Sometimes when I’m all out of words and ideas, I cruise the internet looking for something that sparks my imagination. Photos like the castle in the mist above make me want to write fantasy set in a world where magic is very real. Read more
Posts tagged ‘inspiration’
The title says it all. The writer has no brain this morning. I’m a week away from the release of Light Magic, the next book in the Eerie Side of the Tracks series. That means I’m living on lots of coffee, not enough food (because I forget to eat) and a brain turned to mush by editing. Add in the fact I’m also writing on the next project for a couple of hours at night because, as usual, Myrtle the Evil Muse is evil. It is so bad that I haven’t taken time to read a book I’d been looking forward to that was released yesterday. Sniffle.
So figuring out what to blog about has had me staring at my computer screen without inspiration coming. Well, that’s not exactly true. Myrtle, laughing maniacally, reminds me that I didn’t finish a certain scene I’d been writing last night. She oh-so-subtly reminds me I could post it here, let you see a scene in progress. Not only no, but hell no. For one, the scene isn’t finished — do you have any idea how difficult it is to write a sex scene with your mother sitting across the room from you? Read more
We have to use real people as the basis for our characters. Except we writers are frequently enjoined never, ever to use real people as the basis for our characters, lest we be scolded, disowned, sued, or punched in the nose by someone who takes offense at recognizing themselves. So what’s a poor writer to do? Imagine, wonder, look behind at motivations, and file off any identifying marks and numbers like mad. Read more
Let me begin with a simple hope that all our friends and readers in the path of Harvey are all right. The images coming from the impacted areas have been both inspiring and terrifying. There will be time later to dissect whether enough was done to prepare the area for what would happen. For now, if you are the praying kind, offer up a prayer or three for everyone impacted by the storm. If you have the means, donations are being accepted as well. Right now, approximately 8,000 people are sheltering in the Houston Convention Center — which had been set up for 5,000 — and more are showing up as I type this. Patients have been evacuated from the hospitals. Here in the DFW area, shelters have been set up as well and are filling up. There are any number of people needing help now and who will need it in the future.
As a writer, part of my brain looks at what is happening and files it away for later inspiration. There has been a little bit of almost anything a writer could hope for in the aftermath of Harvey. Videos of rescues by helicopter and boats, by neighbors and strangers who are pitching together to do the right thing. There are examples of politicians cutting through the red tape so doctors from out-of-state can come here and legally practice medicine and assist with those needing medical attention. Other regulations concerning repair and building of utilities have been waved so the companies can move in as soon as the flood waters recede to start rebuilding. We have example after example of how local and state official should — and should not — respond in a disaster.
But we also have examples of some of the, shall we say, less smart behavior we, as humans, tend to exhibit in the face of danger. There is a video of a fellow trying to swim down a freeway in Houston. He swam for a ways and then turned around, only to be greeted by a Houston police officer who basically told him not to be so stupid again. Then there was the guy who, despite everyone lining the freeway and yelling for him to stop, the water was too deep, who was determined to drive his pickup through the high water. When his truck started floating — yes, floating — down the highway, he climbed out the window. Instead of swimming to safety, he moved to the font of the truck and tried to push it backwards. When that didn’t work, he still didn’t swim to safety. He returned to the bar of his truck to save his glasses. He tried to save stuff that had been in the bed of his truck. His truck that was now in 10 to 12 feet of water. Yes, he did finally decide to get out of the water but he could have died in an attempt to save a truck that he never should have driven into the water in the first place.
All this is a roundabout way of saying there is inspiration around us all the time but, if you want to see just about any and every aspect of the human condition, look at how we react during a crisis. Most of all, keep all the communities impacted by Harvey and its aftermath in your thoughts. It is going to take months, if not years, for some of the communities to recover.
There was a time when I never knew what my next writing project was going to be. Writing was something I did in the privacy of my room, never intending for anyone to see it. Even when I started getting serious about my writing, I was more of a pantser, even when it came to what I would write next. Somewhere along the line that changed — even if Myrtle the Evil Muse sometimes throws my plans out the window.
I’m not sure when that started changing but, as I sat down to work the other day, I realized that was no longer the case. My calendar has project dates on it now — dates showing when I need to have drafts finished and edits done, when I need to send work out to beta readers and when I need it back. What gremlin has been working with my electronic devices when I wasn’t looking? Surely, my process hasn’t changed that much.
But it has.
It’s had to. With four active series right now and several stand-alone books planned, I’ve had to get more organized about what I’m working on. What surprised me, however, was finding that I’ve made actual notes, some very detailed, about where two of the series are going over the course of the next few books. I’ve made less detailed notes about the other series and the stand-alones. But that is something I used to never do. I have a plan and it scares me.
Why does it scare me?
Because that is when Myrtle the Evil Muse usually rears her well-coiffed head. With a smile, she then tosses out an idea I can’t ignore — for something that is totally unrelated to what I’m working on.
So far, however, she’s being good. I have finished the final draft for Nocturnal Challenge, the fifth book in the Nocturnal Lives series, and have started the final edits. I have the next Honor and Duty novel mapped out (as well as some other exciting things in the series I’ll be announcing later). There’s one novel and several novellas mapped out — and one novella basically written — in the Eerie Side of the Tracks series. Best of all, inspiration has finally hit for the third book in the Sword of the Gods series. It is very loud right now, not loud enough to write but loud enough that I can jot down some plot notes for later.
Of course, Myrtle isn’t one to cooperate for long. She tried pushing a story — or two — on me last week. In fact, she gave me this opening and is all but daring me not to drop everything and get to work on it.
I was five when they came for my brother. Two men, one tall and thin the other short and stocky. Both wore uniforms I had never seen before with lots of medals shining on their chests. Mom cried. I’d never seen her cry before and Dad’s hands shook as he read the paper the tall man handed him. Then, with tears in his eyes, he told Mom there was nothing they could do. Before I knew what was happening, Aiden was gone and I haven’t seen him since.
I was thirteen when they came for me.
Not that I’m going to fall for it. I have saved that, as well as notes for the other story, in my future projects file and I’ve crossed my fingers — and my toes — that Myrtle is satisfied with that. In the meantime, I’m finishing the edits on Challenge, preparing to write a quick novella in the Eerie Side of the Creek universe. Then it will be the next Honor and Duty book followed by the third Sword of the Gods book. There’s more in the hopper but, if all goes as planned, there will be a new title, either short story or novella or novel, every other month. You see, if I don’t keep that busy, Myrtle gets bored and that’s when she’s her most dangerous.
In the meantime, here’s a teaser for Nocturnal Rebellion, coming soon.
The bullpen fell silent as Chief of Detectives, Luis Santiago, moved to the front of the room. The look on his face mirrored how they each felt. Disbelief, sorrow and anger – but mostly anger – burned in his dark eyes. They knew why he was there. Every cop, not to mention every cop’s family, faced this possibility each time they reported for duty. But that didn’t make it any easier, especially not when it hit this close to home.
Santiago looked around the squad room, making eye contact with each person there. It didn’t surprise him to find more than the day shift present. He had no doubt were he to check the other squads under his command, he would find the same thing. When a cop went down in the line of duty, no one worried about vacation or sick leave. Every cop, no matter what their rank or their assignment, would report in, ready to do all they could to find the perps responsible. That knowledge made him proud to be part of the long blue line. Not that it made this part of his job any easier. Fortunately, it was not something he had to do often, but even once was one time to many.
Standing there, seeing how each of those assigned to Homicide waited, hoping he had good news for them but knowing he did not, he drew a deep breath. He could have let someone else handle this. But that would have been the easy way out and he had never been one to push the uncomfortable parts of the job off on someone else. Besides, he owed it to them, and to their lieutenant, to make sure they understood that even though he no longer worked cases on the board, he was still one of them. He hurt with them and he thirsted for the same vengeance they did.
“I’m not going to tell you this gets easier. It doesn’t and each of you knows it. Let’s be honest. This squad has faced more than its fair share of challenges these last two years.” He paused and reached up to rub his eyes, burning with unshed tears, with thumb and forefinger. As he did, he felt every one of the last twenty-six hours he had been awake. Twenty-six hours of sitting vigil at the hospital and then talking with family members, of briefing Chief of Police Darnell Culver, and of doing all he could to head off any interference by the feds. Three of his own had gone down and he was damned if he was going to let the feds or any other agency take over the case. Then he cleared his throat and continued. “Each and every time, you have risen to the challenge and done what was necessary to carry out your duties as members of the DPD. I know I’m asking a lot now, but I need you to do so once again.
“The next few days are going to be difficult for the entire force, but especially for you. You not only lost one of your own yesterday but others of the cop family as well. I’ve spend a great deal of time with the families of our fallen brethren and they’ve asked me to let you know arrangements have been made. They thank each of you for all the time you have spent with them since the ambush. They have asked that, until the funeral, members of this squad continue to be with them. They know you were all family and they will feel better having someone who knew their loved one with them. Sergeant Collins, I’ll leave it to you to arrange schedules to accommodate this request.” He glanced at the squad’s acting commander and she nodded, her expression grim.
“In three days, we will lay the first of our fallen, to rest. I expect each of you to be there in dress uniform, representing not only this squad but the best of the force. Show the city that we bleed blue. Then show them that DPD does its job, no matter what. Find the bastards responsible for the ambush and bring them in to face justice.
“It would be easy to seek vengeance. I understand that feeling because I share it. No one, no matter who they are, is allowed to kill one of our own. But we will not lower ourselves, or the rest of DPD, down to those bastards’ level. Find them and bring them in. We will let the courts deal with them and, when the time comes, we will be sitting on the front row of the viewing chamber when they are brought in for their executions.” He glanced around as detectives, uniformed officers and clerical workers nodded grimly. “Do your lieutenant proud and find those bastards before they manage to kill anyone else.”
As one, everyone present turned to look at the darkened office with its closed door and silence so profound it felt almost alive filled the squad room. Then a tall blonde with short cropped hair, her expression stone-cold, pain reflected in her eyes, stepped forward. The others waited, watching as she approached Santiago.
“Sergeant Collins, the squad is yours,” the Chief of Detectives said. “Close this case before the feds try to take over. We will not step aside for anyone, not this time.”
The blonde nodded. As she did, she blinked back the tears swimming in her eyes. “Yes, sir.”
He nodded once and shook her hand. Then he turned and left the squad room. As the door closed behind him, Pat drew a deep breath. Whether she liked it or not, the squad was hers and she had a duty to do, a duty to the DPD, her partner and her squad.
“The Chief’s right,” she said softly. She did not try to hide her grief. Each person in the room shared it. “We have to work this like any other case, but let’s be honest. This isn’t just any other case and it never will be. We will have the press looking at everything we do, questioning each move and every word spoken. Worse, IAB is going to be nosing around.” She held up a hand before anyone could protest.
“Hear me on this. No one likes the idea of the rat squad poking around. This squad has first-hand knowledge how they can twist things to meet their own needs. So I want every i dotted and every t crossed in this investigation. Work this case like your life depends on it because it very well may. We have cop killers running loose on our streets and none of us are safe until we find them. So, when IAB comes calling, we will answer their questions. The quicker we do, the quicker we get them out of the squad and out of the investigation. Don’t play games with them. If they ask or allude to anything that sets off your warning bells, let me know.
“From now until this case is solved, it’s all hands on deck. All vacation time is canceled until further notice. If you call in sick, you’d damn well better have a doctor telling me you are on your death bed. Work your contacts and get your CI’s on the street and asking questions. Finding these bastards is our priority now. That said, make sure your other cases are worked as well. Don’t miss any court dates. But hear me,this is our priority. We will find the bastards behind the ambush and we will be the ones to bring them in.”
With that, she strode across the bullpen. Pausing before the door to the office that had been her partner’s she reached down to turn the knob. As she did, her hand shook. A sob rose in her throat. She choked it down. She had to maintain control until she was behind closed doors. The squad was hers, at least until Chief Culver found someone to replace Lt. Mackenzie Santos, not that anyone could ever fill her shoes as a cop or as a partner and friend.
Damn it, Mac. I wish you were here.
Nocturnal Origins is the first book in the Nocturnal Lives series.
Some things can never be forgotten, no matter how hard you try.
Detective Sergeant Mackenzie Santos knows that bitter lesson all too well. The day she died changed her life and her perception of the world forever.It doesn’t matter that everyone, even her doctors, believe a miracle occurred when she awoke in the hospital morgue. Mac knows better. It hadn’t been a miracle, at least not a holy one. As far as she’s concerned, that’s the day the dogs of Hell came for her.
Investigating one of the most horrendous murders in recent Dallas history, Mac also has to break in a new partner and deal with nosy reporters who follow her every move and who publish confidential details of the investigation without a qualm.
Complicating matters even more, Mac learns the truth about her family and herself, a truth that forces her to deal with the monster within, as well as those on the outside.But none of this matters as much as discovering the identity of the murderer before he can kill again.
Or, probably more importantly, how do we make them our own?
No, I’m not going to lecture you on how to find inspiration or how to file the serial numbers off of something to make it your own. What I am going to do is give you an example of how inspiration can hit without warning and when you aren’t looking for it.
Those of us in the United States just finished the Memorial Day weekend. This is seen as the official beginning of summer, a time when schools are let out for the year (or they used to be). A time for sales and picnics and family. It is also a time for remembrance and tradition. One of my family’s traditions is to watch the Memorial Day Concert from Washington DC. The first concert, aired by PBS, was held in 1989. The emotional impact of the concert comes not from the music but from the stories, real stories, read by actors, of the men and women who have sacrificed so much for this country. It is their story, and the stories of their loved ones, that remind us so powerfully of the reason behind this holiday.
This year, one of those stories was that of a young girl growing up in during the Viet Nam War. Her father was in the Army, a Green Beret if I remember correctly. She loved her daddy and missed him so very much. Every day, she wrote him. She waited by the mailbox for his next letter to arrive. Then, one day, her letter came back unanswered. She asked her mother about it and, like most of us would, her mother did her best to put on a brave face and reassure her daughter there was nothing to worry about.
Then the call came in one night not long after that. Her father had been on a mission and he, along with others, were missing. MIA. Missing in Action. No one knew what happened or where they were. They didn’t know if this little girl’s father and his squadmates were alive or dead. They were just gone.
The family waited, as so many others did during those long days of the war, for word of their loved one. When news came that the North Vietnamese were releasing a number of POWs, the little girl ran into her room and started packing her bag. She knew they would be going to meet her daddy. Finally, after so many long months and years, she was going to see her daddy again.
Only they didn’t make that trip. One of the hardest things her mother had to do was tell this lovely little girl, this daughter who never gave up, that her daddy’s name wasn’t on the list of POWs being returned. Their wait continued. When the girl’s brother was old enough, he followed in their father’s footsteps and joined the Army. I can only imagine the fear the girl, now a grown woman, and their mother felt as he was sent into harm’s way in service of the country.
But they didn’t try to stop him. They understood he was driven by the same values as the much beloved father had been.
That phone call, the one they’d been waiting decades for, finally came. The North Vietnamese had released remains and a tooth — A TOOTH — had been tested. It was their father’s. He’d been dead so many years. Their questions had been answered and yet, in many ways, knowing was no better than not knowing. At least before there had been hope, fading yes, but hope he might one day return.
The son, still in the Army, escorted their father’s body home. Daddy was laid to rest with all appropriate honors.
Their story became part of our nation’s history, and hopefully our conscience, with the reading of the letter that little girl sent and had returned unopened.Seeing Mary McCormack, the actor who read the girl’s letter and told us her family’s story, embrace that girl now grown, her brother and mother, brought tears to my eyes. It also reminded me of other stories I knew, some of which I’d forgotten. Stories of those I went to school with during Viet Nam, of those whose older brothers and fathers went off to war. Many of those returned, some injured some not. Others never returned. Each one had a story behind them, a story to remember and, in some cases, to tell.
It reminded me of my mother’s friend who opened her mailbox one day and pulled out the latest Life or Look Magazine and saw her son’s death in Viet Nam documented. It reminded me of my Uncle John who, during World War II, ran away from home to join the Navy at the age of 13. When the Navy realized what he’d done, they returned him home where he told my grandparents they either signed the waivers to let him officially and legally enlist or he’d run away again. He served from the end of World War II through Viet Nam. He was a POW more than once and, when he had the chance to leave Nam and return home, he refused as long as the rest of his men — he was a senior non-com — remained.
I remembered Uncle Joe, my father’s older brother. He who enlisted in the Army in World War II and served in both Europe and Japan. He was part of those troops who, as they pushed through the territory held by the Japanese, saw the atrocities we tend to forget. He came back changed and suffered from what we now call PTSD for the rest of his life.
Being a writer, as I remembered these stories, my brain went to work. By the end of the evening, I had not one but two novel ideas in mind. I hadn’t meant to do anything other than watch a concert with my mother and remember our own family and friends who have stepped up to serve the country the love so much. Now, I have two books to write and I pray I can do not only the stories but the inspiration for the stories justice.
Last week, I blogged about listening to your muse. Of course, I have a feeling most of you don’t have a muse that is as loud, annoying and evil as mine happens to be. Mine wouldn’t know now to be retiring and quiet if both our lives depended on it. Because of that, I don’t have much choice in the matter. When Myrtle the Muse decides I need to listen, she does her very best to make sure I do. If I refuse, she punishes me. How, you ask, does a muse punish her writer? In one instance, Myrtle demanded that I listen, over and over and over again, to the soundtrack of Mama Mia. The movie soundtrack. The soundtrack sung mainly by folks who should never open their mouths to sing in public. I wasn’t a big Abba fan before then. Now, I absolutely detest the group.
I want to apologize for not responding to most of the comments last week. Between work (writing and editing my own stuff as well as a couple of side editing jobs), family and a nagging injury that is going to require surgery sooner or later, time got away from me. I promise to do better today.
The reason I wanted to talk some more about listening to your muse is simple. The other day, I was talking with another writer, one wanting to go the traditional publishing path, who insisted the only way to get in with one of the Big 5 was to write to the trend. In this case, the author was writing their own version of Twilight. Now, I haven’t read anything but the first book of the series and have studiously avoided the movies. Even so, I know the basic plot and, in the course of discussing John’s (not his real name) work, I commented that it sounded an awful lot like Twilight.
Oh how he beamed. He was thrilled I recognized it. He worried people wouldn’t because he had switched the sexes of the main characters. He had also set it in the Southwest instead of the Northwest. Oh, and they were about to go to college instead of being in high school. Best of all — at least according to him — he had figured out a way for the vamps to be out in the sunlight without sparkling.
Yes, that sound you hear is the echo of me beating my head against the wall.
The first thing we did was talk about how he needed to be sure he filed off the serial numbers. He assured me he had. Still not convinced but knowing that wasn’t an argument I was going to win just then, I let it drop. After all, he was just telling me about the story. I hadn’t read it yet. So maybe he had filed the numbers enough to make the story his own.
While I’m a fan of good urban fantasy and modern fantasy, I’m not a big vampire fan. I think too many paranormal romances, most of them badly written, have spoiled vamps for me. Then there is the whole things about basically making love to a corpse and, well, EWWWW! Of course, I also keep hearing our own Kate asking in her inimitable style about how certain parts of the vampire’s anatomy would work without blood flow. That’s our Kate for you. Always spoiling the dream with a dash of Aussie common sense. VBEG. Anyway, because of all that, I knew part of my resistance to John’s idea might be my own feelings about vampires as romantic leads and, well, wondering why in the world someone who has lived (if you can call it living) for hundreds of years would want to pair up with a giggling, pimply teen.
Finally, I asked John what he planned on doing with the book when he finished it. He had that figured out as well. He was going to submit it to one of the big publishers and make a million bucks just like Meyer did. After all, he was a better writer than she was. He was writing from the male point of view, so he would be tapping an underrepresented part of the market and, after all, YA and New Adult markets were hot, hot, hot.
I did get excuse myself and got up from the table, ostensibly to get another cup of coffee. The reality was I needed to figure out how to encourage him to finish the project — something he has yet to do with any other project — while giving him the bad news that the likelihood of getting a contract was only slightly better than him becoming the next Stephanie Meyer with this particular book.
You see, the problem isn’t that John is a bad writer. He’s not. He is, in fact, one of the most natural storytellers I’ve come across in a long time. Better yet, he has a pretty solid grasp of the mechanics of writing. But, like so many new writers, he hasn’t finished a project, much less sent it out to make the rounds of agents and publishers. He hasn’t done his homework into what the current market is, for both indie and traditionally published books. Nor has he researched the requirements needed to get his manuscript over the transom at the Big 5 and how long that can take.
So, I spent a few moments trying to gather my thoughts. I wanted to encourage him but I wanted him to understand the challenges he faced. And, for a few moments at least, I wanted to be anywhere but there.
I finally asked John why he had chosen to write his Twilight-esque book. The other work I’d seen from him had been solid mysteries. So this departure, not only in genre but in target audience, threw me. His answer was simple and, unfortunately, one I had heard before from other writers. He had thought to write something like Twilight because his kids had all read the series and loved it. All their friends loved it as well. Movies were made from it. If he could write something that would make young people read and make money from it, all was good.
Except the problem with that is he wasn’t writing to his strengths . Nor was he following the current trends for his target audience. Twilight is still selling but not like it did. Other books, Harry Potter follow-ups, science fiction and fantasy are selling better. John still wasn’t convinced. So I pulled up Amazon on my tablet and had him look at the different best seller lists there as well as at B&N. Then I pulled up Twilight and had him look where it was ranking high. His eyes bugged out and he went deathly pale to see it in the top 25 in sub-sub-sub-categories like YA Dating and Sex.
But he had this book all plotted out and he just knew the publishers would want it. It was based on a best seller.
I then pointed him to when the books were published. These books weren’t published a year or two ago. The last book came out, if I remember correctly, at least 4 or 5 years ago. Then, rubbing salt in John’s wounds and not liking it, I had a serious talk with him about how long it can take to shop a book around if you want to go traditional. We talked about how many traditional publishers won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. That means you have to find an agent. That takes time. Then that agent has to shop your book around. More time. If the book is accepted, you have to approve the contract, go through edits and then, if all works out, it will finally be published. None of which happens quickly in the grand scheme of things. So, realistically, he wouldn’t see the book in print for at least two years after finishing the first draft if he managed to find an agent and sell it to one of the Big 5. How far out of the “trend” he was trying to ride would he be then.
However, I reminded him, that didn’t mean he couldn’t write the book. His first hurdle was to actually finish it. Then I asked the one question I’d been fighting. How did he feel writing the book? For a long moment, he said nothing. Then he admitted writing the book had been harder than anything he’d ever tried before. He didn’t understand it. After all, the basic formula was there. All he had to do was follow it. But, every time he sat down to write, his mind went to other things, other stories that seemed a lot more interesting.
That simple question brought a smile to his face and he began to talk — and talk and talk and talk. He had another book outlined in his mind. A mystery and one that made sense and intrigued me as he discussed it. As he spoke, it became clear to both of us that this was not a case of popcorn kittens where he was simply being distracted because he had reached a difficult part of a project. No, this was his muse trying to tell him he was doing something wrong. In this case, he was trying to force himself to write something he knew on a subconscious level wouldn’t work. He might not have realized the reasons but the instinct was there, warning him he was going down a wrong path.
By the time we left the coffee shop an hour or so later, he had come to a couple of conclusions. The first was that he needed to write the mystery we’d discussed. The second was that he was still going to write the Twilight-based book but write it in his own way. He would let it sit on the back burner while he wrote the mystery and let the ideas percolate. I have a feeling that, when he gets back to it, his muse will have taken it down a very different path than the one it’s been on.
I guess this is a long and very rambling way of saying that writing to trend doesn’t always work, especially if you don’t properly identify what the current trend is. Even if you do, there is no guarantee it will work for you. That’s especially true if you are going the trad publishing route because of the time involved to work your way through the process. If you find yourself staring at the keyboard, feeling as if something is wrong and you can’t figure out what, talk it out. Or put the project aside for a bit and let it percolate on the back brain. In other words, listen to your gut or your muse or whatever you want to call it.
And, fyi, I do follow my own advice on this. It is how I wound up writing Slay Bells Ring, Witchfire Burning (Eerie Side of the Tracks Book 1) and Skeletons in the Closet (Eerie Side of the Tracks). These three books were not even on the radar a year and a half ago. But they came along at a time when I needed to step back from the different series that I had been working on. I needed a change as a writer and I needed the challenge that writing in a different genre presented. What I didn’t expect was that writing Slay Bells Ring would lead to not only a new series but one that mixed mundane with supernatural. Then there is the romance and the mystery. Oh, and let’s not forget the loved ones who return home after their own funerals — and they aren’t zombies, ghosts or vamps. Thank goodness the local undertaker has figured out special “treatments” for them.