Category Archives: The Devil & The Details

In Moments Like These

In Moments Like These

The Good

The good news first, shall we?

I spent a huge part of yesterday in the planning stages for Gliese 581: Zarmina’s World.

I waded through my list of characters first. In each book I write, I maintain a list of characters as well as a timeline. The list of characters is a table which lists:

  • First Name, Last Name and Maiden Name (if applicable)
  • Hair and Eyes
  • Born and Died
  • Location (I only use this when I’m dealing with multiple locations – like Gliese, Earth and Mars)
  • Notes – this might include information on their lineage, what they do, and their strengths

If I need to, I will add a character page into Scrivener as a sub-page of the character table. So far, I have added just one. A new character, Syn Travani, who is on Earth.

So yesterday was spent figuring out WHO was still alive (that plague was a doozy, after all) and where they were at. I listed the characters out and delineated whether they were on Earth, Mars or Gliese. I also added a handful of characters that I know I’ll need.

I also spent time re-acquainting myself with the story. This may sound silly to you, but I have forgotten a lot of what I have written. Which is always a nice surprise – I opened up the book, saw all of those neat words arranged on a page and got a satisfying, “I wrote that!” thrill. I’ll let you know when that grows old because so far, it feels GREAT every time I crack open one of my books.

I came up with some, but not all, of the major (and minor) plot points I want to weave into the book.

And finally, sore from sitting and typing and writing, I tottered off to fold laundry, read to Em, and then read a small bit for myself before I was off to bed.

Note to self: I really should re-read the entire Gliese book and take notes on avenues to explore in the new book.

The Not So Good

I woke up at 4 a.m. thinking about STUFF. In particular, I thought of my maternal line, one I swore I would do differently than generations before.

I will explain.

Growing up, my mother and my maternal grandmother were endlessly at odds. Mum (my name for my grandmother) would say something to Mom – it was usually judgmental, meddlesome, or downright manipulative. She would do the same to me and I hated it. I watched my mother wrestle with two opposing imperatives – be respectful to her mother and yet protect/defend herself.

As a result, Mum and Mom didn’t spend much time together. And when they did, it was strained and full of thick, tense air, words and deeds.

Mum has been gone for 16 years now. I wonder if her relationship with her mother was much the same. I know that my great-grandmother did not ever live with Mum. Instead, she lived with her eldest daughter, Beulah, until she died. I haven’t heard much, after all, it is poor form to speak ill of the dead, but I get the feeling she was a difficult person to get along with.

Growing up, and seeing this relationship (or lack thereof) between my mother and my grandmother – I knew I wanted different. I remember thinking, with the simple idealized hope of youth, that I could make things different. I would not have the same relationship with my mother. My daughters and I would not have the same relationships either. I would do better, I would be a good mom, maybe even a fun mom, and when my kids grew up, I would back off and not continue to try and parent (i.e. nag and judge) them forever after. I would honor their transition to adulthood and return to the sidelines and enjoy a new relationship with them based on respect and equality. I would not end up like my mom and grandmother.

Or so I told myself.

I remember waking up in the middle of the night, pregnant with my firstborn, in hysterical tears of fear, scared I wouldn’t be a good mom. My husband would laugh then, tell me I would do fine. Later, years later, even before I left him, he diligently remembered my fears and reminded me of them at every turn. “You’re an awful mother.” I believed it for years.

In the ten, now eleven years since my eldest turned eighteen, I have walked the razor’s edge. Do I tell her when she is with some guy I think has serious mommy issues or is dysfunctional? Do I say anything when she drops out of school yet again? Do I offer advice or stay silent?

I have chosen again and again to stay silent. Partly because I believed it would harm not help to give my opinion or unasked for advice. And also because, in the end, it is her life, not mine, to live. Perhaps it is best to kiss some real toads rather than have a parent giving you unasked for advice while seeing only half of the picture.

Even as I stayed true to my beliefs, as I kept my silence, my mother would make an appearance. She would tell me (without any prompting from me, thank you very much) how to live, what to wear, and send another wave of judgment my way. Just experiencing it kept me steady on my course. I would be different. I would be better.

And then I received a letter in early February from my child, doing the SAME THING that my mother had done to me all of my life, something that my mother’s mother had done to her, and god knows how far back. The letter labeled me, dispensed unasked for advice, and was generally dismissive of who I am and what I have done. And I was absolutely floored by it. She had lived with me for 18 months. We had been at peace through much of it, but the letter basically gave me two options: agree with her on her points and I don’t know, apologize for being so busy dealing with my unwanted father (the grandfather she hated) when he was at death’s door that I hadn’t come to visit her, or accept that I had somehow screwed up royally. And honestly? I couldn’t take it anymore. Not another human being, one that I had actually raised, sacrificed and provided for long after she was grown, telling me I was insufficient, that I was lacking, that I was LESS than the ideal mother she wanted.

Just like I couldn’t take my mother’s new and weird assertions that her granddaughters (especially the sweet little ten-year-old) didn’t want to spend time with her. Something I tried pointing out she would make a reality if she continued to voice it. There is nothing like being labeled, it makes the person want to be exactly what they are being called, after all, what point is there in being anything else? It isn’t as if you have disproved anything by living your life differently – others will believe what they want despite your best efforts.

I broke ties with both of them.

But it isn’t as simple as that. It never is. Do you excise the love along with the hurt? Do you make your heart a patchwork of No Trespassing signs and roads that you can no longer drive upon?

So here I was at 4 a.m., obsessing over mistakes I made when rearing my firstborn, fearing what seems like the inevitable curse of my maternal line, and I realized…

My fears – that fate has a far stronger hand in our future than I would care to admit – are what I write about and what I live.

Every day.

I don’t want to continue the pattern. I’ve tried like hell to break free of it. I’ve consciously worked at being different for the entirety of my adult life, and despite my efforts, I find myself in the same position. I can’t help wondering what Em thinks of it all. What her internal dialogue is saying as she watches my relationship with her sister and grandmother teeter and falter. Does she promise herself the same thing?

“It will be different. I’ll make it different.”

Does she promise herself that when she sees me mourning the relationships I wished I had?

It also makes me realize that the Kapalaran Universe (kapalaran is Filipino for “fate”) is an extension of these questions. That, not unlike the Philosophy 101 test question I agonized over some 20 years ago is still bouncing around in my head.

Do we have free will? Or is some pre-destination involved?

I have always thought that I could change the paradigm. I believed it with the fervor of the newly baptized. I wanted it to be different, agonized for a new reality free of judgment, hurt feelings, and resentment.

Fate, if it exists, and exist it must because damned if I haven’t tried my best to shake it, is a many-tentacled bitch of a beast.

Analytics Sez…

Analytics Sez…

It is well known that I am not the most intuitive of individuals. I get vibes…sometimes. Weird feelings that could mean “run like hell for the hills, because she is about to blow” to a vague feeling of unease shortly before an eruption of epic proportions.

In short, I do not understand my fellow humans as well as I would like.

I’ve found myself idly wondering if I fall somewhere on the autism spectrum.

In any case, never was it more apparent than when I checked my most recent analytics from Mail Chimp.

Since getting my hand slapped by Mail Chimp (something I totally, TOTALLY deserved), I found myself leveling out with a list of around 60+ subscribers.

I can’t wait for the day when I look back at that number and smile because it is in the umpteen thousands…

And each week, when I send out my newsletter, I check my analytics. How many have opened the newsletter? How many have clicked on the different links?

Last week? I averaged over 55% open rate. The industry average is just a tad over 16%.

What does this tell me? Well…it tells me you like reading what I’ve written. At least a little bit. Maybe a lot.

But there is where the analytics end and the questions begin.

Why are they reading what I’ve written?

What  catches their attention the most?

You see, I’m trying to build readership here. And as I understand it, that means writing words others want to read. And as I continue to read 279 Days to Overnight Success by Tim Grahl, I find myself struck with the very question he asks, “What’s in it for the readers?”

And when I thought about that question I realized that I have absolutely NO idea.

I told you, I don’t understand humans very well.

So…ummm…help me out here. Stop lurking, just for today. Throw me a bone and tell me…what are you doing here? If you don’t feel comfortable posting a comment then just send me an email at shuckchristine@gmail.com.

Because I would really like to know. And you know I can use all the help I can get to puzzle this little mystery out!

 


Forward Movement – It’s a Good Thing

Forward Movement – It’s a Good Thing

I received the synopsis back from Kerrie yesterday with a few simple changes and, after a nice long visit, came home and got to work.

“What’s for dinner?” my husband asked.

“I dunno, what are you cooking?” I replied.

You see, I am on a mission. I’m putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. Here is my goals list as it stands:

  • Finish sending out queries for War’s End to ten agents. (I’ve sent six off yesterday)
  • Prep The War on Drugs: An Old Wives Tale for submission and send out queries to ten agents.
  • Prep Get Organized, Stay Organized and send out queries to ten agents.
  • Prep Quit Your Job for submission and send out queries to ten agents.
  • Return to writing on one of my writing projects – probably War’s End Book Two.
  • As I receive rejections (or in 6-8 weeks after the first round) send out other batches of ten.

The more I thought about it, the better it sounded to keep sending out queries on what I already have done. It was rather surprising to realize that I have not just the three books I’ve self-published, but also the Quit Your Job (halfway written), Book 2 of War’s End 2/3 complete, and two other big projects in the works.

Not to mention at least 2-3 other non-fiction projects that have been lurking about in my head for some time now…

  • The Spaces In Between – a autobiographical/memoir piece on the last fifteen years of my life
  • [Currently Unnamed] – book on eclectic homeschooling, a mix of unschool and curriculum, as well as tracking homeschool goals, progress, and maintaining a daily diary
  • Art for the Non Artist – which would introduce elements of Zentangle, doodling and more – with an emphasis on taking your art from the world around you (architecture, plants, animals and more)
  • [Currently Unnamed] – down-to-earth advice on starting your own housecleaning business with an emphasis on figuring out rates, what to say (and not say) to prospective clients, which clients are the best to work for, recipes for homemade cleaning products, product reviews, billing, and more.

PLUS…Random book ideas currently housed in my files with names like…

  • Kansas City Gardener (obviously a gardening book)
  • Killers Like Us (fiction)
  • Pixies (fiction)
  • Portals of Fire (fiction)
  • Rational Parenting (yes, it does exist)
  • Schicksal Turnpike (fiction…think Twilight Zone)
  • Suburban Homesteading
  • The River (fiction)

In other words? I’ve got a full plate. Time to get to it!

p.s. Here’s another goal. In one more year, well, let’s say by December 31st, 2014, I want to be making enough income at writing and teaching my classes that I can stop running a cleaning business and focus on writing and all the rest of my multitudes of projects.

 

Pitches, Schmitch, Oh What A B…

Pitches, Schmitch, Oh What A B…

I’ve fussed over them. I’ve sent them to my dad complaining that it felt like I was taking out my own wisdom teeth without any anesthetic…

Here they are in order. I think #4 is the winner, so you can skip down if you like…

Pitch #1:

In 2017, the United States, which has sunk into a deep economic depression, finally succumbs to the chaos of civil war. Two siblings are caught in the middle of a war, and they struggle to survive, to return to a home that may no longer even exist.

Meet Jess, fifteen, pregnant, and on the run. She will have to learn to survive by her wits and find a way to love the child growing within her. And she will do this while struggling to return home.

Meet Chris, eighteen, convinced his entire family is dead, and that he is truly alone in the world must create a new future for himself hundreds of miles from his hometown.

War’s End portrays the very worst and the very best that human nature has to offer in time of war. It confronts loss and death, while teaching of the birth of hope.

 

Pitch #2:

Jess, alone and pregnant, her brother Chris, conscripted by the Western Front. Two siblings separated by war, eventually believing the other is dead, must learn to survive in a nation ripped apart by economic chaos and civil war.

In the day after tomorrow, the United States is in chaos and fifteen-year-old Jess, and her eighteen-year-old brother Chris’s small Missouri town is invaded by the Western Front. Separated from their parents, separated from each other, they must rely on their own wits to survive and eventually escape.

Jess tries to head home while Chris, believing his sister, along with their parents, is dead, escapes to the south and east, into Tennessee. Follow their steps as the struggle to survive, suffer loss and heartbreak, and fight for a place in a new and dangerous world.

War’s End is a story of desperation and of hope, of loss and love, and the will to survive, no matter the odds.

 

Pitch #3:

Jacob asked me today about his father. I didn’t know what to say. I haven’t told him the truth. I love him so much, so very, very much. I look at him and I know exactly who his father is. How do I tell my son, who I love more than life itself, that his father is a monster? How do I tell him that if I ever see that man again that I’m going to kill him? So I lied. I told him his daddy died before I got to know him very well.” – Jess’s Journal

Faced with death and heart-wrenching loss, surrounded by a war not of their making, two siblings must fight for their freedom and learn to survive.

It is the day after tomorrow, and the United States has fallen into economic ruin and civil war. Their small Missouri town invaded, and Jess and Chris conscripted into the Western Front, the two siblings are separated from their parents and from each other.

Jess is fifteen, pregnant, and desperate to return home to Warsend. Her brother Chris is eighteen. Separated during their escape, Chris is convinced his sister is dead. Alone and without family to draw him home, he flees south and east, and befriends the Perdue family in Tennessee. Here he will find a second home, love, and face challenges of the heart as well as danger in his new home.

Jess struggles to survive in the forests, hiding from soldiers, learning to fish, hunt game, and forage for wild edibles, all while dreaming of returning home to her lost family. Jess must come to terms with her pregnancy, and what it will mean to be a mother of a baby she did not want or ask for.

 

Pitch #4:

Jacob asked me today about his father. I didn’t know what to say. I haven’t told him the truth. I love him so much, so very, very much. I look at him and I know exactly who his father is. How do I tell my son, who I love more than life itself, that his father is a monster? How do I tell him that if I ever see that man again that I’m going to kill him? So I lied. I told him his daddy died before I got to know him very well.” – Jess’s Journal

Fifteen-year-old Jess is pregnant and alone, running for her life, fighting to survive. The Western Front, invaded her home, tore her from her parents and ripped away her innocence. The country is in chaos due to economic collapse and civil war. Around every corner lurks the danger of the soldiers who are still hunting her. Jess must learn to defend herself, to hunt game, and find shelter in a desperate new world.

Can Jess bring herself to love the child growing inside her? How will she survive with a newborn? And will she ever be able to return home?

Set in the day after tomorrow, War’s End is a gritty tale of survival, hope and love, in the face of impossible odds.

Yeah, so that’s what I’ve got so far…

World-Crafting

World-Crafting

I’ve written a couple of hundred words today in WE2 (War’s End, Book 2) but mainly I’ve been looking at my Timeline file and using it to flesh out the basic outline of the book.

I don’t know how other writers write, but mine is in fits and starts, big circles, little circles and the occasional wandering curve ball.

With both War’s End and my outlined Chronicles of Liv Rowan I’ve started with a simple exercise…

It usually entails the following thought, I’m going to write something descriptive.

That’s it, that’s all the thought that goes into it. In the case of War’s End I wrote the chapter “Morning”, which is in Book 2. What always stumps me is the question that inevitably follows my writing a ‘descriptive scene’ – Well, great, I like this. But…what happens next?

Now in both War’s End and Chronicles of Liv Rowan, the what happens next? question stumped me for YEARS.

However, I truly believe that the reason I was stumped had nothing to do with my writing ability as it did with my lack of belief in my writing ability. I allowed myself to be fearful – to fear that I didn’t know the answer or that I simply didn’t have it in me to write a book.

I had a good giggle the other day when I read the following part of a book summary in my Chronicles of Liv Rowan series:

[solution] The epicenter of the earthquakes is in the Range of Zarah, a line of impossibly high mountains rivaled in height only by the Newo Crag mountain range to the north of the Glass Forrest. Within the mountain range, of which she must enter with a band of locals, along with Trevor and Pert, is a magical disturbance that she will fix with something from her purse.

To say my book outlines can sometimes be brief and scanty on details is an understatement. However, this particular ‘solution’ is to Book 3, so I have a while to think about it until I come up with a more detailed solution than ‘something from her purse’.

Imagine my terror when I realized that Chronicles was a twelve book series. I actually looked at it and reasoned, I can’t really do this, they will actually end up being six books, because how could I possibly find enough filler to make each individual story a full novel?

Plainly put, it’s bullshit.

It’s bullshit to believe I cannot write. It’s bullshit to sit around and wait for the perfect story from beginning to end to magically pop into my head. It’s bullshit to question every day whether or not I really can do this.

The questions are time-wasters and delays. Delays that can eventually mean the difference between DOING SOMETHING WITH YOUR LIFE or sitting around with your thumb up your ass.

And the same applies to you.

If you want to go to the moon, build a spaceship and fucking go to the moon.

If you want to teach yourself Spanish, then DO IT.

If you want to write, then write. Every damn day.

Don’t sit there reading this and dream about might-have-beens or ‘if onlys’ and get off your ass and do something about it.

That’s my four cents (used to be two cents but…inflation, man, inflation)

Now back to my world-crafting. No more delays!

Ah Crap, No Distractions, No!

Ah Crap, No Distractions, No!

Okay, it’s 7am and I’m walking away from War’s End for the week. Well, at least until I complete my week’s posts for The Homeschool Advocate and The Deadly Nightshade.

I stopped writing at 22,612 total word count to date on the manuscript and went into the kitchen for some coffee, a bite of breakfast and to share my dream from last night with Dave.

Then I noticed the headline on his computer. Looks like the Feds are ramping up for an all-out war on California’s big cash crop – marijuana. This brought to mind my manuscript for The War On Drugs: An Old Wives Tale, which has been sitting at just over 67,000 words for a while now. Mostly it is a daily journal and notes kept over a period of about 16 months.

Now, 60k word count is nothing to sneeze at, but I still have at least 1/3 of the book to write, and all of the daily journals to reduce or eradicate. My first thought, when I began the manuscript, was to have a way to show the absolute ridiculous, convoluted expectations and statements that are issued by drug court officials. So that the public could see the crazy crap they deal out on a daily basis. And with it, the lack of respect, the degradation and actual lying that drug courts compel you to do, in order to get through the system “successfully.”

In order to make this an effective book, however, I need to pull away from the journals. To consolidate them down to tiny pieces of the whole, and bring the focus back to the war on drugs, why incarceration and drug courts do not work, and why legalization is our only course of action.

I would need to do serious research to make this happen. And where and when am I going to find time for that?

And did I mention that I’m feeling guilty over still not finishing a quilt I promised to Emily almost three years ago? Yeah…the kid is FIVE and she’s asked me at least twice, once a year ago, when she was going to get the quilt. Well sweetie, as soon as Mama gets her poop in a pile. Yeah…any day now.

Dave just sent me this quote by Mahatma Ghandi:

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

I love it. It makes me think of the Wall Street protesters. I hope I can find a way to incorporate it into An Old Wives Tale.

And Again About Details

And Again About Details

First a quick status update:

Book 1: 19,055 words (nearly 1,000 more words since my last update)

It seems ironic that I have 37 pages of notes and it is still not enough. Take this morning’s revelation. The schoolhouse can’t be Victorian, even if the 1st Protectorate did commission it. In reality, a schoolhouse in itself violates the rules of the world on a very simple level…if the world is medieval in appearance (buildings, clothing, weaponry) they aren’t going to give a tinker’s damn about educating their kids. There is basic survival needs going on.

And don’t get me started on the toilet scene. Yes, I know, I know, toilets didn’t necessarily exist in medieval times. Well they did and they didn’t…I just spent the last fifteen minutes reading about squat toilets and I’m damn near converted.

The point is, I’m frustrated. I need to figure out this world better and decide the rules. If I don’t know what the rules should be, then I should avoid those particular topics. Let the reader figure it out or come up with a theory all their own. For now, I’m taking a break. I need to think about it and I also need to do other things. Like, house stuff. I think it might be a good idea to paint the molding in my office today.

A short break from world-crafting and book writing is definitely in order.

Building Universes

Building Universes

I like detail.

And with that in mind, I have spent the last twenty hours or so connecting a universe together. I’m not humble, I’m calling it “My Universe” and I am linking ALL of my stories within it.

Yes, some is supernatural, some is alternate future, some is comedic sci fi, and everyone is related to everyone else.

Part of it is just common sense – why recreate characters when I can write stories about one set in one book and write about an interconnecting set in another?

So I’ve got two connections I’m currently working on – Schicksal Turnpike and the Chronicles of Liv Rowan – very different entirely, but both will link to War’s End through shared characters. For instance, “Schicksal” has a child character in it who is the grandmother of Jess in “War’s End”. And “Shicksal” also has a guy who ends up dying in Vietnam, but not before fathering an illegitimate son with one of the Astor heirs who eventually marries the daughter of Madeleine Falling Water’s (Book 1) daughter Penelope, who will appear in Book 2 of War’s End.

Madeleine L’Engle did this. She wrote different stories about sets of families, and they all interconnected with each other. And Stephen King is well known for referencing other books in his ‘universe’ on a regular basis.

I love the sense of connection – and the endless lists of possible stories and plots that comes from first creating and clarifying the characters and then doing spin-off stories.

I haven’t linked the Chronicles of Liv Rowan in quite yet, but it’s getting close. Mainly I’m just creating some mini back stories to set the parameters for the books to come. For some reason, at least for now, that seems to be working for me. At the very least, I’m finding myself weaving some great premises. Next on the agenda is “Zombie Squad” and maybe “Plague Tales” – those could really put a twist on ‘reality’ as we know it.

I’ve created a Master Character list that tracks the connections and the books that the characters appear in. I’m also adding Timelines to all ‘books in progress’ in order to keep all the facts straight. It’s a lot of work, but I think that it’s well worth the effort!