Possession in bite-sized morsels

Zier Citadel

Reminiscent of the Citadel in my made-up desert city of Zier
donyanedomam / 123RF Stock Photo

The revisions for Possession are complete, and in the hands of my beta reader! (And that reminds me that I really need to start thinking of an actual title soon…)

Anyway, this is my somewhat dark fantasy novel placed in a conquered desert city, about a dying woman who possesses a male officer’s body in order to live on—and commit crimes. Meanwhile he’s working for the conquerors while spying for the Resistance, and needless to say he wants to keep his body for himself. 🙂 Problems ensue, and the future of the city hangs in the balance of course.

I thought it would be fun to see some bite-sized morsels from the book that I’ve been sharing in #1linewed on Twitter, in a roughly chronological order. And some inspirational pictures while we’re at it.

***

The tension in his bones drained away as the decision firmed in his mind. He was going to break his oath and become a traitor.

***

Might be a building in Zier... styve / 123RF Stock Photo

Might be a building in Zier…
styve / 123RF Stock Photo

***

She glanced back down, registering what she hadn’t quite grasped in the first panicked moments. She was a man.

***

“But that execution… It must’ve been difficult to see.”
Idh had been there for the infamous burning? “Not a pretty way to go.”

***

“Ten will get you too drunk to teach me anything. You can have three, and that’s final.”

***

***

They were quite a few hiding beneath the temple. Witches, young and old, all crammed together and smelling accordingly.

***

“Cut off the right foot then. That leg’s not worth much anyway.”Her hands trembled as she pulled off her boot.

Colorful scarfs

Pretty scarfs like these come in handy when Ehna starts sacrificing bits of herself to take over Idh’s body…
mihtiander / 123RF Stock Photo

And there you have it. Anyone else want to have a go?

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Bookworms Valentine

Bookworms having coffee

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Looking back at 2015: Favorite books and more

Still wishing for books...It’s that time of year when you realize that yes, a whole year did pass that quickly! Whew, where did the time go? The answer–at least my answer–is in this post, including the best 8 novels I read this year. Do share your own–I’m always looking for a good book. Or game. 🙂

This time last year, I had just about realized I was doing too many things, and had decided to slow down. I’m happy to say that now, twelve months later, I’m living a much more balanced life. I don’t work all the time! 😀 I also write fewer blog posts, as you might have noticed, but something had to give and it couldn’t all be the day-job, eh?

Writing-wise, it’s been a year of working on Possession. I tried out plotting instead of pantsing, and discovered I rather like it. I’m still working on the revisions, but the book is really starting to shape up. It’s been a lot of fun to work with–there’s just so much going on, and I love the characters. Idh joining the resistance, having blackouts, discovering he’s committing crimes… And Ehna taking him over and having quite a bit of fun of her own in his body. 😉 Of course, juggling all these characters, twists, and complications makes the revisions rather time-consuming, but I’m happy to say I’m past the half-way point, and I’ve got the plan all worked out for the rest (I hope!).

Outside of writing, I’ve played a lot of great games as usual. I put together this list of my top 5 board games for writers, so check that out if you need some inspiration. I also started trying out board games on my Android tablet, and I’ve found them to be a great complement! (Check out Ticket to Ride, Splendor–especially the challenges–and Elder Sign. Oh, and Pandemic.)

And now, my favorite books of the year! It’s always hard to narrow down the list, but here they are:

Fantasy and SF:

I finally read The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. It’s a great time-travel story about a historian who travels back to the time of the Black Death in England. Heartbreaking, but interesting.

Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells. Great first-contact space opera that has an SF-movie feel to it.

Redshirts by John Scalzi. Fun novel in a Star Trek-like setting about, you guessed it, the “redshirts” who have to die in each episode to prove that the protagonists are really in danger.

World War Z by Max Brooks. I haven’t seen the movie, but the book is great, written like a series of interviews of various survivors of the zombie apocalypse.

11/22/63 by Stephen King. High school teacher goes back in time to try to stop Kennedy from being assassinated. I do love a good time travel story, and this one is one of the best I’ve read!

Thriller:

Non-stop till Tokyo by K.J. Charles. Great thriller set in Japan with a romance subplot. The worldbuilding is wonderful and the setting really comes alive. And did I mention one of the protagonists is a Samoan-American sumo wrestler?

Romance:

I really enjoyed Luck be a Lady by Meredith Duran, a wonderfully written historical romance with a underground crime lord for a hero.

Another great romance was Think of England by K.J. Charles. (Yes, that’s the same author as the thriller above.) M/m historical romance set in England in 1904, where a discharged captain sets out to discover whether the military accident that killed his men was actually sabotage.

 

And there you have it! I hope you had as interesting a year as I did, and read lots of good books. Happy Holidays everyone!

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Top 5 board games for writers

Bookworm familiars playing D&DThat’s right, a blog post that combines two of my favorite pastimes—board games and fiction writing!

Why should you play board games as a writer?

Because it’s terribly fun!

And you might learn something about writing while you’re at it. (But even if you don’t, you’ll have so much fun you won’t care. 😉 )

So, without further ado, my top 5 board games for writers, in no particular order:

 

Battlestar Galactica.

DSC_0065No matter if you’ve seen the show or not, this is a great board game with a traitor mechanic. That means that while everyone seems to be human and working towards the common goal of saving the space ships containing the entire human race, one or more players are actually machines in disguise, trying to kill everyone off. So while you play, you have to figure out who’s playing with you, and who’s playing against you.

The writerly benefit? Great practice for character motivation! Especially if you try to play it while controlling several characters yourself (I wrote a whole blog post about that here). In that case, you must put yourself in the shoes of each of your characters and analyze and react to the others’ actions as if you don’t know whether they’re human or not. Writing fiction? Same thing, only as the author you know everything, but still need to make your characters do things because they’re motivated to, not because it’s convenient for the plot.

 

Sherlock Holmes Consulting DetectiveConsulting Detective

In this game, you work together to solve mystery cases in a Sherlock Holmes style (you play the Baker Street Irregulars). First, you read 1-2 pages introducing you to the case. Then, armed with a (brief) London Dictionary, a map and the day’s newspaper, you choose where you want to go. Want to check out the coroner’s office? The place of the murder? Did you find a strange bracelet and want to investigate jewelry stores? You have complete freedom–simply locate the place you want to go and then look up the corresponding entry in a book for the current case, and read what happens when you go there. It’s like an interactive book!

The writerly benefit? Cause and effect, information flow, and plotting. Why do the characters (you) decide to go some place? Because of information learned elsewhere. What stops you from discovering the truth? Misdirection from the guilty party. Also learn more of foreshadowing—is there enough information to solve the murder? In the game, you can try to solve it when you think you know the answer, but you might be wrong if you haven’t discovered enough clues…

 

Arkham Horror

DSC_0030Here, you play one of a group of investigators trying to save the city of Arkham from an ancient evil being (like Cthulu). You do this by having encounters (picking cards) at various locations in the city, and collecting clues which you can use to seal gates to other dimensions. You’ll also need to get rid of some monsters, like zombies, ghosts and witches. (Here’s a summary of one of our sessions where we faced the fiery Cthuga.)

The writerly benefit? Atmosphere and setting! Arkham Horror is one of the best board games out there for creating an immersive, atmospheric experience. It does this even though the text on the cards is usually no more than a couple of sentences, and the character introductions only a paragraph or two.

 

Ghost Stories

This time around, you’re taoist monks trying to save a village from a constant stream of attacking Ghost Storiesghosts. Can you work together to keep the village from being overrun?

The writerly benefit? Tracking what everyone’s doing and how it affects everyone else. This mainly comes into play during revisions for me, but it can be important at the planning stage as well, depending on how much you plot in advance. This is the skill you need when you’re considering moving a scene from Chapter 23 to Chapter 12. How does character X appearing here affect that fight scene in chapter 14, and oh, what about dinner—it’s too early for that, so make it a breakfast. But if he’s there for breakfast, he won’t be meeting character Y, and—

In the game, it’s more like “What if the Red monk jumps here—he’ll just have to take the damage—and the Green monk kills this ghost, then the Blue monk’s board won’t be overrun, and he can go here, and then…”

It’s a pretty tough game, so it might not be the first one to try out, unless you’re prepared to lose. A lot. 🙂 But all in good fun of course!

 

Mysterium

DSC_0032Another ghost-themed game, but this time around the ghost is friendly. In fact, it’s the ghost of someone who’s been murdered, and now it’s trying to help several psychics (you) discover the killer. Unfortunately, all the ghost can do is send dreams to the psychics, and they’re not very precise… Basically, they’re cards showing a whole bunch of things, and the psychics have to try to make associations to possible suspects, locations, and murder weapons.

The writerly benefit? Want a game that gives your imagination a workout? This is it!  Also a very party-friendly game. 🙂 “What if the red part here is meant to be the yarn, and then the rat might indicate the kitchen with the cage, and this crystal flower here could mean poison? Or maybe the crystal flower means the garden, and the red thing means nothing, and…” Brainstorming at its best!

 

And there you have it, my best tips for board games that also practice your writing skills! If you’re wondering why there are so many cooperative games on the list, the answer is… that I like cooperative games. 🙂 (But not all of them have much writerly benefit. Still, feel free to try Pandemic if you’ve never played any coop before. It’s fun, it’s quick, and you’re saving the world! Then get the On the Brink expansion. Just saying. 😉 )

Now, who else is buying board games for Christmas?

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The big revision puzzle

Fox writingIf there’s anything I know I absolutely need to do when revising a novel, it’s mulling things over. That’s the phase I’m currently in for Possession. (It’s the phase that comes after making long lists of things I want to keep, change, and  improve, and before the phase where I’m jumping in there to actually make changes to the text.)

I always think this middle part should be quicker. I mean, I just have to decide what I want to do, how hard could it be? But I find I need some time for reflection, for poking at the story sideways and thinking about it as a whole. About the characters, about the stakes. About what I want to accomplish with the book. And I have to keep reminding myself that even if I’ve got nothing to show for all this thinking, I’m actually making progress here! Without this step, I wouldn’t know what changes to make, now would I? In fact, if I skipped it, I’d probably be making the wrong changes! Or unnecessary ones–that happened to my first book, where I replaced scenes that, looking back, were perfectly fine as they were, save for some copy-editing.

Things are starting to look good now, though, or at least I’ve seen the light at the end of the tunnel. Several Cool Improvements are in the works, and I’m reminded how much fun this book is! (Recap: Possession is my fantasy novel about the occupied desert city of Zier, where a captain of the city guard suffers a series of blackouts, committing crimes he doesn’t remember—crimes that risk exposing the resistance he’s secretly working for. The real culprit is a dying woman who uses black magic to possess his body, planning to live on as him. Needless to say, he wants to keep his body to himself. 🙂 Lots of complications ensue…)

There’s still quite a lot of planning work to be done before I can dive into the text with my machete. My fantasy novels have a lot of threads and characters that must all mesh together. What does each faction know at each point? What should they know for maximum excitement? Characters and plot lines can’t disappear for long stretches either, and it must all work together as a whole. And when I move things around, well, other things must be moved around also…

Basically, I’m laying the Big Revision Puzzle!

It’s a good thing I like puzzles. 🙂

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Playing Arkham Horror: Cthugha

The ancient one Bookworm familiars playing D&DCthugha stirs in his slumber, and gates to other worlds pop up all over Arkham, while Cthugha’s fiery presence heats up the city until even moving about is a pain.

Rita Young, an athletic student with cultists on her tail, and Joe Diamond, a PI, meet at the Police Station and decide to get to the bottom of the strange happenings. Joe is armed to his teeth with a .45 automatic, a rifle and a Tommy gun, and gives the latter to Rita. A gal’s got to defend herself! In return, she hands Joe an old tome she got her hands on—maybe he’ll have some use for it.

Off they go to find and seal the rifts in time and space, Rita heading to the unstable unvisited isle, while Joe eventually decides to check out the graveyard, and a gate to the lost city of R’lyeh.

If he can just figure out this tome, Joe can get a friendly ally to help him get to the bottom of all this. Alas, poor Joe just isn’t that good with the arcane, and has to read the darn book eight times before he gets it. Out of the woodwork springs… Duke, the trusty dog. Together, they head for the hospital, since the heat and a wall (yes a wall) in R’lyeh have sapped Joe of strength. At least he sealed one of the gates.

Meanwhile, Rita’s sealed a gate of her own and closed another–she just didn’t know enough to seal it, and now it might open again at any time. Let’s hope not! She’s also teamed up with two allies, and even found the cultists that were following her around. More determined than ever, she dispatches a zombie lurking about Independence Square. Aha, another gate! Off she goes to another dimension.

Joe really is a private eye—he’s finding clues everywhere! Too bad it seems to be Rita finding all the gates. But, he and Duke sneak past a maniac on the streets to enter a gate to the city of the Great Race, where they run into a strange old man. Fortunately, Joe hoodwinks him into thinking he’s a learned guy by using one of his clues to great effect, and soon returns to Arkham, blessed.

With three gates sealed, our heroes head for the last two open ones, at the witch’s house and over in the woods where the Sheldon gang lurks. While monsters surge into Arkham in waves, the seals seem to be holding, though a gate appears at the university in the middle of the science building.

Rita feels at home in other dimensions by now, but struggles to close the gate at the university and has to kill off a vampire before she finally manages. Joe, meanwhile, gets delayed in the great library of Celeano, and loses his weird blessing to boot, just when it would have been most useful as a massive amoeba-like Shoggoth appears among the books. Thankfully, that information he found earlier at the university is enough to let him sneak past it. As Rita finally succeeds in closing her gate, he returns to Arkham and seals his.

All gates have been closed, five of them sealed, and Arkham is at peace once again—and cooler.

Time for dinner. 🙂

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Inventing languages

Cheetah studying cat languageLearning languages isn’t always the funniest thing in the world, memorizing new words and what not, but creating them is always a blast. (As is knowing languages, once you’ve done that memorizing bit, but I digress…)

Lately, I’ve been working on the fictional languages in Possession. I already had one language in place since before, but Zier is a melting pot of cultures, so I had to figure out various influences. (And by “in place”, I mean I had the basic sounds, words and grammar there, not that I’ve got a complete dictionary, pleasant as that would be. 🙂 )

One thing I always do when making up languages is consider words for things that are unusual about the culture. For example, the Acoi, the nomadic plains people who conquer Zier, have two different kinds of marriages, and thus two different words for them. Or there’s the pretty strict division between civilian and military branches, and the hierarchy within them.

Not everything needs to have an invented word though, or even if it does, I don’t always use it. I don’t want the text to be too littered with strange words and concepts that need to be explained, and you can do a lot with just plain English. For example, it’s always fun to figure out how people relate to magic, and how they might refer to it. The Acoi speak mostly of energy, and its relation to Ahv, the divine. The Zier Houses speak of magic and second sight.

In the end, not a lot of these invented words make it into the book, but if nothing else it helps me visualize the various cultures better. And, did I mention how fun it is? 😉

Plus, bonus, it’s great for inventing character and place names!

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Bookworms: Out of chocolate

I love it when I find those really engrossing books, like Foxy in this image. 🙂

Out of chocolate...

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Possession first draft complete–and some nerdy writing statistics

Panda_happy_jumpYesterday, I typed the magic words on Possession–“The End”! 🙂 It hasn’t quite sunk in that it’s finished yet, but I’m happy to report that I celebrated with some very nice strawberries, dark chocolate and cookies. Yum!

Now, for some nerdy writing statistics on the first draft!

Total words:
103,599

Total new words written:
80,063

Days to complete the draft:
43

Average words per day:
1,908

Average words per hour:
1,234

And, some fun charts!

possession_words_per_day

What can we conclude from this? Well, for one thing, I don’t like to leave days with 0 words. 😀 Even if I didn’t have any time to write some days, all but one of those days I still wrote a few sentences. I really prefer to keep the book fresh in my mind, and I find that really helps. At the other end of the spectrum, my top word count per day was 5,000 words.

Otherwise, there are more low bars early on, and the reason for that is that I could reuse more experimental scenes for the first part of the novel–but I had to modify them and that took time, so I wasn’t writing new words.

Here’s another with average per weekday:

possession_average_weekdayTuesdays had the fewest words, which makes sense because it’s the day I’m usually writing blog posts. Mondays and Fridays quite unsurprisingly have the most, because those are the days I have more time to write. Why are Wednesdays so high though? Beats me, but it seems to be a productive day, despite having the same amount of writing time (on average) as Thursdays! I also note that I never end up writing as much as I optimistically think I will on weekends. 🙂

Here’s another one:

possession_scatterHere I was curious to see if I write faster depending on how much time I spend writing. The answer seems to be no. Most days, I write between 1,000 and 1,800 words per hour it seems. There’s one fallacy in the data though, and it’s that I didn’t track how many writing sessions I did. Most days, it’s two–one in the morning, one in the evening, but sometimes it was three.

Well, that was fun! Right? Right? 😉

Now, I’m off to celebrate finishing the draft some more!

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In my writing cave: Possession at 3/4 mark

I’m currently deep in my writing cave, typing furiously away at Possession. I just hit the 3/4 mark, reaching uncharted territory. (Got to keep the suspense of not knowing the ending while I write the thing. 🙂 )

I hope you’re all having a great March!

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