Once More Into the Breach

Yeah, I’ve decided to do NaNoWriMo again this year. But, this year, I’m participating as a NaNo Rebel.

I got the idea – and the bug – from writer and editor Kate Johnston, aka 4amwriter (website and twitter), who talks more in-depth about the concept of how to be a NaNo rebel here. As for me, I’m using the opportunity and join-in rush of NaNo to push myself forward on a long-overdue rewrite of 2014’s NaNo, Highs, Lows, and In-Betweens, a space opera that follows about two years after the events in my Borderlands book, From Hell (A Love Story):

nano2016page

 

Like Kate, I’m using this NaNoWriMo to concentrate on aspects of the book other than the wordcount. I’ve completed NaNo at least six times over the last ten years, so that 50,000-words-in-30-days goal is not a significant challenge for me. What is a challenge is making sure that every chapter in this rewrite has a conflict, every character gets their due, and the end of every chapter has a hook to keep the reader pressing on. No nothing-happens-here moments that go on for pages; no dangling or missing motivations; no falling interest to make the reader put the story down. In many ways, this is a much tougher challenge, and I almost wish I’d gone the easy wordcount route. But this story – like all my stories – is dear to me, and I want to see it finished: bigger, better, more badass than ever before.

If you are participating in NaNoWriMo 2016, whether as a traditional drafter, pantser, plantser, or rebel, let’s connect! My username is bonusparts over there, and I’m always open to more buddies.

What are your writing plans for November? NaNo? Rebellion? Let me know!

Writing, Responsibility, and the Conundrum of Characters with Guns

Since the first flash of a projectile from a barrel around 1000 CE, the gun has had a rich and varied history across most all avenues of life: social, economical, political, and creative. It also has the power to divide people and opinions like no other tool before or since. Let’s be clear: a gun is a tool. It is specifically designed to make easier the task of killing, of human or other animal. Now, one can certainly use a gun to accomplish goals besides killing – say, destruction of a barn wall, for those not well-versed in the skill of shooting a target – but their primary function is to kill, with more power, speed, and accuracy than any other weapon (assuming said gun is in the hands of an expert).

Politics aside, I have always found guns fascinating, especially their varied designs, and how beautiful they can be. Take a look at the craftsmanship in the Colt below:

Colt Autentica

I didn’t grow up around guns, but I had my share of toys for games of ranchers and rustlers with the boys next door, and I talked about them a lot with my father, who’d been an Army sergeant in Vietnam and who’d had an intense respect for firearms and war weaponry in general throughout history. He’d impressed upon me at a young age that guns are dangerous, doubly so if they’re not handled with respect. As I got older, we delved into the specifics of them: “I would much rather you know how to properly use a gun and never have to,” he’d say to me time and again, “than find yourself in a situation where you had to use one but didn’t know how.” He never squelched my interest in them, but he always made sure I understood the inherent danger in them, and the enormous responsibility a person has whenever they pick one up.

I’d written stories with characters who’d used guns since I was a kid: Han Solo’s DL-44 heavy blaster pistol, the Enterprise crew’s type 2 phasers, my D&D-inspired thief’s flintlock pistol. In those early forays, guns were simply weapons of convenience that often made a cool noise or shot a bright laser beam, and I didn’t think much about their impact (pun not intended). It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I wrote the gunsmith in From Hell (A Love Story), that I really thought about what I was saying about guns through my stories when my characters squeezed a trigger. There’s a semi-pivotal moment in the story where this gunsmith and the main character argue about throwing blind cover fire into a crowd of civilians. The gunsmith’s argument is that they’re surrounded by people, while the main character points out, “Yeah, and at least one of them is shooting at us.” The ramifications of their choices follow them through the rest of the book, but it was important to me that both of them realize: odds are good that when you pull out your gun, people will die.

Because I’d grown up being taught to respect – not fear – guns, I wanted that respect to come through in this story. Even in the books and stories I was reading to get a feel for a dirtier galaxy based on the Old West, the characters treated their guns like the closest partners they’d ever have, which was probably pretty close to the case in those wilder frontier times.

temperamental-wife

Stories are not soapboxes, though, and it can be difficult for a writer to separate their personal views from those presented within their prose. Firefights offer great opportunity for excitement, high action, and conflict. But a quick-trigger topic like gun use (ha ha) requires at least some responsibility on the writer’s part. Like any weapon, they’re dangerous, and our stories would lose a measure of realism without addressing just how dangerous they can be. We can do this through the actions, reactions, thoughts, and dialogue of our characters, as well as offering realistic depictions of what happens when those characters use their firearms without awareness, caution, or respect.

Have you ever written a gunslinger? What do you think about guns – or any weapons – in stories? While realism is important, how much do you think a story requires to be seen as effective in its telling?

Update

I’ve been away from blogger land for a while, but I’m getting better. Thanks to everyone for your emails, messages, and support. It’s meant a lot just to know I’m not alone.


Just a brief update to assure those of my followers who are still with me that I’m not dead.

As friends who follow me on my Twitter and tumblr (warning: some NSFW there) have probably seen, I’ve been writing a lot in recent weeks. I challenged myself to a 30-day writing challenge, where I write a story vignette every day this month, and that has been helping me get back on track with my creative energies, which had dipped to depressing levels. I hadn’t quite realized how much I love writing until I hadn’t been doing it for a while. But, now that I’ve been writing every day again, I’m feeling a lot better about just about everything in my life.

I also “published” – and got the hardcopies for – From Hell (A Love Story), my homoerotic space opera. GotItIt felt fantastic to hold in my hands a physical representation of my work, even if it was just an experiment in the CreateSpace venue, for a book nobody’s going to read. I still got multiple copies, though I’m not sure why. One I kept, and one went to my friend Carmen McLaughlin, whom I also commissioned to paint the book’s gorgeous cover. I guess I’ll keep the rest for doorstops or something.

I hope to get back to all of you soon. We’re busy at work with Alumni Weekend and Commencement activities, and I have a video series project I’m editing. I should have more time after this month, though. I also won’t have my writing challenge hanging over my head any longer, so maybe I will get into writing something new.

A New Day for "From Hell"

A New Day for "From Hell"

As of 10:22pm ET, Thursday, March 12, 2015, I finished the content pass edit of my pseudo-novel, the homoerotic space opera western From Hell: A Love Story.

Closed chapter folders in Scrivener = Finished content edit!

Closed chapter folders in Scrivener = Finished content edit!

I started my Borderlands story of “How the Commando Got His Turret” in July 2013. It’s grown and changed quite a bit over the course of the last year-and-a-half, I think – I know – for the better. I took chapters out, I redesigned scenes, I added and deleted and deleted some more. The original version of this story ran about 112,000 words. This edited version? A little over 83,600 words, as Scrivener will tell you:

FromHell-StatsOver the course of the latest edit, I cut or reworked a tad less than 30,000 words. I’m sure a professional editor would have helped me work the story even tighter, but, since I can’t sell this story, I wanted to keep my costs down as much as possible. Still, I think that’s pretty good, for a first-timer.

Just because I’m so far happy with this content edit does not mean even my truncated version of the self-publishing process is over, though. I still have the interior line edit, the cover (front, spine, and back), the administrative logistics like ISBN details and credits, the dedication, the compile, and the submission process. But, right now, I’m riding too pleasant a wave from finishing that tough rewrite to think about all of that yet to hurdle.

I could spend a long time talking about why I chose to publish this particular story, how all the ups and downs of my life over the last two years pushed me to try and better myself as a writer, but the honest truth is that I just wanted to see if I could do it. I love this story, no doubt, and its flawed Byronic hero is one of the most fun I’ve written yet. But it is fanfiction, and for that reason alone I can’t get too attached to the men and women on its pages, at least not to the extent I might do for a cast of my own true creating.

I’m not finished-finished, yet. But, looking back on the last six months or so of editing this story, I’m glad I did it. It is a better story than it was, even if some people might disagree. I took to heart a lot of commentary I got from that earlier version, too. So, you know, it pays to tell a writer what you think of their story, because you never know how you might change a book. I’m happy with it, though. And, I’m still as in love with these characters and this world as when I’d started, something I’d feared would fade as I picked apart their conflicts and arguments and make-up moments.

Was it a difficult process? You bet. I can’t I don’t want to count how many times I thought about giving up and tossing the whole thing out the window. Because this is a fanfiction story for a niche fandom, and I’m on the edge of that niche. Because anyone who’d be interested in this story in the first place has probably already read the first draft and won’t want to read an edit. Because it’s a story loaded with bloody violence, graphic sex, drug use and abuse, and foul language that sometimes made me, as the writer, pause to consider if I really wanted to go there. But, the one piece of advice I’ve always believed in, and that I’ve always shared with other writers around me, is to finish whatever story they’re writing. Writing “The End” on a story – even if that end is a crap and totally seat-of-the-pants conclusion –  is a real accomplishment. Anybody – ANYBODY – can start a story. A writer finishes them. I viewed completing this edit as completing the story for a second time. Because, with all of those changes I’d made, it did feel a lot like a second story. And getting to write “The End” on this one made me feel so good.

Have you ever edited one of your own stories? Did you make a lot of changes? How did those changes make you feel? What would you recommend for others editing their work?

Third Time Charmed

Today, I posted the final chapter of my sci-fi western romance, “From Hell: A Love Story.” It’s the third story I’ve finished this year, “Finding Mister Wright” and Fearless being the other two.

I always get a rush of mixed feelings whenever I write the last words to a story. Relief for having reached the finish line, but a sense of sadness, too, at saying goodbye to characters I’ve come to love over the drafting time. Some stories never move much past that first draft, for me, but others find their way to revisions, rewrites, and re-posts. Still others become launching pads for completely different stories…or, the same story woven in a new pattern, as is often the case for me.

My issue at this point is: What do I write next? I’ve got a continuing timeline set up for my sci-fi western characters, but I feel like giving them a rest for a bit. I’ve been doing some off and on revising of Fearless and “Finding Mister Wright” over the last few months, and I’m enjoying revisiting those worlds, but it’s not the same as new writing. It’s been years since I’ve gone without a new writing project, I’m not sure I could handle not having one! The good news, I suppose, is that I’ve got a few twelve-plus-hour plane rides to consider my options (or maybe start playing with that heretofore unknown something new). That’s right – I’m out of here for the next few weeks while I visit my family in Japan. So, I won’t be around to read/comment/blog much or at all. But, don’t worry – I will eat lots of yummy sushi and green tea soft-serve in your honor!

So. I’ve done romance. I’ve done family stories. I’ve done science fiction with a western twist. Maybe it’s time to poke at that detective murder mystery? What do you think? What helps you decide what project to tackle next? Do you rassle your Muse into cooperating, or do you let the faerie ramble?

B2-FH-Completed

Woo! Yeah! That’s right: Complete!

On a side note, as many of you know, I recently had a bit of a rough go. Many of you offered kind and supportive words for that, and I have to thank you. Your words really helped me move past what could have been a downturn. Some of you even said saying farewell to one friend would allow me to make room in my writerly life to make new friends…and I did! A mutual love of a shared universe put me in touch with a talented writer with whom I’ve enjoyed some of the best writing conversations about character, plot, and issues that I’ve had in a long time. And it’s felt glorious! The extra-awesome part? This writer is also a visual artist, who has offered to do art of my story, with my original character! I’ve been floating on clouds ever since I heard that. I will share if that’s allowed…but I may want to keep this one to myself.

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