Guest Blogger C. S. Boyack on Pre-Research

Not that long ago I stumbled across a blog called “Entertaining Stories,” written by fellow blogger and author, C. S. Boyack. Needless to say, I found Craig Boyack’s observations highly entertaining, and in no time added his blog to my list of regular haunts. Trust me—you need to check it out. He shares interesting reflections, writerly thoughts and slice-of-life stuff. It’s kind of like sitting around in a writer’s café and chatting with the group. You can find Entertaining Stories here.

If you hop over today, you’ll also find me there as well. Craig and I are doing a blog swap, each of us posting on various aspects of researching a novel.  So check out the informative post below (along with Craig’s most recent release, THE COCK OF THE SOUTH), then hop over to Entertaining Stories to see what I’ve got to share!

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IMG_0956 smallThe Cock of the South is a dwarven fantasy set in a Greco-Roman environment. It involves a group of scattered races coming together to face a common enemy. You can check it out here.

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Mae Clair and I are doing a blog swap today. She’s over at my blog discussing the depths of her research for her WIP about the Mothman. To get your Mae Clair fix today, you’ll have to visit my blog at  https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com 

I’m here today to talk about my own version of research. I come up with some pretty wild things for my stories, but I’ve found it easier to fertilize my imagination somewhat. Maybe I should call it pre-research. To that end I use two special apps.

The first one is my RSS reader. This allows me to subscribe to topics that interest me. As a writer of science fiction, fantasy, and paranormal it helps to have data pushed to me. I get articles on archaeology, space exploration, webcomics, fantasy art and more this way.

I also use something called Zite Magazine. This allows me to subscribe to content that interests me, but it allows me to refine it. When you first pick a category, the app searches for the word. “Voodoo” will return information about doughnut shops, Jimmy Hendrix music, voodoo economics, and a bunch of other stuff you don’t want. Zite comes with a thumbs up or down option to help refine your results. Spend a month with it and you’ll be learning all about Gris Gris Bags and Black Cat Oil.

But wait, there’s more! I save time by checking these feeds daily. Not everything is awesome, and some days it’s just a quick surf. When I find something of interest I move it to my living documents.

I keep living documents on my iPad with names like Cryptids, Science Fiction, and Paranormal. I add a few notes, and include the link to the article. Now I have a handy reference guide when I need a story element or maybe even a central theme. I also save neat articles and post about them on my blog on occasion. I call these my Idea Mill posts.

My living documents aren’t fancy. They’re just notes for me, but they grow over time. If a note says, Black Shuck the Hellhound of Suffolk, that’s all I need. I can paste that into any search engine and get tons of data. (Try it, and learn all about Black Shuck) As the documents grow, I organize them into categories like ghosts, voodoo, witchcraft, etc.

Here’s an example of how this helped me out. I was writing a science fiction story called Arson at the time. Zite Magazine pushed me an article about micro-thin electronic circuits that would dissolve in water. The purpose was to use them in surgical applications one day. Wow, they’d probably wash away in a fire hose too. Look Ma, no evidence. The idea wouldn’t have occurred to me in a million years, but Zite provided a seed.

I received a post about an archaeological dig in Ancient Rome. It was all about a rock with a prayer carved on it. Apparently the ancients would place the rock on an outcrop and grind it clockwise while repeating the prayer. It also worked counterclockwise as a curse. I tucked it away in a living document, and thought no more about it. When I needed a little something for a novel called Panama, there it was.

I also keep living documents about various writing lessons. It’s just a handy place to remind myself of a suspense trick, or a plotting device that might help me out. Right now I need to improve my section on Asian magic and fantasy. I could use more data about Asian dragons too. I have a rough idea for a short story that could use a little kick in the pants.

3D65373B-5BEE-4BD0-8919-FACF56E0F332 smallAll thanks to Mae Clair for inviting me here today. I hope you found my pre-research tips helpful.

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A Writer’s Fiefdom Revisited by Mae Clair

Writers need a special place to create. It doesn’t matter where it is (over the years I’ve had quite a few) as long as we can put our stamp on it.

When I was a kid, it was my bedroom, scribbling in spiral bound notebooks. When I got my fist typewriter at age fifteen (a manual one), I took over my parents’ dining room table. Each day we would move my papers and notes, along with the typewriter, to the floor when dinner rolled around. When the table was cleared, my parents gladly gave me my space back. To this day, I love how they encouraged me to write.

When my husband and I married, the dining room table pattern continued through each of the apartments we leased. When we bought our first home, we set a room aside as my den. Although it was nothing extraordinary, and shared space with the ironing board and laundry basket, I had an actual desk. I remember coming home from work one day and finding it in the living room. Hubby had taken it upon himself to surprise me, and picked it up from a state surplus store.

That desk was a monster. Solid wood, with a built in cabinet in addition to drawers. It always reminded me of something that belonged in a courthouse, it was so huge. It stayed with me for many years afterward, and when we moved to our current house, it became the center point of my den. I was no longer sharing space with laundry and the ironing board, but the room could have used a facelift. Still, it was my spot, reserved just for me. Writer’s bliss.

In warm weather, I took my laptop outside and worked from our deck or covered patio. Sometimes, when the mood struck, I’d stake claim on a corner of the couch in the family room. Eventually, we decided to remodel a smaller room in the house for my den and turn the existing space into a TV room. That meant moving everything from the smaller, guest bedroom into the den during the remodeling process. You might remember me lamenting my space was usurped with clutter in A Writer’s Fiefdom. I promised in that post I would share photos when the project was done.

View of desk and small bookcase

I’ve been neglectful in posting these, but I finally have my newly remodeled den, along with a new desk, bookcases, corner fireplace and flatscreen (which I like to tune to Soundscapes for background music when I’m writing).

Corner fireplace with flatscreen TV

We gutted this room from the floor up. Everything is new – from the floor and moldings, to the doors, switch plates, outlets, etc. I should have taken before and after photos, but didn’t think of the “before” photos until it was too late. Hubby does good work, and I am now a pro at stripping wallpaper. :)

Bookcase

I wanted warm harvest colors and wood tones, a change from the “blue” den I had before.

I’m sure I’ll still wander outside with my laptop come summer, but in the meantime I’m enjoying my cozy new haven, which is perfect for dreaming up characters.

View of desk and computer

Oh, and about that monster desk? We had to dismantle it in order to fit it through the door for trash disposal. It went out in pieces! I wrote a lot of stories on that baby, just like my parents’ dining room table. I’m hoping to write even more in my new fiefdom.

What do you like best about your writing space?

Guest Blogger Gemma Brocato: Listening To The Muse Even When She Whines

I’ve got a treat for you today as Gemma Brocato, author of COOKING UP LOVE, has agreed to share her thoughts about The Muse. Gemma and I connected as sister authors at Lyrical Press, now the digital imprint of Kensington Books. Initially, I had an interview planned with Gemma for today, and wanted to put the spotlight on COOKING UP LOVE. As we wait for everything to sort itself out between Kenstington and Lyrical, book titles are temporarily unavailable, but rather than cancel her visit, Gemma agreed to write a post on a subject I adore — mythology!

Let’s see what she has to say about the elusive, fickle, and oh so wondrous, muse!

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Thanks to Mae for inviting me by today, and for being flexible about what type of post I would present to her lovely followers. See, I’d completed a post about my debut novel, Cooking Up Love and had it ready to go. But the Muses moved the powers that be at Lyrical Press and Kensington to form a partnership that I’m very excited about. Unfortunately, it means my book is temporarily off the market and it doesn’t make sense to promote the book. So, I was inspired talk to you about the Muses.

AThe word Muse actually means desire or wish. As in, I wish I knew where this post was heading.

Did you know there were nine Muses? And they were all girls (wouldn’t you hate competing for bathroom time in that house?). According to Greek mythology Zeus bewitched Mnemosyne and spent nine consecutive nights with her, producing the Musai. The goddesses were born in Pieria, at the foot of Mt. Olympus. Their names might be recognizable for what they’ve come to inspire in present day. Here’s a chart:

Muses Chart

When I look at their names, I see Choir, Eros, Hymn, and Ha.

After the girls were born, Zeus fostered them out to Apollo to raise them. Apollo moved them to Mt. Elikonas where he helped them dedicate their lives to the arts, teaching them to support and encourage creation, enhance imagination and inspire artists. But the power most frequently attributed to them is the power to bring to mind…and clarify…the story the writer wishes to tell. Apparently, listening to what the Muse had to say was important. Ignore it, and she could be spiteful; leaving the artist blind or the singer or poet mute. I suppose that’s what we’d call writer’s block today.

Since the days of Ancient Greece, writers, musicians and artists have called upon their Muse for help and guidance. Homer asks his Muse to tell him the story in the proper way in both the Iliad and The Odyssey.

Eric Clapton spoke about his Muse this way: “I wish I could write easily. I’m one of those guys who’s visited by the Muse when things are dire.”

fotolia_36132060_xsOne of my favorite authors, Harlan Coben, has this to say about his Muse: “The Muse is not an angelic voice that sits on your shoulder and sings sweetly. The Muse is the most annoying whine. The Muse isn’t hard to find, just hard to like – she follows you everywhere, tapping you on the shoulder, demanding that you stop doing whatever else you might be doing and pay attention to her.”

Donatella Versace has a one and it looks a lot like her: “My Muse changes all the time because I think every designer is a bit of a Muse for themselves in a way – they just don’t want to say it.” While I do believe some of her creations are inspired, I wonder what her Muse actually wears? I’m thinking maybe Chanel.

Can you summon your Muse at will? Or must you wait for her to come? I think Amy Tan answered this best: “Who knows where inspiration comes from. Perhaps it arises from desperation. Perhaps it comes from the flukes of the universe, the kindness of the Muses.”

All I know is when my Muse speaks, I listen to her, even when she whines.

~ooOOoo~

cookinguplove_CoverWhat a great post! I loved that line about the bathroom. Cat fight, guaranteed, LOL. I’m anxious to hear your thoughts and answers to Gemma’s questions about your personal muse. And although COOKING UP LOVE is temporarily off the market, you can still add it to your Goodreads list, here.

Author Bio
Gemma’s favorite desk accessories for many years were a circular wooden token, better known as a ’round tuit,’ and a fortune from a fortune cookie proclaiming her a lover of words; some day she’d write a book. All it took was a transfer to the United Kingdom, the lovely English springtime, and a huge dose of homesickness to write her first novel. Once it was completed and sent off with a kiss even the rejections, addressed to ‘Dear Author’, were gratifying.

After returning to America, she spent a number of years as a copywriter, dedicating her skills to making insurance and the agents who sell them sound sexy. Eventually, her full-time job as a writer interfered with her desire to be a writer full-time and she left the world of financial products behind to pursue an avocation as a romance author.

Her gamble paid off when she was a 2012 Finalist in the prestigious Golden Pen contest for Romantic Suspense and she received contracts for her first and second book.

Gemma BrocatoConnect with Gemma at the following haunts:
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Pippa Jay talks Sci-Fi and Writing: Terms and Conditions Apply

Love letterToday, I’m welcoming “Pen Pal” Pippa Jay to my blog as she shares her sci-fi romance, TERMS AND CONDITIONS APPLY. I don’t know about you, but sci-fi has been a genre I’ve adored since junior high.

As I got older, however, the romantic in me couldn’t help wishing for some tender interludes between hero and heroine. Remember the first time you saw that spark between Han Solo and Princess Leia? LeSigh! And what about Dr. Daniel Jackson and Sha’uri in the film Stargate? That’s still one of my all-time favorites.

I’m anxious to see what Pippa has to share, including the story behind an interesting space-station called Venus Ascendant that has the ability to make romantic dreams come true!

Thanks for visiting with me today, Pippa. Let’s start with your writing habits. Do you have a favorite place and/or time of day to write?
These days I’m curled up on the sofa with my laptop, while my three little monsters are at school.

LOL! I bet they’re adorable. Especially when they scurry home at the end of the day, flush with excitment. Which do you find easier to write and why – description or dialogue?
Descriptions, definitely. I love writing descriptions and creating settings.

Terms & Conditions Apply_600x800_300dpiI’m partial to descriptions too. There’s something about painting a picture with words. Let’s talk about your title next. I think it’s extremely clever. How did you choose it?
My two characters were discussing the contract under which my hero was tied to the space-station the story is set on. As soon as I wrote the word ‘terms’ it reminded me of the phrase Terms and Conditions Apply, which we see on almost everything these days – contests, contracts, sales info on pretty much everything we buy etc. I just thought it would be fun to use a common but often ignored legal phrase as a title.

Fantastic idea! Which character did you enjoy writing the most and why?
I quite liked Marie, because she was different to the characters I’d written before. Maybe not a strong person at the start and definitely naïve, but you see her develop even in such a short story, and her bravery over her final choice proved she was stronger than I’d thought.

Isn’t it great when characters surprise you? How did you choose your setting?
The setting was chosen for me! I originally wrote the story for an anthology call, and the space-station Venus Ascendant was part of the canon. I’d not written anything set in such a confined space before, and it had some interesting quirks to use – Frisnik’s bar, for example, and the holographic suites that could be anything the customers desired. In fact, the suite was the greatest challenge because I had to imagine something that Marie really wanted.

I’d love a vacation at a holographic suite, LOL! Was there research involved in this novel? If so, what was the most interesting item you discovered?
I’d done a lot of research on artificial intelligence, artificial skin and robotics before this story, so I put them to good use.

Share one sentence – – yes, only one! – – of dialogue or description you love.
That’s so mean! Okay, one line of description that I love: “They hovered in the fiery remnants of a long dead star.”

Coming up with just one is really tough, isn’t it? :) But I love the line you chose. To me, it’s visual and poetic. Do you have any guilty pleasures (i.e, type of food, music, TV show, shoe obsession, silly distraction) you’d like to share?
I’m a scifi geek, so rewatching some of my favourite series, making costumes, and collecting the odd bit of scifi related goodies are some of my indulgences.

I have a small collection of sci-fi too, mostly old magazines, books and DVDs related to favorite shows and movies. Now for a quick glimpse into some of things you enjoy. Please share your:

Favorite color: Turquoise
Favorite type of music: Alternative rock
Favorite TV show: Doctor Who
Favorite social media platform: Twitter
Pie or cake: Cake!

Ooo, I  love the color choice of turquoise! I’m wearing a turquoise jacket as I type this. Beautiful color. Pippa, thanks so much for dropping by and being my guest for the day.
Thanks for having me!

You can find Pippa at the following haunts:
Website
Blog 
Twitter
Facebook

Goodreads

Author Bio
A stay-at-home mum of three who spent twelve years working as an Analytical Chemist in a Metals and Minerals laboratory, Pippa Jay bases her stories on a lifetime addiction to science-fiction books and films. Somewhere along the line a touch of romance crept into her work and refused to leave. In between torturing her plethora of characters, she spends the odd free moments trying to learn guitar, indulging in freestyle street dance and drinking high-caffeine coffee. Although happily settled in historical Colchester in the UK with her husband of 20 years, she continues to roam the rest of the Universe in her head. Pippa Jay is a dedicated member of the SFR Brigade, a community of science fiction romance authors and publishing professionals committed to writing and promoting the very best in the genre.

Blurb for TERMS AND CONDITIONS APPLY
“Welcome to Venus Ascendant, a Public Grade space station in the Andromedan Galaxy. With our open-to-all policy, any being in the universe can find their perfect romantic getaway at our purpose built resort. The on-board empathic AI Ganesa ensures that anyone coming to Venus Ascendant will find their heart’s desire, with suites that transform from luxurious boudoirs to sunset-lit beaches. So come to Venus Ascendant and find exactly what you’re looking for!”

It was meant to be a romantic getaway for Marie and the love of her life Jaisen; a chance for him to get to know her better after months of her denying him more than a few stolen kisses. Instead, Marie finds herself dumped and alone on Venus Ascendant with no credit for a transmat and the next starship home not due for another hour.

But the all-seeing AI isn’t going to leave anyone aboard the space station with their dreams unfulfilled. Marie’s boyfriend might not have made it to the station, but there are others willing and able to take on the role – even if they aren’t entirely human.

A Science Fiction Romance Short Story
A Gulf Coast RWA Chapter Silken Sands Self-Published Star Award Finalist 2013

Buy links
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Amazon US
Amazon UK
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Add it to your Goodreads shelf here

Roaming the Blogosphere, by Mae Clair

I have the pleasure of being featured today on the blog of Janet Lane Walters, The Eclectic Writer, for her informative How She Does It spot, which she runs every Friday. I was flattered to be asked and am pleased to announce Janet will be visiting From the Pen of Mae Clair on the 25th of June to share her thoughts on being an eclectic writer. That’s a post I’m very interested in, given my love of multiple genres.

In the meantime…hmm, how do I do it? Sometimes I find myself scratching my head over that, but if you’d like to get the lowdown on my formula for writing (er, if you can call it that), please check out my guest appearance on Janet’s Blog. Tomorrow, she’ll be featuring an excerpt from WEATHERING ROCK.

Happy Friday, Everyone!

How Many Words Does it Take to Replace a Light Bulb? by Mae Clair

bigstock-beautiful-girl-4997153I’m a lifelong resident of Pennsylvania, Central PA, to be precise.

We don’t have accents (well, unless you venture into Dutch Country), but I’ve come to realize we do use terms and phrases that sometimes leave others scratching their heads.

That was an eye-opener for me. Oh sure, I was familiar with regional accents from different parts of the country and realized that every area has colloquialisms, but I never realized I occasionally spoke in a manner that other people thought unusual. Given my professional career and my love for the written word, I have a strong vocabulary. I’ve frequently been told I express myself well, even in casual conversation. I developed a tendency for certain precise pronunciations that have become second nature. Some examples:

Either
I pronounce this word as I-ther, not E-ther which is common for my area.

Going
I pronounce this go-ing (two distinct syllables) as opposed to goin’ which is the common choice for my region.

No biggies. But when the internet opened a new world of connections, and I began working with critique partners many years ago, I learned something shocking – – some of my word choices are clearly colloquialisms. Take this sentence as an example:

The light bulb needs to be replaced.

It’s how many people would say and write it (or perhaps, “the light bulb should be replaced.”). Imagine my surprise when I realized I commonly say and write: The light bulb needs replaced.

I can’t tell you how many times critique partners have flagged me because I dropped the “to be.” I had no clue I did it, no clue that it wasn’t correct. I will still use it in character dialogue to reflect local color, but I’m on constant alert for it in prose.

Another example: When I wrote a story with a setting I identified as Riverfront, two critique partners said it should be “the riverfront.” They argued it was strange to use it as a proper name. But I grew up in an area with a location commonly referred to as Riverfront. It’s completely natural to me.

And then there is macadam. Apparently, the rest of the country considers this word the equivalent of something from a foreign language. My editor has even called me on it (we changed it to asphalt).

What about you? Are there any regional terms or phrases that occasionally slip into your writing without your awareness? I’d love to hear some examples!

Fishing for Plots by Mae Clair

Early in our marriage, my husband introduced me to flounder fishing. That attachment eventually evolved into crabbing, clamming, and a long stretch of boat ownership, but in the beginning, it was all about catching the coveted flounder.

Here’s my hubby, filleting the day’s catch at a bay front apartment we rented with his family in Maryland;

MHarbor

I’d never been fishing in my life the first time he took me out. I learned early on there were several types of fish and sea critters apt to go after the bait I dangled into the water, but not all were desirable. Those that weren’t, always got tossed back into the water.

Recently, I started thinking about fish in terms of plot. Sound crazy? Let me put it in perspective:

SeaRobin_LongIslandSound1

This is a Sea Robin
Photo courtesy of Versageek via Wikimedia Commons

JUNK FISH
When you’re fishing for flounder, just about everything else falls into the category of “junk fish.” The most common junk fish we’d hook were sea robins. These guys will never win a beauty contest. If you don’t believe me, take a gander at the gent on the left.

Sea robins look like a leftover from the Paleozoic Era, They have legs, spines that inject poison, and wing-like fins. They also croak like a frog and will complain loudly when caught.

Despite that bizarre appearance, I always thought they were intriguing. They have pretty blue eyes, an opinion not shared by my husband.

Junk plots are much the same. Pull one from your writer’s hat and you’ll quickly realize no matter how you tweak it, you can’t make it work. It might have some redeeming value (like the sea robin’s pretty blue eyes) but, in the end, all you can do is toss it back into the plot bin and fish for another.

HARD SHELL CRABS
You’d be surprised how many hard shells go after a fishing line. In the beginning, we considered them a nuisance (they make nasty work of your bait). Then we realized we could steam them and have stuffed flounder!  After that, any (legal) hard shell that wandered onto our lines was fair game. It wasn’t long before we were baiting and setting crab pots, collecting them in earnest.

Hard shell crabs are the plots that start out looking hopeless, but with polish and attention turn into gems. It takes some work to get them to that point, but when you do, they’re golden!

SAND SHARKS
These guys rarely got snagged in the bay. When they did, thankfully they were small. My husband once caught one that was about eighteen inches long. At that size, they’re utterly bewitching, gleaming tin-foil bright in the sun. 

You know this plot, right? The one that beguiles you with possibility. You’re enraptured by it, treating it like a prized jewel. Until you realize it can’t be manipulated to fit your needs. It blinds you with its beauty, but once you return to writer terra-firma, it becomes fool’s gold. Back into the plot bin it goes.

FLOUNDER
There was always a lot of excitement when we hooked a flounder. It’s why we’d spend 5-6 hours tooling around the bay, burning in the sun, maneuvering through channels and getting swamped in bigger wake.

Flounder is the ideal writer’s plot. Perfection. Oh, you might have to filet it, to make it work the way you want, but you know you’ve got a winner as soon as you hook it.

I haven’t been flounder fishing in many years, but I remember those times with extreme fondness. My husband’s mother eventually bought a place at the beach, and hubby and I spent a couple of decades going down most every weekend during the summer.

This is a picture of the family pontoon boat moored at his mom’s place in Delaware. She has since sold, and although we hung onto the boat for many years afterward, its life finally expired. Salt water is extremely hard on a boat!

PontoonTwenty years of boating results in a lot of tales–and a lot of fish, LOL. I also did a lot of plotting on this pontoon and dreamed up some wonderful stories and characters. Here’s hoping you find more flounder than sea robins when you go fishing for plots!

How do you think my comparisons stack up? Do you recognize any of these fish/plots?