Sunday, February 28, 2010


My apologies to my longing audience, but my router has decided this week to harbor a whole host of gremlins. I've called for an exorcism--I think I scared it long enough to shoot off this short post--but I'm not sure if that will help.

After a dose of holy water...aka, tech support Monday morning, hopefully, the last of my demons will go away. At least with my off again, on again Internet access, I've managed to do a little bit of research for Changeling Project, and I finished the book by C.J. Cherryth. Which will be the subject of a book rave very soon.

Here's a short, future excerpt of Changeling Project, for your nibbling pleasure.

“This is not right.”

Avior sighed and slapped his credentials onto the Director’s desk. Rigel didn’t even glance at them. “How can you destroy another man like this? How can you live with yourself?”

“IDEA has need of this particular talent. Therefore, we have been authorized to request his assistance in the—“

Rigel jerked to his feet, leaning forward with his arms on his desk. “Don’t feed me that legal jargon. This is not a tool. This is another human being.”

Avior took a step back. The two IDEA field agents with him shifted uneasily, but said nothing. “I am not going to argue with you,” Avior said quietly. “We need him.”

“Needs of the few, needs of the many. Is that it?”

Avior turned away from the man and crossed to the security panel in the left corner of the room. He skimmed the names in the listing. Sliding a key card from its envelope, he faced Rigel again. “Do not try to stop us.”

“What could I do against the might of IDEA?” 

Avior kept his face impassive, gestured at one agent to remain, and stepped into the hallway.

Rigel’s voice made him pause. “If you do this, you have forsaken the Code, indirect violation or not.”

Avior took a deep breath and continued walking.

< >

Gary scowled at the game board again and resisted the urge to fling the pieces against the wall. He had lost again. The game still proceeded, but he had seen his mistake. In a few moves, he would have backed himself into a corner. Whether he played the computer or Tauri, Gary always lost.

With a muttered curse, Gary closed the game. Something that involved strategy and the concept of dimensional movement was too difficult. If he had been a fractal, as the game had been designed for, it would be easy. At least Tauri always lost at poker. Gary grinned at the memory of his friend’s astonished face after a particularly wild bluff.

The door buzzed. He whirled in surprise. His appointment with Doctor Kewan was not for several hours.

Two men stepped through the door. They were both in IDEA’s starched-white uniforms and had prominent neurals on their hip. The leader was Lacuna. His eye-shine could be seen shimmering through his green iris. He was taller than Tauri and had darker hair, but the high brow, aquiline nose, and high cheekbones could only be the mark of Lacuna genetics.

The other man was Tulkarian. Scaled and burly, he flicked an irritated glare at Gary and crossed his arms. Gary grinned. “Little far from home, aren’t you?”

“Be quiet, Terran.”

Gary rolled his eyes. He focused on the first man, the obvious leader. His uniforms bore several marks of rank.

“I am Avior,” the Lacuna said. “First Lieutenant.”

“No ship? A field agent then.”

Avior frowned. “Yes. IDEA has authorized me to request your assistance in the pursuit to locate Lieutenant Commander—“

“I’m not going anywhere.” Gary shook his head. “Do you think I checked into this place for the room service?”

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I Am A Bibliophile

Today, I decided to come out of the closet and confess my disorder. I am a Bibliophile.

I'll wait while my industrious readers type that into Google.



Done now? Good. It means simply that I love books. Not the e-books with their digital pages and internal light and instant downloads. Nor books on tape or CD, though those are handy if there is no light or you're on a long trip. Books are for me.

I love the smell of an old book, musty with age and history. The feel of turning crinkled pages. The quiet relaxation that is scanning your eyes across black ink printed upon clean paper. It's almost as good as a mug of coffee. And don't even get me started on the wonders of that heavenly beverage.

Today, my bibliophile tendencies are especially satisfied. The local library system in my state hosts an annual "Friends of the Library" sale, in which they get rid of old, discontinued, or mildly damaged editions of their books. They sell them at almost dirt-rate prices. ( 50 cents for paperback, $1 for hardback)

I've gone every year for...quite a while. Surprisingly, though I'm an avid speculative fiction and mystery reader, and a rabid fan of Dean Koontz--whose work defies classification. (I found his books on four different "genre tables") During this sale I am actually more apt to buy research books.

My suggestion for you, my audience, is to see about these local sales, or even half-price bookstores. One of the biggest things you can do to add realism to your work is to pick up books regarding certain topics you wish to cover.

For example, today, besides Dean Koontz, Frank Herbert, and a new author for me-- C. J. Cherryh--I picked up quite a handful of reference books. Decoding the Secret Language of the Body (detailed body language clues.) Personality Types, Panic and Other Anxiety Disorders, and Gentle Guide to the Twelve-Step Program, among others.

The first two were simply to increase my knowledge or give me ideas, but the others are going to be very handy for the prep work that should begin in about 6 months or so for the second book in my sci-fi series, The Changeling Project.

Last year, I picked up The Sociopath Next Door, which has been hugely helpful in creating any of my antagonists, but especially Sargas who, so far in what I've written, is my best "villain" yet. He scares me and I created him. Frankenstein-esque feeling there.

Don't be afraid to read up on neuro-science and other highly technical fields. Pick through until you find a book that is simple enough you can grasp it and add a little bit of basic knowledge. Just dropping a bit of jargon--used correctly--can add a speck of realism to your stories.

Now, pardon me, I'm off to read.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Themes to me...

Enter a world where Wednesday occurs on a the Twilight Zone.

Wait. Wrong era. Never mind.

Somehow, blogging about writing stuff jogs my creative juices in my writing. Go figure. I have a nice stockpile of material saved in draft mode now, and just burning to be discussed. Therefore, I think it's time for me to start posting a little more often, namely on Saturdays.

*drum roll*

May Special Saturdays now begin. I'm going to devote these posts to more specific pieces of the craft, especially those things that I feel that I excel the most in. Beware. Poetry suggestions might even appear at times.


Today's topic is one near and dear to my heart. If you don't mind a writer preening for a moment, I am quite aware of my many writing craft flaws, the pain and misery of writer's block, and the particular banes that plague my writing. (Pronouns! Gah!)

But one area ( believe I excel in is description. Even my beta readers so far agree with me. (Wow, something they all agree on? Does someone have the number for Fox News?) In the interview with Lydia Sharp that I participated in, I mentioned several different things I learned and use in description. These that I learned and applied as I developed my voice are what I attribute to that descriptive flair.

Themes is number one on my list. The idea of using a theme in description is rather subtle. It took me months to realize that some of my favorite authors used them, and then to incorporate them into my writing.

We humans are a conglomerate of life experiences, memories, acquired tastes, and different word/color/image associations that we amass over our lifetime. Any and all words or images that we see are usually connected in our minds to some other topic or situation, thus enabling the reader to imagine with us, or to connect to other ideals.

This is important to any piece of writing, but especially to speculative fiction and poetry. The former is usually describing or revealing something that is brand new, or markedly dissimilar from the normal world that we know. And the latter is designed to take things and look at them from a completely different perspective. Both require some framework for your reader to wrap his mind around.

When you are attempting to reveal something so new to a reader, and yet ensure they do not feel lost or confused, you apply themes.

As the writer W.D. Wilcox stated so succinctly:

I learned some time back that the best way to reach a person is to give them an example, or story, that opens the person you are trying to reach on some emotional level. Once they can relate to what you are saying emotionally, then they will be willing to understand what it is you are trying to say.

--Quoted from website, Horror/Scary Newsletter, with permission

In the same manner, we use themes--and the connotation of them--to create an emotional response in a reader. By linking their acquired thoughts and memories and etc. into the reaction I wish to create.

Besides new ideas, the use of themes and the emotional response it brings can also make description more vivid. The more directly I can involve the reader, make them feel with me, the more interest they have in the story. It becomes rich, without being decadent.

Particular words have different meanings and senses of the meaning. The choice of words can change how one relates to a moment.

Using some quotes from The Good Guy by Dean Koontz, I'll break down some sentences as examples, and also some of W.D. Wilcox's other examples in his newsletter.

Disclaimer: Though I enjoy some of his books, Dean Kootnz's content is not always appropriate. I have been known to "edit" certain areas--simply for my own beliefs.

In one passage, Dean Koontz describes clouds passing over a moon, in the midst of a rather tense scene in the book. He could easily have said simply:

Silver clouds passed across the face of the moon.

Yes, that is picturesque. But it doesn't truly stand out. Silver is pretty and it does seem expensive, but it really doesn't cause me to feel any sort of emotional reaction.

On the other hand, Dean Koontz mixed in some much stronger sense. First, he applied the use of something that is usually met with a knee-jerk reaction. A great deal of people do not like snakes, spiders, and things with fangs and slavering jowls. (sorry, wolf-lovers) The creepy-crawly, scaled, buzzing things of nature are often a source of disgust or uneasiness.

In the sentence, he mixed in a mention of snake's skin. Again, he could have kept it simple.

Silver clouds, like iridescent snake skin, passed across the face of the moon.

Better, but not quite a reaction. Snakes, ew. But the rest of the sentence could as well have been mumbled. Instead, Koontz added some key words and verbs that followed a particular...theme.

Using the concept of snakes and reptiles, here's a possible line of thought. Snakes molt. Their skin peels. The dead skin is white or silver, gleams in the moonlight. It could come off in strips.

Combining all of those pieces of idea together, the sentence in the book reads:

As iridescent as a snake's skin, thin ravels of silvery clouds peeled off the face of a molting moon.
(pg. 83, Good Guy, paperback by Bantam Books)

Do you notice the difference? How much stronger is that choice of words, then the simpler versions of before? For me at least, I grimaced at the idea of snake's skin, increasing my creeping dread for the scene, and yet I could clearly picture the clouds and the moon.

Not every sentence can be made to shine in this manner. To do so would be like eating a piece of chocolate cake every hour of the day. The richness would be lost, and you end up with an upset stomach and a lifetime supply of Pepto-Bismol. Don't turn your reader's stomach sour.

But using themes, following a patter of thoughts and words linked together can make them much, much stronger.

In my own stories, I have a moment where I described a desolate, empty, barren landscape. In my descriptions of dead foliage and dry soil, I added this line of description.

To stand still invites the gestating fear in her heart to flower.

I could have just said. Standing still increased her fear. But it would not have the impact that using the same theme--flowers and plants--and contrasting it, as the simpler version.

Check out these other examples by W.D. Wilcox

The sky had completely shrouded itself in the gray clouds that it had been steadily knitting since morning.

She cried in broken bird sounds: feather-soft sobs like lonely pigeons in the rafters, or the misery of windblown gulls.

That is much stronger and more vivid, bringing out an old, somber mood in the first example, and a quiet loneliness and misery in the second.


Here is my challenge to you. Pick out your all-time favorite book, the one that just enthralls you every time you nibble at a chapter. (make sure perhaps it is a copy, or a paperback that you don't mind ah...defaming a little)

I highly suggest The Taking by Dean Koontz for this project, as it holds a large proportion of themed paragraphs and sentences. (Book Rave coming soon on this re-read, re-read, re-read book of mine) But any book that is worth its salt is good for this exercise.

Now, pull out a nifty pen and re-read, slowly, the first chapter. Circle or underline words in a paragraph that seem to relate to one another. Pay special attention to the verbs. (It is usually best to do this with different colored highlighters)

Do you notice any patterns? Do the paragraphs stand out differently than if you used simpler verbs and adjectives?

For an even more detailed exercise, can you write out one word, or a group of words, that are the "theme" that belongs to that paragraph?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Awards Week

My first case of business would be the spiffy new award in my sidebar. Hi, Honest Scrap Award. Many thanks to Emily who nominated me, along with a few other bloggers, for this. Apparently, the tradition is to list ten unusual or odd things about yourself, and to nominate others. I'll start with the nominations. Don't want to scare my audience up front with my lunacy, do I?


Now, 'tis time for the craziness that is Liz.

10. The best snack for my artery-clogging moods is fries dipped in chocolate ice cream. Yum.

9. I create soundtracks for each of my novels/short stories to listen to while I'm working on them, and need that music most of the time in order to get into the right "mood".

8. I have been known to have arguments with my mirror, or a few stuffed animals, to puzzle out troublesome scenes

7. I have several friends from Canada. (Come on. That counts as weird, doesn't it?)

6. My highest dream is to meet or at least phone-meet the author Dean Koontz (I'd settle for a place on the NYT bestseller list though...)

5. I've texted myself snippets of description/characters/dialogue

4. Yes, I talk to myself.

3. I think of my characters as real people at times. To the point of crying while I'm writing them into painful situations.

2. I have scenes written in my head, that will never come out onto paper

1. I argue with my characters, when they disagree with my decisions. (my motto, in fact: Never argue with your characters; they always win.)

In lesser news, I also entered a longer short story (at 10k words) called Beast into a in-site writer contest, and won second place and a nifty purple cyber-ribbon. Which makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside and gives hope. My goal is to expand Beast into a novella, and then start shipping it out soon. Though there might be a snippet that makes a brief appearance here. Stay tuned.