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“Writing” Tools

"Vintage Typewrite" (c) 2008 Brandi Simms, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

(c) 2008 Brandi Simms, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

A couple of weeks ago, I was thinking over some of the details of an urban fantasy novel I’m tentatively calling Death Scene. It will be the second in my urban fantasy series set in Atlanta, only magic works.

As part of the story, one character has to convince another to leave Atlanta and go somewhere “nearby” that is still within reason for people to travel kind of on a whim, but has places remote enough that, say, a body will not be found for three years. You know, just for example. :)

And you don’t want to call up the forestry service and say things like, “So, I’m an author doing research. If I were to want to dispose of, let’s say, a body, where would it be least likely to be found for a few years? Hypothetically.”

Or maybe you do. I have no idea. I’ve never done anything like that. :)

Google Maps…is okay, but it’s limited in what it can show, so I started casting about for some tool to help me figure out where to set the scene.

I thought, “I could buy a really detailed map of Georgia.” So I searched on Google for “detailed map of Georgia.”

And what came up was Google Earth.

Now, I’ve resisted the siren song for a long time and just never found a good enough reason to want to install it. But, that day I thought I’d give it a chance.

Oh. My. God. :)

I’m completely hooked. Not only did I find some nice “wilderness” areas in Georgia (which gives me an idea where to concentrate my research, even if I have to go there), but now when I hear a place mentioned, rather than just looking it up in Wikipedia, I call up Google Earth.

I was listening to a podcast just now where one of the hosts was talking about his volunteer work several years ago on the island of Fogo in Cape Verde. I’ve never heard of Cape Verde, much less Fogo.

So I whipped out Google Earth and typed in “Cape Verde” and it zoomed into an archipelago off the coast of Senegal in west Africa. Fogo turns out to be a little volcanic island dotted with settlements and a couple of larger cities. And I can zoom in on those population centers and see how they’re laid out. Or I can click on YouTube videos or pictures people have uploaded that are tagged with GPS coordinates that put them in that area. It’s…just astounding.

I highly recommend Google Earth.

For writing, that is. Yes, as a tool for writing. Not wasting time zooming in on places you’ve never been and never expect to see with your own eyes.

Research. Yeah, that’s it. Research.

[Crossposted from my Blogger blog.]

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Why I Write: A Ramble

"Old Books" (c) Anthea Brown (Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, No Derivatives 2.0 Generic License)

(c) Anthea Brown (Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, No Derivatives 2.0 Generic License)

A lot of people who write—whether or not they ever get published, or even try—do so because we have “no choice.” I said in a recent post that I write to get rid of the voices in my head. And while I meant that humorously and facetiously on at least one level, to a certain extent, it’s also true: stories and characters do have a tendency to knock on the inside of my skull from time to time.

But that’s not the whole story (<rimshot>). For me, at least.

See…I may be 44 years old—soon to be 45—but I still want very badly to open a wardrobe door and find myself in Narnia. No, literally. Those books…changed reading for me. I read dozens of books before The Chronicles of Narnia, but I never wanted to crawl into any of those, curl up, close the door, and stay forever.

To make an analogy with drugs that almost pains me to type: Narnia was like my first line of cocaine. I got an amazing high, and I never wanted to come down. But come down I did, and then it took more and more and more to give me that same feeling. Now I’m strung out on multi-book series like Xanth, Discworld, The Dresden Files, The Belgariad, The Malloreon, The Sword of Truth, and The Wheel of Time. All in some hope of recapturing that initial awestruck craving to go there that I had with Narnia.

I would give almost anything if I could wake up tomorrow in a world where it’s possible to go to Narnia.

Alas, this is reality. Damn it. And because it is unfortunately reality, the only way I’m ever going to get to visit Narnia afresh—or Oz, The Land, Phaze/Proton, Middle Earth, Prydain, Hed, Majipoor, Earthsea, Discworld, Ringworld, Green-sky, Landover, Pern…or yes, even Xanth—is to create something like them in my own head and then write down the stories in the hopes that it affects other people in the same way that Narnia or Green-sky affected me.

Hmm. To continue my drug analogy from above…that would make me a pusher. Maybe that’s not such a great analogy after all. Okay, ignore that part.

The point is that part of the reason I am driven to write—and to (I hope) improve my skills as I go—is to give back some of what other writers were able to do for me.

And even if no one ever reads them, they brought me joy in the making. And for a while, I got to visit Mr. Tumnus. As it were.

[Crossposted from my Blogger blog.]

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Quelling the Voices

"Idea" (c) 2007 Daniele Marlenek

"Idea" (c) 2007 Daniele Marlenek

Used to be, I thought I only had one or two stories in me. That once I wrote them down, I’d be done, and could go back to mindlessly watching reality TV whilst eating Cheetos and drinking Coke Zero. Because, you know…that’s what you do. (Okay, that might not be what you (would) do, but I don’t drink alcohol, so Coke Zero’s about as strong as it’s going to get.)

I thought that eventually, the voices in my head (read: stories trying to get out, not schizophrenia; as yet the voices have never told me to kill anyone except my characters) would shut the hell up and leave me alone.

But that turns out not to be the case at all. Au contraire, chers lecteurs!

That turns out to be the farthest thing possible from ‘the case.’

I recently wrote my 2010 Writing Goals in the form of a short story. I use “short” here in the sense of “not a novelette, novella, or novel.” Sucker came out to 7000 words. Or so.

First, I went into the Place I Keep All My Writing™ and looked over all the stories and fragments thereof.

Then, in the goals story, I wake up to find all my characters from all my other stories have come to life and are inhabiting my house, with the implication being that they aren’t going anywhere until I get rid of them by finishing (and submitting) their stories. Between the tentacled alien in the shower, Death (incarnate!) in the closet, three time machines, several vampires, some angels, a murderer, and a few assorted fantasy creatures (I banished the centaur and faun to the back yard; the hooves were wreaking havoc on my hardwood floors), it was rather a full house.

I have three novels knocking on the inside of my head wanting to come out. One of those is clearly the first of a trilogy, and it has been knocking for some 20 years. Or more. I think the first seeds of it appeared in a horribly Mary Sue story I wrote when I was eleven. Yes, eleven.

The other two are the first two in a Dresden Files-esque series.

In a “sanity break” at work, I was just going through the application where I jot down story notes and ideas as they occur to me during the day and discovered ideas for at least two more novels in that series (Get a load of me, talking about a novel series and I haven’t even finished one of them, yet!), and that didn’t even go back past November of 2009.

In the goals story, I identified no fewer than 14 short stories in some form of completion and the three aforementioned novels. Those short stories range from ~1200 words to whoppers of nearly 20,000. Which is a novella, not a short story. (Over the years, my “short” stories have developed pituitary problems.)

And the funny part is, I managed to miss a few. I totally lost three novellas each of which I had written a good bit of. (Diagram that Grammar Nazis!) Can’t find ’em. Gone. Zip. Whoosh. Into the æthyr. (That’s writer talk for “it ain’t nowhere.”)

I guess the good news is this:

  • I won’t run out of ideas any time in the next 70 or 80 millennia.
  • I am getting better as a writer; I can tell by looking over some of those early stories that…basically, I sucked as a writer.
  • I’m in no danger of becoming hooked on reality TV or Cheetos. (Coke Zero is already a lost cause.)

Unfortunately, the bad news is that

  • There are so many stories fighting to get out, I don’t have time to work on them all.
  • Any time I get the least bit bored or stuck with a story, I put it on ice and work on something else. Which is what got me into this situation in the first place.

But as far as real goals go, I made one. Or some. Depending on your viewpoint.

There are two writers workshops this year that sound like something I would really enjoy. One is called Taos Toolbox and the other is Viable Paradise. TT is two weeks in the desert in the summer; VP is one week on Martha’s Vineyard in the fall. I would be thrilled—THUH-RILLED—to be accepted to either one of them. Both have good instructors and involve a lot of intensive writing.

Toward that end, I’m working on the finished story that I think stands the best chance of getting me into one of them. The story was fully written and critiqued by my weekly writers group. I just never went back to it because in my mind, I was done with it. But after that goals story, I just couldn’t get the characters out of my head.

It’s a pure science fiction story with (what I hope is) an odd twist at the end. It involves time travel. I got it all edited and was done with the thing, then uploaded it to another writers group so they could critique it…and then read it again and noticed at least two plot holes large enough to drive Jupiter through. And at least three of its innermost moons. Without touching.

Unfortunately, said story is 11,500 words, and the limit for both TT and VP is 10,000. Hmmm. I smell editing in my near future.

I’ve already said a lot of this on both LiveJournal and FaceBook, but I thought it bore repeating. Because if I keep talking about it, I’m more likely to follow through.

Also, the deadline for the quarterly Writers and Illustrators of the Future contest is rapidly approaching (51 days, I believe), and that’s another potential submission destination for Killing Time (yes, the title blows goats).

So…I’m going to try to keep this more up-to-date as a “writing journal.” We’ll see how I do. :)

[Crossposted from my Blogger blog.]

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