From STUFF BLOWING UP IN SPACE.
I’m on a roll.
Terrans, as the table assembled before him proved, were a decidedly mixed lot.
XO Lieutenant (Sr. Grd.) Ola (no last name) was a waif of a woman. Small, black haired, pixie-ish. Despite her girlish figure, Tilbrook knew she was an older woman, having joined fleet a decade out of college. She was worldly and cosmopolitan.
The doc was her opposite. Tall, pale-skinned, with flaming, unruly red hair, green eyes and a body she seemed uncomfortable with, as if she woke up one day and saw that she had a wonderful feminine figure.
Actually, considering Winnie’s youth, that may be exactly what happened.
Gunnery Sargent Charles Kim was something else entirely. It was as if someone took the biggest Korean, searched for the biggest Samoan, and bred them to produce a 127.3kg monstrosity of pure muscle. Which proved the old Fleet maxim—space is the great biological equalizer. His job was to blow things up, not bust heads.
Staff Sargent Sergei Koltsov, commanding his six person marine squad, at least looked decidedly normal—average in every way, except for his unarmed combat scores and his deadly effectiveness with just about anything remotely like a weapon. His family came from a long line of County Safety officers, and here he was in Fleet. Everyone called him Sarge, although Tilbrook thought of him as “Mr. Security.”
They had just watched the exchange of between him and the shish brat and now everyone looked contemplative, especially after Ola briefed them on the upcoming coming-of-age party for the shish’s older sister.
He didn’t want contemplative. He wanted options.
“Winnie, could you give me some insight on what possibly could be going on to cause Princess here to act completely irrational? I get that her position is political and she is young. That aside, even a mediocre politician should know better than to assume we’re a bunch of dorks. What’s her problem?”
Winnie actually chuckled. “Permission to speak candidly, sir?”
“Winnie, this is a brainstorm session. I need your brain, not your built-in military courtesies. In this room, I expect candor 24×7. That also means call me James.”
Tilbrook knew Winnie might need a more delicate touch when she blushed scarlet, but Hernández’s clock kept ticking down the minutes. The ship was fast. Time was short.
“Aye, um, yes, um, James. Anyway, it’s pretty obvious what the problem is.”
She paused, looking apprehensive. Tilbrook decided to not cut her off at the knees and give her some time to compose herself and spit it out.
“Anyway, the problem is you,” she said in a rush.
He sighed. He contacted the shish station by the book. Only when the Princess, for the most part, called him a liar did he depart from protocol. In fact, given the circumstances, Tilbrook was sure a less experienced…
“You’re a hottie, James,” Ola broken in.
“A total hottie, to be exact,” said Winnie, blushing even redder.
“Indeed,” said Guns, “while I myself am a heterosexual, I have heard from the female crewmembers that your backside is very esthetically pleasing.”
“My backside.” Out of all the tracks he thought this conversation might go, this one was completely unexpected.
“That means you have a nice ass,” said Sergei.
“Thank you Sarge, I get that. While now I am inwardly cursing that I demanded informality, I would like to state the obvious that my butt was in no way pointed towards the Princess during the entire conversation. Thus, whatever powers said butt might have, they were not in play here.”
“James? Really? You had no idea you were a hottie?” Winnie was looking at him as if he was nuts.
Suddenly Ola nodded. “Ah, makes sense. Skipper here is from Lupa-12, they do things a bit more formally there. I bet you went to an all-boys school during puberty?”
“Look, while I’m sure you Earthers love making fun of the country boys with your 6.8 billion population, you all know I have an apartment in Paris right? And for a reason.”
“You have browner-than-brown hair that looks like if you grew it out it would curl, your eyes are a vivid, and I mean a vivid sky-blue, and you have the eyelashes any teen girl would envy, and I ought to know,” said Winnie. Now instead of looking completely embarrassed, she looked whimsical.
“Let’s not forget, Winnie, that when he works out in the gym shirtless, you seem to find yourself there,” Ola quipped.
“And I would like to point out, Ola, that you are there too.” Winnie quipped back, only looking slightly annoyed.
Tilbrook sighed, loudly, and looked at Sarge and Gunny for sympathy, or at the very least, to bail him out.
“I give the elected MOILTF no sympathy,” said Guns.
Sarge looked blank.
MOILTF? Male Officer I Would… He sighed again. “Fine. I see how you all are. I like to work out. So what? And my looks, I can assure you, are quite vanilla compared to most of the other men on Lupa-12.”
Ola immediately sat up straight. “Really?”
Winnie gave herself a little shake, as if her brain was in the gym. “Anyway, there a total and very disturbing attraction parity between human females and shish. Everything human females find attractive, shish find attractive. Only, the attraction is much more visceral for the shish because, as we all know, their sex-response is biologically tied to feeding.”
She seemed to enter her lecture mode and turned to him. “So, without knowing what political and family monkey business is going on—put yourself in her place. She’s sexually frustrated, that’s a given. Her sister is going to get laid for an entire week, basically have the best sex a shish could have—short of the symbiotic bonding process or the feeding/mating protocol—while she has to work. Indeed, tradition does not allow her to participate in the family orgy because of her position. Now a human male, aka The Hottie, shows up in the spiffy Fleet uniform with a fantastic tale of pirates in a system no pirates should be in, with a more impossible tale of a new jump point. She loses it. Her body is telling her to get you alone, seduce you, then bite you, and suck your blood if she likes you. Dismember and toss you into the pot if she doesn’t.”
“Oh, come on. She is a thinking person. She’s not some eating machine ruled by instinct,” Tilbrook protested.
Guns shook his head. “Rationality means something completely different to a shish. She’s young. She’s low-boob on the totem pole, and she could be hungry. And you’re a walk’n snack that conveniently can get her off before she fills her tummy with a warm happy meal.”
Tilbrook sighed yet again. “Fine. The age-old human-shish socialization problem. What are our options?”
“There’s another social dynamic in play here, that may give you the answer,” Winnie said, nodding to Guns. “Everyone likes to focus on how shish are hyper-sexual beings. That is a mistake. Shish are, for the most part, biologically superior to all other species in the galaxy. They consider themselves at the top of the food chain, and biologically speaking, they are. The only advantage humans have over them is our culture is superior, and I don’t mean that in a racist way. We are more productive, we produce superior art and technology, and our system of governance, such as it is, provides humans with a cultural flexibility nobody can match.”
Suddenly James got it.
“Ah. Being differential and polite wasn’t enough. I was sending her a very specific signal by assuming I was in charge of the situation.”
“Exactly,” said Winnie. “So now your options are, and keep in mind I’m not a shish expert, merely a well-read layman, is to assume a submissive position, or metaphorically pop her in the jaw and assume control. She’s totally going to bite you for sure on the former, the latter is difficult because she is stronger, not to mention most likely telekinetic, and all that aside, she is way smarter than you.”
In the world of semi-automatic firearms, when a pistol or rifle fails to move a round into the chamber properly, causing a malfunction, we call this a “failure to feed.”
Not to be confused with my cat Iris, who, if I fail to feed when her dish is empty, will whack me alongside the head when I pass the kitty condo.
But I digress. Failing to feed has consequences.
I’ve blogged about this topic before, but sometimes, as a writer, I have this instinctual need to read, and if I ignore it, my creativity suffers. But there is always the “time thing.” I have a job, I have kids, a dog and the Wife Unit who loves to play video games with me (how awesome is that? It’s awesome, I tell you). There are so many hours in the day, and I when I get tired, I go to bed.
I never suffer from writer’s block (anymore), but yet again, I’ve caught myself slowing down in my editing and writing.
That is, until I increased my reading. It was fuel to the fire.
I love books. Sometimes, even bad ones are inspirational. I just finished a book, from a much respected author, and the ending was so terrible. So very bad. We’re talking I will probably never buy another one of his books without reading a review again, and I have every single one of his hard covers in my library.
But it had value, to me, as a writer. Creative value. It fed the mechanical side of the narrative, sacrificing the entertainment. Indeed, if I wasn’t a writer, I would have stopped reading right when I saw The Big Lazy Cop-Out.
But this book fed me. It made me think about the mechanics of storytelling and how vital the contract with the reader is. There are many ways I draw inspiration, I will never lack it, but the core of my literary soul is a book in my hands and a good story, and failing that, inspiration to not fail in the same way.
Feed me Seymour!
I finished my work in progress in the wee hours of the morning, The Wælcyries Murders.
What a fun novel!
The novel, according to conventional wisdom, should not be—it’s a sequel to a book I haven’t sold yet, which, according to some, isn’t a good idea.
Like much of the advice written on the Interwebs, a person has to be very careful not only consider the source, but also the context.
One reason it’s not a good idea is that your first book may never sell. Your agent or editor may also suggest changes to the first novel that render the second one invalid. Thus you’ve wasted your time.
Or have you?
I learned so much writing this novel. It took me six months to write. What did I learn in six months?
- I learned that there are tricks and techniques to writing your first novel so the second novel in the series gels and flows with the first
- I leaned about advanced characterization beyond a self-contained novel
- I learned how to write a sequel
- I learned new things about world-building and continuity
- I learned that even well respected writers and industry can over-generalize
Out of all of these points, the most valuable to me is the characterization I learned. What’s my main character’s motive, beyond solving the mystery? How does she grow? Where do the other characters fit?
This is my fourth novel I have written; with the caveat the first novel was a pure writing exercise with no basis in publishing reality. So, it’s more novel number three. I will repeat this to myself until it is true. Heh.
The first book in the series could never sell.
I can guarantee that if I do sell a book, and my publisher asks for a sequel, the process of producing that creative work will be much better. I learn by thinking about things and doing in an iterative process.
Next post I talk about the wok itself and the other things I learned.
I like to believe, as a male writer, I write a good female protagonist. In my Investigator Lexus Toulouse sci-fi murder mysteries, Lexus is a three-dimensional character that seems to resonate with my female readers in a way that I don’t quite understand.
Actually, I take that back. Part of the reason I can write a three-dimensional female character is because I have done research pertaining to women in lawn enforcement, and I’ve met female police officers while on duty while doing this research.
Research is vital. It is not enough to look into the heart of a female character and try to bring that to the page. The setting and plot details need a basis in reality. Lee Lofland writes to this in his latest, “Female Police Officers: Are They Really Wimpy, Or Do You Just Write Them That Way?” This article really resonates with me, because Lee often gives great tips around certain themes, themes that appear in his blog over and over again. Essentially, what he tells his blogs readers is to write life as it is, rather than life as you think it is.
Sound familiar? It should. Rachelle said the same thing:
“I get the feeling many people are so saturated with media (books, TV, movies) that they are writing not from life but from their perception of life as shown in media. They’re writing stories I’ve seen and heard a hundred times before.”
Back to Lexus (because, this post is all about me, me, me, me), Lexus is a flawed individual. You can make a compelling argument that she is mired in psychosis. She certainly suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive behavior. She has an addiction-prone personality.
These are flaws.
Lexus is also an emotional creature. She has a deep sympathy for people with problems and a strong intolerance for injustice. She takes injustice personally. She approaches problems with logic, but does not have tight reigns on her empathy. She feels. She feels a lot. As a woman, she has feminine emotions.
This is not a flaw. That is part of her strength. Too often, I read characters where the author went out of her way to make sure I, as a reader, understood the character was not flawed because she had boobs and lacked a penis. Yet the character is still a cliché; essentially she is an immature girl compensating for being female.
There is strength in femininity, just as there is strength in masculinity. I can write the strong female main character because I play on my strengths: observation and research. Sometimes I write the obvious in a way that is appealing to women simply because I’m an outsider and am providing a fresh, outsider voice.
Or something like that. I don’t fully understand it. I’m certainly not blazing new territory. My running theory: women are powerful creatures. As technology progresses and makes physical strength not even worthy of a secondary characteristic, the era of the woman may be upon us.
Oh man, the absurd situations I foster on my poor main character.
As a ex-NI soldier and pilot, I was naked on base many a time. There were times where if I had anything touching my skin I would just lose it. It’s a common side effect of neural implants. My sensitivity to touch is higher than a normal person is, and sometimes that’s a disadvantage.
Today, nudity isn’t common, but it isn’t rare either.
So it was with some nervousness Kaoru is escorting me to the front of the hotel lobby where I can summon Thor, because I’m wearing nothing but a pair of spaghetti-strap fuck-me heels. Each step is a sparkly slither of the naked sexy.
And people are staring. Conversations stops, mouths hang open, women pause, men drink me with their eyes. Oh, this was a mistake. I feel self-conscious and stupid that I, of all people, feel self-conscious.
Kaoru is following behind me carrying a locked case containing my purse, PDA, and needler. She is smirking at the reactions to her handiwork.
Thor is suddenly at my side. Never have I been so grateful to see him. “I can take that, Miss Kaoru-san,” he says. She hands the case over, bows at me, and when I return her bow, she grins and leaves.
The lobby is still silent. Thor puts his hand on my arm.
“Look, Lieutenant, I want to be up front this was not my idea. I told them no. I might as well have been speaking to a rock.”
“What?” This doesn’t sound good. No, not good at all!
I plant my heels and almost fall over. “Thor, I am naked, wearing only scandalous heels and an absurd amount of credits in diamonds. Spit it out!”
“There is a crowd of people outside waiting to escort you to the Palace.”
No! Damn it!
I feel faint, on the verge of hyperventilating. I don’t do well with crowds. “Crowd? Can I slip out the back? Can we VTOL over? How many people are we talking about here?”
I detect a wisp of a smile from the normally stoic Thor.
“All of them, I think.”
Someone asks in a recent blog post:
If you write, where do your ideas come from? Do you start with a scene? A character? A premise? Or do you have some ridiculous trigger that demands you spin a story out of it?
That is a good question. A novel thrusts itself into my poor overloaded mind based on two things: a character, and a theme.
This is the heart of my creative process. I need both a main character with a distinctive voice, and I need a unifying idea. When the two meet, it’s magic. My brain will refuse to let go of the two, and, at some point, they merge and I will have the resulting plot and setting. I am now compelled to write the story.
But where do these characters and themes come from?
Mainly, I observe. I am not a shy man, but I am a quiet fixture. Why does that smartly dressed woman at the airport waiting for the same flight as me have a perpetual frown? Why are the neighbors across the street so reclusive? Is the wife sick? If so, will she ever get better? The Sheriff Deputy in the coffee shop–if she were in trouble, big trouble, would she have the will and fortitude, beyond her training, to survive? If she did have this internal strength, but was in the wrong place at the wrong time, would anybody come to help?
Observation can give me characters, and it can give me themes.
For example, why does our society have a culture of blame-the-victim, bordering on the tolerance for the criminal? Where did this corruption come from, and where will it lead? Why do some cultures today feed off each other, becoming stronger, while others clash, causing conflict? Is a society that devalues the lives of children for the sake of control and equality doomed to failure? If so, how will it fail?
Sometimes, I will be thinking these questions and suddenly they will merge into a story. Like this proto-outline:
The Sheriff Deputy in the coffee shop is in trouble. She is a strong person but in the wrong place at the wrong time. She is a righteous woman, but righteousness is not going to save her now (this is the character, maybe the main character, or an important minor one).
Career criminals, released by our society to prey upon the weak once more without mercy, decided they were going to kill a copy one day. Our society tolerates evil men such as this. It has happened before (in the real world), and it will happen again (sadly, this is also a reality). Where did this corruption come from, and where will it lead? (this is a theme).
The righteous and the evil go at it in the coffee shop parking lot. Outgunned and outmaneuvered, the death of the female deputy is a forgone conclusion. How would she get out of this?
She gets help. A woman caught in the crossfire draws her sidearm and joins the gun battle (this is the glimmering of a plot and also a very strong character).
Why did this woman have gun? Well, she has the typical ex-husband who has threatened to kill her. She decided she wasn’t going to use a paper shield and actually defend herself (this is related to the theme, but also further characterization).
Only, she isn’t defending herself. She is defending someone sworn to defend her! She is shot. Several times. Nevertheless, everyone lives, except the evil men.
And this heroic action caused the next American Civil War (this is now the plot).
That’s my writing process. For me, only when I have a firm character, or characters, and a unified idea to generate conflict as a theme, can I get a plot that works for me. At this point, I have a novel. All that is left is my outlining process (which I do in my head) and typing.
You may think a gun battle in a coffee shop parking lot and the next American Civil War is a gigantic, random leap–but it’s not. The theme, as you recall, is “Where did this corruption (tolerance for evil) come from, and where will it lead?” With these characters and this theme, the plot burst out of me like the alien from the chest of poor Kane on the Nostromo.
This is my creative process, how I obtain ideas and turn them into novels. And it works very well for me.
Writer folks, check out this post:
I get the feeling many people are so saturated with media (books, TV, movies) that they are writing not from life but from their perception of life as shown in media. They’re writing stories I’ve seen and heard a hundred times before.
I love this post. I love it very much.
Rachelle is talking about stories with a heart.
Stories that speak to your soul.
Stories that bypass the surface and talk about things the way they are.
Stories that are honest.
That is exactly what I read.
And that’s exactly what I want to write, and I do write.
What an inspirational post!