The Only Thing You Have To Fear . . .

I know I’ve been promising a book release for a while, and I am working on it. I promise! Thanks for your patience. 

When I started writing Darkling Like Stars (previously Blood Life) about three years ago, I wanted to write something I’d like to read. Writing is hard work, and, for me at least, it’s insanely personal. Part of me (most of me) never imagined I’d share it with the world, and a lot of me is super resistant to the idea. I’m sure this is a large factor in my delay, that and my editor woes (though, my new editor, Dario, is amazing. I recommend him 100%).

What am I afraid of? David Jauss says “Like a dream, a story, if it’s any good, tells the truth about the author’s secret, inner life, for, as Oscar Wilde said, ‘One’s real life is so often the life that one does not lead.’ And about the nature of that truth, the reader sometimes knows more than the author.”

That’s close, but not quite my problem. I am a fairly open person about certain aspects of my life, but sharing my writing is like letting someone snoop around in my thoughts. You are reading my thoughts, and while those thoughts have been refined with editing and are fully realized by the time you read them, it’s still mortifying.

This book has gone through many changes over the years, and there’s been yet another change. Lately, I’ve been struggling with writing the blurb for the back cover, leading me to realize part of the problem: I’ve jammed too much into this book.

Solution: Darkling Like Stars has become two books: Dead Like Stars (book one) and Darkling Like Stars (book two). There will be, at least, one more, likely a prequel featuring the alien antagonists (the Quaadah), tentatively titled: Before These Stars.

So, book one is almost ready, book two is 85% finished, and despite my fears, I’ll be releasing them to the world . . . soon.

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Another Willamette Writers Adventure

Now that the Willamette Writers Conference has wrapped up, my writer friends new and old have scurried back to their hidey-holes, and my anxiety levels have stabilized at a comfortable medium-low, life is back to normal. I just finished a copyedit on another writer’s MS, and I’m addressing the final edits on Darkling Like Stars before sending it back to my editor for another pass.

I love the Willamette Writers Conference, it’s a great venue for creating community. It forces us quiet, lurking writers out of our comfy homes and packs us all into one building with very few hiding places and an abundance of coffee and sugary treats. It’s fun and awkward, some of us are less awkward than others, or they’re just better at hiding it. I’m not. So naturally, I thought it would be a grand idea to pitch a workshop to Willamette Writers. They’ll never say yes, I thought . . . until they did. But, I survived my talk, barely, and I’ll use the feedback from this time around to give it another go at Orycon in November. Maybe I’ll see you there?

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Creep on Your Characters (and Your Friends)

I like to watch . . .

Not like that, perv, but, yeah, if we’ve met, I’ve likely spied on you, analyzed your movements, wondered at the reason you say a word in a particular way, kept track of the trends in your speech. Kind of creepy, right? Sorry, I’m writing, and I can’t turn it off. Anyway, here’s some tips and tricks I’ve picked up whilst creeping on everyone. After I ramble a bit, I’ll also share a fun (strange, maybe) character development trick/tool I use.

Dialogue

Each character should have their own flavor: word choice and patterns of speech. Also consider how their speech may change depending on who they are around (code switching).

Is there a word/phrase your character likes to use? Maybe they use it repeatedly, possibly even incorrectly. Bonus points if you can think of a reason/origin for why they use this word or phrase.

Listen to the people you know and you’ll notice they’ll always say certain things. Maybe your sister always says, “you know?” after something she says. Why? Maybe she’s worried no one listens to her, so she tacks this on at the end to elicit a response. 

How can word choice show character? Think of the way Vizzini from the Princess Bride incorrectly (and excessively) uses the word “inconceivable”. This demonstrates his character. He latches onto this multisyllabic word to sound smart, he thinks he’s a genius and this serves to foreshadow his upcoming loss in a battle of wits against Westley. While you don’t want to do exactly this, obviously, you should consider how you can make word choice work for (or against) your characters.

As you write dialogue, always visualize the character talking. Read it out loud, drop words—most people talk in fragments, especially when they know each other well.

That said, it’s okay to have awkward dialogue, such as stating the obvious, so long as it’s a character trait. However, if you do this, the other characters should call them on it or in some way react to this odd manner of speaking.

Character Tics

What does your character always do when (insert emotion)?

Watch the people you know. Does your partner talk with their hands when excited? Maybe your friend obsessively fiddles with her rings when she explains things? Go on, spy on everyone, it’s fun to be creepy.

Now for the fun I promised, but first, some work:

Write a journal entry from the perspective of your character (preferably in 1st person) ‘cause who writes their journal in third? Weird. Get inside your character, be super honest, this is your (character’s) personal journal where they can write anything and everything without fear, because (of course) afterwards it’s going straight into the fire (not literally, duh). Force your character to reflect on their dreams/goals/past/future. This doesn’t need to be pretty or even cohesive, stream of consciousness is fine, just get into their head for a few pages. Note: This is not something you will include in your story/novel, it’s only an exercise, what you write here will influence how you write this character.

Done? Great! On to the fun. It’s time to discover your character’s personality type. Yep, now that your character is fresh in your mind, you’re going to take a personality test as your character. Answer each of the weird questions only as your character would. Force them to be super honest (and consistent). At the end, you will be rewarded with some literature describing their traits (weaknesses, strengths, etc.).

Now, do this for each of your major characters.

Want More Fun?

Use these results to discover which Harry Potter character your character would be. Because procrastination is FUN! You can find this here and here (these two sites vary slightly).

What are your favorite character development tricks? Post them below!

Cats Can’t Write

Sometimes I envy my cat. Hell, more than sometimes. Presently he’s sleeping at my side, snoring ever so slightly. Now and again his foot twitches and I imagine he’s creeping through a jungle of dream grass stalking some tantalizingly elusive prey, a bird-mouse perhaps? Or maybe his favorite toy, koala-ball, has become sentient. Either way, it’s a pretty damned awesome dream if you’re a cat.

I wonder what it would be like to sleep like that, like nothing else matters. How would it be to not have my guilt-tripping inner nag constantly whispering, “It’s been six hours! You’ve slept enough! Shouldn’t you be writing? TICK! TICK! TICK! Gotta get those stories out before you DIE!”

But she means well, and she is right. After all, each second, day, hour, I am closer to death, and how horrible it would be to die with an untold story!

I think about this every day on my ten-mile bike commute. Every car that almost swipes me, every bus that veers into my path. I want to shout, “NO! Not yet! I have too many stories to tell!” Which is a lot different than my pre-writing mindset. Settle in, I’ll tell you all about it.

Yes, I’ve always been a “writer” but there was a period (a really fucking dark period) of about ten years in which I didn’t—couldn’t—write anything.

I started smoking in around seventh grade, and I would smoke cigarettes whenever I wrote. When I turned eighteen I decided an asthmatic shouldn’t smoke, and quit. In quitting, I also inadvertently quit writing. I couldn’t do it anymore, not without the ember’s red glow, the waft of swirling grey smoke. It was over. Cue the depression.

So I stumbled through life, sure it all had some purpose, but I couldn’t figure out what. I’d thought it had been writing, but obviously I had been wrong about that. So I decided I would live only as long as my two cats, then, once they died, I too could go. My bike rides then were indifferent. I could die, but meh, it saved me the trouble of having to do it myself.

Good times.

What snapped me out of this funk? Well, oddly enough, all it took was one over-hyped, mind-numbing book. I’m not going to name names, and which book it was isn’t really important. Really, it was more of a cumulative thing and this book just happened to be the last straw. It poked a shining hole into my darkness and forced me to pick up my pen for the first time in ten years. Now my life is measured in stories, not cats.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I have some writing to do.

Seven Years Don’t Mean Shit

It’s been an interesting week full of, well, I’ll just say, surprises. Overall it’s been good. I’ve had time to think and re-imagine my life. In March I’ll be going back to school after almost 10 years off. Time sure creeps, huh? Aside from school, I’ll be focusing on writing, and hopefully, somehow, keeping food on my cat’s plate—because thats the most important thing, or so he tells me, and he only eats the primo shit. No Friskies for this cat.

I’ve been working on Bloodlife again, hopefully I will finish it for real this time. It’s hard to get started, mostly because I know the work that awaits within. Black pools of swamp that I must wade through, purify, and somehow polish into something that fits with the rest of the book. It shouldn’t be this hard, but I’ve been building it up in my head so it’s become this epic, looming mountain I must conquer.

I’m approaching it cautiously, bit by bit, and as I sink into the familiar narrative, I’m surprised to discover some of it isn’t all that bad. I won’t say it’s good, because what does that even mean? Good is subjective and whimsical. However, speaking of good…

I’ve been reading Ursula K. Le Guin’s, “Lathe of Heaven.” It’s amazing, and I can’t stop scribbling in her margins, micro-printed notes, hearts—little smiley faces. I’ve probably underlined a third of the book.

I love how she handles character, each with a their own unique tics, speech patterns, and styles of observation. I know this is something that is supposed to be standard in novels, but so often I feel it is something writers either ignore or do sloppily. I also really enjoy the way she peppers in backstory, unobtrusively with so many interesting and beautiful images and observations.

Another thing I found interesting, there have been a few places where I was jostled out of the story. Wait, you say, that’s a bad thing, right? You would think so, but no. It’s awesome. One example:

Early in the book, there’s a scene where one character, relaying a dream he’s had about his aunt Ethel, says: She was “usually disguised, the way people are in dreams sometimes; once she was a white cat, but I knew she was Ethel.”

It doesn’t seem like much, but upon reading that line, I laughed out loud and exclaimed, “SO TRUE!” (I also underlined it, and put a heart in the margin, in case you were wondering.) Why did I love this bit so much? Because it happens to me often. The strangest shit happens in dreams. I’ll have a dream where I’m doing something with my husband, but he’s also my sister, but at the same time he’s a parrot.

Until I read this book, I had never really thought about it, even though my dream diary is full of instances just like this. It never would have occurred to me to include something like this in my fiction. It’s details like these that make books fun. They draw parallels in our lives and add meaning—they create freakin’ connections. They add realism. In that moment it is real, and you and the character share a secret.

Anyway, that’s just one example, and not even the best one, and as I’ve said, it’s all subjective. Either way, go get a copy. It’s a great book, especially if you are a writer. Once I finish, I’m going to immediately read it again, there’s just so much to learn!

Haven’t read it yet? Please do, and after you’ve had your ‘conversations’ in Ursula Le Guin’s margins, please, tell me all about them!

Also, moderately interesting, I may have given Ursula Le Guin a fan letter last week. It was just like grade school: handwritten, folded into a little rectangle, complete with a smiley kitty face. I thrust it into her hands and ran, then I nervous cried the whole way home. *facepalm*

What’s New and MEAT Excerpt

As usual, I’ve been busy. I finished MEAT…(still thinking on a new title) and wrote a cute little, super short story (1,500 words) called Midnight Snack, which, after some more editing, I plan on submitting to some magazines! *crosses fingers*

Aside from that, I’ve been avoiding Bloodlife and stressing about a new novel I’m attempting to write, one I haven’t told you about yet. Currently untitled, it’s a different direction for me and something that kind of came out of nowhere. One day I woke up and decided I wanted to write a novel with a 13 year old protagonist who, upon meeting her father for the first time, meets an awesome guy (not a psycho) who has legitimate and heart-warming(ish) reasons for having abandoned her as a child. I intend it to be what I wished would have happened (but didn’t) when I was reintroduced to my father at a similar age. So it’s a happy book, in a way, but of course, it’s a fantasy novel as well because otherwise that would be some boring shit!

Anyway, I said I’d post my short story MEAT here…but now I kind of don’t want to. Yes, I’m nervous. People reading my work…eep! Not that many people come here. It’s just us and the bartender—oh wait, that was my band’s last show—but really, the interwebs can be a scary place. So how about an excerpt to test the waters:

MEAT (excerpt)

Ryleigh opened the fridge, condiment bottles tinkled softly in the door. It was a small fridge. Everything had been half-sized since she had packed up her life and fled to the desert in her parents’ Winnebago.

As she’d backed the Winnebago out of her parents’ driveway, something in her chest had loosened. The road sped past, and she screamed her victory, feeling lighter than she had in years. Until she caught her reflection in the rearview mirror, and her elation turned to ash in her throat. His work stared back at her—the large frames of her dark glasses did little to conceal the purple bruises that spilled across her nose and cheeks.

He would do worse if he found her.

Marrying Chris had been the biggest mistake of her life. He was a police officer, she thought he was one of the good guys, but quickly it went to shit. Her second mistake was staying. She’d told herself a baby would change everything.

Part of her always knew she would have to run. Chris had grown more and more violent ever since she’d lost the baby. The doctor said nothing could have been done, a stillbirth was no one’s fault, but Chris never believed that.

His name would have been Daniel. She still remembered the perfect pink of his skin, his miniature hands, the warmth of his tiny body. But it had been a borrowed warmth that had soon faded like the last of her bruises, which now, two weeks later, were little more than yellow shadows.

Ryleigh pushed the thoughts away, pulled a five-gallon plastic tub from the camper’s fridge, and thumped it onto the counter. Thin strips of meat swam in coffee-colored marinade. The smell brought her back to happier times. Winter days with her father, boar hunting in the mornings, followed by sunny afternoons making jerky. The days when she’d have him all to herself.

She snapped the lid back on and hauled the tub outside, a hint of a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. The scabbed over split in her lip hardly hurt anymore. Dry heat greeted her. It was only seven in the morning, but the thermometer outside the door hovered slightly above eighty degrees, and the sun had only begun its climb in the brilliant, cloudless sky.

The camper sat huddled on the wide, soft shoulder of the two-lane highway outside of Holbrook, Arizona. The black ribbon of tar stretched endlessly, flanked by thirsty dirt and blue sky. Settling the tub on the hardpan, she removed the glass covers from her homemade dehydrators, already warm from the morning sun, and arranged the meat on the screens.

This would be the last batch, and maybe then she could move on. Start over in a new city far away from this arid desert where only stunted and sharp things grew and coyotes yipped in the night. Ryleigh wiped her hands on a towel hanging from the belt loop of her shorts and returned to the cool of the camper.

One more day.

She smoothed her long blonde hair into a loose bun. Donning her sunglasses, she headed back out into the sun, dragging two coolers behind her. In the shade of the camper’s awning, Ryleigh set up her makeshift shop. She propped up her hand-painted sign so its message would be visible from the highway: FRESH LOCAL JERKY.

An hour passed, and she was considering heading in for a book, when a car slowed and pulled onto the shoulder, its tires crunching on the loose dirt and pebbles. A heavyset, middle-aged man heaved himself from the car and shuffled forward.

He smiled, took in her tanned legs, and licked his thick, rubbery lips. “Did you make the jerky?”

She nodded. Her hand wanted to dip toward the hunting knife on her hip, and she hooked her thumbs into her pockets. “Sure did. It’s my dad’s recipe. We’ve been making jerky since I was a kid.”

He grinned and licked his lips again. A quick movement, like a frog catching flies. “You’re still a kid. Hardly look old enough to drink.”

She suppressed a shiver and gave him a polite smile. “Would you like some jerky? . . . 

So, there you have it, some of it anyhow. Let me know what you think. Give me the good and the bad. Constructive criticism only serves to make one better, so have at it.

NANOWRIMO

Hello!! 
I’ve been busy! I finished a (verrrry rough) first draft of a short story. Right now it’s called Meat but I’m thinking about changing that. We’ll see what happens. It was fun to write and research. I learned how to field dress dead animals. Gross, right? Thanks, Myron and YouTube…I think?! I’m not going to say what Meat is about just yet because I’m going to be posting it here (!) once it’s finished, probably somewhere around January or February. I will say that it was inspired by a strange fantasy I used to (still?) entertain from high school. It involves dead stuff and gore, obviously, because I’m into that sort of thing.
What’s new? It’s November, so I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month. What am I writing? Well, you know that book I’ve been telling you about, Bloodlife? Well, *heavy sigh* I’m re-writing it AGAIN/some more with a new outline. I’m keeping the first two chapters and a few scenes, but the rest is going away. It’s super painful. I keep waking up in the middle of the night thinking, OH NO! That scene I really loved where ___ does ____ isn’t going to work anymore. But then I remember it’s going to be okay, there will be new scenes. Better scenes! I just need to get them out.
I’m hoping to have this new (and exciting!) first draft done by the end of the month, so if you’ve been texting/calling/emailing me, sorry! See you next month, though, I’ll probably continue my antisocial antics as next month I’ll be editing Meat, which should only take a few weeks, and working on a NEW book that’s full of gods, and deceit, and destruction! YES!
 
So, happy November, happy Tofurky day, and if you’re a writer too, I say let’s get freakin’ writing!