Melina Gunnett

December 9, 2012

Why it takes forever to write a story.

Filed under: Odd Thoughts — Tags: , , , , , — Melina Gunnett @ 8:47 AM’ve been writing for a while now and every time I sit down to write a story it still amazes me how long it takes. I do have other things going on in my life, so they take up part of my time, but even if I put all those distractions aside, it still takes me a while to write even a short story.

I am pretty good at creating characters and, hopefully fairly good at make them come alive on the page. I am also good at creating concepts, those unique little twists that make a setting or situation interesting. Plot is harder for me and the first place a start to lose hunks of time. I can have the most interesting character in the world, but if they don’t do something, why bother writing about them.

I would love to be one of those writers that just puts words down as they go and lets the characters lead them. Maybe some day I will be, but for now I have to outline my plot ahead of time. If I don’t I will end up with 20 pages about my characters trip to the grocery store and the interesting conversation she had with her friend about the latest pop song on the way. By the time the characters get back from the store they won’t have learned anything, they won’t have accomplished much more than acquiring a carton of ice cream and my reader will be off trying to find the amazing pop song that doesn’t exist on youtube.

Once I finally have a plot, I can start to write. This is the easy part – until I hit X. X can be a location, a name, an object… just about anything. The only thing I can say for certain about X is that it will be something I don’t know about. Most of my work is either science fiction of fantasy, so you would think I could just make something up, but you would be amazed how many times it just doesn’t work like that.

For example, the story I just finished writing was pure fantasy, but it was based it our world. My main character was from the past so modern conveniences, like flush toilets, were new to him, or so I thought. I wanted to take a moment for him to marvel at the differences, so I looked up what plumbing was like in his time. That little scene was deleted. It turns out that plumbing in the far past, at least if you had a bit of money, was almost as good as it is today. The Romans had lead pipes that brought water in to their bathrooms and even hot and cold running water was not unknown in some areas.

Another hour disappeared as I tried to figure out what China would have been called 1000 years ago. By the time he got around to staring out a window, I had to wonder wither or not large sheets of glass were really a new thing. At least in that case it turned that it was. They did have some large sheets of glass, but they were expensive and difficult to make so they were used for mirrors. Windows, if they had glass, used smaller pieces and they usually had small imperfections which caused distortion. What I’m trying to say, is no mater what I end up writing about, it seems like I always end up having to do some type of research. (On the up side, I get to find out all kinds of neat trivia.)

Even the things I choose to make up can take time though. Every world has its rules. We have the laws of physics and in a fictional magical based world, there are laws to magic. If I’m making up a world I need to know what they are. Does my character need to know spells? Do they need components for these spells? Can they just think about something and make it happen, if so are there limits?

The answer to that last question, by the way, is a resounding YES. There has to be limits. If there are no limits and the character is all powerful then no one can stand against them and there is no story. Even if they appear to be all powerful there has to be a limit, a weakness, of some sort.

Most of the research and much of the world building takes place as I write. Sometimes I will have to adjust the plot to take in facts or ideas I hadn’t considered when I started, but eventually I manage to string it along into a story. Once I have it all written out on the page – I’m still not done.

Next comes the re-write. This is where I go over the story and marvel at what I have written, usually because I can’t believe that I thought that sentence made sense. There are times when I have had to re-write almost every word, not just the ones that I misspelled, mistyped or left out completely. The thesaurus and I have become very good friends. I would say that I am my own worst critic, but I have beta readers for that.

Beta readers are my wonder, patient, friends and acquaintances that, once I have the story in a form I consider readable, do just that. They read the story for me and get back to me with critiques. No mater how many times I go over my own work, there are things I will miss. By the time I finish a story, I know it. I know my characters background, I know the world the live in, and I know how the think. These wonderful people are a fresh pair of eyes that can read the story and let me know if it someone who doesn’t have all that background information can still understand it. – Oh, and if I am really lucky, they will also catch any technical mistakes I may have missed.

Once I have incorporated any changes I want to make based on my beta readers feedback, I do one last read through to make sure I haven’t missed anything, the I am finally done. I have a story ready to send off into the world.

This is why it seems to take forever to write a story. I know there are some authors out there that can pound out a book an a couple of months. When I first started, I thought I might be able to do that too. Now I am happy if I get at least one, well written, short story out a month. I can hope that, as I gain more experience, the processes will go faster. Only time will tell.


December 3, 2012

And another month fades away.

Filed under: Odd Thoughts — Tags: , , , — Melina Gunnett @ 4:02 AM

So, I have flipped the page on another calendar month. Yeah, the first was yesterday, but I had a lot to do in November, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that it spilled over by a day or so. Amazingly enough I actually got most of the things I really wanted to done.

My job, which I took to help organize my time has been taking up more and more of it, but that’s Okay. I love my job and it is keeping me in coffee. Things will calm down on that front in the next week or so, in the mean time it his really helping me learn my way around Portland.

For those of you who don’t know, I am working as a Mad Scientist. Yes, that is actually my job title. I teach fun, amazing science stuff to elementary school kids as part of an after school program and lately I’ve been doing birthday parties on the weekend. I used to work for the same company in Boston and it is one of the best jobs I’ve had. (And I’ve had some pretty amazing jobs). is my day job, by night (or sometimes morning and, occasionally, even during the afternoon) I am a writer. Lately I have been writing a lot of movie reviews – 8 in the past month. Not a bad way to pass the time. I attend free advance screenings and then let the rest of the world know what I think of the movie.

It has been interesting, trying to find the balance between telling the world my opinion of a movie and not giving away so much that it will spoil the movie for others. Deciding wither or not I like a movie is one thing, figuring out why is another. It means that I have to think about and understand why a plot or a character works and where it breaks down. I think the processes is going to make me a better writer as a whole and I plan to continue. To that end I have spun off a new blog REEL SOON which only contains my movie reviews. You can look forward to review for On the Road and Playing for Keeps this week.

Part of being a writer is writing. In spite of my slightly crazy schedule, it has been a fairly good month. One of my pieces, Of Cats and Coins, sold and will be coming out in an anthology next year (I’ll tell you more about it when I have all the dates and details.) and I finished another piece I have been working on and managed to get it out the door before the submission deadline.

One of the things I hadn’t taken into account is how much research I end up doing for anything that is set in the real world, fiction or not. I’m beginning to realize that only about 20 percent of my writing time is spent writing, but it is almost midnight here and I have to be up and awake tomorrow, so I think I’ll save that for another post. For now I’m off to bed. I need to dream up my next story. 😉

November 1, 2012

Of Resets and Research

Filed under: Odd Thoughts — Tags: , , , , , — Melina Gunnett @ 3:51 PM


Somehow it always seems like everything hits at once. I stopped burning the candle at both ends a couple of weeks ago. It just seemed a lot easier to toss the whole thing in the fireplace at once and go for a complete melt down. By the end of last week I was certainly feeling like a melted pile of wax.

Half the point of start the new job was to have something to focus my schedule around so that I could be more productive. (The other half is that I simply love working with Mad Science – doing birthday parties and teaching the kids after school.) The last several weeks have been centred around getting my science back on – training, starting classes, working out my schedule – and with all the winter movies coming out, there have been a ton of screenings to attended in the evening.

Fortunately, between Halloween and a teacher work day, my schedule caught a break this week and I’ve had a bit of time to catch up on some much needed sleep. This is good. I was in desperate need of a chance to reset my world, figure out a schedule and re-gear my life around it. I’ve even be threatening to do my laundry and sort through my mail.

Aside form catching up on some of the household tasks I’ve also been working on research for a couple of upcoming stories. Normally I enjoy research, and the research I’ve been doing on the Green Man mythos has been a lot of fun, but the research of the other story has had me pulling my hair out.

The second story I’m working on involves a legal trial. That means digging into law books and trying to make enough sense out of the patch work of laws to figure out what legally defines a person as a person. Strangely, there is a law on the books defining what a monster is, but none defining what a human being is.

In many ways the law hasn’t caught up with some of the stuff science can already do (even if it isn’t ethical), I don’t actually expect there to be laws and precedents for what I’m looking for. If there was, it wouldn’t be speculative fiction, it would be non-fiction. I had been counting, especially on there being a bit more to work with though. There have been several cases defining when companies can be considered persons, and with all the legal cases surrounding abortion, I thought there would be something, somewhere about real people.

There was one – but it was overturned as unconstitutional a few years ago. There is probably something out there somewhere. I just need to find it. At least I finally hunted down a decent legal dictionary. I can’t say I’m entirely looking forward to doing more research, mostly because I feel like I’m out of my depth. Maybe I should hunt around for a nice geeky law student willing to explain to me how anyone ever finds the precedents they are looking for among our mess of legal red tape.

Hmmm… red tape doesn’t seem right. It’s more like masking tape – after it has been thrown, piece by piece, into a room full of cats.

At least this weekend is Orycon. I have an excuse to lay low on the research and enjoy myself at the convention. Next week my schedule clock resets and it will be back into a fairly regular schedule. Get up, take care of errands and tasks, teach a class, do some writing. Well, that’s the plan any way…

September 7, 2012

One Thing Leads to Another

Filed under: Odd Thoughts — Tags: , , , , — Melina Gunnett @ 8:01 AM

So, 2,000 dollars later, my car is now fit and ready to roll. I hadn’t planned on spending that much money, but it is a New England car. As anyone from that part of the country knows, that means years of road salt assaulting its undercarriage. I had to replace most of the exhaust system and the entire rust-coated brake system.

I briefly thought about just replacing the car, but after doing a quick search for cars in a comparable price range I gave up on the idea. At least, after spending the money, I know that my car is now in good order and should last me several more years. For $2,000 dollars all I would be able to buy is someone else’s problem, which I would probably have to put in more money to fix anyway. Besides, I like my car.

Unfortunately, the cost put quite a dent in my savings. I decided, now that my book is done, it is time for me to look for a job. Well, a part time job anyway. I still want to have time to write, but I am more productive when I have a structured activity to play my week around. It might as well be something that pays.

My first call was to Mad Science of Portland. I worked for them in Boston and loved it. I’ve had some pretty fun jobs over the years; I worked briefly as a clown, ran lights for a theater company and worked as a disk jockey back in the old days, you know, when DJs actually had some control over what they played. Mad Scientist beats them all.

Not only is in amazingly cool to be able to put “Mad Scientist” down as my job title on forms, the job was fun. I didn’t just get to go talk to kids about science, we got to play with things. Scientists really do have the coolest toys. How many other jobs let you drive around with a Vandergraph generator in the trunk of your car?

That call made, I poked around Cragislist to see if there were any jobs I could do that actually involved writing. Surprisingly, there were several listings. I’ll look into a few more of them tomorrow, but I already sent in an application for one. It doesn’t pay a whole lot, about a penny a word, but it would involve writing various types of articles for… well I’m not sure exactly where they are for. It seems to be a clearing house for places that need articles on “X subject”.

As part of the application process they ask for a sample article to be written on, of all things, wine, wine-tasting, or wine-making. Me being me, my mind immediately went for mead. I could have easily pounded out 400 words on how to make mead, but they wanted the article to be based on a current news article found on the web. Lucky for me Chicago is have a Honey Festival this weekend, which they are conveniently launching with a Mead tasting dinner.

Of course I don’t live anywhere near Chicago, but now my mind is stuck on mead. I was happy to find that we do have a semi-local brewery that makes mead, but, with a little more research, I also found that Portland sports a wide assortment of home-brewing supply stores. I’m sure most, if not all of them specialize in beer brewing – Portlandians lover their beer – but I bet I can can purchase the supplies I need to brew some mead too.

Actually, I already have some of the supplies. While I severely pared down my personal possessions when I moved out west last year, I kept some of the more expensive pieces like my corker. I suspect I can get back up and running for around $50 plus the cost of honey.

Now all I have to do is decide wither I am going to be fiscally responsible and wait until I get some paid work, or run by one of the stores this weekend. Of course, if I start a batch now, maybe it will be done in time to celebrate my first paycheck. So I guess the only real question that remains what type of mead I want to make.

August 27, 2012

The End

Filed under: Odd Thoughts — Tags: , , , , , — Melina Gunnett @ 10:28 PM

It was Oscar Wilde who famously said “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”. For the last few weeks my art – my writing – has been doing its best to be the exception that proves the rule. By now anyone who has been following me knows that I have been having difficulty finishing up tasks. My book, it seems, was having the same problem.

I had originally wanted to have it completed before my move. I worked on it and had the story done, but in desperate need of editing. The life struck with a vengeance. I’ve been pecking away at the editing and, with the help of a few beta readers, managed to get it mostly done by the end of July.

I had hoped, even with the move, tot get it out the door to the publisher by the 1st of August. I almost made it, there were still a few things I felt needed re-working and I needed one last chapter to wrap things up a bit.

The editing I was able to finish up, the last chapter… let’s just say, it was definitely the most difficult chapter in the book. The rest of the story just flowed. I knew what I wanted to happen, I had a time line that it needed to fit and characters. I didn’t get the whole story sent to me in a dream or everything, but what needed to happen next was always, well, what needed to happen next. It worked.

The last chapter didn’t need to happen next. I wasn’t even sure it needed to happen at all and the harder I tried to make something fit, the more I wondered if I should just leave things as they were. I probably would have given up, but I trust the people I had beta reading for me.

It took me almost two weeks to find a thread in the story that had been left hanging. Actually there are a couple, but I deliberately left them hanging – literary fringe that I will use to weave the sequel, which is already half written in my mind. Even once I had my thread I still struggled. I wanted to make the chapter a wrap up, not a new adventure.

In the end, finish up the book came down to the same thing it did in my real life, sitting my but in the chair and doing it. It took a couple of days of false starts and re-writes, but eventually the words landed on the page in an order I could live with. Best ending ever? Doubtful, but it was an ending and the book finally went into the (e)mail to the publisher.

I missed all my other self-fabricated deadlines, but I made my final firm dead line. The book had to be finished by my birthday or put on the shelf. I managed to send it off the day before, leaving me the chance to relax and enjoy the day guilt free.

Now I should have time to move on to the other projects that have cluttering up my desktop and start hacking down my “to be read” pile. I suppose it is time for another ‘to-do’ list, as I am sure there are things I have been letting slip while I worked on this. Hopefully Mr. Wilde will prove correct and I can find a way to tie up the loose ends in my life and get them finished as I did with the book.

July 16, 2012

Fakin’ it

Filed under: Odd Thoughts, Photographs — Tags: , , , , , , — Melina Gunnett @ 7:15 PM

Today is Monday, the start of a new week. My motto for this week: “Fake it ’til you make it.” I figure if I pretend to be a responsible adult all week, I might actually accomplish all the things a responsible adult would. So far, so fail.

I had it all planned out when I went to bed last night.  I was going to get up as soon as my alarm went off this morning, shower, eat breakfast, check my mail and be sitting in front of my computer getting some work done by noon. How hard could that be? I mean noon – some people’s work day is half over by then. I even set my alarm before I fell asleep.

Fail! 10am came and went while I was still comfortably tucked into my blankets.  Apparently the alarm doesn’t work very well if I have the volume turned off.  I didn’t even have the vibrate mode turned on (the low, rumbling, electronic growl is usually enough to wake me up). The only reason I even woke up before noon was because Asimov (the dog not the writer) was barking loudly outside my door.

I almost rolled over and went back to sleep. Okay, I tried to, but he just kept barking. I finally barked back that “someone better be strangling kittens outside my door or I was going to make him into a bath mat” and got up.

Asimov Burns

You moved, it’s my bed now.

No one was strangling kittens.

Yet somehow, instead of decorating my bathroom floor, I ended up with a little white dog curled up, tail wagging, on my bed. It was just too early to maintain my annoyance, or was it?

That’s when I looked at my clock. The alarm had been going off for 15 minutes.  I just hadn’t heard it because the volume was turned off. (Yes I’m claiming it was OFF, not just turned all the way down and playing so softly that only the dog could hear it thus explaining why he was barking loudly at my door. No one was strangling kittens, he does not get an excuse.)

Of course, now the dog was on my bed being quiet, cute and needed to be snuggled. (Yes, I know I’m a sucker, unfortunately so does he.) I knew I needed to get up, get showered, put on coffee… I also knew I should not be taking my turns in all my scrabble games, playing solitaire until I finally won a game, or finishing the game of Peggle I had left open on my computer.  Guess what I chose?

Yeah, I had already started to lose my battle to be part of the responsible adult world. There are so many things I needed to be doing and so many, far more fun, things that I could be doing. I am capable of being a responsible person, really I am.  I am just easily distracted when I don’t have someone else to be responsible to or for. That is the whole point of this “fake it ’til I make it” week, learning to be responsible to and take care of myself.

My ability to find something distracting in a empty room is one of the main reasons the project has been a fail so far, but it is still early in the day and the week has just begun. I still have time to redeem myself. While I didn’t make it by noon, I did manage to have to start writing by 1pm. I may not be exactly on my planned schedule, but my butt is in the chair and not playing games or watching movies. It is a start.

I even managed to do some of the stuff I had planned to do before I sat down to write today.  Well, sort of… I am showered and dressed, even if my hair is a slowly drying tangle because I haven’t brushed it. I have eaten, even if it was a slice of cold pizza instead of coffee and eggs on toast. Now I am writing, even if it is a blog post instead of rewriting the last 11 pages of the book so I can do a final edit and turn it in.

Tomorrow is going to be the real test. My official move in date was two weeks ago and there is a whole list of things that any reasonably responsible adult would have already done, like: Changing my address, driver’s license, car registration, insurance, voters registration, bank, library… I haven’t done any of it yet. I also have a list of things I have been putting off because of the move, like: new eyeglasses, a hair cut, legal stuff involving the land in CA, checking on the lease in MA, finding an agent to sell the land in VT…

I really need to consider breaking that list into at least two days worth of errands before I have a panic attack.  I suppose actually making a list of everything that needs to be done would be a good idea too, but I that can wait for tomorrow.  Right now it would just another form of procrastination. I know what I’m supposed to be doing today and making a list isn’t part of it.

It is time to stop finding things to sidetrack myself and get things done like a responsible adult. I’m going to fake it ’til I make it baby! — I just need to keep going, ignore any distractions, and get it done. I can do this!

Is it cheating if I go make coffee first?

*Just a little note for my friends who love animals and/or take things too literally.  No you don’t have to call PETA or send me instructions on the proper skinning and tanning of animal hides.  While I grumble about and often threaten the little white dog with a Botox injection to his voice box, what I usually end up doing to him is pretty much what I did with him this morning.  I took him out for a short walk around the complex, played with him for a few minutes and gave him a marrow bone to chew on.  Did I mention he was spoiled?

June 2, 2012

Boring can be good.

Filed under: Odd Thoughts — Tags: , , — Melina Gunnett @ 5:44 PM

I know I have been ignoring this blog lately. I just haven’t felt like I had a whole lot to write about.  My life, at least to me, has been fairly boring.  I spend most of it reading, writing and watching TV.

Don’t get me wrong – boring can be good.  Last year was full of excitement and travel.  This summer is going to have more travel and, while I’m looking forward to it, it was really nice to take a break. Boring has given me a chance to get some writing done.  Boring has given me time to get to know my godson, boring has let me clear the deck of at least some of the books and movies I had been meaning to get to for ages.  In short – boring has been kind of fun.

I still have another week or so of boring.  I finished Myrtle’s first book and I am almost through the first round of editing.  Once I am done with that I get to start packing.  Yeah I’m moving again.  A much shorter trip this time, just down to Portland.

Sometime between book end and move I want to get around to visiting Canada, go up to Mt. Rainier and drive over to Forks to take a picture in my ——— shirt.  Hey I’m not going to tell you know. You’ll see the picture in a few weeks.

In the mean time, I need to get back to editing. I’ll talk to you soon.

Oh yeah, one more thing before I go.  I’m spreading the Kiva cheer.  At the moment they have sponsors who are paying for new users first loans.  This is I have been doing micro loans through them for a while now and it is awesome.  When one person repays a loan and you can send the money back out into the world to help someone else (or have it returned to you).  Right now, you don’t even have to cough up any money for the first loan, some anonymous business is doing it. So….






Yeah, I’m pushing it, because its AWESOME!!!

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