On Writing and Writing Books

One of the overwhelming things they tell you when you want to be a writer is that you have to read a lot. So I’m reading in my professional writing genre quite a bit, and enjoying it. Even the recent series that I stumbled upon, which has zombies (something I don’t like only because zombies are the only thing that can give me nightmares) is amazing. If anyone is interested, check out it’s called the Vertex series by Soren Summers. I didn’t know there were going to be zombies going into it, but it is oh so worth it.

Getting to the meat of my post, I wanted to talk about writing books. I don’t read books about writing. Rather, I listen to them (thank goodness for audiobooks!). I’ve only listened to 4 so far, but there’s something I took away from each.

Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down The Bones” and “Thunder and Lightning”. I listened to Bones first, and then after another book, Thunder and Lightning. There’s a bit of good that comes from each book, though they mostly talk about process and background. Goldberg is an old fashioned type writer, if I may say so. She talks about writing practice, and filling up stacks and stacks of notebooks. Writing practice is where you kind of let go and get in touch with what kind of writer you are. There’s a general guideline she has of “Maybe do writing practice two years before you attempt anything professional” and I can see that. But she goes on to say that the two year rule is more of a guideline than anything. The thing about Goldberg’s books, especially Bones, was that I would listen to them as I went on long afternoon walks – and whether it was her cadence or voice or just being inspiring, I spent a lot of the time with ideas for stories flooding my brain. How to work out a specific detail about the next Migration book? Well, it came to me as Goldberg was talking about a writing workshop in Minnesota, or the time she spent writing short poems for people at a farmer’s market for $1 per page. In all, I did enjoy both books, and though my mindset is more in the Thunder and Lightning realm, I enjoyed Bones much more.

Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”. This book confused me when I started it. King talks mostly about his childhood for the first 20% of the book. But the way he can tell a tale is amazing. His time discussing how he missed a lot of school and ended up in the doctor’s with an ear infection multiple times just creeped me the hell out. But the overwhelming thing about King’s work is the lesson that comes natural through the discussion of the book. Think you might have an idea? Go ahead and write it, because you’re meant to. Nobody can tell a tale in your voice but you. And even some of the most well known stuff by King started out when he was processing laundry for hospitals and doing other menial tasks. Even in those bleak moments of his life, he was able to get something written down on paper that changed the world. The book is almost like a list of do’s and don’t’s on writing, but sprinkled around an interesting life so that if you’re not paying attention, you might miss them. One thing he has said that bugged me, though, was the lesson “If you have a possessive apostrophe and the word ends with the letter S, it’s still an apostrophe S in your writing.” Of course in Migration there’s a lot of stuff done by Rhys – so that would mean I would have to go back and change them all from saying things like “Rhys’ voice was soft behind the roar of the waterfall” to “Rhys’s voice was soft behind the roar of the waterfall.” I think that’s the only thing I don’t agree with – but who am I to say? Maybe I just no longer have names that end with S in my writing as a way of getting around it? ::grin::

Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life”. Oh man. I had high hopes for this book after listening to just the very beginning, especially after the inchworm story. I’ll leave it here:

Dillard writes a passage about an inchworm, the proverbial inchworm, that inches its way to the top of a long piece of grass. It gets to the top and says, “What? No Further?” It starts panicking, it starts wriggling, it starts looking for somewhere further to go. Finally, it bends the grass over to another piece, it attaches itself, and it starts climbing to the top again. But when it finally gets there, it exclaims, “What? No further? End of world?” “Why don’t you just jump?” asks Dillard, “disgusted. ‘Put yourself out of your misery.'”

This little passage spoke to me so much.  Why?  Because I sometimes go into a bit of a creative tailspin thinking I don’t have anything creative in me.  It’s like a tree branch that grows into my prison cell.  I took and took and took from the branch, plucking all the wonderful creative bits and ended up snapping the branch in half.  And even though I can reach through the bars of my cell, and brush my fingers against the stub of creativity that hovers just far out of reach, that’s all I get.  Yes, I feel like I get a morsel every now and again, most mostly I sit there staring at the branch, wondering why it’s so far gone when I need it the most.

I am the inchworm.  I’ve reached the tip of that blade of grass, and wail back and forth because creativity is gone.  I’m at the end of my world and don’t know what to do next.

But that’s where Dillard’s book left me.  After the first ten minutes, it was just a mishmash of semi-connected stories on what she did when she wrote.  What cabins she rented.  The weather.  That time she went up in an airplane with a guy who ended up dying doing a barrel roll.  For someone to inspire me so much in the first ten minutes, and then let me languish so much for the last three hours…  Well, it was so disappointing.

So those are the four books I’ve listened to on writing.  I’ve taken away something from each of them, and I’ll keep going.

If you have suggestions for writing books, please let me know.  What was your favorite?  What worked for you, and what didn’t?  I enjoy listening to writing audiobooks as I deal with mundanity like weeding the yard or working on my 10,000 steps per day, because it brings a bit of brightness to a task that’s just shades of grey.

When Writing IS Your Business

I’m at a point in my career where I get a chance to write, but it’s not my primary job.  I’d love it to be; get up in the morning, spend a few hours writing, have some time to do marketing and just fun interactive stuff with writers and readers, and then a few more hours of writing.  But that’s just not the case right now.  My primary job is in Medical Information Technology, and I truly love it.  But one day…

Thing is, Boo and I are going to India in August.  Since we’re on the US West Coast, we’ve got multiple looooong flights (14 hours SEA to DXB, 4 hours DXB to BOM, 8 hours BOM to LHR, and 10 hours LHR to SEA) that would be perfect for getting quite a bit of writing done.  Especially since I think August is a Camp NaNo month?  Or maybe that’s July…  Anyway, when you get paid to write, you cherish any time that you can spend on your craft.  So it’s hard to read that the iPad/laptop ban may be extended to more countries.  That means I might be able to travel with my laptop TO India, I wouldn’t be allowed to travel with it back to the United States.

We shall see what the fallout comes.  But here’s hoping it’s not an all-out ban, because that would suck even worse than sitting next to a screaming toddler that just filled their diaper for a fourteen-hour flight.

Not a fan of the Kindle? That’s okay!

So many people like and use the Kindle format, either on a Kindle reader itself or within the Kindle app.  I tend to read that way, because it can keep track of your progress in a book, sync with Goodreads, among other things.  But the thing for me is, it doesn’t sync between devices – at least not for books that you don’t get from Amazon.  And if you take part in ARC (advance reading copies) programs or downloads from Instafreebies or the like, then that book stays on the device you downloaded it to and doesn’t get shared with your other devices.

Which is why I’m happy to announce that Migration: Beginnings is now available on not just Kindle, but iBooks, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and even libraries starting Tuesday, March 7th!  The book is live in many of these bookstores, but get delivered to Kobo and libraries starting tomorrow.  And as a special for libraries, I’ve made the books free.  So if you’re interested in reading from your local library (many of which take advantage of the Overdrive reading app), you should be able to download a copy and read it from your libraries starting soon.

Hope this makes people’s Mondays just a bit better!

Proper preparation and all that stuff

Oh man… So when I wrote ‘Migration: Beginnings’, all I had was the whiteboard (which I told you about in the first Vlog that I produced), and my notes that I typed up and kept in a Microsoft Word document. And that’s all I really needed. Why? Because it was so fresh in my head, that I never doubted a thing.

And then I finished the book, read quite a lot, and have written other stuff since then that’s not related to Migration. So when I went to write out something about Rhys, the lead character from Migration, I suddenly had to know what college he went to – where he got his undergrad work, and where he got his PhD. (Turns out that it was Boston College for the undergrad, and University of California, Berkeley for his PhD – if you were curious). I used to know these items in great detail, even though they weren’t a part of the book. It was still something that was in my head.

That’s why you should always start a book with not only an outline, but a character biography. Just a single page that tells you everything you need to know about the person. And I’ve started doing them now, in anticipation of continuing the sequel to Migration: Beginnings. Like for instance, Jason is the middle child of three, was voted his high school’s class clown, and went to the University of Washingon. Whereas Captain Clarice Franks is bisexual, was born in Germany but on a US Military base, and has wanted to fly ever since her father took her up in his private plane when she was barely out of diapers.

Proper preparation, y’all!

Ficlet from Migration ‘verse: An Italian Afternoon

I belong to a few writing communities, one of which is called “Get Your Words Out,” that is hosted on Livejournal.  I’ve pledged to write at least 150,000 words this year, which includes finishing the second book in the Migration series, as well as a short novella that is set before the series begins, just to get people acquainted with Rhys and Jason.

One of the prompts in the community is a picture prompt of two women who are sitting on a windowsill (you can see the picture here), and honestly it didn’t speak to me at all.  I’m usually very good with writing for random prompts.  However, I was stumped.

And then as I sat down this morning, the scene painted itself clearly to me.  Though the image is of two women, the story of Rhys and Jason from Migration: Beginnings and how they are vacationing in Europe, and happen upon the two women sitting in the window.

I call the story, “An Italian Afternoon”, and you can read it here:

Read more

Looking For Inspiration

There’s something to be said about writing, in that it’s not something you can just automatically sit down and do.  Okay, so there are some people that can do it, but not everyone.  If it’s your sole job, and sole source of income, then yes – maybe you can absolutely do that.  But for the rest of us, it’s quite a different process.  I’ve been thinking since my last post about what gets me to write – what inspires me.  And a lot of the times besides reading, it’s movies that really get my imagination going.

Being named Walter, a favorite movie growing up was Danny Kay’s ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty‘ from 1947.  It was something I could watch as a kid, and enjoy a laugh.  Danny Kay always captured the viewer’s imagination, so this role endeared him to many, myself included.

I was quite wary when I heard they were going to remake the movie, because typically remakes are soulless, corporate cookie-cutter patterns for maximizing profit.  Many in the entertainment community have strayed away from the thought of entertainment and stayed in the realm of maximizing profit.  That’s why there may be good movies here and there, but not behind every curtain.  A movie is supposed to capture your imagination.  Inspire you.  Make you look at the world differently.  But today, many movies are the exact opposite; just a 120-minute diversion from the mundanity of life.

That’s what made Ben Stiller’s ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ so very, very different.  You saw Stiller’s portrayal of Mitty as someone like yourself (or at least I did), sitting in a sterile environment, wanting something, but never taking a chance.  I won’t give away the movie (though it’s been out nearly four years; if you haven’t seen it, you should!), but I want to say the setting of Life Magazine was perfect.  Walter Mitty worked at Life, but he wasn’t experiencing life – until he finally took the chance.

For me, the quote that originally came from Thurber’s short story and then adapted for the movie is the epitome of what it is to be alive – what it is to not just live life but to experience it.

To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.

Beautiful.  Just beautiful!  Not to mention inspiring!

Anyone else finding it difficult to write?

Trying to put this post into words, I actually decided on describing two scenes from the book.  We all know that America is going through a trying time right now, with anti-LGBT legislation coming down the pike, and some in government beating the drums of war.  It’s downright scary.

Thinking about it, right now I would say that I feel more like Rhys and Jason on their honeymoon as they watched the newscaster talk about the bombs going off in Europe.  That sinking, helpless feeling that creeps into your soul and leaves you feeling desolate.

But I want to get back to a happy place, like Rhys and Jason at the end of the book when they’re laughing and getting drenched in the rainfall from a foreign planet.  I desperately want to get back there, and I know I will.  It just may take a little time.

Goodreads question: How is fiction writing similar to non-fiction writing?

Originally posted over on my Goodreads author page at this link.

I truly thought that the process of writing a fiction book versus a non-fiction book would be completely different. Writing non-fiction, you end up doing quite a bit of research, because you want to get the information right. People read fiction books as a type of escape, whereas they are reading non-fiction books as reference.

But what I learned while writing Migration: Beginnings was that you need to do research – just as much if not more – on what you’re writing. Migration: Beginnings takes place primarily in Portland, Oregon. Now I live outside of Portland, so it’s easy to keep the landmarks in my head. For instance, the drive from the airport down I205, is quite clear to me, and the mall that they pass along the highway is the closest mall to my home.

But the book sees Rhys and Jason trotting across the globe, from a mundane trip to Sacramento, to Japan, Nepal, and Zimbabwe. While I made up the story that Jason’s grandpa tells him, the “so high up, that it almost touches the sky” and “hidden behind a wall of water”, the basic geography of Nepal and Zimbabwe actually exist. I had to do research on how to get there, closest airports, and the like, because I wanted it to be realistic.

So there you go. Research is the same no matter if you’re writing a book about travel, or a book about a couple that runs around the globe figuring out clues, that leads them to another planet.

Readers – Present Tense or Past Tense?

So there’s a debate that I’ve gotten involved in from time to time, and that’s about writing either in present tense or past tense. For me, I’ve been trained to write in present tense, and it makes sense. Why? Because present tense tends to keep you in the moment. There are some particularly action-based scenes in the book that amp you up as you read it, and the present tense keeps you in that moment. Present tense, in my mind, is telling you a story as it happens.

Past tense, at least in my mind, tells you the story after it happens. So to me, it’s more detached from the story, and thus, takes me out of the moment. But I’ve had two strong reactions from two reviewers who don’t like to read present tense, as it is too jarring.

So what do you think? Do you have a preference one way or the other? Sound off and let me know!