Archive for May, 2014

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I have a vivid memory from when I was in the fifth or sixth grade (back in the days when everything was black and white), and I had a school project due the following day. We’d been given most of the day to work on it in class when it was first assigned, but I’d half-assed it, so the night before it was due I sat down after dinner and looked at what I had, and panicked.

I had skated through the week or two between, thinking it was mostly done so I could just finish it up quick and get back to playing. But I realized there was no way I could fix what I had and make it presentable.

So I started over.

That was a big decision for eleven-year-old me. It meant sacrificing TV or my favorite book, or whatever all-important thing I was into in those days for work, which I hated. I am basically a lazy person who to this day will go to great lengths to find the easiest way to accomplish things.

But an amazing thing happened. I got an A. And I felt something completely new – a sense of pride and accomplishment.

At 50 I have a much better work ethic than I had back then, but I still need help every once in a while. Because laziness. Especially when it’s a personal project and not one for, say, a paying boss.

That’s where the Mighty Deadline really shines.

My current WIP is a middle grade novel that I’m co-writing with my daughter, called The Last Princess. In the past I would finish a chapter whenever I got around to it. It was going to take 2-3 years to finish at that rate. However recently I discovered a very useful tool over at the Critique Circle website. It is a simple word meter, that enables you to choose a certain number of words as a goal for a given month, then displays your progress. Every time you write you add the number of words to the meter and it displays a line graph of your progress toward your goal. I know about how long my chapters tend to be, so I set a goal for that much for each month, and in this way I have upped my pace to a steady chapter per month.

The visual reminder really helps. You can even arrange to have the meter appear on your personal web pages. And there is a fantastic side benefit: I get an additional sense of pride and accomplishment. Even if I don’t get an “A” on every chapter I submit for review.

In what ways do you motivate yourself to write? And are they working?

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I think I have this under control. Really.

See, I spent a lot of money to buy my iPhone because I needed the 64G model*, so now I feel I should use it as much as possible to justify the expense. I mean, it cost me as much as a cheap laptop, so shouldn’t I use it as much as I would a laptop?

And that’s the thing. I keep it with me everywhere I go because, hey, who doesn’t like instant gratification? The problem with instant gratification is that you tend to get used to it and miss it when it’s gone. My laptop takes too long to boot up (#1stworldproblems). So I reach for my iPhone.

A lot.

What does this have to do with being a husband and father of three holding down two jobs, and an aspiring author with a half-finished middle-grade novel? Everything, actually.

Successful writers and writers who teach (not always the same thing) will tell you that the first rule of writing is that you need to carve out at least two or three hours every day for uninterrupted writing. I first heard that in college, before I had two jobs, a wife or any number of children. I couldn’t manage it then, either. Now, I typically work at least part of the day seven days a week, and when I do have any time off on the weekends we do things together as a family. My kids don’t see me as much as any of us would like, so when I get home from work on any day I am typically claimed by one or the other of my children for Dad-time. On those rare occasions when they are otherwise occupied my wife can always use a hand around the house until dinner. The point is that I cannot carve any number of hours out of my day for writing without sacraficing family time, which I will not do. So I have to nab writing time where I can find it, on lunch breaks or after everyone else has gone to bed. Sometimes I can only manage 20 minutes between bites of lunch at a place where I do not have access to my laptop.

But I do have my iPhone. And it boots up in a fraction of a second.

The second rule they will tell you is that you need to establish a space that is conducive to your particular writing habits. Arrange for good lighting, an inspiring view or music to get the creative juices flowing, and privacy from intrusion. Have everything you might need at hand so you will never have the excuse of having to get up and interrupt your writing to go get it.

Some day, maybe. Right now I manage much of my writing in the break room at my local Barnes & Noble, while others are eating or while a shift meeting is going on. But even with just my iPhone I do have some of the above: I have music, I have all of my notes, and I have instant access to a dictionary, a thesaurus, Wikipedia, and all of the rest of the Internet.

But how can you type a whole novel on that tiny touchscreen keyboard? I hear you cry.

I don’t. Instead I use this nifty full-size bluetooth keyboard I bought from Apple over a year ago. It still has the original 2 AA batteries in it, too. And I found a lovely hard case for the keyboard that opens and folds back in such a way that it becomes a perfect stand to prop up my iPhone.

But the iPhone doesn’t have Microsoft Office on it, or any way to store documents! I hear you cry.

I have an app called Docs2Go that lets me open, edit or create Office documents, including Word, and lets me store them in my free Dropbox account. So when I do get home to my laptop or have some time during lunch at my office, I can open the latest version of my WIP and instantly pick up where I left off.

But … rules! I hear you cry. You can’t be a successful writer without rules!

You mind keeping it down? My kids are asleep. In fact I’m writing this on my iPhone in bed. In a minute I’m going to post it using the WordPress app, just as soon as I locate a suitable image using the Thinkstock app.

Then if I’m still awake I might watch something with the Netflix app, or read my favorite book in iBooks, or work on the video from our day at Six Flags that I’m editing with the Pinnacle Studio app. Or maybe I’ll just play Words with Friends.

Rules, shmules. I’ve got this under control. Really.

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*Because I actually need 286 applications and 1200+ songs.

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Stop me if you’ve heard this.

My daughter and I are writing an urban fantasy with half-breed fairy-tale creatures that only our 12-year-old female hero can see.

OgreOne of the first people she meets on her quest is a nasty ogre-born man in her neighborhood. According to her ancient guidebook: “The ogre is brutish and strong and always hungry, but easy enough to trick. They especially like to kidnap children, who are less clever and less likely to fight back than adults.” The drawing shows a large hunched man with a hook nose, sharp teeth, and a bulging belly, covered from head to foot in scruffy hair. He has extra-long arms, and he clutches a terrified child in one hand and a huge cooking pot in the other. Armed with this delightful knowledge, she knocks on her neighbor’s door….

The door jerked open, and the awful smell hit me like a punch in the stomach. Standing in the shadows of his dark doorway, Mr. Perrault towered over me, glowering. It took every bit of my strength to keep from screaming. He wore a blood-stained apron and had bare arms covered in black, curly hair. In one greasy fist he gripped a huge butcher knife with bits of red meat clinging to it. His nostrils flared as he sniffed me.

Cat, our hero, soon learns that he makes sausages (out of whom what she does not care to guess), and he is in fact the head chef at La Maison d’Entrailles. At this point I was essentially done with this character. He had served his purpose of introducing our innocent hero to the dangerous hidden world to which she is an unwitting guest.

Cut to present. In the chapter we’re working on now we’ve decided that Cat and her family are going out to dinner. So it occurred to me, why not have them go to La Maison d’Entrailles? After all, only Cat knows Mr. Perrault is the chef there, and that he is part ogre.

Have you ever looked at the ingredients of some of the more … interesting French dishes? I did as part of my research for this chapter, and what I discovered delighted me beyond all expectation. You few loyal fans of this modest blog will be the only people to know that I did not plan this utterly brilliant turn of events, but that I stumbled upon them quite by accident. Imagine a home-schooled and slightly sheltered 12-year-old girl sitting down in her first French restaurant, faced with ordering food prepared by her sausage-making, ogre-born neighbor. The menu is filled with beautiful studio pictures of the exotic meals, and the names of the dishes are all printed in French, with small English translations beneath:

Escargots (snails)

Foie gras (fat liver)

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Tripes à la mode de Caen (stomach cooked in cider)

Andouillettes (intestine sausage)

Canard à la presse (crushed duck in blood sauce)

Pieds paquets (feet and stomach dumplings)

Cuisses de grenouille (frogs’ legs)

Ris à la Gusteau (pancreas with anchovy licorice sauce)

Chevreau rôti au vin (roast kid with wine)

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Norman Tart

Crêpe Suzette

Her little brother happily orders Mac and Cheese from the kid’s menu, and Cat sincerely hopes it isn’t pieces of some poor slob named Mac covered with cheese. After all, they’re serving tarts made out of some guy named Norman. And they are roasting kids and serving them with wine!

If you’ve ever taken a young person to a fancy restaurant for the first time, you’ve no doubt heard the plaintive request for a plain cheeseburger and some ordinary fries. You may have said to them, “Just give it a try! You might like it.”

Perhaps now you’ll see their squeamishness from a slightly different perspective.

halloween-recipes-brainmold

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NEWSFLASH: We’re getting close to finishing the first draft of The Last Princess.  If you would like to sign up to be a beta reader, please use the “Beta Reader Sign-Ups” tab at the top of this page.

 

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Last week I talked about the twists and turns of finding alternate names for mundane things in our urban fantasy novel, The Last Princess.  Sometimes, it seems to me, you have to rename things even if everybody knows what they are, because you might need to make them different to fit your story.

This week I’m going to talk about naming people.

The thing about any fantasy fiction – urban or otherwise – is you are presumably featuring people a little different from your average garden-variety human being.  Whether they are from another realm or another species, or have special powers, it is often desirable to give your characters interesting names.  In other words, you don’t find a lot of demon lords named Fred.

In The Last Princess there are people who are descended from the fae (traditional fairy tale creatures), but are themselves mostly human.  Some of these people – be they troll-born or dryad-born or jinni-born – might be called Fred.  But the fae-born that have speaking parts in our book have more interesting names, and we’ve tried very hard to find names that were fun, meaningful, and appropriate for the character’s racial qualities and nation of origin.

One of the first people Cat meets on her quest is an ogre-born man.  In my research I discovered that the concept of the ogre was first introduced by French Author Charles Perrault.  So I named this character Mr. Perrault.  The dwarf-born man Cat meets is German (as is the original dwarf legend), so in this case I chose a German name that also invoked the traditional qualities of a dwarf.  His name is Mr. Goldschmidt.

Cat’s best friend has a nanny who happens to be a brownie-born.  I found out that brownies and elves often get mixed up in literature.  The shy creatures who come out at night to clean your house and who mend shoes and make toys and cookies are actually brownies.  There really aren’t any “shoemaker elves” or “toymaker elves,” and the Keebler Elves are about the most un-elflike creatures I have ever seen.  Elves are wise hunters who are circumspect and often mischievous.  Elves are tall and beautiful and live in large groups, while brownies are small and ugly and reclusive.  Elves are Norse in origin, while brownies are English.

So the brownie-born woman became Nanny Schumacher, while the elf-born became Gunter “Hunter” Alfson.  These slightly otherworldly characters speak with dialects from their country of origins, too (more about that here).

Goblins are a little different than other fae-born.  Goblins choose their own names or are assigned them based on their prowess or reputation, such as the ancient King, Gutrot-Breath.  In our story, the villain is a young goblin, who also happens to be a changeling, so he was named and raised by well-meaning humans who didn’t know what they had.  Ultimately the goblin prince chose his own name, Bone-Breaker, because he refused to go down in history with his given name, Melvin Francis Gaylord (thanks to my daughter for coming up with these delicious names).

Cat encounters an imp-born limo driver; he’s a chain-smoking little bald man who likes to wear red.  His name is Pierce.  For a group of rich girls Cat meets at an upscale country-club (nymph-, sprite-, piskie- and dryad-born), I went back 13 years to 2001 and chose from among the most popular girl’s names.  I ended up with Lauren, Madison, Alexis, Taylor, Megan, Brianna, and Kayla.

I’m of the opinion that the names of the characters you meet in books stick with you, particularly if they are interesting.  And for this middle grade book, we definitely want these characters to stick with you.

What about you?  Do the characters in your own fiction have interesting and memorable names?

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NEWSFLASH: We’re getting close to finishing the first draft of The Last Princess.  If you would like to sign up to be a beta reader, please use the “Beta Reader Sign-Ups” tab at the top of this page.