Putting It All In Context

It’s been an insanely busy time and a productive one, too! I’ve turned in my short story for the Stargate anthology, Far Horizons, coming out later this fall from Fandemonium. I’ve made headway on rewriting my thesis although a recent detour occurred thanks to some technological advancements that I want to reflect in the story. I’m also involved with two collaborative projects — each of which are inching forward: a television pilot and a book proposal for a new post SG-1 series. I’m also eeking out a separate outline for a post SG-1 novel that’s a bit nuts, but that’s my middle name: nuts.

context27Packing up for this weekend’s Context Convention in Columbus, OH where I’ll run a few writing workshops and sit in on a panel.  Unlike the pop culture fangirl conventions that I appear at through the year, this is a horse of a different color. Context is all about the written word. Authors, writers about to break in, book fans… We all mingle, celebrate, and learn about the writing craft.

If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by!

Friday, Sept 26th, 5 to 6pm
Screenwriting Techniques That Help Every Writer

Saturday, Sept 27th, 10am to 1pm
Self-Editing, Revisions, & Rewriting

2pm – Podcasting Panel
w/ Scott Sandridge and Matt Wagner

7 to 10pm
Crafting the Compelling Plot

 

#mywritingprocess

My students have heard me say again and again how valuable critique partners are — how they’re an integral part of the ever-evolving writer.  Not only do you gain a trusted individual who’ll give you honest feedback on your works-in-progress, you also get to watch their works blossom and, with the right amount of creative spark and elbow grease, get published or produced.

jenOne of my critique partners, Jen Brooks, has a debut novel entitled In A World Just Right scheduled for release from Simon and Schuster BFYR in spring 2015.  Jen is a former high school teacher and track and field coach. We’ve been critique partners for 10 years. She’s been blogging about her writing process and has asked me and our fellow critique partner, Rhonda Mason,  to jump on the blog train and share our own processes.

So… Without further ado, I’ll answer Jen’s four questions…

My Writing Process

process1) What am I working on?
Although I’m still recovering from my neck/hand injury which makes writing for more than a few hours a day pretty tough, that still leaves my brain time to play with a few different projects:

  • A Stargate SG-1 short story for Fandeomonium’s fall anthology, Far Horizons
  • A television pilot (can’t say much about this for obvious reasons, but yes– it’s SF and currently in development)
  • A rewrite on an original novel
  • One other project — a media tie-in that we’re hoping to announce very soon.  Like ‘at Shore Leave’ soon.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Yeah – this is an odd question.  I’d like to think that every creator’s work is different.  As much as we have in common, we are all unique creatures with something to say.   If I had to nail how I strive to be different than others in the SF genre (or any other genre for that matter), I would say it’s an effort on my part to create deep POV scenes where the action sounds similar to how that particular character talks/walks/chews gum.  In screenwriting, which is about as omniscient as it gets, I still believe that at least one character is the focal point per scene and hence, I’ll use action description language in a way that pulls focus to that character.  I guess the short phrase for what I try to do is ‘be immersive.’

3) Why do I write what I do?
Good question. Let me go back and ask my five-year-old self why she clambered up on her dad’s old desk and used his typewriter.  It’s all her fault. Seriously, though, what seems to have driven my work overall is the need to try and make sense out of a world that becomes more complex, with more shades of gray, on a daily basis.  This is probably why I prefer writing multiple POV.  With all the complications going on in the world, it’s becoming increasingly easy to see all those different shades, and yet… Somewhere underneath them all has got to be a few moral absolutes… Right?  See, I’m wondering the same thing. Hence the need to write and try & discover why.

4) How does my individual writing process work?
You’d think it would be dependent on the medium and the project, but it always starts the same for me:  A theme or concept bubbles up. I then need to figure out how best to show that theme which means — for me — what kind of characters do I need to put through the ringer so the reader and/or audience can connect. Until I have the characters figured out, I can’t move on to the actual plot because the characters define for me what’s needed to move THEIR stories forward.

Once I’ve found my ‘cast,’ I become an outlining fool.  I’ll start small, developing the five key moments in the plot including Ordinary World, New Direction, Change in Plans, Blackest Moment, Climax/Resolution.  Then, I’ll look for ways to ensure the characters’ external and internal throughlines will be served by those moments.

Then it’s all about the index cards, more outlining, and planning as much as I possibly can.  Yeah, I do tend to over-plan, but the benefit is that once I start writing, I feel safe about allowing for spontaneity because I always know where the story needs to go.  If the journey along the way takes a few small detours, or stops for a moment to ‘smell the roses,’ it’s fine — as long as it serves the story.

I’ve pantsed a few times with mixed results.  While I haven’t done anything with those works, who knows? If I win the lottery and can buy my way into a machine that stops time (in other words, if I can make each day longer), I’ll go back and play with those pantsing efforts.  Until then, I’ll keep planning… writing… and planning more.

They say no good deed goes unpunished. Happily, I have a few fellow writers who’ll be picking up the gauntlet next week to share their processes with you. I’m a big fan of their works and I think you will be, too:

wendlandAlbert Wendland is Co-Director of the MFA in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University.  His SF novel, The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes, a starred pick-of-the-week by Publisher’s Weekly, was just released last month by Dog Star Books.

 

 

 

 

ceresK. Ceres Wright graduated from Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction Program. Her novel, Cog, was her thesis, and was published by Dog Star Books in 2013. She likes sunsets and long naps on the beach.

Coming Up For Air, Shore Leave Schedule, and What’s Next?

One ruptured cervical disc, a sudden house purchase, a bit of travel and then, bam! It’s three months later… I’m back online.  For those interested in the gory details, you can find out more below about my fun little (sic) experience with a damaged neck.  Suffice it to say, someone needs to create a humanoid robot for me to inhabit. I’m done with the crappy human model. It just doesn’t hold up.  

slSHORE LEAVE – August 1st to 3rd

I’m on the mend and just in time to appear at a convention I’ve long wanted to attend. Shore Leave is one of the oldest fan-run conventions on the East Coast. While its name is inspired by all things Star Trek, the event has grown since then. In fact, this year you’ll see quite the Stargate presence.  A slew of Fandemonium‘s Stargate media tie-in authors will be there, self included, as well our fearless and fantastic leaders,  the very amazing Sally Malcom (editor, co-publisher, and a great author in her own right) and Tom Reeve (co-publisher).  Richard Dean Anderson (Jack O’Neill) is the key guest and he’ll be joined by Teryl Rothery (Janet Fraiser), Robert Picardo (Richard Woolsey — as well as the Holographic Doctor on Star Trek Voyager), and Michael Welch (The Jack O’Neill clone in the SG-1 episode, “Fragile Balance.”). There’ll be a wide variety of authors, a healthy dose of science panels, and from everything I’ve heard, the weekend is one giant reunion for several thousand fellow fans who’ve participated in the con since its inception.  I’m the newbie in all this although I happily get to meet many a fellow writer, visit with a slew of Gateworlders, and steal a few moments with friends I’ve made through other conventions.

Friday evening will be the big MEET THE PROS event where all the authors will be available to meet with readers. This is always one of my favorite events especially since the Stargate franchise attracts an extrordinarily diverse readership.  I always look forward to meet new (and fellow!) fans of the franchise.

There’s a terrific diversity of writers panels being offered of which I’ll sit on three including:

Stargate Novels:  Fandemonium’s 10-Year Journey
Ten years ago, Sally Malcolm took the plunge and created the publishing company behind the Stargate novels.  This panel will talk about how the company (and its authors) have evolved along with its readership. Moderator: Tom Reeve Panelists: Diana Botsford, Melissa Scott, Patricia Lee Macomber, David Niall Willson, Jo Graham, Sally Malcolm

Writing for Stargate Seventeen years of episodes have made for a wild tapestry of story threads. I’ll join fellow Fandemonium authors Jo Graham, Sally Malcolm, David Niall Wilson, Melissa  Scott, Amy Griswold, Trish Macomber in discussing how we search for the new within those threads while staying true to the franchise overall.

The Stargate Reboot Speaking of the franchise, the recent MGM announcement that Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin will direct/produce a new trilogy based off the original 1994 Kurt Russell/James Spader film has television fans nervous, elated, worried, and pretty much every other adjective you can think of.  You might have listened in to the recent Gateworld podcast where I joined David Read and Darren Summer for initial reactions.  In this panel, Sally Malcolm (Fandemonium) and Lorraine Anderson will join me to discuss our reactions as authors and fans of the franchise as well as  review what we know so far about the new film(s) to date.

But, wait! There’s more! FANDEMONIUM WILL HOST A LAUNCH PARTY to celebrate the new book Stargate Atlantis: Unascended by Jo Graham and Amy Griswold at the CON HOTEL from 6:30 to 8:30pm, and…

I’ll present a multimedia discussion on MY JOURNEY TO ANTARCTICA, how the real frozen south correlates with the Stargate franchise’s fiction, and why — even if you never plan to visit the bottom of the world — you should pay attention to this most alien part of the world.

So… that’s it for now (except for details below on ruptured cervical discs for those interested).  I have grading to do (yep, still teaching online), a short story to finish for an upcoming Stargate anthology (more on this later), and hopefully, more treatments for my hand so I can type faster than 10 words per minute. Oh for a robotic hand!

THE GORY DETAILS

I’m a sucker for trying new types of exercise. Anything to break up the monotony of the recumbent bike which frankly gets dull.  Writers need to get physical. We need to get out of heads and make room for the characters mushrooming between the grey matter in our brains.

dermatome

The Dermatome Chart

I took a whack at DAHN yoga. It combined some of the more foundational aspects of martial arts with the stretching of pretty much any yoga routine.  Had a great introductory session bopping around, turning this way and that.  The next morning, I woke up with intense pins & needles radiating from the left side of my neck down my arm all the way to my fingertips.  In fact, I couldn’t feel my fingers at all except that my thumb and middle finger felt like they’d had the nails ripped out, beaten to a pulp, and were being squeezed by vises.  A week later, it didn’t go away. Even my miraculous chiropractor/acupuncturist couldn’t help.  Thankfully, she sent me for an MRI and we discovered I had a ruptured disc (between C6/7) and nerve root damage. Oh joy! After a mad search for an orthopedist who wasn’t scalpel-happy, we found one.  It took another 10 days to get into see him, but in matter of minutes, I learned how a neck injury can specifically target particular sections of our bodies.

Enter Dermatomes.   According to Wikipedia, a dermatome is an area of skin supplied by sensory neurons that arise from a spinal nerve ganglion. Symptoms that follow a dermatome can indicate a pathology that involves the related nerve root. In other words… See that chart to the right? Look at the C6 and C7 regions.  Since I damaged the left side of my neck, my left arm/hand paid the price. So far, I’ve had one cortisone procedure.  This isn’t a simple shot in the arm. It’s an outpatient procedure where they knock you out, xray your neck, and then inject a combination of xylocaine and cortisone directly into the damaged root nerve.  In my case, the first shot got me back use of my pinky and ring finger.  I’m now waiting to go in for a second procedure so I can get back control and sensation of the rest of my hand. Suffice it to say, I miss being able to write fast. (And no, Dragon Speaking and I don’t get along).  I miss feeling the shampoo in my hair. I miss touching everything.

That’s enough of me and my idiocy.  I am sadly tuned to the global news like everyone else, equal parts horrified and disturbed. Complexities abound across the world and while there are no easy answers, I — like the rest of the world — believe that compromise is possible.  Peace IS possible.  It just takes rational thought, not bullets and bombs. We are human beings, not feral cats or mosquitos.  As a race, we have the capacity for rational thought. I have more to say on this subject, too, and I’l most likely get into it in my next post tomorrow on THE WRITING PROCESS.

In the meantime, smile at a stranger. Help someone across the street. Thank the clerk at the register when you buy something. Take a second to be nice to your fellow human beings.

Be human. Don’t be a mosquito.

Bricks & Mortar Be Damned

socmedsupportOr… How I learned to love corporate twitter accounts thanks to AT&T Customer Care.

It’s been a gruesome few months for me with a ruptured disk, a sudden house purchase, and a whirlwind of events that I promise to share in the days to come.  In the meantime, I thought it best to kick-off the blog’s re-inauguration with some useful advice:

Do you need technical support? Or maybe your car, or phone lines, or cable, or internet, any item in your household needs service.  Maybe, like my recent experience, you need to move so you phone your provider — be it electric, gas, or in this case: internet & TV.

Don’t waste your time.  Bricks & mortar support is dead and buried under an army of technical support robots who can’t think for themselves, refuse to go off script, and will happily repeat what they last said because apparently. We, the consumers, are idiots.

But not so on the InterTubes!  Those corporate twitter accounts aren’t (believe it or not) run by robots. The social media departments actually give a damn, want you to have a great experience, and… if you wouldn’t mind, share your experience so others know that yes, Virginia, amongst the robots dwells somebody who will treat you with respect and dignity.

When we initiated our move last month from one part of Houston to another, we decided to stick with AT&T UVerse.  Sure, we’d prefer another option to the Koch Bros’ evil empire, but based off how notoriously poor their upload/download speeds were, we had no choice.  We called AT&T to arrange for having our service moved from one location to another.  Of course they were happy to help us.  They wanted to keep our money.  We booked July 3rd, went back to packing, and signing (over 1,000 pages when we closed the house, geesh).

On/around July 1st, my smart husband contacted AT&T to confirm the July 3rd transfer date.  Apparently, they’d decided on their own to cancel the transfer because the seller hadn’t closed down his account yet.

Since I work at home (writer and online teacher that I am), this was not good news.  It meant a week of having to bop back and forth between the old home and the new. I accepted the situation, willing to cut AT&T some slack since yes, it made sense — sort of.  The seller was already out of the house.  He’d already canceled his account. But apparently AT&T needed a wider window.  Fine.

So we set up July 10th, the following Thursday (even though Houston is a big city, apparently AT&T will only come out to this area once a week).  Sometime between 9 and 11 am. Fine. I wait. Eager to get things moving forward. I’ve got a ruptured disk screaming for attention, but hey… It’s the InterTubes!  They’ll be here and gone by 11am. No problem. I can wait.

The time comes and goes. No AT&T. I figure they’re backed up, but I’d call just in case.  I’ll spare you the details, but AT&T’s customer service phone rep told me they’d canceled (again and again, didn’t bother to let us know) having someone come out because our house doesn’t exist.  I tried using logic with her (how could the previous owner have an account here then? how could I have signed over 1,000 pages with this address on it if my home didn’t exist?).  Suffice it to say, I demanded to talk to her supervisor. After being kept on hold for 20 minutes, I did talk to someone who, when I insisted we did indeed exist, hung up on me.

Sweet, huh?

I called again, was again put on hold, so this time, I took a chance and posted this to my twitter account:

In the meantime, my husband got on the AT&T text support chat and was given a runaround that made my phone calls look like a walk in the park.  Between the two of us,  the support personnel behaved as if we were clueless, didn’t know our home’s address, and… Sure, they’d be happy to reschedule. For two weeks from the scheduled date. “NO!!!!” was our chorus cry and so we began the earnest search for another option. If we were going to ‘fire” AT&T, we were going to go all the way – cancel our UVerse package, switch all of our family’s phones over to Sprint, and tell AT&T to kiss goodbye to the nearly $7,000 they made from us each year. I tried calling AT&T again. While on hold for the umpteenth time, I took a peek at Twitter and got this:

Shocked that a corporate twitter handler actually gave a damn, I immediately responded.   Ray — AT&T’s social media guy — got my phone number, called me, and throughout the day pushed that rock up the hill, all the while refusing to be Sisyphus. He was going to get us service within 24 hours.  Whatever it took. He found out why they claimed our home didn’t exist: Apparently having a ‘drive’ instead of a ‘street’ makes the AT&T database spit out enough gibberish to make HAL look like a saint.  He pushed beyond that nonsense, rallied the forces, and yes…

Twenty-four hours later, we had internet.

So… To all the social media corporate workers out there.  You are the real heroes.  Here’s to all the Rays and Raynas out there.

We’ve had other bouts of bad luck with other companies and their phone support since then.  US Airways insists that the 1-stop flight I’m taking to Baltimore (next week for Shore Leave) cannot be changed so I get off and stay off at the in-between stop in Philly (a friend has offered to drive me the rest of the way).  And from reading tech journalist Ryan Block’s account on how he had to shame Comcast (see: CNN’s When Life Gives You Comcast, Make A Shamecast), I can see we’re not alone.  I recognize how grueling it can be to deal with phone call after phone call from cranky customers, but seriously, folks — use your brains. Deviate from that script and be critical thinkers.

You might actually help customer loyalty.

In the case of AT&T, if it wasn’t for Ray, we would be long gone and using Sprint, DishTV, and god knows what else.

 

 

 

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