Category Archives: Speculative Fiction

I ran all night and day…

I couldn’t get away!

(5 points to everyone that knows what song I’m referencing!)

Okay, so a few months ago I disappeared off the face of blogdom. Why? Because I had to create a 80+ page document also known as a thesis and if any of you have ever written a thesis, you’ll know what it’s like, for those that haven’t… well, I’ll attempt to explain what it entails.

Torture.

I read a ton of books this year (I’m at 42 so far for the year) and on top of reading tons of books, I’ve also read a ton of articles. I had to educate myself on my topic which I discussed via free-type in February. My topic was honesty in writing, figuring out what it is and how to ensure my writing has it. So, basically I was constantly reading and writing and re-writing. I have never spent so much time on any other single thing in my life. The result?

I became a Master. Yes, after many stressful months, I did indeed get the damn thing done as we like to say in our department.

If I’m being honest, it wasn’t 100% stressful… I did go to Disney World in March!

Since graduating, I have done nothing but read, scrapbook, and play Civilization V.

I have a bunch of books to get through for my ERC progress so stay tuned for those. My scrapbooking is a secret because they’re Christmas presents and I don’t want anyone to see. I will say that doing a scrapbook in triplicate is… expensive and frustrating. It’s like running for 3 miles but only making 1 mile progress. And when it comes to Civ V, well I’m currently working my way through as many achievements as I can achieve on Steam (you can add me if you’re on there, melsocool).

This week, I’m flying home to PA, so I’ll try to keep you updated. After that I have a month before I start a teaching internship to hopefully finish my certification for teaching. During all of that, I’m going to keep chugging away at my novel and updating you on that.

So, that’s all I have for today. I’m sorry about the absence but sometimes you really can’t do it all. Thanks for coming back to check out my site!

Eclectic Reader Challenge Update

It’s been a while, a long while. Well, I’m sorry. Next week, I’ll explain where I was but for now, here’s an update of of my progress in the ERC.

The House of Silk: A Sherlock Holmes Novel

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Having never read a Sherklock Holmes novel makes my adventure into House of Silk strange because I am well acquainted with his many, many popular incarnations throughout the media today (and my childhood). That said, I probably will check out the originals after this because it was quite fun and has been said to stay in the same vein (albeit 2x longer for current audiences).

I found Watson and Holmes interesting characters to read and tried very hard to separate them from the BBC’s Watson and Holmes and Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law’s interpretation, though I think the BBC’s modernized men would fit quite well into Horowitz’s world. The story line shocked me but overall the book was really enjoyable. I’d definitely recommend it and would love to hear what Holmes’s fans have to say about it!

Extremes: Surviving the World's Harshest Environments

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Middleton’s book is a telling of how some indigenous peoples live in extreme environments. I read this to research survival to help my boss write a survival unit. Middleton is a geographer so he has a great perspective on the actual environments but he’s also entertaining to read. He has the knowledge but knows he’s a Brit that couldn’t survive a day on his own. If you want to learn a little about the world, specifically Greenland (arctic wasteland), the Congo (jungle), the Tenere Desert (part of the Sahara), and Papua (swamp). I kept a great many notes to help me with my book so this is a great piece for research when world-building.

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I’d heard good things about this book, it even has a 3.99/5 on Goodreads.com! You know what though? That was all phooey. It is a bad book. The “mystery” is melodramatic and a bad play at a crazy dystopian-style experiment. The main character is horrible and unrelatable. I have one word to explain this book and that word is “stupid” if I’m going to expend a few more, those would be “a waste of time.” If you’re curious, read the Wikipedia page for it.

Surviving the Extremes: What Happens to the Human Body at the Limits of Human Endurance

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

This is another book I did on survival research and it’s amazing. Written this time from the point of view of an adventure-seeking medical doctor, Kamler explains quite a few things about surviving in extreme cold, extreme heat, and many other (including space). It’s another book that is not only entertaining but educational. Another one to keep an eye on for world-building research!

Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Daughter of Smoke & Bone, #1)

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I’m a bit on the fence about this book. I may read the sequel in the future, if I get through a bunch of other books and I remember to come back to it. The thing is that the main character has blue hair. Now, I recognize that it’s explained and yada yada yada but there is just something about characters having blue hair that bothers me. I don’t know what it is, it’s a me thing. Anyway, this is a decent story. It’s got a lot of interesting plot points but I feel like it’s only touches the surface of the story. If I had the sequel on my night stand, I’d read it. But I don’t and I’m not rushing out to buy it any time soon.

Me Talk Pretty One Day

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Sedaris’s memoir is entertaining. I wouldn’t call it a comedy because I didn’t laugh out loud at it at all and definitely not as much as other books. That said, it’s a good read. Sedaris is a good story teller with great moments to talk about in his life. I find his honesty enjoyable and the truth behind his experiences is really cool, for lack of a better word. He has some really unique experiences but he moves through them as a lazy human that makes the stories real and relatable.

Late Post

Have you ever listened to a song that you’ve heard and sung along with multiple times and then one time, at one moment–it clicks? Songs are written to convey something, but that doesn’t mean listeners always get it, especially not right away.

Tonight I was listening to Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly” and I got it. I don’t know if it was the snow, the bonafide snow that falls so quick and so thick you just know, that in a few hours, your world is going to be a new place. You quite literally will be transported somewhere else where a dark road in the dead of night is an interstellar flight to a winter wonderland. I don’t know if it was that, but I think that promise put my mind in the right place. That place was to understand the meaning of the song, at least as I see it.

Well I started out down a dirty road
Started out all alone
And the sun went down as I crossed the hill
And the town lit up, the world got still

I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing

Well the good ol’ days may not return
And the rocks might melt and the sea may burn

I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing

Well some say life will beat you down
Break your heart, steal your crown
So I’ve started out, for God knows where
I guess I’ll know when I get there

I’m learning to fly, around the clouds,
But what goes up must come down

I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing

Learning to fly is about learning to be happy. Good comes and good goes, but being happy, not euphoric, not ecstatic, is something some have to learn to do. There are no wings, there is nothing that can put you up there. It’s just you, learning to be happy.

This reminded me of Arthur Dent who, to fly, had to simply forget to fall. As you throw yourself at the ground, you must be distracted by something as you plummet towards the ground. What does this say about happiness, if the symbolism follows through? That it can’t be forced. One must learn, that as they fall, to look for the distractions. I’m not sure if the two tie together, but for me, there is a simple lesson about happiness in both.

You can learn to fly, or you can develop a knack for missing the ground. Either way, be happy. Happiness isn’t the euphoria of our best moments, but the acceptance and enjoyment of the moments in between.

 

Though this isn’t about writing, this is something I felt compelled to share. I hope your Saturday brings you a wingless flight or forgetful fall.

Eclectic Reader Challenge Update

I committed to Book’d Out’s Eclectic Reader Challenge and have been chugging right along making progress, though I haven’t really gotten completely eclectic yet. So far I’ve been bouncing around the same genre’s but that’s okay. I have all year to get there.

One book I’ve committed to reading, Anna Karenina, is taking a long, long, long, long time because it’s really long and really slow and kind of like a lullaby. So whenever Goodreads tells me I’m ahead of schedule for my 100 books goal, I go back to it. So, after a few days on Anna Karenina (and only 10% progress), I started on some more books.

Miss Me Not

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon

Miss Me Not is an independently published novel only available in ebook format.

When I started Miss Me Not, I hated the narrator/MC. Her negative attitude was all too familiar in a bad sense, but something kept me going. When I finished the book, King had successfully used Madison’s negative attitude on life and helped her find happiness in completely legitimate ways (confronting issues, counseling, and work) that made it work. I felt like her writing could use some work, but this book was a good read.

One thing that threw me was the “New Adult” genre tag. This was supposed to fit in my ERC category but its definitely too young for NA. The MC, Madison, is a high school senior dealing with issues that meet YA. It’s good, just not NA.

First Grave on the Right (Charley Davidson, #1)

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I picked this book for the Romantic Suspense category. I was pleasantly surprised. The main character, Charley Davidson (yes, like the motorcycle), reminded me strongly of Anita Blake from Guilty Pleasures (which I reviewed in January). I liked Charley a little more, she was less cheesy and fit into my personality more. Every since Dead Like Me, I’ve loved the idea of a grim reaper, which made the character of Charley really fun to get into.

At the end of the book, however, I’m feeling like Jones should’ve spent more time with the mystery of the story and less on the “oh, this strange attraction to the mystery man.” It started as a focus on the mystery but that faded away, which I didn’t mind until the end.

A Writer Teaches Writing

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

This book was my epiphany book. I read the first half and was scribbling in the margins constantly as I read each line, each paragraph. Most valuable to me was Murray’s revelation of the writing process. I have read a lot of books about teaching writing and a few on writing, but none so perfectly summed up the writing process like Murray so much so that I feel lighter and more prepared for writing more now than I ever have in my life.

If you are a writer, read this book because it helps you to understand your writing process, but to help you develop your reading of your own writing and others. You will become, if you read this book, a writer and a teacher of writing. Don’t say, “I don’t need to teach writing,” because your first pupil will be you. So yes, you do need to know how to teach writing to yourself and to your writing buddies. If you are a teacher, read this book and keep in mind that when you talk about writing, it’s all abstract until you do it. So don’t think this will help you to become a better writing teacher without actually writing–it won’t, because it will be abstract and useless until you heed Murray’s (and countless other’s) advice.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

I am on the fence about this book. I like some of the ideas Lamott shares but they’re mired in these ideas and personal philosophies and quirky (look at me) stories I didn’t like trudging through. I read the book for my thesis and will use it but I won’t recommend this book. It reminded me of Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones but instead of inspiring me to write, I felt drained.

This did inspire me to think about honesty, which is a virtue that comes easily to me most of the time (and by easily, I mean it perches on my shoulder, the ever obnoxious parrot). But there is an honesty that is, at it’s core, honest, and honesty that is not and this is decided by it’s delivery. There is inherit in the Lamott’s delivery this showy side of pointing out the hardships and the oddities of her life with a false, flashy bravado. I started Stephen King’s On Writing and he has the honesty I employ, the honest honesty that when delivered is not meant to hurt, just be honest because it just is. It is not to be looked on with pity or sorrow. It just is. SO, as I told a friend, even my virtues have virtues.

Déjà Dead (Temperance Brennan, #1)

Links: Author Page, Goodreads.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

WHILE the main character, Temperance Brennan, DOES share a name and occupation with our TV favorite, Bones, that’s where the comparison’s stop. I aint mad, bro. I really liked Reich’s writing, I liked the story, I liked the description, I liked that I read it in Emily Deschanel’s voice. I missed the characters from Bones, but that’s alright because I watch the show. I don’t need to double up on this one (which is exactly how I feel about the Sookie Stackhouse novels). I don’t know when I’ll pick up another novel in this series, but I will.

Link: Goodreads.com

I’m just putting this book in here to say, guys, this is the kind of stuff I have to read to do my thesis that I can’t even say, “Yeah, I’d recommend this book for pleasure reading.” I can’t. I can recommend that if your local library has it, that you browse through it and recognize that we’re all scientific researchers using the heuristic research design. Yep. I’m not even kidding. If you need a design for a study, this is easy-I’d-rather-just-write-a-novel-so-I-did-now-how-do-I-pretend-it’s-a-thesis research. That’s Moustakas, you’re one part of the equation to why I’m going to graduate in May.

Also, you can’t get more eclectic than a book on scientific research next to some a murder mystery, just sayin.

I hope you enjoyed this installment of “What Melanie is Reading.” See you next time, folks!

Back to the Drawing Board!

This weekend I spent hours and hours reading for my thesis. I stumbled upon this book called “A Writer Teaches Writing” by Donald M Murray which made me really think about my writing process for my book but also for other stories. He breaks the process down as COLLECT PLAN DRAFT. The thing is, for his process, it’s not linear. It’s not just collect, plan, draft, DONE! It’s a revolving cycle until the final draft–meaning revision is just a rehash of the process. He refers to editing basically how I referred to correcting.

What does this mean? I’m re-thinking the Abassi Expedition. I’ve collected, planned, and drafted and now as I look at it–it doesn’t feel right. Something, mostly a fire, is missing from it for me. I think that I need some more collect, another plan, and another draft.

So, I’m probably going to collect my thoughts–break the draft down into the issues that I’m having, which for me, is primarily Alice and William at the end of the book. Morris grew into the most perfect character for me, save for maybe one or two scenes that feel forced. But Alice and William? They were planned before they were collected. So I’m back on the collect. I really want to better understand who they are, their backgrounds, how they’ll act as life comes at them. I had planned to be done with the Abassi Expedition by fall but honestly, I don’t know if that will happen.

After I collect, I’ll plan… I have legitimate scenarios for Alice and William to experience but I don’t think I have the right responses and actions on their part. So I might re-plan the rising and falling action. I like the climax, I like the end.

Then I’ll draft and when I do, I might use some old scenes but I also plan to use some techniques in that book like writing my lead over and over again in the different options (direct statement, anecdote, quotation  news, informing detail, dialogue, surprise, description, mood, face, scene, first person, third person, tension, problem, process, voice, second person, rhetorical question, background, introduction) with a focus on honesty, simplicity, immediacy, information, and voice.

I think it’s time for me to accept and be okay that my first draft is a discovery draft and it helped me to discover what I need to know, what I need to explore, what was left out. I have that draft off to my good friend Sabrina right now, so we’ll see what she says.

Another thing I’d like to do is to answer all the questions Murray gives that are more directed for non-fictional writing but still carry meaning to me:

  1. Do I have enough specific, accurate information to build a piece of writing that will satisfy the reader?
  2. Do I see an order in the material that will deliver information to the readers when they need it?
  3. DO I hear a voice that is strong enough to speak directly to the reader?
  4. What do I know about my story?
  5. What do I need to know?
  6. Do I need to expand or narrow my scope?
  7. Will my reader’s questions get answered?

Murray also gives some great ideas about keeping the writing going such as setting a quota and keeping score, writing in parts instead of focusing on the whole, don’t stop to look at notes.

Before I start any of that, I need to figure out what is working well in my draft. My prose is good, concise, to the point, active, but my characters aren’t working for me the way they should. They’re not in the story enough. This plot is driven by the characters and the story needs to reflect that.

To really assess my work, I need to read it thrice (YES THRICE!) for content, structure, and language. Lately, I’ve been reading, instead, for language. That’s just not working for me. Because I can fix the prose but if the content isn’t right, that means nothing!

SO, now where am I? Well, I’m mired in the collect for my thesis. So the Abassi Expedition will have to wait a few months (hopefully just until March) before I can really delve into it’s collect. But I have a few books that I’ve recommended but never *fully* read, I’m going to link them AGAIN and finally read them this time! Cover to cover!

  1. Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time by Jordan E. Rosenfeld
  2. Word Hero: A Fiendishly Clever Guide to Crafting the Lines that Get Laughs, Go Viral, and Live Forever by Jay Heinrichs
  3. Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction by Jeff Gerke
  4. How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card
  5. New to my list: On Writing by Stephen King
  6. New to my list: 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them by Ronald B. Tobias

If I can work these into my thesis, I may, but until then, I’m stuck reading books and articles about writers teaching writing (if you know any, pass them on!).

Peep Show of The Abassi Expedition

Sabrina passed the Peep Show Challenge along to me and so here it is:

The Peep Show rules are, go to the 77th page of your WIP, count down 7 lines, write the next 7.

I promise, despite the fact that it only looks like 6 lines, it was 7 on my manuscript!

“She must be killed.” His handler downed a glass of scotch. “Your punishment isn’t over,” he added with another puff from his pipe. He nodded and men grabbed Morris from behind. They pulled him from the hook and he sighed at the relief on his muscles before they threw him to the ground in front of a trough of water.

They thrust Morris’s head in and out of the water, never drowning him but never giving him enough time to breathe before shoving him back in.

I’m going to pass this along to… AK, Jason, and Nat Russo! I can’t wait to see some of their MSs

Planning Your Story

Sometimes ideas come to us in the dead of the night and we write down a sentence, a paragraph, an idea. We get names from those characters come to life. But what’s next? What happens after you have a one paragraph or one page synopsis?

Research and planning.

After dredging up an old (worked on in high school) story, I thought–why not? It’s about time I got this idea out.

The first thing I needed to do was develop my own world of magic. I’m going to let you in on one type of magic that I decided to include: Feral Priests. Now, a feral priest can do three things: can communicate with animals, can share bodies with an animal, and can steal the abilities of an animal. Cool, cool but there has to be a cost or the world is just going to be a nutty, nutty place filled with superheroes. So, when feral priests speak with animals, they lose their voice for a time, when they share the body of an animal, they loose control over their own for a while, and if they steal the abilities of an animal, they kill it. I added four other priests with equivalent abilities and costs. It’s very important to set up your magic system so that you don’t run around with invincible characters (which I originally had).

So, then the MC was Aidan, but that name kind of took off so I rooted around the internet for the right name. I basically fleshed out the first few characters with Welsh names:

Cadogen (Cade), Mairwen, Bethan, Leolin, Owain, Roderick, Efion.

Then, I needed a city name for the starting place. I went to a site and just started writing down the names of cities in Wales that I liked:

Cardiff (Doctor Who?), Swansea, Caernaten, Brecon, Kilgetty

Then I started mixing them up:

Braed Macaediff Kilfair Caelfair Caelgetty Kilcaedon Braegetty Kill Caekilwen

No, my story is about a journey, so I built cities and name lists for each city. Then, shaped the plot–each city must be different! So, three cities, three unique experiences. Research for my first city is under-weigh: I’m researching Rome (which I’m familiar with anyway, thanks college!). As I research Rome, I think about how I can use their culture to supplement my story and flesh it out–maybe I’ll have a Colosseum, if there is a Colosseum then I’ll have to use it for it’s original purpose, for distracting citizens. So will my heroes fall to the trap and have to escape or will they break it? Either way, how will the trap be designed and how will they escape or break it?

After I figure out what the three cities are going to throw at my heroes, I’ll start working on a plot outline. I really like this set-up for the original plotting process:

I used this for the Abassi Expedition, the basic idea is that if you have 40 scenes, Act 1 is 10, Act 2 is 20, and Act 3 is 10. Or 60 Scenes: 15|30|15.

I broke out of this alter, but the idea of plotting this way really helped me set up. There are other plot charts:

This is another good image to have in mind as you plan, but it’s not as detailed. One thing, however, it makes important is the idea of constant upward movement–everything leading up to the climax must be rising action, if it’s not why have it there? It bogs the story down. Sure, it’s interesting, but if it’s not helping reach the climax, it’s a waste of space.

Again, I use that first chart back there and pick out all of the things listed starting with the Climax. What is the climax, why does it happen, and how do I get my characters there? Jason at Writing Possibilities also reminded me to find the motivation for my characters. And when I plotted the Abassi Expedition, Sabrina had me set up three struggles or conflicts for my characters: physical, mental, emotional.

As of right now, I spent a few hours Saturday just touching the surface of magic, character, and setting. Writing a novel, especially one in speculative fiction, is hard work. It’s not just sitting at the computer and writing. It’s planning, researching, and backtracking.

My next step is to use my new Campaign Cartographer to design my world and City Designer to work on the settings so that I can shape my plot.