Finding Ways to Connect

I started my twitter account as a way to reach out to people, to get my words out there in some capacity. After all, without social media, I’ve been told there isn’t much point. I’m not very good at it.  I find it hard to promote myself.  No, that’s a lie, I find it damn near impossible.  But I keep trying because stopping is never an option.  But I recently watched as a well-known celebrity, that I follow because of their messages, left Twitter.  That has me suddenly wondering if the pendulum of social media is swinging the other way.  Should I perhaps be looking for more face-to-face opportunities, trying to convince people to buy my book at conventions, book stores and craft markets?  (No, really, I am asking you.)

But maybe that’s all tied in with why do people write, why do painters paint etc.  Why do humans create?  I think we’re all creative in some way.  Some people show it in the way they dress or do their makeup.  Some of us just happen to be a little quieter in how we’re putting ourselves out there.  My friend was given a beautiful cross stitched panel that reads something along the lines of: Writing is easy.  You just sit down at the typewriter and bleed.  It really is like that.  Your pour your heart out on a page, digital or otherwise.  If you don’t, it’s not sincere and believe me, readers know. So, once you’ve put your heart on a piece of paper and copied it many times, how do you “market” that?  How do you take the rejection of something that is integrally you? (No, I don’t know how to do that.  No answers here.)

I think it’s a lot like online dating.  If you’re married/coupled up/not interested, you might not get this.  The whole “modern dating” thing is so very confusing.  You put yourself out there and then people just don’t acknowledge you.  I found this really hard on Plenty of Fish.  I would message people and not get a response.  I got used to it but realized anew how much I disliked it every time I tried to explain to someone that the constant rejection was “normal.”  It was putting your heart out there in small ways and getting stepped on over and over.  And I wonder why I have trouble believing in love ever happening for me?

So yes, writing, love, life. I think it’s all about the fear of reaching out and handing people parts of your heart.  The waiting to see if they like it or not.

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Long and, Perhaps, a Little Late

Place

I listened to a great presentation on this topic by Derek Künsken (https://derekkunsken.com/index.html/) recently.  To the point where I wasn’t sure I had anything to offer.  However, here we are.  Because I have to believe that even when we, as writers, discuss the same topics, we do so in a slightly different way.  Otherwise, why would we tell stories?

As I’m sure you know, if you’ve read the earlier blog posts, I’m a very character centered writer.  It’s the people and social interactions that fascinate me.  Well, with that in mind, perhaps you’re as confounded as I am as to why I locate so much of my fiction in space.  Wouldn’t it be easier to locate it in Ontario, Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador? (Even the ubiquitous SomeCity, USA?) I guess.  But then I would be confined by history, society, potentially even current politics (Best not to get me started there).  A reviewer of one of my earliest submitted Mars stories once wrote that the piece could easily have taken place in a Warsaw Ghetto during World War Two, but that placing it on Mars gave me freedom, unconstrained by the history.  Maybe for me, science fiction is my freedom.

So, yes, how easily I digress.  Characters/people are my element of choice.  But I can’t write much inside of a bubble.  There has to be a world, space, in which they interact.  You may see that Warsaw Ghetto, you may see Fort McMurray, Alberta, in there.  That’s all fine with me.  As long as you’re willing to come on the trip.

Example: An Expensive Retreatintroduced people to my colony on Mars.  Something changing by the day I should note (https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-44952710).  But I can’t go back and change twenty years of story development that easily.  So, I’ll persist in my ‘reality’ and figure out how to incorporate the above.  I can already think of stories of water chasing ‘cowboy-esque’ heroes racing across the desert as mechanical nomads.  But the way it is now, a fledgling society just getting to its collective feet; is this not a reflection of Nadine?  It is her growth through the book that allows her to become the governor at the end. To stand on her own two feet and say this isn’t the Mars I want to live in.  So, let’s figure out how to change it. (A call to us about our world perhaps? You can find anything you want once you’ve written it.)

Mars is described in how it’s written on the faces of the people that live there.

Terran B is a new-ish project I’ll be going back to in 2019.  It’s not in my Mars universe or the one we live in now.  For that one, place is only what is necessary.  The stone walls cause claustrophobia or security. It is unfinished, so I have not seen it all through Terese’s eyes yet.  I can only describe what she sees.

Practicality:  You do need some basics.  Does your story take place in England? Outer Space? Grenada? How you can develop your location is heavily influenced by where they find themselves. Oxygen isn’t a problem in Grenada but, depending on the time period, space flight might be.  Much as I would love to travel to every place on Earth where I have set characters, my bank account doesn’t agree.  Luckily, this wonderful internet is a vast and wonderful resource (as long as you avoid the commentary below some news stories).  I can see envelopes from 1892 and the weather in Grenada in September.  I can see the landscape of Mars and watch her two moons orbit overhead (thanks, Ken).

This post has gotten long. As a little reward for sticking around as long as you have, here’s a couple of snippets about place that I’ve written.  Hope you enjoy!

 

An Expensive Retreat (Through Nadine’s childhood bedroom window):

She slumped back down on the bed and looked out the window. Gradually the noises in the house receded and she was alone with her thoughts. Slowly, at first, people began to come out of their houses. They passed each other on the street, stopping to talk. She could see people laughing and generally getting on with their day. There was no one carrying a water jug though so she quickly checked the bathroom. The water was running again, low pressure but running. The sun had fully risen now and as it reflected off the courtyard walls and sand, it took on a faintly red hue. She imagined that somewhere poets had made a marvel of that colour but it seemed familiar, the colour of home. All the houses had faded over time to match the sand and only the dark grey roofs stood out. There were little swatches of colour though. Some people had hung laundry in their courtyards; children were playing with a red ball in the street and blue fuel canisters stood next to the houses she could see. Someone farther up the street had painted their door a bright sunshine yellow. The world perhaps wasn’t as monotonous as she thought.

 

Terran B and the Asteriod Belt (Terese’s first view of her underground prison):

For the first time, the reality of where she was sunk in.  The tunnel arched well over her, the damp stone for enough apart that she wasn’t claustrophobic. Dim lights hung above them from frayed wires.  The whole place reeked of temporality, not somewhere she would have visited before, much less stayed in.

“Come with me.  I’ll get you sorted out with the rest of them.”  [Lily’s] voice was hard and tired in the gloom.  “They died in the crash?”

“No.  I didn’t crash.”  The certainty in her voice steadied her body somewhat.

The woman stopped short.  “What?”

“I couldn’t have crashed.  We were too far out.  I don’t know what hit us, both times, but I definitely didn’t crash.”

The first sense of uncertainty in the older woman’s voice.  “You’d better talk to the others.”  She pulled a time piece out of a pocket.  “They’ll be out soon enough.”  She backtracked through the tunnel and took another offshoot.  Terese was lost by the third turn.  Hander would have been better situated.  Almost anyone would have.

 

Julianne (Robert’s arrival in his new ‘home’):

Robert sighed and stepped down from the carriage, stiff body protesting.  The gentle slope that led to the house had seemed quaint while on the cart but felt uncomfortable as he staggered over the deep pit and towards the door.  Even the beauty of the house diminished, the closer he came to the structure.  White paint peeled from the frames and doors.  The gardens in front of the structure revealed themselves as merely weeds leaned haphazardly against each other.  With a look of disgust, Robert stepped up to the door, unsure whether he should walk in or knock.  He settled after a moment on a sharp rap, forcing the slightly warped door inward.  He entered a spacious foyer, the coolness against his face welcome.  The blue and white tile and accented walls rose above him to create an airy feel to the structure.

 

 

Questions?  Send me all of them!

Let’s Talk about Place!

Describing the setting of any of my works is my own private hell.  I have a movie in my head and I can see where my people are and what’s going on there.  The most important part is the characters so why do I need to describe where they are.  After all, my readers are “watching” the same movie, aren’t they?

Yes, you’ve got it.  Unless everyone woke up this morning with telepathy and no one told me, there’s a hitch in my theory.  Psst, the secret is, no one else is seeing the movie and without some basic structure I’ve left people hanging in a grey void.  Trust me, they don’t like it out there.  I’ve tried dragging some of them out and paid the price.  So many tiny bits of story that have characters shaking their heads, saying no, this doesn’t float for us.

But how do I find the happy medium?  I don’t want to get so caught up in description that I lose the point, the plot, the people…hell, my readers.  (Don’t worry, I’ve expanded into a painful minimalism there.  I don’t run the risk of being the next Tolkien.)  Not to disparage him of course.  I enjoy his work immensely.  It’s just not my style and I’m sure mine would not have been his…

Okay, I wandered off in a tangent as I do when writing these things.  Where were my notes, otherwise known as the first draft?  I still struggle with making sure that some of my vision of place comes through.  When I write stories based on Earth, it’s okay to say “it took place in Grenada in 1892” because people can image search Grenada and think, oh okay, I get some of it now.  Then I only need to describe the house, the people, a small world.  With the Mars trilogy, it’s a big world.  Not just the one that Nadine lived in but also Sven.  The one where people like Anna had a place and Karl, a history, before we met them.  Yeah, it got big and thinking about trying to do that again is scary as hell.  So, if you have a little bit of world building fear or maybe setting paranoia, read on and I’ll do my best to give you some ideas to chew over.

Remember when I said that you needed to make sure the character was real before you started writing them?  The place is the same and everyone is going to do it slightly differently.  Maybe you’ve decided to skip the character building until you have a place to put them in.  That’s totally fine and I’ve known others who followed that path.

An Expensive Retreat started out as a short story and then several short stories, all taking place in the same town with the same struggles.  I even draw a map for myself, so far the only one I created.  It was really poorly done and I don’t think anyone ever needs to see it.  After all, it was only for me.  I drew bad pictures of houses while I wrote the novel, imagined streets, tried to smell what they would.  I tried to go to Mars in my imagination.  And then in the second novel, I sent myself back to Earth.  But not an Earth I recognize, another foreign place that I had to build to some extent.

Use your senses.  It was hot on Mars, a dry heat that seeps through your clothes, your skin and warms your very bones.  I’ve felt heat like that sometimes although I’m definitely a northern climate kind of person.  I used it though.  I’ve stood on the sidewalks of big cities and had to breathe in the dank air, the humidity and the smell of people, of things long abandoned and food lost to memory.  I’ve taken in the worst of those and I gave them to Sven, to Nadine to experience.  They made my world real.  The whistle of endless wind on Mars, an echo of that from the east coast.  The taste of dry bread and crisp apples, my own experiences too.  The hardest one for me was touch.  The feeling of fabric against her face when Nadine rests her head against Sven’s shoulder.  Those sorts of things could be replicated.  But I am not my characters.  I’m not going to react to them in the same way.

So, figure out what it smells like in your place.  Eat the food and listen to the birds or the flying cars or the carnivorous slugs.  What colours are things?  Does everyone share the same sensory experience or does that change?  The world is yours to build, to create, even in the current world, to offer.  Make sure your people fit.

I write things down because it makes it easier for me.  Whether you describe something on paper, digitally or inside of a memory, just make sure it’s real.

Novel Tips

I volunteer on the board of directors for the Ottawa Independent Writers (https://www.ottawaindependentwriters.com).  One night, I spoke with some people at a meeting who suggested that they wanted to learn the basics of writing a novel and what was the best venue?  I didn’t have an answer for that because I am self-taught for the most part.  But what I do have is my experience.  I have been writing for over twenty years.  It started out with poetry and I gradually added short stories, novels and now blog posts.  I’m learning by reading books (of course) and trial and error.  So for the next few blog posts, I’m going to talk about ‘How To Write a Novel,” in my own style.  Hope you’ll stick around for the ideas, even if you aren’t a writer.  You never know, you might become one.

Part One: The character(s)

So you have this great idea that you want to turn into a book.  It’s going to be absolutely wonderful and you can’t wait to get started.  So do it, start writing.  Write out a starting paragraph, even a chapter.  You can do your character development at the same time or before you write.  It’s entirely up to you.  But the character is everything.  So much so, let’s stop using the word ‘character.’  I don’t want to hear about these people as if they were fictional.  I want you to convince me that they’re real.  So how do we do that?  Get to know your character, first and foremost.  I’m not suggesting that you need to know how they celebrated their twelfth birthday or which vegetables they prefer.  But know their important aspects, their personality.  This will help you when you start throwing them into situations (a future post).

An Example:

I wrote a book called Pure Red Sand: An Expensive Retreat.  Actually, I wrote three books with these characters but you’ve probably only seen one, unless you’re an early follower with a Kindle.  I started this novel on a laptop on a small island in the Labrador Sea.  It was the first time I’d just decided to write a book.  I had the benefit that the book was VERY loosely based on a short story.  But very quickly I realized that the characters were too one dimensional to transfer from a four page short story to a 900 plus page trilogy.  They just weren’t strong enough.  So here’s what I decided while I was writing the first chapter.  

Nadine was going to be a strong woman.  She’d grown up that way and had little choice.  But there were repercussions for that kind of strength, in her life anyway.  She always made the difficult decisions, looking at things logically and with the best of intentions but maybe not with emotions at heart.  That might have made her a great medic.  But it also made her prickly with other people, unwilling to trust and maybe even reluctant to take on anything resembling a greater responsibility.  After all, she’d made a success out of her life.  Wasn’t that enough?  As many of you know, it wasn’t.

So once I had my character written, once I knew her, then I would know how she was going to react in certain situations.  For instance, when strangers came to her home, would she welcome them in or turn them away?

An Exercise:

Here are some questions you might want to consider when thinking about your character.  Whether you keep your ideas in your head (like me) or you want to write them out, this might help:

Are they of their own time? (Do you have time travel/a new world/an adventure?)  If they are, then you can take a lot of things for granted.  If not, keep in mind how people react to new things.

What things do they have in common with you? They say write what you know.  But I see a lot of scope in not being me.  That said, I find it easier to write the character when I have something in common with them.  Like Nadine, I always wanted to be strong.  I could empathize with her efforts and her mistakes.

What’s their emotional state?  People who have a fairly stable life are going to react differently to a crisis than those who are already having crises of their own.

How did they grow up?  Did they have economic/social stability?  Were they loved?  We’re all heavily influenced by our past.

Where are they now?  Nadine was a loner and a little anti-social in the beginning.

What kind of social network do they have? Are they close to family and friends or separate from those around them?

Keep adding your own questions until you have your people!

News:

If you’re in the Ottawa area on December 9, 2017, I will be at the Indie Author Book Fair. St David and St Martin Church Hall, 444 St Laurent Blvd. 2-6pm.  Come visit and pick up a couple of holiday presents.  A book makes a wonderful gift.

 

Down the Rabbit Hole

I watched a documentary, on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnF6Wej3YO8&t=117s), recently about the origins of romance in Britain.  While I put this on as a background to chores I was completing, I found the topic interesting, especially where it was related to books, novels, to the story (ie. pre 1920ish).  From their perspective, society learned about romantic love through the stories they read en masse.

It’s not the first time I’ve thought about or written about the power of the story but it was an interesting new take on it.  If we can change society (at whatever pace), that’s a heavy weight to bear.  I am definitely not suggesting that I can or that anyone else will.  But art does have an influence.  I don’t see it as a responsibility or a duty though.  Perhaps more of an opportunity.  Charles de Lint said “all endeavour is art when rendered with conviction” (1996/1999).  We can make artistic gestures out of our everyday (consider the Japanese tea ceremony versus pouring a cup of tea).  So this is not just for people who consider themselves artists, but maybe for everyone to be aware when we create.  Everything we put out there is a manifestation of ourselves, of our lives and of the material we take in.  Sometimes I refer to taking in too much as ‘over stimulation’ and that I need to take time to assimilate it (just how I work).  In a way, it’s an awareness of our every action in the present.

Well, that went down a rabbit hole, now didn’t it?  Hopefully you’re all still with me here.

I want to make sure that I continue to create.  Not just because I don’t believe I have a say in the matter.  But perhaps because I want to.  Because I want to share the stories with you.  I think, deep down under my neurotic self-doubt, that they’re worth reading.  If I can get caught up during editing and wonder what will happen next, maybe I can keep your attention for a while.  Maybe until the end of the story…

 

NEWS:

If you’re in the Ottawa area, I will have a table at the Ottawa Small Press Book Fair (http://smallpressbookfair.blogspot.ca) on November 25.  If you’re in the area, please drop by.  There will be a good crowd of publishers, authors and bookmakers to meet.  Plus, admission is free!

The Relief of Hearing ‘No’

 

I recently wrote a book that was supposed to complete my science fiction trilogy (*note: It has become a series more than a trilogy. This group of three books is focused on the same main characters.)  It was the first time that I’ve written a book without a reader for at least part of it.  No one has read this book to date.  As I began to edit and prepare for publication, this fact began to bother me more and more.  I had sent it out to people to read and generally the feedback was along the lines of “it’s good but I just haven’t had time and I’ll get to it next week for sure.”  Now, that’s completely fine.  We’re not all reading addicts and we all have busy lives.  My fear grew though as the same reasons happened repeatedly.  Was there something wrong with the book?
Last night, one of my readers was finally honest about the manuscript.  They said no, it wasn’t working.  They weren’t taken in by the story, not like they had been with the first two.  Now, let me point out that I’ve completely written the book by now and edited a major part of it.  But instead of feeling overwhelmed and devastated, I actually felt relief.  Okay, it wasn’t working.  I immediately began to think about how I’d written it and how to go about doing it better.  My only regret is that I didn’t catch this sooner.
I think some of my early fear and now relief is tied to how I wrote it.  Looking back on the piece, I was very focused on tying up all those loose strings.  Maybe I spent too much time telling and not enough time showing, a common fault in writing.  But the characters are still speaking with me and together, hopefully, we’ll figure out how to change this so the story can come back to life for my readers.
So, more than ever, if you are a beta/early reader for a writer, take a lot of pride in that trust.  Some writers absolutely need that feedback and it’s an essential part of the process.  And please always be honest.  You can say hard truths in kind ways.  But saying nothing doesn’t help.
As you can tell, there will now be a delay in the publication of the third book in the Pure Red Sand Series.  But you can still find the first two and catch up with Nadine and Sven while I try and make sure their stories come to a better end.
This post goes out to my beta reader for the third book.  They are very much appreciated.

Lost Nomad on a Literary Front

I lost a story the other day. Or at least I think I did. Or I never wrote it. All are possibilities.

I am a nomadic pack-rat. Yes, think about the consequences of that for a moment. In the last 11 years, I have moved twelve times. The longest I’ve ever lived somewhere is two years and during a year of that I was hardly ever home. Did I mention I have a “minor” addiction to books? Yes, ladies and gentlemen and those yet to decide, I have moved an awful lot of tattooed dead tree from one end of a country to the other and all over some cities. That’s a lot of transition. I guess it’s not surprising that I may have lost one story in recent memory. Perhaps it’s more impressive that I haven’t lost more.

So let’s take all that idea hopping in stride for a moment. Stories are the greatest part of my life. They always have been. I find escape in those black words typed in various fonts. I can see new places and lives. When I write them, I get to live them. I’ve been a man and a woman. I’ve been old and quite young. I have lived in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with bustling petticoats and vests and ties. I have been a captain on a spaceship and a mad woman hiding in a corner. I have put my everything into these people. Because if they are not real, if I cannot recognize them as friends of a sort, then how will others believe?

Maybe that brings us to the ideas of loss. How losing a story can shake my ground in a startling way. [Side note here: I have backed up things and printed things as often as possible. Organized and collected. I have also crashed three hard drives, killed two motherboards and wiped an external hard drive by turning it on. To say I have bad computer karma is an understatement. We won’t talk about the two floods of my office…] So, if you give parts of your soul to your creation, as every artist must, and lose it, how can you dismiss that? I don’t have an answer.

Maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll come back to me, buried at the bottom of a box or in a forgotten back up. There’s always hope to see them again. But I yearn for the day when that won’t have to be a possibility. When all my work can be in one place for more than months at a time. When my packrat skills no longer culminate in a horrifying moment of “I own how many boxes of books?!” (Only because I won’t need to pack them again. You can NEVER have too many books)

So here’s to a disconnected ramble, to loss and rediscovery and to finding a real home for me and all of my fictional friends.