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Introducing   1 comment

How do you come up with the names for your characters?

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Naming Conventions

I write in several genres, so naming my characters varies depending on what book I’m writing.

In Daermad Cycle, which is a Celtic-inspired fantasy, there are several races of peoples and of course they have different names. It wouldn’t make sense to just select names at random. For the Celtic names, I google Celtic names and then adapt to the novel’s naming conventions. For the Svard names, I google Scandinavian names. Those are pretty easy. However, there are no real-world equivalents for Kindred names because they are the indigenous population of a fictional world. I created a naming convention — paternal last name first, clan name second, first name last — and then I just began goggling names from various cultures around the world. I slowly developed a sense of what I thought the Kindred would consider to be good names and then I set about deciding what my characters, who mostly already existed, should be called.

In Transformation Project and What If Wasn’t, these are stories set in more or less contemporary America. Transformation Project is set in Kansas, but based loosely on the North Dakota town my mother grew up in. The culture of that town is a mixture of German-, Scandinavian-, and Irish-descended people. I mostly troll online telephone directories for American Midwestern towns. I find last names I think work for my fictional community’s ethnic structure and then I separately find first names that I think go well with those last names. I’ve run across some truly interesting names in my telephone book searches, but I (regretfully) choose not to use them as they are because I don’t want anyone with a unique name feeling as if I somehow stalked them.

What If Wasn’t is set in Long Island, New York, and I pretty much did the same thing, although the name Peter is one I’ve always liked and my husband doesn’t, so since it couldn’t be our son’s name, I set it on my main character. I wouldn’t want my child to go through the tough times Peter has been through. The name Ben Anderson actually is a real person’s name, the best friend of a high school friend of mine who gave his friends as much reason to be sad as Peter does. I guess it’s kind of a tribute to a guy I haven’t seen in 30 years.

Some names just come to you. In What If Wasn’t, there’s a character called Grey. He’s the father of Trevor Grey, one of Peter’s friends, and he’s also Alan Wyngate’s best friend (Alan is Peter’s father). He was Grey from about 30 seconds after I started writing the character and I didn’t really give much thought to his real first name. When I wrote the third book in the series, I found I needed him to have a first name for official reasons. Why would a man call himself “Grey Grey?” Well, if he had a dorky first name, that would be a good reason. So, I listed out a bunch of names my generation considered to be dorky back in our day and Melvin stood out. Of course, a lot of those kind of dorky names from back then are being revitalized and coming back into use, but that doesn’t mean Melvin Grey has to like his name. He’s a rich eccentric businessman. If he wants to just have one name, why not? It works for Cher and Bono.

So, I do have a method to naming of characters, but sometimes the method can be a little obscure. Sometimes, I just like a name. For example, Jazz Tully in Transformation Project. I worked with a woman several years ago who went by Jazz. She explained her real name was Jessica, but her toddler brother couldn’t manage Jess. It came out as something like Jazz, so she collected this nickname. I knew Shane’s eventual love interest would be named Jazz before I even sat down to create the character because it’s a name that should be used.

On the other hand, Marnie Callahan Delaney, Cai’s wife, was never supposed to be Marnie. The character had been around in my head for a while. I knew her personality, but not her name. When I wrote the initial scene with her in it, I choose “Marnie” (a friend’s name) as a placeholder, fully intending to try out names for her later. But when I got back on edit, the character had accepted “Marnie” as her name and resisted changing to the name I’d researched and selected.

I’ve said before that my characters can develop opinions of their own and if I try to push too hard, they stop talking to me, so I let her keep Marnie, even though it meant I had to reset Maggie’s name. She’s Marnie’s mother and I knew she would name her two daughters with a first initial that corresponded to hers and her son with a first initial that corresponded with his father’s. Although I never wrote the scene, I created one in my head where Maggie and Jason argued over the name change of their daughter on the day of her birth and in doing so, I convinced the character of Maggie–a very strong-willed woman–to accept her own name change. I also had to reset Marnie’s sister’s name to Marie, but since the character is dead when the series began, that was easy. Dead characters in my novels have no opinions, for which I am grateful.

I wonder how my fellow writers develop names for their characters.

Posted May 16, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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It’s a Business   4 comments

May 2, 2022

What did you do with your first book “paycheck?” (Thanks for reminding me of this idea, Richard.)

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Where have I been?

First, I want to apologize for being absent the last few weeks. My husband had trade shows and I was helping. I just couldn’t get my act together for the blog. And our kitchen ceiling sprang a leak last week, so…yeah. Life got in the way.

I Reinvested

I know, so boring, but truthfully, I try to approach this venture as a business. The Willow Branch owed me money that came from my paycheck and it was tempting to go spend it on a nice lunch or celebratory dinner, but that would just mean the book still owed me money, and I had less money to invest in making the book profitable, so I reinvested those first earnings into advertising. Two years passed before The Willow Branch had paid back its initial investment and then I took my husband to a celebratory dinner courtesy of the book paid for from actual profits.

I know, so capitalistic! But with each subsequent book, I’ve gotten better at marketing until now the books generally pay off their initial investment within three-to-six months of publication. It’s still a hobby, but it is a hobby that pays for itself because I treat it like a small business.

Posted May 2, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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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.

Book Vandalism   7 comments

Let’s start a war. Do you dog-ear books or use a bookmark? Do you ever make notes in your books?

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Dad’s Long Arm

My father was a book-phile from as far back as I can remember. My mother loved to read too, but she was less fussy about her books. Dad must have gifted me with a hundred bookmarks when I was a kid. He definitely didn’t like dog-earing or, worse, setting down a book open and breaking the spine — Mom’s favorite way of keeping her place. He also didn’t believe in writing in books. He always said you should leave the book in good condition so the next reader could enjoy it.

The only exception to this was his Bible. Thankfully, he did make that exception because I now know a lot about his faith that he always refused to talk about because I can most decipher his margin-note code.

Me?

I usually use a bookmark (or receipt, or twig, or…), but if nothing is handy, I will dog-ear a book rather than lose my place. I make notes in non-fiction books, but not in my Bible. I keep a separate notebook there. That way if I need to replace my Bible, I don’t lose all my notes.

It doesn’t drive me crazy if other people make notes in a book, although I’m always perplexed by people who do it in a fiction book. I’m sure there’s a reason I can’t figure out.

Posted February 28, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Damages   4 comments

What’s the worst wound (emotional or physical) one of your characters has ever had to deal with? How did you react to writing the scene?

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Hard on my Characters

I write post-apocalyptic and fantasy. It would be silly to assume everybody in a post-apocalyptic world is going to survive and the thing about fantasy is that everyone runs around with these great big swords. Sooner or later, someone is bound to get killed. Might as well just accept reality in such fiction.

Daermad Cycle

I started out killing Prince Maryn about 20 pages into The Willow Branch. His death sets up turmoil of the next century in Celdrya. It’s always in the background. I’ve got a beta reader who says she is always waiting for who dies next. Clearly, I kill my characters if the story demands it. At the end of The Willow Branch, Tamys is at the edge of death. He lives, but is blind. In Mirklin Wood, Danys falls and his survival remains a question even at the end of Fount of Wraiths.

Transformation Project

I kill 30 million Americans by the end of the first book Life As We Knew It. I kill a hundred more, including characters who had spoken, in Objects in View. Jacob died peacefully in his sleep of ordinary old age in Gathering In. In Winter’s Reckoning, Shane falls and dislocates a hip and comes close to dying of hypothermia. Everybody thought Mike died in Gathering In, but he appears at the end of A Death in Jericho, just as Cai takes a bullet across town. You’ll have to read Worm Moon, due out later this year, to find out if Mike is really alive (Shane’s PTSD has included a “ghost” of Mike) or if Cai lives.

What If Wasn’t

This series isn’t a post-apocalyptic or fantasy, but a new adult drama set in Long Island, but somehow I can’t get away from injury or death.

At the end of Red Kryptonite Curve, Peter drove a car into a tree, dislocating his shoulder and smashing Chyenne’s face. The book ends with Peter deeply depressed, admitting he’s an alcoholic, and he wants to save himself.

That desire to stay sober is not as easy to accomplish as it is in a Hallmark movie, so at the end of Dumpster Fire, Peter’s drunken actions result in Alyse’s death and potential injuries to others. Do you think an 18-year-old kid who kills his sister, even accidentally, might suffer some emotional wounds? That’s the subject of Pocketful of Rocks which comes out next month. All I can say is that I bawled when I wrote the book..several times. Often times when I write injury scenes, I try to be very clinical about it so it doesn’t touch me, but with Peter, the scenes center on him and…wow…painful. I thought Shane could be dark, but Peter….

The Worst?

I think, if I had to choose, the character with the worst physical injury of all of them is Geo, Jazz Tully’s brother (Transformation Project), who was shot in the head and is currently serving as a lab rat for his employer. He can’t move, speak or breathe on his own, so I’d say that’s the worst injury…so far. I actually woke up a few times while writing his scenes, momentarily feeling like I couldn’t move, so it is disturbing to write it.

Simply the Best   4 comments

What are your favorite writing tools?

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I Like Simplicity

I trained as a journalist, so I’m frequently annoyed by writing programs aimed for English majors. Journalism and English don’t have the same goals and even argue over the same grammar and punctuation. Journalistic writing is English simplified, so that it can come into under deadline and be understood by people with an 8th grade education. It takes a lot of precision to write to that style and it’s the one I’m most comfortable with. Think Hemingway. I’m not him, but I lean his way more than I do Joyce, for example. Because of this, I generally avoid programs that claim they’ll make you a better writer. I check them out sometimes and then I reject them as annoying.

It’s a personal choice. Do what works for you.

Three Go-To Tools

So my favorite writing tools are simple and they’re primarily editing tools. I use Grammarly to check my grammar and punctuation as part of the editing process. I don’t always agree with it, but I appreciate the advice, which I take when and if it makes sense to me.

Although I know some writers who swear by the University of Chicago’s Style Guide, I prefer the AP Style Guide. The reason is simple. I already paid for it and it’s sitting on my shelf of resource books, but I also know my way around it because I’ve been using it for +30 years (not this particular style guide. Mine’s an updated one from 2010).

A couple of years ago I adopted Text to Speech as another beloved tool. Listening to the robot voice read my text back to me allows me to catch errors even Grammarly misses. Between Grammarly and Text-to-Speech, I think I catch probably 95% of my errors. My husband will occasionally find one when he reads the print book. That’s 97%. I haven’t found an app that catches the other 3% — unless it’s my son.

Keeping It Simple

I can think of many other great tools that are out there that other writers truly love, but I’ve pared my toolkit down to a handful of tools I’m very comfortable with and I think making the writing process too complicated would make the processing of writing less enjoyable for me.

But maybe I’ll try something my fellow blog-hoppers suggest and I’ll change my mind. You never know.

Posted February 14, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Turns of Phrase   5 comments

Share some of your favorite lines from your writing. How about some of your worst ones if you still remember them?

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Great Lines?

What are some of my favorite lines that I have personally written? Wow, that’s a workout since I now have three series and have published 12 books. But here’s a few – grabbed at random.

Hullabaloo on Main Street –

Hullabaloo on Main Street was a political satire in the early days of the Trump administration when the right-left divide was still kind of entertaining from a libertarian viewpoint. Based on a Politico article about how Midwesterners reacted to the Trump win in 2020, I set the novelette in a fictional Midwestern down near a generic big city and peopled it with funny townspeople to amuse the main character’s libertarian senses. The book sales didn’t do very well and has yet to pay for its publication, so I’m unlikely to write satire as a genre again. But there were some great lines in the book, which tried to skewer both sides of the debate.

First is my comment to the reader —

Any resemblance to you or someone you know is purely coincidental, but if you’ve ever wondered what someone who disagrees with you is thinking while you’re yelling at them …. We could all use better senses of humor about American politics.

And then in MC Connor’s observations as he navigates his world on the day after President Trump won the 2020 election. I wanted to establish his inner comedian even before he got around people.

“Beacon barks, so I let him in. He climbs back up on his couch where he can look out the front windows at the distant cars on the road past our place. I ruffle his ears. He licks my hand. Does he wonder what I taste like or does he love me? He’s a yellow Lab. Of course, he loves me! They don’t actually taste their food.”

I wanted to make Connor self-aware enough to joke about himself.

“Like most little pockets of humanity where everybody knows everybody, there are quirks here that can rub you the wrong way sometimes, but I’ve learned to channel my sense of irritation and irrepressible irony into my writing, rather than challenge the people I use for source material. So far nobody has recognized themselves. Either they’re not reading the books or it’s a testament to my writing skills.”

But then when he gets among people, his inner dialogue is wry and observational, even as his verbal interaction is polite and noncommital. Like when one of his Democratic neighbors suggests that their reaction to Trump winning the election should be to elect more Democrats to the “nonpartisan” school board.

How will that fix the Presidential election? Are you planning some sort of invasion of DC by teachers or … er, uh, yeah? Hobby farmers unite against Trump! Real farmers unite against Hillary. Blood in the streets and UN blue helmets on the corners. Okay, now I’m being melodramatic, but at least I’m wise enough not to air my folly outside my head.

And,

CONNOR “She’s not the only one who is afraid of their Trump-voting neighbors this morning.”

GIL “Oh, for heaven’s sake! Are they expecting us to suddenly launch Kristal Nacht here in the Midwest?”

Oh, that line is so going in the article! That is not a hick reference. This man reads, maybe more than his condescending neighbors

But Connor also finds his conservative neighbors funny too.

NEIGHBOR “My god, you’d think we’d elected Hitler.”

I don’t think Trump is Hitler. Der Furor was a scary man with no sense of humor. Trump is more like Bozo the clown.

And then in the midst of a discussion of why they voted for Trump.

My god! The head of the local RNC, Roger sounds almost like a libertarian anarchist. Color me shocked! He hasn’t just been arguing his views when we meet over beers. He’s actually been listening. Dogs will be mating with cats any moment now. In fact, I should make sure Beacon isn’t being molested by Mom’s cat as we speak.

From Hullabaloo on Main Street

Transformation Project

In the series Transformation Project, my characters also reflect many of my views of the world (although not always — I make a concerted effort to create characters who differ from one another, so they differ from me). In this scene, former lovers Shane Delaney and Marnie Callahan meet for the first time in five years during a crisis.

“Why am I not surprised that all hell would break loose the second you show up?” Marnie quipped as she kneeled on the other side of the patient.

“I’m not the cause of hell, Dr. Callahan, just a guy trying to survive it,” Shane bantered back. “You are a doctor, right? At least one of us should have some training.”

From Life As We Knew It (Book 1)

And, in this scene between Shane and Jazz Tully, they try to sort out what’s going on in their world and not freak out about it.

“Still a little shaky. When Marnie asked me to give blood, I had just eaten, so I figured it would be fine, but I didn’t really sleep last night, so….”

“A little busy dealing with the end of the world, huh?”

“It’s not the end of the world. It’s just the end of life as we knew it.”

“I guess that’s a good time to stock up on toilet paper.”

From Life As We Knew It (Book 1)

That concept of it’s not the end of the world, just the end of life as we knew it is a personal belief of mine. The world will change, but it won’t end. It’s up to us to adapt to it. A similar theme comes up in the next book, in the line of dialogue that gave the book its title. It’s a conversation between the very youthful Jazz Tully and the nonagenarian Jacob Delaney, who is the philosophical center of the series even after his character’s death.

JAZZ “You think it’s over then …the United States … just like that?”

JACOB “I think it’s going to keep twitching for a while. That’s the dangerous part. Because during its death spiral, we have to stay out of the way of the flailing arms so we can go about our business. We have to keep the important objects in view and not get distracted by the unimportant things.”

JAZZ “How do we know the difference?”

JACOB “Now there’s the right question, young lady, though I’ll tell you honestly that you’ll know or you won’t when you see it. If you don’t, then you’re part of the problem and not the solution.

From Objects in View (Book 2)

What If Wasn’t

What If Wasn’t is a Young Adult into New Adult Series, so dealing with teenagers. Some of my lines from there are definitely not my personal thoughts, such as when 17-year-old MC Peter is describing a date at the water park.

Us men want to go to the big water slides. Yeah, there’s the adrenaline rush of flying down a twisting slide on a thin flow of water, but it’s a lot better when you’re doing it with a pretty girl between your legs. Multiply that by a couple dozen times and – yeah. Ben’s a genius.

From Red Kryptonite Curve (Book 1)

Or later in the date when Peter and Cheyenne talk about a dance performance gone wrong, where Peter essentially quotes my performance artist daughter.

CHEYENNE “You were supposed to dance that role, weren’t you? You didn’t know?”

PETER “I thought you’d rechoreographed.” I knew something had gone wrong, but neither of them let on, which is the essence of dance performance that I miss. It’s performance art. There’s no retakes. If you screw up, you cover and you do it beautifully with a smile on your face. If only life were so easy.

From Red Kryptonite Curve

The second book in the series takes place months later when Peter has identified at least some of his life problems.

This party is not avoidable. It’s the biggest so far. It’s not ignorable either. I need to get through it if I want to sleep tonight. The commons rooms are all filled with strobing darkness and writhing bodies as I make my way toward the stairs, my nose telling me every drink I pass. That one’s weak, but I’d drink it. That one’s strong. I love strong. When I drank, I didn’t even like beer and wine, but they smell pretty good from where I’m standing now. I want them so-so much and yet I also know why I can’t have them. My drinking was off the chain and I know what happens if I give into temptation now.

From Dumpster Fire (Book 2)

And then a few minutes later…

“Hey, Peter.” She purrs into my ear as she drapes an arm around my neck that pulls me down to her level where I can smell the beer on her breath. Nice beer, very hoppy. I don’t like beer, but we’ve already established I don’t need to like alcohol to want to drink it.

“Hey.” I don’t know her name. She lives on the second floor. We’ve passed on the stairs a few times. She’s pretty when she’s not shit-faced, but we haven’t really talked. I’m used to people knowing me even though we haven’t really met. I’m over six feet, lean and athletic and my father makes me famous. I never really asked for any of that.

“I want to dance with you.”

“I’m still wearing my coat,” I tell her. It’s a lame escape tactic. I know I don’t really want to escape her. It’s the alcohol I want to escape. She’s moving her hips to the beat of the music and I feel my anatomy rising to the occasion. I’m weak on so many levels so I try to choose my safest weakness. Alcohol may be off the table, but safe sex isn’t. I nod to the stairs. “C’mon.”

From Dumpster Fire

Daermad Cycle

Lines from Daermad Cycle seemed harder to find. I’m prouder of long descriptions and dialogue that conform to the way of speaking in Celdrya. Unfortunately, sharing it out of context wouldn’t make sense. But here’s a couple. The first is from the opening scene of The Willow Branch and what I like best is the male camaraderie and dealing frankly with what would be a standard viewpoint in medieval elitist society.

“I do think that second marriages agree with a man,” Deryk commented. He’d already drank a bit too much, as was his wont. Soon the tall blonde swordsman would settle back on his cot and sleep, leaving Maryn to contemplate the eve and his own thoughts alone. Twas always the way with them since boyhood.

“How so?” Maryn asked, leaning back in his camp chair, his darker brown hair and beard setting off his merry blue eyes. As heir-apparent to the High Seat of Celdrya, he craved the rare honest moment with a vassal who would speak freely. “Do you not remember the first marriage, my friend? You were cockled for months before the ceremony. This time, you ducked into Llyr, confirmed the engagement and flitted away for the important things in life.” Deryk demonstrated this by waving his wine cup about this den of manly comfort.

From The Willow Branch (Book 1)

And this is the end of that first scene:

Pedyr…then jerked round as a raven scream split the night. Before he could draw his sword, there came a whistling and Maryn was thrown back against a tree.

Death took him by surprise as he looked down at the two feet of dressed wood protruding from his chest. He couldn’t feel his legs, but he knew he was staked to the tree like a squirrel.

I’m done for! I thought death would be more painful.

Pedyr bellowed for aid and the camp came alive as Maryn died, staring up at the moon with his life leaking away into the dirt by his feet and wondering why the shaft that killed him was the only one to fly.

From The Willow Branch

Words I Wish I’d Said

This year, while I was working on the third book in Daermad Cycle, I decided to give Kindle Vella a chance and tackle my nemesis “Romance” in a serial version. In Words I Wish I’d Said, Autumn and Declan aren’t strangers when they meet in the Denver Airport on the way to his brother’s wedding and they have a lot of history to overcome.

Autumn opens the first scene–

What are the odds of running into someone you know at an airport in a town you don’t live in?

Well, yeah, they increase significantly when you might both be invited to the same wedding.

But I doubt it too because this guy looks – I don’t know – not angry or upset or any of the other negative emotions that usually surrounded Declan like a fetid cloud and that would definitely be his primary emotion if stuck in an airport with thousands of other stranded passengers. He’s staring up at the soaring ceiling and that might be a slight smile on his winsome face. Okay, that’s just kind of creepy. Does this handsome guy not realize he’s stranded at the airport? Who smiles when they learn that news? Definitely not Declan Carmichael. When we knew each other way back when, he would have demanded all the attention in the room and this is an enormous room with an audience needing a spectacle. That’ll get you arrested at most airports and maybe he’s learned that lesson fully. But chances are it’s not Declan.

And, then Declan also has his own point of view.

While I’m imagining, she turns to look at me. I jerk my gaze away because I don’t want to be mistaken for a stalker. Yeah, might as well be a decade younger than I am. I lost all skills for flirting and the last thing I want is a woman mad at me for admiring her assets. These days, the woke ones can get pretty aggressive, as if I’m not supposed to be turned on by females. Maybe by their rules, I’m not. Last week some girl on the bus got up in some guy’s grill about toxic masculinity, which apparently all men are afflicted with. She has no idea how toxic some guys can get. I try to be polite, but I’m still male. The human race is in trouble if guys aren’t allowed to be sexually aroused by the female shape.

It’s how babies get made, folks.

Great lines in literature are often gem-set among other lines and to take them out of context would be to do an injustice to the greatness of the line. I wonder how my fellow blog-hoppers dealt with this in their articles.

Posted January 31, 2022 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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