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Never ending stories August 24, 2018

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I have some news to announce. The good news is: I’ve written a new story.

The bad news, of course, is I’ve written a new story.

Followers might wonder, so recently after I announced my intention not to write other books until I finish the Sisters of Chaos trilogy, why I suddenly wrote an entirely new book.

In short, I wanted to write a story for my daughter.

I’ve been wanting to write a story for her for years. But, as a SFF author of 100,000-word novels that lean more toward the grey side of the grimdark/noblebright scale, I found picture books just a bit too far outside my normal scope to attempt. Now that she is reading chapter books, however, I find an opportunity to write a story for her much more accessible.

I also made a realization recently. I hadn’t even considered writing a kid’s book before finishing with my trilogy, but it occurred to me that if I wait until then, she might be of an age when she can just read my regular work, and I’ll have missed the opportunity.

So, I sat down and wrote her a book. World, meet Mia:

mia

She’s nine years old, Hispanic, and lives on a space station.

Chapter books are still barely longer than my standard short story, so I was able to write out the entire book in a couple weeks. I still have some editing to do, but hopefully, the story won’t take much longer to finalize. The real holdup will be illustrations. Much as I would love to have someone else handle them, I just don’t have the budget for it, and I think my daughter would appreciate me drawing them myself.

Soon, I hope, I can share Mia’s story with the world.

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To Boldly Go July 28, 2014

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As a mother of a now 3-year-old daughter, I tend to watch a lot of movies aimed at young girls. And my daughter fits the trope perfectly – her favourite things are princesses, faeries, and My Little Pony. She more or less came into these interests on her own; I didn’t really let her watch movies or TV shows until this year, and when I let her sit in front of the TV, she has pretty strong opinions about what she wants to see. Yes, we might have been the ones to originally introduce her to these things and allow her to continue watching them, but I try to offer her a well-rounded selection to choose from. And I’ll admit it, I just don’t want to let her watch something I can’t stand.

Oh, sure, there are exceptions – she likes some gender-neutral things like Winnie the Pooh, she has seen and enjoyed Thomas the Tank Engine, she does have a particular interest in Disney’s Planes, and she loves watching me play Mario Kart – but primarily, she likes the girly things. In fact, when it comes to Mario Kart, she insists upon me playing a princess as driver.

I don’t think Disney princesses are bad role models. Nor do I want to try to mold her into liking the things I prefer; I would rather she decide on her own what she likes. (Yes, this means I do not believe that putting Star Wars or Firefly costumes on kids far too young to be watching those is “parenting done right.”) But after watching so many of these movies and shows targeted to young girls, I find myself yearning for some variety. Why can’t we have a simplistic, kid-friendly story with a happy ending that takes place in present day, or the future?

So the bug bit me. I want to write one. I want to write a middle grade or younger story about a space princess. Or something like that. I want the main character to be female, because there’s not enough of that out there and I want it to be someone my daughter can relate to, and I want her to be independent and the hero, but not at the expense of her femininity. I want little girls like my daughter to read/hear this story and think that girls can do anything.

But beyond that, I didn’t know where to start. I got stuck trying to think of the theme or message of the story. I don’t want it to be about the girl learning that she can do anything, because then the conflict would center around the assertion that she can’t, which is not the message I want to send. But then, what should the theme be? I tried looking to my daughter for inspiration, but – fortunately for her and unfortunately for the sake of a story – I just don’t see any problems in her that might help to be resolved through another medium. Maybe I’m just overthinking things, but as someone who tends toward dark endings, complicated conflicts, and villains that are more grey than black, a story like this is quite a leap.

Then, my daughter gave me an idea in another way. I was listening to music and she asked me what song was playing, as she tends to do. It was an arrangement of a track from the Metroid video games. I immediately saw this as an opportunity. I showed her one of my Metroid game cases and told her about Samus Aran, fearless and strong warrior for justice in space – and female.

And I was overthinking things, because that’s all I need for this story: a space heroine. I’ll just go to a new galaxy and let the girl save the day. The rest is just details.

It’s still going to be quite a challenge for me to write, especially if I want a story I can read to my daughter. But just as I believe there’s too much stagnancy in speculative fiction for adults, I think too many kids’ stories are the same, and the best way I can combat that is to write something new.

Do you ever want to destroy the world? June 17, 2014

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I love superhero movies. I love the excitement, the escapism, the larger-than-life-ness, the sheer drama of them. And I really love superhero movies in which rather than trying to bring a fictional world to life, they make it seem like it really happens in our world. To an extent, of course; I wouldn’t be a fan of superhero stories if I couldn’t suspend a little disbelief.

Another thing I like about superhero movies is that the stakes are always very high. Of course; that’s what makes it a superhero story. In a story like that, one can cause incalculable, irreparable, and frankly pretty improbable damage to civilization or the world itself. That’s what makes it so dramatic, especially if it happens in the very world we live in.

The stakes are always high in fiction. The conflict might not be – will the boy get the girl? – but the risk defines the story – she’s all he ever wanted throughout his high school years, even when she went out with that bullying jock. It’s not dramatic unless it has a big impact. But the scale of that impact varies enormously. Millions of lives could rest on the actions of the protagonists, or just the main character’s feelings.

I’ve never been very comfortable working on a grand scale. I suppose writing fantasy is a bit of a cop-out that way, since I am only affecting imaginary worlds. But even inside my own worlds, I generally prefer to avoid working with those in the most power – kings, lords, etc. The stakes are still high, often world-changing, but the characters who directly resolve the main conflict are generally people who have little or no other influence over the world.

I’m equally (or perhaps doubly) uncomfortable with impacting the real world. That’s why my novel Halcyon, which takes place on Earth, still occurs in an invented city. I don’t feel like I know enough about real places to set stories there, not even places I’ve lived for years. Perhaps if I was writing some kind of novelization of my own life, I might be able to, but the characters in my stories don’t live my life and therefore don’t necessarily or usually live or go to the same places.

This is the part where research should come in, but the fact is no amount of research will make me feel comfortable with writing things that happen on Earth. And trying to write stories that take place on Earth and involve people of power? Hold the phone.

But I read books that take place on Earth and I love how real they feel. They can change so much about the world, even change the course of history, but because it’s the place where we live it feels more believable. I’d like to try it sometime, but it’s going to take some working up to it.

In the meantime, I’ll stick with my magic and dragons and just watch superhero movies.

Character genesis: Domino April 17, 2014

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Where does a character come from?

For me, often the main character determines the story, and so comes before anything else. Beyond that, a character usually arises out of the role I need them to play in a story. I can’t find a place for them otherwise, and alas, that means that I’ve generally been unable to recycle characters from other story attempts. From there, I develop the character’s backstory, personality, and goals, and everything after that point is determined by the character as they come to life.

But that isn’t always the case.

There is an archetype of character – specifically, of protagonist – in genre fiction that I have seen done many times: the Mistake. This character is a repentant sinner; they did something in their past that they sorely regret, often killing or hurting someone close to them, and the main point of their character arc is to come to terms with the crime they committed. Up until the character does come to terms with it, they have various methods of coping with the shame they feel from that action, whether it’s drinking themselves to sleep every night, constantly punishing themselves symbolically, or general angstiness (or sometimes/often all three).

The one thing these characters all have in common is the Mistake: they are always somehow tricked or coerced into doing the shameful action.

Of course, it’s easy to build a character that way, or to want to build a character that way. People don’t want to believe a good guy is capable of intentionally doing something evil, and it’s awfully hard to sympathize with one who did. Whereas if the character had to do the evil deed to protect something/someone(s) else or believed they were doing the right thing, it becomes easier for a reader to understand their plight and want them to move on.

But it’s been done. A lot. I think there were four or five examples of this in a single video game I played.

So it got me thinking, what if the repentant sinner actually did something downright vile?

This was the thought process behind Domino, a character in Enduring Chaos.

Now, I am not saying he just went out and attacked innocent people unprovoked – he had his own, albeit twisted, reasons for what he did, and the people involved were certainly not saints. But Domino has blood on his hands. A lot of blood. And it is all on him. No one tried to force or trick him into doing it; the idea and the blame are entirely his. What he did was inexcusable, and no amount of good he could ever do will make up for that black stain on his soul and reputation.

So what is his coping mechanism with the sins of his past? I wanted to avoid angst for several reasons: it’s been overdone, it either ignites annoyance on the part of the reader or sympathy – which demeans the heinousness of his crimes – and more importantly in this particular case, with his set of semi-normal morals it would be impossible for him to live with that level of guilt.

Instead, I took a different route – detachment. He feels nothing, never shows emotion, and rarely speaks or even comes in contact with other people. He exists rather than lives, wandering through the wilds and hunting and gathering his own food, trading pelts or found food and materials for any supplies he needs, completely apart from other people and even his own past and self.

Does he regret what he did? Of course he does. As I said, he still holds a semi-normal set of morals. But with his view on the world, it has no impact on him, neither the regret nor the morals themselves. They are part of a canvas he sees from the outside.

Does that mean he hasn’t faced the shame he holds, somewhere in the part of his mind he has closed off? Yes, it does. But it doesn’t matter to him.

Will he eventually move beyond that detachment? … Well, you’ll have to read Enduring Chaos to find out.

But that was the genesis of Domino.

You have your entire life to write your first book, and six months to write your second September 2, 2013

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Someone told me that quote once. I don’t remember to whom it is attributed.  It is undoubtedly a comment on output, as one will quickly lose readers, as well as publishing contracts, if one does not continually produce more books.

To me, however, it is a matter of completion. When you are an unpublished author, you can spend forever editing and tweaking your manuscript. Once you have submitted it and it hits the presses, however, it is final. It cannot be altered any longer.

Any good writer will constantly improve. As a result, likely many look back at their earlier works and see things they would have done differently. That is, if they don’t revisit older work with revulsion.

I recently reread Halcyon, possibly for the first time since publication. While I still enjoy the story and even felt better about my writing after revisiting it, I now see some things that I would change if I had the opportunity. It is inevitable and I am discovering more and more that distance is the key to seeing a work with some measure of objectivity.

Enduring Chaos is very much distant from its origins. It has been fourteen years since I began writing the first draft of this story. Aside from the core concept of the story and some of the main characters – in name and appearance, anyway, and even those have changed somewhat – nothing is the same from that original draft. The current revision is not even very close to the original third draft, which is how I have, increasingly inaccurately, been referring to this revision.

The ultimate result of so much time passed and so many changes to the story is that I am more comfortable with altering this story, even parts of it I like. I might also be maturing as a writer, but I am not crediting myself that much yet.

What I find interesting is that as I start on my final edits to the story, I find myself more willing to accept corrections and make changes after only a couple months of letting it sit while I waited for feedback from beta readers.

It is the distance. Distance is important. Do not be in a hurry to get your fresh new novel out into the world. Take a step back, let it sit for at least a few months, perhaps even a year or more, and it will be easier to look upon the manuscript more like a potential investment than as one’s baby. And you want to be able to do that, because of course, every writer wants to put out the best novel one can create.

Because once a novel goes out into the world, it is complete, and anything you might notice later is impossible to change.

Final countdown July 26, 2013

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Huge thanks to everyone who has contributed to the Indiegogo campaign to create a live action trailer for my next book Enduring Chaos. We’re in the home stretch now – just two days left to fund the project. Please visit the campaign page today and help me make this dream a reality!

We’re also one week away from the Pirate Festival, where I will have a booth with other local authors. I will also be giving readings on the stage from 2:30-3:00 every day of the festival, including an advance reading from Enduring Chaos.

Other development with Enduring Chaos has forestalled updates here, and I regret to say it may be that way as we get into the final crunch time before its late November release. I will, however, be updating the Sisters of Chaos website regularly up until the release of the first book, so be sure to follow that for new material.

Also, I am pleased to report that I have made progress on the cover art for Enduring Chaos. Stay tuned! I hope to be able to reveal it soon.

Thanks for watching. This is an exciting time for me and I hope you’re as interested in the progress of Enduring Chaos as I am.

Themes May 23, 2013

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A good book leaves an impact on you after reading it. Perhaps it sheds light on a social issue that you don’t often consider, perhaps it makes you re-evaluate your actions or beliefs, or perhaps it’s as simple as making you feel richer for having read it, to feel more complete or want to get more out of life.

Do authors intend to leave such a mark on readers when they write? Probably.

As for me, I never go into a book with that in mind. Not that I’m claiming anything as regards to the quality or effect of my works; that’s up to readers, as is the interpretation itself. The ‘theme’ of a novel is not something I necessarily define beforehand and stick to throughout the book. I might have a message I wish to share that presents itself fairly clearly – as was the case with Aurius – but it’s more a result of the writing rather than the other way around. My focus when I’m writing is on the story. Naturally, this involves character growth, which ultimately defines the theme of the work, but it’s not something I have in mind when I begin writing.

Consequently, the message of the story can surprise me sometimes.

Enduring Chaos has proven particularly interesting in this case. I’ve learned a lot over the years of developing the story and ending up with my final draft. In particular, fleshing out the characters has resulted in some eye-opening truths for me.

With Aurius, the message/theme was fairly simplistic, as were the characters – a pretty safe move for a debut novel. I tried to explore the concepts in more detailed ways, but it’s still a pretty simple concept. As for Halcyon, I didn’t spend too much time developing the characters at all. The story itself was the focus there.

In that regard, Enduring Chaos is a much more sophisticated work than those two. The characters are complex with varied motivations, and the way the story unfolded as a result of those personalities resulted in some things I didn’t expect.

When you like your characters, it’s very easy to want to let them win. Sure, they have to face and overcome obstacles along their path, but when they’re dealing with something outside the plotline through which they grow, I want to let them have the upper hand. With this story, that manifest a few times in letting a character have the last word.

Had I not developed these characters so thoroughly, I might never have questioned the scenes in which a certain character has the last word in an argument/discussion. But when I came to one of those scenes fairly early in the story while editing, I realized the other character in the conversation wouldn’t agree with the first character’s method of ending it, and the dialogue took a different turn from there.

That one change ended up impacting the story, and those characters’ relationship, throughout the rest of the novel and even lays down the foundation of the theme of the entire trilogy. And it’s something that still affects me personally and has me thinking frequently about my interactions with others. Just because that’s the way the characters reacted to each other.

Other aspects of the story that have grown organically simply based on how the characters interact have left an imprint on my consciousness. One event that I added in during my edits that was meant as development for a secondary character, upon rereading and fleshing out reactions, has left a much greater impression on a POV character, in a way that affects said character throughout the rest of the trilogy. It even entirely changes the meaning of one of the character’s closing lines in the book, one that was already full of meaning. And the actions in that plot point – and its repercussions – are frequently on my mind since I developed that.

Writing this story, and this draft in particular, has been a very profound journey. I can’t say whether this book will have an impact on readers, but it certainly has left one on me.

What books have left an impact on you? Do you carefully plan out the theme of your work before you begin writing? Does it change as you go along? Does your writing ever surprise you in a fundamental way?

At the end of all things April 18, 2013

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Nearly four weeks ago, my edits on my next novel Enduring Chaos reached the climax of the story. I have not progressed beyond there, but not due to procrastination or lack of time to complete it. In fact, I have spent nearly every day since trying to work on it. The notes I have taken on the climax these past weeks might in fact be longer than my original outline for the entire story.

The reason it’s taken so long to try to work out this part of the story is that the climax of this novel has proven particularly challenging to manage. I’ve plotted and re-plotted it, attempted to rewrite it twice, analyzed successful climaxes in movies I like, looked up advice on the Internet for crafting the finale of a story, and spent a lot of time thinking about it, both in general and specifically for this novel.

I have never spent this much time or effort trying to work out the climax of a story, or indeed any single event in a novel. Truth be told, I thought the finale of Enduring Chaos as I originally wrote it worked both for dramatic effect and for closing out the story. But I thought I could do better.

As I reconsidered and reworked it, however, one thing or another didn’t work, didn’t sit right, or just plain dragged. Trying to juggle several very different characters, some with very limited motivations, an almost insurmountable challenge that they are up against, and character revelations and growth in a structure that created maximum tension felt overwhelming, and usually something was missed as I tried to work it all together.

So how could I get all the pieces into place? Well, a lot of it has been self speculation or discussion with my husband, who has been heavily involved with the development of this story throughout its creation, but I needed more than that as well. So, I turned to ye olde Google for advice. A simple search for “how to write a climax” turned up a number of articles and blog posts on devising the climax for a novel, with more than a bit of very useful information, things that other people have already put together more effectively and/or eloquently than I could.

See the following to get an idea of what worked for me:

Writer’s Digest: 4 Ways to Improve Plot/Climax in Your Writing

How to Write a Book Now: Plot Development: How to write the climax and ending of your novel

Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors: The Secrets of Story Structure, Pt. 10: The Climax

Fiction Notes: Climax Scenes: Write BIG for BIG Impact

Creative Tips for Writers: How to Write the Climax – Thursday Tips!

Allison’s Bookish Life: How to Write a Good Climax

That last one is particularly useful for those looking for alternate tips on making a more memorable climax, as opposed to the more general – but still very useful – information provided by the other articles. While one may not get a complete idea of how to write the climax of one’s story based solely on that post, it does offer some excellent hints on adding more oomph to the finale.

To all these suggestions, I will only add the following pieces of advice based on my own observations of story climaxes I have thoroughly enjoyed:

1. Things go from bad to worse until the final shining moment when everything gets turned around. The heroes can achieve a minor victory in the middle of the climax to show perspective, but it must be immediately followed up by an even worse downturn to keep the tension.

2. The culmination of the main character’s emotional journey happens at the very peak of the climax; their response to the final challenge determines the outcome of the entire story.

After considering all this advice and trying to apply it to Enduring Chaos, I at last have the climax plotted out to my satisfaction. It’s taken nearly four weeks to get to this point, but now, I have an outline of what each character is doing at all times during the climax and a three-act structure of how the actual writing will commence which is, I think, both tense and dramatic and hits all the major points that it needs to and ends up at a climactic finale. It hasn’t been easy, but it is important, and ultimately, it will be worth it.

How do you approach the climax of a story? Do you write it first or work your way up to it? What is the hardest part about writing the finale?

It was a dark and stormy night… April 12, 2013

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Everyone knows that the beginning and the ending to a novel are the two most important parts of it. They are the initial hook to draw in the reader and the final payoff that the reader leaves with. If nothing else is worthy in the novel, they must be strong.

I will admit I tend not to give these parts their due attention. I love writing the middle; the gradual buildup of tension, the unveiling of story, the process of change the characters go through, putting pieces into place and assembling them together. To me, beginnings have always been a means to an end. Generally, I get an idea for how to open the story and once it’s written it changes little, because that’s not what I want to focus on.

I also perhaps don’t view novel openings the way I should; I am so immersed in my own world that I don’t look at it as a new reader would and try to see it from the point of view of someone who doesn’t have all the knowledge I do. The idea for the opening to a novel that gets lodged in my head often hits all the main points I need to address anyway, so usually only minor revision is required to clean it up to the point where I can call it finished. Of course, I also haven’t finished many novels, so I don’t have many openings that I can look at from the standpoint of a complete story and decide whether it suits the purpose effectively.

Halcyon was the first time an opening I wrote saw a drastic change from my initial idea. Upon actually writing it, I soon discovered my original idea for the opening might work well for a movie, but it lacked something for a novel. I suppose drastic isn’t necessarily the right word for the change I made to it, as I found merely starting the same scene a little bit earlier gave me the right opportunity to ease into the strange new world I created, which was perhaps the largest challenge to writing the beginning of the book, as well as giving me the chance to lay in hints that paid off later. Ultimately, it didn’t end up that different from my original idea, just a little longer.

Enduring Chaos, on the other hand, posed a much greater challenge with its opening. It has been rewritten several times as I tried to hone in on hook, relevancy, and character introduction, with much of my focus going toward the last, a tricky endeavor on its own, and losing the other points in the process. In my last attempt, I ended up resorting to a Google search on writing openings, and, after carefully considering the advice I found, decided that starting the story later served its purpose better.

It is, in fact, a pretty simple and basic piece of advice for writing the opening of a story: start it at the last possible moment. This was where I went wrong with the many attempts I made at the opening of the novel; there was so much history with the character and with the world that I was trying to portray enough to give the reader an idea of what they were in for, and I lost the hook and indeed the relevancy of the opening. I was trying to introduce the main character’s home life and ease into the story, things that don’t really impact the story, when all I needed to do was to show her leaving.

I still lament losing an exchange that provided some otherwise much more hidden character insight, as well as foreshadowing to a future book I would have loved to keep in. Ultimately, however, for the sake of the hook and relevancy, that dialogue had to disappear into the pre-story abyss. After that last change, I think I finally have the opening to a point in which I’m satisfied with it, but we shall see how it plays out when I reread the story after my edits are complete, as well as what others think of it.

Next time, because this post ended up decidedly too long to keep it together as I initially intended: endings.

How do you approach the opening of a story? Do you write it first or do you come back to it later? Do you find it particularly challenging?

Introducing Damian Sires March 1, 2013

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Character information and fanart has been available under the page for Enduring Chaos for a little while already, but let me use this opportunity to officially introduce the star of my upcoming novel.

damian-13

Damian Sires is a young woman from the small town of Aether, where she lives with her father, a cloth merchant who has taken her on a trade route that crosses much of the kingdom of Faneria every year almost since she was born. She is a strong-willed yet shy girl who is close to few. Rumors abound at her home about her, heightened by the fact that she keeps her face covered with a veil at all times, though speculation over things even stranger than what she keeps hidden beneath the veil still linger among the townsfolk. She enjoys traveling and helping her father with his trade route and designing and making clothes, usually incorporating the latest fashions she observes while traveling.

Of course, no proper fantasy novel would allow her the luxury of such a mundane and easy life…

The above drawing was done entirely in ballpoint pen last weekend while I was at Con-G, largely for the purpose of creating new reference art with which I could use to commission a drawing from Artist’s Alley. I ended up receiving the following image from Daphne:

damian-con-g

Huge thanks to Daphne for her lovely depiction of Damian.

Will more character art follow this? Hard to say, given the *cough* infrequency with which I draw these days, and my continued focus on editing the novel. However, I will admit I enjoyed drawing the above sketch of Damian, and even rather enjoyed working strictly in ballpoint pen, so perhaps I will manage to create more in the meantime.