Archive for the ‘#writingcommunity’ Tag

Tools of the Trade   4 comments

Jan 18, 2021

What software do you use for your writing? Bookkeeping? Artwork? Calendar?

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Writing

I write in Word, but I used to use an open-source word-processing program and will return to that when I no longer get a special discount as part of my day job. Microsoft is very proud of its software, but I don’t agree with monopolies, so I’ll do what I can to encourage its competition. Open Office is accepted by Amazon so it’s a win-win.

Bookkeeping

I currently use Excel. That will go away when that special discount goes away (this is not expected to happen soon, but sometime in the next decade). Open Office has a spreadsheet program, so I’ll probably switch to that.

Artwork

I prefer Paint.net, although sometimes I create drawings in Paint. You really can’t beat Paint.net’s photo editing functions and I mostly use it to create the collages that become my book covers.

Calendar

I frankly still prefer a hard copy calendar I can write on, but since teleworking which has made a transition to working digitally complete, I am now using a digital copy of an open source calendar that I post notes on various dates. I don’t like notifications that pop up all the time and so I flag my future dates on Sticky Notes so I see them whenever I open my laptop’s opening page. As I remove the sticky note, it reveals the photo behind it and I kind of enjoy that process.

Posted January 18, 2021 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Not Touching It with a 10-Foot Pole   5 comments

Is there a genre you’d never attempt to write? Why?

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Never Say Never

It’s something my daughter learned as a dancer — never say you can’t do something. George Takei shares the story of being asked to do an episode of Star Trek involving a sword. He’d never fenced in his life, but he wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity to act, so he said he could fence and then ran off to a gym to have someone teach him. My daughter has played a wide variety of musical styles because she’s not said “I don’t know how.” My son was asked to step in as a professional bass guitar player this summer. He didn’t play bass, but he’s a guitarist and the keeper of his sister’s bass, so he spent a week learning how to play bass and then played at several outdoor venues this summer. He also didn’t used to be a singer, but decided to teach himself how to carry a tune last year and now he can and does sing. He’s even sung lead for the band and had the (admittedly somewhat drunk) audience clap for his performance.

Tearing a page from the book of my talented children, I am in a constant quest to teach myself how to write genres I’ve not written before. However, is there a genre I would never try to write?

Erotic fiction

I’ve attempted to write romances and I’m getting better at it. I’ve learned to add elements of something else in so it doesn’t feel so bogus. I’m just not a “they lived happily ever after” kind of writer and that’s my major stumbling block to writing the genre.

But I also don’t write sex.

Why?

My Christian faith is the most important thing in my life, although it is not always front and center of my writing. It infuses every part of my character, so it can’t help but shine through, but I am not writing Christian-genre books for a Christian audience. This means I reference sex (and other bodily functions) and the Christians who appear in my novels aren’t always as pure as the fresh driven snow. I’ve taken some heat for this from judgmental reviewers who feel that humanity has no place in “Christian” literature, but again — I’m not writing Christian-genre books. I am a Christian who writes novels and has some Christian characters in otherwise non-sectarian books.

But there are limits and describing sex is a boundary for me. First, I don’t think it’s necessary for me to write it. There are other authors who can fulfill that market. I’m happy to let them do it. I don’t want to write books that I’d be ashamed to have my pastor’s wife read. Jennifer is a realistic Christian who isn’t one of those upset by my portraying Christians as flawed sinners saved by grace, although I have known other pastors’ wives who held a more Pollyanna-ish view of the world. Still, I suspect she wouldn’t be down for a sex scene. I don’t even need to ask, actually. I know she wouldn’t be down for a sex scene. I like it when my Christian friends say they enjoyed my books, but if a sex scene existed in my book, I’d be embarrassed if Jennifer said she was reading it. So, yeah, not writing it.

The other reason is that I don’t cheat on my husband — not in reality and not in fiction. I try not to read books that ask me to imagine having sex with other men. (Brad repays me for this by not indulging in porn). Erotic literature is the female equivalent of men’s pornographic videos and I don’t recommend either party in a marriage cheat mentally. Every marriage I know of that indulged in mental cheating has ended in divorce, often following an incident of actual cheating. The Bible says the body follows the head, so I try to control where my head leads me. Occasionally, I run across a sex scene in a book where I wasn’t expecting it and I read it, but I don’t seek out that sort of literature. (Brad has a similar attitude toward sex scenes in otherwise entertaining movies.)

Rabbit Trail!

Okay, I have to tell this funny story. Many years ago we were watching a mystery set in a monestary in the Middle Ages “In the Name of the Rose.” It was a great movie — a murder mystery. Except, about halfway through, the young monk played by a teenage Christian Slater engaged in full-on sex with a kitchen wench. There was no reason for it. There was no build up to it and no other plot point revolved around it. It wasn’t in the book that the movie was based on. It was just there to garner an R-rating for a movie that didn’t need it.

It took about two seconds for our group of friends (all from our church) to realize what was going on and then our friend Jeff tried to fast-forward through the scene. This was in the VCR days and it just served to highlight the act playing out on the screen.

I believe Brad is disallowed from choosing videos for group consumption among certain segments of our friends because he picked the video that night. He ranks it as one of the most embarrassing times of his Christian life — the time he brought “a porn video” to Christian group night.

Imagination is Key!

Now imagine writing a sex scene and all the time an author spends getting the scene just right. It would be like doing that scene from “In the Name of the Rose” 20-30 times, replaying it in my head, over and over. I don’t write my husband into my books, so ….

Erotic literature is a genre I’m not going to attempt to write and I’m completely okay with that.

What Else?

I also don’t write horror. I admire the few Christian horror writers out there (Ted Dekker, for example), but I don’t read a lot of horror as a genre, so I don’t really want to write it. But I’m not saying I’d never attempt it, because you should never say never so long as it’s not against your moral code.

Posted January 11, 2021 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Chasing a Deadline   10 comments

How you keep focused during long writing sessions?

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Who says I stay focused?

No, really. I usually have two or three projects going at once. Focus may not be my thing.

Long Writing Sessions

I have them and they’re almost always character-driven. When a character is telling me his or her story, I write it down and sometimes it is so engrossing I don’t get distracted by other projects.

Those are the best times and distractions aren’t really a problem when that’s happening.

Editing, though?

Those are some long sessions as well and those can be distracting. I enjoy editing in many ways – it’s when the characters allow me to polish their stories to my own purposes (for the most part). But there’s those other projects calling to me, so I need to stay focused in order to get the best results.

How do I do that?

Coffee. A nice pot of coffee and a bit of scone helps. The act of getting up to get it actually gives me short breaks that help me to focus for long hours.

Genre- or scene-appropriate music, through earphones, so I can’t hear the world around me. If I can’t hear the neighbors doing something entertaining or my husband watching a movie or a U-Tube philosophy podcast, I am less likely to get distracted from my work.

A timer. Sometimes I go through periods when I can’t settle down and so if I’m struggling with that, I’ll set a timer on my phone. I say “butt-in-seat-fingers-on-keyboard” until it goes off. I also sometimes use the timer to break up my writing sessions so that I don’t wear myself out.

But Seriously?

I grew up in a small Alaska house where everybody did everything in the main room because the rest of the house wasn’t that warm. I learned early to concentrate even when there is activity around me. I can watch television and write at the same time — depending on what I am writing. I can handle the noise of my family — and in fact, miss it when it’s absent. Distractions are a part of life and sometimes that neighbor doing something entertaining is the kernel of a story idea, so ignoring them might not such a good thing.

Writing takes discipline, but it also takes observing and interacting with life. Sometimes I write for 12 hours straight with only bathroom breaks and maybe making a second pot of coffee. Other times, I write for an hour and then let life draw me away to reality. I let the story dictate what level of discipline I need to exercise in any given day. Right now, I’m trying to write a minimum of a 1000-words per day so I can finish the rough draft of “A Death in Jericho” before the end of January, but I recognize that too much focus on an enjoyable activity can look a little like obsession, so I won’t sweat the word-limit more than absolutely necessary. If I finish the rough draft by February 7, I’ll consider myself well-rounded.

Who Is Leading the Way?   10 comments

Who’s the boss, you or the story?

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Definitely!

I know who is boss and it sure isn’t me. Discovery writers need to be honest about this. We are not in charge of the stories we write. We follow the story to where it leads and record what we observe. Maybe we can make suggestions to the story, but we don’t really write the story. The story evolves in our imagination and we are often as surprised as our readers at what emerges as we chase our characters through the world they are sharing with us.

Hopefully, that spontaneity speaks to our readers as fresh and not disorganized. Orderliness is a function of editing and in that phase of story development, I am in charge. My characters have told me what they want me to know, but I don’t always have to share what they’ve told me. I can sometimes rearrange the story to my liking in this phase. I know I have to be careful not to mess with my characters’ stories more than they will tolerate, but other than that, I control the edit process, but I cannot deny that the story is in charge in the first draft – absolutely and don’t piss off Shane or he’ll stop talking to me and then where will I be –halfway through a series with a star who has abdicated his story-telling role. Oh, my!

And, may it never be so.

Posted December 28, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Jason Breen   7 comments

We usually interview our good guys and gals when we do character interviews. How about we do an interview with our favorite bad guy?

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A Hard Prompt

I don’t really write a lot of bad-guy characters. In Transformation Project, the Big Bad is a world gone crazy in the grips of ongoing terrorist attacks and my town doesn’t know who might be the perpetrators (that’ll come later in the series). I figure my characters’ various reactions to society going off the rails is conflict enough and so I don’t really need a particular bad guy. But I do have characters who act in awful ways because … well, let’s ask Jason Breen why he is the way he is. Here’s an interview Click Michaels did with Jason. For his own safety, Click probably shouldn’t run this on his radio broadcasts.

The whole book series is premised on the idea that a small town in the Midwest must cope alone when terrorists attack major cities, shattering the communications and supply grid. It’s now January in Emmaus and things are looking bleak for the citizens of the town.

Jason Breen is Marnie Callahan Delaney’s father which makes him a shirt-tail relative of the Delaney family who are the main focus of the series.

The Interview

CLICK: Jason, thank you for talking with me today. As the town’s unofficial news source, I’m trying to get to know the residents and I’m curious about you. Tell me something about yourself.

JASON: Well, thanks for talking with me. My bark is bigger than my bite, I tell you. Let’s see — I own Liberty Trucking. I’m the father of two — used to be three. My company keeps the town supplied when we can find anything out in the world worth bringing home.

CLICK: That fascinates me. You’re a marauder?

JASON (Laughing): I prefer “provider.” I can get things the town can’t and it gives the town plausible deniability. They can throw us under the bus if someone comes to complain.

CLICK (chuckling): C’mon, man. You’re a highwayman.”

JASON: Sometimes. (shrugs) I prefer to engage in voluntary exchange if possible or to take what nobody seems to be claiming. That’s getting harder though. The last time we were out, we found a lot of other marauders. It’s not a safe world anymore. But Emmaus would become a lot more unsafe for my family if the townspeople couldn’t get what I can provide. Do you know how scarce antibiotics are now that China’s no longer sending them and pharmacists are no longer selling them?

CLICK: I like antibiotics. How did you get into that business?

JASON – Yeah — I was a mechanic for Frelander’s Garage. Had just had my son. Well, my ol’ lady had just had my son. I dropped a car off at this guy’s house. He didn’t answer the door, so I left the bill and the keys in the screen and headed home–or — well, I was young. I was probably headed to the bar — which I was legal by then. Anyway, I woke up at the crack of dawn to cops handcuffing me at gunpoint.

CLICK: Why?

JASON: The guy was dead. Someone beat the crap out of him. It must have been around the time that I dropped the car off.

CLICK: Was that the only reason they suspected you?

JASON: I didn’t know I knew him–we’d met at the bar a few weeks before and he got a little rowdy with one of the bartenders, so I kicked his butt. I guess something I said sounded like a threat. But I was over it as soon as he left the parking lot. I didn’t even really remember him by the time he died. But, there were people in town who liked me for it. They put me in county jail, wouldn’t let me have bail, basically found me guilty without the jury even deliberating. I went to Levenworth. But Jacob Delaney — you knew Jacob, right?”

CLICK: Of course.

JASON: He and Carl Sullivan — you knew him too?

CLICK: Yup.

JASON: They believed I was innocent, so they paid for a lawyer for an appeal and DNA evidence showed it wasn’t me. It took almost three years to get out though. And when I got out, nobody would hire me. Even though I’d been exonerated, I couldn’t find a job. My ol’ lady didn’t want to pull stakes — she’s got family here — but I was pretty sure I needed to leave the state or move to Kansas City or Denver to find a life again. That’s when Jacob stepped forward and gave me a lifetime lease of $1 a year or 1% of the profits on the land here by the airfield and he staked me a loan for my first truck.

CLICK: That sounds like a legit business. How’d you end up smuggling?

JASON: It wasn’t like that. When I was trying to find work, I started delivering cannabis to some of the towns and then once I had my truck, some folks asked if I’d haul booze. Do you know Kansas still has dry counties?

CLICK: No. That’s fascinating.

JASON: Of course, I guess it doesn’t matter now. There’s no real law but what we make now, right?

CLICK: I think Rob Delaney and your son-in-law might disagree.

JASON: You mean, they might pretend to disagree, but they’ll still not ask any questions when I show up with something they need.

CLICK: Tough times do change the view of the law, yeah.

JASON: Anyway, it was never a mainstay. Mostly we were a cartage company – moving furniture, hauling firewood or lumber, groceries for Huffman’s, materials for half the businesses in town. I was barely doing the booze at all except for a few old-time-sake customers and if my guys were making cannabis deliveries, that was on them – a little gravy for them from my meat-and-potatoes. Besides, it was legal in Colorado.

CLICK: So you have a reputation in town….

JASON: It’s not deserved. (Stares at the ceiling, chuckles) Yeah, maybe it is a little. I don’t much care for all those people who judge me. It’s my life and I wasn’t guilty. Stop looking down your noses at me. So, I guess maybe I’m a little gruff, pushy even.

CLICK: Didn’t you threaten to kill Shane Delaney when he helped to put your son in prison?

JASON: Yup, and he richly deserved the threat, though I’m glad I didn’t go through with it. I’ve never killed anyone and I don’t think I want to.

CLICK: What if the town needed you to help with defense?

JASON: Nah. I’d defend my compound, but the town’s on its own.

CLICK: I’ve heard people say you’re a libertarian.

JASON: Yeah … kind of. I believe in liberty, hence my company name. But obviously I violate the non-aggression principle outside the borders of the town, so I can’t really claim I’m a libertarian. But, here’s the thing — I figure if people don’t value their stuff enough to defend it, I might as well benefit from it. You lean to be practical in prison. Ain’t nobody innocent in there, not even the ones that are not guilty of the crime they were incarcerated for.

CLICK: Your son did about five years for conspiracy to commit treason. Was he guilty?

JASON: Of shooting his big mouth off? Sure. What 18-year-old isn’t? Of acting conspiring to overthrow the government? Naw. The militia were just preparing for the collapse when it came. And turned out they were right. Is that treason or just good future-gazing?

CLICK: What about now?

JASON: Josh is doing his own thing and I don’t ask. When they’re adults, you gotta stop asking.

CLICK: Was that your rule with your daughters?

JASON: Marnie’s like her mother. Callahan women are a force of nature. Marie never got to be an adult and I don’t want to discuss her.

CLICK: How do you think the future is going to work out?

JASON: We’ll have a future. Life as we knew it is in transition right now, but the world will go on. That’s why I’m trying to keep my neighbors supplies with food. I don’t want to be living in the middle of nowhere all alone. Can’t get a lot of customers that way.

CLICK: Thanks for talking with me.

JASON: Sure. Just, you know, be respectful about what you run about me and I’ll stay friendly like.

CLICK (laughs nervously): Absolutely. I might not even use this interview.

JASON: That might be a healthy choice.

Posted December 15, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Bring on the Tropes   12 comments

Every story starts with a stranger in town or a journey. “Pa, we’re takin’ the wagon to Virginian City,” every story ends with “Golly gee, Wally. I thought we were goners.” True or False?

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Tolstoy Said

“All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.”

I love Tolstoy’s stories, but do I agree with his observation?

Yes

Tolstoy isn’t the only literary giant to make the observation that, it seemed to them, all stories fall into one of two categories: “stranger in a strange land” or “a stranger comes to town.”

We’re all familiar with Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” as represented in the journeys of Odysseus or Luke Skywalker. It’s so common that we hardly even notice it. A stranger passing through a land that is new to him encounters events that change him. In our traveling world today, we know this to be true because we’ve all experienced that transition wrought by new experiences, but the same held true from ancient times and the best storytellers borrow from real life to make compelling fiction. When I think about it, my series Daermad Cycle starts out as a stranger in a strange land tale. Although Padraig was raised in Celdrya, he’s been gone a long time and he sees the culture with new eyes. The journey is a common theme of many tales.

Likewise, the “stranger comes to town” trope has been around at least since Tolstoy, which for most of us is more than our lifetime. It’s the basis of every one of Clint Eastwood’s “Spaghetti” westerns. A stranger comes to town and something happens. It’s place based – a group of inhabitants who all know one another and an unknown character coming to town. That new element is the basis of conflict and the catalyst for change. Think “Our Town” or “The Man from Snowy River”.

Sometimes the “stranger” isn’t a person, but a force. In Transformation Project, the catalyst for change is societal chaos and the people of Emmaus are the group that is changed by it.

Sometimes the stranger is not a catalyst, but a a neutral observer viewing the activities of the static group, as in “The Scarlet Letter.” Or, in “To Kill a Mocking Bird”, Scout is not a catalyst for change, but an observer of change. There’s dozens of variations on this trope that could go anywhere. All of them will lead to character development, conflict, gain and/or loss, change and a conclusion. The outside element changing a static group is rich fodder for fiction writers.

But

I know for a fact that I’ve read and written stories about people who already know one another in a community they’re all familiar with, which suggests Tolstoy’s observation is at least partially wrong. The two tropes work because they are used all the time, but they’re not the only story patterns used.

“My prettiest contribution to my culture,” the writer Kurt Vonnegut mused in his 1981 autobiography Palm Sunday, “was a master’s thesis in anthropology which was rejected by the University of Chicago a long time ago.”

He moved on to become a great writer who mapped many popular storylines along a simple graph. He did a lecture that you can find on YouTube. I’m not going to explain it all, but he felt the most interesting story type he encountered was represented by the fairytale Cinderella. He thought of it as a staircase where Cinderella climbed into good fortune after her fairy godmother arrived. The high point was the ball and then she plummeted back into poverty and degradation, only to be rescued from darkness and brought to glory by her dashing prince.

It’s a “Rags to Riches” tale. It doesn’t involve a journey and nobody is exactly a stranger in town. Though they might not know each other before the ball, Cinderella lives within sight of the castle and the prince might have ridden by her home a few times.

I ran across a statistic claiming “Rags to Riches” stories represent about one-fifth of all written works. Think of the catalogues of Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton and Jane Austen for some examples. And, of course, there’s variations on that trope as well. Essentially, my series “What If Wasn’t” is a Riches to Rags story that holds out hopes for a return to riches — maybe. “The ‘Rags to Riches’ emotional arc is a story we all love to believe in. It embodies the American dream itself, a belief in hope and fairness, where regardless of beginning in bad times, effort can make things better and eventually result in good fortune. On the other hand, there is enjoyment to be had in seeing a life of ease destroyed and the character struggling to rebuild.

So, no!

I believe there are more than two types of stories. I think there are at least three (plus a converse), but probably more than that. Think how many stories involve “Overcoming the Monster” (Beowulf, for example) as a common plot type. Comedy often doesn’t follow the “stranger in a strange land” or the “stranger comes to town” tropes.

Specialization is Key

So why did Tolstoy make that observation? Maybe those are the books he encountered, although Tolstoy appears to have been a great reader who explored new ideas even into his elder years. It’s entirely possible that Tolstoy, literary giant that he was, could only think in those two types of plots. Think about what treasures he left us using those two plot arcs. Maybe there’s something to be said for specialization. Jack of All Trades is sometimes Master of None and clearly Tolstoy was a master. So was Vonnegut, though he wrote in different plot structures from Tolstoy. Specialization of plot allowed them to concentrate on other aspects like character development and setting details. Would they have been literary giants if they’d strayed from their plot tracks? Would that have taken them away from the aspects of writing that made them great? Maybe those other tracks are left for other writers, so they too can shine.

I personally look forward to fiction books that create all-new tropes because those are interesting to read because you can’t anticipate the next plot point. I wonder what my fellow blog-hoppers think of this subject.

Posted November 30, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Time in a Lockdown   7 comments

Has the pandemic affected your writing? If so, how? Have your writing habits changed in reaction to the ‘different’ world we are faced with?

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Time Dilation in the CVD19 Bubble

This year, I published three books. I’ve never done that before because it takes a lot of effort to write a novel and I have a full-time job and family.

Telecommuting Makes Work More Efficient

I’ve been on telecommuting full-time since late-March and I quickly came to realize that a dedicated administrator can do her job to the best of her abilities and still have a LOT of time on my hands. I usually use downtime in the office to file paper documents or interact with my coworkers or neaten my work area. But with telecommuting, a lot of that went away. I do all of my work electronically, so eliminating paper documents (except for a double-sided cheatsheet I use to remember project coding), so there’s no real filing. Nobody but me sees my work area and there are no paper documents, so neatening is unnecessary (or reduced to a Friday afternoon straightening). I can still interact with my coworkers via email and Teams, but really, we don’t do that much anymore. And, I’ve repatriated all the time I used to spend in meetings because meetings on Teams are about half the length of in-person meetings and you don’t have to go anywhere to attend them. Heck, you don’t even have to wear a bra to them.

At first, I begged for more work, but not much happened along those lines. My personal computer equipment is in the same room as my office, so became too tempting as the boredom wore on. To keep from going crazy, I finished a novel in record time and started the next one in Transformation Project. Then a coworker in Nome retired and I volunteered to take on her workload additional to my workload. The extra work kept me distracted for a few weeks, until I adapted to the new workload and then I returned to filling downtime with writing. That TP novel finished rather quickly and I wrote a third novel (the second in What If Wasn’t series), which I published in October.

So, my process hasn’t really changed, but it has sped up simply because I now have more time than I did before. All my downtime on my money job needs to be filled somehow and I prefer to spend it writing rather than napping. (This, by the way, is what my friends who homeschool happens with their kids — six hours of recommended schooling becomes three hours of actual work, followed by two hours of enriching education, leaving an extra hour for almost anything fun).

What About CVD19 Influence?

It’s 24/7 CVD19 news that you can’t get away from unless you choose to live in a no-news bubble, which I think is isolation. Thus, some of my writing topics shifted. When I blog, I now ask liberty questions with regards to CVD19 restrictions.

Question – Would a national mask mandate be constitutional?

Answer – No, the federal government doesn’t have public health powers. Some state governors have statewide powers, but others do not. In Alaska, only First-Class Boroughs and Municipalities hold those powers and so only the mayors of cities can require a mask — and Fairbanks’ Mayor Matherly would like a second-term as mayor, so he’s unlikely to require his libertarian-minded citizens do anything involuntary.

Topical Influence

It’s no surprise that my writing is delving into government abuse of power while we’re going through a period of governmental abuse of power. Of course it is on my mind and since my apocalyptic series is libertarian-influenced, the characters contemplate what I’m chewing on at the moment.

It’s quite coincidental that Transformation Project has a pandemic in it during the CVD19 lockdown. It’s a series. I planned the pandemic five years ago when I started writing the series about the “fundamental transformation of the United States of America.” In fact, it kicked around in the back of my head when I started pre-planning a decade ago. Nuclear attacks, an EMP, government confiscation of food and fuel, winter, pandemic, the fracture of the nation, and eventually … I’m not telling. It’s a slow-moving fire-sale scenario and I’m not telling who is orchestrating events.

But I might be paying more attention to the pandemic than I had planned, simply because we’re in the midst of this one. I’m doing more research — and learning some surprising things about virology and immunology. Maybe it’s deepened my writing on the topic. It certainly given me a perspective on CVD19 that is not shared by many who simply accept the official narrative as if “experts” all agree. They don’t — but that’s another topic from this article on writing process.

Fiction Imitates Real Life

The best fiction is based on at least some version of reality. Transformation Project was inspired by current events and it remains influenced by them, even though Donald Trump never was president in the series (I seriously never saw that coming). But I did foresee some version of this election, so why CVD19 has really only allowed me to write more and faster, the current political situation may influence the series far more than I had planned. We’ll see. If I’m really as prescient as I think I am — oh, yeah!

Posted November 16, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Speaking as a Fruit Bat   12 comments

What is your favorite fruit dish? Can you share a recipe for it? Do you include food in your stories? While we’re talking about food, pumpkin, yea or nay?

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Favorites

I love fruit. Growing up in Alaska, our selections were few – apples (red or golden delicious), oranges (navels), bananas – and whatever was available in the canned fruit section. I still loved it, but enough visits outside informed me that we were being gyped in the fruit department.

The construction of the TransAlaska Pipeline brought a lot of changes here, including dozens of varieties of apples, several types of oranges, melons, plums, peaches, kiwis – and etc. I love it all so much that at one of the construction companies I worked for, my nickname was “the fruit bat” and the guys knew fresh fruit was an acceptable bribe to get me to do their paperwork special. I’d say my favorite are Bing cherries, but a tart crisp apple or red grape is a close second.

Fresh fruit is still expensive here (thanks to the Jones Act), so I still use canned or frozen fruit a lot. It’s not as good, but it’s affordable. I’ll include some recipes at the end of the article.

Setting the Scene

Yes, I use food in my books because it helps to set a stage. For example, in Life As We Knew It, the one book of Transformation Project that occurs before the apocalypse gets underway, I include a lot of food that is (or was, pre-Covid) available. It conveys the richness of the world my characters take for granted and are about to be jerked from. In my latest WIP in that series, I describe a meal Shane eats. It’s simple, it’s small, it’s what a starving world considers a feast. I think food plays a similar role to clothes in world-building. It’s a condiment that must be sprinkled lightly, but makes all the difference in the flavor of the setting.

I like pumpkin, sort of. I love pumpkin pie and I have both pumpkin bread and pumpkin cookie recipes. But please don’t put it in my latte (shudders!), or my smoothie. I don’t get the attraction. There are just some culinary Rubicons I don’t wish to cross.

Recipes

My absolutely favorite fruit recipe is simply cut-up fruit in a bowl tossed with a little sugar and a dash of salt or sometimes mixed with yogurt. It’s whatever is available in the produce aisle. Sometimes I add crushed walnuts for variety.

A family favorite is called ambrosia salad. Because I usually make this for the holidays when fresh fruit is limited and expensive here, I base it on fruit cocktail, preferably the chunky variety. I add apples and bananas and sometimes walnuts and it’s all folded into a bowl of homemade whip-cream, with a sprinkle of cinnamon on top.

Alaska blueberries are smaller and tarter than their Lower 48 variety. They have 10 times the antioxidants too. They grow on the hills north of town and in the bogs south of town. They’re not really the same berry, but you really can’t tell the difference between what we call blueberries and what the scientists call bog berries.

We pick our blueberries by hand from our cabin site north of town. We clean them of debris and freeze them on aluminum trays, then store them in the freezer like peas. You can pop the top on the container and roll out a handful into a bowl and put the rest back. I don’t make them into jam or jelly because I really don’t like sweet stuff and it’s too much work — all that cooking and jarring.

For me, a slice of toast with butter on it is more appealing than toast and jam — except — my husband puts our frozen blueberries on toast with honey and warms them in the toaster oven. The thawed blueberries and juice mix with the honey and — yummo.

There’s a local ice cream stand (only open in the summer, but you can buy from their factory all winter) called Hot Licks that makes Alaska blueberry ice cream. I don’t know how they make it, but I willingly plunk down $5 for a cone.

And, no, we don’t add our Alaska blueberries to the ambrosia salad because the juice turns the whip cream an unappetizing purple. We all agreed that was a bad idea that guests wouldn’t understand.

Posted October 12, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Continuity is King   6 comments

When writing a sequel or series with the same characters, do you ever have to refer back to your first book because you forgot what you wrote about a certain character?

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I Don’t Trust My Memory

I write series and I love characters — lots of personalities. In the real world, we are all interconnected with one another and the same holds true in believable fiction.

The downside to that is there’s a lot to remember. Clem Burroughs is the town vet and I mention him very briefly in Objects in View. He euthanizes some radiation poisoning victims. And, when he can’t finish the job, Shane finishes it for him.

I never really intended to revisit the character. He was a “non-player character” when I wrote OIV, but my characters have a way to asserting themselves and telling me their stories. Later while writing the later parts of the story, “Clem” told me he had a wife Abigail who was a nurse at the Emmaus Medical Center. He told me enough that I wanted to include him in scene in Winter’s Reckoning. There was one problem. I couldn’t remember his name.

Occupational Hazard

Daermad Cycle is a fat fantasy series and there’s lots of characters in The Willow Branch that show up in Mirklin Wood or will show up in Fount of Wraiths. They have Celtic names we don’t necessarily hear everyday. Because it’s a medieval setting, people tend to stay in their villages or towns, except my characters travel. Whenever they return to a community, I try to remember who lives there and what they are like.

And my memory is untrustworthy.

Continuity is King

I’ve discovered through Kindle Reads that people apparently read Transformation Project as a series. They read Life As We Knew It and, it appears, they start reading Objects in View the same day. It’s a pretty consistent reading pattern that has as many full-book reads of every book in the series. They’re a little slower to read Daermad Cycle because it’s a fat fantasy, but the same pattern exists if I look at a month of reads. While that’s ego-gratifying, it’s also a burden because continuity is king when someone reads the whole series in a week. They WILL notice.

Do I Re-Read the First Book?

Yes, but…

I keep a continuity notebook for Daermad Cycle. It’s broken up into communities to make it easier to find the characters, their names and their characteristics. I do sometimes need to read the earlier books to remember things like their height or weight, the condition of their teeth. That’s largely because I decide what the characters look like based on the story they tell me. They won’t often describe themselves. The continuity notebook helps a lot, but it’s not comprehensive. It fills up most of a spiral-bound school notebook and I should put it on the computer, but … yeah, I’m still old-school.

Transformation Project doesn’t have a continuity notebook. I generally only forget minor characters’ names and I can read through a book that isn’t a fat fantasy in an evening or scan through about three in that amount of time.

For example, in Winter’s Reckoning I described Rob as he was doing something and I wanted to mention his eye color. I went blank. Then all this heredity information starts floating through my brain. Rob’s father Jacob had blue eyes and his mother Vi had green-gray eyes. She was a Greyeyes and green-gray eyes are a feature of that family. (My mother’s Rez cousins are Greyeyes and I used some of the family stories for the Greyeyes family of Emmaus.) Blue eyes are recessive to green eyes, but it’s not that simple because they’re both recessive to brown. Rob’s wife Jill has green eyes (I think), his eldest son Cai has blue eyes, his middle child Shane definitely has green eyes, and his daughter Keri has (my husband’s) rare blue-green eyes.

You see how my mind was circling and spinning? Yeah, I wasn’t going to work this out logically by figuring out the genetics because for five books the reader has probably known Rob’s eyes are….

I went back and read the scene in Life As We Knew It where I said Rob has BLUE eyes, which is consistent with the eye color of his children. If he’d had green eyes, Cai would probably not be his biological son.

Good Authorial Technique

I definitely need to reread the earlier books to keep things on track. And frankly, that sometimes help me to get into the mood to restart writing a series. I typically take a break after publishing a book in one series by writing an unrelated book, but sometimes when I shift back, I need a little bit to get back in the mood and reading the earlier books can help me get into the series’ world again and generally the characters will start talking to me. In fact, I’m going to read through the entire Transformation Project series during a cross-country flight in November because what else should I do in a metal tube while wearing a mask? The rough-rough draft of “A Death in Jericho” should be finished by then and that’ll get me into the mood for finishing the book.

I’ve noticed that sometimes when authors write series, they change subtle things over the length of the series and it completely changes who the characters are over time. I think they might benefit from read the series before each book and that’s one of the reasons I do periodically take my own advice.

Posted October 5, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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Finish Line?   9 comments

Do you set business goals as a writer? What are they for the 4th quarter, and have you started planning 2021?

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Goals are Good, but….

Writing is still a side gig for me, so I’m not treating it like a corporate takeover. My goal has always been to make my books profitable, but it was a long-term goal, not something to be focused on down to the quarter.

Last Quarter was Good, but….

They always say the secret to selling books is to write the next book and that appears to be true. My ongoing series, Transformation Project, sees an uptick in buys and reads every time I publish the next book in the series. The last two books paid their initial costs in their first quarter of publication. Yay! That felt good. The entire series is in the black with minimal marketing.

My fantasy, Daermad Cycle, has a different profit profile. The Willow Branch was published in 2014 and it wasn’t until 2019 that it finally paid for its publication costs. But now it’s making a profit and the reads are good. Mirklin Wood is slated to pay for itself this year. I’m starting to feel like it will be worth it to write the third book “Fount of Wraiths” because it’s fairly obvious from the read pattern that once they read The Willow Branch, they read Mirklin Wood. These being fat fantasies, it takes them a while, but it is happening, so completing the third book is making financial sense as well as creative sense now.

It gives me hope that if I publish the next book in What If Wasn’t series, it will get some attention on the first book, Red Kryptonite Curve. Sometimes, a book just doesn’t sell and you don’t know why. This is a new genre for me – Young Adult/New Adult — so I might not know how to market it right. But, I learned how to do the other genres, so I’ll learn this one too. But maybe I just need to publish the next book. And I’ve learned from Daermad Cycle that a book can take a long time to catch on and then you don’t really know why it does. “Dumpster Fire” will launch October 20. Today’s article acts as a cover reveal.

Maybe someday I’ll have long-term goals and quarterly reports, but currently, those live in my “real” job and my ‘next goal” is to publish the next book — at least one per year (Covid has made 2020 especially productive — there had to be a bright side to the whole country being in the timeout corner. Even teleworking full-time, I had a lot more time to write.

Here’s hoping that 2021 sees a return to normality.

Posted September 21, 2020 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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