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Miss Sally Sue From Kalamazoo: An Unexpected Transformation

Miss Sally Sue From Kalamazoo: An Unexpected Transformation

The photo below is of an ordinary autumn flower, but the image to the left is that same photo transformed by featuring not its original image but its heat map. Although the original is vibrant, the heat map colors are an eye-grabbing rainbow.

So, too, may bland words gain fire and vigor once the writer takes hold of them.

And sometimes they surprise.

bright flora along the Soldier Creek Nature Trail (c2015, KB)

along the Soldier Creek Nature Trail (c2015, KB)

Monday night’s writers meeting / NaNoWriMo write-in included what has come to be one of this group’s favorite activities: passing around story-starter sheets on which each member adds one element that will then be incorporated into an impromptu short story.

When we have more people than we have story elements, that means each writer will be given a story sheet he or she has never seen. Surprise!

Some of those surprises are unpleasant — second-person POV, for instance, or paranormal romance involving aliens — but the results are usually humorous or delightfully twisty.

Monday night’s session brought me this puzzler and only fifteen minutes to compose a masterpiece:

Character: Miss Sally Sue from Kalamazoo
Genre: Realistic / Magical Realism
Setting: Kansas
POV: 1st
Problem / Conflict: Her mother is ill and Sally must earn money to pay for her medicine
Line of Dialogue: “Oh Sally, why are you my least favorite child?”
Prop: kazoo

My first reaction: “Borrriiiiing!”

My second reaction: “What in the world am I supposed to do with this?”

My third reaction: “Write a children’s poem.”

The result, however, is –not for children. There are few rhymes (noted by the orange font), and little rhythm, but the ending is darkly humorous.

Miss Sally Sue from Kalamazoo
travelled from Michigan to Kansas
a job to find and money to earn,
for her mother lay ill,
and Sally was the only child still speaking to her.

Miss Sally Sue from Kalamazoo
returned to Michigan from Kansas
with medicine and money to spare
for her mother infirm,
but Sally was met by a spurning sigh and a stare.

“Oh, Sally, why are you my least favorite child?”

Miss Sally Sue from Kalamazoo
was not daunted by Mother’s despair.
She measured the powder and water,
offered it with a smile,
then Sally played the kazoo all the while Mother choked as Death caught her.

c2015, Keanan Brand

Before the psychiatrist is called or anti-depressants are prescribed, no, I’m not feeling murderous, and the relationship with my mother is healthy, thank you. 😉

The transformation of words is what I intended, but how they transformed and what they became was certainly not my intention.

Surprise!

Neon Blue permutation of the image above (c2015, KB)

Neon Blue of the image above (c2015, KB)

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Released Into the Wild: Dragon’s Rook

art & design c2014, Suzan Troutt; background photo c2014, Keanan Brand

art & design c2014, Suzan Troutt; background photo c2014, Keanan Brand

It’s been a long journey — twenty years — but Dragon’s Rook is finally going to see the great wide world.

This book could have been released much sooner, but I would have been less happy with the results. Some publishers wanted to chop it into smaller pieces, some wanted to mine it for a particular plot while ditching the rest, some thought it too derivative and some too different, so I stopped seeking a publisher and decided to go independent with it.

The publishers who wanted a shorter book were not wrong, but I simply could not meet their tiny word count. Still, I knew the book needed work, so I tightened the writing and the story itself, cutting tens of thousands of words in the process.

Even on the day Dragon’s Rook was uploaded as an e-book, I made revisions. Considering how easy revisions are in this digital age, if I’m not careful I could tweak this thing into oblivion, but I’ll back away and let it be. There are other stories to tell.

And this one is only half-told. The second book, Dragon’s Bane, was the subject of this year’s NaNoWriMo effort, and is still a long way from complete.

But back to publishing: It’d be great if I could finance the printing up front — hefty paperback, dust-jacketed hardcover, nice marketing materials — and oversee the entire process, but since I’m a rookie at this type of publishing, I’m using Smashwords and CreateSpace, releasing the e-book first and then the printed version. In the future, though, I’d like to do this right.

Currently, the EPUB (Nook) version is available for pre-order, and the MOBI (Kindle) format will be available soon. The price is $3.99, and the book will be available for immediate download on January 26, 2015.

NOTES:

If readers are interested in a PDF of the novel and are able to make payments via PayPal, they may leave comments on this post or send e-mail, and I will be happy to oblige.

Also, I will be happy to make free e-copies available to a select number of reviewers. If interested, please leave a comment or send e-mail [keananbrand@yahoo.com].

Finally, for those interested in the artist — Suzan Troutt — she blogs at Jade’s Journal, and  sells jewelry at Gothic Tones. Follow the Gothic Tones page on Facebook for contests and special sales.

 

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It’s All about Me (bwah-ha-ha-ha!)

It’s April Fool’s Day here in the States, but I promise — cross my heart — everything in this post is true. 🙂

Well, except for one thing. The title is true and untrue at once. Stick around. You’ll see.

The proper title should be this: Sharing My Writing Process — An Experiment. This post is part of a blog hop, and my invitation came from Travis Perry. There’ll be more about Travis and the hop when I reach the end.

But first, the questions:

ruins in Eureka Springs, Arkansas (cKB)

ruins in Eureka Springs, Arkansas (cKB)

Q     What are you working on?
A     I’m revising and doing last-minute rewrites on an epic fantasy that is planned for publication in summer or early fall. It’s a book I gave up on, but for which I have regained a new appreciation. The first half of a duology and weighing in at over 200k words *, Dragon’s Rook is still very much an unfinished work. As I enter the last handful of chapters, I realize 1) endings are difficult to get right, and 2) there’s a stinkin’ lot of story left to tell.

I’m also writing a modern urban fantasy — vampires, swords, cell phones and such — called The Unmakers. It’s a strange tale, and I’m not always sure how to approach it, but I like it and can’t wait to tell it. The story owes its sensibilities to Bram Stoker, medieval knights, film noir, the Old West, Christian missionaries, and teenage ghost hunters. Yeah. See why I’m not sure how it’s supposed to be told?

I once vowed I’d never write about dragons or vampires, but what do I do? Write about dragons and vampires.

I also want to finish Thieves’ Honor, a science fiction serial I originally started as a NaNoWriMo project back in 2007. Then I resurrected it and posted pieces on my old blog. Johne Cook, an Overlord at Ray Gun Revival, read an episode or two and invited me to write for the magazine. When RGR went into hiatus, Thieves’ Honor was incomplete, which is how it remains today. However, you can read episodes of it here. (click links at top of blog page)

a view from Mount Magazine, Arkansas (cKB)

a view from Mount Magazine, Arkansas (cKB)

Q     How does your work differ from others of its genre?
A     I strive to make the fantasy epic and heroic while still letting people be real. Other writers do, too, and many stories are far grittier than mine, but I don’t want to mistake “grit” for “realism”. Sure, folks misbehave and kill each other, and it’s an ugly world out there, but people can be decent, brave, patient, and all the “soft” stuff that doesn’t seem to be mentioned as often as violence, sex, and messed-up people.

Yes, there is violence, sensuality, and messed-up people in my stories. But there’s also hope. I like hope. Makes me get up each day and keep trying.

Q     Why do you write what you do?
A     Why, indeed?

I write whatever interests me. I hated research papers in school, but now educate myself by researching whatever captures my fancy. Sometimes it leads to unexpected stories, sometimes it enhances what I’m already writing, and sometimes it lets me meet interesting folks I might never meet otherwise — modern blacksmiths, for instance, or medieval re-enactors.

Some stories begin as dreams or what-ifs, some began as challenges from other writers, and one story (unfinished) came to life when I was ill for a long time and unable to leave my bed much. I was bored, weak, kept falling asleep whenever I tried to read, so I let my mind wander.

Q     How does your writing process work?
A     Dragon’s Rook started out as a short story almost twenty years ago, and looked far different from the sprawling chihuahua-killer it is now. The rook in the title originally only had one meaning — a chess piece — and that meaning obliquely remains. There’s a chess-like game referenced in the story. However, rook gained other meanings as the story grew: blackbird, a place to nest birds, a tower, and a cheat.

the dragon who used to keep me company on my old writing desk, and the inspiration for one character in Dragon's Rook (cKB)

the dragon who used to keep me company at my old writing desk, and the inspiration for one character in Dragon’s Rook (cKB)

The dragons, though? They were an unexpected development, meant only to be brute beasts. Then one started talking. Then it laughed. And then the story changed.

So, process? It’s messy.

As a young writer, I tried following all kinds of advice: where to write, when to write, how much to write, how long a story must be, how a story must look, all sorts of formulas, but imagination shriveled up and creativity died.

Then someone asked the right questions:
1) So what? Who cares? (What’s important in the story, and why?)
2) What’s driving the story: the plot or the characters?(Just as our character determines our actions, choices, and words in real life, so do fictional characters decide what happens and what to say, strongly influencing the plot.)

I ditched the advice and the bogus rules, and started writing what I wanted, how the stories demanded to be told. Ideas returned, and for a time there were nights I never slept, trying to record the ideas flooding my mind. (Not a recommended way of living, especially if one must go to a job on a regular basis, as I did.) After a long dry spell, not only did I write novels, but short stories, poems, essays, freelance articles.

But I don’t write every day, and I don’t write in the same place or at the same time of day. Formulas and schedules don’t work for me. **

Sometimes I have nothing to say, sometimes I can’t write fast enough. I’m still learning to be okay with the silences, when ideas hide and words refuse to obey.

* —– * —– * —– * —– * —– *

Now, about those other writers who make this post’s title untrue:

Travis Perry, blogger at Travis’s Big Idea, and author of several speculative stories, invited me and a few other writers to participate in this “blog hop” on how we write. (I was supposed to post yesterday, but there were other words to be written.) If you like magic mixed in with your science fiction, check out his fun short story, “A Little Problem With the Dilithium Stone“, a fan’s homage to Star Trek and fantasy tales.

L.S. King, a friend and fellow writer, is also participating in the hop. Her newest novel, Sword’s Edge, is now available and gaining excellent reviews.

K.M. Alexander, not part of this loop but participating in another branch of the blog hop, has answered the same four questions on his site.

If she’s up for it, I’m challenging Suzan Troutt to add her own contribution.

Now, go forth and write!

* And that’s after pulling out about 20k words to streamline the book. Yup. It’s a monster.
** For writers who do work better with schedules or particular parameters, check out the advice on the Nail Your Novel blog.

 

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Finished — Sorta

Just finished inputting my word count for NaNoWriMo 2013, that mad rush to slap 50,000 words or more onto paper every November, but a word count does not a finished novel make.

I was a NaNo rebel this year, and didn’t just write on one novel, nor did I create an entirely new story, but added material to two novels, wrote a presentation and an essay, and dumped all those words into my word count.

What? I violated the spirit of NaNoWriMo?

Perhaps.

However, for a writer who has spent little time actually writing, November has afforded me an opportunity for literary hedonism. Most of my “word time” in the past two years has been spent editing other writers’ manuscripts for publication. Meantime, my own novels have gathered virtual cobwebs in the corner of my computer’s desktop.

The only way to “win” (complete) NaNoWriMo is to compose 50k words and dump them into the manuscript validator on the website. So, almost every word I wrote this month–excluding e-mail–was eventually copied-and-pasted into a hodgepodge document. My real goal, however, wasn’t the word count but progress on an urban fantasy too long incomplete.

Made a promise to a friend back in the summer: that I would have a completed draft of this novel ready by the middle of July.

Sure, I’ve made progress this month, and sure, there are eight months remaining before the deadline, but it’d be great to finish the rough draft by, say, February, then polish it up nice over a couple more drafts before handing it over to the aforementioned friend, who has been waiting for a few years to read the rest of the story.

Which proves once again that, despite my dislike of deadlines, they are necessary motivators.

2013-Winner-Facebook-Cover

 
 

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