Saturday, August 8, 2009

From Death to Love

I spent today doing research for The Mark of Abel.

Some nice man put together online a list of the big massacres. At 10pts it's over 15 pages long. I picked out ones I found interesting. In the back of the book, I'll list the massacres Sophia died in. Some people have play lists. I have a death list.

So I'm a little creepy. That's project number one.

The moon is amazingly beautiful. Not only does it continually change its phase and travel across the sky, but like the sun it rises and sets. Unlike the sun, the difference from day to day is more than a couple minutes, so the moon isn't always out at night. Nothing takes me out of a book faster than getting the moon wrong. So I had to get it right.

I spent way too much time on the National Naval Observatory's website looking at moonrise and moonset times. Since I write about vampires, it's a good idea to know when the sun rises and sets as well.

Of course, I had to cross reference this with when the Fall foliage is peak in New Hampshire. I found a neat map where you hover over the date and it shows what the foliage was for the entire state for 2008. As Hubby says, "In books, it's always Fall in New England." True, but I need this to be towards the beginning of the school year and a time when the nights are getting longer. October is perfect.

I know I'm nuts. That's research project number two.

Research project number three involved making Janie into the ideal teacher. I want her to be the teacher we all wish we had. That meant I had to figure out what types of teachers others wanted and appreciated. I did a search for "favorite professors." There's a lot of stuff out there. After over an hour, I decided I had enough material (and dinner needed to be made). From that I got ideas for two awesome scenes that will really show the reader who Janie is.

Reading all those nice things alumni said and figuring out two great scenes was a nice way to end the writing day.

So, tell me about your favorite teachers.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

What are you doing to break in?

Literary agent Rachel Gardner today asked What are you doing to break in?

The standard answers boil down to working on our craft and writing a lot. Everyone does that. Near perfect craft is not going to get you a publishing contract. You can work on your query and synopsis until they shine, your pitch until it sings, these won't get you through that gate if your book is missing one important ingredient--you. You are what makes your book unique. You are what makes your book interesting. You are what will get that publishing contract.

We talk about branding and platform, but that isn't what I mean. Each one of us is a collection of hopes and fears. We believe in things passionately. We wants things. We have experienced tragedy. We have moments in life where we soar. We have a heart, a mind, a soul. There are things we know, things we want to know. These are what makes us unique and these are what make our books special. Pouring these into our writing is what gets us published.

Kontanti Stanislavsky said "Craft is always secondary to the truth of emotional connection."

I work on my craft and I write everyday. I also pour myself into my writing, my time, my energy, my money, but most of all, who I am, what makes me me.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Plot holes you can drive a school bus through

This is the second part of my reaction to the Torchwood mini-series "Children of Earth"

Spoilers for "Children of Earth"

If the ending of "Children of Earth" had thrilled me, I never would have started picking the show apart, but when the show betrayed what it stood for, that is a natural reaction. People across the net have said the ending made it “realistic.” There was very little that was realistic about that mini-series.

First, it is science fiction. Yes, it is fiction, but all sci-fi requires some sort of grounding in science that allows the audience to suspend disbelief and keeps them in the story. The characters of CoE were TSTL, To Stupid To Live. Any plot that requires that doesn’t hold up, especially in science fiction.

The premise of CoE was that powerful aliens, the 456, wanted 10% of Earth’s children because the children were like ecstasy for them. Interesting premise, but Russell T. Davis forgot the root of all science fiction, “what if?” What if powerful aliens wanted 10% of Earth’s children because the children were like ecstasy for them? Interesting question. Too bad his answer had no basis in reality.

When asked what the aliens want the children for, they show one of the children. That is no answer. It isn’t until Day 5, when plans are already in motion to gather the children, that we find out why the aliens want the children. We need this answer for one reason, to find an alternative. If what the kids produce gets them high, we find another way to provide the 456 with that. It’s that simple. What if powerful aliens wanted 10% of Earth’s children because the children were like ecstasy for them? We provide the 456 with whatever it is that gets them high without harming a single child. End of story. If I can figure this out, so can the scientists and government officials.

Captain Jack has dealt with hostile aliens before. Did he really think for half a moment Ianto and he would confront the 456 and they would just back down? Did he think it was safe to bring Ianto with him to confront a hostile alien? While we are on safety, what were all those people doing at Thames House? Aliens show up and the place is down to essential personnel only. TSTL

Second the chain of events required an unrealistic portrayal of parents, the military and the government.

I’ll do parents first, since I am one. If my children froze and started saying “We are coming,” when they returned to normal, I wouldn’t go back to life as usual. Especially if it happened again, I would be demanding answers from my government. The riots would have started after the first transmission. There is no way the government can convince me aliens who control my children like this are here for good reasons. Parents would have been storming Thames House.

There are parents who won’t get their children inoculated for various reasons, chiefly the connection between early vaccination and autism. I believe in immunization and there is no way I’m going to let my child play guinea pig with an untried vaccine, unless my child is on the verge of death.

The government starts rounding up children. I see my children being taken away in a school bus. Remember Tiananmen Square? Remember the guy standing in front of the tank? I can’t think of a single parent who wouldn’t throw themselves in front of a school bus to save their child or they would get their car and block the bus’s way.

Parents aren’t dumb. We aren’t going to just rush armed soldiers. We are going to get our firearms. If we don’t have guns, we will get them anyway necessary. Gun shop owners, who tend to believe the worst in the government, would probably be handing them out. Neighbors would share. Even if the UK isn't as gun happy as the USA, there are still guns there, but you don't need guns.

There are tons of ways to make explosives. Molotov cocktails are easy to make. I’m not going to rush an armed blockade, at least not with my body. I’ll get in my car and run over anyone between me and my child. We will fight for our children and we will do so with our brains.

Next up, the military. I live on a military base and we have a school on base. I see our soldiers with not only their children, but others’. There is no way in hell soldiers will calmly round up children. Not under orders. Not under threats. They won’t do it. To show soldiers coldly carrying screaming and kicking children is an insult.

The threats would only make them more resistant. If the threat is against their family, then what is happening to these children they are rounding up? Anyone who gave the order to round children up would be shot.

On a similar note, this is supposedly happening all over the world. With their history, in Germany would any soldier agree to round up anyone, let alone children? Would the citizens allow this? What about Poland? France? The Netherlands? Anywhere Nazis rounded up people? What about in Russia or the former Soviet or Iron Curtain nations? What about in Israel? Think about that one. Russell T. Davies said “Don’t think it can’t happen here. It happens in other places.” It has happened here. The Naziis and the Soviets used to do it and that created a history that is a scar on Europe’s psyche. That’s just Europe. No soldier is going to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Now the government. Despite what some people would like to think, the government is neither stupid nor evil. Not only would they find an alternative, they wouldn’t be stupid enough to think that their immunization plan would have any effect.

Nor could they calmly sit there and agree to give up millions of children, especially when the aliens have done nothing to us. The government agreed to this before Thames House was poisoned, before we have been attacked in any way. Committing troops, grow men and women who agree to risk their lives, is not an easy decision. The government isn’t going to coldly hand over children.

The general population would already be in hysterics. Aliens show up. No one is going to sit around to be lunch. There would be looting and mass hysteria. Dogs and cats living together. The military would be too busy trying to maintain order to round up anyone. The government would be too preoccupied with trying to restore peace.

Any show that requires people be TSTL doesn’t deserve to consider itself science fiction. Any show that has plot holes big enough to drive a school bus through isn’t realistic. Any show that violates the themes it was built on betrays the audience.

And is not something I can watch any longer.

(but it makes a great show to examine what not to do)

I believed in you, I trusted you and now I'm asking why

This will be split into two entries. The first deals with my disappointment of Russell T. Davies and the second the plot holes in "Children of Earth."

Spoilers for the Torchwood mini-series “Children of Earth.”

I believed in you. I trusted you. Now I’m asking myself why.

I’m not sure who that statement applies to, Alice or me. There is one thing worse than a writer letting you down, feeling betrayed by that writer. There are writers who have never let me down and I will defend even their mistakes. Joss Whedon tops this list, but Russell T. Davies wasn’t far behind. What he’s done with Doctor Who is nothing short of brilliance and Torchwood was one of my favorite shows, emphasis on “was.”

Series, whether books or television, aren’t just based around characters. They are based around a theme. Star Trek boldly went where no one had before. Not just in terms of space exploration, but an optimistic view of the future . That wasn’t science fiction. Where was the dystopic view? Instead of a gloomy post-apocalyptic society fighting to survive, we got the triumph of the human spirit. It was truly beautiful.

At least it was until Ron Moore got his grubby hands on it and created the Borg. That was the last this avid Trekker watched. I no longer trusted the series to give me an enjoyable experience and wasn’t going to waste the little precious time I had on something depressing.

Few shows celebrate the human spirit like Doctor Who. That is the foundation, marrow and soul of the Whoverse. At least it used to be.

Russell T. Davies in the Torchwood mini-series “Children of Earth” not only turned his back on that, but stomped all over it. Alice believe in her father. If not for this belief, he never would have gotten out of jail. If not for this belief, he never would have believe in himself enough to try to save the children. How was Alice repaid? Her son was murdered. Instead of being rewarded for her faith, she lost more than anyone.

If you are going to kill kids (and you definitely don’t show this torture), there had better be a damn good reason to the story. Jack needed to be willing to sacrifice both his grandson and daughter (he knew this action would cause him to lose his daughter). It is that willingness that makes him a hero. He needed to believe he had murdered his grandson. Those things are integral to Jack’s story.

However, there was no reason his grandson had to actually die. There is an important word there, “actually.” The boy was tough enough to be the transmitter long enough to destroy the 456. If he was just a tad tougher, he would have survived.

Think about the moment this would have caused. Jack is despondent he murdered his own grandson. Alice is holding the son she believes is dead. Then his eyes open or someone notices he’s breathing. Talk about an emotional and beautiful moment. Heaven forbid Jack save everyone and the show end on a happy note.

At the end of “The Doctor Dances” the ninth Doctor celebrates that no one died. One of those saved was Jack. He was willing to sacrifice himself because he was the cause of the danger and there is a beautiful moment of him talking to his ship. Then the Doctor shows up and saves him with the Tardis. This did not negate Jack’s willingness to sacrifice himself. It did not make him any less of a hero. It just gave us a great note to end the episode on and a great way to integrate Jack into the show.

I love Captain Jack. I love his humor and his laugh. I love his smile and the way his eyes sparkle. I love the wounded hero who keeps trying. Where was that Jack? That’s the Jack Russell T. Davies wants to leave me with? (there was no guarantee of a fourth season) He is now on the same list as Ron Moore.

If the ending had thrilled me, I never would have started picking the show apart, but when the show betrayed what it stood for, that is a natural reaction. People across the net have said the ending made it “realistic.” There was very little that was realistic about that mini-series.

(next entry: some of the problems with the show)

Friday, June 19, 2009

How to Show Through Voice

I was asked by the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter of the Romance Writers of America to write an article for their blog expanding on a response I gave on their loop about how to show rather than tell.

We've all seen the examples. This is telling...this is showing. They are taken completely out of context and really did little for me. Once I started focusing on shaping the characters' voices, showing came along for the ride.

Here's the article:

Sunday, May 17, 2009


I avoid writing controversies. That doesn't seem congruous with my history--I don't avoid controversies; I cause them--but that is my net presence now. On Nathan Bransford's blog when they were talking about whether vamp novels were overdone and finished, towards the end of the discussion I said "I'm tired of people who don't read vampire novels declaring they are dead. If you want to know whether there will be an audience for vamp novels, ask the current audience." On another blog, I defended paranormal fantasy by comparing it to the romantic movement. That's as ranty as I get.

But I cannot avoid controversy. If my current MS becomes popular I will be the center of several controversies.

My oldest daughter's friend's mother is already concerned about her playing over here because I write about vampires. She hasn't seen anything. I reimagine the Bible, including the gospels, and early Christian history. The religious right is going to love me.

Janie has a paternal grandmother who is Chinese, but Janie is not in touch with her heritage. This is an important part of her backstory, but there will be those who criticize me for it.

There will people who disagree. I can either not write the story the muse is giving me or I can accept what I write will be controversial for many reasons.

Guess which I choose.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Supernatual Archetypes

Many of you know me from a message board attached to masqthephlsphr's wonderful site All Things Philosophical on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel the Series. (ATPoBtVS&AtS) Over there I was lunasea.

Many of my essays on ATPoBtVS&AtS were based on Jungian theories. Some of these essays can be found in my memories at my livejournal:
More Angel,
more Buffy,

While you are there, you might want to check out my best and most personal Joss essay.
I'm not Damaged.

At the core of Jungian theory is the Collective Unconscious and the archetypes. These are defined as "the psychic component to instinct." Some of the forms they take are mother, teacher, healer, monster, and so on. Horror movies and literature hits us so hard because they tap into these archetypes.

As our views of the psyche have changed, so have the forms supernatural creatures take. Vampires and werecreatures haven't been defanged/declawed to make them more palatable. They have evolved as we have. Because of men like Dr. Jung, we are more aware of the unconscious. Our vamps don't have to spend half their time in death sleep, and our weres can be aware of and in control of what happens during their changed forms.

As our attitudes change, so do the forms the archetypes take. What needed to be expressed in repressed Victorian England isn't the same thing as what 21st century Man is dealing with. Post sexual revolution, sexuality isn't something we fear. In the Information Age, we aren't afraid our animal sides will take over. So what happens to how the archetypes are expressed?

In urban fantasy and paranormal romance, often the story is about how supernatural creatures interact with humans. This is best illustrated in Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series, where not only are supernatural creatures out of the closet, but the world itself is built on shifting periods of "magic" and "tech." This is also illustrated by the romance storylines where a human female and a male supernatural have to find a way to make their relationship work, often resisting their attraction at first. We do not fear sexuality or our animal sides, but we have yet to fully integrate these sides. Our stories represent this.

If this were all these stories did, there wouldn't be an entire sub-genre that is popular enough to do well in these hard economic times. These books aren't built on fear. They have more in common with Joss Whedon than Bram Stoker. They are not genre literature that typically is plot driven. UF/PN is strongly character driven and each one not only has a unique universe where their are different mixes of supernatural creatures who have different powers and weaknesses, but the characters deal with different issues.

The sub-genre is driven by women. We are the majority of writers, the majority of readers and the majority of characters. Despite the equality of men and women, we have different psyches. We evolved to be different, so our archetypes are different and we look for different things for our entertainment.

A main theme present in UF is freedom. Sexual freedom, illustrated by Riley Jensen and Anita Blake. Freedom from societal expectations, illustrated by Faythe Sanders. Freedom to chose who we want for a partner.

Another common theme is dealing with the hand you have been dealt, illustrated by Sookie Stackhouse, Anita Blake, Mercy Thompson, and Elena Michaels. As tired as i get of characters whining about being supernatural, they whine because part of their storyline is accepting this.

Another theme is an outsider fighting the system, even the one they are supposed to be part of, illustrated by Harry Dresden and Faythe Sanders. Sometimes it i someone who is different feeling like they are an outsider, illustrated by Kate Daniels and Mercy Thompson.

These are issues, even as evolved as our society is, that women are still facing. Often these issues are repressed, not because we want to repress women, but because we like to think of ourselves as having evolved to a state of actual equality. These are issues that will probably always be present to some degree in both sexes, but the popularity of this sub-genre shows that these issues are strongly in play currently, especially in women.