I’ve been writing feverishly, and I’m 82,000 words into this novel. I have about a chapter and a half to write, wherein I tie up all of the loose ends, but that should be easy, since I already know what happens. Instead, I skipped to the end, and finished writing the last chapter.
This book has been interesting, as I changed my mind about the ending several times. I daresay no one reading it will know for sure which way it goes until the last chapter, since I didn’t know myself. It’s sort of a hybrid between planning out the whole book and “pantsing” which I ordinarily don’t advocate. However, if you have an impulsive character, it makes sense to allow them to do impulsive things. With two such characters, the book swayed slightly left and then right.
Anyway, who knows if it’s good or not, but within a week, the first draft will be finished. Then I’ll put it aside and not look at it again for months. The interesting part is the next reading, where you discover if you wrote something you like or a piece of crap. But I will have written a detective novel, my first. So I consider that a success, no matter what.
Now to get Roxx out of my computer and onto the interwebs. The world needs another kickass, bisexual female Sci-Fi lead. If only I could get a little word-of-mouth. One thing at a time, no?
“Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free … unless they’re, like, gay or something.” — Not the Statue of Liberty
“My being blind doesn’t make me stupid.” — Justice
Some of my characters end up being lesbian, bisexual, gay, or transexual. Some, like Trint in my novel Hard as Roxx or Peyton in my novelette* “Days of the Never Was” were born that way. Others, like headliners Roxx, from Hard as Roxxor Luce, in the novelette “Manhattan Transference” discover their sexuality as an integral part of the plot.
In some instances, I created a character’s sexuality somewhat randomly, like Trint, and allowed it to impact the story in accordance with how the characters’ personalities mesh. In fact, in Trint’s instance, I eliminated a planned major character because Trint and Roxx’s energy supplanted what I’d intended to be a main storyline. In “Days of the Never Was,” which follows three pairs of friends as they have their identities shifted due to a mysterious fog, I created a character in order to write a relationship that touched on how gender and sexual identities affect relationships, and then allowed it to flip.
Initially, I hesitated to do so, since I’m not gay, but then I realized I don’t have a vagina either, so … I’m guessing what creating characters requires is understanding more so than personal experience. I’m not particularly a fan of story lines like the old TV show “Will and Grace,” whose primary characters seemed to be saying, “Look at me! I’m gay! Isn’t that funny?” Well, not so much, no.
Still, one of the reasons I didn’t release Roxx, although the book is finished, is that I wondered about people’s acceptance of a gay relationship. After getting feedback from various readers, I still wonder. Not a single person so much as mentioned the relationship, even though it is the central relationship to the story. Is that indicative of how far society has progressed, or is it that people aren’t comfortable saying they weren’t comfortable? The initial publisher I’d lined up to market the novel read it, had plenty of praise and few critiques, but didn’t seem interested in selling the book. Maybe he’d decided it wasn’t his cup of tea, or maybe the industry discouraged his marketing anyone’s book, or maybe he secretly thought it was a boring story. Who knows?
I suppose I’ll never know, which is fine, because I don’t believe it’s my job to care about whether things I write cause readers discomfort. My job is to write the story. The reader’s job is to decide how it affects them. Still, it would be pretty cool if it turned out no one has mentioned any of my LGBT characters because they didn’t think it was something worth mentioning.
Novel: a work of 40,000 words or more
Novella: a work of at least 17,500 words but under 40,000 words
Novelette: a work of at least 7,500 words but under 17,500 words
Short story: a work of under 7,500 words
Author’s Note: In this excerpt, Roxanne Grail is battling a horde of drone bees. Since I wrote this, two years ago, engineers have created the first drone bees. They aren’t there yet, and certainly not weaponized like mine, but they are coming. I write different types of Sci-Fi. Roxx is hard Sci-Fi, technology-centric, with a dystopian twist. I estimate fully 80% of the technology in my book will be seen by the end of this century. The world, she is a-changing. Better hop on, or you’ll miss it.
Roxx was screaming inside her own head. She needed the bitch now. She needed her strength and her seemingly endless supply of crazy.
Then play me some music if you want me to dance.
It was Le Roux, ready to dance, back in charge.
She managed to lift a sluggish arm, sweeping a small horde of bees from her face. There, to her right, lay Trint, slumped over the sidecar, face down. Scattered about her were hundreds, perhaps a thousand of the bees. She had drawn the swarm to her, under the guise of protecting Jessi from the attacking bees. However, Roxx and Trint knew an attack was coming – Jazz had said as much, and Roxx had learned long ago to trust her daughter’s instincts. The first drone, the sand lark, had launched its attack as soon as Roxx and Jessi were together. That meant it had been programmed to find them both. She was not going to risk another such attack. Jessi was miles away by now, perhaps at the underground, safe and waiting. Her big sister would see to that.
Roxx staggered to the sheath that ran alongside the Indian’s frame. She could barely walk, but for now, the bees had ceased stinging, perhaps sensing she was no longer a threat to flee. They would hold her here until the men came.
Then she would wish the bees had killed her.
More than half their numbers were immobile, downed by the force of the sonic bomb Trint detonated from the Indian’s sidecar. Roxx could not know if her friend lay stunned from the concussive wave that fried the drones’ circuits, or if she herself had succumbed to their venom. Roxx took one more step … swayed … another … sank to her knees in the sand. Her ears rang from the explosion, with the remaining swarm buzzing and swirling about. The sun was high in the sky now, but lay in sporadic eclipse, as the black cloud of drone bees patrolled overhead. They seemed impatient, as though Roxx’s inconvenient lack of death infuriated them.
Roxx placed one hand on her sword’s hilt. Her eyes closed, and for a moment, the earth spun backwards on its axis. A neat trick though ill timed. She felt the sword’s warm hilt in her hand, knew its touch, each imperfection. She could close her eyes and see them: the scratch on the blade that matched a three-inch scar on her wrist from the first time she defeated her husband in combat; the engraved rose that marked the spot she must hold her thumb; and the small button none but her could see – they were all there. But now, she must sleep – rest to fight another day.
Oh not yet, darlin’. The music is just getting ready to play.
The bitch was awake now – fully awake. The bitch liked the short girl with the round butt, enjoyed the music of her constant chatter, and the song of her smile. Moreover, the bitch loved the girls, yearned for the feel of mouth to nipple – for the few remaining moments of that privilege she would feel in this life. But most of all, the bitch liked killing bugs. All bugs everywhere. The bitch really, really hated bugs – which is a problem if you live in Africa.
Her eyes flung wide, she felt them crawling along her flesh.
The bloody impudence.
Roxx stood, unsheathing the blade in one easy movement. With her free hand, she grasped a pair of the little creatures from her face, flung them in the air, and spun, cleaving them. The bees dropped to the ground in four pieces.
Roxx smiled. It was perfection. The bees made a lovely metallic “clang” as they died, then a softer tinkling sound as they fell gently to the sand. She would make music, and dance. The swarm covered her clothing, head to toe. Roxx grasped her shirt with one hand and jerked it over her head, slicing and shredding it and the insects simultaneously.
“Lovely that,” she said aloud.
That action must have triggered an alert, as the swarm once again became active. The remaining bees on her body lifted into the air, preparing to strike. Roxx danced with the hive, swirling, leaping, her arms playing a symphony. It was Capoeira for Bees in C minor, Jeet Kune Do Opus Number One for Sonically Enhanced Sword. The bitch danced with the swarm, her blade slicing through metal like a warm knife through butter, the bees dying. They stung her, repeatedly – ten times, twenty, fifty – but still she danced, and slowly, surely, as she dripped blood, sweat, and a solitary tear, the sun began to dance with her. The cloud of bees was thinning.
One bee latched onto her cheek, puncturing it. She felt hot liquid, but no pain. With dozens of lacerations and punctures, she had reached that point beyond pain. Initially, with each sting, she felt burning – an almost electrical pain than danced through pathways along her back, down her legs, to her fingertips. Now there was only numbness. Her brain knew she was under attack; there was no longer reason for pain. She felt little, but sank to one knee. Roxx plucked the bee from her face and killed it. Using her sword as a crutch, she stood once again, turned, and resumed her dance. The buzzing was softer. The cloud moved, and she sliced and pirouetted; the sun beamed through the cloud in applause. And again they danced, and still again. The dominant sound from the swarm changed from raucous buzzing to the metallic tinkling of falling insects.
Thirty agonizing minutes later, her anger spent, she sank into the desert sand. Above, the eclipse had ended, and there was only flat, beige sand, littered with black metallic insects. Roxx smiled, turned her head to check on Trint, who lay, bottom to the sun over the sidecar …
I decided that the main character of the new book, Jeanne “Dark” D’Arc, owns a 1972 Renault Alpine. She is proudly, almost stubbornly French, and the year is special to her. Her personal symbol is the Ibis, which she had painted on her car. It is a clumsy bird, inelegant, until it can take flight. Having been injured by an accident in her teenage years, the same can be said for her.
I’ve learned that I can’t write a character properly until I “know” them. For short stories, that means grabbing the one thing that motivates them through the story. For longer stories (novelas, novelettes) I have a very brief sketch of who the main characters are. For novels, however, I get to channel my inner OCD. I have full character profiles that include any of the following items:
Name, date of birth, place of birth, zodiac sign
Genealogy up to 2-3 generations back
Full personality profile – Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Brainstyles, psychological profile, quirks
Strengths and weaknesses (included in MBTI)
Loves, Hates, and oddities
I don’t really like spending years with a character who is exactly like everyone else you meet. Mainly, that is because I’ve never met anyone exactly like everyone else. I don’t reveal most of the above right away, and quite a bit I never include in the stories at all. However, they form the basis of the “personness” to me. Once I have them in my mind, it’s as easy to write from the character’s perspective as it would be to pen an essay about my mom. That’s as it should be. These characters are my kids.
Shouldn’t we be able to tell our kids apart?
Take Jeanne, for instance. In looking for classic French cars, I came across the Renault Alpine (above) and the 1959 Renault Floride. Now, I knew little of classic Renaults, but I knew the character was “created” while I was looking at a jazz video by Melody Gardot, and she would remain cool and elegant. She doesn’t like convention, and is an artist’s soul in a pragmatist’s body. So her choice of car would be something almost no one had. However, her pragmatism means that she rarely drives it, as parts are nigh-unto impossible to get. So, she owns a beautiful car, mainly as an occasional escape. Given it’s mostly a work of art, why not have it custom painted, to make it hers?
Who knows if the car (or her little mostly reproduction Floride) ever make it into the book? But I’ll know what she does on her weekends, and what car she’s in when she needs to head to a New England getaway. That’s what really matters, I think, that we know. It’s like telling a story to friends, where you leave out the “irrelevant” details. They will want to know the stuff you omit, based on the hints you’ve dropped. That’s how you keep them interested.
At least, that’s my theory. Who the hell knows if it works? Still, if you saw a pretty lady with a slight limp, large, dark sunglasses, wearing a hat and coat that looked as if she stepped out of a Humphrey Bogart movie, wouldn’t you be intrigued?
They whisper to me, you know. Like auditory hallucinations, I can hear their breathing, inside my ear, their breathy words, their admonitions. Although they speak mostly gibberish, as if I were dreaming, it is their emotional content I recognize. She wants out, does Jeanne Dark. I begin to see the colors of her graphemes, and she screams for me to put them to paper. I can almost hear the sound the colors make, and the heady, gurgling pant of the numbers. She will never forget a number, because she can remember the color of their songs. She is insane, blindingly insane, because she manages to remain lucid in such a chimerical world. Surely, that is madness.
And dear Foss, the deep Mr. Cain, he has begun emerging in my dreams. He is more than whom I created, already. I see him in passersby. Today, at work, two African American men passed by. They were short, relatively speaking, no more than five foot seven or so. I thought of Foss, the massive six feet, four inches of him, and wondered if the men would have spoken to him were he lost in scowl-painted thought. He is bored, needs adventure, wants his turn.
Still, I keep him inside, with Dark. I can feel them clawing at me. No, it is more than that. I can feel the words; they burn, needing release. It hurts not to write them, my blue-balled determination to deny their freedom is failing. It hurts too much, and at times, I feel the need to weep. But tears would be a release. They would drip and bits of Dark’s story would come with them.
I keep her trapped, because the pain is her story. There is pain there. Perhaps she is trapped, like my imagination. Maybe that is why I will not write her. Too much of my writing is humor. My words reflect my thoughts, and I confess I see the brilliant comedy of stupidity that is the world. But Dark’s story is not humorous. She is capable of great joy – rather, causing it – but has felt little. Her world has been isolation. She hurts, but paints her face with false pleasantries. I would know none of this had I let her out.
So she will remain trapped a bit longer, until the words no longer fit inside. Perhaps it is foolishness to write so soon about writing. Maybe the ideas will be stolen. But it matters little. Dark sings only to me, and only I can write her lyrics. I begin to think there are young writers, those whom have never written a book, who would watch the process, as one would an accident laid out in super-slow motion. I will let them watch, feed their scorn, here, as I bleed on my keyboards. Already she has taken over it; I can feel her somber smile even in these few passages. Do they feel the undercurrent of her deep passion? Do they know how she yearns?
They will. I have found her cover art – the perfect photo of her shadowed self. Soon, Dark’s story will be written, the novel will be finished. …
By now, you’ve likely decided whether or not to try your hand at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo or Nano, for short). If you are pounding away towards your 1,667 daily target, then you also have heard about the pros of writing on a daily, if frenetic pace. I am not here to discourage you. However, there are aspects of Nano that you might not have considered.
Even more likely, you may have been exposed to questionable advice from people whom have never published a novel. So, let me give you some questionable advice from someone who has, namely, moi.
Noobs. I first took the Nano plunge in 2009, having never attempted writing a novel before. In fact, although I had written numerous business documents, had poetry published, and had even written a few short stories, I knew little about writing fiction. So, with my writing books in hand, I began Nano on 7 November of that year, a week late. I loved it. Novel writing is like nothing I had tried, and was a liberating experience. I, who had always presumed I’d been burdened with a lack of imagination – I didn’t even dream – began a fantasy series about the dream world. Who knew? It turns out I have an odd and lovely imagination. It had just been crammed into little boxes for so long, I’d forgotten it in the cluttered closet of my brain.
And that is the first beauty of Nano. It can turn on your Artist switch. If you are interested in fiction, but are hindered by – more than anything – your own self-consciousness, then by all means, jump in, feet first and eyes closed, and begin to type. For those of you whom fit this description, listen to the advice. Don’t edit yourself. Hell, don’t even read what you wrote before. In the immortal words of Shrek, “Better out than in.” Nano is a wonderful, month-long brain dump. (Just remember how dumps smell after an month in the sun.)
Time Constrained. Some of you already know how to write. In fact, you’ve already decided that writing is not only your love, it is the best thing you do. The problem is that your damned kids keep waking up every morning expecting food. You are at the keyboard thinking, “Didn’t you people just eat yesterday?” But no matter how tightly you clench your eyes, when you reopen them, the little buggers are still there, grumbling louder than ever.
Or maybe it’s not kids. Perhaps it’s your inconsiderate boss, who thinks just because he pays you a salary good enough to pay all your bills, that means he owns you. Well, the truth is he may not own your artist’s heart, but when the bank asks for their mortgage payment, it’s the boss who owns your time.
Nano, fortunately, is a special event, one that even your family or boss can understand. You have a year in advance to plan, which should be enough to rearrange your life so that you can carve out one lousy month to be yourself. Shoot, 12 months is even long enough to teach the rug rats how to cook for you while you’re too busy “artisting” to bother talking or bathing or even getting up to pee. You have your laptop, your muse, some snacks, and a bucket. The rest is trivial.
Writing is Good and NaNoWriMo is all about you. Nano is when you get to focus on writing, with other like-minded souls available for support. You can go back to being Supermom and Iron Dad in December. You’ll get no argument from me.
Right Brained Plan Haterz. I see you out there, frowning at the Nano graph, with its Fascist lines telling you if you haven’t done your 1,667 words today, they will kill a puppy. You love puppies. So what to do?
You can use Nano as an exercise in regimentation, self-discipline, and scheduling. These are skills that reap benefits in any walk of life, by the way. So quit griping. Figure out during the first week how long it takes you to write the bloody daily tally, and use that info to set your schedule for the remainder of the month. (It’s called division; you can do it, I promise.) You can keep your fuzzy right brain happy with the knowledge that no one will tell you what to write, how to organize it, or even that it has to make sense. Pants to your heart’s delight.
It’s Not NanoCrapSomeMo. Here’s the part Nano purists will argue with. They will, however, be wrong. If you are a serious writer, and you are not writing purely as a practice exercise (meaning you may want to publish it one day) do not fill your computer with crap just to make word count. If you write 50,000 words in November, only to re-write, edit, re-edit, and re-write, what have you done? Mostly frustrate yourself, and potentially, create a product that was worse than had you gone slower. You CANNOT write a good book in a month. Can’t do it. Nope.
So when you write, it should be with a voice in the back of your head that says, “You know, you’ll have to edit this some day.” That should not make you stop writing. Neither should it cause you to inhibit yourself and become blocked. We can’t give you NanoExLax, so you’ll be on your own there.
However, it should cause you to think if you’ve hit a dead end or created a scene, for instance, that has nothing to do with your plot line. Feel free to experiment and put in things that might not work later. However, stretching out of the box is not at all the same thing as pretending there are no boxes. There are, and readers will point them out to you.
Bad Habits Are Hard to Break. Again, I’m talking to Novelists here. A novelist is someone who writes novels. A novel is a full-length fiction story that people read. If no one reads it, you’ve written a doorstop. So, we’ve established you want to do more than hack up literary phlegm (that’s what hack writers are for). This requires practice. The most common things you will hear writers say are 1) you cannot write well if you do not read, and 2) the more you write the better you get. Both things are true.
If you develop bad habits during Nano – throwing crap in your novel, allowing yourself to ramble off on tangents, putting the word count ahead of the story – you will have trouble switching later to doing quality work. Moreover, if you are a reader, and I assume you are, since you write, you will become discouraged when you compare your ramblings to published, successful work.
Use Nano to practice Good Writing Habits. Good is, well, good. After all, when you “win” Nano you get … drumroll … nothing. Well, you get pride and a sense of accomplishment, along with experience. I suggest ensuring it is a quality experience. I do not suggest taking pride in doing less than your best today.
There ain’t no ugly here. The takeaway from NaNoWriMo should be that your best today doesn’t have to be your best tomorrow. If you keep working, you will get better. I promise. Decide what you want to get out of the month, and act accordingly. Don’t listen to others who tell you what you can and cannot do, unless you know their goals are in line with yours.
And most importantly, remember Nano is about creating art. The beautiful work of art at the end of the month should be you. Treat you well.
My next book, which I will start plotting this month, stars a female Security Analyst – a female Sherlock Holmes type – who is gifted with Synesthesia. Her partner is a burly, ex-Army Ranger with what he calls a “Crazy Magnet.” Together, they stumble across a plot that threatens to unravel the uneasy thread of peace among major Superpowers. It will not be a typical crime/espionage thriller. I’m not the typical type. However, I do intend for it to appeal to readers of that genre.
My lead’s name is Jeanne D’Arc, professionally known as Dark. Her partner is Foster Cain, Foss for short (Mr. Cain if he doesn’t like you.)
The photo at top is the 1st mockup I developed for Dark. I need to decide on how she looks before I start. I’m very visual, and need to be able to “see” my characters as the story unfolds. It isn’t so much a picture of their appearance as it is an image of their attitude. I capture their “vibe” or essence, as I write. In a way, it’s much like remembering a dream. Even when I find a photo that looks like my character, it isn’t really them; instead, the photo is an actor playing the role I write. Sometimes, the image comes first. Other times, a photo resonates, and gives me the character.
Dark is the most illusive of all my leads. I can feel her, visualize her clearly – all but her face. I see her attitude – the quiet surety, her comfort with being a very square peg in a round societal hole, her gifts. But I cannot see her face; maybe it is because she does not see others’ faces the way we do. They are colored with other things. Likewise, Jeanne Dark is colored by her synesthesia and the Dark glasses.
Perhaps her appearance changes. We shall see. There are other possibilities for Dark. She will come, and even if others try to steal her from me, they cannot. What I have revealed is 1% of her. There is more to come … much, much more. And. there is Foss. he has already starred in a short story, and has agreed to narrate Dark’s. So much more to come.
Which image do you find the most intriguing as a lead?
The quiet, detached, confident, dirty blonde? She shows a cool exterior; she is logical, precise, but follows no one’s lead but hers. Paths are not the way forward, but merely departure points for finding her own way.
Perhaps the brunette beauty of unknown ethnicity. She knows you want to know more, is confident of her ability to intrigue you. She often looks into your eyes, and reads you from stem to stern, but you will not know she notices, unless she chooses that you know. She is smart, strong, and sexy. They are weapons, she knows, but none of those things are what she values. She only values the truth.
Or maybe she is the third woman. She is ice blonde – not like you. Her world is different than yours, what she sees is a blanket that covers her, and the only way she can survive is to shield herself from it. Her eyes are her weapons. On some days, she feels like Cyclops of the X-Men – she fears if she unleashes their full power, you will be destroyed by her. Still, she is compelled to find the truth – it is an obsession, and she is locked onto you like radar. You will not know her, for she is not like you. But she will know you – better than you know yourself.