Two Pages Tell a Story

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By Hana Carpenter (Flickr CC)

Today’s guest is Yona Zeldis McDonough, the award-winning author of six novels, most recently You Were Meant for Me. She is also the author of twenty-three books for children and she’s the editor of two essay collections. Of today’s post, Yona says: “I have written six novels and I want to share some of what I have learned along the way.  Writing a novel is a like being a long distance runner—you have to have endurance. I believe what I have to say on the topic will be useful to other writers.”

“With a deft, sure touch, Yona Zeldis McDonough explores the ways families are formed and how love can take you by surprise. An absorbing and soul-stirring novel.” — Christina Baker Kline, #1 NYT bestselling author of Orphan Train

Yona lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with her husband, two children (18 and 23), and “two small, yappy Pomeranians.” You can find her on Facebook and on her website where she loves to connect with readers.

Two Pages Tell a Story

I started my writing career by writing short fiction, and the short story remains a form I still love to read and write. Writing a piece of short fiction offers its own particular kind of joy to its author: a story is like a baby you hold in your arms. You can see every little bit of it at the same time; you can keep it close to your heart. It communicates with you simply and directly. It is, in a word, a seamless whole.

But a novel is a whole different animal. If a short story is a babe in arms, a novel is like a grapefruit balanced on the back of an ant. The load is enormous and progress is predictably slow. A novel is big, unwieldy and sprawling; you can’t hold in your arms; in fact, you can’t hold it at all. Instead you have to shape it, direct it, beat it into submission. And unlike a story, you can’t sit down and power your way through it. No, a novel requires the endurance, stamina and patience of the long distance runner. Only the most devoted and patient practitioners will succeed and thrive.

Yet I had a novel I wanted—and needed—to write; how was I going to overcome the obstacles inherent in the nature of the form itself and get it done? I wasn’t looking for a magic bullet—I knew that nothing could replace the hard work and sustained concentration that novel writing required. I was just looking for a little boost along the way, something to help get me through the forest and out into the clearing.

I thrashed around for a while and stumbled on to the answer almost by chance. Continue Reading »

Gender Bias: Fact or Fiction?

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By Flickr’s Michael Coghlan

Lest you think I’m a “man-hating feminist,” let me assure you I am not. In fact, I like to think that in my day-to-day life mine is a pretty equal world—all things considered. But when I hear things that make me think that women aren’t equal (for whatever reason), I pay attention. And we’ve all seen the tweets about gender inequality in the publishing industry: the rumors (and more) that men are more published than women; that more men’s books are reviewed than women’s books; even that there are better roles for women than men in movies.

It’s something I acknowledge—it’s there—but to be honest, I never really give it much thought on a daily basis. I certainly never let it preoccupy my time. And it would never, ever discourage me from writing. And so I’ve never considered blogging about it… until three things happened, three things that brought it into focus, that made me want to find out more.

Those three things.

  1. My latest WIP. One of my beta readers was an Army veteran who was incredibly helpful in my research about the Vietnam War. When I gave him my manuscript to read, he said, “This is the first book I’ve ever read that was written by a woman.” The first book he’d ever read that was written by a woman. (He’s over 70, and he’s a big reader.) That was troubling enough. But what he said next really gave me pause: “I’m afraid I won’t be able to relate.” Because it was written by a woman.
  1. A casual comment by a friend. We were talking about one of my main characters—a man—and she asked me, “How would you even know how to write from a man’s point of view?” That surprised me. She surprised me. How would I know? Are male writers asked the same thing? Do you think Jeffrey Eugenides’s friends ask him how he knows how to write from an intersex POV? How would he even know how to do that? I never answered my friend, by the way. Not because I was offended. But I just didn’t know how.
  1. Something I read about Gone Girl—the movie. No, this post won’t become about Gone Girl. In fact, I’ll just come out and say it: I wasn’t a huge fan of the book or the movie, but that’s not the point. The point is that the article about Gone Girl (on Forbes.com) made me like it a whole lot more. That Gone Girl has an abundance of strong female characters—characters with real substance—and the story passes the Bechdel Test, which is (surprisingly) unusual in today’s movie industry. (That said, I do find other aspects of the novel/movie problematic for feminism and our world in general.)

A movie passes the Bechdel Test if it “features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added.”

What’s the Bechdel Test?

I’ll admit I’d never heard of the Bechdel Test until I read the article. So I looked it up. It’s not without its critics, by the way, but according to Wikipedia, a movie passes the Bechdel Test if it “features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added.”

There’s a test. Hmmm. My first thought was to wonder if there was a similar test for male characters (more about that later). My second thought was how ridiculous. Continue Reading »

Pre-Writing: Discovering Your Character’s Secrets

Alice Popkorn, Flickr Creative Commons

Alice Popkorn, Flickr Creative Commons

I know a lot of you out there are gearing up for NaNoWriMo, and while you’re not allowed to begin your story until November 1, you are allowed to do pre-writing on your project, and frankly, I think pre-writing is highly undervalued, so I thought I’d talk about it this month.

The reason I’m a big believer in pre-writing is because until I have a glimmer of understanding of my character’s emotional landscape and internal settings, I don’t know what sorts of story events will challenge them. I don’t understand what sorts of interaction will push them to their limits, make them question everything, make them dig deep or lay them bare.

In the pre-writing stage, we’re gathering the materials and ingredients we will use to build our story. Pre-writing is where we discover the character’s juiciness and crunch, their texture and heft.

I get that some people do this in early drafts, and I use to be one of them, but more and more I have begun to take the time to learn this in pre-writing and thus save myself a number of unfruitful drafts. The other thing that can happen is that if we don’t have enough knowledge of our characters so we can truly challenge them, we run the risk of the story petering out. My archives at home are full of stories that simply ran out of gas. One of the biggest reasons stories peter out is due to not enough conflict or depth. If you dig deep enough, there is conflict to be found in the recesses of your character’s psyche. Pre-writing can help figure that out early on to help avoid dead ends and running out of juice.

If the question is Why should the reader care? the answer is often hidden in the backstory.

Pre-writing is all about backstory, which informs the characters and story taking place just as surely as the contours of the earth’s crust influences its landscape.

The backstory is what clues the reader in to why THIS event is so cataclysmic for THIS character. Why this hurdle has the potential to flatten her. Why this relationship is so critical to her well being. Why this situation she finds herself in will force her to grow or change in terrifying new ways.

Of course, the challenging part is once we know all this backstory, how do we weave it into the unfolding story as seamlessly as possible. The key to this is through the way the characters view the world—if they are optimistic or pessimistic, trusting or cynical, driven or lazy. It shows up in how they react to and interact with others. It informs and colors all their relationships—both with the people and the world around them. For example, some people relish interpersonal conflict, others avoid it, while some placate or respond in a passive aggressive manner. Do you know how your character responds to interpersonal conflict? Do you know why she responds that way?

In the pre-writing stage, we’re getting to know the intimate contours of our characters and hauling up the ingredients we will use to build our story. Knowing these sorts of things can really help you avoid floundering as you write the first draft.

If you think about it, we all have traumas and wounds, some small and some large. We begin accruing these at an early age and some of them have the power to greatly color how we view ourselves and our place in the world. Just as a physical wound leaves scar tissue, so too do our psychological and emotional wounds.

So how did your character’s wounds and scar tissue skewer her belief about herself? Her role in the world? How others would always perceive her? Does she leap into the fray or hang back, needing to be pushed or nudged? If so, what does it take to push her?

Continue Reading »

A Reader’s Manifesto: 12 Hardwired Expectations Every Reader Has

As I gear up for the Writer Unboxed Un-Conference next month (woo hoo!), I thought it might be helpful to revisit some of the basic story tenets that I’ve been writing about here for the past two years (sheesh, time doesn’t fly, it vaporizes!) Often these tenets don’t come from the writing world, but rather, they’re set by what your reader’s brain expects. Writers sometimes balk at this – after all some of it flies in the face of what is taught in the writing world. Besides, it’s easy to believe that story doesn’t need to be learned. After all, no one ever had to tell you what a story is when you’re reading one. But you have to admit, when it comes to writing a story, suddenly it isn’t quite so clear. Why is that?

We’re hardwired to come to every story tacitly asking one question: what am I going to learn that will help me make it through the night?

One of the main reasons is because what actually hooks a reader is very different from what we’ve been led to believe. It’s even very different from what seems logical, clear and obvious – which is that readers are hooked by the beautiful writing, the clever plot, the fresh voice, and so on and so forth. All those things are great, no denying it, but they’re not what readers come for. Those elements simply give voice to it – they’re the surface, the conduit. Readers come for what goes on beneath the surface. We’re hardwired to come to every story tacitly asking one question: what am I going to learn that will help me make it through the night? We’re looking for useful intel on how to navigate situations we haven’t yet been in, and new ways of looking at those we have. As a result, there’s a set of specific expectations by which we unconsciously evaluate every story — expectations that have nothing to do with being able to “write well.”

But articulating what, exactly, we’re responding to when we read a story isn’t easy, because it’s not something we had to learn, the same way we didn’t have to learn how to enjoy chocolate or how to feel pain when we skin our knee. Being enthralled by a story just happens. It’s not something we think about, because it’s part of our standard operating package – we roll out of the factory with this wiring already in place.

The good news is that we can decode what we’re wired to respond to in every story we hear. We can learn what triggers the surge of dopamine that biologically pushes the pause button on real life, letting us get lost in the world of the story. And once we do that, we can create a story that lures a reader in as surely as a trail of crumbs in the woods.

Here, then, is a reader’s manifesto – twelve hardwired expectations that every reader has for every story they hear, whether they are consciously aware of it or not. Meet these expectations, and readers won’t be able to put your novel down. Continue Reading »

We Are All So Weird

3768314626_542d324691_mI am so weird. In fact, if I wrote a list of all the ways I am weird, you’d be reading until January. And that list would only include the weirdness I recognize. Add to that list the things my husband and children find weird? You’d be reading until 2017.

As for you, my friend? You’re weird too. Maybe you’re not quite as weird as I, but let’s face it; you’re pretty weird. I know this because each and every one of us humans is weird. We all think weird thoughts and do weird stuff and like weird things. I know, I know. You didn’t know that I was weird. Or that Jay, the guy you work with, is living in some kind of fantasy world, believing he can re-win the affection of his one true love. Nor did you know that Anastasia, the woman who lives in the apartment above you, kind of likes it kinky. Or that Harry, the guy who works in the deli department, actually has a secret other life, one where he assumes the identity of a powerful wizard. You didn’t know any of that because humans are all quite good at concealing at least 90% of their weirdness, at least in public. I, for example, wouldn’t dance with my cat in public, cradling him like a big, fat, bad-breathed baby, while singing “Sweet Little Kitty Kitty Face,” a song I made up. No I wouldn’t. If I did, you might think I was weird.

But that’s just goofy-weird, right? What about our darker weirdnesses, the thoughts and fantasies and habits we conceal from 100% of the world, maybe even from ourselves?  I understand why we are so worried about revealing our weirdness, but it makes me sad that we are. It also makes me grateful that we have fiction.

With fiction we can explore our true selves in the privacy of someone else’s–Jay’s or Anastasia’s or Harry’s–story. As we are privy to the darkness, failure, and moral ambiguity in the lives of fictional characters, we feel less isolated in our weirdness. Fiction normalizes weirdness. With a good piece of fiction, a reader reaches the end and thinks, Yes, this author has told the truth. He has told a truth about me. About something I thought no one else felt.

Continue Reading »

Un-Conference Countdown: Houston, We Have a Schedule!

Writer Unboxed Un-Conference Schedule

CLICK TO ENLARGE

In 27 days, on November 3rd, many of us will be swooping down on Salem, MA, and settling in for a week of unboxed craft talk, community building, and writing. To say we’re excited would be a vast understatement.

Present during the week will be a number of WU contributors, and though not all will be leading sessions, many will.

Don sessionPromised sessions and workshops:

  • Wired for Story workshops with Lisa Cron (how to tell a story your readers are wired to love)
  • Voice workshops with Meg Rosoff (finding your self and your subject)
  • 21st Century Fiction full-day workshop with Donald Maass (writing personally; constructing the inner journey; bonding reader to protagonist; storybuilding; micro-tension; creating “beautiful” writing; secondary emotions; telling not showing revealed; defining and using story purpose; more)
  • Setting as Character workshop with Brunonia Barry and Liz Michalski (with exercises in the historic Hooper Hathaway House)
  • Method Writing with Brunonia Barry (borrowing from method acting to learn more about your characters)
  • The Comic Toolbox with John Vorhaus (how to write funny even if you’re not)
  • First Pages Analyses with Ray Rhamey (submit your first pages or learn from others)
  • Lessons in Criticism with Porter Anderson (when to listen and what to hear)
  • Hating on the Draft with Catherine McKenzie and Heather Webb (lose your confidence and get it back again)
  • Writing Through Hard Times with Kathleen McCleary (including the D WordDepression)
  • Perseverance with Jael McHenry and Therese Walsh (how to write on, even when you think you can’t; stories from the trenches)
  • and more!

There are also planned evening activities–help for troubled stories in Book Therapy (discuss your writerly hangups in a group setting); bedtime stories (bring your manuscript and share a segment); and maybe, just maybe, a poker game with John Vohaus. But that’s just a rumor.

Due to a generous donation, the first 6 people to register can take $100 off the cost of the ticket. Use the code at Eventbrite while it lasts: 6unboxed

Though time is ticking down and space is filling, there is still time to register and 11 seats remain.

Interested? Learn more about the Un-Conference and the Rock, Paper, Scissors concept HERE, and register for the event HERE. Have questions? Email writerunboxedunconference.

What if you can’t take a week off of work, but you’d still like to see everyone and join in on a session?

We have the perfect solution for you.

Continue Reading »

Seeking Immersion Conversion

photo by Marc-Olivier Maheu

“As a reader you recognize that feeling when you’re lost in a book, right? You know the one – when whatever’s going on around you seems less real than what you’re reading and all you want to do is keep going deeper into the story… Well, if you’re writing that book it’s real for you too.” ~Sara Sheridan

Lost and Loving It: I’m with Sara Sheridan. I love getting lost in a book—totally immersed in the world of story. For me the feeling includes losing track of time and of what else is going on around me; not wanting to stop and anticipating getting back to it between sessions; being left with a wonderfully dazed feeling at the end, and then reminiscing about it long afterward. At its best, an immersive read makes everything else fade from conscious thought. It’s like being in one of those sensory deprivation tanks, except all of your senses are tuned in to story. Even the physical book disappears—pages are turned by rote. In fact, one of the primary reasons I write is in an effort to replicate the immersive experience others have provided for me.

It’s not quite as straightforward as it is with reading, but on my best writing days I come very near to achieving total immersion. Very early on I found that, like Sheridan, I am readily able to lose myself in my own work. On these days I can very clearly see and feel my story-world, from whichever character’s perspective I am writing. It’s all so real.

I suspect that achieving this state results in some of my most original work. Besides, it can be a real rush! It’s what hooked me on this crazy-making gig, and it keeps me coming back.

Wading through, Floating Downstream, or Diving Deep? I’ve read quite a few wonderful books this year, but I’ve noticed that not all of them have provided me with the immersive experience I am describing. Some books are well-written, funny or sad, and even fast-paced, and yet I am not immersed. It’s more like being led along by story than being lost in story. Some make me feel like I’m wading through—they’re not deep, but the course to the destination is clear enough. And others feel more like tubing downstream—a lovely ride with periodic rapids, often with very pleasant scenery. These stories can be entertaining and relaxing, but they don’t provide an immersion experience.

“A good book should leave you slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading it.” ~William Styron

There have also been a few that I suspect would be considered less well-written, and yet I am totally willing to dive in and be lured into the layered depths of story. The best, of course, are those that accomplish both—lyrical writing as well as a compelling lure to go deep. I love it when, as Styron describes, I am left exhausted once I’ve surfaced. A book like that is satisfying in ways that are obviously beyond being entertaining or relaxing.

Inconsistent Immersion Provider: Continue Reading »

Take Charge of Your Author Business: 5 Aspects to Consider

photo by Éole Wind

photo by Éole Wind

We’re thrilled to have Joanna Penn back with us today. She’s an author, speaker, and entrepreneur, and was voted one of the Guardian UK Top 100 creative professionals 2013. Her latest book, Business for Authors: How to be an Author Entrepreneur, is out now in ebook, print and audio. Joanna’s website, The CreativePenn.com, is regularly voted one of the top sites for authors and self-publishers. Writing as J.F.Penn, Joanna is also a New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author.

Follow Joanna on her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter!

Take Charge of Your Author Business: 5 Aspects to Consider

Writing for the love of it or to create something beautiful on the page is absolutely fantastic. But if you want your writing to pay the bills, you need to start thinking of it as a business. You need to think of yourself as an entrepreneur. Here are some definitions to begin with:

A writer is someone who writes.

An author is someone who writes a book, however that is defined these days.

An entrepreneur creates value from ideas.

So, an author-entrepreneur takes each book much further, exploiting the multiple opportunities and value in one manuscript and creating a viable business from the ideas in their head. (How cool is that?)

If you want to take the next step into being an author-entrepreneur, here are five things to consider:

(1) Reframe all parts of your business as creative

“I just want to write. I don’t want to do all the other stuff.

These words are a constant refrain at writing events, but they can never be the reality of the author’s world anymore. Perhaps they never were. However you publish, you have to pay attention to marketing, and you have to connect with readers. You should certainly care about how your books are distributed and how the finances work.

Business is perhaps the ultimate creativity. You are potentially creating something huge in the world from nothing more than the human mind. Wow! So if you want to be an author-entrepreneur running a viable business, then it will help to reframe all aspects as creative.

Business as an author is about writing, of course, but it’s also production and distribution, customer service, sales and marketing, technology, financial accounting, strategy, and planning. If you think of those things as negative, then you will never be a happy or successful author-entrepreneur. You can hire experts to help you, but you need to understand how the business as a whole hangs together. If you love creating and you love to learn, then reframing your business activities as creative will transform the way you work!

Continue Reading »

9 Easy & Inexpensive Ways to Promote Your Audiobook

Photo by The Preiser Project.

Photo by The Preiser Project.

Back in July, I wrote a post about my reluctant journey into the seemingly overwhelming world of audiobook production and the lessons I learned along the way. I shared my advice for choosing a narrator and selecting the right royalty structure, and warned of some production perils to avoid. Many of you responded to that post with questions about how to market an audiobook. As a former corporate marketeer, your interest in this side of things got me excited— probably because my friends’ eyes glaze over when I say words like “metadata” or “demographics”—so I’ve returned today to address the issue.

As an independent author and publisher, I’m constantly faced with the challenge of how to compete in a crowded marketplace with titles that have big budgets and entire publicity teams behind them. Many shy away from the challenge, chalking it up as impossible, but I’ve learned that you can reach readers without spending big money; you just have to be creative.

Here are nine easy and inexpensive ideas you can try right away…

1. Reviews

Just as there are reviewers for print and e-books, there are reviewers who specialize in audiobooks. There are traditional publications, like AudioFile Magazine, which is published in print and digital formats and is dedicated solely to audiobooks, as well as a host of audiobook review blogs that are always looking for new titles. These reviewers can be found with a simple Google search or by perusing directories like the Book Blogger directory, Indie View, or the Book Blogger List.

Don’t forget about your own fan base. If you’ve produced your audiobook with ACX, then you will receive 25 promo codes that you can use to give away free copies of your audiobook in exchange for a review.

>Tip: As stellar reviews come pouring in, re-post them on your social sites to help spread the good word.

2. Interviews

Reach audiobook enthusiasts using other audio formats, like radio and podcasts. There are thousands of radio stations and podcasts that offer a variety of programs, which are often looking for guests and experts. Think about the subjects explored in your audiobook and how they could translate into an interesting discussion or interview. Then, identify a list of shows that would benefit from having you as a guest and pitch yourself to the shows’ producers.

For example, my audiobook, Empty Arms, explores teen pregnancy, forced adoptions, sealed records, and their devastating impact on an entire generation of women, so I’ve been targeting programs that deal with women’s issues.

To find radio shows that might be a good fit for your subject matter, check out the Radio Locator database. It’s a useful tool that allows you to search for radio stations by geography or format and then connects you to each station’s website, where you can learn about upcoming show topics and find the producer’s contact information.

For podcasts, visit the Podcasts section of the iTunes store and try searching for different keywords related to your book. You’ll be surprised at the number of shows you find. (Here’s an interview I scored over at The BookCast.)

>Tip: It can be time-consuming to monitor all of the publicity opportunities out there. You might find it useful to subscribe to Radio Guest List, a free booking service that sends you a daily e-mail with current radio, podcast, and television publicity opportunities.

Continue Reading »

Advice From My Authors

Jean Henrique Wichinoski

Flickr Creative Commons: Jean Henrique Wichinoski

I’ve spent the last year offering agent advice on Writer Unboxed—everything from writing query letters to maintaining an open and productive working relationship with your representative. As I sit down today, I fear I may be fresh out of wisdom of my own, but as I think of some of the best advice I’ve learned during my 15 years in the business, it’s advice I’ve learned from the amazing group of authors I am lucky enough to work with every day.  Whether they are on their first or tenth book, these men and women continue to teach me things about both the business and the craft of writing—and as I look at this list below, general tenants in which to live your life–each and every day. So without further ado, advice from my authors:

Slow Down. We are always being told to write faster, publish quicker, tweet more and sleep less. Okay, I added the last bit, but with all the focus on the “noise” authors are asked to make for their books, I sometimes wonder when they are supposed to sleep.  I’ve had long conversations about this breakneck speed with several of my authors, who have simply decided that it’s not for them and that they are both happier and more productive when focusing on writing and the rest of their private lives.

Don’t Rush Others. This could fall into a subset of slowing down, but needs repeating.  I represent a former editor who told me in the midst of auctioning his book that he wanted me to slow down and give editors time to really consider the book. There is a strategy in having a quick sale but he, rightly so, reminded me that it takes time for an entire house– from editor to publisher to sales and publicity–to make a decision about a book. They need to truly consider not just whether they like it but how they they publish it. And being the fastest to the plate doesn’t necessarily mean you are the best. Continue Reading »

History and Magic

Lion statue, Tarquinia

Lion statue, Tarquinia

Recently I attended the Historical Novelists Association annual conference, this year held in London. It was a great weekend with plenty of lively and informative sessions, though slightly more aimed at the aspiring writer than I’d expected. Highlights for me were a workshop on Battle Tactics and a panel entitled Confronting Historical Fact with the Unexplained: from myths & the occult to fairytales & the Gothic, chaired by Kate Forsyth.

Initially I felt a little out of place at this conference, since I write historical fantasy rather than straight historical fiction. However, anyone who writes in my genre can tell you that the historical research still needs to be done, and done thoroughly. A novel containing fantasy elements should be consistent to its time and culture, whether that time and culture are historical, imaginary or some blend of the two. (Many fantasy stories have a setting closely resembling medieval Europe. Also popular are settings suggesting the Victorian era.) The story may be brimful with fey beings, weird magic and humans with unusual powers, but woe betide the author who includes New World vegetables in quasi-medieval England, or gives an army the wrong weapons or a village band the wrong instruments. Readers are quick to point these errors out.

The conference sessions on research were as useful to me as they were to the writers of straight historical novels. A historical fantasy should be built on a strong foundation of known fact. The writer should become as familiar as she can with the time and culture that provides the basis for the story’s world. And, of course, the writer must also know her magical or uncanny framework, the ‘Otherworld’ side of the history. In my books, that Otherworld springs from the probable beliefs of the people who would have lived in that time and culture, whether it is the north of Britain in the Pictish era, Anglo-Norman Ireland or Norway at the time of the Vikings. I haven’t always got it right; I’ve learned from my errors.

At the HNS conference there was some discussion about which periods are currently most popular in historical fiction. What would your guess be?

Continue Reading »

Pin Connections and the Two Journeys

craig sefton

Flickr Creative Commons: Craig Sefton

I spend a lot of time in airports.  Wait around as much as I do and you begin to admire airport design.  Think the TWA Terminal at JFK, Terminal B at SJC, the International Terminal at SFO, the passenger arrival canopy at PDX, or the mountain range roof of DEN.

Gorgeous.  High.  Open.  Airy.  Look up and you’re already in flight.

Look a bit closer, though, and you may also feel afraid.  The structural components that support these architectural confections do not inspire confidence.  What, really, is holding these buildings up?

Now, shop-welded and field-bolted shear connections I understand.  These are the trustworthy plates and flanges that connect steel columns and beams, transferring the bearing load and resisting rotation and bending “moment”.  They’re rigid.  Strong.

Contemporary design, however, values visible structural elements.  Architects want the skeletons of airports to look lightweight.  Also in consideration are assembly ease and a tolerance for slightly variable element lengths.  In layman terms, if you want passengers to fly before they walk across the jetway you’ve got to work with fasteners that are cooler than clunky old shear connections.

Enter the pin connection.

A pin connection is a fastener between two structural steel elements, which in airports often are tubes.  Imagine an elbow joint.  In building terms that means a lapped-type connection involving a U-shaped clevis through which a “pin” (a bolt) passes.  It is this pin that holds two structural pieces together.

It’s the “pin” that worries me, especially when that pin supports the building’s entire bearing load as in a base connection.  Stick with me here.  Think about it.  The whole weight of the airport is resting on the architectural equivalent of the bolt and nut like one that you keep in a glass jar on your basement workbench.

I mean, seriously?  The entire weight of a roof is resting on a little bolt?  Those must be some strong bolts.  And, of course, they are.  They have to be.  I’ve yet to be in an airport when the roof collapsed.  Structural engineers know what they’re doing.

Thus, I don’t really need to worry.  A pin connection is as reliable a way to join steel as is the old-fashioned flange.  The airport roof will stay up.  I can enjoy my latte and laptop in ease.  The airport is securely fastened together.  It’s okay to look up.  It’s safe to fly.

So what, you ask, does this have to do with writing fiction?  Ah. Continue Reading »