Friday Q & A: The Book Soundtrack

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Someone recently asked me this question, so I thought I’d extend it to all my fellow authors, as well:

Do you write with a “soundtrack”?

My answer:
Personally, I’m a music person (I grew up immersed in it), so I always have both a “series soundtrack” and a separate soundtrack for each book I write… a playlist of songs that keep the creative juices flowing and help me get into the “zone” of a particular book (it’s part of the secret to how I can write multiple books in multiple genres all at the same time, without ever confusing things… As soon as the “soundtrack” for that book starts, I’m instantly in that “zone”… Since I use the same soundtrack when drafting the storyline as I do when I’m writing, my brain’s conditioned to the pattern by the time I start writing…:) …)

If you have a question you’d like me to answer about writing in general, my process, my books, etc, please go to my FAQ Page and leave your question at the bottom of the page. I’ll select questions to answer on my blog every Friday, and those and other questions will be posted to the FAQ page, as well.

It’s All Geek: Perspectives on Science and the Paranormal (and why I write both, simultaneously)

I can’t tell you how many times I hear “But if you’re so science-minded, why do you write Paranormals, and believe in the paranormal?” Like these two things are mutually exclusive, and acknowledging one excludes me from acknowledging or understanding the other.

This is a stereotype I’m sick of. So let me set the record straight, once and for all. Parapsychology, the paranormal sciences, and physical science are not mutually exclusive. They never have been. The base concept of science is, in itself, to explain the unexplained. Let’s take a look at a few established principles, and a few conceptual theories, to explore what I’m talking about.

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A mere five hundred years (plus or minus change) ago, the science of the day declared the Earth flat, and that the heavens revolved around the Earth. This planet was, by established science of the day, the center of the universe. The concept of space flight wasn’t even a glimmer, and the established medicine of the day often involved the judicious application of leeches, for everything from poisoning to excessive bleeding (I’d love to see someone explain that one!).

The people who dared to challenge this established science of the day were labelled insane or heretics. They were often ostracized, sometimes imprisoned, and in some cases even put to death for daring to challenge the established science of the day and/or look for explanations to those things deemed inexplicable, at that time.

Thank goodness we’ve come so far, right? But have we really? When science declares something “hogwash” or “ridiculous” without exploring the possibilities inherent within it, that science loses its ability to truly function as it should – it loses the flexibility to bend and explore new dimensions and possibilities within our universe. Without that flexibility, without the “what if,” most of the science we take for granted today would never have existed.

I firmly believe that science holds the key to unlocking the potential of the human spirit. As Einstein once said, imagination is more important than knowledge. Anyone can spout knowledge. Being able to imagine how that knowledge might be put to use is of far greater value. While science seems content to study the human brain at length, it fails to explore how that brain chemistry might apply to things which, today, appear “paranormal.”

“Paranormal,” by most basic definition, means “outside of the normal.” By this definition, in the 1500s, the law of gravity, for example, would have been considered “paranormal.” So would Columbus’ assertions that the world was actually round, rather than flat, or Copernicus and Galileo with their “crazy” theories regarding the heavens above us. A mere hundred years ago, the computers we so take for granted as part of “normal” life were considered “science fiction” and completely, utterly paranormal, by the word’s definition.

Medical science will be the first to admit they do not have all the answers to how the human brain works, or even what it might be capable of. By this very admittance, they lay the groundwork for the possibility of eventually being able to empirically test for and gauge things like clairvoyance, clairaudience, Psychokinesis, telepathy, and a host of other parapsychological conditions. I firmly believe that, in time, science will uncover the root of these types of abilities, and will be able to study it very effectively, and therefore expand our knowledge and use of such abilities, taking them firmly from the realm of “paranormal” and into the realm of “normal.”

By the same token, I believe that science will one day progress to the point of being able to prove, conclusively, the existence of the spirit (human and animal) and its ability to survive corporeal death. Already, we see rapid advances in the methodology and equipment used to study and document potential hauntings, and I believe that if these advances continue to happen, and people continue to strive for that understanding, someone will stumble into the same kind of “eureka!” moment Archimedes did when he figured out volume displacement.

To understand why I believe this, I will apply some simple, established science. Namely, the First Law of Thermodynamics (otherwise known as the Law of Conservation of Energy and Matter). It states that matter cannot be either created or destroyed. It simply changes form to fit new conditions or environments. Medical science proves that the human body is animated through a complicated and not-completely-understood system of bio-electric signals, chemical reactions, etc. Basically, the human body is a kind of living, working biological battery/computer. We put off a tremendous amount of energy, in the form of heat. This is best seen in how our bodies begin to overheat when we are exerting a lot of energy, thereby requiring our bodies to kick in their onboard coolant system (sweat) to help cool us down. When we exert energy in a focused manner, we do so by transferring said energy to another activity or object – say, picking up a box. The energy our bodies generate through the use of fuel (food, water, air, etc) is transferred into kinetic energy, which allows us to grip and lift the box, at which time the kinetic energy is changed into force energy, applied against gravity to lift the box.

So, if we are batteries, with all this stored up energy at our disposal at any time, when we die, what happens to all that energy? The Law of Conservation of Energy and Matter says that it has to go somewhere. It can’t simply disappear. Rather, it must change form to fit its new environment and situation. In time, this energy might be absorbed into other things which utilize energy, or it might continue to absorb energy from around itself, taking on a more definitive form. In both of these cases, it would be following the Law of Conservation of Energy, and by the same token become the energy source known as “ghosts” or “spirits.” Since a large part of the energy we store up is stored in the brain, logic would follow that the energy released to a new form during death would retain some measure of its former use, at least for a while. Those electrical pulses that carry information and accumulated knowledge around the brain could retain some kind of energy “memory” which would allow for the intelligent interactions experienced by paranormal investigators.

The same principles of scientific thought can easily be established to many areas currently deemed “paranormal.” As such, I say with confidence that I do not actually believe there is a division between the paranormal and science. Instead, I think the one (science) simply hasn’t yet arrived at point where it is capable of empirical measurement of the things we at current deem “paranormal.” But I do believe the time will come when these fields of study collide, and I don’t believe it is very far off, either. In the meantime, I will continue to write my geeked-out, scientific paranormals, and enjoy the hell out of knowing that, on this front, I’m ahead of the curve.

Demoralizing Creativity: Artistic Careers and Popular Misconception

ZappaFound this on Facebook (I assume it’s correct, but I haven’t verified… I just agree with the sentiment, wherever it came from)

And, by the way, it’s not a “hobby”… I don’t mind giving away free books – to people who are actually going to review them. I don’t mind sharing my work, with people who actually want to read it. But this isn’t a hobby, it’s not a “cute little pastime,” or any of a thousand other insulting little turns of phrase you might come up with. Writing is my career. It was my very first occupation (even before I learned to actually write the alphabet), and it’s always been my goal to write full-time. Having to work another job in order to pay bills is a frustration I have to put up with, but that other job is the “moonlighting” one… that is the secondary job, whatever it happens to be, at the time.

So every time you think you’re not hurting anyone by downloading a pirated book, every time you think it’s “okay” to demand free access/free copies of books that no one has paid for (I’m not talking about borrowing from the library – libraries buy their books, to lend), think about this – if you went into work tomorrow, and your boss said “By the way, you’ll be working for free from now on. We’ve decided it’s okay not to pay you, because we decided it doesn’t hurt anyone if we don’t.” how long would you keep working there?
So why do you expect an author to work for free?
Writing is a career – so be a responsible human being: Buy a book if you want to read it (whether hard copy or e-book), and if you get a free copy from an author, realize that it’s not a right — they’re doing you a favor, and return the favor by spreading the word – tell your friends, post a review, comment about it on social media. If you want to call yourself a “fan” then show it by acting like one – your support tells the author you give a damn, and inspires them to keep writing. Stealing from us just tells us you don’t respect us or care about the work we do, and takes away our desire to keep writing.

Human Condition: Writing Strong Characters

The one question I get asked consistently that still baffles me when I get asked it is “Why do you write strong female characters?”

*blinks* I don’t.

I write human characters. I write women and men (equally) who have faced or are facing their most difficult battles. Men and women with scars that run deep enough to make them wary of life, and people. Men and women who have made mistakes they would give anything to undo, been the victims (and then survivors) of horrors and crimes that test the human spirit and one’s ability to survive.

I don’t see the distinction between a “male” and “female” role – human beings, as a species, can be heroic, courageous, strong, and compassionate in equal measure. They can also be petty, vengeful, self-absorbed, and all things villains are made of.

I write heroes and heroines that aren’t just cardboard tropes, because “perfect” people don’t exist, and they’re impossible to live up to. The hero who always does the right thing isn’t just boring, he’s impossibly difficult to aspire to be. As humans, we all stumble, we all fail, at some point. Sometimes it’s the little things, and sometimes it’s big ones. It’s not about the stumble, or the fall. It’s about how we pick ourselves back up afterward, how we set about making things right, and how we learn from our experience. My heroes quite often face monumental mistakes or self-created demons — they suffer regrets, and they have very real fears. They understand human nature, and they’re neither afraid of, nor threatened by, the strength of their female counterparts. While they often have strong protective instincts, they’re also highly aware of their female counterpart’s ability to take care of herself – sometimes, they’re even awed by it. :)

Likewise, my heroines aren’t all pristine little virgins who are all sweetness and light. Many of them have equally dark (and sometimes darker) pasts as their counterpart heroes. They come from histories of abuse (either externally- or self-inflicted or, in some cases, both), they’ve made mistakes, and they’ve struggled for everything they get in life. These heroines are kick-ass not because they’re inexplicably tough, but because they’ve had to become tough. Their struggles have taught them what to hang on to, and what to let go of. Who to trust, and when to pull the trigger. They don’t quake in the face of demons, because they’ve already looked into their own darkness, and come out the other side, stronger. They use their own demons to fight the world’s demons, and they’re not afraid to stand side-by-side, or toe-to-toe, with their male counterparts.

I write these kinds of characters because they give each and every one of us hope. They let us see that there’s no pit too deep to crawl out of, no issue too insurmountable to claw our way out of. I write these kinds of characters to remind myself and my readers that the human spirit is indomitable, that we can survive anything. I write these kinds of characters to show people it’s okay to be strong, that there’s no reason to be afraid of strength, in either ourselves or in others, as long as we remember that strength is not about power. My characters are there to remind us of the difference – that strength is about abandoning the quest for power, about making ourselves vulnerable. Vulnerable to each other, and vulnerable to our own demons, our own past, our own selves. My characters teach people to strip away the outer shell of “everything’s just fine” lies we show the world at large, and take a deep, long look into our insecurities, pains, and personal failures.

And that, dear readers, is why I don’t write just strong female characters. I write strong human characters.

Legends of Tirum

Legends of Tirum

Underground

Underground

“Face-off” Excerpt from HERO’S HOPE (Underground)

Heros HopeThere’re two people who, up until now, have been background characters to Underground. They’ve had a few moments here and there, but I’ve never really given them the spotlight and let them run with it. In Hero’s Hope, these two characters get to become instrumental to what’s going on around them, particularly where it comes to Rick and Tamia’s relationship, and where the investigation is going from here — those characters are Matt “Watchdog” Clipper and Jenifer “Cat” LaSaulle.

Why did I decide to give these two characters such a front-and-center role in what is still, at its core, Rick and Tamia’s story? Quite simply, because they both have some pretty intense backgrounds and stories of their own to tell, and their relationship has almost as much importance to the outcome of the entire Evolution as Rick and Tamia’s does.

Let me share a sample with you… Say “hello” to Watchdog.

 

“Face-off” – Excerpt from HERO’S HOPE (Underground, Book 4) –

 

“Hey, dude, chill out.” Matt Clipper raised his hands in a non-threatening gesture as he backed away from J.T. Romanski. Inside, his heart thundered with adrenaline, and he swore an internal blue streak. Damn it, he knew last week’s little chat with Blade didn’t go unnoticed. J.T.’s soldiers just took their time reporting him. “It’s cool, man. We cool.”

              “You hopped if you think we square,” J.T. snarled. His thumb disarmed the Heater’s safety, and his finger shook on the trigger, and not with fear. Matt watched the infamous leader of the Westsiders’ notorious Ghost Squad kill three cops in cold blood, just a few weeks ago. J.T. pumped iron, and he was famed in the underworld for his temper. Roid Rage, they called it back in the Twentieth. Only, steroids were small potatoes, now. “You sold us out to your military bitch.”

              Matt stiffened instinctively, but forced himself to relax. He had to remember he had a choice, unlike these punks. All he had to do was say the word and Blade would pull him. That reminder curled a cocky, devil-may-care grin on his lips. “She ain’t my bitch, dude. She a ‘Frisco Panther.”

              J.T.’s dark eyes widened for an instant in recognition, before he settled into a glare. Damn, the dude was looking for a rumble. “You lyin’.”

              “Nah. She’s Mia Ku. Spent the Divide tacked and loaded – that’s why she looks military.”

              That information, all very public and true, gave J.T. pause.

              “So why you hangin’ with a Panther bitch?” One of the other Ghosts piped up.

              “She got a pipeline to some shit we can move for a pair a sevens. Hot shit, fresh from the boats.”

              He had their attention now. Even J.T. lowered his weapon and listened. For the chance at making millions moving drugs, they would let him live. Relief curled through Matt. He wracked his brains for weeks, trying to work out how to set up the buy he arranged to have monitored for Narc evidence. Tamia’s little chat in the mall gave him an opening that would keep her out of the Westsiders’ sights, as well. He only wished he could do the same for Jen; there was just no way to turn Ms. Perfection into a street bitch.

              “She tole me where to meet the dudes shiftin’ it into the Apple.”

              J.T. frowned. “What about the Big Man’s cut? What’s that?”

              Matt grinned wolfishly. He had them on the line; now was the time to reel them in. “Nothin’. He don’t even know this shit exists.”

              Narrowed brown eyes considered him for a moment, before J.T. nodded and safetied the Heater. As he stuffed the weapon back into the waistband of his baggy pants, he met Matt’s gaze. “All right, dude. You set up the meet, and we represent.”

              They shook hands in an elaborate ritual of hand movements, and Matt turned and walked away as if nothing was wrong. But he kept his attention fixed behind him all the way out of the abandoned warehouse that acted as the gang’s hangout. He wasn’t stupid. He knew J.T. could change his mind at any time, and burn him down on the spot.

              Finally, when he was halfway down the block from the warehouse, Matt dared to breathe a sigh of relief. That was a damned close call. The worst part about his job was no one knew where he was at any given moment. He was flying solo out here. Not that he let himself care. He fully expected to die out here. Just not before he helped catch the mole; and not while Jen was waiting for him to come home. He’d pick his time, when she hated his guts. When he finally managed to drive the wedge he so desperately needed, and hated. Couldn’t be helped. He saw what the pain of loss did – Blade was a walking open wound. He’d be damned if he let Jen follow.

              He glanced up at a flash of light, to see sunlight glint off what must be a sniper’s scope being retracted, on the roof across the street from the warehouse. Ice shot down his spine, and spread through his abdomen. They’d been watched the entire time. The only question was, by who?

 

LOOK FOR HERO’S HOPE, COMING MAY 30th.  GET INTO THE UNDERGROUND, WITH TAMIA, MIND KILLER, AND TERMINAL HUNTER — AVAILABLE NOW IN E-BOOK AND PRINT AT http://www.amazon.com

“Into Hell” – Excerpt from HERO’S HOPE (Underground)

Heros HopeI can’t tell you how many times I wrote, ripped up, and rewrote this scene. These moments are part of Tamia’s most powerful Black Moment in the entire series – the point at where everything she’s feared for so long is staring her right in the face. Writing them required delving into a part of myself I don’t normally share, and lock away during the day. I think, in the end, that was the reason why this scene finally came out in the middle of the night, when my own nightmares were so strong, there was nothing else to do but channel them into Tamia and the moments when her world came down around her.

 

 

“Into Hell” – Excerpt from HERO’S HOPE (Underground, Book 4) –

“Rick!” Tamia bolted upright in bed, fear scrambling along her nerves. Her hand flailed out, blindly searching for Rick, to reassure herself he was there. Ice plunged through her when her hand dropped to empty sheets, cold from the air circulation system. He wasn’t there.
Her gaze flew instantly to the glowing digital display of the bedside clock. 0400 hours. Rick had been gone a little over an hour, and already her imagination was working overtime. God, she was paranoid. And yet…

Tamia hugged Rick’s pillow to herself, her face buried in the cool material as she inhaled the scent of him clinging there. He was okay. He had to be. Images from her nightmare flashed in her mind, and her heart pounded with fear. It was all so real… Dampness slicked her cheeks, and she realized she was crying.

“Get a grip,” she muttered to herself. “You’ve had nightmares before.”

She shoved down the niggling little voice determined to remind her how all her worst nightmares had a way of coming true. That was Kuron’s superstitions talking, dammit. She didn’t believe in precognition. Did she?

She lay there, staring at the ceiling, as she battled fears she couldn’t exorcise, for what felt like forever. She was surprised to find only half an hour elapsed, when the door tone sounded. Then, the actual time sank in. 0430. Tamia’s heart caught in dread as the sick feeling of fear returned. Rick wouldn’t sound the door tone, and the only other person who’d show up at their door at this time of the morning was whoever was on Comms, which spelled trouble.

The door tone sounded again, more insistent than before; like someone was leaning on the exterior doorpad. Ice shot up Tamia’s spine. Whoever was at the door, it was important. She was suddenly reluctant to find out why. Still, she rose from the bed and made her way to the door as she pulled on her robe. Dread dogged her every step, and flashes of her nightmare haunted her. Her hand shook as she hit the lock release, and her heart came to an abrupt halt as she met Jen LaSaulle’s somber eyes. Oh, God.

“Jen?” The query left her in a whisper as fear gripped her so hard she trembled. Suddenly, her nightmare didn’t seem so impossible. Terror richoted through her. The only way to maintain her fraying calm was to stay focused on one thing. Her gaze fixed on Jen’s face, even as she reached to steady herself against the doorjamb. This was all a bad dream, she told herself over and over. Whatever happened, she was still in her nightmares.

“There’s someone here to see you.”

At the tone of Jen’s voice, and the sympathy in her green eyes, Tamia’s throat closed. She knew what those words, and that tone, meant, and it was no nightmare. Her heart froze in her chest, and she couldn’t breathe as the cold spread through her, and she went numb. The world spun, and she tightened her grip on the doorjamb as reality swam.

“Rick.” His name slipped from her numb lips, and her nightmares rushed back with new terror.

LOOK FOR HERO’S HOPE, COMING MAY 30TH FROM UNDER THE MOON. DISCOVER THE UNDERGROUND, WITH TAMIA, MIND KILLER, AND TERMINAL HUNTER – NOW AVAILABLE IN E-BOOK AND PRINT AT www.amazon.com

“Threats and Premonitions” – Excerpt from HERO’S HOPE (Underground)

Heros Hope In every writer’s life, there are scenes you write that feel a lot like deja vu. And there are scenes that are torn from your heart and soul, and wreak havoc on you to write, and to revisit. Writing HERO’S HOPE was that task for me. It and VENGEFUL HEART (the next book) will forever be the most difficult books — the most difficult fiction — I ever write, because certain parts of them aren’t fiction.

When Rick discovers the ghosts of his past are coming back to hunt his new family, he’ll do anything to protect them. But will his desire to protect cost him everything he loves?

 

“Threats and Premonitions” — Excerpt from HERO’S HOPE (Underground, Book 4)

 

“You can’t go back out there, yet!”

“I have to. I have a hunch about something, and I have to look into it. Besides, it’s my call who takes what assignments. This is something I just have to take care of.”

Tamia’s eyes were so full of disbelief he flinched away from that accusing gaze. “You are insane!”

Rick stared at his hands as he tried to come up with a defense against the fear in her eyes. God, he hadn’t wanted a cigarette this bad in months! His secret ate him alive, and he couldn’t stand that terror on Tamia’s face. He had to do something to wipe it away; but even the truth wouldn’t do that. The truth could put her in deadly danger. He looked up at her somberly. “It’s surveillance, babe. That’s what I was trained to do.”

She looked as if she might argue, before she sealed her lips in a thin line and turned away. But he could read her pain loud and clear in the protective way her shoulders hunched, and the turn of her body, as if she couldn’t bear to let him see how much she was hurting. That single motion punched him hard in the solar plexus and made breathing difficult.

“Tamia—“

“Why you?” Her voice was quiet, and flat, as if she was fighting to maintain that neutral tone. “You’re not cleared for the field, yet. Jen hasn’t signed off on your medical clearance. Let me go, instead.”

He straightened as fear plunged through him. “No way.”

“Why not? I have the same training, the same ability…”

“Tamia.” He rose to his feet. “I’m not going to argue with you about this. Now, I have to go.”

She shot a glare over her shoulder that would have frozen fire. “So it’s do as you say, not as you do?”

“Hey.” He could see where this was going a mile away. “It’s not like that—“

“No? So what if I was the one running out in the middle of the night to follow mysterious leads?”

He couldn’t answer that; he already knew he’d incriminate himself. Hell, there was no way he could convince her he respected her if he voiced his feelings about her being out on the street in her current condition. “I—”

“Don’t bother. I already know the answer. If it was me, or anyone else on this whole damned team, trying to take on a mission before medical clearance was signed, you’d have us confined to Comms duty until our asses went numb.”

He closed his eyes. God, how did he dig himself out of this one? “This is different. I know my limits.”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “That’s lame, Rick.”

She started toward the bedroom, already shedding her robe as she went. He swallowed hard. “What are you doing?”

She shot a determined, narrow-eyed look over her shoulder. “I’m taking your place.”

Shock and fear plunged through him. The threatening message was meant to hurt him, but Tamia was Colbert’s ultimate target, for no other reason than her death would kill him. Images flashed through his mind of what could happen if he let her go off on Colbert’s trail in his place. His stomach knotted. No way in hell. “Absolutely not.”

Her chin rose defiantly. “Why not?”

“Because…” He sought desperately for a reason that wouldn’t reveal the truth. His gaze fell on her belly, and the threatening words of the Red Code sliced through him again.

I know about your family. You took mine, and I’m coming for yours. Rick fought the constricting band of fear. “Because you’re pregnant.”

It was only the truth, but he knew it was the wrong thing to say, even before Tamia’s eyes narrowed and a dark scowl settled on her face. “You so don’t want to go there, Carinson.”

He winced. When she called him by his last name in that tone, it meant he’d crossed the line. It was pretty clear she wasn’t going to back down; well, neither was he. This was too important. She was too important. Better she be pissed at him; it would make what had to happen easier for her.

“Look, my leads will go cold, if I stick around arguing this. I have to go. Keep everyone on task, okay?”

Her face paled, and the pain of her fear was a feeling he knew would never fade.

“What are you planning?” Her voice was barely audible, now, and he never wanted to spill his guts so badly in his life. As a torture technique, Colbert couldn’t have planned anything more effective. But there was no way he could tell her what was about to go down.

“You’re getting paranoid.”

She jerked back as if he’d stuck her, and anger roiled in her eyes. “Dammit, Rick. I thought you were dying, in Texas! What would you do if our situations were reversed?”

Memories flooded him, of Tamia just after Porto Alegre, bloody and unconscious, then wreathed in tubes and machinery. The fear he’d felt returned full force, but he shoved it aside. He wasn’t falling into that trap. But nor could he make her a promise he already knew he couldn’t keep. As he looked into her eyes, he saw the resignation, before she sighed, and turned her back to him again. “Go, already. Just don’t make me regret this.”