Writing about relationships

Welcome to another edition of Writing Wednesday! Last week I discussed my trunk novel and how I was disassembling it and using bits and pieces of it, including the main plot, in my current work-in-progess (WIP).

The new story, a blossoming relationship between the main character and a faerie is coming along nicely. I’ve almost completed the first draft.

My biggest problem is I’ve never written about romances or relationships. Not as the main focus of the story anyway. 

Snoopy knows

Most of what I’ve written, thrillers, action adventures, sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, the main focus in on the main character surviving whatever the story has thrown at him. If there is a romantic relationship, it’s usually a very minor subplot hidden away in the main story’s focus.
And to be honest, I’ve never read a romance (closest l came was to start but not finish “Bridges of Madison County”) and in most of the stories I read, the relationship is also secondary, more like fill for the downtime between the action sequences. Something to simply make the MC seem a little human and vulnerable.

Take the romantic development in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “A Princess of Mars,” for example. John Carter meets Dejah Thoris, the most beautiful woman on two worlds, falls in love without really getting to know her, and spends the rest of the novel trying to rescue her from one predicament after another.

And considering I’m the nerdy bashful type, I don’t have a lot of personal romantic experiences to draw upon in writing this either.

So, its probably natural that I’m finding it difficult creating a believable relationship, a budding romance between two characters. It’s especially tough when the novel takes place over the period of only one week. 

I’m tasked with making the romance believable to the reader without them being pulled out of the story, “No one falls in love that deeply that fast!”

Sure, there’s a bit of Burroughsian boy meets princess, boy loses princess, boy fights to win back princess in it, but I don’t want to depend upon that cliche.

I want it to develop naturally into a believable romance that tugs at the reader’s heart strings. 

As I said, it’s hard. But then, if it wasn’t hard everyone would be able to do it.

Right?

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Unpacking my trunk novel

I set aside a novel several years ago. Not because it was a bad story, on the contrary, I really liked it, specifically the Main Character (MC) and a few other secondary characters. Plus, the main plot, I thought, was interesting.

I still do. But I became disillusioned after receiving some 60+ rejections from literary agents.

During the revision process,  which happened after each rejection — “Maybe they didn’t like this.” or “I bet they wanted a different beginning.” despite not receiving any feedback indicating any of those changes were needed — I had the novel Beta-read by several writers and editors. 

They all liked it, except the last one who said it was a good story but it was so poorly constructed only a complete rewrite from scratch could possibly help it. Yes, instead of listening to the majority, I keyed in on that last critique. At the time, I couldn’t see how I could rewrite it without rewriting it exactly as it was already written.

So I trunked it. I gave up.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. This was a novel, in the urban fantasy genre, that had started germinating in my mind back in 1993 or so, before I even knew there was an urban fantasy genre. It was the 90th anniversary of Harley-Davidson and Milwaukee was filled with the sound of rolling thunder. The excitement influenced my creation of a character, a sheriff, who rode a white pearlescent Harley. He became involved in a situation where demons were released into our dimension. I also created a secondary character, based heavily upon an old time radio character Chandu the Magician as well as the Marvel comicbook character Doctor Strange, a sorcerer who becomes involved and together the two characters join forces to battle the demons. The problem was, I couldn’t think of enough personal story to flesh out the sheriff to make him a three-dimensional MC and I had yet to create any backstory for the sorcerer to make him one. So I set it aside.

Years later, the story idea morphed into something closer to the novel I ended up subbing. Now the MC was the magician, both stage and real, who is called in by his friend on the Police force (no Harley) simply to identify occult symbols at a crime scene and everything took off from that point. 

It took me two years to write the novel and a couple more to edit and polish it to where I thought it was submission-worthy. 

I liked the MC and other cast of characters so much, I even wrote a complete sequel to the first novel, and started writing a third.

Over the next five or so years, I subbed the novel to agents, rewriting and editing after each rejection whether I got feedback or not, until that fateful critique when I trunked it for several more years out of frustration.

Recently, I started writing a new idea completely unrelated to the trunk novel about an ordinary guy who runs into (literally) a fairy, injuring her, and takes her home to nurse her back to health. It is a romance, of sorts, and the story has slowly taken shape in my head and on paper. Then one day, I had an epiphany. 

I could combine the two stories using the main plot from the trunk novel and this fairy story as a subplot. I could resurrect the MC from the trunk, making a few changes in his backstory, keep him a widower with a daughter, keep his Police friend, and get rid of the rest. The demon plot would provide the action and suspense while the fairy story would provide character development. 

So I’m writing that story. I’m writing most of it from scratch, too, except on occasion, I’m snatching snippets of dialog or scenes from the trunk novel and with minor edits fitting them seamlessly into my new work-in-progress.

And I’m excited again. Even more excited than I was when I first wrote the trunk novel, because the subplot is providing the missing piece of the puzzle that I think the trunk novel was lacking — the human interest part.

I am writing and I’m actually enjoying it.

Write, Ferret, Write!

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What was once lost is found again

​It’s been a year since I’ve written anything, and longer than that since I wrote anything I actually liked. Call it writers block or what have you. I had given up and thought I’d finally come to terms that I just wasn’t a writer. I was a reader. No shame in that. Readers are an important part of the literary circle of life.

Recently I rediscovered Ray Bradbury. Last time I read him, “The Martian Chronicles,” I was far too young to appreciate the writing itself but those stories had an impact on my young psyche.

I reread “The Martian Chronicles,” Then read “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” followed by “Fahrenheit 451.” 

You don’t just read Bradbury, you become immersed in the language. There is poetry there. His sentences are like music for the eyes. His phrasing touches the soul and awakens the psyche.

It was while starting “Dandelion Wine” that I noticed it. A long dormant feeling. I tried to focus on his words, but I found myself growing more and more distracted. 

I’d read a sentence, a paragraph, but I couldn’t remember what I’d read. Instead, each word sparked a resonating echo in my mind. A reflection. 

And soon, with reluctance, I put the book down. I knew this feeling. It was like an old friend.

I wanted to write.

So I did.

The first day I write over 7,000 words. The next day I wrote some more.

I ran on my treadmill and don’t recall anything about the TV show I had on. Instead, my imagination freely flowed over the story idea I was working on, giving me more insights into the world and it’s characters. 

I was immersed in the music of my own writing and I was glad for it.

But more than that, not only does writing once again give me joy, a joy I thought I’d lost, even when I step away from writing to do everyday mundane tasks, I feel imbued with an elation, a euphoria if you will. 

It’s as though I had been stranded in the dark for years and a light has come to illuminate my path.

In other words, a part of me that I thought was lost has been found again. The childhood joy of writing has returned.

I feel whole again.

And I give thanks to Ray Bradbury.

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A Cautionary Tale

I wrote the first 400 words of this six years ago, but never could figure out what to do with it. Until now. Its a short story of a dysfunctional future. Enjoy.

The rains came, sizzling as it passed through the still burning radioactive atmosphere, creating more steam and more fog to cover the planet.

Ort stood in the mouth of the cave listening to the rains. It reminded him of the sound meat makes it’s cooked over an open fire. He made a gesture and his young son appeared next to him. Ort pointed out into the distance.

“Look, Hokins, how the falling rocks carved a new world last night. That cliff on the edge of Blu Mountain is gone, battered into a ragged pile of rock.”

“Why do the falling rocks come, father?”

“They come from Troompah, the Bringer of Fire, son.”

“Is he mad at us?”

“Mad? No. Troompah is mad at the Prahgs. That’s why he throws rocks at them.”

Ort’s son nodded. He knew that Prahgs were evil creatures that lived in the earth, were one with the earth; they protected the trees, rivers, and animals. Prahgs often attacked his people, the Ahltryts, especially preying upon unwary children. At least those are the tales his mother always told him. “Stay out of the crater fields or the Prahgs will get you.” “Don’t stay out past dark or the Prahgs will get you.”

“Think he’d learn better aim.”

“You watch your mouth, boy, or the Prahgs will get you!”

The boy stood slightly behind his father and mouthed the expression along with his father. He was sick of the Prahgs, sick and tired that they prevented him from having any fun.

“What are my two boys doing?” It was Hokins’ mother, calling from the back of the cave.

“We’re just watching the rains, hon,” Ort answered.

“Well, don’t stray from the mouth of the cave. You know the rain brings out the Prahgs. If you aren’t careful they’ll get you.”

The boy mouthed the words then found himself on the ground, his ear stinging.

“Don’t you ever mock your mother, boy!” Ort was furious and stood shaking in anger above the prone child.

Hokins picked himself up, holding back the tears, and ran to the back of the cave. “I hate the Prahgs. And I hate you, too!”

He passed his mother, who turned to give Ort a stern look. “You didn’t have to hit him, you know.”

“I’m sorry, Jyn,” Ort said.

“Don’t apologize to me.”

Ort stared into the darkness that was the back of the cave. He could hear Hokins sobbing. He should apologize; the boy was just being a boy.

“He’ll get over it,” he said, finally.

“Ort, you know he’s reaching that age where he needs ‘The Talk.’”

“I don’t want to give him ‘The Talk.’” Ort sighed. “It makes me uncomfortable.”

“Ort, if you don’t tell him, he’ll learn it from his friends. Is that what you want?”

“That’s fine. That’s where I learned it.”

Jyn made a wry smile and shook her head. “Exactly my point on why he needs ‘The Talk.’”

“Why don’t you give it to him then?”

“Now, Ort. You know it’s always been like this. Fathers give ‘The Talk’ to their sons; mothers give it to their daughters. Now just go and get it over with.”

“Fine.” Ort looked like he had eaten a glow frog from down by the killing waters.

Slowly he strode to the back of the cave.

“Hokins? Can I talk to you?”

“It’s a free country.”

“That’s what I want to talk to you about.”

“What?”

“Our past, as it’s been handed down father to son for generations beyond knowing.”

“Is it about how we got the sacred words?”

“Yes. It’s about how the sacred words came to be.”

Father and son both glanced at the cave wall where a faded blue sign rested in a carved-out depression to hold it. The sign showed signs of age, and an attempt to destroy it at one time; it’s edges were blackened and ragged.

They both came to attention, arms raised in a palm down salute, and recited, “Troompah Maikee Aimrisa Grehaht Agaheen.”

Then Ort began his story.

“There was a time, ages agone, when there was but one people, united in thought and deed. Those people achieved great things, created a glorious, shining kingdom. And the people were happy.

“But gradually there came the grumblings. Some of the people weren’t happy. They wanted more. They felt not everything was fair for all. And they felt many of the old ways were wrong, even hurtful to many people, and this started the divide. The Prahgs wanted change, wanted new ways of doing things, of thinking about things, while the Ahltryts believed the old ways worked best, that the changes proposed by the Prahgs would destroy the very way of life that had made the kingdom great.

“As the Prahgs grew in strength and number, they began to instill their ideas and the Ahltryts watched as the kingdom changed, becoming unrecognizable to them.

“And soon there grew intolerance. And hatred. And the Kingdom grew divided. The Ahltryts believed the Prahgs were weak when it came to outsiders, allowing these others to enter the kingdom at will.

“Soon, hostilities between the two came to a head. The violence between the two grew and soon the uprising began as many gods of the Ahltryts fought for dominance, for the chance to lead their people back to greatness. But one stood above the others. He embodied all the primal energy of the people. Within him raged all the suppressed hatred and anger his followers had been forced to suppress for so long. His name was…”

“Troompah?” his son interrupted excitedly.

Ort nodded. “Yes. When the dust cleared, our great God Troompah was triumphant, ready to lead the way, but first he had to defeat the champion of the Prahgs.

“While the Ahltryts gods fought, so too did the Prahgs champions. Kings and a Queen fought for dominance, but whereas the Ahltryts stood united and powerful, no longer hiding, joined as one behind Troompah, the Prahgs were very much divided and unhappy with their choice. Many chose not to fight, and because of their inaction, Troompah and his followers were triumphant. For how can a mere queen stand before the angry wrath of a god?

“And the Ahltryts celebrated and now it was their turn to send the Prahgs into hiding.

“But Troompah wasn’t satisfied with just sending his enemies into exile. He wanted to also destroy the outsides. He taught us that the outsiders were to be fears and they wanted to destroy our way of life.  And he launched an attack against them. But our outsiders had power as well, and launched a counterattack. The skies and waters were on fire. And the Kingdom burned.

“And that is why we and the Prahgs live as enemies. They could have joined us, but Troompah taught us their ways are evil, they are sinful while we live in his glory.

“And that is why Troompah still punishes them with his blazing rocks that he hurls from the sky.

“One day, we’ll again live in the glory of the kingdom. Maybe you or your children will see the dawning of that bright new day.”

Ort wiped a tear from his eye. “The Talk” always left parents emotionally drained.

“OK, you two, dinner time.”

The pair rushed from the back of the cave. Mother was carving the great bald fire bird.

“Uh, uh, uh,” Jyn said, wagging a finger. “You know what day it is. Put on the dye.”

Father and son exchanged glances and shrugged.

“Oh, for the love of . . . You just gave him ‘The Talk!’ It’s the Day of the Ascendency when Troompah won the kingdom.”

“Oh.”

Gyn shook her head, but wore a smile. She watched the two dip their fingers into the dye and apply it to their faces in preparation of the feast.

When they finished, all three turned their now orange faces toward the cubbyhole. All three saluted and spoke the sacred words.

“Troompah Maikee Aimrisa Grehaht Agaheen.”

Before sitting down to the feast, they took a moment to silently reflect upon the sign in the cubbyhole.

The fading blue sign with white words, written in a language they could no longer read or understand, stared mutely back:

Trump: Make America Great Again.

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Adventures in ADHD: Self-publishing

As you recall, in my last blog post I talked about learning more about self-publishing. I tried to Google it and unfortunately, that didn’t go so well.

Do it. You end up with 139,000,000 and if you suffer from attention deficit, that comes to about 138,999,995 too many.

I mean, where to start? It’s too overwhelming. I need a limited number of choices or my eyes start spinning like rocket-powered pinwheels.

So feeling as though I were cast adrift at sea, I did what any drowning man does: got a book on the subject.

Luckily, Half Price only had two to choose from and I picked the latest of the two, published in 2014.

It’s “Self-Publishing Your Novel Made Easy” by Richard N. Williams.

I took it home and dove right in. Williams has an easy style and the information was readily understood so that by the time I finished it, my head no longer felt like it had been stuffed with cold oatmeal and the anxiety attacks stopped every time someone said, “eBook.”

I understood the terminology used in self-publishing, I had a good grasp of the eBook publishing platforms available, and knew the difference between a direct vendor (Amazon’s KDP, Apple iBooks, Kobo) and an aggregator (Smashwords, Lulu), who will distribute your eBook to many vendors. I learned about copyrights, ISBN numbers, and a lot of the jargon the Annointed throw about.

Now when I Google self-publishing and get 139,000,000 hits, I’m not so overwhelmed because I can separate blogs offering information from vendors, and so on. The stress headache is gone.

Leaving me free to decide what route I want to take to start the process of publishing my novel.

It’s a novel that I wrote years ago, and has been edited and reedited, beta-read, and submitted to numerous agents.

It was publish-ready, or so I thought.
I have nearly two dozen versions on my hard drive. Each an improved version of the last as I got feedback. But as I looked at it, it hit me.

I had started the story at the wrong point!

In my first draft, I had the main character and his daughter driving to school. I figured some character development would be nice, an introduction, and then later, he gets a phone call about a murder.

But that turned out to be …. well, dull because nothing really happened until the second chapter.

So I added another chapter where my character hears a psychic scream and goes to investigate. This introduces him as a sorcerer and there’s finally a little action. Fine, except now the arrival at the murder scene is two chapters away.

Also, someone said, “I’d like to know how he got his powers, how he came to be.”

OK. OK. So I added some back story that answered his origin and added a little humor to it, but now the murder was three chapters away.

And now, just minutes ago, it hit me. The story is about the whys and wherefores of the murder so, start with the murder!

It seems so obvious in retrospect.

Start with the murder.

So I’m off to revise the story once again.

And then, I can start the self-publishing journey.

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Writing and the love of discovery

One of the things I like about writing is the discovery. I don’t mean the discovery of the story, or the world within the story, I mean the discovery of our world, our history.

As an example, I’m currently working on a weird western set in 1869. So far, I’ve been reading about the Transcontinental Railroad, when it finally met up (May 10, 1869), including the Pacific Railroad and how it cut through and over the Sierra Nevada mountains. I did research on cattle drives.

One thing in particular, my character is a newspaper man. I wanted him to be reading a novel. I thought maybe a Mark Twain novel would be nice. Everyone knows of Mark Twain and if he had a copy of Twain’s newest book, that might lead to some dialog about the book and about the characters.

Well, to my shame, I learned Twain didn’t publish his first novel, “The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today,” until 1873 and his great novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” wasn’t published until 1884. So that blew any chance for conversations like, “Is that Twain’s latest? I love Twain!” Granted, Twain had published four short stories before 1869, and in 1869 he did publish his most popular work, “An Innocent Abroad,” which was a non-fiction travel book and his best-selling work, but unfortunately in 1869, I don’t think he had the name recognition I was looking for.

So I did a search for novels published in 1869. I wanted my character to be reading a soon-to-be-published work in order to do a critical review of it and the conversation would go from there. I mean, there were some great novels published in 1869, such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot,” which I haven’t read yet. Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” which I have no intention of reading. Also Louisa May Alcott wrote “Good Wives,” Horatio Alger wrote “Luck and Pluck.” “Lorna Doone” by R.D. Blackmore came out that year, as well as Ivan Goncharov’s best known work, “The Precipice.” Victor Hugo published “L’Homme Qui Rit” (The Man Who Laughs) and Sheridan Le Fenu (who wrote “Camilla,” an early vampire tale that, coincidentally, I used in a story I wrote a few years back featuring the same protagonist as this current WIP) wrote “The Wyvern Mystery.” Not to mention the author of “Madam Bovery,” Gustave Flaubert wrote “Sentimental Education.”

Anyone of those would have suited my purpose. Those are all recognizable authors or recognizable works.

But then, I saw it. The novel. The one that would fit perfectly within my own story. You see, one of the other characters in the story is a young man, eighteen or so, traveling with his older sister and he has aspirations to be a bad ass, looking up to a wanted gunslinger. He’s illiterate, which isn’t a surprise for that time, and my MC has the book. The kid is looking at it, struggling to read the title, and my MC says, “It’s ‘The Story of a Bad Boy.'”

Which the kid takes to be an insult directed at him. And we go from there.

So, now, before I can write any further, I’m reading Thomas Bailey Aldridge’s “The Story of a Bad Boy,” which, coincidentally, some consider a foundational story that inspired other “bad boy” stories, like Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” For my story, it works on many different levels.

Now I have to finish “The Story of a Bad Boy” because, honestly? It’s a really good book and I can’t put it down. And if I hadn’t been writing, I’d never have discovered it.

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Happy Writer’s New Year

While incapacitated after my shoulder surgery, I’ve had a lot of time to think and reflect upon my writing career, specifically, the lack of progression toward success within my writing career. I’ve been writing off and on for most of my adult life, submitting stories since I was at least 15 years old, and collecting mostly rejections. At best, I’ve had one story published each decade. Not what I’d call an impressive showing.

I haven’t improved as a writer. I haven’t made any sort of inroads to a successful writing career. So I’ve had time to ponder about why that is. Sure I have ADHD and it was undiagnosed for most of my adult life and that has played a role in it, however, I’m not here to assign blame or look for a scapegoat. I’m trying to discover what I can do now to correct the situation.

In high school, I was anything but studious. Again, we can blame many things on that, but so what? It won’t change anything and wallowing in self-pity is less than useless. It’s actually counterproductive, in fact. The point is, I’ve had an incomplete education. Instead of paying attention in class, instead of learning grammar and studying literature, instead of breaking down short stories and novels into their component elements and learning what makes a good story, instead of concentrating on technique, I was doing my own thing. I’d read pulp fiction, The Shadow, Doc Savage, the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, E. E. “Doc” Smith, along with many of the then current science fiction and fantasy stories. Or I’d daydream, scribbling little pictures in the margins of my notebooks and textbooks ala Sergio Aragonés of Mad Magazine. Or I’d write my own stories. Stories that I submitted in my English teacher when we were in the composition phase of the English class and I’d get good grades on.

So, arrogantly, I thought I knew what it took to be a writer. A writer writes, right? I was already doing that. Therefore, I had even more reason not to pay attention in class. Learning that stuff was for the mere mortals in class.

As a writer, I was able to create my own voice fairly early on and wrote in my own style rather than create imitations of other writer’s works. My natural abilities as a writer were able to carry me through high school and into college, where I was still able to get good grades and comments from my instructors. They’d see something in my style and suggest certain authors I should read and analyze.

Analyze? Me? Why? I already was a genius, wasn’t I? A prodigy? So I failed to follow their advice. The only how-tos on writing I read were from “Writer’s Digest” on how to submit to fiction markets.

And submit I did. And rejections were received for everything I submitted. But all that meant was those editors were idiots. They just couldn’t recognize my genius. It was their fault I wasn’t selling, right? Not mine.

Fast-forward to today. After decades of writing, Ive sold a story in 1987. Another in 1997. Three twitter-length fictions in 2009. And finally, a story in 2011 and another in 2012. Not much of a record, is it?

A glance at that career makes it appear as though I’m just a hobbyist instead of someone who takes their career seriously. And the last couple of weeks have made me take a long, hard honest look at that career and it’s come up sorely lacking.

ImageLast week I picked up “Robert Silverberg’s Science Fiction 101” (formerly titled: Worlds of Wonder). While reading his very first essay, “The Making of a Science Fiction Writer,” he explains his own educational journey to becoming a successful writer, and during that journey, he read a book by Thomas Uzzell called “Narrative Technique,” and I read Silverberg’s account of what he learned from that book, which was that writing was much more complicated than he first thought. It just wasn’t taking an idea and expanding it to short story length. It was that a story is constructed from many elements, including plot, characterization, situations, conflict, style, and more.

And then it struck me like a cold slap in the face: I had no idea what any of that meant. I know what the words mean dictionary-wise, but not in a writing context. My arrogance had led to form a shaky, unstable writing foundation. In other words, my writing houses were being built upon a bog of ignorance.

Today is the beginning of a new year. I plan on making 2014 a year of education. I am going to relearn everything I should have learned in high school. I’m going to tear down this house of cards and create a sound foundation upon which to build my writing chops.

I’ve already asked for help on the writer’s forum I attend, Absolute Write, and they’ve given me many great suggestions, such as the Longman Anthology of Short Fiction and the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, for example. Now Norton’s sounded familiar. I thought maybe I had a copy, so I tore my library apart looking for it but came up empty, but I know I’ve seen it somewhere, possibly at my mom’s.

Image

So I’ll check her house, then I’ll check Half Price Books and the library for copies. Until then however, I’ll finish Silverberg’s book, which also has many great short story examples in it. I’ll break them down and try to analyze them to see what makes them tick.

Thus, my goal, or resolution, for 2014 is to spend it learning, relearning, and growing my knowledge of the basics of writing fiction in the hopes that a more solid foundation will help me to become a more publishable writer.

As Robert Silverberg said at the end of his essay, “only you can make a writer of yourself, by reading, by studying what you have read, and above all by writing.” Great advice that I will finally, after all these years, take to heart.

So instead of drinking a cup of kindness for times gone by, I’ll be looking to the future, to times as a better learned writer.

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