Discover more from Valerie Valdes Presents: Shenanigans
Shenanigans VII: Shake It Up
Hello all and sundry! It's been a while. The earth turns and tumbles through space. Seasons pass. The bright pumpkins of Halloween give way to the decayed pumpkins of oh my god why haven't you thrown that thing away yet? And still, we endure.
I've said before that I often wait until I feel like I've accumulated a critical mass of things to tell you, and then a newsletter happens. This one is no exception, but moreover, it's overdue, because a lot has happened! So let's catch up.
The third book in my Chilling Effect trilogy came out in August. Fault Tolerance was both fun and difficult to write; it dealt with some heavier themes touched by pandemic feelings, and as the final book (for now at least), it's hard to give characters you love a proper send-off. I think, if nothing else, the end is precisely what one might expect from a series like this one: silly, sweet, salty, and rife with shenanigans. Check it out if you haven't yet, and if you think someone you know might like the books, you can now plunk all three in front of them with no wait in between. Holidays are coming! They're coming for your SOUL.
My next book has begun slouching toward Bethlehem to be born, as the poem goes. Every book starts in a different place, and Where Peace Is Lost arose from a lot of intersecting, complicated feelings about violence and glory, power and privilege, empire and community. It’s a space opera, or if you reach for a less-used label, it’s a planetary romance, a trek across a single planet by a small group of people trying to avert disaster. It has maybe a few more philosophical ruminations than jokes, more quiet moments than explosions, but it’s still an adventure building to an inexorable confrontation. You can check out the blurb and pre-order it now; it should be out sometimes next year.
I don't always have works that are eligible for awards, but when I do, I forget to mention it until it's too late. Not this year! If you're able and inclined to nominate or vote for such things, here's what I've got:
Fault Tolerance (Adult SF Novel)
Chilling Effect (Series)
“Team Building Exercise” (SF short story, Bridge to Elsewhere)
“Working from Home” (F/H short story, Don't Touch That)
I should have two new short stories and the aforementioned novel coming out next year, so stay tuned for those!
At risk of making this newsletter too long, I’m adding a new section you can either skip (because it’s not For You) or skip to (because you have taste interest). I’m calling it “Ruminations” because it sounds less self-effacing than “random thoughts about writing,” which is pretty much what it is. Sometimes it may be long, sometimes it may be short, sometimes it may be so short that it isn’t there at all! Today’s topic: messy middles.
Ever played the game Mouse Trap? In a way, the middle of the novel is a series of choices and dice rolls that lead from one “turn the crank” space to another. Your main characters do things that make stuff happen, action and reaction. Chance occasionally intervenes, or the interventions of antagonists cause unanticipated consequences. Sometimes the heroes get cheese, sometimes they get stuck under a plastic net and have to find a way out. Your job as a writer is to set up the board, to devise the locations of the trap spaces, to manufacture the entire contraption that will engage in its Rube Goldberg-level mechanical process when the crank gets turned.
That said, one way to approach crafting your middle is to come up with these elements, these actions and consequences and obstacles and reactions, and arrange them so that they increase in difficulty and/or complexity. Choose things that both play to the strengths of the characters and highlight their weaknesses. Raise the stakes every time the crank turns—make the consequences of ultimate failure worse, so that success is even more vital. If you want to get fancy, landing on some spaces may toss you into a mini-game that has to be played before you can get back to the main board—more like Mario Party, if you’re into that. Character is choice; put your people into positions where they’re forced to decide between specific options, or they have to throw the world a curve ball. Let your characters fail, but also let them shine!
Does this sound easier than it actually is? Probably. Or maybe it sounds just the right amount of difficult. Maybe you’re staring at all this and trying to figure out how on earth you’re going to make it work. Maybe you and your characters have that in common. Here comes the net!
My feline companions have been vigilant this NaNoWriMo season, and more importantly, they’re getting cold. Sometimes you can supervise best from very, very close to your human.
If you have any questions you'd like me to answer in a blog post or here in the newsletter, you can leave a comment on the Substack page, email me, or find me on the social media site of your preference. Stay safe, and thanks for joining in the shenanigans!