Archive for July 2020

Write What You Know?   20 comments

What elements from your life are woven into your latest book?

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Write What You Know

The writing gurus all say we should write what we know – therefore, weave elements from our lives into our books. And there’s validity in that. My winter scenes are probably better than the winter scenes of someone who has never left there Kalahari desert. Their heat scenes might be better than mine (although interior Alaska does get hot in the summers, it rarely breaks 100). On the other hand, I’ve struggled to write stories set in Alaska. Do I know why that is? No. It just is. Maybe I know it too well, so writing it feels like a busman’s holiday (a subject that cropped up in Red Kryptonite Curve). So, I don’t write about Alaska, my home, but I do include all sorts of details from my own life.

It’s Natural

I don’t think we can help but weave elements of our lives into our work because writing is a product of who we are. Places I’ve visited, meadows I’ve seen on hikes, people I’ve met, dogs I’ve known — all crop up in my writing, borrowed by my characters who often feel like they aren’t a part of me, but something separate, and yet they all are spawn from my imagination. In one of my WIPs (Book 2 of What If … Wasn’t, the sequel to Red Kryptonite Curve, working title “Dancing the Centerline”) I include a description of ice cream from a Fairbanks ice cream shop – Hot Licks. The shop I describe hasn’t been there for about 25 years, but the ice cream is still served around the block. I just liked the look of the old shop better, so why not use it? But the real focus of the scene is Peter’s enjoyment of the ice cream. The real life Hot Licks has THE BEST chocolate ice cream ever developed. Unfortunately, I can’t share it with you, but I do try my best to describe it in the book.

In Transformation Project, the mustang Rocket is actually a cross between a mare that belongs to a friend and a mustang my mother loved as a kid. I combined her body with what was described to me as his personality and, viola, I had a horse I liked. She’s named after Rocket in the My Friend Flicka series (another horse with an untamable spirit).

Similarly, the planes that outnumber cars in Alaska play a significant role in Transformation Project because Alaska and Kansas share aviation and Shane and his grandfather Jacob are both pilots. And because a sizable plurality of Alaskans, including some of my friends and coworkers live without running water and sometimes without electricity in their cabins, my descriptions of life after the electromagnetic pulse fries the electrical grid is largely based on my own experiences.

In Red Kryptonite Curve, the boatman Jeff Russell is based on a coworker who I doubt has ever worked on boats, but I like his personality and physical stature so much, I cloned him.

I’ve often said this, but Ryanna in Daermad Cycle is physically patterned after my daughter.

And, of course, the character of Dick Vance is essentially my memory of my friend Dick Underwood, written in homage to him in the days after his death.

Also in that WIP, “Dancing the Centerline”, one of my husband’s stepfathers, Jack, makes an appearance as Ben’s grandfather. Why? Because I liked him and I think he would have liked my books, and because what Ben’s grandfather says to him is exactly the sort of thing Jack said to his stepson.

Meanwhile, the character of Trevor in the What If … Wasn’t universe is loosely based on a friend from high school. Michael H’s big personality and histrionic talents, as well as self-destructive penchant for drugs and alcohol, just needed to find its way into my fictional world. I didn’t know I was doing it until I’d finished the first book and went “Why does this character feel familiar?”

In the 6th book in Transformation Project Winter’s Reckoning (due out August 11), many of the winter scenes encountered by the characters are ones I’ve experienced right here in Alaska. Like I said, I can’t describe the desert as well as someone who lives there, but I can sure describe cold and know what goes through the head of someone who is a long way from shelter when a snow-laden wind picks up.

In one of my anthology short stories (Fairytale Riot, Clarion Call 4 “An Investment Returned), the entire “girl’s” part of the story is based on many of snow machine trip into our cabin site off the Steese Highway. The wolves in the scene however are quite real, from a time in the fall, during a moose hunting trip. The story of Ryan (“Redemption Reformatted, due out any day now in Clarion Call 5, Fire & Faith) is loosely based on some 12-Steppers I know.

And those are just a few of the things that work their way from my real life into my fictional worlds. None of them (except Dick Vance) is a wholesale copy of anything from my life. It’s all just bits and pieces scrambled and reordered, idealized or tainted (depending on my mood and the desires of my characters) or highly adulterated to protect the innocent or the guilty. And a lot of it is just out-and-out fiction because things get boring around here in the winter.

Let’s go see what my fellow blog=-hoppers are inserting into their fictional worlds from reality.

Posted July 27, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Stars   Leave a comment

Posted July 26, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Sunday Morning

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Clothes Make the Character   3 comments

How do you decide how to dress your characters?

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Characters are Part of the Setting

Many years ago, a jeweler showed me something interesting. He sprayed a handful of diamonds across a tabletop and asked me what I thought. They weren’t very interesting. Some shimmered a little, but mostly they didn’t seem any more interesting than any other rocks I’d seen recently. Alaska has a lot of cool rocks. Where was the flash, the sparkle, the depth?

He took the smallest, dullest diamond and set it on a square of black velvet, turned out the overhead lights and turned on a lamp right over the table where the square of black velvet rested. There in the middle of it was the uninterested diamond now sparkling as if it was a completely different rock.

What made the difference was the setting? The black velvet and the special light above it.

We authors do a lot of world-building – setting development – spreading the black velvet and adjusting the lighting. The clothes our characters wear are an important part of the setting. Clothes can tell the readers a great deal about the world our characters inhabit or about the characters themselves.

Celtic Fantasy

Daermad Cycle is a high-fantasy set in a medieval world inhabited by the descendants of Celts who were escaping the Romans circa 4th century, as the Roman Empire was collapsing.

How did I choose to dress them? Well, I did some research in the clothes worn by Celts and their descendants. I learned that in regions with heavy Celtic influence, the nobility wear plaids designating their clan particularly as cloaks. I was not making my men wear kilts, but I liked the idea of a lower garment that designed clan, so I gave some thought to how a kilt might become a pair of pants. That became a pair of loose-fitting wool breecs, that are worn by all men in the Celtic society. Nobles wear a plaid that designates their clan and matches their cloaks. Their siarcs (shirts) linen are embroidered in the clan totem. Noblewomen can wear lovely dresses in many colors, often of silk, but their dresses are belted with a kirtle in the clan plaid and the inside of their cloaks are lined with the same plaid.

The ordinary people who work in the noble dun wear wool breecs or aprons in the dominate color of the clan plaid.

Ordinary people who live and work outside of the dun wear wool breecs, dresses and aprons in whatever color they wish.

In the neighboring elven society, the Kin wear a lot of deer skin and the women wear beaded or embroidered dresses. They don’t have a nobility, so people pretty much wear whatever they want to wear, although they tend not to like what the Celts wear because the two don’t get on.

Middle America Apocalypse

I needed to do a lot less research and imagining to dress the people in Emmaus. They live in the United States the day after tomorrow. Masks aside (because the series started pre-CVD19), my people dress pretty much like you’d expect working class Americans to dress — jeans, flannel shirts, maybe some UnderArmour, outerwear. boots. That was easy. I just went on Google Earth and checked out what people were wearing on the streets of Kansas towns. That took five minutes. They dress petty much what Alaskans wear.

Long Island Upscale

My latest series is set in Long Island during normal times. It’s teenagers living on the Gold Coast. I picked a town in the area as my exemplar for Port Mallory. I googled and wandered the streets some. I did some catalog window shopping to understand what kind of clothes teenagers in a wealthy village in Brookhaven New York would wear. I spend more time choosing the clothing of people who think style matters.

Even Simple Stories Need Settings

I occasionally read stories where you have no idea what the characters are wearing and I’ve also read novels where entirely too much attention was spent on describing character ensembles. The extremes bother me. Yes, characters should wear clothing appropriate to the world they live in. If that is never described, I can actually pull up an image of the character naked. On the other hand, after a brief description of what the Aes Sedai or Rand al Thor wore in the Wheel of Time series, I could have happily not returned to the topic and would roll my eyes whenever Robert Jordan would begin some long description AGAIN. I much preferred Brandon Sanderson’s lighter touch.

Still, even simple stories need settings and clothes are one way to define a character. You can learn a great deal about a character’s personality simply by the clothes they choose to wear.

Move (Keep Walking)   Leave a comment

Posted July 19, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Sunday Morning

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Announcing “Winter’s Reckoning”   Leave a comment

The 6th book in Transformation Project is slated to launch August 11. Now on preorder with reduced pricing, it continues the story of the series with some truly heartwrenching scenes.

Emmaus faces a reckoning.

As deep winter descends, the fundamental transformation of the world they knew continues in the outside world. Meanwhile, Emmaus faces killing weather, dwindling resources, and the breakdown of community. Some cling to the ragged edge of hope and the demons of his past push Shane toward a long-resisted confrontation.

When death stalks the land, what choices do you have left?

Preorder Winter’s Reckoning

Full Cover Reveal   1 comment

Cover by Aurorawatcher Publications

Watch BLM invade Christian church service   Leave a comment

Black Lives Matter rioters have burned stores, destroyed vehicles, toppled statues and occupied police stations. Now they’ve targeted Grace Baptist Church in…

Source: Watch BLM invade Christian church service

Posted July 13, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

Oh-Oh! Trapped! Or Not!   15 comments

Have you ever let a story write you into a surprise corner? Do you backtrack or shift gears?

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According to several articles I read as research for this article, writing yourself into a corner is kind of the novelist equivalent of discovering the serial killer is behind you in the dead teenager movie.

The Horror!

I think every discovery writer has been there at least once. You’re going along innocently tapping away on the keys, writing some of your best stuff, when the story and set-up stall. It just closes in on itself and becomes trapped like a fly in a spider web and you have no idea how to get out of the cul de sac. There’s just no natural way to get the character to where he or she ought to be in the next scene or by the end of the book. He’s tied up with a rope around his neck and he’s already been dropped over the bridge railing.

Oh-oh! Now what!

If you’ve read Transformation Project, you might remember how A Threatening Fragility ended. I really had no idea how Shane was going to survive being hung when I finished the draft. I typed the last words, sat back, and thought “This series is over if he’s dead.” Of course, I could do something miraculous — a Deux ex machine of someone pulling a truck up under the overpass or…or…or…. I tried to write those scenes, but they read extremely inauthentic. I’d just killed my main character. Where was the exit to this Hall of Horrors?

I’m a discovery writer. My characters have a tendency to quit talking to me if I try to force them in directions they don’t want to go. Shane kept laughing at me. He was going over the bridge railing. Don’t panic. He had this. I started into the editing process certain that final scene was staying in the book (although I really wanted to delete it) and equally certain Shane would take a powder if I removed it. Of course, I’ve figured out how the next novel in the series begins (and sometimes ends) by the time I’m halfway through the first edit, so when Shane told me the “rest of the story” I wiped the flop sweat off my brow and continued editing. He really did “have it”.

He survived and I managed to avoid any tired tropes. I’d already foreshadowed his salvation quite by accident and so it wasn’t really that bad of a corner. No gods in the machine needed. Shane didn’t develop telekinesis and his survival made total sense given his physical abilities and by-the-skin-of-his-teeth persona.

I didn’t change my plot trap because it was cool and intense exactly as Shane told it to me. Something dire was occurring and Shane didn’t know he’d survive as he dropped over the railing. That meant readers wouldn’t be sure of his survival either.

The cul de sac acted as a prelude to an intense brainstorming session that found a dozen unbelievable rescues and a singular believable way for Shane to live through the predicament he found himself in. It couldn’t be improbable. It had to feel real. And fortunately for me, a friend who is a mountain climber gave me the solution about 30 years before Shane dropped over the railing. I’m not telling the details. Buy the book if you need to know.

Scared Witless

The box canyon of writing is terrifying, but it’s also potentially the best place to write an amazing story from. Yes, once you’ve hit it, you’re stuck and panic sets in. You want to concede here, walk your character back to where the plot turned inevitable, try to figure out a well-trod path through the brier patch.

And it does happen sometimes that you need to backtrack and find a way to avoid the implausible, but like so many other “rules” in writing, there are times when you can bend things in the direction you want to go. You are the creator of this story, after all, and imagination is limitless if we don’t accept the limits we put on ourselves.

The character of Shane has a tendency to take the plot in messy directions, places I would never intend to go. In my soon-to-be-released Winter’s Reckoning, he took me into another corner filled with darkness and death and required I find our way out to the light. He didn’t “have it” this time. Thank God for an ensemble cast of characters because when Shane was at his lowest, others stepped in to help. I wrote a few disposable scenes before Shane agreed to take the survival option offered. I’ve been working with this character long enough now that I know he has a good sense of what readers want.

Voracious readers are clever.

You see, readers see corners coming and anticipate the sharp turns writers take to avoid them.

Remember Agatha Christie’s near-career-ending crisis corner where she realized her fans were starting to guess the ending early in the book? She needed a window to a surprise ending and she discovered it.

Don’t miss the opportunity to surprise your readers by leading them into a dark intersection traversable only by a character’s sheer willfulness and maybe a bit of Irish good luck. Sometimes the bottom of the pit is a good place for some self-reflection, not just for the character, but for me as the writer. There are familiar ruts I’d like to chug along in, but maybe going off the beaten track will discover plots I didn’t even consider.

I built the worlds they inhabit, but my characters are not marionettes that I can manipulate. Often, almost always, they take on lives of their own. And it’s in the corners where they sometimes grab the plot and run with it, using their own crisis points to grow and change and face down their personal demons.

Is that a plot twist or a welcome relief from a path that needed to be altered. There’s nothing wrong with using tropes and cliches to comfortably move some parts of the plot along in familiar tracks, but humans are complicated. I’d be doing my characters a disservice if I didn’t explore that complexity. And sometimes, complexity comes with shattered glass and dark demons that present my characters with decisions they never intended to make or force them to endure immense tragedy or unspeakable horrors. If you don’t want bad things to happen to you, don’t volunteer to be a character in one of my novels.

At the end of the day, a corner may well hold a window into an unexplored land. Yes, it’s a pain, but if we want to be better writers — writers worth reading – it pays to be a little spontaneous and open to the unexpected. Corners are opportunities to challenge characters and pressure the plot.

There’s always a way out. Sometimes it’s as simple as hitting the back key a thousand times, but before you do that — before I do that — I spend some time looking through that corner window at the tantalizing sight just beyond. What is outside of the safe and comfortable is where the true story lies, where interesting new options exist that might utterly rock your character’s world and give readers the literary ride of their lives.

Although, occasionally, you might want to make liberal use of that back-space key.

Wayfaring Strangers   Leave a comment

Cover Reveal #4   Leave a comment

Image by Aurorawater Publications

Due out August 11, Winter’s Reckoning (Book 6 of Transformation Project) is now on preorder. Watch for the full cover reveal, blurb and discount pricing in the coming days.

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