Tag Archives: Fiction writing

Not Going There On The Oregon Trail for #MondayBlogs

I’m currently elbows deep in the third and final novel of my Oregon Trail series. A lot of writers feel sad when a series ends, but not me. There’s three more series hanging out in my idea folder at the moment and I’m wanting to start all of them right this minute. What are they? A three book set on the American West, a three to six book set on historical romances from around the world, and a six book minimum murder mystery series. I really can’t wait, all of them are going to be fun.

But, let’s get back to the salacious.

Like television most times, none of my books go into the bathroom details of live along the Trail. And you know, I don’t even want to think about it. They didn’t pack toilet paper and finding water was a treat. There’s nothing romantic about chafing due to unclean.

Food. My books has a little of the bland diet, but really? They only had what they could find, carry, or trade for along the way. No refrigeration or even an ice chest. I don’t know about you, but I LOVE my fridge. Ours died a few years ago and it wasn’t pretty. Of course this happened in summer, winter would have been too convenient in the cold department.

Speaking of camping…what if every time you wanted a hot meal you had to build a fire from scratch. Even better? In a place like this:

wyoming-buffalo-sunset_17639_600x450

 

Just waiting for that buffalo to poop. Then it’s a wait until the poop dries. It might be a while. Hope you’re not starved. Speaking of buffalo, he’s looking mighty tasty….

 

 

 

 

Water that’s free of bugs, dirt, and amoebas. Cholera and typhoid free too, please. Add dysentery to the mix and it was an ugly death. Specifically death by diarrhea. I left that out, because, romance and all. Nothing kills the mood faster than, well, lots of poop.

Sleeping on the ground is in my books along with the getting the bedding out and putting it away every day. In the beginning, my husband asked about a romance (sex) in the wagon. I said no, too squeaky. Then he said, “Not on the ground!” as if aghast at the idea. I laughed at him, not knowing I’d married such a 5 star hotel kind of guy. But yeah, on the ground, against a tree, behind that bush, and hopefully quiet because who wants to get caught with their pants down or their skirt up?

It’s been somewhat nice for my characters that they’re in a very arid region. Wind and dust are huge problems, but rain isn’t. I’ve put in a skim-the-surface description of the cold at night. Which was fun because my southern editor called me on it. Water doesn’t freeze in August, right? Up in the high desert, it does! Maybe not solid, but it does get that cold. Especially in the 1850’s at the end of the Little Ice Age.

I’m positive there are other gritty details I’m leaving out that were also not included in my series. What do you find that writers tend to leave out of historical romances that would crack you up if they included?  Comment and tell me!

Science Fiction’s Answer to “Are you my daddy?” for #MondayBlogs

First the shameless promotion: This post is brought to you by the letter “U” for Unfortunate. Read about what happened to Daggart Bartlett after Undeniable over at Amazon.

On to the content. Let’s get comfy for a moment and talk science fiction and space aliens. I’m always thinking up new plots, always reading the science websites for the latest in knowledge. The recent discoveries of Earth-like planets always get a flurry of questions about humans someday living there and life on other planets.

Which got me to thinking. A lot of the current science fiction offerings have most of the  aliens encountered depicted as either a father figure or a buffoon. It seems our deepest desires are to find a solution to our problems via a superior being handing over their advanced technology to us, no questions asked. Failing that, we want comedic relief.  We also seem to have a need for superiority over them while at the same time wanting their protection. Even when an alien race is somewhat equal, like Star Trek’s Vulcans, they’re still set aside as not human with implied condescension.

So even in the fictional future and with fantastical technology, we want both someone to help us as needed while still making us feel superior. I know this is just one aspect of the human-space alien relationship popularized in fiction. What others are there that YOU see? Comment below because this would be a fun discussion to have.

I can already think of two exceptions, Skyline and Independence Day, where the aliens are scraping humans off the planet because they want Earth. No discussion, no attempt to communicate, just extermination. Even the Daleks in Doctor Who laid out their plans for us and our eradication. The exceptions listed above? They don’t tell us because they don’t care. Which is why those movies are such thrillers, I think. They kick us in the “Humans are Awesome” crotch and it hurts.

So again, tell me what you think about how other life forms are depicted in science fiction in general. I really want to know! Serious accepted, silly even more so!

Why Don’t Writers Have Screenplays Ready Already?

Here’s some Friday fun!

You’ve read a novel, loved it, and heard there’s a movie in the works. There’s some cheering you do before circling the film’s release date on the calendar. As the credits roll you notice there’s a screenwriter AND the novel’s writer.  Two different people? What gives? Why didn’t the novelist write the screenplay? Why pay extra for another version when one writer is as good as any another?

In a word, specialization. Like a mason doesn’t install windows, a brain surgeon doesn’t do gastric bypasses, and a software programmer doesn’t assemble computers, novelists don’t often write screenplays. Sure, there can be some crossover and salsa dancers could learn how to tap dance while a baker barbecues your brisket. People can do anything.

For me, I “see” my books as I write them. They’re already movies in my mind and that’s why scriptwriting comes easy to me. It’s actually my format of choice.

But how are the two forms different? I’ll show you! Here’s an excerpt from what I’m working on at the moment. I’m literally switching from  Safari to Word to get this, that’s how fresh it is.

Uncivilized-novelized

“I do. Now, if you can stand, we need to get going.” He went to his horse, opening a saddlebag for the blankets.

She tried standing, unable to get her legs to cooperate. After a little bit of struggle, Ellen rolled to her side, then stomach. She did a push up from there, to on her knees. Bracing herself and with a little grunt, she pushed herself to stand. The sound of Del snickering caught her attention. She faced him, grimacing. “I suppose you think this is funny?”

“I’m trying not to, but…” He shrugged. “Can I help that you are so adorable?”

Ellen stared up at the sky. “If I could walk, I’d go over and show you how lovely I don’t feel this morning.”

Uncivilized-script ready (I’m rusty on exact format)

EXT IDAHO MOUNTAIN FOOTHILLS-MORNING

The landscape is blue from the east sun being above the horizon but behind the mountains. Pomme the horse is saddled and ready. ELLEN is on her bed as DEL opens the saddlebag.

DEL

I do. Now, if you can stand, we need to get going.

ELLEN struggles to her feet as DEL snickers.

ELLEN

I suppose you think this is funny?

DEL

I’m trying not to, but…. Can I help that you are so adorable?

ELLEN

If I could walk, I’d go over and show you how lovely I don’t feel this morning.

 

In reading the two, you can see how the novel writes out everything for the reader. I could probably add in more sensory information like the morning chill, Pomme’s snort, maybe the smell of dew in the air. Not a good idea to add all that in the second example. Only when a new character is introduced or a current character is changed in a script is there some description of their looks. It’s handled like the description of the setting. Not long, but enough to give the casting person some direction of who could play the part. The script must be far more sparse with words and rely on the director and his film crew to fill in the blanks.

A screenplay shows everything with action and dialogue. It tells as little as possible to the people that need to know. A script’s paragraphs need to be concise, descriptive but not overly so, and must be vital to the story in some way. A novelist gets to wallow around in examining feelings, smelling the flowers, feeling the touch of sandpaper along with other sounds and sights. Sure, a screenplay can show all the senses with audio and visuals, but a novel can use as many words as necessary. And that’s the crux of it all. For a lot of writers, leaving out all that sensory information is tough. Tough enough that Hollywood would rather hire it out to tried and true screenwriters than risk a flop with a first time novelist turned screenwriter.

Not many writers can take their own work and cut it down into 120-145 minutes of screen time and not every writer wants to. Who better to adapt a book into a movie than someone who hasn’t poured their heart into their words? Bottom line is your favorite writer could transfer their work to the big screen, if they have the skills and thick skin to cut deep into their work.

#MondayBlogs for the Readers

I’ve had a lot of feedback from readers in the past week and thankfully, it’s all been great.  It’s super hard for me to take compliments and I find praise both wanted and difficult.  Whenever someone is gushy over my work, I have to take a deep breath and say thank you.  Then nothing else.  No deflecting or saying I’m not worthy because doing such will dilute the compliment and who wants that?

That’s my thoughts on the past week.  Back to you, the reader.  In that ‘Fine’ voice you get from your mother when she’s been worn down by your pestering, I say, “Fine.”  There’s been enough ‘eh’ reviews about The Very Best Man’s ending that I’ve decided to add another chapter.  This last bit of the book is inspired by Kung Fu Fighting.

I think most of the readers who didn’t like the current ending are those born after 1985.  They’re too young to remember the non-endings of movies made in the early and mid seventies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Did they die?  Or did they survive and live out their lives in Bolivia?  We can only guess because that movie’s end didn’t tell us, just hinted.

I’m currently mired in the thing that is National Novel Written in a Month.  The word count is good and I’m using the month to write The Very Worst Man.

In progress!

In progress!

It’s wonderful so far.  I’m having the best time ever writing it.  The dialogue is a blast.  Plus, there’s already a secondary character trying to take over and I’m having to back off from letting her do so.  Can I just drop her and go on?  Of course not!  She’s my heroine for The Very Poor Man.

Most of my readers will probably be wondering whose blog they’re reading.  Like, am I not the author of that whole Oregon Trail series?  Yes!  I am and Uncivilized is in progress.  When I hit the word count goal on The Very Worst Man, I go back to the 1850’s and hang out there.  I thought when starting the contemporary Worst Man that intense research could take a break.  Nope!  Thanks to writing Hayden and Alexandra’s love story, I know a lot more about Wyoming law, prisons, and prosecuting attorneys than I had planned.  Something else that’s been a surprise?  How much of the villain’s crime I need to know.  So much for my idea of writing a few sex scenes and calling it good.  The best thing is how all my research makes it a better book for you, the reader.

#MondayBlogs for the writers

Readers, especially mine, I love you.  I do.  Even the readers who find I’m not their cup o’ tea, thank you.  You’ve invested time and money in my work and that is amazing and humbling to me.  The readers who love or even just like me?  I make sure every work is better than the one before and that’s totally due to you.

But, alas, this post isn’t for you, it’s for my writing friends.  Here’s my lecture for you.

I’ve read everything I can get my hands on about being a successful author.  Everything.  All the lists have a few things in common, like write the best book possible, have a great cover, get the professional edits, and write the next book.

Let’s go over the last item again.  Write the next book.  I could tell you about SEO and Amazon’s algorithms, how they want to see you publish something, anything, in a 30-90 day time frame.  When you do that, it makes you and your work more visible.

Why do you want visibility? I think that’s obvious.  The more visibility an author has from automations like the algorithms and SEO’s, the less they have to self-promote.  Time spent posting over and over in Facebook forums, tweets, or Google+ posts is time NOT spent on your next novel.

Time for the tough love part.  Are you wanting your writing to pay the bills?  If you answer no, then keep doing what you’re doing by posting links to your only book.  Some people only have one novel in them and there’s NOTHING wrong with that.  Just like there’s nothing wrong with people who have an entire library in their head.  For the people walking around with an untyped opus, this is for you.  Stop telling us about your first book published a year ago.  Do you and your sales a HUGE favor by finishing your next book and publishing it as soon as it’s polished to near perfect.  Not only that, but have your next idea ready to write even after that.  It’s called feeding the beast and if you want a living wage, get the chum bucket ready and start scooping out the words.

Why do you want to listen to small potatoes like me?  Because I’ve seen the results that come with publishing within the 90 days Amazon seems to loves.  My first book had tiny sales until I published my second in the series.  When that happened, the second book had a good run in sales and took the first along for the ride.  Now, three months later, they’re still selling neck and neck.  Essentially, I’ve doubled my sales in the historical romance genre.  Sure, the sales are still small, but they’re double and I’m good with that.  Check them out for yourself on The Oregon Trail tab above.  Free samples are out there and who can say no to that?

Bottom line to my beloved author friends in a handy bullet list?

I’ve done the research and have a summary for career writers.

  1. Write more and make it great.
  2. Publish.
  3. Promote everywhere.
  4. Repeat step 1.

It takes a lot of time and work to be an overnight success.  When it happens for you, have those books written and ready for your adoring public to buy.

Before You Hit Publish…#MondayBlogs

I’ve been reading a lot of indie published books and short stories in the past few weeks and months.  The one thing I’ve noticed across the board is that every single author needs an editor.  Yes, even you, the English major.  You need an editor.

You know those optical illusions, the one where you pick a C out of a billion O’s?  How about the one where you count the number of ‘f’s but miss the one f in ‘of’ because it sounds like a ‘v’?  Exactly.  No matter how careful a person is, their brain will fill in the missing words or switch back the dyslexic sentences during their own proofing.  Even worse?  Spell checkers go only so far.  Otherwise, the world wouldn’t be full of your/you’re and to/too errors, never mind the beloved their/there/they’re.

If your editor becomes a friend, that’s great.  Just don’t hand over your document to a friend and expect them to edit it.  Your priorities are not their priorities.  Plus, if they’re friends, you’re probably not paying them and they’re not as serious about your deadlines as you are.  Editing is one place where you suck it up and pay the man or woman to do their job.

There are several types of editors out there.  Developmental editors, line editors, proofreaders, copy editors.  Some people offer more than one type of edits with their services.  My own editor does line editing and proofreading.  She’s invaluable to me and makes my writing so much better.

Here’s a link to more information.  The article is very much worth your time to read before publishing.  Note to Hampton Roads authors: Don’t cut the editor

PSA-Show, don’t tell! #amwriting

I’ve been reading for review a plethora of indie authors’ works.

Please, please SHOW me the story.  Don’t tell me or I’ll start skipping pages.  I read books to immerse my imagination into a different world, not to be a passive receptacle for your story.

I have three examples and will only name names on the positive one.

First up is a little story, a romance, about two people who’ve found their way back to each other.  We’re told why she’s in the place she is, we’re told why he’s suddenly there.  Tell tell tell, blah blah blah. Don’t care.  The story doesn’t even start until their eyes meet because it’s a romance.  Can’t the author just use the characters’  conversation to tell us the backstory the author just told us?  Can’t we see and feel what it’s like for the couple to link up after a decade or so apart and pining for each other?  Nope!  The author needs to tell us every little thing, which was blah and “Make it stop!!”

The second is a good sized book that I sampled and am not interested in buying.  It’s very erotic so that’s fun, but is way heavy on the tell.  Every little detail of their surroundings, people, everything, is described and most often in passive voice.  The only time this isn’t going on is during the goings on.  Sex is the only show in this tale of tell.  Which could be a great literary device if the author wanted only the sex to be exciting and all that character development stuff to be dull filler as contrast.  I skimmed it because blah blah blah.  I was relieved to reach the end of the sample that it was over at last.

The third? It’s a first person memoir that by all rights should be dull.  Something you read to fall asleep.  I’ve been writing and going to writer events for twenty years and have had many many people tell me “I’m writing my life story because it’s soooo interesting.”  99% of the time, no.  No, it isn’t.  Unless you’re Chuck Yeager, Richard Branson, or a Red Bull addicted spokesperson, don’t.  Just don’t.  Your mother does and even then she’s pretending.

Or so I thought until Thomas Sartain began telling me his story.  He had not only me but everyone at the conference enthralled, making my “Not another life story!!” thought obsolete.  I had the privilege to read his somewhat rough draft and it was amazing even in the rough.  He’s since published Thirty Days and a Wake Up, and it’s a wonderful book.  Told in first person, the story unfold in a shown way.  As the reader, you’re there when Thomas witnesses his first murder, when he leads his first robbery, and when he is first sent to prison. You feel what he feels and see only what he sees, not told about every single thing in his environment.  If you want to read a true, gritty, and gripping story, click the link above and at least read the sample.  It’s really worth the effort.

I could spend the rest of the post explaining exactly how and when to show versus tell.  Plus, there’s times when the story is better with a bit of telling instead of the constant show.  Instead, I’ll link to an article that creative writers really need to improve their work.  If you’re an author who truly wants to be the best you can be, go read the information.  I’ve skimmed through the first half.  When I hit publish on this post, I’m reading all of the article to see if there’s anything more I can learn and I’m pretty sure there is something I’ll need to know.

The Show Versus Tell Debate

This is not the MondayBlog you are looking for.

Yes, I had plans for this post.  Maybe.  Sort of.

Ok, I’ll ‘fess up.  I’ve been so focused on Undesirable, wanting to finish the last chapter and a half already.  Some authors experience grief when typing ‘The End’ to their books.  Not me.  When this is done, I’m moving on to Uncivilized, which has its bare bones typed in already.  Even after that, there’s the Santa Fe Trail, Orphan Trains, and either the Pony Express or the Mormon Trail.

Then too, I may take it in a totally different direction and go all science fiction on everyone.  I know, logically, that I’ll be more likely to see superstar success if I stick to and build up one genre of my work.  Emotionally and as a reader, I never read just one genre.  How can I write only one?

So my question is, if anyone chooses to answer, are you a laser focused reader or writer?  Or are you more of a shotgun, reading or writing everything and anything?  Answer in the comments and don’t be shy!

I have a ton of them in paper form and several more bookmarked on my web browsers.  Some were hand drawn and now available via Google, while others are the latest in tourist roadmaps.  Still more are from National Geographic with infinite detail of every mountain and valley in our country.  I have more maps than those of just the United States, of course.  I’m trying to ignore them in favor of finishing the Oregon Trail series. After this project and all its intensive research, I’m totally in favor of writing something either present day or set in the far future.

“What?  That can’t happen!  You just pulled that out of your butt!”

“Why yes, yes I did.”

So back to the maps and why I have access to so many.  Well known landmarks in the 1800’s aren’t the same as the ones we take note of now.  In some places, the original trail crisscrosses highways.  In others, it runs through privately owned land.  Is every single step along the way to Portland vital to the story?  Yes, and no.  Sure, I could have a character die by falling down a steep cliff into the river below.  Could it be the Green River, or would it best to use the Snake River?

 

This is Green River.

green_river_valley_wy

 

 

 

 

 

A bad place for a cliff death. That might be a good thing.  So, the victim will have to wait until the Snake River.  Even then, the banks aren’t steep the entire way.  Landscapes like this is why I study the topography of my settings.  It’s also fun to see what surprises the terrain and weather can bring to my characters as well.

Fun fact about the Oregon Trail!  You could have left Independence, Missouri, near where I live, and maybe reach Oregon before October.  If nothing tragic happened, other than a death or two, it would be possible.  But if you waited to leave next week?  It’d be a whole lot better if you just waited until next April.  Otherwise, you’d risk a catastrophe of Donner proportions.  Read here for more information.

“You guys are being too noisy for me to hear the voices in my head.”

Yeah, I said it. Voices in the head.

It’s an occupational hazard for a writer to hear others’ conversations in your mind. Hearing these people created by an imagination, overactive or not, is something a lot of fiction writers will only admit to in closed circles. Creating a true three dimensional character is something like creating a child. After a certain point, you have no control over anything they do.

Some writers start with character. Others start with a setting or conflict and see what character best fits. I tend to be in the characters first, situations second. I also close my eyes and ‘watch’ the book in my imagination, like recalling a memorized movie. Often this movie will have deleted scenes inserted in places that just work. Like, I didn’t plan for this secondary character to be run over by a wheel. It just happened. I have to admit, accidental scenes tend to happen when I’m bored with writing description. Dialogue is my strong suit, not details. That’s ok, too. Somewhere there’s a writer needing me to read over their dialogue to see why the words aren’t flowing.  Just as much as I need someone to tell me they need to know more about what’s happening.

But, back to writers and their mentality. I can imagine living with a writer can be difficult. It’s their nature to extrapolate everything. It’s also their nature to tell you to look up extrapolate if you don’t know what it means. They also say weird things like, “I wonder what would happen if we found a dead body in there” when stopped at an interstate rest stop. Not comforting, no. Something I’m not sure my husband loves is how I can have an entire silent argument with him without us saying a word. He also doesn’t know we’re having one until I tell him, “Fine. You’re right. Whatever.” Though he likes being right, he has no idea how I had a thought, imagined his response, responded to that, and back and forth until one of us won. I know, not normal, but somewhat typical of fiction writers.

What’s the take away from all this? For me, the best part of writing is creating everything in my mind or on paper and then giving my imagination free reign. Second best part? Rereading and completely enjoying what I wrote.  No, that doesn’t happen every time.  Feeling odd because your characters have minds and voices of their own?  Don’t.  It just means you did a great job in creating them.