Taking a Break

As you may have noticed over the last couple of weeks, I haven’t been as good about posting every day as I have in the past.  I’ve been contemplating a little break for a while, and with two big writing projects staring me in the face at work I think now might be the best time.

That doesn’t mean I won’t post at all.  If I get any good ideas, I’ll be sure to share.  Mostly I’m just taking the pressure off of my personal writing while I work on these two job-related projects.

I will be back by May 1, if not before.

Thanks for your patience, and see you soon!

Cargo Pants in Space

I’ve recently ventured into the addictive black hole that is Doctor Who.  (I know, I’m somewhat late to the game.  Hush.)  An episode that I watched recently got me thinking about a pseudo-uniform that is fairly prevalent in the realm of space-related sci-fi tv and film.

Before I tell you about said clothing style, let me tell you about the people who wear it.  You may already have an image in your head before I describe it to you at the end.

There are two important characteristics to the people in this particular clothing.

1. They are not main characters, although there are often elements of this in the costuming of main characters.  No, these are the people who might have a line or two, could get a character name, but might also be set dressing.  They appear for one episode, maybe two, and there is a fairly good chance that if they have a name, they’re going to die.

2. These are the people who are working on non-government ships.  They are the crew on ships of mercenaries, scavengers, edge-of-space drilling units, you get the idea.  You’ll see the look on people in space stations or bases, and also in planetary markets, but those places get a bit more diversity in costuming.  The clothing that I’m thinking of is really most common on the rough-and-ready men and women who venture into the reaches of space for profit.

Do you have an image in mind?  I’m guessing that you do, perhaps from your favorite show.  Honestly, in many cases you can drop someone from one show into another and they wouldn’t look out-of-place.  So what’s the clothing?

Boots, usually mid-calf or higher and typically black.  Cargo pants (baggy for guys, possibly a bit more snug for the women) in brown, occasionally black or khaki, with a belt (and maybe a gun).  Solid-color t-shirts and tanks, fairly close-fitting for both genders.  There are often layers thrown on over the shirt: jackets, vests, maybe even a hoodie.  The entire outfit leans to neutrals or muted colors; there might be a splash of red or yellow, but black, brown, olive and blue are the colors of choice.

Is that what you’d pictured?

There are a couple of benefits to this “uniform” of sorts.  First, if we’re talking about extras, these are items that people might have in their closet at home.  Toss a couple of accessories on and they’re ready to go, no elaborate trip to wardrobe needed.  Second, the look says “work” even if you saw someone in it on the street, giving you that subconscious impression that these are physical people.  Third, well, we’re all used to it by now.  We’d be surprised if we didn’t see that kind of clothing on those kinds of characters.

It is kind of odd to think that so many years in a fictional future, people are still wearing the same type of clothing as today, but the point is to create the image of a specific group and a specific situation, and those items of clothing can establish that context for our minds without a lot of explanation.


As I work on Mara’s story, I realize that the development of this tale offers something that is both a blessing and a curse.


It is awesome that I get to explore Mara’s childhood in greater depth, and learn more about her character.  (I’ll get to do this with Gretchen and Andi, too.)  Giving her a solo story means we get to meet more of the people in her life and experience more of the forces that shape her.  We’ll also get to see more of her world, revealing cool details about the capital city of Diaea.

The flip side of this is that I have flesh out more people, come up with more scenes, and develop more of the details of the capital city.  When my inspiration is running high (like a few nights ago when I started pondering the wall) it’s fun and exciting.  The ideas ebb and flow, however, and the lulls make the timeline on the wall and the gaping holes in the story loom large.

This isn’t new information; when I decided to dismantle Butterflies I was well aware that this was a large project.  I just need to remind myself that I took on this project willingly when the drought threatens.


Mara’s Wall

In the usual way of my mind, last night I started thinking about something related to my writing when I was trying to fall asleep.

Unfortunately, it was not about the girl’s secret.

No, my brain decided to work on Mara’s story.  In a way this is good; I’m supposed to be working on Mara’s story.  The inside-look writing practice was just that: practice.  Now that I’m (however briefly) back on Mara, I think I’ll run with it.

Last night I started thinking about a wall.

This is not just any wall.  This is the wall around the city where Mara lives, which happens to be the capital city.  The wall is really important to Mara’s story  and there were some details I needed to figure out before the tale can really continue.

You see, the city outgrew the wall several generations before Mara was born.  The capital is in the middle of the country, far from the borders that are shared by (relatively) peaceful neighbors.  Why is this important?  Because Mara and her group of street kids make full use of the spaces within the wall, spaces that would make something meant to be defensive basically useless were it still being relied upon for that function.

Here are the things I determined about the wall, some of which will  be revealed through Mara’s exploration of it.  The wall is used to delineate certain sections of the city; the poorer and less-desirable sections (like tanners and animal sellers, whose work tends to smell) are outside of it, while the wealthy people and the major merchant sections are inside.  The gates are still guarded, and the top of the wall patrolled to a limited extent by a unit of the army, mostly out of tradition at this point.   The wall started as two stone walls with dirt compacted in between; at the gates and several other places, there are solid sections of stone linking front and back.

There are a few tunnels that have been constructed through the wall, with actual (locked) doors on either side.  At this point they are old enough that no one is sure who built them.  In many other places, the folks outside the wall have removed sections of stone and excavated some of the dirt, creating odd rooms that are used for a multitude of purposes.  Very rarely one will have a cave-in of sorts, causing a brief uproar and forcing the guard to attempt to prevent further excavation, but it doesn’t last long.

Some of the honeycomb is connected, some is blocked off from the outside by fences or patches, and it generally makes for an interesting place that is much-used by the urchins and orphans that live in the city outside of the wall.

As I said, if the city needed it for defense it would be useless at this point, but it is in exactly the right condition for my purposes.

And Now, a Brief Update

I got another rejection letter for Dragon today.  This one was very polite, and like others before, the Query Count 2013 made the impact less painful.

That means it’s time to look for a couple more agents to query – after my two snowed-in days it will be nice to have a little project for this evening!   (I probably should have spent some of my forced downtime writing, but I alternated between reading and watching television.)

Looking back, it appears that I forgot to tell you about rejection #5 – it came quick, the next day after the query was sent.  That puts the current Query Count 2013 at Rejections: 6, Pending: 0, Still to Send: 4.

On a vaguely related note, I did spend some time this afternoon working on the design for the dragon tatoo I am considering…  🙂

Evolution of an Idea, part three

(Not sure what’s going on?  You might want to start with part one.)

The mousy young woman glared silently at him from across the lecture hall, glasses concealing the anger in her vivid green eyes.  He was ruining her life and he didn’t even know her.

When you answer the right question, it’s like a key turns that unlocks the story.  I finally had an interesting idea to answer the question from yesterday, and here’s what came from that answer:

That was the point, after all.  She had moved halfway across the country to this university in the middle of nowhere precisely because no one knew her here.  She wouldn’t get the odd, sympathetic looks of everyone in her hometown.  She was anonymous, just another face, just another student.

And then this diplomat’s son had to choose the same school, and now she was facing a background check.  Of course, they couldn’t screen everyone in every class, but she had been assigned to the same lab section as the kid.  That class they were screening, and she was stuck.  Soon her secret would come out.

This needs a little revision, of course.  The purpose of this exercise is to share my process as it happens, so we’ll have to come back and do some tweaks later.  For now we have a new question to answer: what’s she hiding?

Evolution of an Idea, part two

(Don’t know what’s going on here?  Start with part one.)

The mousy young woman glared silently at him from across the lecture hall, glasses concealing the anger in her vivid green eyes.  He was ruining her life and he didn’t even know her.

Yesterday I figured out a bit of what’s going on with the scene that popped into my head last night.  We now know where it is set, something of the relationship between the two players, and a bit more about our main character.

Tonight we track down the big question.  How is he ruining her life?

This question has proven to be a bit more difficult than I initially suspected, partially because of that last tweak I made in the previous post.  This whole thing is tricky because she knows who he is, but he doesn’t know her.

There are many ways for one person to ruin someone else’s life when the ruiner doesn’t know the victim, but they typically involve a major difference in power.  This would be the case with a CEO closing a factory, for example, or a banker foreclosing on a loan.  With the setting involved in this case, it would be very unlikely that this is what’s happening here.  There are some ways this could work, but they’d be pretty forced, so for now we’ll table that idea.

My first thought was that the two are instead peers, classmates taking similar coursework.  Following this track, I thought a roommate or friend had started to date this guy, and was now no longer available to spend time with our green-eyed girl.  This is possible, but strikes me as very petty.  It also makes our main character kind of needy and stalker-like, which isn’t really that wonderful.

So let’s go back to this concept of power balance.  Along these lines it would be possible for the guy to be in a position of slight power.  Perhaps he’s a grad student and she’s an undergrad, or maybe he’s the teaching assistant for the class she’s taking.  Again, these lead me to possibilities, but none of them are very good.  He’s paired her with the wrong lab partner, either thwarting her dreams of flirting or tethering her to an idiot.  He’s assigned seats and she’s way in the back, where she can’t make an impression on the professor she idolizes.  He’s gotten in the way of her pursuit of a prime research project or assistantship.   These join the pile of petty (and shallow) and present another conundrum: in these cases he’d have to at least know of her, since he’s either assigning her to something or in the same field of study.

Looks like I’ll be chasing this one a bit longer.  I’ll mull over the options tonight, including pulling that major power balance off the shelf again, and maybe this tale will have some bones in need of fleshing out tomorrow.

Evolution of an Idea, part one

Tonight while I was walking my dog, I was thinking about a topic for my post.  Since I was having some trouble coming up with something, I thought it might be a good night for writing practice.

Almost as soon as that was decided, these two sentences popped into my head:
She glared at him from across the room.  He was ruining her life and he didn’t even know it.

Now, I will be the first to admit that these need some work, but the idea was intriguing.  As I started to chase the nuggets of story, it occurred to me that I could write a post about how inspiration (above) becomes story.  This will end up being a series of posts; while I can usually follow the path subconsciously and come up with something, tracing the path as I follow it is likely to make this a much lengthier process.  So let’s dive in!

Two trains of thought followed the inspiration.  The first was the development of the idea, which usually happens in my mind as questions.  Why is he ruining her life?  What relationship do these two have?  Where are they, and what’s going on around them?  I’m not always fully aware of these questions, although I’ve thought about them before in a more amorphous way, and I’m sure this is a similar process every time.  (I haven’t answered the questions yet, because my awareness of them led to the idea for the post.  We’ll pin them down at some point.)

The other idea rabbit we’ll need to chase right away is the one that started working on the initial sentence ideas.  I think that’s actually the one we’ll follow now.

Let’s be honest, these two sentences could be so much better.  How, you ask?  They can say a lot more without adding action.

Okay, first sentence first.  Some description of our main character would be nice.
The mousy young woman glared at him from across the room, glasses concealing the anger in her vivid green eyes. 

That helps, don’t you think?  We are running into the risk that the sentence will get too long, but I think that one more word might help.  Making a word change can also answer one of our earlier questions.
The mousy young woman glared silently at him from across the lecture hall, glasses concealing the anger in her vivid green eyes.

And the second sentence?  Sometimes simple is effective, and mixing up sentence length is a good idea.  Let’s see how we do without changing it.
The mousy young woman glared silently at him from across the lecture hall, glasses concealing the anger in her vivid green eyes.  He was ruining her life and he didn’t even know it.

Not too shabby, but I want to make it more interesting with a quick word switch.
The mousy young woman glared silently at him from across the lecture hall, glasses concealing the anger in her vivid green eyes.  He was ruining her life and he didn’t even know her.

That’s a pretty good start!  Typically working on revisions is not the best way to start a story, but this one led to the answers to some of our questions.  We know that the two have only a peripheral relationship (since he doesn’t know her, but she must at least know of him) and that this one-sided exchange is occurring in a lecture hall.  I’m thinking college – I actually played with a few different options (cafeteria? classroom?) but I decided that college would be more interesting than high school.

I’ll try to get my brain to leave this alone until we pick it up again tomorrow, but no guarantees.  I’ll at least make sure to track the process, so I can share it with you after the fact!

To finish, or not to finish

As I mentioned earlier this week, I’ve been reading Disclosure.  Tonight I’m facing a decision: to finish the book or not.

Normally I’ll tough it out through books that I’m not sure of; I try to only give up when books are really bad or really boring.  (The latter is more often true of non-fiction.)  There is a mitigating circumstance here, because I read the book before.

Here are my thoughts, and the reasons I will probably bail.

This story has two major plotlines.  The first is the advanced technology and (if memory serves) digital espionage.  This is the plotline that I remember enjoying, but on this read it hasn’t caught me.  It is very possible that this is because the tech is so very outdated, and also because I’m just not as invested as I was when the book was new to me.  I was already debating finishing the book because of this reason when I hit the second plotline, and an even bigger reason.

The second plot is the one that got all the attention when the book came out, specifically, the sexual harassment part.  Crichton was always a questioner of authority.  Should we really play with things we don’t understand?  What are the possible unintended consequences of new advances in science?  His more recent books were more obvious with this, addressing nanotech and global warming with pretty blatant opinions.  This book draws attention to the possibility of a female in power harassing a male subordinate.  While I applaud the effort to make sure that the goose is treated the same as the gander, he did it in a really in-your-face way that I’m not sure I like.  It makes me feel really awkward for the main character, which is a situation that I totally empathize with and also very much dislike.

I remember enjoying the book a lot as a teen, which is why I checked it out for a re-read.  (I’m not sure how I feel about my teenage self reading the scene I just finished, but much like when I read Silent Spring in fourth grade, I think there was a lot I glossed over since I didn’t understand it.)  Many of Crichton’s books are very suspenseful, and as a kid I think the main reason I liked this one is that it wasn’t as scary as Jurassic Park or Terminal Man (which gave me nightmares for weeks and caused me to tape my window shades to the frame).

After writing out my reasoning (and noticing Jurassic Park and Airframe sitting on my table waiting to be read) I think that I’ll give up on Disclosure for the time being.  I’ll hold on to it – it isn’t due back to the library for a couple of weeks – but I may not finish it after all.

Revenge of the Sun

I spent too much time in the sun today.

It was gorgeous, and I was with a group of people who was also spending time outdoors in a structured manner.  (I believe this is called a field trip?)  I didn’t have much say about where we were or how long we were out, and I wasn’t really complaining when it was happening.

It was in the car that I discovered the sun’s revenge.

Perhaps I should correct my first sentence.  I spent too much time in the sun today without sun block.

My face is an angry red, which isn’t fun and doesn’t look nice.  On top of that, I got a little of what I’ve heard casually called “sun poisoning” on another occasion: I was sick.  Headache, nausea, shaking, fever-like chills, I was on the receiving end of the full list.

After water, a cold compress for my face and neck, and a 2.5 hour nap, I am feeling much better (although my face is still red).  But I missed dinner, I missed tonight’s speaker, and the headache is still lingering.  I should feel fully recovered in the morning, but for tonight, I’m silently yelling at the version of myself that forgot to bring sun block or a hat, and didn’t think to rectify that until after the damage was done.

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