronic pre-fatigue. That's when you get tired just thinking about doing something. I don't have the stamina to survive a zombie attack, or mummy attack, or attack by any manner of monster, alien or homicidal maniac. I barely have the stamina to survive my workday.

In Star of Justice, Caissa goes full throttle for about 12 days straight. By the end, she is emotionally and physically exhausted. Who wouldn't be? I get tired just thinking about it. But she keeps going until the job is done.

Heroes keep going. "Never give up, never surrender." That's why there are so few heroes in the world. Most of us normals suffer from pre-fatigue.

In Elementals, one of the sisters ends up in a bad place surrounded by mostly bad people and a few somewhat good people. She learns that winning the battle isn't the point; fighting the battle is what's needed. A good friend of mine likes to say we are responsible for our actions, not our results.

As this strange, cold, dark winter drags on, I'm finding it harder and harder to be positive about anything. Not that I'm suicidal (been there, done that, not going back). It just seems my pre-fatigue is worse than normal this season.

So, I'll tie my knot and hang on. I'll also pull out Shaun of the Dead, a great movie about surviving a zombie attack without jettisoning your friends and family. Watch it with the subtitles on, or you'll miss stuff. Don't watch it if you don't enjoy tongue-in-cheek (or tongue-hanging-out-of-cheek, heehee!) zombie movies.

I suppose I'll also stock up on breath mints, just in case.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Face To Face

Hello again to Diane, another esteemed blogger from The New Author's Fellowship and a Marcher Lord Select Premise Contest winner for I Am Ocilla. I am curious how that's going, by the way. Any news yet from Jeff the Publisher?

On with today's post.

In college, I was known as The Queen of Cut-off. "Cut-off" is slang for being emotionally unavailable. I form unusually strong attachments to things like animals and cars (oh, my poor Cricket, may you rest in peace, you sturdy green GL-10), yet have the ability to say good-bye to people without really looking back.

This is not necessarily a good character trait. One might actually argue that it is anti-Biblical (that could be read in "stuffy English guy voice," Diane).

In the ensuing years since college, I've come to realize people mean more to me than I thought. I do enjoy them, in limited quantities, and I seem to do better when I have some kind of regular human contact.

Problem: when I say "contact," I mean "face to face contact."

I'm finding the "on-line critique group" experience less than satisfactory. While The Sandbox is helpful and interesting, it's not enough.  Neither is The Anomaly. They both fill a need, yes, but something is off. 

I don't like the anonymity of it all. I don't like not hearing someone's tone when they say something, or not seeing their expressions (I'm an audio-visual learner, one of the reasons I did so well in school). I don't like relying on emoticons to soften my words or add humor. 70% of communication is non-verbal. Emails are entirely verbal. It's frustrating to me to miss that other 70%.

I don't like that it's possible to "hide in the shadows" and say nothing, or that when you throw something out there into the Net, you don't control who responds.

Perhaps that's it. Perhaps, once again, it's all about control.

My old critique group, inadequate as they were for my genre, were there. I could ask a question and trust that I would get an answer because I could kick someone's behind if they didn't. Not that I would. Despite my books, I'm pretty much a pacifist. I could see from their faces what they thought long before they said it or said some carefully crafted answer that talked around what they thought.

I guess I'm dissatisfied with the distance of the whole email/online thing. The beauty of such communication is you can do it as you have time; the downside is you don't always make time.

Hmm. I sound a little self-pitying today. Must be the cloud-cover.

Praise God, I'm not sick again. Yet. I do have a little cough, but that could just be a hairball.

Stay warm, people. Good to hear from all of you. I'll try to be more positive tomorrow.

Friday, February 19, 2010

My Problems with Sci Fi

The Lioness is back! I've missed you, although I have very much appreciated your posts at The New Authors' Fellowship.

I like sci-fi. I used to think I was a sci-fi buff. I've discovered differently as I've gotten older.

Problem Number One: I like TV sci-fi, where the "fi" gets more press than the "sci" and nobody cares because it's Patrick Stewart delivering the common sense explanation. In other words, I like character-driven sci-fi, not idea-driven. I love thinking about new things, but I want it in the context of humans or aliens having to deal with the problems created by those new things. The science is not as important to me as the people.

Fact is, most TV sci-fi is shaky at best. Somebody reads a headline, gets an idea and runs with it because they need an episode for Sweeps Week. If anyone bothered to finish reading the article, they'd know it could never happen and the guy who claimed it did is now in jail for fraud or something. But again, with Patrick Stewart at the helm, we don't care. If you can't tell, I'm a Patrick Stewart fan. He's my favorite Star Trek captain.

Anyway, written science fiction is expected to contain some facts. You can't get around that. I've tried. No matter how careful you are, at some point, you have to know how long a centimeter is, or how many lightyears are between the planet you're on and the planet you want to be on. Don't believe me? Well, how long it takes to get there relates directly to how long everyone is in the spaceship and how long the monster has to rampage before help can arrive. I'm telling you, it matters and you can't get around it.

Problem Number Two: you have to do research.

I hate research. I never know where to look, or what I'm looking for, or when to stop researching. Our understanding of science is changing all the time. What I write as fact today may be disproved tomorrow, or vice versa. When do I accept that at some point, I'm going to look like an idiot?

This fear didn't stop the science fiction writers of old, but they didn't have to deal with the Internet. Ah, the Internet! That wonderful invention that puts the knowledge of the universe at the fingertips of any schmoe with a computer and a phone line. On the one hand, it makes research easier than ever. On the other hand, it makes it easier for fans and critics to debunk your carefully constructed fictional world, too.

Problem Number Three: Sci-fi tends to be about the real world.

People know the real world (some of them do, anyway). You can't fudge things like you can with fantasy. I think I've written this before, but nobody actually knows what a dragon looks or sounds like, so you can do whatever you want as long as you explain it. But science knows that 80 foot spiders can't exist because of physics. So, if you have an 80 foot spider, you got some 'splanin' to do as to how that creature can move and breathe and pump blood and all the other things a spider can't do at that size.

So, my problems all lump together in that muddy puddle of "how can I possibly know everything?"
I can't. I don't read science magazines or listen to science shows (the prevalence of "evolution as fact" in today's TV shows is like the dog doo in the brownie mix - ruinously inedible).

What I can do is my best to make what I do know accurate, seek out specialists or consultants for what I don't know, and keep my ego in check when scifiguy2001 rips me on his blog because I don't know that nano robots can't possibly be used as a method for wetwire interfacing or cell regeneration.
I suppose if that's the price of fame, I should be willing to pay it. It's that or write only fantasy. I hope some day that luthienelf111 gives me grief because dimensional portals powered by magic couldn't possibly exist in a world without magic and thus my whole premise for Star of Justice falls apart.

I should be so lucky.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ah...The Future

Past Ties is the next book I intend to write. If you want to know why, you can read my posts labeled "Past Ties" 'cause I don't want to go into it again.

Since my life got busy and debilitating illness became my special friend, I've been writing in snatches only. I have a first chapter rough draft, and another 30K words I wrote in 1992 as inspiration but that's it.

This week I had a few minutes to think. Since I've changed the Past Ties timeline to much closer to now (as in, about 100 years in the future instead of 500), it would probably be a good idea to sketch out a timeline leading up to events in the book.

What would the world look like in 100 years?


This is my world, right? It is fiction. I can make the future whatever I want, not what I actually expect to happen.

Heh heh.

Here's what I've got so far.

In 2010, conservatives take over both House and Senate, and overwhelm state and party seats across the US. Stability returns to the checks-and-balances system.

On 9-9-11, a terrorist attack destroys Hollywood and San Francisco. David Boreanaz and Emily Deschenel are killed on set. The country rises up in fury, and the "Booth and Bones Bill" is passed three months later authorizing the US to bomb terrorist territories into puddles, regardless of civilian casualties, halting the spread of Islamo-fascisim for a time.

Israel bombs Iran's nuclear facilities, resetting the Middle East clock.

It doesn't stop there, though. The destruction of a major slice of liberal California and the loss of our major entertainment center leaves a void in life, a void quickly filled by churches following the example of the Baptist church in Albany, GA, who brought us Fireproof. The North American Revival begins in Canada in 2013 and sweeps across the continent all the way to South America. The Mexican Revolution begins in 2021, spurred by the US no longer buying drugs and prostitutes because they're too busy praying and evangelizing.

Yeah, it's fiction, pure and simple. I do not believe for one moment any of this will happen. For David and Emily's sake, I actually hope not. I love them. If they got blown up, I'd be upset about it. Honestly, there could be tears (sorry, had to have my Joss Whedon homage. Probably should quote something from Angel, though. I'll think about it). But, unless something drastic does happen to reset the World Clock, I personally don't think we have 100 years before Christ returns. And Past Ties could not happen in a Post-Return world.

That's one of the problems (to me) of writing future-based sci-fi. How do you reconcile Biblical prophecy with human expansion into the universe? That's a whole other post.

Anyway, I'll keep working on my timeline, and my next book, and if any of us are here one year from now, I'll call it a win.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Is Telling Always Wrong?

Show, don't tell. If you've even driven past a writer's conference, you've heard this mantra. It's probably the first chapter in every style book ever written.

Show, don't tell, eoooum. Sorry. I hate The Wizard of Oz, yet here's a reference!

Can there be times when telling is appropriate? I was reading a thread on The Anomaly appropriately titled "Show, Don't Tell," and I got the impression - no, it's never okay to tell something.
I disagree. Respectfully, of course.

Yes, telling is overused and can be a sign of lazy or amatuer writing. But sometimes, it is appropriate.
An example: Rhami, my wizard among barbarians from Star of Justice. In the sequel, I have a scene where Rhami is alone and thinking. He's throwing a pity-party, is what he's doing, but he would call it "thinking."

How can you show thinking? I can show what he's doing while he's thinking but what he's doing and what's he's thinking are two different things. I could have him talk aloud to his toad, but that screams "obvious plot device!" And not everyone talks out loud when they're alone. I don't. Rhami doesn't. I don't share my opinions with my critters, either, because they don't care. Why talk to an audience that doesn't listen? Waste of breath.

Some might argue that I have no business having a character think in a book. It's not active enough. Rewrite the scene and get the information out some other way.

To me, sometimes going out of your way to not tell is more annoying than just telling. If you can tell me and get on with it, I don't mind so much. Just don't do it all the time.

Another problem. Jeff the Publisher suggests writing the narrator voice as the same voice as the main character. He admits it's a subtle skill, but what if the main character is an arrogant yet insecure, highly educated wizard who has a habit of bloviating? Won't that come out in the narration? Wouldn't the telling in this instance actually be showing because it shows the character of the character?

If I posted this on The Anomaly, I'm pretty sure I'd get a "good thought, but you're wrong" reaction, simply because, once again, writers are supposed to be endlessly creative and always looking for better ways to show not tell. I agree with that philosophy.

But I maintain that times exist when a little telling is not necessarily a bad thing.

So, are you going to tell me I'm wrong or show me?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Bit of A Ramble About...Expulsion

Got you with the title, didn't I? Hee hee!

What goes in must come out. We've all heard it. It's officially cliche. It's still true.

I mention "worldview" a lot. It's a consequence of multiple attendences (is that a word? I don't care, it works) of Focus on the Family's The Truth Project. If you have the opportunity to attend one, take it. It will change your life. I would hope for the better. Then again, ignorance is bliss.

I've read a lot of contemporary Christian fiction in the past few months: published, unpublished, critique-group rough drafts, blog posts and message boards. I haven't read this much Christian literature since high school. You know... before the mortgage.

I was asked recently who was the Christian element in Star of Justice. Interesting question. Anyone spot the worldview issue? Should the Christian element be one character or should it be a theme throughout? 

In Biloxi Blues, Matthew Broderick's character learns that people believe what they read. It's been a while since I saw the movie, so I don't remember all the details, but his journal gets stolen and read aloud to his bunk mates with unfortunate results. He never intended for those thoughts to be read aloud. His views of his fellows said more about him than them, but the group dynamic changes after that incident.

I've said on numerous occasions that the skill of writing is separate from the writer, but they aren't as separate as I would like to believe. The skill expresses the writer's intent, after all. It is the story inside the writer's head that emerges on the page. What's inside must come out.

What if the inside is rotten? You get rotten books.

I used to enjoy Laurell Hamilton's vampire books. They are not even remotely Christian stories, but the first three had a moral center I found refreshing in contemporary literature. Then something happened to the author. I don't know what; I suspect a divorce. Her main character turned hard, and homicidal, and morally subjective, and well, just plain nasty. I don't buy her books anymore, and I've thrown away most of the ones I did buy.

I have no idea what George MacDonald read in his spare time. Greek and Latin, no doubt. But the books he produced leak Christianity. Some of them have mythical elements to them (Lilith, for example), but the concepts expressed throughout are most definitely Biblical.

For Christian authors, you may think you have one "Christian element" in your book. You'd be wrong. Your worldview permeates everything you create. Your unexamined beliefs will spill out onto the page and tell anyone who cares to look everything they need to know about you.

It's a little scary. It's a huge responsibility. What goes in must come out.

I recommend being very careful about what you put in.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Notice Anything?

Being a former therapist, I figured I'd talk about the elephant in the room. Yes, I've monetized my blog.

That webinar I was so eager to attend was about using the Internet to "generate income streams." I've been listening to James L. Paris of christianmoney.com guest interview on Point of View for three years now, but since I listen at work, I only hear snatches between phone calls. This was the first time he offered a free webinar session where he discussed four easy ways to make money on the web that don't involve surveys or bulk selling or whatever weird schemes people dream up in The Search for More Money (and I don't mean the Spaceballs sequel).

First two ways: Adsense by Google and Amazon Associates. Both of those are available through blogspot.  I figured, why not?

I've been told it's a bit hokey to put ads on my blog. Well, I did it anyway.

Where I really want to put them is on my website, but I haven't figured out how to do that yet. Or where I will put them. Or what they would be for. My website is about my books, after all. I don't have any published yet, so what would the ads be about? I don't know. I've been kicking around the idea of selling a downloadable version of Elementals instead. Or an audio chapter of Star of Justice. I do a great Merritt.

I must also admit, I'm extremely curious about how contextual ads work. Supposedly, they search for key words in my posts and put up ads related to the topic. Should be quite interesting, considering some of my topics.

I also thought for those occasions I do enjoy or recommend a book or product, it's just as easy to have it right there to look at and buy if you want it. Some of the stuff I talk about is pretty obscure. I'm running on a 20 year time-lag, after all.

So, this is all I'll say about the ads. Ignore them as you wish. Keep in mind, I didn't create them. If they get too offensive, I'll remove them and chalk it up to experience.

One thing I'm finding annoying: since I added the Amazon links, my "new post" screen has changed and I've lost my spell check function. Let me know if you find typos. I can't see them anymore.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Why Job?

You ever notice when suffering enters the equation, we all run to Job? He's not the only person in the Bible to suffer, you know.

Jeremiah was called "The Weeping Prophet." It was his fun job to tell the Israelites they were about to suffer judgment for all the stupid stunts they'd been pulling for generations.

Hosea was told by God to marry and remain faithful to a prostitute as an example of how God remained faithful to the nation of Israel while "she" (Israel as a nation is always referred to in the feminine in the Bible) prostituted herself with false gods.

Jesus got to spend His whole life looking forward to the suffering on the cross. Why does Job get all the press?

Maybe we like that Job's happy ending comes in this life. We like the idea that suffering doesn't follow us around to the grave.

Do we forget that this life is not all there is? This is our beginning, but it is not our end. Jesus said, "Do not fear those who can destroy the body. Rather, fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell." Suffering, however long it is endured, is temporary. Even if I die here, I will live forever with Christ.

I say all this to say, I think my cold is gone again. How long, I don't know. I'm thinking I should just isolate myself until spring. Don't know how my boss would feel about that. Anyone else who's tried to have contact with me should be totally fine with it. I'm not a pleasant sick person, though to be fair, all I ask is to be left alone to live or die. Why is that so hard?

I'm not Job. I'm not Jeremiah, or Hosea or Jesus. I don't like to suffer and I don't do it well. I hope the worst I'm called to suffer remains colds. Otherwise, I'll be needing a lot more grace.

Friday, February 12, 2010

More Honored Than Ever

Not only did Stuart comment once, he replied to my reply post. He must be procrastinating!

My Starfire review can now be read on both Amazon.com and BN.com.
Unfortunately, my cold is back, my right eye is watering and I need to go back to bed.

I am so tired of being sick. I haven't gotten this sick this many times since the Winter of 2003, which followed the Autumn of 2003 when I nursed a dog through the last stages of congestive heart failure and my mother through her mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery. That was the same Autumn I wrote Star of Justice. It's no wonder I wanted to write. The Real World was a bit much to handle.

I was sick every Wednesday through Sunday for five or six weeks in a row. It's a miracle I didn't get fired.

I don't know if these illnesses are a result of stress, being out in crowds more thanks to my political involvement or just some kind of cosmic curse. I don't really care. I just want to be well again.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I'm Not Worthy!


Okay, I'm better now. Deep breath.

For those of you who don't remember, Stuart wrote the totally-amazing-and-utterly-depressing to-me-as-a-writer Starfire, the book with dinosaurs as main characters. Look up "book review" in my labels and you can read about it.

As a nerd before a true geek, I humbly kneel and offer my gratitude for noticing such a crawling worm as I. I am deeply honored. I'm also a little curious about how you found me. Do you also randomly type in references to your name and book on Google to see what comes up, or is that just me?

When I wrote Tuesday's post, I didn't have any particular series in mind, except the Dragon Wheel Cycle or whatever it was called that started with book 1 of 7. The irony is I did end up buying the book and really enjoying it until they killed my favorite character. Without him, I...I wasn't willing to read on. It's been 25 years, and I'm still raw about it.

What spurred yesterday's post is the number of writers from the contest who seem to have sequels on the brain. It began to seem like every other entry was the first of a series. It was a little scary to me as a poor cat caretaker. How could I afford all these books I couldn't finish?

Jeff the Publisher isn't afraid of sequels, either. I'm reading Hero, Second Class, part of a series. I will read By Darkness Hid (I think that's the name) and its sequel is coming out this spring.

I had forgotten Starfire is one of a series. Oops!

I suppose all writers are poor, and a series is one way to keep the income flowing. Plus, if you like the characters, it is logical you want to continue reading about them. I have to admit, as much as I don't like continuing story lines, I'm just as reluctant to start a new book because I don't know if I'll be happy at the end.

It occurs to me I'm a very difficult audience.

Maybe that's why I choose to write. I don't trust anyone else.

I'm waiting for your sequel, Stuart. Write on!

PS: Apparently, he commented on the book review, too, so now you all have to go re-read it. Man, I wish I had my Amazon Associates link set up right now! Well, it'll come.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Building Character: Frustration

Good books contain conflict. Tolkien himself points out in The Fellowship of the Ring that when things are great, time flies yet no one want to read about it (this happens during the recovery of Frodo at Rivendell before The Fellowship is formed).

How is conflict created? Well, that is the dilemma, isn't it? Conflict generally occurs when the desire of the main character is frustrated.

Yesterday, I got a third bill in the mail from a company I never employed, about a charge I never incurred that was on its way to collections. Was I frustrated? You betcha (furious is more accurate; I've been dealing with this company for a while now). I got on the phone, found what sounded like a competent customer service rep and, God willing, got the issue resolved. 'Cause my next phone call will be a lawyer.

Also yesterday, I was supposed to attend a webinar. I waited faithfully by the keyboard for the starting time. I fed the cats to keep them occupied while I learned. I gave the dog a bone. I logged on just in time to hear the webinar was over. How that happened, I don't know, but I can tell you, I was frustrated. I went back to the original website, found I could re-register for tonight and did so. I'll be logging on every hour and half hour for three hours before the posted start time this go 'round. Fool me twice...

Both times, frustration spurred me to make a change in my circumstances. I acted on my environment to remove the offense.

That's all a good story is. A frustrated character doing what it takes to put his life in order. Generally speaking, the greater the frustration - the greater the obstacles - the better the story.

My life is pretty boring most of the time. I like it that way. But my stories should be filled with frustrating moments and people finding ways around or through them.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Why I Hate Sequels Yet Intend to Write Them Anyway

Nothing like knowing where a post is going when I start.

First, I prefer beginnings. I like meeting new characters and anticipating a long and fruitful relationship with them. I like discovering where a story is going and hitching along for the ride.

Second, I prefer long books. I want time to know these characters. I want to be able to linger over them for days or weeks (like Charlie Bucket and his bar of birthday chocolate). If I spend close to 20 bucks on a book, I'm going to savor it like steak, not stuff it like popcorn. I am willing to give a book enough time to complete its mission and tell its story. If a book can't do that in the page count I allow, then the story needs to be revised a bit, In My Humble Opinion (I just figured out what those initials mean).

An addendum to Point Two is I don't like knowing I will be dropping 20 bucks for the next 7 to 10 years on a story line. You'd think I would, being very into Dave Ramsey and budgeting, but I once put a book back because the front page said "book 1 of 7" and the copyright date was that year. How do I know I'll even be alive for all 7 books? Or that the author will, for that matter?

Third, I prefer happy endings. When I finish the last page, I choose to believe all major problems are resolved forever and the characters have now learned the life skills necessary for future happiness. Real life is depressing enough. Let the fake people have their fake happy ending.

Sequels annoy me for the extension of those same three reasons.

A sequel is a continuation, not a beginning. Sometimes, it's an ending. Dune is one my favorite books. I read it four or five times as a teenager. I made the mistake of reading the sequel - aargh! What happened to everyone I love? Paul, my beautiful Paul! It's just wrong!

Sequels can be long, too, but they often provide information that changes your understanding of the characters from the first book. Assumptions are shattered, assumptions I've nursed the entire time the sequel is being written. Reasons are provided where you had already made up reasons. And that pesky "continuation" problem comes up again. Depending on the type of sequel, the main problem from the first book may not have been resolved until this book. I hate that. I hate cliff-hangers. As a sci-fi fan, I know a cliff-hanger can hang there unresolved forever if the network chooses to cancel the show. Finish your book, authors! You're not guaranteed another.

A sequel destroys any illusion of happy endings. A book worth reading is a book with conflict. Conflict means your beloved characters aren't happy. They haven't ended well. Their problems continue or new problems arise to plague them (why I won't read Star Wars books. Give Han and Leia some time to be together, for goodness' sake! They did help save the universe! They can't take a honeymoon? Sheesh)

So that's why I hate sequels. I say I intend to write them anyway, but my sequels will have one ground rule (only one? shocking!).

My sequels will contain characters from a previous book, but those characters will face new problems and resolve them within that book. Happily, if I can swing it; satisfactorily, if I can't.

Now you know what to expect from me and my books. Let's see if I can hold to it.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Winter Blahs

This is the winter of my discontent.

I don't know where that line is from, but I'm sure I've heard it somewhere.

The last three months have been cold, wet, snow-covered, muddy, dark and miserable. We've had about 10 days of fog - yes, fog - since January. Some mornings I expected Christopher Lee to meet me on my doorstep and suck my blood before I could drive to work. Some days I wished he would. Even work has been dark and miserable thanks to the recession. I don't care what our magazine says, flowers are a luxury item. That's why I never buy them. That, and the six cats.

Warning: all lilies are deadly poisonous to cats. Don't bring them into your home.

The lack of sunlight is showing on us native Kansans. Our winters are generally cold winds and clear skies. A friend of mine commented that this winter was like being back in her native Michigan.
Makes me think I wouldn't like Michigan winters. Deprive me of sun, and I'd rather spend my life in bed under the covers. Add in the hamster wheel that has become my life - the continual sense of running in place without accomplishing anything - and I'm pretty sure this could qualify as purgatory. If I believed in purgatory, that is.

I promised myself two winters ago I would stop complaining about the weather. I was tired of hearing myself do it; I can't imagine how tired everyone else was of hearing me. Since then, I try very hard to keep my depressed thoughts to myself and share only the happy ones.

Friday, we had a beautiful snowfall. It was about two inches of fluffy, wet whiteness. It didn't gunk up the roads, it made the landscape photo-worthy, and it was gone by Saturday. Perfectly behaved snow, we all agreed.

I'll do my best to hold on and comment only on the good stuff. I've gotten new, higher-watt, daylight bulbs and set aside money for the electric bill, but I don't know that it's helping much. I have over 15 days of vacation to use before September.

Maybe I'll take them all now and sleep through February.

Except, in Kansas, March is the month to watch out for. It's always a lion.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Who Is This Guy?

Say "Moses," and nearly every American over the age of 30 thinks "Charlton Heston." Thank you, Hollywood.

But who is Moses? He's a Hebrew, a Levite and the second born son in his family. He gets adopted by the Pharaoh of Egypt's daughter and reared as a prince. He's a murderer (kills an Egyptian guard whipping an Israelite) and a fugitive (flees to Midian where he meets a priest and marries his daughter). He's our second major hero who remains monogamous throughout his lifetime. He's a shepherd for a while.

Then God appears in a burning bush and everything goes crazy.

Moses argues with God about going back to Egypt to free the Israelites. Read it (Exodus chapter 3). He actually tells God he'd rather not go. How is it he didn't end up a crispy critter after that statement?

Moses becomes The Lawgiver (another Charlton Heston movie comes to mind - can you guess which one, my dear geek readers?), which is funny because it's God who actually gives the laws. Moses just repeats them.

Moses herds these 600,000 plus people out of Egypt into the Promised Land and puts up with all the ungrateful belly-aching that goes with them. He gets to wander the desert for the same 40 years they do. He gets to watch them die from snake bites, plagues, divine fire and earthquakes, and pretty much sheer stupidity throughout that time, and yet, he's the one who often seems to talk God out of destroying the Israelites completely.

Who is this guy?

Moses was the only one officially allowed to climb Mt. Sinai to see God and receive The Law, although the text says he took Joshua with him as his aide. Makes sense since Joshua becomes the leader after Moses. Before the tabernacle is built, God would meet with Moses in his tent. And Moses lives through it, time and again. At the time of his death, Moses is 120, strong in body and mind, and God takes his body away (probably to keep it from becoming a relic).

The Bible says God talked to Moses as to a friend. So, I guess the answer to the question is "Moses was God's friend."

With friends like that...

Just kidding. If I only get one friend, the Creator of the Universe is probably the best one to have.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

People Are Funny

I must be improving. I want to write about writing again, instead of day-to-day activities. We'll see how far I get into the sticky subject I've chosen for the day.

Jeff the Publisher says (this will be my interpretation, not a direct quote) that story people are fake people who act real.

I agree with that, for the most part. This applies to story people in fictional stories, naturally.
Writers create characters who seem real. How does a writer create a character who seems real but isn't?

I'm not sure I know. Most writing books recommend studying real people. I suppose I've done that. Some recommend using your own experiences to create characters. I suppose I've done that, too. I see bits of me in all my characters (or bits of my brothers). Those are the people I know the best.

The real trouble is deciding how fake people react. Take Hannibal, the Silence of the Lambs sequel. Jodi Foster refused to be a part of the movie supposedly because she didn't agree with the ending of the book (the movie ends quite differently, by the way). Some argue that the character Clarice Starling wouldn't have done what she did in the book.

Why not? I ask. Didn't Thomas Harris create her? Isn't it ultimately his decision what his character would or wouldn't do?

To me, the controversy says that no matter how respected an author you are, someone will always find a reason to criticize you (I had no problem with either ending, by the way).

Let's look at CGI characters (that's Computer Generated Images). For a very long time, animators only animated non-human things (Toy Story, as an example) because the technology wasn't there to create humans that moved like humans. Humans could always tell the difference because we know how humans are supposed to move. It's the same with story people. If they don't feel human, the human reader notices.

This post doesn't answer the question "How do you make fake people seem real?" It simply brings it up. The fact is, you know when you've done it, and you hear about it when you haven't.

My suggestion is keep writing. Start with a character you know very well, a character that shares your interests and experiences. Once you've done that, bring in an opposite character, a character that does everything you don't, and vice versa. After you can write that, try for a balance between the two. If you must, model the character on a relative and claim ignorance when the relative notices (I have done that, but not in Star of Justice).

I'm afraid that's all I've got for the moment, other than a headache.

Maybe I'm not fully recovered yet.

Friday, February 5, 2010

I Couldn't Wait

Normally, I have no problem with patience. However, last night I was home, I was watching Fringe (better than the last two weeks but still following a disturbingly "sappy" trend in the storyline), and I was at the computer. Perfect mix for doing a little website updating.

You may now see "pictures" of most of the major characters from Star of Justice on the book page.
I never found figures I liked for Rhami and Gamaliel, my two wizards. I never role-played them, either, so figures weren't imperative. I did use Rhami as POV for the written version of whatever adventure Galena was in. Those of you who've read the book know how. Those of you who haven't, contact Jeff the Publisher and urge him to change that situation. 0 : - )

I also added a few links to my Interesting Sites page: Traveller7, aka Kenneth Bliss, and almarquardt, aka A.L. Marquardt. Both had entries in the MLS Main Contest and have websites instead of blogs, or I would have linked them here long ago. Feel free to toodle over to their sites and remember to sign their guestbooks.

I'll be adding a bit more to the website this weekend. Pictures of the real Jasper, for one. Yes, he is a real dog. He's taken The Long Step to the green fields of heaven, but thankfully, I had a camera handy for his last years.

Hopefully, the waiting won't be too hard on you. Happy Friday, people.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

It Worked!

It pays to have a geek in the family. Elder Brother came through again. Using a tiny digital camera, a tripod and a work light, he was able to photograph and enhance everything I brought him. Here's a taste.

These are the figures I sculpted myself (dog, squirrel, goat wearing two saddlebags). I now wish I'd put something next to them for scale. Suffice to say, the dog's base would sit on a penny with room to spare.

The rest will be loaded on my website this weekend, possibly during the Super Bowl.

Technology is amazing. Consider what it takes for a camera to capture an image like this. Or cell phones. Or phones, for that matter. I remember when a phone call to my relatives in Hawaii had a five minute time lapse between responses, and cost a small mortgage to make. Now, it's instantaneous and included as part of a world-wide calling plan for $100 a month. Truly amazing. That's the free market at work, boys and girls. What people want, they find a way to create and sell.

Well, I've more Sandbox stories waiting for my attention this morning. Elder Brother isn't the only geek in the world. He's my favorite, though. Thank you, Eric!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


The role players out there (who don't dress up, that is) understand what I mean when I say I have figures of my characters for Star of Justice.

A figure is a tiny representation of your character to use during the game, like the game pieces in Monopoly. I was always the dog in Monopoly.

An entire industry exists around figures, and nowadays, you can find almost anything you want to represent you in 1:16 scale (or something like that) from almost any fictional universe in print or production. Figures start out gray metal (nickel, I think, or pewter for the really nice ones), but for the real hard-core geeks, they end up painted in excruciating detail. Mine even have pupils. That's done with a one-hair brush, a magnifying glass and no caffeinated drinks for 24 hours prior.

I have figures for Caissa, Merritt, Kirk, Horus, Indira, Galena and Raven. I couldn't find a figure I liked for Jasper, so I made my own out of Sculpey. While I was at it, I made Bramble the goat and Skeevie the squirrel. They were Raven's animal companions when I played her, although those two do not appear in Star of Justice. The squirrel is about 1/16 of an inch tall and absolutely adorable.

I very much hope Elder Brother has a camera that can capture these figures. I want to put them on my website Star of Justice page so my fans can know what I was thinking while I was writing. We'll find out tonight, I hope.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I'm Back

Forgive my absence (those of you who noticed). I had a bit of a freak out there. Sixteen hours of nap time with four cats and a dog on my twin bed, one cat under the bed and the last cat who-knows-where have helped considerably in restoring some brain balance for all of us.

I'm sure someone else sang it first, but I will always hear Roger Whittaker: "You never seem to get enough time to do the things that you want to do once you find them."

I suppose it is the brevity of our lives that spurs us to do as much as we do in our limited spans. We are not promised tomorrow, after all. Why not cram everything into right now?

Well, 'cause that kind of cramming makes this turtle grouchy and unpleasant to be around. People exhaust me, even nice people, and I've been surrounded by people lately.

I'm reining back on my newfound Gene Getz philosophy of "say yes," and adopting a "say maybe" policy, which is one step removed from my former "say no" policy.

"Maybe, if it doesn't pull me out of my house for the fifth night that week."

Now, I have to go read some Sandbox short stories and write thank you letters for all the speakers who attended our 10th Amendment rally.

Hmm. Maybe I haven't learned anything yet.