Thursday, July 31, 2008

Novel's Journey: detour for a story pays off

On vacation this week, and until August 15, but the past few days have been in preparing and traveling. I'll have something for next week, promise. However, I have very cool news:

"Mishmash: From the Case Files of DragonEye, PI" has been accepted in Book of Tentacles!

Many thanks to my crit crew:
* Ann Lewis
* Rebecca Butcher
* Deb Cullins Smith
* Joe Trent
* Kimberli Campbell
* Agnes

In honor of making the cut, here's a paragraph that pretty much sets up the story. Sr. Grace has hired Vern to check out a song she thinks is a spell. Vern (and everyone else) thinks it's a bunch of random sounds mishmashed together. But he takes the case.

I checked out the band. They were as thrown together as their hit song, a bunch of losers with mediocre voices and minor musical talent but faces that looked good in stylized B&W on the cover of Yrd 4 Sound. Most of their other songs ranked on the low end of ordinary, but "Mishmash" had propelled them to fame. The lead singer/songwriter said the sounds came to him in a dream--after passing out from one too many Sailing Monsters. A photo of him showed the tattoo he'd gotten that night; if C'thulu and Doc Oc ever got together; their children would look like that. No accounting for taste.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Blogging the Dog

I may not have a Novel's Journey post up this week because we're taking a real journey--to Colorado with a stop at Mt. Rushmore. It'll be a busy 3 weeks because we have a wedding to attend, I have a conference, then we have to drive back. I'll write what I can.

In the meantime, my daughter decided to make a model out of our dog, Layla. Here are the results:

Friday, July 25, 2008

My Novel's Journey: Pit stop for a short story


Where did this week go? Somehow, I got it into my head when blogging yesterday that it was Monday! Hope you enjoyed my satire. Here's the update on writing.

Last week, the editor of an anthology I wanted to submit to announced that they had half-filled the book already. I decided to stop working on Live and Let Fly and get the story done. It's another DragonEye, and I've thought about the basic plot and character conflicts a long time, so I figured a day or two and I'd be done.

4:30 am Monday morning, I wrote the last words of "Mishmash." It's a terrific story about when Vern and Grace first met, and both were rough around the edges and didn't realize how much they'd need each other. One scene took two days to write and I finally solved it by giving Vern a bad day and letting him get drunk. Since then, I've been creatively tapped and doing necessary but busy-work. However, I did learn some lessons and make some progress that will help me in Live and Let Fly.

For a long time now, I've been trying to make a timeline of the Faerie/Mundane universes, starting with 0AG (0 ante Gap--when the portal between the two universes opened). However, I could never quite get it--was it 4 years or 5 when this happened? Have Grace and Vern been together 15 years or 20? I had a list of events and their rough order, but nothing that gave me the framework. Until I started writing "Mishmash."

I have a family, good friends of Vern's through church, and they play bit parts in many of the stories. Until now, I've been able to get away with approximate ages and being fuzzy on the number and names of most of the kids. This time, however, they demanded more and bigger roles--comic relief, foil, defender, victim. I had to know their birth order and ages. So I opened up my timeline, pulled out all the stories that mention a Costa Kid and got to work. Soon I had the list of the 12 kids, and their actual ages in each story. And when I applied that to my timeline, everything else fell in place according to the kids.

So the lesson of the day is: if you get stuck on something big, try attacking it from a smaller detail. I couldn't figure out the history of my world until I applied it to the lives of one family. Also, don't be afraid to stop, tackle something else, and go back.

This week, I go back to Live and Let Fly. However, I'll leave you with this scene from "Mishmash."

Fave Phrase:
This is the scene that took 2 days and 3 re-writes. The problem was I had a lot of information to get out, but not a lot of words.

The headlines of the Los Lagos Gazette blazed: Grace Dis-Graced: Faerie Nun Resigns Amid Rumors of Magical Misuse and Mental Instability. The Gazette's new dirt-digger, Kitty McGrue, found out about Grace's little episode with Maria and did her own background checks. Turned out Grace, a mage and elite soldier of the Inquisition, spent six months in a Mundane hospital that, among other things, specialized in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When McGrue couldn't get a straight answer on the reason for Grace's hospitalization, she decided to approach parents for "their reaction." She got one, all right.

I called Grace, not really sure what I'd say or why I was bothering. I got her answering machine, stammered out an offer to set McGrue afire and her little headline writer, too, and felt stupid when I hung up. Jerry Jr. called, wanting to know if I was buying him tickets. When I said I thought it was too suspicious but couldn't commit to actual evil intent, he yelled that I was mean and unfair and hung up.
I finished the novena without any Insight From On High.

I got to the gas station just as the price of ethanol went up.

Some days, I hate my life.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Silliness abounds after Communism falls

So, it's been around 17 years since the communistic government of Russia crumbled over its own weight. You don't hear as much about Russia as you used to--no leaders are thumping their shoes on UN podiums and even though my husband is in ICBM maintenance, the kids still have to ask, "Why do we bother with these?"

Well, they've gotten healthier--and are proud of it. Just check out this article where they christen a monument to that sign of good health and luxury everywhere: the enema.

AP Photo

But don't think it's all luxury and sloth! They keep up on important affairs of state: George and Laura Bush to divorce after election because of Condi Rice?

And, now that they have a defense budget, they're flying their bombers and checking up on our ICBMs in accordance to START treaties. Of course, none of their findings on the missile fields is as startling as the fact that you can buy shotguns at Walmart. (Rob's friends at Warren AFB, WY, reported the shock of the Russian inspectors when they discovered the sporting good section.)

Now before anyone thinks I'm Russian bashing, let me ask: are these things really that different from what you find in the Western world?

Aside from the shotguns at Walmart. Guess we need to give them something to work for.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Writer Spam and Submission letters that FAIL

Anybody else get this e-mail (Title: YOUR WORK)

Dear writer,

I find your ability to convey your ideas very refreshing. I think also that your characterizations are some of the best I've read. I think you may enjoy these flash fiction pieces I have written.

(Name removed because either this is a hoax or to spare the person, if real, public embarrassment. I'm pretty certain it's spam, though.)

This has to be spam, right? It has not one, but two attachments entitled THE PERFECT WOMAN. WPS and ABUSE AND SELF-ESTEEM.wps. (Yes, in all caps.)

Does anybody still open attachments from unknown senders? I don't care how complimentary the body of the message is--is anybody in this day and age still that naive?

And let's talk about the body of the message: "Dear writer": This person professes to love my work and its refreshing voice, but addresses me as "writer?" Please. Even a computer program could strip the @fabianspace off my address and give a more convincing "Dear Karina." Plus, I write sci-fi and fantasy--and they send me perfect woman and abuse? Yeah, said person really put some thought into what I'd like.

So, a clever spam approach FAILS.

Coincidentally, this would fail as a submission letter to an editor for the exact same reasons:

* "Dear Editor" Some magazines do say to address "editor" or "submissions editor," but in most cases, taking a few minutes to research the editor's name shows both courtesy and professionalism.

* Generic compliments do not impress an editor; they show lack of imagination or lack of research. Rather than say, "I find your magazine refreshing with some of the best stories I've ever read," compliment something specific. "I'm enjoying Jo Joeson's 'Clueless Spammaster from Beyond.' His e-mails to minions are priceless parody."

* READ THE GUIDELINES! If the mag is sci-fi, don't send fantasy. If they want a specific topic or angle, don't send something different in hopes that your brilliant prose will make them make an exception. It doesn't work that way. Editors please readers, and reader expectations drive guidelines.

* Attachments must be in a form the editor recognizes and works with. When in doubt, .rtf is pretty universal.

Incidentally, submissions to ISIG II are closed, incidentally. I've read all the stories and passed the ones I like on to my husband. However, the Air Force has other plans for his time and attention. It may be awhile.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

My Novel's Journey--Writing with kids

I was at my computer, but my mind was in a secret lair in a butte in Idaho. The scene was tense the words were flying...

Vern's been captured. He's injured, bound and muzzled, poisoned and surrounded by seven minions armed with machine guns. Even more, he's separated from Grace, from help, even from any trace of magic itself. He thinks he's going to die--not just be seriously inconvenienced for a few centuries while some part of him revives, but permanently no-way-back-dead.

Then he sees it. A dragon stone. The one thing dragons lust for. The one thing that could save him.

He's caught in its beauty--

"Hey, Mom, when will Dad be home?"

"uh... let me e-mail him, k?"

Vern's injured, bound and muzzled, poisoned and surrounded by seven minions armed with machine guns. Even more, he's separated from Grace, from help, even from any trace of magic itself. He thinks he's going to die--not just be seriously inconvenienced for a few centuries while some part of him revives, but permanently no-way-back-dead.

Then he sees it. A dragon stone. The one thing dragons lust for. The one thing that could save him.

He's caught in its beauty--

"Mom? Did you e-mail Dad?"

"Yes, I did, and I'm trying to write!"

Vern's separated from Grace, from help, even from any trace of magic itself. He thinks he's going to die--not just be seriously inconvenienced for a few centuries while some part of him revives, but permanently no-way-back-dead. Then he sees it. A dragon stone. The one thing dragons lust for. The one thing that could save him.

He's caught in its beauty--

"What's Liam doing outside, Mom?"

"I don't know! I'm writing. Go look out the window--the other window."

Vern thinks he's going to die--not just be seriously inconvenienced for a few centuries while some part of him revives, but permanently no-way-back-dead.Then he sees it. A dragon stone. The one thing dragons lust for. The one thing that could save him. He's caught in its beauty--

"Say, Mom? Can I borrow your mike to record something?"

"Yes! Fine!"

He thinks he's going to die--

"What's the program I need?"

"Audacity! And if it's not downloaded, you have to wait!"

Then he sees--

"Hey, Mom?"

"Please! I'm trying to write! This is a tense scene and Vern is very caught up in his feelings. He's drooling and everything. Just give me ten minutes to drool with Vern!"


Vern's been captured. He's injured, bound and muzzled, poisoned and surrounded by seven minions armed with machine guns. Even more, he's separated from Grace, from help, even from any trace of magic itself. He thinks he's going to die--not just be seriously inconvenienced for a few centuries while some part of him revives, but permanently no-way-back-dead.
Then he sees it. A dragon stone.

The one thing dragons lust for. The one thing that could save him.

He's caught in its beauty--

"Mom, can you help me with this one thing? Please?"

OK Deep breaths. These are your children. They're more important than any old story. Just walk away from the computer, help your daughter--

"Never mind! I got it."


Word Count: 41, 832. I need to stop for a couple of days and write some articles and a story I want to submit to an anthology that's filling fast.

Fave Phrase: There were so many this time! However, here's how the scene I was trying to write finally played out:

There's a difference between letting your enemy think you're weak and helpless and actually being so. Picking these guys off one by one or driving them to distraction and getting Charlie and Heather to run for it wasn't going to work. Plan. I needed a new plan. I couldn't think; couldn't focus. Stupid henchmen with their stupid stars and stupid beards and stupid iron bullets...

McThing finished his McBreathing. "Why don't we start again? I think we're losing our focus." He spread his hands placatingly.

I saw it. On his pinkie.

"That's an interesting ring." My voice was hoarse, and I swallowed hard.

"Do you like it? A present from my superior. With this, we will power our plans and rule both worlds."

"Some present. It's hardly a pebble. Any idea how big the ones in my treasure pile back home are?" I forced myself to sound disdainful. I tried not to follow it with my eyes, or one eye; I had to twist my head to keep McThing in my site.

A dragonstone. The most treasured gemstone in my universe. Forged from the beginning of time, so beautiful, bearing the kiss of magic.

I wanted that kiss like I'd never wanted anything in my life. I shivered with need.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Other sock blogs!

Hey, we ahve a few people who have gotten into the sock blogging groove. Check these guys out!

My youngest son made this cool craft with lost socks!

Tanja Cilia actually got her newspaper to let her blog on lost socks--how cool is that?

Maria gives us the Ode to Lost Socks:

Susan is trying to blog her lost socks--but suddenly they found their mates! She found a few to put on the Missing Sock Milk Carton Alert. (I'll be guest blogging hers later today.)

Read Angelmeg's tale of woe:

Linda Lowen blogged on! Orphan socks make the Internet big time!:

Monday, July 14, 2008

Orphan Sock Week!

Welcome to the Unofficial National Orphan Sock Blog Week!

We've all had the experience: you do all the laundry and when you've folded, hung and matched everything up, there's always a sock left over. Where do they go?

In my house, I'm certain some of them never make it to the washer. They hide in corners, in toyboxes, under beds and chairs... I keep a basket with Socks Without Mates in hope that someday--perhaps when we move--we'll find the other and they can share a tearful lint-free reunion.

Every three years on average we move. That means every three years, our house is totally cleared, things are sorted and packed, shipped, unpacked and re-sorted. Yet I still have unmatched socks that have traveled through three moves. Someone explain!

Maybe we lose them on trips. I've seen single socks, like single shoes, left abandoned on the roadside or in parking lots. I never stop to investigate--perhaps they're just a clever decoy for some roadside bandit looking for to improve their footwear. A girl can't be too careful.

Last time I was visiting my best friend, I did her laundry and happened upon her own sock pile--and recognized some of the orphan socks there. Extended sock vacation in the country, eh?

Then, of course, there are sock thieves. Don't believe me? Check out this article. Here's a guy who won't be doing a turn in the prison laundry room.

Well, we've come to terms with the status of missing socks in our lives. I tend to use them as rags, and of course, the kids love them as craft projects. We've made the standard sock puppets, filed them with spices and beans to make cool/hot packs, and Liam likes to cut the tops and wear them on his wrist. This week, he needed a way to carry his light saber on his belt, do we cut a wide strip off the top, made a second cut about 3/4 of the way through, then tied it in a knot (to make it shorter.) one loop goes on the belt, the other holds the light saber.

Share your sock stories and let me know!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

My Novel's Journey: The Name Game

Dick and Jane. Mary Sue. Moe, Larry and Curly--how do you come up with names?
Sometimes, a name just comes to me. Vern d'Wyvern. Yes, it's awful, but it stuck. Thus, I had to come up with a back-story for this truly lame name. (After his encounter with St. George, he was presented to the Pope of the time, who, while a very holy man, didn't have a sophisticated sense of humor. He thought "Vern d'Wyvern" rather droll.)

Other times, I have to hunt for names. Charlie Wilmot, I found by looking at phone directories in England. (I love Google!) For the duchy he serves, I went to a map of England, found the general area and looked for the silliest combination of places I could. I'd remembered some of their towns are city-on-river, and so I came up with Peebles on Tweed. (I'd misremembered Shakespeare's birthplace as "Stratford on Avon" rather than "Stratford upon Avon," so when I combined the names I used "on.") I love the sound of the name.

Sometimes, especially when I'm looking for something specific and it doesn't come to me, I turn to friends for brainstorming. That happened twice this week. Earlier this month, Vern, Grace and Charlie discover the dead body of a professor. I wanted this professor, who was also a mage, to have a fun name to lighten the scene a bit. I couldn't think of one, so whenever I referred to him, I wrote (funname). (That way, when I come up with a name, I can do a global replace.) Then on Wednesday, I asked the folks who gathered for the online chat at The Writers Chatroom for help. After some fun brainstorming based on the fact that my victim was a mage specializing in portals and the Gap, Audrey Shaffer came up with Bill Gates. I loved the idea of a Faerie sharing a famous name, especially in a college atmosphere. You'll see what I did with it below.

Sometimes, though, I know a name is going to be important to future scenes--and in this case, jokes--so I can't move until I have it. This happened when I decided I needed a secret spy organization instead of just the standard FBI, CIA, ETC. At first, I had DICE--Department of Interdimensional Criminal Enforcement. Great potential for jokes. Then it occurred to me that we don’t enforce criminals; we enforce laws.

I was banging my head against the desk when my best e-buddy Ann Lewis showed up on IM. After a few minutes of tossing around acronyms and jokes, we came up with the Bureau for Interdimensional Law Enforcement. BILE. Naturally, I'll have to write in the evil sister organization, Villains for Interdimensional Lawlessness Enhancement, VILE.

Names are such fun!

Word Count: Only 23,400, but I had to dig myself out of a to-do list that was 90 tasks long.

Fave scene: Found on the door of Professor Bill Gates.
Professor William Gates, MT, PhD, GMM. Below that, a computer-generated sign in a page protector read: Pronounced Gay-TEZ. No relation to that Mundane computer fellow, thank you. However, if you are a Mundane and want to learn magic, I suggest computer science." And a map leading to computer science. Below the map read: "Mundanes: You are not genetically suited to handle magic. I cannot change that. I will not change your major. So very sorry."

Monday, July 07, 2008

Dr. Who: Mourning Donna Noble

Note to Dr. Who Fans: Contains spoilers of the Season Four Finale.

Yesterday, we watched the season ender of the latest Dr. Who. Without giving too much away, in the process of saving the universes and time itself (you know, the usual), Donna has to lose all memory of her time with the Doctor, and he takes her back home to the life she had.

I found that the most tragic way to end a friendship with the Doctor, and it bugged me all day (still does.) I talked to Rob about it, in true geekdom fashion; he agreed. "She's been put back in the little box," he said.

For me, it's more than that, though. Sarah Jane got put into the little box; Martha Jones got put into the little back. Rose was trapped in a "little box" of an alternate universe. But they remembered the "big box," and all they were and what they did. What they were capable of doing. They took those experiences with them, and even if they regretted losing the life they'd had, they were better for it.

Donna never gets that. She's had all the incredible experiences, done things she never thought herself capable of, and she doesn’t remember. Never mind the phenomenal knowledge of the Doctor; there were times when her she used her own limited knowledge combined with unique insight, to do the extraordinary. Like Rose Tyler told her, "You've always been brilliant. You just needed the Doctor to show you."

But he didn't. He couldn't. And when he left her, she was back to her old, "Just a temp" ways, loud, narrow-minded and a little ditzy, probably afraid to push beyond her small box because she might fail. "For a moment, she was the most important person in the universe," the Doctor said. But she had to go back to believing she is a nobody.

In a way, it makes me think of what would happen if some brilliant person got Alzheimer's or a massive brain injury in the prime of his or her life. It's just tragic.

Yet, as the doctor told her family, because of Donna, there are worlds still shining, and people singing of Donna Noble. They know what she was, what she could be.

Why is it so important to me that she know as well?

Back to the trivial: Orphan Sock Blog Week starts next Monday! If you want to blog about those socks that mysteriously lose their partners, e-mail me with your blog address and I'll post it on my blog next week.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

My Characters Have Trashed my Outline!

Last week, I talked about outlining the plot. So naturally, this week, my characters tossed the plot progression to the winds. In this case, instead of reading about a murder in the newspaper, they discovered the body themselves, and instead of having a starlette-style hissy fit and becoming the spunky sidekick, Heather got herself kidnapped and ended up the damsel in distress! In all, a 10,000-word re-direct at least and some plot complications, not to mention a lot of un-funny prose. So today, I'll talk about going with the flow.

"Seat of the pants" is my natural writing style. I start with an idea or a character that grabs me. If I only have a character, I try to imagine their life--usually some interesting episode--you, know, one that physically or psychologically tortures them, bwa-ha-ha-ha. Often times, I'll have the middle--aka, the height of suffering--pretty firmly in mind, but I try to have the beginning and ending.

This is how I came up with Vern. DragonMoon Press had opened submissions for the anthology Firestorm of Dragons, and I was looking for something that hadn't been done: a cynical dragon PI on the wrong side of the Interdimensional Gap working off a geas by the Faerie Mage, St. George. (I'll tell you more some other time.) From there, I just needed a clichéd simple case gone wrong for him to solve. (DragonEye, PI is out in Firestorm of Dragons.)

Of course, once I have characters I love, they tend to start living out their lives in the dark recesses of my mind. Throughout the day and night, they tell me a little about their lives or share a joke or comment with me. Vern does this a lot because, as you know from his blog, he has a very unique and sarcastic but funny way of looking at things. So when I'm ready to write a story, I come up with an idea or crisis, stick them in it and let them tell me how they get out of it. This works very well with Vern and Grace, because I can pull from old mysteries and legends, mix them up and let them tell me how to solve the case. Essentially, they live it out, and I just transcribe.

In the case of Live and Let Fly, the idea came to me first--a very general idea of pitting Vern against the clichés of superspydom and evil overlordisms. As you know (or would if you'd read last Thursday's post), I thought it very important to plot this one out to make sure I got the clues and clichés in place. Part of that was for Vern and Grace to read about the murder of Professor William Gates (Gay-TEZ, no relation to the Mundane computer entrepreneur). Heather, Charlie's assistant, insisted on accompanying Charlie, where she would use her computer skills to break into the evil overlord's computers for valuable clues. Nice, neat, plenty of room for jokes.

But Vern and Grace are not used to dancing to my tune. Even worse, I hadn't banked on Heather not being as plucky (and amenable to espionage) as I'd expected. So it was with some surprise that Vern and Grace decided to go visit Professor Gates and discover his dead body. Then Heather, in a cliché out of the storybooks, gets kidnapped.

But it gets worse! One of the things playing in the back of my mind has been Faerie's past. Since their universe parallels ours, I imagined they'd had a Great War sometime in the early 20th century; however, since Faerie is a much more religious world, I knew it would be a Satan vs. the Church, of which Vern and Grace were agents of the Inquisition. Now and then, they give me tidbits of that time, which you'll read in the stories. I've also had this vague plan that something bigger than what we see in the books is going on behind the scenes.

What this has led to is that Gates (no relation) has been assassinated with crucis iugolis--the butcher's cross--a favorite killing method of Satan's minions during the Great War.

I didn't plan this. It just came out of my fingers, seriously.

So the characters have shanghaied the plot, and I've spent the last week (about 12,000 words since it was a busy week) trying to figure my way out of it. That means scrapping some jokes, plunging into Charlie's dark side, revisiting Grace's Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and dealing with new questions of jurisdiction.

Why do I put up with this? Because it's much more interesting when my characters tell me what happens than when I make them dance to my tune. The book will have more depth and if not as funny, it's more interesting. However, they've promised me a few fun, new scenes if I can just plug away at the serious stuff a few more thousand words.

Word Count to date: 20, 557, some of which are notes of things to fix.

Fave Phrase: Duke Galen's Herald, Charlie, talks to Heather's kidnappers. I like it because he showed me a side of himself different from the usual happy-go-lucky popinjay stuck making the best of inheriting the family job he doesn’t much like.

"I want to speak to Heather!"

A brief shuffling, then "Charlie! Charlie, I'm in a--" Her sentence ended in a shriek.

"If you harm one hair on her head, you bloody bastard--"

"Sticks and stones--"

"If that's what it takes."

"Tsk, tsk, Herald Wilmot. How very unbecoming of someone of your stature. But to be honest, I have no intention of hurting your beloved. I'm a big fan, actually. I do hope I can coax her out of an autograph. In the meantime, you have information I want."

"No, I don't," Charlie replied, and he didn't have to fake the desperation in his voice. "I'm just the courier. I didn't even know I was carrying anything--"

Laughter. "Quite droll, Mr. Wilmot. As a matter of a fact, I believe you. Your duke's twisted humor is well known even here. I also know he fancies your pretty little girlfriend. You have two hours--"

"Two?" Charlie burst out. "To convince Galen of anything? Better make it twenty-four if you want this precious information of yours."

"You'd bargain with your true love's life?"

"If it means having a real chance of succeeding, bloody hell, yes! Otherwise, just tell me where you are, so I can go die with her."