Alycia Christine

Enchanting Tales, Intriguing Art

Tag: Michael Crichton

Showers, Flowers, and Keyboard Head-Banging

Along_Tracks_AC4x6As I mentioned in last week’s newsletter, fall is here and I am excited. I love this time of year for many reasons, but one of the major ones today is that autumn usually brings rain to West Texas. After a sizzling summer, the cooler temperatures and more frequent showers create a wonderful recipe for last-minute eruptions of wildflowers to color the landscape before the bleak, brown vision of winter descends upon the desert.

Consequently I was shooting Black-Eyed Susans and doing happy dances most of last weekend. It was heavenly. I don’t know what it is about wildflowers that make me so deliriously joyful, but they do. Of course, the last few weeks haven’t all been sunshine and flowers. I’ve also been hard at work on other projects as well. Some of these projects have gone very well and some have caused me to bash my head against my keyboard more than once.

Since the last full update in August, I have:

Writing:

Wrote, edited, and published “The Cleaning” short story. This fiction piece is a much darker tale dealing with the problems of corruption and censorship.

Finished writing “The Twirling Ballerina” short story. This story is short and bittersweet at about 2800 words. It’s making the beta reading rounds right now it seems to be jerking tearful smiles from just about everyone who reads it. We’ll see what my editor says, but I’m really hoping to release this story around December 1 as an early Christmas present for everyone.

Wrote “A Hero’s Moment” short story. This is a 6500-word tale that won’t hit eBook screens until 2015, but I think the wait will be well worth it. This was a fun writing-romp and I think it will just enjoyable of a read…once I get it polished, of course.

Continued writing Thorn and Thistle. The story has been inexplicably frustrating for the past month with one bout of writer’s block after another. Since the first 25,000 words came so easily, I wondered when the other shoe would drop and it finally did at 28,000 words and 10 chapters into the tale. Since then, it seems that I have trekked uphill in the freezing snow to capture every single new word. I finally had to reread the story from the beginning so that I could double-check plot inconsistencies and momentum problems before moving forward. That has helped matters, but it is still a long slog. Time for more research!
 
Photography and Graphic Design:

Photographed pieces of real estate, industrial equipment, and a historical building for clients.

Photographed wildlife including birds and dragonflies near Weslaco, Texas. Several of my blog photos during September were taken during this shoot.

Photographed wildflowers near Monahans, Texas. Today’s photo is from that shoot.

Posted new art photography on my website: “Along the Tracks”, “Gossamer Beauty”, “Orb Cloud”, “Three Beauties and a Beast”, and “Water Bug Ripples”.
 
Reading:

Continued reading the Bible. I finished Acts, Philippians, Colossians. I began reading Romans and 1 Corinthians.

Finished reading The Naked Truth About Self-Publishing. This book is a great source of knowledge for indie authors. I took notes while I read it, which saved me the hassle of trying to remember all of the tips and tricks tucked into this little volume. Last month, I began implementing some of the authors’ advice with good results.

Read Blood Feud: The Clintons vs. The Obamas by Edward Klein. A fascinating and sometimes unsettling look at these key players in the Democratic Party. The book read like a fast-paced soap opera. If the real-life people are anything close to Klein’s portrayal of them, I pity them.

Read “The Wild Swans” by Hans Christian Anderson. While I enjoyed the premise of the story, I forgot how dry some of the author’s tales can be.

Read The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. I finally read this classic story! It’s a truly beautiful and thought-provoking tale.

Read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. This was an interesting, but sometimes frustrating story to read. I found it a bit of a mixed bag with characters that I alternately enjoyed and disliked. It was real and, at times, very gritty in its portrayal of life and death. All in all, it pulled no punches as a cancer book.

Read Broken Aro by Jen Wylie. This book had great potential, but ultimately flopped on delivery. I liked the characters, but the plot was horribly cliché. The writing needed serious editing, especially in regard to punctuation. All in all, this story lacked substance and refinement from beginning to end.

Read Divergent by Veronica Roth. Wow, this story was incredible. I loved the characters. The plot was fast-paced and engaging. The vivid writing grabbed and drug me kicking and screaming straight into Tris’s world. I loved the Dauntless culture and yet I plainly saw its flaws.

Read Insurgent by Veronica Roth. I was so sad to leave the Dauntless culture behind, but the larger cultural world of the factions and their political affiliations was very thought-provoking. As usual the tension of the plot me and the vibrant characters kept me reading well into the night.

Read Allegiant by Veronica Roth. This book was a much slower read for me than its predecessors. The plot was neither as strong or as well-paced as Divergent or Insurgent for me. The writing, while good, lacked the same strong flow due to the split narrative. All this being said, though, I loved the book’s conclusion. I know other people who were less than enthusiastic about it, but I found the ending quite powerful and moving.

Continued reading of Pirate Latitudes by Michael Crichton. I’m stalled on this book, not because it isn’t good, but because my pirate research for Thorn and Thistle has taken me elsewhere. I hope to finish Crichton’s book soon.

Began Real Pirates by Barry Clifford and Kenneth J. Kinkor. I had picked this book up a few years ago at The Denver Museum of Nature & Science and now I’m finally getting the chance to put its information to good writing use. Yeah!

Began reading On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. While I am not a huge fan of King’s books, he is a master storyteller. His book, so far, is interesting from a biographical point-of-view. It’s laced with stories from the author’s life as well as his opinions on what makes quality writing. Like me, King adores Strunk and White’s book The Elements of Style and makes regular references to it in his own book. We’ll see how it turns out.

Read a few Wall Street Journal articles.

Read a few Writer’s Digest articles.
 
Gaming:

Played Jumbline.

Played Mahjong.

Played Minecraft.

Played Munin.

Played Peggle Deluxe and Peggle Nights.
 
Other:

Finished writing my 2015 business plan including a complete publishing schedule for 2015.

Created an “Authors Goals” poster detailing my business dreams and aspirations to hang on my office wall.

Attended the Laredo Comic Con. This was a tiny convention with a few panels and booths available. It was fun, but not a con that I’ll likely attend again anytime soon.

Began a workout regimen alternating between Karate and bike-riding. I studied Karate during and after college, so I’m excited to train in it again. Hopefully it and the biking will give me more energy and keep me healthier.

Taught Children’s Church while my husband was gone on business trips.

Purchased a new phone since mine was no longer holding a proper charge.

Purchased a new, more comfortable office chair.

Replaced the kitchen faucet.

Repaired both my husband’s and my cars.
 
My goals for the next six weeks are to:

Create e-book cover art for “The Twirling Ballerina” short story.

Publish “The Twirling Ballerina” short story.

Finish cleaning up “A Hero’s Moment” short story and send it to my beta readers.

Write “Space Junkers” short story rough draft.

Finish the rough draft of Thorn and Thistle.

Participate in National Novel Writing Month. I know that writing 50,000 words in a month on a story unrelated to any of the work mentioned above probably won’t happen, but I enjoy trying to kiss the wind.

Continue my workout program.

Prepare for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!

Alycia


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

What’s the Best Weapon against Writer’s Block? Find Out Now!

Rivulets_AC4x6Sometimes writing isn’t fun; sometimes it’s a real chore. I guarantee that you’ll have to trudge through episodes of writer’s block just as much as you’ll skip past easily-crafted scenes. But never fear because we authors have a few weapons in our arsenal to help us break down those ugly creative barriers to get to the beautiful prose on the other side.

One of my favorite personal siege engines against writer’s block is research. Now calm down before your collective groans start drowning out my sentences. Research can actually be a ton of fun because it helps satisfy our natural curiosity as human beings. The other reason research is fun is because it makes our jobs as writers much, much easier.

Imagine this: you are writing a scene where two characters are eating in the middle of a deli-style café, but you’ve never actually set foot inside a deli. It’s going to be very difficult to accurately describe what’s going on around your characters or even what they’re eating if you have no experience in a similar sort of setting, isn’t it?

We writers have words as our only essential tools for building a story, so we must describe everything to our readers. That is extremely difficult to do if we don’t understand how something works or the way an object or person looks. This is why research is so essential to writing and why it becomes one of our most important weapons against writer’s block.

There are essentially two types of research. One is what I call focused research and the other is called ambient research. Ambient research is a type of research that most people don’t even know they are doing when they do it. Ambient research usually happens while writers learn something new about a subject while they are doing something unrelated to an actual focused study of that subject. This could be anything from learning a piece of trivia while playing a game or experiencing a new place for the first time while on a vacation. Ambient research is very different from focused research.

When most people hear the word “research”, they immediately think of hours spent studying dusty volumes in the stacks of a local library. Library reading is part of what I call focused research and it is quite useful when authors need to answer specific questions in their writing. However, focused research is much more than simply wading through library bookshelves. Focused research also means that an author might need to interview a key expert in a particular field or participate in a certain activity in order to “really get a feel” for a specific aspect of his or her story such as its plot, setting, or characters. While focused research seems to happen more often for nonfiction writers, I promise that fiction writers will find it just as useful no matter their genre.

We’ll use me for an example dealing with the two types of research since I am an easy target. Like any good author, I write what I love. I am a fantasy author and I also love watching movies and reading books in the fantasy genre. I learn a lot from fellow speculative fiction authors, but I principally read their stuff because it’s highly entertaining. Keeping all of this in mind, let’s say that while I’m watching the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides movie for the thousandth time that I suddenly become interested in reading more about pirates. I pick up Tim Powers’ book On Stranger Tides, which loosely inspired a couple parts of the movie. After I read that book, I go on to Michael Crichton’s Pirate Latitudes novel because I’m still interested in reading more stories about 18th Century buccaneers—both real and fictitious. This is called ambient research because I have learned more about a particular subject through various forms of entertainment without doing a serious study of it. Some of what I have learned will be inaccurate because the information that I learned came from entertainers instead of scholars; however, some of my new knowledge—like the basic parts of a ship—will be accurate. However, if I suddenly decide that I want a deeper knowledge of the actual pirates who lived in the 1700s, my interest is now intently focused and so my research will be specifically directed toward nonfiction sources such as The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard with the specific goal of gaining a deep understanding of my subject. Hence my research will become focused research.

Because I write what I love, I don’t mind doing research of either type because the research that I do—whether ambient or focused—is about subjects that I find genuinely fascinating in the first place. I often like to approach writing a specific story by reading fiction and nonfiction books of a similar nature or subject-matter before, during, and after the writing process. This constant flow of focused research, ambient research, and general inspiration helps me more easily work around those writer’s blocks caused by a lack of knowledge. I also love to use photographs from my and other people’s travels as a guide to help me describe certain scenes more easily. I use focused research in the form of personal experience, expert interviews, scientific journals, and full-on, library-haunting study sessions for those more persistent blockades.

Whatever research you do, please remember that the key to getting the most out of research is to always make sure your stories reflect your personal interests. Making your stories personal and your subject matters interesting will help drive your passion toward them and your passion will help you ensure that your stories are written accurately. Accurate research is one of the best ways to create high quality writing that readers adore, so make it count. Your readers will pay attention to your story’s details and they will complain when something is incorrect. The last thing you want is to be remembered as a lazy writer, so get your details right before you share you work with the world.

For instance, if your story is set in downtown Chicago, make sure that you know what downtown Chicago looks, feels, and smells like. If your story is set in early 19th Century Montana where horses were the main form of transportation, then talk to cowboys about how they care for their steeds. Study horse anatomy, western-style riding, and tack terminology. Then give subtle hints of your new-found knowledge to build your story’s accuracy. Even if your characters set foot in a completely imaginary realm, you should do some research to find out what realistic place and time period most closely resemble the fantasy world you are trying to build. Remember, good writing drops the reader smack-dab into the middle of a story’s scene. Good research should do the same for the author.

Until next time, may we each rewrite our world for the better!

Alycia


The Seared Cookie Report: one Artist/Writer’s Labored Soliloquy (SCRAWLS) is brought to you from the writing desk of Alycia Christine at Purple Thorn Press and Photography with love, art, speculative fiction books, and virtual baked goods for all. Please let me know your thoughts about this particular post and, as always, if there is any subject you wish me to discuss, contact me. Thanks!

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