Archive for March 2022

On Being an Adult   1 comment

Where were you at 21? How does that reflect in your writing today?

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Grown Up

These days, a lot of young people are not anywhere near being adults at 21. I’ve noticed some of my daughter’s friends are still relying on Mom and/or Dad when they’re nearing 30. Certainly that’s common with my son’s age group of 23.

When I was 21, it was common for young people to be out on their own, holding down jobs, sometimes having kids, definitely paying their own bills. Even those of us who were going to college had bills to pay and usually worked at least in the summers. My mom didn’t make a lot of money. She owned a daycare center and that hadn’t yet become a license to steal. Her major goal in life (besides living indoors) was for me to graduate from college, so she and I worked out a deal. I would work for her running the errands a daycare provider finds difficult to do and that would pay my rent and board. I was an adult in all other ways. I paid my own tuition, I provided my own transportation, and bought my own clothes. In order to do this, I worked a full-time job plus a part-time job in the summer and a part-time job in the winter, plus running those errands for Mom all year long. Sometimes I’d step in at the daycare and give Mom a break, There was no internet back then, so errands had to be done in person (the US Postal Service was not quite as dysfunctional as it is today, but close enough that Mom didn’t trust it to pay in-town bills). Along with helping in the daycare, that usually worked out to about 10 hours a week. I studied to the squeals of small children in the living room. I took as many of my classes early in the morning so that I could head back to the house in the afternoon to help for an hour or two. While I did socialize, I couldn’t really afford to waste my time because it was limited and I really couldn’t afford to waste my money because that was hard won from 60-hour weeks.

Consequences

How does that affect my writing today? Everything we do in life has consequences and we can’t help but put a little of ourselves into our writing.

My main characters tend to be hard working people who don’t rely on others unless they absolutely have to. They’re the kind of people who face giant tasks a bite at a time without despair because they know hopelessness won’t get them very far. While some of them can be dragged down by major events, you’ll rarely see a main character of mine who doesn’t eventually climb out of the pit and start working toward their goal again. And they very rarely whine that their circumstances were someone else’s fault.

It’s how I was raised by my Greatest Generation parents and it’s how I have lived my life. My favorite characters are people who have a bit of myself or someone I admire in them.

I have a full-time job and produce at least one, sometimes two (and during Covid, three) books a year. I wouldn’t say I’m a workaholic because I would being writing regardless if I made a profit or shared it with others, but I do like to keep busy and I find I am happier and healthier if I have stuff to occupy my mind. I guess I could read more books instead of write them, but I enjoy writing too much to give it up.

Posted March 29, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Adopting My Own Chaucers   5 comments

Do you have a favorite secondary character in your books? Or a favorite sub-plot?

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A Knight’s Tale shows the power of a well-written secondary character to capture the heart of the audience. We all adored Heath Ledger’s servant-turned-night, but it was Paul Bellamy’s character of Chaucer that got all the attention.

In other examples, there’s the fine comic characters Shakespeare sprinkled throughout his plays. Many of us remember their lines more than we remember those of the main character.

Favorite Byways

Secondary characters and subplots can be all sorts of fun because I feel freer to experiment with them, be a little quirky, do the unexpected.

Since I write series, there’s a lot of subplots that are side channels to the main story arc. I’m not sure I can identify something as a subplot. Some of these little detours have become important elements to the main plot that will bear fruit in later books.

Favorite Second Bananas?

This is where I have an easier time answering. Some of my favorite secondary characters might become primary characters in later books, but this is where they stand currently.

Stan Osimowitz, mayor of Mara Wells, is a secondary character I almost always enjoy writing. He’s loosely based on some men I knew growing up. Always ready with a quip, Stan makes wry comments about his world on a daily basis.

For the exact opposite reason, I enjoy writing Alex Lufgren (also from Transformation Project). Alex is earnest and moral and he absolutely loves. Originally, I thought he’d be a main character, but so far he’s been a back-burner slow development and yet, think he’s going to do some big things in future books. Why? Because I know the story he’s telling me. It’s totally consistently Alex, but it’ll surprise some folks.

Over in the What If Wasn’t universe, Trevor Grey remains my favorite side character who has the potential to carry a book all on his own. Trevor is bigger than life — bold, quirky, and a good friend despite the complications that are hinted at from time to time. I especially enjoy that he has no filter because when the obvious needs to be spoken, Trevor can be counted on to blurt it out. He’s got a lot of potential as a character and that’s what I want in side characters — to give me an opportunity to use them for something bigger. As you read, you just know there’s more there than meets the eye, so where is the character going to go next. I’m not telling, of course, but Trevor won’t disappoint, I promise.

In the What If Wasn’t series, my favorite side character became a main character in the third book — Clotilde Matrim Wyngate burst out of her mousy role as the family housekeeper to reveal herself as Alan Wyngate’s young wife. I knew that was coming from the first book, but I didn’t really know who Tilly would be until I started writing her and I couldn’t be more pleased with her transformation. She will also have a future in the rest of the series.

Side Characters and Subplots

I think they provide enormous opportunities to play with a story a bit, to do things you can do with your main characters and create some fun variety from the main plot. Especially with writing series, I need to toss in some variety to freshen the story while continuing toward the final destination.

What We Don’t Know   6 comments

What is the strangest bit of information you’ve run across while doing research for a story? Or maybe the strangest word?

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Research, then Research Some More

Strange facts are bound to show up if you research for an apocalyptic book series. There’s a lot of things I don’t know…or didn’t until I started to write. For example, my town of Emmaus in Transformation Project is set amid Kansas corn fields. I’d driven through Kansas, I’d seen the corn fields and I knew a few things about corn that the average American doesn’t know because my mother grew up on a Midwestern farm, but really, I didn’t know what I needed to know to write from the perspective of an Emmaus farmer. That became obvious when a alpha reader from the Interior Writers’ group said “I don’t think you can eat ethanol corn.” I needed to know that for sure because it was vital information for my town surviving until spring. You CAN eat dent — ethanol corn. Like all corn, it needs nixtamalization with food-grade lime or wood ask to release the nutrients for human consumption and it isn’t tasty eats, but you can eat it.

In a related topic, we all know horses and cows can sleep standing up, but did you know they can only dream when lying down? I’ve never seen a horse have rapid hoof movement like dogs have rapid paw movement, but my uncle who owns horses assures me they do move their legs like their running when they dream.

While researching general aviation aircraft so Shane’s piloting would be true to life, I learned a cloud can weigh more than a million pounds. That seems so odd for something you can fly a plane through, but it also explains why sometimes planes crash when they encounter such a cloud. The next time I flew through a cloud in a GA aircraft, I considered that fact and hoped the pilot knew what he was doing.

While doing research for Daermad Cycle, which is set in a Medieval alternate reality, I learned that forks were once considered sacrilegious because they were seen as “artificial hands.”

Did you know you can nose-print your dog if you want an identifying record? I actually learned that from my brother who used to have some very expensive show dogs. In related trivia, the human tongue — just like a finger — has a unique-to-you print.

Stan Osimowitz, mayor of Mara Wells in Transformation Project, was an interrogator in the military many years ago. I originally planned him as a character who would engage in such things as water-boarding, but then the character developed a personality of his own and I haven’t found a willingness to torture people. However, if he ever needs to, I now know that if your entire fingernail is removed, it would take about six months to grow from its base to tip.

Strangest?

I’m not sure this counts as THE strangest information I’ve learned, but it made Transformation Project possible. In researching nuclear bombs I learned that suitcase nukes are not ICBMs. Make no mistake, ICMBs would contaminate a wide swath of territory radiating out from where they hit. Not only would nobody survive within the blast radius, but radioactive materials would get up into the atmosphere and kill people at least hundreds of miles away. Because of weather patterns, clouds would carry death around the globe.

But suitcase nukes sit near the ground and they don’t have a lot of force behind them. Yes, they would catch the buildings on fire around them and kill everyone for quite a distance, but they don’t blow a hole in the ground and toss a lot of radioactive dirt into the air. The area of radioactivity resulting from them is smaller. They’re also a much lower yield so their area of damage is less. They are still bombs and a horrible instrument of mass destruction, but they’re more easily contained by tons of concrete.

I also learned that the US power grid and most of our electronics are completely vulnerable to an electromagnetic pulse, which can be caused by a nuclear bomb launched into the upper atmosphere. It wouldn’t necessarily increase radiation levels on the ground, but it would shatter our electrical grid, destroy modern cars, and render any computer connected to the grid at the time of the pulse into a paperweight. Oddly, some devices would survive because they were unplugged and turned off during the EMP event.

These bits of scientific knowledge really don’t classify as “weird”, but they are quite different from what we were taught in school. I grew up after my brother’s half of the generation hid under their desks in drills that were meant to keep them alive. My half of the Boomer generation (what is sometimes called the Jones Generation) scoffed at the idea you could survive a nuclear war. We’d seen Planet of the Apes after all and we knew it would be the end of thinking mankind. War Day came out when I was in college, suggesting you could survive a limited nuclear war…maybe. But when I set out to discover the best way to do the apocalypse, I really was convinced surviving nuclear war wasn’t possible. Then I ran across a fascinating war-game scenario in which suitcase nukes could be used to disable up to two dozen key cities in the US. About 50 million people would die instantly, but the rest of the country would not be irradiated. It’s the evidence I needed to write a believable story about people surviving a nuclear terrorism attack on 18 American cities.

Well, what else is a novelist going to do with such information but write an apocalyptic series?

Posted March 14, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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I’m Not Mocking You   5 comments

Can you speak in an accent that isn’t your own? Can any of your characters do this? How do you indicate that in your stories?

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No Natural Accent

My daughter can manage several believable accents and so can her father. I am not a natural mina bird like they are. However, I will pick up the accent of someone I’m talking to and I find this is quite common among people born and raised in Alaska.

This may be because Alaskans don’t have an accent of our own. We are a state of migrants. In the Al Pacino movie Insomnia, a character explains:

“The thing about Alaska — you’re either born here or you’re running from somewhere else.”

Insomnia

While we aren’t all criminals on the lam, almost every born Alaska has parents who came from somewhere and sometimes from different somewhere elses. My mom was from the Midwest. Her father was the child of a family of Canadian immigrants (some of them only one generation removed from Europe). Her mother was a American Indian mother whose father was from Ireland. My father was from a Washington state logging town populated almost entirely by Scandinavians and his father was born in Sweden, while his mother was raised in a Swedish-speaking community in the Midwest. Although Dad didn’t sound like Frances McDormand in Fargo (unless he was playing around) or a character out of Vikings, he didn’t sound completely “American” (whatever that means) either. Mom had a decidedly Dakotan accent (think Lawrence Welk, if you’re familiar). I assumed I sound like a mixture between the two, but my husband, who has lived a lot of places before landing in Alaska, says I have “Army-brat accent.” You really can’t pin me down.

And then I go and make it harder by imitating the people I’m talking to. I’m not trying to mock them or fake their accent. I simply pick up some of their ways of speaking. And it’s really a cultural thing because I hear other born-Alaskans doing the same thing. When I talk with my friend Kai who is from Taiwan, I’ll pick up her cadence and I’ll change some of my pronunciations to hers, especially if they’re Chinese words. If I’m speaking with my friend Francesca, I’ll pick up some of the tones of Puerto Rico. If I’m speaking with my Australian-born coworker Jeff, I’ll take on some of his accent. People originally from other countries are impressed when I can say their name on the first try.

My theory? Alaskans don’t have an accent of our own, and the culture around us was always in flux when we were kids. This may be changing now, as I think I catch hints of a developing accent from my kids and their friends, but when I was growing up, born Alaskans were a minority in our own state , so that we adapted to the incoming immigrants rather than the other way around. For example, we call narrow bodies of flowing water “streams” here, but many of the Midwesterners and Southerners who lived here during the Pipeline construction call them “cricks”. No, not creeks. Cricks. If I’m hanging out with an immigrant from those regions, I will often adopt “crick” and “far” for fire, and several other examples that my husband always remarks on. If I’m hanging out with his family, I’ll often start dropping my R’s, though I don’t put Rs where they don’t belong. Although my inlaws would call my friend Johnna “Johnar”, I wouldn’t, because it’s not her name. But North Boston becomes Noht Baston, because that’s how they say it. Most people who are not from Louisville, Kentucky, call it Lu-E-vil. I call it “Lu-ah-vul” because that’s how people from Louisville say it. Same with New Orleans. It’s “Nu-ah-lins” and the “s” is almost silent. My husband’s home state is New Hampshire, which most people pronounce as New Hamp Shire. It’s not. It’s Nu-ham-sha, according to the locals.

If I’m trying to fake an accent that isn’t my own, and have no native speaker to cue from, it’s probably going to be Texan or Oklahoman, and I’m also pretty good at Tidewater because three of my long-time pastors have been from that region between the Pine Barrens of New Jersey and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Texans and Oklahomans were very prevalent in Alaska when I was in high school, so I had a lot of practice at matching their accents. Also a good friend is from Georgia, so I could perhaps pull off his accent.

Truthfully, it’s getting harder to do that as Americans now listen to newscasters all the time and so our accents are moderating and became less distinctive over time. There was a period of time when many of our newscasters were from Canada, so children ended up speaking a combination of their parents’ accent with a sidecar of Ottawa public schools. Because Appalachians and folks from the Ozarks are often treated with disdain in our society, they will often drop their accent when they leave the holler (how they say “hollow”) and then end up sounding a lot like Brad Pitt when he’s not trying to sound like an English gypsy.

My Characters

Shane Delaney can do accents. That is brought up by Marnie when she’s talking with someone about Halloween. Like my daughter, he’s a musician, so he picks up cadences and pronunciations. So far he hasn’t gotten to use them much, although in my current work-in-progress Worm Moon, he does an impression of the local vet who is from Wisconsin — so sounds a lot like Frances McDormand in Fargo. That movie had zero to do with North Dakota, by the way. It took place in Wisconsin and I’m told by friends who moved from there that it is an accurate depiction of their accent.

Shane is also fluent in Spanish and sounds like a Chicano when he speaks.

Shane’s handler, Grant Rigby, is a master of dozens of faces and the accents that go with them.

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