Writer In Motion Week 4: The Professional Editor

It’s the final week! I got the awesome services of Kota Rayne. They had really nice things to say about my story, especially the two things I know are my strengths: the dialogue and the incremental lead-up to the ending. But they wanted to see a little more in terms of motivations: why is Karenna doing what she’s doing? What about Tim? And a little more to show the love they have/had for each other.

I’m not entirely sure I’ve succeeded in all of it, yet. Usually significant feedback takes me a bit longer to digest, so this idea of throwing in an edit within a week is hard. For example, there were details that Kota suggested were taking them out of the story, and some other ones better served in dialogue. The lazy ass I am, I just moved the paragraphs around rather than recast them into dialogue. Stuff like that. So, I’m not quite going to call this a final draft. Maybe next week, when I post my final reflections.

Regardless, I’m thrilled I was able to add more characterization and goal/motivation/conflict and I hope to be able to deepen it more next week!


The stardust in our souls

Long ago, Tim’s mother told him that all humans were made of stardust. And Tim would look in all his nooks and crannies, checking belly lint and earwax and boogers, trying to find evidence of sun particles, but all he could find were the lumpy, stinky, bulbous leavings of Earth-bound bodies. And promptly put it out of his mind.

Little did he know that stardust was powerful enough to turn a man immortal. Or that it could bring a civilization to its knees.

Sitting in his office, Tim poured himself a much deserved drink and regarded his wife. “Karenna, I swear to the Ancients, this is not what I need right now, pre-launch on a brand new ship. You remember what that’s like, don’t you?” 

Karenna–beautiful, ageless–crossed one long leg over the other and leaned back with a pout. “I’m just saying, Tim. You’re new to this. I was a captain for forty years. And I’m tellin’ ya, the Admiralty is up to something.”

“What,” Tim said, “you think I couldn’t make Captain on my own?”

Now captain of the ESS Starfell, Tim was on a mission to recreate a path between Sol and Alpha Centauri, employing the very dust that had stunted them before. 

Because the dust giveth and the dust taketh away. Funny word, dust. A noun and a verb, the verb being a Janus word, one that means one thing and its opposite. To dust interstellar space could be spreading dark spores everywhere, or furiously brushing it away. 

Karenna was coming along on the five year journey to blaze a path between the stars, and was adjusting rather badly, indeed, to being busted down to mere civilian, subject to his captainly authority, of all people. 

No, that wasn’t quite fair. Karenna was selfless, giving, one of his biggest cheerleaders. His guiding star, with a sense of right and wrong that saw her take on an entire Admiralty. A force majeure in the form of one blessed red-headed  Ancient, touched by holy stellar particles. 

Sunbeams danced around his wife’s curly hair. They looked like dust motes, which was charming, but—

Dust was a death knell in space.

“That’s not what I mean.” Karenna rolled her eyes. “But  they’re using you. Lo and behold! You get tapped to command the ship that’s going to be out of pocket for five years, knowing there’s no way I’d want to be separated from you. And they get what they want. The only way I can come along is if I’m on sabbatical as a civilian and bonus, I’ll be out of the way.” 

Maybe Karenna was a Janus herself. Just like the verb sanction, as in, the Earth Union sanctioned a plan to use Martian technology to create a way to reconnect the star systems, but the Union also sanctioned his wife, the celebrated Admiral, because she prevented those self-same Martians from taking a few mining exoplanets—and the miners that lived on them—as compensation. 

When Tim had met Karenna, she had been a  true-blue believer in the Earth Union, enforcer of its ideals.  Now she was a thorn in its side. Troublemaker. Karenna would tell you she made the decisions she did out of love for the Union, trying to make it better. Tim wondered, however, if perhaps she just enjoyed it. More than one lifetime of toe-ing the line could make anyone gleeful at the thought of inciting rebellion in the name of justice.

Tim contemplated the end of his highball of whiskey, looking at Karenna through distorted glass as she extolled the lengths to which the Union supposedly went in order to stymie her. “Seems a little you-centered there.” 

“Maybe,” Karenna mused, “they’re hoping you’ll keep an eye on me.” 

Tim snorted. “They’d have a high opinion of my ability to keep up with you. Besides, what would you even be doing?”

Karenna crossed her arms and pursed her lips. “You know, this ship…” she began slowly. 

“I’m not sure you should finish that thought, K.” 

Antagonym, that was another term for that type of word, which brought to mind antagonist, like the way he and Karenna had been the last few months, duking and sparring and circling, waiting for the other to land the death punch. They cleaved to each other during the original crisis that led to the collapse of the space lanes, but the current spate of disasters were cleaving them apart. They were bound for Sol, but were chafing at being bound for life.

“It has an amazing cross-section of humanity. Union officers, but also civilian scientists, and Coralie theologians, and Martians, even. I’m thinking,” she said, tapping her chin, “I can gather some intel on what Mars is up to, and do some influence ops to right the Union’s thinking.” 

“I’m thinking you have too much time on your hands. You need a hobby. Ever try knitting? Making ceramic cats?” 

“I’m serious, Tim.” 

And that was the problem, wasn’t it? Speaking up was one thing, but Tim knew his wife. She wasn’t one to stoop to half-measures. It was one of the things he loved about her. Why just yell about the Union’s faults when she could disrupt it completely and work to put new folks in charge?

He blew out a breath. “And I’m serious. I’m the captain of this ship. The senior Fleet officer, once we get out there in the black. I know you still think of me as that down-on-his-luck pilot you met on your ship, but I have a job, and one of them is not letting anyone under my purview foment unrest. Unless you don’t want to hitch a ride with us. I’ll drop you off.” 

She whistled low in appreciation. “You’re hot when you’re commanding.” She gave him an apologetic smile and came closer, sighing happily as he pulled her in his lap. 

Contronyms, that was another term. They were both older, and weathered, not the same love-struck pair they’d been at the beginning, but they could weather any storm. Hopefully.

He buried his face in her hair. “Promise me you won’t stir up trouble?” 

“I’ll try to respect your authority. But my opinions are my own, you know?”

He mmhd, breathing in her scent. Sanguine. Confidently cheerful. 

She ruffled his hair in turn, and left him to his work. 

He sat alone in a darkened captain’s office, and groaned in frustration. Sanguine also meant cheerfully bloodthirsty. Like the instinct that led him to accept a captaincy, in exchange for a job as a snitch. 

He was being unfair to himself, for sure. The captaincy wasn’t his motivation. Ancients knew he had never put much stock in rank, or in pure ambition. But when one immortal man took stellar dust particles and cast them past the heliosphere of a backwoods star system, he created a chain reaction that led to the entropic collapse of humanity’s interstellar space lanes. And like his wife, Tim would do anything to serve the Union. Reconnecting Alpha Centauri and Sol was his mandate–and so was preventing his wife from doing anything that would bring chaos at a time they need to stand united.

He pushed a hidden button and spoke, throat coated in ashes, voice thick with regret. “Did you get that, sir?”

“Copy,” came the voice. “Keep your head, Captain. Our analysts think our disgraced Admiral is going to make a move soon.” 

Tim signed off, and put his head in his hands, trying to ignore the crumbling ruins of his marriage all around him.

Writer In Motion Week 3- The CP Edit

I had two really awesome CPs assigned to me this week! I really enjoyed reading their stories, and their comments on mine were so helpful.

The main thing they both said was that there was quite a lot of information up front in the story. I was worried about that, so it was good to get confirmation. In this edit, I tried to move things around a little bit. I’m afraid I didn’t do it very well–I literally edited on my phone on an airplane with a toddler kicking my head–and it might be a bit choppy? Oh well, we shall see!



The stardust in our souls

When Tim was young, little did he know that stardust was powerful enough to turn a man immortal. Or that it could bring a civilization to its knees.

Now captain of the ESS Starfell, he was on a mission to recreate a path between Sol and Alpha Centauri, employing the very dust that had stunted them before. 

Sitting in his office, he pourrd himself a much deserved drink and regarded his wife. “Karenna, I swear to the Ancients, this is not what I need right now, pre-launch on a brand new ship. You remember what that’s like, don’t you?” 

Karenna, his beautiful, ageless, immortal wife—one of those blessed Ancients touched by stardust—crossed one long leg over the other and leaned back with a pout. “I’m just saying, Tim. You’re new to this. I was a captain for forty years. And I’m tellin’ ya, the Admiralty is up to something.”

His wife was coming along on the five year journey to blaze a path between the stars, and she was adjusting rather badly, indeed, to being busted down to mere civilian, subject to his captainly authority, of all people. 

“What,” Tim said, “you think I can’t make Captain on my own?”

Sunbeams danced around his wife’s curly red hair. They looked like dust motes, which was charming, but—

Dust was a death knell in space.

Long ago, his mother told him that all humans were made of stardust. And Tim would look in all his nooks and crannies, checking belly lint and earwax and boogers, trying to find evidence of sun particles, but all he could find were the lumpy, stinky, bulbous leavings of Earth-bound bodies. And promptly put it out of his mind.

But when one immortal man took stellar dust particles and cast them past the heliosphere of a backwoods star system, he created a chain reaction that led to the entropic collapse of humanity’s interstellar space lanes. 

“That’s not what I mean.” Karenna rolled her eyes. “But  they’re using you. Lo and behold! You get tapped to command the ship that’s going to be out of pocket for five years, knowing there’s no way I’d want to be separated from you. And they get what they want. The only way I can come along is if I’m on sabbatical as a civilian and bonus, I’ll be out of the way.” 

The dust giveth and the dust taketh away. Funny word, dust. A noun and a verb, the verb being a Janus word, one that means one thing and its opposite. To dust interstellar space could be spreading dark spores everywhere, or furiously brushing it away. 

Just like the verb sanction, as in, the Earth Union sanctioned a plan to use Martian technology to create a way to reconnect the star systems, but the Union also sanctioned his wife, the celebrated Admiral, because she prevented those self-same Martians from taking a few mining exoplanets—and the miners that lived on them—as compensation. 

Tim contemplated the end of his highball of whiskey, looking at Karenna through distorted glass. “Seems a little you-centered there.” 

Antagonym, that was another term for that type of word, which brought to mind antagonist, like the way he and Karenna had been the last few months, duking and sparring and circling, waiting for the other to land the death punch. They cleaved to each other during the original crisis that led to the collapse of the space lanes, but the current spate of disasters were cleaving them apart. They were bound for Sol, but were chafing at being bound for life. 

“Maybe,” Karenna mused, “they’re hoping you’ll keep an eye on me.” 

Tim snorted. “They’d have a high opinion of my ability to keep up with you. Besides, what would you even be doing?”

Karenna crossed her arms and pursed her lips. “You know, this ship…” she began slowly. 

“I’m not sure you should finish that thought, K.” 

“It has an amazing cross-section of humanity. Union officers, but also civilian scientists, and Coralie theologians, and Martians, even. I’m thinking,” she said, tapping her chin, “I can gather some intel on what Mars is up to, and do some influence ops to right the Union’s thinking.” 

“I’m thinking you have too much time on your hands. You need a hobby. Ever try knitting? Making ceramic cats?” 

“I’m serious, Tim.” 

He blew out a breath. “And I’m serious. I’m the captain of this ship. The senior Fleet officer, once we get out there in the black. I know you still think of me as that down-on-his-luck pilot you met on your ship, but I have a job, and one of them is not letting anyone under my purview foment unrest. Unless you don’t want to hitch a ride with us. I’ll drop you off.” 

She whistled low in appreciation. “You’re hot when you’re commanding.” She gave him an apologetic smile and came closer, sighing happily as he pulled her in his lap. 

Contronyms, that was another term. They were both older, and weathered, not the same love-struck pair they’d been at the beginning, but they could weather any storm. Hopefully.

He buried his face in her hair. “Promise me you won’t stir up trouble?” 

“I’ll try to respect your authority. But my opinions are my own, you know?”

He mmhd, breathing in her scent. Sanguine. Confidently cheerful. 

She ruffled his hair in turn, and left him to his work. 

He sat alone in a darkened captain’s office, and groaned in frustration. Sanguine also meant cheerfully bloodthirsty. Like the instinct that led him to accept a captaincy, in exchange for a job as a snitch. 

He pushed a hidden button and spoke, throat coated in ashes, voice thick with regret. “Did you get that, sir?”

“Copy,” came the voice. “Keep your head, Captain. Our analysts think our disgraced Admiral is going to make a move soon.” 

Tim signed off, and put his head in his hands, trying to ignore the crumbling ruins of his marriage all around him.

Writer In Motion Week 2: The Self Edit

This logo is amazing and makes me want to go to the beach

Welcome to anooooother week! Unlike last season, I didn’t jump immediately into self-editing. In fact, I put it off, mostly because I didn’t have a plan. Last year I created a world out of whole cloth, and so a lot of my self edits was thinking about if my random world-building made sense. The other edit was changing it from a scene into a story.

This year, I already know my world and my characters, so what I had left was to think about structure. One thing I struggle with in flash fiction is what a scene is and what a story is. I prefer to have a structure that’s like a novel in miniature, with rising action, a turn, and falling action. This time my turn isn’t much of one; it mostly reveals that Tim and Karenna’s relationship is in trouble, leading to the final lines that cast a different light on the conversation. But I couldn’t figure out how to improve it, so mostly, what I did was remove a few words and adjust some lines for clarity.

The one “major” thing that changed is that I was reading Catalyst Gate by Megan O’Keefe, and there was a note in there about how dust motes are a really bad sign on a space ship! And I had a line in my first draft about dust motes dancing around Karenna’s hair, highlighted by the sunbeams (I think you can still get sunbeams on a spaceship, lol).

Anyway, I changed the line to reflect that reality and make it more sinister.

Bonus: I’m deep in edits in Shining Palais (the ms that was inspired by last season’s Writer In Motion) and I have flash-fiction length interludes. Came across this one:

Ammu called her taara, star, and told her she was created from the same particles as the glorious furnace blazing down on them without rest. 

Shine always. Shine bright. The stars are you and you are the stars.

Like maira? she remembers once asking.

No, beta, Ammu said. This is a different type of magic.


Anyway, here’s the much-unchanged Take Two on the prompt:

The Stardust in Our Souls (FYI, the title is actually the proposed title of this MS)

When Tim was young, his mom told him that all humans were made of stardust. And Tim would look in all his nooks and crannies, checking belly lint and earwax and boogers, trying to find evidence of sun particles, but all he could find were the lumpy, stinky, bulbous leavings of Earth-bound bodies.

Little did he know that stardust  was powerful enough to turn a man immortal. Or that it could bring a civilization to its knees. But when one immortal man took stellar dark particles and cast them past the heliosphere of a backwoods star system, he created a chain reaction that led to the entropic collapse of humanity’s interstellar space lanes. Now Tim, captain of the ESS Starfell, was on a mission to recreate a path between Sol and Alpha Centauri, employing the very dust that had stunted them before. 

Because yes, the dust giveth and the dust taketh away. Funny word, dust. A noun and a verb, the verb being a Janus word, one that means one thing and its opposite. To dust interstellar space could be spreading dark spores everywhere, or furiously brushing it away. Just like the verb sanction, as in, the Earth Union sanctioned a plan to use Martian technology to create a way to reconnect the star systems, but the Union also sanctioned his wife, the celebrated Admiral, because she prevented those self-same Martians from taking a few mining exoplanets—and the miners that lived on them—as compensation. 

And now his wife was coming along on the five year journey to blaze a path between the stars, and she was adjusting rather badly, indeed, to being busted down to mere civilian, subject to the captainly authority, of all people. 

“Karenna, I swear to the Ancients, this is not what I need right now, pre-launch on a brand new ship. You remember what that’s like, don’t you?”

Karenna, his beautiful, ageless, immortal wife—one of those blessed Ancients touched by stardust—crossed one long leg over the other and leaned back with a pout. “I’m just saying, Tim. You’re new to this. I was a captain for forty years. And I’m tellin’ ya, the Admiralty is up to something.”

“What,” Tim said, “you think I can’t make Captain on my own?”

Sunbeams danced around his wife’s curly red hair. They looked dust motes, which was charming, but—

Dust was a death knell in space.

“That’s not what I mean. But they’re using you. Lo and behold! You get tapped to command the ship that’s going to be out of pocket for five years, knowing there’s no way I’d want to be separated from you. And they get what they want. The only way I can come along is if I’m on sabbatical as a civilian and bonus, I’ll be out of the way.” 

Tim contemplated the end of his highball of whiskey, looking at Karenna through distorted glass. “Seems a little you-centered there.” 

Antagonym, that was another term for that type of word, which brought to mind antagonist, like the way he and Karenna had been the last few months, duking and sparring and circling, waiting for the other to land the death punch. They cleaved to each other during the original crisis that led to the collapse of the space lanes, but the current spate of disasters were cleaving them apart. They were bound for Sol, but were chafing at being bound for life. 

“Maybe,” Karenna mused, “they’re hoping you’ll keep an eye on me.” 

Tim snorted. “They’d have a high opinion of my ability to keep up with you. Besides, what would you even be doing?”

Karenna put her hands on her hips and pursed her lips. “You know, this ship…” she began slowly. 

“I’m not sure you should finish that thought, K.” 

“It has an amazing cross-section of humanity. Union officers, but also civilian scientists, and Coralie theologians, and Martians, even. I’m thinking,” she said, tapping her chin, “I can gather some intel on what Mars is up to, and do some influence ops to right the Union’s thinking.” 

“I’m thinking you have too much time on your hands. You need a hobby. Ever try knitting? Making ceramic cats?” 

“I’m serious, Tim.” 

“And I’m serious. I’m the captain of this ship. The senior Fleet officer, once we get out there in the black. I know you still think of me as that down-on-his-luck pilot you met on your ship, but I have a job, and one of them is not letting anyone under my purview foment unrest. Unless you don’t want to hitch a ride with us. I’ll drop you off.” 

She gave a low whistle of appreciation. “You’re hot when you’re commanding.” She gave him an apologetic smile and came closer, sighing happily as he pulled her in his lap. 

Contronyms, that was another term. They were both older, and weathered, not the same love-struck pair they’d been at the beginning, but they could weather any storm. Hopefully.

He buried his face in her hair. “Promise me you won’t stir up trouble?” 

“I’ll try to respect your authority. But my opinions are my own, you know?”

He mmhd, breathing in her scent. Sanguine. Confidently cheerful. 

She ruffled his hair in turn, and left him to this work. 

He sat alone in a darkened captain’s office, and groaned in frustration. Sanguine also meant cheerfully bloodthirsty. Like the instinct that led him to accept a captaincy, in exchange for a job as a snitch. 

He pushed a hidden button and spoke, throat coated in ashes, voice thick with regret. “Did you get that, sir?”

“Copy,” came the voice. “Keep your head, Captain. Our analysts think our disgraced Admiral is going to make a move soon.” 

Tim signed off, and put his head in his hands, trying to ignore the crumbling ruins of his marriage all around him.

Writer in Motion Week One: The First Draft

Last week, I blogged my first impressions on this season’s prompt. I knew I wanted to write from a male point of view, and I wanted to do something with the idea of something turning to ashes or dust. I also love adding dorky linguistic things into my short story (I am not a linguist, so I’m sure I make tons of mistakes), and so I hit upon the idea of Janus words, words that mean one thing and their opposite.

I decided it was easier to play with characters I already knew, even if maybe the plot of the story ends up being different than what happens in my books –a sort of AU, I guess. I started with my favorite character, Max, whose book I’m working on now (Book 2 of the Broken Union series). Turns out I know a bit too much about Max. I kept trying to throw things in there that would be too hard to explain in 1000 words. So I shifted to another character, Tim, who will be a POV character in Book 3. I’m not sure what I’m writing here will be a plot point in Book 3 or not. I didn’t mean for his marriage to become as contentious as it does in this draft! But it does provide a guiding light as I move toward plotting that book.

This draft is supposed to be unedited. However, I am someone who has to write to target word count (y’all, for my most recent MS, I budgeted 28K per act for a total of 112K and guess who wrote her last word and saw the counter tip over to 112,000? This gal). So although I knew I shouldn’t, because I wrote 1086 words, I cut out the 86. Seriously, they were extraneous words, and this way, on the self-edit week, I can focus more on story structure/development work.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s my first draft!


The Stardust In Our Souls

When Tim was young, his mom told him that all humans were made of stardust. And Tim would look in all his nooks and crannies, checking belly lint and earwax and boogers, trying to find evidence of sun particles, but all he could find were the lumpy, stinky, bulbous leavings of Earth-bound bodies.

Little did he know that stardust  was powerful enough to turn a man immortal. Or that it could bring a civilization to its knees. But when one immortal man took stellar dark particles and cast them past the heliosphere of a backwoods star system, he created a chain reaction that led to the entropic collapse of humanity’s interstellar space lanes. Now Tim, captain of the ESS Starfell, was on a mission to recreate a path between Sol and Alpha Centauri, employing the very dust that had stunted them before. 

Because yes, the dust giveth and the dust taketh away. Funny word, dust. A noun and a verb, the verb being a Janus word, one that means one thing and its opposite. To dust interstellar space could be spreading dark spores everywhere, or furiously brushing it away. Just like the verb sanction, as in, the Earth Union sanctioned a plan to use Martian technology to create a way to reconnect the star systems, but the Union also sanctioned his wife, the celebrated Admiral, because she prevented those self-same Martians from taking a few mining exoplanets—and the miners that lived on them—as compensation. 

And now his wife was coming along on the five year journey to blaze a path between the stars, and she was adjusting rather badly, indeed, to being busted down to mere civilian, subject to the captainly authority, of all people. 

“Karenna, I swear to the Ancients, this is not what I need right now, pre-launch on a brand new ship. You remember what that’s like, don’t you?”

Karenna, his beautiful, ageless, immortal wife—one of those blessed Ancients touched by stardust—crossed one long leg over the other and leaned back with a pout. “I’m just saying, Tim. You’re new to this. I was a captain for forty years. And I’m tellin’ ya, the Admiralty is up to something.”

“What,” Tim said, “you think I can’t make Captain on my own?”

Dust motes danced around his wife’s curly red hair, highlighted by the sunbeams reflected through the viewport. 

“That’s not what I mean. But they’re using you. Think about it. I refuse to dance to their tune, they try to put me on enforced sabbatical, I threaten to join the dissident factions stirring up trouble in Alpha Centauri, and lo and behold! You get tapped to command the ship that’s going to be out of pocket for five years, knowing there’s no way I’d want to be separated from you. So, they get what they want. The only way I can come along is to temporarily suspend my rank, and bonus, I’ll be out of the way.” 

Tim contemplated the end of his highball of whiskey, looking at Karenna through distorted glass. “Seems a little you-centered there.” 

Antagonym, that was another term for that type of word he was thinking of, which brought to mind antagonist, like the way he and Karenna had been the last few months, duking and sparring and circling, waiting for the other to land the death punch. They cleaved to each other during the original crisis that led to the collapse of the space lanes, but the current spate of disasters were cleaving them apart. They were bound for Sol, but were chafing at being bound for life. 

“Maybe,” Karenna mused, “they’re hoping you’ll keep an eye on me.” 

Tim snorted. “They’d have a high opinion of my ability to keep up with you. Besides, what would you even be doing?”

Karenna put her hands on her hips and pursed her lips. “You know, this ship…” she began slowly. 

“I’m not sure you should finish that thought, K.” 

“It has an amazing cross-section of humanity. Union officers, but also civilian scientists, and Coralie theologians, and Martians, even. I’m thinking,” she said, tapping her chin, “I can gather some intel on what Mars is up to, and do some influence ops to right the Union’s thinking.” 

“I’m thinking you have too much time on your hands. You need a hobby. Ever try knitting? Making ceramic cats?” 

“I’m serious, Tim.” 

“And I’m serious. I’m the captain of this ship. The senior Fleet officer, once we get out there in the black. I know you still think of me as that down-on-his-luck pilot you met on your ship, but I have a job, and one of them is not letting anyone under my purview foment unrest. Unless you don’t want to hitch a ride with us. I’ll drop you off.” 

She gave a low whistle of appreciation. “You’re hot when you’re commanding.” She gave him an apologetic smile and came closer, sighing happily as he pulled her in his lap. 

Contronyms, that was another term. They were both older, and weathered, not the same love-struck pair they’d been at the beginning, but they could weather any storm. Hopefully.

He buried his face in her hair. “Promise me you won’t stir up trouble?” 

“I’ll try to respect your authority. But my opinions are my own, you know?”

He mmhd, breathing in her scent. Sanguine. Confidently cheerful. 

She ruffled his hair in turn, and left him to this work. 

Tim sat alone in a darkened captain’s office, and groaned in frustration. Sanguine: cheerfully bloodthirsty. Like the instinct that led him to accept a captaincy, in exchange for a job as a snitch. He pushed a hidden button and spoke, throat coated in ashes, voice thick with regret. “Did you get that, sir?”

“Copy,” came the voice. “Keep your head, Captain. Our analysts think our disgraced Admiral is going to make a move soon.” 

Tim signed off, and put his head in his hands, trying to ignore the crumbling ruins of his marriage all around him.

Writer In Motion First Impressions

The Smoking Man?

Hello and welcome to another season of Writer In Motion.

This prompt is not what I was expecting! Especially after last season! Unlike last year, when I looked at it and knew exactly what I wanted to write, this time I’m at a bit of a loss. I even asked my kids what impressions they got from it. Their responses ranged from the hand looking like a beard and a guy smashing a cloud on his face.

For me, the phrases that kept coming to mind were “dissapating into mist” and “toz ol” (get lost, in Turkish, but literally “become dust”).

A passage from my WIP came to mind:

No more ground. I’m done giving ground. This is Finn. This should be painful, but I’m dissecting it clinically. This is the moment of change. This is when my life as Tessa Daevana is instantly over. Evaporated. I feel like I’m in a fog. A fine mist of a dissolved Tessa.

-The Shining Palais, almost-drafted WIP

And this from a completed MS:

What was that phrase? That insult baba would mutter under his breath at their neighbor? Toz ol! Become dust! Fitting. A disintegration of the corporeal form into nothing but particles of dust was kinda like… How life was these days.

-Ancient History

So for me, I’m thinking something slightly angsty, but not so much to be cliched. A sense of a loss of self. A wraith in the shadows.

But even if it starts out depressing, I want the ‘turn’ in the story to lead to something triumphant. I came across this passage on a blog post (I’m doing this on mobile so I don’t have a citation ready atm):

The English language is full of paradoxes, like the fact that “literally” pretty much always means “figuratively. Other words mean their opposites as well — “scan” means both ‘read closely’ and ‘skim.’ “Restive” originally meant ‘standing still’ but now it often means ‘antsy.’ “Dust” can mean ‘to sprinkle with dust’ and ‘to remove the dust from something.’ “Oversight” means both looking closely at something and ignoring it. “Sanction” sometimes means ‘forbid,’ sometimes, ‘allow.’ And then there’s “ravel,” which means ‘ravel, or tangle’ as well as its opposite, ‘unravel,’ as when Macbeth evokes “Sleepe that knits up the rauel’d Sleeue of Care.”

So to me, there’s this concept of a reversal. Someone wanting to hide away and dissipate into nothingness deciding, in the end, to become made of dust, something powerful and ancient and stealthy.

More of my favorite writing/organizational things

In January, I wrote the most rambly post ever about organizational and writing tools when one has ADHD. I have a few updates. Hopefully, it’ll be less all-over-the-place.

SAD Lamp: I had mentioned I was getting a huge lamp for my desk to replace the tiny pink one. Although I’m in a room that technically has a lot of windows, it still isn’t very bright. This lamp, however, totally is.

Weekly calendar: I think MochiThings has something like this, but I got a cheaper brand. It’s really helpful for the way my brain works. Not too many bells and whistles. Just a week at a glance and a small spot for high priority to-dos.

Backpack: I didn’t want something huge that I would take around if I were a student. I wanted to be able to hold my wallet, my laptop, and my pretty floral portfolio (last post) that holds all my writing notebooks/pens. This fit the bill.

Dabble: I used Scrivner back in 2015 when I started writing, but I no longer have a PC or Mac, and Scrivner doesn’t work with Chromebook. And I write a ton on my phone, which isn’t compatible with Scrivner. So I’ve been writing in Google Docs.

But recently, I was sold on Dabble, which is kinda like a Scrivner-lite with mobile support. Instead of one fee, it’s a subscription. I’m not a fan of monthly subscriptions, but I find this worth it. It’s not for everyone. Think of it as software that’s still in beta mode. Like, it only recently added the mobile support that convinced me to buy it. It exports into Word but not Google Docs. There’s a few things where it formats in standard ms format but doesn’t let me customize when I need to (I like doing soft scene breaks where I still don’t indent the first line, but I can only do that with hard scene breaks). The mobile app is…iffy. And so on, and so forth. However, b/c it’s subscription model, there’s no needing to download a new option; they just keep pushing patches and new features, and you can suggest features too and see which ones are pending.

It’s been really great, however, for drafting and organizing my thoughts, and the font/format for some reason tricks my brain into writing more. When I’m editing something completed, I still do so in Google.

The Wallet and Accessories:

One of my ADHD things is that I need everything in one place. Like, I can’t keep a purse, keys, phone, and wallet separately. It just won’t work. So my wallets keep getting bigger and bigger to hold everything I need. I’ve finally splurged and gotten a Better Together Daily Wallet form Mochi things.

I can stick my phone in it, as well as my tiny Kindle. I hook my keys on it. It has my cards and money, of course, plus my I’m vaccinated sticker and card, because of course. I keep a few extra masks in it. And the front pocket is where I can slide my soft glasses case and place my glasses when I’m not wearing them (I don’t need to wear them 24/7, and glasses are realllly uncomfortable with masks, so…)

Additional wallet stuff:

Tile: Y’all, I can’t live without this for my keys/wallet, plus a hard core key chain for it.

Notebook and Pen: It comes with a Mochi things notebook but it’s not really my thing. So I threw in my super tiny pocket Moleskine notebook, and a tiny pocket pen.

Cell phone photography 101

I’m a hobbyist photographer with a lot of fun gear, but the more I focus on writing, the less I carry my big camera around.

Phone cameras are great these days, and I’ve been asked before to give some tips and tricks, so I thought I’d post some excerpts from a mobile photography session I have to friends a few years ago. (NB: this was 3 years ago; some of the tech info may be outdated).

EDIT: you guys if my posts look like they were edited by an illiterate five-year-old it’s because I’m generally voice texting all of this while doing the dishes or something like that. I try to go back and fix the typos when I notice them but I really can’t help the run-on sentences too much. just wanted to say that because it is embarrassing the number of mistakes I find in my posts after I read them again.


A little about me. I am not a professional photographer. I’m one of my biggest critics so I can look at photos I take and see everything that’s wrong with it and I compare myself to amazing professional photographers on Instagram all the time and get frustrated that I can’t do what they do. So this group is not intended to be some sort of expert leading students to better photography. This is me exploring different aspects of photography with you guys and all of us growing together.

There are two types of photographers. There are the creative compositional photographers and there are the technical photographers. I’m the first type. I spend a lot of time trying to get better at the second thing and nail the technical aspects of photography on my DSLR. But I’m a big believer of people starting photography by just using the camera they have. That means a phone, or back when I started photography, my little Canon elph point and shoot.

I plan to focus mostly on compositional aspects of photography and on color and light. In addition, we will talk about the different ways to edit on your phone. Some people hate editing but editing is one of my absolute favorite parts of photography. (although I also get frustrated when I can’t duplicate the styles of some of my photography heroes). I hope to discuss the concept and then have all of us try to duplicate that concept and also share whatever other photos we’ve taken of the week whether they fit the theme or not.

For now, I’m yammering a lot at you. In the run-up to the actual lessons I wanted to discuss the basic apps you might want for phone photography. But in discussion with some of of my friends I also decided to add on some of the fundamentals of photography such as the exposure triangle. That means whenever I discuss something I will probably also add a DSLR sidebar that describes simply some of the aspects of this technical concept using a DSLR or an SLR as opposed to a phone or a point and shoot.

Because other people on the internet have explained a lot of these concepts a lot better than I ever could, I will be doing a lot of linking to various sites. But I don’t just want to link and leave, and plan on discussing my experiences with these different aspects of composition and technique.

Maybe one day this will grow into something bigger. I feel like we need a guide for real people who just want to take pictures, you know?

Here’s pre-week #1

Your phone camera

“What is your why”. This means many things: Why do you take pictures? Why do you want to improve? We’ll take a deeper look into that in the coming weeks.

The reason I wanted to mention it to y’all right now though is there’s also a “why do you want to take pictures on your cell phone?” I want to make that clear because I’m going to give you guys a lot of tips and tricks to take the best cell phone pictures you possibly can. However if you look at my own cell phone work I don’t often use as much of the fancy tips and tricks. I only use the camera app that comes with my phone not something with RAW support. And my editing sometimes is a little crazy with more filters and pops of color and things I don’t do with my regular photography. The reason for that is my why with cell phone pictures is to just totally let loose and stop being in full photography mode all the time.  So I’m going to mention a lot of tools and tips but don’t feel like you need to use them all. It really just matters what your why is.

You might love your stock camera app, but you can download other apps, on both iPhone and Android, that are cameras with further capabilities.

I’ve used some of them in the past but preferred to just use whatever camera I already had on my phone and save the fancy stuff for my real cameras. 

Links:

Android-

Http://www.xda-developers.com/best-android-camera-app/

iPhone-

https://www.howtogeek.com/396183/how-to-manually-control-your-iphone-camera-and-why-youd-want-to/

https://www.igeeksblog.com/how-to-get-depth-control-on-iphone-x-8-plus-7-plus/

https://iphonephotographyschool.com/best-camera-app-for-iphone/

What are the limits of a phone camera?

https://digital-photography-school.com/advantages-dslrs-have-over-smartphones/

I’m not posting this to discourage anyone; rather I’m posting to encourage.  It’s*hard* for me to get a cell phone picture to line up with my vision. I’m posting a picture of a cobweb in a little free library. This picture is not doing what I wanted it to do. To even get the cobweb to show up, I had to do some intense editing, *plus* I used a feature on my phone (motion, which is live view for iPhone) where I went through a video the phone took for me while I was taking this photo and picked a different frame that had the cobweb a bit sharper.

This picture is not a keeper, because the phone just couldn’t make it work.



So what happens if you really do want to be a photographer (hobbyist or otherwise) and all you have a cell phone (or all you ever have with you is a cell phone, and the camera is gathering dust somewhere)

The first step is to take pictures. And then take more pictures.

Your camera doesn’t matter. Use a camera phone, a point and shoot, a bridge camera, a DSLR. It doesn’t matter, at least not at first. A good camera does not a good photographer make.

Does gear matter eventually? Absolutely. But you won’t know what you need, or know how to use the resources you have, until you have a feel for composition, subject, lighting, and your own personal style. Some of my favorite photos were taken on my little Canon digital ELPH point and shoot.

One day, you will think, “Wow, I like this photo, but it will be better if I could separate the subject from the background a bit. Wow, I wish I could get this photo a bit sharper. Wow, I really like photos that are close-cropped, but I can’t zoom in that far.” Then you decide what you need to accomplish that.

Brief aside: I mentioned using my phone’s “motion” setting to get a better version of my cobweb photo. Here is an explanation of live photo (iPhone) and motion (Android)

Apple: https://iphonephotographyschool.com/live-photos/

Android:
https://www.androidpolice.com/2017/10/11/hands-motion-photos-googles-version-apples-live-photos/

Hack to get it on other Android phones:

https://www.ampercent.com/get-pixel-2-motion-photos-android-phone/22022/

Phone camera limitations: Flash and zoom

Rule 1: don’t use the flash. Rule 2: don’t use the flash

https://fstoppers.com/education/stop-using-your-iphone-camera-flash-and-try-easy-hack-instead-326937

This doesn’t just apply to phone cameras. Do not use the flash on your point and shoot. Do not use the (on camera) flash on your DSLR. Not in a house, not in a tree. Don’t use your flash; it’s blinding, you see.

https://gizmodo.com/giz-explains-when-not-to-use-your-cameras-flash-5376271

Yes, there are exceptions. And this doesn’t relate to off camera or detachable flashes. But generally, don’t use the flash.

Need extra light? Use a second phone and turn on its flashlight.

Final topic in the pre-class tour of your camera!

Digital zoom- don’t do it! Don’t use it!

https://amp.businessinsider.com/truth-about-digital-zoom-2016-1

That’s it, lol.

Finally, here’s an article with some overview tips on using your cell phone camera (hint: clean your lens)

https://www.androidcentral.com/how-use-your-android-phone-be-better-photographer-camera

Exercises

Most of you have been practicing already but here are some ideas of things you can try.

– experimenting with tapping to focus and with exposure compensation
– download a new camera app and play around with it
-take a picture with and without portrait mode and see what you like best
-take a portrait mode picture using the suggestions in the articles I linked
– experiment with shutter speed and ISO if you have an app that can do that. See how it affects exposure
– experiment with changing the aperture by moving an object closer and farther away from the camera and closer and farther away from a background
-experiment with light. See if you can take a night photo without using the flash. Find windows in your home and figure out the best angle to make use of natural light

My Favorite Writing Tools/My Writing Workspace

Hey all! I’m like most of y’all; you can often find me writing on my bed, or a coffeeshop (pre-pandemic), or wherever. In fact, I’m a total weirdo who often drafts on my phone via Google Docs while doing dishes. Hey, you do what you gotta.

(I liked Scrivner when I had a Windows computer, but alas, on Chromebook..and using a phone..I’m stuck with Google.)

But recently, I’ve been converted to the idea of a dedicated space and efficient work products. Mayyybe it’s because I don’t feel like writing or revising, so I needed an excuse to troll Amazon and Etsy and Pinterest…but whatever. It might be procrastination, but at least it’s leading to something helpful?

So here’s what I’ve got that works for me. Your mileage may vary!

Before I begin, side note that’s kinda relevant: I have ADHD, so it’s important for me to create efficiencies that minimize the amount of executive functioning I would need to get to a headspace to write. When I’m on full-on hyperfocus mode, I’ll do that “writing on the phone while doing dishes” thing, but what do I need to do when I just need to get butt-in-chair, and how do I streamline the process? And in the ADHD-vein, I do want to pimp the Timer Cap, because it’s literally the only way I remember to take my medication. Look, a checklist doesn’t help. Those little day-by-day pill holders don’t help. At some point, you need to lead into the way your brain works and create a system for you, not what works for other people!

On to writing. Obviously a good step is a workspace…free of distractions. Hah. I don’t have one of those. I’m blessed to have a room that counts as an “office” but it’s kinda like an open plan format (despite some really pretty french doors in one end of the room); I’m in the middle of everything. Spouse, working from home, had to shut himself off in our bedroom because he couldn’t work in the ostensible “office” because children abound. But I do count as assets: one roll-top desk (yay roll-top; I can hide away the mess and/or close things away so the toddler can’t grab my computer/glasses/what have you) and a comfy ergonomic desk chair(with a cheap-ass chair cover to help it look pretty), in a room that also has a window bench so I can sit there by the daylight if I want to curl up. And I have Google Home mini for music for additional calm.

I’m very lucky to have this beautiful room but it’s also the room where we put away all our Christmas crap (see corner of bench for the beginning stages) and fold our laundry, and the kids like to do gymnastics tumbles, and the toddler sticks stickers all over the floor, and….

Now, that desk has long been a clutter haven/landing strip, so the first step is to tidy it up! I made sure I redecorated the area to create a feeling of personal calm for me; things that highlight my career and my hobbies (including a serious focus on photography). Of course, that includes my gimmicky coffee lens mug. I love bookshelves near a desk; although we have shelves in our office, they are holders of many things, not just books, so it doesn’t quite have the same feel. To combat that, I stacked up some of my favorite photography coffee-table books on the top section of the desk. (My faves: Norman Rockwell Behind the Camera; The President’s Photographer, Sally Mann Immediate Family, and Capture the Moment by the team behind Clickin’ Moms). I also have the latest trade-paperback versions of my manuscripts, from lulu.com, that I use for both revising and ego purposes.

Although we’re near a window, the room is still too dark, so I also have a few lamps–one bigger one on the top of the desk and one small one that serves as a desk light that can fit under the roll-top. I also added fairy lights to add to the soft light and counteract the overheads.

Of course, a computer; mine is the Acer R11 Chromebook that can go into tent mode and tablet mode, which is key for many reasons. (speaking of “key”, I also grabbed a keyboard skin not only because it looks pretty but also in case I spill something). The reason tent mode is helpful is I can pair it with a wireless bluetooth keyboard and bluetooth mouse. This ensures I’m not hunched over my laptop hurting my back if I’m working for a long time, but because it’s wireless it’s easy to tuck away or take to a different writing space–all very key for my need for efficiency. I tried to do a few DIY things so I could rest the keyboard on top of the center drawer since this desk isn’t made as a computer desk. As of now I just threw an old tray table under my desk that I pull out with the keyboard on it.

So, tent mode on the Chromebook is super helpful because it saves space, where I can use the laptop as just a monitor when I’m using the bluetooth keyboard and mouse. For dual-screening, I ordered a portable monitor so I can look at two documents at once; portable/small is key because it can fold under the roll-top desk and so I can tuck it away (or take it with me if I want to set up somewhere else.) See a theme? NB: I just ordered this from eBay; I cannot vouch that it actually works with a Chromebook. We shall see.

Update: it didn’t work. Here’s what I do: I have an old Astrotab tablet. I use a combo of the apps Chromecast Z and CastReceiver to mirror my phone, and then I can scroll one document on my phone and have it pop up there and then make the edits on the computer. Probably cumbersome for most but it works for me!

Tablet mode is also a total game changer because I can hand-edit my manuscripts without printing things out. You need anything that can edit pdfs (I use the app Squid, but I’m sure there are better options) and a stylus. Now, I’m sure if you use an active stylus (similar to an Apple pen), that’s a real game changer. I use something much less expensive, and therefore my edits look more like scribbles. That’s all I need, though. I tried the super-cheap Digiroot first, but was not happy. This is the one I use and I’m really happy with it.

(If you really want to print out, I recommend Lulu.com)

(Speaking of game changers, have you all heard of the Remarkable 2 tablet? Holy Moly. I covet. I covet a lot).

Moving on from the workspace, we have notebooks. I had two issues. One: I like to scribble my brainstorms, or write entire passages, but that means my notebooks fill up really quickly. Solution? A Rocketbook. It’s an erasable notebook, as long as you use a Pilot Frixon erasable pen. It also scans, via the app, to the location of your choice (you just have to put an X over the icon that represents the destination, easy as pie). Technically it has OCR, but it can’t…um..read my handwriting.

On Etsy, you can get index dividers for the Rocketbook; they slide onto the rings so there aren’t stickies that mess with the erasable system. You can also get folios that fit Rocketbook, but I didn’t get one of those (more on that later). You can also buy a pen holder for the notebook so you always have a Frixion pen on you; I didn’t feel the need to get a Rocketbook-branded one and just used one of these, which I have a set of (that I also use to hold the stylus on my laptop, and pens on other notebooks.)

This is my executive size rocketbook that I just got for my daily checklist
This is my letter size one that I use for brainstorming and writing by hand

You can also add adhesive pockets, I used one to hold the microfiber cloth that comes with Rocketbook so I always have it on hand.

Because I’m extra, I added a few stickers to make the rocketbook pretty, including this one from Etsy.

ADHD note: that tiny rocketbook has been a godsend. we’ll see how it holds up, but the idea of having basically a dry erase board I carry around with me has been revolutionary. And what I do for my house cleaning / to do list is that instead of making specifics, or having to clean one room each day ( which means if I miss a day I flip out,) I have the list you see above. Which did not start out as long. As I got more confident, I added more things on the list, which also means some days I don’t get through the whole thing. But, because I have this desire to check things off, I usually take the 5 minutes to do whatever is on that list. Wipe down just one cabinet. Do one outstanding task. put away the dishes once. All those little things that people seem to do automatically and that I need an external force telling me to do.

Second notebook issue: organization! I need to be able to move things around, or remove pages (although with Rocketbook I can just erase). Solution: The Rekonect notebook. I tricked it up a bit, adding one of those pen holders, as well as tab dividers for all of my projects. (not Etsy, this time, just Post-It brand). I also made this notebook pretty, including this sticker from Etsy. I used to use it for brainstorming until I got the rocketbook, now it’ll be for long term notes I want to keep and for keeping track of queries, etc, in more of a bullet journal model.

I also added a ribbon marker by attaching via magnet (in fact, because it’s magnet, you can use a magnetic pen to attach to the spine instead of my pen holder idea). The Rekonect has a document pocket in the inner back cover but I also added an adhesive pocket on the outer back cover.

Finally, because of my efficiency/portability desires, I wanted something to hold both notebooks at the same time. I found this amazing portfolio. It’s similar to a well-known one by Mochi Things but way cheaper. Bonus: it holds more than just the two notebooks. I could throw in the computer (or the portable display, probably not both), extra pens/stylus, my Kindle (I got a super cheap 2011 model for no lie, $25) etc. I also wanted this because with the Rekonect being magnetic, I’m wary of letting it sit on top of my computer. Yeah, if you google, magnets don’t affect computers but…I can tell you from experience the Rekonect absolutely does. So having it in a holder means I can carry it around along with my computer without worrying about what I’m doing to it.

And, because I’m extra, I added this gorgeous enamel pin from Etsy to decorate the portfolio.

I grabbed this cheap desk pad to aid in organization.

Finally, because it’s winter, I’m getting a SAD lamp to replace my tiny pink one. This one might be too tall for the desk. We’ll see. But it does have a wireless phone charger and usb ports.

This is how it all looks so far:

The Evolution of Ancient History

A Matter of Ancient History is the first book that I’ve completed and polished and queried. It’s not the first I’ve written, but the less said about those the bett-

Actually, let’s chat, because Ancient History wouldn’t exist without those attempts, and parts of each have made it in to this one. Because some version of Ancient History has been in my head for over two decades.

It all started with a 13 year old, a boombox and a Patti Smythe CD — no, I’m not kidding. 13 is when I realized music triggered my maladaptive daydreaming — which is, basically, involved daydreams that can take over a person’s life, to the point the person prefers the daydream to reality, often triggered by music and often included self-insert stories into TV shows, movies, and books. (A condition that probably launched a thousand fanfics). My daydreams were a mixture of self-insert and original characters, of mass media and my own worlds. I couldn’t let the daydreams rest until after I completed my first draft of Ancient History, 25 years later.

I was 19 when I confided in a beautiful red-haired roommate in a dorm room in Istanbul about my stories — why I did that, I have no idea. She was enigmatic and frustrating and always mildly dismissive of me. But she heard me once talk about Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman’s duet Time to Say Goodbye and for some reason she was floored; she said she knew no one else who liked the song. In response, she gave me a copy of Atlas Shrugged (?) I have no idea why but I am a bit angry about it because I read it and loved it and it’s…Atlas Shrugged. Impressionbale youth and all. Anyway, that night I confided in her and she told me, hey, maybe you should write that down! I demurred, because I knew it would read no better than fanfic (um, I don’t mean to insult fanfic there; fanfic is amazing. I mean, it would read no better than my attempts at fanfic, which were…not good.).

I knew I didn’t have the skill.

When I was 21 I decided I wanted to try writing it. I called it My Sci-Fi Life (I know, I know) and it featured a woman named Kara who was born in an alternate version of our contemporary Earth and got somehow whooshed into the future, taking over the brain of another woman named Brianna. (Remember all this; it may feature in a WIP I’m writing, although I literally just remembered I had this plot point in it and I swear in my WIP I came up with a similar plotline separately). It doesn’t matter what happened next; it seriously has no plot to speak of, but it did feature early versions of Sadiq, Lee Hale, Deneld Riley, and Tim, and it also had the plot of Kara (Karenna) being effectively immortal, although in this one she has a child, named Allie. A version of it also has Kara meeting her past self but it didn’t really come into fruition, although that plot point is the one that haunted for decades after.

It’s horrible. Horrid. I just found some printed out copies and I’m horrified. And yes, I just used a horr word three times in a row and it wasn’t on purpose.

Faaaast forward 14 years later and I tried to follow the advice of everyone who said I should write a story based on my career as a counterterrorism officer. And so I spent a few months writing Agency, a contemporary political thriller. It has nothing in common with My Sci Fi Life, except, and this will Become a Theme, I went through My Sci Fi Life and lifted lines or scenes that I still loved. When looking through Sci Fi Life today, most of the words, if not the characters, were unusable. Laughable. But some lines made it all the way into Ancient History. And actually, a few of those lines came from fanfic I had written in the past. My goodness; I just realized that. I wrote a Star Wars fanfc where I have a line that goes:

“Something something my –“

“Your foot, I know.”

“I was planning to be a bit more graphic,” she mumbled.

That line made it into my Sci Fi Life, then Agency, and much later, into Ancient History. Even though it’s nothing spectacular. That’s just how I roll, I guess.

(yes, it was previously called The Sentinels, and I picked some random pen name and then also made it the name of my MC, like she was writing the novel, and this proves I always have to make things complicated.)

Agency likewise will never see the light of day. I wrote 90,000 words and realized I hated it. And not because I had no idea of story structure and I had way too many POV characters. I didn’t know those were problems! But it was stilted and predictable (and at the same time way too complicated), but mostly, because I drew so much from real life, it was like..too weird. I name-dropped places I hung out in DC, the characters disrupted actual famous terrorist plots, and it was just..I would say too real, but I don’t mean in a raw way, and more instead I felt like a total hack.

Writing Agency is when I finally realized how much I wanted to write an actual manuscript, and that this manuscript didn’t count. I also learned about querying and found QueryShark, and although it was way too soon, it meant I had a better grasp on publishing when I finally wrote something I thought had a chance. Also, to its credit, Agency had themes and motifs and the writing wasn’t half-bad; it was the particular craft of writing a novel of which I had no grasp.

So, yes.. Agency came from real life, not daydreams, but the daydream wouldn’t let go, especially this time, the idea of meeting your past self

Two years later, right around Nano time, I tried my hand at writing my sci fi story again, with Karenna as the MC and in addition to the previous characters that later made it into Ancient History, it also had Brett Shakeem (although he shared characteristics with Foster Grady), and it began my world-building: Ancients and the planets in Alpha Centauri including Coralis and figuring out how long it would take to travel between systems, although I don’t think we had FTL? I don’t know. I definitely calculated time dilation so the was some non-ftl travel. I didn’t even title it; it was called “my space book” on my files. However, on brand, I pulled my favorite parts of Agency and put it in the notes for the space book, which informed plotting decisions later for Ancient History. Because, remember, Agency was a political thriller about intelligence work.

One year later I tried again. This time, I learned about story structure, so I plotted out the beginning. I called it Shadows. It had none of the Intel stuff from Agency. What if did have, in addition to Karenna, was, as a secondary POV, the MC of Agency, Alex Thompson, still a reporter. It also introduced Max Dupont, who I will always love.

The premise of Shadows was bonkers, and for some reason I unknowingly plagiarized Brandon Sanderson and had this whole group of shades called cognitive shadows and when I realized my entire premise was one big stolen idea, I gave up once again.

Okay. So I spent the next year kinda sad I’d never finish writing a book, and that I’d be one of those “someday” people. And then it happened. It was late October, and I felt inspired to try again. Just a whim. And I began world-building and writing the first chapter and… Lo and behold, I kept going. Suddenly it was NaNoWriMo and I was like, “I think I can do this!” And I never officially did Nano and I’m an edit as you go person but suddenly, November 30, I had 50,000 words. And then by the end of December, I had 100K total and a finished novel. And it even incorporated the counterterrorism plot from Agency!

Of course, it never ends after that, but y’all know the drill. Learning how to revise, finding Twitter communities‌, entering mentoring contests, and doing pitch events and then querying. One full request from an agent, plus full requests from two contests –all three with feedback– plus a first 50 pages editor review plus betas plus, finally, a rejection off a partial that said what everyone else had said and finally got through my thick skull, and although I had been learning and improving and revising throughout the process, it finally kicked me hard enough to realize I needed to rewrite it. So I did. Page one rewrite. And six months later I’m doing a very limited query round and. . we’ll see. If I get outright rejections, it gets shelved, and that’s okay because it took me like, what, 28 years to write this thing and I did. My second manuscript, The Star-Crossed Empire, is stronger and I’m so proud of it and.. oh, oh, it’s completely original, no stolen lines or scenes or characters from any previous works of mine, can you believe it? So if and when I shelve Ancient History, out of the gate I go with it, plus I have two manuscripts I’m writing during this year’s Nano, although, just like the first time, I’m not actually doing Nano.

The story of the second nano MS out of the two I’m doing this month.. well, it’s all about those first few years, and is a doozy, so if it ever gets written, that’s another tome for another day.

Writer In Motion – Week 4, Final Draft

I was blessed to have the editorial services of the awesome Justine Manzano, who was so kind and supportive with her feedback that I squeed and giggled for about a day.

In the end, not much has changed from my draft. Justine made some stylistic/grammatical changes, and honestly, I have what I think of as an idiosyncratic style, and if this wasn’t a 1000 word story I might have engaged more and asked about some the changes, like: Is this a stylistic change, and if so, can I get away with doing it this other way even if it’s not the way you would do it? But in this case, a.) It’s just WIM, and b.) idiosyncratic could also mean wrong, so, like, go with the editor with far more experience than you have!

There was one part where I allude to the Darvasi enhancements, and she wondered what that was all about and said I could expand, since my final can be any length I want it to be. My first draft had a made up backstory about it all, but it was like a throw a dart at the wall-type backstory and I’m not happy with it. So instead of expanding, I took the coward’s way out and deleted that sentence. That may not be the right choice, if the reader looks at it and wonders, “Well, what’s the deal with the Darvasi anyway? What’s the conflict? What’s the backstory?” But I thought it would be better than adding a jumble of words that haven’t been CP’d with a crappy backstory I’m not even sold on.

In the end, instead of adding words, I cut it. 979 words, including the title. I hope to revisit this in the future and maybe add an actual good backstory, and then maybe use it as a jumping-off point for a WIP.

Shining Palais on a Hill

Four months after the attack, parts of the Ivory Palais still smoldered blue.

The soft light of evening added an orange cast to the unearthly glow. Sarai passed the checkpoints, one, two, three. Coffee in hand, she traversed the threshold into the stately office of the leader of the world. 

“You wanted to see me, sir?” 

A year before, she had rolled that word in her mouth. “Sir.” Tongue forming over sibilant s, uvula worrying over rhotic r. Practiced over and over, so she didn’t stumble over the novelty of calling this man, of all people, “sir.”  Months after the Darvasi strafed the capital, their landmarks forever tarnished, this, this she could control. “Sir,” said strong and true. 

And today, she would stand strong as she betrayed her planet.

“I’ve approved the retaliatory attack against the Darvasi Syndicate,” the President said, eyebrows raising in anticipation of her response, which was indeed — 

“Are you out of your fucking mind? Sir,” she added belatedly. “It’s unethical.” She needed a better argument than that. If she could avoid doing what she planned by changing the President’s mind instead…

“People want results, Sarai,” he said, not even paying attention to her as he perused his evening feed, dashing hopes of persuasion. “Restitution. And they fear further attacks.” 

“People are idiots,” she said, trying again. “Sir. You do this, and you put New Terra in even more danger than before. The other planets are going to see this as crossing a red line. All for what? Revenge? We cross that Rubicon, and we’re all in danger. Morgan and Jack are in danger…”

Damn. She had crossed a line herself, mentioning the children, obvious in the set of the President’s jaw. He held up a hand. “I know the argument. But I asked you here because you’re the only one who can sell it to the lawyers,” he said. “I value your skills. You know that.” 

“That’s why you hired me, sir.” 

“Indeed.” His mouth quirked in a smile, eyes soft, and she couldn’t help the heat that sprung to her cheeks. “You’re the best in the business.”  Statement of fact. Didn’t even need a nod in response. 

Of course she could convince the lawyers. But she didn’t want to. To stoop to biowarfare, no matter the enemy, was against the ideals of New Terra.  She couldn’t let that happen.

Which form would her rebellion take? She hadn’t yet decided. Leaking the plan to the other human planets? Influencing like-minded scientists to tweak the formula just so?

Sending surreptitious warnings to the Darvasi?

Each subsequent option was more treasonous than the last. And each would wound New Terra, badly, unhealable like the bioluminescent glow still flaming on the Ivory Palace, but she would willingly break this planet she loved, in order to save it. 

The President cleared his throat. “Anyway, what are your updates?”

She paused before answering, hands clenching and unclenching in rhythm. “We’ve got the projections, sir,” she said, stomach roiling. “The virus would only affect the Darvasi who’ve chosen to illegally enhance their powers. No innocents.”

How could he endorse this? This wasn’t the man she knew. Loved. Integrity brightly burning, now a dull sheen.

No innocents. So what? New Terra, deploying pathogens. “We’re not indiscriminately harming, Sarai,” the President now said, looking at her with concern. “We’re trying to rectify a wrong.” He worked his lower lip and then grimaced.  “We’ve been keeping it from you, but that’s not fair, because it relates to your portfolio. The Syndicate tried to assassinate me a few days ago. We kept it under wraps. I didn’t tell our kids. I didn’t tell the First Lady. And…I didn’t tell you.”

Sarai stumbled as she sat, accidentally spilling coffee on her clothes. Assassination? 

The Darvasi had tried to kill the man sitting in front of her. This man, the president of New Terra, her ex-husband, the unrequited love of her life.

And he had put her in the same category as their children. Same as the First Lady. Someone he didn’t want to worry. 

Stop, Sarai. Don’t wish. Don’t hope. Stop breaking your ruined heart.

“You absolutely should have told me, sir,” she said instead, tart voice and all.  “Let me do my job.”

Her job. Sell the lawyers on something anathema to her. Could she do it? Instead of committing treason? Just follow orders, doing something she knew was wrong?

She was the best. That’s why she had been called to the seaside mansion a year ago by the President-Elect’s transition team, and been asked to join the administration as Planetary Security Advisor. Why instead of laughing in their faces, she had nodded sagely and inquired, delicately, about the optics of having her, of all people, on this man’s staff. It was worth it, the transition team said. She was the best. 

“Sir,” the secretary broke in over the console, “you have dinner with the First Lady in twenty minutes.” 

He took in a breath and nodded over the screen, and returned his eyes to Sarai. But she had seen it — she hated that she had seen it — that little grimace at the mention of his wife. A burning beacon.

Don’t hope. Don’t start.

She stood on a precipice. Each direction led to damnation. Betray New Terra, and him. Or destroy her soul. And his.

He could have been killed. The realization rocketed through her mind, an aggressive whisper, rustling her carefully-constructed cathedrals. Who cared about her wish? Who cared about her scruples? None of it mattered. He could have died. This man. The father of her children. 

She could do the work. Assist this horrendous retaliation. For New Terra. For…for him.

By all that was holy, she’d do anything for him.

She wiped her hands on her skirt, as if she could wash away the stain.