Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Novel's Journey: Yahoo! Muses

A lot of times, e-mail, the Internet and especially Yahoo IM can distract me from writing. However, when I am stuck, there's nothing better than bouncing an idea off a friend, and e-mail, Yahoo groups or IM is the best way for me to do it. With the stuff I write, that means that the "lucky" writing friend will share a conversation like this with me:
Karina Fabian: Need a metaphor to finish this sentence: I strolled out, head held high, reminding myself that I was the top of the food chain even if I did feel like the bottom of
shayk1951: the outhouse?
Karina Fabian: want a food/animal thing to keep the theme
shayk1951: Oh, okay
Karina Fabian: I thought "of the dumpster I ended up ralphing in."
shayk1951: that sounds good.
Karina Fabian: a dung beetle's breakfast plate?
shayk1951: Ooooh, yeah! I like that one better
Karina Fabian: nice way to say sh*&
shayk1951: yep, it is

Fortunately, I have a few very understanding friends.

I can depend on Ann Lewis, my best friend (who I've only met once in person, incidentally) to give me great advice. She can narrow in on a problem, suggest just the right word or find things on the Internet in record time. This week, I needed to describe a nice modest but fancy ball gown for Grace to wear while undercover at a party, and she found me a place that named the different kinds of necklines. I never even thought of necklines as having classifications!

Sharolyn Wells is great for encouragement, hugs and (as you can see above) bouncing ideas off of.

With Rebecca Butcher, I indulge the wilder side, more profane of my imagination (which I tone down for the book.) She's got a quirky sense of humor, too. This week, we brainstormed titles for Rhoda Dakota's finale song for the dance scene. Vern had just as an unfortunate but funny experience, and I wanted a song to fit the irony. Together, we came up with "Undercover Lover, Do You Know Who You Are?" It still makes me grin.

These are my three IM "regulars," but there are several others who get the unexpected message from me: "Need a word..." "What do you think of..." "Got a minute? I'm working on..."

For those who put aside their projects for those few minutes. Thanks.
Writing does not have to be a lonely biz.

Word Count: 66,513. I took yesterday off to play with the boys.

Fave Phrase: Vern (in his human guise) and Grace are working undercover in separate teams and pretending not to know each other, but need to pass information. In this scene, they are at a dance, and during a waltz, Grace passes him a mini memory disk. While the details of the dance were fun to write, I like this paragraph best because Vern really told me how much he loves Grace.

When the song ended, she let go of me quickly and headed back to the table. I didn't mind. With eternity to live, one thing dragons treasure above everything else is a good memory. I'd just danced as a human with my best friend. That was about as precious a treasure as I'd ever get.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Fairy Dancers: Linda Donahue, Julia Mandala and Julia Burchard

Today, I present to you the Faerie Dancers, Linda Donahue, Julia Mandala and Julia Burchard. The trio have been performing for many years now at various conventions, and these photos are from the world SF convention in Denver this year. Linda is a friend of mine and offered to share them. Below is what she said about dancing and writing:

We love to dance for the exercise and we love to perform for the fans. It's just our way to add another dimension of entertainment at local conventions. Juli and I were dancing at conventions before we were attending as writer panelists. And now we have a sort of cross-audience of fans. At a recent convention I'd attended a panel and forgotten my name plate. I apologized to the audience and a lovely lady in the front said, "It's all right. Your fans know who you are." At the time, I'd assumed she meant those who read my stories as this was a writing panel. But afterwards, while we were talking and she took one of my bookmarks, she said, "What have you written?" So it turns out, she was one of my dance-fans who'd seen the show the previous night. Now that brought a smile.

About the pictures, we do a sort of belly dance performance--although we blend in jazz, ballet and even some of my tai chi into our shows. We're a fusion style. Belly dance is a very old dance and was originally for women and by women, taught from mother to daughter in part to strengthen her body so she wouldn't die in child-bearing. It's roots are very old and in countries that oppress women, it is often the one thing that lets a woman be "elevated" above a man. In case you didn't know, belly dancers first started using canes and swords as props to poke fun at men and dancers in these cultures are "divas" or "goddesses." Furthermore, the older the dancer the more respect she commands. That's why, if you hang out in or with belly dancers, you might hear a reference along the lines of "At 50, every dancer becomes a goddess/diva." Anyway, it's not the hoochie-coochie dance some people think it is. It requires a lot of muscle strength, balance and coordination. All the minor "shimmy" movements are actually done by selectively clenching muscle groups and relaxing them. It's like pilates in that sense. If done right, belly dance combines the best benefits of pilates, yoga, aerobic and weight bearing exercises.

Oh yes, I'm in the purple wig. Julia Mandala is in the black & pink wig. And Julia Burchard is in the blue. These costumes feel weirder to me because they show so much more leg than usual. But we were trying to go for the sort of Amy Brown fairy--but without actual corsets so we could dance a little more easily. I'm the oldest of the bunch as I'll be 49 in December. Julia B, at a mere 30, is the youngest.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My Novel's Journey: Location, Location

What's a super-spy thriller without exotic locations?

I knew for Live and Let Fly, that Vern and Grace had to travel to some unusual places. After all, what self-respecting Evil Overlord puts his base of operations in, say Pueblo, Colorado? (My home town, so I can make comments, thank you.)

I have two EOs--one who does things evil and well and the other who's, well, a six-sigma flake with delusions of TQM Grandeur.

Six-Sigma, aka Ronald McThing, needed someplace fun, someplace unexpected, Idaho! Yeah! Idaho! But not just anywhere in Idaho, oh, no! Somewhere small, out of the way and with a fun name. I searched the World's Atlas and came up with Arco. I loved it: the Evil Overlord from...Arco!

Arco turned out to be a great choice, for it not only offered some nice buttes where McThing could make his insidious complex and toy museum, but it's also the site of America's first nuclear reactor. Hey! Guess what you need to make your own Gap? A nuclear accident! And why waste good funding and spend all that time on paperwork for building something new when you can buy out the old one, hold secret experiments and "oopsie!"? (Please don’t e-mail me all the holes in that plan. It's McThing's strategy, not mine. He's also pathologically afraid of Smurfs.)

As it turned out, I didn't get to do as much in Arco as I'd intended. Everyone got far more violent than I expected and Vern was in no shape for sight-seeing. However, I did get to mention the Arco Airport. McThing will fly out of there in his corporate jet. Of course, it was such a small airport, I didn't know if it could handle a corporate jet, and the FAA stats are just so much numbers to someone who doesn't even know how much her luggage weighs, much less a small jet. So I called the first number on the FAA site for Arco and got the chamber of commerce. When I explained the situation, the lady gave me the number...

...for the drug store!

"Talk to Steve. He's on the board and he can answer your questions," the lady assured me. He did, too, even setting me on the right track to find a jet. I settled on the gulfstream 550 because it has the better range to take McThing to his boss, the Evil Overlord Frank Li in...

The Exotic Island of Bandar Baru!

If you go to your handy atlas, you will not find Bandar Baru in the index. I've made it up to avoid any international incidents. So how do you make up your own island?

Determine needs: I wanted a small island nation, homogeneous population, with a volcano and subsequent religion of volcano god worship, which makes it ripe for a Faerie demigod to come in and set up religious housekeeping. It also had to be a playground for the rich.

Determine location: If you pull up a map of the currents in the Indian Ocean, you'll see a nice dead zone along the Tropic of Capricorn. I thought that would help it stay off the main trade routes. I wanted to minimize the Western influence until very recently (air travel).

Determine history: I gave them a disaster, so the US and other nations could come help them and they'd then turn their economy into tourism, only have that ruined by a volcano that can't decide when to erupt. This, of course, revived the old religion of Apikema, the volcano god.

Determine details: Since I'm a seat-of-the-pants writer, I'll figure a lot of these out as I go, but I have found a couple of things useful: the Indonesian/English dictionary online lets me create a reasonable-sounding foreign language by playing with the actual words. (Bandar Baru means "new port," which will have significance.) I'll probably get names from the same source or go to the handy White Pages for Sumatra and Madagascar. I get a lot of names that by looking in foreign phone books, incidentally. For the rest, I'll pull up some travel brochures of similar islands in the area, and rely on my own experience as a fabulous jet-setter.

Give me a minute while I stop laughing.

Word Count: 54,700. I finally managed to get through the plodding part. (Write. Write. Write) and had a fun scene where Grace turns Vern human so he can go with them to Bandar Baru.

Fave Scene: Which has nothing to do with this post, but it's fun. Vern turns human. (BTW: Tap out the sequence and see if you recognize the song.)

Eight...two sixteenths, eighth, quarter eighth, eighth, eighth. Eight...two sixteenths, eighth, quarter eighth, eighth, eighth. Eight...two sixteenths, eighth, quarter eighth, eighth, eighth...

"I don't think it's working." I didn't know if I was disappointed or relieved.

"Keep going. Don't break rhythm. This is an unusual spell. You have to let it get into you."

Eight...two sixteenths, eighth, quarter eighth, eighth, eighth. I started tapping with claws on all four limbs.

"You know, I don't really like that idea."

"You don't have to go."

"No. I'm fine. But I don't think it's--ergh!"

Suddenly, my whole body heated up and got all...gooey. Then I felt like I was being forced into a trash compactor, or maybe a mold that was too small.


I got heavy, boulder heavy, and fell to the ground. I didn't understand how I could make such crashing sounds when I was so much flubber. Then I started feeling a little more solid, but lighter, which panicked me--or would have if I weren't so distracted by being gelatinous.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Confessions of a Catholic Writer and Geek

Sometimes, as a writer, I address some odd or disturbing subjects. Sometimes, my characters do odd things--like my dragon, Vern, doing some act of violence and thinking it's really kind of funny. As a Catholic, I often wonder how in the world I am supposed to confess that? Apparently, I'm not alone in wondering how to address geeky transgressions in the Confessional. Check out scificatholic.

I can only imagine how my confession would sound:

Me: Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I wrote a scene where my Catholic dragon bit off a guy's hand. I did make him go to Confession--

A Catholic dragon?

Me: Oh, yeah. He's a good one. Only one head, no reference to Revelations, as he would say. The problem is, it's really a very funny scene--

Now a priest who is really in tune with me would say something pithy like, "You've got to hand it to him?" and I'd be laughing and having to confess all over again.

So I have to confess, I usually stick to the real-world sins and hope God understands about the flights of fancy.

Friday, August 15, 2008

When Writing is Like a Long Drive

We went on vacation for two weeks, four days of which were spent just driving between North Dakota and Colorado. Drive. Drive. Drive.

When I was driving in the Front Range or in the Black Hills, I enjoyed the trip. Every twist of the road or turn of the head was rewarded with fantastic vistas. However, there are long stretches where there's nothing but lots of flat farmland. Occasionally, some interesting feature will catch your interest,

like the world's largest Holstein cow,

or a lovely field of sunflowers,

or a dilapidated old barn ready to collapse on itself.

But the rest of the time, you just forge ahead, counting down the miles to your goal. Drive. Drive. Drive.

Writing a novel can be like that, too.

Some days, the words flow and every plot twist rewards you with an incredible scene or exciting revelation. Then there are the important but flat parts that you have to push through for the sake of the story or to give your reader needed information. Then, the only thing you can do is write, write, write.

If you're lucky, however, you'll make some discoveries: that phrase that, like the World's Largest Cow, will catch your reader's attention and stay in their minds even after they're finished the book. Or the description that, like a field of sunflowers, brightens the entire scene. Or the segment that taken on its own is like the old barn and you wonder what that piece of junk can be worth, but when put in the context, gives the entire section a unique interest or even beauty.

That's why you can't just sit and wait for inspiration. It's like sitting at home wishing to arrive; you'll never get there. You have to drive.

And who knows what wonders you can discover on your trip?

Word Count:
48,840, and now I'm at the drive, drive, drive phase.

Fave Phrase: Vern and Sister Grace are back form rescuing Heather. It did not go easily and Vern is not happy. However, they've come across some information that BILE needs, and he's decided to take his own kind of revenge.

"What're you doing?" Mustache asked as I took out my small inkpot, opened the lid and dipped my writing claw into it.

"Our rescue was strictly an independent operation, remember?" I tossed Rakness a dark look but spoke reasonably enough. "So any information we might have acquired on said operation would be our own--"

"You mean to sell this information to us? I thought we were trying to protect this country--both our worlds, for that matter. What kind of patriot are you?"

I looked at him like he was a stupid mortal and didn't mention that I wasn't a citizen of the United States--or any nation for that matter. "Funny thing about saving the world," I said philosophically, "it always manages to get un-saved. Kind of wrecks the job satisfaction factor. Philanthropy, though... Grace how much did the Christian Brothers say they needed to start that school in Territory?"

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Conference Renews My Enthusiasm

This past week, I attended the Catholic Marketing Network Conference as president of the Catholic Writers' Guild. This is a trade show of vendors of everything form Catholic books to rosaries and icons. I and several others went to promote our books and the CWG in general.

Lisa Mladinich, an officer in the Guild, made all the arrangements, set the booth up the first day, then picked several of us at the airport and ferried us to the conference and hotel. If there's anything better than having a Lady Friday for a conference, it's having one who's positive, enthusiastic and a joy to be around. Thanks, Lisa!

I could blog for days about the conference--and did for the CWG website. I'm also writing an tips article that will feature on The Writers' Chatroom Newsletter and in Faith-Filled Fiction's next issues. Today, I'd like to tell you what the conference did for me personally.

The CMN had given us a terrific opportunity to have a booth and meet iwth other publsihers and booksellers. Plus, six other Guild members would be at the conference for a book signing. Through some help of a dear friend and the support of my husband and parents, I was able to attend. However, I'd been feeling a bit low lately about the CWG, my book Infinite Space, Infinite God, and my writing in general. Objectively, I know I'm suffering from impatience: the CWG has a lot of great projects that are moving forward at a snail's pace; my book isn't selling like I'd hoped (despite the great reviews in popular targeted magazines), and I'd thought by now I'd have an agent or a contract with a major publisher. So I boarded the airplane enthusiastic about the conference and ready to give it my most energetic efforts, but wondering if it was worth the expense I--and my friends and family--were paying.

Oh, it was!

The vendors and the book sellers who came to the conference were so enthusiastic about the Guild. We as authors knew some kind of organization like ours was needed, but to hear that publishers and store owners wanted it, too, gave me a renewed optimism for the Guild. It also helped to hear how amazed they were at how much we accomplished in just 8 months. Sometimes, it's hard to see progress when you're involved in the project. Even more, the gratitude I heard from other members for the work I (and Ann Lewis, our webmistress and VP) have done touched my heart. I'm inspired to do even more for these wonderful people.

Also inspiring was the response my book got. Too often have I heard that Catholic SF has no good market--it's too Catholic for the secular and too SF for the Catholic bookstore. Plenty of book reviews and four secular awards (or finalists in awards) has disabused me of the "too Catholic" notion. At the conference, when I said "Catholic sci-fi," vendors grew thoughtful--and excited. "I have a nephew..." "There's a customer who..." were comments I heard. One person asked about it for a book club. I gave away about 15 books at the signing--which was what all of us did, give them to vendors--and I'm pretty sure I'll see some sales.

By the end, I was working the conference like a chipmunk on caffeine. (Yeah, baby!) People asked me how I was managing such energy, especially at the 6 p.m. Thursday meeting about the Guild. the answer was simple: they'd energized me.

Alas, no agent or large publisher there would be interested in what I have, but that's okay. This conference gave me a much needed boost of enthusiasm for my writing. No matter where I publish, there are people whose lives I will touch.

So, yeah. It was worth the effort and expense, not just for me personally, but for the members of the Guild who will see a happier more enthusiastic leader with a renewed sense of direction, and for the family and friends who will not hear me whining about my writing career. (For a while, anyway--no guarantees!)

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Global Warming Ad Insults Veterans

I saw this ad on Yahoo! groups the other day:

We didn't wait for someone else to storm the beaches at Normandy
And we can't wait for someone else to solve the global climate

The Nazi conquest of Europe...Global Warming. This is what I'd call a Parallelism FAIL. And an insulting one at that.

I don't have a problem with recycling, alternate energy and conserving fuel, but I do have a problem with someone comparing that to one of the most tragic and heroic military actions in recent history, especially for a still scientifically (if not politically) contested theory. Have we so soon forgotten what the Battle of Normandy was about?

Incidentally, the sun is getting warmer, so we're facing system, not global, warming.

Should we bomb the sun into submission?