Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Victims of the Knife: The search for Ms. Wildstar

Xander peers at the slowing stream of brain jello seeping down the side desk. "Quick! Our writer must be falling asleep. We need to get to her computer to search for that Indian's story."

"Thanks for the recap." Nekar rolls his eyes.

"Sorry, I though we might need one since it's been several days since our last entry. I tried to keep it subtle and quick."

"You call that subtle?" The older man shakes his head. "Whatever. We have work to do. Gather up all pins and thumbtacks you can find. We're going to need some footholds."

Xander nods and dashes off. Nekar sits on the paper-lined path, pondering the few glimpses he's had of the computer high above them. A scrap of paper catches his attention. His heart beats faster.

Xander rushes back up the path, his arms full of colorful tacks and a few bent straight pins. "What are you smiling about?"

Nekar points to the paper. "She loved me once. Ms. MC and I, we really had something."

"Yeah, and as I recall, you ended up wanting to kill each other, and at one point, you plucked out her eyes."

"She got new ones. Better ones."

"I know, they're around here somewhere. Locked away in a box, I hope." Xander shudders.

Nekar scowls and yanks a handful of tacks from Xander's arms. He slams the first one into the side of the wooden desk at waist height. "I can't believe our writer cut me so effectively from my novel. Every single scrap of me." He rests a booted foot on the first tack and reaches up to plant another. "I added conflict, tension and some excellent fight scenes, if I do say so myself."

"You're uhh, going to run out of tacks before you get much farther. Not to mention, how are you climbing upward and inserting tacks one handed? You would have taken them all, maybe put them in a bag of some sort, or even a pocket, so you had both hands free. Ever consider that this lack of planning issue you have might be part of the reason you got cut?"

"It wasn't my lack of planning." Nekar jumps to the ground. Paper flutters away from the immediate vicinity. "It was hers. It's all her fault. If she'd used any sort of outline, she would have seen-"

"That you were unnecessary from the start?"

Nekar's face turns red and his eyes narrow. He grabs Xander and throws the lanky youth to the ground, pinning him there with his much larger form. "Ever consider that you making random insults to instigate conflict was the reason you got cut?"

"It was an innocent observation!" Xander squirms.

"That's weak. You're a weak character. That's why your here."

"Yeah, well, we're both here. And it sucks. So unless you plan on plucking my eyes out too, we should concentrate on getting up that desk and saving Ms. Wildstar."

Nekar gives him one last long glare and lets Xander up. "Fine. Get me a bag for these damned thumbtacks, Plan-ahead-boy, and let's go."

to be continued

Monday, March 28, 2011

Where did monday go?

Not only monday, but I seem to be missing the past five or so days. I've been so busy I don't even have time to be distracted from writing, let alone write anything. Too much work, oodles of kid obligations, now we've added track practice to the onslaught of driving to and fro, weasel prototype creations, work, cleaning out flowerbeds, firepits and picking up a billion sticks (ok, so I stopped counting after about fifty, but I swear it was a lot of sticks) and more work. On the plus side, my creative wells have been filled and characters are talking to me again. Maybe it's just the voices because I'm so darned tired and delusional because I'm not able to eat lunch until 3pm, but I'm happy to hear anything beyond tumbleweeds bouncing around in there. I see some suspicious looking characters milling around under my desk. Goodness only knows what they're up to, but here's to hoping I have enough time to formulate a second post this weeks so we can find out.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What is our dear writer doing?

Nekar taps his foot on the paper lined path and glares upward. "We've been standing here, waiting and waiting for a month and half. What the hell is our dear writer doing?"

"She's at her computer a lot, she'd got to be writing, right?" Xander peers above the piles of crumpled paper to the desk looming above them.

"You'd think, but no one new has arrived since that indian that took off with Ms. Wildstar meandered toward us. I think she's working and that ooze flowing down from the desk is brain jello flavored."

"She's gone?"

Nekar shakes his head. "Uh, yeah. That indian is a zombie, a free-agent. You know, not bound to stay in place, frozen, just waiting for the next scene to be written."

"Oh crap." Xander glances down the path to the spot he'd last seen Ms. Wildstar. Empty. No visible tracks in the dust.

"Exactly. Who knows where he's taken her." Nekar takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "We need to find some pages of whatever story he came from. We don't know if he's a murderer, a savage or one of those misunderstood emotional wrecks. He could have killed her by now."

"Right. Pages. But his story isn't down here. It's up there." Xander points to the faint glow of the computer high above them. "We'll have to search the hard drive. Do you know how to do that?"

"We'll figure it out together. Our writer has been falling asleep at her computer late at night. We'll wait until then and move in."

"Got it. Now, I've got to piss."

Nekar frowns at the younger man. "We don't talk about that. It's something everyone does but no one wants to read about."

"I know, but it's been six weeks. It's going to be an epic stream. I'll meet up with you later."

to be continued...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

rewriting deja vu

As I waited for my car to get fixed the other day, I was trapped in a tiny waiting room with my laptop, no internet connection, and a mental decree that I wouldn't sneak over to play solitare instead of writing. I had critiques of one of my wounded short stories staring at me and a big blank space indicating where I'd left off over a month ago on my editing efforts. I didn't go back a reread anything, I just started up where I'd left off. Then there came a paragraph that several people had comments on. It needed some tweaking.

My usual method for tweaking is to read all the comments then go to a blank page, and using what I remember of the area (I hadn't read in over a month) see how I could write it differently. Then I paste the new effort in and compare the fresh one with the original. Creepy thing was, they were almost word for word. I'd managed to tighten a smidge, but that was about it. I can't remember what I had for lunch yesterday but that's apparently because my brain is too busy remembering entire stories word for word. Not that I could recite it if put on the spot, but give me a keyboard and it spews out. The mind is a mysterious thing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dexter: my newest addiction

So I missed my usual monday post. I have an excuse. It's a good one, or not, depending on how you look at it. First, work has been absorbing all my creative juices so trying to write is like staring blankly at the monitor and drooling dust while my brain gasps and sputters. Then there's the fact that I've moved on to watching Dexter. How did I never hear of this show before? Oh yeah, I don't have the movie channel package on my already overpriced cable service.

Several writer friends mentioned that this show was made of awesome so I had to check it out while I was stuck in my brain candy binge, gathering inspiration, whatever title I give my distraction today. As in many other things, my distraction enabling friends were spot on. Since I also have a MC who is a killer, I'm finding it interesting to see how sympathetic one can be for a person who enjoys killing others. There isn't a whole lot in common between Dexter and my MC beyond that, and I've previously tried to tone down the enjoyment level of the killing as far as my novel goes. But in viewing, its still educational to watch--a good example how to keep the plot hopping and even if the MC isn't a sympathetic guy most of the time, he's damn interesting. Cops, killers, sex, a MC with serious emotional damage, drug users, relationships on all kinds of levels... lots of aspects to check out and take notes.

I admit, I'm disappointed that I called the big twist of season one early on, but that doesn't keep me from plunking myself down in front of my computer or tv every night and at lunch and during breakfast... This show is like crack. I swear. Not only is the MC a killer, but there are so many levels being juggled at once. He's works for the cops, he's in a relationship (two actually, atm), there are kids involved (not his directly) his female boss has a thing for him, his sister has as many issues as he does but of a different sort, a co-worker hates him and is on to his dark side, he's performing his own level of justice on the dregs of society and working hard not to get caught, he's got severe emotional family baggage, and now he's in NA to try to help his addiction to killing (which is rather hilarious in its comparison to drugs as far as addictions and the descriptions go) and did I mention the FBI is trying to solve his murders and his own sister and best friend are on the task force?

This is the stuff must-find-out-what-happens-next!?! plots are made of. Must take notes.

On the writing front, I'm going to be stuck in a waiting room with no internet access while my car gets fixed tomorrow for who knows how long. I'm not bringing a book and I can't work. That means I'll be trapped with my two half edited shorts that have been glaring at me for a month and some now. Eek!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Netflix addiction continues

It's probably my fault for putting the television aside in favor of writing for so long, but now that I've unleashed the evil of Netflix streaming into my computer and TV, I can't walk away. In a few clicks I can check out entire series that I paid little attention to when they aired.

My addiction started innocently enough. Stargate Atlantis. I'd watched most of those as they aired, being the one sci-fi show I allowed myself at the time. But I'd had comments on my novel that I was too episodic, so I thought that investigating this episodic feel was a worthwhile endeavor. After I'd raced through the first season, the comment and how to fix the issue sunk in. Seeing how the episodes fit together back to back rather than once a week helped highlight my problem. Watching the other four seasons was purely out of weakness.

Farscape is limited to kid time. (Which in light of my next comment probably makes me sound like a bad mother.) I totally didn't remember the characters using 'bitch' several times in every episode. I remembered them using the made up curse words distinctively. Frell, I still use them. I guess you just can't replace bitch and get the same feeling across. Hmm. Something to ponder when using curse words, real and manufactured in writing.

My free time was getting far too Netflix-free so I decided to give Stargate Universe a try. When it aired, I was so pissed that Atlantis was axed (due to high production costs, which is the same thing that killed Farscape... which ugh, I'll rant to myself about quality sci-fi shows being cancelled. At least they actually ended both of those series.) that I didn't even give it a chance. Apparently not many people did, since it only lasted one season.

There seems to be two camps: those who didn't like the show because it was too much like a space opera (ie: the new Battlestar Galactica) and not enough like the original Stargate series which featured planet of the day and alien gun fights, and those who liked the show because it was like the dearly departed new (now old?) BSG. I'm in the BSG camp. Honestly, Universe also somewhat reminded me of my dearly departed Lost a little with all the flashbacks, visits home in other people's bodies and strangers being thrown together to survive in a hostile environment with few supplies.

While Universe had its shortfalls in cliched characters, convenient resolutions, and didn't I see this plot on BSG? moments, I missed 'good' sci-fi enough to make my way through the one and only season. It, of course, ended in a OMG who's going to die, everyone is in jeopardy ending that will never be resolved now. Darn you low ratings. If only they'd waited a while after ending both SG series to try to launch another, there may have been enough sci-fi starved people like me willing to tune in and keep it alive. Sometimes you've got to let people get thirsty instead of jumping on that hot fire. (Not necessarily five years thirsty, Mr. Martin.)

What was there to learn from Universe?

Allowing problems to be solved too conveniently does not make for compelling reading or viewing. Make those characters work, suffer and bleed for every step toward their goal.

Knowing that all the main characters will never die kind of takes the tension away. Don't allow the reader to think that you're not (wo)man enough to take someone out. I can't be heart-pounding, eyes racing over the pages, concerned enough to stay up reading until four a.m. to make sure MC makes it out alive if there's never a hint that the writer might really kill MC off.

Ending a chapter or episode with a OMG, what's going to happen next glimpse of suspense and then not capitalizing on it with the opening of the next is a big wasted opportunity for tension.

Making me hate a character and think he's the biggest ass in the universe then making me care about him by slowly revealing back story is a great way to sink your claws into a reader, but it's best to give me someone else to care about along the way or I'm going to fling the book into the fire before I get to the caring part.

Creating original characters in an established universe filled with years of hundreds of established characters seems impossible. If I find myself having the urge to include an unnumbered host of 'red-shirts' who will die or drift off with no direct impact on the rest of the characters, a techie who can fix anything once given a time limit to impending death, a commanding officer with repeated confidence issues, and/or a token awkward but brilliant kid looking for love, I shall flog myself and remember what I have learned.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Oh hallelujah!

The most wonderful news has just come to me (oddly enough in one of those tiny ads on the sidebar on facebook that grabbed my attention and whacked it over the head with a stick). George R.R. Martin's long awaited (five years in this case is long, trust me) book, A Dance with Dragons has an official release date of July 12, 2011! Really, there aren't enough exclamations points to express my excitement level right now. I've been waiting so long. Now, not only do we have the Game of Thrones coming to HBO this April, we have a new book to read!

This means I shall fling my TBR pile aside and dive back into the series to refresh myself in time for the new book's arrival. Goodbye work and family, I'll be back in a four thousand pages.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Employer: Get your copy now!

My short story The Employer is now available in the spring issue of The First Line. Stop by in the next thirteen days and get a free pdf copy in honor of their thirteen year anniversary! Print copies are also available for purchase.

Sam has a job to do. Unfortunately, that means he's been stuck in a cave, serving a bloodthirsty dragon for the past two years. He's watched the dragon eat countless innocent people and he's filled inventory books with pages of tribute brought to appease the fire-breathing terror. Through it all, he's served his boss with devotion. But when supplicants start spouting off an odd phrase, Sam's loyalty is truly put to the test.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

TBR pile: The Marriage Spell

I seem to be on a TBR pile conquering roll. Honestly, I think it's just my addictive nature toying with me after finishing all the seasons of Stargate Atlantis and now having to restrain myself to only watching Farscape episodes with my kids as part of my effort to share my love of sci-fi with them.

After an afternoon of cross country skiing--my first try at that behind busting (in more ways than one) endeavor-- with my kids, my sore body informed me that a long hot bath was in order. Long hot baths call for a book. That's where Mary Jo Putney's The Marriage Spell comes in.

A paranormal romance set in England sounded like a fun read. Wizards abound, both talented and not so much, but all are held in disdain by the snobby and politically powerful people of the upper class. When a lonely female healer wizard asks for marriage as payment for healing a mortally wounded Lord, he agrees rather than face death. As he falls in love with her he discovers he's a wizard too and now they must face a hostile society while he takes his place as Lord of his land.

As a reader, I found the book to be a lighthearted, quick read. It was also easy. Too easy for my taste. There's no thought involved in following along. There's conflict but everything is solved in a few pages and the characters, while endearing, happily barrel on to the next part of the plot.

The romance side of things was done well enough, sweet with a few warm fuzzy moments tossed in. The one thing I did applaud was the use of the title, which turned out to have a revealed meaning more literal than I'd first suspected. If you're looking for a romance read for a mindless day, this book may be for you.

As a writer, this was a major lesson in tension, or lack thereof. This book clearly illustrates that we can go far too easy on our characters. While full of what could have been tension filled scenes, they moved too quick and the solutions were too obvious to convey any real sense of danger, threat or heartpounding 'oh my god, what is going to happen next/how will they get out of this situation?' moments. There was a vague overall plot goal, but it felt more like the characters were bumbling about from one subplot to the next more often than not.

Characters spent the first half of the book not asking each other obvious questions that they logically should have asked, didn't share information with each other for random reasons that seemed darned hollow, or just never happened to though there was plenty of opportunity for conversation. Those lost opporutnities would have increased the tension level or avoided misunderstandings that led to weak plot moments.

On the plus side, this book was a breath of fresh air in the atypical female main character. She wasn't tiny, skinny, petite, beautiful, full of charm, had the waist the size of a starved twelve year old, got lost in her husband's embrace, or was snarky for the sake of having a contrary, spoiled or perky personality. She was a normal woman, of average beauty with normal doubts and a personality to match. While everyone in this book seemed to suffer from a lack of confidence in some manner of their personality, I did enjoy her character enough to see the book to the last page.

Would I read this book again? No, but I'd be willing to give the author another chance because even my favorites have a weak novel now and then.