Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bucket list, schmucket list

Che Gilson inadvertently started a writing bucket list theme with her post this month and it got me thinking. I don't have a regular bucket list. I have a fairly good idea of what I'd like to do before I kick the, um, pail--travel more, have a garden of my own again, teach part time, move out of my mother's house--the usual pedestrian stuff. I'd probably fare better with a buck-it list along the lines of Sunny Frazier's because I've survived more than my share of hair-raising situations, but unlike Sunny, I'm not ready to share these imbroglios with the world just yet.

That brings me to the writing bucket list, regarding which I'm even more list-less.

  • I'm writing in all the genres I want to, and publishing in most. 
  • I've had one novel and one short story traditionally published, and I've indie published twelve titles in four genres. 
  • I've won one writing prize, been shortlisted for another, and would like to win an influential literary prize some day, but it's not a consuming passion and I'd be just as happy if I didn't. 
  • I've gone from someone who wrote as if my life depended on it to a blocked author who did not write much, and back again to a disciplined and dedicated scribbler. 
  • I have in my possession complete drafts, partially written ones and scores of ideas/outlines for others, so I'm in no danger of running out of ideas for stories.

Alarmed by my list-lessness, I decided to come up with a writing bucket list by hook or crook. Everyone else has one, it seems! So I strained my poor brian and finally came up with three items. Here they are, in no particular order, and no, I wasn't drunk when I wrote them.

1. Earn enough at this writing job to support myself comfortably.
2. Earn enough at this writing job to support myself comfortably.
3. Earn enough at this writing job to support myself comfortably.

There we have it. My entire writing bucket list. Simple, innit?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Blog in the Round - 4 Questions and Pass It On

I’m honored that award winning author Karla K.L. Brady (Karla's blog link), who wrote one of my favorite books, The Bum Magnet, has asked me to participate in the Blog in the Round - 4 questions and pass it on. She was asked by bestselling author Trice Hickman (Trice's blog link), one of the most warm spirits in the business. In the Blog in the Round, one author invites two authors, and so on, with each answering the following four questions about their writing life. It’s a great way for readers, and other authors, to get to know us better, and it demonstrates the amazing author camaraderie and support that we have for each other. I have chosen to invite my friend, busy author, playwright and filmmaker Nina Foxx (Nina's blog link), and mainstream, literary and speculative fiction author, Liane Spicer (Liane's blog link), one of the founders of this Novel Spaces blog. You can check out their interview answers when they post on July 28, 2014.

So here goes:

What am I working on/ writing?

Right now I'm wrapping up production on my first non-fiction title called The Mind of a Woman: 365 Relationship Scenario Discussion Questions, which is set to release in September of this year. I enjoy discussing relationships, and this is a collection of questions I've posted on social media over the years. Also, I'm 90% through my full-length novel about tough breakups titled Never Breathe Again. So many women have a hard time with breakups. Through fiction, I want to show what can happen when a husband arrives home after church with his wife and announces that after seven years of marriage, he is leaving her for a longtime friend. Plus, by November I'll complete two IR (interracial) novellas that I started earlier this year; The Swirl, and Tall White & Handsome. I'm very excited about these new genres, and I look forward to more non-fiction and IR titles. I'm also taking on ghostwriting projects.

How is my writing/work different from others in its genre?

Each book out there has something to offer. What makes novels different is the way the author has crafted each story, how well they've developed their story and characters, and how they choose to translate the vision of what they see, hear and feel onto paper. My titles are based on topics like infidelity, cancer, best friend betrayal, abusive wives, fatherly abandonment, that one kiss a wife has with someone and how her husband handles it. I work hard to make sure that my stories have emotion and surprises, and I do a lot of research. I enjoy throwing in friction and seeing how the characters deal, or don't deal with it. It helps to keep my characters interesting, and it keeps me interested in writing about them.

Why do I write what I do?

My junior high English teacher encouraged me to be a writer (a zillion years ago). My greatest skill in every job I've had was my ability to write, whether it was news stories, my bosses' speeches, or corporate policy and procedure. I love words. Writing is my passion. I believe that if I ever stopped writing books, I'd write greeting cards or the nutritional facts on the back of a cereal box. I do what I do because I love it.

How does my writing process work?

At this point in my career, it is critical that I start with 1) character resumes, and 2) an outline. I try to write one chapter of mainly dialogue each time I sit down. After thirty chapters, I have my first rough draft. Then I go back, starting with chapter one, and add in the dialogue tags, narration, movement, visuals, setting, etc. That adds a lot of word count. Once I'm done with that, I rewrite the chapters again which is now the third draft. I'll print it out and while reading it aloud, write my changes directly onto the pages. Afterwards, I'll enter those, then read and edit again. Whew! While I'm writing that story, I live with those characters in my head day and night until: THE END.  

Thanks again, Karla, for including me. I can’t wait to read each author’s blog as they travel in the round, a unique and inspiring circle of writer love!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Writing Media Tie-In & new releases

I'm very excited this week because a project I worked on for months just debuted and shot to the top of Drive Thru RPG's sales charts.

I'm a media tie-in writer, which is to say I work in fictional universes that are not my own. The best analogy I've found to date for the difference between writing original fiction and writing tie-in is one is a soloist and the other is part of a band; the tie-in writer uses her talent and craftsmanship in concert with others. Fellow Novelnaut Dayton Ward is also a media tie-in writer, and in fact we met when we were both writing for Star Trek. No, to answer a common question, we did not write episodes. We wrote short stories and e-books and (in Dayton's case) several novels set in the various storylines of the Star Trek universe. Media tie-in writing usually ties in with TV shows or movies. Resident Evil novels; Monk novels; Buffy novels; Murder She Wrote novels (with "by Jessica Fletcher" and Angela Lansbury on the cover); Star Wars, Farscape, Stargate novels; with the possible exception of Hollywood Squares I think every movie or TV show has at least one media tie-in novel out there somewhere.

A bit over a decade ago I met Loren Coleman at a media tie-in writing workshop and he asked me if I was interested in writing fluff for a new role-playing game. Turned out there are two aspects of every RPG: crunch and fluff. The crunch is the game's mechanics – decision trees and probabilities; a lot of math and balanced options to keep the game fair and challenging. The fluff is the game's universe – the geography, wildlife, culture, and politics of the world that give the game context and the players' objectives meaning. I've been writing and editing fluff for various game companies ever since.

Eight months ago Randall Bills of Catalyst Game Labs brought me aboard a joint project with Valiant Entertainment. Valiant publishes a diverse collection of well written and intelligent comics – usually dark but with humor as well. Catalyst and Valiant were developing a role-playing game based on a unified Valiant universe, and Randall wanted me to write the fluff for the game version of Valiant's Archer & Armstrong.
Armstrong is Aram Anni-Padda, a ten thousand year old Sumerian who gained immortality through a cataclysm that killed millions of people. He's a poet (the semi-autobiographical Epic of Gilgamesh being his best known work) who keeps his grief
at bay by celebrating life at every opportunity.
Obadiah Archer is a young Fundamentalist zealot raised in seclusion and trained to be a warrior for God by a pseudo-Christian sect called the Dominion. He has the uncanny, "God given," ability to instantly master anything he sees – from martial arts to languages. The Dominion sends him out to hunt down and kill the Evil One. The hunting goes well, but the Evil One proves remarkably difficult to kill. When the Dominion thinks Archer has failed, they abandon him – which is when he discovers all they'd ever been after was the key to "Evil One" Armstrong's immortality.
The young zealot and the world-weary immortal join forces to battle real evil – debating theology, history, and science, while dodging bullets, scaling cliffs, and running from dinosaurs. Fun stuff.

This next bit, and really the point of this month's column, illustrates one aspect of tie-in writing – particularly game writing. It's the aspect many writers find most disconcerting.

One particularly dangerous organization with which Archer & Armstrong contend on a recurring basis is the Sisters of Perpetual Darkness, a cult of assassin nuns, followers of Lilith, who were recently taken over by Obadiah's childhood sweetheart, Mary-Maria. (I tell you, it's a fun universe.) In the comic their habits seem to protect the Sisters from a remarkable number of things, but there's no explanation of how or why. A "given" that's fine for a story, but which won't work in a game.
Outcomes in games are determined by odds and probability, and to calculate those players need specific values – numbers, called "stats" (statistics) that can be plugged into the equations. Thus, to reflect how effective they were
in the comics, the Sisters' habits were given the same level of protection as body armor. That was the "crunch" – the datum necessary for the game to be played.
As the writer of fluff I was allotted sixty words to explain what makes the Sisters of Perpetual Darkness so darn bulletproof. I wrote:
Each Sister's coif is a hard-impact helmet with an embedded communication suite; her wimple and scapular are reinforced with Kevlar to shield the neck and torso. Multiple layers of lightweight carbon nanotube fabric make up her veil and habit, protecting against most projectiles and edge weapons while providing both freedom of movement and ability to conceal multiple objects.

That went over well both Randall and the folk at Valiant. But you'll have to take my word for it since the paragraph is not in the book. Very late in the process – in one version of the story I heard, when the book was already in layout – it was decided that event briefs were a better value for role players than explanations of the numbers. Event briefs are not, as one might suspect, adult diapers. They are starting points, outlines, or frameworks (the level of complexity varies) that role players can use to create their own adventures. Pretty much the point of role-playing games. This was, I think, a good decision - even though I'd already moved on to editing a Shadowrun project and wasn't able to write the event briefs for Archer & Armstrong. The realities of printing costs meant additional pages weren't an option; to add event briefs, fluff had to go.
As for that nifty fifty-eight-word explanation I wrote, the Sisters of Perpetual Darkness NPC card now reads: Gear: Carbon fiber habit.

Changes and cuts like this happen all the time - on some projects dozens of time - often without warning and usually without any explanation to the writer. The purpose of a role-player's handbook is to enhance the player's experience by giving her a broader knowledge of and a deeper connection to the game's universe; the objective is to increase the player's enjoyment. When something comes along that does this better than your words, your words go. And they're almost always the ones you loved the most.
Every writer gets upset when her words are cut. Some writers take these cuts personally. They may complain to the editor, or about the editor to the game's line developer, they may even vent in fan forums or social media.
One thing these writers don't do is any more work for that publisher.

Media tie-in writers get as upset as anyone when their her words are cut. What sets a media tie-in writer apart is the ability – and willingness – to get over it. Quickly.
It takes a thick skin and a realistic, objective attitude towards what you've written to be a media tie-in writer. You deal with deadlines, creative decisions beyond your control, and routine acts of rejection. But for all its frustrations and disappointments it beats the heck out of working for a living.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bringing New Toys to Someone Else’s Sandbox.

For those of you who may still be wondering: Yes, the rumors are true. I do indeed write Star Trek novels.

Why? Well, sure, they pay me, but I also do it because it’s just so gosh-darned fun. I’ve been a nerd for Star Trek for as long as I can remember, having grown up in the 1970s and 80s watching reruns of the original series every weekday afternoon. Catching the gazillionth rerun of Captain Kirk fighting Klingons or whatever was the sole exception to my mother’s “homework and chores before TV” rule. To this day, I’m sure she thinks that hour could’ve been better utilized cutting the grass or cleaning our backyard pool.

And here we are, forty-odd years later, and I still use Star Trek to get out of cutting the grass, but at least now I’m making money from it.

Many of the Star Trek tales I’ve written over the years have featured characters that would be familiar to casual viewers of the various television series. While those of us who write these stories are given a great deal of latitude, there still are “rules we have to follow” with respect to these well-established characters that are so well-known to their legions of fans. In recent years, those rules have relaxed in numerous ways, and we’re now able to develop the characters and take them in directions that never would’ve been allowed while the television series and films were in production.

Another thing we’ve been allowed to do is to develop whole sets of all-new characters, who didn’t originate in one of the shows, and place them in the Star Trek setting, taking advantage of the familiar universe and its trappings to tell new stories which are set completely apart from the television episodes and movies. Pocket Books, the company that publishes Star Trek novels, had achieved success with a handful of series in this vein. Star Trek Vanguard, set during the time of the original 1960s series, was perhaps my favorite thing to write because it gave me the best of both worlds when it comes to writing books based on television or film properties: being able to use a familiar setting or “universe” as the point of departure for new characters and situations which aren’t tied to the “canon” of the parent media property. As the title of this post suggests, writing stories such as these are very much like being allowed to bring your own toys to play in someone else’s sandbox.

Debuting later this month is the first book in an all-new novel series, Star Trek: Seekers, which I helped develop. My longtime writing partner, Kevin Dilmore, our friend and colleague David Mack, and I spun out this idea from the Vanguard series for which the three of us had written. We collaborated on the series proposal and pitched it to our editors and the people who own Star Trek, and then we developed a two-part story to launch our new series, working as a team on the stories for the first two books. David wrote the first book, Second Nature, which is set to be released in about a week, and Kevin and I took the baton from him for our book, Point of Divergence, which will be published next month.

The original Star Trek will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2016, and there are those who might argue that there’s really very little left to be done with something which has been around that long. To them, I say, “Bah!” Writing stories like this is tremendous fun. Anticipation from among loyal readers seems to be pretty high, and we’re excited to see how fans will react. The new series was even given a bit of love by no less than USA Today. As someone who grew up watching the show, getting to stitch a new section into this immense and ever-growing tapestry is an unparalleled opportunity. It truly is a wonderful sandbox in which to play.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Buck-It List

Following Che Gilson's post on July 7, many of the folks commenting said they wanted to pick up the idea and do their own version of a bucket list.

I've never had a bucket list. I figured I'd let the world surprise me. Oh, and it has. I don't know if the powers-that-be got together with Karma and said, “Let's give Sunny a thrill ride.” All I know is that I've survived a bucket list I never asked for and could not have conceived of. So much for the best laid plans of mice and men. . . .
  1. Born to a manic-depressive parent (check, unfortunately)
  2. Had a sister who became a Sister (we're Catholic)(check)
  3. Growing up on Midway atoll (check) 
  4. Survived bootcamp (check)
  5. Caused a riot in a German train station (check, but not my fault)
  6. Rescued from said riot by a Spanish soccer team (check) (whew!)
  7. Lived next door to an Iranian mass murderer (check)
  8. Found one of the FBI's most wanted via my computer skills (check)
  9. Being the only female photo-journalist in the Central Valley of California (check)
  10. Being told I was paid less than the male reporters because I should have a husband (check)
  11. Filed a wage discrimination suit (check, but the paper folded)
  12. Restricted from returning to a foreign country (Colombia, not my fault)
  13. Visiting Haiti after an attempt to assassinate the president (check)(scary)
  14. Nearly thrown into a Haitian prison (check)(really scary)
  15. Climbed the Arecibo satellite dish (ET phone home)
  16. 22 marriage proposals (check)
  17. Married a younger man before it was trendy (check)
  18. Eloped (smart)
  19. Had a fun divorce (check)
  20. Nine shots of tequila using a shaving cream can top as a shot glass (seemed like a great idea at the time)
  21. Worst hangover ever (check) 
  22. Sue Grafton asking for my autograph (CHECK!)
  23. Being poisoned (check)
  24. Getting on the kidney transplant list (check)
  25. Meeting Daniel Ellsberg (look him up in Wikipedia)
  26. Ate flying fish in Barbados (check) 
  27. Ate escargot (gag)
  28. Entered an emerald vault in Bogota (check)
  29. Graduated Summa Cum Laude from a university (check)
  30. Ate fish & chips wrapped in newspaper on a stoop in Dublin (no blarney)
  31. Kissed the Blarney Stone (also no blarney)
  32. Went to school with Steve Perry (check)
  33. Visited the set of Northern Exposure (check)
  34. Tried out for a role in the 1974 Great Gatsby (didn't make the cut, but check)
  35. Saw The Doors in concert (check) 
  36. Learned astrology (check)
  37. Memorized The Owl and the Pussycat (can still recite it)
  38. Danced down the streets of Hanover singing “Cabaret” after many Oktoberfest beers (check)
  39. Tangoed (only once, it was bliss)
  40. Made a pit stop in Guantanamo Bay (yikes!)
  41. Took a hit man out for ice cream (Henry Hill of Goodfellas fame. He ordered mint chocolate chip) 
  42. Swam in shark infested waters (check. Dumb)
  43. Created the Sheriff's Dept emergency plan for the Millennium (nothing happened)
  44. Had to take mother off life support (devastating)
  45. Have not (will not) shoot a gun (check)
Not much left on my bucket list. I've never had a S'mores. I hope to have the first artificial kidney. I guess I can take “Marrying George Harrison” off the list now. But I said "buck-it" to whatever others may have thought my life should be like and survived all the pitfalls. Check!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Bucket Lists continued

Jewel started our "New Year" recapping the Novel Spaces accomplishments for 2014. The list was impressive. Then Che posted a very fitting post for the new year, she posted a very impressive "Writing Bucket List". This got me thinking about the things I would like to write that I am not currently doing. So here's my list, I didn't make it to ten, but check the comments, I may add on!

A Picture Book. I have produced five, soon to be six illustrated children's books, however, I have the words and images of a picture book floating in my head. My major setback right now is that I cannot even draw a recognizable stick figure and the images are so sharp in my mind that I am not sure that I can trust anyone else to draw them.

A Futuristic Novel. The germs of this one came to me about a year ago, but they have yet to find the space to germinate.

A Mystery Novel. I was a huge Agatha Christie fan growing up and I feel that somewhere in my head is a murder mystery waiting to happen.

An Animated Children's Series aimed at Caribbean Children.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Writing Bucket List

There are lots of things I want to write! We all have that list of books, genres, styles, and gimmicks we all want to try out eventually. I thought I'd make a writerly bucket list of the things I want to write before I die.

1- An epistolic novel. This has been on my list for ages and ages! I love books told through letter specifically and I swear I'm going to write one! Hopefully more than one. I have some ideas swirling around my brain, just little gold fish size ones, but soon I hope they find their way onto paper.

2- Horror. I love horror novels and short stories! But it is probably the hardest, most subjective thing to execute well (right next to comedy).

3- Highly illustrated Middle Grade. This isn't the same thing as just writing and illustrating a book. It's telling the story with prose and art, blending them together to make a coherent flowing whole. Think 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' or the Amelia series by Marissa Moss. This is another one that's been on my list for years.

4- Vampires. I freaking LOVE vampires. I HATE 90% of vampire novels. I want to write about vampires but I just haven't come up with something new and exciting and different. But SOMEDAY I will! *determined face*

5- Family Saga. I don't even know why... I just do! But with a paranormal spin. Something multi-generational with a huge cast of characters stretching over years...

6- Comic Books. I have written a few graphic novels but I still don't feel satisfied. Technically I can cross this off the list but I want to write MORE comics and graphic novels in the future so I'm leaving it on the list as 'unfinished business'.

7- A wildly imaginative and dark secondary world fantasy. I would love to get my goth on, and create a dark and amazing world! Something like China Mieville's Bas Lag. Something that's pure imagination and epic in scope.

8- A shared world. I've always wanted to create a shared universe for writers to write in. A fantasy world of course ;)

9- A book about books. I love books, reader's love books. We all love books. But books about books are a little harder to manage.

10- Dark fantasy. Something grim, gritty, dark and scary. Again, I don't know what. But something! That's why it's on the bucket list!

So what's on your bucket list?