Doubting Thomas and the entertainment factor

Last week, I was hanging out on Facebook, reading discussions in the various groups I hang out in. I happened across a fairly benign question: If your characters are Christians, how much do they express the tenets of their faith?

Since it was a Christian writer’s group, I didn’t bat an eye. Then I started reading the comments.

“My character struggles with doubt.”

“My character doesn’t really believe in her religion.”

“My character is angry at God after a tragedy.”

The entire comment thread was like that. A whole crowd of people writing about characters who don’t really believe their own religion.

I commented about a character I’ve been writing who has unswerving faith in his deity, but this brings about other problems in his social circles, because he goes and does things nobody else would dream of doing, and people think he’s crazy.

Then I asked why there were so many Doubting Thomas characters. I was writing the only character who had any faith at all. I was told that doubting characters are written by doubting authors.

Which is troubling.

Now, I know that doubting the unseen is a common thread in speculative fiction. Characters doubt whether anything spiritual is real, in urban fantasy and paranormal romance and all those. But Christian books seem especially prone to it. Every Stephen Lawhead character is like this, and pretty much all Ted Dekker characters … my reading pool of Christian books has shrunk over the years, so maybe the doubting character thing isn’t as widespread as it was.

Or, judging by that thread, maybe it’s alive and well.

Angel-of-Renewal
Angel of Renewal, Magic the Gathering card art

Now, I can understand why you’d have a character struggling to believe some cosmic truth. No character really wants to be the Chosen One, destined to fulfill the prophecy or slay the vampire king or take down the dragon or whatever. It’s a stage in the Hero’s Journey, after all.

But when the main theme of the book is a character who doesn’t believe in their own religion? Come on. If you’re going to bother putting religion in your book, make it worthwhile. It’s got to be either a bad religion, with cultists summoning eldritch abominations, or a good religion that helps people in some way. And have the characters either believe or disbelieve it. The lukewarm dithering thing gets old.

I think what bugs me the most is that any other religion gets represented well in books. If a character is a Buddhist, I see them trying to live out the tenants of their religion by trying to be a good person, eschew material goods, etc. If a character is a Muslim, they observe the holidays, the food laws, the prayers, and so forth. So, why is it only the Christians who whine about “Is God really real? Why should I bother doing any of my religious stuff?”

I think it’s an alarming indication of how lukewarm we American Christians have become. I would love to read a book, even speculative fiction, where a Christian character actually has faith, lives by it, and goes through all the ups and downs of that. Kind of like Father Tim in the Mitford books, which is the only example I can think of. And he’s Episcopalian, which is closer to Catholic, so not even the Protestant branch so many of my writer friends are.

Faith in any religion requires life changes. And in fact, it increases the entertainment value if a character’s faith motivates them to get stuck in all kinds of interesting situations. At this point, in a book, I’d be happy with any kind of fantasy religion, as long as the author is true to the character’s choices about it. The Queen’s Thief series is like that–there’s a pantheon that interacts with the heroes, depending on their actions and beliefs. And those books are tremendously entertaining.

Does anybody remember Testament, by John Grisham? A super rich man dies and leaves his fortune to a niece or something who is down in the jungle in Brazil as a missionary. A troubled lawyer is dispatched on an epic jungle adventure and tell her she’s inherited a zillion dollars. Missionary doesn’t want it, back the lawyer goes to the States to settle the crazy relatives who are fighting over the will. Hugely entertaining. Wonderful presentation of a character who lives by faith in the jungles, and the impact of her faith on the lawyer.

So, I guess my point is, authors, dare to write about characters who FREAKING BELIEVE IN SOMETHING. It’s more entertaining than a wishy-washy character who doesn’t really believe anything and you know will have some kind of cringy “return to faith” scene at the 3/4ths mark.

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How to use Song of Solomon to write hot romance

There’s lots of guides out there about how to write romance. One of my favorites is Jami Gold’s romance beat sheet, which single-handedly taught me how a romance works.

But there’s other ways to write a romance. When I was studying Song of Solomon one year, I realized that I could use a lot of this material as a pattern to really amp up my own writing.

First off, I’m using the Amplified translation, because it has all kinds of stage directions and explanations in it that make it even hotter. Let’s take a look:

 

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! [she cries. Then, realizing that Solomon has arrived and has heard her speech, she turns to him and adds] For your love is better than wine!
3 [And she continues] The odor of your ointments is fragrant; your name is like perfume poured out. Therefore do the maidens love you.
4 Draw me! We will run after you! The king brings me into his apartments! We will be glad and rejoice in you! We will recall [when we were favored with] your love, more fragrant than wine. The upright [are not offended at your choice, but sincerely] love you.
The book opens with the girl proclaiming her love for the man in all kinds of metaphors. Never underestimate the power of metaphor in setting a mood. She compares him to wine and perfume. Ever notice how in romance novels, the girl always thinks the guy smells like vanilla and sandalwood? Same idea.
One key to a hot romance comes early on:
I am so black; but [you are] lovely and pleasant [the ladies assured her]. O you daughters of Jerusalem, [I am as dark] as the tents of [the Bedouin tribe] Kedar, like the [beautiful] curtains of Solomon!
6 [Please] do not look at me, [she said, for] I am swarthy. [I have worked out] in the sun and it has left its mark upon me. My stepbrothers were angry with me, and they made me keeper of the vineyards; but my own vineyard [my complexion] I have not kept.
7 [Addressing her shepherd, she said] Tell me, O you whom my soul loves, where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon. For why should I [as I think of you] be as a veiled one straying beside the flocks of your companions?
8 If you do not know [where your lover is], O you fairest among women, run along, follow the tracks of the flock, and [amuse yourself by] pasturing your kids beside the shepherds’ tents.
First off, the girl doesn’t consider herself beautiful. She’s a shepherdess and she’s got a super dark tan, her complexion isn’t great, etc. But she longs for her lover anyway, and asks her boss where he is. Her boss sends her back to work, lol. Notice the longing is starting to build.
Her lover reassures her that he finds her beautiful anyway:
O my love [he said as he saw her], you remind me of my [favorite] mare in the chariot spans of Pharaoh.
10 Your cheeks are comely with ornaments, your neck with strings of jewels.
11 We will make for you chains and ornaments of gold, studded with silver.
He reassures her that he will adorn her until everyone sees her as beautiful and valuable as he does. Comparing her to a horse seems like a bit of a slam in our culture, but horses were the height of power and wealth at that time, so it’s meant as a high compliment.
[SHE SAID] I am only a little rose or autumn crocus of the plain of Sharon, or a [humble] lily of the valleys [that grows in deep and difficult places].
2 But Solomon replied, Like the lily among thorns, so are you, my love, among the daughters.
3 Like an apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved [shepherd] among the sons [cried the girl]! Under his shadow I delighted to sit, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
4 He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love [for love waved as a protecting and comforting banner over my head when I was near him].
Again she states her low status, and again he reassures her that he loves her anyway. They go on a hot date where he introduces her to his court.
And then they have to wait for the wedding.
[Vividly she pictured it] The voice of my beloved [shepherd]! Behold, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. [John 10:27.]
9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young hart. Behold, he stands behind the wall of our house, he looks in through the windows, he glances through the lattice.
The lattice refers to all the barriers still standing between them. All good romances have these to heighten the tension.
The next thing all romances have is anticipation. She’s looking forward to spring, presumably because that’s when the wedding will happen.
10 My beloved speaks and says to me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
11 For, behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing [of birds] has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth and ripens her green figs, and the vines are in blossom and give forth their fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
14 [So I went with him, and when we were climbing the rocky steps up the hillside, my beloved shepherd said to me] O my dove, [while you are here] in the seclusion of the clefts in the solid rock, in the sheltered and secret place of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.
15 [My heart was touched and I fervently sang to him my desire] Take for us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards [of our love], for our vineyards are in blossom.
The little foxes are the cares and worries that slowly pull a relationship apart. They spoil the vineyards of love. Again, this causes great conflict in a romantic story, but it can destroy a couple if it goes on too long.
16 [She said distinctly] My beloved is mine and I am his! He pastures his flocks among the lilies. [Matt. 10:32; Acts 4:12.]
17 [Then, longingly addressing her absent shepherd, she cried] Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away, return hastily, O my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young hart as you cover the mountains [which separate us].
More longing. Lots of longing. All the longing. This is the engine that drives any good romance. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing one with lots of bed scenes, or without any physical contact at all. It’s all about the longing, and the more you stretch it out, the more your readers will be panting for your characters to finally get together.
To sum up, here’s the points to remember:
  • Self-deprecation (I’m not worthy! What does the other person possibly see in me?)
  • Adoration of the other person (he’s so wonderful! She’s so wonderful!)
  • The lattices and little foxes that keep them apart.
Song of Solomon repeats this cycle in later chapters, with interesting additions of the girl looking for her lover at night, and being caught and beaten by the night watchmen for being out alone. (Harsh culture, no?) I think that’s to show what lengths she’ll go to reunite with her lover, even if it costs her dearly.
Anyway, if you need to add a little romance to a story, or if you’re writing a romance novel, these are a few points to keep in mind. A romance can be smoking hot without any physical contact whatsoever if you add plenty of longing.

Strong Women and Weak Men

Oh boy, here I go again! More of my strange views of men and women, particularly as regards to fiction.

What set me off this time was a book blog I was reading. The book premise sounded interesting, so I clicked on to see if the author could sell me. I was almost ready to pick up the book when the author started virtual signaling. She talked about how she changed up the myth she was using because “she only writes female characters”.

Nothing irritates me more than virtue signaling.

So I quit reading and tried to figure out why that had gotten under my skin the way it had. I’m writing multiple stories right now. The female characters in both of them are stronger than the men, mentally, sometimes physically, and as relates to their powers, definitely. I have nothing against strong women. As I mentioned in one of my other blogs, I don’t actually know any weak women.

But it’s writing them in a vacuum that bugs me. Guys are people, too. When I read, or write, or, heck, hang with friends, I want a mix. Men and women have different perspectives, and the interplay between them is so fascinating.

I looked at the books I like to read and write. And … aha … there’s a pattern.

Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones. Sophie is a Strong Woman helping a Weak Man who is under just as bad a curse as she is. Howl has more magic than she does, sure, but he can’t save himself without help.

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The Lake House, by Kate Morton. The main characters are all women–Alice the author, Sadie the cop, Eleanor the mother. All of them are mentored, helped, or in the case of Eleanor, desperately trying to help the men in their lives. The men are critically flawed in endearing and sometimes frightening ways, and these women shoulder impossible burdens to help them.

The Beaumont and Beasley series by Kyle Schultz. Although these books are told first person from the male perspective, Beasley is hampered by his sheer logic. Magic can’t exist, therefore, it doesn’t. Lady Cordelia comes along and wrecks that paradigm by accidentally turning him into a Beast. She’s better educated than him, knows magic, and has all kinds of magical connections. But they need each other, because she’s trying to break his curse, and he’s the detective who still reasons out motives and puts together clues. (Great series, too.)

The more I thought about it, the more I realized the argument about Strong Women isn’t stated very well. A Strong Woman is Strong, not when she can beat a man in a fistfight, but when she can reach out to a Weak Man and help him become strong.

Everybody needs help, men and women alike. In Proverbs, Solomon observes that an excellent wife will do her husband good, not evil, all the days of his life. He also points out that a wise woman builds her house, but a foolish woman tears it down with her hands.

In books, part of a character arc is that a character must start in a place that demands that they change in some way. Sophie acted like an old woman before she was cursed to become one. Alice believes she’s responsible for the disappearance of her baby brother. Beasley thinks he has reality all figured out. They all start in a place of weakness. But that’s part of the joy of fiction–that journey from weakness to strength, or acceptance, or whatever the goal of the story is.

When a male character is weak, often a Strong Woman can come along and help him out. This leads to the complex interplay between genders, that push and pull of attraction and affection. Conversely, a Weak Woman will need a Strong Man, but that’s taboo in our culture, for some reason–admitting that a woman might ever be weak for some reason.

(This works in reverse, too–the strong one can tear down the weak one, and the weak one can undermine the strong one. These are toxic relationships, and aren’t the point of this blog.)

As part of the ongoing cultural discussion about Strong Women, I thought this was an interesting new angle to explore. Strength is fine, but it means nothing unless it’s used wisely, to build up others. That same strength can destroy and shatter. As writers (and readers!) it’s something to be aware of.

10 things I learned at Realm Makers (and I didn’t even go)

Realm Makers is a little writing conference geared toward that weird demographic of Christians who actually read Harry Potter. They have lots of good classes and keynote speakers.

Funny thing is, I didn’t attend Realm Makers due to boring real life problems like cash and childcare. But in shmoozing social media, I did learn quite a few things.

1. Writing should be a joy. It’s play, it’s what you do for fun. If it’s not any of those things, find something else to do.

2. Editing is hard. So, if writing’s not a joy that awaits you at the other end of the editing tunnel, find something else to do.

3. Why are you writing? Figuring out the answer to this can carry you through the dark night of editing.

4. People at writing conventions say really weird things. For instance, discussing plans to bump off fictional people.

5. People read books to escape difficult times in their lives. I know that I read different genres because of needing that particular kind of comfort. Whether it’s a thriller where the heroes defeat the bad guys against all odds, or a cozy mystery where the sleuth has tea and cookies with the suspects. I get annoyed having to explain this to authors. You’d think it would be pretty obvious.

6. Perfectionism is fear in disguise. And oh, how I’ve seen perfectionism utterly destroy writers and their stories.

7. Figure out what you’re good at, then develop that. It’s your superpower. Don’t bog down in trying to prop up your weaknesses.

8. Marketing is interesting. When you write your book, you are writing for someone like you–age, gender, etc. Go out, find people like you and tell them your book exists.

9. Only you can make you fail. And you fail when you quit. Rewriting is not failure. Low sales are not failure.

10. “A sermon with elves is not fantasy.” This one made me laugh. I’ve read a few of those, and boy, they’re not fun at all. Instead, weave themes organically into the story.

I think that pretty much sums it up. I’m kind of glad I didn’t go, because my social media is now lamenting how real life just isn’t as much fun as the conference was. I imagine the people headed home from San Diego Comic Con are saying the same things. 😀

I’ve just been over here, prepping for school (next week!) and writing around the edges. And playing Destiny 2. Way too much Destiny 2.

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The Last Great Ahamkara by TDSpiral

Products or quality entertainment: what are we creating?

Ah, Dean Wesley Smith, so much food for thought while challenging paradigms.

Anyway, he pointed out in a recent blog post that writers get really fixated on creating a product. We want to crank out books like bottle caps on a conveyor belt. More is better, we’re told. Make it a great product so customers will keep coming back.

Then I read an interesting thread on the Writer’s Cafe on kboards. People were talking about the low quality of these books being cranked out. Particularly the short stories or secret series prologues that are given out as bait for getting people to subscribe to mailing lists. They’re referred to as reader magnets.

One person said:

Most readers don’t want free or cheap books so much as they want entertaining books. Most of these reader magnets are marketing tools that offer little appeal to the reader.

Value is such a nebulous term as to be almost meaningless, but I think the shortest answer is this: the reader magnet should be your absolute best work. What I see, instead, is authors giving readers a blah free story, then wonder why readers don’t come back for more (often accompanied by a proclamation lamenting “freebie hoarders”).

Sturgeon’s law states that 90% of everything is crap (tongue in cheek, of course), but I’d suspect that rate is more like 99% for the reader magnets I see. Your magnet has to be a pro-quality product that you could charge money for, and I don’t see that with most of them. If we are being honest, most of them are written because some person on a forum or book said we needed one, and it was just a little thing to tick off on the massive to do list. This is generally not a recipe for compelling fiction.

Source


Between that little discussion about good quality books, and Dean’s observation about how authors fixate on product over story, it’s given me a lot to think about. Do I want to be an author who cranks out Products? Or do I want to be an author who takes care to craft a really engaging, entertaining story that is a fun, fantastic escape?

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Baby dragons, by Sandara. Quality art from a quality artist.

As a reader, I respect the heck out of my own readers. I want to give them a great experience when they crack one of my books. It’s why I took down the Spacetime books. If I couldn’t stand to read them, what reader would? They weren’t a good experience.

So, what do you think? Would you rather read a Product? Or a book that an author had worked very hard to make Quality Entertainment?

Response to DWS: Dangers of not trusting the creative voice

A few days ago, Dean Wesley Smith, a career writer who has written hundreds of books, wrote a blog post about how to be creative while writing. Namely, how it works and how to destroy it.


Outlining… Absolutely the quickest way to make sure the creative voice won’t even show up. Why should it bother? Your critical voice has already figured out what the book will be, so the creative voice just goes off and pouts, leaving you the hard work of writing from critical voice. And having no fun.

Knowing Your Ending… This, to the creative voice, is exactly like you picking up a book, flipping to the last pages, reading the ending, then thinking the book will be interesting to read. This comes from fear, brought on by the critical voice being afraid of “wasting” your time and so on. You know, stuff parents said to you in the real world. If you need to figure out the ending because of fear, you will lose your creative voice almost instantly and the project will lose excitement and mostly just die.

Writing is Hard Work… No creative voice wants to show up with that belief system. That is all a myth and remember, the creative voice is like a two-year-old in nature. It doesn’t want to do anything it is forced to do. So when you keep repeating over and over to make your ego feel better that writing is hard work to be suffered over, your creative voice says screw that and leaves. And then writing from critical voice does become hard work and your books are dull.

….

Solution:

1… Stop caring so much about the final product, just do the best you can.

2… Write one draft, clean with cycling in creative voice, and release with a promise to yourself you won’t touch it again.

3… Have fun. Make writing fun again. Make it play.

Source


 

I know a lot of writers dislike Dean Wesley Smith because he comes off as so opinionated. But you know what? He’s 67 and he’s been at this writer thing for longer than I’ve been alive. For longer than most of my friends, even. Not to mention that he and his wife self publish all their own books and have for years. He’s done things that none of my newbie author friends have ever thought of (like selling signed paperbacks to the voracious book market on eBay.)

There are basically two kinds of writers. Those who outline everything, and those who “write by the seat of their pants”, that is, those who rely exclusively on the “creative voice” DWS mentions above.

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What happens when an artist has fun. Big Bad Wolf by Ninjatic

When I started writing, I always found that outlining killed my inspiration. I’ve since found methods of outlining that kind of work, but they still give rise to stories that are … well, only passable. I mean, they were okay, but they weren’t my best work. I had the idea that the stories could have risen to amazing heights, but … that takes a genius place in my brain, and I can’t hit that genius place while coldly outlining.

This has always quietly baffled me. When I was writing fanfiction, at most, the only outlining I would do was to write a list of “cool stuff I wanted to happen” so I didn’t forget to put it in. And I cranked out some storylines that were pure genius. Even now, years later, people still track me down to tell me how much they loved my old fanfics.

Then I started writing books for publication, which I dutifully outlined. And they just … weren’t as good. The sparkle wasn’t there, somehow. So I went back to fanfics, just writing with no outline, only a brief list of things I wanted to happen. And the genius returned.

So … I don’t know if DWS’s advice up there applies to everyone. But for me, writing with very little outline, just following the conflicts and the characters’ reactions to them, is where the sparkle and the genius lies. I’m going to toss out the outline for my next book and just write into the dark. I know my characters and their arcs, and I know my bad guys and what they’re trying to do. Beyond that, I think I’m capable of setting them loose and watching the feathers fly. If I can do it with fanfics, I can do it with original characters, too.

Rejection isn’t so bad

Well, my urban fantasy book that was on submission with a small press got an official rejection. They cited issues that I was aware of and was planning to fix in another draft, anyway.

In a way, I’m hugely relieved. The longer I waited to hear back from the publisher, the more I realized how much control I was relinquishing. I couldn’t pick my own cover artist. I couldn’t set price promotions. I’ve been indie so long, going under the yoke of a publisher was just too hard for me. Maybe I’m too much of a rebel.

Anyway, one of the issues they cited was the worldbuilding. It was flabby and didn’t make sense.

soon

In my previous post, I talked about the fanfic series I’m turning into original fiction. (Hey, if Cinder, Mortal Instruments, the Vorkosigan Saga, the Temeraire books, and Firebird all started life as fanfiction … I can do it, too!)

Anyway, my husband latched onto it, and we’ve been doing spectacular amounts of worldbuilding. He asked me, “What about the metaplot?” So we’ve been building that. We’ve actually built back across world borders into the urban fantasy universe, explaining the villains there, and how they’re going to interact with the characters in both series. Our going idea is to write, say, five books in each series, and then have one book that has the big Cosmic Crossover event and finishes up both storylines.

It’s crazy ambitious, but I’ve written far more bonkers things before.

Anyway, all this worldbuilding definitely fixes the issues the publisher has. I’m going to have to rewrite the entire book, I think, but I’ve done it before.

My biggest problem is that all my friends tend to read and write fairytale fantasy romance featuring female protagonists. I’m going to have to fish around to find a male audience who will follow male characters being awesome and not having much romance. I think my action movie history is showing.

 

Superhero fiction: a writing experiment

Last year, I wrote a novella and two novels back to back. But you wouldn’t know it, because they were fanfics. I’m hugely proud of them … but they have a very limited audience.

So I started wondering how hard it would be to change the names and make them into fantasy. After all, most of the setting and a lot of the characters are my own.

So I’ve been undergoing the labyrinthine task of changing a story from fanfiction to original fiction. Can we say I underestimated how difficult it was going to be? With fanfic, your readers already know the setting and characters. With original fiction, they don’t, and you have to establish them. Doing that without dropping a slab of exposition on the reader has been massively difficult. Fortunately I have a group of patient beta readers who can look at it and go, “Nope, it’s not there yet.”

As I’m chewing on this massive revision, I look at authors like Kathy Tyers for inspiration. Her Firebird series is renamed Star Wars fanfiction. Supposedly there’s a plot line in there about “what if Jesus came to the Jedi?” But what I got out of it was, “When a Jedi Psychic finds his Empire royal soulmate, things get hot.” They use crystal swords instead of lightsabers and use psychic powers instead of the Force. If you didn’t know it was Star Wars, you might not ever pick up on it. It’s just Romance In Space. It’s skillfully done. That’s the kind of thing I want to pull off, here.

Trouble is, when you take the kind of stories I’ve been writing and turn it original, it comes out as superhero fantasy. Small-town superheroes with moderate powers who get way, way over their heads with foes beyond their strength. So I started looking up superhero fantasy on Amazon.

First off, there’s not really much there. Second, it all looks like this.

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It’s either licensed novels, comic book anthologies, or indie offerings that … aren’t really that great. In my sniffing around, I found the Gender-Swapped Iron Man Saga, the X-Men Fanfic Saga, the Hey Guys My Hero Is Cool books, and Look Guys Aliens books. I even read the middle-grade Don’t Tell My Parents I’m A Supervillain. The first half was great. The second half devolved into “Spot who’s carrying the idiot ball in this scene!”

Nobody really does small-town heroes who do anything but do the regular plot of “look I have powers! Look, I have to save the world now!” It’s kind of discouraging. Either nobody reads this genre, or nobody writes anything good for it. (I’m leaning toward the latter, because I saw lots of reviews from people who said that they adore the genre and will read anything in it.)

So, I’m going to take a shot at contributing to the badly underdeveloped superhero genre and see how it goes. You know, once the thing is in a readable state.

Meanwhile, it has crossover potential with the other urban fantasy series I was planning, so we’ll be reworking the worldbuilding on that, too. So much fun!

Spring cleaning writer challenge and Joke de-recommendations

I was tagged by Jennette in the Spring Cleaning Writer’s Challenge. I thought it sounded like fun, so here we go! Mostly, it’s an excuse to talk about what we’ve been working on.

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1. Dust bunnies and plot bunnies: Reorganize your writing goals or make new ones.

My writing is kind of in limbo at the moment. I submitted a book to a publisher, and until I hear back yay or nay, I don’t know whether to dive into book 2 or wait to do revisions on book 1.

I did have two stories published in anthologies recently! I contributed a sci-fi story to an anthology themed around battles on Mars, and I contributed a story to a humorous fantasy anthology exploring how telepathy would be uncomfortable and full of too much information.

I also took a good, hard look at the four fanfics I recently finished. Aside from the characters, the worldbuilding and minor characters are mine, as well as the major conflicts and character arcs. So I’m in the process of changing the names and heavily revising them to turn them into fantasy. The premise is: Atlantis was a continent that sank centuries ago, leaving a chain of islands inhabited by people who salvage technology from the ruins. The heroes all have minor magic powers, and get mixed up with an Atlantean flying construct that they accidentally wind up being the crew of. Then they have to fight bad guys with it. It’s awesome.

2. Which stage am I at?

According to Deborah O’Caroll’s metaphor:
a. Remodeling layouts (planning the story)
b. Painting the walls in colorful hues (writing)
c. Polishing the windows and scrubbing the floors and putting flowers in vases (editing)
d. Blueprints (not to the cleaning or remodeling yet… just drawing up plans for the very beginning inklings of a story)
e. Some combination of those things (cleaning out a closet)

Definitely the “polishing and scrubbing” part (editing). Editing all the things. The nice thing with these fanfics is that they’re completely finished, so I can go back to the beginning and put in all kinds of nice foreshadowing.

3. Treasure from the back of the closet: Snippet Love.

From my not-properly-named urban fantasy book, currently waiting in the slush pile at a publisher’s:


Indal’s ears were forward, like a friendly dog that had been out for a run. But as I stepped toward him, the ears flattened and his lips curled back from his fangs. Those teeth were like white knives. A growl rolled out of him that froze me in my tracks. He crouched, the muscles tensing as he prepared to spring.

I tossed the Hot Pocket.

The werewolf flinched backward. The Hot Pocket rolled across the leaves. He did a nervous sideways step and sniffed in its direction. It must have smelled good, because he stepped closer and sniffed it again. Then he ate it in two snapping bites, like he was starving. He returned his attention to me, licking his chops, ears forward again, probably hoping I had more.

Well, that was as far as my plan had gone. I was scanning the nearby trees for a branch I could grab, when the wolf made a funny sound. He moaned and licked his nose several times. He shook his head, pawed at his jaws, then slowly sank onto his side.

Xironi hadn’t moved from her place behind the tree. “What was in that Hot Pocket?”

I thought of the giant pill. “A sampler of all his new meds.”

She heaved a sigh of relief and exasperation. “One of those bottles was a tranquilizer.”

The wolf body began to shudder and shrink back into human form. Indal’s eyes were closed—I think he was already unconscious. His face was human before the rest of him was. I stood between him and Xironi, just in case he woke up and wanted fresh meat. But the drugs had knocked him out.

I exhaled, the tension in my muscles relaxing. “That worked well.”

Xironi walked up to stand beside me in her tiny nightgown. “You turned a Hot Pocket into a medication grenade.”

“I did have to bake it first,” I agreed.


3.5. Bonus: Do some actual spring cleaning of your writer self. (And share a picture!)

I’m sitting here sick and wondering how I’m going to clean house today, so no photos, please. :-p


I’m going to tag Bethany Jennings, H.L. Burke, and Janeen Ippolito!

Rules:

1. Link back to the person who tagged you
2. Share the picture
3. Answer the questions (naturally…) or even pick and choose which ones you answer
3.5. Tag 3 other writers and inform them that you tagged them (via comment/message/email or hey, even carrier-pigeon or smoke signal; I’m not picky)

Questions:

1. Dust-bunnies and Plot-bunnies: Reorganize Your Writing Goals (Or Make New Ones)

2. Which Stage Are You At? Expound!

a. Remodeling layouts (planning the story)
b. Painting the walls in colorful hues (writing)
c. Polishing the windows and scrubbing the floors and putting flowers in vases (editing)
d. Blueprints (not to the cleaning or remodeling yet… just drawing up plans for the very beginning inklings of a story)
e. Some combination of those things (cleaning out a closet)

3. Treasure From the Back of the Closet (Share one to three snippets you love!)

3.5. Bonus: Do Some Actual Spring Cleaning of Your Writer Self! (And share a picture!)


And now, for the second meme. RJ Conte did an April Fools joke on her blog where she de-recommended her own books. Like, humorously listing off why you don’t want to read them. I thought it was hilarious, so here’s my own books with the same treatment.

Turned: A werewolf love story. A couple of rich people get bitten by werewolves and become homeless. And they don’t even kiss! What kind of shifter romance is this?

The Bramblewood Werebear. A girl travels across the country to marry a rich dude who forgot to mention that he turns into a bear. And he’s feuding with werewolves. Again, no kissing! What a lame shifter romance this is!

werefox-artistic1fullsizeOutfoxing the Wolf. A werewolf prince uses a poor girl in an alchemy experiment and turns her into a werefox. They fall in love. Do they kiss? I don’t remember! What a terrible author I am, if I can’t remember things like that!

Malevolent. A guy who might be undead and has no emotions falls in love with a sick girl who is determined to prove that he’s a vampire. This book has a necromancer in it, and necromancers are evil, so DO NOT READ.

Malcontent. The guy and the girl now accidentally share a soul, whoops, how’d that happen? There’s a lot of gooshy romantic stuff that happens. And zombie dogs. And cats. Making animals into zombies is cruelty to animals! Not recommended! It’s probably that necromancer’s fault, anyway. Warning: kissing.

Malicious. The hero gets turned into a monster and the girl has to save him. There’s a small zombie apocalypse. This book is scary and dark and zombies are scary. Also there’s pretty hot kissing. Do not read under any circumstances.

Fire and Ice Cream. People only want to read cozy mysteries if they’re about witches! Who wants to read about a detective who can turn into a small dragon that breathes ice? Nobody, that’s who!

A stitch of honor. A short story about a space captain who knits scarves for his dying crew. This story is practically guaranteed to make you cry, so DON’T READ IT.

A kitsune and a dragon escape from a zoo. Nobody knows what a kitsune is, anyway.


And that’s it! A list of my books and stories and why you should avoid them!

Why villains need horror

I had a bit of a revelation a few months ago.

I don’t consider myself a horror writer. In fact, I can only read straight horror about once a year, at Halloween. And even then, I only do psychological thrillers. (Turn of the Screw is still excellent.)

Then somebody remarked about my fanfics, how the mind control aspects that one character dealt with ‘was such excellent horror’. It had never crossed my mind that this was horror. I was writing about the abuse of technology, and using it to make for some really excellent conflict.

Then I read Mike Duran’s Christian Horror: On the compatibility of a Christian Worldview and the Horror Genre. It was really eye-opening for me. Basically, horror is just sin, and the punishment of sin. In horror movies, there’s always a monster or a killer to overcome. Werewolves, zombies, and vampires are all staples of horror because they are a corruption of humanity.

While I don’t like to read a straight up horror novel, having some horror elements is like adding extra spice. You say you have a hero who animates zombies? Or a hero who is a werewolf and wrestling with his monstrous nature? Tell me more!

Kids books often have an element of horror. How about that moment in the first Harry Potter book when Quirrell unwraps his turban?

quirrell

Oh yeah, deliciously horrifying. Or how about any of N.D. Wilson’s villains? In Outlaws of Time, the bad guy has interdimensional graveyards where he buries the bodies of people he has killed multiple times, and he visits them often. It’s creepy and awful.

But then, the villain isn’t a threat without some kind of horror. Look at every Marvel villain ever made. There’s an element of horror to everything they do and represent. They want to do truly awful things on a large scale, which is why the heroes have to stop them.

In my last story, I essentially did the chest-bursting scene from Alien. It was to underscore just how bad the villain was. It also turned another villain into an anti-hero. It was gross and awful, but it was also a huge turning point. The horror was necessary to drive the characters into the final confrontation.

So, what happens is, I find myself subconsciously studying horror. Not because I enjoy it, so much, but because it’s how you make your villains scary. You don’t want to overdo it, of course, but … if your villain’s not scary, then he’s not a good villain.

My husband and I have been watching an anime called My Hero Academia. Basically it’s Hogwarts for teen superheroes. It has all the interpersonal conflicts and cool power combos that I love seeing from my superhero fiction.

But the villains, in particular, are outright horrifying. There’s this one guy who is covered in severed hands. If he touches you with one of them, he disintegrates you. But when he gets upset, he loses control and starts scratching his neck like a tweaker. He’s scary as heck and also weirdly fascinating. Again, the horror element comes into play. It’s both the frightening appearance, and the kind of threat he represents.

badtouch

So … I’ve been pondering my own relationship with the horror genre. I do enjoy many aspects of it. I mean, how else can you paint evil as evil? I don’t think I can ever write anything that is straight horror, because I tend to laugh at it. But a little bit used here and there? It becomes a delicious spice to add to the main dish of the rest of the story.