A Writing Meme – 5

The Writing Meme – Part 1
The Writing Meme – Part 2
The Writing Meme – Part 3
The Writing Meme – Part 4

23. How willing are you to kill your characters if the plot so demands it? What’s the most interesting way you’ve killed someone?

Oh, perfectly willing. In fact, I’ve just… Ah, but no. Spoilers. Mwahahaha.

24. Do any of your characters have pets? Tell us about them.

Kim had an obese cat named Bud. He got old and died, because even wizard cats get old. If you’re following the Liminality Series, you’ll soon be introduced to Erin, who has a squad of buff men she calls her “entourage,” though they’re actually thralls, which is what you call it when a faerie keeps humans for pets.

There may be more miscellaneous pets in the future.

25. Let’s talk art! Do you draw your characters? Do others draw them? Pick one of your OCs and post your favourite picture of him!

bashful_by_justleftofcenter13-d34dw92Well… I do. Just very, very poorly. I used to keep a file of sketches of my characters, until I realized my descriptions were more useful than my doodles, most of which looked like unidentified marsupials.

I like it a lot better when other people draw them for me.

Here’s Lenny, as envisioned by my dear friend Jennifer.

26. Along similar lines, do appearances play a big role in your stories? Tell us about them, or if not, how you go about designing your characters.

As in, are they significant to the plot? Eh, some. Morrigan, for instance, is not a conventionally pretty girl. She looks startlingly like her brother Sherlock in a wig and will, in a much later book (not a major spoiler) be arrested for posing as female for the purpose of felonious solicitation. Hard to make the charge stick, of course, after an undignified strip reveals that she is a bit female.

Most others work off certain archetypes, or common-sense extensions of their personal habits, genetics, etc. Lenny is nonthreatening: small, untidy, blond, but with unusually bright blue eyes. Daniel is severe and has an ascetic, angular appearance to match. Kim spends an awful lot of time sitting and reading, so she has thick, soft hips and thighs. She has the black hair and warm, dark complexion that comes from her mostly Indian ancestry. Jadwiga has the brown hair and eyes that are prevalent in Poland. Her scars prevent her from re-entering a society that largely frowns on extensive body modification, even though it wasn’t voluntary.

27. Have you ever written a character with physical or mental disabilities? Describe them, and if there’s nothing major to speak of, tell us a few smaller ones.

A few. In the small stuff, Daniel has such poor eyesight as to be non-functional without glasses. He can perceive large, blurry shapes, but wouldn’t be able to identify an object on a table three feet away, unless it was producing a distinctive sound or smell. With glasses, though, he can see just as well in the dark as in daylight.

Lenny suffered a brain infection as an infant and was totally deaf until his teens, except to the voices of ghosts and other dead beings. When he was fourteen, he began to regain some hearing and could perceive loud noises as a buzz. Becoming a vampire restored it completely, but left sensitivity and the inner-ear damage that prevents him from balancing. Other vampires would still consider him disabled, since the lack of balance means he can’t move superhumanly fast without hurting himself. Also, though not in the category of disabilities, I write him as non-neurotypical and asexual. A few readers have asked me if he’s on the autism spectrum, and while not precisely correct, it’s a useful analogy. His brain is designed for effective interaction with the dead, and as a result, interacting with the living is often difficult for him; likewise, his body is designed to facilitate moving spirits out of the world, not into it, so no sex drive.

Now you know.

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A Writing Meme – 4

The Writing Meme – Part 1
The Writing Meme – Part 2
The Writing Meme – Part 3

18. Favourite antagonist and why!

Signe, hands down. At least in Lost Knowledge, though I have a contender coming up in a future publication.

She’s not a primary antagonist, or anything. She’s not a bad guy, exactly, though she’s certainly awful. She just does a great job of poking at everybody’s insecurities, harassing them endlessly, and failing to put up with anybody’s rubbish.

19. Favourite minor that decided to shove himself into the spotlight and why!

It’s a duo: Lenny and Kim. Shadow of the Mountains was the first Lost Knowledge book I planned, and originally, it was supposed to be the only. Everything in Liminality was intended to be backstory, plotted but never written. But Kim and Lenny elbowed themselves into center stage, and I couldn’t say no when I realized that their story was really so much bigger than I had ever imagined.

20. What are your favourite character interactions to write?

I sort of already answered that without realizing that this was coming up, so I’ll go with a different answer.

Right now, I’m drafting The Van Helsing Legacy, and I am really digging the interactions between Meg and Chessie, the monster-hunting flatmates around whom the story revolves. Sort of without my consent, they acquired a bit of a buddy-cop vibe. You’ve got to admit that a bluestocking and a flapper chasing down vampires has a certain appeal.

21. Do any of your characters have children? How well do you write them?

Well… yes. Jeremiah’s got Cynthia, and Cynthia’s got Kim. Nobody’s got young children, though.

There’ll be more parent-child interaction in No Cage for a Crow, but it’s still mostly at a distance. Morrigan doesn’t get on well with her parents.

22. How long does it usually take you to complete an entire story—from planning to writing to posting (if you post your work)?

This is impossible. Everything I’m writing now has been percolating in the back of my head for ages. The Medium started brewing in 2005 or so, about the same time I began writing the atrocity that eventually became In the Shadow of the Mountains. The Morrigan Holmes series occurred to me when I was five. Yes, five. I’ve had The van Helsing Legacy rolling around in my head since the first time I saw a Hammer Dracula film, and I don’t even know when that was. I can’t possibly trace a story from inception to completion. The writing is variable. I was writing ItSotM for eight years before publication. The Medium brewed forever, but only took me a year to write, edit, and publish, probably precisely because so much thought had gone in beforehand. I drafted The Wailing in less than a month, but it’s short. There is no consistency in my time frames.

The Writing Meme  – Part 5

A Writing Meme – 3

The Writing Meme – Part 1
The Writing Meme – Part 2

12. In what story did you feel you did the best job of world building?

Hm. No clue. I’d have to ask a reader. But, well, the Lost Knowledge world is growing with each story. The building won’t be complete until the last book comes out.

That said, the coolest piece of information I’ve dropped so far (in my opinion) comes in The Medium: 

“Conscious access to memory is a unique trait of living things, but memory itself is not. It’s encoded in the minute vibrations between elementary particles. Our entire universe is built of information given shape. Part of that is its history. Its memory. Now watch.”

13. What’s your favourite culture to write, fictional or not?

Oh, golly, you can’t ask that of an anthropologist. Pick a favourite culture? Can’t be done. But, as mentioned previously, I’m always in love with whatever shiny new thing is currently going down, and right now, I’m researching Polish history for that nameless gothic thing. It seems that, whenever anybody decides to take over the world, they always start with Poland. In-depth research is a bit tricky for someone with only a high-novice understanding of Polish; there’s less literature in English than I would like. Ah, well. I found a volume of translated fairy tales, and that’s entertaining me, for the moment.

14. How do you map out locations, if needed? Do you have any to show us?

I do have a pile of fantasy maps somewhere, for a project that was shelved several years ago. Everything else takes place in our world, though, so I just print things out from the internet and scribble on them in Sharpie. I’m sure I can dig up some examples, but they’re likely in the very bottom of one of my file boxes and will take some time to locate.

15. Mid way question! Tell us about a writer you admire, whether professional or not!

I am (fondly) jealous of Jodi Lamm’s ridiculously fine ability to turn a phrase. I am so in love with her Titan Magic trilogy and look forward to the third book’s release. Gorgeous, subtle world-building, fascinatingly flawed characters, spine-tingling twists… Am I gushing? Go buy her books. She’s also loads of fun to talk to.

16. Do you write romantic relationships? How do you do with those, and how “far” are you willing to go in your writing?

Eh, a bit. Not much that’s yet been published. There will be a touch of romance in The Van Helsing Legacy and in that unnamed gothic piece. I don’t like the glorification of infatuation, though. Being in love is enjoyable in the  moment, but has no lasting worth at all without a deliberate commitment. Otherwise, it’s just a fling, with all the depth that word implies. If it’s a fling, I write it as a fling. If it’s love, though, the decision is more important than the emotion.

Sex doesn’t interest me in the least. You won’t find anything beyond implication in my writing.

17. Favourite protagonist and why!

Oh, definitely Kim. She gets things done. She’s determined and efficient and has a sense of humour, and she isn’t impressed with Daniel’s whinging. I’ll be sorry to leave her behind when Liminality is done. But hey, that’s what Patreon is for, right? I’ve got loads of deleted scenes and backstory that’ll have to come out somewhere.

The Writing Meme – Part 4
The Writing Meme – Part 5

A Writing Meme – 2

The Writing Meme – Part 1

6. Where are you most comfortable writing? At what time of day? Computer or good ol’ pen and paper?

I always have a notebook with me, because you never know when or where you might find yourself with ten minutes and nothing to do. If I have a choice, though, I prefer early mornings or late nights at my desk. A burning candle is nice, too. I always draft on paper. Always. Transcribing from paper to screen constitutes my first round of revision.

7. Do you listen to music while you write? What kind? Are there any songs you like to relate/apply to your characters?

Sometimes, but only instrumental. I’m a fan of Peter Gundry and Philip Glass for writing. There are certainly songs that remind me of my characters, but I don’t make playlists for them, or anything.

8. What’s your favourite genre to write? To read?

The bulk of my writing so far is paranormal. I’m really enjoying mystery, as well, but I have no plans to branch out beyond Morrigan Holmes. Future projects – The Van Helsing Legacy and that gothic back-burner – return to paranormal, though in time periods other than the contemporary. I guess I just like a real-world setting with slight, ah, embellishments.

I read anything I can get my hands on. About equal parts fiction and non-fiction, the fiction about equal parts mystery, horror, paranormal, science fiction, historical, satire, YA… More picture books now than previously, since I collect them for use in my classes.

9. How do you get ideas for your characters? Describe the process of creating them.

I hate this question. I think most authors do. There is, in fact, only one character whose origin I can pinpoint to a single moment. John, from The Siren, was inspired by a comment on a Youtube video. Everybody else evolved sort of organically. I’m thinking about stories for a while, telling myself stories, and suddenly realize I have a character.

I can describe how they develop, though. Most of my Lost Knowledge characters were involved in role-play around the internet for years before I began publishing the books. I can’t think of any better way to really get to know a character than to have someone else throw situations at them.

10. What are some really weird situations your characters have been in? Everything from serious canon scenes to meme questions counts!

That role-playing background resulted in some really strange ones. Daniel once wound up married to a time-travelling airship captain from a steampunk alternate universe, living in an interdimensional bubble where they were occasionally attacked by Daleks. Non-canon, of course, but he still hasn’t forgiven me. Lenny’s been turned into a wolf, hit with a love spell, attacked by Umbrella Corp. zombies, and press-ganged into taking care of a magical toddler. Kim and Jadwiga have, for the most part, been spared any particular indignity, except for that one time they both got really smashed and almost came to blows over the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody.

Canon is about to get weird, too. No spoilers.

11. Who is your favourite character to write? Least favourite?

Individual characters aren’t that interesting, to me. I like to play characters off one another. Current favourite is having Kim and Daniel in the same room, snarking at one another, closely followed by Signe tormenting Daniel.

hated writing Sebastian. It was incredibly emotionally taxing, and I am forever glad that I ultimately decided not to give him the status of point-of-view character. That would have killed the series.

The Writing Meme – Part 3
The Writing Meme – Part 4
The Writing Meme – Part 5

A Writing Meme – 1

1. Tell us about your favorite writing project/universe that you’ve worked with and why.

To be honest, my favourite is usually whatever shiny new thing I happen to be working on currently, and my various projects are different enough that it’s a bit apples-to-oranges trying to compare them.

I love my Lost Knowledge world, because it’s flexible enough to incorporate almost any new folklore I come across, and I have fun working with monsters who are basically just screwed-up people.

I love dipping into the Victorian world of Sherlock Holmes in the Morrigan Holmes serial I’m working on. I love the contrast between the glittering upper classes, the stolid middle class, and the starving, tubercular masses upon whose backs the other two build their lives. It’s all very pretty, but only until you actually start paying attention.

I  love the classic horror world in which I’ll be playing with The Van Helsing Legacy, based in part on my deep and painstaking folklore research and in part on the old Hammer films. The post-war attitudes of absurdity and cynicism will be tough, but I welcome the challenge.

And there’s one more on the back burner that I won’t discuss too much too soon, except to say that it’s had me reading lots and lots of old gothic fiction, and I’m very excited.

2. How many characters do you have? Do you prefer males or females?

There are 832 documents in my combined “Character Profile” folders. It’s possible I have a problem.

I don’t have a real preference. There’s a roughly equal number of males and females in the work I’ve published so far. The Liminality Series follows two women and two men, all of whom are pivotal. Women are outnumbered in No Cage for a Crow, but it’s written from a female perspective. Women will far outnumber men in The Van Helsing Legacy (also written from a female perspective), as a result of the dent World War One made in Europe’s male population.

There certainly needs to be more female-driven literature. I may as well contribute.

3. How do you come up with names, for characters (and for places if you’re writing about fictional places)?

I keep a list of names I like, with a connotation analysis and etymology, if I can find one. It’s sorted by gender and origin.

For real-world fictional places, I research trends in place-naming by time period and geography. For instance, a near-future project will take place partly at Blackeagles in Cumbria. There are no eagles in the area, “-eagles” being a corruption of “-eccles”, referring to a church. Blackeagles is named for the burnt-out ruin of a monastery outside the town.

For invented-world fictional places… Boggle.

4. Tell us about one of your first stories/characters!

The first I can remember was a ‘novel’ that spanned something like ten or fifteen black-and-white composition notebooks, begun in… second grade? Third? It was horrible. A girl named Sabrina got sucked into a magical world and was made their princess for no particular reason, and she was the best at magic and had beautiful eyes that changed colour and beautiful hair that changed colour and a magic ring that did I-forget-what, and there were unicorns, and I believe she was able to turn into one at will (though this was never a useful skill). It didn’t really have much of a plot.

5. By age, who is your youngest character? Oldest?

Chronologically, Aaron Margolis, from In the Shadow of the Mountains, is youngest in Lost Knowledge, being fourteen when the story starts. He’s recently been beaten out by Snail, of No Cage for a Crow, who is nine.

Oldest is tough, since I have a few who have technically existed since the beginning of the universe. But I guess they only halfway qualify as characters, so I’ll have to go with Signe the Swarm, first introduced in The Wailing. She’s forgotten how old she is, but the prevailing opinion in the wizard community is that she’s old enough it’s possible she was never human at all.

I came across this interview on DeviantART and couldn’t trace it down to an original post. If you know where this originally came from, please let me know so I can give appropriate credit.

The Writing Meme – Part 2
The Writing Meme – Part 3
The Writing Meme – Part 4
The Writing Meme – Part 5

The shades of autumn encroach.

Each autumn day is growing shorter, the evening shadows are longer, and the wind mutters secrets in the cracks around closed doors. It is time to mull wine, light a candle, and remember days long past. A perfect time for a good book.

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A Halloween in costume, as Doctor Varanus, protagonist of G.D. Falksen’s The Ouroboros Cycle.

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Let me reintroduce myself.

I started this blog as a neophyte flailing wildly around on the internet, without any particular objective or direction. I rambled about daily life, about books, about food, existential mumbling, assorted roadtrips, miscellaneous lists…

A lot has changed in the four years since I started this journey. I’m still a mumbler – no hope of ever getting over that! – but at least I mumble with a purpose, now.

So, salutations. I am M.R. Graham, author and academe, lover of literature and learning.

I believe…
…that knowledge is one of the highest and most worthy pursuits of humankind.
…that books are sacred.
…that beautiful words, poetry, and stories – particularly the fantastical – subtly build the framework of understanding that gives meaning to fact and theory.

Here you can expect from me…
…poetry.
…hints and excerpts of my fiction.
…scholarly musings centered on literature, history, culture, folklore, and education.
…the more interesting tidbits I uncover in my research.

VISIT MY UPDATED ‘ABOUT’ PAGE.

I am pleased to make your acquaintance. If you’d like to know anything more, please ask and reintroduce yourself to me in the comments.

Literary Lacunae: If you can’t find the book, write it.

I spent a lot of years complaining that the books I wanted to read did not exist. And amazingly, I then proceeded to spend years writing other books. That’s not to say that the books I’ve written aren’t books I would want to read, or that the stories they tell weren’t desperate to get out, or that I consider the time I spent writing them to be time wasted. The stories I have written were stories I had to tell, full of characters I love, and there is still quite a bit of Lost Knowledge that still needs to be put to paper.

But they do not address the very specific lack I have always felt. 

I knew from a very young age exactly what sort of person I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be Sherlock Holmes and Rupert Giles, Spock, Milo Thatch and Abraham van Helsing. Maybe Victor Frankenstein, minus the playing-God bits. I wanted to be every professor-archetype character whose weapon of choice is knowledge, who has the answers or at least knows exactly where to look for them, and whose hand-dirtying, while formidable, always remains dignified. I wanted to be the one whose in-home library was vast enough to require bookcases with rolling ladders, whose hands were perpetually ink-stained, and whose personal appearance, while never neglected, immediately proclaimed intellect

That sort of power appealed to me. It is not measured by the size of the biceps, the size of the guns, or the number of sex scenes the character gets. It is measured by grace, knowledge, open-mindedness, drive… 

That’s what floats my boat. I love some good action, the Indiana Jones sort of intellectual who’s got the guns, biceps, and girl-du-jour as well as some butt-kicking brains, but that’s entertainment, not objective. 

But there’s a problem. Do you see the problem?

They’re all men. 

There are smart girls in fiction, sure. But when I was growing up, Willow was shy and silent and socially awkward, Hermione was an explicitly annoying know-it-all, and those two exemplified smart girls in fiction. Shy and silent or obnoxious and pushy. I liked those characters. I identified with them. But I did not want to be them. I had Mary Russell. I loved Mary Russell. She was the female Sherlock Holmes, with observation and deduction and books and trousers and an amused disinterest in all the absurd trappings of Society. She also had skirts and long hair and the need to find clothing that hid her scars without hiding her self. She had to interact with other characters as a girl, then as a woman, assert intelligence and strength and femininity, find her authority in ways that male characters never do. But she was all I had. I never found another. I had one single model for my aspirations, and that was not enough. 

This is not a complaint. I did not grow up lacking books to read or movies to watch. It’s just that one of the characters I desperately wanted had only been written once, to the best of my knowledge, and I don’t accept that anymore. 

If the book you want isn’t out there, you write it. 

I’m not going to take a break from Lost Knowledge mid-series, or anything, but once I’ve got The Mora out, finished up The Siren and put it out like I’ve been saying I was going to for ages, there is going to be a new project in the works, and it might stretch out the time between new volumes of Liminality. It’s important to me, though, that I fill this hole I have always felt. 

Questions:

Do you know of any books, movies, or television shows that fill this gap? Not that I’d scrap the ideas I’ve been hoarding, but it would be lovely to know the hole is smaller than I thought it was.

What stories or characters have you always wanted, but been unable to find?

A note to people who use Headliner.fm: I am not you.

I use Headliner. I think it’s a really nifty idea, and with appropriate discretion, can be a fantastic tool. I’ve only been using it a couple of months, but I’ve already found quite  a few worthy blogs and writers whom I promoted and am now following as well. I do not promote anything I have not clicked through and explored thoroughly, because anything I endorse becomes part of my public face.

Ergo:

Please, please take a moment to think through the wee blurb you write when creating a promotion. I have passed up so many promotions for things I truly liked because I am not you.

Think about it. You go through the process of creating a promotion. You enter your name, your link, and a snippet of something.

“I am John Doe, an aspiring novelist and all-out geek. Please visit my blog at [address].”

Why on earth would I post to my Twitter and Facebook accounts a claim that I am someone I clearly am not? I am not John Doe. The blog at the end of that link is not mine. It may be a brilliant blog, but I’m not going to attach my name to it, because I am not you, and the blog is not mine.

You’re not introducing yourself to the people who are promoting you. You are providing the words for those people to introduce you to their followers. You introduce other people with “this is,” not “I am.”

“Check out John Doe’s fantastically geeky blog. He writes, too! [address]”

 

Get the word out, guys. I want to promote you, not impersonate you.

Reading, and the problems inherent

I think I may have mentioned that I’m working on my M.Ed. (I’ve fallen far behind on my degree collection!) One has the option, when acquiring a M.Ed., of selecting a field of specialization, and I started out mine in History. However, due to scheduling conflicts and such, I was not able to get enough hours to specialize in History.

I had to switch specializations, and the obvious choice was Reading.

I do it daily, I love it more than anything, and I really had no idea what, mechanically speaking, reading entails. I suppose rather like one can’t necessarily articulate what muscles are engaged and in what order while running, I had never considered the component parts of reading.

Of course, a reading specialization in an education program covers more than the mechanics. I’m learning diagnostic systems to help struggling readers, how to classify the miscues readers make, and how to tell whether the miscues are serious errors or minor substitutions.

The area is a good fit for me, I think – partly because it pains me to know that there are people who never learned to love to read.

I don’t mind if you just don’t like reading. Different people have different interests, different hobbies. But it kills me to know that there are people who never even had the opportunity to like it, because they were never good enough at it to get the full experience. They hate reading now because some teacher, at some point, taught them wrong.

Reading is not like playing sports or an instrument or having different levels of mathematical ability. It’s not a skill that people might or might not be good at, short of those with actual disabilities. Reading is a form of language, of coding meaning in visual symbols, just as speech is coded meaning in auditory symbols, and the human brain is hardwired to be expert at language. Everyone who learned to speak is capable of learning to read with just as much fluency. It’s not a question of innate ability, because that particular innate ability is universal. Those who are poor readers are poor readers not because they just are, but because something went wrong somewhere in their education.

So many people out there who have never enjoyed reading a book, even though they could, because they don’t know that they can. It’s agonizing.

There will probably be future rants on the subject, particularly the myth of phonics-first reading education, which has always irritated me, and irritates me more the more I come to realize just how widespread and how problematic it is.

Sometimes I feel that there’s little point in writing books when so many people are being taught, indirectly, through no fault or inability of their own, to hate reading. (Accelerated Reader, I’m looking straight at you.)