28 Mar 2014


With Lethal Ladies wrapped up for now, I'm using this week as a breather.  I have to decide on the next serial, though I think I know which story it will be.  In the meantime, a trip through NaNos past.

Lethal Ladies was my 2006 NaNovel.  As commented all the way through, there were growing pains.  Jumping from short story to novel is a leap.  The prep I did for the story fell short, as did the story as originally plotted.  I was fortunate enough to be able to adjust on the fly when I saw the problem.  For this, hooray and huzzah for tabletop RPGs, both as player and as DM, which let me keep my wits after a good night's sleep when I realized I was 23 000 words short.

For 2007, I tried a romance.  I had found a call for submissions earlier in the year for a new imprint of Dorchester Publishing that focused on science-fiction romance novels.  The Dunning-Kruger effect hit hard.  I did not realize how difficult a story where romance was front and centre could be.  To prepare, I read some of the books available from the imprint plus a couple of interesting looking Harlequins, mainly from the Athena Force series.

The result, Digital Magic, an urban fantasy where the lead character, Jackie, had next to no interest in the male leads.  Jackie was far more interested in the magic she was learning.  The men were there, and the fantasy plot was well in force, but no chemistry at all formed.  Part of it was the time spent world-building.  Jackie was brand new to using magic, learning the basics.  Strangeness was happening all around, and the villain of the piece, Donna, was content to let Jackie's power build.

The story has elements that I could salvage.  The magic system has great potential, being based on mages having to find a metaphor to understand and use it.  The general plot could be reused, though Jackie didn't quite fit as a damsel in distress.  To be fair, she was going to rescue herself instead of letting some man do it for her.  If I can work out the first installment, I had an idea for a follow up with the same characters.

As I got ready for NaNo 2008, I tried to work out my main problem.  The answer I found was not knowing the characters well enough.  I hadn't fleshed out Jackie enough in my mind to realize that giving her a puzzle meant she focused on the puzzle.  With that in mind, I went through the characters I had worked with already and found Nasty.  As a bonus, I could expand the S13-verse, introduce characters I was trying to find a way to fit in, and play around with superhero tropes.  Crossover was born.

With Digital Magic having reached the 55 000 word mark but unfinished, I had two goals.  First, at least 55 000 words, ideally more, to improve on 2007's output.  Second, finish the story.  Helping me out, AC Cubed was the first weekend of November.  I could adjust my needed daily word count to 2000 words per day and start the real work on November 6th, with anything written before that day a bonus.  I had several 2000 word days over the previous two years; now, it was a matter of sustaining the rate.

Crossover finished the month at about 60 000 words.  I also finished the story.  It's a great feeling to add the words, "The End" to a work.  Knowing the characters, especially how they'd react, got me through many a stretch.  I still needed to look up details, but choosing Cleveland led to putting a super-powered fight outside the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  I even managed to luck out on placeholder names for an intersection.  I was hoping that there would be an intersection of Main and Washington in Cleveland.  There was, and in a great spot relative to the hotel and the Hall of Fame.

I threw myself into the tropes of superhero comics.  Heroes fighting each other.  Evil doppelgangers.  Alternate universes.  Power armour.  With the villains, I could let them plot, showcasing them for a bit, allowing them to be on centre stage while the heroes went about their business at the superhero con.  Oh, yes, I pulled in knowledge about conventions, about panels, about the behind the scenes workings.  Fans in costume, all gathered to see Peregrine.  Yes, Crossover made it easy by practically writing itself.

With Crossover's success in 2008, I kept working with characters I knew well enough.  For 2009, I returned to a character I had role-played in a couple of games, Brenna Halliday.  Brenna started in a superhero play-by-email game.  She was a terminally shy teenager who inherited the Soul Blade, a mystical power that passed from mother to daughter.  Adding to Brenna's fun, the Blade was expected to go to her younger sister, Grace, who received all the training.  Brenna and her mother weren't seeing eye to eye, even after her mom's death.  Worse, the Blade would ensure that there was an heir, so the wielder would get hot flashes anytime someone suitable passed by.  Just want a terminally shy girl wants.  In addition to the Soul Blade, Brenna was able to see and hear ghosts and to psychically read objects.  The latter wasn't under her control; Brenna would wear long sleeves, skirts, and lace gloves to prevent unwanted visions.

Pulling Brenna from the game and into her own story wasn't difficult.  I aged her a bit, putting her in her twenties.  I thought out where her career would have gone, the limitations she had because of her abilities.  Then I worked out the villain's plan.  I introduced complications, including a potential boyfriend.  All the romance I couldn't find for 2007 appeared in The Soul Blade.  Almost derailed the story; I wasn't ready for Brenna to hop into bed with her friend, the police officer, at least not so early in the story.

After 84 000 words, I still didn't have an ending.  The climax had started.  The army of skeletons were marching through San Diego.  The police were trying to stop or at least herd the army away from civilians.  A demon had possession of his victim.  However, Brenna's family had too many unresolved subplots.  Worse, Brenna and her police officer had unresolved sexual tension that needed resolving.  There just wasn't any room to wrap up everything and end the novel at the right place.  The story is currently in Limbo and does deserve to be worked on again.

The Soul Blade was my best word count ever.  Unemployment helped; spend the morning hunting for a job, spend the rest of the day writing for lack of a better idea.  Could I ever hope to equal the output in the years to come?

Feedback from friends about The Soul Blade showed that I might have known the characters too well.  The reasoning for what they did, while natural for them, was obscure to my beta reader.  I had to back down on the familiarity a little.  For 2010, I spent time on a few ideas before deciding on By the Numbers, a Shadowun story.  I had a good idea of two of the characters, but still had vague ideas about two others.  I had also written some setting primers, meant more for potential players.  Another interest of mine, though, helped.

Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is a fun show.  Take cheesy movies, let Joel or Mike and the bots at them, sit back and enjoy.  Why not have my characters do that to one of my primers?  MST3K is just riffing, which is what a lot of people do with friends over cheesy movies anyway.  So, riff my cast did.  It worked.  I got an insight on all of them.

Each NaNo, I have tried to do something different.  Lethal Ladies was just trying NaNo.  Digital Magic incorporated romance, or should have.  Crossover was all about superheroes, first time in NaNo.  The Soul Blade was proper urban fantasy, though it did have romance.  For 2010, I tried outlining for the first time.  The results are mixed.  Without the outline, which can be done prior to November, I might not have worked out the direction of the story.  At the same time, there was something missing, a spark that the previous years had.  Even with the outline, the ending changed drastically and saw one of the characters leave the team.

By the Numbers finished with over 58 000 words.  A little short for a novel, a little long for a novella.  But the story was finished.  I had even left room for further stories.  I have played around with using the characters again, and have realized that the title needs to be changed.  The titles for each year start off as working titles, giving me room to adjust them as needed.  By the Numbers turned out to be the first that does need changing.  To contrast, Crossover may be the perfect name for 2008's work, being a crossover of titles and signifying the crossing over of dimensions done by the villains.  Go fig.

Once again, I wanted to do something different.  This year, erotica.  This story might never be released.  It had a convoluted origin.  I had wanted to try a fantasy novel, and had two characters in mind; Bronya, tall and blonde, and Morwenna, redhead extrordinaire.  Lovers and mages.  However, a fantasy setting just did not work for them.  I kept trying to work out when and where they would work best.  I even tried picturing them in Shadowrun.  However, I flashed upon a scene where Morwenna drove a flying car in pursuit and Bronya stood on the roof, sword in one hand, readied spell in the other.  With a mental shrug, I figured, why not?  I hadn't written any type of science fiction yet.

I managed to break past 50 000 words, but once I had a bit of buffer in case of discrepancy between my word processor and the official NaNo word count, I ended the work.  Other ideas were poking at me, demanding my attention, and I gave in.  The space opera-y work added elements of mystery, and nothing was working together the way I wanted.  I may return to the story.  It may never appear on this blog.

If you go back to the early days of this blog, you'll find the prep work for NaNo 2012.  The new challenge this year was to blog my progress, on top of writing.  I had started working out which story idea to play with and wound up with Beaver Flight.  While working on the story, I realized that it was in the completely wrong format; the more I progressed, the more I realized that the story should have been serialized and visual.  I still reached the 50 000 word mark, but at that point, I set the story aside.

The most recent NaNo, The Devil You Know was inspired by several elements.  First, it was another urban fantasy, the first time I had repeated a genre.  Second, it was current, with BitCoins being a key plot device.  Third, I had a black box character in Jack; I knew what he would do in a situation, but the reasoning was kept hidden even to me.  Jack's a scary person.

While the story was doing well, I faded close to the 52 000 word mark.  I reached the goal, then I had to stop.  I need to get back to the story.  BitCoins are major news, I know what happens next in the scene I left off at, and I have how the story wraps up.  It's the bits in between that need work.  With not quite 52k words, I may have to go back and add other perspectives.  Fortunately, I have a few characters whose insights will help.

With three years of incomplete stories, I do need a NaNo that sees the work finished.  Thus, starting the prep work early this year.  I'm just jotting down some of the ideas to see how much more work is needed.  I do hope that one of them will be the one that gets finished.

27 Mar 2014

Lethal Ladies #33 - Commentary

As always, please read the chapter before continuing.

The big finale.  Sexton and Rose.  A conspiracy brought to personal level.  Not what I had intended, but I'll take what I can get.

Keeping track of the number of times everyone shot their weapon was a minor pain.  I didn't want bottomless ammunition; it would have broken me out of the suspension of disbelief I was working on.  At the same time, counting each round when the characters aren't creates a split in the writing process.  Still, having both weapons go empty was nice to have.  It would have been too easy to just shoot Sexton.  There needed to be a sense of victory.

Rose's arthritic knee returned.  It popped in and out of the narrative, enough to show that Rose wasn't a young woman anymore.  It slowed her down a few times.  Here, Rose fights past the pain.  Yay for heroism!  And what's heroism without the villain monologuing?  Sexton gets in one last burst of machismo.

The worst thing that anyone can do to an opponent is laugh at them.  Argue, fight, shout at, all of those mean that the opponent has reached into you.  Laughter, though, is a dismissal.  It turns the opponent from adversary to comic relief.  Mel Brooks has used laughter as a way to deflate bigots; Blazing Saddles demonstrates the idea in spades.  There's no real defense against being laughed at.  In a tense moment, laughter is unexpected and disarming.

The final tussle was meant to be chaotic, especially with where Sexton's back up pistol was pointing.  Even who shot is in the air.  Either Rose or Sexton could have pulled the trigger, and Sexton's last words don't make it easy.  The shots were the climax of the story, the end to the furious writing to reach fifty thousand words despite an early miscue.

The rhythm I built during the story was a cycle of action, reaction, and investigation.  For every action sequence, I had the characters take time to react to the results.  The denouement is no different.  There were too many threads left dangling to just end with Sexton's death.  Amber was still injured.  Maria is going to need therapy.  Lepinski has an investigation to do and paperwork to fill out.  There is an aftermath, most of which I skip over to get to Amber's triumphant return home.  It was a chance for me to get the Ladies back together and back into their regular routine.  I also filled in the details about what happened to the HMCS Ottawa, the McGuffin of the story.  The Amber-Allison shipping also came to an end.

With the story finished, with the typing of "END", I breathed a sigh of relief.  The final word count was 50 883, barely making it past the goal.  I tried out NaNoWriMo to see if I could succeed.  There were moments when I though I would never make it to the finish line, where every word was difficult to type.  I discovered that I could write a longer story, have it hang together, more or less, and be creative.  It was exhausting at times; there were nights where I went to bed barely able to think straight.  I also discovered that writing can be fun even when it's not coming naturally.  Most of my prior work, including Subject 13, were short stories, where I just had to aim for 5000 words.  Ten times as many words was a challenge.  Finishing that challenge, though, meant that I proved to myself that I can write.

Tomorrow, my time with NaNo.
Over at MuseHack, Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

24 Mar 2014

The Unruly Girls meet Leverage

I may have mentioned before that my approach to writing is atypical.  Sure, there isn't a One True Path into writing, but my entry was via tabletop role-playing games.  One way of making sure a character was viable was to create that character using an appropriate RPG.  Steven Savage over at Seventh Sanctum discusses character creation as part of his Way with Worlds series, and has suggested several ways to create a character and included the same thing, via an RPG.  The idea is viable.

21 Mar 2014

Lethal Ladies #33 - 198 Addison Avenue, Inside

St. Louis, Missouri
198 Addison Avenue, Inside
30-JUN-2007  1424

    Upstairs, Rose reached the back door.  Staying low, she used the hole Elena made with her shot to peek outside.  Unable to spot Sexton, she pushed the back door open.  She waited a moment, letting her quarry shoot if he was going to.  The Hispanic woman rolled out on to the back porch, Colt M1911 outstretched.  She heard feet running awkwardly on gravel.  With a curse, she got to her feet and ran back inside.

Lethal Ladies #32 - Commentary

As usual, please read the chapter before continuing.

The climax is building again, and this time it's for real.  By this point, I wanted the story over.  I wanted November over.  I was hitting a good stride, despite a slow start and running AC Cubed in the middle of the month.  One thing I was trying to do was to make the minimum number of words daily before stopping, and, if possible, go beyond.  Write-ins, where a group of WriMos gather to sit and just write, helped with the word count.  It seems counter-productive, but having a group of like-minded people focused on one common task does help improve not only quantity but quality.

The first scene, at the office, is setting up Rose's side of the coming conflict.  Rose isn't about to let Sexton escape.  Allie's rush Photoshop job might work, at least long enough to convince Sexton.  Given that today people can purchase tickets online and print their own, it'd be easier to convince Sexton that the tickets are real instead of being faked.

The HP product placement came about from a need to pad my word count.  It's blatant, but it got me out of re-using just the word "printer".  In a proper edit, the product placement would be redacted.  Few people refer to items by their full make and model.  At best, the printer would be called a LaserJet.  Yet, two scenes later, I completely miss the chance to use the colour of Rose's van.

Elena's gun is a Russian-made sniper rifle.  I have no idea on the legality of the weapon, but even if it's allowed in the US, the rifle didn't come from proper channels.  Short version, WalMart doesn't sell those.  The comment about the infra-red scope was meant to cement that the rifle wasn't the civilian Tigr.  I also took liberties with the capabilities of infra-red.  Glass really doesn't allow heat to pass through like it does in the scene.  However, I was well into the flow and wasn't concerned about accuracy and was accepting a bit of cinematics for the scene.

Inside, Amber is still providing resistance.  I did need someone to be a distraction inside, but Amber's action came from her instead of my needs.  Fortunately, I was able to take full advantage.  Of course, Sexton would check the tickets.  The problem with creating an intelligent villain is that he will know the various tricks available.  Smith, though . . ..  Smith was the weak point, as demonstrated earlier.  Easily provoked, already in a bad position, Amber poked him just enough.  The order of events, the blood, then the gunshot, is based on physics.  The bullet is travelling faster than sound, so it can get through Smith before the gunshot is heard.  Ideally, readers will know who shot.

Once the gunfight started, I dropped the use of timestamps.  First, I was just going with the action and stopping to figure out the time of the scenes would have pulled me out of the story.  Second, everything is chaotic.  No one had a chance to check the time.  Amber's escaping with Maria, Sexton and Rose are beginning their tete-a-tete, everything is coming together.

The scene in the basement apparently was foreshadowed in Chapter 4.  I really hadn't put that much thought into it at the time, but a friend (say hello to Mathtans) thought I did.  My reasoning with the gun in Rose's glove compartment was Rose had a dangerous job and would keep something handy in her car.  Rose is also wise enough to know that guns and kids don't mix.  However, that one scene may have foreshadowed Maria shooting Rollins.  Unintentional, but I'll take it.

While on guns, the Smith & Wesson Centennial Airweight was chosen because of how it looked in a game supplement and for word count.  The old James Bond: 007 RPG from Victory Games had a wonderful supplement, The Q Manual.  While somewhat dated now, thanks to being about thirty years old, the book detailed all the weapons, cars, and gadgets that had appeared in any /007/ book or movie up to and including Octopussy.  The Centennial Airweight - see, two words - appeared in Dr. No as one of the options Bond had to replace his Beretta, along with the Taisho 14 and the Walther PPK*.  The choice turned out to be a decent one; being a revolver, each chamber had to be loaded instead of just sliding a magazine into place.  Given Maria's age, while she may have been given some firearms training because Rose kept some in the house, she might not have figured out how magazines are put into a pistol.  Another good reason is ramping up the tension.  Fumbling with individual rounds in trembling fingers?  The hammer hitting empty cylinders?  Drama!

This evening, the finale!
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Veronica Mars.
Coming soon, mixing writing with gaming.

* If you've seen a 007 movie, you'll know what his choice was.

14 Mar 2014

Lethal Ladies #32 - Velasco Investigations

St. Louis, Missouri
Velasco Investigations
30-JUN-2007  1405

    Elena dashed to her office as soon as she entered the offices of Velasco Investigations.  Rose stayed in reception and picked up Tyler's phone.  She punched in Allison's extension.  "Allie, come see me in the lobby."  She hung up.

13 Mar 2014

Lethal Ladies #31 - Commentary

I think it says, "Buck buck buck-aww."
Please read the chapter before continuing.  It'll make more sense.

The end of #30 had Rose receiving a call from Amber.  The scene change let me focus on the critical part of the phone call.  Amber is being herself, with some help from painkillers and caffeine.  The note held a threat to Rose if she didn't come through with what Sexton wanted.  Amber couldn't read his handwriting.  This was mostly self-deprecating; my handwriting gets compared to chicken scratches, with the chickens protesting that they're more legible.  At the same time, Amber is provoking the villains again.  If she can play with their heads enough, one of them will make a mistake.  She's already deep into Smith's mind, having unnerved him back in #23.  Keep in mind, it didn't work as well as expected.  Amber still has the slug in her shoulder.

If this feels like I'm covering old ground, well, I am covering old ground.  This is what happens when I pad a story out.  I've mentioned before that most of the writing I did prior to NaNoWriMo was in the form of short stories, typically under 5000 words.  I had a premature climax the last time I had hostages taken.  However, Sexton is the type of character to threaten someone's family, and I had just Rose's worked out.  Elena's is back in Russia and wasn't expected to have an impact on this story.  Both Allison and Amber are single and are junior partners in company.  Sexton doesn't deal with minions, he deals with the boss.  Even if I knew where the younger Ladies' families were, Sexton wouldn't have bothered.  All that said, I used my first NaNo as a learning experience.  One skill I learned is how to keep the story building up without reusing plot points.

The scene with Rose showed her reaction and showed Elena taking over the planning.  Again, it's an echo of the earlier hostage taking.  Elena does have a plan in mind.  Over the next few chapters, a few details that were set up previously will return.  There is a method to the madness.

Back at Rose's home, Amber keeps up her war of wills.  Smith is already in a losing position.  Rollins, though, recognizes what's happening.  If only he had a different boss in his career.  I'm not sure when I decided that he was the more sympathetic of Sexton's henchmen; a lot of ideas flowed from the writing.  This is good and this is bad.  The good part, twists come up that make sense but can still be surprising.  Going back to Subject 13, El Diablo Verde's entire character came out of imagining Ricardo Montalban being his voice actor.  Here, Rollins being more level-headed and sympathetic let me contrast him to his co-workers.  The bad, I sometimes write myself into a corner because what I need characters to do won't fit with their personalities.  Rollins won't shoot a puppy; mind, I never needed him to.  He might shoot Amber; he won't shoot Maria.

Even with Rollins being the more sympathetic agent, Amber still plays her mind games.  Rollins did learn from before; he's not an idiot.  With Amber talking back, Maria has picked up some boldness of her own.  For her, the situation is surreal.  Her kidnappers aren't can't keep the caffeine freak quiet.  Their attention really isn't on her, so she can say what she wants.

For those wondering, the Klingon version of the saying is, "Fool me once, shame on me.  Fool me twice, prepare to die."

Tomorrow, hostage negotiations.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, the trouble with tie-ins.
Coming soon, gaming prep and more.

7 Mar 2014

Lethal Ladies #31 - 198 Addison Avenue

St. Louis, Missouri
198 Addison Avenue
30-JUN-2007  1340

    Amber switched the phone to her other ear.  "Hi, Rose.  Sorry for the disturbance, but I have good news and bad news.  The good news, I know where that guy, Sexton, is.  Well, that's the bad news."  Amber looked up at the impossibly huge barrel of Sexton's Remington.  "He's here."  Amber pulled the receiver away from her ear.  Looking to Sexton, she said, "I told you she wasn't going to be happy."  Hearing Rose's tone return to a normal volume, she put the handset back to her ear.  "I know, Rose, but this guy doesn't listen at all.  Yes, she's safe.  She's with me.  Ha ha, Rose.  Look, Sexton gave me something to read to you.  Hang on."

6 Mar 2014

Lethal Ladies #30 - Commentary

As always, please read the chapter first.

Amber's background came out here, more to set up Sexton's entrance than to really show off Amber herself.  The byplay between Amber and Maria let me show that Amber is more than she appears, despite being true to herself.  She is young, though; Amber has more in common with Maria than with any of the rest of the Ladies.

Sexton's appearance probably could be seen coming.  I'm not sure if it's from Sexton's character or from author desperation.  Sexton was written to be vindictive, so having him threaten Rose's family yet again made sense.  However, if I had more experience writing longer works at the time, the taking of Maria as a hostage would have happened just once.  The duplication of action is the main reason why this story is not being worked on for potential publication.  The ideas are salvageable, though.  The core cast was set up for an ongoing series, as seen in the title of the work, Lethal Ladies: Case File 001 – The Ouroboros Mission.

Amber's reaction to Sexton's orders are, well, Amber-like.  She's stalling for time, so she will be literal.  Sexton says no talking, Amber won't talk, even to answer his questions.  Annoying the villain, though, is not a good idea when he's wounded, angry, and has a shotgun.  A note on the weapons seen in the scene - I chose then for word count where possible.  I saw the light at the end of the NaNo tunnel and started using all the tricks I knew to pad the word count.  I wanted to make sure I did reach 50 000 words.  Rollins' submachinegun became a Heckler & Koch because the company gave me two more words than Colt did.

Padding the word count, though, doesn't mean adding random words and sentences.  I needed to keep myself in the flow of the story, so side trips about Detective Lepinski's graduation day never came to mind.  I might have been able to throw in another flashback to the Cold War when Rose and Elena worked against each other, but that was needed far earlier.  Going back wasn't an option at this point.  I had the end in mind and needed to get there while still adding word after word.  That said, Elena's flirtation with Lepinksi helped and came from Elena herself and not a need to add to the word count.

The 404 joke was padding, but I couldn't think of any other means to get inside the building.  Sometimes, though, the oldest methods are the best.  Dialling a random apartment and pleading can work.  Most people aren't heartless, especially when someone is trying to reach a sick and frail relative.  As for apartment 404, the entire gag works off the 404 error when trying to reach a non-existant webpage; "404 Page Not Found".  The elderly couple in the elevator was more to show why the trick worked; there are tenants who could very well have fallen and broken a leg or a hip.

The show of clearing the apartment was to keep the interest up, despite showing where Sexton was earlier.  From Rose and Elena's point of view, they didn't know if anyone was in the apartment.  The arranging of scenes wasn't the best; today, I'd have to two in a different order, with the time stamp on Amber's scene earlier than the one on Rose and Elena's.  That way, the call at the end added at the end Amber's side of the story, tying the two scenes together.

Tomorrow, how to annoy the villain.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, The LEGO Movie.  Everything is awesome!
Coming soon, a mix of gaming and NaNoPrep 2014.