Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Writing exercise #2: character via setting

Continuing my writing exercises, this one goes to the other main character in my sci-fi WIP. 

This exercise comes from Fiction Writer’s Workshop (ISBN 1884910394) by Josip Novakovich. Chapter 2: Setting. #12: One page. Make a character visible through her surroundings. (he lists some examples of how) Objective: to learn the power of setting as a means for character portraits. Bits of environment are your tubes of paint. 

Lena dropped into her VR recliner with a sigh. A few crumbs from the morning’s coffee cake lingered on the arm. She flicked them off one by one. Then she picked up her jack and plugged it into the socket under her left ear. Virtual reality slid down over what her meat eyes saw.

Green and amber status lights on her rig winked. Custom-built, of course. A steel rack of quantum processors, another of wireless hubs for various frequencies, the third rack for her secret-ingredient hardware, and a private bubble fusion plant so the draw on the station’s power grid wouldn’t give her away. Everything was cabled to reduce snooping and the extra wire color-tagged, neatly looped, and zip-tied.

The rest of her apartment’s front room was a tangle of dirty laundry waiting for the multi-washer and boxes from the grocery delivery service that she hadn’t broken down for the recycling chute yet. She had two tall stools that stood before the kitchenette counter — or at least two mountain peaks in the field of clutter.

Front door had a clear swath in front of it, though, and a second, vertical deadbolt that Lena had added well above the standard one. Wouldn’t stop anyone determined to get in, but it’d give her time to get out the fire door.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Writing exercise #1: inner peace

I've been writing this blog for over two years now and I find myself short on things to say... partly because I hate repeating myself and I've never liked short blog posts that don't say anything meaningful. So let's try something different this week.

The internet's full of writing prompts and exercises, and I've never used them. It hasn't been how I write: for me, it's a very deliberate process where the spontaneity is limited to the moments that I'm standing beside my characters writing down what they do. I thought I'd try a few in the context of my current (hard sci fi) WIP, which has been giving me some trouble. 

This writing prompt comes to us from Poets & Writers: Fiction writers know that conflict drives plot. Tension and drama imbue life into our characters and propel their stories forward. Human nature, however, craves tranquility and clarity. Write five hundred words describing your protagonist at peace—truly one with the universe, even if only for several seconds. Perhaps your character is sitting on a park bench and staring at a bruised cloud, or on a crowded subway car listening to the rails below, or walking out of a cemetery with a beer in hand. Peace is unique to everyone.

“Hang me, this time,” Shen said as he dropped to his knees. “Like you hang Radovan.”

Jezebel tossed down two of the skeins of rope and unwound the third slowly. She measured out several long loops before answering. “Are you ready for that? I’d have to bind your wrists.”

His nerves skittered under his skin. The snug embrace of rope, though, and the freedom of the air… it had been too long since he’d been in null gravity and felt that. “It’s the closest to zero gee I can get.”

The rope softly hissed, sliding through Jez’s dark hands. She nodded. “We’ll try it, then.”

Shen spread his arms and closed his eyes. The first loop of rope settling across the back of his neck released a sigh from him. First time Jez had bound him, she’d put a loop around one wrist and fear had lashed up out of him. Animal fear. Primal need to escape. He’d suffered too much while zip-tied by his wrists.

But the familiar progress of snug coils of rope looping around his chest and knots drawing them snug eased Shen’s mind. The gentle pressure evened out his breath and dropped his heart rate. His skittering nerves, still antsy at the thought of binding his wrists, slowed.

He could trust Jez. She only tied him as he asked. Checked on him to be sure he was comfortable. Freed him before there was any risk of limited circulation. It would be the same with his wrists. He was strong enough to let his hands be tied. Didn’t fear his own helplessness anymore.

Jez had never beaten him, even when she first bought his indenture and he was just “a pile of broken glass and frayed wire,” as Radovan had said. Shen trusted her.

When she reached Shen’s waist, Jez dropped the remaining rope and fetched a set of D-rings. Those had to be worked into the harness, one at the small of his back and one between his shoulder blades. Jez ran the ropes under the crotch of Shen’s shorts and up his back, lacing them into the coils there and anchoring the second ring.

“Let’s try a dragonfly sleeve, rather than Radovan’s arrangement,” Jez murmured. “Arms before you.”

Shen held out his long arms, fists touching. Jezebel began with loops over his shoulders and worked slowly. Fat knots anchored pairs of loops at precise intervals. The loops bound his upper arms together. Then his elbows.

He closed his eyes when a broken-glass blade of fear slid past him. Felt Jezebel hesitate. He held steady, safe in his snug harness, and she continued. Two more knots and loops, one for his forearms and one for his wrists.

Jagged bits of memories rumbled inside him. Pain from kickings, from tasers. The grind of hunger and fear. The rope stifled those bits. Dulled their edges.

Distantly, Shen felt the carabiners click into the two D-rings on his harness. A motor purred and lifted him off his knees. He rocked to horizontal, facing the floor, and swung gently with his bound arms hanging downward.

Zero gee, or close enough. Close enough to free.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Indie Life: Sales numbers for ordinary folks

Welcome to Indie Life -- the second Wednesday of the month! Time to talk about the realities of self-publishing in the middle of the ongoing sea change that ebooks have wrought.

Real-world sales numbers
We've all read self-publishing success stories. I just published my book and sold a thousand the first week! I'm #1 in my category at Amazon! 

These stories happen. They get talked about a lot because they're unusual. Predatory companies selling overpriced packages of services to "help" self-publishers like to trot out stories like these.

Meanwhile, we mere mortals are looking at very different sales numbers. We say generic things like: I'm thrilled with my sales! They're getting better all the time! Much more realistic. But what are these thrilling numbers?

Behold, the sales numbers for Disciple, Part I, II and III from October 2012 through October 2013.* Am I thrilled? I'm incredibly awful at hyperbole, so let's be realistic. Thrilled, no. Grateful, yes, very much so. Encouraged to continue, yes.

There are some interesting things in it, I think. You can see the impact of new releases on sales of all the Parts. You can see that it took five months for sales to reach zero the first time, and six months the second time. In general, my sales are increasing. It's a gradual trend but it's there.

Did these numbers surprise you? These are the sales of someone who doesn't have much presence in social media. Someone with very little advertising money to burn, but who keeps plugging away at self-publishing. Disciple is a gritty fantasy with blood and guts... and romance, too. There's a niche out there for Disciple, it's just a matter of finding it. I have plans for the remaining three parts of Disciple and I have more irons in the fire as well.

So I'm going to keep going. Tune in next year for an update. :) Well, maybe six months.

*Does not include Storybundle sales of Part I in December of 2012. That was about 1,800 copies but apparently not many of those folks have come back for more.

Cover & blurb for Disciple, Part IPart IIPart III

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Drat, it's not Indie Life day yet

So far, moving my writing time to the afternoon has been working out. I'm not exactly zooming along, but I'm making progress.

And I have surprisingly little to say about it, thus far. The transition from my fantasy voice to my science fiction voice is in progress. I've got a lot of uncertainties about how this story will be structured -- there's a lot to tell in flashbacks, and that's a bit outside my comfort zone. It may be a chance to play with telling the story in a less than linear fashion, but that's not something I had really considered doing.

My life is full of distractions, too. Despite having taken steps to simplify my life, things are now more complicated. Or at least more time consuming. It figures.

Anyhow, tune in next week for Indie Life. It's been nice to get lots of page hits from those posts, but I'm not sure what I'll talk about this time. Is there anything related to my self-publishing experiences that you'd like to hear about?
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