They say write what you know…so I need to learn more.

Or better entitled: why my internet search history could get me arrested.

I thought I’d start this blogging journey—from fanfic to original fic—with the one thing that is tripping me up the most: research. And if you are still with me at the end of this, I have a request.

I didn’t start writing stories with a declaration that I would become A Writer. I simply wrote what I like to read as a means of escaping from reality—and, possibly, to offer that escape to others who also liked to read what I liked to read. Ideas are never a problem. They come unbidden—triggered by a line of narration or dialog in a movie or book, a lyric in a song, a fleeting thought as I wait for the microwave to beep. Sometimes they come with imagined scenes attached, sometimes with simple “what if” possibilities.

What happens next is the hard part: anchoring the idea into a possibility.

I started writing fanfiction in 2006. Prior to that, I had never heard of it before—and for those of you who may be reading this thinking, “yeah, right there with you,” let me break it down. Fanfiction stories are written by fans of something—a movie, book, or TV show, for example—using established characters and building beyond that quantifiable universe. Extending a scene, writing a brand new adventure using those known characters, exploring emotions, reactions, and possibilities that aren’t always captured to a fan’s satisfaction.

The quality and content of fanfiction is as broad and diverse as there are people in the world. It’s global, free, and writers embark on the storytelling journey accepting they essentially own nothing they post on the various websites. There are canon stories—collectively agreed-upon truth established by the original authors/creators—and there are ‘alternate universe’ stories—where fanfic authors take characters/worlds and adjust the dial to fit various storytelling purposes.

When I discovered fanfiction back in 2006, I knew none of this. I learned pretty quickly, though, that this world was both fascinating and surprising. There were ‘genres’ I gravitated toward and those I actively avoided. Spend any amount of time in that world and you’ll see what I mean. The best part about it, though, was discovering how I wanted to tell stories—learning my style, honing my skill, and receiving immediate feedback via reviews.

My first ‘fandom’ was Supernatural. I’ve written 72 fanfiction stories and 47 of those were for Supernatural—varying in length from 10k word “one shots” (as in one chapter only) to 280k word novels. And I’m not even close to some of the more prolific writers in that fandom.

From a storytelling/idea perspective, there was no shortage of possibilities with Supernatural. You had two brothers driving around the country in their dad’s ‘67 Chevy Impala, classic rock the back-beat of their narrative, fighting monsters while dealing with familial angst. I had plenty “write what you know” to pull from when it came to the familial angst. As far as the monsters were concerned? That’s where I was first introduced to researching for a story. The show had set a precedence that what you thought you might know about ghosts, werewolves, vampires, and the like may only be mostly true. They embraced the definition of lore—a body of traditions and knowledge on a subject, typically passed from person to person by word of mouth—and then put their own spin on it.

As Pablo Picasso said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

When writing stories about a banshee, ghost, or wendigo, I learned to base the lore in something familiar and then…make adjustments. I discovered—based on the responses of readers through reviews—that as long as the creatures were grounded in some sort of plausibility within our known universe, and as long as the characters the readers were familiar with reacted to the creatures I used and/or created in a manner keeping with their behavior on the show (because some of them—like the giant, bat-like cave demon in my story The Cave—were completely fabricated), almost anything was acceptable.

Researching for Supernatural was less work, more…exploration. But after spending several years with these characters, in this world, I decided it was time for me to branch out a bit.

And that’s when the prospect of research got interesting.

My storytelling choices followed my ‘muse’—or, more accurately, shows I was interested in or saw potential for more. I spent some time in France in the 1630s, writing stories based on the BBC’s The Musketeers. The similar theme of brotherhood that drew me to Supernatural in the first place was still there, but I realized quickly that I would have to change quite a few things about how I captured a scene, described emotions, expressions, and reasoning. I had to rethink everything from clothing, to language, to mannerisms, to location. I’ve been to Paris, but Paris in the 17th century was incredibly different from anything we have today. Obviously.

While the fanfiction audience is a rather forgiving lot, I had no intention of being a lazy writer. If I were going to write about Louis XIII’s guard, it would be as though I were sitting on a rooftop in Paris watching the whole story unfold. Or as close to that as I could get. I wore out Google, looking up the history of the city—everything from what the police force and governing bodies were called, to food served in the taverns, to what sort of clothing different people of different social stations wore. I looked up common phrases and traditions. I realized I couldn’t use descriptions like, “He stared at the man with laser focus,” because ‘laser’ was a futuristic word.

And, as the characters were, essentially, soldiers, I learned about weapons. The difference between a rapier and a sword. How a main gauche was held and where they’d keep it on their body. What an arquebus was, and how it was loaded and fired. How heavy a schinova (the sword preferred by the character Porthos) was and whether it was more common to have a wheel-lock pistol or a dagger on your person if you were of a certain social station.

As I am forever getting my characters into dangerous situations, I also had to learn 17th century medical practices. After all, I couldn’t simply mend a wound with an IV and antibiotics. And surgery was just as likely to kill someone as would sending them into battle. I learned which herbs promoted healing, how to mix and apply a poultice, that honey was great at sealing a wound, and how stitches weren’t always the solution we imagine them to be.

I found my writing got tighter, more purposeful. I moved on to other shows, learning the lay of the land—sometimes literally, as with Daredevil and the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, New York—and I discovered other methods of researching that made my ideas make sense. Most recently, I wrote several fanfiction stories for the reboot of MacGyver.

And this is where I got a little worried that should the government every really spy on our computers, my search history could call my intentions into question. ;)

That said, Google only got me so far with some of the more inventive improvisations common to this particular show. I had to actually learn some science, people. Like, with books. I was never good at science in school, and here I was learning about chemical compounds and bomb disposal techniques like Trepanation. O_o

The MacGyver ( “Mac” ) character in the reboot is an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) Tech in the Army, and if I wanted to be true to that character, I realized I had to have at least some background of what that meant—what training went into this, what tools/equipment might be common, what vernacular an EoD Tech would find familiar. I will admit that in some instances, I wrote around this knowledge—shifting viewpoint to another character who had no idea what Mac was doing and simply describing what it looked like he was doing, because I couldn’t really understand it myself.

Lastly, I talked to people. Reviewers who’d followed my writing for some time and enjoyed my fanfiction stories enough to volunteer their time helping me with some accuracy. I exchanged emails with readers who were Army and Navy vets; they helped me fold in plausible lingo into my dialog and account for gear commonly worn by U.S. soldiers and sailors in Afghanistan in the 2011-2013 time frame. They also helped me expound upon the setting—I’ve never been to Afghanistan, and while Wikipedia and travel websites offer ideas, and reading The Kite Runner gave me some feeling for the culture and location, nothing replaces actual experience of the sand and the sounds and the sights and smells and heat and cold.

With all my internet research and book reading, I found that talking with people has been the most effective way of funneling some realism into an imagined situation.

Going from an established network of readers and like-minded fans to creating a world no one has ever seen in a TV show, movie, or book, and making it real enough readers will be able to visualize it…is somewhat daunting. I want readers to hear the local accents, feel the air on their skin, smell the scents from the fish market or exhaust from the cars, see the apartments, the homes, the photos on the walls, the way the sunset tags the leaves on a lone tree in a back yard before disappearing behind the rooftops of the neighboring houses….

Kill Creek Road is set in Boston and focuses on four main characters with several supporting characters. There are multiple timelines — primarily 1945-1952, 1970, and 1998 — which means historical accuracy will be important. And that I can get from research and reading, true enough. The characters are two policemen—one who was in Vietnam in 1970—an ER nurse, and a…well, the last one is a bit complicated. Let’s just say my 47 Supernatural stories will come in handy with this one.

I’ve decided the best way to get past this first hurdle is to start reaching out to people I know—cops, nurses, former or current military personnel—to see how willing they might be to talk with me about what’s real, what’s Hollywood, what a day-in-the-life is like, what gaffes to avoid, what assumptions not to make, how to think about the world through their eyes. I’m going to reach out to friends—made through the world of fanfiction—who live in Boston to get a sense of the setting, the local customs and traditions, the feel of the place.

I’ll of course still be researching—Google isn’t getting out of this that easily—and spending time at the Lawrence Public Library, but if you’re reading this, and you fit any of those categories above (cop, nurse, soldier, Bostonian) and you’d be willing to answer questions, let me know. And, if anyone reading this has successfully accomplished this researching task to bring an original story to life and has some pointers? I’m all ears. Or, well…eyes.

You have my thanks in advance, and my promise to take care of your time.

Next up… Music is the only thing that makes sense anymore... play it loud enough and it keeps the demons at bay.”

We Study History To Learn From It, Not Repeat It

Social media has become a way for me to stave off the solitude that results from working remotely out of my home office. It's a water-cooler, break-room, leaving-for-a-quick-lunch all in one. It's also a way for me to stay in touch with family and friends as our lives evolve and our children grow. I'm grateful that technology has advanced to a degree such a thing is possible. However.

It's also become a way for folks to voice their opinions on what are generally thought of as very personal decisions regarding very public issues. It's a platform for some to speak openly behind the curtain of safety and anonymity a computer screen offers. There are those who express opinions through memes and status updates in ways they wouldn't dream of doing if standing face-to-face with people (unless they were 100% certain those people agreed with them...or relished the possibility of debate).

It is my view that I have no jurisdiction over anyone's opinion. Our opinions are one of the only things we really own. Listening to another’s opinion without rebuttal does not necessarily mean I agree with them; it simply means I believe in their freedom to voice that opinion. But for the most part--especially publicly--I guard my own opinions like prisoners because to speak them aloud is to potentially invite ridicule as easily as agreement and risks upsetting those I have no wish to upset. So, I keep to myself out of both respect and self-preservation.

However, I find that I can no longer be silent about one particular, publicly opined topic.

I just finished a book called "Once We Were Brothers," by Ronald H. Balson, a story that focused on WWII and a Jewish man from Poland. There were passages in that book that twisted my heart not only because such atrocities once happened...but also because I could see the shadows of them repeating today. In our headlines, in our tweets, in the Facebook statuses of people I love and respect and admire.

Setting aside country and religion for just a moment, I cannot fathom how we as intelligent human beings can condemn such a horrific actuality as the Holocaust in one breath (which I believe any sane person does) and in the next consider--even for just a moment--the possibility of a Muslim database, as I have seen in recent headlines. Registering an entire populace under the guise of protecting against terrorists is, in my opinion, tantamount to evil.

“Nazi persecution didn’t limit itself to race. Religion, national origin, alternative lifestyles, persons with disabilities--all were targets.” (Once We Were Brothers)

“Find a reason to turn your nose up at a culture, to denigrate a people because they’re different, and it’s not such a giant leap from ethnic subjugation to ethnic slaughter.” (Once We Were Brothers)

“There are many reasons to study and teach about the Holocaust, and maybe the most important reason is to prevent re-occurrences. We are sentries [...]. We stand on the wall, on guard against any hint that the minions of genocide are reassembling.” (Once We Were Brothers)

I can hear the arguments of those I love and respect in my head. Yes, I want to protect my home and family. Yes, I want to end terrorism. Yes, I want light to win and evil destroyed. But not by becoming evil myself. Not by damning people to judgement and ridicule and death simply because of where they were born. Simply because of their religion.

What happened to us? I see memes on Facebook declaring individuals wanting to bar our borders against refugees, claiming “refugee roulette” - that there is at least one ‘poisonous’ person in every handful of refugees. I would argue that is true of any situation anywhere in the world.

You attend a soccer game with 20,000 fans, odds are you’re going to have at least one if not many people in attendance who would shoot you for your wallet. You drive on a busy highway, you’re most likely on the road with at minimum five people who could kill you simply because they are compromised in some way. You attend a movie at a busy theater and there’s no guarantee a mentally unstable person with too-easy access to automatic weapons won’t change your world forever. You send your children to school every day with a prayer on your lips that the ‘stranger drills’ they have now added into the tornado and fire drill rotation saves their lives.

This is our reality; we created it, we live in it, we make the best of it. But if we are living in fear of the possibility that one Muslim person might be a terrorist, why are we not also applying the same “protection” against anyone who has ever purchased a gun? Or anyone who has a driver’s license? Or for that matter, anyone who outwardly declares a religious affiliation of any kind? Atrocities against humanity are not limited to Muslims; that religion is simply the latest in history to have extremists. I mean, circling back to the book that triggered my voice, Hitler was Catholic.

What happened to us? What happened to our memories of our ancestors who fled as refugees from persecution to live as they declared right and just and free? What happened to the people who inspired the inscription on the Statue of Liberty? Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Yes, I understand that we have homeless--soldiers and civilians--on our streets that we haven’t found the perfect solution to care for. Yes, I understand that there is debt and infrastructure imbalance that weighs on us a country. Yes, I understand that we’ve been damaged and wounded by terror and corruption. I feel all of that. But I cannot see how any of that justifies the idea that we have a right to categorize an entire people based on race or religion, or that we have the right to deny sanctuary to those whose homes and country have been destroyed by war.

My family is everything to me. I love my husband and daughter with every cell in my body. And I will protect them. But not through fear. If you came to me today and asked me to take in a Syrian family who has somehow managed to survive war and terror long enough to make it to our country, I would set more places at the table and break out the air mattresses. If a Muslim family moved next door, I would welcome them to the neighborhood by bringing them a gift card to a nearby restaurant (because, let’s face it, that’s more welcoming than my cooking).

I would not do this out of naivete, but out of love for my fellow man. I would do it because the God I believe in is not a God who promotes fear and suspicion, but love and tolerance and acceptance. Because I don’t believe God is Christian or Catholic or Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist or Muslim, but bigger than any of our fragile human classifications. Because his son was once a refugee. Because his son accepted and associated with people from all walks of life, regardless of the possible “risk” involved. And if that’s not how you see God, then I’m afraid we don’t follow the same one.

I understand and accept that I do not have The Solution for so many of the terrible things humanity faces today--I simply have my opinion. I don’t know the Right Answer for keeping guns out of the hands of people who would seek to do others harm. I don’t know the Right Answer for how to keep the load-balance of our country’s infrastructure and finances at a sustainable level. I don’t know the Right Answer for stopping ISIS or the next terrorist group. I don’t know the Right Answer for any of it.

I just know that as a member of the human race, I cannot see how denying suffering people even a modicum of peace and classifying people based on their religion can even be considered. It’s not something I will post in a meme or fill my Facebook statuses with; doing so seems to only rile up those who sit in opposition to my opinions. And I won’t argue with you that your opinion is wrong or mine is right. That doesn’t solve anything.

I will continue to donate, support, and vote my conscience. And I will show my daughter that for every person living in fear, there are those who move in love. That the loudest voice isn’t always speaking the best words. And that we study history to learn from it, not to repeat it.

Elevensies (from 2012)

Elevensies (aka Liebster Award tag fulfillment)

It's nearing the end of 2012, and this is my first blog post of the year. I. Am. On. Fire.

2012 hasn't been an easy year for my little family, so my grand ambition to have my first novel completed by the time the Mayan's claim game over has not really panned out. But! I have been writing. I've been writing my bloody heart out. Fictional "tie in" novels based on TV shows (aka fanfiction) that I can lay no claim to and that are posted online for the sheer enjoyment of storytelling and gathering reviews from others who've had fun reading. It's damn good practice; I've gained enough confidence to say I've found my style. *confetti and mini parade for me*

This month starts NaNoWriMo and I'm going for it. I may not finish the novel, but 50K words is a decent start, I'd say. In an effort to learn more from the writing and publishing world, I joined Twitter and started following several indie writers. The writing talent out there is staggering -- and the varied differences in style and interest is encouraging. It's a real privilege to read their blogs and their story excerpts and learn from their journey.

One of these writer-bloggers, Steve Montano, 'tagged' me with something called a "Liebster Award." I've never heard of this thing, but the directions seemed easy enough and I figured it was as good a way as any to get me back into blogging -- since that seems to be the thing to do when one is climbing the Novel Writing Mountain.

Basically, the deal is this: you provide 11 random facts about yourself, answer 11 questions asked by the person who nominated you, pick 11 bloggers to pass this award on to, and ask them 11 questions of your own.  

And, since I'm a fledgling in the writer-blogger world, some of you nominated (below) will have never heard of me before, so here's my virtual version of a typical Midwestern hey therehowsit goin'.  *waves* Those who do know me, good t'see ya. *smiles*

*takes breath* Here goes nothin'.

11 Random Facts About Myself:

1) I have a terrible sense of direction. I have been known to get lost in my hometown. 

2) I have four tattoos, each with specific meaning to my journey in life and each with a word in Irish Gaelic.

3) I love music -- all genres. A good day for me always includes music. I must write with it: earbuds in, playlist selected, lost inside the story.

4) I fell in love with storytelling when I was 10 and read "To Kill a Mockingbird" for the first time. I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was 13 and read "The Outsiders" for the first time.

5) I love red wine. I like to drink it in a big wine glass so that I have to drink slowly.

6) I am a sucker for humanized superhero stories, movies and TV shows. The damaged hero will draw me in every time.

7) I learned to drive a five speed in a Porsche 911; I can also change a tire, change the oil in my car, and drive a tractor. 

8) I grew up and live in the Midwest USA, but I've been to 48 of the 50 States and (so far) five countries outside of the States. The fact that I made it home from each of those trips has my family in awe (see Random Fact #1).

9) I am extremely ticklish and have been known to get violent if such a thing is dared. I cannot help it; it's pure reflex.

10) I cannot stick to an exercise routine. The latest focus for me has been boxing. Turns out I'm pretty good a punching. Who knew. This one may last the longest.

11) My family is my world. My husband, daughter, and I are the "Three Musketeers." Everything I accomplish in life has meaning only if they are a part of it.

11 Answers to the 11 Questions Steve gave me:

1. What would you do for a Klondike bar?

Probably nothing. Ach, boring answer. Ice cream and I have a love/hate relationship. I love, it hates. Now, if you'd asked me what I'd do for some dark chocolate with sea salt, my answer would have been extremely different. I'll let your mind wander. 

2. Shotgun, dual pistols, or a sniper rifle?

Depends on what I'm trying to hit. But, as a general, all-purpose answer: shotgun. Less chance of missing my target. 

3. Coffee or tea?

Coffee. Coffeecoffeecoffeecoffee.  

4. Last good movie you saw.

Hmm. I love movies -- all genres, too. So, I'd have to classify this a bit, I think. "The Bourne Legacy" was the last good action movie I saw. "The Raven" was the last good mystery/horror movie I saw. "The Dark Knight Rises" was the last good superhero movie I saw. "The Lucky One" was the last good chicflick/romance I saw.

I think, though, I'd have to say "Flowers of War" was the last good
movie movie. It opened my eyes to a part of history I'd previously not been aware of and made me cry harder than any movie had in a long time.

5. Joel or Mike?  (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then shame on you!)

Joel. Hands down.  

6. Favorite TV show?

Supernatural. If you visit my LiveJournal you'll figure that out pretty fast. However, The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, and Game of Thrones are pretty close in the running.

7. Favorite alcoholic beverage?  (If you’re not a drinker, what’s one of your culinary guilty pleasures?)

Cabernet. Though there are days a Newcastle ale just hits the spot. 

8. Last good book you read?

It's a tie between Tana French's "Broken Harbor," and Christopher Beuhlman's "Those Across the River." Possibly because I read them roughly at the same time. 

9. If you could live in someone else’s body for one day, who would it be?

Jessica Biel. Fit, pretty, healthy-looking. 

10. Preferred superpower?

The power to heal by touch.  

11. Aliens or vampires?

Duh. Vampires. The non-sparkly kind, of course. 

...wait, are they good-looking aliens or the scary, Ridley Scott aliens?