Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

What Would Alice Do?

Alice CooperEvery writer does it: bases a character’s persona on the attributes of friends, neighbors and relatives. They steal their sister’s eyes, a co-workers meticulous habit, and a teacher’s grating personality to create a character. These little pieces make up the whole of someone new.

Yet, it’s not enough. An example:

If you know me, then you know I’m a fan of Alice Cooper. I’ve been with Alice through the good, the bad and the WTF?

Through it all, he’s an interesting character, clever and witty, and sometimes very surprising in lyrics and attitude.

I often think about Alice when I need a really creepy character. He’d make an awesome mad scientist – or evil sorcerer. No haircut necessary. He could even keep the make up.

As a writer, I could stop there and consider only the most hyped facets of his stage persona, just the parts that people see:

  • He keeps boa constrictors for pets.
  • His most-used stage props are: an electric chair, a guillotine, a straight-jacket, and
  • (well, there’s no getting around it) a corpse named Cold Ethyl. Alice keeps Ethyl in the refrigerator until he’s feeling particularly amorous.

I’ve got enough material right there to write a trilogy about the Mad Scientist Alice.

This is the easy part: I know what my character looks like, his mannerisms, maybe even what he sounds like. I can see that he’s got an abnormal (perhaps) fixation on death…and that he’s so hard up he keeps his woman handy in the Frigidaire: always ready for a date. (Not much conversation there, but at least Alice doesn’t have to set himself up for failure and heartache at every turn.)
Alice Cooper
It’s not too hard to see where this story could go. But, oh, how cardboard!

This two-dimensional embodiment might only resonate with other mad scientists. Are you feeling anything for him?

I’m not.

Even if Alice is the antagonist in this story, we need him to be more than black and white to be interesting. In fact, if he were more white than black, if we could understand him, relate to him…even, sympathize with him, the story will be more satisfying.

If you learn anything about Alice Cooper here (and that’s not a requirement), know that he’s an eternal ephemeral: reinventing himself for each album. It keeps the music fresh, allows him to try some new things, and yet, at the core, remain Alice. Despite his darkness, he’s ever-evolving: learning, changing and growing. Just like almost everyone else you meet.

And if you dig deeper into his experiences, you might find that one facet that shaped him into the man he is.

Was it the time he spent in the hospital where he nearly died?

I was gone for fourteen days, I coulda been gone for more
Held up in the intensive care ward, lyin’ on the floor

Or was it all that time he spent in the looney-bin, drying out from alcoholism?

Paint on my cruel or happy face and hide me behind it
It takes me inside another place where no one can find it
Escape: I get out when I can. I escape anytime I can
It’s all escape, I’m crying in my beer. Come on, let’s escape. Just get me out of here

Was it high school, when he didn’t live up to his teacher’s expectations?

Hey Mrs. Cranston, where are you takin’ me?
I feel like a lifer in the state penitentiary
She wanted an Einstein, but she got a Frankenstein…

Was it the time he got raped?

Finally got a ride, some old broad down from Santa Fe, she was a real go-getter
She drawled so sweetly, “I think, child, that things’ll get better.”
“Yes, I read the Bible”, she said, “I wanna know of you.”
We pulled off the highway… I opened the back door, she was greedy
I ran through the desert…alone raped and freezing, alone down in Mexico

(Now, this next example is a total over-simplification of the lyrics and the entire concept album, but work with me, okay?)

Was it about the death of a child Alice knew very well?

I don’t want to see you go, I don’t even want to be there
I will cover up my eyes and pray it goes away
You’ve only lived a minute of your life
I must be dreaming please stop screaming
I don’t like to hear you cry– you just don’t know how deep that cuts me
I don’t want to feel you die

Maybe it’s a simple “love gone wrong” story, we can all relate to that:

Somebody saw you at the station
You had your suitcase in your hand
You didn’t give no information, You walked off with another man
I’m always standing in the shadows, baby,
I watched you give yourself away
You take them home into your bedroom
You had another busy day

Experience after experience sees Alice sucking it up and moving on:

If there is a tear on my face, It makes me shiver to the bones
It shakes me, Babe, It’s just a heartache that got in my eye
And you know I never cry ,I never cry

Through it all, Alice seems to remain a man who walks on the dark side: a bit demented, a lot sick-o.

But underneath, Alice is vulnerable: he nearly died after spending weeks in the hospital, he couldn’t live up to a teacher’s expectations, he was raped by an older woman. He spent weeks in an insane asylum trying to dry out. He’s experienced the death of a child. His woman sleeps with other men. He keeps it all bottled up inside.

I’m stuck analyzing Alice Cooper’s lyrics to determine what shaped him.

You can use the everyday experiences of the people you meet on the subway, in bars, where you work (be careful with this one!). Listen to them talk and jot down their feelings about things that have happened.

Or, use my old stand-by: the newspaper and the evening news. Those quotes or sound-bytes the reporters pull out to emphasize the story can reveal a lot about what people are thinking when the event happened.

Experiences shape people. Thoughts and feelings of that experience becomes the meat of a character. They shape a person’s motivations and impel them to act in certain ways. They make a character real.

Reveal these experiences to your reader, build on them, show how they affect your character, and you’ve got something someone will relate to. If we show the reader just how bad Alice’s personal baggage is, Alice the Mad Scientist might actually be the person they root for in the story.

Write your characters real and your readers will keep coming back for more.

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Blog Tour April 12 – May 7!

Cover of Blood SoupOver the next few weeks I’ll be doing guest posts and interviews on various blogs around the ‘net to promote my book, Blood Soup, which is now available in Kindle.

Please drop by and leave a comment. One lucky commenter will win a $25 gift card for Amazon.com, B&N or another book store of their choice.

Every comment you leave is another chance to win.

Today I’m blogging about the “Two Secrets of Productive Writers” over at Rowena Cherry’s Blog, Space Snark. Please stop by and leave me a message.

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

I Received My Balticon Schedule!

Balticon LogoI received my Balticon schedule today. This is tentative, but I think it will be pretty close:

Friday, May 28, 10:00 p.m. – Broad Universe Reading with Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Roxanne Bland and Gail Martin.

Saturday, May 29 – Free all day! Wanna have coffee?

Sunday, May 30, 10:00 a.m. – V: The Old Series vs. The New

Sunday, May 30 7 – 9 p.m. – Bad-Ass Faeries 3: In All Their Glory Book Launch

I’m looking forward to ALL of these events. I’m especially intrigued by the “V” one… (I can picture my high school buddies all shaking their heads right now…my locker used to be wall-papered with “V” stuff back in the day!)

Of course, reading with the other Broads is also a great gig, as is being part of a book launch. My story “Selk-Skin Deep” debuts in Bad Ass Fairies 3: In All Their Glory.

Balticon takes place over Memorial Day Weekend, May 28-31, 2010. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

A 5-Star Review for The Dragon’s Clause!

I’m not joking.

Once again, I’m walking on air!

(This follows very closely on the heels of the 5-star review I received on Amazon for my novella, Blood Soup. I’m very  excited.)

Cover of The Dragon's Clause by Kelly A. Harmon This is the story of a man who violates the terms of a contract, and the “party of the second part” decides to execute the enforcement clause. Only this time, the contract has been in place for hundreds of years, and is between a town and a dragon.

The terms—pay the dragon annual tribute, and he doesn’t destroy the town—are quite simple. Not the sort of agreement you’d want to break, even for a good cause.

A lesser author would have given readers a simple revenge tale, with the moral being, “keep your word.” But Kelly A. Harmon gives her readers much more. Her characters—both human and dragon—are complex and subtle, with nobilities and strengths that might just outweigh their instincts and weaknesses.

Perhaps The Dragon’s Clause should be required reading for all lawyers…and for you!

You can check out the review on Amazon, if you want. While you’re there, check out my Amazon author page.


 

Note: The Dragon’s Clause was originally published in the Ricasso Press anthology, Black Dragon, White Dragon.

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Having Serious Focus Issues… ?

Not much action on the blog lately. Are you feeling it? My fiction production has taken a downturn, too.

Spring is in the air, and despite the length of my to-do list, (or maybe because of it) I’m having a hard time staying focused.

Anyone else having that problem? I’d rather be hiking than writing these days (hell,  after all the snow we’ve had this season, just sitting in a sunbeam is enough to make me giddy. I have a feeling it’s only going to get worse.)

Knowing I can be such a slacker when the weather gets nice, I’ve put together some strategies to help maintain productivity:


  1. Make a “Must Do” List. I usually keep two running “to do” lists. Today, I have 27 items on my “writing” to do list and 26 on my “other.” I’m going to choose the top five writing items I absolutely have to get done in the next week or so and concentrate on those. I’ll put the list on a sticky note and attach it right to my monitor.
     
  2. Break Up the Work This probably seems counter-productive, especially if you work full-time as I do: I get little time to write during the week days: not enough to break up. But during the weekend it’s my usual M.O. to spend hours at the keyboard to make up for lost time. If I set finite goals, and a deadline, I might be able to accomplish just as much as if I’d been staring at the monitor all day.
     
  3. Work on the “Bad Stuff” First. For me, that mean’s tackling the non-fiction items on my list. I’d rather be working on my novel. With that goal in mind, I’m hoping I can whip out the non-fiction faster and move on to fiction.  (I’m fairly confident I can accomplish this since I used to be a reporter…) Afterward, writing fiction should feel like a reward.
     
  4. And Speaking of Rewards… If I get everything done on my list before the deadline, I plan to reward myself with something.  Something outdoor-sy like a a hike or a long walk or even a long drive…something out. 
     
  5. How do you stay focused?

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Follow-Up: Official Write Your @ss Off

Write Your @ss Off My official “Write Your @ss Off” day was Friday…but my glee at having eight hours of uninterrupted writerly stuff was crushed under the weight of nearly 30 inches of snow.

Not that I didn’t get anything done. I simply spread the eight hours of “to do” over the weekend, in between shoveling snow, enjoying hot cups of coffee and viewing a bit of the Superbowl. (Weren’t the commercials terrible this year? I swear I’m going to stop watching them…)

Here’s how my to-do list looks:

  • Write an initial blog post, outlining my plans – Done!
  • Write my daily minimum on my current WIP – I did work on this, I just didn’t meet my self-prescribed quota
  • Write a duplicate amount on “something new” – Done!
  • Update my Facebook Page – Done!
  • Clean off the top of my desk…Oh, well…one can hope!

These were the extra activities I’d planned if there were time:

  • Reply to my writer friends whose emails I still haven’t gotten to – Done! (Hi, Friends!)
  • Update my Web page (minor changes) – Done!
  • Organize my 2009 (Writing) Tax items
  • Set up my 2010 (Writing) Tax Spreadsheets – Done!
  • Read from one of the writing books I bought this year – Done!
  • Write a summarizing blog post – (This is it!)

It turned out to be quite a productive weekend. I managed to do some other writerly stuff, too:

  • Finalize details for a reading at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC in March.
  • Agree to speak on marketing short fiction at a local writer’s group
  • Dug out an old copy of “Writer’s Dreamkit 4” (software) and gave it a go on the “new” WIP. I was inspired to do this by a blog post by The Intern. (Her review is spot on if you want to give it a go…)

    I hope everyone else participating fared just as well!

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Publication is Nigh…

I just heard from my editor for “The Complete Guide to Writing Paranormal” and it looks like the ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies) are complete. That means publication isn’t too far off!

The project had been slated for publication last fall, so I’m tickled to see it finally coming together.

Apparently, there was too much information by authors for a single book, so the one volume has been split it into two:

  • The Complete Guide to Writing Paranormal: Spirits, Sprites and Spooks
  • The Complete Guide to Writing Paranormal: Undead, Cursed and Inhuman

I have a chapter in the second volume: Undead, Cursed and Inhuman.  (I have to admit, I like that title much better than Spirits, Sprites and Spooks. I think it sounds “tougher.” I didn’t get a choice, of course, but I’m pleased.) And, judging from the TOC (table of contents), mine’s the last chapter in the book: “Critique Groups: One Spark to Better Writing.”

I’ll post cover art when I receive it.

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Acceptance! Woot!

Cover: Bad Ass Fairies Cover: Bad Ass Fairies
Covers from Bad Ass Fairies  and Bad Ass Fairies 2: Just Plain Bad, re-released by Mundania Press.

I just learned that my story “Selk Skin Deep” has been accepted for the Bad Ass Fairies III  anthology, subtitled, “In All Their Glory”.

I’m very excited!

Bad Ass Fairies 2 – Just Plain Bad  won the 2009 Eppie Award. I’ll be in very good company as part of the third in the series.

Selkies are fairies from Irish and Scottish mythology, thought to have originated in northern Scottland in the Orkney and Shetland Islands. Selkies are seals, living in the sea, but are able to shed their skin and become human.

The most common selkie tale is a romantic tragedy wherein a selkie female comes ashore and has her seal skin stolen. Unable to return to the sea, she marries and has children – usually with the man who stole her skin.

Years later, she finds her skin and dons it, returning to the sea and leaving her human family behind.

“Selk Skin Deep” is an alternate history that takes place during the Vietnam War, at which time President Kennedy first created the Navy SEALs program. In my story, Cade Owen is not only a SEAL, but a Selkie, who’s been assigned duty on the aircraft carrier USS Livingstone  in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Write Your @ss Off – Officially

Snowy Rose of Sharon - by Kelly A. Harmon
Rose of Sharon outside my office window.

This is the “official” beginning of the Write Your @ss Off weekend. I hope to accomplish as much today as I did last Friday…although my time might be cut short.

The northeast (and probably elsewhere) is expecting a doozy of a snowstorm — perhaps more than two feet of snow in my area — and I may need to sign off and do some “because of the snow” things.

Because of that, I’m keeping my main list short, and my “if there’s time” list long. What I can’t accomplish today, I intend to get done this weekend. (If the weather guys are correct, I should have nothing better to do this weekend anyway–bring on the snow!)

Here are my plans:

  • Write an initial blog post, outlining my plans (This is it, BTW, in case you’re wondering…)
  • Write my daily minimum on my current WIP
  • Write a duplicate amount on “something new” (I started this “something new” last Friday)
  • Update my Facebook Fan Page
  • Clean off the top of my desk…(Is this stretching it? I don’t care…cleaning up will promote more efficient writing…)

If there’s time left in the day, I will:

  • Reply to my writer friends whose emails I still haven’t gotten to
  • Update my Web page with a few minor things
  • Organize my 2009 (Writing) Tax items
  • Set up my 2010 (Writing) Tax Spreadsheets
  • Read from one (finish one?!) of the writing books I bought this year
  • Write a summarizing blog post

How does Write Your @ss Off work? This is from JES over at Running After My Hat.

Write some, sure. Nobody could object to that. But even if you never lay your fingers on your keyboard, never pick up your pen or handheld voice recorder, even then: can you set aside 7-1/2(ish) hours in a single block of 24 hours to think about, work on, research, accommodate, market, and/or otherwise honor the act and craft of writing? Your own writing, that is, and not someone else’s?

At last count, there were nearly 60 people joining in this weekend. Why don’t you join us, anonymously, or officially.

See my last post on WYAO for all the details. If you sign up officially, don’t forget to drop me a line.

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

(Unofficial) Write Your @ss Off Results

So how did I do?

It was surprisingly difficult for me to devote nearly eight hours in a single day to “all things about writing” and not “just” writing.

I’ve done the Nano-thing, and the 3-Day Writing Contest and have spent as much as a week “on retreat” totally dedicated to “just writing.”  Mixing it up by adding in the “business of things” as well as the day-dream/plot noodling tasks felt a bit…off.

For me, it feels like I didn’t get much accomplished.

And yet, if you look at my list…

  • Write my daily minimum on my current WIP
  • Write a duplicate daily minimum on something new
  • submit three short stories to three different markets, 2 electronic, 1 snail-mail
  • Sign and mail my new contracts with Damnation Books
  • Reply to all my writer friends’ email that I’ve ignored for (a while)
  • Update some minor things on my Web site

…I think I did pretty well.

Between the first two items, I actually more than tripled my daily required output.

I wound up sending three stories to three electronic markets because the snail-mail market I’d been contemplating had gone digital. So, I spent less time on submissions than I thought I would.

Signing and mailing out the stuff to Damnation Books took a bit longer than I thought it would because I copied and filed the items right away.  (A good thing, because this stuff tends to pile up on my desk.)

Sorry, friends! I still owe you some chatty messages. I promise I’ll get back to you soon. And well, dear Web site, the minor things will have to get fixed up catch-as-catch can.

Still, not a bad day’s work…and I’ve got the “official” Write Your @ss Off day (again, Friday) this week.

…and yet…I really wanted to write THOUSANDS of words on Friday. So, I’m a tad disappointed. If I’d noodled-out the plot of my new WIP prior to staring the WY@O, I probably could have whipped out thousands of words on that alone.

The silver lining: by multi-tasking, I was focused. I didn’t play a single game of solitaire all day. I should get a medal for that.

Did anyone else play along, unofficially? How’d you do? Anyone saving it up for this coming weekend and the official Write Your @ss Off? Let me know in the comments below.