More Words…

Writing isn’t always easy.  Sometimes it’s hard work and other times it’s as blissfully simple as breathing.  In the last couple of months, I’ve been working very hard. Unfortunately, to the cost of reaching out to you, to a lack of social media in general.  But I’ve done it because I believe that this is all making art. I might be silent but I trust that you understand the payout will be worth it. So here goes.

April 21, 2018 is the release date for Pure Red Sand: Uncomfortable Truths.

If you’ve read An Expensive Retreat, you will definitely have questions.  In this book, I’m going to answer some of them and create others. A little faster paced than the first book, in this one we’re going back to Earth.  This is a little snippet of what to expect. (I’ll try and post some more across social media leading up to the release.)

In this scene, Sven meets one of the medics from the hospital in Stalear to find out what happened to the 112 people who were left behind:

           She sat quietly for a moment but she still fidgeted with her coat and the edge of the table. When she looked up, some of the wariness had returned to her face. “Look, I’ve been well paid to keep my mouth shut and stay out of this mess. I have everything I need here. I won’t pretend that life is good because when you’ve seen what I have, you can’t live a normal life again. But it’s my life and it’s all I have. I’m starting to think this might have been a mistake.”

        “You keep saying that you want to talk about it. What will it take? I don’t have money. I told you everything I know about the abandonment and about your friends. You’re the one who agreed to this meeting. You contacted me. I’m here and listening.”

        She slumped back down but finally nodded. “Fine. What do you want to know?”

        “Everything you can tell me about the abandonment.”

She sat up straighter, glanced around the room, and rubbed her arms as if she were cold.     “Cameras?”

        “No. I randomly chose the room and did not take the first one they offered. I came here immediately. I will record your story on audio and take a couple of notes but there’s nothing secret. My datapad has a filter so no one can pick up the signal and the recording will be encrypted. This is as safe as I can make it and I’ve done it before. Are you willing?”

        “What do you know?”

Sven watched her for a minute. She was stalling and he couldn’t figure out what it was going to take. Everyone else had been willing to spill everything they knew from the second they came in. Maybe she would be more willing to talk to Nadine? Or was he just trying to get out of doing it alone?

        “Okay, this is how it works, Claire. You know you want to tell me everything. You can drag this out as long as you want but I can promise you, it’s never going to get any easier to live with until it’s out there.”

        “You can’t know that.”

        “You’re right. But I do know that’s what everyone else told me.” He gave her a moment. “Are you ready?” He was pushing her but he was so close to getting her story and to knowing what happened that he didn’t want to let it go.

        “You know what was left behind, don’t you?”

        “Yes.”

        “God, I hope we all rot in hell for this.” She took a deep, ragged breath, leaned forward to rest her arms on the table and began to speak slowly.

*

I’ve been working really hard on “Julianne” and I’m really excited about the progress I’m making.  I’ll try and share a little more of that project as it comes together. (I’m just past halfway to the finish.)  Plus, in September or October, you can look forward to the conclusion of Nadine’s story in “A Family Affair.”

There will also be at least two more titles coming in 2019.  More on those once I survive these.

Ottawa people – Stay tuned for news of a book launch in April.  As soon as I know more, I’ll let you know.

Newfoundland folks – I plan to be in your province in May.  I’ll arrange an event* to celebrate the first two books if there’s interest.

So now the ball is in your court.  If you want an event, let me know through email, facebook or twitter.  I want to hear from you lovely folks!

 

*Readings, Q&A period and anything else I can manage.

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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.

 

A Bad Case of “Then What Happened?”

Have you ever read a book that was so good, it was like a drug?  That you’ve found yourself doing chores one handed so you can keep reading.  Putting the book down just before going out the door and with deep reluctance?  I love those stories and when they’re that good, I feel like you can go back multiple times and the magic will still be there.

As requested after my last blog post, a little sample of some of my work.  This is the opening to a small series of interconnected short stories called “It was Supposed to be a Dream.”  They’re currently published as a chapbook, volume 1 in “The Collected Words.”

I remember the night I first met him.  It was so late and I was closing out the coffee shop.  I remember being weirded out by the feelings I got off him.  I normally get nothing off the living because they didn’t need me until after death.  But he felt empty.  The kind of empty that is an endless pit compared to normal puddles.  I didn’t say anything although he looked at me strangely.  I brought the young couple in front of him some pie.  She was one of the self-proclaimed wiccans of the town and he was a straitlaced youth.  I felt bad for her because I could tell he was in it for the kicks.  She was loudly explaining how there was more to the world than we know.  So I tried to do the right thing and support her.

“You have no idea,” I offered.

“This is a private conversation,” she responded coldly so I backed off.  Maybe she was more in tune than I gave her credit for, maybe she saw what I was trying to hide.  Maybe she didn’t want me honing in on her date.  Life gets complicated no matter which way you walk.  I just remember how Michael turned suddenly at my comment and the eyes behind his sunglasses seemed to drill into my back as I returned to the counter.  He followed me there, standing in all his cold, empty glory.

“You can see them, can’t you?” he asked hoarsely.

I didn’t know how he knew but I just agreed.

“Good.  I need your help.”

A Plea to the People

I have been silent for a long time.  That’s partially my fault and partially the consequence of moving, of going to school once again and keeping up a part time job…oh yes, and writing.  All those words that need to be recorded.

This morning, something very scary happened when a certain person was elected to power in a very influential country.  I’m not suggesting how anyone should feel about that one way or another.  But as a woman, with LGBTQ+ friends and relatives, I am scared.  As a living being on this planet, I am scared.

But one of the things that came to me this morning, while I was feeling a mix of fear and sadness, was how important our voices are and will be in the coming days.  More than ever, we need our artists, our musicians and our writers.  So I implore you to speak out for good things, for a better future.  Speak out against racism, homophobia, misogyny and everything else that makes all human being less than what we’re capable of.

And stay hopeful.  Always.

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.

Q & A with the Author

A few weeks ago I asked my readers if they had questions they wanted to ask about my world on Mars (from the novels Pure Red Sand: An Expensive Retreat and Uncomfortable Truths) or about writing in general. I promised to answer everything. So while I had few questions, I hope you might enjoy the answers.

A little background first. The Pure Red Sand world is very loosely based on a series of short stories that I wrote while in high school. There are few similarities between them and the books I have completed but they were definitely the spark.

  1. How difficult was it to build the world for your characters?

I’m more of a character driver writer than a place oriented one. I knew my characters to some degree from the stories. I looked around from their perspective and described where they were living. As the story developed, I found myself writing and imagining more and more of it. I think they grew at the same time, piece by piece as my people expanded into the community. I just have to remember to tell my readers what it looks like because sometimes I forget that they can’t see what I do.

  1. How early did you know this was going to be a trilogy instead of one book? Was it fully conceived as a trilogy from the start?

I can’t remember if the stories were supposed to be a trilogy or not. I’m not fond of sad endings so I suppose when Sven went back to Earth, there had to be a second one. They continue to show up in the background in some of the other stories I wrote later but it’s a very different world than I created at the end of the novel trilogy. A roundabout answer but I can’t remember if the stories were conceived as a trilogy but since they are, it made sense to have the books follow the same general framework.

  1. Who was your favourite minor character and why?

I found this a hard question to answer. I think I can narrow it down to two. Karl in a lot of ways. I identified with his slow process leading to a revealing moment when achievement or failure happened. He’s a supportive person and I see elements of myself in him (not intentional). Robin to a lesser degree but she’s already demanded her own book. I don’t like Louise but I’m intrigued by her decisions, about her continuing impact on the story. She was never meant to be more than a couple of lines in the first book. Instead she grew and became real in a sense. They’re not perfect but no real people are either.

  1. Why are there no cats on Mars?

I can think of two reasons for this but I’m not sure which is more accurate. The first is that human life was so cheap there. It’s hard to see animals thriving. The other option might be purely logistical. In the first chapter of book 3, Nadine and Anna talk about shipping from Earth to Mars and Anna complains that it takes six months for anything bigger than a loaf of bread. I imagine she’s exaggerating but when food is scarce and everything is hard to come by, maybe it wasn’t practical. Or it could just be the weather.

  1. Given the ongoing discoveries by the Mars Rover, how do you see our views on Mars changing?

I don’t know that they will change in their essence. I think we’re all hoping to set foot on that planet in the future. We learn new things about it all the time. I was excited about the discovery of water there too. Who knows, maybe I haven’t discovered my own version of humidity collectors out there yet. Nothing that has been discovered makes my world any more or less likely to exist. So I’m following it like everyone else. Mars is a very cool planet, fictionally or in reality.

  1. What drew you to write about Mars?

I don’t really have a good answer for that. I didn’t want to write in a historical period at the time because I was reluctant to get tied down by facts. Building my world on Mars let me imagine everything. That’s been both wonderful and terrible.

  1. If your books were turned into a major motion picture, who would play the main characters?

This is such a hard question to answer. I have the vaguest notion of what people look like. I’m more intimate with the inside of their heads. But I did my best and I have come up with two names that sort of have characteristics of my leads. I think Angel Coulby looks a little like Nadine and Alex Pettyfer looks a little like Sven. Neither is exact but I’m not sure you would ever find a real person like the ones in your head.

 

 

That’s all I have. I hope you’ve enjoyed the questions and answers and that you drop back to visit the blog again. If you want clarification or more detail on anything you’ve read on the blog, comment or send me a message on the facebook page. All the best!