Coming Out of the Storm

It’s the end of the month and time for me to come clean with how productive (or not) I’ve been. Fairly recently I had a friend compliment me on this regular feature of my blog. She said it was a courageous way of making myself accountable. I suppose it seems courageous to some. It’s definitely a way to keep myself on track, but I hope readers enjoy the glimpse into the messy life of a creative too. A creative’s progress on any project will be messy, like a storm is messy. Storms stir up all kinds of good and bad stuff and strew things randomly across streets and yards. Creativity is like that. Sometimes it’s a raging storm. Sometimes it’s deadly quiet, like the eye of a hurricane. Even before my husband died, sometimes finishing a project felt like coming out of the storm.

Photograph of dark storm clouds over a green wheat field with lighter clouds visible in the distance and the words "Coming out of the storm or heading into it" written across the image

And once the storm is over, you won’t remember you how made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storm’s all about.

Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Intentions

It’s been a while since I’ve explained this. Instead of goals or resolutions, I use intentions. You can miss a goal. You probably break most resolutions. But an intention is a focus. When life interferes your plan, take care of life, then return to your primary plan. Every morning begins with a renewed intention. Want to know more? Read A New Year and New Intentions.

I put my intentions in four buckets or areas: Making (writing, blogging, outlining, etc.), Managing (noncreative stuff like correspondence, budgets, planning, etc.), Marketing (activities related to ad creation, management, or other actions to sell my books), and Home (everything else.)

Making

The big news in the Making bucket is that I am on track to finish the revision draft of If I Should Die by the end of the month. Yay!

My word counts across all areas of Making are lower than previous months. I am not disappointed because this phase of the revision draft doesn’t call for a lot of rewriting. This phase is more about smoothing and doing a little polish here and there.

I can’t overlook the second piece of big news. My first blog post for Writers in the Storm went up this month, and it went well. Thanks to you all for checking it out! And a special thanks to Jenny Hansen and the WITS gang for inviting me to be a part of their group and for a very warm welcome.

While there were some misses this month, overall this month has been successful in the Making area.

Managing

Image says coming soon! Fellowship has a new look with a peek at the new cover showing a shadow against a light brown image on a dark brown background.

Managing and Marketing mixed it up a bit this month. I’ve created new business cards, done a bit of correspondence, and a lot of pre-production work for the re-release of Fellowship coming up next month.

I also had an interesting thing happen on the website. Apparently, there are bots out there that make fake pages for some websites. Yeah. I had no clue, but one showed up on the reports I view weekly. I reached out to my awesome web host, TechSurgeons, who investigated and assured me it was a fake and needed no intervention. Yay, I think.

Marketing

It’s been an interesting month for Marketing. As mentioned above, there’s been some with book production work. I also spent some time tweaking ads on Amazon and analyzing what happens. Some of what I’ve done has been successful, some I need more data to understand what impact the changes made.

Home and Me

This is the area of intentions that has been crazy busy the last two months, particularly this month. My friends have sold a lot of inventory from my husband’s former business. (It was a very niche business and requires specialized knowledge that I don’t have.)

I got my flu shot and my COVID-19 booster. Had my regular checkup. Besides my own exercise program, my doctor added some physical therapy. Don’t worry, I’m all right. My head isn’t spinning any more. But several months of being physically inactive because of grief, followed by four months of being as sedentary as possible because of vertigo, have taken their toll. I need a little extra help to get muscles and joints back to doing what they’re supposed to.

…and a New Car

Photograph of me standing by my new dark blue Honda CR-V just outside of the Jay Wolfe Honda showroom.

At the end of September, I sold my husband’s van and my car. That left me with a 2017 Toyota Wheelchair van. So, I started looking for a new car during the last week of September. I put a deposit down on a vehicle that was being shipped to the dealer. It arrived in town the first of this month and I bought a 2022 Honda CR-V. My first brand new car in a very long time. I’d forgotten how much paperwork accompanied selling and buying cars.

My wonderful son helped me rearrange the garage (which is still very full). He did such a fantastic job, that my new car fits. This is the first time I’ve been able to get my car in the garage for more than ten years!

Oh, and I got my haircut.

Selfie of me with much shorter hair styled in a Lob (long bob).

Events

We celebrated a birthday, and I played with two grandkids while their parents celebrated an anniversary. I enjoyed lunch out with a friend and texts and phone calls with friends.

Photograph of thirteen year old grandson C lying on a sofa watching the game on his phone while  2 year old grandson J plays a game with toys on the other sofa.

What I Learned

I am a lifelong learner. But my lessons these days have more to do with re-learning who I am, what my goals are, and how I can best go about reaching those goals.

I miss my husband every day. Grief doesn’t go away, you just learn to live with it, to go on despite it.

I love the quote above. Not because it speaks of a storm, but because you walk out of the storm. Changed, not the same, but that is what the storm is about, what life is about. Change can be painful, but it isn’t inherently bad. Sometimes it’s exciting.

Going Forward

Next month has new challenges. I’ll be offline for a week, attending a writer’s conference. But I’ll return invigorated by new information, new acquaintances, and an infusion of energy. (Yes, masks are mandatory at the event.)

I may start an outline, but I don’t expect to get a lot of fiction words written. Beta readers reading If I Should Die won’t submit their feedback until the end of the month.

Mid-month, I will put a new blog post on the Writer’s in the Storm site and I will reveal the new cover for Fellowship.

Of course, Thanksgiving will be here in the US. There will be family gatherings and food. Lots of food.

I’m coming out of the storm only to head into another one or two or three. That’s okay. Storms make a mess, but they also clear the air for something new.

Two Authors Share A’s to Reader Q’s

A note from Lynette: My good friend Jan S. Gephardt proposed we collaborate on a post that shared answers to reader questions. Her request came at a time when I was compiling questions for a regular author interview feature for my blog. Jan and I have known each other for decades. She briefly describes our relationship in her note below. We talk about writing frequently and for hours at a time. But we’ve never done this kind of collaboration before. We two authors share A’s to Reader Q’s below. It’s the first of a new series for my blog. I hope you enjoy it. 

A note from Jan: My longtime friend Lynette M. Burrows and I belong to some of the same writers’ groups, and first met through the Kansas City Science Fiction & Fantasy Society (KaCSFFS). We bonded over (among other things) our interest in writing, and we’ve been friends literally for decades. We regularly check in with each other to “talk shop” or be each others’ cheerleaders. Earlier this summer, I suggested we co-write a post in which we talk about writing, our personal writing journeys, and our books. This post is the result of that conversation.

In the header image, the photo of Lynette M. Burrows is courtesy of her website. The photo of Jan S. Gephardt is © 2017 by Colette Waters Photography.

Two Authors Share A’s to Reader Q’s

By Jan S. Gephardt and Lynette M. Burrows

Who is Lynette M. Burrows?

Banner with black background showing the covers for My Soul to Keep and Fellowship by Lynette M. Burrows .authors share As to  reader Qs

Lynette M. Burrows loves hot coffee, reading physical books, and the crack of a 9mm pistol—not all at the same time, though that might be fun! She writes thrilling science fiction for readers who love compelling characters with heroic hearts.

The White Box Stories, which she co-wrote with Rob Chilson, appeared in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact Magazine.

Her series, The Fellowship Dystopia, presents a frighteningly familiar American tyranny that never was but could be. In Book One, My Soul to Keep, Miranda discovers dark family secrets, the brutality of the Fellowship way of life, and the deadly reality of rebellion.

My Soul to Keep and the series companion novel, Fellowship, are available at most online bookstores. Book two, If I Should Die, will be published in 2022.

Owned by two Yorkshire Terriers, Lynette lives in the land of Oz. You can find her online at her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter @LynetteMBurrows.

Who is Jan S. Gephardt?

Banner image of covers for The Other Side of Fear, What's Bred in the Bone, and A Bone to Pick by Jan S. Gephardt. authors share As to  reader Qs

Jan S. Gephardt commutes daily between her Kansas City metro home in the USA and Rana Station, a habitat space station that’s a very long way from Earth and several hundred years in the future.

She and her sister G. S. Norwood are the founders and co-owners of Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. Her

XK9 “Bones” Trilogy and its prequel novella, The Other Side of Fear, feature a pack of super-smart, bio-engineered police dogs called XK9s. They struggle to establish themselves as full citizens of the space station where they live, while solving crimes and sniffing out bad guys.

The Other Side of Fear tells how the XK9s and their humans found each other. What’s Bred in the Bone begins the tale of XK9 Rex, a dog who thinks too much and then acts on his thoughts. Even after his human partner Charlie is injured and out of the picture. A Bone to Pick was released this month. In it, Rex and the Pack have new and different problems, even before Rex’s enemy from the past comes gunning for him. Jan’s now working hard on Bone of Contention, in which the dogs must prove to a critical panel of judges that they are truly sapient, before the Transmondians manage to exterminate their kind completely.

Now, let’s Talk about Writing!

Lynette and I developed a list of questions, then each of us answered them. The rest of this post continues in a Q&A format. We hope you’ll enjoy this “conversation,” in which we two authors share A’s to Reader Q’s!

What’s your most recently- or imminently-to-be-published title? What’s it about, and when/how/where can readers find it?

LYNETTE

Banner image of a man running through a snowy forrest with the phrase "The Azrael are real. The Cleaners are coming. Run, Ian, run!" and the cover image of Fellowship by Lynette M. Burrows. authors share As to  reader Qs

Fellowship, a companion novel to the Fellowship Dystopia series, is my most recently published title.

Two years before Miranda begins her journey, tragedy shatters a high school senior’s dreams of being a journalist when his parents are Taken by the Angels of Death. Hunted by government agents, Ian and his younger siblings run for their lives. He leads them to the Appalachian Mountains. He knows how to survive, but resources are scarce. The mountains are unforgiving. And winter is in the air. If they are to survive, Ian and his siblings need help. But who can he trust?

I had intended to write a short story in the same world as My Soul to Keep, Book One in the Fellowship Dystopia series. When Ian came alive on the page, Fellowship, a longer story about trust, was born. Read how, while writing this novel, My Story Went to the Dogs.

Fellowship is available at most online bookstores.

JAN

Blue merled background upon which the ebook and paperback book covers of A Bone to Pick by Jan S. Gephart are positioned. authors share As to  reader Qs

Jan’s new book A Bone to Pick is widely available in a variety of formats. Cover artwork © 2020 by Jody A. Lee.

The protagonist of the whole Trilogy is XK9 Rex, who becomes recognized on Rana Station as the Leader of the Pack for the Orangeboro XK9s. But an enemy from his past is still gunning for him.

Before Rex came to Rana Station, he ran afoul of Transmondian spymaster Col. Jackson Wisniewski. He deliberately flunked out of the espionage program and threatened Wisniewski’s life. Now Wisniewski wants Rex dead. Transmondian agents watch and wait for any opportunity to strike.

Meanwhile, his human partner, Charlie, faces a different struggle. Injured and out of the action for most of Book One, Charlie now works to recover from  his catastrophic injuries – and comes face-to-face with a once-in-a-lifetime love he thought he’d lost forever.

What is your current work-in-progress, and how does it fit into the rest of your oeuvre?

LYNETTE

I’m finishing up edits of the second book in the Fellowship Dystopia series titled If I Should Die. It takes place in the same world as My Soul to Keep and picks up Miranda’s story.

Two years ago, former rebel soldier, Miranda Clarke, vowed she would never pick up her gun again. Vowed to help instead of kill. She created the Freedom Waterways and rescued fugitives from the Fellowship’s tyranny. With every rescue, she heard about nightmarish suffering and loss, and her dream of peace grew more and more desperate.

Until the day she received two simultaneous requests: a loved one on the Fellowship side wanted her help to bring peace to the nation, while a loved one on the rebel side would surely die without her help. No matter which choice she made, it would cost her. Dearly.

In a deadly battle between her dreams and loved ones, will she stick to her peaceful principles, or risk everything to settle the score?

JAN

I’ve recently started two projects. One is a short story tentatively titled Beautiful New Year, It’s set on Rana Station and features Rex’s partner Charlie, before he and Rex teamed up.

I’m also at work on the third novel in the Trilogy, Bone of Contention. Rex and the Pack have begun to enjoy the freedom Ranans believe they deserve. But they also have work to do. They’re hot on the trail of a murderous gang that blows up spaceships in the Black Void.

But in the far-flung systems of the Alliance of the Peoples, trafficking in sapient beings is the most-reviled crime of all. The leaders of the XK9 Project that created Rex and his Pack deny any wrongdoing. And the system-dominating Transmondian Government that sponsored the XK9 Project will do anything they must to protect themselves. Even if it means destroying every XK9 in the universe.

How did this series start? What themes did you know from the beginning that you wanted to address, and why? Have you been startled by other themes or ideas that developed in the course of writing?

LYNETTE

This has been one of those stories that cooked for a very long time. I knew I wanted to create a heroine who had survived abuse and ultimately makes the choice to thrive. Exploring abuse of politics, power, and people was a logical offshoot of my original idea.

The thing that startled me the most was that I would think I’d written a brilliant scene about abuse and violence until a first reader started questioning me about the scene. The way I’d written it, the abuse and violence were always off stage.

It took a long time for me to write more active and direct scenes.

JAN

This series started with a “what if?” I’ve been a dog-lover for a long time, and I’d been wanting to write a mystery set in a science fictional milieu. Reading about police K-9s used for scent tracking, I found a quote from an investigator: “It’s not like we can put the dog on the witness stand and ask him what he smelled.”

“Oho!” I thought. “But what if we could?” Science fiction is full of uplifted animals. It was a pretty short intuitive leap from there to Rex and the Pack.

And when we talk about writing themes, my stories always seem to have an internal “compass.” One way or another, they end up being about interactions between people of different cultures, as seen through a lens of equity and social justice.

How did your book change from the first day of writing to your last day of the final draft?

LYNETTE

I started writing My Soul to Keep as a fantasy with dragons and a Cinderella story arc, which stalled out pretty quickly.

Then I tried setting the story in the future, but it smacked too much of The Handmaid’s Tale. And the writing stalled out again.

What I needed was a world that allowed me to explore the theme of thriving despite abuse. My husband suggested I write in the style of a 1950s Noir Mystery. So I explored that option, knowing this was a character growth story, not a murder mystery.

From there, it morphed into an alternate history. Once I had the alternate history idea, it was a small step to using the Isolationist movement of the 1920s and 30s to turn America into an isolated religious tyranny.

JAN

It took me a while to research, think, write through, and develop the science fictional elements. I wasn’t sure at first how smart to make the dogs, or how they’d communicate with their humans.

A member of my writer’s group pointed out that my first concept for Rana Station wouldn’t actually work, for a lot of valid reasons. So I surveyed space habitat designs that have been proposed by sf writers and actual space scientists. Then I mixed, matched, and came up with my own (pardon the pun) spin on their ideas. After that, I had fun extrapolating how the inhabitants would design and use the interior.

What is your writing practice? Do you have a ritual to start your day? What time of day? How many hours, and how many days a week? How do you write (machine, dictate, hand write)?

LYNETTE

When I first started writing, I had a ritual. I’d light a candle or incense and start music and then do writing exercises in a journal. Those, I usually hand wrote. Then I’d re-read the manuscript pages I had written the day before. Finally, I’d put a blank sheet of paper in my IBM Selectric typewriter and re-type those pages, revising as I went. Then I wrote the next scene.

I had an infant when I started writing, so I wrote during his naps. Later, I wrote while he was in preschool (about two hours twice a week), and later still, while he was in school.

Now, my dogs and I go to my office after breakfast. I might turn on some instrumental music or I might write in silence. I might review the latest pages. Just as often, I start where I left off. I write for at least two hours, but if the words are flowing, I will write for ten hours or more. I write six days a week with rare exceptions.

Photograph of two yorkshire terriers in Lynette's office, inspiring her work.
authors share As to  reader Qs

JAN

I’ve never particularly made a ritual of creating a setting in which to write, but I do need to self-isolate. Attempts to write in a coffee shop or library result in people-watching instead. I write best between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. when there are no interruptions, and I write every day, if possible.

Let’s talk about writing tools. I started with crayons on cheap paper when I was four, but I’ve “traded up” a few times since then. I wrote my first complete, novel-length manuscript in 1976-78 on an Underwood manual typewriter. Later I went through two electric typewriters, a Kaypro computer (using WordStar) in the late 1980s, a succession of other PCs, and several Macs. I currently use a 15” MacBook Pro.

For early drafts I use Scrivener. It creates a separate file for each section. That makes it easy to switch their order and keep an eye on word-count. Closer-to-final drafts get copied over into MS Word. It creates a .docx file that’s easy to share for critique, print, or import into Vellum when it’s time to publish.

More specific to this book—do you write with music, tv or radio or silence? Is there a specific soundtrack you used for your book?

LYNETTE

When I started writing My Soul to Keep, I developed a specific soundtrack that I played on repeat. These days, about half the time I write in silence and the other half I’ll write with that soundtrack running or instrumental music that provides the perfect mood for the scene I’m writing. Music from epic movie battle scenes works well for me.

JAN

Sometimes I can write to instrumental music, or to songs with lyrics in a language I don’t speak. I love Two Steps From Hell and movie or show soundtracks. Current favorites include selections from The Mandalorian, as well as Raya and the Last Dragon and Captain Marvel. I grew up listening to Classical music and still enjoy it, particularly when it’s played by my sister’s band, The Dallas Winds.

However, when I’m trying to compose finished work I go silent. I need to listen to the internal cadence of the words I’m polishing, and music drowns that out.

What did you research the most? Did any of your research surprise you?

LYNETTE

What I researched the most is hard to say. It might be a three-way tie between the location and the history of the American Isolationist and the Eugenics movements.

My research constantly surprises me. I start off researching some small piece of history I recall and, in the process of that research, find a snippet that leads somewhere interesting. One of those surprises that became a large piece of My Soul to Keep was the eugenics programs that existed in the U.S.A. prior to World War II. You can read about the Better Baby Contests and the Eugenics movements on my blog.

JAN

I’ve done deep dives into both dog cognition and space habitat design. Like Lynette, I turned both of those inquiries into blog posts. My “Dog Cognition” series explored how much normal dogs understand, surprising canine word comprehension, and canine emotions. The “DIY Space Station” series offered an overview, then specifically looked at Dyson Spheres, Bernal Spheres, O’Neill Cylinders, and the Stanford Torus.

Not surprisingly, I needed to do lots of research into police standards, culture, practices and procedure—and wow, did that ever put me on the cutting edge of current events last year! You’ll find echoes of that research in the way police operate on Rana Station.

I think some of my most surprising research started when I was searching for sources of protein that one could sustainably produce in a space-based habitat. That led me to cultured milk, eggs, and meat and branched over into some of the ideas that underpin the speculative medical technology my characters call “re-gen therapy.”

When you started fleshing out your ideas for the book, did you start with plot, character, location, or something else?

LYNETTE

I almost always start with one or more characters. For me, character starts with a voice or an attitude that I find interesting. Plot and theme arise out of the characters’ needs and wants. And I choose locations because of real-life history, the mood I want to evoke, or an event that needs to happen. I also created locations that are totally fictional, but they provide an element that strengthens the theme or plot.

JAN

My whole series started with the idea of a dog who could testify in court. Stories can start literally anywhere. But it’s not really a story until there’s a character with a problem.

A character wants something, but they’re blocked from getting what they want. The character, their desire, and their obstacle(s) are the initial setup. Without those essential elements you can’t build a plot, although you can (and probably will) imagine snippets of action that may eventually become part of the plot.

Would You Like to Ask Us Other Questions?

The plan is for both of us to publish this as a post on our blog. We thought some of you might become interested in a new writer, or encounter a new idea. We hope you’ve enjoyed our A’s to Reader Q’s.

If you thought of questions we didn’t ask, please ask them below in the comments! We’ll happily continue the conversation, because both of us love to talk about writing.

IMAGE CREDITS:

The banner with the covers from My Soul to Keep and Fellowship and the banner for Fellowship is from Rocket Dog Publishing. Cover artwork for My Soul to Keep is © 2018 by Elizabeth Leggett. Cover artwork for Fellowship is © 2019 by Nicole Hutton at Cover Shot Creations. And the adorable photo of her Yorkies, Neo and Gizmo, is © 2019 by Lynette M. Burrows. 

The banner with the three XK9 covers and the one for A Bone to Pick are both from Weird Sisters Publishing LLC. Cover artwork for The Other Side of Fear is © 2020 by Lucy A. Synk. Cover artwork for What’s Bred in the Bone and A Bone to Pick is © 2019 and 2020 respectively, both by Jody A. Lee. Many thanks to all!

Flash Fiction Friday: Gift of a Lifetime

Welcome to my irregular feature, Flash Fiction Friday. Every once in a while, I dash off a short piece. It’s kind of a vacation, maybe even a recharge when I’m working on novel-length stories. I’m not going to tell you what the story prompt was this time. Guess it if you can. Even if you can’t agues it, I hope you enjoy this short piece about a gift of a lifetime.


Gift of A Lifetime

Photograph of a sad young woman sitting on the floor, against the wall. The only light from an arched stained glass window. A perfect illustration for this flash fiction friday story: Gift of a Lifetime.

She sank down the wall, sat on the floor with her knees tight to her chest, and stared… at nothing. Because she had nothing left. They were supposed to have a lifetime together. But her husband died six months ago. Systemic organ failure, the doctor had said. How did a young man in the prime of his life die of organ failure? A flaw in his DNA. That’s not supposed to be possible. A century ago sure, but not today. Not to her husband. Except it had.

Outside, rain fell in a steady downpour. Suited her mood, though her tears had dried weeks ago. She should get up and fix something to eat, but she had no energy. Had no desire to eat. No desire to move. No desire. So she sat. And didn’t eat. Didn’t move.

A sound roused her. It was dark. She hadn’t turned on any lights. The doorbell rang.

She rolled to her knees, stood. Her stiff muscles protested. She stumbled, her legs weaker than they should be. The house sensed her movement, turned the lights on.

“Special delivery,” said the man in the brown uniform. “Want me to bring it inside?” He pointed to an enormous box.

“I didn’t know you’d deliver it at night.” She couldn’t take her eyes off the box. Noticed the delivery man’s eye roll. “Yes, please. Bring it in.” She stepped out of his way. “No, not on the rug. Over there, on the tile.”

Touched her third finger and thumb together, then waved her wrist over the delivery man’s scanner.

“Thanks for the generous tip, Mam–”

Press the door closed on him, her palm flat against the center panel. The door latched and locked.

Circling the box, she reached toward the seal, her hand shook. She drew her hand back. Held both hands against her trembling chest. Slow breath in and out. First things first.

She dragged a tall goose-necked lamp to each corner. Adjusted their shades so their light warmed the cold cardboard.

Ate a bowl of rehydrated vegetable soup. It was hot but tasted like cardboard. She drank a large glass of water.

And returned to her chair. Stared at the box under its lights for days.

On the twenty-first day, she stood toe-to-box and placed three of her fingers on the seam in the order of her official signature. The box unsealed.

Another touch and the box flowered open. The milk-colored sack crisscrossed with brown veins quivered and rounded. Then stretched upward. Stretched thin. And thinner.

Rip.

She caught her breath. Quietly clapped her hands.

First one, then the second glistening hand reached through the hole in the sack. Both hands reached toward the ceiling then spread apart. Ripped the bag all the way open. A watery fluid wet the cardboard and floor.

Her chest filled with warmth. She cupped the cheeks of the young man with dark, soft as down hair.

He rose from his fetal position.

“Happy birthday, Adan,” she said gaily. “Let’s try this lifetime thing again, shall we?”


Thank You for Reading

Did you guess the writing prompts for this piece? You might also enjoy “All Systems Nominal” or “For Better or Worse.”

Did you like “Gift of a Lifetime”? Want to guess at the writing prompts? I’d love to read your comments.

One Step Back and Two Forward

It is August 31, 2021 as I write this and time for a progress report. Adapting to change is never easy. So things progress in an irregular pattern. This month has been a one step back and two forward kind of experience. But I’m happy to report some progress.

Image of one way signs fanned in a circle so they point every which direction. Following them I took one step back and two forward.

Making

I was having trouble writing the last couple of scenes in Act II, so I drove out to the actual physical location where this portion of the story takes place. And drat it all, I learned that a cool detail I used doesn’t exist in real-life. So I took a step back and two steps forward. It took a couple of days to revisit chapters that used that cool detail and wrote it out of the story. The good news is that visit filled in some details that worked really well.

The middle of the story is my nemesis. I find all kinds of plot holes and illogical moves. But I believe I’ve repaired all of those and I have finally—at long last—moved on to Act III.

One, maybe two more months and I will share the manuscript with first readers. Hopefully, they’ll find all the silly slips and cut-and-paste errors I’ve made. Then I’ll be rewriting again (but faster I hope!)

Managing

A writer wears many hats. The managing hat encompasses everything that isn’t creating fiction or blog posts or marketing.

Even in managing I took a step back and two forward. I stepped back to review my brand strategy. Forward steps included listening to some of my favorite podcasts and reading. I read Mars One by Jonathan Maberry. It’s the first book I’ve been able to read since the beginning of the pandemic. (Tell me I’m not the only one having trouble reading during this.)

Marketing

My marketing efforts remain fairly small, but they are gaining some traction. This month was mostly a tweak here and there, then sit back and watch what happens.

Home

I love spending time with my grandsons. We celebrated my youngest grandson’s second birthday, and I had some extra time with him this month. I also visited with some friends. (We’re all vaccinated against COVID and taking precautions.)

Change is happening in my home life as I am adjusting to being single. Exploring new recipes and rearranging some things and selling other things have been a large part of my activities this month.

Events

Life is full of small but important events like my grandson’s birthday and C going to middle school. Thanks to COVID, no travel and not much time outside of my home. Though, I am in the early planning stages for some travel late this fall.

What I Learned

Small steps are the theme of my learning this month. There are small steps I’ve taken with Amazon ads, small steps in creating blurbs, and small steps in improving my brand. Yes, I’m being vague. Most of you don’t really care about those details and those of you who do will be on the lookout for more information in the future.

Intentions for Making

Next month I intend to increase the time I spend writing. I’d love to finish the book in the next month. But I’ve got a few knots between first draft and current draft to smooth out. So I’m making my intention to get 2/3rds of the way through Act III by the end of the month.

Intentions for Marketing

I won’t change my marketing plans as I still need to gather more data on the changes I made this month.

Intentions for Managing

In the Managing area, revising front and back matter is a priority for next month. One project I have going on is a slight rearrangement of my office to improve my workspace and workflow. Cleaning and preparing walls for paint are also top intentions.

Intentions for Home

stack of square signs of colored circles with white letters saying Do It Your Way.

In the Home area, change is continuing. There are many things to sort out. Since there’s no rush to get those things done, my intentions in this area are to continue and get done what I can.

Going Forward

Beyond finishing this book before the end of the year, I do not know what changes I’ll make in the next few months. What I know is that I will probably have a few more months of one step backward and two forward. I’m doing it my way. And I’m okay with that.

A Writer’s Serendipity or How Research Saved My Book

As a blogger and science nerd, I try to keep up with science news from a variety of sources. Oddly, that curiosity rarely benefits my writing. My writing style follows a diagonal on the chart below: Lawful Plantser, True Plantser, and Chaotic Plotter. And that’s pretty much how my research goes, too. I start with a plan and end going off script. This is the story of a writer’s serendipity or how research saved my book.

Image of a 3 x 3 table listing Lawful panther, neutral panther, chaotic panther in top row, lawful plaster, true plaster, chaotic plaster on the next row, and lawful plotter, neutral plotter and chaotic plotter on the final row.

My Research Method

Targeted research is when one narrows their topic and is very selective in choosing books and articles for said research. Targeted research is always my intent, it rarely is what gives me the most inspiration.

I love Google Maps. They allow me to “travel to” areas I’ve never visited. But the maps don’t give me the smells, the texture, or the mood of the place. For those, I search out travel blogs, expat blogs, and personal blogs. Sometimes, I reach out to a blogger for more details. Usually, bloggers respond with more information than I need. And that’s a lovely thing.

Sometimes, I need more hands-on research. That may mean a visit to a museum or a road trip to a location.

Be Prepared

Serendipity has been a big part of the Fellowship Dystopia Series. Although it isn’t quite serendipitous if you’re looking in the correct direction.

For example, I had selected Lynchburg, Virginia as a location in the first book, My Soul to Keep, because of its history and location. But until I visited Lynchburg, I did not know about the former Virginia State Epileptic Colony.

I happened upon the historical marker as I drove through the area around Lynchburg. After researching the Colony, it became a source of inspiration and an important location in the book.

Image of a historical marker which reads Centeral Virginia Training Center.  Established in 1910 as the Virginia State Epileptic Colony the center admitted its first patients in May 1911. It's an example of a writer's serendipity or how research saved my book.

Don’t Research Everything

When I first started writing, I would research the heck out of every topic and location I wanted to include in the book. It was a tremendous amount of work and I would amass more files than I could store (both physical and virtual).

You know what all the research did? Squat. Typically, I used very little of the research I collected before I started writing the book. Often, in writing the story, I’d find the research didn’t fit the book. Not only that, no matter how much I think I’ve planned the book, more than one thing changes during the writing. All that research work was a waste of time.

These days, I will research a general topic or time period or location. When I accumulate three or more pages of notes, I move on to another topic or I write.

It’s when I write the first draft that the real serendipity research happens.

Everyone Must Follow Their Own Best Flow

Legions of writing mentors will tell you not to stop writing once you start your first draft. Their belief is that if you interrupt the creative process, you will lose your way. That was true of me when I first started writing. Anything that interrupted my writing threw me off course or straight into what many refer to as writer’s block.

What works for me now is to research as I go. I write as far as I can based on my imagination or memory. When the writing stutters and I can’t seem to get through the next scene, I take a few hours to a few days for research.

When I’m in the middle of a draft, my head is full of possibilities. Maybe my character will go here and do this. Or do that and go there. Or…. It’s nonstop and a bewildering plethora of possibilities. But with a bit of research, my writer’s brain (some call this their muse) will latch onto some bit of information. That piece of information focuses my writer’s brain and writing the draft takes off again.

Serendipity Strikes Again

Recently, I was researching a blog article I wanted to write. I needed more scientific research to back up my story. I turned to one of my frequent sources, Sciencenews.org. My search of their website was fruitless. But the site was celebrating their 100th anniversary. 

My curiosity overcame what little resistance I had. I clicked on one of their original stories, and that resulted in another bit of writer’s Serendipity.

Dated September 19, 1921, the article titled, “Urges Artificial Selection to Produce American Race of Demigods” is a peek into a certain mindset. And a piece of a book I haven’t even outlined was born. Perhaps a character may grow out of this article.

Stay tuned to this blog to see if the final version of And When I Wake, the third book of the Fellowship Dystopia series, will use this bit of a writer’s serendipity or how research saved my book.