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

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/

Week 3 Camp Nano – July 2018

As I mentioned earlier, I’m doing two projects this year for Camp Nano. The editing project – The Soul Between Us – is nearly finished. I will likely have the completed third draft by Sunday afternoon.

The first draft of Castle of Three Kings has taken a turn I did not expect. The outline has to be completely reworked (or tossed out the window) and while I believe this is a good thing, it also means I will likely not get the draft done by the end of the month.

I’m still going to try.

I mean, after Sunday I will only have the one project to work on. If I bust my butt, I should be able to do it.

As always, if you’re participating this year, then I wish you the best of luck. Keep writing! Keep drowning in caffeine. Keep snacking on unhealthy things because you don’t have time to cook.

Your family will forgive you next month.

** Snippet – The Soul Between Us **

He swept the back of the room twice with his light, finding nothing but old chairs and a cabinet. Tessa went still beside him, her light trained on the corner by the door. Cordon directed his light there too, stiffening as he took in the familiar shape of the soldier standing there.

Unease roiled in his gut. The man looked more solid this time, the shades of his uniform clearer. Desert shades, if Cordon wasn’t mistaken. He’d seen enough news reports to recognize it. There was blood on his chest that looked fresh and Cordon took a protective step in front of Tessa.

Reaching for the first words he could think of Cordon said; “We don’t want any trouble.”

“You mean you see him too?” Tessa whispered.

“Yeah, I see him,” Cordon said. “Last time he ran before I could ask him anything.”

That wasn’t quite right. The soldier hadn’t run anywhere, he’d just disappeared.

“But Cordon…”

Not liking the way the soldier continued to stare at them, unmoving in his bloody uniform, Cordon ignored Tessa and spoke again. “Are you hurt or something?”

Tessa tugged on his jacket sleeve but he wouldn’t turn away from the threat.

“Cordon, that’s Cabby.”

The name struck him in the chest and Cordon gripped his flashlight harder. “That’s not possible, Tessa. Cabby has nothing to do with this place. There’s no reason he would be here, ghost or not.”

Good God, they needed to get out of this place.

The soldier took a step forward, his movements just as unsteady as before, only now Cordon could see why. It was a limp; a staggering, uneven limp as the soldier was forced to drag his left foot forward. He reached out a burnt and gnarled hand and the wind began to pick up.

Only it was a wind coming from the doorway, from the soldier and not from the window. It howled at them, creating little dervishes in the corners and whipping up dirt to fling into their faces. Cursing, Cordon ducked his head, trying to shield his eyes from the worst of it. He could feel Tessa gripping his arm but through the haze of watery eyes and dust he couldn’t see her face. She seemed to be ducking her head as well because he thought he could make out her ear.

An ache settled in his chest and for a second he feared he was having a heart attack.

But he was only thirty. Thirty-year-old men did not have heart attacks.

There were no such things as ghosts either but when he lifted his head, intent on checking the soldier’s position, he found the man a foot away and looking far more apparition-like than before. His skin was translucent gray, like all the color had been leached out of him, and as Cordon continued to stare he could see the wall behind him. It was as if he’d been transposed in a photograph – there but not quite there – and Cordon’s chest ached all the more.

The eyes were the worst; two horrible shadowed holes with no color to speak of.

“Oh, Cabby,” Tessa’s voice managed to reach him over the wind and Cordon tensed.

There’s no such thing as ghosts. And then, because he needed to say it out loud; “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”

In response, the soldier took a jerky step forward, crowding into Cordon, arms wrapping around him as though in a grab or a hug. But instead of a solid grip, Cordon felt icy tendrils sink into his skin, burrowing down and coiling around his bones. The ache in his chest intensified and a sensation like having his veins frost over began slithering its way up his arms and over his shoulders. He heard Tessa’s voice but couldn’t make out what she was saying.

 

Camp Nano Week 2 Progress Report – July 2018

My combined word count is sitting at 38,299 words, which is awesome. I’m nearing the end of the editing project and should have it completed by the end of next week. Which is exactly where I wanted to be.

For the YA fantasy novel, I’m a chapter behind. Sort of.

Which means that I deviated from the outline and am making up for it.

The second week of Nano is “make or break” time for me. The energy from the first week tapers off and it’s pure work instead of inspiration. If I don’t kick myself in the pants and get moving, the projects get left behind and I don’t get my cookie at the end of the month.

I hope anyone else participating this year managed to push forward. You got this!

As promised, below is a snippet of one of the projects. This one is from The Soul Between Us. A romance ghost story thing.

**

Cordon stiffened beside her, bending down to peer at the camcorder image. “What was that?”

“What?” She asked, blinking at the image too. “What was what?”

“Can you rewind it?” He asked, but his attention had switched to the doorway.

Tessa flipped through functions until she could play back the last two minutes. They both watched the screen, which had a view of the open doorway and several cots. At one minute and ten seconds, a form crossed in front of the doorway and every little hair Tessa had stood on end. Roughly 5’8” and with the general form of a person, it stepped from left to right, barely illuminated by the camcorder’s light.

She lowered the camera and glanced at Cordon, who released her waist and straightened.

“Who’s there?” He asked, shining his light at the door. “Marisol?”

“That was too tall to be Marisol, don’t you think?”

“Tyler?” Cordon tried again.

When there was no answer Tessa eyed the doorway, willing whoever it was to come back and present themselves. “It’s probably one of the others trying to freak us out,” she said.

“Yeah, or a transient.”

“You think a homeless person would want to come here?”

“Homeless is homeless, Tess. And there’s a storm coming on.”

“Awesome,” Tessa said. “Remind me to punch Marisol in the face.”

“Whoever it was seems to have moved off,” he said. “And I’m tired of being here already. Let’s head back.”

“God, yes,” she said, more relieved than she wanted to let on. She didn’t have to believe in ghosts to admit that seeing the video had been creepy, and now it felt like they were being watched or something. The spot between her shoulder blades tingled and gooseflesh kept racing up her arms and neck.

Shoving the camcorder into her jacket pocket, she walked behind Cordon, who led the way out of the room. He checked both ends of the hallway with his light, but as far as they could see no one was there. Which was good because Tessa might have hit whoever it was on sight, transient or not. Trying to relax, she fell into step with Cordon as they made their way out of the critical wing and back to the stairs.