Sunday, October 28, 2012

Writing Equals Constant Research - Guest Post by AM Jenner

I'm quite excited to have AM Jenner here, stopping on a rollicking blog-tour to talk about writing. So, without further ado, I'll hand over the reigns. Expect me back early next week with a perhaps long-overdo tech post, of which we've been light as of late.


Fourth stop on my international blog tour, Bayside, New York. Thanks so much to
Leonard Suskin for hosting me; it’s good to be here.

Every place I go, I always stop along the wayside to learn new trivial bits of
information. As an author I never know when I may need to use them in a novel. For
example, I may never need to know that the strings on a harpsichord are plucked as
the keys are pressed, rather than struck with a hammer like a piano. On the other hand,
someday I might need that piece of information.

The old adage about writing is to "write what you know". I both agree and disagree
with the statement. I have seen writing friends spent years researching various topics
for a book they want to write, but they never seem to get down to actually writing the
book. In my mind, this research is simply wasted time. They have spent many years
looking up obscure facts they will never need to know in order to write the story they
desire to write.

On the other hand, I have read books which contain technical details that are
incorrect. If I am in a position to recognize that this particular detail is incorrect, it throws
me out of the story. If too many details are incorrect, I have been known to set the book
aside and not finish it because it is too frustrating to read so many inaccuracies, even in

Good writing strikes a balance between the two extremes. An author has to have
done enough research in the field in which they are writing about in order to appear
knowledgeable enough to those readers who know better. At the same time, they do
need to actually write and finish the book, or, no matter how technically perfect it is,
nobody will ever get a chance to read it.

The way I approach the situation is this: I simply begin writing, following the outline I
have, and listening to my characters. If I come to a situation where I'm not quite sure of
the right way to do a particular thing, I make myself a note that I need to research that
particular thing. Then I go on writing until the first draft is complete. Sometimes, the thing
I thought I needed to research ends up not being important, and is removed from the
manuscript during the first revision. If I find that I do actually need that particular piece of
knowledge, this is when I do the research.

For example, when I was writing Fabric of the World, there were several camels
involved in the story. There were also many horses involved. I found that I had to do
research on which animal was better for what applications in a Sahara-type desert.
When my main character got on his camel for the first time, I had to do research on

how a camel gets up from a kneeling position so that I could properly describe the
movements and sensations my character experienced. Additionally, there was over an
hour of research time spent learning the exact mechanics of the mating practices of
camels. However, there was no need for me to become an overall expert on the subject
of camels in order to glean the few small pieces of information about them which I
needed for my novel.

Likewise, if I am writing a techno-thriller where a computer goes mad and tries to
take over the world, I need general information on the capabilities of various computers,
rather than an in-depth knowledge of how to build and repair computers, and what
makes them work.

If every writer only wrote about things which they had a deep understanding of, it
would hamper them severely in their ability to write fiction. In writing fiction, although it is
extremely important to make sure that information presented as fact is correct, there is
an even higher priority to ensure that the story gets told.

All writing has a purpose. That purpose can be to inform, to entertain, or to invoke
a particular feeling. Good writing does more than one thing at a time. Great writing
incorporates all three goals at once. Great writing cannot be accomplished by an author
ignorant of facts and who refuses to do research. However, if an author is spending
so much time on research to become an expert in a given field that they never write
their story, then they’ve gained that knowledge for no reason and their time has been
wasted, because the story goes untold.


The Siege of Kwennjurat is the second book in the Kwennjurat Chronicles. Alone in Kwenndara, Princess Tanella cares for the refugees from war-torn Jurisse, while she worries about her loved ones’ safety. Her new husband Fergan is two days away in Renthenn, coordinating the business of two kingdoms.

Kings Jameisaan and Fergasse join forces in Jurisse to pursue the war against the Black Army. They know Liammial hasn't played his last card, and are willing to give their lives to protect their people and their children.
Who will triumph and claim the throne of Kwennjurat?

A M Jenner lives in Gilbert, Arizona, with her family, a car named Babycakes,
several quirky computers, and around 5,000 books. A self-professed hermit, she loves to interact with her readers online. Her books are available at, as well as most major online retailers.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Spirits and Staircases, two more weeks of poems

More poetry today! I'll start with something a little strange and experimental; this is another one I wrote for my good friends at the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers group. As I've already mentioned here, I'm slogging my way through the Modern Poetry course from UPenn offered on Coursera. So I took this writing prompt (a photo of a ghostly figure on a staircase which I seem to have misplaced) and threw a mashup of various poetic styles we've studied at it. It's also a touch feminist in that there are obvious references and allusions to four famous female poets or other artists. Is it obvious who?

Spirit of the Stair

You see the ghostly form upon the stair
An apparation clad in wisps of white
She whispers secret words as you draw near
steady she remains as you take flight

Does she hear you? Would Cassandra? Would Cassandra
would she hear you? Would Cassandra would she hear you
hear you hear you hear her hear you? would you hear her hear her hear
you would she hear you hear her hear you hear the risers rising
upward hear you rising upward see

her ghostly face is fair, but soon forgot
her ghostly arms, they fade into the air
Her ghostly frame, some would call it hot
but nothing more. The spirit of the stair.

into your glass eyes, your button eyes, your dead eyes
you are flesh, she is soul --
she will rise, she will descend
she is air, she is real
You are flesh.
Is Cassanda? Is Cassandra on her deathbed? On her deathbed?
Would you hear Cassandra on her deathbed, on your deathbed,
would you hear Cassandra when you hear Cassandra

Beneath your feet, the treads are solid wood
the balustrade your hands caress is smooth
You'd stop to meet the spirit if you could
but up you sweep, a brain within its groove.

You stay within your groove
the one that mother gives you doesn't do anything at all
But they know
the lifeguard found Sylvia already immensely drowned, but they know
they know they know.

You'll not drown.

You'll not touch the spirit.


Would you meet the spirit gaze to gaze
to see the echoes of your better days?

And, some horror poetry from the Nightmare Fuel project, of which I'm slowly fading out:

"Three small turns"

Again a night of jagged, broken sleep
again the well-trod path, bed to kitchen to crib to bed
nightmares to milk to sleep to nightmares - 
an insomniac's triangle-trade
My eyes are red
her eyes are red
his eyes are red. 
His night-terrors haunt us through the day until

until the ancient guardian is engaged
a man of wood clad in a wooden hat
a sentinal from when my nightmares raged
who calmed my fears of spider and of rat
beneath his watchful eyes the terrors cease
and now once more we all could sleep in peace


the jagged edges of broken sleep cut once more
no spiders, no rats, no monsters under my bed
but terrors named

so I take it
creep into his room - he whose nightmares are banished
and take the talisman of my youth
its wooden face still severe, strong, beneath a wooden helmet
worn smooth by young fingers

The terrors stop
the terrors stop

in the pre-dawn I wake to see 
termines fleeing the disintigrating wooden carcass
to feast on fat houseflies

The wood is no longer hard, no longer smooth, 
but soft and rotten and stinking of decay

The nightmares of parents are stronger.

And, finally, something blatantly and shamelessly political:

The hundred less one arrived to join the hunt
left words behind, spoke only in animal grunts
will the goddess and gods protect those who eschew meat
from bright-burning hundredth with carnivore's teeth?
On this day masks are worn outside our face
See our spirits form paper-mache-
clad this - this autumn night when worlds collide
when veils grow thin, we see the other side
When we, the hundred less one run enmasked
as ancestors did walk in days long past
though creatures meek as we may earn your scorn
remember that stags too are armed with horn.

Overall, my favorite thing about these is how I have the chance to play with form, with meter, and with the sounds of words as well as the words themselves. Look for more experiments in weeks to come.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A week of Horrible Things

Happy October! For this month, in addition to continuing with the Modern Poetry course at Coursera, I'm playing with a daily writing-prompt exercise on the Google+ social network called "Nightmare Fuel". Google Plussers can find the Nightmare Fuel page here. Every day the lovely and talented Bliss Morgan (aka Andrea Trask) posts an image, and every day all those interested write .. something. Anything. A story. A flash piece. A poem. Then we share them.

Because this is daily and time is at a premium, I've been taking the influence of the Modern Poetry class to write poems for most of these. Others have taken different directions. I'm especially taken with the "prosems" Kary Gaul is writing and the horrific little flash pieces from... well, I'm not sure what the man's real name is, but this guy here. sometimes known as Kewangi and sometimes as Johannes It doesn't matter. His stuff is consistently creepy and punchy.

Check out theirs, and look below for my attempts:
 Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons License.
Day 1 - The Curator

Standing stone -
your letters and numbers
edges sharp, grooves deep and even -

Standing stone
slick and smooth. Reflecting 

What engine carved
lines and squares
- an alien script - 
for what engines to read?

and earth

Standing stone -
will your faded lines remain
will you remember
when the engines have fallen
Creative commons 
Day 2 - Sparkly Shoes

An early fall morning, a crisp fall morning. A drycool bite in the dry cool air. Summer is over. I'm walking with the girl and her new backpack full of marble composition books and crayons and number two pencils and erasers and tissues and even - for reasons unknown to me - plastic baggies. A bag as big as she is. The girl in her new dress and new windbreaker and new shiny purple maryjanes. Companionable silence down the street, past the swimming pool, long since drained for the winter. Companionable silence across the street, now a half-block from the already-formed clusters of chattering girls and hyperactive boys and gossipping moms at the dropoff. 

Companionable silence broken by the girl's voice. 

"Lynsey has sparkly shoes. And Maddy. And Jessie."

Indeed, they do. Brightpink glitterclad things adornded and embellished with flowers, with hearts, with peace-signs. Flashy things with thick pink laces and little blinking lights winking at the world with each shuffling step of little girls' feet. Sparkly shoes indeed.

I'm calm, noncommital. "So they do." I'm not crazy. I hear the edge in her voice, I hear the pleading. I also know that the shoes on her feet - her rapidly growing feet - cost forty dollars, and the sneakers under her bed (white with fun pink stripes. Not spartly) another thirty. The shoe money is spent. 

The girl starts to say something in a hushed whisper. Pat her on the head as I turn, bridge the gap to a mom-cluster at the periphery of the dropoff, an empty unspecial square of sidewalk. The girl edges into a cluster of other girls, her eyes on her own feet As Lynsey and Maddie and Jessie hold court over the sidewalk, their eyes up, oblivious to the winking, sparkling, blinking beacons adorning their own feet.

Day 3 - The Machines

The machines like a dream, like a wish.

Everywhere - the machines -Clean and proud in the bank

Encased in logo-bearing glass - the machines -Beside the battered ice machine


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons License.

loitering in a supermarket - the machinesin a dark alleyway

ill-fitting here today gone the nexta magic shop out of a fairy tale

full of wishes open for wishesa battered plastic well gleaming

in the city night.

the machines reflect eyes the machines have eyes the machines are eyesI see them seeing me seeing them


Like in a fairy talewishing machines like in a fairy tale full of wishes

I wave my card with a big swish swish and then I wish to wish a wishfor a dish of fish to be rich i wish 

I wish

I wish.

Nobody knows my wishes
Nobody save the machines.
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike Creative Commons License.
Day 4 - Surviving Excerpts From the log of the FNC Emma Goldman

Tuesday, May 1
Not on ship yet, but it's motherfuckin Mayday and we have a motherfuckin ship. The Emma Goldman, a state of the art sailing vessel. Or at least she would have been two or three centuries ago. Today? She's ours. She's seaworthy. She even has a manifesto - to be the best damn anarchist-collective freespirited, freeloving, freesailing freelance cargo ship these oceans have ever seen. To the seas!

July 3rd
Finally got a cargo, on the high seas at last. Struck the flag we're registered under (I won't even write it here) raised our true flag - the black flag. Beholden to no nation, lyal to none but ourselves.

Glad to be at sea. The business part is the part I hate, but until someone gets around to overthrowing capitalism, this is our world. We need money for spare parts, money for foodstuffs, money for rum. We're tall-ship sailors. There has has to be rum.

Anyway, the cargo part is what I hate. Creepy client was creepy, mysterious boxen are mysterious. Battered leather trunks, smelling of mildew and mothballs and... something else.

July 8th
Rum gone. Too many fucking disasters. Damage. Rats. Matty drank the damn rum. And he had the nerve to 

August 2nd
still not working but we have the sextant. Anctient tech FTW. Matty said he hears sounds from the cargo. Voices. He must have a secret stash of

August 9th

.............walk the plank if we were pirates. We should still throw the bastard overboard after it. We still have the stars. We'll find our way.

must have jumped overboard. Just wasn't there one day but he's right there are voices they're talking whispering some strange language I wish I could understand I wish I

No sun for days. Sea is grey, sky grey, sails grey. The black flag is grey. I am grey. The others are looking funny at me, I know. They might know

A cheer from above. Land? I need to see first. Need to see what's in this cargo. I can almost make out the words. 

I think it's callng me. From above a scream, "what is that". I'm down here I'm openingit now

Source Unknown

Day 5 - backroads

Back roads, way off the interstate

the smell of fake pine

Late afternoon, small town
through dry dust and dry air an old
sign reds and blues faded into woodgrain


tired and I need to stop eyes need to start
eyes need to wake step in

No freaks.
No living freaks.

Curio cabinets full of two-headed taxidermy dogs
inexpertly stiched together
improbably dry spiders
wax sculptures of the freaks
the mystics the hysterics the madmen the drifters on 
the backroads.

stiff posed manikins no art no artifice no motion but
disapproving scowls
and a lingering scent
of fake pine 
and a scream

Day 6 - Patriot Day

Source Unknown
The specter of those hands against the glass
shut tight against the smoke and acrid gas
A hand but not a face
haunting, follows 

in each mirror
each window
each mirror or window or glass door or glass wall or showerglass or plateglass window or display glass each glass each window

each glass door
no matter how far from the city, is that glass door. 
Even in the woods, even in the cabin, it is that window
hands pressed hard against behind faceless faces
A window I dare not open.