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First Among Favorites   8 comments

From all the characters you’ve created, which is your favorite and why?

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Wow, this could be a hard one simply because I’ve been writing since I was 12 and a lot of characters have been my “favorite” at one time or another. How to choose a favorite among favorites? That’s like asking the parent of a large brood of children to choose their favorite. You love them all and a good parent would love them equally. But some of them, you might like a little bit more than everyone else. You might want to spend time with them slightly more than you want to spend time with others. Or, if you’re like me, and you have had different best friends over the course of a lifetime, it’s a similar situation. I had a best friend when I was a child and we still know one another, though we aren’t really close friends now. I had a best friend in high school and into college and we are still Facebook friends and I will go out of my way to see her if we’re in the same geographic area, but we don’t talk every day. I had a best friend when I was in my 20s (she’s was the matron of honor at my wedding), but she moved away just prior to the Internet getting underway and I haven’t been able to track her down, so that friendship has withered. I have a best friend now and I’m married to him. I like spending time with him, but if I were to be honest I can think of some other people I’d rather spend more time with. His “best friend” status has to do with how long and how well we’ve known each other, not necessarily about shared interests. We share some, but not all. Trust me – when I start talking quilting or writing, his eye lids droop and I only pretend to want here about his technical endeavors.

So, clearly this “favorite” thing is complicated.

Who is my favorite character among the hundreds that have traipsed through my mind in my writing career and why?

It’s a tossup between Shane Delaney of Transformation Project and Peter of (the yet-unpublished) What If Wasn’t? Since readers can’t go out and get to know Peter (yet), I’m going to focus on Shane Delaney. These are two very different characters and I like them for different reasons. Shane gets the “favorite” label because he’s published, but it was a hard decision to make.

Why do I like Shane? He’s someone I could sit down with over coffee and interview and enjoy spending an evening getting to know. Not that he would talk to me or tell me his secrets, because Shane doesn’t do that. He’s dark and complex, which is also sometimes why I don’t want to write him. He’s a mercenary who was forced to work for the government, which in turn forced him to work as a mercenary, and he doesn’t like either of his two masters. He’s loyal, but he’ll cut his losses in a heartbeat if he needs to — and mourn later, if he has time. He’s got PTSD from the things he’s had to do that haunt him. He’s the ultimate realist who will make the pragmatic decisions no one around him wants to make. He’s the non-believer in a devout family, but he’s not angry at his family. He still loves them and (mostly) respects their beliefs, even though he has rejected them. He’s the serial monogamous in a family of faithful men. He’s totally male and yet he enjoys the female mind (and body, but this is largely a PG series). He’s 26 going on 96, but he wasn’t born mature. He is still a work in progress. He’s stubborn, but he can learn from his mistakes and the mistakes of others. He is tough and can take physical and emotional pain, but he has a breaking point and he came home to avoid shattering, only to have circumstances force him to keep going and resist shattering. Shane is brutally honest about his failings and does not indulge often in denial, though he does often tell those who want to help him that his inner life is none of their business.

A third factor in why I like Shane so much is that I don’t absolutely know where he is headed. I do know he’s coming to a crisis and that several of the big questions of his life will need to be answered … if he survives. I can’t see beyond that crisis, so I don’t know his outcome. The character has surprised me a few times, so I’m not at all certain what choices he’ll make.

As a discovery writer, I love when my character’s hijack their plot and take it in an interesting direction. Not all characters will do that and that’s okay, but when I have a character like Shane who is very much his own man — that’s golden, and that’s what makes him my favorite — for now.

Posted May 20, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Finding Time   10 comments

If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?

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This is kind of an easy question for me because I can almost not sleep during the “midnight sun” period of May 15 through July 15. I can sleep two or three hours a night and feel just fine, energized by the sun, which only goes below the horizon for about two hours a night. We barely experience civil twilight.

Unfortunately, it’s a trick you can’t sustain. You do have to sleep occasionally. The human brain requires sleep because you need to dream. If you don’t dream while you’re sleeping, you’ll start to hallucinate while you’re awake. So while you can stay awake fairly easily here above the 70th parallel during the summer, sooner or later, you have got to sleep to replenish your acetylcholine levels. If you don’t do that, you’re going to end up in the psych ward. It’s usually what happens to bipolars who crash and burn.

I only need about six hours of sleep a night and I can function just fine. In the summer, that stretches to two or three hours a night with about every third night needing six hours. A psychiatrist I worked with in Community Mental Health had a theory that people like me can short ourselves on sleep because we are very imaginative and that is sort of like dreaming while awake. And maybe that’s what’s going on. I don’t know for sure. During those times when I’m not sleeping and other people are, I am … of course, writing or researching for writing. Sometimes I’m reading a book by another author.

The Alaska lifestyle is a little different. It’s not unusual for us to get off work at 5 pm, grab some food from the grocery store and set out on the hiking trail. The wilderness is so close here, we can be in the woods within an hour. And we can hike until midnight because the sun doesn’t go down until about 1 am during the solstice. Then we’ll flit home and sleep until 7 am. It’s not unusual. Lots of people walk around with that glowy look that says they haven’t sleep a full night in weeks. It’s just the way it is.

Therefore, if I didn’t have to sleep at all, I’d probably expand what I am doing now – read, write, research, hike, maybe quilt (in the winter) – although maybe our lawn would get mowed more often or our car washed occasionally. Eight hours more of life would be quite a gift. And, I would definitely need to build some more bookshelves because I’d spend a lot of that extra time reading.

I wonder what my fellow authors would be doing if they didn’t need to sleep.

Posted May 13, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Buying Stock in Kleenex   6 comments

Have you ever made yourself cry (over what you did to a character) while writing a book?

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Oh, yes!

Easy answer. Of course, there is so much more to it than that.

Let’s start with the knowledge that I am not a particularly sentimental female. I didn’t cry at the end of Beaches, for example, though two of the men who came to that movie with their wives did get a little shiny-eyed. I was with them while the other two ladies were wetting tissues like crazy and the third guy announced a sudden need to warm up the car even though it wasn’t particularly cold outside.

I did cry during Schindler’s List – that scene where they destroyed the ghetto and the little girl in the red coat haunted my dreams for sometime after and I still choke up if I see it now. The inhumanity toward our fellow human beings can make me cry.

I’m pretty sure the last book (by another author) that made me cry was when Paula broke up with Jordan in Whatever Words You Want to Hear. It wasn’t that she broke up with him so much (he so absolutely deserved that!) as the knowledge that she knew his enablers were pulling back and he was going to flounder and probably end up shipwrecked. I felt what Paula felt at that moment and it touched me as deeply as it did her. So 25-30 years ago I didn’t cry at a sad movie (though I did feel the ethos), I cried over the inhumanity of humans, and I did cry over a girl-coming-of-age-while-loving-a-guy-who-wasn’t-going-to-come-of-age book. Just not a crier unless something hits me at an extremely deep level. In some ways, that’s good because I know when I’m writing a scene that if it makes me mist up, it’s going to make many women cry and some men feel it in their adam’s apple.

Generally, when I kill a character it is because he or she stops talking to me. I often characterize writing as characters show up in my head and want to tell me their story. If they stop, then what do I do with them? If I can send them on a long journey from which they never return, I do, but sometimes the answer is to kill them. And kind of like a friend who has decided they no longer want you as a friend, I sometimes mourn the loss of the relationship. It’s hard to let go of a great character. They’re a little like people in real life. Nobody wants a beloved friend to move away or die. They do, though. So in life, same in fiction. But that’s not a crying event for me because they broke off the relationship. I regret the end of my relationship with them, but if they don’t want to be my friend, I won’t waste tears on that. And in fiction, often that means the character’s death and that’s just a consequence of them not talking to me any longer.

Transformation Project is an apocalyptic series. It wouldn’t be realistic for my characters to not die during the apocalypse, but even living is painful. Being inside Shane’s head can be depressing. The guy has PTSD and he started the series with a gun in his mouth. That was literally the first scene I ever wrote for him and I kind of thought he might be one of those characters who died before he even got started. I didn’t cry during that because I remember being pissed off that this great character was not going to be around to share his story. He’s found a reason to stay alive in that his family and their town need his skills, but things aren’t getting easier. He’s had to kill people in sleepy Emmaus, his hometown that was too boring for him to stay in after high school, where he came in hopes of healing to emotional scars of war. He’s not getting to do that and the reality of what he and his fellow townspeople are living through touches his soul and it touches my soul. If I mist up while writing it and still feel like crying when I reread it, I know I’ve hit a sweet spot. The thing is, Shane rarely cries from his pain. He thinks he deserves it. And since all characters are really me, I often don’t cry while I am writing his viewpoint. It’s later, when I reread it that I go “Why am I so mean? I stink as a deity. I truly truly suck!” Or sometimes when I’m writing his family’s reaction to his actions, I feel what Jill or Cai feels for him and then I cry. If that sounds a little disassociative identity disorder, you don’t know many writers. All our characters are really us and so we can cry for what one character feels about another character who would never elicit tears from us.

I’ve brought this book up before because I truly plan to publish it someday … and that day is getting closer – What If Wasn’t – is a new adult novel about Peter, a young man who will have to deal with the consequences of his drunken actions killing someone he loves. That story is tough to write and I do cry. I hate that I’m putting a nice person with a drinking problem through all this pain. I want him to get well without hitting rock bottom and bouncing a few times. Peter hates it too. I can hear him saying “I will go to rehab. Just don’t make me do this.” Sadly, he has to because that’s the story he told me initially and so his fate is sealed. And, though the character does seem to want healing, I’m not necessarily going to give him a happy ending. Because, you know, that’s not how real life works

I let my son read a section a while ago. Keirnan is a sweet kid (well, 20) who isn’t afraid of feeling emotions and when he finished, his voice was all hoarse and he said “Wow, Mom! Readers are going to cry over this.”

There you go. I figure if I can make me – a not-sentimental person – cry while I’m writing it, readers ought to need to stock up on tissues. And the whole point of good literature is that it makes us feel at a deep visceral level.

Job done!

Posted May 6, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Alaska is Weird   8 comments

What’s the most unusual expense you’ve had?

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Well, let’s start by saying I’m ducking the finer point of this assignment. My most unique expense is not for public consumption. I’m a pretty honest person as a rule, but there are some aspects of my life that I don’t want to share and they involve other people and I’m choosing not to invade their privacy. Anonymity has its purposes and I choose to exercise them on this topic.

But —

Alaska is a weird, weird place, so a lot of our activities are probably unusual to folks in the Lower 48.

Typically, our summer spray-on insect repellent bill runs about $50.

We spend about $70 on ice when we catch our annual quota of salmon in Chitina.

I don’t know how many people buy sap taps and berry buckets – snow sleds with Kevlar glides for towing behind a snow machine – an electric chainsaw for cutting up moose – an Army poncho circa 1970 — saddlebags for our dog.

I own a personal body alarm. Not to scare away rapists – I have firearms for that — but to scare away bears. If you shoot a bear, you disrupt territory, which means you end up starting all over with a new bear that doesn’t know you’re scary. So, instead, we use the personal body alarm to convince the bear who hangs out on our cabin site that he doesn’t want to get too close. And once he’s learned that lesson, we want him to live a long and bearly happy life because training a bear to fear you is something you don’t want to do that often.

According to the IRS, an unusual expense might include a one-time charge for something – like the patent filing fee I paid for my husband’s utility patent on his advance in the art of heating.

Posted April 29, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Don’t Complain   6 comments

Many of us wax poetic at the end of winter and the return of spring. Let’s swap that around. What’s the one thing about spring that you can’t stand?

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It’s considered a sign of mental illness, the equivalent of a “red flag” situation, to complain about spring in Alaska. We have six months of winter. Snow fell in October and in April. Some of those six months the temperature never rises about 0’F.

So, when the sun finally gets high enough in the sky (March) for the snow to start melting and for you to feel some warmth when you lift your face skyward – you’ve got NOTHING to complain about. You survived another winter and soon the days will be 22 hours long and everything will be green and growing.

But that’s not the blog assignment, so ….

At the risk of my neighbors deciding to call the mental health center to report a seriously unhinged individual –

I hate mud and spring in Alaska is mud season. Our mud isn’t normal mud. Our soils are very fine and they don’t have a lot of organics in them, so they cling to everything. You WILL track it into the house where it WILL dry on the floor and get sucked up by the heating system, which WILL circulate it throughout the house, so that you WILL be dusting it for the next six months.

There! Complaint made. That said, shhh, it’ll hear you and decide it ought to be winter again. Snow in May sucks worse than mud in April.

Posted April 22, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Hacking that Bramble Patch   5 comments

If you could write one new law, what would it be?

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We don’t need more laws!

I sincerely believe that. In the United States today, it is estimated that the average adult citizen commits three felonies a day and doesn’t even know it. Our legal system is so complex, that we have made common day activities into criminal enterprises and we have failed to notify people who have engaged in those activities for their entire lives that what they are doing could put them in jail. The only people who are aware of the law are those people who lobbied to have the laws enacted in the first place.

Libertarians are notoriously anti-law. It’s not that we don’t accept rules. Most of us are down with the laws of physics, for example. The non-aggression principle is a rule, after all. We don’t have an issue with structure that makes sense. It’s that we believe laws should be few and easily discoverable through general principles. Should it be against the law to murder your neighbor because he won’t let you date his daughter? Yes, of course. Should it be against the law for you to rape your neighbor’s daughter? Goes without saying.

But why?

Not because someone decided “there ought to be a law” but because your neighbor has a right to live and you’re violating his right to that if you kill him. Your neighbor’s daughter has a right to control her own body and you’re violating that if you rape her. These laws make total sense. Why is it against the law to steal? Because you’re depriving your victim of something that belongs to him – that he might need to survive. If you feel you need something like what your neighbor owns, go out and earn the money to buy it or build it yourself.

All laws should be based on whether the action being criminalized violates the rights of others. We could get into some really complicated discussions about what is a right – but going back to John Locke, a right exists as a function of being a living human being. As part of the autonomy required of you to provide for your own needs, you need to be able to pursue and guard your own life and property. This means, conversely, that others may not try to take your life or property. At the same time, you cannot try to take theirs. You also have a right to what is called “liberty” – to hold your own opinions and to state these in a peaceful manner, for example. That’s a very basic overview of natural rights theory.

A BAD law it took 13 years and countless lives to get rid of

So, what ONE law would this anti-law libertarian pass? Ah, did you know that in order to repeal a law in the United States, you have a pass a law? Go look at the Constitution. The 18th Amendment famously made buying and selling alcohol illegal in the US starting in 1920. It was proposed by well-intentioned people who just wanted to make the world a better place and never thought of the negative consequences of taking away people’s favorite stress-reliever in a country where people are generally law-abiding, but have a deep understanding of natural rights theory because our Constitution is more-or-less based on it.

Within two years, it had become obvious Prohibition was a REALLY BAD idea. It made the whole country into criminals who were proud to break the law. The 18th Amendment turned something unconstitutional (confiscating the personal property of citizens) into something “constitutional” by amending the Constitution. Thus, the only way to get rid of it was to re-amend the Constitution. A constitutional amendment is a law with a (deliberately) very high bar for passage, so it took until 1933 to pass another law (the 21st Amendment) to rescind the REALLY BAD law that was tearing the country apart and legitimizing government tyranny and murder of citizens. That’s where laws are a really bad idea, generally, because unless they’re based on easily articulated principles (i.e., natural rights) they have a tendency to become ingrained and impossible to amend without concentrating the negative consequences. Our extremely complicated and increasingly dysfunction medical system is a prime example. The system wasn’t broken a century ago when the first regulation came into play to, supposedly, “fix” it. We already had one of the best systems existing in the world at the time and we have managed to maintain that foothold, but since the 1970s regulatory laws have distorted a great system into a very expensive system and now we’re looking at making it totally dysfunctional by making it into a government program, as if we can’t see how badly Medicaid, Medicare, Veterans, and Bureau of Indian Affairs handles medical care that are already government programs.

My thoughts on “Medicaid for All”

The lesson we should have learned already is that government doesn’t do much so well as the private sector, but it does medical care far, far worse and we need to just stop, repeal all the laws and regulations and allow the system to reset organically to see if there are actually any problems that need to be addressed rather than creating more problems. But we aren’t going to do that and, in the end, we will destroy the most dynamic medical care system in the world and our kids will never know what it felt like to be able to actually get medical care that doesn’t resembled like the lousy service the Department of Motor Vehicles is known for. We’ll have to travel to Lebanon or Thailand for halfway decent medical care.

Thus, the ONE law I would pass if I had the power is – a Constitutional amendment that would rescind EVERY law and regulation on the books that cannot be directly and clearly linked to the original Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Would that cause chaos? I think a lot of control freaks would panic and demand something “be done” immediately, but the basic laws that we all rely on for the world to function would continue forward. It would still be illegal to murder, rape, steal, kidnap, defraud, break contracts, beat your spouse, riot, arson, etc., because everyone would retain the right to their own life, liberty and pursuit of happiness and be constrained from violating the rights of their neighbors in their pursuit of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Even some pollution and environmental laws would still exist because they can be discovered through natural rights theory and a thoughtful reading of the original Constitution. No, there is no appetite to reinstitute slavery in the United States, so you wouldn’t need the “Civil War” amendments – and getting rid of the 13th Amendment would stop the practice of creating a permanent underclass of felons. Law enforcement would have less to do because a lot of things wouldn’t be artificially illegal anymore. A lot of people who are currently incarcerated would have to be released because their “crimes” would no longer be illegal. A lot of lawyers would no longer have work because companies would not need to consider how what they want to do must be walked through the regulatory process. A lot of economic activity would be freed up for the benefit of ordinary people. In Alaska, according to a University of Alaska economic study, such a repeal would save $2 billion a year in lost economic activity and we’ve got a tiny economy compared to the US economy, where we’re probably talking about annual savings in the trillions of dollars. What it would do is simplify our laws so that Americans would actually be back in control of our own system rather than this Irish “democracy” we are currently forced to live under where if we even know that what we’re doing is illegal, we no longer care and break the law in order to survive..

By the way, this is not a new idea. Alaska Representative Don Young and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul have been working on the REINS Act aimed at regulations. It seems to pass the House every year, but stalls in the Senate. What I am proposing is more far-reaching and eliminates further complicating a system that is fraught with complications already. In reality, I would be passing a law to repeal about 90% of the laws currently on the books. I personally believe this would lead to a much more peaceful, law-abiding and productive society than currently exists.

And appropriately for today, one of the laws that would be repealed would be the 16th Amendment that has us all enthralled on this lovely Monday. I wouldn’t worry to much about that because 90% of what the federal government does is designed to justify its own existence enforcing regulations nobody authorized them to make that require them to spend our tax dollars justifying their agency’s existence. See how that works? If we could just go back to what the Constitution says, we’d all be a whole lot better off – unless you’re a control freak that just has to have power over your neighbor’s activities.

See, libertarians can pass laws — but only if they repeal laws that cannot be justified under natural law or the Constitution.

Posted April 15, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Swapping   4 comments

April 8, 2019

If you could trade lives with anyone for just one day, who would it be and why?

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When I first saw this topic I immediately went to Freaky Friday. We all know the story. Mom and daughter switch bodies for a while and find out how the other half lives. The moral of the story – the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence and be grateful for the life you have.

So, I think it’s probably best that this thought-experiment is for only one day. I can’t say I’ve never wondered what it would be like to be someone else. A part of being a novelist is to put yourself in the head of others on a periodic basis, in all kinds of circumstances. But I really hadn’t given much though to being someone else in a long time. I guess I just got used to being me and decided to accept that.

And, there’s also the issue of – what if the other person doesn’t want to swap. Remember, I’m against involuntary servitude. So who would I want to swap with who would be okay with swapping with me.

Surprisingly, it didn’t take long for me to come up with who I would like to swap with for a day – my daughter.

Twenty-six-year-old gypsy musician who is beautiful, tall, athletic and talented. She’s a free spirit, more than six inches taller than me, can eat anything she wants, and she has this amazing voice and skill with several musical instruments. I wouldn’t want to live her life forever – I like living under a roof I own — but it would be kind of fun to swap for a day and see how she lives and for her to live my life as well. I think it would draw us closer and give us a better understanding for each other.

I was attractive in high school, but guys literally drooled over Bri, so that might be kind of fun to experience. I’m 5’1″, so yeah, being able to reach the kitchen cabinets without a step-stool would be glorious. I’m 5’1″, so I’ve always had to watch what I eat and she is almost 5’8″ and a dancer, so she actually needs to worry about not eating enough. I can’t sing. I just don’t sound good and my musical instruments consist of the melody line on the piano. So, yeah, a day of busking in New Orleans would suit me just fine.

What’s more, Bri has said she would want to swap me for a few days. She gets that mischievous look in her eyes which suggests she’s going to cause trouble for me to clean up, but that could be its own adventure and forewarned is forearmed.

And, there you go – who I would swap with and why.

Posted April 8, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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