Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Every story has a beginning

Once upon a time, every story that I started writing was a novel. Actually, every story was an epic saga that would span multiple novels and become its own universe of books, movies, and more. And as you can already guess, most of these stories were never completed.

So I changed, my tactic. I know have a folder called short stories. Now every story that I start, starts here. As a short story. 

In November 2011, I started writing a story as part of NaNoWriMo. I was excited and inspired. I was ahead of my word count goals and on target. This lasted for 16 days. And then something terrible happened to my novel. 

I finished it. 

You would think this would be a success story. A whole novel, done in 16 days. Amazing!

But that isn't what happened. The novel wasn't finished, the story was. I had not written a 50 thousand word novel. I had written a 25 thousand word short story. 

This could have been tragic. It felt a bit tragic. Poor Edwin Glass was not going to be debuted to the masses of readers and his mechanical companion was destined to stay in the shadows of my memory forever. But then something happened.

I did finish a novel. And as it sat on the shelf of my author's page at Amazon, it looked sad and lonely. Arbor Colony needed some friends. Seed or Stars the second in the series was months away, but what could I do to help out my lonely story? Well, the answer is and was to publish some of the short stories. 

And so I did. 

Every story has a beginning. And every story has an ending. I suppose that I could force more words into every story and plump them up like an inflatable doll. Stretch out the word count. Add a sub-plot, or a sex scene. I have read books where I think the author did this. But I didn't want to do this. I don't want to be that kind of writer.

This may be and have been necessary to writers with demanding editors and a deadline. But I'm just writing for you and me. We don't need to have a word count target to make this work.  I think you will be just as satisfied with a work of 30K words that makes you think, makes you laugh, and holds your attention as you would be with a 120K word story. So, I'm just going to write good stories. I'll edit them and try to polish them up and make them as good as I can. And then if they are a novel, great. If they are, instead, a short story, well that is great too. 

This site has a page that has a list of my short stories. I'll try to keep them grouped logically so that you can find something to read as easily as possible. 

I hope you enjoy them. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Seed of Stars: Chapter One

Book Two of the Legend of Stars series is out there. Technically it released last December. But I haven't started promoting it. But I am ready to crack the whip and get it going.

For those of you that have been waiting for two years for this book, I hope the wait will be worth it. I am committed to releasing the third book much much sooner. And I believe I am in a good place where I can pull that off.

If you haven't been waiting and are instead asking, "What? There is a first book?" Yes, there is. It is available for sale now. "Arbor Colony"

To give you a bit of a head start, this is the first chapter:

Chapter One:


   James deserved whatever he got. Melody waited for him. He was a central part of her plan. So much would depend on her pulling off the ambush.
   Shooting James was going to be the easy part. James had killed Terrance. So no matter what his reasons or what it had cost him, shooting James was not something she was having second thoughts about. 
   Terrance had been infected with a spore from the forest and that had disrupted the colony. Many had died as the colony tried to correct and remove the infection of Terrance and other colonists. But James had murdered Terrance. Melody would have no trouble shooting James.
   Melody watched the shadows grow as she waited in the progressing evening. When Kevin had suggested this location Melody hadn’t realized how perfect this spot would be. The normal structure and layout of colony basecamps had been altered for some reason to form a double diamond pattern. This forced a couple of chokepoints where people had to walk to get from one area to another. Melody had no idea why the colony planners had made this choice, but it made her plan for an ambush that much easier.
   Melody switched hands for a moment to allow her to wipe her hand on her coveralls and loosen her grip. Terrance was dead, and everyone accepted that Melody would want to harm James.  She kept going over the plan in her head and couldn’t help but worry that she had missed something important. Missed something that would make the situation worse than it was. 
   The colony had been following the normal established pattern until Terrance had been infected with the spore. The infection had spread to a few dozen other colonists but then had stopped. Melody was unclear as to all of the events that followed, but it seemed that the colonists had fought a civil war over what to do with the spore-infected people. And in the end, Terrance had been killed. Murdered.
   The shadow that covered her hiding place grew deeper as the sun moved closer to the horizon. The trees of the great forest that covered the planet began to be silhouetted and cast their own shadows across the clearing where the colony was laid out. From where Melody waited it looked as if the darkened shadow arms of the trees reached out and embraced the colony. 
    Melody loosened her grip again. Then it happened. Or at least it started.
    Someone shouted fire and people started to run past her position. They had to, she was facing the chokepoint. She smelled a whiff of smoke and knew that this must be the distraction. James should come into view soon.
    Melody readied herself. She was only going to get one shot at this before she had to run for it. One chance at revenge so she had to make this shot count.
    She saw Kevin come out of a building. James was with him. James moved as if to run toward the fire like everyone else. Kevin grabbed his arm and said something to him pointing in the other direction. 
    James turned and stopped moving for a moment and Kevin stepped out of the line of fire. This was the moment. 
    Melody aimed. 
    The spore that James now carried gave him enormous recuperative powers. It had taken a lot to kill Terrance. It would take just as much to kill James.
    Melody aimed as his chest. The targetter of the needle gun indicated this was a shot through the heart. This would not be fatal for him. He would just heal.
    Melody shifted her aim to his head. No matter how tough it made him a head shot would be fatal. No one would blame her for taking this shot and taking James out. He had earned this.
    Melody shifted her aim back to his chest. Her plan didn’t require her to kill James. Putting a hole in his chest would be seen as at attempt to kill James by anyone hearing about it. She didn’t have to kill him.
    Melody shifted her aim back to his head. Killing James would feel good right not. Nothing would bring Terrance back but that didn’t mean Melody didn’t want revenge.
    Melody shifted her aim back to his chest.  Then back to his head. Then his chest. 
    In a moment he would begin to move and her chance would be lost. She had to fire now. James began to turn back toward her.
     Melody and fired. James dropped. Melody tossed her weapon as she ran.
    In all of the confusion, no one stopped to question a running woman among all of the other running people. Only Kevin had witnessed her shooting James, and he had been in on the plan. 
    Melody had an escape plan. She ran through the colony with a purpose. For this next part, she needed to reach the edge of the colony where the forest began without being captured.
    Melody had been stuck up on the starship when Terrance had been infected with the spore. The following quarantine had prevented her from joining him. But after studying the layout of the colony with Kevin she navigated the streets of the colony like she knew them well.
    Kevin followed her. He yelled for people to stop her. Someone stood and blocked her way and she bowled right into them. Knocking them both down, then rolling back to her feet to continue her escape. 
    Kevin was closing behind her. She heard the zipping sound of a taser fire past her. She dodged around a building. No cover for her now until she reached the edge of the forest where she had left her skimmer. Melody tried to sprint this last leg of her escape route but her legs were at their limit of speed and endurance. 
    A figure rose in front of her. It held a long rifle. It aimed and fired three times. Each shot flew past her and ricochet off of the building she had dodged around. 
    “Halt!” Kevin yelled from the behind her. He was at the corner but had not continued to follow into the gunfire.
    “Stay where you are and you won’t be harmed.” The figure said. Melody recognized the voice, Byron from engineering. That made sense that he would be one of her pursuers. But Melody had to put that out of her mind at this moment. 
    Melody ran past Byron and into the tree line. Byron fired a couple of more shots at the building and then followed her. 
    “Where is my skimmer?” Melody said turning to Byron as he caught up to her.

    This had to work.



And that is how the second book, "Seed of Stars" begins. I've got to get back to proof-reading now. But I am so excited.

Monday, March 11, 2019

A romance by another name...

"Wait, this is romance?"

Yes, I said these words to a writer in my critique group. I immediately regretted it. She was cut by my remark. But in reality, this should have been a compliment.

At least from me.

I don't enjoy romance type fiction very much. I'm not opposed to characters in my books falling for each other. But the core of my stories and the fiction that I seek out is not the personal relationships between the characters.

So here is what I really was saying, "Wait, I am so engaged and interested in this story that I didn't notice the budding romance between the characters."

At this point, I have to wonder, "What is a romance anyway?" My wife will just nod along with this. She has never been sure I understood how to be romantic. But I am talking about the writing genre.

Before I ever read romance stories I didn't have a high opinion of them. I thought of them as stories where the characters spent a bunch of time talking to each other about their feelings. But I've been slowly being introduced to this genre by my wife taking me to romantic movies and by authors needing beta readers and critiques of stories in the romance genre.

And I've learned something. Talking about their feelings is only part of a romance story.

This is still not my preferred genre. But I have made some observations.

Setting:

Why are most romances (at least the ones I have read) set in historical or sudo-historical settings? Or modern settings?

I think this is because the author is not going to focus on a new technology or hypothetical socio-political scenario. The author is writing a story of emotional seeking and finding and building of a relationship. A new spaceship and alien pirates will get in the way of telling that story.

And people reading romance novels seem to like knights and ladies and well know social structures.

Plot:

If we are talking about tropes like road trip or coming of age stories. Then a Romance story has the same types of plots as any other type of story. You can even find romances that are tragedies. But in a romance, there is a given from the beginning.

If you read a western, you expect cowboys and horses. If a story says it is a western but is missing these elements you would not be very satisfied with it. In the same way, a romance is a story about the making of a love connection. If a story says it is a romance but there is no love connection, it would not be a very satisfying story. But probably even worse. People might put up with reading a compelling western or sci-fi where the elements are all in the background or are even missing and still enjoy it as off the norm, but a romance novel that doesn't satisfy the romance will not be enjoyed.

So in a way, we know the ending. At least in part. We know the main characters are going to find love. But this isn't really that different from knowing that McGyver is going to figure out how to build a helicopter from trash bags and duct tape. And it doesn't make the story any less fun to read.

Theme:

There are a diverse set of themes that can be part of a romance story. But they seem to be of a theme. (see what I did there?) Such as, finding love across age gaps, or finding love on vacation, or finding love in the workplace, or finding love after a breakup, or finding forbidden love, or falling for a rescuer, or finding love in someone overlooked. And we could go on and on. And they don't all have to start with 'Finding Love' but they basically will all be like that. Remember, this is romance. So finding love will be a focus.

Themes are a good thing for authors to think about. They can help give a bit of focus to the story and what scenes are included to not only tell the story but give it meat and meaning to the reader. It might be okay to tell a story about a boy and a girl that over the course of a few weeks seeing each other start up a relationship.

But if we add the theme of finding love with someone we know from a common commute, then we have given the reader something interesting to think about. The two see each other on the bus almost every day. They have some reason to start talking to each other. They start to share about their lives. Then to care about each other. Then something happens that forces their relationship to be strained and they have to overcome it. And after they do... Yup, more fun when it is a theme.

Remember the movie, "You've Got Mail"? Well, just replace all of the stuff in that movie with conversations on a bus ride. You will have to change some of the scenes around. But you can see how that would go. It would actually be pretty fun to try and write it as an exercise.

Goal:

So most stories, that are any good, the characters have to have a goal. The goal of the characters can't be the same as that of the reader or the author. The character isn't going to be thinking, "I sure wish I could have an interesting romantic series of events happen to me." Well, not unless your main character is a teenage girl, then that might work. But probably not even then.

The characters have a goal. Like "You've Got Mail" both characters are trying to start or save their businesses. Kids in school might have goals to get a football scholarship or get asked to the Prom. Adults will have goals about work or hobbies.

This is where you can start to mix up the genres. A mystery romance is fun as the goal of one of the main characters is to solve the murder. Or a western romance where one of the characters is trying to save the herd of cattle from a winter storm. Or a coming of age story where the characters fall in love while they are transitioning to being adults or something.

Characters:

So, yes, stories have characters. Sorry to spoil things for you. Just like all other stories, romance stories have characters too. Unlike a mystery or coming of age story, the main characters of a romance have to have the potential of a romantic attraction to each other. Even if the story starts out with them being adversaries or not liking each other. Don't think that is edgy, Romeo and Juliet are exactly this type of character duo.

But just like other stories, the romance characters need to have flaws. Something they are held back by, do wrong, and that keeps them from their goal. Not just external roadblocks like the winter storm for the cowboy or the shift in customer traffic to your bookstore. There need to be some internal limiting flaws to the characters. If not, they will seem like unreal people. Simple because real people have flaws.

Writing the Story:

After, or while, considering the core elements of what a romance story is. There are three basic takeaway items. Romance stories are mostly the same as all of the other genres only with some specific requirements.  Romance stories have a target goal to satisfy for the reader. Once that goal is satisfied, all other parts of the story can be as rich and engaging as you want. And romance stories can have such a rich set of sub-genre and thematic elements that a reader that is not primarily engaged in the romance can still enjoy the story.

Like grandpa from the Princess Bride. "Someday you might not mind as much." I think I have been giving Romance writers and books a bad rap. Even if I have been doing that internally. I may even try one on and see if I can break into the Sci-Fi Romance genre set.

You never know. There may be love among the stars.