Where do you get your ideas?

I think this is one of those questions that comes up a lot in writing circles. I think a better question is “How do you come up with your characters?” When it comes down to it, stories are not so much about ideas (those are called documentaries) as they are about characters and setting (especially for speculative fiction, which is what I tend to write).

I’ve spent the bulk of last week running around with gun people, some of them old friends, many others new ones. And I have a lot of new character ideas.

Some are a bit cliché, but a cliché is a cliché for a reason. For example, the reporter who pretends to be sympathetic until they get you in front of the camera and then pops off a weasel-worded question that’s so inane, you can’t help but look at him with a “dafuq” expression. BTW, the chances you’ll see a “good” character that’s a reporter in any of my stories is somewhere around less than zero.

I do have new character ideas for a family of shooters, including a 10-year-old kid with more personal responsibility in his little finger than most adults today have in their entire bodies. Absolutely amazing. I wanted to stick superhero capes on him and his older siblings. An absolutely amazing — wait, I already said that, didn’t I — set of people. If the rest of America was like this family, raising their kids this way, we’d have a much better, and very different, country.

Also got to see the entire spectrum of gun owners, from what some consider the “marginalized” populations to the stereotypes, all in the same space, getting along swimmingly, enjoying a shared passion, having a good time. It was wonderful.

Of course, once I write these characters, I fully expect to get all sorts of blowback, i.e. they’re unrealistic, but I don’t care.

I know the truth.

Minds of Men (The Psyche of War) (Volume 1)

Need a last minute gift? Kacey Ezell’s book, The Minds of Men is not just a great story, but a realistic portrayal of how war changes people, both men and women. Populated with real characters, ordinary people doing extraordinary things, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read. And can be had, here. Buy it now!

Evelyn Adamsen grew up knowing she had to hide her psychic abilities, lest she be labeled a witch. However, when the U.S. Army Air Corps came calling in 1943, looking for psychic women to help their beleaguered bomber force, Evelyn answered, hoping to use her powers to integrate the bomber crews and save American lives. She was extremely successful at it…until her aircraft got shot down. Now, Evelyn is on the run in Occupied Europe, with a special unit of German Fallschirmjager and an enemy psychic on her heels. Worse, Evelyn learns that using her psychic powers functions as a strobe that highlights her to the enemy. As the enemy psychic closes in, Evelyn is faced with a dilemma in her struggle to escape—how can she make it back to England when the only talent she has will expose her if she uses it?

My first post at superversivesf.com

Check out my first post for the wonderful people at Superversive SF.

Hard Sci-fi Made Me Cry

Tired of the remakes, the reboots, the “let’s see how much more blood we can squeeze out of this turnip” output of today’s Hollywood? I think you’ll find Passengers a refreshing change.

Learning experience: The right way to do first person

I just finished reading Karen Marie Moning’s Darkfever, the first book in her Fever series. Two things precipitated the purchase: recommendation from a friend and part of my continuing education (specifically following Dean Wesley Smith’s advice to read for pleasure and then study the pleasurable reads from long-time, best-selling authors). Moning’s Darkfever met both those criteria and it’s an excellent example of how to do first person well.

I’m not going to cover the plot because it’s a distant third in the way I measure things. I’m far more impressed by an interesting milieu (the setting and skillful world-building) and interesting characters, and for a first person novel, frankly, character trumps all. Actually, plot is never my primary concern. If it was, I wouldn’t re-read my favorite books or series year-in and year-out. See, the plot doesn’t ever change. Psst. Don’t tell anyone.

So here we have MacKayla Lane, a soft, spoiled young woman with lots of First World problems who is far too concerned with her long blonde hair, the names of her nail polish colors, and her wardrobe choices. Not a character that I would typically go for, and had the first person narration been typical, I would’ve probably walked –no, sprinted– away from the free sample and gone on to something else.

What was it about this character that (a) drew me in, and (b) kept me turning the pages? I didn’t like “Mac” very much. She had way too many idiotic opinions and priorities for me to take her seriously. But here’s the rub: I was solidly in her world and in her head from the very start. This first person narrator was very obviously a retrospective narrator and she maintained that presence throughout the book. In other words, it wasn’t an outside-in narration with a pronoun shift to first person, i.e. a story better suited for third person.

Here’s an example of what maintaining that retrospective narrator presence looks like:

…I had no idea that pieces of one’s soul could be lost.

Back then, I was so blind to everything that was going on around me. Back then, I was twenty-two and pretty and up until the month before, my biggest concern had been whether Revlon would discontinue my favorite Iceberry Pink nail polish, which would be a disaster of epic proportions as it would leave me without the perfect complement for the short pink silk skirt I was wearing today with a clingy pearly top, and shimmery gold sandals, flattered by just the right heel to show off my golden, toned legs.

Moning, Karen Marie (2006-10-31). Darkfever: Fever Series Book 1 (pp. 238-239). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

At no time did Moning insult my intelligence by pretending that this was “real-time” or that the peril was such that the narrator’s survival was in doubt, yet there was no lack of tension. It also didn’t suffer from “reporting syndrome,” that awful situation when choosing a first person narrator results in having other characters report their findings to the narrator because so much of the really important stuff took place outside her presence (hint: means it should’ve been a multiple viewpoint novel) .

My only complaint about the story is that there wasn’t much romance despite the obvious and ongoing sexual tension between Mac and Jericho, but there was enough promise of one to make me do the one thing every writer hopes a reader will do when she reaches the end: press that button to buy the next book.