Wednesday, February 24, 2010

How I Fix a Wilted Salad

Or "Pass the Italian: An Overview of How I Edit."
As I work on my craft, I've identified one of my writing quirks as the tendency to insert cliche', redundant and/or unnecessary words and phrases into WIP language because it flows unfettered from head to paper or keyboard. I call this my "wilted salad draft"--tired sprigs (phrases) that sully what should be a crisp word salad. These droopy ingredients add little to the action, mood or plot development and only serve to make the offering less appetizing. They need to be picked out and sent on a quick date with the garbage disposal.

My guess is, for many writers, it's instinct to write like we talk. That's great for a first draft, where the goal is to get 'er done. Not writing with your internal editor turned on is often more productive, less stressful and can open doors to creativity. But at some point in the process, it's time to weed out the stale garden greens.

It's easier to illustrate this with examples (none of these were extracted from an actual manuscript):

Wilted salad draft: I had no idea where to go next, let me tell you. The thugs were ahead of me and the hell dogs were behind me--how far I wasn't sure, but they were there somewhere. If I'd told Jim once I'd told him a million times not to walk down dakr alleys in Scatoggo and here I was, finding myself standing here with no way out.

Picking out the dead stuff phase: I had no idea where to go next, let me tell you. The Thugs were ahead of me, and the hell dogs were behind me, how far I wasn't sure, but they were there somewhere. If I'd told Jim once I'd told him a thousand times never to walk down dark alleys in Scatoggo and but here I was, finding myself standing here with no way out.

Fresher: I had no idea where to go. Thugs ahead of me, hell dogs behind me. I'd told Jim never to walk down dark alleys in Scatoggo and here I was, with no way out.

In this case "and here I was" was left because it's needed to make a logic bridge between telling Jim not to do something the character just did. No, we're not done. A further rework is in order to attack this and eliminate the "was" if possible.

In addition to being clunky, the phrasing is flat. It needs a more active and direct verbage. It should put me in the character's shoes instead of feeling like the passage is being related to me. More mood-setting description and employing the senses will help ramp up the tension and immediacy. I opt to take a different tact.

Hadn't I told Jim never to walk down dark alleys in Scatoggo? I covered my nose to block out the stink of decaying refuse. Overhead, scuffed brick walls leaned in on me. No way out.

I use "stink" here rather than "aroma" because it's grittier, less pleasant. Aroma is lovely for flower gardens, spices and baking bread, but not rotting refuse. I use "scuffed" rather than "brown" or "dark" or "hard" because those are what we'd expect of brick, but "scuffed" paints more of a picture--that the surroundings are in disrepair and somewhat battered.

Then I go back and shoehorn in a 'lurked' to add mood to those thugs who are lying in wait ahead of me and "baying" to those vicious hell dogs closing in on my trail.

Here's the before and after:

Original wilted lettuce: I had no idea where to go next, let me tell you. The thugs were ahead of me and the hell dogs were behind me--how far I wasn't sure, but they were there somewhere. If I'd told Jim once I'd told him a million times not to walk down dark alleys in Scatoggo and here I was, finding myself standing here with no way out.

Fresh(er) salad version: I had no idea where to go. Thugs lurked ahead of me, hell dogs bayed behind me. Hadn't I told Jim never to walk down dark alleys in Scatoggo? I covered my nose to block out the stink of decaying refuse. Overhead, scuffed brick walls leaned in on me. No way out.

Nope, we're still not done. We've got to reduce calories. Is there somewhere we can cut back on the ingredients by substituting one word for two? A panicked thought for a longer phrase?

How about "stifle" in place of "blocked out?"

How about "Now what?" in place of "I had no idea where to go."

Now what? Thugs lurked ahead of me, hell dogs bayed behind me. Hadn't I told Jim never to walk down back alleys in Scatoggo? I covered my nose to stifle the stink of decaying refuse. Overhead, scuffed brick walls leaned in on me. No way out.

The freshened version uses fewer words to add more meaning and emotion to the paragraph. The character's sense of panic at being caught between two dangers is better portrayed without the character ever thinking "I am trapped." The character's thoughts of what they told Jim suggests they are a guardian or role-model who failed to follow their own advice. It suggests a character flaw. Do as I say, don't do as I do.

The alley is drawn as a gritty and unpleasant place to be trapped. If this paragraph is a hook, it's done a pretty good job of providing information through situation and character circumstance--show don't tell. Even pulled from the middle of a scene it gives enough information that the reader isn't left puzzled, or worse yet frustrated wondering who, where, what and how? A sense of each of those questions is translated in this paragraph.

Is there still room for improvement?

There's always room for improvement. But perfection isn't the goal, only polishing your prose to the point a reader can get lost in the words and never realize they're reading.

Croutons, anyone?
~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why Don't (Most) Males Write SFR?

Worth a read for it's unique perspective, this article on SFF Insider is titled,  Science Fiction Romance, A Male Author's View by Robert Appleton, author of THE MYTHMAKERS (Samhain Publishing).

Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday Blog Tour

Here is it Monday again already (groan!) and that means another link round up of anything writerly or SF(R).

For a scenic sidetrip, check out NPR's Suppose the Earth Got Saturn's Rings an imaginative video and pictorial trip down What If Lane.

An invaluable reference site for writer's of most genres, Writer's Forensic Blog contains factual information about forensics, weapons and wounds.  This site has been added to our reference sites on the side bar. Warning: This blog posts actual pictures and detailed information.  Not for the squeamish.

Author Lisa Shearin (of Raine Benares series fame) is hosting a "You Might Be a Writer If..." contest on her blog.  I got a serious laugh out of some of these...and doesn't everyone needs a good laugh on Monday?

Prompted by a blog discussion with my peers that involved much head-scratching and puzzled expressions (or the online facsimiles of those), here's a Wikipedia entry explaining the various types of electronic file format types for e-books and otherwise.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg explains how puberty, social networking, fan fiction and snowshoes are related in an indepth, entertaining and thought-provoking article on the Alien Romance blog entitled The Strange Benefit of Social Networking.

The Sixth Annual Brenda Novak Online Auction for Diabetes Research is set to begin May 1, 2010, but there are already tons of listings including critiques, reads and lunches with agents and editors, books, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and even a special contest for a six-month mentorship with Brenda Novak herself.  There's something for everyone so stop by early and browse the offerings so you can start planning your bidding strategy now.  Last year's auction brought in over $770,000!  Help make it a cool million for 2010.

Contests, contests, contests!  If you're in the mood to put your best effort up against your peers, there may be no better time than the present.  Thanks to our foundering economy, entries are way down, which means...odds of finaling are way, way UP!  Many contests are extending deadlines or pleading for enough entries to meet their minimum per category.  Thinking about it?  Here are just a few of the upcoming contests to peruse.

Great Beginnings  Deadline: March 1, 2010.  Utah RWA sponsored contest for first five pages of  your novel.  Open to unpublished and published (judged separately).  Only $10 entry fee! Final judges are agents.  Click the link to read more details.

Fab 5  Deadline:  March 1, 2010.  Wisconsin RWA sponsored contest for the first 2500 words of your novel.  Open to unpublished or those not published in the last five years.  $20 entry fee.  Final judges are agents and/or editors.  Click link for more details.

Duel on the Delta  Deadline:  March 15, 2010.  River City Romance Writers (RWA) sponsored contest for the first 15 pages of your novel and optional synopsis.  $25 entry fee.  Final judges are editors and agents.  Clink link for more details.

Touch of Magic (TOM)  Deadline: March 20, 2010.  Central Florida Romance Writers (RWA) sponsors a contest for the first 25 pages plus up to 3 page synopsis. $25 Entry fee.  Final judges are editors. Click link for more details.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Well, as our friends on the paranormal side certainly know, the hottest movie ticket this week is the latest remake of THE WOLFMAN. Benicio del Toro does the growling as the furry fellow this time, with a supporting cast of Anthony Hopkins and Hugo Weaving. Emily Blunt takes on the role of screamer/savior of souls.

This version of THE WOLFMAN looks back to the establishing 1941 Universal film (starring Lon Chaney, Jr.) for inspiration. Del Toro’s beast is not the sexy, protective, kills-only-bad-guys wolf of modern-day romance novels. You definitely do NOT want to be in the bedroom when this guy changes—or even in the neighborhood! He’s the bloodthirsty, kills-anything-in-range-just-for-the-fun-of-it monster of lycanthropy lore. And the movie that depicts him is heavy on the gore quotient—lots of blood and guts, decapitations, disembowelings and so on.

The man that shares the body with this beast is horrified by what he has become, of course. That is the point of the story. **SPOILER ALERT** His only salvation is the one offered by the original film—death. The filmmaker’s only concession to modern shapeshifter romance is that the woman who loves the man is allowed to kill him (with the proverbial silver bullet), and thus release his suffering soul.

Despite the special effects and the copious amounts of blood, it was surprising how faithful this film was to the spirit of the original film. Even more obvious was how paranormal romance has changed how we once viewed “the curse of the werewolf” (or the vampire, or the demon, or any number of other creatures of the night).

Writers like Christine Feehan took an old saw of Gothic romance—good woman stands up to and changes scary, tormented man—and put a crazy twist on it. Now it’s not just his past or his bad temper, but his inner wolf or his bloodlust that he’s struggling to control. She both brings the beast out in him (because she’s his destined mate) and helps him control it (because she’s who she is—and because she’s his destined mate).

And the readers ate it up. Wolves, vampires, demons, gods of half a dozen pantheons—all manner of formerly scary beings are now fair game, because the basic idea is the same. Love transforms what has the potential to be a destructive force into a positive one. Because she loves him, the creature, be he werewolf or vampire or whatever, can reveal his true self. She will accept him and help him “control” the beast. (Yeah, okay, generalized, but most stories will fit the formula.)

You don’t have to go very far to find an example of this concept in science fiction romance, though it may look slightly different at first glance. And if I may say so, it is one that is so overused as an example of SFR that it threatens to become a cliché. STAR TREK fan fiction is one of the roots of SFR, and romances involving the Enterprise’s Vulcan First Officer, Spock, are a given in TREK fiction (though not the sole impetus for fan fiction, as some would have us believe). There seems to be an irresistible appeal to the idea that a woman (human or otherwise) could make Spock lose his vaunted emotional control. Even J.J. Abrams was not immune to this appeal. Like many a TREK fan writer before him, he paired Spock up with Uhura in his STAR TREK film. (At least he proposed an alternative timeline for the romance.) It’s interesting that the “beast” that Spock struggles with is plain old human emotion, something so easily accessible for most. (Or is it?)

The more common equivalent we have to the “beauty and the beast” story in SFR is one in which the alien has powers which he fears would overwhelm his human lover or her world. He struggles to keep them hidden from her, but something about her just opens him up like a light-sensitive plant. Deidre Knight’s MIDNIGHT WARRIORS series addresses this. So, does Linnea Sinclair in GABRIEL’S GHOST and SHADES OF DARK. Again, the woman must convince her man it’s safe to let go, that together they can overcome whatever obstacles lay in their path. (Note that the woman often has to convince herself of this first!)

Finally, of course, you have the problems of cyborgs (Susan Grant’s HOW TO LOSE AN EXTRATERRETRIAL IN 10 DAYS) and alien programming (Ann Aguirre’s DOUBLEBLIND) and unearthly assassins with a lifetime of deadly training (Sherrilyn Kenyon’s BORN OF NIGHT).

So maybe we are starting to pick up on something that our sisters in the paranormal world figured out a while ago: It’s kinda fun to bring the big bad wolf to heel. (In a mutually respectful, free and equal relationship, of course.) We just need to convince a few more readers that the beasts they love to read about also roam among the stars.

Cheers, Donna

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Seriously Northern

Good morning, Yellowknife!

I'm doing research for my RCMP character (Greg Farr) in Outer Planets, who joins the mission out of a small town in the Canadian Northwest Territories called Yellowknife.  In doing various Google searches to learn more about the town and the area--population approximately 20,000...way, WAY north of Edmonton...big lakes...big trees...very cold--I stumbled across a photo blog that features some really unique photography taken by a resident of the town.  I love the flavor, insights and detail offered by these glimpses into everyday life of a town some...what?...3,000 miles north of my homestead in a very different environment. 

The title of my article today is the motto of a local airline.  And wow, does it fit.  Where I grew up in northern Michigan it was called "Up North" (I even have a t-shirt) but Yellowknife?  That's "seriously northern."

I don't need to know every detail about Greg's backstory, just a greater sense of where he came from and what forces shaped him. A feeling for the community where he lived prior to being packed off on a planetary research vessel. 

A picture is truly worth a thousand words but a collection is priceless.  Especially to a writer!  Just want to share a few of the postings (Sharon, I know you'll appreciate these):

sky  (And I thought WE had the bluest skies on Earth)
Inuit art  (I heart ptarmigans)
Yellowknife from the air  (Toto...we're not in New Mexico anymore.)
mural   :)
new mural   :) :)
logo   On Dasher....Oh, wait!  That's a caribou.
footprints in the snow  (Not sure why but this "coming and going" snapshot fascinated me.)
dizzy??  (Um...YES!)
courthouse window  another view  << what character!
chillin'   Mocs?...or mukaluks?
Yellowknife City Hall 
Greenstone building  (no relation)
Monday  (Want to know how to spell 'Monday' in Dene?) (I'm not sure what Dene is.  Inuit?)
Metal sculptures  (represents Drum Dancers on the lake side)
tree benchtable  (Cool!)
plane I will board  (First Air, based in Yellowknife)
Yellowknife turns 75   (Here's trivia for you.  What's the original name of Yellowknife?)

I look at these pictures and try to imagine this place thirty years down the road.  What will the population be?  Will many of these buildings still be standing?  Renovated?  Torn down.  The Great Slave Lake will most certainly be there, but what about the abandoned cabin on Main Street? 

Loved this! Yellowknife has an Aurora Forecast!

I'm no fan of the snow and the cold, but between this photo blog and the coverage of the Olympics today, I have this sudden an urge to go experience the culture of Canada.  Beauty, eh? 

Monday, February 15, 2010

Monday Blog Tour

A recap of some of the best/most entertaining/most educational posts of the previous few days from our favorite martians fellow bloggers listed on our blogroll:

Save Money! Save Trees!  No ARCs!  from agent Kristin Nelson's Pub Rants blog

An Author's Six Rules for Better Readings is a repost on author Lisa Shearin's blog about do's and don'ts of effective author presentation written by Chuck Thompson.  Great advice for anyone contemplating (i.e. dreading) live presentations.

To Query of Not?  That is the Question is "down under" writer Natalie Hatch's humorous take on a topic my co-bloggers and I have been focusing on (and obsessing over?) for the last couple of weeks.  Thank you, Natalie.  We relate.

10 Steps to Making Science Fiction Romance a Contender is an exciting and thought-provoking article brought to you by "SFR Central," the Galaxy Express.  Pay special attention to items #7 & #6 (in count down order).  You may be hearing more from Spacefreighters soon on these items.  (teaser, teaser!)

Alien Romances blog (Rowena Cherry) brings you a very! brief, very entertaining take on Unthinkable Solutions to Today's Problems, taking on the subject of the airline full body scanner controversy.  Ah!  I needed a laugh. 

And finally, io9's Screwtopia.  Yeah, well, you just have to read their take on erotic dystopia.

Spotlight of the Week: 
Susan Kearney's JORDAN  03-01-10 
An alternate history Legend of King Arthur with intergalactic stakes (Pendragon series).

Sunday, February 14, 2010

An Old Debate Still Rages :)

There's an interesting article up on the Alive & Knitting blog by an apocalyptic SFR author Claire Delacroix about Science Fiction Romance vs. Space Opera Romance.  I thought her definitions were interesting and certainly had merit.  It seems some of the SF crowd (I could be wrong about that) immediately jumped on the bandwagon with their battlecries of "you're wrong!" 

Nope, I don't think anyone can clearly delineate the various subgenres so--of course--I had to offer up my slant, with a good dose of MHO. :)
Blue Hearts Love Stars Images

Happy Valentine's Day
from Spacefreighters's Lounge

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Comedian Arsenio Hall used to have a routine he called, “Things That Make You Go Hmmm.” You know. Your teenager swears he didn’t borrow the car, but the radio is somehow set on “music-to-make-your-ears-bleed”. Your husband swears he just had one beer, but the twelve-pack you bought for your ladies’ poker night is down to a six-pack.

CAPRICA is the prequel to BATTLESTAR GALATICA, but it’s “aimed at a more female audience”, or so says a recent article in TV GUIDE.


Or maybe, huh, what? Because I’ve seen CAPRICA and it’s well-written, well-acted, full of provocative ideas and intriguing technology. It’s everything science fiction on television is supposed to be. Frak, it even looks good, with shiny, Terminator-style Cylons and cute little butler robots running around the house.

All of these things were characteristics of BATTLESTAR GALATICA, of course, and contributed to making that show an intensely-loved, if narrowly targeted, hit. CAPRICA shares two other attributes with its predecessor: It’s not afraid of emotion. And it showcases strong female characters. The fans loved those things about BSG. You’d think those would be pluses for CAPRICA, too.

So why am I getting the feeling that all of a sudden they are being seen as minuses? Or is there some other reason CAPRICA fails to measure up on the testosterone scale? So far the story has focused on the tragic circumstances that lead to the wedding of artificial intelligence to Cylon robotics, the involvement of monotheism at the very beginning of that joining and the two families at the heart of all of this (one of them the Adamas). Okay, maybe it’s more I, ROBOT than STARSHIP TROOPER, but there are guys out there that have read or seen both.

Does stuff really have to blow up every five seconds to be of interest to guys? Or is it even worse—is this considered a show that is aimed at a primarily female audience because several of the main characters, including the artificial intelligence placed in the Cylon, is female? Say it ain’t so.

In a recent interview on, series star Esai Morales (okay, there’s one good reason women will be watching) compares CAPRICA to THE GODFATHER. Was THE GODFATHER an action film? he asks. No. Did it kick ass? You bet! It is the human element we are interested in, Morales explains. People and their relationships are always fascinating.

Add the complication of technology, as science fiction does, and you add a modern twist to any age-old story. In CAPRICA, family, grief, religion, politics and over-reaching ambition are themes that are illustrated against a background of the “twelve worlds”, artificial intelligence, robotics and space travel. To me that sounds like more than enough intelligent action to hold an SF fan’s interest, whether that fan is slinging a Y chromosome or not.

Cheers, Donna