Secrets of Renaissance – Part 3

 

For the past few weeks, I’ve been participating in the Rule of Three Blogfest, a month-long, shared world, short fiction festival. My continuing story follows three friends dealing with their intertwined fates as told to them by the town’s oracle. You can find the first part of the story here, and the second part here. Each week has a different prompt, but they are all limited to 600 words. Once again, I’ve hit the exact limit (though in this case MS Word is counting the scene breaks as words, so I’m technically two shy). You can always keep up with the latest entries in the blogfest by checking out Stuart Nager’s online paper.

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Word count: 600

The Prompts for Week Three (chosen ones in bold/italics):

  1. The impending misfortune foreshadowed in the 1st prompt comes to pass, but one or more characters laugh at it.
  2. Betrayal is in the air.
  3. Relationships unravel or strengthen.
  4. A long-kept secret is revealed.

 


Destiny

 

Remi threw a rock off the overlook, trying to hit the Espadon. It landed a half-mile short, as always. The noonday sun bore down on the secluded nook behind the red, wind-carved rocks. It was the same nook where he’d spent dozens of nights with Jana. He held the note she’d left him in his hands and tried not to hope.

I’m going to the Espadon overlook today for old times’ sake.

It had to be good news. The oracle had foretold it, after all. They would be together ‘til the end. She wasn’t supposed to end up with some butcher. Simple enough words from an old, wrinkled woman’s mouth as she’d read his cards. Some people griped about only being allowed one reading in their lifetimes, but not him. The oracle had promised him Jana. What else did he need?

The Espadon twisted through the valley beneath him. She would come. The oracle had promised.

#

Dant had just gotten the stench of Remi’s mess out of the back bar’s floor when he heard someone calling from the front. He groaned and checked the clock. Ten in the morning. Way too early. It was illegal for him to serve anything now.

He stomped out to the front, prepared to fend off someone chasing the hair of the dog. He found Miri Willam instead, the redhead that worked with Jana at the flower shop.

“Mr. Dranall?”

“Yes, Miri?”

Her brows pinched as she spoke. “Have you seen Jana today?”

“This morning before she went to work. Why?”

Miri looked at the ground and folded her hands. “She never came in. Her fiancé was looking for her. I told him she might be here.”

“Tegan hasn’t been here today.”

She looked up with tears in her eyes. “He said that he was sad she wasn’t at work, but not surprised. Then he left. I’ve never seen him look so cold, Mr. Dranall, and he’s not a warm man.”

Dant tried to swallow, but there was no moisture in his mouth. His hand shook as he poured himself a glass from the tap.

“Thank you Miri. I think you should go back to the flower shop now.”

“But… but what should I—”

Dant closed his eyes and drained the glass. “Nothing, Miri. Please go.”

Jana hadn’t. She wouldn’t have. She said she wasn’t going to go. He checked the clock again. Just past ten in the morning. If he borrowed a good horse he might be able to head them off.

#

Jana laid her hand against the wind-carved rock that led into the nook. So many nights were back there. So many very, very, good nights. The rock was warm this morning. Inviting. Her horse gnawed at grass with Remi’s, tied to the makeshift hitch by the old cypress tree. It was far too late to worry about how stupid this was. Time to find out why she was here.

She watched Remi pitch a rock off the edge of the cliff.

“You’re never going to hit it, Rem.”

His jaw slacked for a heartbeat when he saw her. Its corner peeled back into that same half-grin that melted her heart every time he aimed it at her.

“There’s something I have to say,” she said. “I should’ve told you before. I owed you better.”

“You never owed me anything, Jan,” he said.

“It was the oracle. She told me that any man who loved me—”

The click of a pistol cocking cut her off. “I wish you hadn’t come, Jana. It would have been easier.”

It was Tegan.


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Welcome Back to Renaissance, Where Everybody has a Secret

Today marks part 2 of the #REN3 blogfest, in which I continue the tale of Dant, Remi, and Jana. For those who didn’t catch my first installment, check it out here. The Rule of Three Blogfest is a shared setting collective storytelling experience, hosted by Damyanti, J.C. Martin, Lisa Vooght, and Stuart Nager, and you can see some of the latest news and entries by checking Stuart’s online paper.

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There are a different set of prompts every week and a 600-word limit (not counting the title). Because I have to push it as much as possible, this entry (like my last one) is exactly 600 words. The prompt I chose was: A relationship becomes complicated. The exact way this prompt applies won’t be fully apparent until later installments, but I assure you that I’ve used it (in triplicate, actually). As requested, I’ll mention the word count and the prompt at the bottom as well.



Old Times’ Sake

Jana found an envelope wedged in her door when she opened it in the morning. It fell to the ground face-up. A sketched picture of a tulip stared up at her. She sighed. Tulips were her favorite. Three men would remember that, but only one wouldn’t simply buy a picture of a tulip and paste it on there. Remi. She eyed the trashcan by the door.

What was Remi thinking? What if Tegan had come by this morning and seen it? She slipped Remi’s note in her pocket and hurried out. Now she’d have to make a stop before the flower shop. There was only one person who could talk sense into Remi. Hopefully he was awake.

Jana hustled down Faraday Street, giving up on trying not to jog when she passed Metley. She was sweating by the time she saw the familiar sign: Heriot’s Pass, home of Dant’s famous Renaissance Brown. The windows were still shuttered.

She knocked. “Dant?”

The door to Heriot’s swung open, protesting with a squeak that Dant never got around to fixing. He always said it gave the place character. She edged her way in. The bar smelled like soap. It always did before customers came in.

The voice of a man swearing echoed from the back. Jana smiled. Dant was in the back bar. It was never a good thing when he had to clean up back there. She made her way through the connecting hallway, wondering what sort of crazy private party had been held last night.

When she got to the back bar, she found Dant scrubbing under a bench on his hands and knees. He wore a mask over his nose.

“Dant?”

Dant jerked up and banged his head on a table. He rolled to the ground.

“What the fu—” Dant’s eyes locked on her face and widened. He rethought his exclamation. “Jana? What are you doing here?”

She fished out Remi’s letter and tossed it to him. “An employee of yours left that in my door this morning.”

Dant pushed himself up. “Remi? How’d he wake up early enough to get that to you?”

“What am I supposed to do?” Jana asked. “If Tegan had seen that he’d have flipped. Can you talk some sense into Remi?”

“Of course,” Dant said. He tore the envelope open.

“Don’t—” Jana protested.

Dant pulled out the note and held it up to the light. “Congrats for everything, Jana. I wish you all the best. I’m headed to the Espadon overlook today for old times’ sake. Meet me if you want. Love, Remi.”

It was sweeter than she had expected. No pleading. It hardly sounded like Remi. “I can’t just run off to the river to meet an old boyfriend. I have work. I have a fiancé,” she said.

Dant nodded. He laid Remi’s note on a table and sat down. “I know. Didn’t sound like him, though. Maybe Remi went and grew up while we weren’t looking.”

“Too little, too late,” Jana said. She watched Dant stare at the floor. “You actually think I should meet him?”

Dant shrugged. “It’s the first time I’ve heard him act like a grown-up. Maybe he just needs to end it clean, hear it from your own lips.”

“Then he’ll have to hear it another time,” Jana said. “Please tell Remi not to leave letters in my door anymore.” She spun around and left. She exited Heriot’s and headed west. The flower shop was east. Her heart beat like a jackhammer. Damn it all, Remi! And damn Dant too.

She was headed to the Espadon.


Prompt: A relationship gets complicated. Word Count (according to MS Word 2010, excluding the title): 600.

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to check out the dozens of other fantastic writers participating in the #REN3 blogfest. The easiest way to find them is just to read Stuart’s online paper (and as a bonus, you get to see how cool paper.li is).


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Multithreaded Writing

October 10, 2011 12:59 pm by MRM in epublishing, serial, Writing

Ever since I published Bearers of Bad News, I’ve been trying to push myself into a multithreaded writing mode. What’s multithreading? It’s how we should think of multitasking. At least, it’s how computers think of them. Each processing core, that is. Multicore machines can do true multitasking, but old-school machines can’t, and it’s debatable whether or not humans can. We certainly can’t write more than one thing at a time, thanks to the two-handed nature of typing and our regrettable lack of a second pair of hands and eyes. For the most part, your computer can’t really do more than one thing at a time (even if it’s multicore – most programmers don’t take advantage of that). If you’re playing a game and something is animating while the game is deciding on something logical (like, did you hit that target?), then you’re seeing multithreading. What’s really happening is that the machine is quickly switching back and forth between drawing that animation and making that hit calculation. If you could read the processor’s mind, it would go something like this:

Paint the screen, paint the screen, paint the screen. Divide bullet speed by time. Add to distance. Paint the screen. Paint the screen. Is distance to target less than hit distance? Paint the screen. Yes. Check probability for hit. Paint the screen. Probability is 35%. Paint the screen. Get pseudorandom number. Paint the screen. Paint the screen. Number is 54. Paint the screen. Bullet missed. Paint the screen…

It’s never painting and calculating at the same time, but it looks like it to you because it switches back and forth so quickly. That’s the only thing computers are actually good at—doing simple things extremely quickly.

The relevance to writing is more the one-thing-at-a-time issue, when I really want to be doing multiple things at once. I want to blog. I want to tweet. I want to edit issue 3 of Those Who Die Young. I want to write Issue 4 of TWDY. I want to finalize my short story for submission to a couple of markets. More than all of these, I want to get moving on edits to City of Magi to ready it for queries.

There is absolutely no chance I can do all of these at the same time. I’ve determined that I can do minor edits even when I’m not in full writing mode, so I can banish that to evenings and lunchtimes and still make some progress on it. The biggest conflict here, though, is between TWDY and City of Magi. I love TWDY. It’s by far the most fun thing I’ve ever done in writing, and I love that people are actually buying the first two issues. I feel a duty to my readers to further the story.

That being said, City of Magi is my dream book. It’s a powerful story that is something I want out there in front of the masses, published in for-realsies paperback form and sitting on the shelves at your local Barnes and Noble. And it’s not going anywhere if I spend all my time on TWDY.

Hence, multithreading. I can’t write both at once, but perhaps they can develop in tandem. So I’m going to try something. Monday and Tuesday are for TWDY. Lear, Erica, Mede, Quinta, and Roland will plow forward in their quest to keep the peace and re-enable Lear’s entry to the Infinitum. On Wednesday and Thursday, I’m in for City of Magi. The Grey Ghost lives. Friday’s a toss-up. Whatever needs development gets attention. It may also have to do with my mood after my Friday workout, or how close to my self-imposed deadline for TWDY releases I am.

We’ll see how it goes. Hopefully it’ll look like I’m successfully writing two things at once. At worst, it’ll be an experiment I do away with and I’ll go to single-mindedly prepping City of Magi for a month or so before switching to TWDY-mode for a similar amount of time. It’s all in good fun.

 


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Welcome to Renaissance–Everyone has a secret

October 5, 2011 12:02 am by MRM in Campaign, Writing

We take a break from our regularly scheduled #writecampaign entries to look at a brand new contest. Because I must do ALL OF THEM. The new writing challenge I’ve embarked upon is hosted by Damyanti, J.C. Martin, Lisa Vooght, and Stuart Nager (some of whom have commented in this blog earlier). It’s name is the Rule of Three Blogfest. My new fun with fiction adventure takes place in the shared story town of Renaissance. Perhaps an introduction is in order. It even has a cool logo, just like the other campaign.

For this contest, I’ll be posting a new entry every Wednesday in October (though I’m getting a head start on this one) related to certain prompts. The biggest difference between the #REN3 contest and the #writecampaign is that all of the #REN3 entries are related. You’ll be hearing more about the characters below for the entirety of the contest, and every entry from all contestants will be taking place in the same city (though not necessarily in the same time or with the same “rules”). I’m stoked. I’ve been on a fantasy kick lately, so here goes.

We had a choice of prompts this week, so I picked “someone might fall in love.” Of course, I could never take the easy way out and just write a love story. That’s too easy to be interesting. Good stories always hurt.

The word count limit was 600, and because I can’t help myself – I pushed it right to the limit. Incidentally, I’m not counting the title in that. Hope that’s okay. Without further ado, welcome to my little corner or Renaissance


Last Call

Dant checked the clock behind the bar. Last call. It was about damn time.

“Make it quick, gents. One more round and the law says you’re drunk enough,” he said.

The ratty assembly of miners grumbled and swore. A man with a soot-covered face told Dant in no uncertain terms where he could stick the clock, along with his empty mug and half his boot. Dant laughed. It was one of the more creative threats he’d heard this week. Everyone got one last pint of ale. People loved his Renaissance Brown – he couldn’t brew it fast enough. Travellers came all the way to the North End to get a sip.

“Remi,” he called. Might as well get started cleaning up the back bar early. Everyone was out front tonight. If he was lucky, he could get to sleep before the sun started poking its head where it didn’t belong. He looked up. Where in the seven hells was Remi?

“Remi,” he called again. Still no answer. Dant took a wary look at his patrons. None looked like much trouble tonight. The worst one might try would be to steal a refill, so Dant took off the tap handles.

“Don’t get any ideas, gents,” he said and ducked under the bar. He slid by two men who looked like corpses that learned to drink. He usually put Remi on the back bar. Only half his patrons even knew about it, and it was best to keep Remi in lower-profile positions.

Dant hurried down the hall and into the empty back bar. He stepped in something wet. Remi was passed out at a table by the door. Vomit spilled out from under his head and onto the floor.

“Gods damn it Remi!”

Remi jerked upright, his blue eyes wide. The left side of his stubble was coated, as was his hair.

“What? What?” He looked back and forth until he saw Dant. His eyes came into focus and he looked down. “Oh, man. I’m sorry. I’ll get this.” Remi tried to push himself up. His hand slipped on the side of the table he had generously lubricated and he fell back onto the bench.

“I’ll get the mop,” Dant said. So much for getting to bed early tonight.

Remi pushed himself back into a sitting position. “She’s gettin’ married, man.”

So that’s what this was about. Jana. “I know.”

“You knew about it?”

“She told me,” Dant said.

“How could you not—”

“I was going to tell you tomorrow because you had the day off. Had. I was hoping to avoid something like this.”

Remi deflated at Dant’s barb. “I’m sorry man.”

Dant grabbed a bar towel and threw it to Remi. “Just dry yourself off. You got it in your hair. Get a pint of water and I’ll get the mop as soon as I clear out the customers.”

“You really think she’s gonna marry that guy?”

Dant looked at his friend. He’d been feeding him the same half-truth for years. He hated getting Remi’s hopes up when he couldn’t tell him the whole answer.

“No, I don’t,” Dant said.

Remi’s eyebrows relaxed. “Really?”

“Really.”

Dant headed back to the front bar. Only three miners remained, nursing their dwindling lagers for all they were worth. No trouble tonight. Well, none but Remi. For once, though, Dant didn’t blame him. He understood the pain all too well. But Dant knew something Remi didn’t. The oracle had been quite clear: Dant was destined to be the most important man in Jana’s life. He just didn’t know how to break it to Remi.



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An Unnecessary Review of The Hunger Games

October 2, 2011 4:50 pm by MRM in Review, Writing

I don’t usually read YA. I want to get that out of the way early, because that’s probably the only reason it’s worth reading this review. The Hunger Games is one of the most popular books in the world at the moment, and if you haven’t heard of it, that’s only because the movie hasn’t come out yet. Yes, it’s one of those books—the ones that get so popular they become pop culture phenomena, like Harry Potter or the Twilight series. If you haven’t read it, you’re probably one of those people like me who avoids pop culture phenomena and can’t stand to be seen walking out of the bookstore with a paperback that has a movie star’s face on its cover. Or maybe, like me, you tend to think of YA as cutesy stories about kids that are probably really interesting to kids, but you don’t like being hit over the head with childish things any more than you like watching Nickelodeon.

To be clear, YA doesn’t have to be like this. I respect YA authors and a ton of my writing community friends write exclusively for YA. The reason I’m going on about this (and I’ll continue for a bit, if you’ll forgive me) is that The Hunger Games is the absolute best kind of YA: the kind where you wouldn’t know it was targeted at younger audiences unless you were told. There just happens not to be any sex or dropping of f-bombs, and it doesn’t feel contrived in any way. The protagonist just happens to be sixteen years old.

If you’re a YA author who dreams of having movie-making appeal, to write stories that take over the imagination of the world, read this book (as if you haven’t already) and take note. This is how you do it. This is how you amaze someone like me, who has no kids, comfortably watched the movie The Aristocrats, and wants to lead the horde down the FCC with torches and pitchforks every time I listen to the radio and hear an artist’s work censored. This is how you get to someone like me, who when he sees a version of a movie where all the sex and swearing removed thinks only “You took out all the best parts!”

To be fair, The Hunger Games isn’t on the young end of YA (I hope). The themes are quite mature without being adult, and the protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, isn’t really all that young in a society where people die young all the time.

Still, it’s worth noting as a great member of a popular genre. This isn’t just fantastic YA, this is fantastic fiction. The Hunger Games is a great story. I wouldn’t know it was YA if I hadn’t been told. There exists good YA that fails this test, that makes you know it’s aimed at children—Harry Potter is a great example of this—but the chances of ensnaring those of us who tend to avoid the genre is far smaller.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the most glaring irritation of an otherwise fantastic book. The damned present tense. Why writers do this is beyond me. The few scenes where Katniss is narrating about the past come off far more naturally and don’t make me trip over myself. I’ve never been a fan of present tense writing; the only author I read who did it and still got me through the book is Neal Stephenson with Snow Crash—and to be fair, that’s Snow Crash and I’m a nerd so you’d have to ring the pages with Hello Kitties to keep me away. The best argument against writing present tense I’ve ever heard is also the simplest, and I heard it from Orson Scott Card (so now you have to believe it). Present tense is simply not how we tell stories. Imagine a child sitting in front of you that wants to hear the story of the three little pigs. Most of you will say that the first little pig built his house out of straw. But that could be backstory, and justifiably in the past tense even if the story is told in present tense. But be honest, how many of you included this line?

“Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin,” said the pig.

Said the pig. Not says. What happened when the wolf came to the house made of bricks? Wouldn’t it sound odd to hear me ask what happens when the wolf comes to the brick house?

There is one class of stories commonly told in the present tense. Many of them start a little something like this.

A priest, a rabbi, and a leprechaun walk into a bar…

Jokes. We tell jokes in the present tense. We also summarize in the present tense. I’d say that Katniss Everdeen takes her little sister’s place in the reaping, even though it rankles me to no end that Suzanne Collins said it the same way in the book.

I’ve ranted on long enough. Use of the present tense doesn’t kill The Hunger Games, but it could have killed a slightly less interesting story. And I suppose that’s the second (somewhat backhanded) compliment I can give The Hunger Games: it’s too good to be dragged down by reading the present tense. It’s also too good a story for someone who doesn’t read YA to pass on it just because it sits on the shelf in that genre.

That’s the biggest thing about The Hunger Games—you can’t pass on it because it’s that good. The world is beautifully put together, even though author Suzanne Collins spends very little time laying out the rules of how things work. It’s set in a dystopian future where the United States has ceased to exist and dissolved into a collection of fourteen smaller fiefdoms. Thirteen of them rebelled against the Capitol and had their asses resoundingly handed to them, culminating in the nuclear annihilation of District Thirteen. As punishment, the remaining twelve districts have to give two tributes a year to participate in the Hunger Games, a sort of battle royale where only one child lives, broadcast live on TV. Viewing is mandatory in the districts. Each district must give one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen, randomly selected (though volunteers are allowed), and all children must be eligible. The districts are all far poorer than the Capital, and District Twelve, where the protagonist lives, is the poorest of them all. You can feel the desperation, the hunger, and the resignation in all of the characters.

When I described the plot to my wife, she immediately asked why the districts didn’t rebel again. If you read The Hunger Games, that answer is clear. It’s the same reason why North Koreans don’t rebel, why warlords can run regions of Africa without fear of an uprising of the people they oppress. If the oppressed people are desperate enough and fighting just to survive, “the Resistance” with a capital ‘R’ simply doesn’t organize. The people are fighting too hard just to put food on their plates. Political dissidence is beyond their concern.

Collins captures that tension perfectly. She also does something that all good writers have to do. The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is by far the most interesting character in the book. You can’t help but love and respect her. You need her to win. The supporting cast is no less lovingly stitched together and interesting. Perhaps the most “YA” aspect of the book is Katniss’s confusion and utter incompetence at romance, though I can forgive her for wondering whether or not she has feelings for a boy she may or may not have to kill.

It’s a brutal and incredibly interesting world that Katniss lives in, and I found myself imagining being there, as I do with all stories that I get caught up in. And that’s when I knew that The Hunger Games was a fantastic story. In my opinion, it’s a better story than Harry Potter, though I doubt if it’ll become quite as much of a cultural phenomenon. It’ll have its day in the sun, and deservedly so.

I haven’t yet read the second and third books, though I certainly will. Of course the book ends with the conclusion of the Hunger Games, so I’m worried that in later books she won’t be able to match the intensity of having twenty four adolescents fight to the death—it’s kind of a tall order. I have enough faith in Suzanne Collins, though, that I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. I’ll even forgive the present tense.

If you’re a YA fan, you probably only read this to see whether or not you agree with me. If, by some odd coincidence, you haven’t yet read it… well… what are you doing? This is the best work of YA in the last decade. GO READ IT. If you’re like me and you tend to shy away from things intended for youths, do yourself a favor and pick up The Hunger Games. You won’t be sorry. If you hurry, you can get one that doesn’t have a movie star’s face on the cover.


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#Writecampaign Second challenge–Imago Regis

September 26, 2011 9:52 pm by MRM in Campaign, Writing

The #writecampaign is barely two months old and here we go with writing challenge number two. The prompt was a little different this time:

Write a blog post in 200 words or less, excluding the title. It can be in any format, whether flash fiction, non-fiction, humorous blog musings, poem, etc. The blog post should:

· include the word "imago" in the title

· include the following 4 random words: "miasma," "lacuna," "oscitate," "synchronicity,"

If you want to give yourself an added challenge (optional and included in the word count), make reference to a mirror in your post. For those who want an even greater challenge (optional), make your post 200 words EXACTLY!

I’m not usually a fan of this particular type of prompt, but I found that the nature of the words chosen dictated the tone of my flash fiction. I sort of had to do flash fiction; a two hundred word blog post felt like a waste, and besides that I couldn’t see that coming together without going meta and making fun of the prompt.

The result surprised me. I actually enjoyed it. I actually got an element of fantasy into it. I hit the optional challenges as well, adding a reference to a mirror and hitting two hundred words exactly. It turns out that twitter is great practice for how to shrink your post to exactly N characters or words.

I had to look a few of these up, so for the benefit of those who didn’t also do the challenge, here are the definitions of the words.

  • Oscitate – to gape, to yawn
  • Lacuna – An empty space or a missing part; a gap. A cavity, space, or depression, especially in a bone, containing cartilage or bone cells
  • Miasma – A noxious atmosphere or influence. A poisonous atmosphere formerly thought to rise from swamps and putrid matter and cause disease. A thick vaporous atmosphere or emanation.
  • Imago – An insect in its sexually mature adult stage after metamorphosis. An often idealized image of a person, usually a parent, formed in childhood and persisting unconsciously into adulthood.
  • Synchronicity – The state or fact of being synchronous or simultaneous; synchronism. Coincidence of events that seem to be meaningfully related.

Without further ado, my second entry (#124 in the list for those interested):


Imago Regis

Now was the time and this was the place. An entire world waited for him. Its body was fragile, held together by weakened sinews and tendons, its great lacuna begging to be filled. And filled it would be. They were waiting. They were wanting. For far too long he had stood in the shadows, letting the masses oscitate in the miasma of their own desperation. That had been her idea. Mother had been right, of course. She always was.

He could hear them now, just beyond the stage. Screaming. Begging for someone. For something. He smiled, letting the moment fill him up.

His whole life, he had trained for this. He had been timed for this. The date of his ascendance had been planned for decades, set for perfect synchronicity with the attack. It was carefully crafted destiny. Too bad Mother hadn’t lived to see her plan through.

All that was left to do was step up. He opened the door to let the people’s cries in from the stage. The jewel on his necklace glowed faintly as he kissed it before dropping it down his shirt. He checked the mirror to make sure it didn’t show. It’s time, Mother.


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Interview with Lena Corazon from the #writecampaign

Another post, and guess what… I have yet another interview from the #writecampaign. I’ve met so many fantastic authors through Rachael Harrie’s idea, I had to share them with the world and let you guys get to know them too. Without further ado, my latest interview was with Lena Corazon.

AnotherHeadshotLena is a doctoral student in sociology from California, a prolific blogger, tumblr, and tweet artist. She writes primarily fantasy and steampunk, with two novels-in-progress. I asked Lena a few questions last week. You can follow Lena on her blog, her twitter feed, or her tumblog.



Michael: You have a very active online presence with your blog, twitter, and tumblr. Do you enjoy social media? Is there a part of it that feels more like a chore than the rest? 

Lena: I have to admit, I adopted social media reluctantly.  I began blogging in May of this year, and my initial goal was to participate in A Round of Words in 80 Days, the writing challenge “that knows you have a life.”  ROW80 appealed to me because it seemed like a kinder, gentler version of NaNoWriMo, a challenge that asks participants to work towards measurable writing goals. ROW80, however, is also a blog hop, and so over the weeks I came to meet dozens of other writers and bloggers.

Overall, I don’t find social media to be a burden. For me, it’s a way for me to build much-needed community, to interact with others who understand the strange and bizarre writerly tendencies.  I’ve found that I use each online platform differently. I’m less active on G+ and Facebook than I am on Twitter, which is my primary means of socializing with my writing friends, running across useful articles, and uncovering fun tidbits. Tumblr is a recent addition to my online life, but one that I have come to enjoy. It’s the perfect balance between bite-sized tweets and the longer form of blogging. I use Tumblr as a scrapbook of sorts, where I collect interesting video clips and photos that serve as inspirations for my WIPs. 

The downside to social media is that it’s easy to get distracted from the real work: writing. It can be a lot more fun to chat with friends than to write, edit, and revise, and so I’ve been trying to limit my social time to a couple of hours each day.

Michael: What would you recommend to an emerging writer like yourself who is wondering how to start making his or her own online presence felt?

Lena: While there’s no “one size fits all” answer to establishing one’s online presence, there are three tips that I would suggest based on my experiences. First, get involved with online writing communities. My initial foray into the world of social networking was eased by participating in ROW80, where I’ve met friends who have been extraordinarily supportive of my writing goals.

Second, check out writing challenges and festivals. Participating in Lady Antimony’s flash fiction challenges served to jumpstart my creativity and expose me to the work of other writers who I now count among my circle of friends.

Third, I’d encourage writers new to the world of social media to figure out a spot that suits them best, and settle in for the long-term. Some people love using Facebook to connect with other writers, readers, and friends, but I’ve found that I far prefer using Twitter. It can be really easy to stretch yourself too thin and get burnt out by trying to develop countless online platforms if you’re not careful.

Above all, I think it’s important for writers to remember to be themselves and to have fun. Social media is incredibly valuable when it comes to promoting your work and connecting with readers, but first and foremost, it should be about building relationships with people. Some useful resources include Kristen Lamb’s blog, Nathan Bransford’s recent post on “being yourself” in social media, and Roni Loren’s guest post over at Writers in the Storm about dealing with social media burnout.

Michael: On to the most important part – your writing. Your site mentions your interest in steampunk and fantasy. What attracts you to those genres? Are there any others that you regularly read and/or write or want to write?

Lena: Ever since I was young, I’ve loved fantasy books. I grew up reading writers like Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Lloyd Alexander, and Marion Zimmer Bradley. To me, fantasy offers limitless possibilities where human stories — romance, betrayal, coming-of-age tales, quests — can be told against the landscape of wild and magical worlds.

My foray into the world of steampunk is recent, and it’s borne out of my interest in history, the 19th century in particular.  Steampunk allows us to re-imagine the past, and to also consider the impact that technological advances could have had upon earlier societies.  It also explores both sides of society: the drawing rooms of the wealthy, alongside the gritty underbelly populated by the downtrodden and cast-off.

Michael: What writing projects are you working on right now? Anything close to publication or completion? Do you plan to publish via the traditional route, or epublish?

Lena: Of the 3 novels in-progress I have listed on my blog, my steampunk romance/murder mystery, TELL ME NO LIES, is my primary focus. I’ve written the basic skeleton of the novel, but I’ve got a ways to go before it’s complete.

I’m keeping my options open when it comes to publishing. While seeing my work in hard copy has always been a dream of mine, having the ability to self-publish is incredibly liberating. I’ve been learning a lot, especially watching my writing friends’ ’experiences with self-publishing, and I think it’s something that I will definitely attempt at some point.

Michael: I noticed you have a lot of flash fiction on your site. Do you write flash fiction frequently? What do you like about it? What do you think makes for good flash fiction?

Lena: I jumped into flash fiction on a whim. I never thought I could tell an adequate story in short form, but after writing my first couple of drabbles, I was hooked. I like flash fiction because it provides me with an easy way to jumpstart my creativity. I can usually finish a 100-200 word piece in a couple of hours, so it’s a lot less time-intensive than a novel. 

The flash fiction that I like best are those stories that focus on a single moment, a single breath in time, ones that evoke an emotional response in the reader. I don’t know if I always succeed in doing this, but it’s my main goal nonetheless.

[ See Lena’s Flash Fiction here ]

Michael: You recently changed the name of your site, your twitter feed, and your public online persona. What inspired you to go with a pen name? What made you pick the name Lena Corazon?

The decision to adopt a pen name was a difficult one. I love my birth name, especially because it speaks to my biracial heritage. My mom is black and Native American, and can trace her family tree back to the Emancipation Proclamation. My dad is from the Philippines, and his family’s history is equally rich. However, when I took my professional life into consideration, I realized that it would be to my advantage to keep it separate from my writing life.  As a university teaching assistant and future professor, I’m not sure if my fiction-writing endeavors could be seen as a detraction when I’m on the job market, but I’d rather not take any unnecessary risks.

Lena Corazon is a name that hearkens back to my roots. I picked “Lena” after my maternal great-great-grandmother, and “Corazon” as my private homage to Corazon Aquino, the first female president of the Philippines.

Michael: Have you ever met a famous author? What did you take away from that meeting or learn from him or her?

Lena: I haven’t met a famous author, but I have been lucky to meet two poets over the years: Susan G. Wooldridge, who taught me the importance of using words and honing my creativity, and Alison Luterman, who encouraged me to use poetry to explore my sense of identity. While I write far less poetry than I used to, their lessons remain applicable as I work on my novels.

Michael: Last, what do you do outside of writing fiction? Your site says you’re a grad student (I’m a recovering graduate student myself) – but I didn’t catch what you were studying.

Lena: I’m just starting my 4th year in a sociology PhD program, so I spend a majority of my non-writing time

reading lots of books on social theory and feminist theory, grading undergrad students’ papers, teaching discussion sections, and working on my own research projects. Beyond those responsibilities, I tend to spend a lot of time at the beach, hanging out with friends, and playing video games.


Check out more of Lena Corazon at her blog, Flights of Fancy, her twitter feed, and her tumblog.


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Interview with Liza Kane from the #writecampaign

September 21, 2011 10:29 pm by MRM in Interviews, Writing

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The second in my series of interviews with fellow authors from the #writecampaign is here, and this time I’m talking (okay, emailing with) Liza Kane.

Liza has an amazing blog and a fantastic twitter feed. I’d give you a brief bio on her, but her own is so much better.

According to Liza: “I’m a full time reader, writer, dreamer, though I pay the bills as a store manager. One day, my passion for words will eventually pay the bills.”


Michael: Liza, you have a very involved and interesting blog. I highly suggest that anyone who hasn’t already done so go check it out.

Liza: Thank you so much. Really. I appreciate it, since I blog mainly to keep myself accountable to my goals. So the fact that anyone else finds my blog interesting in any way is awesome to me.

Michael: What keeps you involved and interested to keep posting, tweeting, and reviewing away?

Liza: Ah, I love The Twitter. I’ve met so many friends through twitter and my blog – and they are positive reinforcements to keep doing what I’ve been doing. I enjoy all the feedback, the support, and the sense of community. Even before the outcropping of hash tags, such as #amwriting and #mywana, I found other writers that I connected with really well (and are now great friends with).

For example, I met one of my crit partners (@melissaiswrite) through a #Mockingjay chat. Mockingjay had just been released (I’m talking literally the day before), and there was a general “holy crap amazing” outcry among all the fans. Melissa was one of the readers that I tweeted with about the level of amazing that book was. Melissa also happens to have a WordPress blog, which strengthened our solidarity, since many bloggers seem to have blogspot blogs.

Speaking of blogs, originally I started my blog because I wanted (read: needed) to keep myself accountable to my writing goals. When I turned 30, I was at a high point with my pay the bills job and my physical fitness goals. I experienced success in other aspects of my life, but they weren’t my dreams. I finally acknowledged my dream of writing a novel, and told myself that it’s OK for me to pursue it!

Book reviewing on my blog is new to me, and I’m still on the fence about it, to be honest with you. I’ve resisted for so long. I think I’m still “over” writing about books from my English Lit major days. Don’t get me wrong, I love talking about books, but there’s a difference between analyzing books for a literary theory class versus reviewing books in such a way to keep it spoiler-free and also inspire others to read the book. I’m still finding my groove there, but what keeps me wanting to review the books would be an obligation to the publishers who give away ARCs and e-galleys. Also, if I LOVE a book, I want to share it with the rest of the world. I know how important word of mouth is for any business, and I want to support the writing community as much as possible. After all, they’ve provided me with my first addiction love, BOOKS, so I want to pay it back/forward as best as I can!

So, all in all, I blog and tweet because I like doing them, and I’ve been lucky to find similarly minded writing friends, several of whom are now my crit partners!

 

Michael: Does any one part of the social media push feel more like a chore than the rest?

Liza: Hmm… I don’t think so, but mainly because I do what I want. I love blogging, so I blog, and I blog in my own random way. I don’t have a specific agenda in mind when it comes to that. Same with Twitter. I LOVED getting instant responses from my heroes, like @Shawn_Phillips to @MargaretAtwood, and getting that type of access is really amazing.

I can see that if pushing a business or product were my main “work,” then it may feel like work. For now, though, blogging and tweeting are my fun activities, something that I do because I want to, so, I don’t feel like any part of it is a chore, really.

 

Michael: I noticed you have a schedule of books to read that is pretty long, and you plan to have it done by the end of the year. How do you find time to write when you read so much?

Liza: Actually, that schedule is tied to the ARC/e-galley thing that I mentioned above. Those books haven’t been released yet, and I’m currently reading through them so that I can post about them around their release date (spread the word, and all that!)

So, I actually read a whole heckuvalot more than that (I use GoodReads to keep track, though I’m still kind of behind there), and my simple answer to “finding the time” is I make the time to read. I love it, so I do it. A running theme on my blog is “Find solutions, not excuses.”

My easiest solution is prioritization. Like, I need to pay the bills, so I need to go to my job. And, my husband kinda likes to spend time with me, too. But, I don’t necessarily need sleep, so I choose not to sleep, especially when my reading marathon bug hits me.

Side note: my last marathon was the first week of August when my paythebills job was at its most intense. I already preplanned a writing hiatus that week, but was swept away with a need to read. Like, for reals, yo. I read eight books in less than a week, one of those books being The Passage by Justin Cronin. That was an 800-page monster of a book, and I’m proud to have crossed that off my to-read list in that crazy, hectic week!

Michael: According to your author bio, you have moved around a lot in your life. How does that affect your writing?

Liza: I think moving around has affected my overall outlook on life, which of course, influenced my writing life.

Moving so much created a weird dichotomy within me, part dreamer, part ridiculously practical/independent, and I choose to think of this dichotomy as a good thing.

I didn’t really attach myself to one place, so I don’t necessarily have a single place I think of as "home." New York would be the closest. I didn’t live on Maui, but the few times I’ve visited I’ve always felt like I was returning home. Similarly, I don’t necessarily identify with a specific people group, much to the chagrin of my thoroughly Filipino parents and extended family. But that’s OK, since my experiences inspired me to dream up strange and distant worlds or to make the familiar unfamiliar (or vice versa).

Overall, moving so often has made me thankful for anything I have, and made me cherish the relationships I can build (probably why I embraced social networking tools like Twitter, since I’m able to connect with those who are far, far away!). It’s made me appreciate the little things in life, and not put too much stock in things. Believe me, the less you need to pack and unpack, the better!

It has also given me a need for change, a restlessness that drives me to be better everyday of my life. I’ve had to rely on my own ideas and opinions, and trust my gut instincts to make business decisions, and I thank God everyday that so far, my instincts have led me well. It’s that relentlessness that keeps me going, and I hope it will keep me going as I pursue a career as a novelist.

Michael: Speaking of your writing, where and when can we buy your books?  Do you plan to epublish or go the traditional route?

Liza: Alas, my books are hardly finished, let alone available for purchase! But, I want to say they’ll be available wherever books are sold, I just don’t know when! ;)

And, I am planning on the traditional publishing route.

Michael: Your second novel is a YA Sci Fi piece. What attracts you to YA? And Sci Fi? Do you think you’ll ever expand into other genres?

Liza: WIP2 is YA Sci Fi because the story lends itself to that category.

In terms of “writing YA,” I think CS Lewis says it best:

"A children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story. The good ones last."

Also, I like my friend Carol Miller’s tagline: “I write YA Paranormal because every time I try to write cathartic, literary fiction, my characters end up weaving magic with one hand while flipping me off with the other.”

Though I write YA, I don’t consider myself a YA writer. Especially at this stage of my writing career, I prefer to think of myself as a writer of stories, and leave the genre labeling for later. I enjoy my freedom of being able to write what I want and not think about marketability and audience.

But, in terms of writing other genres, I already know that I will. As of this moment, I have two other WIPs burning a hole in my brain, waiting to be written, not to mention the ridiculous ideas that flit through my mind on a daily basis. All four of my WIPs are in different genres (dystopian, science fiction, fantasy, contemporary), and one of them is adult.

Michael: I notice you have a widget tracking your progress at 20000 out of 50000 words. How did you pick 50K as a target word length?

Liza: 50K is the magical NaNoWriMo word count length for novels. I have that up there more for “mindset” issues rather than thinking that my novel will be finished at 50K words. You know what I mean by mindset, right?

Michael: Kind of…

Liza: Like, a project may seem ridiculously huge and daunting, and where am I going to start, but when broken down into manageable chunks, it’s really not that bad? Well, 50K is really not that bad. ;)

Realistically, the rough draft of this novel will probably land me closer to 80K words. It’s a rough estimate, but in considering how long my scene/chapters are, where I am in the actual story, all I need to get me to The End, I’m thinking 80K is the shorter end of the estimation.

Michael: Are there any indie writers out there that have really blown you away? Any that you’ve met through this or a previous #writecampaign?

Liza: Well, so many come to mind when I think of indie writers on Twitter. But the one stand-out whose online presence, career, and writing style has impressed me the most? Hands down, Rebecca Rasmussen. She’s an absolute treasure, and her book The Bird Sisters is beautifully written. She is an author role model for me.

Michael: Have you ever met or gone to a talk by an established writer? What did you take away from that meeting?

Liza: The one that comes to mind is John Green. I write about some of my takeaways in this post.

Green spoke a lot about putting aside works in progress that weren’t really ready for him to write – even though one of those works eventually morphed to become The Fault in Our Stars. He recognized that writing something more worthwhile, that would add more beauty into the world, was more important to him than writing something and publishing it because he could. That encouraged me to set aside WIP1 (for now), and gave me “permission” to work on WIP2. I’m so happy I did. WIP2 is SO much fun to write! WIP1 is still very important to me, but I recognize that it’s not time for me to work on it now, and that’s OK.

Michael: Do you write much flash fiction? What makes for good flash fiction, in your mind?

Liza: Ha, NO! I’m definitely a novel-length writer! However, I enjoyed writing the flash pieces that I have written because it made me understand my writing process a little bit more. Plus, it’s sometimes fun to think about a small distraction like a flash piece if my WIP gets too confusing. Writing flash fiction gives me a more economical view of words, and even in longer fiction, I make sure that every word has a purpose in that sentence. I’m not so much concerned about it now as I’m drafting, but in revising the little bit that I have, I know that word choice will definitely be a major concern of mine.

Michael: Are there any entries in the first #writecampaign challenge that you’d recommend? 

Liza: Well, the winners have already been chosen, so I don’t want to seem repetitive but I definitely loved and voted for Jessica Therrien’s Soulless, which won the “People’s Choice” and fourth place for the judging round. I also really enjoyed and voted for MC Rogerson’s Infinite Doors, and that won first place in the judging round.

Michael: What advice do you have for a fellow indie author just getting started creating an online presence?

Liza: Definitely be interactive with your followers/fans. I can only speak from the receiving end of awesome authors out there, but I truly appreciate the time that authors give to answering emails, replying via twitter, sending out signed book plates, setting up chats, etc. I think it’s because I value time so much myself, that I am honestly grateful for any time spent on my behalf.

In terms of actual steps, or the idea of community at all, I would recommend Kristen Lamb’s website, along with her book, We Are Not Alone. I haven’t read her book, but it’s highly recommended by many, many writers.

Personally, participating in social media outlets that you enjoy is important. If you like blogging, but hate facebook or twitter, then just blog! If you prefer facebook to twitter, then good for you (though, I don’t think we can be friends…) ;)

Life is too short to do something because you feel you need to do it (but would rather be doing something else…like write your book). Creating an online presence seems the logical thing to do, but I think that writers get so caught up on creating that presence that they neglect writing and working on their book (you know, the reason behind all the work in the first place). I would even venture so far to say that writing a beautiful novel, and continuing to write beautiful novels is the best and only thing you really need to do to help you build your presence. Everything else is icing on the cake.


You can catch Liza all the time on her Twitter feed or at her blog.


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Math, Writing, and the Great Big Why

I’ve been putting in a lot of extra hours recently to get things together for the publication of Bearers of Bad News this Saturday, and in doing so I’ve had to think a lot about why I do what I do, and what I hope for it to become. I certainly didn’t start writing for the money. Protip to those thinking about going into writing for the money: you’re doing it wrong. For a more hilarious take on that, see the number one item on the list I link to just about every third post: Cracked’s How to Become An Author in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps.

I did, however, have actual monetary goals when I decided to really put myself out there. Of course I want to be a mega-millionaire, but I also had a few concrete goals when I started publishing serial fiction. The number one goal was that publishing my works shouldn’t cost me money (My wife supports this goal). I’m not talking about time. I love writing; I’d do it for free – and in fact I am doing it for less than that right now. I have sales that I’m proud of, but they aren’t greater than the price of five covers (three for TWDY, two for Joyriders) and the cost of this site, this WordPress theme, and a handful of programs that I like to use as I write. I had also seen this post by Dean Wesley Smith on math and making money writing before. Suffice to say, the man doesn’t believe in selling your work for $0.99. I agreed with him, but only for full length novels. There is no way I’d sell City of Magi for a buck – but that took three years to write. Each issue of TWDY only takes about a month and a half… but… it’s really more than that.

TWDY has averaged about 35K words an issue, which is about a third of an average adult (non-YA) novel. I write something on the order of 1000 words an hour, usually one hour a day in the mornings. So that’s something like thirty hours of my time writing. It takes almost as long to edit it as it does to write, not to mention the crit input of several of my wise readers, the editor I’m trying out to save me time on the copy editing… and I think DWS might be on to something. Something that’s relevant even for me.

Re-reading DWS’s post made me really ask myself: do I believe in what I’m writing? Is it worth someone’s money, even a little bit? I absolutely believe that. But there’s another question – is the serial format worth more than a dollar? These aren’t short stories and they aren’t chapters of a book. They are individual issues, each with their own story belonging to a greater arc. I had to wonder if I would buy episodes of a television show I liked and couldn’t get for free on TV. I think I would – but I’d pay more for the hour-longs than I would for the half-hours. It just feels right. Well, TWDY is about 100 pages an “episode.” I’d pay probably two or three dollars for that.

Well, it just so happens that $2.99 is the magic price point at which all online retailers decide the author can have a big-boy cut of his sales. The magic range on almost all retailers is between $2.99 and $9.99. If you hit that, you can get something like 70% of sales. Outside that range, you get in the neighborhood of 35%. That makes the choice between two and three easy enough. Then comes the $64000 question. Would I buy it at three bucks?

My Xoom (and yes, I have a Xoom… I was an early adopter that got burned) isn’t overflowing with serial fiction, so I don’t have a guide to go by or any evidence as to what the answer to that question is. I believe the answer is yes. At a publication rate of one every month and a half to two months, three bucks a pop, quick (but not too quick) fiction, well-formatted and easy to read… I think so. The proof will be in the pudding, though, as I’m going to go out and do it.

As of September 24, Shelter From the Storm will be priced at $2.99, along with Bearers of Bad News (which hits the e-Stands that day). I will, however, be offering discount coupons for a limited time to get them to commenters on this page – provided everything works with Smashwords coupons. I love hearing from people reading the words I toss out there into the electronic ether on a regular basis, so if you’d like a coupon (and it’s before October 15), leave a comment and I’ll email you a coupon to pick up a copy of Shelter for the original price of $0.99.

I’m both excited and terrified about the change. This is the sound of me really believing in my work. I have evidence that it’s worth believing in, and I think you’ll feel the same way. Enjoy a brand new issue of Those Who Die Young this weekend. It might just blow your mind.

 

 

 

 


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Publication Week: I weep for my free time

If my experience last time is anything to judge by, this week is going to be both exciting and supremely frustrating. It’s Monday, and I’m determined to make front-page graphics for Bearers of Bad News to include with its brand new cover. The brand new cover is a lot like the old cover, but darker. I asked my artist to change up the background a little so they look less like chapters of one book and more like related issues. Because that is what they are (or what I am trying very hard to make them). The new issue is on schedule and should be live on Saturday, September 24th, as planned.

The site will get a few new graphics, the story will get one final, frantic edit, including a read-aloud, and then… on to the formatting. This time, Smashwords meatgrinder, I will conquer you. And I will continue to harp on how irritating it is that Smashwords doesn’t let you do a meatgrinder bypass if you already have nice software that converts your manuscript into whatever eReader format you want. It looks much prettier when I do it than when the meatgrinder does it, but them’s the rules.

My plan is to continue doing the Kindle/Smashwords split, publishing separately in each of them. My experience thus far is that my Kindle sales dwarf my Smashwords sales, but the convenience of being in all other formats is too much to give up (and I don’t want to exclude any readers who decided to buy a Nook, particularly since I think the Nook Simple Touch has a slightly nicer interface than any other device on the market at the moment (and it’s only $139). I do really like the Smashwords dashboard, and if Smashwords negotiates a better split than I currently get with Amazon I’ll merge the versions. As it is, the .mobi file you buy from Kindle is prettier than the one you can buy from Smashwords.

I also hope to have at least one more author interview up from the #writecampaign (which has been a fantastic experience – join it next year if you missed it this time), and maybe post a real blog post that builds upon my popular Death by Social Media entry from a few weeks ago.

Shameless self-promotion moment: Bearers of Bad News is incredible. I’m incredibly proud of the way it turned out. It’s a fantastic stand-alone issue… but… it’s better if you read Issue 1 – Shelter From the Storm first. They’re cheeaapp….

In all seriousness, I think they’re fantastic and I really hope you enjoy them. Donnerin and Ratio will be forever changed after Bearers, and it’s only getting more exciting.


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