Monday, July 14, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour

And sometimes somebody asks you to do something that makes you think about the way you do your thing.

I have to thank Yelena Casale for inviting me to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour. You can find her at Yelena Casale's Writing Blog and on Twitter at @Yelena_Casale.

The point of all this is to reveal a little bit about the process each of us has when we sit down to write.  Each is unique in its own way. This is mine.  On to the questions!

1) What am I working on? 

The thing that's taking up the bulk of my writing time is an untitled science fiction piece of "undetermined" length.  The current target is 50,000 words, but it might shrink or grow as things progress.  At the moment it's working out to be a science fiction take on James Bond with a female protagonist.  Like most of the stuff I've written it's mutated from what it started out being.

The other thing I'm spending head-time on is a project that I started, got through a first draft and then had to put down due to to other concerns.  It's a sort of urban fantasy novel concerning good, evil and fate.  Considering how long it took to write the first draft, the second and succeeding drafts could take a while.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

While I tend to write what can nominally be called "science fiction" and fantasy, my science fiction stuff tends toward space opera rather than hard sf.  While there are explanations of the science in the stories, those explanations aren't very deep and some things simply aren't explained at all because I don't feel the need to do so.  Also, my work tends to have more than a tinge of romance to it.  My fantasy work tends to be more character driven than plot driven.  My characters don't tend to go on epic quests.  Things happen and they learn things about themselves that they didn't previously know.

3) Why do I write what I do?

 I've been a fan of science fiction and fantasy since I was very young.  It's the thing I'm most familiar with.  As such, when I began writing stuff in my teens I started writing science fiction-y stuff.  Over the years I've been slowly expanding my repertoire to include bits and pieces of other genres, but I've always gravitated toward those genres because they feel right.

4) How does my writing process work?

 Honestly, I think my process is weird.  I'm sort of a hybrid pantser/plotter.  Usually when I start a first draft I'm pantsing it until I'm either at a point where I know the piece has legs or isn't going to work.  If it does have legs then I'll tend to sit down and write an outline with the major plot points I'll need to hit.  The outline then acts as a guide to get me from point A to point B.  If the story takes detours that's fine. The map is there to bring me back on track when necessary.

I also try to write the ending first.  A piece of advice I got from a professional writer friend years ago.  I will actually sit down and write out a paragraph or more that defines the ending scene.  Having done that I have a direction to go toward.  That ending might change based on the story, but it gives me a direction to head in.

I don't do a whole lot of research.  Most of my stuff is either in a fantastical world of my own creation or uses ideas that are sort of standard in the sf genre.  I have done research in the past when I've needed to understand a concept, but it's not usual for me. 

Keeping the tour rolling, these three authors will be posting about their process on Monday, July 21st. Read them. See what makes them tick.

Lisa T. Cresswell

Lisa T. Cresswell is the author of a middle grade, fantasy trilogy and a YA Contemporary novel. Her next book, a YA dystopian novel is due from Month9Books in 2015. By day, she roams the deserts of southern Idaho, where she works as an archaeologist. By night, she writes fanciful stories for young people. Find out more at .

Allison Duke

Allison describes herself like this:

I am a person who loves. I love God, my husband, my kids, my church, books, life, horses, art, music, theatre, movies, the Bible, people, sarcasm, good food, good friends, family, butterflies, mountains, sunshine, snow, and chocolate. I occasionally blog my thoughts and write novels. I live in Colorado and I love it here.

You can find her blog at

J. B. Mills

Julia used to want to write 100 novels and lock them in an old trunk, so a century later someone could find them and publish them postmortem. Then she decided getting published in her lifetime might be ok too. At least that’s the current plan! She writes YA novels and lives with her husband and son in Denver, CO. She’s expecting her second child in September.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Person Is Not The Work

I've been thinking about this for a long while now.  Off and on the problem will rear its head and we'll be off to a new flame war about essentially nothing.

First it was the whole to-do about Orson Scott Card and his politics.  This brought about a call to boycott the Ender's Game movie because seeing it would give Card money. (I know there's more to the mess than that, but that's essentially the issue.)

Now there's this debacle with the Hugo Awards.  (Link opens in new window.)  Essentially it boils down to two authors who don't like each other campaigning against each other not because of the books they wrote but because of each other's politics.

Here's the thing.  If you're voting for an award for a book or a movie or a record or a song or whatever the politics of the creator have nothing to do with your vote. The thing being voted on should be looked at on its own merits and not on the merit of the creator.

Back when I was a comic book collector and fan I had a similar issue.  Comics artist Trina Robbins, whose stuff I like, is often an outspoken, almost militant, feminist.  Her stances on many subjects rub me the wrong way.  I'm sure she's a fantastic person (and people who knew her back in those days were quick to say she was) but I can't deal with her politics.

Y'know what?  I still like her stuff.

Certainly I can see her political leanings in her work.  Moreso in some pieces than others as some things are meant to be more political than others.  That doesn't lessen my enjoyment of the work or her ability to craft a story and draw entertaining characters.

I still like her stuff even though I've found her politics to be distasteful.

I think Harlan Ellison is an ass.  Outspoken and abrasive.

I still like his stuff.

I can separate the person from the work.  I can separate the creator's politics, religion, gender, race, whatever from the work.  If I don't like the work, I don't consume it. If I do, I do.

We should all be able to do this and it's a sad commentary on the state of fandom at large that instead of dealing with the creation on its own merits we seek to attack the creator for whatever reason often acting like little children who didn't get their way.

The person is not the work.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Dune? Dune!

I do a lot of my reading with audiobooks nowadays. They allow me to multitask and they're unabridged which means I have to listen to every word.

I admit at the outset that this is my first time listening to Dune.  I've seen the David Lynch movie multiple times but didn't have the time to sit down and read the book. Until now.

So here's the issue I bring to the book.  Every person I've ever talked to about Dune says that there's so much more in the book that wasn't in the movie.  They get angry that Lynch somehow lobotomized their baby.  And I suppose I can see their point of view. There are certainly elements of the book that were missing in the movie and a few that might have explained the background a little more.  The story goes that Lynch's initial cut was some three hours long and that the studio demanded a shorter cut, which is why he now distances himself from the movie.

Outside of some changes made specifically for the movie and the needs of that medium everything in the movie is in the book. The Atreides are given control of Arrakis, the Harkkonen attack, Paul's father dies, Paul becomes the leader of the native Fremen, the Emperor comes to Dune to set things right and Paul and the Fremen fight a battle to push the Empire from their world.

That is the essential plot of the movie and the book.

Yes, we don't see the Emperor in the book until near the end, but the movie needs him to come in at the beginning and lay down the backstory so the viewer understands the story and the reason for the action.  What the book explains in roughly three chapters, the movie does in about twenty minutes.

Is there more character development in the book? Certainly. That's what books do well.

Does the movie change the Weirding Way, the Atreides fighting style, from a nebulous martial art to something involving sound being transformed in the beams of force?  Yes. And it works for the visual medium of film. I doubt any viewer would have accepted what would have become a Kung-Fu movie if the Weirding Way had been kept as it was in the book.

Don't get me wrong. There are things in the movie that are cheesy and don't hold up. But the core of the plot is there and it works.

If you haven't read Dune I recommend it.  It's a good book. The dialogue is a little stilted and the science part of the science fiction is more along the lines of Jules Verne or H.G. Welles than Clark and Asimov, but it fits solidly in the genre.

If you see the movie, enjoy it. It's a solid film and a lot of fun. If it has any downsides it's the extensive use of in-the-character's-head dialogue sequences. This doesn't occur in the book but became a necessity when the studio decided they wanted a shorter cut of the movie.  No matter the medium, Dune is a dense story and these dialogue sequences were the only way to get information to the viewer in the amount of time available.

And that's the end of my story.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Rest In Peace Alondra

Wednesday, January 8, 2014 was one of the worst days of my life. The night before, my niece Ali and her boyfriend Zack had gone on a date to Reno, NV (they lived in Fernley, NV, just outside of Reno).  They had come home around 10:30pm.  At some point between then and Midnight, they both passed away due to carbon monoxide poisoning.  My sister found them around midnight.  My older nephew informed my father and me around 2am on Wednesday.

There was shock.  There still is.  For most of the week I thought about all the things she'll never get to do or try to be.  Simple things like never going to Senior Prom.  Never getting to drive on her own.  Never getting to go to college. Never getting married. Having her own kids. And on and on.

Ali was a sweet, gentle girl who nonetheless had a core of strength inside her. Tell her she couldn't do something and she'd show you she could.

She was always smiling and loved to laugh and sing.  She loved her friends and had many.  Always outgoing, she made friends easily. And she wanted her family to share her friends, too.

I'll miss you Ali. You were the kindest, sweetest niece an uncle could ever want.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Why Han Shot First

A few of my posts have been started by something I read on Twitter.  This is one of those posts.

Earlier today somebody on Twitter posted the idea that it didn't matter that Han Solo shot first or last in whichever version of A New Hope you've seen. (I'm old enough that I saw the original in 1977 in a theater and Han shot first.)

However, from a character standpoint it does actually matter.  Han Solo is not a hero.  He's barely an anti-hero. He is a mercenary who works for the highest bidder.  The entire negotiation scene between him and Ben Kenobi in the Mos Eisley Cantina makes this clear. He's only interested in taking Luke, Ben and the droids as passengers if the price is right.  After that he's all smiles.

Almost immediately Han is accosted by Greedo, one of Jabba The Hutt's tough guys.  The scene that follows shows Han feeling out Greedo.  Maybe he can be schmoozed or bribed.  When it becomes apparent that Greedo is out to gun Han down, he takes matters in to his own hands and shoots first.  It isn't a heroic act and it fits Han's personality at this point.

Everything that Han says and does in the movie is pragmatic and self-serving almost until the end when he shows up and distracts Darth Vader, allowing Luke to make the shot that destroys the Death Star.  And even then that act only happens because Chewbacca coerces Han. (This is made clear in the semi-canon Star Wars radio play.)

The point of all this is that Han Solo is not a nice guy at the beginning of the story.  He isn't particularly nice at the end, either, but he's pragmatic.  Shooting first is pragmatism.  Waiting to be shot at is heroic.  And Han at that moment is not heroic.  That scene weakens the arc Han goes through in Star Wars.

I didn't have a lot of problems with the changes George Lucas made to the Original Trilogy.  Some of them were silly (parts of the Mos Eisley sequence in particular) but some of them actually helped the movie without getting in the way of the plot (the way Cloud City was opened up and made to feel larger).  However, having Han shoot first immediately felt wrong.  I understand the logic but I knew when I first saw it that it was the wrong change to make.

I stand by that.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Dragon Zombies

Sometimes you get ideas because of something someone says.  Or something you say.  Or something you hear.  This is from the middle case.  Chatting with the #WritersRoad group on Twitter Monday led to the idea of zombies riding dragons.  Zombies. Riding dragons.  So here's that idea in the... flesh.

Dragon Zombies

They rode.
Dark skies masked their movement, giving them the appearance of shadows flashing across the clouds.  Their destination still several miles away, the riders called to each other in whooping shouts, their voices cracking and booming like thunder.
She stood on the wall as she had every three nights for the last two years.  The others saw her as young and still green.  There had been a few skirmishes she'd been involved in, but nothing that could be considered her blooding.  She shivered as the wind came up, hugging herself and stamping her feet to try and keep warm.  Her leathers would defend her but they did little to warm her.
She looked in to the cloudy dark sky, looking for something she wasn't sure what it was.  A feeling of dread made her shiver again, fear creeping up her spine.  Then she heard them.  The steady whumph whumph whumph of giant wings beating the air.
"Miri!" she called down to her comrade on the ground.  "Dragons!"
Miri stared in to the dark, searching for the sign she was sure Keredith had heard.  Whumph!  Whumph! Whumph!  The beating of the air grew louder and closer.
"Aye," Miri breathed.  "Dragons."  She ran the several yards to the signal bell faster than she'd run any distance in her life.  She reached up and yanked on the thick rough rope, ringing the bell for all she was worth.  "Dragons!" she called.

They rode.
Torches lit the village below.  Torches lit the way to the treasure they sought.  Riches for the beasts and flesh for the riders.  Confident in their ability to lay waste to the village before any true resistance could be raised, the riders coaxed their mounts into a slow, leisurely circling dive toward the ground.  The slaughter would be fantastic.

The militia roused quickly.  They'd trained for this.  They'd drilled and practiced and sweat and bleed for this.  Now they waited.  Waited for the moment.  The moment when the dragons would be upon them and they would fight with all their will and strength.
Miri surveyed the lines of archers, the first defense against the winged beasts and their decrepit riders.  She hoped they would be able to thin the flyer's ranks some before the fighting began in earnest.  The rest of the fighters, young and old alike, waited behind those lines, huddled behind walls and makeshift bunkers.  Swords, spears and pikes gleamed in the firelight, grim faces already streamed with sweat.  The waiting was excruciating.
"Here they come!" yelled the archer's commander.  "Ready!  Take aim!  Fire!"
A volley of fifty arrows flew from the bows, the archers ducking down to let the second line rise up, aim and loose their shafts at the oncoming dragons.  Miri watched as the arrows flew home, most of them glancing off the beasts armored hides.  She heard some cries of pain, though.  Some of the archers had aimed not for the beasts but for the riders.  It would do little good, Miri knew.  The riders didn't fall to a few arrows.  It would take fire and salt and what few acids they could muster to truly kill the riders.
The archers were able to loose two more volleys each before the dragons were on them.
"Attack!" her commander called out, his voice cracking with strain.

The flesh fought back because that was what the living did.  They fought because life was in them.  They fought because the unliving frightened them.  So be it.  They were food.  Let them be food.
The riders dismounted quickly, their blackened weapons slicing at the living with wild abandon.  They had little worry of being killed by the flesh.  The flesh would all die eventually.  And then the feasting would begin.
Swing, duck, slash, punch, kick, swing again.  Three of the living went down in a matter of seconds.  More fell like wheat before a scythe.  Blows fell on the bodies of the unliving to little effect.  Some of the living had lit their weapons aflame.  It mattered little.  The unliving feared fire, but not enough to stop their progress.  The flesh would die.

The creatures kept coming.  The dragons were trying to set the people and the buildings alight.  It was simply luck on the part of the people that stone didn't readily burn.  Thatch could be and would be replaced.  The rest would stand.  Blackened, perhaps, but it would stand.
Keredith swung her blade in quick, sharp arcs across the front of her body, trying to keep the three abominations from flanking her.  Sweat clouded her vision but she didn't need to see very well to know where the enemy were.  Their moans and growls were enough to let her know they were seconds from breaking through her defense.
There was a thump and a whoosh as someone threw lighted oil at her assailants.  Their growls turned to screams as they ignited and burned.  Keredith saw her opening and dodged around the creatures and ran to find some oil of her own.

The flesh was fighting back.  The flesh was winning.  The flesh had learned to keep its fear in check.  This was unexpected.  The unliving thrived on the fear.  The fear drove the living to panic and the panic sweetened the meal.  Something had happened.  Something had gone horribly wrong.
All around the smell of burning rotting flesh rose in to the air.  The dragons had retreated.  They could easily flame the living but they knew their masters preferred the meat unchared.  The smell was wrong.  The fight was wrong.  The flesh was wrong.  It had gone wrong.
Still, the unliving fought.  What could they do.  The living were their cattle.  The living had to die to feed them.  That was how it had alway been and would always be.

Miri slashed at her attacker with a lit blade, severing the creature's hand at the wrist.  It dropped the dirk it had been threatening her with and screamed.  The pain caused it to run at her and she drove the point of her short blade in to its belly, slicing upward as they closed the distance between them.  The creature flopped to the ground, howling.  Miri stepped on half of its chest and hacked at its neck with her blade.  It took several seconds, but Miri was able to behead the thing and move on.
And move on she did.  By now the remaining fighters had opted for some form of fire.  Mostly oiled blades lit in flame, but also a few torches and many thrown flasks of flaming oil and pitch.  Miri had chosen the flaming blade.  It allowed her to remain quick while hurting her opponents with every strike almost no matter where she hit.
The creatures were thinning.  There were still too many of them to think the fight was over, but it was slowing.  Miri had more time to breathe between each engagement.  She saw Keredith fighting her own battle a few yards away and then saw another creature closing on the girl, trying to flank her.  Miri moved, her already tired legs burning with the effort.  She crossed the distance quickly and came up behind the second creature.  Rather than try to turn it, Miri simply pulled her flaming blade across its throat from behind.  The sword bit deep and cut through three-quarters of the creature's neck before it had  a moment to react.  It didn't even have time to scream.  One final pull of the blade and Miri jumped back as its head flopped to the ground.  She then slashed at Keredith's other enemy, attempting to take its legs from beneath it.  She knew this would be an effective ploy on a living creature but didn't stop to think how one of the unliving would fare.
As it turned out, not well at all.  The creature still tried to crawl at Keredith, but she had the upper hand now, her blade falling quickly and repeatedly on the creature's skull, smashing it to bits, brains flying everywhere.

A cry went up in to the night.  The unliving were done here.  They had to retreat.  The dragons moved to the perimeter of the village, gouts of flame penning the flesh in.  Flaming arrows flew.  Most of these were ineffective, though a few found their targets in escaping unliving.  The screams of the beasts and their masters filled the night as they rose in to the air, flying away from the rout as quickly as their wings would carry them.  The flesh had won this night.  There would be others.  And the flesh would lose.  In the end the flesh always lost.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Baaad Little Kitties

     Yesterday @NikiBrandyberry on Twitter posted something about having to read about three little kittens to children.  The exchange that followed spawned the following little story.

      It was just getting dark as we made our way down the hole that led outside.  Mom would have preferred we stay in tonight, but she knew the score.  There was hunting to do and we were the ones to do it.


     Mom had told us early on about the expectations we would have to live up to.  We'd come from a long line of hunters, some famous and some unknown to all but a very few.  We, Mom had told us back then, were three who would make a difference in the world, even as young as we were, kittens maybe five or six months old.  We didn't know and neither did Mom.  We weren't full grown yet because we weren't as big as she was.

     We popped up from under the house in to the failing light of the day.  We'd all taken longer than usual naps today since we knew we'd be up most of the night.  Mom stood watch over us while we slept.  If any of the humans came around she'd distract them by rubbing against their legs and mewling.  The things she did for us.

      We stopped once we'd come up from under the house and sniffed the air.  The town was filled with scents.  Some familiar (the boy across the street, his dog, the old jalopy that raced up and down the street on weekends) and others were new.  It was these new ones, or ones them that grabbed our attention.  We headed off across the yard and climbed up the fence.  Then we made our way to the front of the house and the town beyond.

     "Smell that?" Boots asked, her whiskers twitching excitedly.

     "Yeah!" and excited Patches said, eyes bright.  "Let's get 'em, Bear!"


     Not just rats, though.  Those were easy, unless they got to you with numbers.  These were zombie rats.  Dead, desiccated, rotting rats.  The only good thing about them was the literal lack of brains.

     I'm Bear.  (I hate that name.)  Where Patches is a calico and Boots has the white paw markings on her otherwise gray coat, I'm a sort of nondescript off-white color.  I'm not that big, but my fur is long and fluffy and reminded somebody of a bear.  So, it stuck.  I want to puke every time I hear it.  Not the time for lamenting, I remind myself.

     We prowl along the street in the direction of the scent, whiskers flicking, tails tall and straight, following the rats.  We had time.  They weren't too fast.  We were quicker.

     Patches ran ahead of Boots and me, excited for the hunt and the kill.  He really should stick with us, but he could handle himself.  Patches had been in more than a few scraps he knew what the stakes were.  Us or them.

     He waited at the entrance to the alley the scent had led us to, looking back, teeth bared.  We caught up a few moments later and the three of us looked around the corner as one.

     It was rats.  Half a dozen of them.  They'd cornered a human girl.  It was hard to guess her age, but she was young, probably shouldn't have been out at night without her parents.  The rats her close to her, starting to climb up her shoes.  She smelled of fear and sweat.  The rats smelled worse.  We quickly looked at each other, nodding.  In a flash we were in action.

     I moved in on two of the zombie rats.  Did I mention they didn't have much of a brain left?  It didn't register with these rats that we weren't also rats come to joining the party.  SLASH!  SLASH!  My claws ripped through the first one cutting it in to bloody pieces.  Two more slashes and the zombie was dispatched.  I had a few seconds so I glanced at my siblings.  Patches had already shredded one of the rats in to tiny bloody pieces and was stalking the other one.  Boots was likewise finishing off the first of her rats and eyeing the second one hungrily.

     Assured that my brother and sister had things in paw, I launched myself at my other rat.  This one had a bit more brains than usual, and wasn't going to go down easy.  He dodged my first two attacks, so I decided on another tactic, leaping in to the air and landing on his back, slashing with my front claws and then raking him with my rear claws as I lept off the rat, spinning in midair to land just in front of my adversary.  He launched himself at me but was too sluggish.  I dodged to my left and then launched myself in to the air again, coming down on the rat's back and wrapping my front paws around his neck  and flipping on to my back to rake him with my rear claws again.  One, two, three rakes and the rat let out a pained squeal with each, the last one dying away quickly.  I raked him twice more to be sure he was dead then I rolled over, dropped him to the ground and took a look at the other two.

     Patches has his second rat in his mouth and was worrying it vigorously.  I could hear bones and tendons snapping as he went.  A second later he let the rat go and it flew across the alley, dead.

     Boots liked to torment her prey and this rat was no exception.  She was batting it between her front paws, teeth bared as the dazed creature squeaked with each hit.  Tired of this game, she took the rat in her mouth and bit down hard, snapping its neck.  As Patches had done, Boots flung the rat across the alley.

     As one we turned to the young girl who had been the rat's victim.  Her fear was still apparent, but amazement had joined it, the emotions warring across her face.  We strode up to her and began to rub against her legs.  Humans liked that.

     "Good kitties", she said, reaching down to pet us.  Her fear was nearly gone.  She glanced at her watch and gasped.  "I gotta get home."  She ran out of the alley and down the street.  We followed her, keeping our distance.  Once she reached her door and was greeted by her distraught parents, we settled in to cleaning ourselves, getting the stench of zombie from our fur and bits of flesh from our claws.

     Then we set out on our way.  The night was young and there was still good hunting to be had.