When a Writer Travels by Janine Donoho

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.Saint Augustine

Hiked along ancient Roman roads through Italy.

Hikes along ancient Roman roads through Italy.

My longest running mantra? Head down and get the job done. Yes, a great work ethic. Now I’m toiling to hone my playful aspect. Really, toiling, which holds too much truth to be as laughable as it should be.

You see, our latest relocation shifted from anticipation to body blow within days. Such is life when those around you insist on feuding like Hatfield and McCoy. My lifestyle choice? Cooperative humanitarian. So yes, trouble from the get-go.

Dragon in Marion Platzer Munchen

Dragon in Marion Platzer Munchen

To carry on, I embraced my fiercer tendencies, even slipping into grim determination at times. I wrote through isolation and completed more work, including Soundings: Water Elemental, all three novels in my Mistborn Chronicles, numerous short stories, and essays.

Productivity and a life well lived don’t necessarily equate and The Move occurred a decade ago. Imagine stunning natural beauty—balm to a conservation biologist’s soul. Then contrast that with irreplaceable friendships and few prospects ahead. See what I mean?

Just before The Move, Intrepid Guy and I returned from an extended journey through northern Africa with stopovers in Paris and then London. To get my groove back, I’m returning to my passion for grand vistas, historic art, and time-honored civilizations. Until plan can be put into action, I’m revisiting previous adventures—and you’re invited. This will be a multipart expedition and mostly pictorial.

So fasten your seatbelts. Our journey begins—now.

What does travel mean to you? How has experiencing diverse cultures changed your approach to life? Does it inform your writing?

Not so still life

Not so still life

Whose Series Is This Anyway? by Janine M. Donoho

Mistborn Chronicles

Mistborn Chronicles

A comment from my MISTBORN CHRONICLES page:

Josh  Mar 08, 2014.@ 06:29:44    Is this sanctioned?

My first novel KALEIDOSCOPE began moving through the submittal cycle shortly before Danielle Steele’s book by the same name hit the shelves. Amazon.com alone now lists over 25 titles by that name. While mine received a slew of encouraging rejection letters, it will never see the light of day. You see, I’ve moved on and KALEIDOSCOPE served as a terrific lesson on ‘how to write a novel’.

Borne of Mist Book 1

Borne of Mist
Book 1

My complete and original epic fantasy series MISTBORN CHRONICLES started crystallizing in the early 1990’s while I studied for my biology degree. I wrote the first novel of my MISTBORN TRILOGY after graduation. If MISTBORN TRILOGY sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone—it’s out there. Thus my tweak to MISTBORN CHRONICLES when in fact, my series is a trilogy. Great minds? Perhaps.

When BORNE OF MIST, Book 1 of MISTBORN TRILOGY, was complete, my then-agent sent it to Claire Eddy at Tor. She wrote a heartening thanks-but-no-thanks, referring to another series in the pipeline that ‘was too much like mine’. Well, long story short, that series was listed as MISTBORN TRILOGY and has done very well.

I recently read the first two books of this other fantasy series, which has expanded from the original trilogy format. Contrary to Ms. Eddy’s comment, TOR’s MISTBORN world has nothing in common with mine in which:

A rapacious mage rips the veil between realities to pursue an escaped captive. Into a world innocent of magic and meager science, mysterious powers and creatures surge through the rift. This triggers events leading to earth-shattering changes to this world and others. Two Mistborn must learn to trust each other, developing tactics and strategies even as their evolving talents become paramount. Meanwhile a mage war escalates, promising to quench the spark of this world—and others.

Forged in Mist Book 2

Forged in Mist
Book 2

So please, potential readers, understand the way of the written word. Titles describe a fictitious world and invite you into them. There may be times when one novel or series’ title appears to mimic another. Consider another view.

It takes time to finish and edit a 340,000 word trilogy. Add in the years spent going through multiple traditional publishers, who insist upon single submissions, then hold your works hostage for 6-12 months before deciding it’s ‘not-quite-right for them, but please send any other work you have’. Consider an indie writer, winner and runner-up in multiple writerly contests, who decides to take her work to an alternative platform. Because really, what more does any writer want than to find those readers who love her stories?

Chosen by Mist Book 3

Chosen by Mist
Book 3

Then understand this proposition. We writers tap into an infinite river of creativity, allowing what comes to flow through us and onto the page. Some have dubbed this process ‘writing to the bone’ or ‘ripping open a vein’. We humbly offer this gift to you.

In answer to those readers who take issue with titles that appear to provide more of what they already love: why not try the new? Decide for yourself. What do you really have to lose?

Have other writers and authors dealt with this issue? What worked for you?

My Bliss Meter by Janine M. Donoho

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALet me admit that vortices of ‘why bother’ have been known to draw me into their gyrations. With a throbbing knee keeping me from decades-long walking meditations over the last month, my outlook has swung wildly into Danger-Will-Robinson-red before bumping into cautionary yellow.

Even so my thanks-o-meter has begun to migrate into the sweet green zone again as I enjoy moments of gratitude so richly textured that the sky actually opens and celestial beings pour through—although decidedly not of the religiosity variety. Instead my unnatural immobility focuses me on what registers with both normal and extrasensory perceptions—an indulgence and a categorically unscientific way of viewing the world. It does speak to an integrated brain, however.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Today I’m enthralled by the fire in our soapstone stove. Within the temperature registers a balmy 60+ degrees Fahrenheit rather than the double-digit minuses outside. Our basking hounds sigh and groan, adding a joyful dimension. Beside me are stacks of books to read. Bliss.

Travel stickersA handwritten letter from a best friend included these inspiring stickers of maps you might expect to see on old steamer trunks—along with beautifully rendered birds. Then there’s my Wacom tablet, which required a year of scrimping to buy. The tablet works brilliantly with Corel Painter 12—a promise of exhilarating skills to gain and visions to liberate.

Can I even joke about the uninhibited delight I find in MSOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA writing programs? Especially when compared to typewriters with carbon copies and the ancient Commodore 64 on which I wrote my first novel, losing chapters at a time when the system burped. I simply love my artful pens, too—gifts received with each published novel. Another two for CHOSEN BY MIST (Book 3 of MISTBORN CHRONICLESand SOUNDINGS (Water Elemental) will be joining the medley of five this month. What writer can resist a fabulous pen?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally this Tuesday I look forward to getting both cortisone and hyaluronic acid injections into my aching joint. By the end of next year, I may while away the winter months recovering from a more permanent fix. Exuberant dancing, extreme hiking, and other endorphin-crazed activities could fill my life again. On, on!

Another gift? Some communities translate well into electron clouds, especially when you connect with those wild ones who will howl at the moon with you. They can loft you into the stratosphere when other means fail. So thank you to those unconventional, big-brained creatives on Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. You expand my horizons from isolated to ecstatic herd member.

Let’s start a conversation. What gets you over the bumps and pegs out your gratitude meter?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How Natural Settings Double as Character by Janine M. Donoho

Ponderosa pine forest. Kings Canyon National Park, California, USA.The boundless wild has always called to me. Growing up in, then choosing to live in rural high desert brings primitive territories into focus. With critters ranging from scorpions to rattlers to black bears, I’m reminded that we humans are only one among a vast suite of species—all subject to catastrophic events

Daily serenades by coyotes punctuated by rarer wolf howls add to the sense of being a part of this greatness. That awareness leads me into ongoing studies of biology—literally ‘study of life’. Thus when I write, the natural world takes precedence.

While finishing yet another edit, this one epic fantasy, I noticed again how nature intrinsically evolves through story. Then I strengthen those components through sensory detail beyond the visual. What does Natural granitegranite smell, taste, and feel like? When you crush a jaffafruit, what do you smell, taste, and feel? Confronted with a clowder of mekesh, how do they smell, feel, and look? For me the quality of setting begins with detailed natural elements as filtered through my characters’ emotional responses.

For instance, Elishandra ser Dancheʹ serves as a trained observer in an unfamiliar world. When voids spring up from the rift between, she recognizes their wrongness, then extrapolates what causes them and how this incursion affects natural systems. She takes personal responsibility for the degradation and commits to stopping further invasion. Most other inhabitants simply see ruin where thriving systems once lived. Fear, anger, and confusion drive their responses with nuances specific to each.

Sun superstormGauging these changes over cyclic time also informs story. For instance, out-of-sync seasons reveal Morchem’s effects in two ways. First otherworldly beings rush through the widening rift. These exotic beings have no natural predators in this world and many find the existing natural systems ill-equipped to meet their needs. They cause havoc. Then Morchem corrupts life energies, exposed by huge shifts between extreme conditions and growing pockets of devastation. Again perceptions and emotional reactions differ according to which person’s point-of-view carries the scene.

Understand that each character’s history colors their view of their surroundings. The warrior Galena ben Inees is more likely to kill a predatory lifeform first, then ask questions later, while the Zinolian Culturist attempts to accommodate lifeforms unless they place her charges at risk. Having retained clarity throughout her studies of various worlds, Lisha tends to analyze before acting. For others, the choice is simply the difference between yum and yuck.Yuck or yum

Taking this deeper yet, setting in terms of time and place varies dramatically with each viewpoint. Multiple viewpoints actually strengthen setting, since each imbues the environment with that person’s emotional memory. While Ambassador Anmir reacts with deep shock and mourning at his civilization’s ruin, Galena chooses culturally prescribed defensive strategies first, then progresses to offensive mode when that proves inadequate. Lisha attempts to understand the destructive mechanism even as she searches for a remedy.

To my eyes, the natural world displays a layered richness missing in human contrived settings. What may appear to characters as chaotic often equates with too narrow a view—or lack of knowledge. Besides when it comes to raising the stakes of your story, what works better than placing entire worlds at risk?

Sending love deviant artists

Sending love deviant artists

Highland Autumn by Janine M. Donoho

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOkay, I admit to going all geeky on you last week with not one, but two posts about points-of-view and how to incorporate them into story. So this week—a respite.

http://www.pinterest.com/zephyrsaerie/highland-autumn/

As we put our gardens to bed for winter and I finish my edits on CHOSEN BY MIST, the 3rd and final installment of MISTBORN CHRONICLES, you’re invited into this pictorial journey of our highland fall. I hope you come away refreshed. As you might guess, I draw my inspiration from this wild beauty. Where do you find yours? 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Build the Foundation & Story Will Come by Janine M. Donoho

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince joining online communities, then enjoying the first steps of writers new to their craft, I delight in their growth. The freshness of their vision and their infatuation with words reveal elements leading to stories I want to read.

I suspect that’s how many of us writers begin. Then if we want to publish, we dig deeper and learn more about craft. One of my early ‘ah-ha’ moments occurred thanks to seasoned critique partners and great library systems.

With that in mind, let me share a simple technique for building story foundations. Since many grandmasters have gone out-of-print and indeed, gone elsewhere, here’s what I distilled from their works. Prepare to be dazzled:

Goal, Obstacle, Resolution.

Okay, dazzled may be too strong a word. Yet on longer projects, applying this method calmed my pre-project jitters so I could begin. Often I view story as scenes leading to chapters leading to a completed novel or even as scenes leading to acts with a progression of rising and falling actions. Here’s how I apply necessary groundwork:

MB Bk 1 Kindle Cover w. Ctr. LtgTake the first chapter from Book 1 of MISTBORN CHRONICLES*, Borne of Mist:

Goal: Introduce the world’s increasing strangeness via Zenadon MelʹChaime, who must accept the challenge to save his world.

Obstacle: Zen doesn’t want to believe that what’s happening has anything to do with him–he’s happy and comfortable as Master Merchant.

Resolution: He chooses to meet with the Mist-Spawn.

I know, I know. It’s clunky. That’s not the point. After beginning, then finishing a dozen novels, this process alleviates my boggles. Boggles, you ask? Well, the trepidation that there’s not enough story to grow a novel, a series–or even a short story, for that matter.

You can also use this technique for developing character arc. Here’s an example for Elishandra ser Danche′ sere Jillian:

Goal: Her survival depends upon placing Morchem on the defensive, then neutralizing him.

Obstacle: He’s stronger than she and obsessed with her; their last conflict ended with her teacher dead and Lisha crippled.

Resolution: Motivated by her commitment to this world and others, she discovers the strength to rebuild her magic within the confines of the world’s natural systems.Forged Cvr. 4

Don’t judge me. I lifted these directly from my early visions of MISTBORN*, circa 1998. With the series complete, it’s surprising how much of the original structure endured–a matter of modifying framework versus carving stone.

Here are a few keepers from my private shelves: Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain, Writing the Novel from Plot to Print and Spider, Spin Me a Web by Lawrence Block, Story – Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee, Writing the Short Story by Jack M. Bickham. Yes, yes, lots of boys in this club–but also master storytellers. You can take what you choose from them and crystallize your process.

Let me know if this helps or hinders you in your quest for story. I wish you joy in your writing.

*Caveat: I originally called my series MISTBORN TRILOGY, which my then-agent sent to TOR, who had another series in the pipeline and passed on mine. Lo and behold–Brandon Sanderson’s MISTBORN TRILOGY, which except for the series title is nothing like mine. So there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Adjust Your Mind & Own Your Title: Author by Janine M. Donoho

Lazy Bastard Edition of Publishing Pt 1Read this great blog ‘25 Steps to becoming a Self-Published Author’ from Chuck Wendig via Delilah S. Dawson and her mighty unicorn. It covers ‘self’-publishing, adjusting your mind to rock the process, and how we own our ‘Author’ title. Here’s the link and I wish you belly laughs, insightful chuckles and renewed joy in your writing adventures.

Lazy Bastard Edition of Publishing Pt 2

Worlds within Worlds by Janine M. Donoho

Horton Hears a WhoDon’t you simply love Dr. Seuss’s HORTON HEARS A WHO? For me the story served as a watershed event as I grappled with string theory and quantum mechanics. HORTON also informs my approach to storytelling.

We writers yearn to create places that we’ll miss when we’re away. To finish our stories, our worlds need to cause a relentless itch that brings us back each and every day. Once we finish our stories, we intend that our readers find our world-building irresistible, too.

To engage our audience, certain features prove vital. Primarily our readers need to suspend their disbelief. That means seamlessly arranging entire worlds of physical systems, societal taboos and mores throughout a complex landscape. Let’s make this our starting point.

My foundation in MISTBORN CHRONICLES? A bucolic world lacking in magic and advanced science. When the curtain MB Bk 1 Kindle Coverbetween worlds rips open, wild magic invades like a viral attack. Ah, you recognize ‘the call to adventure’? Rather than revisit what others like Joseph Campbell and Vogler explain so well, let me focus on the aspect that proves most interesting to me—the ‘what if’ game.

So my friends, time to put on your critical-thinking-hats. Begin with the magical influx…

What if certain species and individuals prove genetically sensitive to transformation? What if some cannot mentally or biologically handle the change? What if the one person who understands the linkage between science and magic has lost her abilities and is trapped in this world? What if her skills make her suspect? What if she cannot diagnose the harm done to her without cueing a rapacious predator to her location? What if a master merchant, who sees himself as average and anything but heroic, finds himself a repository of the extraordinary?

You see how this process works? This drama continued for over 1500 manuscript pages. Yes, a series was born. The trick? How to apply this ‘what if’ practice to each level of conception, including species’ physiology and cultures along with suites of universes bumping up against each other.

We writers set the rules, then play within those parameters. Otherwise our readers cannot suspend their disbelief. If we fail, they’ll toss our stories across the room in exasperation. As an abused reader, I learned this response firsthand.

Many books take us into their worlds, shape us, then ensnare us as return visitors. For me, Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS, Guy Gavriel Kay’s FIONAVAR TAPESTRY, Orson Scott Card’s ENDER’S GAME, Anne McCaffrey’s DRAGONRIDERS OF PERN, Patricia McKillip’s RIDDLEMASTER OF HED and George R. R. Martin’s A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE (1st three novels) exemplify mastery. First came my appreciation for these stories along with a willingness to immerse myself in them. Later I returned to read them more analytically. Even now, I lose myself in their preeminence.

So what’s your key approach to world-building? How do suspend your reader’s disbelief?Horton's Who Flowers

A Quality of Light by Janine M. Donoho

Warbling VireoDo color and texture equate with sound for you? Consider the warbling vireo

Panting whippetIf we allow ourselves to do so, we humans revel in sensory input. Then there’re those extreme moments when our survival depends upon paying attention to our environment. As writer and fledgling artist, I try to capture sensory qualities. This presents an ongoing challenge.

For whatever reason, today’s hike focused on visuals accompanied by sound. Have you allowed yourself to become Sunlight through leavesfully engaged within properties of illumination? At different times sunlight through leaves captivate as a zephyr Black-chinned Hummingbird, adult malerustles an aspen branch. Or the sheen off my whippet’s brindle spots and my greyhound’s tortoiseshell coloration enchant me even as their panting ripples light along their coats. Then there’s the bending of light that gives feathers their iridescence as a black-chinned hummingbird shrilly claims his territory. Texture combines with color and sound to draw me. When that happens, my breath catches and the pace falters.

During my final edit of CHOSEN BY MIST, book 3 of the MISTBORN CHRONICLES, I attempt to infuse detail into story without losing pace or scene focus. Sometimes it works. How do you incorporate sensory detail into your writing and visual art?Mariposa lily with lupine

Feeding Hope by Janine M. Donoho

Planting the moundsEach spring I plant my annual fruit and vegetable gardens. While winter offers the joy of seed catalogs and visions of succulent melons, eggplant and tomatoes dance through my mind’s eye, the real application starts once frost’s threat ends. During the planning stage, I dream big–think Mediterranean shoreline big.

Then I get a grip and narrow my choices to the reality of intense gardening-by-the-square-foot. At this stage companion plants come into play. That denotes matching cucumber with pole beans and radishes, which belly up to peas and carrots before leading into tomatoes, basil and…

Poster for Companion PltgWell, you get the idea. Separate mounds hold my hopes for watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe, and brassicas. Since I love kale, beets and mescuns, you’ll find those, too. I mix basils, nasturtiums, and marigolds among plantings that benefit from their association. You’ll find spinach amid my strawberries, too.

So what do I relearn each growing season? Why how much groundwork, planting and harvesting a garden has in common with writing. It becomes a litany:

Plan

Amend

Plant

Revise

Harvest.

Yes, a garden benefits from editing much as stories do. In the final stages I force myself to be ruthless in both while taking the useful and transplanting it elsewhere for superior impact. It’s how I approach my current edit of MISTBORN CHRONICLES, book 3.

As often happens my process makes me curious about yours. How do your life practices move your writing from here to there? Is your life shaped more by how you approach writing? Or does writing mold your life choices?

IG in the greens

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Soundings, Water Elemental

LaunchFebruary 27th, 2015
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