Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Like a Girl...

Sandra Seamans posted the link to this article, by Bev Vincent called "Apparently I write Like a Girl" (Bev is not a girl, inspite of how he might write.)

Great article. Biases fascinate me. The idea that a certain gender writer can or cannot write a certain gender character convincingly is such a curious concept. To me, it's not the gender, but the writing.

I've read books with female characters that didn't strike me as being very real. I chalked it up to stereotypes and lack of character development. Not author gender. Having balls or boobs does not make one able to write convincing characters of the same gender. A male writer can buy into all the stereotypes of how men area supposed to act just as they could of how women are supposed to act. Neither set of stereotypes works terribly well in fiction or in real life, IMNHO. And I know far too many people of both gender who act largely according to a particular set of gender stereotypes.

While it's a little surprising (and disappointing) that there are still people who make assumptions based merely on gender, it's even more disappointing that those assumptions become expectations. And it's hard to break free from expectations. Hard for someone who sees sex as primarily physical to write emotion into the act, even if it is expected. Hard to write a "real" female character if one's definition of "real" doesn't include enough of the expected characteristics.

After all, in fiction, the bottom line is this: it doesn't matter if it's true, the reader has to believe it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: The Part I Just Couldn't Handle

My couch... blocking the shortest path from kitchen to upstairs.
More unacceptable than the deluge from the leaking roof that caused the couch migration.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why I Write Mysteries

I started writing mysteries because it was the first genre that I could plot. It made sense-- and it was easier, for me, to figure out the plot. Simply put-- there was a crime and the resolution was the solving of that crime.

Before that, I'd always struggled with coming up with conflict. Or at least with conflict that was important enough to make a story about. Or I'd have a conflict, but could never figure out how to solve it.

But mysteries came easy to me.

It was how I cut my teeth, gnawing on the edges of fairly simple investigations.

I still write mysteries, but I think I've also scooted over a bit to straddle the line with crime stories. Some of the stories don't have anything to do with the solving of a crime-- the conflict comes from something else. Lately, because of a sadistic trend in my writing, the conflict has involved sticking Bo in some difficult situation and trying for her to talk, fight, or, um, sex, her way out of it.

Maybe I'm getting better at this writing thing. Maybe someday I'll be able to write other genres successfully. Maybe it doesn't matter, because mysteries are where my heart is. There's something in the detection-- and, in many detective stores, the lack of personal involvement (I get tired of angst. ;-)-- that appeals to me.

But, it's still nice to think that I'm improving in this writing thing. Even if I "only" ever write mysteries and crime stories.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Sometime after settling into my new home (one I hope to live in for the next half-century or so), I started to think about potentially losing this home. I don't know why this thought never occurred before in the several places I've lived, but it came up now.

I'm good about backing up my important files (which is pretty much all of them ;-) on a regular basis. Being a teacher certainly helps in that regard, since at the end of the semester, I go through my ritual of clearing out and backing up last semester's files. I burn the previous semester's worth of school materials on to a CD, and while I'm burning CD's I also burn my writing onto a CD and everything else I've stored up. (Okay, technically, it's several CD's.)

But then it occurred to me, on the tails of the aforementioned worry of losing the house, that if something catastrophic happened to my house-- fire, tornado, sink hole-- then all those lovely back up CD's that sit in a box NEXT to my computer would be just as screwed as my computer. Hmm.

Then, the internet revealed the answer for me. (Well, Absolute Write WaterCooler and the collection of crazy people over there.) Dropbox.

Dropbox provides off site storage. You download the application. It sets up a folder on your computer during the install process. (Or perhaps more accurately, a box on your computer? Ha ha?) Any file copied or moved into the Dropbox file will be uploaded to Dropbox. You can log into your dropbox account on the internet and access your files. Any files updated are synchronized.

Anyway, I like it. I stuck my Writing folder in there and when I make big changes to a file, I copy them into the Dropbox folder. It's nice knowing that I have a safe back up.

Just in case.

Oh, and I do realize that this active imagination is good for fiction, not so good for real life. This same imagination means I've been sleeping with a nightlight for, oh, twenty-eight years. Now, if I could just make some money off it...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Upgrade

Old and Busted...

New Hotness!


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Where to Start

When starting a series of books, there are two ways to start. With, say, a detective, like Bo is, the series could start with Bo becoming a private investigator. First cases, that sort of thing. Or, the series could start after she's established.

On a related note, I've happened across what may be a trend in book series starting with some very personal change or event in the main character's life. This seems to be more common than something like "The Big Sleep" where the book is just another case, another day. No earth-shattering, life-changing event.

So, when I look at the first book for Bo's novel series, I have to decide to start in the beginning or not. Start with something personal or not. I'm thinking that something personal may be non-negotiable. Seems to me that readers tend to prefer something personal, some reason to root for the character, beyond just another day at work.

The idea of starting a story at the beginning is curious to me. I remember my first days at work, as much as I've tried to block them from my mind. First days, first weeks, hell, with some jobs, it's the first years, are not very good. I don't see anything enjoyable about writing or reading a character fumbling around, screwing up, and otherwise being a newbie on the job. I read to escape, not to be reminded of myself.

Not surprisingly, I started her series later. Past those awkward first days of being a private eye, past screwing up, getting evicted for non-payment of rent, and other problems. Part of Bo's character and appeal-- for me at least-- is her confidence. Confidence is sexy...

But how to reconcile this starting later point with the personal life-changing event thing?

Well, that worked itself out quite nicely, actually. When I first started writing Bo, I always wanted to put her in Michigan. I'm kind of fond my Mitten-shaped state. But Michigan law requires a private investigator to be 25. And have several years of experience. So I sent her to Ohio, which worked out because it is harder to trace a person across state lines. That means I can write Bo's return to Michigan as the life changing event. With some traumatic backstory and some hard decisions.

Only problem was that I didn't realize this trend/ tendency for personal stuff in the first novel until after I had written the first Bo Fexler novel... Luckily, I'm versatile if nothing else. I'll fix this problem.

(Actually, I was in the process of fixing it when my grad school course turned into a Time Sucking Black Hole. =/ Well, break's over. Back to homework.)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My Town Monday: Field Trip! Sleeping Bear Dunes

Field Trip! These summer months are great for seeing the sites around Michigan. So today's field trip is to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore.

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore is located up here... the fingertips of Michigan. Right about here.

Or for those of you not used to using your hand as a map, here.

The Dunes are ever changing because of the wind that comes of Lake Michigan. Then, as plants take root, they hold the sand down, for a while, evolving into a different type of landscape. If sand buries the plants, it may become sand dune again, rather than supporting growth.

Here's a web album from my trip with Hubby (June 2006, our five year anniversary.)

If you don't like tear-jerker stories, then you totally don't want to know the story of why it's called Sleeping Bear Dunes. I'm no softy, but this story traumatized me... It's the italicized part, for easy skipping.

The Legend of Sleeping Bear Dunes:
A long time a go, there was a fire in Wisconsin. A mama bear and her two cubs were forced from the forest. They got to the edge of Lake Michigan. They would have to swim. Mama and the cubs began swimming. It was a long swim. They swam for hours and hours.

Finally, Mama Bear reached the shore of Michigan. She looked back into the water and she couldn't see her cubs. She lay down on the shores of the lake and watched. But the baby bears never came. They had gotten too tired and drowned.

But the Mama bear kept waiting. She was certain her babies would come. Eventually, she fell asleep. Sand swept over Mama Bear, burying her on the shore where she waits to this day. The Great Spirit was impressed with the Mama Bears determination and faith. The Great Spirit raised two island, North and South Manitou Islands, to commemorate the cubs.

Here's a nice Aeriel shot of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lake Shore and North and South Manitou Islands.

You can take a ferry to the islands. And Empire Michigan, the town nestled along the National Lake Shore, is only a short distance from Traverse City. Well, "short" in "upper Michigan" vernacular, which is a little bit longer than "short" in busy places. It's worse in the U.P., where us foreigners read a sign that says "Museum Just Ahead" and not realize it's "just" ten miles. I was ready to admit I'd missed the turn...

Visit the new My Town Monday site for links to other posters.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Name Game

There's nothing quite like coming up with a cast of characters for a piece of fiction. In writing shorter fiction, I learned to trim names and even characters to make things easier to keep track of.

In the novel, some of this has gone out the window. In the novel, it's a complete investigation-- and a complex one-- that leads Bo to do what investigators do best. Talk to people. And many of these people need names.

I usually grab a first name and run with it. I try not to make my first names too similar, and also try to limit the number of character's whose names start with the same first letter. This could be a little overly cautious, but I know how lazy I can be as a reader.

The amount of Star Wars novels I consumed during my late high school years certainly shaped my naming practices. One of the things that perpetually drove me nuts were letter combination that I couldn't pronounce or even come up with a reasonable pronunciation. So a character ends up being thought of as something else. Like "That C-guy." I'm sure that's what the authors were going for... but I have some choice words for the authors on this matter.

So, now, coming up with surnames for characters, I still recall those tongue twisters I read. And I don't do it. In fact, I'm heading into territory of really easy names. I try to throw in some ethnic names, but only if they're easy on the tongue.

In fact, I cheat. I took one of the old phone books and brought it up to my office. And when I'm in need of a name, I flip open the phone book and scan the page. If I don't find a good name there, I flip to a different section and letter and try again. Then I steal the name. Bwahahaha!

I do try to avoid picking a name where there's only one of them in the County. And I don't put them in the same city-- so if Sleazeball Character is in Brighton, I would not select a surname listed with a Brighton address.

The names I pick don't mean anything. While I occasionally have some connotation with names, it's very light. I worry more about upsetting someone by writing them as a nasty character than I do about my own connotation. Besides, connotation is so malleable. In fact, for me the name Bo is now completely inseparable from the kick ass female character Bo Fexler. So much so, that I forget at times that Bo is actually a male name.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Someone Turned the Gravity Up

Explains why it's hard to get out of bed.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Markets and Writing

Sometimes, I write a story with a particular market in mind. Not all the time. Some stories just write themselves.

Some writers recommend writing with a market in mind. Which, admittedly I did when I wrote "Bosom Buddies." Except, now I'm screwed. And not in the good way.

"Bosom Buddies" is one of those stories that really only fits in a small number of markets. Gratutitus sex and violence. Both which serve the plot, but certainly intended to be raw, titillating thrills.

Except the market it was "written for" is currently closed to subs. Looks like it's going to be that way for a while.

My second choice declined.

It's too violent for erotica. To erotic for, well, just about anyone else. And too long for many of the remaining sites. Or so's my conclusion at this point.

So, I'm going down the list. Hoping to make a few bucks off it, if possible. I'm at that point, I think, in my writing career where I'd like to see if I can't swim with the bigger fish. Maybe even make enough money to bother reporting it on my income taxes.

I like screwing myself as much as the next person, but I hate doing it with a perfectly good story. Paper cuts, you know...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

My Town Monday: Pettysville Junction

Everyone in the Pinckney area of Livingston County knows the Pettysville Junction. Located near the corner of M-36 and Pettysville Road, it's a convenience store with one of the best selections of candy I have ever seen in my life. I think they have some of the other convenience store fare, too, but since they are nestled in near the shores of Rush Lake, it's the kids walking up from the many, many houses crammed in around the lake that make up much of the business, I'm sure.

Pettysville Junction-- as it's known today-- also has a gas station. But what many people don't know is that Pettysville Junction was a town. It was also a stop on the Ann Arbor Railroad. Hence the name...

Since there is no Pettysville anymore, finding information on this little place is difficult. The man behind the town was Seth Peteys (somewhere along the way, an E was lost. Maybe someone should dredge Rush Lake.) He settled first in Putnam Township and worked at the mill in the village of Pinckney. There's actually no town of Putnam, nor can I find any such record. Which is odd because every other township around here has a town of the same name.

By 1880, Petteys had moved his mill to a waterway east of of Pinckney. Studying a map suggests that he built his mill along Chilson Creek, which is part of a set of creeks and that eventually drains into the mighty Huron River. This location is actually about a mile North/ Northeast from where the road Pettysville meets M-36 today.

In the 1880s, Pettey mill was befriended by a grist and flouring mill, a cider mill (with all the imrpovement, the author of the 1880 history of county make certain to point out) a blacksmith, and carriage shop, two stores, a post office, shoe shop, school and church. There were 15 or 20 families in the village.

Today, what remains is a old stone mill with it's water wheel.

It's now the Hood Mill and it still looks cool.

There are some other buildings near by, perhaps the old school or the old stores, but it's impossible to tell now that they are private residences. I didn't knock on any doors to see if the owners know the history of their homes.

The railroad didn't come through until nearly 1900. And, alas, the last comprehensive history book for the county was in 1880. I don't know what affect the railroad had on the town of Pettysville. I don't even know if Pettysville had a depot or was just a stop. My research has shown that not all stops got raildepots.

Which 'modern improvement' spelled the demise of Pettysville? The rail? Or perhaps the automobile. Whenever M-36 was deemed a state road and maintained, perhaps the out-of-the-way little town of Pettysville fadeda way as small towns are prone to doing. My guess is that with the advent of the car, it was too easy for people to skip stopping at the little shops in Pettysville and instead go to Pinckney-- a bigger small town-- or into Brighton, or even south into the large city of Ann Arbor.

What's left today is the Pettysville Junciton gas station and convenience store. Beside that was a pizza place known as Checkboard Inn. And of course, Cap'n Frosty, the ice cream shop. The last time I went there... okay, I'm not going to think about how many years ago that was! Sometime before I got married. But when I ordered a "double" scoop, as I would at most ice cream places, I got a towering scoop that was very likely twice as big as a double scoop at other ice cream shops. And you could also get a little container of gummy bears for a quarter. More than once my friends and I would pool our change after buying candy at Pettysville Junction to get some gummy bears.

Oh man, I almost forgot! Part of walking up to Pettysville Junction was collecting pop and beer bottles because in Michigan, these have a 10c deposit. We'd scour the streets looking for bottles to supplament our candy-buying power.

I have taken over the reigns of collecting My Town Monday links, so if you'll hop over to the new My Town Monday website, you can leave a comment there for inclusion in this lovely hometown, world-wide project.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Arbitrary Goals

I'm a goal setter. When I sit down to write a story, I have a target length in mind for it. For example when I attempt Patti's flash fiction challenges, I set the goal at 750 words (or whatever limit Patti has set.)

Sometimes the story idea itself is what I use to set the word count goal. Some stories are short ideas. Some are long. Usually it has to do with the complexity of the problem and also a rather arbitrary thing call "What I feel like." Sometimes, I pair the idea with a possible market, and the market determines the target word length.

But these lengths are not set in stone. I won't force a story into a smaller-- or larger-- box just because that's the goal I set. I may write a story too long for a 750 word goal, then attempt to pare down. Sometimes it works and I get a nice succinct story with no extraneous words. Sometimes, I get a half-assed, half-hacked story that I then restore to a more appropriate length.

I also set word counts for the novels. The current novel (which doesn't have a title *twitch*) has a target goal of 70,000 words. Short and full of action. Just how I want it... The first novel, which is walking the streets looking for an agent, originally came in about 72,000 words. A few revisions later and it's about 75,000 words. I hope the current novel will work out the same way.

For the novel, having a word count does two things. One, it gives me milestones. It's like crossing things off the to-do list. I like to have measurable progress. The other thing it does is it gives me a framework to hang my plot on. I know that about 20k the novel should be hip deep in shit. In the 40s, it should be knee deep and Bo should be solidly on the tail of the bad guy. In the 50s and 60s I have the climactic showdown between Bo Fexler and the bad guy. And in the late 60s, I'm wrapping up.

Nothing set in stone, ever, but it gives me something to measure with. Am I where I should be? Is the story moving too slow, to fast? Having a word count gives me a guage to measure the story against until the climax is written and the story (near) finished.

Sometimes I think I should just outline the damn things... but I dont' follow the outline. When I sit to write, the words come and I follow them like a gingerbread trail. Or maybe it's an Alphabits trail. I don't mind. It means writing a story is a little like reading it: I don't know what's going to happen until I get there.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wordless Wednesday: Bang!

Gun shot or stone chip?