Confessions of a Northwesterner in New England

IMG_1675I meant to title this “Confessions of a New-New Englander” but since I’ve only been here for about two months I don’t think I qualify for the title. I’m pretty sure I need to survive at least one winter before I can even come close to that.

Since the move, I have been to Northhampton Beach and a couple others – and wandered through Purgatory Chasm. (No joke, it’s actually called that.)

I have also visited Boston and wandered through the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Watertown. And before you squint at me for visiting a cemetery, I will have you knowIMG_1699 that I saw Robert Gould Shaw’s gravestone along with Faulker’s – they’re pretty close together, actually.

The place is beautiful and respectful and full of history and I loved it. I look forward to future visits because it’s too large to take in one night.

Now then, I do have to complain about the state of the roads. They are simply too small for all the cars and the light systems are weird. Furthermore, particularly in the larger cities, people seem to have no sense of self-preservation.

By that I mean they don’t use crosswalks, they simply make their way across the road whenever they like and pay no mind to oncoming traffic. And the best part… If they make eye contact, they grin and wave at you like it’s no big thing that they were nearly your first ever manslaughter.

IMG_1701I lived in Hawaii for a time and not even Waikiki Beach was this bad.

That said… it rains a lot. And there are tree frogs every night because we live in a remote area. And it is so very, very green.

Which brings me to my writing, because as much as I might have said I pay attention to my worldbuilding and things, I can tell you that I missed a lot in my work. There’s something to be said about not hammering too many details into a reader, but there’s something else to be said about digging deeper and finding the details that matter.

Such as the feel of arid summers against humid summers. Or the prominent smell of IMG_1708wildflowers against localized gardens. Or desert bugs against verdant bugs – HINT: There are more of them here than I recall in Idaho.

Or even the light, which is different here. I’m still working on how to describe that, but the basis I think is in all the greenery and tall trees versus the wide open blue of Idaho.

Suffice to say, I am paying better attention to the right details for my settings now. And I challenge any writers out there to go somewhere and make a note of the differences you find.


The 3/4 Mark – May Round Robin

This month’s round robin is open for a bit of interpretation. The main thrust of the question is how you maintain continuity from start to finish in a novel. Which brings me to the title of the post – The 3/4 Mark.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that my personal writing process requires a break in the rough draft that comes about the 3/4 mark. This is the point where I stop writing and I go back and start revising from the start, making little notes along the way.

I know a lot of people will boo and hiss at this, saying I need to get the first draft done and then go back and edit lest I suffocate my creative muse.

However, I’ve found that this process fuels my muse more than hinders it. And to be fair, most of the naysayers are focused on writers who have yet to complete a novel because they continually go back and revise rather than completing a draft.

If you happen to be a writer who falls into this category – don’t do it my way. Finish a draft and then go back and revise. There is nothing like the feeling you get when you finish a book and you owe it to yourself to push through.

Now then, a lot of things happen at the 3/4 Mark Break, which isn’t really a break.

At this point in the book, I have a deeper understanding of the characters and know what the story is really about. This allows me to go through the beginning of the book and edit the character voices, sharpen the focus of each chapter, and move things around.

Which adds to the flow and sense of continuity for the book as a whole.

This also allows me to make notes in the margins, pinpointing subplots that I need to either remove or complete in the last quarter of the novel.

And then, when I go to write that last quarter, my brain has had a nice refresher of the novel as a whole. More often than not, the outlined ending is drastically changed because of this. Which is a GOOD thing because my first draft endings are always horrid.

Take a look at what some of my fellow authors do to keep continuity from start to finish in their works…

Skye Taylor
Marci Baun
Judith Copek
Margaret Fieland
A.J. Maguire (YOU ARE HERE)
Beverley Bateman
Rhobin L Courtright

Anne de Gruchy

From Coast to Coast – With Cats

IMG_1466 (1)
Pest telling me how awful I am.

All right, so admittedly Idaho isn’t exactly on the coast, but it is close enough to the west coast that my move to Massachusetts was significant.

I suppose any move across state lines is significant but I’m sure you gather my meaning here. We spent 40 hours on the road, not counting pit stops and the necessary Motel stays.

I must take a moment to give my husband a shout of appreciation for doing all the driving. I’m 97% sure I would have had a heart attack trying to pull the UHaul on my own.

So! 40 hours on the road with one 10-year-old (who slept a great deal of the trip) and two very unimpressed cats. What could possibly go wrong?

IMG_1457 (1)
Nuisance hiding under the dinosaur’s butt.

Well, let’s go ahead and start with the obvious – Cats don’t like cars.

Like, at all.

My cat in particular (aptly named Pest) chose to pee on me before we even left my home town of Boise. Granted, I realize this was a direct reaction to never having traveled further than the vet’s office in his 9 years of living, but it was a sad portent of things to come.

He is plotting my demise. I can feel it.

Pest spent the first hour and half of every day crying.

Every morning. No matter how early we chose to rise and get started, and we were getting up at 4AM to avoid traffic in the more populated cities.

After that first hour and a half, either because he ran out of kitty-voice to expound his displeasure or because he got used to the whole moving car thing, he quieted down and hid under my son’s feet to sleep.

We also had a big fluffy dinosaur thing that I put in the back seat for the kiddo to sleep on, but the cats decided that was a perfect-most-wonderful-spot to sleep UNDER. Not on top of, but UNDERNEATH, hidden from view, thus keeping the kiddo from being able to really use it.

The other kitty (named Nuisance or Funny Face or whatever the kiddo decides for the

“I am ninja kitty!”

day) did much better. He didn’t cry or pee in the car at all.

Nooooo, not that cat.

Instead, Nuisance chose to find any hiding spot he could in the hotel rooms, leading us on a frantic hunt up and down the halls of the third hotel. (He was under one of the beds, pressed so tight against the foot board we couldn’t see him.)

Beyond the upset kitties, there are a couple of issues to take note of;

#1) The lady in Utah going 40MPH in a 70MPH zone. She really, really, really needs her license taken away. Or some loving family member to drive her around.

…. Wyoming.

#2) Wyoming is full of nothing. SO MUCH NOTHING. Nebraska is a close second, but unless a cataclysm happens and the landscape cracks open or something, Wyoming will forever hold the title of Most Boring To Drive Through.

#3) The Motel 6 on the edge of Wyoming gave us a room that was already rented, leading to a super awkward moment. Also, that motel is so close to the train tracks there is really no sleep to be had there. Every twenty or thirty minutes there was a train rumbling by right outside the window.

#4) Omaha is the gateway to Hades. Or at least their roads look like it and I’m really surprised we made it out of there with our souls intact.

And there we have it. Suffice to say, the trip wasn’t awful.  Brendon and I did have some fun, we got through the first three Naomi Novik Temeraire audio books, and once the landscape turned there were interesting things to look at.

That being said, I’m glad we made it safely and look forward to more adventures in New England.

April Round Robin Discussion – How do you establish a story/character/setting?

When I started Tapped I knew I was going to be working with a larger series. I knew I wanted religion outlawed and an underground railroad put in place for refugees. I wanted to pose questions that would take more than one book to fully answer.

But I wanted it to mean something.

You can run out and find thousands of essays on the subject of religion, but those can only touch the surface and very rarely come with the emotional impact one can find in fiction.

Thus entered Devon Barlow, a young man travelling with his parents on a hauling vessel called Zephyr. I knew he was young enough to still be considered a minor, but old enough to chafe under that restriction. And I knew his parents were hiding big secrets.

Beyond that, Devon showed me who he was with each draft. I didn’t know he was courageous until the end of the first draft, when he insists on saving his mother against hopeless odds.

Once that first draft was finished, I had the basic shape of the story, so the only thing I can say about establishing a story is to write the rough draft. Once that’s done, you have round upon round of editing to help tighten and sharpen the story until it resembles something decent.

Establishing the character is a little different. The rough draft is a first date, so to speak. You have coffee or a light lunch with your main character, listening to them as they give basic highlights of who they are as people.

With Devon, learning he was courageous meant I had to show that possibility earlier in the book. Thus entered the spelunking scene on Pluto where we get to see him react to a horrible accident.

The second draft is like reaching the third month of a relationship. You know their basic personality from before, but now you start to find all those quirks that seem to have no explanation.

Devon noticed ships and blueprints in the first draft, but it wasn’t until the second draft that I understood why. He wants to learn how to design space vessels, which leads to a conflict over schooling (aka – a major plot point) and reveals his talent as an engineer.

By the third draft you’ve entered into the permanent status of your relationship with this character. You not only know who they are, you can anticipate what the absolute worst scenario will be for them – and if you’re evil like me, you then plop them in the middle of that scenario and watch them scramble.

Establishing setting is an altogether different beast. I confess that this is a weak spot in my writing. I am working to remedy that and envy authors who are able to describe their settings with a few brilliantly placed words.

That being said, a trick I often use is to make sure the settings are described in the character’s POV. For example, Devon views Zephyr as a labyrinth of secrets. His parents are hiding things from him and that is proven even in the vessel’s blueprints.

But when Jorry (his mother) describes the ship it is always in terms of a safe haven, and a home. She lingers on the notches in the wall where she measured Devon’s height as he grew up, and the security measures put in place to keep him safe.

Take a peek at what some of my fellow authors do to help establish their characters and stories…

Skye Taylor
Dr. Bob
A.J. Maguire (YOU ARE HERE)
Marci Baun
Beverley Bateman
Margaret Fieland
Connie Vines 
Rhobin L Courtright

Personalized Writing Process – Round Robin Discussion

So there I was, happily working away on my current writing project when I overhear my son talking to his Minecraft friends. I will never understand the appeal of Minecraft but, hey, he’s building things and I suppose there are worse games he could love.

Anyway, he says; “Let’s build the castle of three kings!”

My fingers hesitated over the keyboard.

Castle of three kings? That’s a great title. It leaves so many questions in the air, makes me want to know what’s going on.

Why are there three kings?

How did they come to this shared castle agreement?

That night, I thank my son for the idea he’s given me. He looks a little bewildered and asks; “What idea?”

“The castle of three kings. I’m going to write a book using that title. There are just too many possibilities and I need to know where it goes.”

My son is delighted by this and insists that there needs to be a boy named Kevin in it. Apparently he likes the name Kevin and gives me the stink-eye that says he wishes that were his real name.

Alas, he’s stuck with what I’ve given him, but I can certainly have a character named Kevin in the book.

That night, as I lay drifting off to sleep, the story begins to unfold for me. I see the castle with its three towers, each of equal height looming over a large courtyard. I see crypts and cobwebs and a woman wielding magic over a stone. I see the curse that keeps these people here, and Kevin as he is unwittingly thrust into their story.

The next morning I tell my husband about it, who is unceasingly supportive and patient even though I know most of this doesn’t make sense yet.

But I don’t write.

Not yet.

I keep working on my current project, letting the castle and its kings simmer in the back of my mind. During this time – which lasts months – I learn more about this curse and what it means. I see the social structure within this world and all the obstacles Kevin must face when he gets there.

Finally, I write the first half of an outline. Not a full outline, just the first few chapters. I’ll learn more about where the book needs to go after I start working.

I set the outline aside and continue with my current project. But when I pull up my calendar, I put a start date of March 1st. Work continues on the current project, but at night as I sleep I’m still playing with Kevin, learning his quirks and his ambitions.

When March 1st arrives, I review the outline and finally start writing. I had a couple of false starts in February, trying to find the tone and voice of the character, but here is where I begin the rough draft.

In the past, rough drafts have taken me six to eight months to complete. Now I’m hoping to have a completed draft of Castle of Three Kings by June 1st. At which point, the novel will be set aside for several weeks and I will work on another project before starting the editing process.

Second drafts are where I feel like a real author. First drafts are a bit like pulling teeth these days, but once they’re done and I know the ultimate shape of the story, I can get to work.

Between the third and fourth drafts I start hunting for places to submit the novel, but that’s not a set number. I’ve done as many as 8 drafts before and, while I can’t say it was enjoyable, it was necessary and I learned a lot about the craft through it.

I think a lot of authors will agree with me in saying that I never quite feel done with a novel. There’s always something I can improve on, but there comes a point where I have to step back and let go. But each novel is different and I’m still learning how to get a feel for when that moment is.

Check out what my fellow authors have to say about their personal writing process in this month’s Round Robin Discussion…

Skye Taylor
A.J. Maguire (YOU ARE HERE)
Marci Baun
Connie Vines
Anne de Gruchy
Helena Fairfax
Margaret Fieland
Dr. Bob Rich
Fiona McGier
Rhobin L Courtright

The Hateful Synopsis

Nearly every author I know bemoans synopsis writing. This is the part of our job that isn’t the red-headed stepchild, but rather the creature we keep locked in a closet, too ashamed to call it ours.

Which I know is a horrible analogy, but we’re trying to be honest here.

None of us enjoy this part of the process.

We skirt around that closet door for as long as possible. Sometimes we even skip submitting to certain places that require the synopsis and move on. (Though I suggest you take a long hard look at places that do not require it before hitting that “send” button.)

In the end, most legitimate agents and publishing houses require this 1 to 3 page summary of your 75 to 120 thousand word novel. So we find ourselves cracking the door open on that dreaded closet to try wrangling the beast that is our synopsis.

This is not for the faint of heart.

There are any number of agents and editors out there that have examples of synopsis writing to help us along the way. In particular, I like to frequent Writer’s Digest. They have a whole section of this stuff. Go check them out.

Now then – assuming you’ve glanced through the sundry of articles Writer’s Digest has to offer and you’re still intimidated by the roar emitting from your personal synopsis closet – I do have one or two tips that have helped me in the past.

Before you write the synopsis, have a separate sheet of paper (or Word document) with the following information clearly defined:

  1. Main character, their motivation, and something that marks them as unique. EXAMPLE: Tessa Pines is a veteran trying to overcome the trauma she endured in Afghanistan. 
  2. Major characters and how they intersect the main character’s life. EXAMPLE: CORDON MORANT is Tessa’s ex-fiancee and high school sweetheart. He shows up unannounced at the bookstore Tessa has been frequenting since her return home and forces her to confront both the distant past of their relationship and her more recent losses. MARISOL WILLIAMS is Tessa’s roommate at the university and a psychology student who seems to have chosen Tessa as a subject to observe and learn from. 
  3. Inciting incident. AKA – What pushes your character out of status quo and into the main story. EXAMPLE: When Marisol’s lab partner leaves her hanging with a large paranormal investigating project, Tessa finds herself volunteering to help. 
  4. Twist moments/Game Changers/Major Plot Moments. Call them what you want, there should be two or three of these in the book. These are the moments in the story that push us toward the ending. EXAMPLE: Oops, this place is really haunted and now everyone is in danger. 
  5. Climax. I’m pretty sure we all know what that means. EXAMPLE: Tessa faces off against a possessed former comrade in the middle of the investigation, who is rightly upset by her avoidance tactics throughout the book. (If this were the real thing, I’d explain exactly what happens here. No cheap withholding of information, agents/editors want to know that everything makes sense.)
  6. Resolution. EXAMPLE: Tessa admits that she needs some help facing everything that has happened – from Afghanistan to the incident at the investigation – and prepares to move forward. 

OK. With all that information already scribbled on a separate piece of paper, you know the bare bones of what your synopsis needs. Different agents and editors want different lengths, so I write three; a one page, a two page, and a three page.

The bare bones I have on the sheet can pretty much boil down to the one page synopsis already, so that one is easy. I just have to go in and clean it up. For the two and three pages I go in and add pertinent elements and important character moments, which tends to fill up the extra space.

Anyway, that’s my tip. The bare bones sheet has helped me in recent years so maybe it can help you too.

Don’t sweat the beast in the closet, guys. As hard as it is, writing a full novel is harder and you already got through that. I promise, you’ll get through this too.

Book Review – Indexing by Seanan McGuire

First of all, I loved the concept of this book. The idea that fairy tales are real and that magic is constantly trying to bring them about was entertaining to the extreme.

At least for me it was. But I grew up loving Sleeping Beauty, so that’s no surprise.

A word of warning: this is not for younger audiences.

While I recognize that rough language is used everywhere and every day, I am also a parent and know that many wouldn’t want their 14-year-old kids reading a book with swear words in it.

That being said, if you’re a fantasy lover like me, you would probably enjoy this novel. In fact, I’ve already found the second book in the series and intend to start reading it soon.

I don’t do spoilers, so I am doing my best not to gush about my favorite parts. Suffice to say, I had to look up one or two fairy tales during the reading of this book because I hadn’t heard of them before.

One thing the author did supremely well, was the villain. I had my suspicions about said villain early on, but with all the action and with the way the villain was presented in the beginning, I had mostly forgotten about them before the reveal.

Well done, Ms. McGuire. Well done, indeed.

If Urban Fantasy is a favored genre for you, then I recommend taking a look at Indexing. It was a great deal of fun and I look forward to reading more from this author.

Side Note: While our names are similar, I can promise you that we are not the same people.