Archive for the ‘#openbook’ Tag

Hiding in Plain Sight   10 comments

Do you write under a pseudonym? If so, why? If not, would you ever consider it?

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Keeping Real Life Separate

Don’t ask me what my real name is because I’m not telling. Even if you guess, I won’t verify.

When I decided to publish my first novel, my husband asked me what that might mean for our lives…was it possible I might become famous? Well, there was a remote possibility. There still is as the books become more popular with every new one I publish.

Brad’s related to someone else who is famous, the National Air Traffic Operations Manager who ordered all the planes on the ground on 911. Ben tells us the byproduct of being famous is people wander up your driveway while you’re having a family barbecue either wanting your autograph or accusing you of being part of a worldwide conspiracy to start wars in foreign lands. He doesn’t recommend becoming famous.

But I wanted to share my books with the world. As time went along, I realized that a pen name means I can write on subjects that my employer might not want to be associated with. In today’s hyperpartisan climate, I can be honest about what I think and not worry that my house might become the subject of a riot. It’s not that I am ashamed of anything I write or say, but I don’t want to be poor Ben, trying to explain that I am not who my uninvited visitors believe me to be and they need to get off my lawn now. Some slight cloaking of my identity means that at least if someone does make it that far, they will probably be at least somewhat reasonably intelligent since they would have to do actual research to find out my real name.

Thus, a pen name

It’s a time-honored tradition among writers to use a pseudonym. There was a time when being a writer was scandalous if you were in certain social classes and many women wrote under men’s names back in the days before we were liberated from notions of what women couldn’t write about. These days, I suspect writers use nom de plumes to hide in plain sight, so they don’t have to worry about fans showing up at their teaching job. There’s also a marketing aspect to it. There are authors who use several, changing their names depending on the genre they write in.

My real name is hard to spell and though it’s actually easy to pronounce, the spelling doesn’t hint at that. So going with a pen name cleared up that problem. I chose something that is easy to pronounce “Lela Markham” (Lay-luh Mark-um). The first name comes from a foreign-born student at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks who could not for the life of her say my real name correctly. What came out was something like Lela, which became a joke with a few of my friends. So when I contemplated my pen name, something based on my name but not really seemed like a good choice.

My grandmother’s cousin was Edwin Markham, the poet whose poem is inscribed around the base of Lincoln’s statue at the Lincoln Memorial. It seemed a good way to honor the literary tradition in my grandmother’s family.

Of course, I’m not anonymous

You could probably figure how who I am by what I’ve told people of my home town and even just the facts I’ve divulged in this article, but giving myself that layer of protection hopefully will mean fans reach out to me by email, not tour buses driving by my house. And the cranks, well, at least they will likely be somewhat intelligent.

Posted June 29, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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What’s Beneath the Skin   12 comments

June 22, 2020

What are your favorite kind of characters to create? To read?

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Visits from Friends

I don’t really create characters. They come to me and want to tell me their stories. I don’t sit back and say “I’m going to create a character who is a depressed mercenary struggling with PTSD whose loving family want to rescue him, but he’s trapped in an endless loop of despair.” That’s Shane from Transformation Project – a “good guy” character with some dark places in his deep most parts.

Neither did I sit back and say “I’m going to create a character who is a rich teenager with a drinking problem who can’t seem to make good choices even when he wants to.” That’s Peter from Red Kryptonite Curve – a sympathetic flawed character who is still young enough to have hope, but you can predict will have a difficult time as he goes forward.

I tried to create the character of Gregyn from Daermad Cycle as a minion of Talidd, who was meant to be an evil mage. Gregyn wasn’t originally going to be the flawed character he is now. He was only supposed to exist for a couple of scenes, giving Talidd a report on Galornyn. Then he took on a life of his own and became a nuanced “bad guy” character who is still rewriting his own story.

Most of my characters come to me and want to tell their story and I comply. Such flawed characters are fun to write because they won’t always do what’s expected. Such flawed characters can be exhausting to write because they’re often depressed. Shane hallucinates his nemesis, for heaven’s sake. And yet I enjoy these characters more than good-guy characters who are all light and joy. It’s because they’re unpredictable, even to me their ersatz creator. Typically my flawed characters are not irredeemable. I don’t like writing the dark heart of evil, though those characters do exist in my books. I don’t want to spend a lot of time in the heads of my bad guys. I’d rather work with these complicated, contradictory characters who occupy a good-guy/bad-guy middle ground. They’re not anti-heroes, but they’re not pure either.

I also like reading about such characters. When I was in 5th grade, I picked up Madeleine L’Engle’s The Young Unicorns. I mark that as my first “adult” book. It was a YA, but it was a good leap from what I had been reading before (the next year, I would read Summer of 42 with my mother, so I grew up fast). The character of Dave in TYU was such a flawed, but redeemable character. Eventually, he would need to make a choice about who he would be and he did.

Now I wonder what my fellow bloghoppers are saying on this subject.

Ordinarily Extraordinary   17 comments

What’s the most unusual experience you’ve ever had? Have you included it in one of your books?

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Alaska, yo!

Mount Washington, New Hampshire October 2001

Growing up, my childhood just seemed normal because the circumstances I encountered were similar to the circumstances of many of my friends.

They didn’t seem unusual because they were ordinary — for Alaskans. Everybody gets trapped in an outhouse because there’s a moose in the yard. Or sometimes a bear. What’s weird about swinging a machete to clear an airfield as your first high school summer job? Doesn’t everybody need to rebuild a section of public roadway so they can rescue their car from a mudslide because the government that owns the road is hundreds of miles away?

Given that background, I think I might have had a lot of unusual experiences by the judgment of most people, but they seemed ordinary to me, so how do I answer that question?

I literally had to ask my husband, who has lived here 35 years now, but didn’t grow up here to name some unusual experiences we’ve had. Brad ran his suggestions by his father who moved to Alaska in October because when you live in this weird place, a lot of odd experiences just become ordinary.

We came up with several experiences my father-in-law decided were “amazing.” Then I wanted to pick one I’ve used in my writing. That narrowed the field.

Unusual Experience

We went hiking in New Hampshire, at Mt. Washington. When we hike here in Alaska, the days are longer than 12 hours because the summer sun lingers. Last night it went down after midnight. The sky never got dark. I call it “sun dip” where the colors of sunset bleed right into the colors of dawn, which was a little after 3 in the morning. Although I was mostly asleep, there are no curtains on our bedroom window, so I kept waking up to admire the beauty and then going back to sleep. We sometimes go for long bike rides or even hikes after work and every softball game we played in the church league started at 7 in the evening, and no, the fields don’t have lights. Consequently, we don’t give a lot of thought to what happens when the sun goes down because it doesn’t go down all summer and hiking isn’t something you do in the winter. Winter – below zero degrees, dark, feet of snow. Winter is a different country entirely from summer. The sun goes down, sometimes less than three hours after it came up … but our period of civil twilight is nearly as long as the entire day, so you have lots of time to get back to your car and snow … well, it’s reflective.

Hiking, Mt. Washington, October, New Hampshire. Yes, the sun goes down there. We were having a good time. We took the tram to the top of the mountain and planned to hike down to the parking lot. Well within our physical condition and the energy level of our seven-year-old daughter (who is now an itinerant musician and busker who leads her friends on “unusual experiences” like hiking mountains. Who ever heard of getting out of the car and climbing a mountain just because it’s there? Ivyl!)

Thank God we brought her.

We’d paused to change our two-year-old’s diaper and give his dad’s shoulders a break when I noticed the shadows were longer than they’d been five minutes before.

“Hey, Brad, when’s sunset?”

He looked up from explaining something nature-y to Ivyl. His first expression said “Woman, why are you bothering me?” Then the deer-in-headlights expression replaced it. Uh, oh-oh.

“It’s been a while since I had to think of that.” His gaze flickered around the beautiful site we were standing in and then the sky to the south where the sun was visibly dropping toward the horizon. “Twenty minutes — maybe.”

“And how far are we from the parking lot?”

“An hour, if we run.”

Get the toddler in the backpack and start moving. Imagine a Scooby Do episode when they first encounter the “ghost.” We’re booking down the mountain as fast as we can go. To our right is a drop-off that in some places would spell death. Meanwhile, the sun is doing what the sun does. The shadows grow longer and longer and the path becomes harder to see until we stop running because we can’t see.

It hadn’t snowed yet, so the pathway wasn’t reflective. We neglected to bring a flashlight because we’ve never needed to carry a flashlight while hiking. Now what? It gets cold in New England in October overnight. We weren’t going to stay on the mountainside with no gear. We had cell phones, but no reception (this was about 20 years ago). We’re standing in the dark on the side of a mountain, on an unfamiliar trail with two small children and inadequate gear for an overnight.

Time to improvise, baby!

Even back then, cell phones had a flashlight function. I remember ours were called “lanterns” and they were sufficient to get your key into a lock, but they sucked for going down an unfamiliar trail with a cliff to one side. Brad admitted he couldn’t do it after a few turns of the path when true darkness enveloped us.

And the Hero is? The 7-year-old!

“I can see the path.”

Okay, kid. We’ll humor your delusions.

“Really, you can see the path? Which way does it bend?”

“This time to the right. But I’d need light to see it.”

The two-year-old bellowed his agreement. He didn’t like the darkness, we think. We handed Ivyl one of the cell phones and showed her how to keep the lantern on. She extended her skinny little arm and started down the trail.

“Come on. It’s easy.”

Brad and I couldn’t see much except the white of her jacket illuminated by the lantern, so I grabbed the shoulder of that jacket and Brad put his hand on my shoulder and we followed the 7-year-old down the mountain. It was so dark that when we reached the parking lot, Brad and I didn’t realize it until Ivyl said “There’s the car.” Uh, what car?

Everything is fair game for fiction

I’m telling this story casting Brad and I as ill-prepared, oblivious risk junkies and bad parents. They lived! Okay? Yes, it might have created the wild non-violent anarchy of our daughter and that baby has grown up to be a rock-climber who seriously considers climbing the Hurricane Gulch Bridge. But Alaskan parents figure if their kids survive to adulthood without being eat by a bear or stomped by a moose, we’ve done our jobs.

Hurricane Gulch Bridge, Alaska 2020

How did I use that in my bad parenting example in my writing?

The third book in the Daermad Cycle fantasy series is still in development and there’s a scene I’ve already written about a dark night when Padraig and Tamys, two of the main characters, have to find their way home without a torch. Under a new moon, Padraig can’t see any better than Tamys who was blinded in an accident in Mirklin Wood. He’s been learning to navigate his world of darkness using his as-yet-unacknowledged psychic gifts and, when Padraig admits he can’t get them home because he can’t see the road, Tamys takes over. Many of the elements of that scene come from that trip down Mt. Washington clinging to the jacket of a brave and adventurous 7-year-old. Look for Fount of Wraiths sometime in the future.

Posted June 15, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Connection is Key   8 comments

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

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I write series

I have no problem with standalone novels. I read a lot of them and enjoy them. Some stories can be told in 80,000 words. I believe that. There’s nothing wrong with standalone novels.

For me, however, I write series. I’ve got three under development currently. Even some of my WIPs that started as standalone projects have spilled over into two or three books.

First Book Sells the Second Book

A body of work with interconnected stories gives readers a reason to come back to the same author. It’s really a marketing technique. Since Amazon now has an app for tracking page reads, I can see a trend, particularly with Transformation Project. Someone starts Life As We Knew It. Sometimes they read half the first day and half the next or sometimes they read the whole thing in one day. Then, someone (most likely the same someone since who reads the second book in a series without reading the first) starts reading Objects in View. Most of my reads appear to be people reading the entire series, just based on numbers. So while I advertise all the books, I spend my big money on the first book in the series and let it do the work for the rest.

Great Characters Doing Interesting Things

I’m a character-driven writer, but only so many characters with interesting stories present themselves to me, and generally those stories are the ones that wander through my mind the most. Which is good. I have enough of a cacophony of characters in my mind with the active stories. If I had dozens of standalone novels, I’d be horribly distracted — not just from the story I’m trying to tell, but from real life. Yes, authors live real lives beyond the boundaries of our pages and, yes, I want to be present for my life.

Because I write series, I know I have lots of opportunities to tell stories. I can show Peter, the main character in the What If Wasn’t series, acting like an immature teenager without a clue to where he’s headed in Red Kryptonite Curve and yet know I have lots of opportunities for him to get it right — or not — in future books.

World-Building

World-building is where speculative fiction writers rise and fall. It’s tough to build a great alternative universe. It’s a little easier to build a community for a more mainstream story. For me, having done the work, why waste it? You can bring readers time and time again to this world where they know their way around and feel comfortable, so I can then concentrate on the stories the characters want to tell.

There’s power in telling stories over a long period of time. Shane is not the same person in Gathering In as he was when readers met him in Life As We Knew It. External events and internal torments set him on a journey of change. I don’t think I could tell that story in one book. He’d be a flat one-dimensional character and the behaviors I’ll show in “Winter’s Reckoning” (due out this fall) wouldn’t really make sense.

Variety is the Spice & Seasoning of Life & Literature

I enjoy standalone novels and I write series. I also love to read series. There’s something about the story arc done over a period of time that is very compelling. Most of us live in interconnectedness. Our teen years inform our 20s, our 30s inform our 40s, etc. Why should books be different? Some stories can be told in less than $100,000, but others maybe take several thousand pages. And it all works for some readers at different times.

Posted June 1, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Getting It Right   5 comments

What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?

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Awesome Power

Telling people’s stories is a tricky business. When I was a journalist, I had a code of ethics I was supposed to follow. Believe it or not, journalists supposedly have a Code of Ethics. I don’t think any of us seriously believe today’s “journalists” follow that code. Maybe Sharyl Atkisson (an investigative journalist) does, but when reporters sit down with a gay, atheist classical liberal for most of day and then report he’s the leader of the American alt-right — clearly something has gone off the rails with regard to seeking the truth and reporting it.

Researchers dig into the lives of other people to tell their stories. When the subjects are living people they can sue you for getting it wrong, although it is really expensive and very difficult to actually win a case when you’re a public figure and since everybody these days has some public interface — you’re pretty safe in lying about anyone you like — which is why people do it. Most reporters today show no signs of ever reading that code of ethics and most of the people I know who have been the subject of a news feature didn’t think the reporter got their story right.

Living people have options for correcting the abusive retelling of their stories to support the political and/or social agendas of the news curators, but historical figures are not able to demand fair treatment. Many historians seem to feel free to cast historical figures in their own image and historical fiction writers — well, why do they need to get their facts right? They have a message to assert. What should they feel obligated to present the historical figure as the person they were when they were alive?

I am not speaking of all historical friend writers. My friend Becky Akers spends years researching her subjects before she writes about them, just for one example. She usually writes from the perspective of someone who was near the historical figure, so that she can allow the actual person to remain who they are and leave the interpretation to the fictional character. I’m sure there are other writers who take their craft just as seriously — and then there are all the others who don’t.

Great Responsibility

As a reporter, I felt a great responsibility to get the story right. I didn’t always have editors who agreed with me — which is one reason I am no longer a reporter.

Similarly, I don’t write historical fiction because I am aware of the great responsibility to get the story right. The only foray I’ve made into that arena is an alternative history short based on the question – What might have happened if the US Constitution had not been ratified?

I based the main character on an ancestor who I know a little bit about because his son told his story in a journal 20 years after the fact. The satellite characters were, many of them, historical figures who we know a little bit about by what they did in history. It was a short, so I couldn’t go deeply into their personalities, but I tried to write their broad strokes to correlate with what is known about them from history.

I felt I had an obligation to get my presentation of their characters right.

We Are Writing Their Story, Not Ours

One way that I make a little side money is to edit Master’s theses and Doctoral dissertations. I live in a university town with a large portion of the student body coming from other parts of the world, so I generally pick up a project or two every year. I’ve gotten to delve into all sorts of subjects, most often science subjects, but including treatment of historical events and characters. My job is to correct their English errors, but I’m a journalist at my center, so I often google their facts. I’ve learned some wonderful things about many people who lived in history. I’ve also learned that a lot of historians feel free to make claims about people who would never have agreed with that backward-looking take on their lives.

Some of that is understandable. We view history through our cultural lens. I think slavery is wrong and was a horrible institution because I was raised in the 20th century where every school child is taught from kindergarten forward to believe slavery is evil and those who owned slaves were irredeemable scoundrels. Thomas Jefferson, a slave-owner, couldn’t possibly have been against slavery. If he were, he’d have freed his slaves. Of course, his story was more nuanced than that. The son of slave owners, he inherited the slaves he owned and that inheritance already had an encumbrance of debt on it. By law, he couldn’t free his slave because they were collateral on his father’s debt, which he still owed when he wrote “all men are created equal”. He wasn’t being disingenuous when he wrote those words. He was actually trying to be crafty. The only way he could get out of being a slave-owner was for the government to outlaw slavery. England was still more than a half-century away from outlawing slavery, so Jefferson’s only hope of the law changing was another government. That’s not the only reason he supported the American Revolution, but it was the reason he wrote that controversial phrase. The American government didn’t outlaw slavery in his lifetime, therefore he remained a slave-owner who was against slavery. But we see him through out own cultural lens and historians and fiction writers rarely struggle beyond that barrier because it’s easier to write themselves into the character rather than get to know the character’s reality.

Our Obligation

So, the answer to the question is, I believe we have an obligation to our subjects to be considerate of who they were when they were alive. Don’t write them as a paragon of virtue or a troll of evil, but also don’t put yourself and your cultural biases into a character who lived in another era. I think the ethics of writing any story demands we get the character’s story as right as we can possibly make it.

It was their life after all, not ours. Which is not to say that you can’t have some fun, invent some interactions they didn’t have but could have, and have some of those side characters represent your viewpoint, but that writing historical fiction does not, in my opinion, grant us a right to lie about the person whose story we’re writing.

Go Went Gone … Urggg!   5 comments

What are your top five writing mistakes? Either mistakes you make or mistakes that make you cringe when you see them in print?

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Good, Better, Best … Never Let It Rest

Journalists are, supposedly, terrible spellers, but I came to the reporting game with good spelling and strong grammar. My training just enhanced that and make me more sensitive to common errors. That doesn’t mean I never make a mistake. It means I rarely let other people see my mistakes — I catch them in the editing process. I know how to make good writing into better writing, always striving for the best.

Grammarly asked users what their most frustrating grammar errors were and they said

  • Incorrect verb forms
  • Subject-verb disagreements
  • Run-on sentences
  • Comma splices
  • Pronoun antecedent disagreements

Watch for the other three fingers

I certainly have made these mistakes myself, but they do drive me crazy when I see them in other people’s writing — particularly if it’s already been published. Really, people, at least get a couple of beta readers to go over it before you put it on Amazon. By “people”, I mean me and anyone else who has made these mistakes.

Incorrect Verb Form

Irregular verb forms can be challenging because so often we make these errors while speaking and don’t even find them odd when we see them in writing. I was taught to take a pause and remember my credibility as a writer is hanging in a free-fire zone if I get this wrong. Here are the most common verb conjugation mistakes:

Is it “seen” or “saw”? Sometimes you can hear you’re wrong when you read it aloud.

“I seen the movie last week”

Or is it?

“I saw the movie last week”

You can hear the error easily.

But is it?

“I been there” or “I have been there.?”

Most people say “I been there”, but, when writing, it’s really “I have (in the past) been there.” That one really trips some people up and I read it in their books and not just in dialogue, where it is acceptable. Take a pause, folks, and think about it. Unless you’re writing narrative in a regional dialect, it pays to question the words that come out of your mouth and whether they belong on the page.

Subject-verb disagreement

In Spanish and American Sign Language (my other two languages) the subject of the sentence must correctly align with the verb conjugation for both number and gender. I especially found Spanish to be challenging because of this. Less so ASL probably because it’s a visual-gestural language.

In English, compound subjects follow a simple rule. They’re plural. “Mark and Jane” are two subjects (compound). “They” are compound. “We” are compound. So much easier. But then you run across irregular verbs. Oh, those can be so frustrating.

Consider “forces of nature.” Nature is one subject … right? So the verb would be “is”, right? But, no, it’s plural subjects. It’s the forces of nature. Nature itself may be one thing, but it has multiple forces.

“The forces of nature are knocking the heck out of deck furniture.”

I corrected a supervisor one time over “rights of way”. He was planning to send this letter somewhere important, where his credibility was at stake and I was trying to save his career. Trust me, I have that correct. It is definitely “rights of way” (plural). But he spent a good half-hour arguing with me that it’s just one “right of way”. Yes, we were talking about just one “rights of way” in front of a business, but it’s still plural, not singular. We finally looked it up in two grammar books and on the Internet and I won the debate. He’s an engineer. I wouldn’t argue with him about how to build a road, but he wanted to argue with a professional writer about grammar. It was hilarious.

Grammarly suggests you memorize irregular verbs, but you can usually reason them out — that’s how I do them, though I also still pull out my 30-year-old Associate Press Style Guide when I get stumped.

Run-on sentences

A run-on sentence contains two or more independent clauses (a group of words that contains a subject and a verb and that can stand alone as a sentence) that are not connected with correct punctuation. 

Though there are different kinds of run-on sentence errors, most often writers neglect to use a comma before a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, etc.).

“I enjoy writing immensely but my deadline is looming I am starting to feel overwhelmed.”

It’s rare for me to include a run-on sentence even in a draft because I am a fan of Hemingway and trained as a journalist. Journalists HATE commas, so are told whenever we feel like putting one in a sentence, we should ask ourselves if we couldn’t use a period instead. If you can use a period instead of a comma, you should use the period. See, you don’t even have to memorize a rule for that, but there is a rule.

Each independent clause must be set apart from other independent clauses with punctuation or a comma and conjunction. Punctuation marks that are ideal for marking complete sentences are periods (full-stops), semicolons, and em dashes. Got it! Use it! Stop frustrating me!

Comma splices

Comma splices and run-on sentences are kissing cousins. Comma splices are really run-on sentences.

“He was very hungry, he ate a whole pizza.”

When a writer joins two independent sentences with a comma instead of separating them with a period or a conjunction, that’s a comma splice and it makes my head pound. Cut it out!

Pronoun-antecedent disagreement

“John had a card for Helga but couldn’t deliver it because he was in her way.”

When you use the pronouns “him” or “her”, readers need to know to whom those pronouns refer. Otherwise, they get confused.

Who is the second “he” in the above sentence — John or someone else? If the reader has to look back at the last sentence to be sure, you’ve not done your job as a writer correctly.

“John had a card for Helga but couldn’t deliver it because Tim was in Helga’s way.”

But what about me?

The one that drives me crazy in my own writing is actually a typo. Sometimes, my fingers get to moving so fast, they write a different word than the one I am thinking — “form” instead of “from”, “dog” instead of “god”, “left” instead of “felt”, and “who” instead of “how” — or the reverse of those. All the grammar-check programs in the world won’t catch them and I think it’s sometimes unavoidable. It happens so often when I’m “in the zone” and I just don’t notice it. I usually catch it when I have Word read the text aloud, but it’s frustrating because it’s so simple and yet so-really-hard to catch and correct. You have to catch an error before you can correct it.

No Magic Formula   9 comments

May 11, 2020

How soon is too soon to include a real-life event in a fictional story?

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That’s a Personal Question

A personal and individual answer is necessary for something like this. I don’t think there’s a single answer because writing is incredibly personal. What bothers me might not bother you. Or it could be the other way around.

I admit I have kind of thick skin. Journalism teaches you to be that way. I have to watch myself not to interview friends who face tragedy. It’s second nature. But I do know when it’s inappropriate, so I don’t know that I’ve ever actually done it, but it’s occurs to me when some things have happened. And sometimes, that talent has been useful. I know how to ask questions that cut to the heart of the matter.

A Very Personal Example

Some friends of mine lost their daughter to a serial killer. I was still in high school and didn’t know them until 10 years later. I knew them about another five years before their granddaughter started asking questions. I was her youth leader in church and the questions she asked deserved to be answered, so I sat down with her grandmother and interviewed her. I did it for her granddaughter, but Annie said telling her story helped her because she finally got some closure.

That was nearly 20 years ago and I still haven’t put it in a story. It’ll be too soon until Annie passes from this world. It’s too personal to someone I care about and I would not want to hurt her.

Protecting the Not Guilty

About 25 years ago, my husband sat a jury for a Murder 1 trial. The brief story is an Alaska miner was having problems with an abusive neighbor. He and his wife were headed to breakfast at a roadhouse 120 miles from the nearest police station. Coming out of grizzly country on a 4-wheeler, they were both armed for their own protection. The neighbor sat on the screened porch of the roadhouse and assumed they were coming to shoot him, so he started shooting at them first. They hit WG’s wife and he took a bullet to the shoulder. In the meantime, the neighbor’s wife exited the roadhouse by the other door and started shooting at WG from behind. Confused, injured and bullets whizzing around his head, he shot the neighbor six times and killed him.

The trial was really fascinating because it showed the difference between the law and reasonable human behavior, and my husband learned about the power of the jury system to get justice.

I wrote article about the trial within six weeks and it was published in a magazine. I’ve played with writing it as a fictional story several times. The thing is, I wouldn’t want to write THAT story. I’d want to base a fictional story upon the real-life event, but I wouldn’t want to stir up crap against the man who did the shooting because opinions vary. I would want to change some of the details protect those who were found not guilty.

Opinions Vary

So that story was ready to be written in six weeks, but not ready to be fictionalized even now. Or maybe not. Maybe I’ve just got too many stories and I’ve not found time to write this one.

Both of these stories have come up in writing workshops. Some writers recommend writing those stories, never mind anyone’s hurt feelings. Others have said “no, no, no, never write those stories”. Opinions vary and I’m not sure there’s an appropriate waiting period on writing based on the personal tragedies of other people. Then again, there might be some useful explorations involved in reading about them. It’s just not that easy to know.

What about BIG events?

Walt Whitman wrote two poems about Lincoln within a couple of months of his death. Both are acclaimed as classics and tributes to Lincoln. Sometimes current events compel writers to delve into them immediately.

I was asked this week if I would write about cordonavirus. My answer was that I started writing about a flu epidemic more than two years ago and it just happens that the topic features fairly prominently in my current WIP (Winter’s Reckoning, due out this autumn) — not because of the current situation. I planned from the beginning to write a biological weapon into the series; it just happens that now is the time to write that part of the story. Will the story be better because of what we’re learning from coronavirus? Possibly, but my story isn’t actually based on CVD19, so I must pretend it doesn’t exist in my books. And frankly, I’m not willing to fictionalize this particular virus until we’ve had some space from it to find out what it really does. Imagine if I’d fictionalized it and declared millions of people died from it. I could certainly do that based on the 1918 Flu pandemic, but CVD19 doesn’t currently look like it will result in millions of deaths like that historical virus did, so letting a bit of time pass keeps me from looking foolish.

Artifacts

Of course, current events are seeded throughout my writing. Some are referenced as they really occurred, some are fictionalized and some are given new meaning by the memories of those characters who survived those events. Sometimes those events used as a model happened yesterday and sometimes they happened decades ago.

When to use a real-life event in fiction is a very individual decision, personal to the writer or the people involved in the event and it will vary according to circumstances which will be different for every writer.

Posted May 11, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Let’s Take Everyday Off   12 comments

May 4th is the unofficial Star Wars Day. (May the Fourth be with you.) What other days should be recognized as holidays but aren’t?

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It’s also my father-in-law’s 80th birthday!

Productivity Loss

I like paid time off as much as the next person and I am aware that the United States only has five federal holidays compared to other countries that have many more. But I’m skeptical of holidays. It causes a loss of productivity and, where I work, it makes payroll processing late since most holidays occur on the first Monday of the month when we are all supposed to be handing in our timesheets. The poor administrative assistants are expected to process timesheets late when half the employees haven’t come back from the holiday yet and, of course, didn’t hand in their timesheets before they left. Meanwhile, Payroll is banging the drum of “hurry, hurry, hurry, you’re late, late, late.”

Maybe we need a Day-After-the-Day-After-the-Holiday holiday to recover from the administrative hangover caused by the holiday.

Of course, if you look at some calendars there are a lot of designated days honoring something. Recently it was Administrative Professionals Day (which in the time of CVD19) meant nothing but you got nice emails from people who are usually appreciative of your efforts).

Susan_B_Anthony
Susan B. Anthony

History

Adding a new federal holiday faces severe hurdles. One of the losing arguments made against the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday was the extra cost to the federal budget. One King holiday opponent in 1983 estimated $225 million in lost productivity annually from adding an extra holiday. That’s just the federal government. State and local governments lose even more productivity and there are also private market impacts. Meanwhile, the kids sit at home and learn nothing about MLK Jr., so the whole point of the holiday is lost anyway.

In the US federal holidays just specify when paid holidays are given to federal employees in what are considered non-essential positions and the holidays are part of collective bargaining agreements. Adding or dropping a holiday for federal employees affects those agreements.

Congress hasn’t changed the federal holiday schedule since 1983, but here are some holidays proposed to legislators and the public at large for consideration:

  • Some people would like to make Election Day a November federal holiday and 11 states recognize as such. It doesn’t seem to improve turnout at the polls.
  • There was a proposal to celebrate the achievements of Susan B. Anthony as the Presidents’ Day holiday. The proposed bill didn’t make it out of the 100th Congress.
  • A third proposal was to designate a federal holiday each year as “Cesar E. Chavez Day.” The idea was put forth several times in Congress with little impact. Americans still know that Che Guevara was a mass murderer and are not ready to celebrate the accomplishments of a great admirer of his.
  • Each year, 13 states recognize Christmas Eve as a holiday for state employees and 23 states recognize the day after Thanksgiving as a holiday.

Alaska recognizes Seward’s Day (celebrating the territory’s purchase from the Russia) and Alaska Day (celebrating statehood). Other states have their own specific holidays.

I worked for community behavioral health for many years and for nine of those years, we leased a floor from the local Native Corporate — Tanana Chiefs Conference. They had a lot of holidays. They celebrated Chief Peter Johns birthday, for example. I know, you’ve never heard of him. He was a cool elder guy and definitely deserved to have his birthday commemorated, but there were at least three other holidays for TCC that the rest of the world doesn’t celebrate. And they would forget, if we didn’t remind their security office, that Behavioral Health wasn’t closed. We’d show up to find the doors locked and we’d have to stand around in the parking lot for someone to open the building for us. Imagine having to do case management with a paranoid schizophrenic in the parking lot while their illness spins up conspiracy theories of why the building is closed.

One time, while standing in the parking lot, I had an idea. Why are government offices closed when the people have time to actually utilize the monopolistic services the government requires them to use? Hmm ….

So the State of Alaska has 11 holidays. Some are federal, some are State. We also have commemorative days that we don’t take off, but we do acknowledge. I think that’s plenty. I typically take leave the day after Thanksgiving just because I like the day off. We also celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve (because my mother was born Christmas Day) and so I take leave for that. We get a lot of leave where I work so that isn’t a difficulty for me. My husband is a construction worker, so he gets no paid leave. Usually the construction site is closed for 3 of the 5 federal holidays that fall in the summer (he usually got winter off just because of the extreme weather here makes construction hard) and he made no money on those days, which could be a problem for some people’s budgets.

You might be able to guess that I’m not a huge fan of holidays. Yes, I like paid time off and there are some personal “holidays” I care so much about that I take leave for them. But I recognize the productivity drain entailed and I don’t think most people use the “holidays” the way they were intended. It’s usually just a great reason to extend a weekend — which is fine — but I wouldn’t add more at the federal level. If states want to add more, that’s their option. And I think the commemorative days are cool.

Are you familiar with Pi Day? I work with engineers and this is a big deal for them. I don’t think they’d like to take it off, however, because we have a big “pie social” on that day. It was March 14 this year (a Saturday) so that Friday, it was scheduled. *When the management canceled it because of CVD19, some of the engineers retired to a local cafe to celebrate Pi Day with pie. I saw their time sheets – they took leave. It’s a “holiday” for them and they weren’t going to miss it, but it wouldn’t be any fun if they spent it at home.

*There were no confirmed cases of CVD19 from that gathering. Alaska hadn’t had an official case until a week later.

This idea that we all take time off at the same time just strikes me as weird in a country that prides itself on individualism. Yeah, some holidays should be official — the big ones most of us celebrate — but I suspect if we took a vote on all the proposed holidays, we’d quickly find we’d not be the office much. At some point, we’d be taking every day off. Oh, wait ….

Is the concept of holidays even viable when we’re all teleworking? We had a holiday since we’ve been in lock down and it didn’t feel like a day off because I’m in my “office” all the time now.

Just an observation from the Alaska Hunker Down. I wonder what my fellow writers think on this subject.

Posted May 4, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Chinese Water Torture   12 comments

What are your pet peeves when it comes to grammar and spelling?

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It’s the Little Things

Oh, yes, it’s that little drip-drip-drip that drives us crazy in grammar as much as in our bedroom when we’re trying to sleep.

There’s a gap in the gutters of our house where the chimney climbs the outside wall and it allows a small section of roof where moisture can roll from a higher roof onto the garage, where it strikes the flashing for the chimney. This is just the other side of our bedroom wall from our pillows.

This time of year (or if it’s raining), it’s a drip-drip-drip-drip water feature that isn’t unpleasant. It’s like sleeping next to a small waterfall. But we had a cold night and the drips slowed to drip … drip … drip … urgggh. You know what I mean. Chinese Water Torture.

Grammar can be like that too. There are things that just drive me crazy, but they’re usually small and repeated over and over and over and over ….

Alright Isn’t

“All right.” That’s the only correct way to write that term in formal English — that includes in a novel — unless you’re writing an accent. It’s not “alright”. It could be “a’ight” or “allight” if you’re writing that accent, but if you’re not trying to recreate a eubonics or redneck accent in your novel, use “all right.” Please.

Pause and Think

Overuse of the word “that”. It’s a journalism thing. Back in the day, newspapers had to set type by hand and paper and ink weren’t cheap, so there were words we wanted to eliminate as unnecessary. “That” is just such a word. Often the use of “that” is perfectly grammatical, but if you’re following a principle of omitting needless words, leave out the “that.”

Cautiously. Although “that” is optional a lot of the time, you can’t assume it’s optional wherever you see it. Sometimes it’s mandatory. And even when it’s optional, it’s sometimes still a good idea to keep it.

So, when I see “that” in someone else’s writing (and most especially when I read my own writing), I circle back to it and ask “it is necessary.” Most common verbs (such as “say”, “think”, “know”, “claim”, “hear”, “believe”) are bridge verbs and don’t need “that” Non-bridge verbs carry extra meaning. An example of the verb “whisper”, which carries descriptive meaning in the verb. It sounds odd to say, “He whispered he wanted another root beer” instead of “He whispered that he wanted another root beer.” Not crashingly bad, but just a little off.

Newspapers often ignore the difference between bridge verbs and non-bridge verbs and delete a “that” after verbs where it would sound better to leave it in. Which also bugs me.

Kinda of Creepy

It’s the little things that usually drive me crazy. My biggest one isn’t actually a grammar thing. It’s a logic thing. My teeth grind when writers write things about people’s eyes “dwelling” on someone, or “being on the floor”, or “turned out the window.”

Uh, no! The character’s eyes need to stay in their head where eyeballs belong. Their gaze can dwell on the pretty girl, drop to the floor or turn out the window. I end up with this word-picture of eyeballs rolling all over the place and it’s not a lovely view. STOP!

There are probably as many examples as there are writers. Let’s see what bugs my fellow writers.

Posted April 27, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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A Place for Your Characters   6 comments

Talk about the setting of your book. Is it entirely imaginary or is it based on a real-life place?

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Settings are almost a character in fiction. Some genres focus more on world-building than others and I write in three genres.

In Daermad Cycle (The Willow Branch and Mirklin Wood) the setting is the world of Daermad and the kingdom of Celdrya and neighboring nations. It’s largely a product of my imagination, based somewhat on reality, particularly the old cities of Europe. It’s a rich varied world with mountain villages and ocean-side cities, vast fields of grain dotted with farmsteads and trackless forests. People make their living fishing, farming, selling herbs, herding horses, serving wine and ale at state affairs, and a million and one other trades. Rivers divide the land into regions, acting as transportation routes as well as borders. My goal is to provide the reader with the feeling of having walked the land and talked to the people. I want readers to feel the mud rolling downhill during a storm, for example — to feel as if they stand off to the side and see the character in that environment.

Transformation Project (Life as We Knew It and the rest of the series) exists in a world that is the United States the day after tomorrow following a series of massive terrorist attacks that thoroughly disrupts life as we know it. There’s a lot less world-building involved simply because we know this world. I picked a town in Kansas and learned a great deal about it, gave it another name and used it as a template for my main setting. I use that real town to answer questions about how the off-ramps on the interstate work, what utilities are available, whether there’s a hospital or grocery store, a Walmart or Costco. Other towns in the series are places we know — Wichita, Hays, Hutchinson. I changed the name of my town because I didn’t want to get into a situation where I place a story in a real-life setting and then realize I can’t do something because the real-life community isn’t set up that way. Back in the 1970s, someone wrote a novel about Fairbanks, Alaska, and then screwed up on some of the details. It wasn’t that great of a story to begin with, but the erroneous details made it painful to read, which I had to for an Alaska Literature class in college. Required reading and it’s wrong. Just shut my head in a car door, please. So I used a real-life town as a template, but moved things around and didn’t use the same road names and called it Emmaus, Kansas — which doesn’t exist. I still want the reader to feel that they could pull off I70 and find this town because it is the world my characters inhabit and the reader is more engaged with the characters if the characters are set like gems within a rich tapestry.

I followed the same process with building the setting in Red Kryptonite Curve. I picked a Long Island town and used it as a template so that I would get the details right, but then I renamed the town and made enough changes that you couldn’t reasonably say it is that town. This allows me to have access to real-life facts — like bus schedules, a description of the harbor, a description of the downtown area, details about the school system — while also moving things around and making stuff up to fit the needs of the story. Peter is a modern American more attune to malls and concert venues, but I want his interactions with his world to seem authentic, to make the readers feel like they’re right there with him.

My view of setting is that most of life is influenced by what goes on around us. I live a certain way in Fairbanks, Alaska, because it’s a frontier town on the edge of a vast wilderness with a certain degree of isolation, long, dark, cold winters, and brief, intense summers when the sun doesn’t go down. People living in other towns at other latitudes live different lives because their setting is different. With a few details, you can build a world that puts characters into an environment rather than just floating in space. This makes for a much richer and more engaging story that shows characters acting like real people in real world settings. And if I get stuck describing something, I can probably find a photo out on the Internet that will provide me with the visual I need to massage my imagination.

The setting of a scene can give added depth to the character’s actions. For example, in Red Kryptonite Curve, Peter often describes the Wyngates’ backyard has having rose bushes that he hates. They are pretty to look at, but they have no fragrance and there are thrones. They’re a metaphor for his mother who planted them and adored them, and then ran off to Florida with her lover. Peter would take a machete to them if he could. Without really going into the relationship with his mother, you can surmise who she is and what she is like through the inclusion of her roses in the setting. And, thus, the setting becomes not just the world the characters inhabit, but a character in and of itself.

Let’s go see what my fellow blog-hoppers think on the topic.

Posted April 20, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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