fruits of hard work

So, yes – very long time, no see. As you can see, I’m still alive and kicking though. Most importantly, I’m still writing. The current word count is some 40.000 words, which makes this thing officially the longest thing I ever wrote. I’m also just a mere 10k away from 50.000 words, which would make this novel length. Ha, I’m nowhere near the end…

Writing is no fun without readers, so today I actually have something for you – the Prologue! The day our dashing heroine and handsome hero lay eyes on each other for the very first time.

My thanks go out to Tack, who is my faithful alpha reader, always comes up with suggestions and improvements and endures my skipping through the storyline patiently.

I hope you enjoy it. Feedback is always welcome.

transformation, or: the process of finding the right words

This is how the short story “Cadets” began, as I wrote it the very first time, in German:

Seite an Seite standen die Kadetten der beiden Schwesternstaffeln Albatros Alpha und Albatros Omega in ihren dunkelblauen Uniformen neben dem Flugfeld der Westerhaven Airbase Academy. 50 Köpfe mit akkurant sitzenden Berrets auf kerzengerade gehaltenen Körpern hatten ihren Blick unverwandt nach vorne gerichtet, während die Mittagssonne erbarmungslos gleißend am wolkenlosen, augustblauen Himmel stand. Die wabernde Luft über dem Beton verwandelte die geparkten Camaro-Fighter auf der anderen Seite der Startbahn in undeutlich flirrende Schatten.

This is how it looked like after I translated it into English:

Side by side the cadets of sister squadrons Albatros Alpha and Albatros Omega stood in their dark blue uniforms next to the airfield of Westerhaven Airbase Academy. 50 heads with accurately placed berets, on bodies held straight as poles, were staring steadfastly ahead, while the midday sun burned mercilessly from the August blue sky. The flickering air above the tarmac turned the Camaro jets on the other side of the runway into hazy shimmering shadows.

Pretty close. And both are pretty boring. Something was missing. I couldn’t feel the sun, the airfield, the heat. So this is how it looks now, as the beginning of the prologue for the Apples of Eden:

The air over the tarmac of the runway flickered. Camaro jets, parked and ready for combat, were glimmering shadows behind a hazy veil. The light breeze felt as hot as jet exhaust against the skin of the 50 cadets, standing on the scorched grass next to the airfield of Westerhaven Airbase Academy. The sister squadrons Albatross Alpha and Albatross Omega suffered silently, while the August sun burned mercilessly on their dark-blue uniforms.

Of course, in all three versions I knew how this scene looked like, because I could see the 50 cadets standing there, but it took me several rewrites to finally find the words that would make the scene come alive, to make Nate’s wish for a cool drink in the next paragraph understandable.

The following was the beginning of the actual story of the Apples until this afternoon. It is not working the way I want it to work.

They were playing their favourite game: Comparing the customs on their respective home planets. She was packing up her desk after a sixteen hour workday, while he was casually leaning in the doorframe of her office, watching her and explaining a special flirting technique.
“… and they often employ a manoeuvre that is called the bend and snap.”
“That sounds more like a pretty painful combat move than anything I would use to gain a man’s attention. What do Earth girls do then, when they ‘bend and snap’?”

My original idea was to start with the main characters and introduce the setting bit by bit. But I feel like the whole part (not just the paragraph above) is sort of hanging in nothingness. Ironically, this what they actually do, but I want to give the reader a better impression of where we are before actually telling. So this is what now precedes the paragraph above:

The corridor stretched along in a slight curve, a gleaming tube of sterile whiteness. On one side, long windows interrupted the seamless wallpanels in regular intervals, showing nothing but pitchblack darkness outside. On the other side the windows were mirrored by a endless row of identical looking doors, one after the other, like pearls on a string. It was late, and all offices were empty, except one.

Not quite there yet, but better. The hunt for better words continues.

writing and… skin tones

I have to confess, it took me an ridiculous amount of time to understand why many descriptions of darker skin tones are so offensive. It is not that they are likened to precious stones, fine wood or food. As an aside, many find the food category offensive, because it not only objectifies people, but it treats them also as if they are consumable. That rings true to me, but I can think of certain intimate events in the bedroom when I find this totally appropriate.

But the true offence is not the objectification. And I really didn’t understand this for longer I’m willing to admit. The true offence is, that dark skin tones are often the only skin tones that are described in any detail at all in many stories. In beautiful, poetic language. While the skin tone of a white character isn’t even mentioned. It’s the default, not worth mentioning. That is the insult. People of Colour accuse white writers rightfully to not even have the same elaborate vocabulary to describe white skin the same way.

At first, I felt guilty. Then my little brain gears got churning. See, I really like describing skin tones, and coincidentially, any skin tone. It doesn’t matter if the person is white or brown or black or rainbow-coloured. Because I like colour. I like skin and its many qualities beside its tone. It’s beautiful. It’s important. Just leaving it out wasn’t an option. So I decided to pay special attention to all my characters skin tones, and I also tried to not make it the first thing to mention about my black character. I don’t know if that is any better now, but I leave it to the reader to judge.

But is the accusation right that there aren’t as many descriptions for white skin available as there are for darker skin tones? I’ll go and challenge myself now to come up with as many beautiful (purple) descriptions of white skin as I can – and you can chime in and say what you think or add your own.

Truly white skin:
snowy, alabaster, marble, icy, skin like a lace doily, skin like a spray of cherry blossoms, the luminous white of a pearl, as transparent as fine bone china, eggshell, ivory, skin like liquid moonlight, lily white, frosted glass white, whipped cream, …

Rosy and pink skin:
skin like magnolias or daisies, skin like the morning sky before sunrise, skin like a strawberry daiquirí, like rose quartz, like fondant roses, peachy, candy floss, …

Beige and tanned skin:
honey, caramel, sand, golden, skin like yellowed paper, bronzy, the colour of muddy puddles, butter, olive, teak, …

Okay, coming up with metaphors and similes for beige is hard. Harder than I thought, and it doesn’t matter which of my two languages I try. Treating the norm as exotic is not an easy feat. But I won’t give up yet, but instead add to this collection if more comes to my mind.

oh look, i made an audio track!

Okay, this is just some sort of test run – feedback would be greatly appreciated – because a certain someone in Connecticut wanted me to read some of my own writing. So I took the “recently turned into prologue” short story “Cadets” and tested the voice memo function of my phone. Of course I would not be me, if I wouldn’t add a bit of bells and whistles via Garage Band, though.

Anyhow, here it is, this audio track thingy…

What’s going on with “the Apples”?

I’m still writing, in case you are wondering. Since stepping back from the madness that is trying to reach a certain amount of words in a day or a week, I just let it flow. It will be finished, sooner or later.
I translated almost everything that I wrote in German, and then proceeded to more or less rewrite the first chapter. Not because I didn’t like it, but because it wasn’t working from a reader’s perspective who didn’t read the short stories. There’s now a better introduction to the main characters, I merged some scenes too, and gave the budding romance more setup time. It felt so rushed.

If you are still writing, why aren’t you publishing any new parts?
Because I don’t write in a linear fashion. I have bits and pieces from all over the book in the document now. Some even from very close to the end. As I know have a better grasp of what is going to happen, I might (really just might) start publishing again when I have finished (and thoroughly revised) the first two chapters. But what I plan to do is writing a sort of travel guide here, to show you more of this universe in my head. And to make you excited about the Apples, or that’s at least my evil master plan.

Speaking of plans, as the thing that I have dubbed “the Meeting of Doom” is not just on the horizon but only mere weeks away, it doesn’t really make sense to make great plans about blogging more right now. After May 10th I will hopefully have more brainpower left to write more around here too.

writing in a second language

Sometimes I wonder why I do this. Why do I voluntarily write with handbrakes on? Because that’s how it feels like, writing a story not in your native language.

I’m very much at home in the English language, there’s no doubt about that. But language is much more than putting words behind each other in the right order or using the correct article. Being fluent in two languages often leaves me groping for words in either of them, because I just can think of a fitting expression in the other one. So much is communicated through nuances, double entendres, idioms, etc, it’s amazing. And no matter how many words you know, how good your grammar is, a second language will never be as snappy and immediately available as your native one is. I don’t “think” when speaking German, I just do. As if the words are somehow hard-wired into my brain. And although my stream of conciousness is more often than not English (I have no idea how that happened, it just did…) when I actually have to speak it, it’s painfully obvious to me that I have to think very hard while doing this.

And I make mistakes, and catch myself, and this makes me furious. For example, I know very well that there is no past tense after “did” –
and I rarely make this mistake when I write, but speaking? Oh boy.

When translating the Apples I quite often run into situations when I stare at the German sentences, and think: You can write this in English as close as possible to the original, and it would be right and correct and everything. But no native English speaker would write it this way. As this is my own story, I know what my idea was when writing the German paragraph, so I can take this idea and simply write it in English. Sometimes this deviates quite a lot from the German story, but it sounds more natural (at least to me).

I have no idea of how “good” my command of English is when I write a story in it. Maybe it does sound wooden or stilted or weird. It sounds nice and okay to me, I love that I have a gazillion more adjectives at my disposal, but I don’t know if my “voice” is as distinct as it would be if I would write in German. Being aware of this fact, I paid more attention to other people’s writing voices, and this is really quite fascinating. Everybody has certain favourite words that they use over and over again, for example, if the editors don’t catch them. Sentence structures, the way they describe things… this carries over through other books, and makes them recognizable. It’s beautiful and magical. And sometimes you connect with that voice, and sometimes you don’t.

Words are the tools a writer works with. Writing in another language is a bit like having a new set of tools that looks like your old one, but is not quite the same. They have a slightly different form, they have a different balance, the grip is not as accurate as it was with your old tools. It takes time to master the new set, to get accustomed to it, and the first products might be very clunky. But I believe with time and persistence the finished piece can be good. After all, there are lot of bad writers in any language, there’s no reason to be scared to screw it up. It gives you an awareness towards language not everybody has, and this is an advantage.

bite the bullet and do your research

Sometimes you just have to face the music and realise that, if you don’t plant your behind in a chair and read up about a ton of stuff, your story is going to fail.

It started with me wanting to avoid the common pitfalls of Hollywood ballistics, and realizing that the only thing I know about guns is probably how they look like. But certainly not how they work, what the safety precautions are and which gun or pistol is used for which task. Can’t write my trigger-happy heroines in a believable way without that knowlegde, can I?
When watching Star Trek I’m perpetually amazed that the away teams are comprised of what basically is the command of the Enterprise, minus the Captain. How can I avoid turning command into a Special Ops team? And by the howling hounds of the full moon, how does “military” work? Can’t write the United Space Force in a way that rings true without knowing that, either.

Other questions that popped into my mind while thinking of what writing tasks are waiting for me: How do you write hand to hand combat? In what way are the martial arts of combat forces different from that what you practice as a sport? (Short answer: One aims to kill, the other doesn’t.) In which ways do bodies react to the stress of a fight? What happens after a fight? How do soldiers train? Battle tactics of single fighters, teams and whole squadrons? What do special forces do?

So I took my tush to the big river of books and started searching. I’ll be forever grateful for the invention of ebooks, because otherwise I would need a new bookshelf soon.

My current reading list (and that’s just the beginning, I fear):

  • Marine Corps Martial Arts Program; US Marine Corps
  • Violence. A Writer’s Guide; Rory Miller
  • Fighter Wing. A Guided Tour of an Air Force Combat Wing; Tom Clancy and John Gresham
  • Writing Fight Scenes; Rayne Hall
  • A Civilian’s Guide to the U.S. Military. A Comprehensive Reference to the Customs, Language and Structure of the Armed Forces; Barbara Schading
  • The Gun Primer. A Writer’s Guide To Firearm Facts for Fiction; Bruce Jenvey
  • Armed and Dangerous. A Writer’s Guide to Weapons; Michael Newton

Good thing that research was and is something I love to do. Not that I ever planned to learn about how to effectively hurt other people, but that’s probably one of the hazards a writer has to accept. But I can totally see now why it takes so long to write complex books. And why a lot of writers don’t switch universes after they created one. Too much work.

revisited: the kindle vs paper books

I own my Kindle now for roughly 1,5 years and I think it’s time for this avid paper book lover to evaluate this ride. Frankly, I don’t use it as often as I could, but that has more to do with me forgetting to read than anything else. I don’t read more paper books. Or less, because of it.

It took me a while to come to the conclusion that the media that contains and delivers a story, is totally irrelevant. Be it a paper book, a movie, a video game, a comic strip or a file on the Kindle, if it has a compelling story that grips me, it has fulfilled its purpose. The thing that is important is the story, not the media through which it is told.

What I like about the Kindle (and it’s associated iDevice apps) is the instant gratification. It is quite amazing to have access to the content of a book 2 seconds later. That totally floats my boat. The other thing I like: The price of the books. As I more or less exclusively read books in English, and these bookmarkets have different price politics, British and American ebooks come with a decidedly lower pricetag than their German counterparts.

Then the Kindle comes with useful functions like highlighting and notes and such, which is great if I read reference books. It has adjustable font sizes! And of course, the 47 books on it would take up quite a lot of real estate in my bookshelf.

And yet I prefer paper books. Not for the smell, their touch or other nostalgic nonsense. I prefer them because they are a work of art, put together by a handful of artists. First, the author, then the typesetter and the cover designer, then the printer and the bookbinder. Having encountered quite a lot of badly formatted Kindle books, I came to appreciate the work of somebody who knows how to set a page.

I don’t care if a 200 pages long romance novel comes on digital paper, but I doubt I would want to read those five volumes of Modesty Blaise comic strips I recently bought, on the Kindle. It would work, of course, but I won’t enjoy it that much. And I do read comics on my iPad, so it’s not that.

What I mean is: As a consumer I find it great to have so many options. Both have their merits and their downsides, but I find it stupid that for so many people it has to be “either or” – why not enjoy the heck out of both? Why am I supposed to chose a side? I refuse to do that. I like to collect paper books and I like to read my chick lit on the Kindle. I will buy a book in dead tree form because I loved the ebook version. It is great that self-publishing and ebooks allow for obscure niches to pop up, that it gives authors a chance that would never land a deal in traditional publishing. Who knew that dinosaur smut would find readers? And it’s equally nice to have curators who filter all those many stories and bring out what they believe are the best ones, through the traditional way.

Stories have existed before books, and they will live on in any form of media we put them in. And that’s a very comforting thought.

Books of 2014: #2 Playing for Love at Deep Haven, Katy Regnery

So, the true first book of this year, which I somehow couldn’t finish. But now I have. To be fair, I think the book and I have met at the wrong time, which perfectly fits with its theme of second chances. I’m usually no romance reader, but for whatever reason, I read a lot of that stuff lately, and as Playing for Love at Deep Haven came along, it was like as if I’d eaten too much sweets.

Although it actually is a very nice story, and I think in comparison to By Proxy, Katy’s first book, it definitely wins. The relationship between Zach the hard rocker and Violet the poet has more layers and is not only deeper, but also more believable than Sam and Jenny’s. Zach and Violet have a shared history. Second chances, you know. Katy is a top-notch romance writer, and she certainly knows how to pen inner turmoil to the page. Her kisses are to die for. Her characters ring true, they live and breathe on the page.

But there’s a thing I had trouble with.

Other than By Proxy, Playing for Love features not only sweet kisses, but also sex. Lot’s of it. And I really don’t mind sex in books. Katy has taste, and she writes intercourse as well as she writes kissing. The problem for me was, that there was a bit too much of the bedroom shenanigans for me. Sex ate plot. For me at least.

Speaking of plot, it was a teensy bit forseeable what would happen. Not that so much happens in contemporary romances anyway, I mean, you have the meeting of the hero and the heroine, sparks fly, they kiss/fuck, navigate some minor disturbances, kiss/fuck some more, then you have the big bad black moment where all falls apart, you gnaw your fingernails until, tadah, there is a happy end. Yes, I’ve read a lot of this stuff lately, as I said, and being a former student of literature, structural similarities don’t escape me.

I think it will take some time until I pick up another romance book. I need a bit more plot. Some antagonists besides inner insecurities. A bit more action.

Verdict:
If you need a scorching hot rocker in your fictional boyfriend collection, Zach has you covered. If you need a nice romantic read for the weekend, this book is the right one for you. If you need a bit more plot than two people trapped in a beautiful house, go look somewhere else.