Details, we need them.

How many passes through a scene does it take for you to get all the details in? For me, it’s around… many. That first draft is really just about plunking down the ideas, and focusing on the characters as a whole. I don’t have too much trouble generating dialog, so my initial drafts always have a lot of it when there are things to be said. My brain seems to effortlessly generate sarcasm and bland expressions which can easily overwhelm a scene. Normally I have to go back through it all with a more critical eye and decide if it actually serves the scene, or just my love for the sound of my own ass-hattery. Sometimes the answer will be both. (happy dance!)

Once I’ve picked over all the dialog and tuned it to the exact frequency I like, then I just sit around being proud of myself for awhile. Ideally I should walk away from it here, because the scene is nowhere near finished, but I can never seem to remember that until after I’ve embarrassed myself by showing it to someone. Then I’ll sit in front of my computer for a while poking at the problems that are now completely visible and making me regret my excitement. (insert heavy, self-judgmental sigh)

Now that I’ve reached the stage of realistic I can start putting in details. This includes everything from hair, clothing, furniture and facial tics to weather, time and background noise. It’s really a lot like building a world for your Sims. There are always things that need to be accounted for in every scene or your reader isn’t going to be able to appreciate the world you are creating. The main things I tend to overlook are weather and surroundings. What does the room look like? Is there furniture? What about décor? What’s the character’s kitchen scheme reflect? Is it glitzy and showy, or practical? Is there a toaster? Does she use it? If she doesn’t use it, then why does she have it? Maybe I should change it to a coffee maker.

And what about the weather? The sun is always somewhere, even if somewhere is the other side of the planet. Is the wind blowing? Rain? How about a storm? What time of day is it? The beginning of Smashing Pumpkins starts with a wind storm, and I found myself forgetting that in spots as I worked on other characters. Everyone is existing in the same place during the same time frame. This means they all have the same weather. Some of them will undoubtedly be talking about it because that’s what people do. We talk about the weather.

Personality quirks are another thing to think about. Where did they come from? Why does that guy always twitch and look hungry when someone says the word camel? That didn’t just happen, it started somewhere. So figure it out. Even if you never tell your reader that the man once crossed a desert with only a small, black button for a companion, the fact that you know it will go a long way toward helping you make that character three dimensional.

After all of that thinking and discovering, there are times when I’ll go back and rework a scene days, weeks or even months after I thought it was finished. You really never know what detail you might have missed, or may have to add, until you reach the actual end. My appreciation for detail has really grown in this past year, and I know my work reflects. Detail has slowed down my production, but really, I was going to fast anyway. I needed the bumps in the road to show me the problems with my car. I can still draft at full speed, but my consciousness of detail has changed the feel of the final product.

If you want to join me on Patreon for the final push of Smashing Pumpkins I’ll drop the link on you next Monday. Launch day is September 24th! A single dollar will get you access to the finished chapters as they roll out, and I could really use your support.

As always, I wish you the best of your inspirations and hope you are living your dream.

Advertisements

Dystopia or Bust!

Dystopian themes are about the authors view of what the world would look like if a certain set of variables are changed. For some of us, the catalyst could be something as simple as a jack-o-lantern contest where the losers are executed Shirley Jackson style. This is exactly what happened here. My wife made a comment to the effect of “What if…” and my brain exploded. For me to create a world where this could happen, I needed to change a lot of things. I haven’t actually split the atom here, but there are definite differences. For the most part I have left the world itself alone and dealt only with the U.S. of A. As with many authors who tackle projects like this, I have taken the politics of my time, and the opinions of the hundreds of people I’ve encountered and had conversations with, and built a country that matches what I envision. My point of view is very Spartan-esque, slicing away a lot of frill and general garbage. I’m a firm believer in doing for yourself as opposed to buying your way to happiness. My own world, the one I see when I look out the window of my apartment is very small and troubled. People are confused and struggling, and the reasons that stand out to me the most are corporate greed, and the desensitized inaction of a dying government. What if that all went away? What if a livable wage was not an issue, and people everywhere could have fresh food without having to micro-manage their accounts, or beg? What if you could go anywhere in the country for free? What if all debt was erased? What if violent crime was erased? What if, in exchange for all of that, you had to give the government the right to assess your children during their early school years and remove the ones they didn’t like?

Smashing Pumpkins focuses mainly on the lives of four people who are all affected by the same rules. We’ve all got histories and lives that shape how we react to things, so I’ve really dug into the backgrounds of my characters and tried to show the connections that make them who they are in the story. Overlaying it all is the political practices and opinions that will always insert themselves into a group’s dynamics. Seems like a lot to manage in a single novel, right?

Well, the Patreon ball will be rolling soon and everyone who wants to will have the opportunity to give their opinion. If you want to join the community, just follow the link I’ll post here at launch. The current projection is September 24, as in next Monday.  In the meantime, happy writing!

Moving to Patreon

I’m obviously not writing shorts or scenes or anything anymore, I’m just working on the book and… well… working.  The whole of the story has become really large and intricate, more than I ever thought it would, and my need for feedback has become a tangible thing.  Patreon seems like a good place to finish this out.  I’ll be posting a link here at launch for any of you who would be interested in joining in.  There are some nice rewards in the tiers and I would love to hear your thoughts on the characters and the world I’ve built.  September 24 is the set date, and there is still so much to get ready.  I’m even sucking up my camera shyness and recording a short intro video.  I’ve never done one before so I’m really nervous about it.

NaNoWriMo is just around the corner!  I won’t be joining in this year, but I would love to support those of you that are taking up the challenge.  It was really a great experience for me.  I intend to do it again after Smashing Pumpkins is finally finished and in print.  I’ve got two more books in the wings, waiting for their chance to be in the NaNoWriMo spotlight.  If you decide to participate please do drop me a comment and I will happily cheer you on.  And don’t forget the Word Sprints.  I absolutely LOVED those!  If you don’t have a Twitter account then go get one and follow the Word Sprints.  It really added to the sense of community for me as well as giving me a competitive focus.

Power forward my friends!

The Queen of Cups

“It’s an altar,” she said softly. Jenna’s reddish blonde hair swung forward, obscuring most of her face as she knelt on the bathroom floor and gathered up the myriad of things that had spilled from her bag. The small, wooden box hadn’t come open but the pentagram engraved on the lid had drawn an inquiry from the older woman.

“Oh.” Peggy watched in silence, her warmly tanned face blank of all expression.

Jenna could feel the woman’s emotional shut-down as surely as if she had flicked off a light switch. A part of her wanted to just raise her head and bare her teeth, to cause an immediate fight or flight reaction in the woman. Another other part of her wanted to laugh, cackle actually, and offer Peggy an apple. She managed to pass between the two desires and just sighed, then asked if Peggy had seen her lipstick roll away?

“No, I didn’t see anything.”

“Of course not,” Jenna muttered.

“Huh? I didn’t catch that?”

“Oh… nothing important.” Jenna sighed again and stood up, zipping the bag safely closed. “I have other lipstick. I liked that one though, it was practically new.” She did a quick check in the mirror to straighten her clothes and her hair before gesturing toward the door. “Back to work I suppose?” They exited together, Peggy in the lead with her ‘I’d like to see your Manager’ haircut bobbing judgmentally in front of her.

Jenna tried to finish her day without letting exasperation get the better of her but, it was a difficult thing. Every time she encountered people like Peggy it was so hard to not give in and perpetuate the old stereotype of witches and their craft. Choosing to carry a mobile altar in her bag had been a big decision that, so far, had caused more conflict than anything. Peggy was not the first to spot the little box and ask questions.

Five o’clock eventually came and Jenna punched the time-clock with a deep sense of relief. It was Friday. A couple days away from her co-workers was a nerve-soothing balm she sorely needed right now. Walking to her car she caught sight of Peggy standing next to her SUV talking closely with one of the ladies from the shipping department. Her posture was clearly gossipy. Jenna punched the unlock button on her car remote a little forcefully and pulled on the driver’s door.

“Good night Jenna!” Peggy’s voice rang out like a bell. The shipping lady looked on with interest. Standing upright Jenna stared at her across the top of her Taurus and smiled.

“Good night Peggy,” she called back. “Blessed be!” Not waiting to see the reaction she slid into the car and shoved her key into the ignition. The engine fired smoothly. Backing out carefully Jenna drove away without a single glance in the rear view. She didn’t need to look. The expression on the faces of the two women was nothing new.

Home was a small apartment on the city’s south side, tucked into a nearly suburban neighborhood with a few conveniences on the corner, namely a nice Italian bakery that offered hot ham and rolls on Sundays. Jenna stopped for a chocolate covered cannoli and instantly felt better about things. Cannolis could solve a lot of problems, she thought. How can you be angry or hostile with a cannoli in your hand?

All was quiet in her apartment. Jasper twined himself between her legs as she dropped her bag and the cannoli on the table.

“Hello brother cat,” she said. “I see you haven’t eaten in weeks. Shall I fill your bowl?” Jasper mewed pitifully and pressed his side along her calf in agreement. Jenna chuckled at him and opened the cupboard where she kept his food in a small bucket. “Try to pace yourself a little, eh?” Snagging the cannoli from the table Jenna dropped into her recliner and took a healthy bite. The sounds of her chewing inside her head seemed to be an echo of Jasper grazing through the kibble in his dish. Evidently his day had been emotionally taxing day as well.

Snack time finished Jenna retrieved her bag from the table and rooted for her tarot cards. People seemed to love getting their cards read but throw down a single pentagram and all of the sudden you were an agent of devil worship. She kept her cards in a bag, a purple Crown Royal bag to be exact. Even if they fell out she would most likely be assumed to be a party girl as opposed to a witch. The deck inside was one of her favorites and quite tattered around the edges, a testament to its heavy use. She shuffled several times, feeling her way into the deck before focusing. When she felt ready Jenna cut the deck and flipped the top card over and studied it intently, letting her eyes pick out the details that called to her. The Queen of Cups.

This card was coming up quite often for her lately. This queen faced left, a sign to her of looking back, seeing what has already transpired. Cups were the suit of emotions. Today the queen looked to be full of thoughts and more than a little petty. All the pearl-like buttons along her sleeves seemed to speak of so many little things that could be let go.

Git Yer Fortune Told! (Shameless plug for a friend… who’s actually my wife)

 

Self-taught on the dusty, sweltering, crime infested streets of historical 2008 Austin, Texas, Tarrien has honed her perceptive, ice-cold skills to a point sharp enough to leave you rocking back and forth while drooling and eating your own hair. If you are brave enough to pay the blood price you can avail yourself of her arsenal of fortune telling weapons: tarot reading, tea reading, candle reading and flesh melting, crystal ball reading, pendulum reading. All priced at a measly $30 because she completely undervalues herself. Add an extra $5 to get her to do the spooky voice and behavior. When your reading is finished you must walk away quickly and not look back. NEVER LOOK BACK!

Tarrien’s Tarot Readings on Facebook

Tarrien on Etsy

Monologue #29 – Crystal

Several years ago I took in a basset/beagle mix named Crystal that was between three and five years old.  She had been born and raised in a kennel and for a long time had been the only female.  Her environment was roomy and warm with plenty of food and water, and lots of exercise. She was part of a group that had been used expressly for hunting purposes so her dog/human social skills were never really developed.  Crystal’s owners ran into some hard times and were forced to find homes for their dogs. Agreeing to take this shy, skittish, hard to love hound into my home turned out to be a decision that would forever alter how I viewed life and social structure.  

Getting her into my truck for transport home was challenging.  Unlike other dogs I’d had, she wanted nothing to do with ‘going for a ride’ which meant I had to bodily pick her up and put her into the cab.  Crystal had the body and legs of her father, very basset-esque, with the ears and shorter nose of her mother.  Picking her up was a lot like trying to heft a fifty pound sack of jello; the weight oozed to the bottom and she would try to slide away.  And I had completely underestimated those short, basset legs!  All four of them morphed into go-go-gadget arms with the strength and resilience of one hundred cats trying to stay out of the bath water.  By the time I was finally ready to drive away with her, she was hunched and trembling on the floor of the passenger side, completely withdrawn and unresponsive.  I was huffing in the driver’s seat with sweat trickling down my face and under my pits, and a couple shallow gouge marks on my arms from her nails.  I had won the first battle.  Feeling magnanimous I leaned over and gave her a reassuring pat on the head.  It was okay to be scared, I was there to support her.  We were in this together.  Everything would be fine.

Introducing her to the group at home was rudely done on my part.  I walked her into the house and took the leash off.  My old Spaniel came skidding into the kitchen and promptly smothered Crystal with his snuffling excitement.  Frodo, my small, gentle, gray tabby was the only one of the two felines that could associate with dogs without hating himself for it later.  He eventually adopted Crystal as his own.  That first day though was a lot like trying to get a fat slug out of a too small hole.  Crystal found a corner in my bedroom and curled up in a ball, refusing to have anything to do with anyone.

Once the novelty of the new addition wore off, life settled into something of a disturbing routine.  Wake up, let the dogs outside to run around and take care of business while I filled the food dishes.  Let the dogs back in to eat.  Get ready for work.  Mop up the puddle of dog piss on the dining room carpet that Crystal dumped there when she was done with her breakfast.  Go to work. Return from work.  Let the dogs out.  Mop up more piss in the dining room.  Let the dogs back in.  Eat dinner.  Watch television or whatever was my thing that night.  Maybe mop up more piss.  Go to bed.  Repeat.  In between all of that I petted and played with my animals, scratching behind their ears and rubbing their bellies, and gave them all treats and toys.  Through it all, Crystal refused to like anything. She didn’t approve of me petting her and looked like a flipped over beetle whenever I tried to rub her belly.  She would tighten every muscle in resistance and stretch her neck as far as it would go and stare, white eyed, into the abyss the whole time.  Feeling like I was violating her somehow, I eventually stopped trying.  Besides, being able to pet her was the lesser of the problems.

For some reason Crystal refused to alert me when she needed to pee.  Believing she was just socially awkward from living in a kennel where she had clear, immediate access to the outside when she needed to relieve herself,  I tried numerous things to get her to housebreak.  I tried letting her out more often.  I tried using the Spaniel to show her how to get excited about going outside.  I mopped with paper towels and took them, and her outside together to show her where the pee needed to be.  I even put a small bell on the door and tried to get her to hit it with her nose to signal her need.  The bell was the suggestion of my vet.  She thought Crystal’s shyness might be inhibiting her ability to just ‘ask’ to go out.  Giving her a bell to ring was a way for her to communicate without having to come to me directly.  It was also an effective way for the cats to exercise their musical talents.  Nothing worked.  Six months into this and I was pulling out my hair and losing my temper.  Dogs were a fact of my life.  My family had always had one.  I had never had a dog that wouldn’t housebreak.  My vet was out of suggestions and the carpet cleaning attachments for my vacuum were getting some serious game time.  

The thought that ran through my mind the most during this period was that Crystal was a product of kennel life.  She had never had to think about her needs before.  I tried very hard to understand what the difference must be like for her.  To go from doing as she pleased to being asked to, essentially perform a task, must be like me asking a Queen to get me a glass of water.  Oh… oh… OH! Lightning stuck and I felt my mind open.

The problem wasn’t about housebreaking at all, it was about Crystal being the only female in the kennel I had gotten her from.  She really was a Queen!  Being the alpha female of her previous home by default, she didn’t understand that she was no longer the boss.  She wasn’t peeing on my carpet because she needed to, she was doing it to mark her new territory… MY territory.  Oh crap.  Did this mean I needed to pee on my own floor?  The idea of fighting fire with fire was not something I could get behind.  There had to be another way.

I spent a couple days thinking things over and studying Crystal’s behavior very closely.  The plan that was forming in my mind was daunting and would undoubtedly leave emotional residue on everything so I wanted to be positive it needed to be done before I started.  She held herself above the pack, forcing them to leave her alone.  She never played with the other dog or even acknowledged the cats.  The only toy she had any interest in was a stuffed, blue frog which she took to her sleeping place and used for a pillow, never allowing it to be part of the toy box.  When she peed on the carpet it was always after she returned from being outside, as if she needed to re-establish herself in case someone had gotten the wrong idea while she was gone.  At feeding times she inhaled all of her food at once, a move that had an odd, mirroring effect on my gentle Spaniel.  I watched and I learned.

As I said earlier, my family had always had dogs.  As a kid I played with the family dog and took it for walks without ever thinking about how the dog might have felt about me.  A domestic dog, raised among people was just another member of the family.  A domestic dog raised among other dogs, away from people was a different story altogether.  Dogs like that don’t speak people.  They never learned our language.  In order to get my point across to Crystal I needed to open a line of communication that she would understand. Since she didn’t speak my language, I had to speak hers.

The day I changed everything was a Friday.  I had the whole weekend to be front and center in Crystal’s face.  When I woke up I let the dogs out as usual, but only filled one dish with food, leaving Crystal’s empty on the floor.  When I let them back inside I stood guard over my Spaniel, growling at Crystal to keep her away while he ate.  When everyone, including myself, had finished their meals I fed Crystal.  Later, during a playtime when I saw her slinking away to the bedroom, I stalked in there, pushed her off the bed I had given her and sat on it myself with my hand firmly and visibly holding down the blue frog.  The confusion on her face as she processed what she was seeing was heartbreaking.  Finally she went into the bathroom and laid down on the small rug by the tub.  I followed her and pushed her off, then sat on it myself, growling and showing my teeth the whole time.

I spent the entire weekend showing preference to the other animals and made clear, unarguable claims to everything she touched.  The final straw was the computer room.  I spent a lot of time in there.  My Spaniel and Frodo would usually come and hang out with me while I worked on things or played games.  Curious about the attraction Crystal had taken to laying in the hallway just outside the door, out of sight, but near enough that she could keep an eye on things.  The tags on her collar made a soft chiming sound whenever she moved around so I could tell when she was approaching.  I chased her away from the door, barking and growling like an idiot.  She fled to the bedroom.  After a few minutes the Spaniel returned and I went back to what I was doing.  Crystal came slinking back down the hall.  I chased her away again.  She didn’t try a third time.

By Sunday night I was emotionally exhausted and my throat was raw from all the growling.  I was doing some laundry and folding things on the couch while I watched television.  Taking a break I went to the kitchen and made myself a sandwich.  When I returned to the couch with my plate the Spaniel promptly plunked himself at my feet and stared excitedly at me while I chewed.  From the corner of my eye I caught sight of Crystal moving carefully through the kitchen.  She stopped at the doorway and looked at me with my food, and the Spaniel sitting there waiting for some.  She dropped her head and walked into the bedroom without another glance.  She had accepted her place.  I set my sandwich down and let my tears fall.  The war was over.

I stopped being a jerk to her, but I also never allowed the chain of command to be broken.  She always had a very clear picture of where she was on the pole of authority. The massive effort it took to get my point across has never left me.  Crystal never again peed on my floor and even started being a little social.  I let her have her frog back and she took it everywhere.  When it became too worn I replaced it with a similar model in green.  She accepted it without argument and took it to her bed.  Frodo started sleeping with her.  I know she liked him; they were secret friends.  Eventually I even managed to get her to stop being hysterical every time I needed to put her in the truck.  I can’t say she came to enjoy the rides, but she did get enough of a grip to be able to sit on the seat and look out the windows without shaking herself apart.  My Spaniel passed away during the next year which moved Crystal up the chain.  I was alerted to her knowledge of this fact when I heard her tags chiming outside the computer room.  She had given the hallway a wide berth since our restructuring.  With the Spaniel gone, it was her right to take his place.  She looked positively terrified when I came out of the room, but she held her ground.  I patted her on the head and scratched her ears then walked back into the room without further comment.  She laid down in the hall and watched things.

Eventually I decided to move to Milwaukee and into an apartment.  I wasn’t sure about how this would work out for Crystal and was discussing it with my mother.  To my surprise, mom felt very strongly that she should keep my dog.  She knew the struggle Crystal and I had been through together and understood the way things needed to be for her.  She was also a familiar person to Crystal.  Surprised by this revelation, I thought it over.  Being shy and skittish, my little ba/gel was extremely anti-social with strangers. Anytime I had company she would pace around and stare sullenly at everyone from a distance, never allowing anyone to actually befriend her or give her a pat.  It was commonplace to see her snatch up her frog and hide in the bedroom until the company left.  She also barked at leaves and wind.  My garage motion light would flash on every so often on stormy nights and Crystal would lose her mind sounding an alert.  Mom had worked hard at getting to know Crystal and really felt it would be better for everyone if she didn’t make the move to the city with me.  There was also the hinted-at-fact that my mom would be alone once I was gone.  I agreed to mom’s request and let her become Crystal’s keeper.

On moving day I took Crystal and her belongings to mom’s house and got everything set up.  The coup de grace was putting the stuffed frog on her bed.  Crystal looked at me in shock and began to tremble.  She knew I was leaving her.  I dropped to my knees and hugged her rigid body, petting her and rubbing her ears while my tears fell on her head.  Despite our stormy beginnings we had formed a tight and unusual bond.  I had no happy memories of playing catch with her or chasing each other around in the yard.  My happy memories were the ones where I was able to pet her for the first time and see that she was okay with it; the first time she actually came to me and rested her head on my knee; the first time she took a treat directly from my hand; and discovering that the reason she had become less grumpy about me trimming her nails was because of the treat she got when it was over.  She had never managed to become what I would call a family pet, but she had become my dog and I was her person.  Leaving her felt awful.  Frodo cried and looked for her for months, searching all the corners of our Milwaukee apartment.

Over the next five years my mother regaled me with stories of Crystal and her awkward social graces.  She kept me updated on her health issues as she aged and asked my thoughts on treatments and things.  When Crystal misplaced her frog my mother was beside herself with concern.  My ba/gel became depressed and barely budged from her bed for days.  Mom searched everywhere.  Eventually she thought to pull the couch away from the wall and discovered the frog wedged under one end.  According to mom, Crystal saw the frog and came flying off her bed, her whole body wiggling and tail whipping behind.  Mom said it was the most genuine excitement she had ever seen in her.

The day came when mom called and said she thought Crystal was reaching the end.  We guessed her age to be close to fifteen years at that point.  She had developed dietary issues and arthritis as well as having random growths sprout up that had to be removed.  Her muzzle was completely white.  Storms rarely bothered her anymore.  Mom said she would come home from work and actually be fully inside the house before Crystal would open her eyes and look up, bleary and tired.  It took a bit, but I came to understand that mom wanted me to tell her it was okay to let Crystal go.

Three years have gone by since Crystal left and I still have strong feelings about her.  She left a huge mark on my mother and me.  We often talk about her strange behaviors and share some laughs over her and the frog.  I sometimes wonder if she had any feelings about her life with us?  I’m sure she missed her kennel mates for a while.  Hopefully my mixed pack of critters made her feel less out of place.  Considering how well she took to singular life with my mother, I think she may have been less territorial had she not had to face a group in the beginning. She is truly missed and well remembered.

Monologue #28 – Lost Anger

A funny thing happened on the way to self-employment.  I lost a lot of my anger. I noticed it a lot in the way I write.  Prior to these past few months everything I wrote had angry blasts of rage and unhappiness in it and my personal Muse was constantly smacking me on the head.  Now I write at a steadier pace with much less red in my eyes and my written work is far more crafted and thoughtful. I’ve been working diligently on my book Smashing Pumpkins as well as working on a couple pieces that I intend to submit somewhere, so I’m definitely not sitting on my hands.  There’s also this strange occurance of friends. I’ve got some now. I’m not sure how to handle that so I’m just drifting along with it, learning how to be a participant in things that I like with people who don’t offend me just by breathing in and out. It’s funny to me to discover that most of the people I called ‘friend’ from my old job were really just people I was desperately willing to bond with over a shared misery as opposed to folks that genuinely shared a common interest with me.  I haven’t dropped all of my prior ‘friends’. There are a few that have stayed with me, snuggled into secret spots in my heart like worms, and I intend to keep them there. It’s just so different to discover that I can actually choose who to spend time with now as opposed to grabbing at whomever was available.

The lack of anger in my writing is most noticeable to me in my choice of verbs and adjectives.  I’ll write a sentence, then go back and change or remove most of the action descriptors to more realistic choices, slowing down the frantic pace of activity and emotion.  When I go back through some of the shorts I’ve written for this blog I am actually rolling my eyes at myself and snickering. Not being mad all time has opened a whole new level of writing for me that I’m a super happy with.  I feel like I have finally leveled up.

Before I go, a quick note about Easter candy.  DON’T DO IT! I actually made myself sick with it.  For some reason I released my inner candy demon and let it charge, face first, through a pile of candy.  I spent that night and the next day SICK. Ugh! If I see another chocolate bunny or cream filled egg anywhere near my mouth I’m stabbing it to death with a soldering iron.  Gah! I’m too old for that stuff. I know better. (facepalm of shame)