Author Archives: joyceusagi

Still around…thoughts on building a story

Wow. I’ve not blogged since April. That’s been a HUGE omission, all things considered.

But I have an excuse. I think. Fictional, but real, because I’ve been cranking away hard on Justine Fixes Everything.

And then there were trips to Portland once I had the second Covid vax, and dealing with the reaction to the second vax, and then a trip to Yellowstone…yeah.

It certainly hasn’t been due to a lack of writing ideas, and I actually did write a blog after the Yellowstone trip. But it ended up being kinda whiny and bitchy because there were a lot of unmasked people, and judging from their license plates, I don’t think they were vaxxed! I decided to delete that blog because it just was problematic in a lot of ways.

Mostly, though, the lack of blogging has been because Justine Martiniere has decided to speak, and it’s a LOT of speaking. Up around 86k words right now, as a matter of fact, projected to be about 100-110k. Justine is old, a bit bad, and somewhat mad. That said, compared to her father Philip, Justine is pretty damn sane and ethical.

She’s always been the difficult Martiniere Legacy character when it comes to ethics, however. When she first appeared in Inheritance, Gabe didn’t know what side she was on at first. That says a lot, because he rescued her from abuse at the hands of their father when she was a teen. Until she rescues Gabe, Ruby, Brandon, and Kris from a confrontation with Philip, she’s clearly a morally ambiguous character. She continues to play that role throughout the core Martiniere Legacy trilogy (Inheritance, Ascendant, Realization). We see her aiding and abetting Ruby in figuring out whether she can succeed in the Martiniere world. She brings about the meeting of Ruby and Donna-gran, which results in Ruby receiving Donna-gran’s blessing and encouragement to remarry Gabe. She is revealed to be the Rescue Angel, a legendary figure fighting for women’s reproductive rights, especially for indentured women who have no agency or control over their own bodies. But she’s also an arms dealer and a security consultant. When Gabe makes his play to the Family and the Group to supplant Philip as the Martiniere, the Family and Group head, it’s Justine–now revealed to be his sister, not his cousin–who orchestrates the entire process.

Justine’s the logistics person who manages things and makes things happen, period. We see her even more in that role of the Family’s fixer in The Heritage of Michael Martiniere.

To understand Gabe, especially the Gabe we see in Broken Angel: The Lost Years of Gabriel Martiniere, we have to understand Justine. Half-brother and sister, the children of Philip Martiniere. One raised as his daughter; the other as his nephew. And during the thirty years of Gabe’s exile from the Martiniere family, they went through parallel experiences. Finding their loves. Forced into divorce by their father, for very different reasons. Both seeking to confront and destroy Philip because of his megalomaniac and sociopathic behaviors, including human rights violations involving mind control programming and experimentation. The pathways they fall into to bring about that shared goal are very different–and yet similar. Gabe becomes part of his brother-in-law’s mercenary company to fight Philip’s attempts to become a regional strongman and dictator in the American Southwest and South. Justine ends up performing the duties of the Martiniere-in-waiting without the title, because of her gender, for a few years. Then she also goes into the private army business, albeit as part of her work against growing restrictions on reproductive rights.

But those roles are just a small part of what they do during those years. Gabe’s more the idealist; Justine the pragmatist.

The other piece is that Justine Fixes Everything has two major but parallel plots. I’ve not done this kind of story before. One plot, the A plot, for lack of a better term, is the gradual build toward becoming who she is when she and Gabe meet again in Inheritance. The other plot (B) is Justine dealing with one final crisis before her death, involving digital cloning and the rise of a threat she thought she had dispensed with years before. We see her past through the stories she tells in the A plot. The B plot is reaction to those stories, and the growing realization that she has one more major fight to conduct.

Coordinating those two threads so that they peak simultaneously has been the challenge. In some respects, I’m somewhat pantsing this story rather than the rigorous plotting I’ve done in the past. I can get away with it for this story because I have a timeline which has become my continuity reference (and oh dear God, some of the flexing I’ve had to do to make story work has been hair-pulling). For me, pantsing is harder to do than writing with a defined road map. I’m finding that the story is eating more of my brain during the day, so that it’s hard to do a lot of other intellectual things such as…non-novel writing. It will be a relief to go back to some more structured work, I think.

But this book requires a lot more thinking about motives and scheming. Justine has reasons for everything she does. But until I started writing this book, I didn’t realize the degree to which her life has been a role play.

She married Donald Atwood to escape her father, then fell deeply in love with Donald.

She’s asexual, but feigned some very public relationships as a means to protect herself and others (I think I’m going to write another blog today about sexuality in my work so far, because there are some patterns. Besides, it’s Pride month. A good time for it).

She divorced Donald Atwood as a means to hide their underground political work and keep him safe when he was in poor health. She feigned relationships with two men to cover up their relationship, to keep them safe (and her, too, let’s be honest–and one of them was a valuable ally). She managed to break into her father’s hidden records to discover the degree to which he was engaged in downright evil behavior, and yet was able to work with him. Part of that lies in how she thinks of him. During the core Legacy trilogy, she always refers to Philip with cutesy but denigrating epithets–“Daddy-dear.” “Daddy-dearest.” “Daddy-poo.” That’s because we don’t see what she’s really thinking of him.

In her book, from her point of view, it’s “Daddy-damn-dearest.” “Daddy-damned-dearest.” “Daddy-fucking-dearest.” Justine hates her father but I suspect that only Donald knows how deep that hatred goes. Gabe suspects, of course, but it’s not until she tells these stories that he knows–and it’s not Gabe himself who finds out, it’s his digital clone.

And no one but Donald (and the people they enlist to help them hide it) knows the depth of her love for him.

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One of those slow writing days

I’m working on Justine Fixes Everything, and it’s one of those writing days. Write a little bit. Get up and wander around. Do small errands, like fix a buckle on Mocha’s mediumweight blanket before putting it away, and pulling out the rain sheet instead.

Write some more. Think about what I’ve written. Look at other chapters I’ve done so far. Fiddle around with something else that needs to be done.

Write more. Check out social media, and flinch away.

Not racking up the words today.

But there’s a reason for this. I’m writing a difficult passage, involving a young woman who’s been extracted from a traumatic situation. I’m literally feeling my way through this part paragraph by paragraph, because I need to think about it. Laying the foundation for the Justine that we see in other books of the Martiniere Legacy. Wondering if I’m going too far over the top with this story. Then thinking of real-life counterparts and saying “nope.”

Donald Atwood is almost too good to be true, until you realize the degree to which he’s been raised to be the kind of man who, while loving to love women, is also ethical about it. And–I think there’s going to be a physical issue involved. Still thinking about that.

But I’m still feeling my way along in this story. Justine’s voice comes slowly, in part because she wants to hide a lot of this. It’s about a period in her life where she is weak, and vulnerable. And yet it’s a part of her life that creates the foundations for her later strength, to become the fixer for the Martinieres, the one who pulls a lot of the logistics together not just for security but for transportation. It sets up the rationale for her eventually becoming the Rescue Angel.

It’s still not an easy section to write.

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Bouncing back from colic

So it’s been a week now since Mocha colicked. She was doing fine before we took off on a ride, had gotten herself a drink from the trough, eaten her grain, and didn’t show any distress on saddling.

Two hours and five miles later, she was on the brink of colic, and wouldn’t take a treat, but didn’t have sufficiently obvious signs of distress to call the vet. And since she lives in pasture, there was a chance that she’d walk off whatever this was.

An hour later, she was dropping to her side, in obvious distress, and did so three times in 5-7 minutes. Her gums had not gotten to the point where they were pale white, and still showed good capillary refill. But gut sounds were limited.

Fortunately, we caught it early. Her vet gave her a shot of Banamine intravenously (pain reliever preferred for colic), then pumped some water into her stomach and did a rectal exam resulting in some small poops that were still pretty hydrated. Within a short period of time we had good gut sounds, she was reaching for grass to eat, and after being blanketed and turned back into the pasture headed off for where the hay was at a trot.

But. She’s twenty-one years old. We blanketed her because a cold, gusty storm was blowing in, and it brought snow flurries. Just a little extra care for an older horse who had just gone through a rough time. I didn’t bother trying to mix up wet feed for her because I’ve learned by experience that she doesn’t care for mush unless I add sweet stuff to it and, well, it didn’t seem to warrant that level of reaction.

It took her a couple of days to start acting like herself. I started pulling the blanket in the morning because she really only needed it at night–daytime temps were okay, nighttime were below freezing with breeze.

Monday, she went to the vet for a dental exam (previously scheduled) and vaccinations. And deworming, and shoes, since her farrier works with the vet clinic and it was easy to do (she had originally be scheduled to be shod the day after she colicked but we moved the date out, on the vet’s recommendation).

She passed the dental exam with flying colors–dental work for horses is filing off sharp points that form on the molars and leveling out uneven growth back there (some horses will develop what’s called a wave, where the molars are uneven and don’t meet properly). Got her vaccinations. Since she was in the stocks already and coming out of sedation, I popped in with the dewormer and took care of that chore.

The vet is concerned that parasite load might be an issue, and suggested a change from twice a year to four times a year deworming. I’m also considering a feed-through dewormer, Strongcid-C, but thinking about it. The big concern is that we just don’t have a real reason for her to have colicked, except…weather-coaster weather. But the only other time she’s come even close to doing this where I can pinpoint weather as a factor was at a horse show where a big nasty storm hit, and she started doing a colic-like fuss. But I got her back to her stall, stripped the saddle, blanketed her, and she settled with no problems, aggressively eating her hay. The other time she definitely colicked was part of a cascade of health issues tied to stress from moving, change in environment, and white line disease. She just doesn’t have a history of doing this–twenty-one years old, two definite colics, one possible developing that never went anywhere.

Stuff like this does happen with older horses, though, and it can be an indicator of decline. Or not.

Anyway, today was a week after the colic. She’s been cleared for light work. So I went out midday (after the morning blanket removal) and caught her up. When it came time to saddle her, she clearly remembered and associated colic pain with the saddle. I got the mare face stink-eye, with flattened ears and a head toss. Eased the cinch gently, didn’t push the issue.

The other thing is that I didn’t want to do a hard ride, either, because she’d also just gotten her hind shoes back on and that alters her stride a little bit.

She found a lot of things to look at during her ride. Ambled along, looking at everything, ears forward.

When we got back, she was careful about her first treat, again, clearly remembering the last time. Chewed it up, went “oh, okay, gut doesn’t hurt” and all was well.

Went back out tonight with her favorite blanket, the green one that she wore so many winters in her stall. She came to me, raised her head and stood square, in the proper position for easy blanketing. I flipped it on her back just like I used to do all those years riding with Gregg, where I might end up helping blanket 15 horses or so in the barn. She stood good and still for her blanket getting fastened, then asked for more cookies.

Apparently she wants her blanket at night right now.

Damn, I spoil this horse. But she’s worth it.

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Broken Angel Release Date and other Martiniere Legacy Announcements

Well, we have a date. Broken Angel: The Lost Years of Gabriel Martiniere will be released on April 25th, 2021…and preorders should go live pretty darn soon.

This is a book of the heart, in part because Gabe started yakking at me and wouldn’t shut up over a year ago. As I worked on Ruby’s story (the trilogy comprising Inheritance, Ascendant, and Realization), I realized that there still wasn’t a lot that Gabe was telling me. But he was being his cagey and paranoid self, hiding everything until, oh…about the time I wrapped up work on The Heritage of Michael Martiniere. And as I started writing Gabe’s book, I realized the degree to which he really is the foundation of the whole series. Because Gabe is the one member of the Family who not only did stand up to Philip Martiniere, but is the only member of the Family who actually was in a position to stand up to Philip.

But oh, the price Gabe pays. Over and over again.

I’m not happy about the resolution of the picture in the blog post. For some reason both WordPress and Dreamwidth have it all fogged up. But it looks better at thumbnail size for social media, so…a win, I guess?

There’s more. I have rough summaries for the remaining Martiniere Legacy books.

Here they are:

Justine Fixes Everything: Reflections on Mortality

(Projected Release Date: Summer, 2021)

For years, it’s fallen to Justine Martiniere to be the family fixer. As Philip Martiniere’s daughter, she led the secret resistance against her father’s problematic management of the Martiniere Family and the Martiniere Group.

Now she’s seventy-seven, tired…and has one last fix to face. Mike, her father’s clone, is recovering from that last struggle against Philip. But he’s sinking into despair, and those closest to him worry about his mental state. He seeks answers from the family history—and Justine is the one who can provide them.

In her quest to provide diversion for a frustrated and bored Mike, Justine moves from “I’m just a fixer” to understanding the degree to which she affected and moved situations during Gabe’s thirty-year absence from the Family. She progresses from frustration at being the fixer of the family to realizing that the new era for the Martiniere Family might not have happened without her preparing the foundations for Gabe, Brandon, and Mike to reorganize and fix outmoded Family structures. More than anyone else except perhaps her brother Gabriel, she has managed to counter her father’s will—but it takes telling the stories for her to realize that.

Repairing the Legacy: A Martiniere Legacy Novel

(Projected Release Date: Fall, 2021)

After Gabriel Martiniere becomes the Martiniere in October of 2059, he becomes aware of the degree to which his predecessor Philip has victimized not just the indentured workers owned by the Martiniere Group but those within the Martiniere Family who did not have the power and ability to stand up to Philip. Together with his wife Ruby Barkley, he spends the final thirteen years of his life trying to repair and atone for the evil that Philip has done.

This includes ensuring that Philip’s clone Michael is raised in such a manner that he does not emulate his progenitor.

Can this mess be fixed—and what will it cost Gabe and Ruby to do it?

Runs simultaneously with the early parts of The Heritage of Michael Martiniere.

Alvarez Armory: A Martiniere Legacy Short Story Collection

(Projected Release Date: Fall/Winter 2021)

For eleven years of his exile, Gabriel Martiniere was a part-time mercenary in his brother-in-law Rafael’s security business, Alvarez Armory. Rafe and Gabe focused on thwarting the attempts by Philip Martiniere to establish a fiefdom in the Western United States, frequently by taking over small towns through swarming them with members of a Philip-focused religious cult, the Electric Born.

Even as Gabe Ramirez, Gabe makes an impression on the various people he encounters during this work. And their reactions shape his eventual future as the Martiniere.

Coincides with the “Alvarez Armory” and “In Sickness And…?” chapters of Broken Angel: The Lost Years of Gabriel Martiniere.

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Ramblings here and there

It’s been a week.

Monday was actually all right, as near as I can remember. I took a deep breath and started prepping Broken Angel: The Lost Years of Gabriel Martiniere, for publication. Because of the way that I formatted the Word doc, though, I had to go back through and edit a bunch of stuff by hand in Vellum. On the other hand, that wasn’t too bad as I also did some final edits and proofreading as I went through. I learned from working on a friend’s book that going through every page; one screen the editing doc, the other the print version, really helps. And as I went through the process I realized that I’m getting it figured out and that it really is going to be a pretty book. Yay!

Tuesday I got my first Moderna Covid vax. Side-effects have been mild, a little tiredness, sore arm, some headache. A little itchy on my arm. Oddly enough, my gut feels a LOT better and something just started feeling better in my body. Psychological? Quite possibly.

And then there was Wednesday. OH GOD, was there a Wednesday (and now the caps lock on my keyboard DOESN’T WORK and it is brand new as of August, damnit). Anyway. Computer problems with husband’s connectivity, the printer kept throwing off error codes that required it to be turned off and back on, the Zoom Soroptimist meeting I was running had a couple of people with internet issues, hoo boy).

But that wasn’t the biggie. After the Soroptimist meeting, I went for a ride. Everything appeared normal with the old mare when we started out. She ate two pounds of grain, was a wee bit cranky about the hind cinch, but that happens sometimes. Ride went well, though a storm was blowing in and it was clear that I had dressed too lightly. And then–she didn’t want her post-ride treats.

That was–worrisome. Mocha never turns down treats. NEVER. I watched her for a while. Something was not-quite-right, but I didn’t have enough NQR signs to suggest that it was a good time to call the vet. I went home to eat dinner, but kept fretting, and finally went back out to the pasture–just in time to see her lie down flat on the ground. Like a dying horse would.

Ulp. Something was wrong. She jumped right back up when I yelled her name. But still…something was wrong. I went back and looked her over. Capillary refill on her gums was still good. But she didn’t want another treat, and she stood with her nose to the ground, and looked like she wanted to go down again. I called the husband to tell him something was wrong. Then the barn owner.

She went down again. Then back up. I marched back to the pickup to get her halter. She went down a third time while I was calling the after-hours emergency vet number. By this time I had a pretty good idea that I had a colicking horse on my hands.

The vet came and the verdict was colic, all right. Early stages. He administered intravenous Banamine and pumped some water into her gut to hydrate her (took two tries, the first, smaller tube kept going into her lungs and caused a big nosebleed). Also did a rectal exam. He advised putting a blanket on her since we had a forecast for a return of winter. I sent the husband back to the house to grab what we jokingly call the “portable shed”–the heaviest damn waterproof blanket on the market.

She came around quickly and was starting to grab at grass like she was starving. Turned loose, she took off at a trot for where hay had been spread. Whew.

We made two after-dark trips to check on her. Both times she was skittery–didn’t like the flashlights, I guess–while her younger pasture mates were all “HUMANS HUMANS HUMANS pet us feed us treats pay attention.”

The next morning she was clearly tired but better. It was cold and snowy so the portable shed stayed on. It came off this morning but will go back on tonight as tomorrow is supposed to be Winter Returns Number Seven or some such thing.

Well, between shot reaction and being tired out from late night colic checks, Thursday was kind of a bust, though I did a panel on short story writing for Quarancon and finished formatting Broken Angel. I also fixed some major formatting problems with The Heritage of Michael Martiniere, and added some new back matter to reflect the latest additions to The Martiniere Legacy series (more on that in another post).

Today, I had a chiropractic appointment, some other things, and uploaded the new version of Heritage as well as Broken Angel to the usual ebook distributors.

Broken Angel now has an official release date of April 25. Now I just need to get all the promo work going. Preorders should be going live pretty soon now.

Whew.

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When a Story Doesn’t Come Together

 

I’m one of those writers who has a book writing plan. That is, I sit down every December and plan out what books (and hopefully short stories and essays) I will be working on during the coming year. This usually involves a bit of note-taking, rough outlines, the whole nine yards.

Now do I stick to that plan?

Until the year of Covid, yes. Oh, I’d modify the plan every quarter. But the books that I wrote every year fell into a nice neat little sequence. Perhaps not quite in the order I originally planned. However, they marched right along.

Then November of 2019 happened. I pitched a standalone book to a startup press, based on some agricultural technology research I’d been doing. It was going to be about a woman rancher fighting against the odds to save her ranch through the use of agtech, and her quest for funding while marketing her new tech.

Um. Covid happened. The book didn’t work for the press. So I blew it up into a trilogy (which was already starting to happen), listened to the ex-husband character who kept insisting that he was not the jerk that I was trying to make him, and…well…

The Martiniere Legacy was born. And it’s at four books, assorted short stories, a fifth book in line to be released at the end of April/first part of May, plus three more tie-in books that I’m working on right now.

Was this part of the plan? Nope. Books four and five (The Heritage of Michael Martiniere and Broken Angel: The Lost Years of Gabriel Martiniere) were on the table. But the next three…didn’t really come to the fore until I finally admitted that I simply was not ready for the next project on my list.

 

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The next project on my list was supposed to be an expansion of the Goddess’s Honor series, a new trilogy that takes off from the ending of Judgment of Honor. I had a rough idea of the series storyline and what might be involved in expanding that series. I was starting to rock and roll on it in early January.

Then January 6th happened. Was that a factor in the Martinieres becoming more vocal while the problems of the Darani Empire faded? I don’t know. I just know that more and more, I was delving into the pieces of the Martiniere Family history that begged to be told. The trilogy (Inheritance, Ascendant, Realization) was told from Ruby’s perspective. The Heritage of Michael Martiniere from Mike’s. Broken Angel from Gabe’s.

Blame Gabe, I guess. His voice was the one that expanded the Martiniere Legacy from one book. And while I was working on his book, a spinoff story showed up as a submission for a themed anthology. As I wrote it, I realized that I could write more stories set in that segment of Gabe’s life, and that I might want to do just that. I visualized a set of short stories, titled Alvarez Armory, about Gabe as a part-time mercenary, in business with his brother-in-law to fight against a rising tide of corporate militias during the 2040s/50s.

And as I finished off Broken Angel, Justine started to talk.

Now Justine has been one of the will-of-the-wisp characters. She is a foundation of the Legacy, both in her support of Ruby but also in the silent support she has provided over the years to the rebellion against her tyrannical, narcissistic, manipulative father. But she’s not wanted to talk, until I got a few whispers in my ear from her, and boy howdy, I was NOT about to ignore her when she decided to speak.

Oh, I’m used to courting these characters. The Goddess’s Honor series happened the way it did because Rekaré, who is fundamental to the series, was evasive in the same manner (and when she did decide to talk, hoo boy did she ever tell a story).

But Justine is not Rekaré. And the only way I can get her to talk is to tell recent family history from her perspective. So. A book with framing stories. Okay, I’ve not done that before. We’ll see how that works. So far, so good. Justine Fixes Everything works in that context.

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Still. Justine Fixes Everything and Alvarez Armory were intended to be written after I wrote the next set of Goddess’s Honor books.

And then another Martiniere Legacy book reared its head. I wrote a quick piece to help me with understanding the end of Broken Angel, because it desperately needed a rewrite. It’s currently up on Curious Fictions.

https://curiousfictions.com/stories/3899-joyce-reynolds-ward-return-of-the-prodigal-son

And at that point I realized that there was yet another book. One thing my editor has been nagging me about is showing what happens after Gabe becomes the Martiniere. What do he and Ruby do to stop the rise of indentured servitude? What about the problems within the Martiniere Family and the Martiniere Group, because the end of Broken Angel starts to show that Gabe is not the only Family member abused and traumatized by Philip Martiniere?

Oops. Another book. Repairing the Legacy.

It also doesn’t hurt that I’ve been reading an author new to me, Beverly Jenkins, and absolutely LOVING her Black Western Romances. MsBev (as Romancelandia calls her) is deft at interweaving some multigenerational stories set against unknown history that SHOULD be known, but isn’t. And I’m finding (since I’m getting these books from the library so far, saving my money for the ones that AREN’T in the library) that it’s easy to slip into her interconnected books without having to read them in order.

It’s a different way of doing a series, especially the multigenerational variant set around a location. And it has certainly expanded my parameters for what constitutes a series, and whether a series needs to be strictly linear.

(Seriously. Go read MsBev. Good books. Highly recommended. Powerful women and mindful men. A lot of authors can learn from her, and by God, her stories are fun and also a nice antidote for those of us who want western settings but are sick to death of THAT set of genre cliches. Read her. NOW. Especially if you want spicy stories.)

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But what about that floundering Goddess’s Honor set of sequels?

The longer I sat down to grapple with the second trilogy (plus, because it seems that I can’t just write a trilogy, it’s gotta be longer than that!), with interruptions by assorted Martinieres, the more I realized that the reason that the books didn’t want to be sketched out and planned was a simple one.

The books aren’t ready to be written yet.

I wanted to tackle some heavy issues. Witmara is a young Empress, coming from a former colony. She rapidly realizes that she is dealing with a wrecked political structure that includes elements, such as slavery, that she abhors. She’d like to eliminate it immediately.

But. Magic. Significant opposition.

She has to destroy the Darani Empire to save Daran.

And that is harder to contemplate than it seems.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I’m wrestling with rebuilding a flawed political and corporate structure in the Martiniere Legacy while struggling to examine the implications of a failing empire in a fantasy. At the moment, it seems easier to look at it from a setting similar to our own world, with technology instead of magic.

Besides, other areas to research have made themselves known. Textiles, amongst other things.

All the same, it’s clear that the process of destruction while trying to preserve what is of value is not as easy as it first appears. And that for whatever reason, that’s where my brain wants to go at the moment.

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Short version?

Sometimes stories don’t want to come together For Reasons.

And sometimes it’s kind of hard to figure out just why that is.

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Inspiration on the Road

 

It took a friend’s tweet this morning about her realization that she found a lot of her writing inspiration while working in a coffee shop to bring about a similar understanding on my part. Only, for me, the inspirational activity isn’t working in a coffee shop. It’s sitting in a vehicle, either as passenger or driver, watching the scenery go by.

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I’m not sure how or when this mode of inspiration started. Perhaps it hearkens back to my childhood years, when my parents made weekly trips to their favorite fishing reservoir in Central Oregon—a two-hour drive. I’d look out the windows and daydream about riding a horse along much of the terrain (as young horsewomen often do). Later, I imagined a lot of what would now be called fanfiction, only most of mine centered around the main characters of The Name of the Game tv series.

In later years, those settings we drove by inspired stories. A rock formation might catch my fancy and I’d kind of play with ideas taking off from that notion. Or I’d see a clearing—a grove of trees—something that might kick off an idea.

It might not always be explicit in my work, but a LOT of what I write has a setting as a strong base element. Even if it’s buried in the rest of the work, the odds are very good that when you read my fiction, nested deep inside the story is a location that triggered a metaphor. A particular mood. An image. Something tied to what I’m working on, or trying to create, as the case might be.

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Driving certainly has played a role in my latest writing career incarnation. When I started creating fiction again, I was teaching at a small rural school forty miles from my house. I got up at 4:30 am to work on my writing, then spent the drive to work listening to music and thinking over what I’d written that morning. Hashing out problems with the story while driving simply became part of the process, because I had a lot of time to myself, with music.

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Retirement and spending a lot of time in a place three hundred plus miles away from family and friends meant that we were on the road a lot pre-Covid. Once again, I had lots of time behind the wheel to think as the scenery went by. Sometimes I had the time to capture the ideas. Other times, they flitted away. But I do have notes in my journals, and there are kernels of story ideas just waiting for me to breathe life into them.

The Martiniere Legacy is probably the one set of books that doesn’t have as much travel linked to it, simply because much of it has been written during Covid. And yet. Short drives around the rural countryside. Working in the woods to gather firewood, mushrooms, and huckleberries. I still got out and still spun ideas based on our drives.

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I most recently used this process to build a short story, Red Running, set in the Martiniere Legacy world and crafted for a specific anthology call. I’d wanted to create something inspired by the Neil Young song “Powderfinger” and had a kind of idea about what to do with it. But—nothing was really stirring.

It was a nice, sunny day. The husband and I realized that one of our vehicles, the Subaru Outback, had not been driven for a month. In this land of rural life, we end up using our big pickup as the daily driver because the regular trips are to the ranch to do things with the horse, hauling wood, and hauling garbage to the dump. Not really activities for the Outback, especially since we haven’t gone to Portland for over a year now.

We decided to drive down to the Imnaha River and then up the canyon as far as it had been plowed. A nice outing, socially distanced, and while part of the road was off-pavement, it was well within the Outback’s capacity. Plus, since the Imnaha is about two thousand feet lower in elevation than where we live, we thought we might see a hint of spring. We’d definitely see wildlife of some sort or another.

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Once we were down in the Imnaha, listening to the String Cheese Incident, the story started stirring. I knew this was going to be a dark tale because “Powderfinger” is not exactly a sweetness and light song (essentially, it’s about a young man in an isolated river area who sees a threatening boat coming up river for nefarious purposes, and since he’s the only one able to defend the home place, takes a shot at the boat—and is killed).

The main character, Chrissie Lee, made herself known pretty quickly. Chrissie Lee is young, and has bought into a toxic ideology that leads to her death. Given the constraints of the Martiniere Legacy and what I’m working on with the Alvarez Armory subset of stories within the Legacy, she’s worshipping a set of narcissistic leaders. She’s also involved with some nasty biotechnology.

Between viewing fields of cows with newborn calves, cattle waiting for their daily hay feeding, spotting deer, elk, bald eagles, golden eagles, and a host of other raptors (plus multiple artsy landscape photos), the foundation for Red Running fell into place.

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Eventually we reached the end of the plowed road. It happened rather abruptly, as the road and the river both rise into National Forest land and higher elevations.

I thought more about Red Running as we listened at last to Neil Young on our return. And even though Red Running is set in Northern Idaho and not the Imnaha, in my mind it’s still going to be the Imnaha I see when I think about that story. Which is…not unusual.

If Red Running gets accepted for that anthology, it will come out in November of 2021. Meanwhile, the book most closely affiliated with that story, Broken Angel: The Lost Years of Gabriel Martiniere, will come out in late April/early May of 2021. Martiniere Legacy stories are available on Curious Fictions and through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, and more.

The Legacy is very much a set of near-future Northeastern Oregon stories. But that’s another essay.

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Old Mare at almost 21

The old mare is still cruising along pretty well these days, with her 21st birthday coming up this next week. She’s holding her weight and staying pretty active. I’ve had to keep an eye on her muscle tone and it looks like she needs to be getting bodywork 2-3 times a year. But Mocha’s still a pretty nice saddle mare, energetic and good for a nice long ride once she gets legged up and in condition. I’ve had a chat with the farrier, and we’ll probably be looking at pour-in pads for her in late summer when the ground gets hard. She had a difficult time this winter because we had a long spell of frozen ground with no snow to cushion, and that’s hard on her these days. That’s what sparked my chat with the farrier. Not much else to be done. We know she has thin soles. Sickle and cow hocks, which does wonders when you ask her to stop hard and fast, but can cause arthritis issues–which is what she has.

But. She’s still the same feisty, energetic Spring Mare she’s always been. I’ve taken to riding her on the gravel roads again because they’re better footing than the pasture–no ice, and muddy with a solid surface underneath. She’s been wanting to run hard in preferred stretches, and kinda getting heavy on the bit about it. So today she got put back in the curb for a while, and I ended up with Grumpy Mare.

Mocha listened, though, albeit being grumpy about it. Another sign of Spring Mare.

On May 1st she’ll have completed six years in Eastern Oregon, living either in pasture or pen 24/7 instead of being a Stall Princess. It seems to be the best thing I could ever have done for her. Mocha prefers to be in pasture to being in a stall, and blanket? The only blanket she seems to like is the quarter sheet I put on her when the temps are under 40 degrees. She’s gone through winters at -20F and milder ones. 2 feet of snow. As long as she gets hay daily she doesn’t seem to care about the weather.

Here’s a pic of her after today’s ride. She’s still heavy-coated and works up a sweat, but it doesn’t seem to bother her.

And yes, she’s muddy from the roads. Given that she’s living in snow and mud, welp, not too excited about it.

Here she goes back to her herd.

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Packing away the Broken Angel notes

I’m packing away the notes I made for the last Martiniere Legacy book, Broken Angel: The Lost Years of Gabriel Martiniere. Did the first revision, then segued into a second revision after watching the interview with the Sussexes on Sunday night because some of the things that Harry said? Could have come right out of Gabe’s mouth, especially the part talking about keeping his wife and child safe.

It’s kind of the end of an era because this is the last Legacy book. Oh, I might write some more in this world, but for all intents and purposes, it’s finished. Now I need to think about promotion…and if there’s one thing I realized about the February book, The Heritage of Michael Martiniere, it’s that I need to be thinking about promotion and emphasizing that both of these books are standalones. Mike’s book happens after the trilogy and you don’t need to read the trilogy first. Gabe’s book happens before the trilogy. So I need to be thinking just how I’m going to market and promote these books.

Gabe’s book was not an easy one. He endures a lot. But he also had some very bright moments. I’m actually glad I wrote this book, and for once, this is a prequel that really did need to wait for the other books to be written before it came out. As it were, I tweaked some bits of Heritage after finishing the rough draft of Broken Angel. I thought about tweaking bits of the trilogy, and then said “no, the trilogy is Ruby’s point of view. This is how Gabe remembers things, and Gabe’s memory has been tampered with, plus Gabe…lies. To himself as well as others. It’s a survival technique.”

Now it’s poking at things, coming up with appropriate back cover/promotional copy, and thinking about how to promote the book.

But first I’ve gotta also get things tweaked for Heritage.

Which…it’s available, and it’s a nice little standalone. Check it out.

(Huh. Pasting in the ‘zon link pops up the following. Not so much for the Books2Read link, which gets you Apple, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble)

https://books2read.com/u/4Dgv8P

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On writing diverse characters…baby steps

This Tweet (and my response, which was that I figure it’s time to add more queer and BIPOC secondary characters when I see complaints) pretty much sums up my attitude. I may be an old cishet white woman, but by god, the worlds I create do not need to look fishbelly-pale. Or het. Of course, that also means I have to work around other issues, such as watching out that I don’t fall into stereotypes…which is hard. Damned hard. And often requires self-examination and a lot of learning. But I’m willing to make mistakes and learn from them because, again, I want to write worlds that look and feel real, even when writing about the rich and privileged (which pretty much sums up the Martinieres).

Honestly, this post has been a hard one to write. I think this is the third? fourth? attempt, because I keep pulling back. Wondering if I should do this. Imagining what the attacks could be from either side of the aisle.

But damnit, at some point I have to say it.

I don’t want to write fishbelly-pale worlds. I don’t want to write all straight worlds. But. I am cishet, white, old, and female. Even with sensitivity readers, I struggle with the concept of speaking for others. Hey, for me, it was tough enough to switch into the male characters of Michael Martiniere and Gabriel Martiniere. I don’t normally write primary male characters, but in this situation I saw the need to do so for both The Heritage of Michael Martiniere and Broken Angel: The Lost Years of Gabriel Martiniere.

For me, that solution has come through peopling my worlds (except in my fantasy, where by golly, it’s all different and I ain’t writing Europeans) with a widely diverse secondary cast.

But however you want to put it, I do my best to keep those worlds from looking straight and fishbelly-pale.

I don’t want praise for that. I don’t need praise for that. Frankly, I think this approach should be the norm.

I’m still working on improving how I write diverse characters, but you know what? Just because my depictions aren’t perfect doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying (and tripping over new obstacles).

It’s all a growth process. And the more I learn about what a diverse world looks like, the more I like it.

So I’m a work in progress. I’m not what I was years ago, and that’s a good thing.

 

 

 

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