Progress Report: Moving Forward in May

It’s the end of the month and time for my May progress report. After the mass murders at Rob Elementary School in Ulvade, Texas, it feels small and unimportant. Compared to the grief of so many, my report is small and unimportant. My heart breaks for those families forever changed. But a comparison like that is wrong, worse than comparing apples and walnuts. Eventually, those families will move forward the best that they can. In the meantime, it’s up to the rest of us to move forward. And for me, much of my report is about moving forward in May.

Intentions

Instead of goals or resolutions, I use intentions. You can miss a goal. You’ll forget or break your resolutions. But an intention is a focus. When life interrupts your plan, take care of that event or disturbance, intending to return to your primary plan. Every morning begins with a renewed intention.

Making

It was an incredibly busy month. The making portion of my writing business was not the focus. However, I made notes on two stories in development. You’ll see more from the world of the Fellowship Dystopia in the future.  

Managing

Being a launch month, book production and marketing consumed me for most of the month. Happily, If I Should Die is now available everywhere they sell books online. 

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by host Alex Greenwood on the Mysterious Goings On podcast again. Have you listened to it?

Marketing

My limited efforts in marketing on Amazon and on Facebook are encouraging. I marketed and sold books in person.  

Home

My newsletter readers got a glimpse of the unwanted surprise I experienced the last of March and affected the entire month of April and into May. I started rearranging my office to make room for my new sit-stand desk. Surprise! I discovered an exterior wall covered in mold. That led to a rapid move of the “working parts” of my office into my living room. Everything else got packed up. (I had an incredible amount of books and stuff crammed into that space!)

Bids for mold remediation delayed book production activities. It was not the dangerous mold.

They removed the moldy walls and treated all studs. Then the drywall installers came. After all of that, I decided I wanted the floors re-varnished. Turns out that’s better/cheaper done for the entire house. I put that off until after the book launch.

Events

If you follow my tweets or Facebook posts, you know I attended ConQuesT, my local science fiction convention over this Memorial Day weekend. More low-key than usual, it was delightful to be at an in-person event. The volunteers of the con did a great job, especially considering that for the prior two years they’ve prepared and cancelled. 

Going Forward

Moving forward, I have many plans for my writing. Writing the third book in the Fellowship Dystopia is a top priority. Growth of my readership through this blog, my newsletter, and my street team remains a priority. 

Speaking of my newsletter, join the Reading Rebels to receive a free book and more up-to-date information and snippets from my works in progress. 

Final Words

When the world feels unstable, frightening, and incredibly sad, moving forward is difficult. Be empathetic. Keep your head on your shoulders. Remember, tough times don’t last. Tough people do. Don’t let the crazies, the hateful, the tyrannical make you act like them. Rise above. Be strong. You can be the change you want to see. Be the light in these dark times. 

The Frame of a Story: The Forces of Antagonism

This is the beginning of my contribution to The Writers in the Storm blog this month. I share my understanding of Robert McKee’s Forces of Antagonism and how I use those forces as the frame of a story.

This photo is a shot of the grass and blue sky visible between the backs of a man and a woman standing side-by-side. Each has an arm extended in front of them with their thumb and index finger framing the ghostly outline of a house illustrating the frame of a story.
Dreaming Couple Framing Hands Around Ghosted House Figure in Grass Field.

In constructing a story, I am both a pantser and a planner. I plan the frame of a story, then place the characters in that frame and discover what they will do in that situation. It’s taken years for me to figure out a method that works for me. I share it here, not so you have a blueprint to borrow, but to illustrate one way to build your own frame. As I explained last month, the first step in building a story’s framework is the story sentence. The next step I take is to decide on the Forces of Antagonism that will best express my story.

I first came across the idea of forces of antagonism in Robert McKee’s book, Story. No disrespect to Mr. McKee, but I didn’t get it at all. I had a more narrow definition of antagonist that I conflated with the word antagonism. Plus, his terminology didn’t resonate with me. In fact, I barely understood what he was saying. Then a friend reintroduced me to the concept. 

Forces of Antagonism 

… the principle of antagonism is the most important and least understood precept in story design.” Story, by Robert McKee

The first part of the principle is easy. It’s about people. Humans conserve energy, all kinds of energy. It’s part of our DNA. If we see two choices ahead of us and one seems easier than the other, most of us will do the easier thing. We avoid taking risks, if we can. 

Mr. McKee explains “the principle of antagonism is that a protagonist and his story can only be as intellectually fascinating and emotional compelling as the forces of antagonism make them.” He says the more powerful and complex these forces are, the more completely realized the character and story must become. 

If you’re like me, you read antagonism and think antagonist. Most likely you are thinking of a single person or group who will oppose your protagonist. But that’s not quite right. 


The Frame of a Story

Read the rest of this post and learn about the principle of Antagonism, how I interpret the four forces, and how I use them as the frame of a story so I can be both a planner and a pantser on The Writers in the Storm.

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.

Does Writing Dark Stories Affect the Writer’s Soul?

Recently I read a fascination discussion on Facebook. A reader wanted to know: does writing dark stories affect the writer’s soul? It’s a question that deserves an answer. I hope you find my answer interesting.

Man in a helmet with pistol in each hand, standing between two trains. An illustration of a dark story. Does writing dark stories affect the writer's soul?

Presumptions

There are several presumptions in this question. The first is that dark stories are bad for or a danger to one’s soul. The second is that fiction can affect one’s soul. The third is that writers have souls. And the final one is that the writer should think about his or her soul while writing. 

Are Dark Stories Dangerous?

To whom? To my soul? Short answer—no. Longer answer… it’s fiction. I’m old enough and wise enough to know reality from fiction. Right from wrong.

Dark stories are dark because we need to deal with the demons of our imagination and our realities. The stories that have a happy ending where good overcomes evil reassures us. Stories that have a not so happy ending show us possibilities. Help us remember that evil is evil and doing wrong has a cost.

Can Dark Fiction Affect Your Soul?

The sun behind a White cloud in a deep blue sky sends rays of light out in a representation of a writer's soul

Everything you do, say, act out affects your soul. If you understand and can differentiate between fiction and reality, your soul is safe. In fact, if you believe that good can overcome evil. That you can overcome evil. That right is right and wrong is wrong. I believe some fiction can help strengthen your soul, your beliefs.

Are there people dark fiction can adversely affect? I don’t believe so. There are people who make bad choices. They already had the ability and desire to make those choices before they read anything. Those choices come from the entire person. From what they were born with and into. If there’s no moral center—all bets are off. But the lack of a moral center doesn’t come from reading dark fiction. It comes from a lack inside and a lack of parents or a loving, caring environment. Maybe he’s an orphan or she had parents also lacked a moral center or they were born into a harsh life that left them with only bad choices. In those cases, the individual is looking for reinforcement of their belief system. Whatever that is.

If writing or reading dark fiction has the power to affect us—does other fiction affect us? Are romance writers more likely to have bad romances? Crime writers more likely to commit crimes? Do writers who write about war cause wars? I could go on, but you get the idea.

Do Writers Have Souls?

Some of them. (Hee-hee.) 

Seriously, writers are always people first. If you believe people have souls—then so do writers.

Don’t let yourself forget that writers are people. Don’t put us on pedestals or label us as drunks or wild and crazy. We are individuals. Each with our own beliefs and our own preferences for genre and level of darkness within our stories. And we each have our own preferred topics and taboo topics.

Should a Writer Think about Her Soul While Writing?

I can only answer this one for myself. (See the previous topic.)

One of my mentors told me that every story I would ever write was already inside me and all I had to do was transcribe them. I wish it were that easy. But it’s true that the ideas come from some place inside of me. Every word I write reflects at least a small part of who I am, who I think I could be, or who I wish I were. Beast and heroes that I’ve glimpsed or imagined.

Writing is a part of me. When I cannot write, I am incomplete and unhappy. And unfortunately, I often make people around me unhappy.

A person wearing a gas mask in the foreground. A burning, smoky city in the background. A dark story for certain.

I don’t consciously think about my soul while writing anything. No matter how darkly I view the story world I write, or how dastardly the villain, I always know that it’s a story. Yes, sometimes I am surprised by a dark turn. Sometimes it is difficult to write the level of darkness that will give the story power. And sometimes I grow to understand and maybe even like the fictitious evil or the bad guys I write. It does not change who I am, who I believe myself to be, or what I believe is right and wrong. And no matter what I say here, you’ll make up your own mind.

I believe I have a soul. I believe I’m a mostly good person. Of course, I may be the wrong person to make that judgment. I write some dark stories. I don’t think about what impact it may or may not have on my soul. The stories I write reflect my fears—Everyone can do the wrong or evil thing under the right circumstances. And it reflects my optimism—Most people are mostly good. And the mostly good do mostly good. Finally, they reflect my moral center. When the good don’t win, they tried as hard as they could. And that’s what counts.

Does Writing Dark Stories Affect the Writer’s Soul?

This is the first of a series where I’ll answer reader’s questions. If you’d like to submit a question, use the contact form on this website, leave a comment here, or comment on my Facebook page.

Now you have the long and the short of does writing dark stories affect the writer’s soul? At least from my perspective. And only from my perspective. What do you think?

The Forgotten History of the Credit Card

I’m always amazed at the twists and turns that happen during the course of writing a novel. This particular twist came from a beta reader question: Did credit cards exist in the 60’s? I could have simply answered yes, personal history informing my answer. But, I am an insatiable curious creature and found myself researching. And, being a writer, I’m going to inflict my research on you, dear reader. I found the forgotten history of the credit card fascinating. I hope you do, too.

Stagecoaches & Credit Cards

What do stagecoaches and credit cards have to do with one another? Read on.

The California Gold Rush of 1849 led to a lot more than selling panning and mining equipment. Within a year, it became evident that there was a need for more efficient and faster shipping of materials between the east and west coasts. Companies were created by men eager to serve and profit from this situation.

On March 18, 1850, three companies consolidated their express transport services. Fargo & Company Wells & Company, and Butterfield & Wasson consolidated to for an unicorporated association of investors The company began transporting goods, valuables, and animals between the east coast and the California mining camps in July 1852. From the beginning, they engaged in banking and in profiting from the transportation of gold dust but the American Express name and their role in credit cards didn’t come until later.

CHARGE COINS

In 1865 charge coins were issued by department stores. Varying in shape and design, these small coins were made of an early plastic, copper, aluminum, steel, or a white metal.

A merger in 1868 with competitor led to the more familiar company name of American Express. With the increase in citizens who took advantage of the express travel afforded them by the stagecoach, new means of transferring money was needed. American Express introduced the Money Order in 1882. They followed that innovation with Traveler’s checks in 1891.

By 1914 department store-issued charge cards were popular.

CHARG-IT

The Forgotten History of Credit Cards. Yes, they did exist in 1961
Charg-a-plate courtesy of J.W. Holcomb http://www.jwholcomb.com/

Charg-a-plates also known as Charge plates, came along in 1935. They fit in the wallet or pocket. Embossed with the customer’s name and address they were made of aluminum or white metal and carried in a sized-to-fit sleeve.

In 1946 a Brooklyn banker issued a card and allowed customers to “Charg-It” at local merchants’ stores. The bank would pay the store, then collect payment from customers.

DINERS CLUB CARD

The Forgotten History of Credit Cards. A forgotten wallet led to this one.
Diners Club Cards 1951 courtesy Diners Club https://www.dinersclub.com/about-us/history

In 1950, the story goes, that Frank McNamara went to a business lunch and discovered he’d forgotten his wallet. Whether he signed a note to the restaurant guaranteeing payment or called his wife to bring him cash, he managed to get away without washing dishes. And the incident inspired him to create the first Diners Club Card. Made of cardboard, a Diners Club Card was used by businessmen for meals and travel expenses.

In 1952 Franklin’s National Bank in New York issued the first charge card. It was similar to the charg-a-plate in design and materials.

CREDIT CARDS

The Forgotten History of Credit Cards. Stagecoaches are part of the credit cards' past.

The first official, recorded use of the term “credit card” was in the 1955 U.S. Patent granted to the three men who invented the first gas pump that accepted—you guessed it, credit cards.

Bank Americard devised a publicity stunt that led to the ubiquitous credit card we know today. In 1958 Bank Americard mailed 60,000 credit cards to unsuspecting Californians. It was the rise of the revolving credit revolution.

American Express introduced the first plastic credit card in 1959.

So the short answer to my reader would have been, yes, the credit card existed in the alternate world of My Soul to Keep in 1961. But I think that the research into the forgotten history of the credit card was a whole lot more fun. What do you think?