So I appeared on an online panel for JordanCon this week. To FTL or not to FTL. I let my science geek self fly, and I also cursed *several times.* You have been warned.
If you have already read my books and want me to write the next Mindspace w/ That Amazing Idea instead of *checks notes* ghostwriting a business book for an expert this summer, I need you to do a thing.
Sign up for my list here: https://bit.ly/39gsKfv & check the box.
Will I write the next Mindspace even if you don’t? Sure, eventually. Or I might write that space opera romance that’s been niggling at me.
But if you want me to write Mindspace *instead of* a business book *this year,* check the box. If I get enough people on that list, I’ll schedule Mindspace instead of a business book this summer. I wrote a little over 4 business books last year, and the new idea for Mindspace Five is singing. My writer’s group loves it.
First crime scene is already written and is creepy as SHIT, btw. And the twist!!
I’m getting a little excited about it as we speak. *looks over at pile of bill-paying client work* Maybe I’ll find some time end of the week.
A book club contacted me because they were reading Clean (yay) and wanted me to answer some questions. Since my answers were long, I thought you might like to read them.
1. How do you approach setting up a plausible tone of the period you are writing about when it has yet to happen?
Future Decatur was pretty closely modeled on the Decatur of the time frame when I lived there, 2001 to 2005. The area at that time was an interesting mix of old and new, worn down and shiny, safe and dangerous. The faded cow sculptures, for example, in either the first or second book were taken from a Chick-fil-A sponsored art display they did throughout the city at the time. I pulled from details I saw and extended them out into the future, adding noir touches when I could. I had a very particular “smell” and “feel” for the world that I wanted. This got lost a bit in book 4, but I’m trying to pull it back as I approach book 5.
2. Do you use examples from the present to model/construct the parameters of your future reality? i. e. for Tech Wars, Koshna Treaty, Mindspace/Telepathy (“facts”)
Hopefully I understand the question here. The Mindspace/Telepathy is based on physics principles from my classes in school combined with some of how Catherine Asaro visualized her psion’s mathematical-based world. It’s also based on my understanding of how the human mind/brain works through such books as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks, and others. While it’s fantasy, I tried to have it solidly grounded in real principles.
Koshna is the same. I pulled from the Pegasus books by Anne McCaffrey as my starting point (I loved those as a teen), but the details of how the Guild operated there seemed a little too idealistic and clean to me. I approached the same kind of problems with the gritty take on reality you get from good cops shows like The Closer and books like Catspaw by Joan D. Vinge.
I did a lot of research for these books, both in terms of online research on how police forces worked and through two trips to The Writer’s Police Academy. I tried to think critically about how telepathy would work in practice in combination with the law.
The Tech Wars are a simpler thing. I’ve always been a little worried about the Internet of Things and its inevitable growth and vulnerability to hacking. (Most Internet of Things devices are connected to the internet with little or no firewalls or protection of any kind—they’re just hanging there, open.) Tech Wars is just an extreme end point to the trends I see moving in the world right now.
The tricky part was thinking through the consequences that an event like the Tech Wars would have on the world afterwards. Up until the very last draft of Clean Adam and Cherabino still had cell phones, and I think there’s one use of them that I missed in final draft revisions. But the anti-technology thing that I had charted out ultimately didn’t play well with cell phones, or really anything. I actually sat down and tried to figure out if you could stabilize a fusion engine with the processing power of an oven timer chip… and roughly said that you could, mostly. We went to orbit on paper and pencil calculations, largely, and then eventually the moon with less processing capability than you and I have in our smart phones right now. If you’re careful with how you do it, analog can take you a long way.
3. Women are treated as equals in this society as long as they do their jobs whereas Adam, a competent high level telepath although recovering addict, is treated with distain. Is this just because the normals fear the possibility that Adam is still working for the Guild or that he could have some power over them if he chose to?
I gave up the conceit in later books because people just don’t see it in the first, but I intended for Adam to be an unreliable narrator in Clean. Half of what he reads in other people in the station is his own insecurities. Even when he reads Cherabino’s emotions correctly (which he nearly always does), the conclusions he draws from them are often wrong. Telepathy doesn’t mean omniscience.
So the “equal society” thing is a mix of two things. I do deliberately make society more egalitarian on the level of sex/gender than it is in our present world. But some of this is simply that Adam sees the world this way, and is a white male—he’s not in a position to see some of the sexism that’s happening behind the scenes, though I think he sees the shadow of the institutional racism that Paulsen is facing as she’s overlooked for promotions later in the series. Adam truly sees women as equals, without any caveats. His mentor at the Guild is a woman, and one of the most powerful telepaths who has ever lived. I think that helped. He also doesn’t like his father’s abusive and toxic masculinity, so he’s identified with the Guild’s at least surface level egalitarianism so strongly he doesn’t question it. His father is wrong. The Guild is right. Even in a world post-Guild, some parts of his identity are too solidly attached to move.
So the legitimate hostility that Adam faces (which is not everything he sees in the first book, some of which is his insecurities) is made up of two components. One, the police in that precinct see addiction as a character issue—and he’s fallen off the wagon while there. They have tremendous contempt for someone who falls to drugs, and that’s mixed with shame that some of them are repressing for being heavy drinkers in a world where heavy drinking is “normal” and yet deals out a lot of damage. They have to hate Adam so they can feel okay. Secondly, they’re afraid of the Guild and of the power that Adam can wield, in theory, to expose their deepest secrets. Given that they see him as flawed and untrustworthy, because of the drugs, and worthy of contempt therefore, they are terrified of having someone like that rummage in their heads and having the power to expose their secrets. They are hostile to try to re-establish their power.
4. Did you explain why Adam can’t ease Isabella’s migraine headaches since he seems to have multiple abilities that would deal with this pain?
I don’t think I did, actually, in the published material. I have a lovely scene about this that I wrote for Sharp or Marked that didn’t end up making it to the final draft (it didn’t fit). At that point, Cherabino trusts him enough to allow him deep enough into her brain to help set up an association to stop the migraine pain. That’s why her pain is so much better later in the series. Maybe I’ll try to find this, polish it up, and figure out a way to share it.
Basically, early in the series, Cherabino flat out doesn’t want him in her head and is sensitive enough to tell when he is. She’d rather hurt than have him that close, even though he’s offered. (She also flatly doesn’t believe he can do what he says he can do.) By the time that scene happens, he’s earned trust and a feeling of competence from her.
5. Swartz is a strong influence on Adam throughout the narrative. He says, ”Be humble, you need a system (to cope) with God and…others”. Adam slowly comes to embrace this at the end and wants to be “clean” and have a “regular life”. Is this your personal belief or just the words of your character Swartz? Is the name Swartz a nod to “May the Swartz be with you “ in the movie Space Balls?
LOL, it’s not, but sure why not.
Swartz represents an idealized set of beliefs that I held at one point, the best and most compassionate redemptive part of Christianity, the part where God pursues broken people with the belief that they are worthy of help and kindness and dignity and healing, and loves them endlessly and unconditionally through their pain. That part of the beliefs that I held at one point was truly beautiful, and made the world better.
Swartz is also based in part on a real person who I interviewed, a man named Theo who was in his late 60s when we talked. Theo got sober in his early thirties and has spent the last thirty years mentoring others, 2 and 3 at a time, in morning meetings like Swartz. He, like Swartz, believes in a God who loves and who heals, and sobriety to him means embracing that God. Approaching Theo’s character in Swartz means talking about God; to him, the two processes are indistinguishable.
I do absolutely believe that healing and wholeness from addiction and trauma absolutely require social support and ideally a sense of something greater than yourself. Setting up ways to be better when you feel weak is the only way it works.
6. I believe Adam’s name only appears at the end of the book? Is it because he undergoes a journey in this book to become a new man (Bible reference)?
LOL. Yep. I was feeling all literary and profound at the time, and giving him a name at the end was him finding his feet and his identity again after a long time away.
7. I appreciated the multifaceted characters of Adam and Isabella and watching them deal with the mounting pressures and tension as well as dealing with the slowly developing connections between them. Are they based on real people?
Thank you! I love these characters, though I know that not everyone connects with them. Glad you did. 🙂
There’s a piece of Adam that was based on someone I knew, and a piece of him that’s me. Eventually though he became his own person.
Cherabino grew over time, over the drafts. Her name was from a friend’s baby (I asked if I could use the name), and I struggled with her some. In the beginning she was only angry. Maybe a way for Adam to externalize his own anger. Once we went to the gravesite and saw who she was mourning, though, suddenly she started to come into focus. Cherabino, for all of her anger, represents an important external source of structure and justice that Adam desperately needs. She’s kicked and screamed and refused to let him give up at some very important times. So while he doesn’t like being hit, that time she hit him, in his heart he thinks he deserves it and in his heart he’ll sign up for it a hundred times if that means she’ll be there at his worst.
He knows she won’t let him die, or fall back into that life he had before, even if it kills her. The loyalty that binds them is very real and very important to them both, for all that they are dysfunctional.
8. Are you going to write more books to add to the books in this series?
I’ve got parts of 5 and 6 sitting on my harddrive right now, and I’m chipping away at them. I’ve had several very tough Major Life Things hit over the last 3 years, which have slowed me down, but I am planning to continue for at least another 2 books and, God willing, will release at least one of these Q4 2018.
What about you, dear readers? Any questions you want answered?
I just had another lovely fan reach out to me on Facebook wanting to know when the next book is coming out, so I thought I’d check in publicly.
As of February 17 2019, with the fallout from November’s fourth round of Major Life Shit still dogging me, I’ve stopped promising a release date. I’m about 2/3rds done with a rough draft at this point, and have been stuck there since November. Financial circumstances have meant that I’ve been leaning heavy on freelancing, ghostwriting, and editing, so I wrote 3.5 books last year for other people, which is great. My stuff, for some reason, is just… hard when I’m crying already.
(I’ve had four rounds of Major Life Shit, unfortunately, none of which is public yet, so let’s just say I’ve dug in, I’m not giving up, and we shouldn’t have this big a delay again, God willing. I’m due some quiet.)
If I haven’t said so recently, I’ll say so now – thank you. Thank you to all of you who have reached out, who have encouraged, who have believed in me despite the long hiatus. The fact that you guys continue to read and to care means the world to me. I cherish every email, every message, and every recommendation.
When I was in high school, two shooters walked into Columbine High School and killed over a dozen people, injuring a score more. Columbine High School was a carbon copy of the high school I attended, and the administration was CERTAIN that we would have a copycat there. We drilled for it. We talked about it. And one of the teachers in my classroom, a wrestling coach who taught history, talked about how he would throw himself in front of the gunman for us.
I’ve watched the debate go down on Facebook over the last days. I’ve seen people somehow arguing about every conceivable part of this topic. Worst are the ones who somehow think that owning a high-powered gun is more important than children dying. They’re wrong.
When I was a teenager, we mourned Columbine. We told stories about it for years. We all pictured what we would do under that desk, what we would say if faced with the gun. We blamed ourselves, somehow, as a generation, for not befriending the shooters. We cried and screamed and mourned. And in the end, nothing changed. We’ve had shooting after shooting since, while the same tired refrains get said again and again. The kids at Parkland are smarter. They’re reeling, but they’re digging in, and they’re determined that this never happen again. Less than two weeks after the gunman came into their schools, they’re organizing, and demonstrating, and they’re confronting lawmakers. I am so proud, SO PROUD of them for this. They are smarter and stronger than we ever were, and refuse to be talked out of what they know to be true.
You are mighty, Parkland, and I stand with you. I’m giving towards the cause, I’m calling my state and national Congresspeople, and I will support any other way I can figure out how to do so. It’s time for kids to stop dying.
And for those who look to your guns and worry–take a moment to consider the life of a child you know, please. We regulate a lot of things in this country for the good of society and people. For the good of society we say you can’t buy alcohol until you’re 21. We say you have to pass a driving test to drive, and you’ll lose your license if you drive intoxicated. We have to fill out forms to buy Sudafed, and even then we can’t buy two at once. We can’t rent a car without huge penalties until 25, because the insurance companies don’t think a 24 year old was responsible enough yet to be handle the car. We don’t let people drive Mac trucks without specialty licenses. We don’t let untrained people handle large-scale fireworks, or bombs, for the good of society. Guns are just as dangerous as any of these, and too many kids have died for me to think we’re doing enough.
If you hunt, great. Limits on magazine sizes don’t really affect you–you want to kill the deer, not destroy the meat anyway. If you want a gun for self-defense, well, from my limited experience on the range, a nice low-caliber revolver is a lot more accurate for a newbie and you (and I) are more likely to hit what you’re aiming for with one. Love shooting something high-powered at the range? Let’s look into making these rentable with strict controls at a physical gun range, and not taken out. But anything–from bump stocks to large size magazines and semi-automatic firing–anything that makes it easier to kill a crowd no longer seems like a good idea to have in the hands of civilians. It turns out they use these things to kill crowds.
As the Parkland kids are saying loudly, it’s the guns. Let criminals have to get creative. Let’s make it a whole damn lot harder for them.
Oh, and the other things people are saying? I’m on board too. More funding for classrooms so teachers can actually know their students. More social workers, counselors, and cops at schools. More funding for mental health? Well, there’s more of a tie to anger and contempt than to mental health in most cases of violence, but hey, I agree we need a hell of a lot more funding for mental health in this country across the board. I’m on board. Let’s do it. While we’re at it, let’s provide more support for parents in this country, training and resources and help, so that parents can do a better job too. And let’s pay teachers better. And follow-through better on law enforcement. You’ve got an idea that might reasonably save kids’ lives? Sign me up. We’ll fund it somehow.
Because it’s time, okay? 19 years after Columbine and nothing has changed. It’s time for kids to stop dying.
I stand with Parkland.
I ask you to do the same. Call Congress. Call your state. Donate. Participate in a walk-out or a protest. Support your kid when they want to do the same.
As I’m sure you guys have figured out, blogging is largely not happening with my current writing and freelance load. The good news is that I’m writing again! I’m working on lots of fun and amazing freelance projects as well.
And I’m spending a lot of time chasing toddler too. 🙂
Blogging and social media are falling pretty far down the list. I’ll let you guys know when the next stories come out! Otherwise, all the hugs.
As those of you who’ve been following me for awhile have seen, I’ve slowed down a lot since having a baby in terms of production. Some of this has been the simple fact of postpartum depression–a truly nasty thing no one should experience. But the clouds are lifting and I’m mostly on the other side.
No, at this point what I’m realizing more than anything else is that the writing life is intensely energy intensive. My old process pre-baby was predicated on having a block of at least five hours (it takes awhile to force myself into “flow” if my mood is pretty off to start) and being fully rested–or having the freedom and time to take a nap to become fully rested. Sadly, with the kiddo still up at night multiple times on many occasions, that’s not really something I can count on. I am exhausted–a lot. And my old system falls apart under these circumstances.
So, obviously, it’s time to find a new system. I’ve tried about a half-dozen things, including dictation, and will probably try a dozen more. Life with toddler is a moving target so it makes sense my work habits will have to become so as well, but I’m going to make this work and start getting books out the door again, even if it takes trying All the Things.
The biggest takeaway? There needs to be a plan for the day I’m so tired I can’t cope, otherwise one day will turn into two will turn into five of me doing just the minimum. I’ve been working with Cathy Yardley on finding that system, and here’s our big (and surprisingly effective) takeaway:
Yep, you read that right. Just ten minutes. Turns out hours of writing is too much to get my head around. Twenty minutes when I’m that tired seems like a billion, and I end up on the internet surfing. But ten? Ten is my magic number, apparently. I can manage ten minutes on a day I’m so tired I think my head’s going to explode. And ten focused minutes for me is often 300 words. So it’s little, and it’s not everything–there will be much experimentation yet to do, I’m sure–but having a plan in place for the day when everything goes wrong and I’ve got *nothing* is going to be important.
Because it’s always something.
Today was my very first “walk and talk,” a walk around the neighborhood while talking to an HD recorder app on my phone. It was surprisingly awkward at first – talking to yourself, even if the moderate volume, is something most people still think of as reasonably crazy. Fortunately, it mostly really worked, as my brain got used to the flow a little differently. I still felt like an idiot, though.
I walked for about ten minutes, in my local streets around my neighborhood, and found that towards the end of that section the scene I was working on started to feel real. An unexpected bonus of doing this with a simple voice recording on the phone is that – quite simply –I can’t delete. I have to keep going. Because I have to keep going, it means that I get a lot more words than usual but the rough draft that results is much more of a rough draft. MUCH more of a rough draft. Therefore I don’t see how it will be useful for anything but roughing out a scene–as it happens, the most difficult part of my current process, and perhaps maybe something I try to do exclusively with dictation. We’ll see. Walking and talking feels surprisingly natural.
Plus, if I can walk and talk a lot, it’ll be good for my health. Aerobic exercise (i.e. walking) is useful for mood and weight and a whole mess of other things–the body is, truly, meant to be in motion.
Downsides? It is much harder to keep track of exactly where you are exactly what you set up to this point. Also feels very awkward. But, if the point is to get words on the page, or in the recorder, even if I’m not in the right space to sit in front of the keyboard because my back is hurting or I’m falling asleep, this is an extraordinary option. So I’m not at all upset about it. Plus I get to look at, in this case, the sunset, the trees, all the beautiful leaves around me, and of course semi manicured grass. I hate to semi manicured grass. But that’s human habitation for you.
This blog post specifically was written via dictation and walk and talk. I’ve gotten ideas when talking that I don’t think I would’ve gotten elsewhere, but it’s also less structured. I’m sure I’ll end up with a much more very rough draft than I would have otherwise, but you also get more stream of consciousness more… More honest, maybe. A chance for more honesty and production on the page–even if I have to rewrite extensively.
Keeping this one nice and short and sweet, as I’ll need to go inside and cook dinner. But I did want to go ahead and record my basic thoughts right now.
For now – signing off –
your caped achiever in training,
Hi all, so I wrote a cool videogame story a couple of months ago – the project is called Clockwork Heart, and you play it like one of the old “Choose Your Own Adventure Books,” picking your favorite option out of several to advance the story in whatever direction you prefer.
Clockwork Heart is a steampunk story where “you” get involved in a heist to save your brother’s life. It’s a lot of fun, and I’m incredibly proud of it. I’m also finally ready to share it with the world, and have finally figured out how.
Download the .zip file from the link below, unzip, and open the html file by right clicking and loading it into your favorite browser program. (Hopefully totally works–if not we’ll see what we can figure out 🙂 )
Hope you love it!
(Note: the story’s a tad bit more violent than my usual. And there are swear words and blood and such. Also, feel free to share with everybody, for free! But don’t alter, charge for it, or use in a commercial project without talking to me first. Thanks 🙂 )
To continue to train my writing muscles, I sat down today to begin writing the kind of words of encouragement that I myself need. Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll have a whole list of them that I can publish later. Maybe I won’t. Either way, today I gave myself a lesson on fighting fear.
Note: partially inspired by a small section of Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity by Charles Duhigg.
Getting comfortable with discomfort
The creative life is surprisingly hard. That’s not to say that having a regular practice of doing things that you love isn’t rewarding. It is. But being a creative professionally is very much about embracing your drive for excellence, and excellence is demanding.
In the 1950s, a biologist named Joseph Connell studied the conditions under which nature was most creative. (Alternative statement for my dad: the conditions under which the Great Engineer brought about the most biological diversity in nature.) It turns out, like Goldilocks, nature highly prefers the middle way. Too big a disturbance – a hurricane, a large-scale forest fire, human stripmining – biology falls to a single or small number of very resilient species. Too small a disturbance, or none at all, and one or two very successful species take over. In the middle, though, when a tree falls, disturbing the canopy and allowing sunlight to hit the ground, or when intermittent heavy storms hit a part of the coral reef, a huge assortment of species thrives. This is referred to as the intermediate disturbance hypothesis, and it’s a mainstay in biology.
Creativity is not just about making pretty things; it’s about combining ideas in novel ways, and allowing an assortment of point of views and thriving ideas along the way. Great work involves stepping back to see a wider view of the world, and the worlds you make. It is an assortment of views, a maelstrom of ideas, seen through the focusing impact of one person’s view and experience of the world. Or many, though that is always harder.
We, like the forests that Connell studied, do best under just a little threat. A little anxiety, a pressing deadline, the fear or the struggle of the creative process – these are necessary. When the storms of life come, sometimes they are too much for us. But neither is leisure good; we must learn to embrace the little stretches, the little discomforts, the little fears. When you sit at the keyboard, or when you sit in front of your easel or your notebook or your lectern, when the work is done – then, expect to be uncomfortable. The brain knows that creativity is not an activity of rest.
So when you sit down, and you face fear – breathe through the fear. Get comfortable with being a little uncomfortable. If you run from the small distresses, you run also from the big breakthroughs. If you run from the fear, you run from the opportunity for new and creative things to grow. So do not run; do not move away from the discomfort as if it were something unexpected and horrifying. Instead, greet the feelings as an old friend, a difficult relative, or boss who gets under your skin but demands your best work. The discomfort is part of the process. It is your teacher. It is the silent witness, the pressure, the falling tree that opens up the opportunity for a multitude of thriving, creative results.
It’s time to grow.