Way back in high school, we had a unit where we studied American literary regionalism. (Click here for the Wikipedia article, if you’re curious!) I remember it being interesting, and our teacher tied it in with the idea that the setting of a story, when properly done, can be as much a character as any of the ones walking around on two legs. At the time, I thought it was a fascinating idea, but didn’t quite get it– certainly not enough to be able to articulate it all that well.
If I’m honest, that might still be true today, though I’m certainly closer than I was. At the very least, I’m close enough to start coming up with some theories of my own. In particular, considering how it relates to the ubiquitous advice to “write what you know”.
Now, as you can imagine, us science fiction and fantasy authors have a harder time applying that advice in its most boring sense. I’ve never been a freelancer on a distant planet, but that’s not stopping me from writing about a couple of siblings who do, so some folks might suggest that I’m not taking that advice to heart. That being said, I am one of several siblings, and I can guarantee that I’ve got the sibling banter thing down pat, so in that sense I am writing what I know.
Now, imagine you’ve got a locale you’re particularly familiar with. For me, that could be the Palouse area of Idaho and Washington: farming country, with lots of hills and fertile soil and not so many people. Next, add in the fantasy, magic, and adventure that I particularly enjoy writing about. Combine the two, and and you’re going to get a modern fantasy story set in the hills I grew up in. Probably involving werewolves.
Or, for those of you who watch Angel, you’ve got the same sort of thing with Los Angeles. It’s definitely set in LA… there’s just vampires and demons as well.
Basically, using a region that you’re familiar with is a fantastic way to write what you know– because as poor as that advice is when applied badly, you can’t get around the fact that it does have some truth to it. If you know something, you’re going to be able to write about it better. If, like me, you’re more the type who likes writing science fiction and fantasy, that’s probably going to look more like writing about relationships between friends and family than the the mundane adventures of a twenty-something-year-old. But it can also mean setting those same stories about the relationships you know in the places you know. Because it’ll make the story that much more real.
There’s nothing fun about looking for a new roommate. The whole process can go wrong more ways than it can go right, and the stakes for it going right are higher than most. You’re looking for someone to live with, after all—it would be nice to get along, nice to tolerate each other’s company, if not enjoy it. Yet all too often you have to consider yourself lucky to just not mind sharing space.
And all it takes is one bad experience to make you twitchy about the whole thing. Sure, the statistics say you’re unlikely to ever run into someone truly dangerous. And even if you do, you want to believe you’d notice that something was off before you invite them in to live between the same four walls as you. Problem is, statistics aren’t guarantees. And once you lose that gamble once, you’re bound to make extra sure about anyone responding to your craigslist ad.
Which was how Amanda found herself sitting at the corner table of a coffee shop a few blocks from her apartment, waiting for who she hoped would turn out to be as good a roommate in reality as she was on paper. She’d gotten there early, more by accident than design, though she hoped it would give her a chance to collect her thoughts and relax. It hadn’t worked; mostly, it had given her time to remember how optimistic she’d been about Lilith when she moved in.
It had been fine at first. Lilith was nice, if a little odd. She’d was a little pale, but she’d also only gone out after dark. She seemed to eat blood sausage with every meal, but everyone had their dietary quirks. That colony of bats had moved into the walls about a week after she had moved in, but that could hardly have been her fault. Just coincidence.
Until the Incident, everything weird was easy enough to explain away. But when your roommate tries to bite your neck and only fails because you happened to have the presence of mind to fling the jar of powdered garlic at her, you end up feeling a bit paranoid.
Amanda shuddered and tried not to think about it. She also touched her hand to the small silver cross at her neck, just to reassure her subconscious that it was still there. Fortunately, any further recollections were preempted by the arrival of her potential new roommate.
She was a small woman—barely five feet tall and slight of stature—with red hair in a pixie cut and pale grey eyes. She approached the table and greeted Amanda with the most musical voice she had ever heard.
“I’m so glad you had time to meet! It’s Amanda, right?”
Amanda smiled and nodded. “And you’re Morgana.”
“I am!” said Morgana, and she laughed.
After that, the two of them just talked for a while, asking all the simple, silly questions anyone does when trying to find the first pieces of common ground on which to build an acquaintance. It went well. So well, in fact, that Amanda found herself thinking and hoping that she had found that rare gem of a person who could be both friend and roommate.
Of course, she had hoped that of Lilith, too, and not without reason.
And maybe it was extenuating circumstances that had nixed that dream, but it’s once bitten, twice shy, and Amanda had no desire to get bitten a second time. Granted, the fact that they were meeting in the daylight was a good sign, but she’d be happier if she could confirm those results with a couple of other subtle tests.
“So, what about cooking? Do you like fiddling around in the kitchen?”
Morgana’s eyes lit up for at least the twentieth time. “I love cooking! And baking. And experimenting. All of it! Do you?”
Amanda grinned back. “Absolutely. I’ve got a few go-to recipes that I stick with for the most part, but I’m a firm believer in the idea that garlic makes almost everything better.”
“Ha! Me too,” said Morgana. “If this works out, we should absolutely cook dinner together every now and then. I always like it better when I get to cook for someone else.”
Test number two, passed with flying colors. Amanda felt some of her tension bleed out of her shoulders, and she allowed herself to feel almost hopeful. It seemed unlikely that Morgana was going to be the sort of roommate who might be tempted to suck her blood.
Just to be sure, of course, there were a few more questions, a few more tests. Amanda turned the conversation to their favorite books, and was pleased to see that her mention of Dracula left Morgana unfazed. Morgana complimented her necklace and touched it without flinching when Amanda held it out to her, apparently unworried by the fact that it was both silver and a cross. Casual mentions of both wolves and bats got no response. In fact, nothing gave Amanda any cause for concern, and she felt a little silly when she arranged for a small mirror to tumble from her bag in such a way that it allowed her to check for a reflection. It was there, of course.
After that, even her most paranoid instincts were content that Morgana was likely to be a top notch roommate. She would move in at the end of the month, and they would likely be in constant contact even before that. When they went their separate ways that afternoon after enjoying almost an hour more of friendly conversation, Amanda felt more relaxed than she had in months.
“Oh!” Morgana turned back a moment after she left the table. “Before I forget, I should let you know. I have the worst reaction to anything made of pure iron. I just touch the stuff and it makes me go cold and numb all over. Just so you know!”
It wasn’t until after Morgana signed the lease and moved in that Amanda remembered that an aversion to cold iron was a known characteristic of the fae folk. And when she did, a sharp thrill of panic ran down her spine. But only the one. She’d rather live with a fairy than a vampire any day.
Wow. So, here we are at the end of January, which means I’ve had almost two whole months to figure out what I want to do with the my tangled behemoth of a NaNo manuscript. The short answer, of course, is edit it and turn it into something presentable. The longer answer involves figuring out how I want to structure the thing so that it flows like a proper story.
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, I’m sure you’ve heard me wax long on the subject before, so I’ll spare you one of my favorite rants (this time!) and just jump to some of the juicier details. First, unlike with far too many of my projects, I have a bunch of scenes in mind that I know I want to fit into the final project, and I know roughly where I want/need them to go.
These scenes include, but are not limited to: a showdown at high noon, at least one chase sequence, at least one explosion, and probably a scattering of carnivorous sheep. Because I can. We’ll see if that last one makes it through a proper set of edits.
Anyway! I’ll check back in next month with a Tanner and Miranda specific update, but until then, keep an eye out for other various ramblings and more new short stories– including one going up tomorrow!
As someone with a propensity for writing and planning to write, it should come as no surprise that I also enjoy stories told by other people. Part of that is the same love of a good story that so many people share, of course. And a part of that is genuine awe for how some storytellers structure and build their stories, particularly the longer ones with oh-so-many moving parts.
Like, for example, the Harry Potter series.
I recently read through the entire series again for a second time (yeah, yeah, I know… only two times?!), and was utterly amazed at just how much was set up from the beginning. Or at least, how many things from the early books J.K. Rowling managed to work into the later books– and honestly, I’m not sure which is more impressive. Characters and tiny tidbits about their history that we find out when we are first introduced become, if not central to the entire plot, then at least salient plot points.
And most of it is stuff I’d never, ever have noticed if I only read through once. (So it’s definitely a good thing various friends recommended that I do it at least twice.)
I’ve also been re-reading/restarting Girl Genius, which has been so fun. For those of you unfamiliar, Girl Genius is a steampunk webcomic that’s been running online for over seventeen years. It’s absolute madness, and after successfully keeping up with it for years, it kinda got away from me a few years back. Mostly because it’s so very convoluted that I was getting thoroughly confused.
Funny thing is, though… it’s a whole lot easier to follow when you read it from the beginning. (The trouble with that, of course, is that it’s been updating three times a week for over a decade and a half, so it’s not exactly a quick read, per se.) Which brings me back to my earlier point about structure. Sort of. I’ve caught up almost to the point where I stopped reading earlier, and it already all makes so much more sense. Kinda like it’s actually a cohesive narrative or something. (Gasp!)
What I’m trying to get at is this: good writing requires structure, and that applies to any writing, be it novels or webcomics/graphic novels. Or video games. Or short stories. Or screenplays. Or…
You get the picture.
The other thing that I’m trying to get at is that good, solid structures is really cool. And sometimes can’t be seen until you take a step back, particularly with longer works. Then again, maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to lob reading recommendations at you. But is that such a bad thing?
Funny how the months just seem to keep going by faster and faster. I swear September just began!
Writing has gone a little slower, both because my brain and body needed a bit of a rest after August, but also because a couple things came up and kept me running around a little more often than usual. Which made me feel less guilty about taking the aforementioned writing down-time.
I’m still plugging along, though, and while I only have around a thousand new words written, I’ve also made some really good progress on figuring out a couple of major plot points that had been giving me a bit of trouble on the next story I’m working into this draft, which is really nice. I’ve been problems figuring out this particular story since last November when I tried to fit it into my NaNo draft, and I’m happy to announce that I’ve already gotten farther with it now than I did then. Progress!
The results are in: I wrote 55,097 words to my dad’s 824 miles ridden, so my dad wins! By a lot! It would have been closer, but he decided to ride over a hundred miles(!) on August 31. Because he could. Basically, he was the Captain America to my Falcon.
As we had agreed, this means that I owe him a finished manuscript of the Tanner and Miranda Chronicles, and he gets to choose what my project is for this upcoming NaNoWriMo. Which he has already done, so November will see more Tanner and Miranda– probably a single novel-length adventure instead of the episodic and semi-linked mini-adventures in a bigger arc that this first one is.
So! The plan is to use September to finish the rough draft, which I’m expecting to come in at roughly 125,000-150,000 words. Which is about twice as long as I’m hoping it to be when I’m done, meaning I’ll have lots of material to work with and cut from. Then, in October, I’ll break type and actually try to fully plan out the beats for the November project, in the hopes that I come out of NaNo with an actual rough draft as opposed to the… pre-rough draft nonsense jumble that I usually end up with. Or maybe that’s wishful thinking. I guess we’ll find out!
In the meantime, here’s some stats from this last month that I found interesting!
Most words written: 10,081 (August 28) Most miles ridden: 106 (August 31) Fewest words written*: 63 (August 1) Fewest miles ridden*: 9 (August 14) Average words written*: 2395 Average miles ridden*: 36
My little boy’s ragged wail split the walls, clawing its way above the howling blizzard and ripping me from my bed. He coughed and spluttered, choking on his own wet phlegm and mucus as I stumbled to his room. He didn’t stop crying when I pulled him into my arms, didn’t stop coughing when I tried to soothe him. His tiny chest heaved and fluttered with every breath.
Smells of sick and sweat swam in the air, stifling his room. The dim glow of his nightlight showed red on his flushed face. I put my hand to his forehead beneath his sticky hair and smoothed it away. He burned. His cheeks were dry and chapped, his eyes glazed and vacant as he whimpered and stared straight past me.
I managed to get him to sleep again with water and medicine and luck; he curled up his fitful little body and trembled beneath sweat-damp blankets, and I left the room. His father lay in bed where I left him, still snoring, still drooling, unmoved and oblivious. I had to shake him before he finally woke up enough for me to tell him his son was sick.
He mumbled half-witted excuses and rolled over. “He’ll feel better in the morning. Go to sleep.” He followed his own advice before I could argue and left me alone. I waited. The dark room tugged at my eyelids. I drowned in a silence broken only by the angry, thrashing wind.
A few moments passed before I let myself believe that maybe he was right. Maybe his fever would fade with the night and the storm. Maybe his pain would recede and creep away. Maybe he would stop hurting and wailing and shaking. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. I slunk beneath the covers.
I closed my eyes, but I did not sleep. Ice and snow snarled just outside. The house creaked and whined. I heard my child’s howl every time the branches shrieked against the window.
The storm had blown in this afternoon, all low sky and whirling, bitter flurries. I should have noticed it sooner. I should have seen the clouds, the wind, the drenched thickness and the clinging mist. I should have heard and stopped and acted–
I told him. I told him not to take his son outside. I told him it was too cold, too wet. I told him the frozen air would be too much too soon. I told him, and he didn’t listen.
He smiled instead. He patronized. He kissed me to ignore every word I said. His son wanted to go outside; the rest didn’t matter. Just a little while. An hour, maybe two. Let him play. Let him smile. Let him live.
I let him go because I had no choice. Never mind the wind that tugged and twisted in the tops of the pines. Never mind the iron hues that colored the clouds. His little boy laughed when they pulled their coats and hats and mittens from the closet and threw them to the floor in a pile of hissing nylon.
When they finally finished, finally tromped back inside, they came in giggling, giddy at the edge of the storm. My little boy stopped to cough while he tried to tell me everything he’d just done with Daddy, but Daddy didn’t care. Daddy just encouraged him. Daddy laughed with him and told Mommy to make them both hot chocolate.
They drank it and they chattered. They wiped their runny noses on their sleeves or ignored it altogether. His cough grew wetter every moment. Wet, rough, messy, until his laughter broke and the smile fell off his rosy, flushing cheeks and his father finally noticed that his little buddy was in pain.
I said we should put him to bed. Let him sleep before his cough got worse and the sickness sank down to his lungs. Protect him so that–
He brushed off every word. He painted me villain, tyrant, panic-ridden fool. He pushed and cajoled. He chose just what he wanted and demanded that he get it and denied any kind of consequence. Bully. Selfish. Coward.
And now he’s lying next to me. Sleeping. Snoring. He’s got his body curled beneath the covers. His chest rises, falls with easy breaths. He’s not wheezing. Not coughing. Not hurting. His face is lineless, careless. He’s sleeping like a baby.
I’m still lying wide awake. I’m still listening to the howling, rushing ice and snow. I’m still waiting for my baby’s voice to pierce the night again because he would never hear it. There’s too much wind and howling. Too much shrieking, scratching crying. The panes and casings tremble in the gusts. How could he hear a child above the roar?
As sudden roar hurls the storm against the house. Everything creaks. The branches shriek and scream. A chill finds a crack and breaks inside. A shred of moonlight cuts the clouds and pierces the room. I stare–and while I stare the bed beside me moves. I roll over–the man is gone. The wind goes quiet. I hear a baby-wail for just a moment, and then that quiets too.
I originally wrote this story back in 2012, but I recently rediscovered it and was actually pretty happy with it– so here it is! Enjoy and let me know what you think!
As you may have gathered from the fact that a post didn’t go with me shouting my victory from the rooftops, I didn’t manage to finish the current Tanner and Miranda story this past weekend. That would be the bad news. The good news would be that I did almost double it in size, and I like where it’s going, particularly for a first run-through for this particular story, and I shouldn’t have any trouble actually finishing it this weekend, giving me a clear horizon to start on the rest of the stories going into the whole novel and hopefully keeping me on the path to finishing the darn thing this year, so definitely keep an eye out for more posted snippets.
Also! I was going through some old stories this past week and found one that I’d been proud of back in the day and was, wonder of wonders, still happy with now. It’s definitely not what I normally tend to write (read: sci-fi and/or fantasy), but I like it. I like it enough to post it here, so check back in this Wednesday for an actual piece of fiction!
With any luck, I’ll have a draft of a new chapter/short story completed for the Tanner and Miranda Chronicles by the end of the weekend. It’s currently sitting at about two thousand words, and the rest of it is at least roughly outlined. In the meantime, enjoy a snippet from right before our heroes manage to get themselves into all sorts of trouble. As they tend to do.
They’d chosen a good place to stop us. There might not have been anything understated about the method they’d chosen, but that wasn’t to say it wasn’t effective. The barrier crossed the entirety of the road, and with a cliff wall on one side and a steep dropoff on the other, we didn’t have a lot of options.
We could try diplomacy, of course. That was Tanner’s first choice, even if I hoped he was just using it to slow down the inevitable escalation. I’d have been more worried if he’d pulled his hand away from his rifle.
“Is there something we can do to help you folks?”
“You could drop Miss Loesan there off with us. I think we might even be able to move this thing off the road for you before we get started on our conversation with her.” The leader gave an ugly sort of sneer. “Think you could work with that? Looks like you’ve got cargo you’re moving, and it would be a shame if it never made it to where it’s supposed to go.”
That line might have worked on a different freelancer. Probably would have, actually; we were outnumbered two to one, and they were the ones with better cover. But it was the sort of thing that just made Tanner mad. Our chances of getting out without a scuffle dwindled before my eyes, and I started calculating how many shots I could get off before we’d have to make a run for it. I didn’t care for the odds.
“I think we both know that’s not going to happen,” said Tanner. “You got a better suggestion?”
Now he was definitely stalling, and I had seconds to come up with a better plan.
As any writer will tell you, we all find certain things easier to write than others. For me, I usually prefer to write fancy, flowery descriptions than action scenes, mostly because I find the former way easier than the latter. At the same time, I can only write so many descriptions before I get really, really bored. And, I suspect, anyone reading it feels the same way. Mostly because fancy descriptions aren’t great at moving a plot forward. And if the plot doesn’t move, it’s not much of a story*.
All of this is to say, I’ve hit that point in my current Tanner and Miranda story where I have to make something happen, and, as it always does, I’m getting caught in a slog. Because writing action and adventure scenes, while fun and ultimately the most rewarding when they work out, requires me to have a lot more figured out than just a description. It’s a bit like the difference between a still frame and a short film segment; there’s a whole lot of still frames that go into making just a few seconds of movie, and because I’ve practiced basic descriptions a lot more than I have action sequences, all the extra thought work I have to do to get the action scene to make sense and be clear to the audience is hard.
Which basically just means that I should practice more!
* There are, of course, exceptions. But that’s not what this post is about.