Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Pain of Writing Violent Fiction

It is hard for me to live in a world of violence, cruelty, and grief, even if that world is only imaginary. And yet fiction is about struggle and conflict. Often the conflict escalates to violence.

Yes, a few genres, like cozy mysteries (with the murder safely off-stage) and sweet romances (with the conflict about what’s keeping the lovers apart) don’t have that level of conflict or risk or resulting pain. But the ones I read and the ones I write do.

Amazon has, over the 4+ years I have been self-publishing there, made it harder to sell books if you write two a year. You have to write five or six a year to stay visible in the charts, and that’s extremely difficult to do. Readers can read a book in a day or two and think it feels “too short,” but the 75,000 words I wrote took to provide that experience took me considerably longer than a day or two to write. After closing a book of mine, you get to hug your kid and dog and cook up a nice stir-fry. Day after day, I'm mired in my creation.

During the writing, and the editing, often without vacation time between, I’m thinking about pain and terror and loss. With post-apocalyptic fiction, I’m glancing off: “oh right, and six billion other people are dead too” but I notice it. It wears on me, which is why I don’t write only post-apocalyptic with its endless fight to just survive, which I have to feel too in order to make you the reader feel it.

Right now, I’m writing about Nazis in France in 1944 and the brave spies of the Resistance and SOE who worked against them. The research alone is horrifying. I was not even looking for horrors one day a couple weeks back (sometimes I must, but not that day) and found a list of known SS officers on Wikipedia. If they knew what atrocities each had committed, they listed it in a simple sentence.

Glancing through them (I was only hunting for a rank!) was like being smacked in the gut with a baseball bat. One Nazi concentration camp doctor who had literally hundreds of recently dead Jews (disease, overwork, shot trying to escape) available for study had 86 relatively healthy ones gassed so he could study their skeletons. And briefly, there was a museum of them. (I didn’t follow up, but I know the Nazis pretty well by now and am guessing it was to “prove” they were an “inferior race” through some nonsense about bone measurements, and the museum was provided so other Nazis could walk through the horrific display and nod about how "right" they were about that. Spoiler alert: they were wrong, dead wrong. No group of humans is inferior to some other group. Period.)

mass grave #3 at Bergen-Belsen

This research actually hurts. It hurts worse because I worry about the state of the world today. It hurts because I must think about very real dangers and terrors and possible outcomes for my characters, who I come to almost believe are real, must become them with their terror, must witness what they witness--and then describe it all. And then edit those words. And then proofread those words. Day after day after day.

I’m glad I’m writing this book, and I think it will be a page-turner and moving to read. But I’ll also be glad to see the end of it.

Sorry to complain. I know I’m not digging ditches during the hot summer for a living, that I sit in air conditioned comfort and type, but there are other strains than back strains. I’m feeling more than a bit strained right now.

Thank you for listening.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Camp Nano

I take part in April and July in Camp Nano, a social writing event that was created by the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) folks. It is a chance to hang out with other writers struggling as I am, feeling the same highs of the good days when a cascade of words effortlessly flows from you (and it feels like merely through you at times), and frustrations of the days when either life intervenes and no words are possible, or the days when, despite several free hours to write, you have to squeeze each syllable out as if lancing a painful boil.

In virtual “cabins” we drop by and post, as if on any social media, and respond to other people posting. As the de facto leader of this months’ cabin, I make sure to drop by twice a day at least. (I really am not the leader in any sense but I know how to work the interface and was willing to take on the extra few hours of administrative tasks. We're equals there.)

I know writers know all this, but readers don’t, so let me describe some of what gets posted.

  • One person doubts her ability to write at all
  • Another person doubts the project she has committed to is the right project to be working on
  • Another is in love with the research but admits loves the writing less
  • To that, someone responds that they always like having written but don’t love writing
  • The next one says she loves drafting but hates rewriting
  • Someone pops in to announce that house guests have stayed two days too long and she can’t get rid of them and wants to strangle them for taking up her writing time
  • Someone writes more than that day’s goal
  • And even the people who are fighting for every word congratulate them
  • In week three, someone who has been writing effortlessly inexplicably grinds to a halt
  • Everyone sympathizes, for we have all been there.
  • Someone makes a joke about the concept of this being a summer cabin, perhaps offering to make camp stew or s’mores for everyone to cheer us up "out by the lake"
  • Two people drop out quietly, possibly because they are ashamed they aren’t meeting a goal as everyone else seems to be -- or maybe we somehow offended them, but we’ll never know
  • Someone pops in to ask a question of craft
  • Someone else asks a research question. As we’re an international cabin, sometimes we can help each other understand our language or food or other parts of our home culture.

Writing is a solitary, sometimes even lonely, occupation; as a result, I keep some social connections alive with other writers to share the joys and pains of the work.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Settling in

I have a new home, I'm moved in, and I'm struggling to get a yard neglected by the prior owner cleaned up. The weather is often too hot and other times too wet to work outdoors, and once a week I have to stop the fun jobs to mow, which takes me two mornings. Last night we had one heck of a storm--people told me it's the worst in years--and so this morning I spent over two hours cleaning up after it. (And I was lucky. It could have been far, far worse for me.)

People in most of Arizona don't mow, as you may never have realized. There's no grass! My sister asks "what do they do with all their time?" and now I understand what she meant.

My tomato plants are huge and loaded with flowers and tiny fruit, and I have bok choi and chard, a sweet pepper and a yellow squash as well. I barely had time to get that much in before June 1. I'll plant cool season crop seeds in August. So far, the pests aren't awful, but I'm on the learning curve to understanding how to grow my own food in this I expect some disasters will occur. There are a lot of farmers selling chicken eggs from their homes near me and at farmer's markets, so not being able to have chickens ends up being okay for now. At least I can eat good eggs!

I am working on a new book, a stand-alone historical spy novel. I should be done with the first draft by the end of July. In August I need to proofread and send off to the pro proofreader my pen name book based on the childhood of my great-grandmother, who was sent to an orphanage when her mother couldn't afford her and then purchased as an indentured servant. I designed it as two short books and this is the first.

I can see that with all the work my house and yard demand, I'll be writing more from November through April than in the warmer months. I'm still thinking about Oil Apocalypse 5 and if I can bear to do to them what I had planned to do. I'll keep you updated.

my pic of a lily I inherited + hostas.

Friday, June 15, 2018

One of my books free!

I have never done this before, and I'm not spreading the news terribly wide, but I wanted to let you know that this weekend, June 16-17 (Amazon time--that is, it starts at 12:01 a.m. Western Daylight Time), my first in series Saber Tooth will be on sale for nothing as an ebook. Yes, that's no dollars and no cents!

Here's the link

A time gate.
A team of fossil-hunters.
A desperate fight to survive.

Park Ranger Hannah Kates is leading a group of gifted teens on a fossil hunt when a rock slide at the fossil site uncovers a portal through time. The fossil hunters are caught in it and whisked back to an era when giant predator mammals roamed the earth.

When they have no weapons but sticks and stones, how can they survive on their wits and courage alone? And will they ever find their way home?

The exciting adventure begins.

If you've already read it, tell your friends to give it a try. Thanks, as always, for being a reader and fan.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

With life even more busy...a break from blogging.

I've purchased a house. Not my dream house, but a house for a good price that will do for me for the next five to eight years and should re-sell fairly easily.

I'll be signing the final paperwork this week, and then there's a month of painting, fixing, cleaning (the yard in particular is getting to be a neighborhood eyesore!), shopping for supplies, and moving.

I've written 14,000 words on my new novel while I've been on the road and house-hunting, which is both not enough to satisfy me and more than many folks might be able to write under these circumstances. I'd love to be able to get at least another 14,000 while I'm settling in. With that goal in mind, I'm going to blog less during the rest of May and June. I hope to get back to it in July again.

I enjoy blogging, especially the articles I've written on particular disasters. It takes time for the research and writing, but I learn things, which is among my top five activities in life. But it doesn't pay me anything, so it's an indulgence that I won't be able to afford while I'm busy with settling in to a new house. Better to work on a new novel than to write blog posts, yes?

There are over 200 blog posts here, many of them substantial about preparing for emergencies, natural disasters, paleontology, and diseases. Scroll down the right side of the blog, and there are topic links you can use. Enjoy reading!

Thanks for your patience.