Monday, July 21, 2014

Meet My Character Blog Tour

About two weeks ago, I was asked by the always fun Rachael Ritchey to participate in a “Meet my Character” Blog Tour.  To eliminate any sense of suspense, I agreed.  And if you haven’t met, talked to, or otherwise interacted with this fine lady, you’re missing out.  By a lot.  So get on that, all of you.  You can find her on Twitter at @rachaelritchey and her blog here.
Go ahead.  I’ll wait. 
But anyway, Rachael approached me for this character-driven—literally—blog tour.  I agreed but then started to think about my writing.  Rachael describes my work as “thrilling/mysterious,” but I have to admit, there’s a reason for that.  Most likely that’s only because I haven’t really talked about my writing projects other than to give status updates.  There’s nothing on the topic, the plot, characters, or anything else.  Only me saying that I’m working on it.
That’s not a whole lot to work on.  And I’m sorry about that, but I often post obscure tidbits about my life with no real details to support them.  I’ve always done it.  Drives my family nuts to say the least.  Maybe that’s a sign of some sort of complex or a lack of faith.  Maybe it’s modesty.  Maybe it’s something else entirely.  I tend to think it’s my innate sense of privacy I have to overcome every damn day. 
Trust me.  It’s harder than it sounds.
What you have here is a rare glimpse into the world of my novel, well before it’s released.  Only a handful of people know more than what I’ve already shared on Twitter—and I’m related to most of them. So, please enjoy this. 
’Cause I can promise there’s more where that came from.

1. What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?
                I’ll give you two.
Daniel Atwell- Husband. Employee. Private detective. Completely fictional.
Stephanie Hawthorne- Wife. Employer. Private detective.  Genius. Has absolutely no sense of style. Also fictional.

2. When and where is the story set?
                The story is set in our current time and place.  Nothing about anything should be unbelievable.  You should feel like you could walk into Stephanie’s office tomorrow so she can find anything from your lost grandpa to that misplaced baseball card from your 9th birthday. 
The exact setting is never mentioned in this novel.  In the next novel, setting becomes more important, and it’s disclosed that everything is set in Flint, Michigan.

3. What should we know about him/her?
                Daniel works for his wife as a private detective.  This creates friction, but both would rather work with their spouse than anyone else.  Stephanie doesn’t want to work and is abrasive to most people.  James, Stephanie’s brother, works for the local police department and is in charge of any murder investigations.  He’s the only one truly smarter than his sister.

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
                Daniel’s old girlfriend, Andrea Swope, wants to hire Stephanie to find proof of her husband’s infidelity.  Stephanie refuses and sends her away, only for her to be murdered later that night.  Andrea’s husband later hires Stephanie to find his wife’s murderer.  What follows is a web of delusions and deceptions Daniel and Stephanie must unravel, starting with a particular red dress.

5. What is the personal goal of the character?
                For Daniel- To catch a murderer
                For Stephanie- To get paid

6. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
                The Red Dress

7. When can we expect the book to be published?
                If everything goes to plan, I’m hoping to have it published in spring of 2015.

Now, I’m not the only person who wants to get in on this blog tour.  I want to introduce you to a couple of fun ladies.  Both are farther along in the publishing world than I am, but they’ve always been a blast to talk to. 
First meet Sarah E. Boucher.  You can find her at and on twitter at @saraheboucher
Also, I would like to introduce you to Ciara Ballintyne.  You can find her at @ciaraballintyne on twitter or at her website
I have talked to both Sarah and Ciara on twitter for a while now, not to mention enjoying their individual works.  When this blog tour came my way, they were the first ones I thought of.  Their willingness to join in thrilled me to no end.  With them gracious enough to join us in our bit of fun, this'll be a good time for everyone.  Personally, I’m looking forward to hearing what they have to say about their individual works.

Take it away, ladies.  The ball’s in your court.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Get Your Hands Off Me, You %@$! Dirty Ape: Our Obsession with Cursing

Before I get into this, let me say one thing.  I was raised in a household where I never called my parents anything other than Mom and Dad, did my chores before going out to play, and could never, ever swear.  If I did, I clearly remember tasting whichever brand of soap was on sale that week.  And I don’t hold it against them.  They always said cursing was the sign of a weak mind. 

Or at least, I think I remember them saying that.  I remember the soap more than my parents’ maxim.

Unfortunately, in my daily speech, such prohibitions didn’t quite take.  I can avoid swearing at work, but more often than not, my wife critiques my language whenever we go out socially. 

But what it did do was aid my written vocabulary. 

I remember being forced to develop other words to express emotions and situations.  That vocabulary slowly worked itself into my writing, which is why my characters rarely swear.  If they can think themselves into a bank vault, figure out an unsolvable crime, or save the world from an unspeakable evil against terrible odds, then they can think of some other term to express themselves.

That isn’t to say they never swear.  That’s impossible.  Jim Butcher once discussed swearing in one of his Dresden Files books.  Unfortunately, I have only the audio and lack a physical copy, so I can’t share the exact wording with you, nor give you the citation.  What I did find out was that, for the most part, I agree with what he said.

Cuss words do serve a purpose, and it’s not just to be vulgar—though some people or characters we create are just that.  But those words also serve as an emphasis on particular ideas and thoughts.  They were designed for exactly that purpose.   Used too often, however, they lose their ability to emphasize anything, and that’s when they become vulgar.  I paraphrase here, and perhaps misunderstood his intent, but Mr. Butcher seems to be making a valid point.

Growing up, I always argued that cuss words were just that—words.  I lacked the understanding, much later than I should have, that meaning behind the words was the problem, not the words themselves.  Comprehension eventually did dawn on me, and I adjusted my use of such words accordingly. 
Mr. John Scalzi (Side Note: I have the utmost respect for both Mr. Scalzi and Mr. Butcher.  They are fine authors, masters of their craft.) wrote a post on his blog Whatever in March of 2002 called “How to Send Me Hate Mail.”  I cannot seem to find the post, otherwise, I would post a link to it.  But you can find it in his book Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded.  In it, Mr. Scalzi, in detail, tells you how to send him hate mail.  There is a subtle—or really not so subtle—message regarding language in general and swearing in particular.  Be original.  Don’t just curse—use invention, alliteration, and all those other techniques when you make your point. 

And that sounds a lot like what I said above: Don’t be vulgar, but use cursing only as an emphasis.

I remember bragging about chewing someone out when I was a kid.  Looking back, it was about as foolish as can be.  Now I am more than a little ashamed by it, but let’s be honest, it’s what I did.  I wasn’t the wisest kid growing up. 

Anyway, my uncle and I were driving through Seattle, and we were discussing everything from his youth in the city to stories about my experiences.  And it was during one of those stories that he said something profoundly interesting to me.  It’s stuck with me since then, and I have found nothing but evidence to support it.

I told him about an argument I’d once had with the younger sister of one of my friends.  Eventually, it degraded to a contest to see who could chew out whom better.  During the first two rounds, we both swore and nothing came of it.  Her third round, she continued on the same bent, but I chose a different path.  Not once did I use a single cuss word, instead favoring combinations and ideas which would’ve been impossible without a broad vocabulary to draw from.  Low and behold, she walked out ashamed.

To this, he dropped one bit of knowledge on me.  I had won because swearing in excess only removes the emphasis you are trying to make.  Of course, those weren’t his exact words, but rather the gist.  Swearing doesn’t bring a point across, only a range of expression can do that. 

Which brings me to the point of this entire post.  I wrote a post about a month ago about how to write, or to be precise, how I won’t tell you how to write.  In it, I used a word that my editor suggested I think twice about because some people might be offended by its use.   She made a valid point.  But I went with it all the same.  Because the word was right

That made me ask a question.  Have we taken our prohibition against swearing too far?  If an adult cannot differentiate between vulgarity and the appropriate use of a word—in context—then we are facing more problems than that single usage.  No single word is “evil” every time it’s used.  Sure, some words are bad most of the time, but every single one has a point and a valid use.  Name one and I’ll explain it away.  But if we are using a word correctly, then what right does anyone have to claim vulgarity?

There are certain words that I won’t use.  Or at least, when I do, I feel dirty.  They don’t belong in my current day-to-day vocabulary.  But will I use it if it’s the right word in the right context?  Yes.  Unquestionably, yes.

Because it is the right word.

It’s really up to you to understand what is and is not the right time to cuss.  Does vulgarity fit?  Is it needed?  Or are we trying to express an opinion with that gut-wrenching emotion we can all relate to?  It’s up to you, but do me a favor.  Be aware of things like context and definition.  They make a difference.

 Now, I’ll get off my soapbox.  Bit proud of myself, though.  Spent an entire post talking about cursing but never once used a single swear word.

Damn.  I’m gonna have to fix that.