Monday, September 13th, 2010

Hellebore and Rue: Cover and TOC Announcement!

Cover of Hellbore and Rue Anthology
Drollerie Press just announced the cover of their upcoming anthology, “Hellebore and Rue.” Isn’t it gorgeous? I love the eye-catching color of the woman’s hair on the stark black, white and gray background.

The anthology is due out in mid-October…and I’ve got a story in it!

(And, look! My name’s on the cover!)

My story, Sky Lit Bargains, is about a woman who is forced to leave her home or face the repeated, escalating sexual advances of her new brother-in-law. Trained for warfare, rather than domesticity, Sigrid crosses the channel to her Uncle Gervais’ keep and makes a bargain with him to kill the wyvern plaguing his lands. Her plans go awry when she’s followed by her best friend (and sorceress) and her brother-in-law’s guards…

I’ll post an excerpt once I get a go-ahead from Drollerie.

Here’s the Table of Contents (TOC):

“Counterbalance” by Ruth Sorrell
“Trouble Arrived” by C.B. Calsing
“Personal Demons” by Jean Marie Ward
“The Windskimmer” by Connie Wilkins
“Sky Lit Bargains” by Kelly A. Harmon
“Gloam” by Quinn Smythwood
“Witches Have Cats” by Juliet Kemp
“D is for Delicious” by Steve Berman
“And Out of the Strong Came Forth Sweetness” by Lisa Nohealani Morton
“Bridges and Lullabies” by Rrain Prior
“Thin Spun” by Sunny Moraine
“A State of Panic” by Rachel Green

Read more about Hellebore and Rue.

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Writing Prompt – Weather, the Number 1 News Story Daily

Lightning Bolt and TwisterWhen I was a freshman journalism major, the teacher asked what I thought was a trick question:

What’s the number-one news story today ?

(It was a big deal to get this question right: the professor worked at a large radio station and always had lots of swag to give away. The person who responded correctly would receive a coffee mug.)

I don’t remember the various answers that were called out. But I do remember the hunky guy across the aisle asking if it were about rain.

He almost got the mug.

The answer: the weather.

Weather is all the rage. It’s the first thing people want to know when they get up in the morning. It’s what they wait for on the evening news each night. Some folks get email alerts or install browser plugins so that they’ll always know what to expect. It’s imperative to know whether or not to carry an umbrella tomorrow, or if they should stay in for lunch. Vacations are planned around it.

Sunset on the Beach with Kids Playing
(I myself have driven as many as six hours in pursuit of sunshine.)

We no longer think of weather as a gift (or scourge) of the gods, yet the elements are still credited with significance in our lives. On the eve of my wedding, during the rehearsal and dinner afterward, the skies opened up and rain came down so hard and fast that the streets of Baltimore were flooded. Water rose atop the curbs and gushed over the sidewalks.

Worried. I was worried about the morning. Okay, I was a little excited about the storm, I admit, but I certainly didn’t want a torrential downpour on the day of my wedding. What would that signify? I thought. Who wants to begin a life of marital bliss with that kind of omen?

Here’s Your Prompt: Think of a time when the weather — or the elements in general — played a major role in your life. You don’t have to choose a significant event, like a wedding, but any situation in which the weather was pivotal.

Be creative. Discard the first three events that come to mind (I’ll bet they’ll be similar to my own weak example: it rained when I was looking for sunshine). Maybe you got snowed in at a friend’s house. What happened? Maybe February has been 27 days of bleak, watery daylight and sleet, but the 28th dawned bright and clear and seventy-two degrees. How did you take advantage of it? Maybe that flash-flood washed away the pick-up, but it saved the crops.

If you’ve never been affected in your life (really?) by the weather, make something up:

  • Pretend you’re in high school serving detention with someone you despise and a freak storm blows the electricity. The teacher goes off to find some flashlights and you’re stuck with that person, in the dark, and it’s getting stuffy in the classroom without any airflow. Write the conversation you might have.
  • Pretend it’s October and you’re walking outside in a crisp autumn night. Is there a moon in the sky, or cloud cover? What do you hear and smell? Are leaves burning? Does the wind rustle the leaves? Are you scared? Or, does the cool air invigorate you? What goes through your mind as you experience the elements?
  • It’s snowing: tiny flurries spiraling down out of the sky, blanketing the ground and lessening visibility. Three feet or more has been predicted, and you can’t help yourself, you’re as giddy as a kid. With that kind of weather, you know that secondary roads will be blocked: you won’t have to go to work. But you wake up in the morning and there’s only a dusting. You’re groggy and disappointed, and you have to head off to work. Write all about it.
  • Etc.
Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Poor Dick Filthey, Or, Rules for Character Names Part II

I’m continuing my discussion on naming characters for your novels. If you missed Part I, and the reference to poor Dick Filthey, see this post.

A Few Special Rules for Writers of Fantasy and Science Fiction

There are a few special rules pertaining to writers of fantasy and science fiction that authors should consider before settling on a name. These are:

  1. Choose a Name that Readers Can Pronounce
    This goes for both genre and non-genre characters, but I’m cataloging it here because I think authors often shoot for inventive, alien-sounding names for characters when they’re building their stories from the ground up. If you’re creating an entire world or planet, surely you’ll be creating names, too, eh?

    So, if you make it up, please, make certain it’s pronounceable.

    Even if you don’t make it up, it pays to choose wisely. If your story is set, for example, in Italy or Ireland (or a locale that resembles Italy or Ireland), it’s too easy to pick an “exotic” sounding name (ahem, like Salvagia or Theodicar) which may bother some readers.

    (An aside: even run-of-the-mill names can become unpronounceable after a while. Try reading Benjamin or Kristiana over and over again. It becomes tiresome. Your readers may nickname your characters Ben and Kris – completely negating what you had in mind.)

  2. Nix the Apostrophes
    Why ‘do some fantasy writers in’ject so many ap’ostro’phes in their char’acter n’ames? Author James Clemen’s Banished and Banned series begins with Wi’tch Fire. In Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, the wise wizard is named Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander.

    The problem is not with the apostrophe, per se, but 1) where they’re placed in the word (Wi’tch, really ?) and 2) the frequency in which they’re used…not to mention they’re just one more stumbling block for the reader. Why make it hard?

    (Another aside: a few years ago the Evil Overlady decreed that all apostrophes in the middle of fantasy names are to be pronounced, “boing.” Thus James Clemen’s book becomes Wi-boing-tch and Goodkin’s wizard becomes Zu-boing-l Zorander. I find this endlessly hilarious. You should, too.)

  3. Don’t Mix Exotic with Prosaic
    Using the Goodkind example again: he’s named the wizard Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander, and a witch Shota, but the wielder of the sword is named plain ol’ Richard. In worldbuilding, the author should look at the whole…which isn’t to say that the names can’t be different. In my novella, Blood Soup, the Omarans have Italian-sounding names, the Borgunds are all Germanic. They’re different, but the rules of my world allow for that.

As I said last time, just because I refer to these as “rules,” it’s not necessary to adhere to anyone of them – but keeping them in mind while naming characters can only be helpful to the process, and perhaps prevent a few embarrassing names.

Next Time: Naming Resources

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Are You a Sadist?

Sadistic Knife BlockI had lunch with a good friend yesterday and she asked me about my novel WIP. I was going to give her my elevator pitch until I remembered she has a Masters in Literature.

So I started telling her about my protagonist who is upstanding, moral, and ethical – and who lives by a set of personal rules of honor that isolate him from others: he lacks a core group of friends and also lives apart from the main community.

He’s flawed of course, and much of the making of his rules stems from a troubled history. I won’t bore you with the details.

After I explained my protagonist, I told my friend all the things I did to him:

  • made him honor-bound to escort a group of women he abhors back to their home through dangerous territory
  • had him kill one of those women as he tries to help them
  • required him to obtain a drug that has been declared illegal (and didn’t tell him it’s illegal)
  • made him fight the militia – who inform him the drug is illegal – in order to escape and maintain possession of the drug
  • tricked him into promising to help a thief, who helps him flee the militia
  • had him declared an outlaw and put a price on his head

And this is only in the first three chapters!

As I sat there ticking off the ordeals I put him through, I was reminded of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Creative Writing 101” rules, number six of which is:

Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

My main character holds himself apart from everyone else, and tends to think in black in white. By putting all these obstacles in his path — and making him do things he clearly doesn’t want to do — he learns that there are many shades of gray. He’s got to learn to loosen up his personal rules before he snaps.

It’s this learning process which makes the book interesting. And it’s the obstacles that make it so exciting – and so fun to write, too!

Is your story suffering from a lack of excitement? Is your character staid or boring? Be a sadist! Put your characters in interesting and dangerous situations. Make him work. Take away the easy: make all of his desires difficult to obtain.

All you writers out there: how have you been a sadist? What kinds of things have you made your characters do?

In case you’re interested, here is more information on Kurt Vonnegut’s Rules.

Friday, July 16th, 2010

Writing Prompt – Earthquake!

My alarm went off at 5:00 a.m. Static, rather than rock-n-roll greeted my morning. Moments later, the bed began vibrating. The entire house shook, making a noise like heavy rain on the roof – only amplified a dozen times.

According to the US Geological Survey, an earthquake measuring 3.6 had struck the Potomac-Shenandoah Region.

The vibrations ceased about eight seconds later, and the morning silenced. I found it an exhilarating way to start the day!

Nifty, eh? Here’s a handy map:

Earthquake Map - USGS - 16 July 2010

I probably wouldn’t think so highly of this morning’s occurrence if it had rocked the house so much that all the glassware broke. It’s only the second earthquake I’ve experienced. Scoff all you want, westerners… earthquakes are rare on the East Coast.

According to USGS:

Earthquakes in Maryland and Northern Virginia are uncommon but not unprecedented. The earthquake on July 16th, 2010 occurred in a part of the Eastern Seaboard that is less seismically active than central Virginia, New England, and the area surrounding New York City… Earthquakes east of the Rocky Mountains, although less frequent than in the West, are typically felt over a much broader region. East of the Rockies, an earthquake can be felt over an area as much as ten times larger than a similar magnitude earthquake on the west coast.

We were lucky. The quake was mild. Nothing broke. Just a bit of fun to liven the morning. But what if it hadn’t been?

Here’s your prompt:

Write about a single person or a few tight friends caught up in a natural disaster. It could be a landslide, a flood, an earthquake…anything. But stretch: pick a disaster uncommon to the area you live in. How did it start? Was your character the instigator? (That is, did someone throw a pebble that caused a landslide? Or toss a lit cigarette that caused a wildfire?) How do they feel about causing the situation? Do they even know they caused it? Are lives at stake? Or homes, schools and businesses? How does your character escape? What has he lost during the situation? What has he gained?

Make the stakes high in order to ramp up the tension, but don’t kill off your character. (That’s too easy.)

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

A Glut of Procrastinated Paper

Hi, my name is Kelly, and I have a filing problem.

Loaded Boxes Full of Papers

Actually, that’s not true. I don’t have filing issues. I can file if I absolutely have to.

Unfortunately, I always have more paper to file than I have time to do it in. And, I have other priorities…so when I get squeezed for time, filing is the last thing I want to do. After a while, the piles get so numerous I shove them into boxes.

See the crazy notes I leave for myself? The note on the left-most box says, “Writing To-Do: Immediately.” The note on the box beside it says, “To Do by December 31, 2009.” Um…yeah.

I took these photos in December, but the boxes had been sitting there months before that.

I have whittled it down to two boxes. But that’s only because I’ve had to paw through the boxes several times in the last few weeks and I made some executive decisions to throw a bunch of stuff in the trash (which is much easier than filing). But the fact is:

I just don’t want to do it.

Every once in a while, that attitude spills into my writing.

In Chapter 10 of my WIP, there’s a particularly badly-written scene with some unbelievable dialogue that needs to be reconstructed from scratch. It’s full of archaic language and I’d bet a few “as you know, Bobs.”

It’s going to take some time. And I don’t want to waste it…even knowing that the scene can be a hundred times better.

I’ve procrastinated so long that I’ve already edited through Chapter 21. Imagine how anti-climatic it’ll be to get to “The End” and have to go back and edit something halfway through the book. I’m not looking forward to it. When I type “The End,” I want it to be the end.

So…I’m going to take care of it. Within the week.

Maybe after I tackle that scene, I’ll get up the gumption to finally get those boxes out of my office.

Won’t you join me? What have you been procrastinating about? If there’s nothing in your way…take care of it!

Monday, July 5th, 2010

Of Me, Advice for Writers and Pajamas…

I’m flattered that Annette Bowman from the blog The Stars are Not Made of Fire was interested enough to ask me a few questions about me, my writing process, and advice for beginners.

I find Annette to be a fascinating person who likes to live in her pajamas — since they’re the most comfortable clothes in the world. (Of course!) I heartily agree, and if I could, I’d spend my days in pajamas just like Annette. Alas, the working world frowns on this.

PJs not withstanding, Annette’s blog is an interesting read. Visit just for that, even if you’re not interested in hearing me blather on.

On the other hand, if you’d like to read the interview, please visit Annette’s blog for the scoop.

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

How Not to Find Inspiration

We’ve been reading a lot of “Frog and Toad” books around the house, lately. They’re juvenile, but I’m really enjoying them. The author, Arnold Lobel, has an understated wit that sometimes flies over the head of youngsters, but is quite humorous.

Right now we’re reading “Frog and Toad are Friends.” (I HIGHLy recommend it. It’s a Caldecott Honor book, too, if you need more than my endorsement to pick it up.)

In the book is a short story called, “The Story,” in which Toad’s friend Frog is sick in bed and he asks Toad to tell him a story while he is resting.

Toad’s game for this, but he isn’t sure where to begin. So, for inspiration, he sits down and thinks about it for a while. He can’t come up with anything he likes, so he goes out on the porch to pace while he thinks. Unfortunately, this proves as fruitless as sitting and thinking. So, he comes back inside and stands on his head.

Toad Standing on His Head

“Why are you standing on your head,” asked Frog.

“I hope that if I stand on my head, it will help me to think of a story,” said Toad.

Toad stood on his head for a very long time. But he could not think of a story to tell Frog.

Next, Toad tries water as a stimulant.

Toad Pouring Water On His Head

“Why are you pouring water over your head?” asked Frog.

“I hope that if I pour water over my head, it will help me to think of a story,” said Toad.

Toad poured many glasses of water over his head. But he could not think of a story to tell Frog.

Then, Toad banged his head against the wall.

Toad Banging Head on Wall

“Why are you banging your head against the wall?” asked Frog.

“I hope that if I band my head against the wall hard enough, it will help me to think of a story,” said Toad.

This scene just makes me laugh.

There are days, like Toad, when I feel like banging my head against the wall when approaching a particular scene. I usually make myself a little note in brackets [write fight scene here] and then move on to the small stuff. I come back to the troublesome prose later.

Poor Toad’s problem was that he wanted a “good” idea for a story. My opinion: he should have run with whatever he came up with first. A bad idea is still an idea. It can be used up, embellished upon, and discarded (if necessary) later. Any idea is one you can work with. Dressing it up usually leads to others.

If you’re stuck: try writing about the first thing that comes into your brain. Use it as a thoroughfare to your next writing destination. You don’t need to keep it forever. Edit it out at the next pass. But use the idea to stimulate others.

In my opinion, there’s no such thing as a bad idea. There may be better ones, but how do you know until you’ve written it?

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

A Few Days Off From Writing…

TiredI’m too tired to write.

It’s been a craptastic™ week so far with me getting up way to early and going to bed far later than is actually good for me, and spending a lot of time on the road (over 500 miles in the last few days). I’m just a tad stressed.

My brain is fried. (I can feel it taking way longer than it should for me to hammer this out…)

Fiction, tonight, is not going to happen.

That’s a hard statement for me to type. I try to write fiction every day. Daily writing is a good method for keeping in the groove. If I let a few days pass without writing — for any reason — I sometimes have a hard time pushing past the inertia to get the words to flow again.

I keep a little spreadsheet (okay, it’s kind of a big spreadsheet) where I record the statistics of my writing. I despise typing in a big fat ZERO on any day of the week (because, let’s face it, once I do, it populates through about a dozen columns of tallies and percentages and MOCKS me). It’s a fabulous motivational tool, but the flip side, of course, is the letdown. I don’t like to let myself down.

But I knew heading into this week that fatigue was going to play a major role. Making my (self-imposed) word-count minimums would be a real struggle. After all, it’s hard to write when your brain won’t function. I’ve done it before…but it takes so much longer than when my mind is fresh.

But this week I decided to give myself a break and take a few days off, just until I can get a good night sleep, and get the mileage under control. I bought a handful of new books yesterday afternoon, and resolved to read them all. (I’ve read them all, but one, already.) And I’ve made a good dent in the knitted sock project I started. Tonight, I’m going to finish the last book, and (I hope) get to bed at a decent hour.

Tomorrow, I think, I’ll be ready to write. I caught myself daydreaming about my WIP on the long trek home from work tonight. Usually, nothing busts through the fatigue when I get like this. Maybe there’s something to be said for ignoring the taunting voice in my head.

I still have to write ZEROS on my spreadsheet…but I’ll annotate them to remind myself that time off can be just as valuable as pushing through the fatigue.

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Writing Prompt: Found on the Side of the Road

Leg BraceLast week on the way home from work I saw the most interesting thing. It was an old-fashioned leg brace–perhaps the kind people are fitted with when suffering from polio–standing upright near a guardrail.

It struck me as a very strange object to see on the roadside.

I’ve seen plenty of missing shoes, singles and pairs, usually looking as if they’d been tossed or accidentally pushed out the car door while stopping for something else. I’m sure you’ve seen tennis shoes, laces tied, hanging over telephone wires. Never have I seen something appearing to stand at attention, drawing my eye, as this forlorn shoe did.

The brace was standing upright, turned toward the woods as if the owner simply stepped out of it and into the trees, never more to be seen. Perhaps this was the residue of a miracle?Guardrail along wooded roadside.

I began to think about this brace: who could have worn it? How old was it? How did it get left behind? Why was it standing? (And lucky for me, if it hadn’t been, I may never have seen it.)

The day I remembered to drag my camera with me, the brace was gone, probably knocked over by mowers. So, sadly, you’re stuck with these imaginative photos rather than the real thing. But I think you get the idea.

Here’s your prompt:

Imagine the brace and the situation. As above, who owned it? How did it get there? Why was it standing? Don’t answer these questions literally. Tell the story. Show what happened. Bonus points if you leave the story in the comments.