Behind Evolussion: White Buffalo Woman, 2012, and Apocalypse

My first draft of Evolussion had Dawn Ingram using a Vision Quest to wrest control of her body from the plasmid, the alien artificial intelligence embedded in her cells, but just had the words ‘vision quest’ as a placeholder while I finished writing the rest of the story. Later, I went back and began filling in the actual sequence of the quest. For veracity, I began to research Lakota lore, and came across the legend of White Buffalo Woman. I had heard about the white buffalo calves born occasionally over the past while, but never really investigated further until reading up on the legend. What I found was quite intriguing, and blended well into the story of Three Eleven, the upcoming apocalypse, and the woman fated to stand between humanity and eradication.

The legend of White Buffalo (Calf) Woman explains the development of a number of ceremonies performed by the Lakota people, and presents the origins of the use of the sacred pipe in the plains tribes.  In the legend, Ptesan-wi gifts the Lakota with the sacred pipe, teaches them how to use it, and promises to eventually return in a time of great need. Her return will be heralded (in some interpretations) by the arrival of (four) white buffalo calves, one representing each of the four directions of the Earth. A quick search found that there are not just four white buffalo right now, but there are more white buffalo walking the Earth than ever before. An entire herd.

In keeping with the mythology, this should signify a dramatic change in the Earth. Whether that change is social, environmental, climactic or even apocalyptic remains to be seen. What I find interesting is how closely the arrival of the white buffalo coincides with the upcoming Mayan calendar renewal. Most people are aware of 2012 as the ‘end’ of the Mayan calendar, and if they have not seen the movie of the same name, they have at least heard the hype.

Since my story weaves in an apocalypse, I threaded the White Buffalo Woman legend into the tale. The timing even works with 2012, because the actual arrival of the catastrophe is not 11/11/11, but the initial events leading to the catastrophe of 2012 are set in motion on that day. I liked the results, but my venture into a spiritual link with nature was obviously outside some readers’ comfort zone, as shown by a 2 star review criticizing the use of the legend (I quite ‘The train really flies off the tracks when Dawn goes and visits the buffalo spirits. No, that’s not a joke.’), but actually arose from passages in the original Regression manuscript which were later removed. I had wanted a connection between Adya and the Earth in that story – an Earth Mother if you will – had written it into a number of scenes, but pulled it because of a couple of people’s comments.

Revolussion will see further development of Dawn’s connection, but the story certainly does not revolve around spirituality or natural connectivity. At least, not at this point in drafting!

Kindle ‘Gifts’

Authors on Amazon had been offering free copies of their books, but I see the powers that be on the site have quashed the threads. Still, gifting Kindle copies makes a great way to provide promotional copies to digital readers.

If you have a book review blog and would like a copy of both books, let me know and I will gift them to you (no obligation to give a good review, of course!). I figure, I’ve spent hundreds of dollars sending out review print copies but my main market are digital buyers. So, bring on the reviewers who cater to digital readers!

I don’t have high expectations, since I don’t exactly have a large following here on wordpress, but perhaps those great spider/network/linking machines will work in my favour.

To write or not to write

…short stories, that is.

The Kindle is creating an opportunity which was never before an option – that of selling individual short stories, novellas, or novelettes. In the print world, anything less than your standard length of about 250 pages was not considered for publication unless bound within an anthology. For new authors, an anthology was unlikely. And so, most emerging authors have laboured to produce the requisite 80-120,000 word story for submission to the traditional publishers. Now, not only has Kindle – and the other platforms – opened direct access to readers for authors, it has also created a market for stories that are faster to produce.

So, what exactly is a short story, novella, etc? Since I write science fiction, I’ll use the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America classifications:
Novel: a work of 40,000 words or more
Novella: a work of at least 17,500 words but under 40,000 words
Novelette: a work of at least 7,500 words but under 17,500 words
Short story: a work of under 7,500 words

On Kindle, you can price your work as low at 99 cents (except those few indies who have figured out how to offer theirs for free…wish I could!), but only get 35% royalties at the price. Yet, what a great introductory price for familiarizing readers with your work and style! A shorter work certainly provides enough insight into your writing that readers can determine whether they would try other works by you.

If I took the time, I likely could compose a novella in less than a month. Writing the longer work takes a lot more time than that (let’s say 8 months). So, I could write 8 – 99 cent novellas in the same period of time. The $2.99 price point generates 70% royalties through Amazon, and appears to be the standard price point for full length novels from most indies (I’ve got Regression on sale right now for 99 cents but it will go back up at the end of February), but a bundle of 4 shorter stories priced at $2.99 would generate greater returns than one longer story which took 8 months to write and then is priced at $2.99.

I am going to finish Evolussion, of course, because it is the conclusion to the Infinion trilogy. But, after that, I think I will experiment with short stories and novellas. I’ve got dozens of story ideas on post-it notes around the house – have to jot it while it’s in my head – that could easily be fleshed out into novellas. Here are the prime candidates already begun.

First Ride – Young Adult Fantasy – A young girl discovers her hidden heritage when her mother takes her riding on her twelfth birthday.

Digital Sunset – Science Fiction – A family adjusts to the loss of all electrical devices as the Earth deals with a geomagnetic pole shift.

Synergy 2012:Return to Magic – Young Adult Fantasy – a school trip to Belize awakens a long-dormant bloodline of queens with magical powers.

Weighting It Out – actually, a contemporary story rather than scifi. A young woman thinks she has nothing to live for, and gives herself a month to determine if she wants to live or die.

With recent headlines (bird and sea deaths), I’m leaning toward working on Digital Sunset. And, of course, timing makes Synergy 2012 another more pressing project. With the upcoming semester change, perhaps I’ll be able to begin writing. As it is, with two courses over-full and one course I’ve never taught before, this semester has wrung me out!

Where to Begin?

I must confess, I am an inherent recluse and would easily fall into the stereotyped author behaviour of withdrawing from the world and living on my farm, having my groceries delivered to the home, and just staying in. The hubby and kids keep me too busy for that happen. But, part of my reasoning is that so many ridiculous, absurd, and utterly unbelievable things happen to me and those around me on such a regular basis that it is perhaps safer to not do anything or go anywhere!

I would have assumed that normal people have stupid things happen to them regularly, but enough people have told me my ‘curse’ manifests too often compared to normal people, and they have of course urged me to write a book. I am going to. And entitle it ‘Accounts of the Absurd: My Ridiculous Life’. Some tales are amusingly absurd. Some are heartbreaking. Many are outrageously funny in that ‘did that really just happen’ sort of way.
So, when did this all begin? Thinking back over the years, I have to acknowledge that the trials with animals began when I was in elementary school. Living on a farm, you of course get used to the life, and death, of farm animals. But my earliest recollection of an idiotic incident was the day a panel of plywood fell down and squished two of the tiny kittens in the litter I was playing with. I think I was only about seven at the time. That is one of the sad scenarios. Unfortunately, not every tale has a happy ending although most work out okay after much effort and perseverence.

It’s funny. Over the years many a person has bemoaned ‘how easy everything is for [me]’, that I always get what I want in the end. What those people don’t seem to realize is just how many hurdles, many of which were ludicrous, it takes to reach that ‘easy’ end. Yes, I am fortunate to have the many blessings I have and am thankful for them every day. But, I have also had to move Heaven and Earth to get to this point.

Here are some tenative chapter titles
Banking Blunders – why is it every time I try to do a financial move, incompetence interferes? And, not my own, LOL!
Water Woes – No matter where I live, there is always too much water.
Ridiculous Real Estate Deals – The mantra try, try and try again applies here.
The Perversity of People – It might be just me, but it seems like there are a lot of screwed up people out there, and I am the magnet that draws them in. Stalkers, murderers, and just plain wierdos populate my world, and were not invited into it by me!
Animal Antics – Honestly, how many people lose their Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep to a friggin Porcupine? I mean, c’mon, why headbutt the prickly thing in your pen, buddy?
Tales from Teaching – OK, so this field is probably overpopulated with anecdotes. But, you must admit the kid who asked me if I, since he thought I was in my sexual prime at 30, would come to his 17th birthday party since he’d be entering his prime, was pretty creative. The one who sent me pornographic email greeting cards was too. Not that I appreciated either approach!
Vehicular Vexations – I am guaranteed that every vehicle I own will have one major, mysterious problem that haunts me for the life of the vehicle and will never be solved. Thankfully not completely life-threatening problems, but still worrisome. Having driven close to 1,000,000 kilometers in the 23 years I’ve been licenced to drive, there has been plenty of opportunity for roadside irregularities as well.
Humorous Happenstances – There are many little stories that are harmless and silly. But still work cumulatively to drive me toward insanity!

Managing your language when writing

Even if you are an author who writes just for his/her self, there are still some aspects of writing which could be improved using the following tools.

Word Frequency Count

This applet reads through your submission – even full length manuscripts – and then reports how many times you’ve repeated a word. Doesn’t sound like much, but sometimes word repetition can become tiresome to your reader, especially when the words being repeated are unusual or remarkable. Use this tool to hone your writing skills by finding which words you favour too often. Then, open up your manuscript and run a search for those words, using your thesaurus (or brain!!) to replace them. Especially watch for the dreaded ‘that’ which is usually unnecessary! And when writing, look for expressive verbs instead of using adjectives, then you won’t have so many adjectives show up in your repeat count.

The Phrase Frequency Counter
Same reasoning as above. Amazon has a feature called ‘Statistically Improbable Phrases’ active with their Search Inside the Book feature, which tells prospective purchasers what strange and unusual phrases you might have in your book, but having those wierd phrases repeated too many times might turn a reader off. Thanks to Mathew Ferguson over at Kindle boards for those two.

Readability Index: Who is your target audience?

If your novel is going to target children or young adults, then readability tests will ensure your are not speaking way above their heads! I’m not saying our kids aren’t smart, but if your narrative is reading at a fourth year university level, you may have some trouble engaging those twelve-year-olds. When selecting a textbook for science class, we sometimes use the SMOG index to determine which works for applied verses academic students.

Finding My Voice.

As a newcomer to the world of writing, I sought feedback for my first draft of Regression from a variety of sources. With time being a limiting factor, most of my interactions were through online communities for aspiring authors instead of real life writer’s groups. Authonomy, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition, and others offered the opportunity to connect and consult with people who were both readers and writers. I learned quite a bit from those interactions, but the main lesson was to believe in myself and not be afraid to say ‘No, I don’t think I can do that.’

I solicited advice from those who took in-depth, critical looks at the work being posted for review on the writer’s communities, and also carefully read the critiques of other author’s work. At first, I frantically made changes to my worked based on the comments of my readers, trying desperately to make every potential reader happy. What I found was that there were as many different opinions about writing techniques and styles as there were authors offering opinions, and what one person wanted me to change or remove, another wanted me to expand upon or develop. I finally ended up explaining to one especially opinionated critic that as much as I appreciated her suggestions and efforts to provide feedback on my novel, the style she was attempting to lead me toward was a style she herself appreciated but one I could never see myself fitting into. I want to write like Kathy Bell, not Jane Austen. I Write Like I Live.

This was most clearly exemplified during my attempts to secure a traditional publishing contract. I submitted my manuscript to multiple publishing houses, and two of them expressed serious interest in my work. But, both of them had a list of changes they wanted to see happen before they would offer a contract. Imagine my chagrin when Publishing House A wanted me to change the exact opposite to what Publishing House B wished to change! I have had many people state one should not change a manuscript until a contract is signed, but of course I didn’t hear that until after I worked for weeks trying to adjust my writing style and story to make the possible book deal(s) happen. Unfortunately, neither lead panned out but the juxtaposition of the editorial commentaries made me realize just how subjective reading is, and just how much guesswork goes into editorial choices. Editors must guestimate the likelihood any given manuscript is going to meet the interests of the widest audience, and yet their guess is likely as good as mine in the changing landscape of the reading consumer. With ebooks making such an incredible array of books available, the final choice really is in reader hands and now we writers can write for ourselves instead of trying to meet the demands of an editor.

There are obviously some aspects which should be acknowledged in making a solid science fiction novel. Ensuring that action scenes are ‘experienced’ and not ‘told’, having continuity and validity, especially in your scientific concepts, making the entire thing make sense. But, these are generally objective aspects for the most part, not subjective. Even so, the objective facets of writing are malleable to a degree.

Now when I read through Regression, my first novel, I see a lot of elements I do not like. Compared to the first draft, the narrative is drastically different, and not always in a way that I think reflects who I am or can be as a writer. I changed it to meet the expectations of others. The retail version of Regression is about the eightieth draft! But, Evolussion is the complete opposite. I think it very truly reflects where I want to be as a writer, and (hmm, should I admit this in public?) is quite literally the second version of the story…much of the manuscript remains unchanged from the moment I put fingers to keyboard. I hope that the positive responses to the tale continue, because then I know that my own instincts about how to write a gripping, moving story were reasonably accurate.

Why 11/11/11?

Why would I start my Infinion Series on November 11, 2011? And why have that number take on such importance?

It stems from the reason why we paused for a moment of silence today at 11 am. To remember those who have gone before, those who have sacrificed to secure the freedom of their friends and family. And, Remembrance Day, Armistice Day, Veterans Day, or whatever your country may call it, is also the time to hopefully ponder the mistakes of the past to ensure they never happen again.

For a novel about people dedicated to fixing the future through changing the past, starting with Remembrance Day made sense. And, it gave me the opportunity to honour fallen soldiers in my own little way, by incorporating memorial services into the novel. And getting in a mention of the Highway of Heroes here in Ontario in Evolussion.

I am blessed by the fact I have not been personally affected by war. I am thankful that there are men and women willing to risk their lives so I can have the opportunity to write without fear. I am a participant in Operation eBook Drop, which provides free Kindle books to deployed soldiers. If they can find a little bit of distraction from their resonsibilities by reading one of my books, then I am pleased to offer it as a way of thanking them.

Today we have very few veterans of the Great War around to share with us the absolute horrors of the conditions during World War One. Soon, there will be few survivors of the Second World War. But, I can only hope that we never reach the point of having veterans of a Third World War.

To all the in-service soldiers, and those who have served before them, I wish you well.

My Ridiculous Life

Most people have heard of Murphy’s Law. “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” Murphy’s Law does not apply to me. You see, in my life I have ‘Bell’s Law’. “Whatever you could not possibly imagine happening in a million years can and will take place at the most inopportune moment when at least one other incredibly unbelievable event is also happening.”
Since I plan to someday write a book about these experiences involving stalkers, appraisers, bank managers, murderers, tow truck drivers, couriers, dentists, cable guys, and various other supporting characters, I would hate to spoil the surprise by telling too much right now. Suffice to say that although the absurd situations I face on a regular basis are not necessarily laughing matters, laughter is about the best way to remain sane! From window frames randomly falling out of walls and hitting me in the head to bank employees quitting on the day I filed my mortgage application and throwing said application in the shredder while deleting all electronic files, or from mistaken identities in restaurants to having my home phone number erroneously printed on a sales flyer which had a circulation of thousands in another country, the outrageously stupid happens to me frequently.
The regular occurrence of the completely ludicrous is such a part of my life that my co-workers pry me almost every week to find out the most recent entry in the curious chronicles of my life. I have heard the phrase “You need to write a book about that…” more times than I can count. All of these crazy events are always beyond my control and it makes me wonder if I am the subject of some reality show attempting to determine the breaking point for a relatively normal human being. How did they get the cameras inside my head? Can anyone say book idea? Guess my next project will be a thriller!
I will say, what allows me to keep my sanity in the face of my curse of the ridiculous is I am so incredibly blessed with the bright points in my life which seem to balance out the burden of the negative and utterly incredible. My four amazing children and husband, my wonderful farm, the serenity of our pastoral setting. To be relatively healthy and financially secure. To have written a book and see it not only in print, but on a bestseller list. To have bred the top bulldog in Canada two years running. The list of my happy places goes on and on. Thank goodness.
I have to think of a title for the Chronicles. Curse of the Ridiculous? Lamenting the Ludicrous? Anecdotes of the Absurd? Inking the Idiotic? There are already enough entries to fill a full-length novel…and I’m not even middle-aged! Here’s hoping that soon the curse of the absurd will ebb away and leave behind nothing but words on paper. Thanks for listening to my lament, and look for it on the shelves of a bookstore some day in the future.

Burning Pages with EmeraldFire

I didn’t get the chance to update this week, it’s been quite busy! I have to thank Mareena for reviewing Regression and chatting with me. Read the review and interview on her blog.

Earlier in the week, The Examiner examined my life, and I shared ‘Five Things’ at Literarily Speaking. All part of the blog tour ending on November 11.

Special pricing will be offered on both Regression and Evolussion for eleven days in November, so take advantage of the sale once Amazon propagates the new listing!

A visit with Brandi and her Five Monkies


Today’s review is from busy mother Brandi – hey, someone I can relate to who has lots of kids – as part of my Blog tour.

Evolussion has now garnered five five star reviews on Amazon. I have a special treat planned for fans as the critical date of 11/11 approaches, and will announce on November 1 what that is!

My appearance on Dragons’ Den Meaford may not have met the interests of the Dragons, but

Virtual Book Tour 2010

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