Monday, February 28, 2011

What I'm Up To

Or, if I wanted to be one of those people who refuse to end sentences with prepositions, I could say "That to which I am up." But that is the sort of English up with which I will not put. (Thanks, Winston.)

I just started a new book. Writing a new book, that is.

I just finished reading a book about depression in teenage girls (not because I'm only interested in depression in girls, but because that's what the book happened to be about and I couldn't find any others that were about depression but not for people with it,) and just started reading a book about war in Afghanistan. Both are research for the one I'm writing.

I've been reading about fifty cal machine guns and Javelin rockets. Very fun.

I also read my journal entries from age thirteen to twenty. That was interesting. What was more interesting was the poetry I wrote and tucked into the pages of my journal. An excerpt:

Beneath stones ancient druid-made
And round perdition's flames
My cries fall silent as they fade
And stars fall crying haunted names 
When Sirius burns overhead
While brightly Acrux shines
Then may the heavens find me dead
In snow among my Utah pines

I don't write much poetry these days. For me it's always been something that arises from very intense feelings—usually feelings I'd rather not feel.

I'm going to tell a story from inside the head of someone with severe depression, and I'm not sure how it will turn out. Who wants to read about depression? Most people don't even want to think about it. The funny thing about depression is that it has a logic all its own.

I ask myself why I want to risk writing a book no one will want to read. Somehow, it feels like I've been drawn into this, a little closer with each new story, and sucked into this one because I fell in love before I thought it all the way through.

My protagonists want to die, for cryin' out loud. Who can relate to that? More people than we realize, probably. But the story isn't about death. It's about what happens instead.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why YA?

I always intended to write grown-up science fiction. I don't

How did this happen?

It started with a question: What if magic were real? The answer isn't as important as what the question meant to me. 

You see, I live in a world where magic is real. I don't call or think of it as magic, but it's essentially the same thing—an unseen agency by which lives, circumstances, and worlds are changed. It's hidden in plain sight, overlooked, misunderstood, ridiculed. 

I had a question, a premise that meant something to me. Part of my answer was that magic would work through ordinary abilities, common talents that are also overlooked and frequently unused. Talents that sometimes cause more trouble than they're worth. Talents with which I had some experience.

I could have made my characters my own age—about thirty—but if anyone were going to develop supernatural talents, it would be younger adults. Eighteen-year-olds. Maybe a little earlier or later, but there's something about eighteen. It's transitional. Pivotal. Vital.

And I'd never forgiven myself for being eighteen. Silly thing to say, but that's what it came down to. I acted like a teenager, and the memories—not so much of what I did as what I thought and how I felt—still made me cringe.

Working through a young adult novel helped me finally understand and forgive my past self. I also learned that who I am today isn't as far from who I was then as I wanted to believe. And I'm okay with that. For all my mistakes, I also did a lot of things right.

Why do I write for young adults? Because I have something to tell myself, and only the eighteen-year-old inside me will understand.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

DRIVERS: A Pitch for an Unwritten Book

Ash is stuck in a dead-end job, but he’s changed his mind about dying. He’s basically a suicide bomber. Not the terrorist, strap-a-bomb-around-your-chest sort of bomber. He works for our side, the good guys. He drives a heavily armed vehicle on missions too dangerous to send soldiers.

Too dangerous to send anyone, actually. That’s why they’re supposed to be unmanned robotic vehicles. No one on the outside even knows Ash and his fellow drivers are inside the mobile coffins.

Yeah. And he works for the “good guys.”

Ash knew full-well that it was a suicide job. He was planning to kill himself, anyway. Might as well make a butt-load of cash doing it. At least his parents would be better off.

But Ash discovers two things that make him rethink his death wish. He's very good at staying alive, and maybe someone loves him, after all.

It’s Zephyr, another driver. She’s cute. She understands him. Thankfully, she’s also good at surviving suicide missions. They quickly run up against the downside of their employee agreement.

They can't quit.

They know too much about the operation, and there's a lot of money and criminal charges riding on keeping its secrets. To keep the love and the future they've found together, Ash and Zephyr must escape.

The only way out of the compound is inside a coffin with a hair-trigger self-destruct—a mobile arsenal that everyone thinks is unmanned and will be told is out of control.

DRIVERS is a (what? Thriller? Sci-fi? Romance?). Not even started, yet.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Latest Query

As of February 21, 2011:

Brian’s life is nearly perfect.

Leah’s is a living hell.

Brian lives in the moment.

Leah remembers things that haven’t happened yet.

They have one thing in common—Esha. She’s Brian’s girlfriend and Leah’s rescuer, and she just learned to control other people’s emotions.

According to Leah, she’s also about to be murdered.

But Leah has a plan. It hinges on the fact that Esha’s power comes from and fulfills other people’s desires. That power will protect her as long as someone nearby wants to keep her safe. Brian’s feelings for Esha make him the perfect power source.

Unfortunately, Esha can only draw power from people who don’t know what she’s doing. For Leah’s plan to succeed, she and Esha must keep Brian in the dark. It’s not hard. In the dark is exactly where he wants to be with Esha.

And Leah tells Brian not to temper his desires, even when they drive Esha crazy and threaten their relationship. It sounds like really bad advice, but can he risk ignoring it? Esha trusts Leah, after all.

In truth, Leah has no idea how to prevent the murder. Her power to remember the future could help—if she used it again. It would also destroy her mind. Even Esha wouldn’t be able to repair the damage.

Brian wants to keep his girlfriend.

Leah wants to keep her sanity.

They both need Esha to live.

Someone has to lose.

IN MEMORY is a 74,000 word young adult urban fantasy.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Happily Ever After

I just finished a revision of In Memory. (Almost. There are still a few chapters I need to make another pass over. The rewriting and additions are all done.)

Anyway, after I wrote the second to last chapter (must resist urge to say "the penultimate chapter") my wife wondered what people would think of how the story ends. I wonder that, too. All I can say is some people will like it, and some might not.

I really like it. It's not the typical sort of ending for a YA novel. It pulls together the themes of the book so well, though. Better than I could have planned, and better than I ever dreamed. It leaves the past where it belongs, ties up the important threads, and stares boldly into the sunrise of the future.

Man, what a lame description. But I don't want to give anything away! Gah! I wish you could just read it!

The thing is, it's not a "happily ever after" ending. It's a realistic* ending. Some of the characters end up happy, some wonder what the heck just happened—and one is definitely not happy, but will be, eventually.

Isn't that the way life goes? Awful things that you absolutely hate fade into memories, and what you learn makes the future that much better.

But dang, when you're in the middle of life, wouldn't you give anything to be able to skip to the end and find out what happens? In a way, that's what In Memory is all about.

And now, I give you a song about that very subject, for free. You're welcome. (Okay, it's free from iTunes, not me.) "Happily Ever After" by He is We. (The link goes to the album. Click on "View in iTunes" next to the song, halfway down.)

*You know, realistic in context of being fantasy to begin with.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Here's the first kiss from In Memory. It's in chapter one. Yeah, I don't mess around. Actually, Brian and Esha start out as boyfriend and girlfriend. This kiss isn't their first. It's significant because of what else happens at the same time—though neither of them realizes what that is.

“I don’t doubt what you feel, but I’m sure there’s a logical explanation for it.”

“Alright. Why don’t you explain it, genius.”

She didn’t really want an answer, but Brian couldn’t let it drop. And yet, he didn’t know what to say. Surely there was an explanation. Maybe what she said was true? She had another sense. No, that ranked right up there with telephone psychics.

“There might not be a simple answer,” he finally said.

“It’s simple enough. You don’t trust me.” She folded her arms and Brian knew there was little else he could say.

He wanted to believe, wished he could trust Esha’s assessment.

She tilted her head to one side and stepped closer, sliding her hands around his neck. They stared at each other.

Something passed between them like heat through a window pane. Esha’s eyes widened for an instant before she shut them and pulled Brian into a kiss. A gorgeous warmth washed away the jumble of questions in his mind.

There really was nothing to worry about. Esha was perfectly sane and perfectly fine. She just had an extra sense, that’s all. The sense of—desire?

She pulled slowly away, searching Brian’s eyes.

“Oh, wow,” he said.


With the kiss drying cold on his lips, he slipped his fingers through hers and they continued their walk.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A 160,000 lb Toy?

A couple of "unmanned" haul trucks.

Oh, not a toy. The truck on the bottom is the one my employer automated a few years ago. The truck on the top is the toy my little boy got for Christmas. (I made the illustration. Not bad for a writer, eh? Don't answer that.)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Note to Self: Chapters are People, Too

So, you start drafting a chapter with a pretty good idea (sometimes) of what you want to happen in that chapter. Character X needs to say such and such, Y comes to this realization, Z falls off a cliff, etc. There are several pits you tend to fall into yourself, self.

First is the pit of trying to do something. You aren't actually the agent in the chapter. You are the storyteller. YOU shouldn't be trying to do anything at all except capture what X, Y, and their buddy Z are doing. It's okay to have an idea of what you want to have happen and how. It's necessary. Just keep your perspective. The characters are in charge of the chapter, and if they refuse to do something you thought you wanted them to do, don't twist their little imaginary arms and make them do it. They'll rebel and get revenge later.

The second pit is right next to the first. It might even be a branch of the first, connected by a little underground tunnel. It's the pit-of-not-having-a-plot.

Wait, aren't we talking about chapters?

Yes, self. Even chapters need to have plots. More specifically, they need to have goals. Whose goal? Not yours, oh no, not yours! The characters'. Usually it's the POV character's goal, but not always. 

Note to Self: Before you start working on a chapter, write down the goal and whose goal it is. Keep it specific and limited to that chapter, not something like "defeat the bad guys." Through the chapter, that person works towards that end, and they either make it, or they don't. At that point, STOP WRITING! That's the end of the chapter.

It's okay to have characters reflect a little after they do or don't reach their goal.

In fact, on further reflection, also make sure the end of the chapter sets up the next goal. Don't give them everything, or where's the rest of the story?

(I'm pretty sure I learned all this from Janice Hardy. She's brillianter than I is.)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Another Query Attempt

No, I'm not querying yet. But here's my latest attempt at writing a query letter. What do you think? Confusing or no? Does it make you want to read the book?

Brian’s life is perfect. Leah’s is a living hell. Brian is ordinary. Leah remembers things that haven’t happened yet. Their lives have only one thing in common—Esha. She’s Brian’s girlfriend and Leah’s savior, and she just learned to control other people’s emotions.

According to Leah, she’s also about to be murdered.

But Leah has a plan. It hinges on the fact that Esha’s power comes from and fulfills other people’s desires. For Esha, that means as long as someone nearby wants her safe, her power will protect her.

Brian’s feelings for Esha make him the perfect power source, but Esha can only draw power from people who don’t know what she’s doing.

So, even though he’s central to the plan, Leah tells Esha to keep Brian in the dark. And she tells Brian not to temper his desires, even when they threaten to destroy his relationship with Esha. Brian’s not sure he trusts Leah’s judgment, but can he risk ignoring it?

In truth, Leah has no idea how to prevent the murder. If she could use her own power again, she’d know better what to do. But the process would destroy her mind. Even Esha wouldn’t be able to repair the damage.

Brian wants to keep his girlfriend.

Leah wants to keep her sanity.

They both want Esha to live.

IN MEMORY is a 75,000 word young adult urban fantasy.

Hmm. Still needs some polishing, but I like the structure.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Note to Self: He's the Hero, Duh

Just real quick before I forget, don't make the antagonist a spineless wuss. I mean, just because you're a spineless wuss and can totally empathize with someone going along with whatever happens is no reason to write protagonists who do it. It doesn't make them sensitive, attractive, and most especially doesn't make them heroic.

Come on, self, this is a recurring problem for you. Okay, granted, you're doing better, but that scene you wrote this morning was inexcusable. I guess it kind of relates to that last note about things not going according to plan. You didn't plan to make him act weak and childish. You simply planned to have him duped into betraying another character, one for whom he cares deeply, one he's supposed to be protecting.

Really. You should have seen it coming. I mean, falling for a pretty face and a hug? Okay, it might be realistic, but he's beyond that. He knows better. If he's gonna fall for something, it should be something internal, a deep character flaw. He's got 'em. Jade's not one of them.

Note to Self:  They call them heroes for a reason. Who wants to cheer for a pushover? Not your audience. Flaws are fine, but if your protagonist is still a regular guy at the end of the book, something's wrong.

(Did I admit to being a spineless wuss up there?)