Novelists of Viable Paradise ( VP16)

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Viable Paradise is an intense one week workshop run by the Martha’s Vineyard Science Fiction Association. While attending this workshop in 2012, otherwise known as VP16 (Viable Paradise 16), I met so many amazing people who loved writing as much as I did, and who possessed drive and determination in their left hand, creativity in their right. Soldiers of fiction, I like to think, who have been working hard in the three years since our island time together. Today, we get to talk to the novelists of that class, five women who have published a spectrum of fiction.

Allow me to introduce:

Debra Jess
Camille Griep
Lauren Roy
Alison McMahan
Tamara MacNeil

1. Ladies, let’s start off by discussing your current book publications. What’s it about, what inspired you to write this story.

Debra: Blood Surfer is a fast-paced action-adventure superhero story with a heavy dash of romance. My hero and heroine are on the run from the law in Star Haven, where people with superpowers (called alternative humans) are banned. They’re trying to get to Thunder City where “Alts” are welcomed. They quickly discover that getting out of Star Haven alive is only half the battle.

Alison: The Saffron Crocus is a historical mystery for young adults. Music, Murder & Mayhem in 17th Century Venice.

Camille: Letters to Zell is a satirical, epistolary fairy tale asking: what happens when happily ever after isn’t the happy you’re after? We join three Grimm princesses whose lives are thrown into chaos after a fourth sets off to chart her own destiny.

Lauren: The Fire Children is a young adult fantasy. When the solar eclipse comes to Kaladim, the people retreat to caverns below the city while the Fire Children explore their world. Despite the warnings, a young woman named Yulla ventures aboveground for a glimpse of the sun’s children, only to find that the Witch Women have kidnapped all but one.

It was supposed to be a short story, but my short stories have a terrible habit of demanding to be novels instead…

Tam: My next book is Salt and Iron, which is about the youngest kid in a family of famous monster hunters, James van Helsing. He figures if his family knew he had exactly the same sort of magic that the monsters have, they’d probably pierce him with iron and bury him in salt. He’s in love with his best friend, Gabe Marquez. He figures it can’t get worse, which is about the time that somebody starts manipulating him to use his magic, goes after the people James loves, and change Gabe into a monster.

2. Was this the book you workshopped at Viable Paradise? If so, what impact did the workshop have on its development?

Alison: No, this is not the book I workshopped. Actually I workshopped a short story.

Debra: Yes, this is the book I workshopped. I submitted my eight thousand words and prayed for the best. I rewrote the entire book based on the feedback I received from the VP faculty and fellow students. The essential story remained the same, but the details changed to make it a stronger, more relatable story.

Camille: I workshopped a different novel at VP, one I fondly refer to as my “space ponies” project. Though I trunked that particular novel, at least for awhile, the lessons I learned during my VP critiques were miles apart from what I’d learned in local writing groups. I started Zell a couple of months after VP when life demanded I pay attention to some different aspects of humanity.

Lauren: This isn’t the book I workshopped, but it’s the first post-VP thing I wrote. I had a whole new set of tools in my toolbox when I sat down to work on it, especially in regards to plotting and pacing.

Tam: No, but holy hell did Viable Paradise ever inform the construction of this book. Uncle Jim did this lecture about building a model house. He talked about furnishing all the rooms, even though nobody would see them, so the house would feel more real to the model-maker. That’s how I approached this book. I can give you the hierarchy of the sidhe, and tell you the minutiae of their wars. None of that is elaborated on in the book but it’s there. The goal is that readers will be able to feel the floorboards underfoot.

3. Let’s talk traditional publication versus self publishing. Which is your path and how did you find it?

Alison: This is my third book (first novel, though). I had published two non-fiction books traditionally so I stuck to that road. However Black Opal Books is a very small press so I have to do as much marketing as a self-pubbed and I also arranged for the cover art.

I sold this book the first time I pitched it. A tweet-length pitch in a Facebook group pitch session.

Debra: I chose the self-publishing path after a long, hard-fought battle trying to get traditionally published. I don’t like giving up battles and would have continued to fight for my place in the traditional world, but one day after I sent out a round of queries to literary agents, I received a phone call and learned a close family member was very ill. After that phone call I realized just how badly I wanted to put my book into his hands before he could no longer read it. I couldn’t wait for agents, editors, or New York to fall in love my writing, so I made a plan to self-publish. A year later, when the final agent (who had requested a partial, then a full) sent me her rejection, I had a plan in place to get my book out there. That family member now owns a copy of my book and he’s read it. My mission is complete, but the journey continues.

Camille: While workshopping Zell at local (Pacific Northwest) conference in the summer of 2013, I met my agent, Cameron McClure. She expressed interest in the finished manuscript and I took my sweet time getting things just right. She and I did a set of revisions, and I signed with the Donald Maass Literary Agency in April of the following year.

We began shopping the novel shortly after. At the London Book Fair, Cameron met a man who was very interested in the concept and who would eventually become my acquiring editor at 47North. I chose 47North not only because they gave me a competitive offer, but because with a book like Zell – which is hybrid fantasy, fairy tale, women’s fiction, satire, epistolary – selecting a traditional bookstore shelf on which to put it is no small task. With Amazon’s marketing algorithms, I am assured the book is reaching the people it should and not out confusing lovers of traditional fantasy or contemporary literature, rather finding the place where those Venn diagrams cross.

Lauren: The Fire Children and my Night Owls books are trade published. I’ve worked in the bookselling industry since high school (first at an independent bookstore, currently for one of the Big Five), so it’s always been a goal of mine. In addition to what I knew from wearing my day job hat, when it was time to query agents, I used a lot of what I’d learned from the wonderful, smart people on the Absolute Write forums, and from blogs like Janet Reid’s Queryshark.

Tam: Salt and Iron is coming out from Dreamspinner, which is a medium-sized press publishing out of the States.. They paid an advance and they pay royalties, as I guess they’re in the “traditional” category.

I haven’t self published anything, but if I can’t sell the book I’m currently shopping around, I’ll probably go that route with it. That will mean a very steep learning curve, and for the first time ever I’ll be the layout person and sales department (I’ll contract out the cover art and editing), which I will probably find quite uncomfortable. All I want to do is write stories, and my business genes seem to be set to minimum expression. Just thinking about all the work that goes into self publishing makes me go eeep.

4. Playing favorites. Our characters aren’t our children, but we have a special place in their existence. Who is your favorite, and do you feel that you created them, or found them?

Alison: The characters have taken over. The singer who is murdered in the opening insists on a prequel so her story is heard properly. The young lady who lost out on the hero’s attentions insists she get her day in the sun in a sequel. I will do what I can to make them happy.

Debra: I can’t choose a favorite because I created all of my characters. In the case of my heroine, I created her after I killed the hero. With superheroes dominating the movies these past few years, I needed to find a new, unique power for my heroine to use. Something no one has seen, at least not recently in the movies. So I put my hero in jeopardy in the opening scene and tried to figure out what would be a fun way to rescue him. Then my evil muse whispered in my ear – why rescue him? So I didn’t, and he lay there on screen next to my blinking cursor mostly dead. From there, I built Hannah, the Blood Surfer. She can heal you from the inside out by skimming through your arteries and veins. She’s quite talented and very valuable to those who want to possess her.

Camille: I have three POV characters in Zell – none of which are the title character – and my goal was to provide each of them with a distinct voice. The loudest of them, Bianca aka Snow White, is a present tense, foul-mouthed, straight-talker. I found it freeing to write a character unafraid to speak her mind. She loves as fiercely as she opines and her bravery is something I covet as a friend and as a woman, though that sort of love can burn too hot at times.

Lauren: That’s a tough one. I love Yulla and Ember both, and think they work together well as a team. I have a minor… character? entity? in the Desert Wind, who ended up playing a bigger part than I’d intended originally. She got a raw deal a long, long time before the story starts, and I hope I’ve made it up to her at least a little bit by the end.

Tam: Why would you ask such a question? *covers the ears of all other characters*

Okay, so, I haven’t even sold this book yet, but in How to Save the World, the death-gods-vs-mechs book I’m currently shopping around, there’s a character named Alex. I love that guy. In the course of the book he goes from doing what he’s told in the hopes that it will make life a little less painful, to choosing his own path. He spends some time unsure of his own humanity. He deals with PTSD. Man I make that poor kid suffer. And no matter what’s happening around him, he’s always trying to do the right thing for everyone else. Eventually, he starts to be able to look after himself the way he used to only look after others. That’s his arc; to learn to love himself, in spite of everything he’s done and everything that was done to him. I love that.

5. Does your story continue in future books? If so, any hints what we can expect?

Alison: A prequel, working title of Cantinlenae sine Textu (Song without Words). Set in Mantua and environs from 1625 to 1630. It tells Margharita’s story, when she was known as “Madama Europa.” Her real name was probably Europa Rossi, sister of the Jewish violinist and composer Salamone Rossi. She was probably the first professional female opera singer.

Madama Europa probably died with her brother when, following the Gonzaga’s defeat in 1630 by imperial troops of the Gonzagas and end of the Gonzaga court, imperial soldiers sacked the Jewish ghetto in Mantua. The novel focuses on Madame Europa’s fictional relationship with Ferdinand III, who later became Holy Roman Emperor, and posits that she escaped the razing of the ghetto and fled to Venice with her love child.

The sequel is as yet untitled, but the hero would be Domenico, the love Isabella rejects in The Saffron Crocus, and her friend Dina. Domenico is a pampered, wealthy Venetian merchant. Dina is Sephardic Jew from the Ghetto who wishes to go to Spain to rescue precious Jewish musical manuscripts before they are destroyed by the Inquisition. She enlists Domenico’s help. Adventures and forbidden love ensue.

Debra: The adventure does continue. I have two more books planned for Blood Surfer’s main protagonists, Hannah & Scott. I also have a series of short stories involving secondary characters in the series. Seeker’s story, Valley of the Blind is now available. Spritz’s story, Slow Burn, comes out in January, and a new character, Claire makes her debut in Still Life in March, 2016. Scott’s older brother, Nik has been pestering me too, so he’ll get his story told hopefully by the end of next year.

Camille: Zell is a standalone novel, though if I chose to go back to it, there are several avenues to take. I didn’t want the novel to be carefully wrapped up. Though it completes the episodes of the lives of three women, the possibility for happily ever after remains. I hope that is an honest reflection of how life often leaves us after big changes.

Lauren: The Fire Children is a standalone, though I’ve toyed with the idea of a prequel about Mother Sun and Sister Moon, or checking in to see what adventures Yulla and Ember might have next.

Tam: I always plan on writing a big ol’ trilogy of doorstoppers, and then I get so excited I cram the whole plot into about 90,000 words, so no sequels planned. Not yet. But maybe in the near future. I have this idea for a trilogy…

6. If your characters watched TV, what show would be their addiction? If TV isn’t their thing, what would they read?

Alison: My characters live in the 17th century. They LOVE to go to the opera, as well as chamber music performances in people’s homes. They will do almost anything to hear a good musical performance.

Debra: My characters are usually too busy running for their lives to stop and watch TV. The few times they do watch TV it’s usually the news. If they did have time to watch a scripted show, they’d probably watch sit-coms. Something that will make them laugh. Something that will help them forget their troubles.

Camille: In the novel, Bianca is obsessed with human pop culture. She already reads Cosmo and Entertainment Weekly news. As for Rory (Sleeping Beauty), she’d be ingesting mass quantities of Bronte and glued to the BBC. CeCi (Cinderella) would be trying out for her own Food Network show and devouring celebrity cookbooks.

Lauren: Yulla is a big fan of fairy tales and adventure stories. I like to think her library would be filled with a mix of doorstop epic fantasies and westerns. And because her favorite hero is a character called The Brigand Queen, she’d totally be watching Leverage and would consider herself a Browncoat.

Tam: Gabe and James in Salt and Iron grew up swapping comics in a blanket fort. James as an adult is much more the type to read gritty detective fiction (I imagine he has every single one of the Rebus books) and Gabe would still browse happily through the bookstore, picking up whatever looks interesting. Alex from How to Save the World is a serious reader, and a lover of fantasy. After the HTSTW ends and the world isn’t blowing apart at the seams, he’d get serious about amassing a collection that would totally include Tad Williams, Fred Saberhagen, Robin Hobb, all the great epic fantasy of the 80s and 90s and 00s. His counterpart Sean is only semi-literate. He definitely prefers Futurama reruns to books.

7. Finally, what advice would you offer writers who are writing novels and marketing them (either traditionally or indie?)

Alison: When you have an idea for a novel, pitch it to a handful of strangers. Modify your pitch according to whether their eyes glaze over or not. Then write a one page synopsis. Pitch that as an extended pitch to some trusted friends. Modify accordingly.

Write the entire novel. Do not show any of it to anyone until you’ve finished a draft.

Rewrite, again without showing it to anyone, until you can’t do anything AT ALL to make it better. Send it to a couple trusted beta readers, rewrite, repeat, then submit to some contests. If you place well in the contests, start pitching it and sending out cold queries.

Don’t get input until you have a full draft. That way madness lies. And never finishing.

Debra: Find a supportive group of writers and join that group. If, after time, you find they’re not the right group for you, find another group. Take advice, but not too much advice. Don’t lose YOUR sight of YOUR story even if everyone else is telling you it’s all wrong. They can criticize your grammar, your plot holes, your world-building, but not your story. Hold your story close to your heart and don’t let go.

Camille: We’re so lucky to live in an era where there is space for almost every voice. Though writing is art, selling books is a business and has to be treated as such no matter how unromantic. The advice I’d give to almost anyone entering into the business side of things is to be kind to yourself: there is no one, easy way to get where you’re going. It’s almost impossible to divorce your art from your emotions, so in order to endure the slings and arrows to come, focus on what you can control. Have a cry if needed, then pick yourself up. It’s okay to share your frustrations, but a constant stream of negativity on social media or even inside your own office does nothing but trap a writer inside a box of despair. Concentrate on how to get your book to the readers that want it, and then fight until you get it to them. Be proud of your best work and then find the path that belongs to your particular feet.

Lauren: Treat your writing time like a priority – if other people see you taking your work seriously, they’ll follow suit. Read widely, both within your genre and outside it. Find other writers who you can talk to and commiserate with, and cheer each other on. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – your agent and your publisher are on your team. They want your book to succeed, too. It’s okay to be happy. It’s okay to be terrified. It’s okay to say no. Impostor Syndrome is a real thing, and it’s a big liar. It’s tempting to measure your success/productivity/skill against what’s happening with other writers. Try to resist doing so – every career is unique. Write what you love.

Tam: Hoooo. Well. I’m not at the point where I can make a living writing fiction, so I’m not sure I’m a good person to dish out advice about being successful. That said, Viable Paradise honestly changed my life. It was the first time I had any idea of where I was in terms of my skill level. It made me realize how little I actually knew about storycraft, and gave me a place to start learning. So, I guess I’d say give yourself permission to learn the job (from stroycraft to selling), as you would with any other job you undertook. Then spend a little time every year upgrading those skills.

8. Where can we find you online?

Alison: My webpage has all my social links on it http://www.AlisonMcMahan.com
The novel we’ve been discussing is at http://www.TheSaffronCrocus.com

Debra: You can read my blog and sign up for my newsletter at http://debrajess.com. I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and LinkedIn as debrajess.

Camille: I can be found at http://www.camillegriep.com or on Twitter/Instagram @camillethegriep.

Lauren: Book stuff and bloggery can be found at http://www.laurenmroy.com. I’m on twitter (waaaay too much) as @falconesse.

Tam: Oh jeepers, I’m everywhere. I’m on tumblr ar http://tamthewriter.tumblr.com/, blogspot at http://tamthewriter.blogspot.ca/, twitter at https://twitter.com/TamMacNeil, and facebook at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009440824771. I basically can’t keep my mouth shut.

Ladies, thank you for joining me today. Much luck and many sales in this 2016.

Folks, you’ve met some fine writers today. I’ve read most of the books mentioned here today, and I hope you get a chance to read them.

Writers, today is also the day Viable Paradise opens for applications for the 2017 class (VP20). If you’ve been thinking about applying, stop thinking and start writing. This workshop didn’t just change my life – you see what it’s done for Debra, Camille, Alison, Lauren, and Tam. Give yourself the journey you deserve.

 

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Happy Release Day: Debra Jess

Happy Release Day to Debra Jess, who has just published her superhero romance, Blood Surfer. Super powers plus romance, how is this not a good mix? Debra and I met several years ago at a writing workshop and I’ve asked her here to talk about this book and her writing experience.

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Dawn: Debra, thanks for joining us. You’ve already given us a lovely snippet on your web site (www.debrajess.com), so let’s dig into this. Who is your favorite superhero (or villain!) and how have they influenced your writing?

Debra: Ive always enjoyed superhero teams instead of individual superheroes. For me, a character like Batman isnt very interesting on his own, but when you mix him up with the Justice League, when you get to see him interact with his peers and have to deal with the group dynamic – thats when he becomes interesting. If Batmans not with the Justice League, then at least I want to read about him when hes with one (or more) of his sons. The family relationship sets up stressors that puts pressure on a hero to act in ways he normally wouldnt if he were operating solo. Thats when characters become unpredictable. I love it when characters act outside of their comfort zone.

 I think this was how I first realized the necessity of using tension to build a story. If you know the superhero will always defeat the villain, no matter how clever that villain may be, what do you have to do to keep the reader turning the page? Wheres the tension and how strong can you make the tension before your hero rises above the chaos to win the day?

Dawn: Speaking of Batman, let’s talk about introductions. Traditionally, super heroes and comic books have been marketed toward boys. When did your interest in superheroes begin and did this impact you in any way?

Debra: When I was little, I watched the Superfriends cartoon. Some friends of mine had comic books they would let me read on occasion, but there werent any stores nearby where I could get my own comics – at least not on a regular basis. Because of this, there were always gaps in the storylines. I had to use my imagination to fill in those gaps. I had to guess at the heros motivations and the villain’s previous dastardly deeds to figure out how they got from point A to point D, without knowing for sure what happened at points B and C.

I think this is why all of my characters, not just the ones in BLOOD SURFER, have such complicated histories. No one has a simple past. I cant help but let my imagination go crazy with building the worlds in which my heroes live.

Dawn: Blood Surfer is a science fiction romance, focusing heavily on romance rather than treating it as a mere subplot. First, why science fiction instead of fantasy? Have you felt a bigger pull toward one genre or the other? What inspired you to combine these elements?

Debra: One of the organizations Im a member of is the Science Fiction Romance Brigade. To figure out where on the spectrum of science fiction to fantasy my superheroes fell the Brigade asked me how do my superheroes generate their powers? Is it science based or magic based? All of the alternative humans in BLOOD SURFER have a biological basis for their superpowers. Take away the biological tie and they become normal humans. Biology is a science, so its science fiction by the Brigades definition. Im happy with the explanation.

Dawn: What about the romantic aspect of the story? What inspired to you to make this story a romance?

Debra: I always knew BLOOD SURFER would be a romance and would have a happily ever after. Im not a fan of pyrrhic or bittersweet victories which seemed to dominate the SFF genre when I first started reading it in the 70s. In a way, the endless string of depressing stories in SFF is what drove me to read romance novels in the first place. The happily ever afters of romance novels made me feel optimistic about relationships between people in a way SFF at the time couldnt. The world around me was depressing enough. I didnt want it in my fiction.

Dawn: If someone produced this into a movie, who would you envision playing Scott and Hannah?

Debra: Ive gone back and forth about whether or not to reveal my face actors for my characters. I use them all the time, especially when I have difficulty figuring out how to describe my character. On one hand, I want to shout, This is what Scott looks like. This is who Hannah resembles. On the other hand, I dont want to ruin anyone elses idea of what these characters look like. I want the readers to interpret the characters on their own.

 So how about a compromise: I wont tell you who the face actors are for Scott & Hannah, but I will tell you that Catherine Blackwood (Captain Spectacular) and Thomas Carraro (Hack-Man) were inspired by Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo from the 1999 remake of the Thomas Crown Affair – one of my favorite movies of all time. Fair enough?

Dawn: If Disney made a ride out of your story, what theme park elements would be included?

Debra: What a very cool question. Its ironic because Walt Disney World used to have a ride called Body Wars that took you on an adventure inside the human body, exactly as Hannah does in BLOOD SURFER (except Hannah doesnt use a ship).

 In EPCOT theres Sum of All Thrills which could be used to simulate flying with Rumble and Roar.

 EPCOT also has Soarin could simulate a ride on Highlights Light Slide.

 The Haunted Mansion could be renamed The Blackwood Estate and Ghost himself could scare you as you walk through.

 Spritz would have a field day at either Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach.

 Im not sure Id want to put Donald Duck and Blockhead in the same room together. It could get messy.

 Oh, this is too much fun! Better stop now or Ill just go on and on.

Dawn: Are there any super heroes in your life?

Debra: My family are not just superheroes, they are cheerleaders and have supported me in a lot of ways while I chased my dream. Also, everyone who has helped me get this book ready for publication – editors, beta-readers, and others have have stood by my side – you all are heroes in my book (metaphorically speaking).

Dawn: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

Debra: There are at least two more novels featuring Scott and Hannah in the works. This November, Seeker – who plays a small but critical role in BLOOD SURFER, will have his story told. Its a short story called VALLEY OF THE BLIND. Seeker became a hero long before he met Scott & Hannah. Then in January, Spritzs story, SLOW BURN will debut as another short story. Youll learn how Spritz and Blockhead became partners. I hope everyone will enjoy Seekers and Spritzs stories just as much as they will Scott & Hannahs.

 If you want to keep up to date with Thunder City superheroes, please sign up for my newsletter at debrajess.com. Or you can follow me at:

https://www.facebook.com/DebraJess

https://twitter.com/DebraJess

https://www.pinterest.com/debrajess/

http://debrajess.tumblr.com

Thanks for joining us, Debra, and good luck with Blood Surfer. Links for purchase are below. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go read mine.

Amazon (print) | Kindle | iBooks | Kobo

Read It And Write # 1: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Welcome to Read It and Write, where yours truly reviews a short story and transforms it into a writing prompt, because good writing tends to inspire more.aarons july naturewalk (1)

Read It

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Kicking off this series is Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes, winner of the 1960 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. The version I enjoyed was republished by Escape Pod and performed by Dave Thompson. This story was recommended to me years ago and it’s been on my to-read list. I never got around to reading it until recently when Escape Pod podcast this story. Honestly, I waited too long.

Charlie, a simple-minded young man intent on learning as much as he can despite his troubles, attends night classes after working all day at a factory. His opportunity arrives when his teachers invite him to participate in an experiment to increase his intelligence. Charlie would be the first human for this experiment, and whose predecessor is a mouse named Algernon. Man and mouse develop a special relationship, as does Charlie with each of his doctors. As his intelligence increases, so does his understanding that these doctors don’t know everything. His friends at work are tested; most aren’t truly friends, and eventually he leaves the job. The real trouble is when the experiment fails Algernon, and Charlie understands what’s in store for him. We experience his fears and frustrations, his anger at what he’s finally achieved being taken from him. In the end, he rejects everything.

Dave Thompson’s narration of Daniel Keyes’ story is amazing. If you haven’t tried audio fiction, this would be a rewarding first try. The emotional pauses, the tension in Thompson’s voice, the pacing of his words all carry the intensity of what Charlie endured. This story moved me for so many reasons, but it also inspired me.

One of the inspiring elements was Charlie’s strength, after knowing his fate. Facing old tormentors knowing it’s going to happen again, and eventually having the dignity to say no despite his failing intelligence.

And Write

It’s time to turn this reading experience into a writing prompt. Keep in mind, the intent is to spin an element of this story into something completely new. Start by asking basic questions. Make a list or a bubble chart, whichever appeals to your writing process.

  • What moved you the most about the story arc?
  • What fascinated you?
  • What pulled at you, even if you can’t specify why?

Using your answers to these questions, consider angles for your story. Here’s an example list I brainstormed. (If something below appeals to you, go write it; I’m happy to share prompts.)

  • An intelligence experiment that worked; intelligence wasn’t enough – the subject wants more.
  • A relationship between a person and animal that foretold of the person’s fate.
  • A story of a simple-minded person who struggled to improve himself and succeeded.
  • Tell the story from the doctor or teacher’s viewpoint.
  • Write the fantasy version of this story: no science.
  • Write a story of someone marching toward death.
  • How would you turn this into a story prompt?

My experience with Flowers for Algernon as my story prompt was to write a fantasy version in which there is a happier ending. I found that it gave my character a stronger voice, and a challenge to make sure he sounded different enough from Charlie that no one would know where the inspiration came from until I revealed it myself.

I hope you enjoyed the story as much as I did, and that if you’re writing from a prompt, that the words you seek are flowing. Please let me know if you’re trying this method and if it’s working for you. Or if you’ve written a story and want to share your challenges in writing.

Happy Writing!

Dawn

Daniel Keyes: http://www.danielkeyesauthor.com/dksbio.html

Escape Pod: http://escapepod.org/

Escape Pod 409 – Flowers for Algernon: http://escapepod.org/2015/04/20/ep490-flowers-for-algernon/

photo credit: Dawn Bonanno

Review: Superposition by David Walton

Have you ever regretted a decision you’ve made, or traced a string of unfortunate events back to one innocent choice? Superposition by David Walton is a science fiction mystery that hinges on exactly that.

Jacob Kelly is a family man, having given up the high tech world to teach science to college students. That all changes when he makes the singular decision to have pity on an old friend Brian Vanderhall, whom he invites into his home. This one moment begins a series of events that lands Jacob into a heart wrenching mystery of his murder trial while who knows what has happened to his family.

In a blend of science fiction and mystery, we follow Jacob on a wild ride of physics that has the potential to baffle the normal Joe but Walton builds his characters to present the science in a clear manner that doesn’t make the reader feel uneducated but rather take joy in learning something new, unlike Brian Vanderhall, who is agitated and nervous to the edge of panic when he begs Jacob for help. Brian is the mad scientist of the story, bringing disaster to his own life as well as Jacob’s.

Others are drawn into the chase and legal battle. Front line on Jacob’s team is Terry Sheppard, a defense attorney who wears leather boots in a Philadelphia courtroom. What’s not to like? He’s on Jacob’s side and keeps our hero cool when he gets fired up. Jacob’s brother-in-law, Marek Svoboda, accompanies Jacob on his adventures inside the New Jersey Super Collider where science turns nightmare. A former co-worker, Jean Massey, volunteers to be a subject matter expert despite the person effects on her marriage. Jacob’s daughter Alex shows us a side of our hero that the parented among us can sympathize with. Alex is smart, spunky, and endearing. She’s also coping with her own failings in this story.

Both Jacob and Alex have to deal with reality distorting effects of Brian’s work. They question their worth while worrying about the ends of their own existence, while trying to solve the mystery. Alex is the silent hero of the story for me, noticing the things she does, fighting for something bigger than herself.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book on so many levels. First, the combination of science fiction and mystery. This isn’t merely a mystery taking place in a science fiction book. It’s a mystery that builds on and is deepened by the science fiction. The book takes place in our near future, near enough that the transition is easy to believe, but that the story couldn’t exist without the new technology, or without the madness Brian wrought. I love that Jacob, who is as smart as Brian, is struggling with parenting issues alongside his own grief. He’s not perfect, but his heart is in the right place. It makes him real, and it makes me root for him despite wondering at times if he might be guilty after all. I love the ending, I loved that I had questions about a particular involved person, but didn’t quite put it together until just before the big reveal.

There are scenes I wanted to cite, exchanges between Jacob and Alex, but those would spoil far too much. One of the points I enjoyed, is that the children in the story weren’t perfect; Jacob’s son Sean had a physical disability (which wasn’t treated as a disability in their lives), and that Jean’s child was a special needs child. Details that come up and form the strength and resolve of these characters, parent and child alike, it opens windows into their existences.

I’ll be honest with you: when I get moving on a story, I give up sleep and stay up late to read. I was so riveted in this book, I sent the kids to play in their rooms. We had take-out for dinner. And who needs clean laundry on a Saturday?

Superposition was my first David Walton read. It won’t be the last. As far as this novel goes, if you like science fiction in our own world, if you like a good mystery, then I expect you’ll enjoy it. I do recommend you send the kids to play, and cancel your plans for a day or two. Once you start reading, this book is damned hard to put down.

A New Feature: “Read It & Write” Blog Series

How many times have you read a novel and been inspired to work on your own stories? If so, it could be you’re either a writer or someone who wants to write. (Stop wanting, and go write! But read this post first, you may find it helpful.)  J

Let’s talk about short stories. Reading them, writing them, they make me and a lot of other people happy. The best part is that one story can be started and finished in a sitting. Whether you’re tied up in your own projects or between books, a short story can fill a gap between these things like a palette cleanser, or create an experience that’s intense or vastly different from your novel interests. You can read it without investing too much of yourself but still fall under its spell.

My intention with this blog series is to share stories I’ve read, whether I love or hate them, we’ll deal with later. (Yes, I’ve found inspiration in stories I didn’t like.) You may find new authors you’d like to read from this. And, my favorite part, I can turn them into writing prompts.

In each post, I’m going to review the story, what worked or what didn’t, and what drew me in regardless of how I liked the story. I’m going to create a writing prompt from that story that I’ll share with you. Seriously, how many times have you read a story and been inspired to write one yourself on that topic, but you just need to spin it differently?

I’ve wanted to do this for a while and it’s time to dive in. You’ll see Read It & Write posts monthly for now.  Please let me know if you find either the review or prompt helpful, and if you’ve had any writing success with it.

Happy Reading & Writing,

Dawn

Adjusted Motivations for Healthy Eating and Weight Loss

Motivation Image for post

Once upon a time, a writer gave birth to one child, then another, and woe to the weight she had gained. Nine months later, the weight was gone, lost through lots of hard work but the details of which were lost to the new-baby-haze memory issues. That’s not entirely true. There is one strand of memory in which the young mother desperately wanted to be attractive to her husband again. Shopping ensued, and the horrors of a lingerie shop mirror send the mother – who was quite lovely and had nothing to hide – running. And the weight returned, unchecked.

Baring my soul here, there’s a reason for this. I had a revelation yesterday, on Facebook of all places. A woman posted about her own weight loss issues, and she learned what motivated her, and how once she lost the weight, she was lost on what to do. She’d always been trying to lose weight. She was there, as I was once. Both our motivations were wrong. She made me see this.

So I had to rework my process, figure out why I’m trying so hard. Sure, everyone wants to be attractive to their spouse, right? I need more than that. I want to be a role model for my children, to teach my son to respect women no matter what they looked like, to teach my daughter that strength not fear of obesity was important. I’m strong. I often tell my mother than when I’m helping her with stuff around the house or taking her arm as she steps down a steep curb. And I am. Karate taught me that. My strength is a good direction.

One of the areas I’m exceptional at is making goals for my writing and making ways to meet them. I measure my progress by what I’ve completed and each year I strive to improve those. I’m using that approach to improve my health and fitness life.

The weight on the scale is but one measurement which is often screwy. Very technical term here I know, but I’m dead serious. Changing my body from fat to muscle means creating a tighter more compact form that may actually be heavier than a non-muscular body of the same size. So I can’t go by the scale anymore. I need to measure what my body can do.

Since I love Excel, I drew up a bunch of spreadsheets tracking monthly:

  • body measurements (for evidence of fat loss) including BMI;
  • cardio distances covered in 30 minutes in various ways: cycling, walking, running, rowing;
  • plyometric:
    • pushups, sit-ups, burpees done in one minute;
    • chin-ups and pulls ups in one minute (none right now, but give me six months)
    • planks and length of time held.

Monthly measurements and comparisons will help me see first that I’m getting stronger, and second, when the scale doesn’t move, it’s going to remind me that I AM changing, I AM improving, and that scale can go to hell. It’s just one number.

The theory is that by working on my strength, I’m not focused on one end goal. I’m working on different goals that will always be there in one form or another. For example, I can currently do 8 pushups in one minute. My goal is to hit 25. I’m better with sit-ups. I can walk great distances at a decent pace but my running is severely lacking. My goal is to run a 5k eventually and get my time under 50 minutes. At the moment, my goal is to be able to run for 30 minutes without a significant break. Eventually no break. These are all measurable and the kinds of things that motivate me. Be a better me than I was yesterday or last week, or last month.

If you or someone you know is struggling with weight issues, I encourage a rethinking of philosophy and approach. My way may not be anyone else’s way, but don’t be afraid to turn things upside down. There should be something there to get anyone where they want to be.

I’m strong. I want to be stronger. I can do this. We can all do this. Or maybe you’ve got something else that’s working. Tell us about in comments. It’s not easy being healthy, and it can be a lonely road sometimes.

Live Strong,

Dawn

 

Photo Credit: Joshua Santino via https://unsplash.com/

Growth

Times of pain in writing are often followed by periods of growth. I’ve been experiencing writing pain in that I know something is wrong, but I don’t get what that is or how to fix it. Critiquing a lot can help, having my own stories critiqued as well, but that last is based on the attention of the person providing feedback.

I had the pleasure of participating in a special critique in which critiquers read about 20 thousand words of my writing across 9 stories: a spectrum from which to make observations about my writing.

Waiting for the feedback was terrifying. With that much ammunition, someone would surely cut me to pieces, except that I trust my writing group. No one would do that. It was more a question of was I ready to hear what they had to say? Hell yes.

I’m bursting with happiness that they provided me problems that were within my ability to learn to fix. My writing is flawed but not hopeless. (We all fear we’re hopeless, don’t we?) So deep was this feedback on so many levels, I’m rereading my previously written stories and cringing. Why? Not because I’ve sent these out to countless editors – it’s their job to read writer’s crap and send rejections, sometimes guiding us along the way – but it’s that I have so much work to do. I see what needs to be done and I don’t have enough time. How am I supposed to handle this? I’m going to have to prioritize.

I’m itching to work on longer pieces, a novella, maybe a novel, but I have so many short stories I want to share that need revising before I submit them. This is one of the hardest things: which project is next? I’ll work through this issue on my own, no worries.😉 I’ll get to the short stories and the novella and the novel. It’ll just take a while.

In the meantime, what about you? Have you learned anything new about your work/hobby/passion? Did someone help you or did you push through to this new level on your own?