The Devil is in the Details: more is better

People start new stories a myriad of different ways. Sometimes it’s a flash of a scene they see in their mind’s eye or the lyrics to a song that sparks some dialogue. A specific smell might trigger it or the way someone is dressed.

I don’t know if it’s true of everyone but I like to believe that writers have a stronger connection to certain parts of a story than others so when inspiration strikes, that strength comes to the foreground.

For instance, you could be thumbing through a magazine and see a beautiful cursive type font and suddenly you see a young woman from Jane Austen’s world penning a letter over a scarred and ink-stained desk, a tendril of copper hair escaping her severe bun. Or you can hear the distant refrain from some classical Russian Ballet soundtrack and then you’re meandering down cobblestone streets, carrying a basket of fruit and bread down an alleyway to take home for dinner and you look up to admire the cloudless day in between the white washed buildings.

One is character driven inspiration and one is world driven.

When I write, I tend to be more character driven. I love the process of picking out names and giving the blank slate mannequins different personalities. I used to be really bad at creating believable characters. I would pour into them sugar, spice and everything nice on top of all my personal hopes and dreams. Guitar playing? Yep, since childhood. Knows several languages? Bein sûr! Can run 5k marathons and hike Mount Everest–without oxygen? Cake walk! And that’s just the main character.

Yeah I know >< We all start somewhere. (Keep that in mind when you’re writing!)

I’ve since learned to spread those qualities out among the entire cast. I’ve also learned that they really do need annoying habits and quirks to make them believable. I created a character that pretty much hates everything except music and death. He’s my first anti-hero and probably the most extreme character I’ve ever created. I’ve also made a character that sacrifices so much of herself for other people that she never figured out what she wanted out of life and has to journey to figure it out. Another extreme.

It was some big personal growth for me realizing how one-note my cast was and fixing it, adding to it and balancing them appropriately. I was pretty proud! I could re-read my drafts now and nod approvingly. Yes, these could be real people walking down the street. Yay me! Gold star on my forehead!

I still have more growth that needs to happen though, naturally. I realized this as I was trying to go back to writing one of my NaNoWriMo stories, “Hourglass”. In a nut shell, I abhor details.

Lemme explain.

I had my three main characters set up in this story. They had names and personalities that played off each other. They had importance in the story and provided plenty of conflict. All seemed well until I came to a flash back. Ahh crap. This means I need to provide BACKGROUND. And here, my friends, is where my downfall is while creating my characters.

Background. History. Family. Childhood.

Now these things don’t seem like they’re important in most stories. Unless you’re writing a biography or writing a lot about the character’s history, you’ll only ever really write about key events from their past to explain their current behaviors. Minimal effort put into the background may seem sufficient. Plus, this is a lot of extra work, writing down background stuff that may never end up in the story at all.

BUT MAYBE IT WILL.

I had an instance where my character basically had to go back and visit her husband in the past. She had to get answers from him that would determine her future actions. It is a rather pivotal scene that I’ve been stuck on for a long while because I never gave her enough history to augment this dialogue.

Creating history for your cast or characters can only benefit you in the long run. And the beauty of it is that you can make it as detailed or as simple as you like. If you don’t know how to start, there are tons of questionnaires out there on the internet. You can google it and come up with hundreds of results. There’s no shame in using them! There’s also no shame in changing details when you need to. Great aunt Mildred can become Great Aunt Tessie. Daddy could have died of leukemia instead of sickle-cell anemia. Favorite childhood snack could be popcorn instead of brownies.

The point of it is, to have the information on hand when it’s needed. Or even when it’s not needed. Often writers will have secrets about their characters that no one else is supposed to know, not even the readers, but sometimes they slip in anyway. Go for it! Details like that make them seem more alive and personable.

Plus, creating a character background allows you to be on-on-one with your cast. You can really get to know them, ask them questions and get answers. You’ll be able to know exactly how he/she will react in any given situation because you know them so well. They won’t act out of character when a bomb blows up their car or they’re passionately kissed by a stranger because you, as a writer, took the time to familiarize yourself with their personalities.

Yes. This is more work on top of everything else a writer is “supposed” to do but think of it as building a foundation. These details will build your stories brick by brick until you’ve created a mansion for readers to frolick through and enjoy.

Put in the work, reap the rewards!

Real or Not Real? Location, location, location!

Hello my friends. Welcome back!

Lately I’ve been thinking about locations. Why? Well, I live in southern California and recently I’ve decided that the weather is bi-polar. Yep. I’ve taken to wearing tank tops with a coat just so I’m prepared for any eventuality. Being on the coast, we have such a thing called “May Gray” and “June Gloom.” It’s a time of year where we get a cloudy maritime layer of yuck over the city for the better part of the day and the sweet Cali sun will bust through. This year the weather seems to be flip-flopping a bit more than usual and I find I have to change my clothing at least once a day to follow suit.

Annoying sometimes as a resident. Intriguing as a Writer.

This got me thinking about all the books I’ve read that were based on real cities and places. I really love it when authors do this. The fact that I could board a plane to Forks, Washington or Manhattan, New York and follow the steps of the character; see the sights they saw and ate where they ate is very appealing. There’s a kind of grounding in reality with this kind of setting. Blue sky. Green grass. Neon lights. Yapping dogs. It’s comforting and familiar and it makes me that much more connected to the book.

I’ve set my “Silver Sun” story partly in my own city. I love being able to share a walk down Main Street with my readers and describe the smell of Thai food mixing with the pizza place across the street. I can include real live people (with permission of course) that I’ve talked to, like my favorite postal worker and my cat’s veterinarian. Not to mention its kind of cheating. There’s no need to make up a city and people to interact with. They’re already pre-set for the writing!

It definitely has appeal for a writer (and a resident in my case. I’m lucky to live in my little paradise.) Even less than desirable cities and neighborhoods can make intriguing stories. “Cry, the Beloved Country” by Alan Paton comes to mind and “A Child called It” by Dave Pelzer We just wouldn’t necessarily want to GO to those places. They’re tangible locations you could put  a pin in on a map though.

Then again you can also change reality and still base it on earthly locations. A melding of the two. There’s a whole genre that has explored this phenomenon and it’s called “Fiction” with sub-genres such as Paranormal, Science Fiction, and Magical Realism. A certain percentage of the story is based on earth with cities and people who resemble reality but might have portals to other worlds or have mythical creatures walking among the humans.

I think that would be a really awesome reality to live in. This kind of setting is where I base a lot of my stories in. There’s so much freedom! To be able to blow up the Golden Gate Bridge and then rebuild it with super advanced alien technology or step through a mirror and end up in another realm is appealing to imagine, not to mention write. You can choose how much science and how much fantasy are included in your story although you run the risk of getting those ultra fussy critics that demand facts to support your werewolf metamorphosis theory.  (My husband is one of these *ROLLS EYES*)

And then there is, in my opinion, the hardest kind of setting to write. Let’s sing about it Jasmine!

~”A whollee neewww worrlllddddd! A dazzling place I never knew!”~

Sorry. There’s your ear worm for the week. But it’s true. Writing an entirely new world is a daunting task. I’ve read quite a few Epic fantasy sagas that are so rich in politics and language and lore I wonder how they ever found the time to FINISH it. “The Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien, “Symphony of Ages” by Elizabeth Haydon and “The Belgariad/Mallorean” series by David Eddings. So much work and thought and love went into each one of these stories. But even these are still roughly based on reality.

Creme de la Creme? Science Fiction writing. How about we take all this up to the stars? I don’t read much Science Fiction because it’s not my cup of tea but I greatly admire authors who write this genre. This is completely new territory that they literally build from scratch. So little is known about space and what IS known barely makes sense to the professionals who study it much less curious writers. However, this, in its own way, gives complete freedom to the author to write whatever they want; even more so than fantasy writers.

Advanced technology. Brand new races of people. New threats and planets and galaxies born from their imagination. New problems and conflicts and malfunctions. New issues with politics and marriage and bearing children. All off the surface of the earth into the last frontier. How amazing is that?!

I certainly don’t have the fortitude or the will to create something out of nothing. Yet. Baby steps. But deciding where you’re going to base your story changes the whole tone of it. The setting really IS its own character. Probably the most important side character ever. World building gives the reader a frame of reference to where everything is happening to the main characters and paints the canvas of your mind with color and feeling. Don’t treat it like the background that it is. Make sure you can engage all five senses when you’re writing and have your characters interact with their surroundings frequently.

Keep it real. Or fantastical ;D Your choice!

Enjoy and keep plodding.

They

One step.

It is not the first step. She’d been on this path for years, suffering the injustice of detours and blockages and deserts where there was nothing. Just nothing. Only her footfalls and the vague notion to keep going. Even if it was only an inch a day, the way must be forward.

Why? Because it was where They told her to go, just like they told you.

You know, the They that starts as a feeling when you’re little. “I want to be a grown up!” You don’t know why the words come out of your mouth but it seemed to make sense and everyone laughed and patted your head. Rewards. Child-like mentality morphed this veiled self-deprecation from the adults into a Good Idea and so it tried to get more pats on the head. You dress in slacks and dresses, putting on dad’s ties and mom’s lipstick. They approve. The adults laugh some more. It’s so FUN to be an adult!

Then They shove you into a classroom for 14 years and you really begin to wonder why you ever wanted to grow up. Oh no! Throw something shiny out there! Distract! Distract! Oh phones. Oh cars. Oh wonder! This is worth it. Now it is not your parents that pat your head but your peers. You’re in with them for having the newest and best; you’re in with Them too.

Go forward, sheep. Let us shepherd you. Have we done you wrong before? Here, have a little treat.

They smack us with sex and love and desire. Now there’s a new kind of shiny in our eyes and it’s a tangled web we lay down in the middle of. Be careful, They warn, showering us with condoms and birth control and lectures of abstinence. How dichotomous. They smirk as we walk away blindly. We’re content with the knowledge that we’re doing the Right Thing. We lay down on the web, spread our legs as the chemicals mingle with our heated blood and a thin tube of latex slides over and then in. We give up our last shred of innocence for it. Shiny, happy sweaty bliss.

It’s natural! They say. God says it. Science says it. Chemistry and Physiology say so too. It’s supposed to happen. Don’t blame Us if accidents happen.

What was that? We hear whispers of the girl who dropped out of school because of an “accident”. Her friends don’t know what happened to her. She just got quiet one day and left. That boy in the locker room too. He has bruises in places boys should not have bruises. He winces when he moves and he won’t meet your eye. What–

Shhh! Shh! It’s okay! Let’s move on! See here? See that shiny seal on your diploma? That’s your ticket out kid. Ticket to better!

There’s better? Show us!

Okay. We won’t look back. It didn’t happen to us so we should look ahead right? Right. And now we’re free. Free to pursue our dreams! We’re grown ups now! But…what do we do? In the board game of Life we can either start with a career or go to college and pursue our dreams. Money is the new shiny. Do we want money now or potentially more money later with the added bonus of having our dreams come true (and thousands in debt but it’s worth it, right? Right.)

They don’t care. As long as its money. It’s the ONLY way to go. We have green blinders on with dead men’s faces glaring at us. Make money to get your own place They say. It’s freedom from your parent’s entrapment. Key word here: Freedom. No more oppression. You are your own boss! Only figuratively though. They know who the real boss is but they’ll let you believe other wise for a little longer.

Progress will be slower now. They sigh in sympathy and pat our heads again as our faces fall. There won’t be instant fame and riches like the story books say? Like Instagram and Twitter say? No, little sheep. Only work. We accept this because it’s comfort. Billions have walked this path before us and paved the way. It’s easier for us now than it was back then. It’ll be worth it, They say. Just wait and see. This is freedom! This is Life and we can live it within the parameter’s of our own determination. Go get your own place and fill it with Our stuff. We mean YOUR stuff, but really it’s our. You can make it your own though. DIY art work for the walls and cover the stained second-hand couch with crochet blankets. Call your chipped and cracked mugs “shabby chic” and display them on a shelf you made by yourself. Whatever you need to tell yourself to feed the machine.

What machine…?

We mean your soul! You SOUL. Slip of the tongue. Never you mind.

We’ll forgive you, They said, for having the thrift store crap because we know you’re just starting out. But you need to keep up with the times! New! New! New! Here’s a perk to put a smile on your face. You’re a freshly sheered sheep, bewildered and lost so here, let us give you a security blanket. Have a credit card or three. It’s free money! Why don’t you try it out, hmm? A little present for yourself. How about that laptop? You’ll need one for sure.

College or career? Money. Either way it’s still slavitude. Oh but don’t call it that! Having a negative attitude won’t do anybody any good. You’ll do your job and be happy about it or back to your parents you go. Remember that cushy hell? Remember the curfew and the fights and the oppression? Smile! Work for Them and you’ll surely go farther than you’d ever dreamed. Surely! Determination! Only you hold yourself back. Pay no mind to those shackles on your ankles. They’re just another convenient shiny to make sure you don’t lose Their way. Look, if you save enough money you can even get them in diamond and gold. Shiny.

After our shifts at the factories and after classes are done we sit tiredly with our new computers and browse the web with hate-filled eyes turning greener by the second. We stare longingly at pictures of fish faced models and rookie super stars discovered right out of high school. AMAZING!  We start thinking too much then. I Wish (insert chosen words here). Wish I’d stayed in that rock band. Wish I could have that car. Wish I could fuck her every night. Wish I could back pack through Europe. Wish I had that much money. Wish I could get breast implants.

Greedy sheep! Greedy menial sheep!

They’re furious. They scold us for wanting more. They have a plan for us and we’re going to follow it dammit or else They’ll–

No. No no, this is fine. Okay. You’re unhappy. Let’s revisit. They spread the silvery silky web out over our beds again and fill our eyes with love and lust. Little Beautiful flies. Intimate fantasies playing in our strange heads. Heart pounding and heat building. Suddenly our hands aren’t enough anymore. We have money now. We have our own place. We don’t have to hide anything or be quiet or leave the minute he’s done out of fear. Hey, your old boyfriend is single. Facebook says so. And that girl at work looks pretty cute. Wonder if she’s into threesomes.

Money and sex. Free. New. SMILE.

They steeple their fingers in front of Their Cheshire cat grins. We don’t hear their sadistic laughter. It’s drowned out by the moaning, grunting and cursing; the boss yelling and the parent’s complaining they never hear from you anymore. Our eyes are filled with tanned firm flesh and glittery gold and sculpted perfection.

When they yank away the blinders, Real Life rushes in like a starved succubus.

She fucks us like no tomorrow. She flays us with reality. There are accidents and lay offs and evictions. What? What? Help! We can’t blame them remember? They warned us. Everyone warned us. We were just too overwhelmed to hear; too blind with the shiny. Too full of wanton. We wanted and we got. Congratulations.

“Give em’ the ol’ Razzle Dazzle…”

She found out what happened to the girls who stopped coming to school. It wasn’t her fault, or his. Accidents happen. She had the chemicals and he had the latex. Bad day was all. Circumstances. They warned us. Can’t go back. Only forward along the path of millions of heart-broken and shattered.

They shook their heads and folded their arms. Fucked up didn’t you? There’s  away out you know. One easy procedure and you’ll never have to think about it again…

NO! NEVER! Moral high ground kicks in. Dreams get trampled under the crushing weight of disappointment and fear.

They take her shoulders and turn her down another path. Is this what you want? Take a good look. 18 years of that. Can you deal? We offer so much more opportunity. Work for us! Get the procedure. Forget. And when you’re ready, when you’ve paid your dues; try again.

She looked back and forth. They looked the same.

Now the truly hard grown up decisions have to be made. The ones that make us want to be a kid again. What to do? She called out. What to do? They were silent.

“I’m keeping it,” she said stubbornly and they thrust her roughly down the new path, disgusted. She landed on her knees and was scarred forever.

“Useless! Moocher! Stupid!”

They are angry now. Now THEY have to support HER. One less drop in the bucket for them. They withdrew. Now she was in their shadow, their backs turned. Forgotten like all the other girls. No more Shinies to distract. They were done investing in her.

She was alone now.

This is what she got for wanting too much. Being greedy. They told her. They showed her. Now life begins again from the other side and she will see with new eyes. She will be shackled thrice over. Ankles and breast and left ring finger and they will weight on her like a solid steel yoke. A cross to bear; a scarlet letter that in nine months will forever be walking beside her, a reminder. In its tiny newborn eyes she will see the last vestiges of her dreams die. “I do” sounds like a knell to her ear. She was round like the earth in her long cream silk dress.

She tried to slough off the cross in the beginning. They had one thing right; determination was everything. She railed against the ring bearer, blaming him. She secretly loathed the milk sucker but fear kept her mouth shut. What monster hated her children? And she didn’t really hate them. But it took away her choice; her freedom. Her dreams.

One foot in front of the other. Forward and more forward.

Years blended together. Same scenes. Sun rise and sun set. Bottles. Sippy cups. More sex and another one came. Another milk sucker but she was less scared this time. Less everything. She became comfortably numb. This wasn’t so bad. The path wasn’t as bad as she thought. There were others walking with her, bent over, eyes on the ground. Nobody wanted to look around, even for comfort. What was the point? There was no hope here. But there they all were, together.

Broken record. Broken record. Broken rec–Yes she knows this was her fault now. Hind sight is 20/20. It’s not so bad. She is beaten. They are smug. She travels deeper into their shadow.

She learned a new kind of strength, carrying her yoke around. She learned patience and acceptance. She learned it wasn’t so bad having her heart being torn; half on the inside, half outside walking around. It wasn’t bad being comfortable; being taken care of. She learned to master a new kind of role as Mother. They pigeon-holed her into it and her shoulders fit snugly into the metal machines and shiny screens that flashed numbers and dollar signs. Too little. Never enough. More! They molded her to it.

Step. Step. Step. Stumble. Knees. Get up. Dust off the scars.

Step. Stumble. Knees.

She knelt there for a minute, eyes still on the path. The others shuffled around her, stepping in time to a dull march like useless soldiers in a war they’re going to lose. Grow up, grow old, grow dead. Feed the machine. Make money. Who cares about happiness and dreams. Those are for shiny-eyed children and idealists. The rest of them…keep going. Up, Old, Dead.

She didn’t rise. She didn’t rebel. She didn’t think. She just knelt. She didn’t wait for or expect anything. Her path was laid out for her. It was easy. In a minute, she’ll get up again.

“Can I show you?”

A blue bird landed on her shoulder and she stilled. So beautiful…not shiny at all.

“Can I show you?”

“You can’t. My path. My choices. There is nothing else.”

“There is. I can show you. Let me show you.”

She shrugged and the bird flitted away. She didn’t watch it go. But she did get up and step again. Same as she’d always been; same as the others. Why her? It came back but was silent and she tried to shrug again. It fluttered and his wing brushed her cheek. For a moment, the glaze over her eyes shifted and she saw neon. The bird settled and she settled as well. Months more. She grew to accept this trifling burden and grew accustomed to saying “no” when he asked.

“Can I show you? Will you see? Let me show you.”

“No. No. No.”

“Why?”

“I chose this. This is my life.”

“Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?”

She stopped. Yes or no. It didn’t fit. It was always yes or no. Yes the path. No the walker. Yes the walker, no the path? The glaze shifted again and she saw a glimpse. Jewels. Not diamonds and facets and shiny. Colors. plants. Flowers. Where?

“Where?”

“Look over there. Look! Look!”

The bird flew from her shoulder. Her neck was stiff and ached to turn. The yoke gripped tight and it was almost too much to bear. But from the corner of her eye, she saw. A break in the path. A dark tunnel and a speck of rainbow. Her heart thudded once, very loud and then her head was forced back around and down. Back into position. She relaxed back into the mold; the effort was tremendous.

“It’s fine for now. Let me show you.”

There were more words. Not just no? She tried.

“Give me time?”

He was pleased. He ruffled his feathers in contentment. She didn’t know why.

“All you need. I am here.” And he was.

Everyday she stretched her neck farther and farther around, wincing against the yoke but deciding the pain was worth it. She tracked the blue bird with her eyes as he flew circles over her head and hid in the dull scenery of her life path. Wherever he touched seemed to glow and become alive. Brown became ocher. Green became emerald. Red became crimson. Always he would fly back to her shoulder. He would bend his wing out and tickle her cheek in greeting and her mask cracked a little more with every smile. Step by step he drew closer to her. Step by step, together, forward.

Sometimes she would return to her glazed state and plod along in line with the others. The bird knew these were times for introspection for her and he remained by her side instead of flying, ready to draw her out if she’d been under too long. She didn’t see it, but he ever so slightly loosened the bolts and screws holding her yoke in place so that every time she came awake again, she could move a little more freely.

They did not see. They did not care. She was a drop in the bucket, unworthy of Their attention. She was a Mother, not a worker. She did nothing for them. Why would They care?

He cared. He watched. She stumbled that time and paused. He saw it was time. Slowly; so slowly, she was beginning to see. There were paths hidden in plain sight if she would only look. He could show her. He could lead her. But he was only so small in her mind. A tiny voice. A pretty distraction. He needed to be bigger. So he became a child, full of dreams and ideals.

“Let me show you.”

The shock of a warm and tiny hand sliding into hers jolted her awake, the glaze leaving her eyes permanently. She was a mother. She knew instinctively what to do. She picked him up and carried him and he laid his head on her shoulder, clinging to her. She kisses his cheek and raspberried his neck to make him laugh. Her arms never grew tired of carrying him and she didn’t complain. That was what They taught her to do. This was her life. But it was more now. She began to feel joy again.

The boy watched over her shoulder as she left a trail of seedlings and sprouts in her footsteps. Bright little footsteps of green moss like a beacon against the brittle thistles. The others trampled it almost immediately after but he saw it. She didn’t but she would. Soon it would be in front of her and she would be amazed at what she could create. He would wait.

The happier she became, the bigger he became. Soon she couldn’t hold him on her hip anymore and instead, decided to carry him on her back. The yoke slipped off. It didn’t make a sound as it hit the ground and disintegrated into dust. She didn’t seem to notice. He laid against her back and watched the gold in her hair flicker in the light as she walked. Step. Step. Step. Now tireless. Strong steps. She was getting stronger.

“What do you have to show me?” she finally asked one day. It wasn’t any kind of special day. But she asked.

He rejoiced and danced and ran away and then back, carrying flowers with such brilliant shades they stung her eyes.

“What are these?” she asked, running a finger along a graceful petal. She remembered this shape. She remembered this color. There was dew on them as if a spring rain had come through when she wasn’t looking and coated them in liquid crystal.

“They’re yours,” he insisted.

“Why are they wet?” she asked.

“It’s your tears.”

She smiled at him and stood. Her eyes looked away though and were sad.

“Not mine. They’re pretty but not mine. You keep them.”

He did but he became just as sad. She still didn’t see. They didn’t speak of the flowers for a long time. He started to go away for longer and longer periods of time and she fretted. She tried not to show it. Kids will be kids. She stepped in time; kept the line. Step. Step. She was used to this.

Step. Stop.

She looked left. Looked for him and then looked right. She needed to find him. Which way? All ways were wrong except forward. No one deviates. No one sees beyond.

“Just pick and I will be there.”

She wished the Blue Bird would come again and show her which path was safe. Paths were safe and not safe. She’s stumbled before and gotten hurt. But always going forward. What kind of pain would come if she went sideways?

“You can do this. Take a step. One step not forward.”

That voice. So clear. So sure. She chose Left. She interrupted the path of the person beside her but she didn’t seem to care. Step Left. Step Left. The shiny shackles caught at her, trying to trip her, trying to re-correct her. She was almost free of the Path. One more step! The shackles dug in like a bear trap around her ankle and jerked her leg back, pitching her forward. Always forward. She would have hit the ground except for the strong pair of arms caught her. They pulled together and she felt the agonizing grip of the shackle biting into her leg. Blood dripped and tears dripped and sweat beaded on her brow.

“I WANT TO SEE!” she screamed.

And suddenly, she was free. The arms swung her up as if she now, were the child. She rested her head against the man’s neck, her ankle burning, her chest burning and the ring finger on her left hand burning. Her slavitude chains. Warning! Warning! This is not the way! Turn back and go no further. Beware. Beware! They stood there for a moment and watched the sheep-like zombies move forward.

“It’s time.”

“Yes.”

They turned away together from the forward path. She was keenly aware of her chains and it made her afraid. She buried her face in his shirt and closed her eyes. What if They saw? What if she was ripped away and sent back to follow? Could They do that? She almost wanted to turn back. The fear of the unknown haunted her and gripped her heart painfully.

“Let me show you. Look.”

The man set down and settled her in his lap, one hand on her face, coaxing her to see. Soft, like a bird’s wing. Like a child’s fingertip tracing her cheeks. She fisted a portion of his shirt in her hand, like a scared child might do, and cautiously opened one eye.

Flowers. There were Everywhere. Bright perfect blooms as far as she could see. She opened both eyes and finally Saw. There was a tiny break in the chain. She didn’t notice. She was enthralled.

“They’re yours,” he insisted.

“What?”

“You said I could keep them. I planted them and they grew.”

She climbed down off his lap now and moved toward the blossoms.

“I remember this one,” she whispered.

The shape and color of it were so familiar but she could barely remember why. When she touched it and it opened, she saw dew inside.

“Look closer.”

She bent and cupped the blossom in her hands and squinted in at it. And there it was. Once upon a dream. Her dream. She caught another flower and it bloomed in her palm, showing her another.

“All mine? You’ve kept them all?”

He smiled and came forward to take her hand. They walked through the field. Before her eyes, more and more flowers grew straight and tall, revealing their delicate blushing insides. Tender dreams and hopes, cultivated and grown with loving care.

“I thought they were lost.”

“Only forgotten,” he said. “You had to see to believe.”

The chains around her chest softly slithered down her body and disappeared into the field. She sprinkled the flowers with the tears from her eyes and they grew bigger. Hand in hand they looked and saw.

“Where are your dreams?” she asked.

“Can I show you?”

“Yes.”

The word felt alien and sumptuous on her tongue.

“Yes. Show me. Yes I want to see.”

If he can do this to her dreams, how much more alive and beautiful are his? Did everything he touch grow so fantastically? She wanted him to touch her more. They started moving uphill toward a Honolulu blue sky. She struggled a bit and he helped, boosting her up. One foot in front of the other they leaned on one another, struggling until finally coming to rest on a precipice.

Out in front and above was a clear cloudless forever. She could fly out there now. The yoke was gone. She could build herself wings from the colorful dreams in her garden and she could fly higher than she ever imagined. No anchor. No chains. Only her and the air and the sun. The thought appealed to her so much she nearly stepped into it from longing.

But then he caught her and pressed her close and she looked down. She clung to him as she looked down in terror at the dark abyss of unknown below.

“What’s down there?”

He squeezed her tighter and she felt his heart pounding against her back.

“You can’t see it yet, but I can. It’s dark for you but I see my future clear. It has you in it.”

He turned and cupped her face in his hands, kissing her forehead, her cheeks, her nose. She closed her eyes and tried to see.

“Can I show you?”

For the first time in a long time, she wanted. Wanted to dream again, wanted to lead her own life, wanted to explore this man and what he had to offer. Not follow. But be at his side for whatever he wanted her to see. It was just…

“Can I take my dreams too?” she asked.

He understood. He saw the fear of replacing one shackle with another. She didn’t know him yet, but she would and she would see everything clear. Make her own decision. He bent down and plucked a brilliant orange flower and tucked it behind her ear.

“We can plant them beside mine and they’ll grow together, if you like.”

Her heart raced with fear and excitement, alive again in her garden of eden. No Shiny. No Them. Just him and her. Organic, home-grown, love and hopes and dreams. Could she leave it for him? Could she grow another one alongside him, cherish his dreams alongside hers?

“Are you ready?”

She clasped his hand and looked only at him, trusting.

The ring from her hand tinkled on the rocks as they dove down into her unknown. It tarnished, disintegrated and blew away and she never thought about it again. She was free.

Cowboy up!

Writing is tough. It is. Authors put parts of their souls onto paper for people to critique or love or hate. The idiots that scoff and wave their hands and say writing is easy obviously have never tried. Not seriously anyway.

In a way, writing is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. Even giving birth to my two children was easy compared to this. The pain was temporary and the joy is endless. Not so with a novel. You toil much and edit mercilessly for a manuscript that MIGHT get published or most likely, will get rejected.

I failed my challenge this month. I failed my 52k in May. I had a lot of life-changing shit going on so excuse me for not being able to concentrate on making my dreams come true. Even professional writers get reprieves for this kind of stuff.

I’m not as upset by this as I used to be. I used to beat myself up every NaNoWriMo I didn’t win. I realize now that there’s no rush to make this particular dream come true because I can get published at any age and there’s a whollleeeeee lot I need to learn before that can happen anyway.

The most important lesson I’ve learned over the last couple years is this:

Dust yourself off. Get on the bull again. Cowboy up!

Cowgirl…whatever.

I got knocked on my ass. I took a break despite many blogs advising against it. (Taking advice is another part of my journey I suppose.) Things are still shaky and weird and the writing momentum is completely lost. So now it’s time to build myself back up. I won’t be able to write 2K a day but I CAN write everyday. That’s more important anyway. Write until it becomes habit. It’s the foundation of every novelist.

This is one of the reasons I say writing is one of the hardest things to do, especially for nublets. Changing habits can be hard. Learning to set aside time to write and make it a priority when everything else is also pressing against you wanting to be number one priority as well is exhausting to sort out. It feels like when you bring one thing closer and focus on it, everything else goes to crap.

Exercise more and the house suffers.

Cook and eat healthier and the writing suffers.

Write more and the family suffers.

I bet you didn’t know you’d have to learn to juggle when you decided to become a writer huh? Yeah me either.

I know it’s all about balance and finding the routine that works for you. But even this can crumble under the overwhelming circumstances. So what do ya do?

COWBOY UP.

Get right back on it. Accept the fact you failed this time and you probably will many more times afterward. But never sink low enough to be a quitter. Remember this is the path you chose. You didn’t choose it because it was easy. You chose your dream and now you have to follow it.

“Does the walker choose the path or the path choose the walker?”~ Abhorsen, Garth Nix

Even if it’s by a thread, hang on. Face the fear of failure and conquer it by choosing everyday to write one word. Ten words. Five hundred words. Take a break if you need; reevaluate your priorities if you need. You can change the direction of your path. Just don’t quit on it completely.

My grip on this concept is tenuous at best right now. I remember when I started this I was going to have novels piled on more novels and I was going to make millions and put my girls through college. I was going to tour the US and Europe like J.K. Rowling and be famous and then take a sojourn to my little castle on a hill somewhere with my herd of Pit Bull doggies.

That’s still possible. It’s just a much farther off vision than I anticipated. I’m scared it won’t ever happen. But that’s why having a solid foundation of good writing practices is important. Start at the base and then build your pillars. If they fall down, build them again, stronger. And above all don’t EVER give up.

Just don’t.

COWBOY UP instead.

Split Personality: lexicon Sabotage

Dr. Jessica and Mrs. Hide-the-beiotch psycho Jess. This has been my life this month.

I was set to do a challenge: 52K in May that my bestie Owen generously crammed into my busy stay-at-home-mom schedule. It was only two thousand words a day. Seemed easy enough. Even challenged myself to try to finish a rough draft.

You may have noticed I was speaking in the past tense. Yeaahhhhhh. I haven’t even hit the 20K mark.

I can’t say I didn’t see this coming, especially given the life-changing events that happened in the first week of May. Plus I just know me. I did tell Owen I would start strong and peter out. I haven’t developed that fine skill called “discipline” yet. I write my blog posts because I must but I have about 7 half-finished Mother Project stories and uncategorized fiction pieces. My story has one and a half scenes done in it.

I tried many days to sit and force myself to write at least 1000 words. Then it was 800. Then it was even 200. I was slipping away from reality.

It was overkill. Emotionally strapped. Mentally tapped. Physically exhausted from the stress. Happy Pinkie Pie Jessica was gone. Mrs. Hide-a-beiotch came out to glare. There was no way I was going to write another damnable word until I was good and ready. This started a downward spiral of “not caring”. This was different that the “take a break and come right back” situations. This was a full-on “I EFFING HATE YOU GET AWAY FROM ME” situation.

Boycott for three days.

I did nothing except the basics. Fed the family. Got the kids to and from school. Fought off the outbreak of the Norovirus going around. There was a cease-fire in my life.

Normal Jessica could only sit and watch helplessly as one, two, three days went by with no progress. She watched as Black Jess moved listlessly from activity to activity, trying to find something interesting to do. It was just too much to even do those things. Lots of naps were taken.

Congratulations are in order though, for the part of me that’s developed enough to recognize the urgency of needing to write. That was something I hadn’t been able to cultivate before. I sat within my own skin and as my deadline got closer and closer, the more I pressed against the skin of my Stubbornness to try to break free. I am sabotaging myself and I can see it. One step forward, two steps back.

“WRITE!” I screamed to unresponsive fingers. “Write anything! Just put words down!”

Black Jess summarily ignored the pleas and proceeded to eat a second brownie.

This post is the first thing I’ve written in four days and it’s only being written because I’ve trained myself over the last year that Monday Blogs are Necessary. Yes, it took a whole year of consistency to get this small victory locked in and it’ll take even longer to move past the other barriers keeping me from being a successful writer. I AM proud of it. I can give myself credit for this. But…

How does that saying go? “Leo the late bloomer…?” AKA extreme procrastinator. I’m the Queen of it.

You see, my split personality sabotages me. Black Jess is very much a self-satisfier; child-like and demanding. She will absolutely refuse to do anything that doesn’t please her. Nothing will shake her out of this mood until she’s good and ready to be shaken. I believe this will be the biggest stumbling block of mine. Publishers and agents won’t take tantrums as an excuse for unwritten manuscripts. They don’t got time for that. Time is money and they will cauterize any leaks the suspect will be a long-term problem.

I have to write like my life depends on it. My happiness certainly does. It’s my biggest dream after all and it deserves every effort from me. But I don’t know how to force myself to write when Black Jess comes out. I don’t know how to do ANYTHING when she comes out except sleep. I’m genuinely concerned about this Mr. Hyde quality in myself. Is it manifestations of the stress I’ve been feeling? Is it the culmination of a lifetime of being sheltered and spoiled? Do I just wait it out and come back when I can? Do I schedule “writing vacations” so this doesn’t happen randomly?

I have no answers for these things and I know I’ll have to figure it out before I start to seriously query agents.

How do you deal with these types of things? I sincerely want to know.

More than Words– Part 4 (#7)

Part 1 HERE  Part 2 HERE  Part 3 HERE

5 minutes till game time. My kitchen was clean, the trash was taken out and I took a record breaking short shower. 12 texts from Alma, demanding to know why she hadn’t been informed of my sickness. 1 text from Gale, making sure I really didn’t need anything. Nothing else on my phone though. Even though it had been with me in the bathroom where I could hear it clearly, I still checked. Dammit.

I sat back on the sofa, brushing my hair, the TV remote in my lap. My blanket would be done by half time. Rather, the blanket I stole from Jer would be done. It was the blanket that started me on the path to being an Registered Dietitian for a sports team. It was a “lucky” blanket now, forever immortalized in my mind and forever on the “do not throw away” list (much to Jer’s relief I imagine. It WAS his favorite after all.)

I was not a football fan by any means growing up. My mother was a die hard Packers fan. She had the Farve jersey, the cheese head and everything. While she hollered and screamed at the refs, I would hibernate in my room with head phones in, blasting music whenever a game was on, happily oblivious. I only came out for snacks. The first thing I said when I stepped foot in my dorm room at college was “THANK GAWD NO MORE FOOTBALL!”

Jer laughed at me hearing this. I didn’t know it was a sadistic laugh until later.

He figured out early on in the friendship that I would basically do anything for food. Every time a game would come on he wanted to watch he would try to convince me to watch too. Always it started out being a firm “NO” with me. I would rather do Calculus than watch grown men chase after an elongated brown ball and I despised math. My mustachioed friend would try to bribe me or threaten me sometimes but he knew he could always get me to agree with a good snack platter. Food was my downfall. So shameful.

Plus, it was Jer. Being with him was second nature.

In the early days, it was awful watching football on his little TV and being completely oblivious. Nothing made sense to me, no matter how much Jerry tried to explain. But he was a die-hard fan and so I became an honorary fan by extension as his best friend. He made me wear the fleece Lion’s blanket every game to mask my “unhealthy dislike of his future career prospects”. He thought I might absorb some football appreciation from it or something. He had some weird superstitions.

One day before a game while wrapped in his stinky blanket we were talking about his career and he had mentioned possibly getting a minor in Nutrition.

I laughed at him.

“Seriously Jer? You cook vegetable soup every night for dinner. EVERY night unless I cook for you. Your team would hate you.”

The look on his face made me laugh. It was sad puppy mixed with indignant playful man. I swear only he could pull it off and be handsome and adorable at the same time.

“Leave my soup alone! It’s healthy and satisfying.”

“Whatever you say, darling.” I tried to keep the smirk off my lips and failed. He sighed dramatically for my benefit.

“It’s NUTRITIOUS Jac and it’s tasty.”

“Kale is NOT tasty.”

He ignored me.

“Career-wise it never hurts to have more knowledge. I need to take care of my future team on and off the field and learning to keep them on track with their diet helps achieve this goal. Besides, I would just be advising, not actually cooking. Leave that to a dietitian.”

I gave him a sarcastic look and watched him flick more chili lime popcorn into his mouth. He raised his eyebrows at me, waiting for my rebuttal.

“Plumber has a leaky faucet. Nutritionist has a limited diet?”

“Impossible woman.”

He tossed a kernel at me and I snorted, feeling I had won the battle and grinning accordingly.

During the game while he was engrossed, I researched careers in nutrition and educated myself on earning the Dietitian degree. It was supposed to be for Jer’s sake but my interest was more than just peaked by the end. I was enraptured by the possibilities.

“It would be kinda cool to be an RD,” I admitted a loud, over Jer’s mumbling about flags and unnecessary roughness. “For you and I to be on the same team with our careers. Athletic trainer and Dietitian Besties. We would see each other every day!”

“We already do,” he said, only half listening while he watched. I nudged him with my foot and demanded his attention. I got a half glance for three seconds.

“But we could travel together. We could wrangle gorilla men like people from the circus! Crack the whips. I like being bossy. It might be fun.”

He made affirmative noises and then started absently massaging my foot, absorbed in the tv. I sighed and pursed my lips. Impossible indeed.

“In the off season, I can consult with restaurants on their menus and teach children about health and proper diet. It sounds pretty amazing.”

“Yep. Sure does. Go for it Jacquie.”

I was already learning to become a chef anyway. It was what I was going to school for. This made my career choice broaden quite a bit and it sounded so appealing. I could take my job anywhere and didn’t have to be stuck behind a counter at a restaurant. I could educate people and cook and travel. So much win.

I talked to my counselor that week and we made a plan to alter my major and that was that. Why wouldn’t I follow Jer into a sport I disliked and cook for a bunch of stinky, ball toting behemoth lug heads? Duh.

Of course I would.

Why?

3 minutes.

With an irritated sigh I powered on the TV. I had no discipline. My heart tapped an erratic rhythm against my ribs while the commentators rambled on about team updates and player bios. My eyes were glued to the screen. I couldn’t seem to help it. I scoured the snippets of field shots they showed, backing up my DVR to see if I could see him. AT’s don’t usually get much air time unless there was an injury but Jer always said he would try to wave at me from the field if there was live coverage.

My head grew annoyed at my heart for being ridiculous and my heart railed at my head for being so…well, pig-headed. I leaned against the cushions and huffed at myself. Impossible.

“And here’s the coin toss–!”

_______________________________________________________________

Do Re Mi–dafah is Writing Voice?

Voice is the author’s style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character; or. Voice is the characteristic speech and thought patterns of the narrator of a work of fiction. ~(Taken from www.thebalance.com)

Go to your book shelf and pick a book by a favorite author.

Now pick another book from a different favorite and set it beside the first.

Open to the first page and read a chapter out of both.

They’re different right? Well, obviously they’re different but can you explain HOW? Can you describe specifics other than the novels aren’t the same genres or reading levels? (Saying they have a certain “Je ne sai quoi” is cheating btw.)

“It’s tone,” you might say. “Like the authors are writing with different accents or dialects.”

Or you might say it’s the way the sentences are structured. Maybe in the first novel they are short and gruff. In the other they may be beautifully sculpted, rolling trippingly off the tongue. Maybe they’re as dense and hard as stale bread. However the writing may be, you should be able to pick up any book by the same author and instantly recognize it as theirs. Different story, different plot line and characters maybe but still distinctly THEM. Why?

Writer’s voice should be consistent,  like speaking to a friend or receiving a letter from them. The way they curse a lot or the way they dot their “i”s with little hearts. If they speak softly or write ONLY WRITE IN CAPITAL LETTERS should be instantly recognizable as this specific friend. You’d recognize it anywhere. Authors have branded each of their stories with their own unique thumbprint; it is something they’ll be known for forever after, no matter how many books they write.

This concept is perhaps one of the most difficult I think for young writers to grasp because it’s not something that can be TAUGHT. Plot, characterization, pacing, arcs…these can all be taught and perfected with time. Voice cannot. It’s something every writer has to discover for themselves through the process of writing. For some it might take a couple of novels to figure out. For others it may come quickly and naturally.

I find myself in an in between category when it comes to discovering my own writer’s voice. When I write my blog posts or my flash fiction, I find that the writing style is bold and consistent. A little passionate sometimes maybe but it flows from one subject to another smoothly. At least in my opinion it is does. I rather enjoy that it is that way currently and that it is a reflection of my true self.

However.

(Yes you knew that was coming.)

Thus far I have limited myself to only writing short stories or flash fiction, usually fantasy or reality based. I’ve also had a steady diet of YA fiction in my reading lately, which explains the writing preferences.

BAD JESSIE! SPIT IT OUT!! SPIT OUT THE YA FICTION THIS INSTANT!

Awwww.

Writing fiction makes me feel confident and competent. I’m safe to bull shit safely within it’s walls because anything and everything goes. But it limits me as a writer. In a way, it’s taking the easy way out as compared to writing Nonfiction or poetry or even a genre I don’t read, like horror, subjects that require research and deep thought.

(Did I just make a blond joke out of writing fiction? I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry!)

Now it’s never bad to be thoroughly versed in one category before moving onto another. Being able to have an anchor to safely return to in this crazy writing world is a GOOD idea. Trying to have a finger in every pie as a beginner will likely confuse and deflate a budding writer. To really be certain that you’ve had a balanced diet though, you should explore different types of writing and reading. Penning a dark macabre flash fiction should still sound like you as much as the romance novella and the only way you’ll be able to achieve that is by knowing what you’re writing.

Telling a different story with the same voice takes practice and it’ll take some time for you to recognize it. Even longer to carry it throughout your career.

I guess I don’t really have much to say on this because I’m just discovering my own Writer’s voice but I felt I had to write about it so it’ll be on the list of subjects I can come back to eventually and expand upon.

Do Rei Mi! Good luck with your writing scales and arpeggios! 😉 I look forward to hearing your sweet new voices ^_^