Nano Update

So, I’m deep in the third week of Nanowrimo, and with 20,000+ words still to go, the creative juices are spread thin (how’s that for a mixed metaphor?). I figured for today, I would share some of the diamonds that have appeared in the rough draft (get it? get it? oh my gosh, I’m so tired). The book I’m working on is called TALON Force for now and it’s about a fourteen year old hacker who is recruited into a covert government agency that protects magical creatures called phenomenals.

Enjoy.

                                                                                                                            

His mom looked up and squinted at him. “Don’t forget school starts tomorrow. Lights out by 11:30, okay?”

Nate’s stomach flipped. How could he forget? After five years of learning physics and calculus around this very table, he’d be headed to the local high school for ninth grade. But that’s what happened when your dad agreed to more hours with the Bureau and your mom was offered a position in the lab of her dreams.

“We’ve talked about it, I know,” she said. “But it bears repeating. No working outside the curriculum. If you’re bored, read the next chapter or something.”

“No reprogramming the computers,” his dad added.

Nate opened his mouth to protest but his dad waved an S tile at him. “Not even to make them more efficient,” he said.

Nate snapped his mouth closed and scowled.

“And no building killer robots,” Jessie put in with a smirk.

“That wasn’t my fault. If Vince Price hadn’t messed with my power regulator everything would have worked fine.”

“Tell that to Mr. Holland.”

“How is he?” his mother asked.

“I hear his therapy is coming along really well,” Jessie said.

                                                                                                                              

“Dr. Demarco, Mr. Demarco, your son has seen too much,” the man said.

Nate gulped. “You mean they’re real?” he said.

“What’s real?” his dad asked.

The men glared and Nate snapped his mouth shut.

His mom sighed. “We said no more hacking, Nate. You promised.”

He hung his head. Jessie had her elbows propped on the table and she was watching intently.

“So what are you going to do with him?” his mom said. “Hard labor? The gallows?”

The men eyed her sideways and one of them said, “He has two choices. The first is a maximum security facility designed to hold people like him where he will be locked away unharmed and he can never tell anyone what he’s seen.”

His mom raised an eyebrow. “Sounds cozy.”

“Mom,” Nate said. Even when things were dire she couldn’t help cracking jokes. It was embarrassing.

“Just be sure to feed him his vegetables.”

Nate really really didn’t want to go to prison. Especially one without computers or the Internet or Teen Titans. “What’s the other option?” he said.

One of the men crossed his arms and looked down at Nate who still sat at the dining room table, limp green salad pieces littering his plate and the floor under his chair.

“Join the agency that was created to protect and conceal what you saw.”

“Protect?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I’d be working with them? Like up close?”

The man inclined his head.

“But that’s, I mean they’re—” He looked at his interested family and rephrased what he was about to say. “Is that safe?”

“You could always choose the other option,” one of the men said. He looked kind of hopeful. Like he really wanted to lock Nate away in a little room with no Internet. “It is safer, as you say.”

Working with monsters? Real life ones? Nate had always thought it would be cool to get a job with a game developer programming the creatures he fought in video games but this was entirely different. He’d be coming face to face with them, maybe fighting them. No, the guy had said protecting. But that girl in the video had definitely been fighting that snake lizard that looked just like the one in Slayer.

The corners of Nate’s mouth started to lift as he thought about it. He’d be a slayer in real life. Maybe he’d even get a sword.

“Well?” his mom said. “What’ll it be?”

Nate grinned up at them. “I, uh, choose the not jail thing.”

“Really?” the one man said looking disappointed. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I choose the agency.”

                                                                                                                                 

He realized he was sitting in water up to his waist, no big deal, but the hands were still clutching at him. He dug his own hands into the bottom of the bay and hung on so whatever had him couldn’t drag him any further.

The hands surfaced, long delicate fingers clinging to his jacket. They were attached to slim pale arms. A head covered in long blond hair appeared and a solid body pushed him back into the surf.

Nate found himself looking up into the most beautiful face he’d ever seen. Even Mei’s dark eyes and hair couldn’t compare to the perfect features of the girl who was lying on top of him.

Naked.

Nate flushed before he realized all the interesting parts were covered by her wet hair. Even still, he raised his hands, keeping them out to his sides where they wouldn’t touch anything by accident.

“Hi,” the girl said and smiled. Dazzlingly.

“Nate!” It was his dad who skidded to a stop beside them, pebbles showering both Nate and the girl.

Nate held up a hand. “It’s okay,” he said. At least he thought it was okay. She didn’t seem to be trying to kill him. Yet. But his encounter with the kelpie had made him wary.

“Hello,” he said.

She beamed even brighter, if that was possible, as if he’d said the nicest thing in the world.

More feet clattered on the beach behind him and he heard a gasp. He tried not to groan. Because he really needed his mom and his sister to witness his humiliation as well.

“I knew they were real,” Jessie whispered somewhere over his head. “I just knew it.”

Uh oh.

“Um,” he said to the perfect girl who now had her fingers twined in his hair. “So what are you?”

She ducked her head with a shy smile and he felt her weight shift. He saw a tail emerge behind her head. A fish tail.

Oh god, he’d found a mermaid.

“Are you a sailor?” she said.

“What?” He tried to wriggle out from under her, but apparently five feet of fish and woman weighed a lot.

“You look like a sailor,” she said and bit her lip coyly. “Will you be my sailor?”

“Nate?” his dad said again.

“Uh,” Nate said. “Give me a second. I’m not really sure what’s happening.”

“She’s a mermaid, gnat,” Jessie said with a “duh” she didn’t say but he could hear anyway. “They’re always seducing sailors to drag down into their underwater kingdom.”

The mermaid smiled again and nodded. “Wanna come?” she said.

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Did You Really Just Say That?

CrutchI guess I should start a series of these and call it “Did you really just say that?” Sometimes I feel like people don’t really think before they speak.

I was walking through the grocery store the other day when a lady stepped out in front of me with her cart. We did the awkward dance before I stepped around her. I laughed and said “Sorry, it’s hard to change directions.” It was supposed to be a joke because that’s how I relieve tension. The appropriate response would have been to laugh with me and walk away. Instead she stopped and looked like she was working up to something. So I waited politely, mentally tapping my foot because this was supposed to be a quick stop with my husband waiting outside.

Finally, she came up with, “I’m sorry. About…” She gestured to my feet and back up to my head. “It’s just so terrible.”

I said, “It’s okay,” because what the hell else am I supposed to say? I get this one a lot, this and the “When are you getting better?” This lady basically stopped me in the grocery store to tell me she felt sorry for me. At least that’s the interpretation I’m going with. I guess her gesture could have meant “It’s just so terrible you’re alive.”

I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and say it was the first one, because, you know, everyone wants to know they inspire pity in the rest of the human race. In what world is that encouraging? In what world is it accurate? My life isn’t exactly the mire of aborted dreams and hopelessness she seems to think it is. Oh, I’m just hanging in there until I die. Given how many kids (and adults, though they won’t admit it) want to play with my crutches and my wheelchair, I must have it pretty good.

And it’s funny because I get the complete opposite occasionally, too. The “you’re so inspiring” or “brave”. Now, I wonder how many people are thinking the “I’m sorry for her” while pasting the “inspiration” thing on it to make it more palatable.

Either way, I wonder if people really realize what they’re saying or if they need it played back to thm.

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Loving the Small Things

The Blade ItselfThe Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Look I’m having a really hard time writing a summary for this and it’s Nanowrimo, so give me a break and if you want to know what the book is about, go here.

 

Joe Abercrombie does not write my favorite books, but he certainly writes some of the most fascinating. I actually read this for the first time while Justin Landon was doing his re-read over at Tor.com. A happy coincidence. And it was a great way to read such a layered and complex work. I could read it for myself, draw my own conclusions and then hop over to see what Justin had to say about this or that chapter. I’m not an avidly analytical reader so I was surprised and proud to see I actually picked up on a lot of the same themes he was so excited about.

Of those themes, one of my favorites was that of heroism. Abercrombie presents us with three possible heroes: the noble swordsman – literally, not morally; the barbarian – not as popular an archetype as the swordsman but still widely recognized; and the crippled torturer – who’s not on any list as far as I can tell. With two much celebrated archetypes readily available, why would we even notice the third? Well, the swordsman is a self-obsessed bastard, and the barbarian is practical, and well, let’s be honest, just a little boring. So the one we’re drawn to is the third. And despite the fact that he tortures people for a living and all his bitching and moaning (or maybe because of it, he does it so well, after all), Glokta is surprisingly sympathetic.

I’m having a hard time cataloguing Glokta’s disabilities because they’re so creative and so many. He was once a brilliant, arrogant swordsman himself. Then he went to war. The enemy’s torturers left him a different man. Now, I usually associate torture with excruciating pain that lasts as long as it takes to get someone to say what you want them to say. But Glokta’s torturers made sure that the pain they inflicted would last for the rest of his life. He’s missing half his teeth, he barely walks, he’s got some pretty significant nerve damage, and I’m not sure what’s wrong with his back, but let’s just say it’s worse than mine.

And despite all this he is competent. That’s Glokta’s superpower and it’s what makes him one of my favorite characters written. He falls perilously close to the Curmudgeon stereotype, bitterness infusing everything he thinks and says, but he still manages to be the best at what he does. And isn’t that just a fascinating twist. He’s good at inflicting pain because he knows it so well. He hates his own pain, hates the man he is, but he’s excellent at his job, and frankly, no one else will have him, so he keeps going. He’s stuck in this wonderfully perpetual cycle of self-loathing.

Which would be horrible and depressing if not for his inner commentary. Which is hysterical and pointed and can’t be described any better than that.

And here’s the sugar coated knife Abercrombie sticks us with (as if it’s not already buried deep). Glokta is feared by all. Granted some of that is probably similar to The Princess Bride’s “Dear God, what is that thing?” reaction. But most of it is due to the position Glokta holds. This ruined man, the cripple who can’t eat solid food or get out of bed without help, holds power that makes common men tremble. We’ll have to see what he does with it in the rest of the series.

So far this book sounds truly dark, but scattered amongst the grit there are gems like this: “You have to learn to love the small things in life, like a hot bath. You have to love the small things, when you’ve nothing else.” On the surface, just as depressing as the rest, but really, this is how I live my life. This ray of hope in a genre known as grim or dark fantasy (or as Justin says, Grimdark).

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The Saint and The Curmudgeon

Blank pageThere really aren’t enough disabilities represented in fiction, especially when the ones that are there tend to fall into unflattering stereotypes. This is damaging to both abled and disabled people; those of us with disabilities are baffled and even insulted by these depictions. And those who are “normal” assume these portrayals are accurate and try to treat us like the poor souls they read about in their books. Bad news all around.

The first stereotype I see the most often is The Saint. This character has been disabled all their life. They don’t know what they’re missing so of course they can put on a brave smile and greet the world with that unique strength that comes from obliviousness. They just keep swimming, unaware of the countless millions their story inspires, amazing their readers with their ability to get out of bed in the morning and face life. You can recognize this character by the adjectives used to describe them. Words like brave, undaunted, inspiring, or my personal favorite, stoic. Watch for these characters in minor roles, quietly compelling the hero to bigger and better deeds, because if she can sit in that chair all day without complaining, well, then, gosh darn, I can save the world.

Walking hand in hand with The Saint is The Curmudgeon. This character has only been disabled a short time, a few years at most, which means they remember what it was like to run free. So their bitterness is understandable. Look at all they’ve lost. What’s the point of moving on? they moan. Their pain is cathartic because things can’t possibly get any worse for them, and we’re reminded that our lot isn’t really that bad. This character doesn’t get nice round adjectives, just a dark, foul living space and the occasional caustic remark. You can find them occupying secondary roles, providing a foil for the bright, hopeful hero, because we can’t recognize the light without the miserable reminder of what they might become.

Now, I’ve written this with tongue firmly in cheek, but the thing is, stereotypes exist for a reason. There is a grain of truth in both the Saint and the Curmudgeon. Heck, I’ve represented both in the same day before. That “just keep going” attitude and the bitterness come from very real reactions to disability. But people (all people) are so much more that the 2D façade these stereotypes perpetuate, and the same goes for characters. I want to see the crumbling worldview behind the stoic smile and the steely strength masked by the caustic comments.

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Gearing up for Nanowrimo

So it’s October and that means I’m gearing up for Nanowrimo. I’m plotting and scheming like any good villain, throwing every enemy and roadblock I can find at my characters. But it also means brainpower is at a minimum for anything not novel based. So today I’m going to share the new WIP with you. Because you’re soo interested, I know.

You might recognize this format from last October, but hey, like I said, brainpower at a minimum.

What is the working title of your book?

Right now, I’m calling it TALON Force, but in the long run that might be the name of the series. I’m not sure I’ll be able to name it until I get to know the characters and the conflict a little better.

Where did the idea come from?

I was watching a video by Corridor Digital online (this one to be exact; go check it out, they’re excellent). In one particular scene a teenage programmer is kidnapped because she managed to do something she wasn’t supposed to. I loved the idea of someone so young being so valuable for their skills. The image really took hold of me and I couldn’t stop worrying at it until I had a character and an exciting problem for him to solve.

What genre does your book fall under?

I’d call it Middle Grade Urban Fantasy.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I really don’t cast my books. I know some authors will tell you we all do it, if only in secret, but I promise I’m not one of them. See this post for my opinion on the subject.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

A fourteen year old hacker uncovers a secret that lands him a place in a covert government agency. Or Agent Cody Banks meets a fantasy Men In Black. Whichever gets the point across.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I am currently looking for an agent. The process is slow and incredibly painful to my self-esteem but to quote a character from A Shroud For My Bride, you can’t go back, you can only go forward.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I’m going to write this one for Nanowrimo this year, so it’s not done yet. Or even started. But I’m planning on it being between 60,000 and 70,000 words, a little shorter than my normal, so there’s a good chance I’ll get it done in the month.

The Lightning ThiefWhat other books would you compare this story to within your genre?Artemis Fowl

I’m going to say Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson  and  the Olympians series for the whole fighting monsters aspect, only, you know, not Greek. And Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl for the whole kid genius thing.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think this one came from a workshop I attended at the Pikes Peak Witer’s Conference where Darby Karchut talked about writing books for boys. I’d rather there weren’t “boy books” or “girl books”. I want kids to feel comfortable reading whatever happens to interest them, but I recognize the idealism in that. And Darby is so good and enthusiastic about what she does, I couldn’t help but catch the bug.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

This is a left turn from the disabled fairytales I usually write, so we’ll see how it works out. Nate has Cerebral Palsy, but it’s much more understated than Merry’s paraplegia, or Kallan’s OCD. It will affect his character and the plot, because how could it not? But it won’t be a major theme of the book.

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The Michael J Fox Show

I grew up with Back to the Future, Doc Hollywood, and Homeward Bound, so I’ve always been a fan of Michael J. Fox. I even love Atlantis, despite the gaping plot holes that threaten to swallow someone. But Fox slowed down a little in 1998 after he announced he’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s.  Completely understandable, but here’s what I like best about this story. There’s another chapter.

Fox didn’t fall off the face of the Earth after his diagnosis. He did some guest spots, a few voices, and now he’s doing The Michael J Fox Show. In the interview above, Fox talked about doing his guest appearances and realizing that acting is what he loves. And thank goodness, because the man is a brilliant actor and he’s just getting better. The guest part he played on Scrubs is probably one of my favorites. Take a look.

Who knew you could channel Parkinson’s to bring OCD to life? I really nerd out over actors and comedians using their disabilities as an advantage. Phamaly for example. And Samuel J. Comroe. And now Michael J. Fox. He even talked about finding new depths in his work while dealing with his disease.

I’ve seen the first couple episodes of the new show and I’m really excited. I’m totally on board with the whole comedy is tragedy plus time thing. Sometimes it just has to be funny, and humor can be the best way to bridge the gap between people. Again, Phamaly and Samuel J. Comroe come to mind.

So far The Michael J. Fox Show avoids the “inspiration porn” trap, even going so far as to make fun of it. It’s great to see a work of fiction on TV that portrays someone with a disability just getting on with their life, with the same joys and fears and family drama everyone else has.

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Changing Perceptions

CrutchIt’s funny how perceptions change over time. Priorities shift as experience affects your perception of life.

For years after my injury, I hated being offered help, especially for something that I only had a little trouble with. I was fighting for my freedom, and it was really important for me to do things for myself. Things like opening doors and going up ramps. I recognize that those are the ones that look extra hard, but they’re really not, and I resented the people who were just trying to help.

After a while I realized it wasn’t really the people I hated. It was the fact that I needed the help in the first place, and those thoughtful bystanders were just the physical representation of my disability. Of course, knowing that didn’t change those feelings. At least not overnight.

But the other day I was in Noodles & Co, and a nice guy jumped up to grab the door for me as I walked out. Funny. No resentment. No self-loathing. Just gratefulness. And a lot of relief. I even joked with him. “These doors are so heavy. Who are they trying to keep out?”

So what’s changed? Did I grow up? Or did I grow out of it? I think I’ve just realized I have nothing to prove – to the world or to myself. And the fight isn’t worth it when the prize is sore legs and a sour expression.

I had a similar revelation last year about using my chair more often. And to be fair, I haven’t resented anyone who’s opened a door for me in a while, but every now and then I’m struck with a then-and-now moment like that.

The way I thought before wasn’t exactly wrong (I’m not sure it was healthy for me but it wasn’t wrong). I needed those moments of self-sufficiency. Independence was important to me at that point in my life. But I’ve lived longer now, I’ve done things I hadn’t then. Different fights are important to me now. This is one I can leave in the past.

So next time you see me, feel free to run ahead and open that door. I promise not to bite your head off.

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What’s in a Name?

Last week I talked about book covers and which ones worked for me and which ones didn’t. Becca made the comment that if we didn’t have covers to look at, we’d judge a book by its title. So of course I decided to do the same thing but looking only at a book’s title instead of the whole cover. And in keeping with that, I’m not going to post the covers at all so you guys can see what you think. Oh, all right. I’ll link to their Goodreads pages so you can check out the ones you really like.

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

  • One of the tricks of writing compelling sentences or plot elements is to break expectations. I think this one does that very well. It’s very ordinary until suddenly it’s not.

Sex, Lies and Online Dating

  • You just know this is going to be fun

Miserere: An Autumn Tale

  • I picked this book up because it sounded like “misery” and that was too intriguing to pass up. I think some of the best titles are the ones that mean more after you’ve read the book and know all the implications.

The Deed of Paksenarrion

  • What deed? What awesome thing does this chick do to get a book named after her? Actually, it’s the title of the series, but still great.

Anna Dressed in Blood

  • You don’t need to see the cover. The title says it all.

The Shifter

  • This is a sad story. Originally Janice Hardy called this book The Pain Merchants. So unexpected and intriguing, right? The publisher decided to go with The Shifter which turned it into just another fantasy novel. Sigh.

Sabriel

  • As much as I love this book, I’m just not a fan of titles that are names.

I Am Number Four

  • You are? Where are numbers one, two, and three? I picked this book up just to answer that question.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

  • Was there ever a title with a less deserving book behind it?

Warbreaker

  • It’s hard to name a fantasy without sounding vague or cheesy. Brandon Sanderson’s got it down.

The Dollhouse Asylum

  • I have no idea what this is about but I have to read it.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

  • Probably my favorite title of all time. 

 

So what titles grab you and make you want to pick up the book?

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Judging a Book

Recently at Delve Writing we had a class on cover art, and — entirely separately — my friend Becca is revisiting her cover for Break From You. So I’ve got covers on the brain. The thing is, covers, like any kind of art, are extremely subjective. What works for me might not work for you and vice versa. And there are so many styles and designs in the world. I thought I’d highlight a few and see why they worked for me — or didn’t in some cases.

 

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

  • Great book, but I felt like the cover was really misleading. I was expecting a creepy ghost story and got a generic urban fantasy. Covers make promises that should be kept within the book and this one didn’t.

 

CinderBeastly

  • Aren’t these beautiful? Color on black really works for me. Very striking.

 

TransformRestore

  • Transformation: Dear God, what were they thinking? Glow in the dark wings are not sexy no matter how drunk you are.
  • Restoration: They must have sobered up because this one’s much better.

 

BreathGirlQueen

  • I didn’t realize it before but these have some superb similarities. Evocative, just slightly creepy, and so representative of the book and the disabilities of the characters. The Queen’s Thief series has some fantastic covers, but this one was a satisfyingly bold choice.

 

miserere.finalcov.indd

  • Not just a pretty face, this cover captures the main conflict and the choices and growth of the characters.

 

BlueFantasy

  • Sometimes fantasy landscapes just work. Especially when they’re blue.

 

AnnaNecklacePoison

  • Breathtaking.

 

WitherBeauty

  • I am so done with emo girls in pretty dresses.

 

WinterfairKomarr

  • Winterfair gifts seems cool and romantic until you’ve read the series and you realize Miles is 4’9″. About a foot shorter than Ekaterin. 
  • Komarr: This one’s much closer to the truth.

 

UnwindReplace

  • So chilling. I’m learning I have a thing for creepy.

 

Flesh and Spirit

  • And finally my favorite. I love the mood. So evocative with imagery that exactly matches the books. 

 

Which ones do you like? What are your favorite covers?

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The Knight’s Champion

Freak the MightyFreak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

 

“I never had a brain until Freak came along…”

12-year-old Max is used to having no friends. He’s used to the whispers about his size, about his intelligence. About his father. But when Freak moves into his neighborhood, small and smart as an encyclopedia, the two of them find they are stronger together. For together they are Freak the Mighty.

 

I can’t believe I waited till I was twenty-eight to read this book. I have kind of a thing for big softies and their genius counterparts, like Fezzik and Inigo (The Princess Bride by William Goldman), and Grunthor and Achmed (Rhapsody by Elizabeth Haydon). Their trust and partnerships always make for compelling reading. And Max’s background made him all the more sympathetic. I loved that Freak was never frightened of Max, even when all the adults were nervous. Freak understood him and reached out to him from the moment they met.

As for Freak’s disability, I don’t know much about Moquio Syndrome, but I loved Philbrick’s portrayal of him. We saw Freak through Max’s eyes, and to Max, he was a genius and a hero. Unlike the adults in their lives, we don’t pity Freak because Max doesn’t see anything to pity. Any time someone refers to him as “that poor boy”, Max is there to disabuse them of that notion. If Freak is a brave knight, then Max is his noble champion.

Freak also had an amazing ability to take himself out of his situation into something more exciting. I can totally relate to imagining a future outside of what is possible. It would depress the hell out of me, but I can see how it would give a kid like Freak a way to cope.

And in a way, Max has his own disabilities. The way people judge him based on his looks and family and his performance in school limits him in his day to day life. It’s only Freak who looks beyond the surface and sees Max. And in the end, it’s Freak who changes the way Max sees himself.

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