It’s Camp Time Again!

Anna Camp

Anna tries to sneak away to do a little writing at camp.

We’ve been busy for the past few weekends, between house repairs and guests from out of town.  So we haven’t really had time to write blog posts.  But now it’s July, and Camp NaNoWriMo is in session again.  It’s lots of fun, and we’ve been meeting up regularly to have write-ins with some of the people in our local NaNoWriMo group, just like we would in November.

I’m working on a novel that’s a sequel to two previous novels.  It took most of June to get prepared to write it, because I had to reread those two books and then figure out what all the characters had been doing in the time since.  And, because it’s a nautical story and I’m not really into boating, I had to do a lot of research.

S is finishing up a regency romance that she started a while ago.  And then she will be working on some fanfic projects when she’s done with that.

She has a new computer: a Lenovo X1 Yoga that she has named Gwen, after a female spy in our shared fantasy universe.  Her old computer, Konrad, developed a problem where it turned off suddenly without warning.  That’s bad enough if you’re just scrolling through your Twitter account, but if it happens when you’re trying to write, it’s really annoying.  So far Gwen is working out well, which is nice.  I’m still using Ellard, my HP Elitebook 850, S has promised that when I need a new computer, she will support me in getting a really nice one.  So that’s something to look forward to.

And now, back to writing.  I’m past the climax now, and now I just need to write a few chapters that wrap everything up nicely.





A pic of our home library. Before you ask, yes, it’s in Dewey order.

Life has been quite hectic this past week. I had some time off work, and J and I furiously attempted to get our new house in order as best we could with our bathroom and kitchen renovations still happening. Also, we read my birthday novel, which is AMAZING and made me cry, and I finished revising the Turn fanfic I wrote for April Camp NaNo. With all that going on, honestly, I’m mentally spent, with no idea what to write this week, so instead, please enjoy some pics of our home library, which was one of the big projects we finished this week.





Last Minute Changes


Hewlett suddenly realizes he messed up the chronology in his fanfic. Simcoe wishes he’d just  post the next chapter already.

We’re still working on our revisions. S is trying to get the timeline right for her massive Turn fanfic. This can be very tricky. A lot of TV shows play fast and loose with their internal timeline, and Turn is no exception. S is going back and rewatching every episode to make sure that her scenes match up with the show, as much as she possibly can. Last night, for example, she realized that she’d written a scene where Ben and Caleb have a conversation, after which Ben goes and has supper with other officers. The trouble is that on the show, there are some scenes with Abe in between those events, and it’s clear that—at the very least—a day and a night must pass between Ben’s conversation and the supper. So now she has to figure out how to separate those two Ben scenes.

These problems are not unique to fanfic. I’m revising a story that takes place in our own Myrciaverse, and I had a very similar problem come up. My latest novel (which might hypothetically be S’s birthday present) is actually a series of short stories that happen between Old Habits Die Hard and Called to Account during the Myrcian civil war. As I was reading through the book this past week, I suddenly realized I’d made a serious mistake.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers (S might be reading this), but basically what I did was this: in the fifth and last story, I had character A ask character B to help character C escape. And I hinted that in fact character B and her bosses had agreed to do so. The trouble is that Called to Account takes place about half a year later, and in that story, it’s a major plot point that character B’s bosses have no idea where exactly character C has escaped to, and are desperate to find him.

You can see the problem, of course. If I just kept my new story as it was, it would suggest that somehow B’s bosses helped C escape, and then, in the course of a few months, completely forgot that fact. This is, at best, extremely problematic. So I had to figure out how to change the new story to fit what happens in Called to Account. It wasn’t terribly difficult to fix—it just required deleting a few lines and adding a couple paragraphs here and there. But it still took me a while to work it all out in my head and make sure that the new story still made sense on its own.

Eventually it all worked out, and I think the story is better now. Just don’t tell S about it. I want it to be a surprise for her.

Anyway, that’s what we’re up to. Now we get to go do yard work—something that always makes even the toughest revisions seem like fun by comparison.


Five Reasons the World Needs More of The Expanse


The crew of the Roci

I watched Firefly live when it aired—in front of my TV, soaking in all 11 of the 14 episodes Fox showed. So as someone who has been a Browncoat from the very start, shows I love, especially topnotch sci fi shows, getting canceled unceremoniously has long been a part of my life. You would think I would be used to it by now, but clearly, I’m not, because when SyFy announced they would not be showing a 4th season of The Expanse, it hurt. A lot.

So, what is The Expanse? (Something I, sadly, must explain, because obviously not enough people are watching it.) It’s a space story based on a series of books by James S. A. Corey. (That is the collective penname of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.) In the future, Earth has colonized Mars, and there is endless tension between the two worlds with the Belters, the poor workers of the asteroid belt, looked down upon by both. The tensions among these three factions inform the mystery of the first season of why an heiress from Earth, Julie Mao, flies off and disappears out beyond the Belt. Seasons 2 and 3 are about what happens because of what she discovers.

And that, very briefly, is what the show is. So why should you watch it and why should there be more? Here, have five reasons.

1. Hard science

Now, remember, we’re both English majors with a side order of music. Science has never been a forte for either of us. But I didn’t actually need my science-minded friends to tell me how good the science is on this show, because as a student of narrative, I could intuitively sense they were getting it right. There’s attention to detail on this show that pays off for the science geeks of the world, but that also rewards anyone who just likes great storytelling. I believe it when folks tell me the math works out for some space maneuver discussed on the show, because I don’t feel as though someone just teched-the-tech at me. The folks making The Expanse pay attention to what they are doing, and it shows on every level. For example…

2. It looks so good

I’ve no idea what sort of deal with the devil the visual effects and production design folks on this show made, but damn, it looks good. Rather than writing about this one, I present you with a ship breaking apart in space.


You’re welcome.

3. Character beats

Something we’ve complained about before on this blog is the pacing of several shows we watch. When a show insists on driving through plot as fast as possible, a lot of times the character beats, the conversations between characters, the quiet moments alone, that need to happen for proper catharsis, get cut. While there are plenty of fistfights, gunfights, and space battles to go around, the characters always come first. You care who wins these confrontations, because you care about the people involved. The Expanse always finds time to show the important personal conversations so many other shows either wouldn’t bother with, or would truncate to the point it might have been best just to skip them. The characters talk and sit on the beach and enjoy meals together. And that’s why the fate of humanity actually matters.

4. The women, but not because of why you might think

It would be easy to look at the gender and ethnic makeup of The Expanse and think, “Someone very thoughtfully went through and checked all the boxes.” To be honest, I’ve no idea if the authors of the books or the showrunner did such a thing, but I can tell you this—it never feels like it. Case in point, the main action of the show happens aboard the Roci, a ship manned by the remainder of an ice hauler. There are initially three men and one woman, Naomi, on this crew, with a fourth man added later on. Earlier in Season 3, there is a disagreement on the ship, and the men side together against Naomi. But here’s the cool part—the viewer never, even for a second, thinks they sided against her because she is a woman. Because Naomi is an actual character and not just some representation of Woman, it all felt natural, none of it felt sexist, and the sympathy the viewer feels for her in that moment is purely because the character is so well drawn that we care for her, not something she symbolizes.

People of any gender or race can pop up doing any job and having any opinion, and it all feels natural because the characters are all so entirely three-dimensional.

Also, Shohreh Aghdashloo. QED.

chrisjen gif

5. It keeps getting better

With the amount of good TV available today, I get why people have trouble buying into a show if it doesn’t take off right away. I remember having a conversation with a friend that back when we were growing up, it seemed like a lot of shows had shaky first seasons and didn’t get good until the second. Today, so many shows invest so much in making sure they have a great first season that if they are lucky enough to get renewed, the second season is a huge let down. And if you don’t have a great pilot, forget people tuning in for a second episode. It seems as though pretty soon if a show doesn’t have a good first 5 minute teaser, they can forget ever finding an audience.

These kinds of viewing habits are not a friend to The Expanse. It’s a rich, complex world, and while the first few episodes are good, it doesn’t really take off until about the fourth episode. But here’s the thing—if you can watch just 3 episodes of good TV, you will be rewarded with (as of now) two and a half seasons of great TV that just keeps getting better. Unlike so many shows that peak in their first season and then you just watch the slow decline, The Expanse gets better and better. And that’s not just my opinion. The Rotten Tomatoes scores for the seasons bear me out.

Season 1: 76%
Season 2: 95%
Season 3: 100%

Yep, you saw that right. SyFy canceled a show with a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Which I get. From what I understand, the deal they had with the production company was not particularly good for them, but I think it’s a pretty good case for some other outlet to find a way to make a better deal and keep The Expanse on the air.

So, that’s why you should watch The Expanse. In the US, the first 2 seasons are on DVD, and you can catch up with it all streaming on Amazon. Internationally, Netflix is your friend. New episodes air on SyFy Wednesdays at 9:00.


Leaving Camp


Having finished Camp NaNo, George heads boldly into revision.

It’s May now, and that means April Camp NaNoWriMo is over. S and I celebrated our customary double win. I finished Old Habits Die Hard, and now we’re reading through it. S finished her new Turn fanfic, which we have been slowly typing up. I believe there are still three chapters that haven’t been typed yet.

May means revision, and it also means starting on a new story that might hypothetically be a present for someone whose birthday comes at the end of this month. I’m not naming any names, you understand. I’ve got an idea for a series of stories, each with different POV characters, that together make up sort-of a novel. I don’t normally write short stories, and these stories won’t really be all that short, but it’s interesting to think in terms of shorter, episodic story arcs, rather than a single longer one.

The stories are all going to take place during the same period of imaginary civil war in our Myrciaverse, covering the five years between the end of the novel I just wrote and the start of Called to Account, which I wrote as S’s Christmas present in 2015. I once made up a timeline of everything that happens during that century-long civil war, and about a week ago, as I was trying to come up with something to write next, I was looking at the events that happen in the five-year gap between books. A lot of it was interesting, but I couldn’t think of a single storyline that reasonably tied it all together. Hence, a series of shorter stories.

Also, as our friend who blogs over at Philosofishal pointed out to me, May is Short Story Month. So there’s that, too. Of course, the Short Story Month people seem to be envisioning much shorter stories than what I’m writing, but whatever.

In case anyone is curious about the progress of our recent move, we’re still settling into New Unicorn HQ. Today S continued organizing our awesome new library. Yesterday we planted a bunch of daylilies, so we’re both feeling as if we’ve accomplished a lot this weekend. Our hope is that over time, the lilies will spread out and take over a lot of the empty space in our garden. And then with any luck there will be less yard work.

And now we need to go start on supper. The party just never stops here.


What Did I Say?

ffa small

George is especially careful about what he says. (Pic from

As Camp NaNo comes to an end, J and I are revising the projects we worked on during the month. J wrote another Myrcia ‘verse novel that I am very much looking forward to reading, and I wrote some fanfic. I actually posted a completed short piece a few days ago, but I have a longer Turn fanfic that needs some work. Where I want to focus most in revision is on the voice of one of my POV characters. (Who happens to be George Washington, by the way.) J has been helping me get it typed up, so he’s gotten a taste of what I’m doing and what I’d like to achieve. When it comes to fixing Washington’s voice, these are the things we’ve come up with me to focus on.

Word choice

This is probably the most obvious part of character voice—what words does the character use. Some word choice decisions are easy to make, like when a character has specific technical knowledge, they speak in technical terms. As an example, J has been to law school, so he makes jokes about things like “prior consideration” and “meretricious consideration” that someone who has no legal training would never say. (These are the legal reasons, he tells me, that I am not allowed to pay him in kisses when he does me a favor.)

But there are also harder word choice issues. As I’m going through my first draft, there are words that don’t quite hit the ear as well as I would like them to. Last night, J found one for me. Originally, I wrote:

But he could not stand the way Benjamin looked at him.

J, bless his heart, immediately suggested I change “stand” to “endure,” which sounds a million times more like the Washington I’m trying to write. So, it will be a slog, but I really need to go through all of his POV chapters, and look for those words that just don’t sound quite like Washington, and replace as many as I can.

Level of Formality

How formal is the character? This is a character voice trait J and I have been talking a lot about since we first started writing. Does the character always get forms of address correct? Do they lean toward being too formal or too familiar? Are they painfully correct in their grammar? (For this last one, we often talk about the possibly apocryphal statement of Winston Churchill’s about never ending sentences with a preposition, meaning, would the character actually say, “up with which I will not put”?)

If there is one thing J and I agree on, it is that Washington is very formal. And he is formal in a studied way. We both agree that Turn does an excellent job of translating what we know of the real Washington to the character played so brilliantly by Ian Kahn. Washington lacked much formal education, and he regretted this and felt self-conscious about it all his life. He attempted to teach himself as much as he could, but people intentionally trying to be correct often come across as stilted, as opposed to someone who learned proper behavior at a young age when it could become a seamless part of their personality. And yet, I don’t want my Washington to ever cross that line into awkwardness or pomposity, so it’s a delicate balance I’m not quite hitting just yet. But that’s what revision is for after all.

Dialog vs Internal Monologue

J also pointed out that characters’ internal thoughts do not have to have the same level of formality as their speech. Washington will definitely always be formal in his dialog, but we both agree that he might be slightly less formal in his own mind. He might even think about whether or not what he just said was the correct level of formal. It’s a subtle difference, but I’m going to see if I can manage it.

And that’s what I’m up to as we pack up and get ready to leave Camp. What I’ll be doing in May is anyone’s guess. Besides posting this fic once it’s ready, I’ll probably return to the Regency erotica I had been working on before Turn happened to me. I’m actually quite pleased with what I’ve done on it, and look forward to getting back to it.


Revision at Camp

Washington Letter

George suddenly realizes just how much revision his first draft is going to need.

S and I are still hard at work on our projects for Camp NaNoWriMo. In fact, if all goes well, we might both finish today. I’ve got one more chapter to write in my novel, Old Habits Die Hard, and S has one chapter left in the big fanfic project she’s working on. We’ve both already hit our goals for the month, which means yet another double win for Team Unicorn.

Once we finish writing, it’ll be time to start revising. I already started rereading my book from the beginning, even as I was finishing it up. I had time to do this because I’ve been trying to limit myself to only writing three chapters a day. Yes, I know that sounds like a humblebrag, but in the past (particularly during November) I have sometimes just kept writing and writing, even long after I had done a reasonable amount of work for the day. It’s exhausting. The difference between writing 5,000 words a day and writing 8,000 or 10,000 is whether I get to do anything else besides writing.

In other news, we’re still in the process of moving. With luck (fingers crossed) we may have a buyer for the original Unicorn HQ. Once that’s finished, I think we will have to go out for dinner or something to celebrate. Or maybe just take a nap. It’s been a very long moving adventure for us.

Anyway, that’s what’s up with us. Now back to writing!


A Letter Home


New pen! New pen!

Greetings from Camp NaNoWriMo where J and I continue writing apace. J has already flown past his goal of 50,000 and is heading into Chapter 43 of a planned 72, so bully for him. I set a more modest Camp goal of 30,000 words, and I’m ahead of the game, quite nearly to 20,000 already. And since things are going so well, I decided to spend more time and money than strictly necessary looking at fountain pens this morning.

Now, my pen obsession might seem a bit much, but it’s really all about my health. (nods) During NaNoWriMo 2016, my Municipal Liaison (that’s the person who runs your local group for those of you unfamiliar with how NaNo works) loaned me some of her fountain pens. My hand was killing me from the death grip I typically have on my pens, and I found I really enjoyed the fountain pen, because I didn’t grip it so tightly or push so hard. I pretty immediately went out and bought a few pens, completely falling in love with the Pilot Petit. It’s less than $4, the cartridges are under $2 for a package of 3, and unlike the fancy metal pens, the plastic is light enough that I can write comfortably with it for hours at a time.

After last year’s NaNo, I’ve become even more thoughtful about how I write, because I somehow managed to strain the tendon in my shoulder, and there were a couple months there where I really couldn’t do much of anything with my arm because of it. It’s feeling more or less okay-ish at this point, but I pay a lot more attention to how I sit and support my arm while I’m writing now. And because being comfortable while I write is so important, I decided I needed another pen, so I ordered this bad boy this morning. I’ve never had a converter or used bottled ink before, so I’m looking forward to trying it out. And the cartridges are even cheaper for this pen than the Petit, so if I end up not liking the hassle of the converter but like the pen, I’m still in business.

And that’s all I have to say about pens today. Instead, I should really go use one to work on my Camp NaNo project. Although, a friend was talking up the Lamy Safari, and my birthday is next month, so…


Holy Bagpipes!

bagpipesnew columbia university

As a Librarian, I can’t really condone this behavior. (pic from Columbia University.)

Here at Unicorn HQ, the unpacking is pretty much done except for the books. Of course, the books always made up the majority of our boxes, and since we have bookcases in multiple rooms on multiple floors instead of a single library here at the new house, it’s going to be quite the undertaking. But we’ve already started putting some books at least near the shelf they will eventually live on. This includes what we refer to as our “Ready Reference” (technical Librarian term there), and several of the Ready Reference books are our favorite writing books. Now, I know we’ve shared some of our favorite books on writing before, but I want to share some of them again because of a post I happened upon this morning on tumblr.

This tumblr post was complaining about the abundance of writing advice out there, some of it contradictory, much of it seemingly designed to discourage people from writing in the first place. The post ended in exasperation, the author forced to use the delightful phrase “holy bagpipe” in order to express her frustration with writing advice. Personally, I think it’s great to know rules, real hard and fast ones, as well as the mere suggestions, all of which the writer who has a handle on proper writing can feel free to throw out the window in exchange for stylistic choices that make the work better.

But how do you learn the rules, the real and the personal preferences? The right books, of course. So, here’s a few of our favorites focusing on the nuts and bolts of writing as opposed to specific how-to-write-fiction books. Enjoy them while we both get back to our Camp NaNo projects, which are coming apace. Oh, and unpacking our library.

  • Strunk and White (Classic.)
  • Woe Is I (Helpful and a ton of fun. A lot of people would recommend Eats, Shoots and Leaves as the fun grammar book, but I have a place in my heart for this one.)
  • How Not to Write a Novel (It’s really not just for fiction writers and has a lot of great stuff.)
  • Chicago Manual of Style (It doesn’t matter which style manual you choose, but I recommend picking one and living by its decisions when in doubt.)
  • Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language (If not this dictionary, then some dictionary, should be your go to for settling disputes. Actually, it should be this dictionary if you’re writing American English. I’ll give you style manuals beside Chicago, but I really believe in this dictionary.)


Busy at Camp


Anna hits her word count for the day.  Ben and Caleb haven’t even started their projects yet.

We’re in the middle of the first week of Camp NaNoWriMo, and of course we were so excited about it, that we forgot to post a blog on Sunday. I suppose we could also blame it on the fact that Sunday was Easter, but let’s be honest: we forgot.

I’m ten chapters into my new novel, Old Habits Die Hard. One of the main characters is a nun trying to save her convent. Hence the title. (Picture S groaning and holding her head.) So far I think it’s going pretty well. I’ve introduced most of the POV characters, and I’m in the middle of the inciting incident, where the characters become invested in the plot. And hopefully the reader, too.

S is working on some fanfic projects, of course. Maybe next week she’ll post something about them. She’s writing in a new fandom: Turn, the TV show about Revolutionary War spies. It’s been kind of fun helping her do research on George Washington and other various figures of the time. My parents are getting rid of some of their books, and I made sure to grab any that had anything to do with the Revolution.

Anyway, that’s what we’re up to. I’ve got to get back to work. My next chapter is from the POV of a sad teenage girl who is missing the boy she loves, but can never have. Her life is hard enough already; I think it would be unkind of me to keep her waiting any longer.