Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Save the Pet, Kill the Peeves

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Three pet peeves as a reader... THREE? ONLY THREE?

Fine, fine, fine. Just three pet peeves as a reader.  Since you all know my loathing of Head Hopping I'll let it pass...this time.

1.  Backstory Dump: There is an artful way to integrate backstory. I hate slogging through pages of it, particularly anywhere in the first arc. If it happens in the second or third arc, I'm baffled by why it was necessary, but I'm more forgiving because I made it this far into the story.

2.  Killing the Dog:  I don't care how many humans, humanoids, droids, or bipeds you bump off. I don't care how heinous the manner (as long as it suits the story). Just don't kill the dog. I don't care if he is possessed by the soul of a demon. You train the hairball, you don't kill it.

3. TDTL: To Dumb To Live characters, especially if they're in a starring role. Hey, even the comedic relief characters have a clue. There is a wide line between inept and witless. Everyone is utterly inept at something. But a character whose only purpose is to wail and flail...get me the demon dog.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Peeved Pets of Literature

I suppose that everyone has a few hot buttons, as it were.

Mine are unsettlingly simple.

1) What I read MUST have a plot. Sounds easy enough, I know, but it isn't always. I once read a novel in which two college-age kids living in a skeevy dive of an apartment building in New York find an AMAZING discovery, a place where, if something enters a hole in the wall, it is immediately and permanently transformed. The main character, the guy, was sort of a wishy-washy 20 something, fair enough, and the girl, his love interest, would basically sleep with anyone but him.

I have just told you the ENTIRE PLOT and most of the SUBPLOTS for that novel. It was two hundred pages of existential ennui, with a promise that somewhere along the way something supernatural and cool would happen.

Know what happened? Because I was the sort back then who HAD to finish a novel, I read the entire thing and lost several hours of my life that I can never get back. Because my wife went with me to conventions, and because SHE had read the book first (and made me read it, but that's a different story) She had the privilege of laughing when the threw that piece of crap first against the wall and later into a trash can. I also had to stop her from choking out the writer when we saw said write4r at a convention later.

2) Realistic dialogue or suffer the consequences.

I'll use two of my favorite examples: While reading a manuscript by another author, I had to stop and ask for a laity check. Me. I write FANTASY and I had to demand a reality check. Why? because while engaged in a full on, no holds barred, to the death sorcerous battle, one of the two spell casters involved repelled a blast of magic that nearly killed him and said the equivalent of, "Ah. I see you're using Bob's Furious Spectral Hammer of the Underworld! Not you best choice as I know the defense!"

Um. No. been in a fight. I don;t tend to brag when I block someone trying to punch my head off my shoulders. later at the bar, sure. but not while it's happening. The best I've done was compliment someone who tagged me while I was sparring and even then it was "nice one," not a couple of sentences of poetic diatribe.

Charles R. Rutledge, my good friend and occasional co-author recently told me about a book he was reading where two thieves break into a dungeon and run across a nasty demon guarding the treasure. Their response? Witty banter as they fight the thing that is supposed to kill them.

To Paraphrase Charles: "Listen. I KNOW that maybe demons are the norm in the writer's make believe world, but tigers exist here, and if one comes into the room where I'm working and it's roaring and determined to eat me, I'm not going to cracking jokes. I'm going to be screaming my head off and finding the closest exit."

My point? Congratulations. that demon is no longer even a little scary You just threw away any sense of menace.

The same with colloquialisms. Anything in moderation to make your point. Don't write half a story out phonetically to make you're point. If I can't read it with ease, you're pulling me away from what should be an escape from reality.

3) Cliches

Okay. I've said it before and I will again, there are differences between trope and cliches.

Trope: Big, menacing, dark castle on the moors in a Gothic romance.

Cliche: Every rip-off of THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Ever.

As I've said before, I spent a LONG time reading sword and sorcery fantasy before I ever decided to try my hand at writing it. Orphan boy A) finds Mystic Item of Power B) just in time to stop Ancient Overlord with demonic horde C) from conquering the land.

Wish fulfillment. I get it, I dig it. THE CHRONICLES OF PRYDAIN by Lloyd Alexander is a perfect example of everything I just told you I hate. Here's the difference: The books by Alexander were published over five years, from 1964-1969 I believe. They were for young adults and they were in addition to the tropes mentioned, a potent, incredible journey of one young man from early adolescent to adult in a terrifying time of war and transformation. I don;t mind a few cliches, especially if the writer sets out to break them. Same as with stereotypes. But I loathe what amounts to a retelling of a bad Dungeons & Dragons module.

There you have it. My list of pet peeves.

I just finished CITY OF WONDERS. The next book, THE SILENT ARMY, is due to my editor in 90 days. Back to work for me.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

News from New York City

I'm writing this post on the plane back from New York City and the 2015 RWA National Convention. I'm on airplane wifi, somewhere over West Virginia, and the plane is quite certain that if I connect to our Word-Whores programming calendar, dire and terrible things will occur.


But I have plenty that's off-topic to say. The convention was wonderful.Here's at the Black & White Harlequin Ball at the Waldorf Astoria with my agent Connor Goldsmith and good friend, agent Jennifer Udden, of Donald Maass Literary Agency. There may have been a lot of free champagne involved, but there are thankfully no photos of that phase of the evening.

I hope.

Despite the many parties, time spent catching up with friends and business meetings, I managed to attend a few workshops, and live-tweeted nuggets I gleaned. I thought I'd share those here.

Julia Quinn gave a terrific keynote speech. She spoke to the universal truth that you're more likely to see the President of the United States than your own book in your local grocery store - and how that relates to a writer's sense of self worth. It's tempting to think about the market, what your readers might demand down the line and how to hook them into the next story, but pointed out that our primary concern when writing a book in a series has to be THAT novel, not the overall series arc.We can't escape being liked - after all, there's a reason they call it popular fiction - if we couldn't be popular in high school, then by God we'll do it now. However, she very wisely pointed out that when we accept that we can't please everyone all the time, it frees us to write the book we need to write.

I might have that cross-stitched.

I learned a number of new ways of looking at conflict. Virginia Kantra gave great insights on it in a workshop on emotional content, saying that without suffering, there is no growth. Without conflict, your hero & heroine are merely dating. Michael Hauge lived up to his reputation, giving a great workshop on storytelling. He said that the hero or heroine of your story doesn't need to be heroic, but must have the potential to become heroic and that a storyteller's goal is evoking emotion in the reader - and emotion arises from conflict. Outer conflicts should occur more frequently and become more intense as the story progresses, to accelerate pace. Inner conflicts arise from emotional wounds and the beliefs the hero or heroine holds that grow out of emotional wounds are never true, but are always logical. Inner conflict is the conflict between being safe & unfulfilled vs. fulfilled & scared shitless.

That's the shorthand version. I recommend Hauge's workshops, which can be obtained online here. I know I'm going home with some increased clarity about what I want to write and how.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Never an Unhappy Ending

Our topic this week is things we said we'd never do in a book, that we then did.

Let's see, I've said I'd never kill a major character...but then I did in Wreck of the Nebula Dream, because the situation really demanded it. No spoilers but the person wasn't the hero or the heroine, but people have told me they cry over that scene.

I've also said many times I'd never write a series with an overarching plot arc, mostly because I didn't think my writer's brain ran that way...but now I actually am in the editing process on such a series - EEP.  Again, the plot kinda went off in  direction that lent itself to four books...I still haven't sat down and outlined an entire series arc and written to that plan. Being a total seat of the pants person, doubt I ever will do that but it seems my Muse can think in series mode if she really wants to.

The one thing I will NEVER do is write an unhappy ending (UHE - let's have an acronym). I guarantee you if it's a Veronica Scott book, there WILL be a happy ending. I don't know if it's because I was traumatized by the movie "Old Yeller" as a child, or that my mother dragged me to "Gone With The Wind" and "Dr. Zhivago"  (both of which I regard as having UHE)....I won't see a movie or TV show, or read a book that comes to a UHE. Not if I know it in advance. OK, maybe every once in a GREAT while, I'll deal with one. I recently watched the movie "Maggie," which is a highly unusual take on the zombie tropes and obviously I knew going in there wasn't going to be much happiness when the credits rolled, but I was fascinated by the concept. I'm fascinated by all things to do with "Titanic" and again, there's a lot of genuine heartbreak connected to the story no matter which version you're consuming. I'll admit the ending of James Cameron's version helps a lot, with the reunion in the Afterlife!

Sometimes I'll watch certain movies if I need a good cry - you know how that is, right? And then Cameron's movie is my go-to.

Wreck of the Nebula Dream  is my "Titanic in space" novel, loosely inspired by the actual ship's sinking...not related to the Cameron movie in any way.

The other, main reason I won't deal with UHE is personal - I married my high school sweetheart when we were both 19, we had a very happy life (some say "fairy tale" but no, we were real people and not every moment was sprinkled with Disney...but in general things were good  - we were an excellent team.) Life was tracking nicely on plan for quite a long time - college degrees, house, new car, two children, good jobs with potential...And then he and his best friend set off on a bicycle ride and ten minutes later he'd been hit by a truck and died a day later without ever regaining consciousness. My children were three and five. The hardest thing I have ever done, or ever will do, was sitting down with them and explaining their father was gone.*

So I feel more than entitled to ensure that at least my characters never have to deal with anything less than a true Happily Ever After ending. After all, I have total control over those!

*(And all of that happened a long time ago - the children are grown and launched on their own lives, and I'm happy pursuing my dreams. The heart does go on, as the song says...)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Oops. Did I Say 'Never'?

My abject apologies for missing last week. Frankly, my brain melted. There were a few days in the hospital with my father. The vet used the phrase 'at this stage of his disease' in reference to chronically ill cat. By Thursday night, I'm not certain I even knew my own name much less what day of the week it was. (Dad is fine. The cat is holding his own. I now know my own name, thanks.)

I could tell you I swore not to mess up my blog posts again, but I clearly did. From a writing stand point?

Easy. Erotica. I swore I wouldn't write one. Not because I hate them. Quite the contrary - assuming they're well written and the sex is handled gracefully (Jeffe's books). My issue was that I *couldn't* write one. I was quite convinced I didn't know how. Couldn't see how I'd make it believable or integral to the story and character arc. I knew other people did. I didn't believe I could.

Jeffe disagreed. She spent a fair bit of time suggesting that I could, indeed, write erotica if I tried. Then she went and dared me.

And agreed to mentor. From a writing standpoint, you weirdos.

She did have to explain the psychology of certain BDSM elements before I could attempt to write them. And to be perfectly honest, I failed to write an erotica. ENEMY MINE is hot, but it isn't, strictly speaking, an erotica. The sexual journey is the point of an erotica. ENEMY MINE had another, external story arc going alongside the sexual arc. Most people figure that sex is fun enough, I just had to have someone trying to kill everyone. Keeping it real. That's me.

But. There is one thing you can be sure of. Me writing an inspirational? Not gonna happen. Wrong religion.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

While Marshall's Away, We Have Neil to Play!

Marshall is in the throes of hosting workshops at ArmadilloCon, but never fear, we have an equally charming and talented author here to inspire us.

Okay, okay, it's a YouTube video from The Wheeler Centre, but it's Neil Gaiman discussing everything from the eleven re-writes of the Dr. Who script, to naming characters, to a revolutionary sneezing panda.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Never say never...

What did I say I wouldn't write about and then did?

Child jeopardy. I'm a terrible hypocrite about this. I mean, I walked out of Face Off in the theater for cryin' out loud.

I just. Can't. Take it.

OK, show me a little shit who deserves it first (cough, cough, Geoffrey, cough) and we're good. Show me an innocent kid--and you're dead to me. You will see my vengeful side. (Stanis died too easily for what he'd done. I won't stop watching the show over it, but they didn't make me watch. Before I heard her screams I knew what was going to happen. I buffered myself. If I hadn't had that chance...I'd have had to leave the room.)

Blood and gore doesn't bother me at all, neither does high speed chases, space battles and /most/ violence. In truth, make me cry over a character and I'll adore you for making me care that much.

Just leave kids alone. I mean it.

I'll leave the theater. I'll throw the book on my bonfire. I'll work very hard to forget what you made me read/see because it hurts in a way I cannot deal with.

Yet in the Persephone Alcmedi series, I put Seph's foster daughter Beverley in danger repeatedly. Putting her in dangerous situations knowing my characters are going to get her out is, for me, key. Also, other than having her get sucked into a ley line, I didn't physically hurt her in life threatening ways. So you can take from this a certainty that she survives. I couldn't do that to her.