Welcome to 2016!

If you’ve stuck with me this far, I thank you, and I wish you a heartfelt Happy New Year.

20141208_155420One of the biggest challenges of being a writer comes in balancing all of my other responsibilities along with those to my readers and to my characters. Unfortunately, in 2015 everyone had to take a back seat to my family’s myriad health crises. The year started with my husband scheduled for shoulder surgery. My eldest son was already banged up with four broken bones from three separate incidents, all within the month of December!! In March, when the last of his slings, casts, and splints came off and we turned our eyes to baseball season, my son followed up a bout of the flu with acute appendicitis that resulted in emergency surgery just a few scant hours after I took him to the hospital.

Once my son was released from the hospital, my doctor recommended a long weekend at the beach to prevent exhaustion. On the way there, I developed severe back pain that landed me in the Emergency Room. That same weekend in March, my eighty-two year-old father revealed he had esophageal cancer and would require surgery and chemotherapy. My daughter also called that weekend from her home in Mississippi to let me know she needed surgery the following week.

Several weeks, countless tests, and three specialists later, my back problems were diagnosed as the result of a spinal cord issue. After much discussion of both surgical and non-surgical options, I opted for physical therapy because I’ve had enough of surgery, thanks. I’m just stubborn enough to make physical therapy work for me.

10833692_10152898735596489_1030819852_nIn May, I did manage to put out a limited release, free short story, THE OSTRA CHILD.

Amid all of this, I was working with my kids’ schools to develop Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for my two autistic children, and keeping up with baseball, gymnastics, viola, playdates, doctor’s appointments, and my own twice-weekly physical therapy.

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My youngest in her flower girl dress.

But not all of the stressors were negative. My two youngest children were baptized, which is a very big deal to me, and each of my three adult daughters became engaged and married in 2015. We spent a lot of time on the road, despite my back issues making it difficult to sit, lie down, or stand for very long. I sewed flower girl dresses and Mother-of-the Bride dresses, and helped with decorating and making candy for the reception.

At the end of September, just as I’d finally managed to get back on my feet, off the pain meds, and out of the recliner, I tripped in the dark and fell over a tree stump at the last of the three weddings. I added the new injuries of a damaged nerve in my elbow, and knee and hip problems. So, it was back into the recliner with pain meds for me for two more months. Somewhere in there, I still managed to sew a Little Red Riding Hood cape for my youngest, and taught her how to make hair bows.

Despite my best efforts, not a lot of writing was accomplished. I am happy to say that my second bout of physical therapy has taken me from recliner to treadmill. I am now not only able to sit at the computer once more and write for hours on end, I am also training for a 5k in April that my fitness coach daughter has promised to run with me. My husband’s shoulder is as strong as ever. My son is healthy and getting ready for baseball. My father’s cancer is in remission and he, just a few moments ago, drove his motor home out of my yard, headed back to his home in Florida.

BLS Mockup4cWith my family and me finally healthy, and the Holidays behind me, I have the working file of BARRON’S LAST STAND open in another window on my computer. Bo and Blade are poised to spring into action and wrap up the final installment of THE BLACK WING CHRONICLES. My most wonderful editor, Laurel Kriegler had me send her the manuscript thus far and has been offering her brilliant insight and encouragement. (I think she wanted to make sure I was actually writing it and not just telling people I had.) She and I are coordinating our schedules and working out a timeframe that all depends on my being able to put in actual writing time at the computer. With that in mind, I hope you’ll understand if my blog is a bit neglected and my presence on social media is scarce.

Bo has a lot to accomplish and she and I are both determined to see this through. I can’t tell you much about the book except to say that BARRON’S LAST STAND has more point of view characters, and several characters show up from the BWC extended universe of stories. As for the main characters, after five years apart, Bo and Blade are not the same people they were at the conclusion of HERO’S END. As for the Facebook rumors that have begun circulating about Blade’s death at the end of the book…I can neither confirm nor deny those allegations. You’ll just have to wait and see.

The Force Is Strong With Me

In 1999, on the eve of the release of THE PHANTOM MENACE, I consented to an interview with my hometown newspaper, the Tampa Tribune. A few weeks ago, I was tracked down by a stringer for my former paper about doing a follow-up to the previous article. It was a where are they now kind of thing. So again, on the eve of the release of THE FORCE AWAKENS, my hometown paper wanted to know about my relationship with the STAR WARS universe, and whether or not our love had stood the test of time. You can find the full article on TBO.Com. I really recommend you not miss the sixteen year-old pic of me surrounded by my STAR WARS stuff.

The Face of Bo

Erm, no. Not to be confused with The Face of Boe from Doctor Who.

I just sent off a mockup of the cover for BARRON’S LAST STAND to cover artist extraordinaire, Tomomi Ink, (a.k.a. author TK Toppin,) as well as the elements I used. She is going to be putting everything together for me and adding that magical flash of brilliance that she does to make my book covers “epic” (as my readers have called them.)

Bo’s eyes appeared on the cover of SOVRAN’S PAWN and Blade was shown in silhouette on HERO’S END. (Or it could have been Bo’s father, or her uncle Royce — jussayin’.) BARRON’S LAST STAND will show an actual, recognizable female face and…well…you’re just going to have to wait for the rest. I am really loving what I sent to her. I cannot wait to see what she does with it because she’s brilliant, you know.

And in other news:

Several short stories are currently making the rounds among my beta readers. I hope to have a collection of short Bo and Blade adventures ready to go very soon which I hope will tide readers over until BARRON’S LAST STAND is finished and polished up.

And…

Editor par excellence, Laurel Kriegler has talked me into making preliminary notes for a series on the ill-fated love story of Bhruic Barron and Marissa Kiara – Bo’s parents. There is a lot about their story that has never been revealed beyond my copious backstory notes and I think Laurel developed a little crush on The Barron while editing HERO’S END.

But wait, there’s more!

Fans of Blade (and let’s face it, we are legion,) will be happy to know that the first of THE MERCENARY ADVENTURES OF BLADE DEVON:  ARCANA DOUBLE CROSS is still simmering on the stove top. The first draft is complete, as is the back cover blurb, and I am also toying with cover ideas.

And while BARRON’S LAST STAND may be the end of THE BLACK WING CHRONICLES, it is by no means the end of Bo and Blade’s story. I’ve also started working on notes for the as-yet-unnamed series that follows.

Coming Soon~ Hero’s End, The Cover

When things start coming together, they really start coming together! Hot on the heels of a final title, the cover ideas started flooding in. Within a day or two, we had the cover art finalized.

Sometime within the next couple of weeks, I’ll unveil the cover for HERO’S END, Book Two of  THE BLACK WING CHRONICLES.

All I can say is WOW! Early comments have called it: striking, angry, desolate, energetic, gorgeous! It’s another Tomomi Ink masterpiece. I can’t wait to show it to you!

Layers Upon Layers

In my last post From Bones to Hair: Building a Story, I talked about how I build a story layer by layer, building on each draft and adding more details and “fleshing” it out.

I also enjoy drawing. I’m not very good at it, but when I was a child, I chose to devote my energy to learning how to write rather than draw. My aunt was an artist who kept me supplied in Walter Foster books, charcoals and pencils from an early age. It wasn’t until I was expecting my second child that I took a formal drawing class at the local community college to learn better technique.

By that time, I’d been a professional writer for more than ten years and had decided to take time off from writing to be a full-time mom. In that class, I found that drawing is much like building a story.

Recently, I was looking at videos on You Tube, and I came across this one. It illustrates how layering and tweaking and not being afraid to make mistakes is vital to the construct of artistic works. I’m sure if I kept looking, I’d find another video that illustrates the same layering technique for music. This time-lapse video offers a fascinating look at how to build a lifelike drawing. The results are impressive.

From Bones to Hair: Building a Story

When I write a new story, I approach it like constructing a building or a living organism. First you lay the foundation (premise), then you build the framework, which I envision as the bones. At this stage, I have the main plot points down and the major scenes are in their place to push the rising and falling action to the climax and the denoument. Some scenes are fully realized, others are brief narratives that describe the action and the purpose of the scene. Anything goes at this point. Anything, no matter how bizarre or disjointed is allowed. That’s the first draft.

The second draft is where the meat and connective tissue are added. In the second draft, I focus on transitional scenes and place the actions and dialog that foreshadow coming events. I beef up and write the scenes that are simple narratives and I look for plot holes and dropped plot lines. Simple scenes that were mostly dialog get blocking and characters start moving around the space. Scenes that do not serve to advance the plot in any way are cut, but saved for reference or re-purposing.

The third draft gets skin. The “skin” hides the technique. Scene and sequel should flow seamlessly. Transitions are smoothed. Passive voice is removed. Grammar is analyzed for consistency. Character reactions are analyzed and tweaked for appropriate response. Stilted dialog is reworked to sound more natural. Characters’ mannerisms and subtle gestures are tweaked. Setting and descriptions take center stage.

The fourth draft is the hair, makeup and clothing. In the fourth draft, typos, overused words and phrases come out. The fourth draft is where the little details are added to ensure that readers are emotionally involved in the story. Everything that doesn’t create immediacy or place the reader in the middle of the action comes out or gets reworked. This is the devilish draft because it takes  so long to complete and the results are not readily apparent to anyone but me. The devil is in the details and the fourth draft is all about the nit-picky details. Upon completion, this is the draft that goes to the beta readers for a final look.

A fifth draft goes to the editors for a figurative photoshopping, and becomes the final draft that makes it to publication.

I don’t know if all writers work this way, but this technique has worked for me because it allows me to write cyclically. Once I have the main points in, I can jump around in the story as details for plot threads solidify in my mind, returning to key points to make sure there is a coherent flow from one to another.

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The first draft of THE BROKEN WING is complete and revisions have already begun on the second draft. Still no concrete date set for its release.

Is Ignorance Truly Bliss?

I miss the good old days before I supposedly knew what I was doing.

Back in the last Century, at the end of the 80’s, I was a happy wannabe writer. A new invention had sprung up and I was having oodles of fun using my secretarial skills that I’d made a point to learn in the 9th grade to help me in my future career as a writer. My skills as a touch typist landed me clerical jobs and my boundless curiosity drove me to learn various computer programs. My dad enlisted my help keeping the books for his company on his brand-new TRS-80 computers. One of the perks was that I could have one of those 8” floppies to store my writing on, and print it up on his dot matrix printer for editing and archival! Those computers spoke TRS-DOS and I became proficient with the language. (If you’ve read SOVRAN’S PAWN you’ll understand the significance of that.)

In those days, I just told stories. I didn’t worry overly much with “hopping heads” or “pacing” or “plot reversals.” I just threw things at my characters and let them deal with them, developing along the way. It was raw and it was fun. It was also very, very bad writing but I didn’t care. Ignorance was bliss.

The 90’s rolled around and computer disks shrunk. WYSIWYG replaced dot matrix, and a magical little thing called Windows appeared on the horizon. That was when I lost my innocence. I went to my first writer’s meeting and I had my very first critique – not only by published authors, mind you, but authors whose books I had read and enjoyed. I was intimidated and terrified. By the time they finished their very gentle, but honest critique, I felt stripped bare, humiliated, dejected and a complete failure. I wanted to crawl away and lick my wounds in private.

I will be forever thankful that my then-husband had the foresight to accompany me to that meeting and sit through the critique at my side, listening to every word. When it was over, he could see how shattered I was. Putting his hand over mine, he leaned forward and said, “May I ask you a question?”

I cringed. He wasn’t exactly the most diplomatic sort. At their nods, he picked up my submission and set it on the table in front of him.

“Please be honest. Do you think she has talent to pursue writing, or do you think she’s wasting her time?”

The question took them by surprise, I think. They looked from me to my husband and then to one another, shifting uncomfortably in their chairs. Slowly the nodding began.

“She has talent…”

“This is an excellent beginning. She only needs to learn a little more about storycraft.”

Then they explained to my husband and to me, because I hung on every word, that the things they had pointed out in the critique were common among newbie writers. I was guilty of passive voice, shifting from one POV character to another within a scene, letting the reader stay just outside the action as an observer and not a participant, telling and not showing.

That was the beginning of my professional writing career. Starting that day, I threw myself headlong into learning everything I could about story craft. From that day, the sheer joy of writing and spinning stories diminished a little more every time I sat down to work. Now I spend more time thinking of my writing as rising and falling action, goal-conflict-disaster-repeat, scene and sequel, plot points, inciting incident, dark moment, resolution, reward, than I spend just telling a story.

I do hate the middle part of the story. That’s where you torture your characters to prepare them for the grand finale. You have to move them ever onward towards that grand decision that makes the climax worthwhile.

Fast forward to 2012. SOVRAN’S PAWN is the first book in a series. It’s Act I and as such, was fun to write. BARRON’S LAST STAND is the Final Act. The big finish and also a lot of fun. Book Two (let’s try out the title THE BROKEN WING) is Act 2 in the overall series arc. I hate the second act. This is where story craft is vital and plot and pacing are of primary importance. The action MUST rise and fall. The plot MUST reverse at the right time or the reader will lose interest.

I stared at my storyboard until my eyes crossed. I filled index cards with scenes and notes until I ran out of them. I had a beginning and an ending, but a convoluted path between the two, with holes large enough to fly a Tau-class cruiser through. I was beginning to despair ever making sense of this story when the advice came in from another writer to stop planning and just let the story unfold.

So simple, yet sitting on this side of the last twenty-two years, it’s much more difficult than it used to be. I sat down, put my notes aside, and just started writing, letting my characters tell their story without worrying about how many words I was racking up or how passive the voice. Since I started doing that, I’ve added more than ten thousand words to the manuscript and I’m falling in love with the characters again. I know much of it will be cut and revised in the editing process, but for now, the story is unfolding and it’s poignant and funny and lovely and sad. I hope I can stay out of my own way long enough to tell it all the way through.

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How has learning the “proper” way to do things changed your outlook on your work or hobbies?