Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Cure, Q&A: Meet Nora Watson

I don't have a consistent practice for how I develop characters. It all depends on what arises first, the idea for the story, or the idea for the character. Sometimes I'll have a particular person in mind as a body double, often I don't. What I intentionally do, is avoid giving a great deal of description to my main character so that my readers might reasonably imagine themselves as the protagonist. Although, since most of my lead characters are female, that might not work so well for any male readers, but maybe it doesn't matter so much. I don't know.

For Nora, I didn't have particular description in mind. I thought she was probably of average appearance, so pretty, but of course she wouldn't have acknowledged such a compliment if it was passed her way. She has long brown hair (it's way easier to just let your hair grow, then ever cut it or style it) that she generally ties back into a ponytail or messy bun, and she had brown eyes. She looks a lot like her mother. She's about five foot six, or 168 centimeters tall (or my height) and slender.
My brother, Matthew Thorne's rendition of Nora, created for when I posted the chapters here on this blog (sorry, no longer available).
Of course, there's a lot more to Nora than her appearance. As I was developing the story for The Cure I decided that there needed to be something unique about her. She couldn't just be some smart, average of appearance, teenage girl who was awkward with people. There had to be something else. There had to be a reason for why she had so few friends, why she was an outcast for more than just the purposes of my story. That's why I made her deaf.

I've been fascinated with the deaf culture since I was young...since I first saw The Miracle Worker, which is a movie (starring Anne Bancroft) about the early childhood of Helen Keller. I've always admired that she achieved so much considering she was both blind and deaf. I know some sign language (although not nearly enough to successfully communicate with a deaf person, I'm sure), and I volunteered at the Bob Rumbell Centre for the Deaf in Toronto for a short period during my undergrad. I also took several opportunities in my Masters to work on projects related to the Deaf culture.

I have one small regret around making Nora deaf, and that's that I made her deaf and not Deaf. That means she's physiologically deaf, but not culturally. The reason for this is that, she's the only deaf person in her compound. She had no one to learn from. This is why she speaks and reads lips, rather than uses ASL. I try to point out in a couple of places that lip reading isn't perfect, that she can't understand what people are saying when they don't look at her, and even then, she has to fill in bits as best she can. I also have people occasionally remark on her unusual 'accent,' to note that her speaking voice is differentl because she can't hear it herself.

 Small piece of back story that never comes out--Nora's mother was sick when she was pregnant (Rubella), which is why Nora is deaf.
My own depiction of Nora, created early this fall, because sometimes it's fun to draw.

Finally, I made Nora a huge science nerd. That's because I wanted to demonstrate that girls can be smart at science, too. I was kind of an all around student in elementary and high school. I was good at music and art, but I also achieved good grades in math and science. I did, after all, start out my university career in biology.

So, there's the background on Nora Watson, my heroine.

Feel free post questions if you want to know more about her, or my other characters (although there will be additional Q&A's on them to come).



Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Our Continuing Exploits in New England: The RMV, part 2

So, as promised (I know, you were all so hoping for this) a run down of the process of getting our car registered in the state of Massachusetts.

First, let me say, I hate going to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. I suspect that I'm not alone. It's a horrid, soul sucking place that is probably as close as one can get to purgatory (if you believe in that sort of thing, and in fact I don't) on Earth. It involves a great deal of waiting, paper work, and in my case, crossing my fingers that all of that said paperwork is properly filled out.

I have gone to the RMV five times. Twice to get my driver's license, another three times to deal with car registration, although on the fourth visit I waited around for about ten minutes, then decided it wasn't worth it and biked home. There were no tears this time, but I had a forty-minute bike ride (one way, and not including the extra time I spent lost) just to get a sheet of paper.

So, for all you Canadians out there, who might be moving to the United States, here are the details of what you need in order to import your Canadian vehicle (do note this is all specific to Mass and may be different in other states).

1) Import papers. You're supposed to get this when you cross the boarder, of course they didn't even look at our car when we crossed at Kingston-Lewiston, so we didn't have any. This is what I biked forty-five minutes for*. I had to go down to the Port Authority in Boston with a slew of papers. You need to show that you own the car, so I brought our Bill of Lading. You also have to have a Letter of Conformity from the manufacturer of our car to prove that it conforms with the requirements of the US (this was a relatively simple phone call to Mercedes Benz, then they emailed us their form letter). I think they took my Alberta registration, too. I rather insensibly forgot to bring my passport, but I think they customs officer took pity on me and just took my driver's license for proof ID.

2) RMV-1 form. This is the standard form required to register any car in Mass. I got mine from my Insurance Company (GEICO), and they filled out a portion of it for me. You can get a copy of the form, RMV-1 here. Fill it out as best you can, but the person at the RMV will definitely let you know if you're missing something. The woman I had on my last visit was surly, and I was worried she was going to find a way to deny me my registration, thankfully she didn't.

3) The third thing you need is an Affidavit in Support for Exemption from Sales or Use Tax for a Motor Vehicle Purchased Outside of Massachusetts. I couldn't find an online copy of it, but it was about four lines long, so it didn't take long to fill out, even if you have to get one when you arrive at the RMV.

4) Your current car registration. So, whatever papers you've got from where ever you moved from. In our case our registration was for the province of Alberta.

5) Your Mass license. Although, now that I think about it, I can't remember if the woman actually looked at it, but you have to fill it out on the RMV-1 form.

6) Cash or check. Credit isn't accepted for car registration. Don't ask me why, I don't know.

I think that's everything, or at least that's everything I can remember. You can check US Environmental Protection Agency for import requirements. You can also check the state RMV website for Converting an out of state registration.

Still with me?

Last but not least, you have to get an emission sticker within 7 days of registering your car (or I would assume that you have to go back to the RMV and pay more money, and nobody wants to do that). I had a little trauma there, too, but nothing major.

Once that sticker is on your windshield, you're done with the RMV. If we're here for longer than a year, I plan to do my renewal over the Internet. Now we just have to decide if we want to pay for the Somerville parking permit, which is only another $30-40 more.



*I biked because I didn't want to navigate through Boston traffic, on my own to a place I'd never been before and more than likely end up lost while trying to deal with traffic.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Our continuing exploits in New England: Blue Hills Reservation Area

I've been wanting to go hiking around the New England area since we got here. The drive through Mass is very pretty in the summer (and also in the fall as the leaves turn) with all the trees and the rolling hills of the Appalachians. There's a trail through the Appalachians that cuts across 14 states that I'd love to tackle at least part of, but it's getting a bit late in the year for camping (I know, if we were hard core we could go out in the winter, but I don't think either of us would love the experience).

A (very) little Internet searching yields a plethora of options for places to go for short-term hikes in Mass, both throughout the state and closer to Boston. The hubby didn't want to do any extensive driving to find a location, so I limited my search closer to home. In the end, we dropped my suggestion of the Fells Reservation, and went to Blue Hills, which should have only been a 25 minute drive from our apartment. I think it took us closer to an hour, maybe more.

The initial wrong turn was my fault. I'm still not totally comfortable with driving around Boston. The lane lines, at times, seem arbitrary. Same with the speed limits. And a portion of the I-93 is underground, which I think also changes the driving experience. At any rate, I accidentally got off the interstate in the direction of the airport, which resulted in us getting lost. We don't have a GPS, and like most people, we just use our phones to navigate. On Saturday the mapping feature proved to be slow and caused the hubby to give me more than one erroneous direction. We weren't a happy couple. But, we haven't made it through 9 years of marriage (as of tomorrow) for nothing. After we ended up almost back to our apartment, I pulled over, Andrew took the driver's seat and on the third attempt we made it out to the Blue Hills Reservation.

Saturday was beautiful. Sunny, a very comfortable air temperature (maybe 18 or 20C). We found a place to park shortly after reaching the reservation and headed off. We hiked for a little over 2 hours, covering somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 kilometers (my phone battery drained before we got back to the car). The trails were a mix of flat, easy walking with a few roots, to the Skyline trail, which had lots of rocks, and several reasonably steep (for not being in the mountains) hills to ascend and descend.
A shot of one of the easy strolling trails. The mix of green, orange and red leaves was very pretty.
A brook we passed as we hiked.
After we finished our lunch, we went up a steep, rocky path to an observation tower. It was very popular, probably helped by the excellent view.
A shot of Boston from the observation tower.
My ruggedly handsome hubby, when we paused momentarily on our way back from the observation tower, along the Skyline trail.
Nothing like the challenge of the Jasper Park Skyline trial, the one in Blue Hills was still very pretty, and the rocks did make some of the descents a little tricky.
Next time, on our continuing exploits in New England, I'll write about what was hopefully my last visit to the RMV.



Friday, October 18, 2013

My continuing exploits into self-publishing

I haven't looked at my sales figure yet. That's mostly because I don't want to disappoint myself. I know that I'm not going to suddenly be able to 'quit my day job' with this venture, most authors can't, but discovering that I've only made two or three sales would be really disappointing. There's a blog post written by an author named Tobias Buckell, in which he talks about some of the realities about self-publishing. Basically, he points out that most books, whether they are self-published or released by a traditional publisher, don't sell well. In other words, there's a very small number of J.K. Rowlings in the world, and a whole lot more S. Andrea Milne's.

To put it another way, I've released The Cure in the hopes of entertaining a few, spreading Nora's story as far as I can, and if I'm lucky, eventually making back the money I put into it (which thankfully, hasn't been a great deal). I'm not in it for fame or glory; I'm more likely to remain obscure and experience heartbreak.

The spreading the word about Nora is tricky. I don't have a large social network to help me get the word out about my book out, but there's been a few surprises in the past few weeks. A couple of people, who I wouldn't have expected it from, have re-shared my posts about The Cure. This is always a nice surprise. I mean, I've got some re-posts from people I would have expected it (Hi Andrew, Michelle, Emma, and Greg!), and I'm extremely grateful for that. It's the people I don't expect it from that make me feel extra special (and consequently like I'm bad friend).

Plus, The Cure is still only available on Kobo, which also limits the number of sales I might be able to make, since it's not as big a retailer of ebooks as say, Amazon (I'm hoping to get The Cure out there before Christmas, but I hit a slight snag on getting my US tax identification number).

As a further note about Kobo, I'm rather disappointed with the 'Related Titles' that appear when you search for my book on the website. Frankly, most of the titles are porn. I contacted Kobo about this matter, but it wasn't resolved with any success. They say the 'Related Titles' list is developed by a title search, and not by genre, but that doesn't explain why I'm seeing what I'm seeing. From the conversation I had, I think this might not be the case if you log in with a Kobo account, but I'm not sure. Ultimately, I have no leverage in the situation, so I just have to deal with it.

That's all for now. I hope to post some more insights into the self-publishing process, and into the characters and plot of The Cure, in the weeks to come.



Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Cure, Q&A: Find the Map

As explained in Diana Wynne Jones's, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, the first thing you should do whenever you begin a fantasy novel is, find the map. Usually it's within the first few pages, just inside the front cover. It tells you everything you need to know about the geography of the fantasy world you're about to submerge yourself in.

The Cure, isn't actually a fantasy novel. I'd term it more a work of speculative fiction, or a dystopian novel. However, there is a map. A map I sketched during a class, no less (the class was definitely during my Masters, possibly a class on digital reference services). Okay, so it may not exactly a map, so much as a blue print, but it will definitely give the reader a better idea of what I imagined the compounds of my world to look like.

The blue print sketch on its own. If I get around to it, I'll try to put together a more technical-looking, computerized blue print with straight lines and what not.
The full page including my calculations for the number of people living in Nu Compound, and therefore how many cubes there needed to be.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Cure, Q&A: The Idea

I always have ideas flittering around in my head. (I have a back log of them right now, but I hope that since I'm now focused on finishing up Nora, that I will get to something new soon.) Sometimes the ideas are just a 'theme' (I want to do something steampunk-ish), or I have a character in mind (I want to write about a girl with green hair, or I want to write about a girl who can fly). From there I ponder about the idea and I just keep going over it until I've come up with something I can work with.

I hate to admit it, but the basic idea for The Cure came from a dream. I hate to say it because famously that's how Stephenie Meyer came up with the premise for the Twilight series. It feels a little passe to say 'My story came to me in a dream', but I suppose that's how many people come up with their ideas (or they hit their heads on toilets, so I guess I'd prefer a non-violent form of inspiration). Then again, I have to credit Stephenie Meyer for getting me writing again after more than a year long hiatus, so maybe I shouldn't be so hard on her.

So, yes. I had this dream where I and a whole bunch of other people were living in a giant airplane hanger. I don't know why we were all living in the airplane hanger, we just were (hey, it was a dream, things don't have to make sense). Everyone had a little space to themselves blocked off by curtains and I was living on the end cube where I could watch people pass by as they went about their business. When I woke up, I thought a lot about the scene in The Muppets Take Manhattan, were they're living in the lockers at the bus terminal. I liked how everyone's locker was representative of their character and how they were all crammed in their together.

And that's how it started. I didn't have characters, I didn't have much of a plot, just the setting. Then I thought and I thought (often at the Edmonton Symphony), and eventually I'd woven myself a web that became the story.



(p.s., if you still haven't purchased yourself a copy of The Cure, you can find it here, on Kobo)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Cure: Available on Kobo

You can purchase a digital copy here: The Cure, on Kobo. Check it out, buy it now, and if you enjoyed my writing, please tell your friends and family.