August 30, 2014

Adventures in Genre-Hopping: The Chapter that Didn't Make It

Chapter 1

My braids flopped against my back, collecting the snow that fell thick around me. The icy air moved in gusts, chilling my cheeks and the inside of my nose as I breathed. Montana winters were brutal, and I missed Florida.

I thought about turning around and calling for a ride home, but I was pretty sure I was already past the halfway point. The long dirt road stretched ahead of me, lost in the blanket of white. The grassy fields to my right had already been swallowed by the storm. I couldn’t even see the barbed wire fence that ran alongside the road. Things were getting bad.

To my left, the outlines of pine trees, bending in the wind, slapped against each other. I pulled my winter coat tighter around me, imagining that the sunny-colored outer layer would somehow summon the Florida heat. No luck. I picked up the pace. Jogging home would keep me warm and get me there faster, even if the snow clung to my jeans like sand from the beach. Cold, numbing sand.

I sniffed twice, between breaths. My nose ached from the cold and wouldn’t stop running. Meg had offered me a ride, and I hadn’t taken it. Why? Because I’m an idiot. “No thanks,” I’d said. “I’ll be fine.”

I’m stubborn, and admitting that I needed a ride would have made me look silly, because I’d left my car at home. And why hadn’t I driven myself to school? Because apparently, I like to stretch my legs, even when blizzards blot out the sun like it’s Armageddon.

I reached into my coat pockets to pull out the thick, yellow and white mittens my grandma had made for me. “Because, come winter, you’ll want them.”

I’d liked the colors. I’d liked how soft they were. But in my mind, the only time you wore mittens was when you were seven years old, building snowmen in your backyard. But as my red, numb fingers dug around in the gaping pockets, I only found one. One mitten. The other must have fallen out of my pocket in the last twenty minutes. I stared at the left mitten and sighed. No sense in searching for a white and yellow mitten when I couldn’t even see five yards in front of me. I shoved my left hand into the mitten and tucked my right hand under my left armpit. Both my hands were still cold. The wind howled in my ears, laughing at me because I was lost.

Was it time for a do-over?

When I lifted my gaze, I had to squint against the hard pellets that stung my face. I couldn’t see a thing. Everything in front of me was just an empty, white void. I pushed forward, but I didn’t even know if I was still on the road anymore.

The storm blinded me, wrapping me in that wool fleece and pulling it tighter and tighter. The wind sucked the breath from my lungs. The edge of panic pressed against me and I inhaled, filling my lungs, to remind myself that I could. Several hard pellets of ice flew into my mouth, making me choke. I coughed and sputtered, wetting my chapped lips with spit that evaporated quickly.

My coat wasn’t warm anymore. The fluffy white lining didn’t stand a chance as another blast of wind pushed through, chilling my skin. I reached out with one cold hand in the mitten, the other numb and bare. The swirling white threatened to devour the tips of my fingers.

Yeah, I needed a do-over. I’d have to be careful not to go too far back, so I didn’t just suddenly disappear from campus. But I’d been alone on this road for a while. And sure, I’d still be halfway between school and my house, but at least the storm wouldn’t be as bad. I could get home before the blizzard blotted everything out.

Out of habit, I turned around, searching the blankness around me for anyone who might be watching. Not that they would remember seeing me after the do-over. It’s just that, when you’re about to do something that’s supposed to be a secret, you want to feel like you’re not being watched.

But that’s when I saw them. Up ahead, two cirlcles of bluish light appeared. Still hazy in the thick air, they grew larger and floated farther apart from each other. Realizing they were headlights, I stumbled toward them, my pant legs dragging through more fresh snow. My toes, nose, and the tips of my ears throbbed with cold. I sniffed once and kept moving. The lights were closer now.

Do-overs were to be used sparingly. Maybe I wouldn’t have to use one after all.

A fuzzy gray rectangle materialized around the balls of light—a slow-moving, black sedan. As I got closer, the car stopped, the engine barely rumbling over the whining storm. Somehow, the driver had seen me.

I ran to the passenger’s side of the sleek, luxury sedan and tapped on the window with my bare knuckle. It hurt more than I’d expected. As the window lowered, I shook the pain out of my hand. Inside the car, a woman with neat, blond hair and red lipstick smiled at me. “Need a lift?”

I nodded eagerly and tugged on the door handle. As I climbed in, the window hummed back up, shutting out the flurries behind me. I closed the door and hoped the woman wouldn’t ask why I’d been outside during a blizzard.

The leather seat was already warm and the snow that clung to my clothes immediately started to melt. A huge clump of soggy snow dripped onto the car’s expensive-looking interior. I wiped at it with my sleeve and hoped the woman hadn’t noticed. She wore a navy blue women’s business suit, with a white, pressed collar jutting out at a sharp angle. Her nails were perfectly manicured and she drove easily through the storm. Even her smile looked expensive.

“Thanks for the ride,” I said, not sure if I should say something else.

“Not a problem,” said a voice from the back seat. I turned and saw another woman, also in fashionable business attire, smiling at me. Her eyes were chocolatey brown and her black hair hung around her shoulders in perfect waves. I touched my own hair and felt a frizzy puffball of curls that had escaped from my braids.

“I’m Agent Walsh,” said the blond. She pointed a long finger toward the back seat. “That’s Agent Tamarin.”

The car hummed along. I had no idea how Agent Walsh was able to drive when she couldn’t see. A solid sheet of white blotted out the view from the windshield, even with the wipers going full-speed. Judging from the gadgets on the dash, though, it looked like the car could pretty much drive itself.

“You’re agents?” I asked. This part of town didn’t seem big enough for more than a few cops. The university was where the rowdy crowd went on weekends. But the rural homes kept pretty quiet.

Agent Walsh laughed in a few, short bursts. “No, Kassidy. We work for a government agency. The DOST.”

I was about to ask what DOST stood for, but I realized something she’d said was off. Another clump of melting snow slid off the bottom of my jeans and plopped in the puddle I was making. But I’d stopped caring about the car. “I’m sure there’s a good explanation for how you know my name.”

Agent Walsh’s eyes flicked up to the rear-view mirror and she gave a slight nod. Behind me, Agent Tamarin leaned forward and smiled. She wore very little makeup and had a pretty face. Her eyes wrinkled at the corners when she smiled, but she couldn’t have been more than thirty-five years old. “We didn’t meet by accident, Kassidy. Actually, we were hoping to meet you soon.”

I tried to think about all the things I’d done wrong in the last few years—making laxative brownies for an insane Spanish teacher, painting my German Shepherd pink for Halloween, sneaking into the culinary arts classroom with Meg to make afternoon snacks after detention (that we’d gotten for the brownies). None of it seemed like enough to send two agents after me.

The screen below the car’s satellite radio showed a pulsing red dot, typical for GPS. But in the center of that red pulse, an even smaller, green dot blinked in time with my racing heart. Was that me?

I tore my eyes from the screen, trying to remember to make eye contact. I didn’t want to look guilty or anything. “Am I in trouble?”

Maybe I would need that do-over after all.

Agent Walsh tilted her chin and gave me a sideways glance. “How would like to get out of going to high school?”

I frowned and tried to let my genuine confusion show. “School’s already out. I don’t have to be back until Monday.”

Agent Tamarin’s eyebrows lifted slightly. “No, Kassidy. What if you never went back?”

Agent Walsh pressed her ruby red lips together, then smiled at me like a well-fed cat. “We could get you all the paperwork that you need to be able to say that you’re a high school student. We’ve set up a sort of ‘private school’ that doesn’t exist. If anyone asks, you got a scholarship and you’re having a great time attending a school on the opposite end of town.”

She winked at me, like this was everyday mischief for girls my age.

“You mean, I don’t have to go to a real school, you would just tell people I was going to your fake school?”

Agent Walsh nodded as she clicked the heat dial up another notch. The warmth was just beginning to get through my boots, brushing against my toes.

It was every kid’s dream to ditch school with no consequences. But I was a good student. Sure, I was bad at math, but I really liked my history class. “What would I do instead? And why would you want to do that for me?”

The wind whooshed outside, rocking the car slightly in the wind as the engine barely vibrated. The rubbery squeak of the wipers kept their rhythm, but I still couldn’t see anything through the windows. Agent Walsh opened her mouth, as if to say something, but stopped herself. Agent Tamarin spoke instead.

“We’d like to train you to work in our department, Kassidy, starting as soon as you’re ready. You would work for us, but you wouldn’t be able to tell anyone what you were really doing. You’d have to lie, Kassidy. Are you alright with that?”

I stared at the one mitten I still had, the chevron stripes pointing both at me and the front windshield. “Why me?” I asked. “I mean, you said you’ve been looking for me. Why? There are hundreds of kids at my school.”

Agent Tamarin nodded. “We thought you might ask that. We’ve been gathering data on a lot of teens in the area. The agency wants younger recruits, so we’ve been looking for youth that have an affinity for history and books. And someone who does have some interests outside of school. We understand that you’ve been taking karate classes on weekends.”

I nodded and tried not to be bothered by the amount of information they knew about me. “So you want me to be a secret agent?”

Agent Walsh turned her head, nodding eagerly at me. “Exactly! That’s exactly what you’d be doing. Working for the United States government, but pretending to be a high school student.”

Her blue eyes sparkled under high-arching eyebrows. She seemed really passionate about her work. But she kept watching me, and I could feel her measuring my reaction.

I cleared my throat and pointed out at the swirling flurries ahead. “Shouldn’t you be watching the road?”

The blond woman blinked twice, then shook her head like she was explaining something obvious. “We’re already at your house, Kassidy.”

Agent Tamarin leaned in, touching my arm lightly. “You should think it over, but you need to understand something before you go inside.”

Her eyes flicked to Agent Walsh before she continued. “You mustn’t speak to your dad about this conversation. He can’t know you’ve met us.”

“Wait. What?” I shook my head. “Are you joking?”

That meant I couldn’t tell Meg anything, either. Lying to strangers on the street was one thing. Making up a phony story to my other friends and then meeting up with them after school would be tough, but I might be able to pull it off. But between Dad and Meg, I didn’t have any secrets. I told Dad almost everything, and Meg knew the rest. Dad and I had moved here to be close to my grandma, but I’d left a life behind in Florida. Not a perfect life, but I’d gone to elementary school and middle school, and then my first year of high school with the same people. The only person I took with me to Montana was Dad. Meg had been that instant friend, where everything clicked. She was the kind of friend who read my mind, who knew what I was thinking without me saying it. We did everything together. We were practically sisters, even though we’d only met a few months ago.

Agent Tamarin handed a business card to me. I took it without reading the words, still trying to work my mind through a scenario where I could do this. How could I lie to both Dad and Meg every day about what I was doing? Was it even worth it?

“Give it some thought, and call us when you’re ready.” Agent Tamarin smiled again, pushing silky black hair behind her ear. “We could really use a young, bright mind like yours, working for the good guys.”

I shoved the business card into my coat pocket. Not wanting to be impolite, I nodded, then hoped they wouldn’t take that as me agreeing to call them. “Thanks for the ride.”

Then I looked at Agent Walsh. She was smiling, reminding me of the mom I couldn’t quite remember. She’d been blond, too. “Take care, Kassidy.”

I opened the car door and stepped out into the chaos that pelted my cheeks with sharp wind. I pulled my coat closer around me and looked fibmmjor the front step of our house. I closed the car door behind me, saying a wistful goodbye to the heated seats and lovely climate control. I marched toward the house-like shape ahead of me, wondering how on earth Agent Walsh had been able to drive me so close to my front door, when I could barely see it from here.

Adventures in Genre-Hopping: Getting Stuck

As many of you know, I still have a book or two left in the Ivy Thorn series. One of them is close to being done! (The Ten Lost Princesses is in draft.)

Unfortunately, I've hit a road block with the plot (my ending sucks) and Life has kept me away from my writing.

A quick side note: I have the time to write. There are enough hours in the day to squeeze in some writing, so that's not an excuse. But when I have a bunch of new stuff heaped on me at once, and the ending of my book sucks, and I don't know how on earth I'm going to fix it, then it can be really difficult to find the motivation to sit down and work on my writing. It's MUCH easier (and I look forward to it!) when I'm moving along on a story and I have an idea where it's headed.

Also, I've been taking online writing workshops, which are helping my writing. (It also takes up that writing time that I just admitted to having. Oops.) The workshops are super helpful. My craft is improving. But at the end of each week, after I've turned in my assignment, I feel like I have nothing left for my fiction.

So that's why you haven't heard from me in a while.

That said, I've got some new ideas for my main character. A time traveler needs to be quite a character, right?

I'm going to rewrite my beginning, from a different angle. This means that I have a couple chapters of material that's not necessarily bad, but that will never see the light of day.

Just kidding. The Power of Blog is going to help out.

I thought it might be fun to post what I have, so you can see where I was heading with the story. I'm changing course, so the end product will be different. But I promised you a play-by-play on this story.

So while I get Ivy's stories fixed, you can read some early chapters of my first time travel novel. Stay tuned.

June 23, 2014

Adventures in Genre-Hopping: The First Scene

The research and study is going well. I've already learned a lot and I've noticed that my style is changing. I'm still taking classes online when I get the chance, but in the meantime...

It's time to start.

Yeah. The first scene. The big one.

Okay, so it's not quite so dramatic because I can (and probably will) change it a thousand times and then delete it before the final draft. It's part of the job description. I must kill my darlings.

But the first draft is a big step. It's intimidating. I'm staring at a blank page on my computer screen. How am I going to start this? Who is my main character? Where is she?

I want to do this as a Young Adult story, so my main character should probably in high school. And when I write books from solely a male point of view, things go badly. (I haven't finished a single one yet. They just fall apart like a bad batch of brownies.) So she's a teenage girl.

My first idea is that my character needs to be dealing with mundane things until her grandmother shows up and tells her that she's special. She can travel through time and she's needed so the balance of time can be restored.

But that's been done a few times in speculative fiction. Just a few.

So maybe I could change it up a bit. Maybe she could be approached by someone else. Maybe they help her out of a nasty situation and they give her a wonderful opportunity.

Yeah. I like that better.

And it might be a little more fun if my character has some idea of her abilities before the story starts.

And she needs a name. Time to hit the baby names websites...

June 9, 2014

Adventures in Genre-Hopping: Craft

Before I dive into another series of books, I want to work on my writing craft. I'm a writer, and there's an endless amount of STUFF to learn. I spent years working on craft before I wrote The Fairy Tale Trap, and have dabbled since. Now, I want to dig deep again.

So I listened to a lecture on Science Fiction and how to write it more effectively. I'm also taking an online workshop on writing more in depth. This will take up a big chunk of my writing time, but it'll be worth it. Quality over quantity at this point.

I'd also like to go over some STUFF that I've read before, but need to review. I plan to go through Holly Lisle's massive online class: How to Think Sideways, as well as re-read some books on craft. (Dwight Swain comes to mind.)

That ought to do it for now. Let's see if I survive before moving on.

May 26, 2014

Adventures in Genre-Hopping: Dissection

"Mediocre writers borrow, great writers steal."

--T.S. Elliot

I think Pablo Picasso said something similar: "The bad artists imitate, the great artists steal."

I don't plan to plagiarize, here, just for the record. Writers steal all the time, and it's perfectly legal, if you know how to do it right. I'm not stealing other people's works or words and passing them off as my own.This is research of the market and of the genre. To be able to write a time travel novel, I need to understand a time travel novel.

Joanna Penn wrote on her blog: 

  • Steal ideas. Read other people’s works, or look at other people’s art work. If you like an idea, ruminate on it, muddle it around in your brain and see where it ends up. Write the same idea in your own words and you can bet it will be a different story or a new angle on it. Steal other people’s experiences and write about them for plot. Steal their words as they speak to help your dialogue. How many books about the end of the world are there? How many unrequited love stories? How many quest adventures?
So I want to take some of my favorite time travel stories that I've read so far, and find out what makes them tick. Have you ever taken something apart and put it back together, just to see how it works? (Neither have I. I'm not mechanically inclined, but I hear some people do this.)

This involves the following steps:
1) Read books
2) Choose a few that are excellent
3) Read them again, looking for structural elements
4) Write those elements down
5) Analyze them. Do you see any patterns? Have these structures been used by more than one author? What works? What would you change?

So I'm mapping out a few stories. The notes I'm making (the parts that I'm "stealing") are things like: 

Mentor is in conflict with main character's Norm
Call to Action
Main character tries to return to Norm, but encounters disaster

So, for Back to the Future, I might start off my notes with:
Main Character in the Norm (good things and bad things) and receives object that will help later
Main Character is introduced to time travel
Main Character inadvertently time travels (without being fully prepared)
Main Character changes the future, which would destroy the Norm
Main Character seeks out Mentor
MC and Mentor use object to formulate plan

**Spoiler for Back to the Future I (you know, from 1985...)**
The Mentor is Doc Brown in this particular story, but it could be any knowledgeable character. The "object" is something I didn't even notice until I started paying attention to the structure of the story: it's the flyer that Marty gets from the crazed lady in front of the clock tower. That flyer has information on the lightning strike that will help get him home near the end of the movie. Marty only keeps the flyer because his girlfriend wrote a phone number on it (because why else would a teenage boy carry around a flyer to "save the clock tower"?)
Hopefully, I'll figure out a plot structure that is totally awesome and works for my characters and my ideas. Once I have my basic time travel ideas and characters created, I'll see if I can plug their particulars into these structures. It might work, it might not, but I'll be able to see my story in a new light.

Part of me thinks I should map out some good stories from other genres...maybe mystery or thriller. Thoughts?

For now, I'm going to let these ideas simmer on the back burner.

Do you ever think about the structure of a story? Besides structure and basic plot, what does a story need?

May 12, 2014

Adventures in Genre-Hopping: Practice

I'm still researching time travel and part of that involves practice. I wanted to play around with time travel on the page. (It's kind of like, I can study basketball and the game and the rules and even physics all I want, but if I never touch a basketball, I'll never be any good at it.)

So I've decided to write a short story anthology. My goal in 5 short stories.

So far, I've got two stories written, with basic revisions done. I have a beta reading them now. Hopefully, I'll get some good feedback and make some changes before writing my next short story.

These shorts won't hit the shelves right away. Once they're written and revised, I plan to submit each story to some scifi/fantasy magazines to see if they can get published. Hopefully, I can get some good feedback from the editors and maybe even readers of these publications, and of course, I'd love to make a sale if possible.

My first story (I'm calling it PROXY for the time being) is pretty short. It just explores a paradox of time travel: If you go back in time and kill someone vital to your existence, what happens? Why would you do that?

You see this all the time in time travel fiction: Marty McFly nearly un-makes himself by coming between his parents in the 50s.

Going back in time and killing your grandfather is a classic paradox of time travel theory. Some believe it can't be done. Others believe you'll create an alternate universe. I found a video of a physicist who explained the paradox using mathematics (which I thought was fascinating). His theory was that if you go back in time and kill yourself, you would cease to exist--as in, you were never born. (The nerd in me thought this was so freakin' cool.)

Whenever this paradox comes up, I always wonder: Well, why would you want to kill your grandfather, anyway? Or kill yourself?

So Proxy sort of explores that a bit. It's not exactly upbeat, but it was interesting for my little nerd brain to write.

The second story I wrote (which I'm calling TIME KILLER because I'm super-inventive like that) is about a serial killer with a time machine. The story follows a female homicide detective as she chases down a killer with a time machine. It's short. I mean, 6-8,000 words just wasn't enough to fully explore this situation. I may have to expand it into a novella or write other stories to really dig into this thing. It was SO much fun to write!

What short stories would you like to see in my time travel anthology?

April 28, 2014

Adventures in Genre-Hopping: Theory

Oh, man. I am such a nerd. I seriously love this stuff.

I figured, if I'm going to write science fiction, I should probably understand the science behind these stories, right?

I took a physics class in college: ONE class: Astronomy. It was a great class. My professor knew so much and he covered several topics within physics, including the theory of relativity. I understood a lot of the basics that Einstein explored, but the overall concept of time travel eluded me.

So I turned to wikipedia.

This information was familiar, but more in-depth. I took a lot of notes and tried to put this stuff into layman's terms for myself later. I think I get the theories, and I see where I'm going to have to fictionalize a lot of this stuff for the sake of fiction. But wow. It's just interesting!

I also found a cool website called World Science U, where you can watch college-level lectures on a variety of sciency subjects. They have time travel! Or at least the theory of time travel. I'm learning a lot from this guy, and he explains it in a way that makes sense, which is pretty helpful.

I'm not sure if this experience makes me feel smarter or completely out of my depth.

Do you have any questions about time travel and how it works? What should I know before I dive in?

April 14, 2014

Adventures in Genre-Hopping: Research

I want to dive into the genre of Time Travel. I love Doctor Who and Back to the Future, so this genre is exciting to me. Nothing is off-limits! I can travel back to ancient times, or I can go back to the 1990s. I'm not sure which would be scarier to write about, to be honest.

So, I'm thinking the first step would be research. I've gathered a bunch of different books and movies. Here are the titles I've gone through so far:

Back to the Future movies (my all-time favorite movie trilogy ever!)
Somewhere in Time (an older time travel romance with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour)
The Time Traveler's Wife
Groundhog Day (If you haven't seen this comedy, it's one of my favorites)
Terminator series (which I had never seen before, but my sister was kind enough to get special versions of the entire series for me!)

Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card (very science heavy)
Timebound by Rysa Walker (young adult)
Remembrance by Michelle Madow (this was more of a reincarnation story)
Tempest by Julie Cross  (YA with multiple time streams--this plot could get messy in the sequels, but I'm intrigued!)
Nick of Time by Ted Bell (AWESOME middle grade adventure story with pirates and nazis!)

I'm open to suggestions. What are your favorites?

So there are different theories about time travel... difference approaches. 

In Back to the Future, Marty changes the past and immediately starts to notice changes in items he brought with him from the present/future. This is an open loop--anything he does can change history

In The Time Traveler's Wife, no matter what anyone does, the future is the future. There's nothing they can do to prevent things from happening. This is a closed loop.

Terminator did a mix of both, which I thought was really creative. It's closed loop at first, and everything Sarah Connor does eventually leads to the future she's familiar with.... until she changes things. Sarah deliberately changes the future and I LOVE that she was able to do that. A great alternative.

But I really (really, really) loved the way Pathfinder kind of took these two approaches and just tore them apart. The characters would receive a message from the future and change what they were going to do to prevent, say, a bar fight. The bar fight never happens. Then they sit and discuss whether or not they need to go back in time and warn themselves not to get in the bar fight. 
Well.... the fight never actually happened, so there's nothing to warn us about. Right?
They get into these deep philosophical conversations about reality and destiny, but it's all completely hilarious because the characters are just as confused as the reader. I'd just like to say that Orson Scott Card is a master of science fiction.

I'm not sure I can pull that off. Card has been doing scifi forEVER and he knows this stuff inside and out. The thought of tackling this level of time travel theory is really intimidating. 

But when it comes to open loop or closed loop, I'm DEFINITELY for open loop. What's the point in time travel if you can't change anything? I believe that people have the ability to do things for themselves, to change their destiny, and make their own paths. So, I think I'll write something closer to Back to the Future, rather than Time Traveler's Wife. (I just hated the sense of helplessness.)

I also liked Timebound. Not only did Walker explore one of the creepiest men in history, she made her character give up everything when she went back in time. As in: If I go back in time, my boyfriend won't know who I am when I come back home. I loved this! If you're going to time travel, that's a huge amount of power and responsibility. There needs to be a lot of risk and sacrifice.

So that's where I am right now. 

What should I read next?

April 6, 2014

Writing a New Novel (in a New Genre)

Have you ever wondered what goes into publishing a book?

Right now, I'm in the middle of the revision process for The Ten Lost Princesses (Ivy Thorn #2.5). But I'm already collecting ideas and inspiration for my next big series. I thought it might be fun to share the journey on the blog.

Time Travel, anyone?

That's right. If you haven't heard yet, my next series of novels will be time travel!

So how does a writer start writing in a new genre?

That's what this blog series is going to be about. I don't know where this is going to lead me. Hopefully I'll learn a lot, but you'll hear about everything--successes and failures.

Wish me luck!
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