September Round Robin – Reading is Cool!

A couple of years ago my son informed me that he hated reading. Being an author, this made my heart hurt and I set out to fix this viewpoint by writing a story for him. I kept it short because he is young, but I did not spare him in language, plot, or character.

41SPrUMbf+LI even published it myself so that he could have a real book to read in his hands, something he could point to on Amazon. The novelette featured a man cursed into wolf form by an evil witch and it’s titled Torven. You can find it on Amazon if you’re really curious.

But I also had my son involved in the making of it. So he heard the rough draft as it was written, chapter by chapter. I paused frequently so he could ask questions, which often turned into suggestions. It amazed me how much he wanted to be part of the process, as opposed to simply reading it.

I’d written him into one of my novels once already, and that had him at least partially interested. Mostly he wanted to hear the parts of the story that featured his character, but at least he listened as I read it.

When it came to Torven, though, he was really excited to tell me where he thought the story was going and we ended every session with a conversation. He asked how Torven was cursed, and I reminded him that this was part of the story and if he wanted to know then we had to keep reading.

And when we met the witch, he wanted to know if Torven killed her. Again, I told him he had to keep reading to find out. But with this one, he adamantly informed me that Torven HAD to kill the witch or it wouldn’t be a good story.

Interestingly enough, he also went into how the witch became a witch. As an author, I like to twist things around and see how wicked people were good once and got corrupted, but in my son’s view, there was never any good there.  If I recall correctly, he said the witch was born from a bog.

That never made it into the book but I remember praising him for such a creative backstory. The image of murky, stagnant water boiling and swirling until the deadly witch rose from its depths has always stuck with me and I may ask him for permission to use that one day.

As for other people in my life who claim they either don’t have the time or don’t like to read, there isn’t much I can do. It seems to be popular to hate reading these days, people shrugging the task off and saying they’ll watch the movie when/if it comes out. I’m sure all writers find this attitude disheartening, but that doesn’t stop us from creating novels.

Happily, I married a man who enjoys reading, and my son is warming to the written word. In the grand scheme of things, I think I’ve done all I can to remind my family that reading is cool and creativity shouldn’t be underestimated.

Check out what my fellow authors do to help encourage reading in this month’s Round Robin:

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea

Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com

Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1ly

Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/

Anne de Gruchy https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/

A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)

Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com

Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog

Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/

Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

 

 

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Interesting Characters – WE Master Class

For the last several weeks I’ve been undergoing the Writing Excuses Master Class put out a couple years ago. If you’re not familiar with the folks at Writing Excuses, I highly recommend them. They don’t require a ton of your time (15 minutes long, though it does sometimes stretch to 20) and even if they talk about things you already know, it’s a discussion that might open you up to something you hadn’t heard before.

A prime example is their conversation on interesting characters (Episode 10.5).

This concept was not new to me. I knew about character agency and stakes and accountability walking into it, and yet I was able to glean a little bit more from them. While this series of blog posts are supposed to be focused on a new novel (fictional characters body snatch people via a new reader’s app) and I have been having fun working within that venue, I found this episode helped one of my other works in progress more.

Castle of Three Kings follows Kevin Campbell, a sixteen-year-old boy who finds himself stuck in this cursed castle. The world is interesting, the reason for the curse is solid, and the major players are all colorful or tragic, but Kevin is… well… boring.

Somehow I managed to write 3/4 of a novel with a boy who has only the vaguest character arc, tons of agency (he doesn’t want to die), and zero personality.

Part of me wants to blame this on the fact that I typed the whole first draft instead of doing it by hand (my preferred method). Whatever got me into this position, I’m here now and when I start editing next month I will be concentrating on his arc using some of the methods from this class.

In particular, I’ll be playing with the sliding scales of competency and proactive and likability. These were discussed in other podcasts they’ve done, but they mention it again in this one.

To learn more about the Writing Excuses Podcast and its lovely, talented authors, you can go here.

For kicks and giggles, I’m going to go ahead and put a snippet of the new novel here. This is one of my character auditions from the last lesson.

Kenzie Graham knew the voices in her head weren’t real. She’d lived twenty-three years without them yammering about violins and villains and she was damn well going to live another twenty-three without them. Preferably more than twenty-three, but at this point she was willing to bargain.

She strode down the hall, clutching her Jefferson’s School of Technology computer pad to her chest and avoiding eye contact with fellow students. It wasn’t that she was shy, or even the fact that she was scared – well, petrified – that kept her head down.

No, she couldn’t look at anyone because anytime she did it seemed to trigger Sherlock.

Yes, Sherlock, as in Mr. Holmes himself, the fictional detective that should have stayed fictional. He leaped to vociferous life whenever she locked eyes with someone, running through a list of deductions faster than she could blink. Which in some cases was helpful, he did bark to life in time to warn her away from a spiked drink, but after thirteen hours of his incessant badgering, she was quite done.

Professor Hildon’s experimental app had a major glitch and no amount of extra credit was going to keep her quiet.

“Woah, Kenzie, wait up!” A familiar voice called from behind.

She turned on instinct, surprised and pleased that Cory Miller would seek her out. But Sherlock roused, she could sense him stirring, and as Cory sauntered up there was the familiar barrage of insights; tousled shirt, fraying at the hems of his jeans, sand on his shoes, and the faint odor of decomposing seaweed.

Underachiever, Sherlock said. You can do better.

Kenzie tried for a smile. “Hey, Cory.”

“You bailed early last night,” Cory said with an easy grin.

Please, there’s nothing easy about that grin, Sherlock said. Look at his eyes, he’s worried.

Gritting her teeth, she told Sherlock to stuff it and looked away from Cory. “Yeah, I had homework to do.”

“Oh, right,” Cory said, sounding disappointed.

Crestfallen, my dear. The word you want is crestfallen. HE obviously wanted to spend time with you.

Kenzie held tighter to her computer pad, one part elated at this news and the other part damning Sherlock to hell. Or wherever fictional characters go when they die.

Assuming one believes in an everlasting soul, I should say I don’t have one and therefore don’t qualify for either heaven or hell. But chin up, Kenzie, if he is so distressed, it means he couldn’t have been the one to spike your drink.

“Well of course he didn’t,” Kenzie said, and to her mortification, she realized she’d said it out loud.

Cory blinked at her. “Are you OK?”

“Not really,” she said, going for the truth because why the hell not? It wasn’t unheard of for software to go bonkers, especially in its developmental stage. But she had signed an NDA before taking the extra credit, so there was only so much she could impart without jeopardizing her academic career. “Have you seen Professor Hildon?”

Character Auditions – WE Master Class Blog

Two weeks ago I mentioned the Writing Excuses Master Class put out a few years back. This is a free class that you can access via audio or transcript on the Writing Excuses website and I recommend it to anyone and everyone who enjoys the writing process.

Moving along in the course, I have my initial idea: a new app that can be downloaded directly into our consciousness goes horribly awry. Famous fictional characters bleed into our victim’s minds and take over, bringing new life to some of the more heinous creations in literature as well as the heroes meant to catch them.

I recognize that I’m going to be reading a lot of classics to widen my scope of literary characters I can choose from. The low-hanging fruit, in this case, would be Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty and I think I’m going to go ahead and use those two, if only as introductory players that help the narrative get moving.

The next assignment was character auditions, which is a new concept for me. Normally the character comes before the idea, and the plot grows out of what I know about them. This is an organic process that I have enjoyed over the last decade of writing, but I’m going to admit that I enjoyed doing character auditions.

The act of trying different voices helped broaden my understanding of the idea as a whole. From the surly detective who has to figure out which character is infecting which avid reader, to the dirt-poor boy who hacked his way into downloading the app, I was able to explore different ways this story could go.

In the end, I was stuck between two choices, which I will share now.

Detective Josephine Margot, first person POV. When writing out her first 500 words, I got a Blade Runner/Johnny Mnemonic feel to the narrative that I liked. She’s a cynical woman who gets called to a murder scene on a prominent college campus, which she is equal parts annoyed about and relieved to be working. Because as long as she’s on this case, she doesn’t have to be downtown at her brother’s wedding.

Makenzie Leeds, third person POV. When writing her first segment, I got a lot more humor, which I enjoyed because I always enjoy humorous voices. Also, I grabbed the low-hanging fruit and had her infected with Sherlock Holmes. In this scenario, she’d downloaded the app as part of an extra credit assignment and found herself plagued with an additional voice in her head.

I may bounce between the two before I settle, depending on what the assignments show me in the coming weeks. Until then, I’ll play around with Jo and Kenzie and see if maybe I can blend them together.

 

August Round Robin – Creation of a Writer

When we last visited the subject about what prompted our writing careers, I mentioned an assignment from the sixth grade where the teacher read the opening of a story and then told us to write what came next.

While I still consider that assignment the launching point for my love-affair with the written word, there were other influences too. I’ve always been a dreamer, letting stories play themselves out in my head, but I didn’t always love reading.

Or at least, I didn’t love finishing a book. I liked getting started, being introduced to impossible worlds with magic and mayhem, but I didn’t always connect with the characters on the page. When that happened, my happy brain took off and made the story my own, adding characters that I enjoyed better.

I suppose that could be seen as an early form of fanfiction, but I was in grammar school so I can live with that. And really, I didn’t start writing them down until that fateful assignment in the sixth grade.

I really should track that teacher down and thank her.

Throughout high school, I kept a special notebook that held all sorts of stories in it. Mostly fragments, scenes that came to me in the middle of class that entertained me. It wasn’t a full novel, not even a short story because there was no structure to the notebook.

To look at it now, it seems a testament to my own personal attention deficit disorder. A scene begun on page five was interrupted by a series of scenes about an earthquake rattling the school, forcing me to become the hero and help lead my fellows out of the rubble.

So what got me from that chaotic fictional buffet to full novel writing?

To be honest, I think it was my mother’s electronic typewriter. And I know mentioning that archaic bit of machinery is likely to date me, but I’ll own my age for the day.

One of my earliest stories was written after we visited family in Alaska. I loved the cool air and rugged mountains and vast seascapes that we saw there and, per typical youthful exuberance, commemorated the visit in fiction. As with everything back then, I focused on the people in my life, so the main characters were none other than myself, my brother, and my cousins.

But what I remember most about writing it, was sitting at the absurdly large desk in the living room and pressing the keys on that typewriter. Something about the whirring-snap sound it made every time I hit a letter filled me with absolute glee.

There was a permanence to the story I was writing. It was there in the whirr-snap of every letter, my own personal mark in the world.

This is probably why I have a very noisy keyboard. It may not have the same whirr-snap sound of the typewriter, and I can delete things almost as quickly as I write them now, but the sense of accomplishment is still there.

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

Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1ke
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Master Class in Writing

A few years back Writing Excuses put out a series on their podcast that they titled their Master Class. At the time I was a single parent working full time and going to school and didn’t have the extra space in my life to fully commit to the program.

But that’s changed! And because the lovely people at Writing Excuses keeps an archive – and even an easy link to this particular series on their site – I can access this class.

For free, I might add.

Now, I am actually going through the transcripts and reading them because I learn better that way. And because this is my writing blog and I can do whatever the heck I want with it, I’m going to go ahead and keep a log on how I am progressing.

I highly recommend the Writing Excuses podcast to any author out there – both aspiring and already published. If nothing else, they help remind me that my struggles in producing readable/relatable fiction are shared by many.

Normally I get ideas and then start writing, which leads to several false starts and concepts that never bloom to full life. The first couple of lessons in this series is about playing with ideas, digging deeper, and brainstorming until you find the right fit.

The concept that helped the most was asking who the idea would help or hurt the most. For instance, if we had an app that could download books into our minds, it would help students the most. But it would probably hurt teachers and the underprivileged.

Why yes, this is the idea I’m going to play with during this class. Thanks for asking.

This led me to the question of how we can abuse this technology. Uploading too many books, for instance, might cause information bleed – where narratives mix to become something new. And there’s dirty hacking, for the underprivileged who want access, which would have glitches and consequences of their own.

Next week, I’ll post the winner of my “character audition” for this book. The assignment is to try out five different characters for the main POV of the novel and thus far it has been fun.

If you’d like to try this Master Class, it is free on the Writing Excuses website. Just scroll down until you see it in the left margin. You can’t miss it.

2018 Camp Nano Wrap-Up

Hurray! We’ve reached the end of the month! For those who participated in Camp Nano, I hope you had fun. Even if you didn’t reach your goals, writing is one of those perpetually rewarding efforts and, I daresay, an adventure all on its own.

Whether you fought ogres or flew through space (or fought space ogres), you explored the limits of your imagination, if not sleep deprivation. The great secret of any Nano project isn’t that you reach 50,000 words, but that you wrote at all. If you’ve got one paragraph or three hundred pages, you already crossed the finish line.

For me, I managed to reach the end of my editing project – The Soul Between Us – and got 3/4’s of my fantasy novel completed. It was great fun posting snippets up here, even if I did taper off toward the end of the month.

I should be finished with Castle of Three Kings in the next week or so, and then I’ll be taking a few days off to research/market/all the things other writers somehow find the time to do while still drafting their novels. You know… query letters. And synopsis writing.

Ugh, synopsis writing.

If you’re still working on your Camp Nano stuff (it’s the 31st, after all) then I am cheering you on! Have imaginary confetti! Better yet, write an inexplicable explosion of fireworks in the middle of your scene. You can edit it out later and it’ll give you a few dozen words to add to that word count.

And don’t forget to have fun!

Violence in Writing – July Round Robin

Anyone who’s read my writing can tell you that I use violence a lot in my work.

We don’t call it that, though.

We say it’s “action-packed” and full of conflict because the word violence tends to connote negative things. And really, it should.

As a parent, I find myself repeating the mantra that it is never all right to hit, that there are better ways to solve our problems. Because I don’t want to visit my son in prison one day.

But in my writing, the violence runs rampant.

My first novel, Sedition, starts with a duel in a tavernesque place. My second novel, Witch-Born, starts with an assassination attempt on the main character’s life in the middle of a crowded cafe.

Deviation begins with a hold-up in a bookstore.

Granted, those are all early works and there are a lot of things wrong with them. I really held to the “in medias res” concept and I recognize that it’s hard to care about a character being shot at if you don’t know who they are.

These days I try to focus on how the violence affects my point of view character in any given scene. While it was fun following Dorian Feverrette through the steampunk world of Magnellum as he hunted witch-assassins, I can admit that I never stopped to consider what sort of man that made him.

The truly interesting heroes are the ones who commit to violence and are then affected by that violence. We see them walk a tightrope between wanting to live in peace and needing to fight for that peace.

This tightrope holds a great deal of tension and opens up the character for deeper development. I’m still trying to find the right balance between action and the effect that action has on the character, but I hope to learn it soon.

Check out how my fellow authors work with violence in their novels.

Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1i2
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
A.J. Maguire  https://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/ (YOU ARE HERE)
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Anne de Gruchy https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

Judith Copek, //http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/