Monday, May 31, 2010

Good (and not so good) Ideas from the Masses

It was Memorial Day and I still had to work (the Census never stops), so I was a little bummed out. But, I only worked half a day so I decided to pay a little visit to a nice little German town called Helen, north of Atlanta (about 105 minutes).

It was a nice drive (except for the intermittent rain and for the torrential downpour on the way home that turned a two-hour trips into a 4.5-hour trip). Scenic. No traffic jams.

I got plenty of stares and not just because I was a black man so far from Atlanta. I had my Navy hat on and some people remembered the men and

[caption id="attachment_2653" align="alignright" width="150" caption="USS Blue Ridge (GO NAVY!)"][/caption]

women who made tremendous sacrifices so we can read this enchanting little blogs on Wicked Writers.

Anyway, I struck up several conversations with people and got some amazing reactions when I informed them that I was an author. It really is true that everyone is a writer, but most will never be published, though it was nice to hear their dreams.

I decided to write a few of them down (as I had naught but a pen and notepad with me) and share them with you (the names are not full to protect the innocent):

Steven B., Cornelia, GA: My idea for a story came from when I was the star pitcher for my little league team. I was pitching in my fifteenth game without allowing a runner of mine to score. I never thought about what kind of achievement that was until my own son broke my personal mark. Imagine that. All these years later. Like father, like son. I should have written it down for my kid. One of these days, I’ll get around to writing all of this down for my grandkids, I guess.

(Poignant story. And it was true. Except that, according to his wife, Steve was a relief pitcher who the coach brought in to face one or two batters. And, though he didn’t allow any of the guys he put on base to score, he let every inherited run cross the plate. Still, it was his memory, something he could share with his kid and why should a guy like me try to mess it up)

Jolie, Savannah, GA: No, she isn’t French. She was named after Angelina and just moved to Georgia from Oregon. She wants to be a cook like Rachel Ray and Paula Deen. She may have to expand her horizons, though. She was sure that she could make a cookbook of nothing but recipes using peaches. She had the most scrumptious idea for peach cobbler that she was sure would go over well. If only we hadn’t been in GEORGIA, home of the Peach Bowl, I could have imagined her name on Food Network.

Eddie Q: A most intriguing man. He hails from Jamaica and is thoroughly disgusted with how his government  screwed up bringing drug kingpin Christopher Coke. But, he had a recommendation for my library once he heard that I wrote horror and science fiction:

My friend, you should really read Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction. Very funny stories. And many scary stories with ghosts. No, no, I would never write one myself. I get goosebumps just thinking of them. Take care, mon (sic).

Note: Alas, the book (full title: Whispers from the Cotton Tree Root: Caribbean Fabulist Fiction, edited by Nalo Hopkinson ) is currently out of stock on Amazon, but I hope to get a copy soon. The description has me salivating

And finally, we have Cuke (yeah, something about liking cucumbers or something; don’t the nicknames your friends give you really suck sometimes?). I got his stuff recorded on my iPod, so these are really his words:

Cuke: Yeah, buddy. You really a writer? Hey, listen here. I got me a great story, much better’n(sic)  what them sissy boys in Hollywood keep putting out. Jesus, hallelujah, what’n (sic) hell do people see in them “Sex and the City” gals? Ain’t got no bodies. They need to get on down here to Georgia, see ‘em some real women.

(There is actually a point to this whole thing. Bear with me)

Cuke: I got me this idea for a good book. Would make a helluva good movie, too. See, there’s this woman, she’s trying to hold down the farm ‘cuz her man is killed in a farming accident. Some other men come looking for her, trying to take the land for some big corporation, but she won’t sell. So, they try to force her only to realize that she ain’t no ordinary housewife. She is actually a secret agent whose memory was erased, but realizes who she is in time to save her family from the bad guys. She then goes after the evil corporation that wants her farm, only to discover they’re a bunch of terrorists let into the country by their pal Oba…eh, I mean Osama (apparently Cuke just realized I was black). She has to stop them singlehandedly from destroying the whole country.

I done based her on some of the best-looking women in my life. I imagine she’d be like Angelina Jolie, mixed with Cindy Rock and one of them Asian chicks. Y'know, from that movie with all the people getting beat up with karate or something. Think that’d sell in Hollywood?”

[caption id="attachment_2649" align="alignleft" width="140" caption="Angelina Jolie +"][/caption]

(I hated to disappoint Cuke by pointing out that: 1) the housewife sounds like Geena Davis in “Long Kiss Goodnight,” 2) that he probably meant Cynthia Rothrock and [ insert name of Asian "chick" ] and 3) that none of those women comes from Georgia. But, I didn’t because the conversation when the women in his life – his wife and teenage daughters – walked up. It was obviously that none of them

[caption id="attachment_2651" align="aligncenter" width="122" caption="Cynthia Rothrock +"][/caption]

was the basis for his housewife-cum-secret agent, but I didn’t rock the boat.

[caption id="attachment_2652" align="alignright" width="112" caption="Some Asian chicks = bad news for Cuke"][/caption]

Did not want to get hit by the blood when they landed on Cops.)

*  *  *  *  *                   *  *  *  *

All I could really say afterward was that, as writers, we should never run out of ideas. If we do, we can just ask the general public. They’re a goldmine of ideas -- well, most of the time.

Music to Publishing - Will it Be the Same?

I'm late posting today because we had some friends over last night for a get together and talking to one of my guests was crucial to today's post. My neighbor, Andy, has been pretty heavy into the music industry for his entire working career.  I thought his opinion and insights into how the industry evolved could really be helpful to this week's topic which is sharing our opinions and thoughts on the publishing industry.

What does our future hold? Will ereaders and reading on the go through phones be the wave of the future? Will books in print become obsolete?

Talking to Andy really opened my eyes up. What I don't know about most current topics and news could fill a library, it has just never been my focus since my children were born. But that doesn't mean I don't care, and don't get interested when news is shared.

Our conversation started with me explaining my topic and then asking if I was right in assuming that all the songs I hear on the radio are produced by big name record labels (comparing them in my mind to the NY publishing houses). He explained that yes, they were all done by large labels.  Well then, doesn't that mean music is still big?

Not exactly. He went on to tell me that music as a medium is going the wayside, that it competes too often for people's attention over gaming, texting, downloading apps and what have you. There is too much access to not only music, but to everything that can capture one's attention.

We went on to discuss Digital Rights Management (DRM) and how it failed within the music industry. Once one "free" music site opens up, it's shut down and another springs up in its place. There is less money being made because everyone can get the music for free. The CD has been devalued because of piracy and even though the industry tried by protecting digital rights and developing aspects to ensure musicians don't lose out, they still do.

Big labels in music sounds a lot like big names in publishing.  Andy even went on to compare them to banks. Saying something witty and insightful along the lines of, "They don't support people who need it, they basically go after the least risk." Translating into if the band has a thousand people show up for performances, has marketed themselves successfully for years and basically proven themselves, then they are indeed worthy of the attention of a large label.

With the advent of Pro-tool, people can produce great sound in their own basement. But, like self-publishing a book, that does not make them true musicians. Don't get me wrong, there is a glutton of good music out on the market. But without the backing and money a large name is willing to put behind these artists, they are likely never heard.

So many wait to be "discovered" or "found" in any industry. But even reaching that first hurdle and getting signed by a large label, similar to getting a NY contract, does not ensure success. Money is not as generously poured on a new artist when they have a stable of producing artists that they also need to support. It's still better than a stick in the eye, but my point here is that even then success is not guaranteed.

We're getting more regional stars - fewer superstars. More modern stars with day jobs. The music industry is still scrambling to keep up, and unfortunately, may have made some missteps it will never recover from. I see the publishing industry doing the same thing - struggling to keep up and find a balance.

What does the future hold?  I'm not sure, but one thing Andy said to me when we talked really struck a chord. He was explaining to his daughter why some of the music he shares with all his children, their friends will never have heard of. He talked about not waiting to be discovered, waiting for some knight in shining armor to come with a big bag of money, because it doesn't always happen. That instead "The story must be told."

In other words, make your success. Don't wait on being found or being discovered. Work as hard as you can to tell your story and to be heard. That is what will make or break any one in any business. You make your own future. Tell your own story.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Vampires as an Academic Study?

Please welcome Bertena Varney to Wicked! She and I met this winter on Facebook and I've been amazed at the reviews and things she's been able to accomplish since I made her acquaintance. She loves everything vampires, a topic close to my own heart, and has made it a point to become educated on the lore and history surrounding them (much more so than I can claim, I just make stuff up). She writes reviews and opinions on her website, for the locals as Lexington's Vampire Examiner, as the Paranormal Literature Examiner, and for Associated Content.

Last January I found myself nearing completion of yet another college degree. I had already completed the Master’s that I wanted (Sociology and Criminology) but as a certified teacher in Kentucky it’s required that one must complete a Master’s in Education as well.

I complied and before the last semester I found that there were no more education, history, or sociology classes offered. My only choice was an independent concentration on a subject that would involve lots of writing. I knew one thing at the time—after all the boring papers in college — that I HATED to write. I also knew that I would have to ask a professor to do the independent study with me— something they do not get paid for. After a long story, I found one that agreed and instructed me to return the first week of class with my topic, theory, and academic resources.

I went home and thought about what do I like so much that I can spend a whole semester just studying it? I looked around my house and saw vampire movies, vampire books, vampire pictures, etc. So, I thought, what have I watched, read and enjoyed since I was five years old? What would be an enjoyable assignment that would make this writing assignment not so bad? The answer was clear- vampires! Vampires?

I began to clear my mind of all the negative thoughts that I had heard my entire life. I sat quietly and just let the ideas come in and as they did I wrote them down— Dark Shadows, Buffy, Vlad, Bram Stoker, etc.— and began to research what these names had in common. I found that they were part of a true academic study called Popular Culture. At that moment the light went on and I thought, “I will do an academic study on the vampire” …and of course I responded back to myself, “Yeah right! She’s really going to fall for that!”

I decided I was going to convince her by making a list of popular vampire books, movies, television shows, comics, and cartoons. I then took that list and began researching it with popular culture and came across hundreds of academic articles including one on the Whedon Studies Association. WSA is an academic association that studies all things Joss Whedon- including his two vampire shows- Buffy and Angel.

After that I found a professor at Ohio University, Dr. Anita Blessing, and a graduate student, Amanda Hobson, who claim to be “vampire experts” and have even taught classes and workshops around the country. I wrote to them about my fear of being taken seriously in the academic field and how I should address the topic. Dr. Blessing said that she had had the same situation and advised I should say I study the cultural effects of vampires in pop culture on the culture. She was, of course, correct.

When the first meeting with my professor came, I entered her office quite scared. I had everything that she asked plus the brochures of the academic studies around the country, Ms. Blessing’s emails, and a Pop Culture Association and WSA membership application. I fumbled through these and tried to explain to her my idea—and failed! She asked me to stop and she said, “Look at me like I am your friend and tell me what you are thinking.” I did what she suggested, tried again, and her reply was, “I've never heard of such a thing. But you have a passion for it, you know the subject, and that is what academic research is about—passion for a topic and sharing it and the new knowledge that you find with the world. So yes, you may make this part of your academic concentration in this program.” YES!

The result of my hard work was a paper entitled, “The Search for the Lure of the Vampire.” It is a sociological study on the following topics: The Use of Vampires as Religious Icons, The Use of Vampires as a Socialization Tool, and the Lure of the Dead Boyfriend, a study in the rise of vampire literature.

In the end I found that once I began writing about something that I enjoyed, I no longer hated writing. I actually enjoyed writing about something in which I was passionate. However, I also found that many people do not share the same view as I do. Many do not understand what I am doing is a true academic study of why vampires have entered our culture over and over again.

Now I am a writer for with the title Lexington Vampire Examiner, where I write about vampires in pop culture. I also speak at conferences such as the Sirens Conference and The Witching Hour and am currently organizing my own academic and fan conference- A Day of Mystical Blood Lust. It is a day of events about supernatural creatures such as vampires, werewolves, faeries, angels, etc which ends with a Halloween Ball.

So, remember that whether you make your interest a hobby or a study— it is yours to make it what you want it to be for yourself. Listen to your muse and write and study what you love.

You can also find Bertena on Twitter and you can reach her via email at:

Thank you so much for blogging with us here today, Bertena. I know whom I'll be calling when I have any questions about vampires! The day of events schedule in Lexington for Mystical Blood Lust sounds like a blast and if there is anyway I can swing coming you know I will!

In honor of our week on Muse and Inspiration we're running another contest. A 500 word flash-fiction piece inspired by the writing prompt:

An Unexpected Death

First prize will be having your entry critiqued by one member of the team,  posted here on Wicked for the world to enjoy, and the DVD collection of True Blood Season Two!  Second place will be a critique as well, a posting here on Wicked and a $10 gift certificate for the book of your choice at

**Contest runs until June 6th so listen to your muse and get cracking!**

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Muse in...

OK, so what has a Muse got to do with my writing? Is there really some external force, controlled by a goddess (is that one, three, or nine?) or spirit (presumably also female) who is the source of all knowledge feeding my imagination with poetic lyricism and myth?

[caption id="attachment_2625" align="alignright" width="127" caption="Such a lot of inspiration!"][/caption]

Sorry girls (and I am trying my best to be politically correct here), but I can think of those lovely ladies I have seen or met in my life that might warrant the title goddess… but I would hardly credit them with my inspiration. Although, no doubt, I could easily write them into my stories if I chose too! But that, as they say, is another story!

And what of my inspiration? Is it really an unconscious burst of creativity within my literary endeavour? Google the word “inspiration” and you can quickly find a rough etymology… literally “breathed upon”. Is there some goddess breathing upon me, bringing life to my ideas?

I think not!

[caption id="attachment_2626" align="alignleft" width="93" caption="Did my Muse mention divorce?"][/caption]

While I might welcome the breath of the odd goddess (or two)… (Oops – I digress!), I can hardly rely on such attentions to feed my artistic craving to create! Now can I? If I did, I would be beholden to external forces and subject to all the inevitable frustrations that can occasionally creep into any relationship, no matter how well founded.

Just think… sat around waiting for my Muse to turn up when she is otherwise engaged in some politically correct level of her own equality-driven creative activity – unable to attend to my particular needs… or sat around waiting for her hair to dry, so that she appears in her best possible form… I could imagine any reason as justification for writer’s block.

No! For the time being at least (until such time as I actually find my Muse, though I refuse to look for her) I take inspiration. I do not receive it. I am alive. I do not need life breathing into me. I take life, as I see it, and mould it into my vision.

[caption id="attachment_2627" align="alignright" width="150" caption="Hanging Out!"][/caption]

So, as I spent the last few days without my trusty laptop, unable even to write this post in advance of my deadline, I had the opportunity to sit in Covent Garden, in London. This is a fantastic place to visit – full of street buskers and artists vying for attention and pleasing crowds of visitors with their performances. I sat at a table, with a glass of sparking water, thinking “…this is a good place to write something”.

Out came pen and paper and I looked around.

I had no time to wait for a Muse to catch me up – where had she been all day?


I simply marvelled at the lime-green cloth on my table; caught the eye of the elderly lady who changed her table position so that she could see what I was up to; listened to a Japanese musician playing his Sho; watched the heaving, bustling crowds as they passed into the Market from the adjoining street… I did all these things and took inspiration from them to write a scene for the sequel to River of Judgement.

And never once did I hear anyone telling me what to write – that comes later, when the editor’s pen comes out. And whether the editor is female or male, I shall listen, then – because their role is not about creativity and inspiration but about technique and style. And that, as they say, is another story!

Muse and Inspiration - Do You have Any?

I'm pleased to introduce the multi-published Cheryl K. Tardif. Cheryl and I met in a huge national writing contest last fall. She was supportive and unfailingly polite to a veritable newbie like me, which was just golden during that hectic time. The more I learn about Cheryl - from her book marketing, her diverse writing abilities, reading her blog, to her books being studied in class - I'm simply astounded. I only hope that someday I can accomplish what this author has and I'm eternally grateful she liked my work enough to put her name out there supporting me.

As a writer, I find inspiration in everything I see, hear, touch, smell, taste and do, and I encourage other writers to look for signs of the muse. If you’ve ever met someone who has shared a part of their life with you and their tale has resulted in a thought of: “Wow, that would make a great book”, that’s your inner muse talking. Sometimes something you see--like two people having an argument in a restaurant--might trigger inspiration in the form of: “What if a wife is plotting to kill off her husband after a romantic dinner?” Okay, not everyone’s mind works that way, but mine sure does.

If I asked you to write down ten things you saw today, could you turn them into a story plot? If you’re an aspiring author, I bet you could. I know I could. If you told me about something that happened in your past, I know it would send my muse into overdrive. My massage therapist told me about a detour she took to a strange little town and the creepy hotel she visited. I’m now writing a suspense/horror novel about my version of what’s going on there. If I allowed her to, my muse would be constantly whispering novel plots in my ear. As it is, I can barely shut her up, so I keep files on strong ideas.

If I was to ever run out of plots--and I honestly can’t see that ever happening--I’d only have to listen to the evening news for five minutes to become inspired by a story idea. While most people dwell on the facts of what they hear, a writer’s mind ventures into What-if-land. What if the bank robber stole the money because someone is holding his family hostage? What if that car crash involved a famous actor who is being stalked by a delusional fan? What if that tornado was really a black hole and everyone was sent to an alternate universe? And that’s just the news!

As a child, I had a deep love for killer whales. Every time we went to the Vancouver Aquarium, I wanted to jump right in with Skana and swim with her. Today, I’d probably have second thoughts, but I still dream of swimming with orcas. This led to my critically acclaimed, bestselling novel Whale Song. As a teen, I was interested in the paranormal--ghosts, psychics, strange happenings. This led me to write the first in my paranormal suspense series, Divine Intervention, a novel about psychic government agents searching for serial killers. Back in 2004, my mother told me about a friend who wanted to go down some river where people kept disappearing. This led me to wonder where those people went, what happened to them, and my thriller The River was born.

Your muse is that inner voice that speaks to you in dreams or thoughts, that helps you see a potential plot, even in the simple things. Inspiration can be found anywhere, but the most important thing for a writer to know is this: Your muse will help you find inspiration, but only when your mind is open to the search.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif is an award-winning, bestselling Canadian author who writes suspense and some YA. “I kill people off for a living,” she likes to tell people. When she’s not plotting a character’s demise, Cheryl is delving into her romantic side as Cherish D’Angelo, her pseudonym for her new romantic suspense. Cherish’s debut romance, Lancelot’s Lady, will be released September 27th, 2010.

Thanks so much for blogging with us today here at Wicked, Cheryl! I wish you much success with your upcoming romance title and we look forward to having you blog with us again as the release date draws closer. Readers interested in learning more about Cheryl can find her on Twitter and Facebook. You can read an excerpt and buy her work at these locations online: Kobobooks, Smashwords, and Amazon.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A-mused and Be-mused

Sometimes I wish I could have a muse like Mira Sorvino, like Woody Allen had in Mighty Aphrodite. I also wish I could have a muse as intelligent as Ayn Rand, like Aldous Huxley did (or whoever it is that is narrating those confusing Levi’s jeans commercials).

But, I don’t.

Not because I can’t find any, but because I’m much too shallow.

My muse is the medium itself. As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, I was heavily influenced by Creature Double Feature. I still collect the kinds of  movies that appeared on the anthology. I was also influenced and inspired by Star Trek, Space: 1999 and In Search Of…

As I’ve aged, though, I’ve expanded my range of muses.

While I still find inspiration in movies like The Adventures of Captain Marvel and Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow, I now take my cues more from everyday life. If I see something on the news, I suddenly try to spin it in a different way for a story. I can hear people talking about something as simple as beauty products and I’ll find a short story about it.

For example, all those teenage girls gossiping about Twilight nearly made me gag and inspired me to go old school with Hunters.

My muses tend to be a mixed bag. I'll take a guy like Woody Strode (Sergeant Rutledge) or Noble Johnson (Most Dangerous Game), toss in Minority Report and add a dash of the run-up to the Gulf War, shake it all around until I get dizzy and then start typing.

Now, like CJ, I do have that voice in my head, giving me plot points and helping me flesh out details. Relatives and friends – eh, I mean friend – often think I’m losing it when I talk to myself. I’m simply talking out a story, examining all aspects.

Lots of people talk to themselves. It’s normal. Heck, I’ll bet many even answer themselves in different voices.

Right? Eh, right?

You know what? I’d better end this right here before I get myself committed.

For those who were expecting a traditional selection of muses, please enjoy the following montage of some who have greatly inspired my thoughts (and dreams).

Muse Says What?

This week we're going to be blogging about muse and inspiration. We've got guest blogger Cheryl K. Tardif joining us on Wednesday and vampire-reviewer extraordinaire, Bertena Varney, on Friday. Come join us this week for a fun-filled line up and news about our next contest.

Anyone who's been reading this blog for any length of time has certainly seen me talk about my newness to this whole writing shtick.  When I first started conversing online with other writers, I met some that referred to their muse like it was another person:

"My muse took over and I had a back seat to whatever flowed on the page."

"No matter what I tried, my muse was kicking and screaming, determined the scene would go this way."

"My muse has been silent for a while."

I scratched my head for a bit trying to piece this stuff together. Were they making it sound like their muse was a separate personality inside their head, or was I crazy? I seriously didn't get it.

Being a no-nonsense type of science geeky-chick, I thought perhaps they were being slightly eccentric. Hey, and my family is from The South. I know eccentric. I'm not sure whom it was that finally explained to me that it meant a person's imagination.

And even then I didn't quite get it. I watched a movie ages ago where a painter called an actress in the film, Sharon Stone, his muse. If she was his muse then what was in his head? In that instance they meant she was his inspiration.

Recently, I had an interview where I was asked who or what inspires me to write. I thought of that movie and I figured, well, no one. I have lots of people who encourage me, but no one person I can point to and say they inspire me to write.

Sure, I get ideas everywhere. How can one look around their immediate world and not find ideas for characters, setting, and possible story ideas?

This writing gig is pretty solitary. No one makes me write but me. I think some of us have conversations in our head when we may be working on dialogue for too long and we then name that our muse. I'm not sure.

I don't refer to my inner thoughts and plotting as my muse. It's just me. I don't have an idea of how I want the story to go and then claim the characters made me write it another way. Um, hello? It's in my head. You can damn well bet that is one place things are going to go exactly like I want.

If I haven't built the scene up to make the characters actions plausible to go as I envisioned, then I need to re-work the scene until it flows the way I planned it. Maybe it's my art background. Maybe because my imagination is so fully a part of my everyday life— from what I cook, how I decorate, to how I plan out a party— that perhaps I don't sense the separation as distinctly as some writers do.

Or perhaps I don't feel the need to make a part of myself a third person and talk about them like they're real. I have so many ideas I often find it hard to sleep at night. But that's been most of my life, not just when I started writing.

What about you? Do any of you feel the same why I do about this Muse business or do you have some alter ego talking to you inside your head? Please share, I'd love to know.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Taking a Break

In preparation for today’s post, I took a look back at my first one from when Wicked Writers launched in January. Back then, I had no idea what a blog even was. Five months in, and these weekly deadlines are a blast, in particular hearing from our beloved readers.

One of the goals I’d set back in January, though, was to land an agent this year and, in my rush to meet that deadline, I’ve been rushing myself into a tizzy. I haven’t had enough bandwidth for anything, least of all to relax and just enjoy the ride. Too often, I tell my kids, “right after this call” or “right after this deadline,” yet one of the main reasons I no longer work in an office is no, not all the oodles of money we’ve banked (not), but so I could devote more attention and energy to the little ones, first and foremost. They grow up too fast and I’m already feeling the bittersweet passage of time.

As well, blogging is a platform, and in the excitement of having one, I’ve suddenly spread myself in a multitude of directions, neglecting to keep in mind that the platform supports the product. So before I can realize my goal of landing an agent, some things need to change.

For one thing, I need to get organized and find my center. That means staying focused, stop making excuses, don’t try to do it all, and learn to enjoy some stillness. In the short run, that means taking a break from blogging. I know, not the end of anyone’s world, but it’s a shame to have to give up something I enjoy with a talented bunch of authors whom I admire. Much thanks to the Wicked Writers for allowing me the wonderful opportunity to blog with them this year. And to you readers for listening to what I had to say and sharing your own thoughts with me.

For now, I'll step back, finish polishing that manuscript and get those queries out. I'm not leaving cyberspace altogether. You can still find me on Facebook and occasionally on Twitter. I'd love to see you there. Stay in touch.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Finding time to write? …Time? …What time?

Apparently (and this is the philosopher in me) there are two distinct viewpoints on time – at least according to Wikipedia. (Oops, did I mention that particular research tool?)

You might belong to the camp that believes time is part of the fundamental make up of our universe. In this camp sit those of you who believe that time is a measure that allows for events to occur in sequence. The “schedule” says I have a blog post to write on “Finding Time to Write”! This post, for example, comes in sequence after those of my fellow writers. But there are only so many days between one post and another – a finite measure in which I have to allocate a proportion of my activities during those days to write said post!

[caption id="attachment_2544" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="The problem with time..."][/caption]

Oh! And I have so many other activities to complete within these days… how could I possibly “find” time to write a blog post – let alone continue with writing my second novel!

Some chance!

Like Greg, after a period of enforced “light work”, I now find myself back in the corporate world and faced with more activities than I can possibly sequence comfortably within the schedule before me.

[caption id="attachment_2543" align="alignright" width="114" caption="Time is no friend to art..."][/caption]

If time is real and measureable, time cannot be elastic and perhaps we should not feel so bad if we cannot “find” time to “fit” in the writing. There are so many other things that also need to be done… we cannot control time. I am excused. I cannot find the time!

Oh, but there is the weekend, you might observe! Should I not find time in this schedule at an early stage, during the weekend, when I might have fewer activities on the go?

What… and risk writing something that, by the time it comes to publish, I find has already been covered by my fellow writers? (What a challenge it is to find something to follow the great posts of C.J., Greg and Supriya!)

The opposing view is held by those in the “time is not real” camp… Could time possibly be neither an event nor a thing? If it was, time would not, itself, be measurable. (And neither could it be travelled… but I am not a Science Fiction writer, so enough of the time-travel thingy!)

[caption id="attachment_2545" align="alignleft" width="98" caption="What (is) time?"][/caption]

If time is not real, it cannot be measured and, as such, surely it would be impossible to find! So, no time, no problem… I am excused!

Now, to me, this is a much more exciting way to think about things! If time is not real, then perhaps the activities we are dealing with – such as writing – are not real… Now there’s a thought (and have I lost my mind? you ask).

Consider that the act of putting pen on paper – is that writing? What about pressing keys on a key board? Is that writing? Is scratching a mark on a slate with a piece of chalk writing? If all these activities are writing, could not even the act of thinking a word be writing? I’d say so!

But thinking is not real! It is as real as time. And, for the sake of this post, it allows me to go blindly through my week, saying “…Look! I am “writing”…  In fact, I do so much “thinking-writing” during the working week that I can’t afford to buy enough paper to write it all out on (even if I could find the time).

And, as I sit here with an hour to go before my self-imposed deadline for writing this post, I finally crystallise only some of the “thought-writing” I have been “doing” all week, by tapping for an hour on the key board.

And I can tell you, it works for me.  I write so much in my head during the week that when it comes to having the opportunity to type or put pen to paper, then the words flow easily! And what does it matter if I have forgotten most of what I have written in the past week, anyway! I can easily write thousands more words next week!

Happy writing… :)

Guest Blogger: Crime Fiction Around the World

As the Wicked Writers make time to write this week, you may be looking for a good book to take along for this summer's vacation. Glenn Harper, founder of the International Noir Fiction blog and editor of Sculpture magazine, has a few juicy recommendations. He's a pro at mining the treasure trove of international crime fiction, and below, he offers up a sampling of a few of his current favorites. Browse through until you find your location of choice, or like me, pack a whole lot of books. Enjoy!

I read crime novels while I ride the Metro to and from work every day, about 30 minutes each way. The train passes through new suburbs, old suburbs, and warehouse districts, passes by a cement factory, empty buildings covered in graffiti, a graveyard of buses and trolleys, a brightly colored church dome, and the backs of run-down row houses before passing into a railyard and a tunnel and then underneath downtown Washington, D.C. What I'm reading, though, transports me instead to all the continents, to exotic cities and threatening slums. Along the way, crime fiction gives me insights into the daily lives of people I'll never meet who share something with the commuters surrounding me on the train but also possess experiences that are absolutely unique. They demonstrate that international crime novels offer much more than an escapist tour guide to cities around the world. The novels described below—drawn from the last six months of my blog reviews—vividly investigate the social and cultural realities of the character’s lives and their diverse social milieu (on every continent except Antarctica), as much as they investigate the crimes that are their ostensible subject.

South Africa: The compression of time and action in Deon Meyer's 13 Hours is so condensed that the narrative is propulsive and addictive. Benny Griessel, who has been a major and a minor character in previous Meyer stories, is now an official "mentor" to a group of young black and mixed race police detectives (the new wave of police in the new South Africa), and is tiptoeing around his mandate to guide them without taking over their cases. Griessel oversees two cases, each full of violence, politics, social observation, police procedure, and vivid characters. While one plot drives forward with motion rather than mystery, the other is more of a puzzle, and the cops involved in these separate tracks use quite different techniques and skills in the pursuit to which they are assigned, another testament to Meyer's command of the material and the genre.

China: The followup to Diane Wei Liang's The Eye of Jade from a couple of years ago is a more assured novel though it retains the mixture of family, politics, and melancholy from the first book. The tone of Paper Butterfly has something in common with another Chinese emigre crime writer, Qiu Xiaolong, and perhaps it is the approximation of Chinese culture and speech that is the source of the similarity. Tiananmen Sqauare lies behind Liang’s characters' stories and motivations (and also is important to Liang’s own history). The second Mei Wang will keep you turning the pages with interesting characters, plot, and politics.

France: Dominique Manotti sets each of her crime novels in a particular historical milieu of late-20th-century France. Her most recent novel to be translated into English, Affairs of State, is set in 1985 and deals with the political and social conditions of the late Mittérand administration. The main characters (among a large cast) are a North African female cop (doubly unwelcome by other officers) and a pro-American leftist who is a behind-the-scenes advisor to the president. The plot deals with the international arms trade (specifically involving Iran, under an embargo at the time because of the Iran-Iraq war), a high-end brothel, competition among police and intelligence services, murder (deliberate and accidental), and the impossibility of prosecuting certain people for crimes ranging from prostitution to murder (because of their political influence). It's a terse, short book with few sympathetic characters and with sudden changes of direction and no simple or pat conclusion. Manotti demonstrates how a crime novel can effectively incorporate social events and political realities without sacrificing the story, as well as how a noir story can deeply investigate social circumstances.

Australia: Adrian Hyland's Emily Tempest is a half-Aboriginal woman who grew up in the Outback, left it to travel the world, and is now back. The mythologies of her Aboriginal friends and relatives are particularly important: in Gunshot Road, maps are a particular focus, and not only those graphed on paper, along with a legendary figure who apparently buried under a collapsed mountain years before. Emily has been hired as a kind of auxiliary police officer, and only occasionally in touch with the people of her village (where much of the crucial action took place in Hyland’s first novel, Moonlight Downs). She's adrift, and uncertain about which of the townspeople, miners, suspect, police, victims—and even a Chinese artist—she can trust. The story is a rich adventure with occasional violent action. The series reveals a very different facet of the Australian experience from the others in the crop of the current, remarkable burst of creativity in Australian crime.

Brazil: Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s Alone in the Crowd, like all the author’s novels, follows the chief of a police precinct in Rio near the city’s famous beaches, and in this case, we get a bit more of Espinoa (whose childhood is related to the case at hand). Garcia-Roza’s novels offer portraits of personal flowing from the personality and life-history of the characters. Alone in the Crowd moves slowly, as the suspect ruminates on his love of walking in the middle of the city’s crowds and the detective puzzles over the crime, the suspect, and forgotten incidents of childhood. Espinosa pursues small-scale, personal crimes and meditates on their meaning, with the favela/slums of Brazil held at some distance, only briefly mentioned, unlike the more violent novels of Brazil by Leighton Gage; perhaps we need both in order to have some chance of understanding that culture, in its realities, potentials, and dangers.

Canada: Sandra Ruttan's Nolan, Hart, and Tain series has been unusual in several respects, including the balance among the three central characters, RCMP detective-constables assigned to Canada's Southwestern corner. But another important aspect of the series has been the substantial, unexplained backstory of the first case that the three worked on together, a case that has cast a shadow over them from the first novel, What Burns Within, uniting and dividing them at the same time. With the third volume, Lullaby for the Nameless, Ruttan uses multiple timelines to carry the story of Nolan, Hart, and Tain forward while also going back to the "myth of origin," the case that first brought them together, as well as the cases they've been on since then. The three characters orbit around various cases and one another, Nolan in isolation from the other two until the very end, when the cases intertwine and lead back to their original case. This is a police procedural of the first order, but with the story told through the characters and their conflictual histories more than through the serial murders and their echo in the current case. We do get glimpses of the murderers and their victims, almost as if caught momentarily in the headlights of a passing car, but for the most part Ruttan pulls off a jigsaw puzzle of information resulting from the investigation itself, in a fractured perspective of overlapping points of view, and what each reveals to and conceals from the reader. Lullaby for the Nameless is a vivid, noir portrait of the hard-scrabble small towns, ethnic tensions, dark urban corners, and deep forest environments of contemporary Canada, through the eyes of three fascinating, troubled investigators.

I’m currently reading a Polish police procedural that promises to deliver a compelling and sometimes comic insight into an Eastern Europe 20 years after the transformation of that region—and yet another vital international point of view on crime and culture. Check my site to see my review on this and other great books.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I Have Plenty of Time For Everything...except Myself

Or so it seems these days.

I’ve always been a haphazard kind of guy when it comes to scheduling things. As I’ve said before in this blog, I kind of do things on the fly.

Guess that makes me a pretty fly guy.

Okay, so my humor needs some better timing. Sue me.

When I started with Wicked Writers, I was semi-unemployed. I was writing freelance sports and doing occasional gigs as an extra in movies like Lottery Ticket and Life As We Know It and TV shows, including 187 Detroit.

Then, I got hired by the U.S. Census Bureau and, suddenly, I was back in the 9-to-5 grind (okay, 7:30-to-4) and all my writing time disappeared.

Of course, you’re wondering how I could lose all my time.

Think about it. Getting to work by 7:30 a.m. means getting up no later than 6:30 (6 or 6:15 is better). That means going to bed by 11 p.m. the previous night (or midnight if I want to watch Jay Leno and Headlines).

I’m tired after work and sometimes take a nap before dinner. I make dinner, eat, clean up and, bam, it’s time to prepare for bed.

How’s that for a shi…pload of excuses, CJ?

I guess what I really need is more motivation. I wrote (and rewrote and rewrote and rewrote) Land of the Blind because I was taking the Writer’s Academy with Harley Palmer. Harley really motivated me to make my best efforts (though she doesn’t think she really did anything – talk about modesty). But, I graduated in March and that’s when the lull really set in.

Ironically, I still do freelance sports for, but what does it take for a 400-word article?

So, after peeking at CJ’s blog, I have decided to rededicate myself to my writing. I have started by making time to write down my story ideas again. During breaks and lunch at work. Relaxing by the computer at home. I even carry a notebook with me wherever I go should I come up with an idea or if I think of

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some background for a story.

Maybe I can't be like Western mystery novelist C.J. Box, who writes each morning in Cheyenne, Wyoming and aims for 1000 words a day. I might not achieve the ability to do parts of two or three novels a day like Laurell K. Hamilton. Heck, I might not ever be able to write all day like Stephen King.

It's just important that I write continuously, write faithfully and write well.

For those who have been wondering why I haven’t put anything new on my account, don’t worry. New stuff is coming. But, prepare to be shocked. Because of Harley’s Writer’s Academy, I have to elevate my new stuff to even greater heights.

Wish me luck.

But, do it when I have some free time.

Making Lemonade

"When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade."

We've grown up hearing this adage in one form or another.  I don't know about you, but I usually did an eye roll or something else inane and immature when someone quoted it to me. Easy for them to say when you're the one getting handed the lemons, right?


With age comes experience (notice I did not say wisdom). Most people have had bad stuff happen in their lives - out of work, end of a relationship, house robbed, car broken down, illness, death of a loved one... the list could go on and on. But what you do after is what counts.

Hence, the lemonade.

Our topic this week is about finding the time to write and how we do it. I mention the lemonade part because that is what I think of writing. No matter what life hands you, you must do something. We are judged not by our thoughts, but by our actions and if the pen truly is mightier than the sword then lots of people will be judged by what they write.

Do you have stories in you waiting to be told? Do you have anxieties and issues bottled deep inside just waiting for an outlet? Do you weave stories of high fantasy, or ones where you picture yourself  leading a starship crew, swirling around in your mind? Do you have drunken bouts of amazing beer-pong waiting to be chronicled?

Well? What are you waiting for? Oh, yeah. You have no time to write. Life is busy. I get it.

I need to find a job.

My boyfriend dumped me and I'm plotting his death.

My head hurts.

I think I'm sick.

There's a really cool movie coming on Creature Double Feature. (Sorry, Greg. I couldn't resist)

I have writer's block.

What?  "Lazy-ass-itis" is what you have. Don't get me wrong. I feel for you. I truly do. For about five minutes. Here, let me fix you a drink you can cry into.

But do you want to write? Or do you dream about the idea of writing? Someday I'd like to write the Great American Novel. When? When you're retired or dead? I don't know about you, but I plan on traveling a lot when I'm retired. It'd be great to finally see all the places I've read about.

So, that leads us in a backward fashion to finding the time to write. Here's a thought: Get off the Internet. Stop watching TV. Stop answering email from work. Put down the wine glass, slowly... you can do it. Get up early.

There's a great program each November we've mentioned before— National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It shows you that you can indeed write a book in one month, by working at it each and every day.  Chris Baty's book No Plot? No Problem! outlines 1600 words per day, writing for two hours a day, will give you a 50,000-word book at the end of the month.

Can't type that fast or devote two hours per day? Then let's look at it another way:

How about 500 words per day? This post is over 500 words, so it's not a lot when you think about it. If you wrote five days a week, taking the weekends off you'd have the same 50,000 words in 20 weeks. Let's say your goal is a meatier book - in 40 weeks you'd have 100,000 words. (Ooohhh, impressive... C.J. can work a calculator...)

What it comes down to in the end is excuses. What excuses are you giving yourself so that you don't have to work for an hour each day on your dream? Do you think someone's going to hand it to you because you want it bad enough? No. You want it, you go out and get it.

I have lots of time to write all day. Does that mean I write? Lately I've been allowing all my excuses to weigh me down and give me plenty of reasons why I shouldn't be writing for at least two hours a day.

Which is also why I wrote this post, plus five others for various blogs and guest postings, last week. I'm not finding the time to write. I'm making the time to write.

I plan to post my word count each day on Facebook and Twitter.

Who's with me? *she calls in a mighty cheer*

~Que the inspirational orchestra music~

Go after that dream, hunt it down, tackle it and hog-tie it so it doesn't get away. You and your writing are indeed worthy. Stop sabotaging yourself and sit your butt in that chair, dammit, and write. I believe in you.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Facts of Life

Today's guest blogger is Alli Sinclair, an Australian-born writer who has lived in Argentina, Peru, and Canada. She has climbed some of the world's tallest mountains, worked as a tour guide throughout South America, and tended bar in an Irish pub in Peru. Alli recently completed VESTIGE, a paranormal romance set in Peru, and is currently working on a mystery set in Argentina. Her inspiration comes from her travels, but the facts? Where else.

Writers love sending readers to other worlds, to give them an experience they wouldn’t normally get in the ho-hum of day-to-day. Perhaps the reader will learn something new about someone else’s life, or about them self. But what takes an average story and sends it skyrocketing into another realm?

One of the greatest compliments a writer can receive is when a reader says, “I believed I was there.” Perhaps the reader felt like they were standing next to Eva Peron when she made her speech from the balcony of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires. The reader’s skin sizzled from the electric atmosphere of the adoring fans crowding into the Plaza de Mayo. The reader could study the intricate details of the Baroque architecture and then gaze at the glittering Cartier bracelet Eva Peron was wearing. Cartier bracelet? Who would have known? A savvy writer who spends time on research would have known, without a doubt.

When a reader picks up a book, not only are they investing precious time, they trust the writer knows about the subject. But how can a writer know that Incas cut off their hair when a loved one passed away? Research. How can a writer know spider webs were used to cure warts in the Middle Ages? Research.

With the age of the Internet, research is a lot easier than back in the dim dark days when people knew how to use the dewy decimal system. Don’t know what the DDS is? Do some research! Now that Google and the like are commonplace (google is officially a verb, believe it or not), research should be relatively easy. But take heed before you google. There is a lot of dodgy information out there that can lead an innocent researcher down a very crooked, slippery path. Working out which web sites are reliable can take almost as much time to research as, well… the research itself. That’s why it’s better to do some in-person investigating if given the chance. And luckily, I’ve had more than my fair share of opportunities to do just that.

I write books set in South America that include historical elements. The stories also have a paranormal side, which means I can create my own world. But I want my stories to feel genuine. If I know the Incas used ornamental pins that could double as a knife, then I will weave in that detail. It might not be significant, but it gives my writing a depth it otherwise wouldn’t have. Sure, I could have googled or (gasp) gone to a library to find this out, but I was able to draw on the knowledge I gathered when working as a tour guide in Peru.

Perhaps this first-hand experience is what fuels my passion for writing stories set in South America. Although, I believe this is a case of chicken and egg. Am I a writer or traveler first? For me, the two are inseparable. All that time spent travelling the globe, I was researching, even though I had no idea I was doing it at the time. Standing among the ruins, I learned historical facts that fuelled the storyteller in me. I could close my eyes and picture the fires burning in the centre of the plaza, smell the incense and hear people speaking a language that no longer exists. To me, research is in my makeup and without doing it, my brain would implode from boredom and my stories would fall flat.

What about you? Is research in your nature? What do you like to research and how do you do it?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Caro Clarke: Can she be smart and still in peril?

Nine Don'ts when writing about a female protagonist

Today, we are joined by my guest, Caro Clarke.

Caro is a Canadian, born in Ontario. She spent her childhood in various oil towns from Alaska to Newfoundland, but eventually her family settled in Calgary, Alberta.

Caro studied mediaeval history at various universities, and graduated with a D. Phil. from Somerville College, Oxford University. After a short time in academia, she moved to London to work in feminist publishing. There she worked for various small publishers and in a gay and lesbian bookshop. In-between times she has been a carpenter, a bodyguard, a freelance editor, a website manager and a freelance web designer.

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Caro’s writing has been as varied as her career. She writes poetry as "J. P. Hollerith" and has work in the anthologies Beautiful Barbarians and Not for the Academy, both published by Onlywomen Press. Science fiction fans may have come across her short story "The Rational Ship" in Memories and Visions (Crossing Press). She has also had stories published in The Milk of Human Kindness: Lesbian Authors Write About Mothers and Daughters, edited by Lori L. Lake (Regal Crest, 2004), and in Romance for Life, edited by Lori L. Lake and Tara Young (Intaglio Publications, 2006). She is also a published novelist, with The Wolf Ticket, and is working on her second novel, My Home is on the Mountain.

Caro has also written a large number of articles on advice for writers and, for our Wicked Writers blog, she has kindly provided a new article of writing advice.

As we are discussing aspects of research, it is as well to understand that research covers a multitude of aspects, none the least how we go about constructing our characters. Here, Caro has some great thoughts on female protagonsits which I, for one, shall take to mind when I am researching characterisations for my next novel.

Welcome, Caro.


Can she be smart and still in peril? Nine Don'ts when writing about a female protagonist

Why do female protagonists so often disappoint their readers, or irritate the hell out of them? Because you, the author, have not made her a human being, but a stereotype of what you think a woman is. That’s not what we want. You are either being lazy and going for stock responses when you should be creating an intelligent adult human, or you really don’t get women, which is scary in the male variety of writer and even scarier in the female.

How can you spot when you’ve created a stereotype rather than a human being? I offer you the Nine Don'ts when writing about a female protagonist .

1. Don't make her less human than a male protagonist.
Women don't think they’re lesser than men. They think they share the virtues and strengths of a man and have other, different ones (or, often, more of what men tend to have less of, e.g. emotional intelligence).  Your female protagonist should be someone you like and respect. Don’t give her a character trait you would be ashamed to have.

2. Don't make her stupider than you are.
And, if she is doing a job that requires her to be super-smart (scientist, lawyer), make her smarter than you are. If she is, say, a cop, don’t give her an adorable dippy side, cooing over kittens and constantly forgetting where her car keys are. She’s a COP. If she messes up or makes a mistake, have her mess up for a reason any man would own up to (‘I was exhausted’, ‘I was hung over’, ‘I couldn’t bring myself to phone that two-timing loser;) rather than a bubble-headed ‘girly’ reason (‘I was afraid he wouldn’t like me’, ‘I didn’t want to break my nail polish’, ‘I’m just an idiot when it comes to math’).

3. Don’t build your narrative or plot twists around 'female' weakness.
A character-driven plot has to be shaped by the responses of a real individual, with all his or her individual strengths and weaknesses, not with the stock weaknesses of a stereotype. Make her strengths and weaknesses specific to her, that is, not 'she does X because all women do X' (X = scream at mice, love new shoes, sit by a phone waiting for a man to call, can’t read maps, have no sense of direction), but ‘Stella misses the call because her cell-phone is out of action due to a ketchup spill—again’.

4. Don't make her foolhardy, make her brave.
Have her recognise and understand any danger she is walking into, and have her accept risk because she has good and rational reason to take the risk. The greater the risk, the more important her understanding and acceptance of the danger must be (although of course her knowledge of the danger might be partial). Trying to crank up tension by having her walk into a warehouse armed with a comb when she’s fighting the Mob doesn’t have us on the edge of our seats, but tossing the book across the room. No man would be so unprepared. Make sure she take a gun.

5. Don't make her a ditz in love if she isn't a ditz in life.
If she is smart and shrewd in her business or professional life, she will not 'lose her head' in love. Sensible women (the kind who can carry a plot) do not become irrational in the grip of strong emotions. These might change their priorities, but adult women don’t lose sight of what’s important in life merely because their hearts are engaged. Of course, it might make certain decisions tougher.

6. Don't give her a special weakness for children or make her motivation a child.
In fact, try not to have any children in the story at all, unless it is essential. Too often, writers devise a female character and then feel they have to get children in there, as if this were a woman's natural milieu. The great V. I. Warshawsky is a tough-as-nails heroine; in the movie, they teamed her up with a child character and made her a ditz over men. The movie bombed. We all hated her.

7. Don't make her disloyal to other women.
The only women who shun or dislike other women are those with serious personality problems. The default setting for women together is not jealousy, cattiness or rivalry, but acceptance, respect, and an impulse to find common ground (do you know how two women, strangers to each other, get to know each other? If not, why are you writing about someone you don't understand?).

Related to this is: don’t have her fail the Bechdel Test.  A woman character passes this test if the plot has (1) two women (2) who have at least one conversation with each other (3) the subject of which is not men.

8. Don't blindside her more than once.
Your male hero can be caught by surprise once, but more than once and he starts looking like a jerk. Why should your female protagonist be treated less well? Being blind-sided, caught flat-footed, is to be acted upon, not to act. Have your female character on her toes, active, doing the best she can with the knowledge she has of her situation and the resources at hand. You wouldn’t make Steve a laughing-stock to your readers, so don’t make Stella one, either.

9. Don't have someone rescue her, ever, but especially not at the climax of the story.
Since you've made her your hero, make her heroic. She has to initiate the opening action because of a conflict (challenge, danger, desire), she has to drive the resulting conflicts, and she herself has to resolve the final climactic conflict herself, or, if she’s leading a team, she has to really be the leader and to take on the dominant action herself. Think Buffy.

If you find yourself introducing one of these nine Don’ts, hit the brake and ask yourself why. If you keep having to hit the brakes, try writing your protagonist as a male, then think hard about what you would have to change in the story to make him female. You might be surprised how little of his motivation or reasoning you need to change. What makes men and women different is mostly window dressing. Below the make-up or the muscles, both respond to injustice, both fear pain and death, both need love, both can be heroes. That is what we want. A hero. Give us one.

Caro Clarke


Thank you, Caro. On behalf of us all here at Wicked Writers, I thank you for this great insight and for the time you have taken to contribute to our blog today.

Searching For Buried Treasure

By Harley D. Palmer

Research is a huge thing for writers and something not to be taken lightly. I have met people who think only fantasy, sci-fi, and historical writers have to do research but that is NOT true!

In one of my recent works, “The Story of William Archer” I had to do extensive research for his world. The biggest search was about pirates! I also had to find information about medieval knights, and a few other small things (like Victorian era technology for cameras, “vehicles”, etc.)

I love doing research! It is a huge high for me. It inspires so much of my writing! I was looking up pirate ships terms and in figuring out what type of ship William Archer has, I was able to craft an entire scene (as I figured out what type of ship the enemy had) – and voila. Instant fight scene fell right before my eyes. My research will allow me to write a realistic fight scene.

And that’s the key with research people – realism! I would hate to read a novel and have the person describe a weapon or a ship or something in the wrong way.

But wait Harley, with some genres you can make it up! Sure you can. But how can you make something made-up seem real without a bit of research into the field? Sure you can make up some super futuristic weapon – but if you know NOTHING about guns how can you make it seem real and believable to your readers?

Research for me is a hunt of buried treasure. Invariably, I always find a brand new nugget of information that I didn’t know I was looking for or didn’t know I needed. I get excited as I learn new things and fill up my research notebook. Why a notebook? Well what if I need to use the same information later on, in another book? My research time for that new project is cut in half since I already did the research!

Make sure you take the time to search for your buried treasure. There is a wealth of information out there so make sure you get your hands on some. Your writing will be the better because of it and your readers will love you for it. It is NOT a waste of time – if anything it saves you time.

So, go out there and make time. Check out books at the library or “google it”. The internet is full of treasure chests of information – USE IT!

And of course in the end have fun. I have found that if my research begins to put me to sleep, I might need to rethink my need to put it in the story. This is true for me, and may not apply to everyone of course – but I stop and rethink if the research gets boring. If it’s boring during the research phase, I’ll be bored when I write it. And THAT ladies and gentlemen is a waste of time.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Publishing: Beware the Dark Side, Luke

Sorry, CJ and Supriya, but "Luke" worked better in the headline.

All kidding aside, I was reminded of the other part of researching with one of David’s blogs about what he went through trying to get his book published.

I almost forgot about, perhaps, the hardest research involving publishing – finding not just a publisher and agent, but reputable ones.

I was also reminded of that aspect when I was watching Law & Order:   Criminal Intent in reruns on TNT. There was an episode with Fisher Stevens

[caption id="attachment_2452" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Unscrupulous publishers: a case for "Law & Order: Criminal Intent""][/caption]

as a literary agent with a less-than-stellar reputation. Of course, he wasn’t killing up-and-coming authors like his rival Peter Coyote. Then again, Coyote’s literary agent character was named “Lionel Shill,” which pretty much says it all.

Though it was fiction, all the L&O franchises draw off real life – “ripped from the headlines” as it were.

While I don’t expect to be murdered by an agent (only by their fees), I do expect to find my fair share of Lionel Shills before I’m through with the publishing world.

It’s funny that with all the talk of print being a dying art, there should be so many dishonest or unscrupulous publishers and agents around. That alone should tell you that the publishing venue is thriving. There must be enough marks – easy or otherwise – to justify all the effort.

A Lionel Shill trying his schtick in Itta Bena, Mississippi might find himself exploring the Mississippi Delta up close and personal. So, he sticks with the big city or, even more convenient, he trolls the Internet.

And even worse than the unscrupulous agent is the unscrupulous publisher.

Having already been victimized once by one such publisher (the previously mentioned Mystic Moon Press) and almost victimized again by another – the infamous PublishAmerica -- I think I can say that the giddiness of being accepted must not cloud the need to do one’s homework.

Fortunately for us writers, we have an anti-Lionel Shill weapon – Writer Beware.

Created by A.C. Crispin and Victoria Strauss, Writer Beware provides a blog and other services to advise writers of the pitfalls of the literary world. They can be found alone or attached to the website for Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Of particular use is their listing of shady publishers and agents.

Of particular note is the great PublishAmerica hoax in 2004. PA had trashed science fiction and fantasy writers with the SFWA. Writer Beware enlisted numerous SFWA writers who, under the guidance of James D. MacDonald, each took turns writing a chapter of a completely inane book called Atlanta Nights.  They put in absurb plot lines, identical chapters, out-of-order chapters, cliché characters who changed gender and race, gross grammatical mistakes, endless spelling mistakes that even a kindergartner could spot, you name it, if it was bad, they included it.

Of course, you know that PublishAmerica accepted the transcript, lock, stock and two smoking barrels. Yes, PA, which says it only accepts high-quality manuscripts accepted the book. That about sums up that publishing entity.

Among agents, Writer Beware has been particularly keen on exposing Writers Literary Agency and its many incarnations – The Literary Agency Group, Global Book Agency, Strategic Book Group, Strategic Book Club, Strategic Book Marketing, Strategic Book Publishing, Eloquent Books, AEG Publishing, WL Children’s Agency, WL Poet’s Agency, WL Screenplay Agency, Writer’s Literary & Publishing Services Company. The list is almost endless.

So, to make a long story short, after you’ve written what you’re going to write, please make sure that the people who are going to publish you are really going to publish what you’ve written.

Do your homework.

Avoid the Shills of the publishing world.

Castner's Cutthroats to Frozen Windmills

Recently, I cyber-met a new writing acquaintance and I'm thrilled to report she's from Alaska. We've exchanged a few emails so far and she's free with sharing experiences with me about Alaska. Yay! She also pointed out to me that the residents make fun of actors and movies that poorly portray the state.  Such as Steven Segal in a movie where he rode a snow mobile across the state (or from Canada to Alaska, something like that). Yikes, would my book be hated by Alaskans as well?

This is where research comes in, the topic we're all blogging about this week. If you do the work well the first time around you won't have readers who live in your setting ready to lynch you. I started to write and then as I got really into the world I was creating, I wanted to clarify details to make things pop and to maintain consistency throughout the story. If I waited til the end to do all the research I could miss small references throughout the piece or could have to re-write a scene because the plausibility went way down with incorrect information.

I started watching a super-cool cable show called Alaskan Territories. It taught me more about Haul Road and the Alaskan pipeline then I ever cared to know, but it was truly fascinating. Having this information made me switch the timeline in my story. The Inn couldn't have opened in 1970 like I had planned, but closer to 1990.

When I wrote to my Alaskan contact and told her about the underground tunnels on my resort and how they were built, the windmills I had planned, and the insulated greenhouse, I wasn't sure what her reaction would be. Turns out, she had lived in Barrow for a bit, where the town had underground tunnels for utilities and gave tours to the public because it was considered a building marvel. And she told me that the military up there has the best vegetables (possibly from a greenhouse) and the town shops at the dump for fresh veggies because the military has to throw them out by a certain date whether or not the food appears spoiled. My new contact even mentioned windmills had been tried because of the terrific resource of severe wind across the tundra, but they froze up. A problem I solve in my book through imagining heat coils within the windmills, powered by the windmill itself.

Learning about the unique state, through books and TV shows, really helped to pull me into the world I was dreaming about. Picking a spot for my made up town was exciting once the topography of the land came into play. The extreme weather and learning to survive in such harsh conditions has produced some extraordinary individuals.

If you're a history buff or have an interest in World War II, then I recommend you check out Castner's Cutthroats. An elite group of Army soldiers recruited from the local Alaskans when the Japanese started to land in the Aleutian Islands. These sixty brave, experienced men single-handedly saved the 2,000 troops our government deployed without the correct outerwear or equipment to survive the night, let only the "two to three days" they were expected to be there. Which by the way, turned into weeks. Scattering these sixty Alaskan men among the unprepared troops to teach them how to live off the land and stay alive was the smartest thing ever done during that whole skirmish.

Their skills proved invaluable not only for surviving but for eventually eradicating the Japanese from their foothold on the remote islands as well. I was so fascinated by this human aspect of the war that I gave one of my characters a father who was one of these brave men. A father who passed his skills on to his eager son.

Speaking to someone via email who currently lives in the remote state my book is set was great. She unknowingly validated parts of my work with her casual comments and sharing of experiences. It is my sincere hope that one day I'm lucky enough to go and visit this state extensively. Now, do I want my first trip to be in the winter above the Arctic circle, just like in the setting of my book? Well, maybe not my first trip! ;-)

Have any of you been to Alaska?  I'd love to hear any stories you'd care to share!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Second Place Short Story Winner: The Return

This entry comes to us from Tom Hall, who placed second in our first short story contest. He writes about my favorite topic - vampires! He's crafted a nice piece here and has created a unique world. I hope he someday expands this into a larger work so I can see what happens next. Enjoy!

The Return

By Tom Hall

Joseph always loved this part of the work—running free through the forests of Northern Europe.  Just to get out of those infernal catacombs they were forced to live in as part of the Masters’ guards was a blessing he seldom received. Or, in Joseph’s case, not a guard. He was one of their  assassins. That part of the job he hated. He often wondered what gave the Masters the right to dispense their own brand of justice so indiscriminately. He wondered why none of the other vampire covens had the guts to unite and overthrow them. And he wondered, not for the first time, if he was the only one who felt this way.

Of course, he guarded these thoughts very carefully. There were some vampires who could read minds, and if the Masters ever learned that he had such thoughts…well, his life would be over in an instant.

Joseph and his fellow assassin, William, were on their way back to France after having disposed of a problem in eastern Poland. Joseph had been half tempted to see if he could slip away from William, and head west to the States. But then he thought better of it. William was an excellent tracker, very loyal to the Masters, and a much better fighter than Joseph himself. So he quickly buried the idea of freedom he was secretly nursing.

They had reached the outskirts of a quaint village in southern Switzerland and were preparing to hunt, when he saw the girl. Or woman--Joseph really couldn’t quite tell which. She was walking along a street towards them. The girl seemed to have a strange, almost ageless quality about her. She was about five foot five, thin but healthy. Her light reddish hair and dark green eyes practically shimmered through the late dusk. She moved with a certain ethereal grace, almost as though she were floating. A slight glow seemed to radiate from her, illuminating the ground at her feet. So how come everyone around them, along the busy street, seemed not to notice her? Even without the glow, she was the most beautiful creature Joseph had laid eyes on. More so by far than any vampire he knew.

The closer Joseph looked, the stranger the scene became. Not one of the people she passed seemed to take any notice of her. Most kept on with their tasks. A few would pause, look around them in a slightly confused manner as she passed, and then go right back to whatever it was they had been doing. For her part, the girl seemed blissfully unaware that anything was amiss, a slight smile of contentment on her face as she weaved in and out amongst the villagers. Joseph stealthily moved closer to the girl, who paused to look in the window of one of the street shops. They stood only a few yards apart.

All of a sudden, he was hit with the most delightful smell he’d ever encountered before. Indeed, if asked before that moment, he would have doubted that anything could have smelled as wonderfully intoxicating as the aroma which now assailed his senses. Vampire though he was, he actually felt light-headed from the heady fragrance! And somehow, he knew—he didn’t know how, but he just knew—this glorious scent was coming from the girl. He licked his lips as the aroma nearly made him drool just by being so near to it.

Then two things happened in rapid succession. The first was that the girl had moved away from him while he had been lost in her scent, and turned a corner down a dark street. The other was that William had joined him, and as the girl disappeared from sight, William looked back at him and smiled. “I saw her first, brother!” Before Joseph knew what had happened, he was flat on the ground while he saw a blur of William follow the girl.

Joseph sprang to his feet, eyes narrowed and teeth bared in rage. The girl was his! Her blood was his! How dare William try and take this girl away from him! And running that fast with humans so near was dangerous as well. Joseph ran as fast as he could at a normal human speed, afraid with each step that he would be too late. William was an efficient hunter, and a nasty, cruel, and vindictive person.

Sure enough, as he turned the corner, he saw the girl cowering in a corner by a collection of rusty garbage cans. Joseph could hear her poor heart beating rapidly as she gazed, terror stricken, at William, who stood over her, leering down at her face. Joseph cringed at the sight. The girl deserved better than to die in an alley, her beautiful body found drained and lifeless beside a pile of trash! But he couldn’t risk a fight with William, not here. There were too many potential witnesses. And he figured he’d probably lose anyway. Meanwhile, the smell of the girl’s blood grew stronger, as though seeping through her pores along with her fear.

A strange, inexplicable desire to protect this helpless girl flooded through Joseph. He had never felt the like of it before. She looked so fragile cowering there! And he realized for the first time in his long life that he didn’t care what would happen. He was going to stop William from killing her. If she was going to die, it would not be in a dingy alley. No, it would be in a nice place, a beautiful garden, full of flowers and flowing water. An image of a valley he had never seen came to his mind then…flowers, a bright blue sky, rolling green hills, waves crashing on the shore. The girl walked there, blissful, happy, serene. And at that moment, Joseph made a decision. He would find that place and take her back. He would resist the urge for her blood. If he could, if only he could. But first, he had to stop William.

Joseph crouched and prepared to spring at his once-ally. The girl had shut her eyes and turned her head away, as though resigned to what was about to happen. William lifted her wrist to his face. He closed his eyes and sniffed along her arm. Joseph started to spring at him…

… then abruptly, checked himself. For just as William bit down on her arm, the girl’s head spun around. Gone was the resigned look. Now the girl’s eyes glowed softly. Her mouth was twisted in a grin that made Joseph reel back, cringing in horror—it looked like she actually wanted William to bite her!

“Yes, my sweet,” she purred in the sweetest voice Joseph could recall hearing. “Drink deeply.” William’s eyes snapped open in surprise at her voice, as he continued drinking her blood. After a few gulps, William suddenly broke contact and fell over backward in an attempt to get away.

“What are you?” William shrieked, eyes wide with terror, his hands grabbing at his neck. The girl stood, grinning down at him. William started choking and gagging, his eyes bulging out of his face. The girl continued watching him and started to laugh.

“What am I?” She repeated softly. “Oh, vain, arrogant vampires! Did you really think that nature, the Universe, God would allow you to exist—immortal, strong, fast, cunning--and not also create a force to keep you in check? A more powerful force than even your kind?” She belted out a harsh laugh that reminded him of metal scraping against metal. ”You see where your ignorance has led you? To eternal death!”

As she spoke those words, William’s shrieking rose even higher, and he suddenly burst into flame. In moments, he was nothing but a pile of ash. The girl, or whatever it was, chuckled and kicked at the pile, scattering it to the wind.

She then turned and looked at Joseph. He gulped, terrified, and fell over backwards in his haste to get away from her. To think that just moments before, he had actually thought this girl needed him to protect and save her. She had called William arrogant, but Joseph now saw that he was, too. She glided over to him, and Joseph cringed away from her. She pursed her lips and slowly shook her head as she stared down at him.

“So—this is the vaunted and feared Royal Guard of the great Masters, is it?” He heard the contempt in her voice and wondered where it came from. Joseph noticed that her voice had a lilting tone to it, an accent Joseph knew he had heard before but couldn’t place at the moment. ”Well, tis indeed good for you that none of our French or Spanish friends have woken! You wouldn’t last a day!”

Though her words confused him, Joseph had to know what she was. But all he could do was repeat William’s last words and hope they wouldn’t be his own last words as well.

“Wh-what are you?”

She smiled slightly. “A…scout, I suppose ya could call me. Yes, as good a word as any, I suppose. Y’see, we’ve decided that we have too long been absent from the affairs of the world. The humans, it seems, have for the most part forgotten about us, and this both delights and annoys us. So, we’ve emerged from under our mountains to find the world very different than before. The long centuries have taken their toll. There are humans who remember us, but precious few indeed.

“Then we learned that vampires had multiplied drastically in our absence. We made contact with those among our children who had walked among the humans during the centuries in which we had dwelt upon the earth, and they confirmed this for us. Some of our children had been combating the evil ones of you. But we also heard from them that there are good vampires that exist in this world too.”

The girl paused. She looked up at the stars that now filled the sky. “So beautiful,” she murmured.

Joseph stared at her in awe. What kind of a woman was this who faced down an attack by a vampire, effortlessly killed it, and was now distracted by the night sky? He watched her. She was glowing brighter now than when he had first seen her on the street. Her scent still filled his head, driving nearly all rational thoughts from his mind. Joseph’s heart was lost, he knew it, though he didn’t know how it could have happened.

You’re beautiful,” he murmured. She turned to look down at him again. “The most gorgeous woman I have ever seen in my entire existence.”

Her thin lips curved upward and the smile on her face broadened. “That little speech has saved yer life, lad,” she said. Then he finally recognized her accent.

“You’re from Ireland?” Joseph asked.

She looked back up at the sky, sighed, and nodded. “Certain sure,” she murmured. “Only we have reemerged. Our Norse brethren are stirring as well.” She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. “Ah, the air—tis so fresh! So much better than those dank caverns.” She turned back to Joseph again. “Ah, get up, lad—I’ll not hurt ye! I want you to go back and tell yer masters that they’d best watch their steps from now on. Tis all well and good for ye tae drink human blood, but some o’ the humans are under our protection. And if they are harmed…” She paused and her eyes blazed with fury. “Then God help ye! Our wrath is a terrible thing to behold!” She turned and began to glide away from him back down the street the way she’d come.

Joseph couldn’t bear it. “Wait!” he called, hurrying after her. She paused and turned back to him, waiting for him to catch up to her. He took her hand and got down on his knees. “Please! Don’t leave me! I don’t think I can live without you!” He felt like a complete fool. Until a few minutes ago, he had prided himself on being strong where females were concerned. But all that had gone in the instant since he’d seen her. “Please take me with you! I can’t stand this life! I have wanted to get away from the Masters for so long! Can’t I come with you?”

She gazed sadly at him, and put her hand on his cheek. “Our kind doesn’t mix,” she said. “You are vampire, I am not.”

“What are you then?” Joseph whispered.

The girl sighed again. “Other,” she replied. “Older, wiser, less compulsive. Our two kinds are repulsed by one another.”

“But you don’t repulse me,” he said softly. He looked into her eyes, and could tell in his heart that she wasn’t repulsed at all. Somehow, she knew what he was thinking. “You’re right,” she whispered. “But it still can’t be.” She turned again and continued walking. “Now go and tell your Masters all you have seen here, and that we have returned once again to the world. And tell them to tread lightly so as not to arouse our anger.”

Joseph ran after her again, and touched her on the shoulder. I am pathetic, he thought. She turned back with a sigh. “Wait, please! Who am I supposed to say has returned?  I don’t know what to tell the Masters.”

She smiled a grim smile. “Trust me; they’ll know who we are.”

“Please, at least tell me your name,” he begged.

“Maureen,” she said, her smile turning bright. “What’s yours?”

“J-Joseph,” he stuttered, and her smile grew.

They stood in the dark street a moment, staring at each other. Then placing her hands on either side of his face, she pressed her lips to his gently. Time seemed to stop for Joseph, as he felt her love in that tiny demonstration. He had never believed in love at first sight, or the concept of soulmates. Not, at least, before that night.

She pulled away from him finally. Then, touching his face one last time, she whispered, “Don’t be afraid--I’ll see you again, Joseph.” And with that, she disappeared—she didn’t walk away, mind you, she was just not there anymore--the street was completely deserted, except for one sad, lonely vampire.

Joseph returned to Paris, afraid that he was also returning to his death. For the Masters would demand a full report and demand to see Joseph’s thoughts. And when they found that Joseph was in love with the enemy, well, that would be it for him. But Maureen had promised they would meet again, and that gave him the courage to return to his old life.

Only one of the Masters was enthroned in the audience chamber when Joseph arrived to make his report. He inwardly breathed a sigh of relief before narrating everything that had happened. Well, perhaps not everything. He left out the whole part about being in love with her. No need to die tonight.

As Joseph spoke, he could see the Master’s face growing angrier by the second. And even, Joseph realized, a bit frightened. When he was at last dismissed, he hurried to his room. Sitting down on a chair, he put his head in his hands and tried to think about what had happened. But all he could remember was her face. And the only word he could think was her name. Maureen. Smiling to himself, he said it aloud, just to hear it, thinking about how it just rolled off his tongue.

The Master, meanwhile, had retired to his chamber. But his thoughts were much less pleasant than Joseph’s were. He paced for a long time, mulling it all over. He wished the other Masters would return in short order so they could discuss this unfortunate turn of events. If he had been human, he would have broken out in a cold sweat over the news Joseph had brought back.

He sat and stared into the distance, trying to formulate a plan. Any plan to stave off the sudden reappearance of this threat. How many humans were under their protection, he wondered. He shuddered over the warning that the girl had made, about their wrath descending on them. He had seen what their wrath could do! And the words that returned to his mind over and over that night were also very different that Joseph’s, making him shudder even as he said them.

“The Fey.” He muttered. “The Fey have returned!”