Pull and Ebb

Coffee.

I just want coffee. Caffeine. Warmth! Energy!

Please, dear god, don’t let there be a line. I trudged through the snow, head down, one mittened hand covering my face against the artic chill in the air, the other hand grasping my lap top bag weighing me down like an anchor. It was my fervent hope to grab a table and thaw out with some writing time and a large cup of dark chocolate cherry espresso before moving on to the boring work stuff. I would have stayed home except dark chocolate cherry was worth a bit of frost bite.

I grasped the handle of my salvation and bring my eyes up to face the lights, blinking back tears from the windy assault. Ahhhh, the smell of ambrosia. There was a line but there were tables free so I grabbed one and piled my stuff on top of it, hiding my bag under my ginormous coat and assortment of cold weather accessories. I scanned the loiterers, looking for any suspicious lap top grabbers. Everyone seemed to ignore my presence, absorbed in their own conversations and tasks so I felt safe enough to get in line. I was close enough to the door that I could tackle anyone trying to steal my property anyway.

Should I try something new? I wonder, looking at the menu. They have a white chocolate caramel…nah too sweet. I could get a S’more ice blended coffee. Ooohhhh I wonder how they get the marshmallow flavor in there? I wonder if they can make it hot? Maybe I’ll splurge and get some mini donuts too or a croissant. Can’t write on an cold and empty stomach.

I bring my hand up to warm them with my breath, subtly bopping to the coffee shop groove when I hear a noise. There are lots of noises in the shop and really I shouldn’t have been able to hear this noise over everything else. I shouldn’t have been able to hear this noise again EVER in my life. But my ears were acutely tuned to it, trained for years to respond to it like a Pavolvian Dog. It was a raspy cat meow coming from the voice box of a human, loud enough to be heard over a crowd. It was a call; a call to ME to come hither and serve.

I hated how my spine stiffened, the way it always did in response and I just barely prevented my head from swiveling around to locate the owner of the annoying proclivity. Nope, I think. Nope, of all the towns in all the states, it’s impossible. It was a ring tone notification, I told myself. A cat meow to throw people off. Relax! I stepped forward purposefully and gave the coffee barista a big smile, swallowing the lump in my throat and ordering my coffee, a banana and three mini donuts.

Rrraneow! It came from my left, farther away by the window. Not a ring tone. No one would put that obnoxious noise on their phone. It would put their teeth on edge after the first day. Or maybe they would think its adorable and endearing like I once did. Fools. I swiped my card after collecting my treats and stepped out of line. Shit, I had toward the noise to get my drink. My heart drummed a staccato rhythm against my ribs and my eyes furtively swept the area. I felt a simultaneous stab to my gut and my back when I saw her familiar hazel eyes staring right at me.

At first I didn’t recognize her. Gone was the long coppery brown hair tied back with barrettes and jeweled head bands and in its place was a red curl that looked wrong with her tan skin. It was too brassy, making her look sallow and ill. She would have looked better with a wine color or burgundy to make her eyes pop and bring out her natural tan. I self-consciously swept a stray pink tinted lock behind my ear. But who cared? Making the wrong choices was always her forte.

The barely-there tank top she wore (that hadn’t changed in the least) exposed smooth skin that was now covered in colorful tattoos. I recognized her art style in some of them. When she stood, her paint splattered shorts nearly exposed her lady bits they rose so high up her legs. It  made me wonder if she still didn’t wear panties. Yikes for her then. I saw that most of her legs and thighs had been inked as well. She must be doing well for herself then because that was well over a two grand in ink. But I guess if she ended up in a ditch somewhere then someone could identify her by her tats alone.

When she moved, she jangled, dragging several pairs of eyes to her. Just how she liked it. She didn’t see that it was in annoyance. Naturally. Her wrists and neck were layered with metal jewelry and when she turned to step out from behind the chair I saw her ear was loaded up with studs as well. And that’s when my brain clicked and I realized she was coming over.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I was in a creative rut. The canvases hated me, the charcoal broke in my hand, the ink smudged—I needed a break. I needed a fresh perspective. The bars weren’t open yet and my weed supplier wouldn’t wake up for another two hours so to the coffee shop I went. If I took my drawing pad and sketched in public someone would probably come by and strike up a conversation. I hoped it was someone interesting.

I sat facing the window, drawing long imperfect lines for the skeleton trees across the street. A quick rectangle for the bus bench, a blobby stick figure for the man walking by in a red hat and a furious sweep of downward strokes to represent his dog. Lord, this was shitty. I hate snow. I sighed and sat back, tossing my pencil down and taking a bracing sip of my green jasmine tea with a hit of Tennessee Honey Whiskey. It was my second cup and so far there was nothing and no one interesting. Not on the page or talking to me.

I turned to get up and order a sandwich, maybe strike up a conversation with the cute barista, when I saw her. Chunky white sweater, jeans, knee boots—as if she’d stepped straight out from one of my high school memories. The half pink, half natural gold hair was new. I think I approved. And was that a tattoo behind her ear? I quickly looked down at her left hand. No ring. I sat back in my seat with a surprised plop. What was she doing in my city? How long had she been here? Where was she staying? Did she have a boyfriend?—a girlfriend? She looked fatter than I remember but who could tell from the baggy clothes she always favored?

My body flushed with adrenaline. No matter. This day just got so much better. My throat vibrated instinctively with the sound meant only for her; the sound that had brought her to me so many times. Rrraneow! I watched her closely and a fissure of satisfaction opened when I saw her straighten. She only just managed to keep from looking around for me. She stubbornly fought the instinct. Was she still mad? After all these years? Someone needed to let a grudge go. Or maybe she thought she was hearing things. I tried again after she finished paying and this time—finally—she looked for me.

I’m glad I opted for a tank and shorts even though it was below freezing outside. I stood and I watched her take me in from head to toe. The curly red hair, the tattoos, the jewelry, the body hugging clothes. Do you see how much I’ve changed? I made it, just like you said when you shoved me away. Look at me. LOOK AT WHAT YOU’VE CREATED.

She pinned her gaze on my face. I swallowed and felt my lips curve in a tentative smile. Those intense green eyes never failed to make my heart sing. Even after everything, I bloomed under her attention, like a flower under sunlight. My muse. I don’t know why she was here but she is exactly what I needed. Perhaps she always has been. I took a step forward.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

How does one react upon seeing an unpleasant ghost from their past? Ignore them and give them the cold shoulder and be a dick in public? But then that would make me the bad guy and I certainly was not. It would be a victory to her in her twisted imagination that I refused to speak to her. It would mean that she knew I still harbored some sort of feeling for her and she still affected me. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling but that didn’t matter did it? It was still something. So should I act friendly and unconcerned and casual? I shuddered and curled my metaphysical lip at the prospect of inviting any sort of friendliness between us. That left me with what…unemotional freak show? Polite citizen?

I was neither of those things. I wanted to hurt her with my tongue and watch those eyes shutter closed in pain. Karma clearly hadn’t wasted its time on her, deserving wretch. But that would spark more of those damned abandonment issues to life and she would know just how much she’d been on my mind since she left. She would love that. I would hate that.

I decided I would just grab my stuff and leave. I would be a coward and give her the satisfaction of a victory to save myself from humiliation (or a public homicide). Why did I disrobe first? I could have grabbed my coffee and ran because I was “late for an ‘insert-blank-here’”. She took a step forward and my muscles shifted away from her, dying to run away. I tried to make the movement casual, like I was switching feet and I grabbed my elbows. My lips returned her smile with a pinched rebuttal.

God I was screwed.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

“Hey stranger.”

“Hey.”

She was guarded. Impersonal.

“What are you doing in my neck of the woods?”

“Oh, you know. Life.”

She looked away from me but I couldn’t look away. Her tattoo was of a treble clef and base clef shaped into a heart. For a former lover? A current one?

“Funny how that goes some times. Do you think it’s kismet?”

I wanted to hug her so badly my arms kept twitching. I wanted her to feel me, to see me. I wanted to break through her God-damned polite wall. I wanted to paint her lips red and release her pink hair from its messy bun. Gold and pink and verdant green, all for me . A thousand images of her overlapped in my head like a flip book until it stopped on the one I could never bear to look at for long. The last look she ever gave me with blood shot eyes, cracked and bleeding lips and my hand print forming on her flushed cheek.

“Nah.”

Vanilla. Beige. Ecru. Bland. Boring! I stepped purposefully over to the pick up counter in front of her and leaned against it, challenging her. I jangled and stood like an art piece statue. Look at me, I urged silently. She didn’t. She gave nothing away. An ice princess where my warm amber jewel used to be. Looking at her this closely, my hands itched now to pick up my pastels and brush creamy peach onto the page; to dot it liberally with shades of brown—adorable. Blush for the curved lips and a scratch of white for the scar. MY scar. I’d mix three different greens in a star burst and then anchored them in a dark brown-black. A riot of orange, red, yellow—and now bright pink framing everything in curls and life and sunlight.

How long had it been since I painted this beautiful face? Years. Eons. Too long.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

“Order up!”

She was in my way. She was always in my way. She blocked me from the things I wanted; took more than she should and took things she never should have touched in the first place. There was a moment, staring at a stylized bird on her shoulder, that I allowed myself to be filled with the trapped feelings from my past. A slurry of betrayal and blame stirred up in me and my throat swelled with the need to word vomit it out. Almost. It was right there and she was right there. A conversation. Closure. The end of this nightmarish chapter of my life.

No. It wouldn’t make a difference. Not for me or for her. There was no end. Just distance.

I would have to touch her if I wanted my coffee. She planned it that way. I shifted the banana and bag of donuts in my hand. She’s nothing. She’s been nothing. She is nothing. She will be nothing. I can do this. I can do this–

“Miss?”

I looked up over her head and my coffee was there clutched in the hand of a sympathetic barista. Had he seen what she could not? How typical. I reached up and grabbed it. He had already sleeved it for me and put a stopper in it. Ready to go. I didn’t have to linger. I clutched the beverage to my chest and half turned away.

“Well. Bye then.”

I tossed it over my shoulder like a used rag, limp and unwanted. I turned and felt my jaw unlock to let out a relieved breath. I didn’t run. I took measured steps toward freedom. I heard her move. I didn’t care if it was toward me or away. I made a beeline for my stuff and started to layer myself in protective gear once more. Distance. Calm.

“That’s it?”

I kept my eyes on the floor as I wound my scarf around my neck and jammed on my beanie, settling my messy bun in the hole at the top. She smelled faintly of paint thinner and whiskey and her signature musk oil. Her thin graceful hand was resting on my lap top bag. I saw more scars there than I remembered and a ruby ring—MY ruby ring—on her ring finger. My inner snarl turned into a roar and my gut tightened with a need for action. Stop! I’m almost free. Don’t give in!

“Hey! So that’s it? Just ‘bye then’?”

I shoved the food into my pockets and jammed on my mittens, coffee in one hand and the handle of my bag in the other one. Finally, one last time, I looked into those shrewd hazel eyes, just managing to close the door on my true feelings so she wouldn’t see. I would give her nothing. She deserved that most of all.

“What else can there be?”

My bag slid from under her hand. Her bracelets were a disbelieving cacophony on the table top. I turned toward the door and claimed my freedom in the cold.

 

 

 

How to Start a Story from Scratch

I’m going to say something that I hope will put you at ease. They are the words I often remind myself of when I’ve been staring a a blank page for ten minutes trying to force answers out of my brain.

“Making something out of nothing is hard to do. If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

Now your brain might argue that there’s no originality left in the world and no story is ever truly “from nothing” and it would be right. But I mean, have you WALKED into a book store? Hard counterpoint here, there are whole walls of books that are all the same genre and yes, all the same base concept. Westerns are about bandits and moral codes and heros. Mysteries are about crime and police and justice. Fantasy is about magic and cultures and war. And there are hundreds of thousands of books to choose from. A thousand versions of Cinderella.; ten thousand versions of Jack the Ripper and we, as readers, are always seeking a new spin on the story because we LOVE THE STORY.

So you can’t logically use that excuse to stop yourself from starting. It’s the first step toward clearing the way for your new project. Now trying to start from ground zero and find originality within yourself as a writer is a little harder. (Trying to gag the inner critic to prevent it from spewing negativity is a lifelong struggle. There are books on that too.) But no one knows YOUR version of the story and you need to write that. Lemme help you start.

I’m going to share some tips here about how I start a new novel. There are a plethora of blogs and books and videos out there on the very same subject and there might not be anything new here for you to take away but I will say this: If you keep coming across the same advice over and over, there’s a reason. IT WORKS. However, if you keep ignoring the advice, looking for an answer that resonates with you or a routine that you can “try out” like a new diet, I say you’re looking for the easy way out. A quick solution to a hard problem. When you’ve exhausted all the ways to try and get around the mountain, let me know. I’ll be here waiting to help you over it.

The reason I came up with this list is because I kept seeing the same questions come up in writer’s forums and author interviews and I decided to turn them on myself. If I were at a book signing and I had a young reader come up to me an ask, “If I wanted to write a book, where should I start?” what would I tell him/her?

How To Start a New Novel:

Gathering ideas

  1. Start with what you love– It is always easier to talk about the things you like in everyday conversation. I can rattle on and on about books and reading and stories. (You may have surmised this fact on your own, haha.) What about you? Is it the stock market? Is it charity work? Is it hunting and outdoor life? Do Fairytale retellings make you quiver in your seat? Do you love to set tables for tea parties? Do you like to play Scrabble? Make a list of the things you love to talk about, read about, watch on Netflix. It can be random subjects and not in any type of order. Maybe even some dirty little secrets that you’d never tell anyone but give you a rush to jot down. (No one will ever see the list anyway. Be Brave.)
  2. Start with the things you want to talk about– Are there issues in the world or in your life that you would like to have a voice about? Try to dig inside your life and see if there is anything that jumps out and seizes your muscles as if you’re preparing for an argument. Does climate change make you sit up straight? Does Human trafficking make your jaw tighten? What about Medical malpractice? Veganism? Feminism? The Green New Deal? Space Travel: good or bad? Robotics as weapons? I know for me shedding light on the Autism Spectrum is a big deal, having had a high-functioning autistic daughter. Bullying is another subject that I want to have a voice about since I was bullied as a kid for my crooked eye.
  3. Start with the things your curious about– have you ever wanted to know what BDSM was all about? Do you want to know what it’s really like living in a third world country? How a murderer goes about his everyday life without getting caught? How do birds navigate such great distances? Why do people believe in Tarot and palm reading? Research fueled story ideas often tend to write themselves, I’ve found. I read articles and interviews about a subject and my mind starts to see if from the author’s point of view and then the curiosity finds a main character who then finds herself in a bit of trouble….BOOM. A story appears!

The possibilities for stories are endless.

Quick tip #1: As a newbie it is easier to write about the things you already know about because if you love the subject and you feel confident about it, the more likely you are to stick with it and have fun with it. Writing about what you love doesn’t seem like work.  

Quick tip #2: Choose the subject that interests you most RIGHT NOW. If you have a story idea that keeps coming back to you at random times throughout your day, it’s probably a good indication you want to write it. 

Quick tip #3: Plot bunnies will attack you out of nowhere. These are ideas for plots or characters or villains that have nothing to do with your current story but will beg you to pay attention to them. Write them down on a separate piece of paper or in a new word document and set them aside. Don’t be distracted by the new shiny book idea. You will never finish anything if you go down the rabbit hole every time. True fact. 

Deciding your genre

I’d say that when you first start out that it’s the same advice as above. Write what you know because when you start out it’s all about practice. And of course, read extensively in whatever genre you’re interested in. You can always flex your muscles and try to reach outside your box and write something totally unfamiliar to you to challenge yourself. You can even write fusions of two different genres (some of my favorites to read!) Here are a few to get you started though there are many more sub genres and categories out there:

  • Fantasy
  • Mystery
  • Western
  • Science Fiction
  • Contemporary Fiction
  • YA Fiction
  • Children’s
  • General Fiction
  • Literary Fiction
  • Religious/Spiritual
  • True Crime
  • Biographies
  • Philosophical
  • Political

Figuring out the Format

Most of your ideas are going to want to be novels. It’s true. It is really really hard to write a short story because your brain will not be satisfied with writing one tiny sliver of a world with so much more to tell. At least for me it’s hard. I’ve successfully written exactly one short story in seven parts but I have several in the works. I tend to lean more toward flash fiction pieces for my blog. (I’m not sure if I do those successfully or not but they are fun to write and that’s the point of writing sometimes. Plus its practice!)

Play with all the formats. Do it all! Be free and discover what you like and don’t limit yourself to one.

One Line stories: I think Twitter and Instagram are famous for this now. Tell a story in one or two sentences.

EX: He left. She left. He turned back. She didn’t.

EX: “Are you a woman or a man?” “I’m hungry, sir.

Elevator Pitch Stories: A story in a paragraph. These are some good ones from Reader’s Digest.

Poetry: Self explanatory I should think. There are many different forms of poetry; there’s something for everybody and a ton of examples out there. (Secret tip: Poetry gets you lots of likes on WordPress :D)

Flash Fiction: Usually one-two pages of words. I enjoy these types of stories because it’s some quick and dirty satisfaction both to write and read. Your brain sees a glimpse of a story and then upon finishing it goes into a bunch of “What if” scenarios and starts to fill in all the things that the author never showed. It’s a great way to start a blog too.

Fan Fiction: This is a great way to pair your love of movies or books with your own story writing. You can borrow characters to write your own scenes or end the story the way you think it should have. (As an aside there is a great YouTube channel called HISHE that re-writes movies and books. It’s hilarious!) You can ship unlikely characters, gender bend and switch hero and villain characters. You can do cross-overs from different shows/books. I admit that I haven’t actually done any fan fiction. Or read any. GASP! SHOCK! I KNOWWWW! I think I’m afraid of people ruining perfectly good stories. It is the final frontier of writing for me.

Short Stories: Generally under 7,500 words. Wattpad has an assortment of examples you can read. I’m not going to say they are good or bad. Reading is subjective. *shudder* I prefer to pick up a collection of short stories in a familiar genre or from an author I admire. Currently I’m reading “Fragile Things” by Neil Gaiman but I have collections by my favorite fantasy authors and paranormal romance authors too.

Novelette: Between 7,500 and 17,500 words. Edgar Allen Poe was a master with this format. Here is a good article that outlines what this entails.

Novella: Between 17,500 and 40,000 These are some famous novellas you might have heard of or even read yourself.

Novel: Over 40K Easily the hardest format to write. There’s a lot to unpack here. Dictionary lengths of information to unpack but this is a post about starting out, haha.

Characters

Characters are the single most important piece of your story. Not the plot. Not the setting. No matter what other advice people may give you, character development is going to drive your story. Readers will always remember the characters that they felt something for and connected to. Heck, your story idea may have started with a character idea. However, this is the basics we’re talking about. In-depth stuff comes later. Starting out you’ll need:

Basic description: Name, age, height, hair, eyes, skin, distinguishing marks (freckles, scars, birth marks, tattoos etc), ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, birthday,

(Fun tip: If you’re having trouble thinking of a name or if you want a ethnic specific name, use baby name books or websites. I like to find names whose meaning matches the personality of my character. i.e Alexi= defender of humanity, Noah=comfort Marie=Bitter)

Family: Mother, father, (or guardian/care giver/foster parents), siblings, grandparents, adopted family, not-blood-related family,

Personality: List a few basic traits you want your character to have, something that really defines them and makes them KNOWN for that thing in the story. Kindness/meanness, generosity/selfishness, cleverness/naivete, shy/bold, positive/negative, Whimsical/logical, shallow/deep, philosophical/fun-loving, serious/humorous.

(Fun Tip: You can use horoscopes to determine character personality traits i.e Leo= temperamental, generous, attention-hog, brave. Cancer= tender-hearted, emotional, holds a grudge, helpful. You can also try to take the Meyers-Briggs personality test from your character’s point of view and see what they get.)

Goals: WHAT DOES YOUR CHARACTER WANT? This is the most important concept pertaining to your character that you could devise because it is the singular motivator that will drive him/her through the story. It is also the thing you, as the author. will create conflict by preventing them from getting. No pressure.

Some examples:

  • Love– of self, of a partner, of a spiritual being, of children,
  • Revenge– against a company, a boss, a parent, an ex, a criminal, a villain,
  • Purpose– in life, in a job, in religion, of self,
  • Friends/Family
  • Redemption– for a crime, from a God, for being a bad person,
  • Respect– from coworkers, from family, from a partner, from the antagonist,
  • Independence– from country, from religion, from family, from religion, from abuse,

Conflicts: Once you establish a goal then you get to make a fun list of things you can do to your characters to prevent them from getting it. Not just physical obstacles like distance, money, bullies, a physical limitation or restrictive parents but inner conflicts too. Fear of germs, fear of failure, selfishness, doubt, lack of knowledge, fear of rejection, fear of pain are a few that can stop your characters from achieving their goals. Do not be afraid to hurt your darlings. You will have a boring story and the story won’t be relatable if your characters can’t overcome basic human conflicts.

(Special tip: The best villains are the ones who’s back story and goal is believable. Try to think of them as heroes who didn’t achieve their goals; THEY think that whatever it is their doing is the right thing and the Hero is just an obstacle in their way. They need to be just as fully fleshed out as your main and secondary characters.)

World Building:

Nooowww comes the fuunnn part!

-You need to decide where and when your story is going to take place. Past, present or future and you need a date to start with.

-You need to decide if you’re going to keep the story in your hometown, in your state or your country.

-Or if it’s going to be in an entirely different world altogether. There’s quite a bit more work that needs to go into an alien or fantastical land but also a lot more freedom. For authors who love made up languages and magic systems and intricate political intrigue, a made up world might suit very well.

So here you are 😀 A quick-start guide for writing stories! I hope you find inspiration from it and have the courage to actually start. Write on my peeps ❤ The world needs your words. You just don’t believe it yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Excerpt from “The Faustus Affliction”

“I know you’re worried Zei,” she said quietly. “So am I. And I know you think I’m silly for making a big deal out of this, but you know why I need to.”

“I do.”

“We’ll survive,” she declared into his chest, speaking to him, his heart, his soul. Their mantra since she was small.

“We’ll survive…and live.” He echoed, completing the fervent wish.

Lexi looked up at him then, her eyes flitting to his mouth. A silent question. She saw the battle on his face, weighing what happened today, almost getting caught, against his need for reassurance. She saw his decision before he moved. A little fissure of triumph went through her when he acquiesced and covered her mouth with his own.

Gently; a butterfly kiss over the skin of her lips. He was achingly gentle. He had to be with her, though it made her scream in frustration. She’d seen him cleave a branch off a tree trunk before, his rage swift and deadly. He’d broken bones between his thumb and forefinger with no effort at all. His speed stopped a negligent car from smashing a child running into the street. Yet it was always careful consideration around her; the fragile human girl too stubborn to let him walk away. Fragile like a bomb, he would say to ease her angst, right before he lit her inner fuse and made her come alive with his touch. His kryptonite.

At times she’d felt his hunger. Felt it in the pressure changing against her lips to something more insistent and demanding, his hands digging into her body, greedy for touch and closeness. Her clothes didn’t last long during those times. They’d never broken the forbidden rule but they flirted on the cusp of it. She offered up her scarred body for his enjoyment and he indulged ravenously. He cracked her headboard with his forced restraint once when they’d been frightened and desperate for action one night after she’d returned home from the hospital. They were always too close to death and too desperate to live, stealing every second while they could. They created heat and life between each other, cultivating it to last through dark times.

This was not one of those needful times. He was not careful out of fear or anger; he was careful because it was too much to let out. He shared her fears, had been party to them her whole life. He had his own dark secrets to atone for; some she knew and a lot she didn’t. He was weak against them, needing her to remind him why he fought so long over the centuries. Lexi battled against her fears every day, but needed Zeizal to bring her back down, to remind her that she could die for hers before they were ready.

The kiss they shared now was a reminder to be patient and to comfort a friend who would always be there; had always been. Lexi rose up and deepened it, hands bending Zeizal downward to grant her better access and he allowed it. This was what they needed back on the steps at school when too many eyes could bear witness. This was their one and only sin and it was only a step above the most unforgivable of them all. Fornication with a demon meant death, no questions asked, and Zeizal and Lexi meant to live.

They stood in the middle of her room and let the tension ease with proximity and pleasure. They urged sighs of contentment with tongues tangling, teeth nipping sensitive flesh and murmured encouragement. Every grin and deep throated purr broke off pieces of hard edged fear until they could bear it again. They yielded and took and gave back. Love. Support. Promises. A demon and a human. Friends and almost lovers.

“Let me make you food while you bathe,” he murmured against her lips after a time. Darkness was settling in outside.

“Okay,” she said softly, regret filling her green eyes when he retreated and took the perfection of his mouth with him. His hand cupped her face and she leaned into it, letting the sharp talons stroke her lightly.

“I don’t deserve you,” he said.

“Of course you do,” she said, turning playful to ease the sheen of pain she felt in him more than she saw. “Who else will but the fear of God in you but the broken human with the bad heart? It was preordained punishment that you should be stuck with me.”

She tugged a strand of his silver white hair.

“See? I already turned your hair white. Good thing you can’t have heart attacks.”

White teeth showed through Zeizal’s swollen, love-bitten lips. Her snark made his eyes light again and he darted in to give her mouth a quick punishing peck. Her heart leapt with glee.

“You do your best to try me though. Go bathe, heathen.” he demanded and was gone in a tornado of wind.

“Okay but that means I’ll have to get naked!” she shouted.

A pan dropped on the tile floor a second later and her laughter floated down through the house.

Being Organized: Clever isn’t exactly Helpful

For anyone who has an artistic soul, organization isn’t exactly our strong suit, is it? At least not when we’re in the middle of a project. Parents tried to kill the creative spirit by forcing us to put away our supplies every day but we fought back as adults!

YEAH!

I’m going to keep that scrap pile of paper out for my junk journal as long as I want because I don’t know if the page looks finished yet. No I will not move my knitting project from that side of the couch so you can sit down. You’ll have to take the chair. I don’t want a nest of yarn to pick through later. Mother, DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT CLEANING THOSE PAPERS ON MY DESK. If they get out of order then I’ll have to stop and find things and you’ll slow down my process.

Haha, sound familiar?

It’s one thing to have a small area of chaos while in the midst of a project because you thoughtfully and purposely chose each item for use. Usually, you can even put the items back in a group of similar items in a somewhat generalize location. (As long as it makes sense to you, it’s fine, no matter what other people say.) Gold star for you if you have labels and boxes for everything.

What about for writers though? I’m not talking about binders full of notes and printed chapters with red pen marked on them (although it’s helpful if those are neatly tabulated at least). I’m talking about on-screen files. The D and C drives full of documents, folders and files, the multiple USB sticks crammed with megabytes, the cloud storage overrun with info and back ups.

Recently I had a slow and painful descent into panic while I was combing through my computer and USB trying to find a specific draft of my WIP. I know I was writing it for NaNoWriMo and probably named it appropriately “Faustus NaNo 2019”. Yeah well uh—that file was a bust. As was “FA NaNo notes” “Nano Ongoing Draft 2019” and “NaNo Revisions.” I thought I was being efficient by grouping files together by adding a time marker into the title like “NaNo”.

After ten minutes of careful but increasingly desperate searching, I never found the file.

Can you feel my horror and panic now? The stream of logical explanations and the explosion of action opening tabs and shoving USB sticks into slots. Was it deleted? Did it never get saved? Was it corrupted somehow? Did I mislabel it? Is it saved in my e-mail? Which writing program did I use? I can’t remember! I once hand stenciled and painted a beautiful t-shirt that was stolen off the bush in front of my house when I set it out to dry. (I live in the ghetto. I should have known better.) Not finding that file draft felt like something had physically been stolen from me and my body rang with stunned disbelief. All that work…gone.

*hysterically sobs in silence*

Having computer clutter can be more of a pain in the ass than physical clutter. It’s not like you can see at a glance that the Character Bio document you created at the start of the project is no longer valid, like a dried up pain tube. You have to read it and decide if there’s anything you need to cull from it and if there is, you need to figure out if you tack it on to the more recent Character Bio file or put it in a separate MAYBE file for further consideration.

This has partly gotten me into trouble because when my current logical and reasonable brain makes a new file and fills it with whatever is needed, I know in that moment what I made it for and what its purpose is. I fully intend to come back and address it. Three months from now, it won’t make sense to me at all and it becomes another file to shuffle on top of the pile of “TBR” (again).

Now that I think about it, my journals and notebooks are the same way. I can never keep just one notebook for one story, it’s always sprinkled throughout 2 or three. Or 5.

Story File screenshot

This is an actual screen shot of my documents file on my laptop. It isn’t even the complete list. There is a whole other list just like this in my e-mail and on my keyring thumb drive and an app on my phone that holds even more notes. I’ve gotta say, looking at this really stresses me out. I’m the kind of person (and I should KNOW THIS by now) that doesn’t like to look back on previous notes and files. I like to keep everything just in case but looking back through it bums me out.

I’m a mess.

I’ve been writing the same story for…oh gawd…has it really been 20 years? NO. When did I start it? 14? And I’m now 34…(Oh my god T_T Please excuse me while I have an emotional break down.) The reason it hasn’t been completed is because it keeps changing and I can’t stick to one outline. Or I’ll start to write a draft of it and then I’ll quit and start a new one because “What The Hell was I thinking writing that crap?”

It’s the starting and stopping that gets me into trouble. Until I seriously started writing, there had been no room for perfection in my life. My room was a mess, my clothes were mismatched, my backpack flowed over with loose papers and half-filled journals. Then somehow I decided I had to be the total opposite of my normal self and write perfect drafts; an impossible feat. And yet the mess permeates even my computer!

I need to disillusion myself of this madness, trying to be something I’m not. I’m not black and white lines. I am paint splatters that miss the canvas entirely.

My writing life would be much easier if I could draft from start to finish on a deadline. No stopping for months at a time; no “Save and Forget” default in my Documents folder. But that won’t happen overnight.  Or even over a month. So what is the first step? Maybe you guessed it.

I’m going to organize my story files. Copy and Paste were invented for a reason. I’m going to keep one copy of them on my computer and one copy on my thumb drive and I’m going to keep one folder for each component of the story: Characters (each with only one file), World Building, Notes and Queries, and finally, Drafting. I may break this up into Act 1,2, and 3 so I’m not scrolling forever through word counts. Point is, I don’t ever want to panic about losing a draft again and I want to integrate a system of organization into my life that will set me up for success when I do become a published author and have deadlines to meet.

Decluttering your computer is just as important as spring cleaning your closet, especially as a writer who spends more time using one more than the other. Find the balance between letting your creativity flow naturally and keeping it contained to one place where everything is within reach.

Leave a comment below if you feel the struggle or if you have any helpful tips for a poor nub like me to stay organized. Spread knowledge (not germs)! Stay safe hoomins ❤

You put the lime in the coconut: How to get yourself right when you have no inclination

Screw it. I’m tired of “drinking it all up.”

I need to put the lime in the coconut and blow this crap up. Covid-19 is driving me ape shit.

(A HUGE THANK YOU to those who are still working during this awful pandemic, who choose to work, and put yourselves at risk for your families and the greater good. Health care workers, farmers, truck drivers and toilet paper stockers…Heroes don’t wear capes, they wear face masks and a crinkly-eyed smile. We feel it! So much heartfelt gratitude coming from Southern Cali ❤ )

Alright so, covid-19. My work shut down March 18th and I am now unemployed. I wasn’t as upset about that as I should have been (because I was in a somewhat financially secure situation.) There’s nothing I love more than a good book, a mug of liquid (depending on the mood it’s either coffee, tea or whiskey) and a comfy place to rest my rump. For the first two weeks of the #stayathome movement, it was great! A vacation I believe we all sorely needed. I got to hang out with my mom (we’re best friends) and the stress melted off of us as we ate through our first 5 pounds of cookies and binge watched “Once Upon a Time” and “Blind Spot.” Our bodies healed (thanks retail hell). We planted flowers and started new quilts for the first time in a year. The only thing that could have possibly made this better was if my boyfriend was with me to share the time with. (Might have been a little awkward though with all of us staying home…*blushes*)

Scientists say you can catch up and store sleep. I think I’m nearly there though I’m not opposed to more.

Psychologists say that creativity helps fight depression. Cross-stitch, anyone? How about starting that CGI video game you’ve been brainstorming for years!

Kinesiologists say that rest and time is the best medicine to heal the body. (I can attest to that. My Baker’s Knee is nearly gone!)

Science-y types also say that the best ideas/solutions some when your brain isn’t thinking about the problem, like Isaac Newton with the infamous apple. He wasn’t thinking about gravity (we assume)–it just happened and because his brain was relaxed it was able to think clear.

…………………………………………………….F*&K THIS……..

Who are we kidding? Humans are social creatures. The inertia is starting to tarnish even my blissful hermititude.

Okay my peeps. You literally have all the time in the world right now. Most of us anyway. So what are you doing with this reprieve from mandatory reality?

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(I would like to add “-Healthier” to the list but I’m going to be realistic here. We all be stress eating…)

I found this on my facebook feed and it hit me hard. What HAVE I done with my time? I’ll tell you what I’ve done–I’ve distracted myself with books and Netflix and ignored facing the true source of my anxiety:

LAZINESS.

I wrote a post on passion a few days ago (here) and how I didn’t possess any. Now having had over three weeks to sit with myself and slowly sink into the quiet desperation of self-reflection, I have to fully face the fallout of a passionless existence. I have to recognize and accept that my dreams are not going to come true unless I learn some discipline.

Now I don’t want to make this all about me. This is supposed to be a “How to” post and we’re all in this together.  I wanted to establish a rapport with you because YES I know what I’m talking about and YES I absolutely feel your frustration if you’ve been realizing the same thing. We have the perfect opportunity to start making strides to better ourselves but to do that we need to face our demons head on.

We need to put that sour ass lime into the sweetness of our coconut existence and BLOW THIS UP.

No one is going to do the work for you.

HOW TO: Get Yourself Right when you have the time but no inclination

#1—First things first, find out what your goals are. For the week, for the month, for the year, for the next 3 years. Really sit down with yourself and write anything and everything that comes to mind. Doesn’t matter how stupid or trivial they sound, just do it.

Setting Goals (Tony Robbins)

GOALS (Abbie Emmons)

#2—Next thing you need to do is find some motivational videos and books that align with your goals. (These are some of mine.) Whether that is–

financial freedom (Dan Lok)

F.U. Money by Dan “the man” Lok

Career goals and Personal Branding (Sunny Lenarduzzi)

spiritual awareness (Christina Lopes)

weight loss before and after stories (Fitness Blender)

Better Study Habits and Productivity (Thomas Frank)

The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha

#3—Develop a routine that works for you and hack that motivation!! This will be the hardest step for you and it will take the most time. This will also be the step that you fail at most often. START SMALL and forgive yourself for back sliding but get right back on the horse. It’s not a race and not a competition but it is a behavior change and the only only to succeed at it is going forward.

Self-discipline (Thomas Frank)

Scheduling and Routines (Jordan Peterson)

The Motivation Hacker by Nick Winters

#4—Exercise. Yep, I know. I KNOW. I feel you rolling your eyes. I don’t like to either but only because it’s hard to start out and not very fun. It is the most important thing you can do, honestly, to lengthen your life and stay healthy. Plus it makes endorphins and dopamine, chemicals that make your brain happy.

Low Impact (fitness Blender)

One Mile Walk at home (Leslie Sansone)

Strength training (HASfit)

#5—Introspection. Do you really know who you are? Is there a boundary you’re not willing to cross within yourself? Do you keep your promises? Do you tell the truth? Are you morally sound? (Do you even know what that means?)

Core Values (TEDxtalks)

Meditation (Yoga with Adriene)

Qigong (Eight Pieces)

Morning Pages (Journal writing)

#6—Be creative. It helps fight depression and it gives you a flush of accomplishment finishing something. I know this is probably a groaner for some of you but it doesn’t mean you have to take up crochet or become picasso. You know where to look for those. I don’t need to handhold here. Or you can do something for charity.  I hear there is a pandemic going on so maybe you can start making face masks and cloth diapers…

#7—If you’re worried about money or have a great idea about a side business, DO IT NOW. Get it started while Online Shopping is at an all-time high. Get a Side Hustle going. Start your YouTube channel or Etsy store. Be a driver for Postmates or Instacart. Start that blog! Publish that indie book on Amazon. You can be a virtual assistant or a text translator. You can be an online teacher or tutor. Seriously, the possibilities here are nearly endless if you don’t let fear of the unknown stop you. (Or the fear of a negative bank account.)

Well, that’s it then. For now. This is how –> I <– am trying to combat the isolation and frustration of my laziness and lack of discipline. Your plan make look different. Or if you look at this list and you’re still shaking your head, telling yourself it’s all bullshit, then you simply haven’t reached rock bottom yet. You haven’t gotten to the point where the disgust with your laziness/fear/lack of motivation hasn’t pushed you over the edge yet.

That’s okay.

Everyone goes at a different pace. Eventually, you’ll want to change and there are many avenues and ways you can go about it. There is no wrong way except backwards. You can quit something if it doesn’t work for you but replace it with something else. Starting over isn’t failing; it’s trying something new.

Good luck. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

WIP Diaries #1.0 Refocus, Revamp, Rewrite,

There is a book. (There is always a book!)

It’s kind of changing the way I see my stories. I picked it up at the suggestion of an AuthorTube personality named Abbie Emmons. A lot of her advice and story set up is derived from this book and I can see why she recommends it. It’s a book about the psychology of storytelling; WHY we like certain kinds of stories. It’s brain science for writers.

 

Lisa breaks down novel writing from a character-driven, emotional point of view. Abbie breaks down the research in videos on her channel by giving examples of movies that are plot driven vs character driven and how we connect to each kind. One is entertainment with fast action and suspense and shallow motives whereas the other gets us to gasp and cry and think about the story long after the credits have finished rolling.

Abbie wrote a book called 100 Days of Sunlight that applied the book’s advice and I MUST say it’s a soaring success. You connect with the characters because they are written with flaws and weaknesses and hidden strengths. You don’t care that the book is predictable because the EMOTION is so high. And no, I could not stop thinking about the book for weeks after finishing. A+ Abbie Emmons.

I realized as I came back to The Faustus Affliction (my frustrating WIP) that the book was mainly plot driven. I think almost every fantasy writer starts this way as we navigate how to write a solid story. Character development gets put on the back burner in favor of thrilling scenes and world building. Admittedly, it’s easier with contemporary fiction to focus on characters and emotion but when there are wizards and thick plot braids and magic systems to juggle, the “character-driven” idea gets a little tougher I think. For new authors that are already laden with doubt and confusion, this is a fresh new hell.

However! (l I guess you can imagine where this is going–)

Story Genius is teaching me to look at my story a different way. I want my readers to connect with the MC and her journey of redemption more than I want them to appreciate her kick ass decision making skills and cyborg arm (haha spoiler). In light of this new bookish information, I’m going back and fleshing out Character sheets for all the Mains, villains and secondaries. I’m filling out backgrounds, personalities, emotional arcs and POVs. I don’t even know my sister half as well as I know my MC now and that’s the way it always should have been.

I was lazy and too eager to jump into the plot. I admit it. *hangs head in shame*

I’m both surprised and pleased though that even without fully filling out the biographies before I started writing that I have a pretty solid lock on who these people are supposed to be and what they want to do. (Except Zeizal. ALWAYS the problem child with his fluid personality and opaque goals. Grr.) I will tell you though that figuring out each character’s belief/lie is probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do so far. This concept is the thing you will constantly be coming back to; the thing you will be writing your scenes around: The inner conflict between the character trying to be happy and avoiding pain at all costs. Having a character that has a strong misbelief (the thing that they think will make them happy) and alternately what it is they REALLY want deep down (that they find out toward the middle/end of the story) and the obstacles they have to either fight or flee to make it all happen.

At first it’s hard to avoid cliches like “He wants to be happy”. Everyone wants to be happy. The author wants his/her little darlings to be happy too! But generalities don’t sell heart-wrenching tales. The misbelief has to be specific and concrete:

“I want to find the strength to live my life away from my overbearing parents and show them I can be successful without them.”

“I want to find my high school sweetheart and apologize for leaving him standing on the altar.”

“I want to run a 5k marathon before my open heart surgery.”

Alternately, the true belief they realize has to be just as compelling and concrete:

“By living away from my parents I was able to grow as a person and appreciate all they sacrificed for me to live a comfortable life.”

“I found freedom and independence not trapping myself in a marriage early in life and was able to find real love by sacrificing my happiness back then.”

“I realize that being selfish and putting my health at risk for a stubborn goal could have cost me more than my life.”

Okay so they’re not the greatest examples but you get the gist. Here’s the clincher though. I think conceptualizing the Belief/Misbelief is something that is hard to plan ahead of time because if you’ve ever written even the briefest segment of a story you know that sometimes things don’t go as planned. Characters tend to drag the story in unexpected directions and motives change and so the story changes. So if you don’t have a solid grasp on the lie/belief for your characters, eventually you’ll see a pattern through your writing and it will come to you. Having an idea of what drives your character’s motivation is a very good start.

Writing goals for the month:

Explore this new inner conflict concept and apply it to my writing.

Refocus on character arcs and let them drive the story.

Write. writewritewritewritewritewritewrite–

GO WRITE!!

(and stay the wonderful hermits that we know you all are. Be smart, be healthy.)

Passion is a Four Letter word

Definition: A strong and barely controllable emotion

I’ve decided I don’t like the word Passion.

It has too many expectations and makes too many assumptions. I feel like the word is judging me because I am numb to its complexity, like a wine connoisseur scoffing at an unsophisticated palate.

Judgy lush.

It’s also intimidating. A word like passion makes me feel like in order to claim I have it, a fire has to be burning in me 24/7, 365 days of the year. That sounds exhausting and like a huge burden to uphold. I don’t want that! Well, maybe I do in singularly appropriate times (wink wink) but all the other times I have high emotion that isn’t “barely controllable” I want to call it something else; something more sustainable and less egotistic.

People that associate passion with dreams or goals or talent use it as a misnomer in my opinion. The word has become as commonplace as “awesome”; slang for the hipsters and rote for the “experts”. I feel people use it now because it’s easy to reach for, like “very” or “just”. I don’t want to be that person. I want to say what I mean and use the right word for it.

Some synonyms for Passion are: affection, anger, ardor, dedication, devotion, excitement, feeling, fervor, fury, 

Dedication is a good one. It has longevity and stamina. It sounds wise and strong, like a woman doggedly hand sewing dresses for little girls in Africa every night after dinner or a leg amputee coaching kids’ basketball year after year. Dedication sounds like a good guy to have on your team but it still doesn’t fit what I want or think I want.

Feeing is a weak word and it’s usually linked with an equally weak adjective; a sad feeling, a happy feeling, a terrible lonely feeling. The meaning behind the word isn’t weak because everyone has feelings but it’s a plain yogurt of a word without adding some flavor to it. This is a word I would usually replace in a manuscript with something stronger and more image-driven:

The child’s lip quivered staring at the tiny body floating at the top of the tank and his eyes went glossy with the sheen of tears gathering in the blue and white depths. 

After the momentary stillness of shock subsided, she started to bounce on her toes, arms opening wide to receive her new fiance as he stepped into them and she laughed into his neck. He spun her around gently through the air and she whispered, “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!” 

They were all gone and she was left there to hold vigil for their memories, a single soul carrying many. The burden was as weightless as air but her neck felt stiff and her shoulders hunched under the weight of it. She wandered listlessly from room to empty room, wishing she could lower him back into bed and read him one more story or sit down with her in her favorite chair and laugh at her jokes. Just once more. Instead it was all, and only, silence. 

So this word I need is somewhere between dedication and feeling. It’s a word that I want to incorporate into my life; something I know I’ll need to succeed in future endeavors. It’s a word that isn’t even considered a synonym for passion though I think it may be a close cousin. The word I’m looking for is MOTIVATION.

I both like and dislike that word. It waits with a beatific smile and doesn’t say anything. It doesn’t shame me for standing there like a lump or give perky pep talks. I should want it. Every self-help book and weight loss advertisement and habit breaking video says I NEED this word to succeed. I should want it to lead me forward by the hand and push me from behind when I feel like giving up.

But motivation is entirely self-driven. I’m not quite sure what it means for me to have this word or how to work with it. How do I get it to move the way I want it to?

Motivation is usually in the same sentences with words like “driven” and “persistent”. I am neither of those things. I am as inconsistent as the weather in Minnesota. Is motivation even the right word to want? Should I try for something a little less consistent, like excitement or maybe interested? If i replace “passion” with “motivation” and apply it to my dreams and goals then I have…nothing really worth climbing mountains for. I stare at them from the comfort of my bed and go right back to reading a good book. (This is why I say passion is a judgy bitch because it eschews anything that distracts away from THE GOAL. It’s a slave driver.)

For real, I have goals that I want to achieve. I started this blog because I’m human and I have goals (and fears).

Yes I want to be a traditionally published author.

Yes I want to not be a poor retail redneck the rest of my life.

Yes I want to travel the world before humanity destroys it completely.

Do I have the motivation to charge after those things right at this moment? NO. Do I want to spend every waking minute reminding myself to WORK OUT and WRITE A BLOG POST and SAVE MONEY? Yeah not really. I should though and the pressure is making me uncomfortably aware of my inertia. I feel like an idiot for admitting this but–

I don’t know how to. (yet.)

How to want. How to plan. How to celebrate small victories and keep the big goal in mind. I don’t know how to plan my life around my dreams. It’s harder than it seems and there’s no book written specifically for me with step-by-step instructions on how to do it. I have to write the book for myself completely from scratch.

Dear Gawd. This might kill me. (You see why the bed is such a comfortable option?)

I admire people that are able to sit down with themselves and figure their crap out. They can pick a goal and map out how they want to achieve it and work at it every day. I’m not sure I’m wired like that. My brain is full of curiosity and ideas and it can’t stay with any one thing for very long. It shudders at hard work. So even if I have picked a goal to work on, I promptly forget about it and all the work I’ve done to land on it. A few months go by and I’m right back to square one.

It’s a vicious cycle that I am getting tired of repeating, especially as I get older and I grow more concerned about stuff and things. Motivation is there, always waiting out of the corner of my eye. My challenge is to find a way to move it firmly in front of me so I can look at it every day while I take steps and then at the end of the day look back at the starting line to see how far I’ve come and be proud that I’ve finally left it.

I wrote this as an admission of a fatal flaw: I’m lazy. Critically lazy. But I don’t want to be any more. Well, yes I do but the guilt is too much to bear anymore. I want to claim with confidence that I HAVE MOTIVATION and not be a sporadic liar about it. I want to be familiar with every nuance of that word and be close friends with it. I want to give it to other people like a gift basket that they can unwrap slowly and really savor all the flavors of it.

I want to be better. Just…a little better every day until I get There, wherever There is. Passion can go f*&k itself. I’ll take slow and steady.

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life!*insert jaunty whistling here*

Hey y’all. How ya doing?

I feel I’ve been venting a lot on here and putting out bad juju which has come back to bite me in the form of a nasty cold. So here’s some positive:

I am finally getting back into my Faustus story. I was beating my head against it for a long while after failing NaNo, trying to come up with some semblance of a middle that had a backbone. I am closely following the Abbie Emmons Three Act Structure (she has a link in the description for a full printable version of her structure) because it deals more with the internal struggle of the characters rather than straight up action plot. I am also reading Story Genius: How to use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel by Lisa Cron. I think this is the first book since college that I’m actually using a hi-lighter for.

Between these two sources I’ve realized that the reason I’ve been abusing myself trying to write this story is because I’ve half-assed the characters. Your characters are supposed to represent people. REAL people. And the reason we read books is so we can experience the troubles of other people and internalize how they handle problems, then apply it to our own lives. How many times have you put down a book or finished a book with a bad taste in your mouth because the protagonist was unbelievable or one note? 

Exactly.

So I am rolling back the story and diving in deep to my characters to make them human and flawed and irresistible.

Last week I complained about not knowing how to write short stories and the solution to that problem was to actually READ some (DUH). I had an epic melt down trying to read bad ones online so I bought a book of short stories by Neil Gaiman called Fragile Things. Neil makes everything better. He’s like…human bacon. (That sounds wrong, lol.) In conjunction with reading this I’ll be going back and and finishing a few stories I started writing/publishing. “The Green Knight” and one called “The Incredible Crow” that started as a flash fiction piece but then demanded a longer story. (So out of my element there because it’s a mystery/thriller/murdery-y story and I don’t read or write those.)

(If you’re curious about what I use to write my flash fiction pieces here’s a cool website: https://writingexercises.co.uk/dialogue-generator.php )

Alright, more good stuff. Let’s see…I read two books from my TBR list. One of them I bought impulsively in Idaho on vacation (along with like, 5 other books. Thank god I had room in my backpack). Carry On by Rainbow Rowell and the sequel Wayward Son. (Spoiler: Don’t read these if you are homophobic. It’s just kissing though.) I blew through both of them in four fays, breaking my rule about not buying any more books until my bookcase is cleared of TBRs.

Carry On was weird and brilliant the way is sort of spoofed off “Chosen Ones”. I was fully on board with Simon and Baz. Wayward Son wasn’t as satisfying. The story meandered and had no urgency or importance, kind of like filler actually. Later it was mentioned that the author was working through some personal issues and that was probably reflected in the story. It was a bit of a painful read. A good premise “life after the Chosen One does his job” but it fell flat.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn though that Carry On was actually birthed from another book Rowell had written called Fangirl, where Simon Snow originated as an online story character inside that story. She gave him his own story. Clever of you Rainbow. Now I have to go read THAT ONE. I am excited.

School is shit. The kind that sticks to your butt and you need to use a whole roll of toilet paper to get off. But there are some good things. A classmate mentioned a cool thing that she found from the New York Times website. It’s to practice Copy Editing (which is what I’m going to school for).

This is the first one but they have many more after it if anybody is interested. I suck at it but I learn from every mistake so I’m incorporating it into my daily routine. I am also reading The Chicago Manual of Style, bit by bit. (Yes I am partly a masochist.)

So yeah.

This is me trying to look on the bright side. It’s harder this month to do so. I quit one job because it was a joke but now I’m stressed out about not having enough money to pay bills. I have a school final in 3 days that I am freaking out about because I haven’t studied and I don’t know the material at all. I already paid for the next class in the series but if I fail this one….well. Hopefully can get my money back. And worst of all, I honestly don’t know if I want to pursue this.

But! I am alive. My cold is done (besides a residual cough). I have food and warmth and a magnificently patient boyfriend that waits for me to be done with my tantrums before patting my head and saying he loves me anyway.

Life, you know? Keep living it.

I’m a Story Snob: Confessions of a dichotomous Editor

I’m trying to get back into writing.

Yay writing!

I had a long hiatus away from writing fictional stories while I was re-adjusting to my new normal and now I feel I can slowly ease back into it. In the face of the actuality though, I realize part of the reason why I stopped:

I’m crippled by the thought of writing a short story.

Like, a story under 5K words. Is that even a story? It’s a snippet, an echo, a plot bunny that could be a great novel! You only get a glimpse of the character’s lives and are left with so many more questions than are answered. It’s so hard for me to rein in my creativity and mash it down into a bare bones plot. I mean, I’ve written some and even posted them (reluctantly). And I have 16 drafts collecting virtual dust in my inbox but I don’t know what to do with them.

I came to the realization that the reason I don’t write short stories is because I don’t actually read them. I don’t know what goes into the meat of short story or how to cram the Three Act structure into a few chapters. So what does any good writer do when faced with a problem?

TO THE INTERNET!

I tried YouTube but there’s precious little on actually writing short stories on there. Strange, considering all the self-publishing going on nowadays.

There’s a buttload of anthologies I could buy (and probably will) but that didn’t help my current query.

Okay, so plan C. My daughter told me some months ago about WattPad, an online story forum. (Yes, I am kind of behind the times but I, you know, read from BOOKS, not the internet.) So I thought that would be a good place to get a feel for how people structure a short story. What are people writing about? How does the short story translate into fantasy, literary fiction, young adult?

After a brief jaunt through some interesting titles, I refocused and clicked around the short story forum.

Okay, a mild warning for those of you who have never experienced WattPad before (from my own personal agony): These are amateur authors.

Stories posted are often soft-edited (maybe one or two read-throughs for spelling/grammar errors) and possibly not even beta read.

*DEEEEP BRREEEAATTHHHHH INNNN and then OOOUUUTTTTTTT*

I couldn’t finish a single story. Not a one. My brain was in agony trying to ignore the glaring errors.

Hello, my name is Jessica and I am a story snob.

This is a problem.

Reading bad stories is going to be my chosen career.

I am seriously debating why right now.

My editor brain was screaming at me to FIX IT! FIX IT!! OH GOD IF YOU HAVE ANY MERCY IN YOU AT ALL PLEASE FIX IT!!!!!

My reader brain was unimpressed and bored.

My author brain was amazed at the courage these people have to post half-baked stories for people to read and critique. Seriously, hats off to you all.

But you see the dichotomy now? I have three minds about a completely surprising subject I never thought was a thing with me. I know I’m a picky reader and it’s gotten worse over the years as my To-Be-Read list grows exponentially. No time for bad books! Maybe though, that was a bad course to take. Pushing away bruised apples made my palate become accustomed to a richer fare. It certainly doesn’t help me become a better editor and it’s made me horribly critical of other people’s creativity.

I’m terrible! D: A story pirate, slashing hopes and dreams with my cutting judgments! I want to make it up to you! I want to help but I can’t because I’m just a fledgling editor and I don’t know how yet!

So now what? Do I subject myself to reading the badly written short stories, like a child being forced to eat their vegetables? It will indeed, gird my loins for a future in this subjective industry. But bad stories don’t help me write good ones. I am genuinely perplexed by this problem and irritated by it. Who knew that a foray into amateur stories could make me annoyed with myself? 

Flaws and all, carry on my friends. Accept it. (And read the bad ones. Someone had the courage to put that book out for public consumption.)

Risking my sanity by returning to School

In a previous post I mentioned finally taking the plunge and doing something risky I’d been contemplating for some time. It was a two-fold process I had to get through, one of which was financial aid. Everything takes money these days and this would take a significant amount. More than I could possibly save for in a year. But the Want in me over-rode the obstacle and I was lucky enough to secure a loan that not only paid off all my debt but gave me the extra I needed. Easy enough when compared to the other half of the fold, which was mental.

My mantra for 2020 is Make Yourself Valuable. After debunking the misbelief that “THE MAN” was keeping me down, a world of possibilities opened up to me. Out of all the overwhelming–I mean EXCITING– paths, however, one floated to the top. One that has always given me a sense of accomplishment and happiness.

I decided I was going to return to school. Not just school but an accelerated Online Certificate for Copy Editing at the UCSD extension Program.

First, a celebratory victory dance *Does the Carlton*

You’re Welcome.

It wasn’t exactly the path I thought I’d go down initially. I wanted (still want) to go back to school and get my English Bachelors degree. That takes a significantly larger amount of money and time though and I couldn’t find a way to ease into it with the way my life was structured at the moment. The Copy Editing course seemed like a good crash course that not only got me back into the swing of school work but it furthered my ambitions to work in the Publishing World.

Bonus, as a copy editor I could edit my own novels professionally and not look like a total ignoramus when querying!

The decision was weighed carefully over many months. The catalyst that started me down this path was meeting one of the instructors from the Program at my work. She encouraged me to check out the extension program at UCSD and we started to exchange e-mails. I hedged in the beginning and while I was getting my financials in order, I did some brain work as well.

I’ll tell you why this is such a big decision for me.

  1. I learn better in a class room. I like having peers and teachers readily available to answer questions and get feedback. I tried online school before and flamed out so this was a huge risk for me.
  2. ACCELERATED program means 10 weeks instead of three months to learn a class full of information. I decided to do this after not being in school for 14 years. HUGE RISK (that I am sort of regretting now. 34 year old brain is not the same as 20 year old brain. Retention ain’t what it used to be and I legit had an emotional break down because of it.)
  3. Copy Editing means editing manuscripts word for word. It means not being able to read for pleasure, that it becomes WORK to read. I never wanted to dive too deeply into my passions because I was afraid the creativity and love of it would wane. I never wanted to look at the books on my shelf and turn my back on them because I didn’t want my editing brain to take over my reader brain. HUUUUGE RIIIIIIIISK!!!
  4. Copy Editing jobs on the higher pay scale are mostly for technical and medical positions. I want to work at a book publishing company (which may not even happen). So I wonder if the risk is worth the pay off? (At the very least I’ll edit my own manuscripts.)

Truthfully I was scared the most of #3. Books and words have been my life for as long as I can remember. Losing my passion for them would break me. But instead of letting fear turn me away, I decided I would just have to find the balance between work and play.

I dove in. I enrolled; I ordered books; I e-mailed the the instructor. Then I told EVERYONE. I was so excited and proud! I didn’t have to get a loan from my grandparents. I researched the program on my own and made my own opinions about it. I set up internet at my house (a huge financial accomplishment in and of itself).

I was doing it. I WAS ADULTING!!

First Day: Learning about Nouns! Easy! I totes got this!

Bleeding Christ on a mutha effing stick.

Did you know there are 10 different kinds of nouns? Nope, neither did I. There are even more types of Verbs. All of them have their own set of rules and their own set of exceptions. The book had sentences like this:

Form phrases with nouns or pronouns as objects of the preposition

You could practically see the question marks popping out of my skull like some cartoon character.

Other students in my class seemed to be whizzing by on their merry way. The course seemed to be a refresher for them and they all seemed way more qualified to be there than I did. (A lot of assumption here.) Most of them were in the medical field, learning Grammar to further their already successful careers.

The first test gave me an emotional break down. Hysterical, crying, snotty, spitty break down. I couldn’t even look at my text books without crying and seizing with panic. I kid you not.

School was always my strong suit. School, especially English and Language Arts, was ALWAYS EASY for me. I’ve been stuck in this mentality since graduating college in 2006. How was I supposed to prepare myself for the crappy reality that smacked me in the face with a lead pipe? I went into this ill-prepared.

My boyfriend gave me some hard facts too. He said I wasn’t special. Now before you gasp in shock and demand his head on a pole, he was referring to my being a student. The sense of fear and failure that I was feeling was exactly like every other student in every other school the world over. The fact that I did have it so easy in school was actually a huge detriment to me.

You see, because school was so easy for me, I never truly had to study. I never had to take proper notes or consult with a tutor on study habits or carve out time to study for tests. I didn’t develop good habits when school was “easy”. Now I’m paying for it by having to learn it now, in a difficult accelerated course 14 years out of practice.

OY VEY.

On top of that, I’m maintain both my jobs, which is a mental and physical strain. It seemed bleak. I admit, there were moments I regretted getting into it. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. But I never thought about quitting. Not after all the work I put into getting there. I’m paying for it financially and emotionally. I earned the right to be at the damn school! And, most important, learning was fun. ha. Haha.

And then I came to a point where the material was something I actually KNEW. I got 100% on the test. I had an intelligent and knowledgeable discussion with my class mates. A ray of sunlight! I’m happy to report that school is on an upward trend, though I have to study harder and longer to retain the information. Most of the time I find that my instincts about editing are correct, which is a relief. But I can’t be a copy editor on instinct alone. I have to learn the rules. And when to break them.

Red Pen of Death needs refinement and that’s why I’m here.

-I faced the fear of financial debt

-I faced the mental fear of losing a passion of mine to work

-I faced the psychological fear, the hard facts that I’m NOT SPECIAL; I’m normal and that’s okay!

-I’m grappling with the emotional fear that after all this, I’ll still suck at being an Editor.

But I am a divorced 34 year old woman, 14 years out of school, holding down two jobs, a difficult Grammar class, a long distance relationship, and successfully co-parenting my children. Past Jessica doesn’t even recognize this woman.

I AM SO FECKING PROUD OF MYSELF.