2018 Writing Goals


Snowman chilling in a beach chair with a pina colada

I wish I were like this snowman.  But it’s unseasonably cold in Washington, DC.  We got snow yesterday, the second of the year, and the temperature outside right now is 20 degrees.  Tomorrow, with windchill will go into -10.  There is something seriously wrong with that number for this Southern California woman.

I’ve been in reflection of what I want to do in the New Year, writing-wise.  There was long-standing event that occurred almost a year ago at work that started out as a snowball, moving very slowly.

So slowly, I didn’t quite see what was coming, and it crept up on me.  Especially while I was following a habit from the Army: Accomplish the mission.

In the Army, we got orders to do something, and we would have to do it, because, well, we had our orders.  If you didn’t have the tools, you found them (or “acquired” them).  Or you built it, or whatever was needed.  There was no, “I can’t do this” or “I don’t want to do this.”

And I was running into a whole lot of “I can’t do this,” this year.  I came home tired and frustrated, and that was impacting not only my writing, but getting new releases out.  The releases take about the same mental energy that some tasks at work take, and I just didn’t want to do things that felt like work at home.

Snowman in a top hat throwing snowballs

And then it turned into an avalanche around Thanksgiving.  Things normally wind down at that time because everyone’s on leave.

It didn’t.

I was running into so many deadlines I couldn’t get anything done.

I also realized I hadn’t really done much fun for myself in my off time.  I’d gotten out of it when I broke my foot and really couldn’t go and do anything.  When I started back up, it felt more like “mandatory fun.” That comes from the Army where they set up an organizational day on Saturday, when you were off, and you were ordered to attend to have fun.

Then I took the Carving Out Time For Your Writing Lecture (free until January 18).  I’d taken it three years ago, but hadn’t looked at it since.  I realized that work had shifted around me and I needed a reset to keep myself from burning out.

Happy snowman

So for 2018:

  • Write Longer Fiction.
    • 2,000 words a week, in 15 minute sessions.  That works out to 8 sessions a week.  The number comes out of the lecture itself, but it’s a much slower pace.  I’m in the process of doing a redraft of 49er Planet because it had some structure problems.  Redraft is an easy fix.
    • Workshops that will help this along.
  • Have more fun.  I’ve been looking at a book called The Power of Having Fun: How Meaningful Breaks Help You Get More Done.  It has some interesting ideas (the goal in the book is to have fun for free or low cost).  I’m looking at:
    • Go for a massage once a month.  I did that last week and got my feet pampered.  It felt so good that I want to do it again.
    • Visit a museum I haven’t been to. I’m thinking of the Bureau of Printing and Engraving.  This has to be planned because they are only open weekdays, so I have to take a day of leave.
    • Tai Chai class.  This is a four week class at the library.  I took a one hour special session at work.  Be a nice way to vary the exercise routine for a few weeks.

For the moment, I’m trying to keep things simple to keep everything in balance.

 

 

 

2017 Writing Year in Review


I started out the year saying that it was going to be a year of craft.

Then I broke my foot in February and was pretty much offline until May.  I didn’t realize how exhausting a broken bone could be.  So most of the Year of Craft came after May.  I started out the thing year saying there would be four workshops.

There were six.  It’s like the more I learned, the more it snowballed, and the more I needed to learn.  The workshops can be found over here if anyone is interested.

Speed

This was an interesting workshop.  It’s not what the title implies, though.  Everyone always thinks speed writing is somehow racing through the story at a break-neck speed.  This helps figure out what your range is through actual writing.  Plus writing fears get discussed.  The fears themselves can be insidious because they don’t always look like fears.

How to Edit Your Own Work

Writers tend to use edit and revise interchangeably, though they are two different techniques.  I thought this would fit into the Edit category, but it didn’t quite do that.  It was the one workshop of the year that didn’t give me as much benefit as I thought (I wished I used my money for a different one).  If it had popped up three years ago, it might have been a different thing because I was in a different place.

Writing Science Fiction

This was a pretty cool workshop.  It talked about how to do the world building for science fiction in some very simple ways.  I honestly wish I’d had something like this long ago.  Everyone always seems to talk about world building by saying you need a three ring binder and an extensive list of question.  Huge, huge turn off for me, so much so that I didn’t touch speculative fiction for years.

Depth 3 Research Workshop

This was an important workshop for me, because I hated research.  My only exposure outside of school were writers who loved research and would happily do it instead of writing.  Other writers approached it from a position of fear, like someone was going to catch them out because they got the size of a grate in Rome wrong.  Until this workshop, I’d given up any chance of writing fiction in a historical setting because I thought I could never aspire to what I was hearing from other writers.  Now I’m thinking of some mystery stories set in Hollywood in the 1940s.  How cool is that?

Novel Structure Workshop

Also a very important workshop for me.  One of my indie goals is to write longer fiction.  But for years, I struggled to get my novels to, well, novel-length. I hit the problem the way I usually do (and need to break this habit), with a battering ram.  And could not figure out what I was doing wrong!

Common writing advice just said use an outline or a three act structure, like it was a magic fix.  Well, I’m a pantser, and trying those two things left me with a story so badly broken that I thought I would have to stick with only writing short stories.  No one discussed in this way, in a way that made it easy to understand.  I’m probably going to spend the next year digesting what I learned because it was an enormous, high-level topic.

Carving Out Time for Your Writing

This was a temporarily free lecture that popped up in December.  I’d already had seen it, but it had been three years at least.  Time for a relook.  I realized after watching it that work had shifted around so much that what I was doing for my writing needed a reset.  It sort of crept up on me and I didn’t realize it.

The lecture is still also free until January 18, I believe, so grab it now.

I’m going into the new year with Teams in Fiction and then Secondary Plots  I also have Plotting in Depth, Writing a Series, and Character Voice and Setting.  Whew!

 

Sue Grafton, RIP


I was shocked to hear Sue Grafton passed away.  Somehow, after seeing the march of books on the shelf, writers seem immortal until they aren’t.

I read Sue Grafton’s first book A is for Alibi after three books gave her visibility.  It was the 1980s and one of several writers emerging who wrote about women characters in non-traditional roles.

I grew up reading Nancy Drew, Trixie Beldon, and Kim Aldrich.  And then I got to the adult books and there wasn’t much of anything similar with women.  It was really frustrating!  I wanted to read about women having adventures, too!

Sue Grafton’s detective, Kinsey Milhone, was kind of a misfit private investigator, and a loner. She also lived in California (yay! Where I lived!), in the fictional city of Santa Teresa.  My father never understood that.  He’s always said, “Why doesn’t she just call it Santa Barbara?”.

I liked the character and the way she saw the world.  Sometimes that’s all it takes to grab a reader.

I’ll miss Kinsey’s adventures.

Time Traveling to the Past


The Desert Storm Memorial was looking for photos from in theater (which means in Saudi Arabia in my case) for a pair of videos they’re doing.  I was digging around and found some from after the war.

In January 1991, the mail clerk passed me a flyer she’d received advertising a Desert Storm Writing Contest.  If I won first prize, I’d go to Washingon, DC to receive the award from BarbaCover for Women at War: Stories & Poemsra Bush.  The contest was for fiction and poetry.

I instantly knew what story I wanted to write, though I expected it to get rejected.  It was on a friendship that had just self-destructed because of the war.  It was a very dark story, born out of the stress of war.

I also wrote several others, and a bunch of poems.  The poems hold up pretty well, so they’re in my book Women at War: Stories and Poems.

And then I forgot about it.

We all came back and started back to normal things again.

One day, I found a transmittal stuffed in the training box and it was an announcement that the story had picked up an honorable mention.  Cool.

Maybe about a week later, I was on CQ (Charge of Quarters; two soldiers man the desk overnight).  It was a 24 hour duty, so my brain was always fried in the morning because I needed to bed.

And suddenly everybody was freaking out.  They didn’t tell me why, but kept telling me I had to be in formation this morning.  I was pretty sure it had something to do with the contest.  But I let everyone think it was a surprise.

Me standing in front of formation with an officer to the left and the soldier with the guidon on the right.

The officer is giving me a plaque.Another view of the officer giving me the plaqueMe in front of the formationA closer shot of me being given the plaqueMe in front of the formation, trying very hard not to smile.

An officer came to present a plaque and a savings bond.  I was chuffed.  I was the only lower enlisted who had placed.  Everyone else had been officers or more senior non-commissioned officers.

I was told at the time DOD would be publishing all of them in a book, but as far as I know that didn’t happen.

The story was called “A Loss of Innocence,” and it was the start of my writing veering into some pretty dark fiction.  And I couldn’t see it myself until my writing group pointed it out.  I also reviewed a book by Phil Clay that was getting a lot of press.  He was five years out of Afghanistan and had written a series of short stories.  They were so dark that I looked at them and didn’t want to be writing like that.

So I had to do a conscious shift to not go dark.  It was hard in the beginning because I would get these ideas and as I thought about them, I knew they would go dark very easily.  So I passed on a lot of story ideas.

Eventually, I was able to shift myself out of it, and then I was able to write my book, Soldier, Storyteller, which is available in the Rabbit Bundle Remembering Warriors.  Check out the list of writers.  I’m chuffed again to be published next to these big name writers!

The proceeds go to charity.  The book is available for preorder, but will be available January 1.  Start the new year donating to charity and getting books!

 

Remembering Warriors cover

The city or the country? Which would you pick?


Between the city and the country, I’ll always pick…

A beach, with the city mixed in.

This was a question from Facebook, and I thought it would be a lot of fun to put it here.  I grew up in big cities, and visited small towns.  I’ve never really been in the country.  Not even sure how it would be defined.

Maybe farmland?  If so, I have been to Kingston, Indiana, where I saw corn growing taller than me at the side of the road, waving in the wind.  But it was so far to go anywhere, and not much when I got there.

I grew up in Southern California, right on the doorstep of Hollywood.  Friendly palm trees stretching into the blue (or sometimes yellow-gray) sky…lots of sunshine.

And the beaches.  We didn’t go much to the local beaches.  Malibu was always packed with people out sunbathing.  But we would drive North, along the 101 and later the 5 to Central California.  The area has a lot of mountains that bump right down to the beaches.  The freeways cut through the mountains, so on the right was the rocky hills covered by scrubby grass and chaparral.  Always brown and dried out.

On the left was the ocean stretching out as far as I could see, deep blue against the line of the sky and darkening where it got deep.  The water was both foreboding and inviting.

The waves curled up high, then crashed down on the beach, spreading out across the sand, foaming and bubbling.  High tide would leave a line of kelp on the sand, smelling of sea and decay.  I’d go out to the kelp and stomp on the air bladders that kept it afloat, then hunt for the shells embedded in the sand.

I could always find broken shells, especially mussels, which weren’t very pretty shells.  Other common ones were Chinese hats–limpets; butterflies, which were two shells connected together; and sand dollars, flat disks that were nearly always broken.

Then it was off to check out the rocks.  The beaches always had black, jagged rocks poking up out of the sand.  Inside were pockets containing tide pools.  I always found sea “enemies” with their flower-like tentacles twitching in the water as they fed.  Clusters of barnacles clung to the rocks, sticking their tongues out at me.

At Morro Bay, which was always our destination, the sounds of the sea lions having a big party carried across the water.  Sea otters popped up to the surface and rolled over to float.  The sea gulls barely designed to look at the humans approaching.  Get out of the way?  Not important to them.

The wind was always a bit brisk and cold, but I could spend all day looking at everything and never seeing the same thing.

Beach.  Definitely.

The Evolution of Space Opera


When I was growing up, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea aired at 4:00 on KTLA, and then Star Trek followed it.  We also had Lost in Space. I also had this big yellow book of the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century comic strips.

All of these started with the pulp magazines in the 1930s, which introduced space opera.  They paved their way for the shows above.  But Star Trek did something different:

Another popular sci-fi show with a strong space opera flavor to emerge during the Swinging Decade sought to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before. Star Trek differed from the fare that came before as it coupled the action-orientated characteristics that were commonplace within the genre with philosophical, thought-provoking themes. For a brand of science fiction that was introduced to pop culture discourse as “hacky, grinding, stinking, outworn spaceship yarn,” Star Trek proved that this type of accessible entertainment could contain substance as well as pure entertainment.

In “The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction,” Westfahl notes that Star Trek was the first on-screen space opera to successfully combine the classic pulp adventure elements with “Ruritarian” themes. The Ruritarian space opera is distinguished by sophisticated characteristics which often entail romance sub-plots and solar systems governed by their own political establishments. In these stories, alien lifeforms tend to be three-dimensional and driven by their own personal motives — such as greed, thievery, etc.

There’s a lot of interesting history that starts with the pulp and how it goes not only into our reading of books, but also TV and movies.  We move so fast forward that we sometimes forget how things originated and what we can learn from it.

Read the rest at Film School Rejects: https://filmschoolrejects.com/adventure-awaits-brief-history-space-opera/#ixzz51Rioo5Ri

Mansplaining to Women Veterans


Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a post on Facebook that’s gotten pretty interesting, and a lot of comments.  It’s on mansplaining.

Mansplaining is when a man with lesser experience, or even no knowledge lectures to a woman who has that experience. It implies that she is ignorant because of her gender.  Pretty much it’s: “You don’t know what you’re talking about and I do because I’m a guy.”

Even if he has no clue what he’s talking about.

That happened on Absolute Write. I was answering a writer’s question about the military, and mentioned that most military people don’t use profanity non-stop the way Hollywood depicts it.

It’s one of those things that depends on the type of unit, the rank of the people and even the people themselves.  I know the all male military ones do use more because they have trouble interacting around women soldiers.  And I’ve been in an “adult” unit where the culture was no profanity.  In my truck driver unit, there were some people who used none at all, some who used it sometimes, and ones who got themselves into trouble because they couldn’t turn it off.

It also depends on the book itself and who the readers are.  If you’re writing a romance with a military character, there is no way that you want any profanity landing in that book.  But a military thriller…yeah, some would be appropriate and expected by the audience.  Military science fiction, too.

Male writer who had never been in the military trots onto the board and explains that I was wrong.  That any military character would not be realistically depicted with out the non-stop profanity.

Really?  He told this to a veteran?

The feel of the military in a story isn’t INSERT PROFANITY HERE.  It starts with understanding the difference between the officers and enlisted, and what the rank structure means in relation to your characters.  Without that, profanity’s not going to help.

With the dam bursting over MeToo, there’s been a lot of articles about the women veteran’s experience.  I remember one where the various organizations like Veterans of Foreign Wars were complaining about membership being low, and women commented that they did not feel welcome.  Many of them said things like they were treated like a veteran’s wife, not as a veteran.

The men promptly jumped in and explained that none of the women knew what they were talking about.  Their local chapter wasn’t like that at all, so we were all just plain mistaken.  And besides, they lectured, if we thought the system was broken, we should join and fix it.

Really?

Not every man does mansplaining.

The problem is that the women veterans struggle to have their voices heard because there are those that are busy trying to drown it out.  We need to do better.

 

 

Calling Time Out on Writing in Public


I’m calling time out on my story Broken Notes, because things have been so chaotic it’s been hard to keep up.  Mainly, it’s because of my job, which probably should be done by 2-3 people, and hit the point right before Thanksgiving where I hit mission failure.  The Army soldier in me, where it’s “accomplish the mission,” hated doing the fact I couldn’t do the mission.  But I told people that I couldn’t make the deadlines any more.

After I saw this post from Kristine Kathryn Rusch on indie writers and scheduling, I realized also that I wasn’t being realistic about my time.  If I wasn’t working, I was trying to write something.  What I wasn’t doing was taking a day off–a real day off–each week.

So I’m having to step back and figure out how to rebalance everything to keep from burning out.  I’ll still work on the story, but offline, where I can do it.

Dick Van Dyke Christmas Song


Dick Van Dyke has wonderful charm in this fun video.  I remember watching him in reruns of the Dick Van Dyke Show.  It’s hard to believe he is 92.

“Remembering Warriors” Rabbit Bundle


Remembering Warriors coverMy book, Soldier, Storyteller will be released in the Remembering Warriors on January 1.

One hundred years ago, in 1918, the Great War ended after four terrible years. Never had the world seen such a conflict. All touched by its scythe hoped we would never be thusly reaped again. Their hopes were but desperate dreams. Since that first armistice, there have been many more battles, and thousands have given their lives or their health to preserve freedom and escape from tyranny.

A hundred years after the first armistice we still remember and honour those brave souls. But still the soldiers fall, for the War to End all Wars did not.

10% of the royalties from the Remembering Warriors bundle will go to the Royal British Legion plus another 10% to Help for Heroes, two charities that support wounded and ex-service personnel and their families, in commemoration of the World War I centenary.

Check out all the books in the bundle: https://bundlerabbit.com/b/remembering-warriors?nocache=1