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Author: Jessica

Mermaid Bride Completed

Two days ago, I completed the rough draft for Mermaid Bride. What was intended to just be a short story of no more than 8,000 words turned into a novella. It’s over 30,000 now, and I suspect that by the time I am done editing and revising it, it will be closer to 40,000 or 50,000.

It’s funny the way that that happens. It seems that once I get into a story, the story starts to unfold. The characters want to come out and play. The Banshee Queen was supposed to only be a minor character. The conflict between Ishana and Vishtan was supposed to be quite brief. In fact, I really wanted that focal point to be on Ishana and Uaso. They do remain at the core, of course. But Ishana’s choice and the struggle that she faces becomes so much more important in this.

The story itself is not so simple as it once was. In fact, it wound up going full circle in some respects. Ishana started off as a rather bland character for me to become a kind of character that I had never worked with before.

It was fun working in the Ethiopian and Syrian cultural flavors. It does bother me that a number of my readers thought I was just being creative in the descriptions when in fact I’ve drawn inspiration from another culture. So I will try to make that clearer throughout the revision.

Regardless, Mermaid Bride turned out to be far more of a joy to write than I anticipated. Even though it kept getting longer and longer, it expanded in ways that added to the story rather than dragging it down. The next project I will likely start after this is A Single Glance as part of the Celtic Princess Tour. We shall see if it takes off, but I’m thrilled to dig into it again.

That Low Point You Feel

 

Sometimes it’s just hard being a writer. You pour yourself into the stories you’re writing, mold the worlds, craft the characters, and give it your all. Then you set that little story out into the world, hoping that maybe…just maybe it’s good enough to do something. And inevitably, someone will dislike it. Someone may hate it. Or…perhaps the one that hurts the most, they’ll read it, and they just won’t care one way or the other.

And often it seems that those readers and their comments show up on the same day when everything else is going bad. When your car breaks down. When a pay check gets lost in the mail. When you accidentally slam your pinky finger in the door because you weren’t paying attention.

And at that low point, you may find yourself wondering, why do I try? And it’s a fair question. Artistic individuals pour their souls into their work. It is a labor of love.

So what do you do? You pick yourself up. You remember why you write what you write. At this point, the desire for fame and fortune alone aren’t going to be enough to carry you through. Not at the lowest point. Not when you’re fighting depression or anxiety or fear. So write it down. Put it somewhere you will see it.

And now comes the hard part. Look at that comment or feedback and determine whether it’s a fair assessment. Is it a true weakness of the story? Is there something that you have failed to do? While it could be that the reader just wasn’t in your target audience, you should at least consider it. And if you realize it’s a weakness, then you fix it.

It’s hard. But when that low point hits, you have to keep going. Maybe you’ll need to take a little break, or perhaps even a longer one. But you need to make sure that you get back and you get going. The low point won’t last forever. One day, it will leave.

Forging Ahead When Discouraged and Depressed

Effective writing requires pouring out your soul onto the page. Over the years, I’ve often struggled with depression. And I don’t just mean feeling down or low. That happens regularly. It’s a battle to stay above those lines sometimes. Depression itself is more than just a sad mood or a down mood. It is soul sucking and draining at an entirely different level, one that sometimes feels as if it will never go away.

Sometimes I wonder if the reason that this becomes such an enormous issue is because as writers we must constantly pour out our hearts and souls into the pages, and we never know whether we are doing it well. Then when feedback does come, it’s often brief or negative. And few things hurt more than the realization that perhaps what you did was not the best or perhaps you did not do as well as you thought or perhaps you failed entirely.

Yet the thing that seems most important to me in all this is pushing on through those low points. I know I’ll be writing about that again soon. It’s frustrating to run into a reader who just doesn’t get your story or who just doesn’t enjoy it. That’s to be expected, but it doesn’t make it any more enjoyable. This is more of a rambling post, so my apologies.

But when you’re feeling down and depressed, take a break if you must. But make sure that you forge on ahead. Don’t let the grief, weariness, depression, or discouragement stop you from forging on.

Engaging the Senses

It took me quite awhile to realize one of the secrets for engaging prose, and it turned out that the secret was to engage all the senses. In storytelling, sight and sound often feature heavily in the descriptions. After all, they are the primary senses used in absorbing a new situation. Particularly if you’re telling someone about them.

But one of the big things in memory and sensory connection involves the other three senses: scent, taste, and touch. In terms of overall effect, I’ve found that scent is probably one of the most powerful to introduce. In many respects, it’s changed the way I even look at scenes. I find myself asking what would be the first thing I would smell. It makes an enormous difference, and those little details tend to make the scene so much more vivid.

It’s tricky to do this in fantasy sometimes. The fruits, flowers, vegetables, spices, and so forth may not be the same as the ones here on Earth. In fact, in a good fantasy world, there will probably be a number of new scents. It’s important to work these in with other scents that the readers will recognize. After all, who would know what yen blossoms smell like? I know what they smell like in my head, but the truth is my readers won’t. I have to make sure that I convey this to my readers. That means I have one of two options. I can either describe the scent in detail when it’s appropriate, or I can use a scent that my readers will be able to imagine such as pumpkin spice or rose.

Obviously, you don’t want to overindulge on the olfactory. After all, it can only do so much, and it’s hard to find synonyms for smell, scent, and so forth. And it’s important not to filter the narrative. But with the proper balance, scent can be a powerful asset.

Death of a Beloved Character

 

For me, one of the hardest things to do is kill off a beloved character, but sometimes, there’s just no other choice. Sometimes the plot simply demands it.

This isn’t giving away too much of Tue-Rah Identity Revealed but there is a minor spoiler. Cohsaw dies. He actually dies in the second chapter, and…guess what…he stays dead.

For a lot of readers, this is probably more of a sad event. It’s not that big of a deal. The fact is that they don’t really know him at this point. They’ll get to know him more as the story goes along, but at the point of his death, he’s a casualty of the villains. But for me, killing off Cohsaw was heartbreaking. I sobbed.

See, as a writer, I know everything about Cohsaw. I know that his favorite color is blue. I know that he hates eating carrots and ibza roots, but he does because he believes it makes him stronger. I know he has a crush on Opali, a Machat girl who is three years older than him. And I know that the thing he wants most is to make his dad, one of the most proficient and well known prophets of the Machat, proud. He’s a young man of deep principles and convictions, and his commonsense doesn’t always shine through. When he believes that something needs to be done, he does it.

All of these little things add to his character for me. I know that he has a little scar on the inside of his elbow from when he tried to cut out some of his Machat markings and failed. And the reader is never going to know most of these details.

But I don’t think that that makes the details wasted in any sense. After all, I know these things about him, and, even if I don’t explain them, they’re implied. Little details tend to work their way into a story without the writer even realizing it. They provide information for the overall flavor. They say that only 90 percent of the worldbuilding ever goes through. That may be the case.

The one thing that is true is that when you invest so much in the creation of these characters, their deaths become so much more intense and painful. I wanted to save Cohsaw. I wanted him to be able to have that happy future that I wanted for him. But he never will. He needed to die to move the plot forward. And just because it’s painful doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to happen. So here’s to Cohsaw and all the other beloved characters that writers have to off. It’s one of the hardest things, but may it always improve the story.

Creating Worlds in Stories (Just Rambling)

One of my favorite parts of writing fantasy and science fiction is the creation of the world. It’s nothing like what God did, obviously. But just trying to envision this world, the different people who will live within it, the fauna, the flora, and so much more.

Often it feels like a conflict between being logical and creative. The creative part of my mind wants to go abstract and flowing, throwing together all of these different concepts and images for the overall look and feel. But the logical part demands that they make sense.

For instance, in Tue-Rah, I have several invented races including the Vawtrians, Machat, and Neyeb in addition to humans (referred to in the series as Awdawms).  The Vawtrians are a race of shapeshifters, but the trickiest part was evaluating what kind of world they would come from that would lead to the culture that I want them to have. They are brutal and fierce, but at the same time, they hold civilization and law in high regard because they are determined to avoid the appearance of animals in as many respects as possible. Shapeshifting forms the core of their culture.

So this is just a rambling post looking at what I love with it. It’s not just about feeling and beauty, but logic can have its place. I’m still getting used to this whole posting and just getting in the habit. I guess the takeaway would be have fun creating and don’t be afraid to ask the questions for why things are the way that they are in your fantasy world.

Bitterness

Bitterness is one of the things I hate to see in writers, both as a reader and as a fellow writer. It’s a thousand times worse when it’s combined with ego.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a number of writers bemoaning the standards in the writing world, the state of the publishing world in general, and the overall stupidity of readers. Everyone needs a place to vent. The risk of venting online is that those ventings can last forever. The other risk of perpetual venting is that resentment and bitterness may start to grow. Rather than purging the negative emotions, it can sometimes cause them to fester. By letting them out, these negative feelings are then reinforced and brought back in.

Here’s the deal. The writing world is not fair. I can’t think of any place that is fair. The publishing world has developed a series of standards that are intended first and foremost to bring in money. While that might seem to some like it’s spitting in the face of the art form, it’s actually not. Publishers want to make money, sure. But they have to have money to get the books out there. And while on the author end, I get why it’s so frustrating that a publisher isn’t willing to take a chance, no writer deserves to be published without earning it. And someone has to care for the business.

The problem comes when bitterness sucks the joy from the writing process. Writing is hard work. Finding an audience is a hard work. Most writers will never be recognized for their abilities, and not everyone with a platform deserves one for the quality of her writing. But bitterness does nothing more than weaken us as writers. When I let bitterness take hold of me, it does nothing but ruin my enjoyment of the craft.

From a reader’s perspective, it makes me uneasy about connecting with that author. The writers whom I am most loyal to, aside from the greats, are those writers who I have connected with personally. Whether their works will stand the test of time like Lord of the Rings or Treasure Island remains to be seen, but I am loyal to them because I have gotten to know them as individuals. Bitter people make me uneasy because they are often just looking for someone to spew their venom on. And so if I am reading a writer’s blog or commentary on a site, I sometimes take note if they seem excessively bitter, and I make it a point to avoid those individuals. That sort of sentiment typically bleeds through into the writing itself, and it can be remarkably offputting.

Again this isn’t meant to criticize those who need to vent. It hurts. It’s painful. Writing is so difficult. And sometimes we just need to let that out. But don’t let the bitterness remain. It can be devastating.

Day One of A – Z Challenge: Introduction Authentic Writing

So I heard about the A – Z Challenge, and, since I’ve been putting this off long enough, I decided to do it.

This is a huge step for me because I’m such a perfectionist that I didn’t want to start writing regularly on my blog until I had the site all up and developed the way I wanted it to be. And it certainly isn’t. Every day, I’m working on it a little bit, though I’m getting to the point where I may just need to hire someone. Still, I’d really like to learn how to do it.

Perfectionism is one of my weaknesses. It’s not so much the fact that I am a perfectionist as the fact that I allow that desire for perfection to derail my goals and projects. I have revised some short stories more than 40 times. I get frustrated because I keep finding mistakes. Having a desire to do my best isn’t a bad thing. Most people have that. But when the determination to do the best and to be perfect becomes a roadblock, it has to be stopped.

I have to accept that I sometimes make numerous mistakes that I can’t catch. No matter how many times I check. Perhaps it’s there to keep me humble. Perhaps I’m just blind to a certain number of errors, lol. I don’t know. But the good thing is that mistakes can be corrected. I’ll still do my best, but I’ll recognize that doing my best does not necessarily mean that it is going to be perfect on the first go through.

So the theme for this month’s posts will be on authentic and organic writing, writing that reads as if it comes straight out of the soul while still being understandable, creative, and engaging.

 

The Incredible Experience of Reading a Good Book

Recently, I discovered Wattpad. I’ve been a part of the site now for almost three weeks. At first, I was tentative about participating, but now I enjoy it more than any other writing site I’ve been on. One of the best parts is the wide variety of works to read and comment on.

So far, most of the works that I have read are amateurish, though many have passion and heart. However, a surprising number have been excellently written, and I expect to see great things from the authors. I’ve enjoyed it a great deal.

But what surprised me even more was when I took some time off from critiquing and curled up with a classic. After seeing so much bad writing, seeing that incredibly written classic revitalized me even more. For writers and critiquers as well as reviewers, it’s important to regularly read well written works to help remember the standards as well as to see how skilled and experienced authors handle their stories. It’s refreshing, and it brings a whole new love for literature.

The site is in process of being updated, and I think it’s starting to look good. More updates will be forthcoming.

Dove’s Natural Beauty Campaign’s Underlying Message

The Dove natural beauty campaign has been going on for awhile with a number of entries in their supposed support for natural beauty. At its heart, this campaign is still a marketing endeavor, intended to convince people to purchase their products. But it claims to be about empowering women and girls, giving them confidence and recognizing the beauty within. Here’s the problem though: that’s not what they’re doing.

I don’t doubt the good intentions of the people behind this campaign. On paper, it sounds great. Get “real” pictures of women and girls, exemplifying true and natural beauty. In fact, they call it “real beauty.” Real and natural beauty as opposed to plastic, stylized beauty sounds like a great idea, particularly given to all the alteration that goes on for women in the media to fit the supposed beauty standards.

The problem comes down to the people that they show and what they’re trying to do. Back a few years ago, Dove actually made the mistake of requesting women who fit within certain categories. One of the ways that you could be excluded? Not having flawless skin. You see this reflected in a recent video on Selfies as all of the featured women and girls seem to be devoid of scars or skin imperfections.

The Dove team goes in with Michael Crook to teach girls and their mothers to take selfies in an attempt to redefine beauty. At first, it seems like a normal enough group of teens. But something felt off. I replayed the video a couple times, and then I realized something quite amazing. All of the girls and women featured in the video look really good. There are remarkably few individuals who are overweight, let alone obese. Only a couple have braces. There’s no blotchy or red acne covered skin. The hair looks great and clean. And everyone seems to fall fairly close within societally accepted standards for beauty. Even the girls who supposedly have no make up on have incredibly smooth skin without scarring or blemish. Now perhaps I live in a “less attractive” part of the world. Maybe the high school and junior high school here is home to students who don’t all look like they could appear in a skin care commercial. But I don’t think so.

I’ve gotten to travel a fair bit, and I’ve met a lot of incredible students. The one thing I’ve noticed is that generally there’s a lot of variety in what people look like and even in what individuals find to be beautiful. While certain areas are more homogeneous, those areas do tend to differ from one another. So what is it saying when a video purporting to represent real beauty doesn’t actually represent the beauty found in real individuals?  Can a girl not be beautiful is she is obese? Or what if she is skeleton thin? Of course, many would probably say “well, we don’t want to promote unhealthy body images on either side,” and I would say “yes, but…” See, not everyone who is obese is obese because all she does is sit on the couch and eat potato chips and Oreos just as not everyone who is skeleton thin is anorexic or bulimic. Health issues of all kinds wreak havoc with the body. Does that mean that the girl who suffers from a glandular disease must accept that she cannot be a “real beauty” until after she loses all the weight? Or the girl who just survived cancer and chemo and is now as thin as a rail must accept that she will not be a “natural beauty” until she gains enough weight to be seen as healthy and not a risk for encouraging other girls toward a life of anorexia. And what about those with disabilities? Can someone with Down Syndrome or cerebral palsy not be recognized as natural or real beauties?

One of the girls on the video states that what some people see as making them less attractive actually makes them unique and that is what makes them beautiful. But that is not necessarily the case. For many years, I’ve struggled with severe and weeping eczema. The lesions covered my body, and sometimes they became infected, leaving me in agony. Just recently I suffered another setback, and the eczema sores spread to my face. It looked like someone had beat me up. The skin on my face had tightened, and the areas around my eyes were deep red, blotchy, bloody, crusted, and horrible looking. I looked like I was turning into Red Skull very slowly. That certainly did make me unique. No question about it. But did it make me more beautiful? No. Not at all. The beauty that I have was in spite of the physical imperfections. But does the presence of that imperfection mean that I can’t be beautiful? No, but that’s another topic.

Instead, think of how much more powerful Dove’s real beauty campaigns would be if they did take real women and real girls from all walks of life and showed them the “real” beauty that they possessed instead of taking those who are already, by and large, quite beautiful. Perhaps they could search for the beauty that might not be seen as easily at first, not through a makeover but through just that careful search. Beauty is often based on culture as much as personal preferences, and so some arbitrariness will always intrude. But it would be so much more effective if the girls and women they chose had beautiful aspects but were not entirely gorgeous. Can you be beautiful with flawed skin? Can you be beautiful with thinning hair? Can you be beautiful with anything more or less than a healthy BMI? Can you be beautiful with non symmetrical features?

Yet at the same time, I wonder if perhaps the wrong message is being focused on all together. At the end of this ad just as the Dove Real Beauty Sketches, the girls put up their pictures and receive compliments on how beautiful they are.  People recognize how these girls and women fit within the societally accepted standards of beauty. Often times, they point out that aspects that the girls thought made them less than beautiful fall within what others consider beautiful. One girl talks about how her hair just looks so ugly on her, when it’s really a beautiful and everyone comments on it. At the end of the day, these girls are getting acceptance and compliments for being what others consider to be beautiful. It’s true that this is telling this select group of girls and women that they fall within a category that could be considered beautiful, but it’s still telling them that what others think of their appearance and how others evaluate their beauty is an important component in their self worth and identity.

Not being physically beautiful is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. It isn’t easy to redefine what is beautiful in the cultural sense. And even if it is redefined, there will always be those who don’t match up to those standards. A large segment of the population doesn’t measure up to the standards that Dove puts forth in its “real beauty” ads. Not everything that is unusual or unique is going to be considered beautiful. And that’s okay. It really is. While you may feel relieved to realize that you meet up to a societal standard or that you fall within the “beautiful category,” don’t let that define your worth. Beauty does not make you strong. Strength may be something that makes you beautiful, but beauty does not create it.

Back to Dove, at the end of their day, this campaign is all about sales. They are targeting a particular demographic. This is about creating a brand and making women think that Dove supports natural beauty and real beauty. But they don’t. In fact, some of their other products such as the skin lightening crème to make you look fairer skinned even directly contradict what they’re claiming to do here. But even if they support their own perspective of beauty that may be more attainable than Victoria’s Secret, it still isn’t accessible to everyone. And once more, as long as you aren’t placing your value in how others rank your beauty, that may be all right. You don’t have to be a natural beauty or a real beauty to matter any more than you have to be a stylized beauty or a model beauty to have value.

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