Mike Kicks Butt:
My amazing son passed his karate test and is now a yellow belt, plus he won a first place trophy in kicking. He even broke some boards with his hand today. (sniff) I'm so proud of him.
As for yours truly, when the going gets tough, the tough go and get a massage. Actually my therapist noticed I was having these little muscle spasms in my neck and back and recommended a full hour intensive work-over. I've never had one but can now attest that it's not that much different from a controlled beating (I vastly prefer Chinese massage). It left me feeling like not-very-ambitious chopped jell-o, but still, the knots are gone and so is the semi-permanent headache I've been dragging around all week.
Still upset over the news about Paul Zindel and a couple other things, so adios Morpheus. I haven't slept much since the beginning of the war and my nights of pacing the floor are starting to stack up.
Some insomniacs (like me) who go on really long snoozeless benders (like this) end up passing out at the most inconvenient times (occasionally behind the wheel of a car). I passed out in the bathroom once a few years ago and nearly cracked my head open, and never felt a thing. When we don't crash into something and hurt ourselves, we end up staying unconscious for twenty to thirty-odd hours straight. I can't spare the time, so tonight, I will resort to a long soak in a warm bath, a large dose of herbal soporifics, and restraints, if necessary.
I think it'll work -- I'm tired of feeling tired all the time, and for once I really want
to sleep. I'm going to clean the house from top to bottom today too, that always wears me out. Something has to.
Safe Journey, Paul:
There were three authors whose novels had a tremendous influence over me when I was a kid: A.M. Lightner, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Paul Zindel
. I read every single book they published, and they all taught me something.
Through his work, Paul Zindel showed me how to write with honesty and compassion. His characters were real and they got to you. Any kid who didn't read "My Darling, My Hamburger" or "The Pigman" when they were growing up really missed out on some amazing books.
I'm not big into hero worship, and both Alice and Laura were gone by the time I'd grown up, but I was really hoping to someday meet Paul Zindel. Just to say thanks and blame him in part for how I turned out as a writer. People who have such tremendous impact on your life should hear about it, right?
Paul died yesterday, from cancer. He was 66 years old.
Although I'm far from being a digital art wiz yet, I'm having fun learning how to stack objects and transform ordinary photos with the different special effects from Microsoft Photo-It. I needed a new cover for my SD7 WIP notebook (changed the title) so I came up with this:
Writer Trick #9 -- Ways to Deal with Backstory:
(rated R for language; kids, go do your homework.) John
and I and a bunch of the writing clan were talking about backstory over at FM last night, and I promised to post some examples of the six ways I mentioned on how to deal with it.
A little definition first: Backstory is the past – or more precisely, everything that has happened to your characters in the past. We use backstory because basically all of our characters aren’t born on page one. The past makes our characters into the people they are, and influences what they do and who they become. Backstory also relates information that is vital to the story but otherwise wouldn't show up.
Here are the six main ways I've used to deal with it, along with examples of each:
-- a scene or scenes from the past, presented at the beginning of a novel, that warms up your reader and introduces them to your story. This example shows a very significant event that happened 29 years prior to the beginning of the novel.
Excerpt from the prologue of "Into the Fire"
by Jessica Hall
June 23, 1974
What the hell am I doing here?
Marc LeClare hauled himself up out of the mud and swiped at the front of his clothes. Something that looked like dried spider guts had gotten tangled around his fingers, until he shook it off and saw it was only some bedraggled Spanish moss. The stench of marsh scum filled his nose as the last of the sunlight glimmered through the dense canopy of juniper and oak. Soon it would be dark, and he was alone.
Alone, lost, and madder than a stepped-on snake.
Louis Gamble and his fraternity brothers would be parked out on the interstate, all of them laughing at him and drinking the rest of the beer.
Marc wiped his filthy face on the sleeve of his equally filthy jacket. “This time, they die.”
Part of it was his own damn fault. His roommate had pulled plenty of stunts like this on him since they’d been at college, and he should have realized something was when they roared past the city limits sign into the back country. But he’d been pissed at his mother for insisting he set a date for the wedding and harping at him for quitting the football team at the same time. The two beers Louie had helped him chug hadn’t helped.
-- those little cerebral trips a character takes sometime during the novel to recall or relive an event in the past. Flashbacks are almost always internal, and sometimes presented as daydreams or dream sequences. This example shows the character briefly flashing back to why she's be sent on a particular mission:
Excerpt from "Red Branch"
by S.L. Viehl
Someone pounded at the door. “Spinner?”
It was Kerdo, the innkeeper. I sighed as I went over and saw that Ferboil’s idiot had practically hacked the door to pieces getting in.
Humans. I tugged open the remnants. “Yes?”
Kerdo looked a bit like a nest weasel, minus the handsome parts. “What’s all this noise about, then?” He was about as shrill, too.
I drew the dirty knife, swiveled, and threw it. The shrieking became a thick, brief gurgle. I turned back to Kerdo. “What noise?”
He shook his head. “I run a clean place here. You’ll have to go.” He eyed the door. “And pay for the damages and the burial.”
“Fair enough.” I tossed him a kinspiece. “Have my ride saddled and ready in an hour.”
He bit the coin, then grinned at the taste of pure silver. “On second thought, missus, maybe we could work something out.” He looked at my hands. “I heard about your kind – ”
“Not interested. And I’ll take care of the body.” I slammed the ruined door in Kerdo’s face.
The merc’s blood had been sprayed over the bed and the floor, so I skirted around him and the mess and had my tea. It gave me time to clear my thoughts and focus on the job the Orb had given me.
Find the son of Tal, she’d said, when I’d emerged from my winter sleep to rejoin my sisters. Find him and bring him to me.
I had never tracked or taken a human before – but then, I didn’t really like them. Kerdo was right, they made too much noise. Alive?
The Orb had smiled. Oh, yes.
-- the character tells the backstory:
Excerpt from White Nights
by S.L. Viehl
I yanked at some of the tubes and wires connected to my body. “Get this shit off me.”
“I can’t do that, Ms. Norris. We’re admitting you for . . . observation.” Kinney exchanged a look with the cop. “Excuse me.” He hurried out.
Haliver checked his watch. “Do you want to speak to a rape counselor?”
“I told you, I wasn’t raped.” I jerked the monitor leads off my chest and ripped the IV needle out of the my hand. “I had a fight with my boyfriend after we tangoed.”
“Is that so.” He found a roll of gauze and handed it to me. “Your boyfriend usually beat the daylights out of you then dump you naked in the middle of Jackson Square after you have sex?”
“Yeah. We’re trying to quit smoking.” I wrapped my hand and looked around. “Got any clothes, or do I have to take the sheet?”
Hints and Tidbits
-- these are little bits (hints) and threads (tidbits) of information that you scatter through the story:
Excerpt from "Gamers"
by S.L. Viehl
The Falkertek had begun firing on them almost as soon as they’d flown the stolen scout from its launch bay, and Aclar had detonated the pulse charges he’d planted in the stardrive. The resulting implosion had destroyed the big ship, but debris impact had inflicted even more damage to the scout than the targeted blasts.
With all his talking, he’d neglected to mention the explosives.
She thought of the four hundred other slaves that they had left behind. She had slaughtered twice as many during her years in the arena, but that had been before Aclar. Before his promises to her.
He lied to me. She touched the back of her broad, scaly neck. Just as all humanoids lie.
“Atmospheric controls, offline.” The drone extended a clamp to help her to her feet. “Communication array, destroyed–”
“End status report.” She checked herself for wounds, then looked through the cracked view panel. They’d slammed through the arc – an elongated patch of asteroids, ice, and dust – to avoid getting tangled in the brown deadstar’s erratic magnetic fields. It had worked, but debris from the arc had shredded the outer hull. The scout was useless. “Identify current location.”
“Vector seventy-eight degrees, three hundred forty east, plus seven solar, eleven point five kilometers outside colony settlement, sixth planet, northern equatorial arc, Lun brown dwarf system, Eitri region, Pmoc Quadrant.”
She went to the viewer and focused the exterior sensors that were still working on the surrounding surface. A few hundred yards from the ship, clusters of light and dark habitat domes squatted between ragged pillars of carbonized rock. Behind them, she could just make out huge, motionless ore extractors. A small fleet of Hsktskt ships could hide out there, using the derelict slag op as cover.
Reaction and Déjà vu
-- a character reveals backstory by an unconscious reaction to the present (i.e. a phobic response) or by drawing direct comparisons between a current and past event that are similar or nearly identical. In this scene, the smell of strawberries and a sister's unthinking comments are the triggers:
Excerpt from "Going to the Chapel"
by Rebecca Kelly
After Alice left the kitchen, Jane put her experimental popovers on a cooling rack and went out into the garden. She had to get out of the kitchen for a few minutes; she had been in there for so long it had felt like the walls were closing in on her. And after all her fiddling with the old popover recipe, the smell of strawberries was making her slightly nauseous.
Oh, Dad would have loved these.
During the renovation of the old house, Fred Humbert had installed photo-sensitive lights along the garden paths, so that any guests who wanted to stroll outside after dark would be able to find their way around. One of them partially lit some bold pink clematis that she was trying to train to one of the three white wood lattice trellises curving over the garden path.
I remember how Mom used to make popovers for him.
Daniel had never seen the trellises; they had also been a new addition, like the garden path lights. He would never see what Jane had done with the flower beds and the rows of vegetables on the other side of the yard. He would never taste one of her strawberry popovers, or any of the dishes that she had made for hundreds of strangers who came to eat at the restaurant where she had worked. Whenever she had come home on one of her rare visits, Daniel had always insisted on doing the cooking.
You’re on vacation, he would say. A chef on vacation is not allowed near a stove.
It wasn’t as if her sisters had pampered their father with exotic dishes, either. I tried her recipe once, but mine didn’t pop, Alice had said. They turned out more like chewy golden hockey pucks.
Alice had joked about the quality of her own cooking, but at least she had been here for their father. At least she had tried.
Hide In Plain Sight
-- backstory that is presented as a subtle or very minor detail in the scene while the reader is being distracted by another, more dramatic event. In this scene, I plainly hid a couple of backstory details that will be very important later on in the novel:
Excerpt from Blade Dancer
by S.L. Viehl:
“Jory Rask, this court hereby sentences you to immediate deportation from the planet Terra.” The recorded sound of a gavel striking wood echoed through the nearly empty courtroom. “Next case.”
A middle-aged, overweight woman switched off the drone recorder in front of the bench and removed the case file chip.
That’s it? I’d expected it to be quick, but not fifteen seconds.
The prosecutor immediately left the courtroom, doubtless to visit a lavatory and spray herself down with disinfectant.
I didn’t move. I had one last thing to do, and I wasn’t leaving until I did it. Even if that meant another beating. “I have a request.”
“Sentence has been passed.” The drone’s fake face turned to the bailiff. “Remove the convict.”
“I want my mother’s body,” I said, louder.
“Shut your mouth, breed.” The bailiff came to haul me away from the monitors.
I hiked up my good leg and kicked him away. The fat woman holding the case file chip screamed. Over the noise, I repeated, “I want. My mother’s. Body.”
The drone judge clicked and whirred as it buzzed over the big desk and hovered in front of my face.
“You are found to be in contempt of court,” it told me, displaying whatever penal code I’d violated. “A fine of one thousand credits will be levied against your estate prior to deportation.”
“Where is she?” I breathed through the pain kicking the bailiff had sent up through my battered torso, and wrenched my arms apart. The chain between my handcuffs snapped, freeing my hands. “What did you do with her?”
“We put the dead alien in a disposal unit.”
I turned around and saw Pretty Hands standing behind me. He was smiling again. Like he had the whole time he’d beaten me.
The bailiff had gotten up and grabbed me, but I shook him off. My claws emerged, and the fat lady shrieked even louder as she ran from the courtroom. I waited until the screamer exited before I asked, “Why?”
“It’s what we do with trash. Here.” He threw something old and silver at me. “A memento.”
I caught the necklace of tarnished links without thinking. Mom’s vocollar. The one she’d never removed, even though it wouldn’t translate anything away from a Jorenian linguistic database. I’d left it on her neck, intending to bury it with her.
“Rask.” He drew his weapon and trained it on my heart. There were new bruises on his knuckles now, along with a deep bite mark. He got the latter when I demonstrated what I’d do if he tried to mouth-rape me. “Want to join her?”
For a minute, I was tempted. What did I have to live for? Everything I loved was ruined, dead, gone. My mother. My home. My career. My reputation. The only thing I truly cared about had ended up in a waste processor.
This is what it must have been like for her. From the moment I was born. How did she handle twenty-five years of exile from everything she loved?
The pendant suspended from the heavy links cut into my fist, and I uncurled my hand to look at it. The silver and black Jorenian pictograph was the symbol for the number seven.
I’d forgotten about them, too.
I looked at the PRC agent, who still had me in his sights. Somehow he seemed smaller, more pathetic.
“No, thanks.” I slipped my mother’s vocollar over my head, felt the links settle, cool and weighty, against my skin. “I’ve got someplace to go.”
The trick with backstory is to keep it as brief and meaninful to the story as possible. Most of the details from the past can be distilled down to a few well-worded lines, and shorter is always better. Where and how you show your backstory is entirely up to you, but if you can do it fast and with style, your readers will appreciate it.
Be Notable! For Only $59.95:
One of my publishers sent me a package from one of these publishing Who's Who companies which produces annual VIP Writers guides. These are like those vanity poetry publishers that try to suck you in with free contests and fake awards so you'll buy their overpriced anthologies. The only difference in strategy is, authors pay this company to have themselves and their publishing credits listed -- a tiny listing is free, but you can pay to make it bigger, bolder and more important-looking. You also pay a base price for each copy of the guide (so you can see yourself listed) and more bucks for the leather-bound, gold embossed deluxe edition.
As scams go, it's a pretty decent one. I can see most pros snapping up those premium mega-listings -- if you want to sell anything to an author, appeal to their ego and ask for a color photograph (the latter generally being a tragic mistake, especially in certain genres which teem with extremely unattractive specimens.) Also, give them a way to pay to look more important -- they jump like starving Chihuahuas at stuff like that. You'd think they'd figure out that no one reads these things except the fools stupid enough to pay for them...wait now, when I think about it, that's a lot of people...
Anyway, I am more interested in being ignored than self-acclaimed, so I trashed it. I'm sure the Who's a Name Whore companies will get along just fine without me.
We all need something besides war reports to read, so this is a great time to invest in a good book. Here are some you shouldn't miss:
The Wreck of Heaven
by Holly Lisle: Book Two of the World Gates -- This is the next book in Holly's new Avon Eos series, which continues the story of the Cat Creek Sentinels from book one, Memory of Fire.
These books show Holly's story-telling brilliance honed to a razor's edge, and will seriously rock you out of whatever depression you're in. I kid you not, everyone I know who has read them has been reduced to wide-eyed, monosyllabic state after finishing them. Including me. Then you get a permanent evil grin and start handing them out to your friends . . .
Portrait in Death
by J.D. Robb -- the latest volume of the In Death series, which if you haven't read you should consider investing in. If you do follow the series, Eve and Roarke have some changes to deal with in this one (no spoilers), and I enjoyed it as much as all the other books in the series. I don't think J.D. can write a bad one. :)
by Susan Andersen -- I loved the heroine in this one, and the hero is Andersen-standard to die for. There is no one better at steamy romantic farce as this author.
While doing a little research this weekend, I turned up the following interesting tidbits and rumors about treasures waiting to be found in the state of Pennsylvania:
1. Flooding from a burst dam destroyed the town of Austin in 1911, sweeping away residents and their possessions. Thousands of rings and other pieces of jewelry were never found. (Would they still be attached to their original owners? the author wonders, a bit queasy.)
2. Johnson Brook sports a lost diamond mine. (We've only got one diamond mine in the U.S., if I recall correctly, so this would be quite a find.)
3. Roulette resident Dabole Hare was is known to have stashed gold coins in milk cans, which he buried somewhere near his home. He died without revealing where they were. (Mrs. Hare must have been pretty steamed -- or a real witch.)
4. Mark McKoy, a highwayman active during the 1850's, robbed people of thousands of dollars. Only $200 was discovered after his death. (Maybe Mark liked to party when he wasn't out hijacking coaches.)
5. The Borie Treasure (named for the valley in which it was hidden by the Jesuits), estimated to be gold worth $350,000, is buried near a large rock with a cross cut into it. (Instantly I thought, right next to a vampire! Ha.)
6. Somewhere in the mountains of Potter County, a lost Indian silver mine is waiting to be claimed. (Better be a big mine.)
7. A Captain Blackbeard (not the Edward Teach guy) took $1.5 million in silver ingots he had salvaged from a Spanish galleon wreck, and buried them in McKean County near an old saltlick. (Local deer and elk are still under suspicion.)
8. British Maj. Gen. Edward Braddock decided to attack the French's Fort Duquesne in 1755. Braddock and his men were pretty much slaughtered by the French, but one of their supply wagons (rumored to be carrying between $15,000 and $25,000 in British gold and Braddock's personal forture) was lost somewhere in Fayette County. (Doesn't sound like much compared to the Blackbeard thing, does it? Piracy and marine salvage obviously paid better.)
The idea of searching for lost treasure has a bit of romance and fun attached to it -- Mike, Kath and I loved the adventures of the kids in "The Goonies" -- but to actually look for it would feel a little like grave robbing to me. Especially the stuff that belonged to those poor flood victims. I had the same feeling when they started bringing up things from the wreck of the Titanic. I guess I'd rather earn my own treasure.
Still -- good story material.
Another Kelly's Wisdom:
I am an unabashed fan of Michael Kelly,
author of the infamous French Intellectuals in Afghanistan
essay which was forwarded via e-mails all over the world a few years ago. And it doesn't have anything to do with the coincidence on the name; this guy is quite simply one of the funniest writers I've ever read. Go to his site and read Free Competition: Win My Hand In Marriage
and try to keep a straight face.
I was getting sick of reading about the war, so I went over and found what Michael had to say about it.
His final note had me rolling on the floor:
"Now, I intend to retire into my ivory tower of books, music and objets d'art for the next few months, and when I return I expect to find everyone, all over the world, being nice to one another.
Is that understood?"