Broken Promises and Learning to Breathe

I promised readers two books before the end of December.  (Sorry, that’s running into 2019)  I had my first real bout of writer’s block this year.  It was like every sentence I eked out took a part of myself.  Layers of muscle and blood to create a paragraph.  It was slow and painful.  I worried that I would never find “the flow” again.  That maybe I was done, had written everything I was allowed.  Or maybe I’d wasted my time and that had finally run out.  To say I was worried was an understatement.  To the point where I even stopped writing this post…for a whole month.

Okay.  Perspective.  I’ve got a bit more now.  There’s lots of things I could say about this process.  That you can’t rush it.  That I can’t write anything soul stretching to a deadline.  Mostly, I want to tell you that I’ve learned to breathe.  No, I’m not going to have two more books ready this year. You’ll have to be patient with me a little longer if you’re one of the people waiting.  What I can promise you is that I am continuing to give my all.  Despite an intense new job and dealing with mental illness, I’m writing.  Because to not write would be like not breathing.  We all know how that ends.  So I’ll keep writing and, hopefully, you’ll keep reading.

I have a little treat to help tide you over.  The following is the first page of Pure Red Sand: A Family Affair (Coming 2019).  There will also be some of Julianne in the next few weeks.

Questions?  Thoughts?  Encouragement?  Please reach out!

 

The wind swept across the red desert as it had for millions of years before humans had ever alighted and would continue to do so for millions of years after the last traces of their civilization had been consumed by the sand.  The haze faded from the horizon for a brief moment, exposing no footsteps but the traces of tire marks on the rockier patches leading to the horizon.  The wind drifted along this artificial trail, winding amongst the rocks and gathering sand up only to leave it to rest again. It settled on the rocks, on the trail and finally on the hands that reached up in silent vigil to the sky. Weathered and dried to mere husks, the remains of humanity at the bottom of the ravine might have been a final reminder of what was to come until the wind blew again and obscured them from sight.

 

Chapter One:

Nadine jerked awake.  There was violence, something burning.  Where was Sven?!  There was pain and she couldn’t move. She needed to move, get away.  She blinked against the quickly dissipating vision and realized she could only see out of her left eye, staring at a bright white light. She blinked the tears away and finally made out a moving wall.  Walls don’t move.  She tried to speak but her mouth was dried out and there was a tube there.  What had they done to her?  Had the men from Earth finally tracked her down?  Trying to spit it out, she gagged instead.  Then there was a strange woman in a medic uniform over her.  The woman’s teeth shone brightly against her dark skin as she smiled and said something in a reassuring tone but Nadine couldn’t quite make it out.  She didn’t feel any calmer.  Then everything went black again.

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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!

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.

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!