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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Late at night--and fiction research

Tonight, I am lying in bed just after working all day from 11 am to 10 pm, exercising, checking writing blogs, checking work certifications, reading depressing e-mails, and wondering what the bloodseas happened to my day.

And now...research. I'm not 100% good at it. I'm glad I went to New York, so I have a picture in my head of the streets where my protagonist finally tracks down that escaped murderer. I should have taken down street names, but I could argue (in my laziness) that they distract from the action of the story. I feel the same way about science research. For myself, I think the author should know the science behind the science fiction well enough that they COULD write an appendix about it, but I should not spend a hundred years telling us how the fiction works. "Geez Jen, why do I need to know how to build a neodymium mace?" Right.

That said--I should do my homework. Part of J.R.R. Tolkein's talent lies in the appendices: he had so much world-building he did not have to work into the story, but the story seems richer, realer, and more seamless because he KNEW more about the characters and the worlds. No holes. It's like when you go in to defend your thesis: you should know more than you put into the paper.

I've heard it's good to go sit in a location and muse for a while, for research, or to conduct interviews of people in certain situations. Personally, I research by pretending I'm as ignorant or knowledgable as the character. I stayed up late last night googling how to treat a bullet wound because one of my teenagers finds himself with a superhero unwilling to go the hospital after a bullet to the shoulder-blade. I did what he did. I looked up the problem, pretending I had nothing with which to fix it. I also talk to my characters during the day, so my dialogue often works when my stupid descriptions don't. I should probably sit in places and note details to practice descriptions.

How do you research?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Character Interviews: Roz Bereens

So I sit down to have lunch with one of my characters. You know, to get to know him better. I would never take him to coffee, but I bet he'd love sushi.

"I'm really glad you could make it," I say.

"Yeah, I..." He looks around the room. His hand has never gone far from his neodynium mace. "I'm still a little confused about being here, actually."

"Don't worry about it. Is it alright if I ask you questions while you eat?"

"Sure."

"What's your favorite thing on my plate?"

"On your plate?" he raises an eyebrow. I notice that he doesn't smirk, like Caleb would. He's controlled. "Hmm, I don't like mushrooms. I guess I say the sushi."

"You're a carnivore," I laugh. "Why no mushrooms? A bad experience?"

"No--Lem fed me some once when we got stranded somewhere on Luna, so I know I can eat them. I just don't like the taste."

I don't ask another question for a few minutes. I'm watching how he eats with one hand, and keeps the other by his mace. He doesn't seem stressed or nervous. His shoulders slump, relaxed, and his face is unlined. It looks like he just always eats with his hand on his weapon.

"What's the worst thing that ever happened to you?"

He lays down the fork and leans back, eyes glazing a bit, overwhelmed as he stares just over my head. I expected that question to throw him back like that. "Oh man, that's hard."

I wait. His eyes play over the people mulling through the buffet lines. Of course I brought him to the Teppanyaki. It's the best restaurant in my world.

"Hey, what's the best restaurant in your world?" I ask suddenly.

He laughs a little and rubs his hands across his forehead. "Yeah--I like that question better than the other one."

"You still have to answer the other one."

"Okay." He hasn't stiffened at all, but I could almost imagine him sweating a little. He rubs his hand on the back of his neck and lets a little laugh escape again. "Well, once Lem and I had to pretend to--"

"Quick interruption--would Lem have said 'Roz and I' or 'Roz and me' if she were telling this story?"

"She'd say 'Roz and me.'"

I note it down in my little green book. He's wrong, actually--when I interview her, she says 'Roz and I.' She only uses non-formal grammar when she's with him because she feels tougher and more equal that way. But his impression of her speech says a lot. For one, it says he thinks she's more different from himself than she really is. A little more childish.

"You done yet?" He raises that eyebrow. He doesn't tease with a grinning flair the way Caleb would. He's more subtle. But he's laughing at me inside, all the same.

"Yes. Go ahead."

"Lem and I attended a dinner for this wealthy civillian Growen sympathizer--we were on recon, of course--and bloodseas, that restaurant--stars, it was great." He shakes his head. "It floats over Guetala, and takes diners over Biouk lands and forests, and ends back up in space. Lem kept talking--saying how the rich snobs didn't know anything about Biouks, or something like that--but we had a great time anyway. She got someone to tailor her mom's red gown, and I wore this silvery thing."

"I wouldn't expect you to notice clothes," I smirk, tilting my head.

"It was the first time we'd ever dressed up. It felt cool to ask for whatever we wanted, and play along."

"Was she pretty?"

He shrugs. "I didn't ask. We were on a mission."

"And the food?"

"I actually don't remember it. Lem could tell you all about it, though."

I nod and laugh. Yes, I know she could--every detail and every taste.

"So, last question, Roz."

"Oh, the worst thing one. Yeah."

I suddenly realize that his answer depends on me. On where I've called him from--what time, which part of Roz's development. I also realize that to make him talk about any of it makes me a jerk. Because, you know, I created it. Before Bioumatta, he'd choose that childhood imprisonment. After Bioumatta, he'd choose the stay in Diebol's re-education center. After Neodymium, he'd choose losing that kiss.

"It's all for a reason, you know," I say suddenly, before he can give me an answer. "But I'm not gonna be a jerk and make you talk about it."

"Uh--it's okay, I--"

"No, it really isn't. It's fine."

He's not a hugger, but I get up, walk around the table, and hug him from the side. "It was good talking to you," I say. "See ya round."

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Neodymium Betrayal--edited beginning.



Roz sighed.

He still saw them, in his mind's eye--several hundred pre-adults in thick yellow camouflage, huddled against each other in the dark, strapped to the humming metal floor by simple safety belts. He'd watched the littlest ones laughing, playing with the screens on their wristbands just before he sealed them into their transports; the oldest children sat in silence, probably trying to figure out where they would find themselves when the light came back. Roz knew they wondered if they would ever go back to the embattled fort they called home--he'd wondered the same thing at their age.
He'd gotten used to it.

The four transports bearing the children sailed across waving flaxen grass far below Roz's look-out hill, piercing like four giant black bullets through rolls of fog. Roz wanted to plop into the grass and collapse--the evacuation had taken all night--but he stayed on his feet, his fingers drumming on the short bamboo staff suspended from his belt. No sleep until the kids escape. I promised. Mist wisped about Roz like breakers against a rock; wind tousled his flaxen hair. His faded tan tunic flapped, tugging as if it had a life of its own and only his still form kept it from seeking out adventure. 
 
His tired mind played picture-games with his vision. A bright blue-eyed spectre in a black jumpsuit had tormented his dreams for two nights now. Diebol.
The torture-nightmares would stop if he just died. Monster.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Nice Guys Finish Last

Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected 100 times before a publisher picked it up.

I got a rejection from my dream agent this past week, and to tell the truth, I felt okay about it. I'm working on a new project now that has a better chance of getting published. I haven't forgotten Roz and Lem and their plight, but they're a hard sell. Every time I think I'm done, there's more work. More sentences that need shortening. More helping verbs that need to bite the dust. So? This is writing. I believe in Roz and Lem. I believe in the boy who becomes a man when his best friend joins the enemy army--and I believe in his slow realization that she was right, after all. I believe in the power of a friendship with the invisible, and I believe in the girl who chooses failure because she's a hero. I believe their story can change a country obsessed with success, drowning in stereotypes of women, and hungry for a tale of redemption. We all have the idols that become our demons, and Roz and Lem have helped me with mine. I believe in them, and that is enough, for now. For the future? Revision.

I don't profess to know anything about the writing industry. For pete's sake, I can't even figure out how to unify my web presence between my real name, Petre Pan, my journalism work, and my desire to gain an audience for publication. (I've finally decided that I'll start building my fiction audience under my married name, Jen Finelli, and continue writing non-fiction under Jen Veldhuyzen, since I already have an audience there. The wedding's still a few months away, though.) I do know this, however: there's a 'nice guys' dynamic in publishing.

The nice guy--you know, not the sparkly bad boy, but the guy you can always depend on, the guy you've shouldered into that frigid 'friend zone.' Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. I know so many stories of authors who have now 'made it' because they did something helpful for another author--and the other author, when she made it big, introduced her 'nice guy' to that agent or publisher. Sometimes I feel like the nice guy, like I always critique more and get back less critiques, or at the writing conference I pay attention to everyone else's pitch, but for some reason everyone starts tuning out when I read mine. (Given, there's an element of 'having the goods' or not.) Yet they say that pays off in the end.

And what if it doesn't?

Then I suppose one has the honor of having helped put interesting books on the shelf, or at least of having increased another human being's experience of living. I should try to take more time to be 'the nice guy'--to help other authors out, give feedback when I can, and not just so that they'll critique my stuff, but out of real concern. I should be the nice gal.

Over and out?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I got into the contest over at Miss Snark's First Victim! Yay!