Talking Ideas and Inspiration with Annabeth Albert

I love chatting with other writers, so I was thrilled when Annabeth Albert agreed to answer a few questions about her new book, Off Base, where she gets her ideas, and what inspires her, because, well, I’m talkative and can’t ask simple questions.

Welcome, Annabeth!

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Looking Ahead

reading-writing-resolving-1Every January I tell myself I’m going to post about my writing goals for the year—and then I don’t. Admittedly, I wondered if anyone would care about what I was up to. Right now, though? This post is for me. My whole blog is pretty much for me. ❤ So here’s a resolution post with an outline for some reading goals, some personal goals and quick ramble about all the books I’d like to write. Continue reading

Letting Go

If there is one thing writing has taught me, it’s how to let go. It’s not an easy lesson, and out of all the lessons of the past few years, it’s the one I struggle with most—probably because it’s just so important. It affects every stage of the writing process and has value in other areas of my life.

I haven’t blogged much this month. I’ve been busy writing a book! It’s nearly done and I’m going to post a teaser for it next week and blog about the process of writing it. The knockdown, drag about fight I had with my copy edits for Block and Strike yesterday prompted this post. I wrote Block and Strike over two years ago. I revised it last year and rewrote a significant portion of it this year. Right now, it’s that book. The one I’ve invested a lot of self into. And yesterday, I finally had to let it go. Continue reading

Flash Fiction: Kissing Cherries and The Song

 

Here are couple more of my contributions to the Monday Flash Fics group on Facebook. These stories and more can be read on my flash fiction Tumblr.

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Kissing Cherries

“Thy lips, those kissing cherries, tempting grow! That pure congealèd white, high Taurus’ snow…”

Again, I faltered. It was the word congealed. Generally, I enjoyed the fun Shakespeare had with words, but every time I hit this line, I imagined that fuzz you got on your teeth in the morning if you forgot to brush the night before.

“You’re thinking about teeth again, aren’t you?” Ray said.

“I can’t help it! The high Taurus snow part is perfect. I’m thinking white, there. Glacial white. Fresh as a mountain whatever.” I tapped the script. “And then he goes and ruins it with the crow reference.”

“It’s a comparison. It means Helena’s hands are very, very white.”

“Seriously, if you tried a line like that at Becker’s, you’d find six dudes asleep at your feet and one frothing at the mouth.”

“Frothing?”

“Because he’d be insane.”

Grinning, Ray bent toward the floor and tapped at the phone he’d laid there. “Congealed. Take shape, coalesce, especially to form a satisfying whole.” He glanced up. “How does Google’s interpretation work for you?”

I rolled the concept around in my mind a little, disregarding fuzzy teeth and trying for coalescence. A satisfying whole. My gaze strayed toward the floor and I found myself distracted by Ray’s feet. They were pale, as far as feet went. And kinda delicate for a guy’s feet. His toes were long and straight and his nails were clean. The sparse hair across the top and on his big toe stood out darkly, making me think of the crow’s wing comparison. A little smile tugged at one corner of my mouth.

“What?” Ray’s tone bordered on suspicious.

“You always take your shoes off when you come over.”

One shoulder hitched up slightly. “Is it a problem?”

“No, it’s…” I glanced up to find him regarding me with a coded expression. As if my response would decide his response. I’d never seen that look before. I hesitated to call it vulnerable, because Ray didn’t do vulnerable. He wasn’t shy, or reticent. He spoke his mind, and meant it.

“I like it,” I continued. A tiny crease winked into existence between his brows. Otherwise, he didn’t shift one way or the other. He was still waiting. Askingwhy without asking. “It means you’re comfortable here.”

His smile happened then, as sudden and unexpected as sunlight peeking over a mountain top. “Cool.” He wriggled his toes. “Your place is much quieter than mine.” He glanced down at his script, but I could see the color creeping up out of his shirt collar. “What to try again?”

“Hmm?”

Ray tapped the script. “From kissing cherries.” His blush spread a little higher.

I leaned in close. “Nah, I think I’d rather kiss you.”

Line Break

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The Song

Clouds continued to break over the western horizon, giving way to a sky of blue tinged with gold. Every breath of wind was warmer than the last. Soon the sun would warm Karen’s back—but it would not ease the prescient poke that held her spine stiff, her chin high.

It will rain again tomorrow. Sylvia’s whisper floated somewhere between her ears, a tickle against her mind. And even if it doesn’t, I’ll be fine.

What if it doesn’t rain the day after tomorrow? Karen answered. What if it doesn’t rain the day after that?

They’d talked about Sylvia extending her roots into the ocean, but only as a way to pass the time. Both knew the salt water would kill her. Even now, with her roots bound into the shape of the boat that carried them, she risked herself. Instead, she dangled tendrils from her boughs, seeking moisture from the air. Now they stirred in the warming breeze.

Karen turned away from the prow of the small vessel and leaned into the trunk of her tree. She wrapped her arms around the scratchy bark and pressed her cheek into a space above the window, a patch that might have been worn smooth by years of similar embraces.

“I’m afraid,” she murmured.

In answer, Sylvia began to hum. The music pulsed deep within her trunk, beginning in the chamber where she’d carried Karen’s seed, nurturing it until she birthed a spindly-legged child.

The water beneath her hull stirred into a light chop. Overhead, a flock of birds wheeled down out of the parting clouds, their black feathers glistening in the sunlight. The wind strengthened, freshened. A capricious gust reached inside the boat and plucked a paper shape from the floor, tossing it overboard. One by one, Karen’s workings lined up behind the boat like chicks following their mother.

Karen’s throat moved as the song caught her. Her first hum sounded cracked and broken. Then her voice rose above the beat of wavelets bumping the hull, entwined with Sylvia’s deep and resonant murmur, sweetened, rose, and called to the birds circling overhead.

No song could bring land where there was none, or call clouds back together against the sun. But she would continue to sing for Sylvia, because Sylvia sang for her. It was the least she could do—and the most, perhaps—for her mother and her home. For the tree who would sacrifice all she was to save her daughter.

Sylvia might be nothing but an empty shell when they found land. But Karen already carried a new seed inside her. As soon as her feet touched soil, she would send her toes down deep and spread her arms up high. Face pointed toward the sky, she would sing this very song until her face stiffened and her mouth disappeared beneath ridges of crusty bark. Then she would nurture her seed, grow it until she was ready to birth a wobbly new child.

Shading her eyes, Karen looked toward the western horizon. She saw nothing. She turned back to her tree and sang a new verse, one where she birthed more than one seed and taught the song to daughters and sisters and aunts and nieces. Where she became a forest, her song so loud, even the birds carried it.

Overhead, the birds cawed, and in that shrill cry, Karen heard hope.

Trying Not to Write

I’ve been writing nearly every day for about six years. Before then, I wrote every few days, reviewing books and PC games for various publications, and occasionally writing travel reviews and editorials. Then I discovered fan fiction and wrote what I fondly refer to as “my first novel,” a 93k word epic entitled The Hero of Ferelden.

The endless road…

I’d written fiction before, but never seriously. Never anything long. Never anything that consumed me in quite the same way as writing about my Warden and his allies did. I went on to write a chapter a day for eight months, producing another 500k words—two more novels, several novellas and a lot of short stories.

Then I wrote something of my own and got it published. Then I wrote something else. Meanwhile, I’d been role playing with an active forum for about three years, writing sometimes up to 9k a day in posts. Oh, and Jenn and I wrote a book together somewhere in there, a dark fantasy that topped 120k.

Together, Jenn and I wrote the Chaos Station series in about fifteen months. That’s another 360k. During that time I also wrote two other novels, five novellas and a handful of short stories. This year alone I’ve written another two novels (one of which we tossed at 55k), both with Jenn.

I’m not going to add up all these words. It’s a lot and I don’t need to see the tally to understand that. I’ve felt the load. There have been days where my brain refuses to produce the right word for anything other than tea and toast.

The first time I burned out, I took a weekend off and then got back to work. I fretted the entire time. WHAT IF I LOST MY WORDS? The second time I had to take a break, it was because my arms hurt too much to use the keyboard. And I’d lost sensation in one of my shoulders. And I couldn’t turn my neck.

Seriously.

After several months of physical therapy we traced the original injury—a pinched nerve in my neck—to a bad fall during karate class. I’d forgotten to stiffen my neck and gave myself a good dose of whiplash. I got up and tried the takedown again. Because I’m a stubborn fool. Then I ignored the pain in my neck and shoulders for five months until I literally couldn’t move.

The words, man. THE WORDS.

I took a break—or I tried to. I limited myself to 1000 words a day, in addition to all the “extras” that go along with being published. The blog posts, the newsletters, the website, the social media presence. I started taking weekends off and that worked for a while. But what I really needed (aside from weekly PT appointments where a lovely massage therapist does cruel and unusual things to my neck and shoulders) was to take a break. Something longer than four days. A break where I didn’t think or write. Where my life revolved around something other than words.

If you’re a writer, you know how hard it is not to write. It’s like…impossible. The stories are RIGHT there. The voices are LOUD. You have to write. If I took a break, I’d lose my place. I’d be stuck on a raft in the middle of a boundless ocean, floating away from the only island I knew existed.

With a trip to Australia coming up this summer, I decided to try and use my vacation as, um, vacation. I didn’t manage it last year. I spent a week in Cape May working on edits and writing blog posts. The summer before I took my laptop to New Orleans and wrote every morning in the hotel room. The summer before that…

You get the idea.

This summer I decided to actually go for it. In preparation, I worked stupid hours for a couple of weeks writing sixteen blog posts for an upcoming tour as well as revising two projects for submission, putting together synopses and query letters, and outlining another project. Oh, and I was writing a book with Jenn as the same time, one we finished a few days before I stepped on the plane. By the time I got to Australia, I was due a break.

Beer!
Beer!

The first week I fretted. I pulled my laptop out the first day and opened a file. I had a novella to outline and a proposal to write. After staring at a blank document for about five minutes, I flipped over to Facebook and watched cat videos. I was jetlagged and tired. The next day my laptop remained closed. The day after that I fretted aloud: “I really should be writing!”

The unanimous response was: “Kick back and have a beer!”

(It’s the Aussie cure for what ails you.)

Four days into my vacation, I started vacationing. I ate, drank, socialised, saw the sights and slept past 4am in the morning. I continued to worry, quietly, that my words were fading like tear stains on a pillow. For two weeks, I didn’t write a single word. I did pull out my phone to jot down the occasional idea and I spent many enjoyable a morning talking books and stories with my dad. But I did NO WORK. I didn’t write a single blog post. I didn’t craft a single promotional tweet.

This is the part where I tell you how amazing it was. Imagine me tipping my head from side to side. I don’t know if it was amazing or not. I don’t know if I’m going to sit down soon and start writing the BEST BOOK ever. What I do know is that I needed the break, mentally and physically. Regardless of what you do for a living, you cannot do it all day, every day, and not suffer the consequences. Our brains require variety. Colours and sensations and experiences. I can’t write good stories if I’m not out there living a good life. Not the kind of stories I want to tell, anyway.

What I have taken from this experience is that I’m not a shark. I can stop swimming. I’d like to write every day, but I know it’s not sustainable. I’ve discovered that I can ignore the voices for a while—if I really try—and they’ll wait for me. New ideas will crop up while I’m not writing. New characters will continue to whisper somewhere between my ears. So long as I make a note of this and that, I’ll never lose these potential words. They’ll always be with me, no matter how much time I take off.

Also, when I’m not writing, there are a heck of a lot of hours left over in the day. Like… what do regular folk do with all this time???

Cake is also good for what ails you.
Cake is also good for what ails you.

I’m five days back and I’ve spent the morning writing blog posts. I actually plan to take the rest of this week off (quelle horreur) because I have two new books releasing next week and that’s WORK right there. What I do hope is that when I finally get back to it, I love writing just as much as before.

Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I will! Otherwise I wouldn’t still be hearing those whispers. 😀

For more pictures of my vacation, connect with me on Instagram! (Scroll down past the cats and Pokémon) For info about my two new releases, check out my Coming Soon page or stay tuned. I’ll be posting about them! Oh, and if you do check out my fan fiction, remember they were written well before I understood what editing was. 😉 (My heart was totally in it!)

 

Flash Fiction: Headfirst and Reminders

On my travels around the internet I often stumble across photographs that tell a story. Sometimes it’s a single moment, one I can capture in a few hundred words. More often I’m really only telling part of the story–what brought the character(s) to this point, or what’s happening right now. These snippets end up in my Big Book of Ideas, and one day I hope to expand on a few of them. The others, the single moments, stand as they are.

Today, I’m sharing one of each. A story I feel is a complete moment, and one that is a slice of something much bigger. There’s more story to both, of course, but in the first case, I believe the moment I’ve captured–or more accurately, remembered on behalf of my narrator–tells more than everything that might have come before.

Both of these pictures were posted as prompts by the Monday Flash Fics group on Facebook and these stories and more can be read on my flash fiction Tumblr.

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Headfirst

When people see this picture, they think I’m the one out front, diving headfirst into the river. There’s always this weird moment when I tell them it’s Damien. A beat of silence as they snap a few facts together. Then the creeping awkwardness as they wonder if that’s when it happened.

“He was always a headfirst sort of person,” I say. To quell the inevitable flash of horror, I push on. “Still is.”

By now, they’re uncomfortable, and so am I. It’s hard to find fault in their disquiet, though, and I often feel a bit like an arse for keeping the conversation alive. But they looked at the picture. They asked.

So I keep talking.

“Headfirst is definitely the better of the two. It’s not leaping without looking”—I actually had someone turn green at this point—“it’s looking where you’re going and stepping out anyway. It’s being brave. Always being ready to dive in. Thinking as fast as you move. Taking chances. Never backing down from a challenge.”

This is when the follow up questions start—if they’re too polite to let a conversation lapse in the middle.

“What about feet first?” is the gist of what they want to know.

“Feet first is caution. It’s worrying about where you’re going to step, and what you’re going to step in. It’s putting the least vulnerable part of you through the door first. It’s leaving your shoes on inside the house in case you tread on a Lego. It’s gloves and hats and earmuffs because you’re sensitive. It’s worrying about things that might never happen, simply because if you can think it up, it might be possible.”

This would be about where sympathy overpowers all the rest of what they’re feeling. They still feel awkward. It’s hard not to. Our house is a temple to awkward. But they’re trying to fit our reality into theirs and make themselves comfortable. And I’ve talked long enough to make it all feel a bit more normal. Sort of. It’s hard for me to get past the Lego part without looking like I’ve stepped on one.

And that’s being a feet first person all over.

This is usually when Damien wheels in, the width of his chair making sense of our weird furniture arrangement. He might be smiling, or he might be stern faced. It’ll depend on how itchy I’ve made our guests. Whether I’ve got my own sad face on—because I still have days like that, even ten years after. When I wish it had been me who jumped first. We’d have known then, how shallow the water was.

Thing is, Damien probably still would have gone for the dive. It’s what he does. Always.

Now, he’ll simply take my hand, give that half squeeze that’s the best he can manage on his left side, and ask, “Is Harry being all maudlin?”

They usually don’t know how to answer—and that’s my cue to hop up and fetch the next album. The one of our trip to Spain the year after Damien’s accident. And as I tell those stories, I make it clear that if not for Damien being a headfirst sort of person, always, we might never have been anywhere at all.

~+~+~+~

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Reminders

On a clear day, when the sun is bright and the sky blue, you can almost imagine there is life in the city. That the streets buzz and the buildings are alive with industry—people thinking and dreaming and doing. The air sings on days like this, and the melody is clear and sweet. It’s the sound of birds rejoicing in the light, of a wind more curious than mournful.

These are the days when I go to see him.

He is my favourite of the Reminders—and not simply because he is beautiful. Strong, yet serene. Poised, movement restrained, but also ready to bend, leap, spin. To dance to the sunlit music only I seem to hear.

Of course, he never will, but he looks as if he might, and that’s what makes him so wonderful.

No one knows who or what the Reminders are. Whether they are art or something divine. None of them are pictured in the many books left in the libraries, but Reminders dot the city like statues—never crumbling, never breaking.

Most people like the Reminder standing outside the safety rail on the Brooklyn Bridge. I agree she’s compelling. It’s hard to tell if she’s about to fall or dive or is simply admiring the view. She combines fear with hope. The Reminder sitting in Bryant Park is the most famous—not that fame spreads far and wide now. The plastic news sheet he holds is as crisp as he is. You can read the date on the perpetual display. June 25, 2023. Many speculate that was when it happened.

The dancer has something the others do not, though. I call it persistence. The world has ended, but he is still here, still concentrating on perfection and making it look—not simple, but attainable. The tension in his frame is easy. He is gathered strength, he his kinetic energy. He is a reminder that beauty can have a purpose—that while it can be achieved for its own sake, it’s more powerful when there is a reason.

He doesn’t get as many visitors as the others, but I think he is the reason we call these frozen people Reminders. Because in this ugly, broken and half dead world, it’s easy to forget things like beauty. Purpose drives us every day, and strength is what separates the living from the dead. We’re taught we don’t have time for useless things.

There’s this poem, though, in one of those old books. It talks about beauty and joy and forever. Someone called John Keats wrote it and when I read it, I think about the dancer and I feel the music. The sunlight and the curious wind. And I think maybe this world isn’t so lost after all.

I think that maybe the Reminders are us, or who we’re supposed to be.

The Careers I Might Have Had

One of the things I love about being a writer is choosing careers for my characters. This is when I think back over the things I wanted to be when I grew up and allow myself to dream a little. I wanted to be a writer. I also wanted to be a research scientist, flight attendant, architect, farmer, astronaut, witch, wife (no, those two are not related), artist and an accountant. Yes, some people actually want to be accountants.

I’m sure there are more careers I investigated, even if only briefly, but these are the ones that stand out in my memory. Interestingly enough, I only ever pursued education toward two of these goals and have found work in vastly different fields.

My characters’ careers cover a wider range, but I’ve found I have a few standbys. When I examine them, I’m not at all surprised by what they are.

The Architect

This one is pure wish fulfillment. My yearning to be an architect has never quite gone away. I am fascinated by the art of architecture. The engineering aspect intrigues me, but it’s the design part that really captures my imagination. The use of space and the statement of a building. What it means to the architect who designed it, and if it conveys the same message to all who look at it.

Whenever I am writing, I will spend days researching the architecture of a region (for an overall feel), before narrowing my focus to relevant buildings, houses and landscapes. I clip pictures and take notes. I have also invested roughly 10,000 hours designing houses and neighbourhoods in The Sims. I really ought to have a degree by now.

Mickey (Less Than Perfect) is an urban engineer. She’s an architect of a sort. All of the other architects I have written reside in works in progress. One day, I’ll get them into print!

The Accountant

I have written three accountants. Jared (Out in the Blue), Henry and Marc (Counting Fence Posts) are all accountants. Jared is a forensic accountant and his experience is based on the job my husband held when we got married. The traveling lifestyle of all three of these guys is as well. In fact, Jared so closely resembles my husband that I mentioned the fact in my acknowledgements. My husband chose to be flattered by this, and he should be! Jared is a great guy.

I did actually study accountancy—for a single year. I went to night school. Not sure if they still call it that. 😉 I excelled at contract law and computer skills, but failed the math class. It was pretty disheartening at the time. I can do math, but I have a huge disconnect when it comes to applying the right formula to the right problem. Through my guys, however, I can pretend for a little while that I’m not mathematically challenged! Also, my Google-Fu is awesome.

The I Haven’t Figured It Out Yet

I have two of these. Mac (Best in Show) and Max from another work in progress. Yeah, I have a few of these. I like writing guys who haven’t figured it out yet because, honestly, that was me in my twenties. I’d tried college three times and failed. I’d worked as a waitress, sandwich hand, in door to door sales, phone sales, as a courier, receptionist, file and mail clerk, in data entry and network engineer, as a finished artist, copy writer and book reviewer.

I don’t think Mac and Max are necessarily directionless. Instead, like me, they’re simply looking for the spark that ignites. For the career choice that clicks and makes them happy.

The Teacher

I have enormous respect for teachers. I have written two of them: Fin (Out in the Blue) and Reg (Less Than Perfect). A project I’m planning out right now has a teacher as a secondary character. I find writing a teacher somewhat challenging in that I feel I need to know something about the subject they teach in order to write them believably. Fin teaches social studies (this was my daughter’s favourite class last year because her teacher obviously loved his subject—I took notes), and Reg taught history. I say taught, because Reg’s world is post-apocalyptic and it might be a while before he gets back to teaching. He’s a bit busy dodging press gangs and aliens.

My own teaching experience is broken into two categories. I used to teach adult word processing classes—back in the days of Word Perfect! My fondest memory is of a student being afraid to use the Ctrl-Z command. They thought the computer might explode. I also taught general computer literacy to the teachers at the school where I worked for a little while. Email, internet, filling in the networked grade book I had designed for them, and producing reports. While at that school I taught two electives to the kids in computer skills and graphic design.

My teaching position was one of the few opportunities I’ve had to actually use some of my many bits and pieces of college education. 😉

The Writer

I have two writers. Julian (Best in Show) and Charlie from yet another work in progress. Charlie’s story also has an architect and a teacher in it. It’s the holy trinity of my dream careers.

Writing writers feels a little self-indulgent, but also somewhat scary because writing is such a personal career and the way I represent my writers may clash with the way others do. I suppose that’s true of all careers. Writing writers is also restful in a way, because we’re a pretty quirky bunch, so you can’t really do anything wrong. It’s also a way to explore aspects of a writing career I haven’t discovered on my own yet: being a bestseller and writing good mysteries.

Writing is another career I have actually pursued education toward, and those were the courses I had the most success in. I guess I found my niche! As with any career, though, writing comes with plenty of opportunities to continue learning as I research jobs for my characters and build the worlds they live in. I really do learn something new every day. More than that, I get to dream, and that’s not something I’d swap for anything else.

Well, except for being an architect. I do still really want to be an architect one day.

Or maybe an astronaut.

(Featured image credit: http://spacecenter.org)