Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Reading Dystopias during Quarantine

With life on hold, I have had endless hours to catch up on my To Be Read pile. Quite a few of the Fantasy YA novels are about dystopian societies. As I read and listened to the daily news, a few things came to mind about story building a dystopian novel.

1. Dystopian novels often minimize or ignore the range of responses from people. As I watch the arguments over quarantine, masks, and social distancing play out, it is obvious there are more than two sides to the characters dealing with the overall story problem. There are bands of resistance that want different things.

2. I am not certain that the level of dread and panic is presented enough in books. There is a lemming effect too, where people herd and move in different directions as a pod. How do your characters deal with their panic? What soothes them? What traumatizes them?

3. Stakes are crucial to every story, but should be the highest alert level in a dystopian thriller.

4. There are shades of gray. Even well-meaning basically decent people are confused about what is wrong and what is right and what is acceptable risk. How much the problem affects them personally varies widely.

5. People fear change, even necessary change. It is hard to let go of daily regimens and comforting rituals in a threatened world.

6. The toilet paper hoarding was a new twist. What would your characters hoard if they thought the end times were nigh or if their world suddenly felt uncertain? Be creative.

7. How does their world suffer in day to day operations? What interruptions change their lifestyle: trade and supply chains, embargoes, rules of law and order, access to necessary services, restrictions in mobility and travel? What are the consequences for breaking new restrictions? What clever ways do they find to subvert them?

8. What are things opportunists can utilize? While the world's focus is elsewhere, it is fertile ground for industrious and ingenious friends and foes.

9. In a Fantasy and Sci Fi, unique diseases and medications are rarely mentioned unless they are directly related to the overall story problem. Writers sometimes invent magical recreational drugs and magical illnesses and cures in paranormal novels. No matter the genre, even a passing mention can enrich the story.

10. Every story world has a past that has been shaped by things like pandemics, wars, and shifts in power. What impacted their world before it changed with the inciting event? How are they reflected in day to day life and rituals?  How has your story world adapted in the fallout?

I thank all of the writers of books and screenplays for their work. It has helped keep many of us sane during this stressful time. Which leads me to a final question: How does story affect your dystopian world? Do books, cinema, oral storytelling, etc. play a part? What urban legends do characters share?

Read More:

Ten Dystopian Novels Inspired By Pandemics

Is the State of the World Affecting Your Writing

Are Your Character's Fears Your Fears

Ten Tools for Crafting A 3D Setting

How To Build A Planet

Mastering Worldbuilding

Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Time Goes By

Wow, the month of May slid by and here I sit, looking back and wondering what happened to all that time. Time seems particularly slippery during these shelter-in-place months. Back in March, I thought I would get so much done.

Let's just say it didn't work out as I'd planned.

Time doesn't stop while sheltering in place.
Image by xaviandrew from Pixabay
As I write this, my mind wanders to various musical pieces that have to do with the passage of time. The first few songs that come to mind are some personal favorites:
Oh, let's not forget As Time Goes By from the movie Casablanca.

This leads me to wonder if there might be lists of songs that have "time" as a theme or element.

Time for research!

Here's some of what I found (the first two lists have embedded YouTube videos so you can click, listen, and watch; the third allows you to hear a sample of each song):


If you are feeling that time is passing you by these days, just rest assured you are not alone. I've heard some writers say that they are getting scads of writing done, and I've heard others say they can't focus on writing at all. Most I know are, like me, just doing the best they can: putting one word in front of the other and hoping that is good enough for now.

 I try to keep George Harrison's words in mind: all things must pass. Eventually, we will enter a period of what folks are calling "the new normal." And after more time passes—who knows how much (months? years?)—this new normal will simply become "normal."

Time doesn't stop, it just keep on truckin', so I guess I'll do the same no matter how long or strange the trip. (You can probably guess what song I'm listening to right now.)

Ann Parker authors the award-winning Silver Rush historical mystery series published by Poisoned Pen Press, an imprint of Sourcebooks. During the day, she wrangles words for a living as a science editor/writer and marketing communications specialist (which is basically a fancy term for "editor/writer"). Her midnight hours are devoted to scribbling fiction. Visit AnnParker.net for more information.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Why I Love Libraries

Covid-19 has, if not forced, then inspired us to find new ways to fill our at-home time. There are a lot of things I need to do, like clean out closets and drawers, but I just don’t have the energy to do that. Besides, I’ll wear that sweater again sometime. I’m sure I will. That style is making a comeback.

I’ve always used the library, whether for audios when I take a trip or books to read at home that I don’t have to buy to fill my already overflowing bookcases. I have books I’ve bought through the years that I haven’t yet read, but I love my Kindle and prefer reading on it. Now the library has become the go-to place to read books by downloading from Overdrive.


My library gives us fourteen days to read our chosen work. My friend and I have been storming through Robert Crais’s Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series. Fortunately, there are eighteen books in the series. A couple of the early books aren’t available to download from Amazon on my Kindle because of their format, but I’ve been able to download and read them on my iPad Mini. I have to admit, I much prefer the Kindle because it’s more stable. We’ve both read some of the books before, but being of a certain age, it’s like reading them all over for the first time. The books are exciting, humorous, violent, and great character studies. I’ve written about my favorite before on this blog, so I won’t repeat myself. If you like Lee Child’s Reacher series, you’ll love the Cole/Pike series. In the word of Crais himself, Jack Reacher is Joe Pike’s bitch. I don’t think there’s a tougher guy in crime fiction. If there is, let me know. I love tough guys.

In addition to ebooks, you can download audios from your library and listen to them on your smartphone, PC, or Mac. Though my library is still closed at this writing, I’m not sure readers remember all the ways they serve the public. It’s become too easy to download a book from Amazon in the wee hours of the night when we’ve exhausted our bookcase, but libraries are there, waiting, and we need to support them. They're one of our greatest resources.

One of my Facebook friends invited me to submit the covers of seven books for seven days. Scouring my memory for books that I loved and that made enough of an impression on me to remember their effect, I found books that I’d love to read again. I just posted day four. So far, I posted my favorite Crais book, L.A. Requiem, Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River, Exodus by Leon Uris, and The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton.

The following list will make up my next three with the rest as honorable mention: Iron House by John Hart, Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kruger, On the Beach by Nevil Shute, The Suspect, first in a series by Michael Robotham, The Winds of War by Herman Wouk, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, and so many more. A couple of these books inspired me to learn more about things I didn't know. After reading Exodus, I wanted to go to Israel. I even bought a ticket, but I'd just returned from a year and a half in Italy and decided to stay in the US. On the Beach scared me into thinking of a nuclear holocaust. Apparently it scared others too. Mystic River was a bit of home. I crossed that river every day on the way to college.

So if you’re at a loss for what to read next, check out your local online library and download the newest bestsellers and older books that you once loved and will love again. Here’s a link to I Love Libraries to read more: http://www.ilovelibraries.org/

Polly Iyer is the author of nine novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and Indiscretion, and four books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, Backlash and The Scent of Murder. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.



Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Times of Our Lives


With shelter-in-place orders in effect, many of us have more time than usual on our hands. This is yet another example of the way time rules our lives from the moment of birth until we draw our last breath. Each day, it dictates the frame in which we must work or play or laugh or cry or engage in any activity to get the most (or the least) from that fixed period. Some might say time imprisons us. Others may argue it sets us free. We all have perceptions of time based on our needs, our experiences, our views of life.

My view of time has changed dramatically over the  years. For example, it now differs significantly from when I was six months old. At that age, clocks and days meant nothing. I could express my hunger or frustration or discomfort equally well at 2 a.m. or 2 p.m., or any time in between. It was simply time to eat, time for a diaper change, time for comfort, time for relief from my bellyache, and so on.

At age six years, I entered the time zone. School started and ended at certain times. Recesses and lunch periods arrived at the same time each day. Summer vacations and the first day of school occurred at specified times. Family vacations came at the same time each year. Class assignments had to be completed and turned in by a certain time.


Then came a job and an introduction to a time clock. Commute times entered the picture. And so it went.

What do we really know about time?
Time flies.
Time waits for no one.
A time to laugh and a time to cry.
A time to love.
"Time to say goodbye". (Thank you, Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman)
The list could go on almost ad infinitum.

When I was 14, I couldn't wait until I was 18. When I was pregnant, I couldn't wait for the baby to be born. When the terrible twos hit, I couldn't wait for the teenage years. (Little did I know!)  The decades passed. Now, I want time to slow down because I'm running out of it. So many things yet to do; so little time to do them.

What does this have to do with writing? Nothing…or maybe everything. If our lives have demanded our attention in other areas, perhaps we've postponed our time to write until our senior years. After all, we can write after we retire because our schedules will be less hectic. Seriously? We may not have to punch a time clock anymore, but we still may struggle to find the time (and energy) to punch the keys on the laptop. Stories that have long waited to be told may still be languishing backstage, listening intently for their cue to come front and center.

Passing years increase the urgency to tell those waiting stories. Unfortunately, the energy and emotion required to make that happen could be waning. Again, time takes on a new meaning. If used wisely and without undue pressure to get something done quickly, it may still serve us. It also offers incentives and perspectives not available to us in our younger years.

Each season, each time brings both blessings and maledictions. There used to be a TV game show called Beat the Clock. As we grow older, we realize we can't beat it because it marches relentlessly forward,—something we can no longer do. However, we can join forces with it.

While we may not be able to spend long hours working on a story, we may be able to incorporate several shorter periods of writing time into the day. All our lives, we've made adjustments to fit the necessary things into each 24-hour period. This is just one more adjustment, one that may allow us to complete our stories still begging to be told.

Do you have stories waiting?


Editor Linda Lane has returned to her first love—writing—while maintaining her editing work. Her novels fall into the literary category because they are character driven rather than plot driven, but their quick pace reminds the reader of genre fiction. They also contain elements of romance, mystery, and thrillers. You can contact her through her websites: LSLaneBooks.com and DenverEditor.com.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Three Twists and a Finale

I have been in quarantine for months, both because I am at risk and because I have been ill (but no proof it is COVID). Luckily, we are "retired," so there is nowhere we have to be other than doctor appointments (telehealth now), and the pharmacy.

I have to give props to all of the books, movies, and streaming stories for keeping me sane. I read the entire Poldark saga books. Reread all of Anna Huber's The Anatomist's Wife series. Several Carol Goodman books. Cinda Chima Williams fantasy Seven Realms and Shattered Realms series, Deanna Raybourn's Veronica Speedwell series, and the Ash Princess series by Laura Sebastian just to name a few. TV series are too many to list.

 As I wrote about in Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, most stories follow a comforting, expected flow. There are variations on the theme but they go something like this:

A problem presents, characters are forced to do something about it. Things go wrong, creating new challenges which lead them to adapt to new circumstances before they overcome the problem. Or, they make headway, a new snag complicates the situation or changes their understanding of the situation, things get much, much worse before they reach the climax when the outcome is decided. Good guys typically win. Good guys can be people of questionable moral character as long as their cause is just.

In the right hands with originality and ingenuity, this arc is highly satisfying. I've been irked by stories that are disjointed, or poorly intercut between past versus present strands, or strands so confusing I quit watching/reading. The worst sin is characters I don't care about. I get ticked off about the time I wasted. Life is too short for bad fiction.

The most recent delicious find is a black comedy titled Dead to Me. During the first season, each episode ended with an information reveal that completed shifted my understanding of what happened with the inciting event. The main character was a bit of a bitch quite frankly and that hurts Season 2 to some degree which tried to follow the same formula with less success.

The basic premise is the main character Jen Harding, played by Christina Applegate, loses her husband in a hit and run accident. She makes friends with Judy Hale, played by Linda Cardellini. As the episodes progress, the plot thickens. There are no gun fights, battles, car chases, gruesome special effects, etc. It is purely character and situation. In the wrong hands, it would have failed.

So, in this example, there are 9 twists and a finale. It wasn't too much. It was just enough. Too many convoluted twists can confuse your audience. In this series, it was peeling back the layers to reveal the truth.

To use this method it is critical to have a basic skeleton to work with. You have to know what happened, when, where, how, and why then selectively deliver the information reveals in the most effective manner. I highly recommend watching the show once for fun and a second time to take notes. Then apply the technique to make your story a page turner. Every episode made me gasp and think, "What the heck? I have to see what happens next." There was not one episode that made it easy for me to turn it off.

For more information on how to make page turners, check out the free information on my website and blog.

Keep reading:

Layering Conflict

Levels of Antagonism

Pick Your Battles

Gold Medal Writing

Hollywood and Screenwriting

It's About Conflict

Lessons in Story Structure in Unlikely Places


Diana Hurwitz is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit DianaHurwitz.com for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Beta-Testing StoryOrigin App for Delivering Advance Reading Copies

I hope everyone is staying safe and keeping well. My thoughts go out to all those on the front lines (and their loved ones) putting themselves at risk of infection to help others, and also to anyone who has been affected first hand by the virus.

Image by Ryan Richie, via Flickr

For some, staying safe at home has meant hitting pause on many of their usual day-to-day activities, and I know that some of my own friends have had to come up with novel ways to keep busy (i.e., entertain themselves) without leaving the house. But, for me, the past few months have passed in a blur as I have raced against the clock to publish my latest book, The Convoluted Key - while at the same time (like many other parents during this Covid-19 pandemic) finding myself unexpectedly and unpreparedly pitched into the role of homeschooling mother and children's personal assistant (and trying to avoid allowing my children's daily dose of screen time to increase by too much).

Request an advance reading copy of The Convoluted Key

Amidst all the chaos, and only after I'd finished setting up a way for reviewers to request advance reading copies of The Convoluted Key from the homepage of my website, I happened upon a platform still in beta called StoryOrigin App. From an initial play-around on the site, StoryOrigin appears to be a cross between NetGalley and NaNoWriMo. It's intended to serve as an interface between reviewers and authors, providing authors with a fairly straightforward way to screen potential reviewers and then deliver the ARC files. And it also offers authors a way to cross-promote with others writing in the same genre by offering giveaways and newsletter swaps. From the writing goals and motivation side of things, StoryOrigin provides a tracking feature where you can set your deadlines and keep track of your word count and other goals. It also calculates how many words you need to write or edit per day to hit your deadline.

I haven't yet had a chance to trial the goal tracker, but I'm already seeing the potential advantages of using an external delivery system like this for ARCs. Firstly, uploading my book's files to StoryOrigin was a breeze - compared to my own website which threw a security hissy fit over files with .epub and .mobi extensions. Secondly, on my own site I'm having to trawl through all the "requests" filled in by passing spambots, which are still coming even after I got around to installing ReCaptcha. I have to check every single one, in case it is genuine. On StoryOrigin, however, reviewers have to create an account first, which provides an extra layer of spam filtering. Thirdly, with StoryOrigin I don't need to make contact with the reviewer and send files or links using my own email or Messenger account. All I have to do is approve the reviewer and the platform does the rest. I will definitely be closing the request option on my own website on May 15, as I'd originally planned, but now I think I will continue to allow review requests via StoryOrigin until my book is published.

On top of that, the StoryOrigin interface is really simple and easy to use, and includes videos, tutorials, and examples if you do get stuck. And it's free while it's in beta, so that makes it a worthwhile option for an author hitting the last few pennies of her budget right about now.

While investigating StoryOrigin, I also came across these pay-to-play platforms that are generating some attention from authors and readers/reviewers: BookFunnel, Prolific Works (which used to be "InstaFreebie"), and Hidden Gems. And, of course, there's NetGalley and the giveaway option on GoodReads. If you have the budget, you might be interested in cross testing all the options. Please let us know in the comments if you already have a preference for one over the other, or if you know of other platforms for getting ARCs into the hand of reviewers. We'd love to hear about your experiences and opinions.

And if middle-grade fantasy is a good fit for you and you'd like to try out the reviewers' side of StoryOrigin, you're welcome to request an ARC of The Convoluted Key.

Elle Carter Neal is the author of the upcoming middle grade fantasy The Convoluted Key (first in the Draconian Rules series), the picture book I Own All the Blue, and teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She is based in Melbourne, Australia. Find her at ElleCarterNeal.com or HearWriteNow.com.

Photo by Amanda Meryle Photography

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Do Not Squander Time

"Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time; for that’s the stuff life is made of."
                     Poor Richard’s Almanac June 1746

Pixabay

So here we are, many of us reluctant to get out in the world even if government and/or health officials are relaxing restrictions on retail stores and personal care services (with proper masks and social distancing, of course). I’m one of the reluctant ones, being of a certain age and all. Others, perhaps younger and anxious to get back to work, or living alone and feeling the stress of isolation, or even just eager to get a haircut and color, crave the freedom to get out of their homes and get on with life.

Can we have both safety and freedom? I do hope so, but when I see large numbers of people out and about, a shoulder-touch apart and no masks, I get scared. I’m afraid that belligerence will come back and bite people in the form of COVID-19. I don’t want to be one of them (and my Corona hair can keep on growing longer).


I can give you pages of ideas for truly squandering time while we do our stay-at-home duty, and to be honest, I’ve tried a lot of them and found them to be a great distraction. Jigsaw puzzles are wonderful. A Netflix series binge will numb the brain, if that’s what you want. Housework, in my humble opinion, provides too much time to think, so that’s not my favorite COVID-19 pastime.

There are options. The best one that has come my way recently was the chance to hold a high school class reunion using Zoom. Being of a certain age and all, I will not surprise you when I say this is our 60th. We last gathered ten years ago in our old east central Illinois high school, did the obligatory tour, met up a few times to chat over pizza and beer, and then went our separate ways. I believe only a few of us were interested in taking that trip again, so a real reunion seemed unlikely.

And then, the virus came.

Someone suggested the remaining classmates with whom we’re in touch, maybe fifteen or so, meet on Zoom. And that’s what we’re doing. For me, at least, this is about a thousand times more satisfying than the airport/flying/hotel/tour/dress-up-for-dinner option. I only experienced one moment of jealousy, and that was upon discovering one classmate was in Oahu and the other in Maui. Far more sobering was to hear about life in Queens during these scary times.

Pixabay

Now you may ask, why is a class reunion on Zoom not squandering time? Because, I respond, there’s no travel involved, and travel to get somewhere for a meeting is the biggest time squanderer of all. Someday, when the virus dies, folks will be able to travel again for fun…visit Epcot Center or Yellowstone National Park or family that they miss dearly. But meetings? I’m betting business meetings and class reunions will be Zoomed forevermore.

Opportunities to not waste time abound. Free classes and workshops. Conferences online. Instructions and tutorials to do almost anything on You Tube (I’m still planning on learning to play the ukulele this way). As stir crazy as we might be, no matter our age, there are ways to survive this experience without falling victim to AlvinToffler’s Future Shock:

“…the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.” (1970)

Zoom, and all other online meeting venues, will help us through this time warp. Facebook is jumping onboard. So is Google. The times, they are a-changing, and we can make it okay.




Pat (Patricia) Stoltey is the author of four novels published by Five Star/Cengage: two amateur sleuth, one thriller that was a finalist for a Colorado Book Award in 2015, and the historical mystery Wishing Caswell Dead (December 20, 2017), a finalist for the 2018 Colorado Book Awards. This novel is also now available in a large print edition. Her short story, “Good Work for a Girl,” appears in the Five Star Anthology, The Spoilt Quilt and Other Frontier Stories: Pioneering Women of the West released in November 2019.

Pat lives in Northern Colorado with her husband Bill, Scottish Terrier Sassy (aka Doggity), and brown tabby Katie (aka Kitty Cat).

You can learn more about Pat at her website/blog, on Facebook, and Twitter. She was recently interviewed for the Colorado Sun’s SunLit feature that you can find at the Colorado Sun website.