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!

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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.

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.”

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.

Where are my women?

Where are my women?

I wrote this once before and got tied up in trying to find the right links, the right proof. But that’s not why I decided to write this blog. It’s not about the rights and wrongs of an issue. Please go out there and discover that for yourself, find your own opinions. I want to talk about my reaction to what I found, the world I live in and the cultures I find myself immersed in.

I wanted to talk about my women. Actually I’ve wanted to talk about them since the beginning. I was just too afraid/intimidated by it. In case you are wondering, very little has changed. So here’s the story that started it all.

Or not.

As you may be aware, if you’re following this blog, I’ve been writing for over two decades. Starting with poetry, then short stories and eventually accidently writing a novel. I know all the reasons why this will most likely remain a hobby. I have my own collection of rejection letters. But it never occurred to me that this had anything to do with my gender. This is just a struggle that all writers face.

Last summer I realized that my favourite stories of space were usually written by women or featured strong female leads. That’s not really surprising. As a woman who writes stories of determined women and has largely worked in a male dominated field, I identify with them. So I went to the local chain bookstore with a mission. I was going to look at all the female authors and find a new character to enjoy. The key words here were all and disappointed. There were over twenty shelves of science fiction alone. All the female authors were five (not including the ones that were gender neutral).

Okay, I can be pragmatic. I lived in a relatively conservative community. It probably reflected the interests of the people. It sucked but it was understandable. Months later I found myself in the capital city of the country in a much larger bookstore…and faced the same problem. A little general interest research revealed that only 20% of published science fiction writers are women.

I don’t have a solution to what I see as a problem. Maybe it isn’t one, a reflection of population interests. It wouldn’t be the first time I was in a minority and I could be okay with that. What I’m afraid of is that there are women writers (and any other gender combination) who want to talk and aren’t being heard. I can’t be the only one writing their heart out on endless papers and screens. I don’t believe I’m alone out here.

“If you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, write it” –Beverly Cleary

What do you think?

 

 

Next time:

I’m hosting a special blog later this month. I’ve published two novels on Amazon through their KDP program. This is your chance to ask any questions you might have about those books or writing in general. I’ll do my best to answer them all. Go to the facebook page (www.facebook.com/mnegrijn) and leave a question under the post. I’d love to hear from you!