Category Archives: Chatting with the Readers

Q is for Quintessential

I had some ideas for topics I’d write about during this A to Z challenge.

And then there was Q.

It’s not a bad letter. It just doesn’t lend itself well to a lot of vocabulary. It’s a 10-point Scrabble word for a reason. So is Z, but we have eons before I have to deal with that.

Anyway, I thought about doing a post full of quotations. The ones I love most, the ones that speak to me. But I sort of got lost in the mire of identifying those quintessential quotes.

Quintessential.

What a funny word. I studied Latin in high school, so when I see quint(us), I think five. But what is that? The fifth essential? Fifth element? (A movie I haven’t seen. Go ahead and castigate me.)

So, scratching my head, I did what nerdy people are wont to do… I checked the etymology. And yes, it’s the fifth element according to Aristotle, the one that transcends earth, air, fire, and water. It’s aether, the incorruptible and heavenly element.

That got me wondering. Now mind you, I don’t have a scientific mind, really. My interests are much more in the humanities. But when you decide to dabble in time travel, you suddenly discover long buried sciency brain files.

If aether is the stuff that holds the universe together, isn’t it essentially what we know as gravity? Magnetism? The stuff that draws and pulls and holds?

Not having much knowledge in quantum physics or anything, I kind of thought that was cool. It’s applicable to my story, since it’s (kinda-sorta) magnetism that is the force that pulls my time travelers back to the past.

Where am I going with this? I have no idea. Only that words are beautiful receptacles of the surprising and new and fabulous in the universe.

If these things are something you know about, I’d love to hear from you, and learn more about the quintessential truths of the quintessential.

Whoa. Meta. Not bad for a Q word. Ten points for me!

 

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P is for Prologue

I used to be completely, vehemently anti-prologue.

(If only I was so utterly anti-adverb.)

Really? Two lines in and I’m already digressing?

Yeah, I was really down on prologues, because so many of them were one of two things:

  1. An introduction that could well have been chapter one. I mean, start the story where you’re going to start the story, right?
  2. An egregious info dump that leaves no opportunity for subtext to develop over time.

It was that second one that was such a problem for me as both a reader and a writer.

I wrote any number of prologues that tried to make my main character, Giovanni, a more flawed character. I wrote a number of flash fiction stories that were supposed to be part of his backstory, part of who he was so the reader would be more sympathetic to him in the course of the novel.

They didn’t work.

Because I was trying to hook my readers, I made the stories particularly egregious and shocking. Something I’ve learned in this writing odyssey is that life is tragic enough, and I didn’t need to go over the top to make Giovanni feel life’s pain. His story was sad enough; I didn’t need a horrifying prologue to emphasize that. It’ll come through as the story unfolds.

I went to the other extreme. Prologue bad. Prologue info dump. Prologue evil.

Then one day Dan Wells cleared it all up for me. He calls it the Ice Monster Prologue.

There is a prologue in the Game of Thrones series that features magic and adventure and ice monsters called Others.

Except all that comes later in the story. Like most good stories, the beginning of things isn’t terribly exciting. It’s the regular old world of one of the main characters.

In Shadow of the Portico, it’s Giovanni being yelled at by his older sisters for being a bonehead.

But The Journeymen is about a group of superhuman time travelers. We are well into the book before Giovanni discovers that he is one of them. It made a lot of sense to me to start the story–indeed, the series–by getting a little taste of what it’s like to travel back in time 440 years.

Armed with this new paradigm, I went in and wrote my prologue. You can read it here.

Always looking for the larger lesson, I realize that even when you think you know something, whether it’s about writing or anything else, you are never above learning something new.

Prologue good.

By the way, if you’re interested in Dan Wells’s story structure, I put a link to his videos on my Writing Resources page.

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O is for One

As in Chapter One.

As in, I’m cheating.

Well, not really, I had intended on putting up my Prologue and Chapter One on the website for those who want a sneak peek of Shadow.

But I’m doing it now because I fell a day behind on my Blogging A to Z Challenge, and this is a nice way to catch up.

I spent yesterday afternoon in the hospital. Again. Trying to figure out why my lungs aren’t up to snuff. Today’s post was almost called “O is for Ospidale,” which is Italian for hospital.

But crap! I’m sick of writing about my lungs, heart, and pancreas. The menagerie of doctors don’t know what’s wrong, but they say it’s nothing of immediate alarm, even if I feel lousy. So, forget it, I’m going back to work. “O is for Over It.”

To celebrate, and because I took today off to shake off the drugs they gave me (O is for Opioids?) I actually finished Shadow 2.0 – The Revision today!

No, it’s not done. There’s a 3.0 coming. But it’s one giant leap closer. I’m very excited!

For now, we’re on One. Chapter One. Giovanni’s life is about to take a rather dramatic turn in a coffee shop, but he doesn’t realize it until he touches her hand.

Enjoy!

https://beccamacleanlyman.wordpress.com/shadow-of-the-portico/

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N is for N00b

…in which Becca busts out all the gaming lingo to make a point about writing.

It would have been odd if my two sons (now ages 20 and 18) had grown up and not become gamers, considering who their mother is.

Sure, their dad will dust off the old 8-bit Super Mario or Zelda games now and then, but he doesn’t play much anymore. Me, on the other hand . . .

Being a gamer mom probably qualifies me to be at least nominated for Mom of the Year, as far as my sons are concerned. However, my actual parenting skills suffer when I am particularly frustrated with a boss or a BTC (blame the controller) moment. One can imagine that those moments don’t make for squeaky-clean, aproned maternal experiences.

These days, I’ve limited my gaming to one MMORPG called RuneScape, an online game I’ve been playing since 2007. You’d think I’d be pretty good at it. You’d be wrong. My stats make me the world’s oldest n00b (a newbie, to the uninitiated). Pretty much a clueless scrub, or maybe even a try-hard.

The problem is, it takes me forever to grind through that game and get XP (experience that causes my character to level up). I play old-school. I don’t buy experience, I gain it the hard way, through slow, meticulous work. And I have only so many hours in the day.

Like my writing.

I spend a lot of time thinking about my books, and this translates into spending a lot of time talking and writing about them. It seems like I’ve been writing them forever. And I suppose I have.

I’m the world’s oldest n00b.

But it’s because I don’t want to be a scrub or a try-hard.  Had I put out Shadow before it was ready, that’s what would have happened.

I want to take my time and learn the craft. It’s important to me that if it has my name on it–even my maiden name, for heaven’s sake–I want it to be the best I can do.

Will I ever be l33t? (Elite… honestly, Gaming is a dialect of its own…) I don’t know. That’s not really my ambition. I didn’t start writing to make money. But it’s been fun to get glimpses of recognition now and then. I could see myself wanting more of that.

Who wouldn’t?

But for now, I’m enjoying grinding out stories, fleshing out characters, tweaking my prose. I love being a writer.

It’s definitely not XP waste.

 

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M is for Making More Memories

I wish I was better about taking pictures.

Seriously, I have a phone that never leaves my person. It has a great camera that I don’t use.

Masks Ren Fest 2014I’ve just discovered that the first pics that are on this phone are from the exact period when I began my writing adventure — November 2014. That Thanksgiving, we went to Texas Renaissance Festival, not garbed (shamefully), and I took a picture of a mask that my son, Joshua, liked. I took a few other pics that weren’t terribly notable. I should have taken more, but we didn’t dress up. Such a silly reason to not take pics.

But yeah, that’s when all this started, inauspiciously, when I decided I could write stuff, sure, what the heck? And I already had Giovanni, so I gave him a love. Sarah, whose name means princess, a medieval scholar with messy hair and a stutter (I had to make her imperfect somehow).

Bologna 1604 Fontana BookBy January, I had taken this picture of Bologna from the period when my book is set. It’s from a book called Lavinia Fontana: A Painter and Her Patrons in Sixteenth-Century Bologna by Caroline P. Murphy. I’m pretty stoked to find this picture on my phone. It means that between Thanksgiving and January, I had already decided that I wanted to make my novel a historical romance rather than a modern one. Alas, though, my characters struck me as terribly modern. How do I reconcile this?

It just so happened that season one of Outlander was being shown. I refused to watch it until I read the book. So, that was on my bed stand when the lightning bolt that my contemporary characters could time travel to the Renaissance hit me. I think I spent that Christmas break in a state of extreme manic creativity.

It was Bologna because of the University. It was 1578 because I had found that book about Lavinia, and that was when her painting career took off, and there had been a plague a couple years before that I thought I’d build a story around. I developed a character named Emilia, given the same name as Lavinia’s first child. Caroline Murphy’s book was a veritable goldmine. Still is.

By January 25th, I had Niccolo, Emilia’s beloved. I know this because I shot this picture of a resource I found in the library at the University of Texas.

Notary Source Jan 2015

I’m not sure why he ended up as a notary, and I’m still looking for the resource that told me notaries wore black, but those things stuck. He became my dark, mysterious man, as much as a Pollyanna like me can write a dark character. Especially since I absolutely adore him.

20161222_162318.jpgWell. This wasn’t what I was going to do my M-is-for post on at all! But perhaps it’s appropriate that I record these spontaneous decisions I had made that didn’t seem important at the time.

I suppose a great way to frame this blog post is to show a picture of my son, Joshua, standing outside a mask shop in Venice. We were in Italy researching the book series. Who would have ever thought my silly ideas for some scribbling would turn into this?

Yeah, and I guess I had forgotten how old (and fabulous) my phone is. (Samsung Galaxy 6, people…)

What did we learn today, kids? TAKE MORE PICTURES! Make More Memories. They may turn out to be more important than you can ever imagine.

Oh, before you go. I have a postscript to yesterday’s blog about the actor who’s my Giovanni muse. I woke up to this on my Twitter feed this morning. Can I just say how much I love being a writer?

Alberto Tweet

 

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L is for Lope

You never know when it will happen. You’re minding your own business, doing some legitimate book edits, when AHHHH!

You fall down the rabbit hole.

Me, I fell down a wicked one sometime back.

You see, I’m always looking for people to cast in my books. This is an author’s favorite pastime, it seems–casting the movie version of their books. There’s a group of actors who always seem to be the inspiration for the romantic male leads of these books. And sure, they’re all gorgeous, in a classic Hollywood kind of way.

But none of them look like Giovanni.

He’s been part of me for a long time, so I have a definite look in my mind for him. And all these years later, I still hadn’t found it.

Then, one day a reader looking at the prologue of Shadow of the Portico told me that she didn’t understand why I meant by a “slouchy lope.”

My character, Giovanni, is 6’3″ and much taller than pretty much everyone in early modern Bologna. So when he walks around town, he kind of slouches to try and blend in a bit, and he walks with a lope–a long stride.

But just to be safe, I looked up the word “lope” on Google.

Yes, I was right, that’s what it meant.

But wait. I noticed off to the side there were some images . . .

Lope

Woah! Hold the line . . . This is from a movie called Lope from 2010, set in the late sixteenth century (like my books), in Spain, about playwright Lope de Vega, a familiar name, but I had never read any of his stuff. But, this actor in his leather doublet . . . woah.

Alberto LopeI looked at more photos, and a publicity shot from the movie popped up.

Oh, my.

I found a name — Alberto Ammann. I’m afraid I hadn’t heard of him, since most of his work is in Spanish, and I don’t watch a lot of movies anyway, even the ones for which I don’t need subtitles.

But look at him: tall and lithe with that beautifully messy dark hair, the friendly approachable face, the nose slightly too big to be classically handsome. All he needed was gray eyes and glasses, and too bad he’s not Italian, but wow, close enough, I’d say.

Then I slipped further down the bunny hole and saw this spread from Marie Claire:

Alberto Marie 1

Alberto Marie 2

Great googly moogly! That smile! That smolder! I had, at long last, found my Giovanni.

I can’t imagine what it’s like to be an actor. I know they kind of put themselves out there into the great wide world to be ogled. But I wonder they really expect middle-aged women authors to become obsessed with them. Crazy writers with their imaginary friends spending untold hours staring at these poor actors, completely unbeknownst to them.

Except I’m blogging about it, so I’m kind of making it . . . well, beknownst.

It’s just that we have these characters we love, and we want them to become human. Real. Perhaps that’s why authors love casting their novels. It becomes a little more corporeal for us.

Alberto NarcosAnyway, my human version of Giovanni, Alberto Ammann, is probably best known for his work as Pacho in Netflix’s Narcos, a show you couldn’t otherwise pay me to watch. I don’t do violence. They do violence. A lot of it. It’s horrifying.

He’s about as non-Giovanni as you can imagine in this show, and he’s fantastic. Definitely a great actor.

Alberto Mars

These days, he’s on National Geographic’s MARS, a docudrama about what the possibility of sending the first manned missions to Mars in 2033. Now, this is a show I can actually watch with the husband, my beloved space nerd. How perfect is that?

I’m actually thrilled that I finally found my muse for Giovanni. He’s already had a huge influence on my writing–I’ve even gone in and fixed a few of his descriptions in the books. (Giovanni has straighter hair and a short beard now because I can’t picture him otherwise anymore.)

I hope the fact that I have something like a celebrity crush at this point in my well-seasoned life doesn’t make me some kind of deviant. If anything, Alberto has inspired my fiction and brought to life a character I’ve adored for a long time. And I’m about to go read me some sixteenth-century Spanish poetry, so I’m expanding my literary horizons.

Besides, who can resist a cute guy reading in a cafe?

Alberto Gif

Gotta love those crazy, distracting rabbit holes.

 

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K is for Kitties

I’ve decided to use my “K” day to introduce a minor character in the stories.

Her name is Stuff. She’s a cat. A particularly perceptive cat.

Stuff is Giovanni’s cat, named after a cat my husband had before he met me. I had asked him why he named his cat Stuff. “Because he was just a bunch of stuff,” he answered simply.

When Giovanni gives the same answer in the book, he says it in an indulgent baby voice while Stuff lies over his shoulders like a stole—another attribute of my husband’s cats. When Giovanni uses that baby voice, it’s all Sarah can do not to crack up laughing.

I wanted Stuff to show us something about Giovanni. He’s a tenderhearted character who craves an indulgent kind of love. He probably should have been a dog guy. After all, he’s loyal, eager to please, and kind. If he had a tail, he’d wag it a lot.

But we don’t always pick pets—or lovers, for that matter—who are like us. Giovanni is drawn to women (and cats) who are smart, independent, strong, no-nonsense. Attributes that seemed to have evaded Giovanni’s character.

Perhaps there’s a truth there somewhere about who we choose to love. I didn’t try to make Sarah and Giovanni opposites, and they really aren’t. Both are very intelligent with esoteric interests. Both are hungry and overdue for a consuming kind of love. But I think lovers who complement each other are especially beautiful. They feel that sense of completion and joy long after passion wanes.

So, Giovanni can become Sarah’s mouthpiece, and she can be his grounding, and together can give each other’s heart a home and safe haven. He can be like her loyal, friendly dog, and she can be like his practical, insightful cat.

Hopefully, I can manage to make their relationship work out somehow. Love is hard.

Of course, Stuff will be there to let Giovanni know he’s done something especially boneheaded with her angry mews and a paw smack upside the head. Sometimes he needs that.

 

 

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J is for Jade Tablets

All right, I’m totally cheating.

I’m not writing about jade tablets. I’m writing a book review today. The book has jade tablets in it. Hence, I’m covering my “J” requirement.

Now, before you judge, I could have written about Journeymen, since that’s the title of my series. I could have done some shameless self-promotion here. But this struck me as more important.

The book I reviewed is My Beautiful Enemy by Sherry Thomas, which I read for our local library’s romance group. Ms. Thomas, it turns out, is a local author here in Austin, and she came to the meeting to talk about the book.

And so did I.

It was my first time attending this group, which was nervewracking. You see, I’m an ex-extrovert. (This could have been my “X” topic. Still might be…) I don’t really attend many public functions anymore, even though when I do, I love them. But somewhere in my process of becoming more seasoned, I have become shy. Anxious, even, especially when it comes to meeting people.

But I’m so glad I went last night.

The group was a lot of fun, Ms. Thomas was extremely gracious and insightful, and she encouraged me to get into some writing groups here in town. As a rather bashful new author, I really appreciated that.

I figure the least I could do in return would be to recommend her wonderful book that I just finished reading for the group. And since the letter “J” is in the book once or twice, I have a great excuse to feature the review here in my A to Z blog challenge.

So thank you, Sherry Thomas, for writing a great book and being an awesome example of how authors should treat their fans. Check out my review of her book on my Reviews page. I hope it will be the first of many.

 

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I is for Indie

So remember yesterday when I posted H is for Hair and talked about needing a cover model with fabulous curly hair?

That’s what it’s like to be an independent author.

For some reason, when I started this whole writing adventure, I had this image of authors writing up their books sequentially from fully formed ideas in their heads. Then, after filling a couple hundred sheets of pristine white paper, they would take the neat pile, put it in a box and send it off to their agent. Traditional publishing magic would occur and a book would emerge with a breathtaking oil painted cover and show up at every store I frequent.

I can hear my author friends out there laughing (or crying) as they read this.

Yeah, no. I can only speak as an indie author with a day job. It ain’t like that. I’ve been bleeding over this book for three years. Nonsequentially. And I don’t even have a fully-formed idea of what to have for lunch. But that’s not the worst of it…

The worst of it is when I spend time looking for cover models with perfect hair.

Or when I worry because Amazon is on some kind of witch hunt against authors and is shutting down accounts and pulling payments to KU participants, so I have no idea who will sell my book when I finish it. (This may be my “K” entry, but I’d hate to make an enemy of Amazon, you know?)

 

Alberto

Actor Alberto Ammann has become my muse for Giovanni. 

Or, ha! Wait until you read my “L” entry in a couple days. Oh my gosh, it’s a wonder I get any writing done when

 

men channel Giovanni and smile like this guy over here.

The other part of being an author with a job is a day like today. I’m spending half the day away from the computer administering our state English STAAR tests to high school students. The other half, I have to do all the work I should have done while I was away from the computer. Oh, and teach. Then, I’m going to run to downtown Austin and see a local author at the central library. Because I like her books and maybe I should be showing my author face in public now and then. And I have to write a daily blog because authors should have blogs and nobody is doing publicity for me but me.

But, crap, I don’t have time to write more. I’ll see you tomorrow with a “J”. I look forward to what I’ll come up with for that one. Your guess is as good as mine.

#FullyFormedIdeasAreAMyth

 

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H is for Hair

I could have done H is for History, but that would be too easy.

No, hair. If you’ve known me a while, you know hair is an issue for me.

For instance, if you knew me when I was young, you knew my hair was completely ape-snot out of control. Huge. Messy. Not unlike the rest of me.

And if you know me now, you know my hair keeps falling out. It comes back eventually, sure, but when it’s in the outtahere stage, like now, it causes great consternation.

But what I really want to talk about is my character’s hair.

Sarah 2 Ruoxing Zhang 2009

My inspiration photo for Sarah, by Ruoxing Zhang (2009). My Sarah’s hair would be even longer, perhaps a little less wide.

I admit, Sarah is kind of an extension of me. A bit of wish fulfillment. Me, only better. And her long, blonde, curly hair is fabulous, like mine was exactly one time in my life, when I was 31 and about to give birth to my first son, Joshua. I’m still looking for those pictures to prove it.

Anyway, I have a bit of a problem. I defy you to find a fabulous picture of a cute girl with long, blonde, curly hair, from behind, that I can use as the cover of my book. I have a subscription to Deposit Photos. Heck, I’ll subscribe somewhere else if it’s really good. But I need this. One. Good. Photo.

Pretty hair. Curly. Long enough. The right shade. On a girl with clothes on. From behind as she is walking.

Yeah, so let me know when you find that. Seriously. If it’s right, I’ll use it for the cover of La Dotta. It’d be nice if I can find a model with lots of shots I can use for other promo material. I’ll settle for the one, though.

Funny story. I’m a special education teacher at a high school. A couple of my classes are inclusion classes, which means I go in as a co-teacher to help out the general ed teacher and students who may need it. So, I’m not the main teacher. Students sense the difference. They have gotten used to me and things are good, but I’m kind of the spare, and I think they’re not quite sure about me.

All this to say, there is a girl in one of my inclusion classes who has Sarah hair.

It’s gorgeous. Long. The right shade. Perfect.

But… how does a teacher–a spare teacher, no less, but any teacher–ask a 17-year-old student if she can take a picture or two of her hair?

You go ahead and think about it for a minute, I have time.

Back? Okay, so hopefully you’ve come to the same conclusion. You can’t.

Every day, I see a human version of Sarah in class, and I have to remember not to stare at her perfect hair.

So, yeah. You see a pic of a curly haired girl as described, you let me know, okay? Because I might actually finish that book soon, and I have to put something there.

See how much fun it is to be an independent author? Fun fun fun! (More on that tomorrow.)

 

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