Thursday, May 12th, 2011

A Goose on a Foggy Pond: Using Real-Life Settings in Fiction

Lone Goose on a Foggy Pond
Not the pond I talk about below.

It was 54 degrees outside when I left my house this morning: a 30-degree drop in temperature from the afternoon before. There was a bit of a chill in the air, and condensation covered a large expanse of the outdoors.

As I wound my way down the narrow, hilly, and curvy road, I kept my eye out for a view of the pond located at the edge of a nearby farmer’s property.

At 5:30 a.m., I often see wildlife making use of the pond, and today I was looking forward to what I might find.

Brought on by the cool morning, a thin layer of fog hovered over the slowly cooling pond. A single goose swam in the water, partially hidden in the rising tendrils of fog.


And great fodder for detail in my working — and future — novels.

I thought about this single goose all the way to work, and when I arrived, I jotted down a few of the more striking details:

– cool morning
– condensation on nearly everything outside
– wispy fog over the pond
– details of the pond lost in the fog
– a single goose
– very quiet
– sun hadn’t risen yet

The beauty of a scene like this is that the detail can be used over and over again in different stories and novels, and never has to be used the same way twice. It doesn’t even have to be used as it is!

For instance, why a goose? Why not a deer, if your story takes place in a wooded glade; or a bobcat, if the story takes place in a desert setting?

The same fog could rise in the evening after a warm day.

Perhaps the sun has risen in your story.

(And, by changing details among the details, you’ve not only grown the body of items you can choose from, you increase the possibilities of stories you could write.)

The key to using detail — especially striking detail — is not to overload the reader. Pick only one or two items that stand out, and save the others for another time.

This approach offers three advantages:

  1. using fewer details allows the reader to imagine the rest of the scene, giving them some “ownership” of the story, allowing them to be absorbed, rather than dictated to.
  2. it leaves you with several more details to mix and match in other stories you may write in the future, without suggesting to your astute readers that you’re taking shortcuts by writing the same thing over and over.
  3. the remaining details might be used as story-starters — rather than just scenes or details – for future works.

How have you used real-life incidents or settings in your stories? How do you note them or keep track of them? Do you find yourself using those details in multiple stories?

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Writing Prompt – Hands That Tell a Story

Pictures of HandsI got sucked into the whole Royal Wedding Thing this morning, prompted by the fact that I wanted to see Kate Middleton’s dress.

As I was watching, I got to thinking about hands.

Kate’s hands were in the focus of the camera a lot, because she was waving, of course, and then there was that wedding ring bit. I was quite surprised to see how plain they were. Like the dress and the jewels and the tiara, I expected a little more pomp.

Here’s a close up of the ring ceremony. The angle’s not great, but you can see that Kate’s got blunt nails and little polish on them if any. I had an earlier impression of her having bit them down to nubs, but I think this disproves me. Still, her nails are short and to the point, yes?

Kate Middleton's Wedding Ring

Here’s a close-up of my own hands the morning of my wedding – those talons are real, btw, no fakes for me. (I couldn’t bear to waste my time in a salon – and besides, I think typing makes them stronger.)

Kate Middleton's Wedding Ring

So, what do Kate’s hands say about her? That she can’t be bothered at all? That she’d rather spend her time doing something else? That she can’t bear to spend her time in salon?

What about the photos to the left? Old hands at the top surely evoke a story. Robot hands must make something come to mind. My favorite are those working on the engine. When I get my hands dirty, I take off my rings. Not these fellows. What does that say about them?

Here’s Your Prompt: Study the hands around you. Look at the hands of mothers and policemen and construction workers. Peer at artists’ hands and those of teachers and nurses. Look at your own hands!

Do these hands reveal the vocation or hobby of their owners or not? Does the mechanic you know carefully remove any hint of grease from his nails before he comes home from the shop? Does the artist strip all the paint off or leave it on? Whose hands are dry and cracked, old and worn, nicked and cut?

Now, write a scene or memoir or even non-fiction about a person who’s interesting feature is his hands. Describe them, and why they’re significant — but don’t keep all the description in a large single paragraph. Work in bits of description and significance between the story: show us how these hands are important without telling us all at once. Keep the tension by gradually revealing the story bit by bit.

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Writing Prompt: Road Trip!

Sandia Park Tramway, New Mexico
Sandia Park Tramway, New Mexico

Some years ago I flew to Denver, Colorado with my soon-to-be Husband of Awesome™ and my in-laws. We were going to hike, see the sights, and take a train ride up to Pike’s Peak.

It was all planned.

The plane landed in cold, rainy fog.

We were up early the next morning, watching the national weather report, and saw this huge storm system stalled over Denver. It could take a week to clear, said the weatherman.

My soon-to-be father-in-law joked, “Well, there’s sunshine in Albuquerque!”

I joked back, “Roadtrip!” only to be met by dead silence, save for the drone of the TV, and then slow-appearing smiles.

We reached for our luggage, checked out, and drove six-and-a-half hours to New Mexico.

I have about a half a million photographs of mountains taken from inside the car on the road between Denver and Albuquerque. (Funny, each appeared different when I took it. Now all these mountain pictures look the same.)

I hiked in the Cibola National Forest in 80-degree weather, then rode the “double reversible jigback aerial tramway” at the top of the Sandia Peak where a squall dumped an inch of snow on us the same day.

And I still managed to do a few things in Colorado, like walk across the Royal Gorge Bridge and dip my feet in the Colorado River.

To this day, it remains one of my most favorite vacations.

Here’s Your Prompt: This prompt can go two ways:

1 – Write about towns and cities you’ve passed through or have stayed less than a week. Or, pick a specific moment from a longer vacation and focus on that. Write about a car trip, a train ride or a flight. (Choose one you really liked, or one that made you so miserable, you’re still angry about it to this day.) Write about a hotel you’ve stayed in or a campground or a motor home. Or, write about a vacation you’ve planned for later.

— or —

2 – Write about making a split-second decision to do something. Were you better off for it, or worse? Why? Are you still affected by the decision now? Or, is it all in the past? What did you think of the decision when you made it? How do you feel about it now, any regrets? Any ‘should have dones’?

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Fascinating Author, I Am

More newsy-news!

I was interviewed at the “Fascinating Authors” Web site a few weeks ago and it’s finally posted!

:: Exciting!! ::

They requested a written interview and then called me for a phone interview which has been recorded for the ‘net.

Here’s a link to the recorded version. This version is fun because you get to know what I *sound* like. The interviewer asked me some interesting questions and talked about how transparent I am on my Web site.

Here’s a link to the written version. Here I give advice to aspiring authors and talk more about Blood Soup, and I reveal what I do in my day job.

I’ll admit that I haven’t gone back to see what they’ve edited — if anything — for either of the interviews.

(Because I’m a chicken. My hometown newspaper did a piece on me over the summer and the paper is still sitting here unopened on my desk. What if it’s awful?)

And who really likes the sound of his own recorded voice?

Meh. Please, go listen and tell me how it is.

:: Still jumping, though… ‘cos it was a lot of fun! ::

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Bits of News and Stuff

I had planned for 2011 to be a quiet year as far as being involved was concerned. I want to write more, finish more and submit more than I was able to do last year due to the blog tour, and teaching, and conventions.

And so far, so good. I’ve gotten much more writing done this year (so far) than I had in the same time frame last year.

But, suddenly, there’s a lot going on. Which is good, I realize, so I’ve decided to roll with it.

Here’s the news:

I’ve been interviewed for the Fascinating Authors web site…. link to interview here… and there’s an accompanying radio interview, too. That hasn’t been posted yet, but I’ll mention a link when I have it. (The radio interview was A LOT of fun!)
Hellebore and Rue Anthology Cover
And I’ve gotten an invitation to Syndcon – a gaming convention in Rockville, MD, (in April) and I’ve accepted. I’m tentatively scheduled to teach a writing workshop with some other writers in the area, as well as appear on some panels.

Any gamers lurking out there who want to learn a bit about writing?

We’re brainstorming some gaming/writing ideas right now. If you’re interested in seeing something in particular, send me a note. I’ll suggest it to the programming staff.

(I hope I’ll get some gaming in, too, during the con. It’s been a while since I’ve taken my bag of dice and characters out for a spin.)

I’ve also been invited back to Darkover. I had a total blast last year, so you can bet I’ll be back. (Darkover happens over Thanksgiving weekend.)

And saving the best for last: Hellebore and Rue is officially out! (I’ll post some buy links as soon as I track them down.)

I’m still in love with that cover. Isn’t it gorgeous?

If you enjoy stories of women wielding magic, you may want to check it out. I’ve written a tale about a swordsmistress who fights a wyvern — with the help of a sorceress.

(You’ll have to let me know what you think if you read it.)

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Play Lists for Writing and Idea Gathering

Sheet MusicA lot of writers create specific play lists to put them in the mood when they write.

I don’t. I may choose a particular album or artist to write by fairly regularly, but I haven’t yet taken the time to choose a defined set of music for a project. It’s partially because I’m lazy – I don’t want to weed through thousands of songs to choose a small subset. Choosing would be hard!

Mostly, it’s because I don’t want to be limited.

What I like to do is decide how I’m feeling, or what it is I want to feel, and then I search my music database for songs which might match the mood. I say “might” because no database search is without its anomalies. You never know what you might find.

And this is a good thing.

For instance, yesterday I didn’t know what I wanted to listen to while I wrote. When I looked out the window, all I could see was the snow (and more coming down). No sun. No birds. A barren landscape.

A search for “barren” in my database found zilch, so I went with the more generic, “white” for the snow.

My database found 45 songs with white in either the title, the band name, or the the musicians’, producers’ or composers’ names. Songs were offered up by both Judas Priest (White Heat, Red Hot) and David Arkenstone (Nantucket).

There were several bands on the list I hadn’t listened to in YEARS (Crack the Sky, Yes, Def Leppard…)

It sounds like an atrocious mix, but I assure you it wasn’t. I was concentrating on the writing, not the music, after all. It didn’t matter when the music changed from red-hot-metal to new age. For the most part, it didn’t break the flow of writing.

Afterward, I looked at the list more closely. Those songs that used to mean something to me that I haven’t played in years…they gave me some ideas to play with: some writing ideas.

I knew I’d stumbled on to something good.

Do you use play lists? How do you choose and narrow down the songs for a work in progress?

Monday, January 17th, 2011

What Are You Reading?

I have leaped joyfully into Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation & Conflict this morning. (Just one of the fabulous gifts I received for Christmas!)

On the back cover it says, “How to use these key elements to give dimension to your characters and direction to your plot.”, which, IMO, is a sentence fragment, and has no business being on the cover of a non-fiction book. However, it leads me to believe that by reading this book I will be able to work out the snags in my current work-in-progress.

Since I’m only on page 2 (of Dixon’s book), I can’t tell you how true that is. But I will write a review once I’m done.

On the fiction side, I’m reading Barbara Hambly’s Sisters of the Raven (one of the books I picked up during my Ravencon #bookfail).

So far, so good. It takes place in a world where magic was the sole enterprise of men and, suddenly, men find themselves losing their powers and women gaining them. The first two chapters have been very exciting.

So…what are you reading, anything good?

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Writing Prompt – Fight!

Hockey FightThis is a great photo, captured during the 11/27/2010 NHL game between the Blackhawks and the Kings. I love hockey….always a good fight.

Have you heard this really old joke?

“Last night I went to a fight, and a hockey game broke out.”

It never gets old.

Let’s talk about fight scenes.

A fight scene should be exciting, fast-paced, and pack an emotional punch. You need to put the reader into the middle of the scene and enable him to feel each landed blow. You’ve got to be descriptive enough to paint the picture for the reader, but not so descriptive that you slow down the scene.

And you’ve got to accomplish this without falling into the trap of describing punch for punch, kick for kick and finger-poke for hair pull.

So how do you do it?

Keep the scene in the point of view of the main character. Describe things through his eyes. Show that your character is engaged in the fight, but is also aware of his surroundings.

What follows is an example from one of my works-in-progress.

In this scene, Karis and his priestess companions are ambushed by a group of sentient, demon-hounds called ahventhí . Out of context, the description of Karis’s two last arrows sounds clunky, but it’s important for the rest of the story to note that he has none left. Still, I think you get the idea here:

The ahventhí charged the women.

Karis jerked in their direction and launched the first of his last two arrows. It misfired, gut string scraping across his wrist. A discordant twang of the bowstring echoed in the clearing and the arrow careened sharply right into the darkness.

Karis took better aim with his last arrow. It struck the cur in the spine, and the great beast rolled to a halt, gasping and choking, paralyzed.

The remaining ahventhí, a large grey creature with white battle scars crossing its snout, leaped at Karis. Using the bow as a shield, he clouted the attacking beast and sidestepped, forcing it aside as he drew his sword.

Note the use of a brief sentence to get the scene started: “The ahventhí charged the woman.” This clipped rhythm is used elsewhere to keep the momentum: “It misfired, …”, “It struck the cur in the spine…” This continues as Karis dispatches the final beast with his sword.

Together, these brief snippets seem like the choreographed movements of a dance: They did this, the arrow did that, Karis did this…” which is exactly what we don’t want to write. But here, these clipped, mechanical statements are temporized with brief description.

Also, strong action verbs are substituted for weak ones: charged, attacked, launched, clouted, paralyzed.

What’s missing is how Karis is feeling. We can get to that as the scene is wrapped up:

He fell to his knee at the foot of the dead beast, wiped a hand across his brow and reset his headband. Lungs heaving, heart pumping, he bent and wiped his blade on the creature’s coarse fur, sheathed it, and recovered his bow.

Karis stood on shaking legs, paused a moment to catch his breath, then bolted in the direction he saw the women flee.

Even later we get to Karis’ thoughts: when he has time to recall the fight, examine what happened, figure out how he got ambushed. This could happen as he’s searching for the fleeing women, or even later in the chapter as a reflection.

Here’s Your Prompt: Your turn! Write a fight scene. It can be men fighting men, or women fighting women (or a combination there of) or, as above, man or woman against beast. Keep it simple this time and limit the players to two or three at most.

Use tight sentences, action verbs and keep the description to a minimum.

Post your scenes in the comments below. I’d love to see what you’ve written.


Photo Notes: Chicago Blackhawks defenseman John Scott, left, and Los Angeles Kings right wing Kevin Westgarth fight during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2010, in Los Angeles. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Saturday, November 13th, 2010

Great Review for ‘Selk-Skin Deep’

Tangent posted an in-depth review of Bad Ass Fairies 3: In all Their Glory, and had some really nice things to say about my story, Selk-Skin Deep:

“Selk-Skin Deep” by Kelly A. Harmon is a very well-written, harrowing story of an accident that didn’t have to happen aboard an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam war. The selkie uses his advantage to try and save the ship and its crew. Ms. Harmon has written an action packed, suspenseful account of a naval battle with a poignant ending.

Bad Ass Fairies 3: In All Their Glory - CoverI’m pleased to hear it. There have been a few other reviews, and they’ve been good, but no one’s singled out my story. Of course, the Tangent reviewer mentioned all the stories, but I can’t help feeling a happy glow from what she said.

If you’re interested, I’ve got permission to post the first five pages of the story. You can read it here. Warning: it ends abruptly in the middle of the scene!

Epic Award WinnerYou can read the entire story in the anthology, which just happens to be an EPIC Finalist. (Winners will be announced in March. With a little luck, I’ll be changing this “finalist” icon to a “winner” icon some time in the next few months.)

If you’re at all curious about the Bad Ass Faeries™ series, you need to check out the new Bad Ass Fairies Web site. There’s an associated blog as well.

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Playing: a snippet of fiction

Inspired by Susan Adrian, who was herself inspired by Scott Tracey, I’m posting a little snippet of a story I wrote a while back.

It’s a “coming of age” tale of a unicorn and a young girl. I’d written it for a proprietary world anthology (hence the brackets around the generic city name), but the editors disbanded the idea of the anthology without going to print.

Here’s the beginning…

Süchender bent his long-maned head to the black, rich earth of the forest and dug a small trench with his horn. Boredom more than any purpose drove him to dig the hollow, yet he couldn’t help but enjoy the odor of the fresh-turned soil. Even in this harsh place, on the outskirts of [the evil city], small signs of beauty could be found.

And beauty is what he sought– his own.

At nearly three years of age he should have reached full-maturity. But his dappled coat belied that and prevented him from joining the others during the mating season in the fall. Large, dark birthmarks still peppered his dun-colored hide, the same as all immature unicorns. Only good deeds might erase his spots, brighten his dull gray coat to white, and allow his magic to emerge.

He turned his head and rubbed his sullied horn against a hoof-sized birthmark on his left shoulder. The dirt-stain lay hidden beneath the dark blemish, but the gray coat surrounding the spot now bore the filthy scruffs.

He huffed, letting out a weary sigh, and wondered not for the first time if there were anything he could do to demonstrate his worthiness.

Süchender resumed his digging, using his horn like a spade: stabbing the ground, turning his head to catch the soil in the conch-like twists of his horn, then flinging the dirt aside before stabbing again–until a round, black berry landed neatly in the soil beside his nose.

He froze, noticing a muddy pair of boot-clad feet and ankles standing within his view just across the small clearing.

Then he realized he couldn’t move at all.

Paralyzed by the lasso-berry’s magic, he had no choice but to keep his horn in the ground and his hooves firmly planted in the loamy soil. He cursed himself for a fool, so engrossed in his digging that he didn’t think to keep a watchful eye for danger. Accustomed to the protection of the herd, he hadn’t given it a passing thought.

He had no protection against this witch or her sorcery, but at least the pleasant smell of the fresh-turned soil covered most of her foul stench. Of course, if the scent of new earth had not masked the warning of her pungent odor, he would have discerned it long ago, and retreated.

Instead, he stood there, withers shaking, while she stalked around him, pacing counter-clockwise. Her broken fingernails scratched against his hide as her rough hand caressed down his flank and over his croup. She pulled his tail as she rounded him, and came to a stop in front of his nose.

If he owned magic enough to discern her virginity, her touch would have comforted him. But he hadn’t even power to detect that–though he knew she must be untouched. How else could the witch see him, let alone capture him? No animal-mage had the power to feign virginity.

This close, he could smell the fullness of her witchy musk. Perhaps if she bathed once in a while, her smell might not be quite so offensive. He sneezed as she moved closer, her odor irritating.

“I have you now,” she said, bending to retrieve her berry.

She touched it to his forelock, directly above his horn, and muttered a spell. His muscles thawed, and he raised his head, shaking it about to remove the stiffness.

She was young, he noticed. No warts. Perhaps she was out to earn her first one.