World Building (Part II)

This is the next part in Kevin J. Anderson’s world building masterclass.  The different parts are supposed to be figured out in order.  So Geography, or setting, is first, and easily the most important.  Next up–


The discussion on climate was pretty interesting.  I didn’t have any idea how much climate influenced elements of culture.  I grew up in Los Angeles, and the weather was always one season.  What I called winter hardly matched what I encountered outside of Los Angeles.  I didn’t even see snow until I was 25 (and in another state).

For example, in a hotter climate, people would be more laid back because they’re drained from the heat.  Yup, remember that in Los Angeles.  Got that when I went to New Orleans last August.  Got that when I went to Mexico a few years back–and I went in winter.  I can only imagine how hot it would be in the summer!

That influences clothing.  Most notably, I’m in Virginia.  It was very cold yesterday and I was in shorrt sleeves.  I have a lot of trouble wearing long sleeves.  I constantly want to roll them up.  Because I never wore long sleeves in L.A.   In Hawaii, the weather is so nice all year round that the islanders originally wore very little, which horrified the very buttoned up missionaries.  Now they have loose-fitting Hawaiian shirts and mu-mus.

Climate also influences houses.  The houses in Los Angeles are built with stucco, which is cool in summer (had no idea).  Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, this house was built for both the cold winters and the humid summers.  The walls are stone and double walled, much like a submarine.  There are many fireplaces.  We had those in L.A, too, but not as many (more common to see swimming tools in backyards from airplanes landing).  The porches are made so they can let snow in during the winter, and not let bugs in during the summer.  The interior has one long hallway, with a door at each end for natural air conditioning.  George Mason’s house in Virginia has that same feature.

Picture of Victorian house with one tower

Food is also influenced by climate.  Just take Hawaii–they have all the beautiful fruits that grow in that sunshine.  They have a thriving coffee industry (because of geography, as in volcanic rock).  In Los Angeles, the heat brings hot spices, because that was used to hide the fact the meat might be going bad.  I had my character Hope Delgado in Cursed Planet come from Lower California (in the future, the state breaks into two at the North and South line).  So she likes spicy food because that’s what she grew up with.

The characters not only interact with their setting, but also with the weather.  It’s also a great opportunity for the five senses, which build character.

Next up: Politics, Economics, and Societies.


World Building (Part I)

I had a request on my Superstars post to talk about the workshop I took from Kevin J. Anderson on world building.  I’d stayed away from fantasy for a long time because every time the topic came up, it was along the lines of “Get a three ring binder and some tabs” and then answer a ton of questions.  I didn’t even know what the story was until I wrote it.  How was I was supposed to come up with all of the answers?

I sort of pantsed my way into world building–some of of it kicking and screaming.  I read so much writing advice that dissed the building block of world building at it’s very basic level.  In fact, there was a post by a former NY editor that pretty much said description is a waste of time.

No description = no world.

And that applies even to a modern day mystery set in Los Angeles, not just a fantasy.

Just read Michael Connelly’s Bosch books. Seriously.  It is steeped in Los Angeles.  And it adds another level of enjoyment to the story.

Kevin learned how to do world building through gaming.  He was hired to write up the world for the games.  The person who hired him gave him a list of categories and told him to come up with information for the games.  He also noted that you might not need all the categories, depending on the story.

The first and most important category….


This is your basic setting the story and the character exist in.  I remember going to a con a few years back, and they said that every city has a reason for being where it is.

Like Alexandria, Virginia.  I went there on Saturday for the Farmer’s Market.  Alexandria is also called Old Town because it’s a historic city.  George Washington slept there–literally.  He actually had a townhouse.

The town sits on the Potomac River.  You wouldn’t know it from the photo below, but it was a major shipping port.

Potomac River

Now people anchor their pleasure boats at the docks and the river floods the lower half of the street at high tide.  But during the 1700s, it was place where merchants shipped a big Virginia product, tobacco.

Rivers draw merchants and ships, and by both those, towns.

Additionally, the Potomac is such a big river that there are tributaries all over the area…Doctor’s Run, Four Mile Run, Gulf Run, etc.  A place near me on Four Mile Run used to have a mill in George Washington’s time.  Not much to look at now, since the remains of the mill is a pile of rubble and there’s a road bridge over the top of it.

The terrain also consists of a lot of hills.  Water runs downhill to the rivers and tributaries.  Characters might have to walk up or down a hill.

A writer annoyed me because she set a story in a place I’d been to frequently Morro Bay, California.  There’s some distinct land features there, including a giant rock that you can see from a long ways off.

Morro Rock from the docks

Morro Rock (that’s the photo on my computer desktop)

The harbor is the most dangerous in the world.  It was also used by the Navy in World War II.  All the streets are on a mountainside and roll down toward the harbor.  My grandparents house was downhill in two different directions.

And did the writer mention any of this?  Heck, she didn’t even mention the town sat by the Pacific Ocean.  Which is why her books annoyed me.

So this category is thinking about what geographic elements the setting has.  Doesn’t necessarily have to be written down, or a list of questions.  But some ideas for the story can come right out of these details.

But in thinking this through, I’ll add a piece of this that a lot of writers tend to ignore: How character navigates through the geography. 

I’ve seen many fantasy books where the character gets on some variation of the King’s Highway and gets to where they’re going.  If a character doesn’t have a GPS, or even a map, they are going to have other ways to navigate.   I’ve been researching this for my fifth GALCOM book, Giant Robots.  Lots of interesting stuff.

Geography can provide a lot of different elements to a story.

Superstars Writing Conference


Guest panelists at Superstars
Let’s see if I can get most of the names: Left- Rebecca Moesta, Eric Flint, Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Donald Maass (pronounced Mah-s), Dave Farland, Beth Meecham, Seanan McGuire, and Kevin J. Anderson.

I had the pleasure of attending my first Superstars Writing Seminar this year.  It was in Colorado Springs, so I got to visit my uncle who lives there.  It was a very different experience from any other conference I’ve been to, including work conferences.  We were told right from the start to go out to eat together…to look for a group of people from the conference and join them.  When I first arrived, the person who came in with me put it out on Facebook that we were eating in the restaurant, and next thing we know, the table was full!

Superstars is a writing conference for more advanced level writers.  It is generally on the business side of writing, though they had a craft fest this year as well.  Off to my adventures.

Adventures in the high altitude

The first two nights, by the time I got to the end of the day, it was like I was drunk.  I was staggering around and tripping over everything.  The first night, I took off my shoes in my hotel room, stumbled over them every single time I walked back and forth.  So I put them in a corner, out of the way.

And lost them!

The next morning, I could not find my shoes!  The altitude addled my brain.  My first thought was that someone had stolen them.  Then I sort of worked into the realization that no one had gotten into the room, so the shoes were in here.  But where?   I finally found them in the corner.  The carpet was a very dark green, so my black shoes were actually very well camouflaged (pesky shoes were trying to go Army on me).

Garden of the Gods Tour

I went up a day or so early because I wanted to go on the Garden of the Gods tour.  Kevin got a bunch of drivers together and we carpooled out.  The sky was a clear blue, with the sun creating wonderful shadows on the rocks.  It was also very windy and cold.  We meandered on the paths, stopping to take a picture at an intersection that also was a wind tunnel.  These were some of the incredibly beautiful rock formations (the rock was much more reddish-orange than the photo shows).

Rock with three pillars

Craft Fest

My first actual day of the conference was a Craft Fest, which was in its second year, I believe.  This was an addition to the regular conference.  We all attended two workshops, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  I did Kevin J. Anderson/Rebecca Moesta’s workshop on World Building in the morning and Jeffrey , commercial fiction in the morning.  I wished I had the WB workshop much earlier–I was scared off fantasy because all I heard was that to build a world you needed a three ring binder, some tabs, and had to answer tons and tons of questions.  This was a much simpler variation.

I picked the commercial fiction because it was Jeffrey Deaver and I thought I could get something out of it even though I’m indie.  In hindsight, I should have picked one that was more flexible for the indie side, so maybe something more craft focused.  For the record, he spends 8 months writing an outline before he does the book and spends thousands to get it edited before it goes to the publisher.

The Conference Itself

By the time the conference started, I was enough over the altitude sickness and time zone difference that I was no longer a zombie.  The conference was split into traditional and indie, like with workshops on what agents and editors look for in your opening and guerrilla marketing.  I really found the workshops on Amazon useful. I’d heard some of the basic principles, but not really explained well–and especially not for fiction writers.  It was also at a much higher level than what I’ve been seeing,  I promptly decided I wasn’t going to attend the Philadelphia book marketing conference in November because it was too basic and too focused on non-fiction.

The VIP Dinner

I signed up late for the VIP Dinner because of the additional cost, but I’m glad I did.  I sat with Mark Leslie Lefebvre (Draft2Digital) and Tara Cremin (Kobo), which was my first pick.  Did we talk marketing or coming trends?  No.  We talked ghosts!  It was a lot of fun.

The restaurant also went way, way out of the way to accommodate diners with food allergies and sensitivities.  I’m gluten and dairy free and I had a really hard time on a cruise.  The cruise often couldn’t figure out what to do for desert, so their default was fruit.  I expected that here.  But the restaurant actually had deserts that worked with the food sensitivities.  So I was seriously impressed.

I’m already signed up for the next one.  If you’re interested, use the referral code LADAMS (discounts for me, but you get a referral code too).  There’s a very good payment plan, especially if you sign up very early for it.



Digital Minimalism: Reduce Clutter on Your Computer Now

Cover shows a hand with a digital key hovering over it

If you feel constantly overwhelmed by the amount of files…if you waste time looking for files you know you saved somewhere…

You’re not alone.  I’ve been there.

Between a full time day job with mounds of paperwork every day and indie publishing, I was drowning in files.  Not only couldn’t I find files  I’d saved, it was like walking into a cluttered room.  I was miserable and stressed out.

There had to be a better way!

I’m not a productivity expert.  But in this book, I’m going to share with you what I did to get my files in order and stop being overwhelmed.

Available from your favorite booksellers.

Respecting the Readers

About ten years ago (has it really been that long?), I did actor David Hedison’s website.  The other person and I who managed it were very cautious about our approach.  We knew that we represented him with the site and we didn’t want do anything that would change his image.  So we stayed professional.  It was about the acting and the shows he’d been in.

Cut to today.

I went through my Facebook friends and unfollowed a bunch of writers.  The reason was pretty simple: They didn’t respect me as a reader.

There are a lot of ways a writer can land in this area.  One is a writer being nasty in public to the people buying the books.  I haven’t seen this with writers myself, though I’ve heard stories.  I have seen it with actors who blast a show they were on, the people associated with it, and by association, the people who like the show.

Another did happen to me.  There’s a fantasy trilogy I really liked.  It used to be a periodic reread for me.  One day I commented on my blog about the major storytelling technique I liked about the story.  The writer came on the blog and said she was revising that major storytelling technique in the books because she’d learned a lot since then and what she’d done was a newbie mistake.  It was, well, insulting.  I liked how she used this technique, and it was the reason this story was a periodic reread–and she was revising it to be “better”?  I haven’t reread the books since or gotten any new ones.

Still another happened a few months back.  I was on a entrepreneur coaching site for women.  It was a site that was supposed to be friendly and encouraging.  The owner had recently come out with a non-fiction book.  As a teaching lesson for the members, she called one star reviewers “haters.”  I’ve done one star reviews.  Reviews are not to stroke writer egos–they’re a reader’s opinion about the book. Writers should never get involved in that part of the process.  I objected politely and pointed out that someone in the group could have given it a one star review (I did not review the book.  Glad I didn’t.  It wasn’t a five star book).  The owner told me it was her group and she could do what she wanted; she’d intended the “hater” comment as friendly and encouraging for the members.  The group no longer felt friendly and encouraging so I self-edited.  What she didn’t know was that I’d been playing around with the idea of using her coaching services.  She lost that business because she didn’t respect her audience–only the ones who gave her glowing reviews.  If someone asked me for a recommendation for a coach, it wouldn’t be to her.

Then there’s the fourth one, and it’s gotten me on two writers.  It’s politics.  Hands down, the worst thing for writers, because you alienate half your audience!  There’s an award winning science fiction writer.  I signed up on Facebook to follow him thinking I would get pearls of wisdom because he teaches on writing.  Instead, it was in your politics.  As in, “if you don’t agree with me, I’m going to ban you!”  I unfollowed him because I couldn’t deal with his nastiness.  Saw a story of his in SF&F Magazine.  Passed it by.

The second writer (some of you will know who I’m talking about) wrote in one of her books to writers to stay away from openly being political because of the impact on readers.  Then she broke own rules and veered into a couple of political posts, one on her blog and several on Facebook.  She didn’t say much, but what she did say was enough to leave a bad taste for me.  It was an instant turn off because she was nasty and she assumed everyone agreed with her opinion.  She’s a fantastic, award-winning writer, produces a lot of new books, and I haven’t touched a book of hers since those comments.

Disrespecting your readers = just bad all around.

Good, Bad, or Just Opinion?

We live in an environment now where everyone has the ability to put their opinion out in the public eye.  They blog about it, they can Tweet, or even post it on Facebook.  Yet, instead of having access to more diverse opinions, a lot of people are in a bubble.

If that person didn’t like a book, the book was bad.

If that person didn’t like a movie, the movie was bad.

Not, “I didn’t like it.”

So much of books is very subjective.  I’ve had best sellers that I’ve enjoyed and others have hated (The Da Vinci Code).  And I’ve been happy to put down a critically acclaimed best seller because I thought it was boring.  That book was Cold Mountain.  The chapters were too long for this reader, and every time I saw the formatting of the dialogue, I kept thinking the characters were communicating telepathically!

I’ve also had books that I read at a different point in my life and now it’s not the same. When I was a kid, I read All Quiet on the Western Front.  There was one line in that book that was too much for me at the time.  I read it again as an adult, and after Desert Storm.  Found the line.  It didn’t carry the same weight.

Our opinions change, all the time.

And our opinions are not a qualification that something is bad.  It’s just our current opinion.

Current and Upcoming Releases

Astronaut woman on planet's surface

Cursed Planet: GALCOM Universe Book 3

Who knew ghosts could exist in heavy gravity? Hope Delgado, the galaxy’s only alien ghost expert, confronts her toughest challenge on S.C. Kangjun’s latest mission.

The local aliens, 49ers, blame the humans for a ghost.  And they hide a deadly secret.  A secret they will kill to protect.

Hope must make a desperate last stand against the aliens and the ghosts—if she fails, her friends will die.

A science fiction novel of deep space thrills and adventures.

Available now! Pick your favorite eReader flavor for a copy!

Next up in the series is Last Stand.

A mermaid by a coral reef

Here Be Merfolk

The call of the deep rings ever in our ears, from myth and legend to crime and mystery. Sea-people, mer and monster, immortals and reluctant heroes feature in this sea-worthy bundle.

This a bundle featuring novels and short stories by such writers as Alan Dean Foster, Debbie Mumford, and of course me.  My story is Dark, From the Sea.

Available from your favorite booksellers.

Cover shows a hand with a digital key hovering over it


Digital Minimalism: Reduce Clutter  on Your Computer Now

f you feel constantly overwhelmed by the amount of files…if you waste time looking for files you know you saved somewhere…

You’re not alone.  I’ve been there.

Between a full time day job with mounds of paperwork every day and indie publishing, I was drowning in files.  Not only couldn’t I find files  I’d saved, it was like walking into a cluttered room.  I was miserable and stressed out.

There had to be a better way!

I’m not a productivity expert.  But in this book, I’m going to share with you what I did to get my files in order and stop being overwhelmed.

Available from your favorite booksellers.

Keeping track of everything: Series Bible

This post comes from one of my newsletter tips and was requested by Harvey Stanbrough.  I’m planning on eventually doing a workbook, and now, come to think of it, it might need a book itself.

I’m working on book 4 of my GALCOM Universe series.  When I wrote the first book, it started as a short story for an anthology call and turned into a novel.  Halfway through, I realized I’d stumbled into a series.  By the time I got to Book 3, I knew I needed a series bible.  Most of the examples I found were uninspiring.  Even the variation from Dean Wesley Smith (Research for Fiction Writers workshop) didn’t do much for me (my creative brain is very fickle).

The term “series bible” comes out of TV.  A typical TV show may have so many different writers come on the show.  The series bible is a guide for the series so that they know Captain Kirk is from Iowa or Gibbs Rule #9 (“Never go anywhere without a knife”).  It just helps keep track of continuity details.  At least that’s how I’m defining it.  Jane Friedman adds things like snippets of dialogue, which I don’t really get.  The dialogue comes in naturally as part of the story, so snippets of random dialogue would be flotsam.  But I digress.

My Guiding Principles

It shouldn’t be a lot of work to do. 

The priority should be on the writing, not on filling out endless worksheets and questionnaires.

It shouldn’t turn into a junk drawer.

Really, it is possible to track too much information.  A lot of my decisions about whether to include something start with: Am I going to use this again?

It should be easy to scan through.

Seriously, you’re in the middle of the scene and you can’t remember the number of people on your space station.  Do you really want to spend fifteen minutes hunting it down or get the information so you can starting writing again?  There are priorities.

Some Examples

I have my character one here because it’s the one that has the most details, and they’re always changing:

  • TAGS

Appearance, contrary to just about everything I’ve seen, does not include eye color.  I don’t notice it unless it’s very unusual like Elizabeth Taylor’s violet eyes.  I would tend to assume most characters wouldn’t notice either.  It’s just what’s in the stories.

Clothing is the style of clothes the character wears, favorite colors (if I’ve mentioned it).  Most of my characters are military, but they’ve worn civilian clothes.  One of the characters wears sweats to sleep because he expects to be woken up in the middle of the night.  Stuff like that.

Job Background is essentially what crops up in the story about the person’s military career.

Family growing up – my main character (the team lead) has extensive details about what her life was like growing up (ghosts do not make for a good family life).

Favorite Foods – well, if you’ve had any of Dean Wesley Smith’s workshops, you know that the five senses are pretty important.  The characters eat a lot, and they have favorite things like chocolate (well, someone has to!).

Tags – These are things about each character that gets repeated over and over.  An example is Jack Reacher being a really big guy.  Just read one of the books and see how many times it gets brought into the story.

Dialect – I included dialect because I started doing it for some of the characters (thanks to another workshop and a skill I want to work on).  One of the characters is a Hoosier.  I looked up a lot of dialect for him for Cursed Planet, put them in Scrivener, then deleted that file once I compiled the final version.



Yeah.  So I had to redo the research when that character became the main character in last stand.  The dialect includes some common words, and also some general rules like adding an s onto words.  (“We haven’t been down to the planet’s.”  It’s still a work in progress.  I know it looks like a typo.).

I’m also thinking about what I want to do for setting and timelines.  Timeline would most likely be dated events that I mention.  In the current story, I mention the Gold Rush days, which is 75 years ago.

One of the biggest things about the series bible is that it’s time saver.  Writers tend not to think of their time as valuable, but every moment you have to spend hunting down information is time not available for writing.

Digital Minimalism: Reduce Clutter on Your Computer Now

Just got the cover for my upcoming book, Digital Minimalism: Reduce Clutter on Your Computer Now.  The book will be out on January 29.

Cover showing a hand with a glowing light over it.

If you feel constantly overwhelmed by the amount of files…if you waste time looking for files you know you saved somewhere…

You’re not alone.  I’ve been there.

Between a full time day job with mounds of paperwork every day and indie publishing, I was drowning in files.  Not only couldn’t I find files  I’d saved, it was like walking into a cluttered room.  I was miserable and stressed out.

There had to be a better way!

I’m not a productivity expert.  But in this book, I’m going to share with you what I did to get my files in order and stop being overwhelmed.

My Writing Process Start to Finish

Since it’s the New Year, I thought I’d write about my creative process from beginning to end.

The Idea

I have a bunch of random ideas that I pluck when I’m ready.  Most of them are pretty vague.  Like in my writing group, we were talking about a movie with giant robots, so I thought that would be kind of cool for a story.  Can robots be ghosts?

Start the story

Then I start the story.  I don’t do any prep.  I don’t figure out any major events of the story or come up with the ending.  Nothing of what typically gets recommended that writers “should” do.  If I do any of those things, the critical voice takes over and wrecks the story.

I just follow the front of the story.  It’s hard in the beginning.  In fact, it’s sometimes really scary starting the story.  Part of me is screaming, “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”  That’s critical brain freaking out.  It feels like that scene in Indiana Jones where he steps off the cliff and has to trust that he’s doing the right thing.  Writing like this is really about trusting yourself.  I’ve found that while the beginning is always scary, it gets easier to manage the more I write.

I sort of write in order and sort of don’t.  I may hop ahead in a scene and write something, then hop back and write something, then rearrange things.  Other things come out of the story right away, and I dropped those in an extras file so I can still count it as part of my word count.  Scrivener will show a negative word count if I delete too much, even though I’ve done a lot of work.  My process is very messy though while creative brain tries out different things.  It may be like a fussy dog that picks up a bone, then abandons it, then goes back to it again (in my case, types the sentence I just moved to extras file), abandons it again, and find works around that it really wanted this other bone.

The first chapter usually comes out pretty stable.  Most of what’s in it will be what I use when I’m done.  That wasn’t always the case, but something that evolved as I added new writing skills.  It used to be that I started in the wrong place and it was hard figuring out where that was.  That’s why doing more stories—and not repeating the same mistakes—has been so helpful.


After that, I write and cycle.  Cycling is something that many writers mistake for revision or editing (terms they use interchangeably and shouldn’t).  The definitions:

Revision/Editing: Oh no!  This is horrible!  What was I thinking when I wrote that?  It’s garbage.  I have to fix it.

Tweak that word.  Tweak this word.  I have to make it perfect.

Cycling:  This way cool thing just came into my story.  I have to go back to chapter 2 and add a paragraph for it.  Hmm.  And maybe I need a scene with this character, too.   Ooh, and I just got this idea! (shuffles off to Chapter 9.)

My cycling is more random than other writers describe it.  They typically go back a scene or 500 words.  I tend to bounce around the story like a pinball machine.  The scenes all connect in my head, so if I adding something to one scene, those brain cells fire and remind me that it’s in another scene, too. A lot of it is adding a sentence or two.

The key to cycling is to not leave any big issues unfinished.  That’s where revision itself becomes extra work—if an important scene is left for the revision because it’s too hard (guilty), then everything that follows will be broken because of that missing scene.  Cycling forces me to think about why something is not working instead of skipping it.

I also use cycling for proofreading.  I make many, many passes over the story to catch typos.  Considering how many I know I make, I’ve been impressed that my copy editor typically only finds one or two in an entire novel—and it’s usually a harder one that was easy to miss.  Like typing statement instead of stateroom, which I do pretty regularly.

As I get near the climax of the story, I’ll get an irresistible urge to cycle through the entire story.  I’ll start at the beginning and scan through it.  I’m looking for more typos and stubs that don’t fit in with the story.  My creative side likes to puts stuff in, and a lot of it I do use.  But sometimes it puts something in and then forgets it’s there and never uses it.  I used to have a lot of stubs at one point—attempting outlining caused them to breed.  My creative side wasn’t happy that critical side was directing the story, so it left them everywhere, including way out of order.  Then, it was hundreds of stubs.  Now it’s two or three.

Finishing the Story

This part of the process is making sure everything is pulled together and fits so I can hit the ending at a run without worrying about anything else.  Then it’s write straight through to the end and cycle a few more times to make sure I’ve nailed the ending…and the story is done.

The whole process keeps evolving.  Next year, it’ll probably be different.