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How to Protect Yourself When Writing Stories Online

So now let’s talk about what you can do to protect yourselves when posting your stories online.

First, a key distinction (and I only make this again because in conversations, some keep trying to sidetrack the conversation and wrongly conflate the terms). All authors have to deal with piracy at some point. Piracy is where they take your story with your name attached and upload it to a site. It may be a mirror site, it may be a separate site. They tend to target well-known authors because that draws the readers to their site.

Plagiarism and theft is when they take your words and your story and take your name off. They may change some small details, but the vast majority of the story is the same. These individuals typically focus on unknown and smaller authors because it’s more likely that they can get away with it.

Authors never benefit from having their works plagiarized. There may be some who will argue that piracy is not much of a detriment to authors. But the reason that it is difference is because the author’s name remains on the manuscript. They can still potentially gain new fans. It is not a great argument as authors should maintain control of the manner and method of their distribution. In fact, it is deeply flawed. But victims of plagiarism/theft do not receive even this.

Understand What Most Thieves Want

For the most part, thieves want an easy buck. They are not the same as pirates. Pirates typically make their revenue through ads and phishing schemes and viruses on the sites. Thieves/plagiarists typically make their money off the royalties. Because this is hit or miss, they are inclined to do a lot all at once.

In most of my dealings with thieves, they grab multiple stories and do mass uploads or they stuff a single book with stolen items to maximize per page revenue payments. Generally the stories bring in small amounts that then accumulate over time. These thieves are not in it for the big money. Most don’t want to be noticed. It’s about accumulation. (Also in my dealings, most of these thieves are in countries where a US dollar will go a lot farther.)

Determine if You Can Risk Theft

When you post online, you run the risk that someone may steal it. I do not say this to absolve any of the writing platforms from their duty to their writers. It is simply something to bear in mind. Do not buy into any of the promises that they give you that they are different or that they will protect you. And even the best security may not keep out some thieves. (I do expect a good platform to keep it from being as easy as the click of a button, but I won’t move into that rant right now.)

If your project is such that you can absolutely not risk it being stolen, don’t put it online. (And let me be clear that there is nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t mean that you are cowardly or somehow stuck in the dark ages. It is recognizing the nature of each writing project, and what works for one may not work for another.)

You need to make sure that you take time to search for your stories and check to see if you have been robbed. Or you need to not care if someone takes your story without giving you attribution.

Don’t Post the Full Story in One Place

Remember that most thieves want a quick and easy buck. So if a story is explicitly declared as not finished, it is less likely to be targeted. (Please note that by finishing, I don’t mean editing. I mean it literally does not have an ending. Thieves don’t seem to care much about grammar.)

The other benefit to not posting the full story is that if someone steals it up and uploads it, the ending will be missing. You will have the ending. That may not be prima facie evidence, but it is quite solid, nearing Big Eyes territory.

Now again, this is not foolproof. Some intrepid thieves may be willing to add an ending. In the Rachel Nunes case, the thief added some sex scenes.

So what about your readers? What if they want the ending and you want to share it with them?

Well, you’ve got a couple options here.

First, if you do choose to not post a full story, make sure to note this at the beginning, particularly if you are on a site like Tablo or Inkitt or Wattpad where serials are common. This way you can temper your readers’ expectations. You could choose to not publish the ending at all until formal publication. Readers can then purchase your story. But please give your readers notice. They want to support you, and they need to be fully informed as well.

You can also time out your upload of the chapters to coincide with the release of your book. This way the final chapters go up online after the book is formally published and registered with the copyright.

If you don’t care for either of those options or perhaps don’t want to pursue formal publication, the other option is to upload the final chapters elsewhere. Say in a different book or on a different profile or on a different platform altogether. Now, please note that this is not much of a protection. It relies essentially on the speed and ease with which thieves want to take your story. It throws up a roadblock. If they do some research and find it, it is simple enough to join the files together.

Register the Copyright

Now personally I don’t recommend doing this before the work is done or filing for preregistration (also there are some other restrictions for preregistration.) However, it is your call, and you will need to consider your situation and possibly talk to an attorney. (Yes, I am an attorney, but I am not giving specific advice here.)

Also please note that I will be doing a followup post on how to do an Unpublished Collection through the Copyright Office, but that will take a little more research to confirm some details.

If your country allows for this like the US, it’s just a much simpler way to prove ownership. In the US, it costs about $30 – $40 ($35 for me the last time I paid). And it is relatively simple to go through.

Also foreigners can register their copyright in the US. You can check out what the Copyright Office has to say on this and limitations. But for my readers who have asked most about UK residents specifically, yes, you can register with the US Copyright Office.

To register in the United States, you can go through here.

Note that their completion times vary significantly, but if you do everything properly, the date of copyright is the date that the application is received in full.

Officially Publish Before Posting

Now, let’s get something straight…officially publishing does not mean you are golden in terms of copyright registration. Most traditional publishers, including small, will register your copyright for you. If you are indie, you will need to register your copyright (and I do encourage this even though copyright belongs to you once you create; copyright registration opens additional options and creates prima facie evidence). But even if all you have is the finished book, it is a little more persuasive than a time stamped web page if it comes first in time because you also have sales and release data, usually from more than one site, which leads to the next point.

When you publish, go wide. Again time stamps and dates like this are not foolproof or guaranteed, but they help to build a stronger case. It also makes it more likely that your story will be seen and known.

Utilize a Copyright Registration/Index Service

Copyright registration services are something of a misnomer in that they are not exactly copyright registration unless they are affiliated with the government (and even then depending on your country, you’ve got to doublecheck). It’s actually more accurate to refer to these as indexes, which is what some call themselves. (It depends on your country what the most common terminology is, but an official service will have a .gov ending.)

Essentially for a fee you submit your work to them, and they receive it, date it, and secure it. They can then be used as a business record of note and provide data. It is harder to fake this, and so it is generally more persuasive than a website time stamp as those can be easily faked.

Now bear in mind that some of these may be more expensive than the actual copyright registration service. It also does not create prima facie evidence. But it is not worthless.

Full disclosure though, I have never used one of these services.

Be Precise, Unique, Connected, and Descriptive

In looking over books that have been stolen and uploaded under another author’s name, I have noticed that stories that are more generic tend to be more common targets. To date, most of the targets I have spoken with wrote romance, contemporary, or thrillers. I suspect that this is because the settings tend to be more generic and the general arena quite heavily populated, making it easy for them to blend in.

So add in unusual descriptions and features that are often present in your other stories. In other words, develop a vivid voice, which is great for your writing anyway.

Now this is not always the case. In the case of my Tundra Queen, it was a high fantasy science fiction story with a lot of elements that, even if the thief had changed the names (she did not), it would have been easy enough to prove my ownership. I also failed to note that the story was part of a larger series (another factor, other than the copyright that worked in my defense).

Standalones also seem more likely to be targeted. In most of the cases I’ve dealt with, the story stolen is on its lonesome. Not part of an interconnected world. I would recommend prominently advertising that it is part of an interconnected world if it is (and that will also be good for your readers).

If you have parts of the interconnected world/series officially published, it makes it that much easier to prove that the other one is part of your catalogue and not the thieves. Particularly if you have registered the copyright or taken other steps to secure your property.

Regularly Check For Thieves/Plagiarists

You need to make it a regular part of your routine to check for your stories if it bothers you that someone might take them without giving attribution and you want to stop them.

Now admittedly, this is sometimes hard to do. Particularly when you have a lot of stories up. But take some time to set up Google Alerts. Also take the time to search paragraphs from your story. Personally I take certain key passages with descriptive language. I don’t focus as much on names because names are easily changed. Characters’ physical descriptions and setting descriptions as well as unique bits of dialogue are some of my favorites for this.

Go through Amazon and check for your titles. Bear in mind that the word search that works for most websites will not work on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Books, etc. You’ll want to check for title matches. It isn’t often that thieves are foolish enough to use the same title, but sometimes they do. Also check in keywords. Focus on elements that are not likely to be changed such as the character’s occupation, setting if it is essential and not easily changed, and the core conflict. One friend found her story on Barnes and Noble by searching for New Orleans nurse high school reunion romance.

Read in your genre. Most of the time, thieves publish their stolen goods in the same primary genre because that is what the story is set for and it is hard to change that much.

Prioritize checking for stand alones and books that are the first in their series and from time to time check the others.

Note: Have your author friends’ backs. If you see something suspicious, let them know. Don’t attack the person you think might be a thief. Your friend will know better if it is actual theft.

Make Your Story Tumblr Style

Tumblr, as you know, is not a text based site but rather employs images and blocks of color with text in them. Photographs of words are harder to scab. Now, people can still right click and save these, but it would take more effort to get the text into a publishable form.

If you really want to mess with thieves, then you can do a mixture of text and text on images. This is a little bit of a pain to do, and I am not inclined to do it myself. But who knows? If it gets much worse, I might give it a try.

If you need options for how to do it, you can either use a service like Canva to create images with the story. Or you could upload it to a story platform site, take a screenshot, and then upload it. Just make sure that if you do this that a single image does not hold the entirety of the story.

Do Not Leave Stories Up For an Indeterminate Amount of Time Without Protection

Now this is playing more against the law of averages and the odds of your work being stolen rather than actual protection. However, if you leave a story up without protection and don’t check up on it, the longer it is out there, the more you risk theft.

A thief just has to come by at the right time and the right place to rob you, but if you never lock your door, you make it easier.

Personally I like the solution of putting up stories for a brief time and then removing them. You may want to inform your readers that you will be doing this. The appropriate time frame varies based on how comfortable you feel.

It will also likely depend on what you have experienced. Right now I am more cautious because I have been targeted by thieves. I am on some of their radar (hopefully someone not to tangle with).

Stay Open to New Ideas And Know That What Works May Change

There are likely lots of other ways to inhibit thieves. We just have to come up with them. The image idea was one I got after a conversation with a site that allows people to download stories without the author’s permission. The developer mentioned that currently there was no way to download images along with stories but that wasn’t a problem because the images weren’t important. For me, that was a lightbulb moment.

Again all this might change. Tech and coding alike change regularly, which is why we rely on the experts to help protect us, and it is important to keep up with it as much as you can.

Remain Involved in the Writing Community

Some writing platforms will not let you know when the game changes and your work becomes vulnerable. Regardless of how much they claim to care about their users, their ultimate concern is to protect themselves. Do not believe otherwise.

With that said, being in touch with other writers is often your quickest route to knowing what’s going on even if the platform does let you know what is happening. It also goes back to the having one another’s back, and if someone sees your story stolen or if you see someone else’s stolen, you can pass that information on along.

Additionally, you can hopefully keep up with new techniques and new ideas to protect your work.

The Revenge Thief

Okay, there is one other type of thief that needs to be addressed here. This is the thief who is out to ruin you personally. This has nothing to do with the bottom line or business. It is personal. I have run into a few cases of this. This occurs when an individual is determined to target you and destroy your stories.

Now for the most part, this individual isn’t going to come out of the blue. They will harass you and do other things to make you as miserable as you can. Stealing your stories is only one aspect of that. In this case, you need to document everything and look into other charges that can be filed other than plagiarism. You’ll want to check into your state or nation’s laws if there is cyberharassment or intentional infliction of emotional distress or something similar that you can pursue. These may be easier causes of action to prove with greater available damages.

In this case, you will generally know who your thief is. You need to save everything and get legal counsel from someone who handles this sort of case as soon as you can. Evidence, particularly online evidence, can be difficult to obtain, so you will need professional counsel. Until then do not exacerbate the situation or make threats. Just collect the evidence and go get help.

Concluding Thoughts

Thieves are a reality of writing and publishing now, and there are no benefits to the authors. We have to be prepared.

When you post online, make sure you post informed. If you find your work stolen, take action. You don’t have to hide your work away. You just have to be vigilant.

What To Do When Your Story Is Plagiarized

Copyright may be yours from the moment you write a story, but that won’t keep some people from trying to steal it and pass it off as their own. While professional authors used to dismiss one’s risk of another’s work as being stolen as being the mark of a paranoid and delusional writer, theft of an authors’ works in many arenas is becoming increasingly common.

At this point in my career, I’ve dealt with multiple thefts. Thankfully, so far, they have been resolved fairly easily all things considered though they are frustrating and often time consuming. Now, in fairness, while it has become increasingly common for thieves to steal stories and upload them as their own, this is not a guarantee that this will happen to you. But it can, and you should be prepared for it.

So here are some things that you can do.

Some Parameters

Let’s define a few matters. In this article, I will be dealing with plagiarism of books and stories, not theft of Facebook posts or articles or blog posts. Not because these aren’t important or worthy of discussion but because they have different steps and issues that need to be addressed.

Also plagiarism is not the copying of ideas. It is the copying of an individual’s words. Some minor changes may be made including character names and the insertion of a few details or even scenes, but by and large the actual words chosen are the same. Idea theft is another matter altogether and actually much harder to prove with a lot more nuance.

For this article, we are going to talk about true plagiarism, not piracy. (The key distinction is that in piracy, your name will remain on the story and perhaps other attribution whereas in plagiarism, the plagiarist takes credit or gives no credit to anyone or to someone other than you.) Piracy is another conversation entirely and much harder to deal with.

As many will tell you, in the world of online theft, there are many shades and tragic paths which it follows. This is only one of them. This information is intended for general informational purposes and not as specific legal counsel for individual cases.

What Can You Do?

Get It Published and Formalize Your Copyright

First in time helps with your claim so one of the safest things you can do is publish the story and registering the copyright. If someone takes your work from a free to read site rather than a known book site, it can be harder to track and harder to stop. Plagiarizing thieves aren’t as likely to steal work already on Amazon for obvious reasons (though this does not mean that just because it is on Amazon it is entirely safe). If your work does appear on sites like Wattpad, Radish, Reddit, Fanfiction.net, Medium, Writing.com, and other locations, it is more likely to be seen as available and an easy target. The fact that you are not particularly well-known makes the theft all the easier. Speaking anecdotally I have seen far more situations occurring in small ways on these sites than I have on Amazon.

You can technically register your copyright before a story is officially completed, but because of the inevitable changes to the manuscript and cost of registration, I prefer to wait to register the final copy and then send two copies to the Library of Congress. Just make sure you haven’t signed an exclusivity agreement. (Also, you don’t need an attorney to help you file for this. It can be done on your own.)

Search Your Titles

Second, regularly searching for your titles and key sections from your stories can make a difference. In one of the more recent cases, I stumbled upon a stolen story because I was checking the title to make sure no other story in my genre had it. Lo and behold, there was my own story. The thief hadn’t even bothered to change the title or the cover.

Ask for Help

Third, ask your readers, friends and family members to keep an eye out for you, particularly if they read in your genre. Most of the accounts I hear involve random discoveries as readers go about their business. Let your readers know that if they find your book, they should let you know ASAP, whether on an official for sale site like Amazon or uploaded on another site without your permission. They shouldn’t engage or drown the individual in one star reviews or attacks until it’s confirmed that it is indeed your story (and even then over zeal can actual hurt your prospects rather than help).

Keep Anything That Helps Prove Your Ownership

Fourth, keep all proof of ownership even if it is not admissible in court. The poor man’s copyright and many other elements of proof aren’t something that you can use in court (and you should never rely on them for protection if you are in a US court; in a UK court, however, it seems there may be some value in the poor man’s copyright), but they can be useful in the pre litigation phase. So save them all. Save your copies. Save your conversations. Save everything within reason that indicates your ties and ownership to the story.

This can sometimes get a little bulky. If you need to, set up a separate file, get a flash drive, and dump it.

Search for Sections of Your Story

Fifth, regularly check key passages of your story through plagiarism checkers. There are more and more on the market. Copyscape was one of the best ones for me for quite awhile though it does cost a little bit (just a few cents a search). However, there are plenty of free versions out there. I have also used Google Alerts for key words and phrases, but that has been increasingly hit or miss. It doesn’t hurt to set it up, but you shouldn’t rely on it wholly. Incidentally, these phrase checks are how I find most of the stolen works.

Do note, however, that these do not always search for words in published books. Book blurbs, however, do seem to show up with more frequency.

Be Open About What You’re Working On

Sixth, do talk about your stories if you are going to post them online before they are officially published. Make it clear what you’re working on. You don’t have to post whole segments if you don’t want to, but it can help as social media posts are admissible. Ideas themselves can’t be copyrighted, and there are likely many stories that you can

Be Professional

Seventh, if you do find out that someone has stolen your work, handle it professionally. Generally, the steps remain the same, and you don’t even need a lawyer to help you with this at the beginning. It is often recommended to contact the individual first and to ensure that it is not fair use. But if we’re talking about out and out plagiarism, that is actually easy to prove. If you choose to skip this step, then you contact the host administrator and inform them what has happened.

Sometimes they will ask that you file a DMCA at the same time rather than requiring the DMCA to be a separate step. You can also send a cease and desist letter.

Now to be clear, a cease and desist letter does not require an attorney or a judge. A cease and desist order does require a hearing and a judge. The cease and desist letter is something you can pick up in a template online, and it puts the individual on notice that you are exercising your rights as the owner of the copyright and you are not allowing this usage. If I am contacting a website or an individual directly, I tend to use these.  It also helps me to know what to say without becoming inflammatory.

The process often branches here. Some places like Amazon tend to respond to a copyright notice by pulling down the content and notifying the person who posted it of the strike. Youtube follows a similar procedure. The two have the opportunity to present their case for ownership. Depending on the platform, this can sometimes be quite frustrating because the room to respond is often limited so use your words wisely and avoid feeling language. Focus on the facts. Usually first response goes to the plagiarist after the complaint, but if you have proof of copyright registration (the certificate of registration), that should be open and shut (but not always; bear in mind that this provides prima facie evidence that the owner of the certificate is the owner of the work, but it can be challenged; however, most plagiarists are not going to get in this far; they want fast and easy success).

Now demanding disgorgement of profits made on your work is something that I often get asked about. I’ve actually never gone this route, primarily because none of my stories have generated enough to warrant it. And once you pull money into it, you slow things down. You can always ask for it. But oftentimes, this requires more legal action. In some cases, monetary platforms will do that automatically.

Eighth, relatively few of these cases actually go to court. Most are settled before it reaches that point. The ones that do move forward such as the Rachel Nunes case are usually more exciting because of how egregious they are. This does not mean that other cases aren’t out there.

A Few More Caveats

Be cautious of naming and shaming, particularly if you have an engaged fan and reader base. One of my thieves had a name that I realized was fairly common in India. If I had just listed her name, it could have led to some serious problems for innocent women with that same name. As angry as you are with the thief, do not take action that will harm innocents. This does not mean that you cannot talk about what is happening. It means simply that you must exercise caution.

It is neither fun nor pleasant to behave with restraint, but it will help you in your case against the plagiarist. Do not make threats of violence, death, or rape to the plagiarist. Do not use slurs of any kind. You do not want to create sympathy for the violator. (I know that it should not make a difference because what the plagiarist did is wrong, but people are emotional.)

Keep a log of all the actions you have taken. If the matter escalates further and you need to speak with an attorney, this log will be helpful in demonstrating what has been done.

Screenshot and save the conversations. Save emails and all other information. Not only is this evidence, but it will also help in your case in the event that you need legal representation and in proving your case.

All the best in your writing. I’m thinking about following this up with a one that deals with how to protect yourself online and another that deals with piracy and one that deals with idea theft and one that deals with Facebook posts, articles, and similar thefts. Let me know your thoughts.

And if you have any experiences with your stories being stolen/plagiarized, please feel free to share in the comments.

 

 

A Tale of Four Thefts

Jeff Goins’s book, Real Artists Don’t Starve, was quite an enjoyable read. The information in it is not new or groundbreaking in most respects, but it is excellent for artists of all types. And frankly, sometimes we need to hear the same things over and over before we are able to truly absorb and act on them. (To be clear, this does not mean that those who spoke the message to us earlier were failures. It simply means that it takes time for some messages to saturate, and often each application/hearing of the message results in pushing us closer toward that goal).

The book brought about a series of responses within me, and I wanted to deal with them in separate blog posts.

One of Jeff Goins’s points is that great artists steal. He provides multiple examples, and he then clarifies that he does not mean plagiarism or theft theft. What he makes quite clear is that there are no new ideas and we all draw from somewhere. He also references how many of the masters copied other greats to learn the craft. His point, and I believe Picasso’s as well as the others who have used this phrasing, are referring to the fact that pretty much everything has been done. But Jeff Goins and others refer to this as stealing.

This struck an emotional response within me that I struggled to interpret. It isn’t that I deny artists draw from sources. We are the sum of our ideas and experiences, which are often drawn from others in both firsthand accounts as well as books, movies, television, art, and more. What we experience becomes a part of us and then bleeds into our work. But I don’t particularly care for the word “steal.” Partially because I’m a lawyer. Stealing is wrong and morally problematic. It destroys trust and breaks down community. Jeff Goins’s isn’t the first one to say that artists steal. And again, he makes it clear that a true artist reorganizes, adds more, and reimagines what is taken.

The use of the word “thief” is more provocative than descriptive.

Yet still I find myself struggling. And I found myself reflecting on four experiences in particular with what I would describe as four types of “thieves.”

(Note: I will cover reboots and remakes in another post as those are different from this as well.)

The Painter: A Reprehensible Thief

When I was fourteen, I officially started calling myself a freelance writer. The only thing I had was an Internet connection and a basic understanding of Google. Without much concern for theft, I drafted and sent out stories to every place that would take them. Including a number of e-zines. One story was The Color of Murder, a tale about a serial killer known as the Painter who had a very specific method of killing and purpose to his madness. In looking back, the story wasn’t particularly good. I got a rejection from an editor with a note that the story needed work.

That was true. The story disappeared into a file with hundreds of others, and I didn’t touch it. Until one day I was on a popular writing website and noticed a story called, The Color of Murder. There were a couple of stories out with that title, but curious, I clicked on the story and found that it was actually mine. Word for word. The author listed on the page was none other than the editor who had rejected my story.

Unfortunately for her, I still had that rejection email along with many others. Even more unfortunate for her was the fact that within the span of the last sixteen years, I had grown up, gone to law school, and become an attorney. Contacting her with the evidence resulted in what I wanted: the story being taken down.

This woman was clearly a bad thief. What she did was illegal, wrong, and in no way something that a professional would recommend. This is actual theft. Outright plagiarism. Getting in touch with the thief resulted in the story’s removal from the site.

(Also, how’s this for a bit of dark humor? Almost all the comments she got on the story were quite negative. I mean, really, what do you expect posting a fourteen-year-old’s interpretation of a serial killer who uses the blood, bones, and organs of his victims to create paintings? The concept is intriguing and something I hope to do something with in the future, but the story as it was absolutely deserved to be rejected. I find it laughably horrid that she would steal, not only from a child, but a bad story at that! There was literally no upside to her in this situation.)

This sort of theft is unacceptable. If you do it, you are not a good member of the artistic community, and most likely you will soon be ousted from the community and may face legal consequences.

The Mermaid: A Cruel Thief

Partially thanks to my sister, I love mers. She does gorgeous drawings, and when we were little, I used to whisper her stories about mers and fantastic worlds that we could only dream about. We both inspired one another, and many of the stories I drafted involved various interpretations of mer worlds. Some were set on Neptune or elsewhere in space, some in lands accessible only through magical portals, and still others in rivers and oceans in our own world.

My hope  one day is to create a gorgeous series that showcases some of the fascinating mers that my sister has created and that populate some of my stories. I shared some of these with someone who I thought was a friend, and I was so excited. The first two stories were nearly done (we often swapped stories for critiques). My friend seemed excited by them as well. She mentioned that she particularly liked the worldbuilding aspect and the inclusion of multiple races and the way that they intersected.

To my surprise, a few days later, she posted in a writing group about a new story she was writing in which she used my identical ideas and renamed characters. Multiples of my ideas and plot actually. The sense of betrayal and shock I felt was enormous. Now, I knew that I had no legal claim to the ideas. Ideas cannot be copyrighted. But this was my friend. She hadn’t told me in advance. She hadn’t even asked if I would mind. Technically, this was not required.

I would argue though that this was cruel and not something that a good member of the artistic community would do. Legally she was fine. Ethically, not so much. When I asked her about it and tried to explain how I felt, she curtly informed me I didn’t own the idea and she could do what she wanted. The friendship ended soon after that.

When it is your friend who comes up with the idea and you want to do something almost identical, it may be best to have that conversation with your friend out of courtesy. Proximity makes it trickier than if you got the idea from a TV show or out of a book.

If you already had the idea, you can mention this to your friend. But to keep the air clear between you, open communication is best. It’s also vital to ensure you do then what Jeff Goins recommends, which is to add in multiple ideas. The more you add, the less problematic it will be.

I would also add that if someone winds up being a tremendous source of inspiration or gives you an idea for something, it would also be kind to thank and acknowledge that person for their contribution. Particularly if it’s going to be quite similar to something they are releasing at the same time. Legally you’re under no obligation, but if you want to keep your creative friends, it’s best to err on the side of caution and courtesy.

The Dragon: A Clueless Thief

One of the things I’ve mentioned before is how I am hoping to soon finish a fantasy series that I started about twenty-five years ago, Tue-Rah Chronicles. I was about six years old when I first started, so clearly a lot of that time has been spent learning how to do it. This series has grown with me, and it has played a tremendous role in my life and development. The characters are as real and vivid as the people I know in some respects, and I enjoy talking about them.

In a writing group, I became friendly with another author. She and I chatted off and on, discussing what we were working on. I told her about my story and my absolute favorite character, a shapeshifter who can become anything with wings but who specializes in dragons. He is one of my favorites because he started off as one of my imaginary frenemies when I was a child, and he is one of the first I ever created. His personality is quite clear to me, and as a result, it’s incredibly easy to write him.

A month ago she announced the release of her story, a novella that featured a main character who was a dragon shapeshifter and whose name was simply a different spelling of my character’s. He also shared the same personality features and had a puzzle box that contained pencil sketches of his wife and children, something which he fidgeted with when thinking and which played a significant role in his arc. There were a number of other similarities too that hinged a little too close for comfort.

Perhaps it was because of the previous experiences or because of how much I loved that specific character, but it stung. Badly. I felt betrayed, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she’d stolen the idea from me. The fact that I was getting ready to go to final edits for my beloved epic and at last release it into the world made this hurt all the more.

Now, in this case, I had no intention of confronting her. The story itself, though similar in some minor respects, was largely different even if our characters were almost the same. I wasn’t sure what to even confront her about though I did decide I would not talk to her about what I was working on again. When I confided my pain and frustration in one of my closest friends though, she suggested I talk to this author. As I admitted, it was possible that this was unintentional. After all, our conversation happened months ago, and sometimes people absorb experiences, then forget where it is they got the idea from. (And sometimes people get largely similar ideas without even interacting with one another.)

So I contacted her and brought it up in the least accusatory and kind way I could. She responded almost immediately and apologized, stating that she remembered now but had forgotten our conversation when she was in the middle of writing. She apologized, and I was grateful to know it wasn’t intentional.

I sometimes worry I may have done something like this. It would be something of a nightmare if I did because I don’t want to hurt my fellow artists.

But this isn’t such bad territory. If someone did have to confront me about this, I would likely handle it the same as my friend and apologize and see if there was a way I could fix the situation and keep a good relationship with the other author. And that’s more in a situation when there’s an actual conversation.

In situations where the other author has no way of knowing what you are working on or you haven’t had that conversation, then it’s probably best to leave well enough alone. Lots of ideas get repeated.

The Elementalist: A Good Thief

The Tue-Rah Chronicles features a lot of different races, including some elementalists. In the chapters I released on Wattpad, I have developed some of them through the main story and others through short stories, and I have received a fair bit of feedback from readers, many of whom are also writers.

The other day, one of these readers messaged me to say that she had written a story of her own about elementalists. She mentioned that she had been inspired by the combat style that the elementalists used as well as their culture and how their lifestyles influenced their strength with various elements. And she then wrote her own story. Not a fanfiction. Not a rip off. She wrote a story that took some of the ideas that I had, added a bunch of her own, and created a whole new conflict and set of characters. In essence, she made it her own.

When she finishes this story, it’s going to be amazing. I couldn’t be happier for her. It was also quite cool to see how I was able to positively influence her as so many others have positively influenced me.

The fact that she added to the story and changed up the idea made all the difference. Her letting me know about it wasn’t necessary. If I had read her story without knowing about it, I would have noted some similarities but oddly I wouldn’t have thought she had ripped me off.

And really I wouldn’t even call her a thief. I think that this is the one where calling such a person a thief bothers me the most. She didn’t steal the idea from me though she did get it from me. I suppose if I were to make it a metaphor, I’d say that she ate the fruit of my story, took some of the seeds, spliced in components for other seeds, and grew her own kind of fruit.

Ultimately I don’t think I would call people in the second two categories thieves (particularly since in the case of The Dragon, she did not do it intentionally). Though I take the point, I feel that that minimizes the actual meaning to call such people thieves, particularly when there are actual thieves out there. Even if you see an idea in a movie and decide you want to play with it, if you do it right, you aren’t stealing it. You are adapting it. Or at least that is what you should be doing. By referring to all as thieves, I feel that this dilutes the meaning when one is trying to talk about actual wrongdoing.

The purpose of referring to all artists as thieves is, in part, to calm creators down and help them realize that nothing truly new. People who insist they have something utterly unique and that has never been done are usually demonstrating a skill in puffery or their lack of knowledge. But can’t we accomplish this by simply referring to the fact that we all draw inspiration from all around us? We drink from a common river. We don’t steal from it.

And maybe the reason that this bothers me most in the fourth case is because no one owns ideas. No one. What we own are the words we put together and the take that we give them, the perspective we bring. Even in the case of The Mers, my story wound up being quite different from my former friend’s because, though she took my concepts, she didn’t tell it the way I planned to.

Maybe this is just semantics. I’m not entirely certain, but this over reference does bother me, perhaps because I deal with actual thieves. What are your thoughts? Do you think it’s right to call all artists thieves? Is the understanding of implied conduct enough? Or is there something that we lose by referring to everyone as a thief? Is there a better word?

Writing with a Migraine: A Few Tips on Coping

Over the past two months, I’ve had many visits from a friend I really wish would leave: the good old migraine.

Now, as I have discovered from my fellow migraine sufferers, each migraine is just a little bit different. Whether vision gets stripy or nausea roils the stomach or simple shafts of yellow-white light induce agonizing beats, the pain is the one constant. And boy…is it constant.

Since about the middle of December, I’ve averaged about one migraine a week. They have been lasting about three days, but the last one stretched on for almost an entire week. So, in between migraines, I did research into what I could do to minimize the pain.

Here are some of the tricks I’ve learned that help me cope when the migraines strike.

As Much Water As You Can

glass with cola and ice  in water splash
glass with cola and ice in water splash

A couple friends told me that for every painful spasm, I should take three good-sized gulps of water. That helped somewhat for obvious reasons. It was temping at the worst movements to just lie motionless and not drink because I knew if I drank, I would have to go to the bathroom.

But you must drink the water. You absolutely must. On the one time when I skipped it out of sheer exhaustion, I paid so dearly. It absolutely wasn’t worth it.

Add Lemon and a Little Salt to Your Water

I discovered this one by accident. Most mornings, I try to start my day with a large glass of ice water with a generous tablespoon of fresh lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt. To my surprise, I got some more intensive relief from my migraine with this. Before I had just chosen pure water.

Much to my surprise, I also discovered that this is supposed to be a cure-all though some offer cautions. Now, in my case, this didn’t cure the migraine, but it sanded the edges off. It also seems key that you use Himalayan or sea salt rather than table salt.

Avoid Bright Screens or Blue-Light Screens

The majority of tech devices utilize blue-light. In addition to causing problems with sleep cycle, I have found that looking at any screen with a blue-light intensifies my pain even more than the soft yellow bathroom light. The one exception was if I had the screen turned down to the absolute lowest, I could be on my phone for about 5, 10 minutes at most. Then it would cut through.

On the days when I avoided those screens entirely, the pain receded to a more manageable rate.

Have a Soothing Hobby to Fall Back On

Balls of wool on wooden table background
Balls of wool on wooden table background

Perhaps what stresses me most about migraine days is the horrible inactivity. I have found great comfort in curling up on the couch and knitting with the lights way down. Crocheting is a tad more challenging for me though others love it, and I’ve chatted with some friends who also enjoy sketching and coloring. I imagine that that soft shoosh shoosh of pencil on paper is quite soothing.

Embroidery, tatting, and other close eyed needlework may not be the best choice for obvious reasons.

Reading surprisingly works best for me is when I do it on my Kindle. The screen is sufficiently darkened and the contrast low enough that it doesn’t hurt. As for audiobooks, I’ve found that it is the voice of the narrator that makes all the difference there. Shrill or high voices can be unbearable. And I suspect my preference for deeper voices may be just as much because they don’t hurt my head.

Sadly, I did not find cooking to be as useful of a soothing hobby at the worst of migraines though at other times it is one of my passions. The smells of the cooking foods can sometimes turn me to vomiting. Same with baking. But it might be different for you. (Same goes for sniffing peppermint which is soothing for some people with migraines.)

Write on Yellow or Green Paper

Perhaps it’s the glare of the light on the paper, but writing on white paper made it even more difficult for me to focus because the pain worsened. However, I found that when I wrote in my steno pads (sunglasses placed firmly over my eyes), it wasn’t nearly so bad. In fact, I was able to write long enough to get most of the required tasks done and even some of my stories, and whenever I can sink into my stories, I disappear into another world entirely and leave all but the faintest traces behind.

Sunglasses, All the Time

This is an old one, but it’s worth mentioning here: sunglasses help protect against light sensitivity. But do watch out how tightly they fit your face. I’ve had some that hit those pressure points just above my ears so perfectly that they managed to intensify the migraine with awful accuracy. But you don’t have to invest in an expensive pair of sunglasses to get the benefits. I just use a pair of cheap wraparounds that I got at a gas station in an emergency (of course I got a migraine after I lost mine and we were on the road and headed into snow).

I even wear them indoors and just around the house. And yes, sometimes people will comment and try to make jokes about it or oddly try to get me to remove them, but if I explain, “it’s for a migraine,” they usually accept that.

As an aside, I have found that if I must be on the computer or my phone for longer than a few minutes, then a pair of sunglasses can make a tremendous difference. I still can’t work as I normally do, but I can do some of it.

The sunglasses are often enough to let me get through most of the cleaning and tidying.

Meditation and Prayer with Measured Breaths

Focusing one’s thoughts elsewhere can be greatly soothing, but getting there when in the middle of a lot of pain is so hard. One would think that having dealt with chronic pain for years that it would be easier, and I suppose, in a sense, it is. But sometimes, in the grips of a horrid migraine, all I can do is grip my head and think about what shapes the pain looks like stabbing my brain.

I’ve found that it does help me to pray and meditate though it is admittedly difficult to get started. I don’t have a particular favorite verse. Each day I find a new one or a particular thought to focus on. And sometimes my prayers are just “Oh God, please let it stop hurting. Please let it stop hurting.”

Digitally generated Take a deep breath vector

I have also found that focusing on my breathing helps too. I tend to breathe shallowly as the pain intensifies. But as the pain strikes, if I focus on slowing my breaths, keeping them deep and steady, and going over verses and prayers, it can help significantly.

Cold Showers and Cold Presses

The hot/cold debate is one a lot of migraine fighters discuss, and I think it’s a matter of preference.

If I can, and sometimes that’s a big if, a cold shower can help a great deal. I can’t get into frigid water straight away. But lukewarm and gradually turning to cold with the water driving down on the back of my neck works best for me. Cold washcloths to the forehead and neck are also soothing. But sometimes this can make me chill so badly that it creates other issues.

However, hot water makes mine much, much worse, so I must avoid that. I have one friend whose migraines are relieved by super hot showers, and I must confess, I’m envious.

Another friend recommended putting an ice pack on the back of the neck and then sticking one’s hands and feet in warm water. This didn’t work for me, but it might work for you.

Yoga, Pilates, and Strength Training

The older I get, the more I love exercising. Even when I can only do it in short batches and it doesn’t lead to the weight loss I want. And I have found that even on migraine days, if I can get up and do some stretches and even more advanced moves, that that makes it easier to get through the day.

This may have something to do with redirecting blood flow. Or it might be the endorphin release. Some professionals have suggested both. I usually don’t run on migraine days or even attempt the barre workouts. If I get particularly brave, I might.

But, for me, I look at these migraine days as being similar to the days when the pain from the fibro and so on becomes incredibly intense. As much as possible, I try to keep some semblance of normalcy and take care of my body. Exercising has so many other benefits that it is worth it to fight through the pain as much as possible.

And obviously I should conclude this saying that you should go to a doctor if you have continued migraines. Sometimes migraines are a symptom of something else, and it’s important to get that looked at.

So these are some of the things that I’ve found do work for me. There are many other techniques, and if you are a chronic migraine sufferer, I’m sure you have your own. Feel free to share some of your own tips if you’d like.

And hopefully you won’t have to use any of these tips any time soon. Have a beautiful day, my friends. Talk to you again soon.

My Actual Writing Goals for November 2016

So I have already discussed that my goal during Nanowrimo is to post actual content rather than just writing it. And I won’t be counting my Wattpad chapters as contributing to this total. (It’s rather interesting that posting to Wattpad is not at all difficult for me. I get at least two chapters published there at a minimum each week.) 

But I am, of course, also working on various projects this month. And, as usual, I have one main one and several that I want to complete. (Some of these titles contain links to where the stories are posted.)

where-gryphons-mournWhere Gryphons Mourn — this is another dream story that I have been meaning to get out there for quite some time. So I am finally getting it done. In fact, my darling and wonderful friend, Stef, created a cover for me, so it looks like I will be writing it and posting it on Wattpad. Isn’t she massively talented? (Seriously, this woman is amazing! Check her out on her website, at Deviant Art, and Wattpad.)

Through the Paintings Dimly — this one is actually almost entirely done so I won’t be increasing my word count much through this, but there is probably about another 3 – 5k that needs to be added in addition to the overall editing. But it will be done and off by the end of the week.

The Insurgent Queen — another book in the Tue-Rah Chronicles, and so, of course, it will get a substantial portion of the word count. I write about 5 – 10k on the main series once a week. In a sense, this is my easiest and most difficult project, but it is the one I adore the most. My soul is always in this series no matter what else I am working on. I really hope that Amelia gets her voice back before the end of this month’s writing. It’s been a good long time, and the poor girl needs to start talking again. (Note: if you haven’t started this series and would like to, you should probably start with Identity Revealed.) 

In Darkness, Cower — now, once again, this story is mostly completed. In fact, it appeared in the Tenebris Somnia anthology on Wattpad. I plan to enter it into the TNT competition, but I want to expand it a little more to reach the 10k word limit. I had to trim it a bit to make it meet the anthology’s criteria. So that will be about 4k. It’s due by the end of the month.

thecelebrityThe Celebrity — this story is mostly completed, but I want to enter it into a competition on November 15 (can’t remember the name of the competition right now). It’s just about 8 k too short though and then it will be up to the required standards.

Untitled Story — I have been tossing around some titles for this story, but I haven’t settled on one. Cruel Frost, Frost Wolf, and Frost Strain are possibilities, but none of them really hit the horror genre nail on the head. The proper title will come eventually. This story is going to be approximately 8k. Another dream/nightmare story that I just want to have done. I may submit it to the TNT competition as well. It may also expand beyond the anticipated 8k.

Just a Kiss — a sweet romance for an anthology. It’s probably going to be about 5k, and it is due by the end of the month. I just have the ideas down for this one, and, in fairness, if another sweet romance story presents itself that fits in with the Christmas season, I will likely go with that. I’ll consider this goal satisfied so long as I have a sweet romance story down.

The Nameless One’s Plea —  This is another story for an anthology, and it’s great because this is part of the Ragnarok Undone novel or perhaps Ragnarok Untold, depending on where the end of the novel comes. It’ll be about 8 k. It’s going to contain some spoilers for the story but nothing too major, and hopefully it will help to draw additional readers to the Ragnarok series.

The Nightwalker Before Christmas —  a dark holiday/horror story that will hopefully stay short and sweet. (I’m really hoping that with this short story focus this month I will be able to do a much better job of keeping stories short and tight.) Hopefully about 3k. The title is a little off for me, but I’ll find a better one later.

Serpent’s Kiss — a fantasy adventure for another anthology that will be approximately 5k. It has to be done before the end of the month, but I have a fairly solid idea of where I want to take it. And if that idea doesn’t work, I’ve got another one that can work for the same title, which is good because I like having a good title.

Aquanos Feratu — a tight short story in the horror genre utilizing the breath vampire concept among other aquatic horrors. Probably about 10 k. If I have to prioritize and run out of time to finish projects, then this is going to be set aside until next month. (If I’m not careful with this one, it’s going to get a lot bigger a lot faster.)

Escaping Nowhere I started this novel last year for Nanowrimo, got to the required word count, and it was all quite great. But I didn’t finish it. I’d like to wrap it up, which will probably take about another 20 k. On the high end. It’s fairly easy to write though, and I have good notes to pull me the rest of the way along.

Parnimo’s Prize — oh yes, please, please, let me finally find the right ending for this novella. I have written the ending so many times, but it never quite seems right. I think I’m going to be done with this one within about five chapters at the most.

Now if I get to have my druthers this month, I would also add these. I’d love to also complete 5k SoulMates Pendanteach on The Red Dragon, Cursed, and Ragnarok Undone. 10k on Of Cruelty, Elves, and Sorcery would be fantastic along with completion of Of Course Not, Silas, I Know Best.

I’m also planning to send off my application for the SFWA, query letters for Lunar Realms, and send off a couple other short stories to some other professional markets.

These aren’t all my goals for the month, and I doubt that I’ll make them all. I make my goals difficult to reach and usually almost impossible, so don’t worry. We’ll just see how far I get on this.

In terms of my actual Nanowrimo writing, I’m doing all right. It has been a bit slow because I’ve had to do more editing and legal work than usual, so as of yesterday, I only wrote about 14k. I’m getting ready to settle in for a batch of fiction writing here after dinner. Hopefully that goes way.

My One Little Habit That Banishes Writer’s Block

Recently I attended a teleseminar put on by Jeff Goins, “Four Critical Keys to Making a Living as a Writer.” As per usual, there was lots of good advice woven throughout as well as some points I am still mulling over and determining how to apply. One point that has stuck with me most consistently though is the question, “what is obvious to me that may not be so obvious to others?”

Obviously the basic concept behind this question is that we are all knowledgeable in something that we can share with the world. Bill Nye said “everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” Sometimes the biggest challenge is to see what that is.

In light of this month’s challenge, I decided to look at the questions I am most often sent. Short of actual story questions, the one I hear most often is “how do you avoid writer’s block?” and “how can you write so fast?”

Now I haven’t had writer’s block as most people would define it (i.e. inability to write for days at a time, no desire to write, no ideas to write about, and so on) . I’ve had periods where the words didn’t come as easily or they weren’t good or when they felt soulless and wooden or when particular stories wouldn’t work. But ultimately there have always been words.

And maybe this is part of how I am wired. Or maybe it’s because of one of my rituals.

The tyranny of the blank page stops many writers from moving forward for a number of reasons. And while I am often able to push past it, I push past it because of one thing that I do. As soon as the words flee my mind, I write or type this:

I have a story to tell, and I am the only one who can tell it just like me. This is the story I must tell…

Then I move into writing the actual story. Just the sight of those words on the page encourages me. It does two things for me:

  1. It reminds me why I am doing what I am doing and the act of writing that drives that point deeper into my subconscious
  2. It keeps the page from being utterly blank, and you can transition into any story from that point.

You can make up whatever phrase you would like to write out or you can use mine. The point is that you just start getting the words out there. You can revise it later. For many writers, it seems easier to revise than it is to write that initial draft.

Hopefully that helps. How is Nanowrimo going for you if you’re participating, and, if not, how is life? (Those in Nanowrimo generally don’t get to have much of a life outside of writing. 😉 )

The Tendency Toward Silence (The Quagmire of Mental Questioning and Self Paralysis)

cropped-Old-Typewriter1.jpgI wonder how many people silence themselves because they think their words have no value.

Some might say not enough people consider this possibility. The world is certainly a chaotic place, particularly in certain locations. Twitter and Youtube come to mind along with almost every site that includes politics and social commentary. In some places, a bit of silence would be more than welcome. It would be a great blessing. And there is certainly much benefit to choosing words, tempering responses, and sometimes simply allowing the silence to sit.

But the need for silence in one place does not mean that silence is needed in all places at all times.

Perhaps less anger. Perhaps more listening. And perhaps silence while gathering thoughts. Perhaps silence while contemplating the next step. Perhaps silence while choosing. And certainly not every thought must be spoken or every idea followed.

But those unspoken words and unfollowed ideas can swell inside us. They come to mind, and when we swallow them down, they lodge in our chests and smolder. Sometimes they choke us. Other times they vanish.

And there can be, I think, just as much a regret for not saying certain things as there can be for saying the wrong things.

I might be projecting.

Despite my recognizing that I have a bad habit of pouring out words and then locking them away, I have made limited progress in dealing with this bad habit (recognizing there’s a problem may be the first step, but it cannot be the only step). It’s difficult because so often I find myself holding back, and within minutes, I become mired in an intensive cycle of questioning.

keyboard-909156The same series of questions runs through my mind. “What value is this bringing?” “Are you really the right person to say this?” “Why should you say something?” “Are you sure this is the best way to say that?” “Is this really important to say right now?” “What if it comes across the wrong way?” “What if it’s misinterpreted?” “What if there’re errors that you missed even though you keep going over it?” “What if I’m showing off?” “What if I could do it better?” “Is this Christian enough?” “Is this anti Christian in some way?” “Am I Jesus juking?” “What if this comes across as insincere or inauthentic?” “Is this cliché?” “Does this really have any value?” “What if someone else has covered this and done it better?” “Is this taking away from someone else?” “What right do I have to say anything?” (Humorously enough, I go through the same agonizing cycle of questions when it comes to sharing posts, pictures, memes, and the like though sharing often adds a few additional questions to make the process even more fun.)

Add to that the people who police language and parse out what is acceptable and what isn’t and how wrong it is for some people to speak at all and how self indulgent the culture as a whole is. (Sometimes I can just hear the teeth sucking and tongue clicking.) And then I wind up with a massive slop of paralysis that typically results in abandonment.

The funny thing is that these questions and even an awareness of these individuals are not bad in and of themselves. In some cases, these matters can actually make the project stronger.

This sort of introspection becomes problematic when it results in paralysis and projects cast aside, particularly when those projects are finished in all but the finishing touches or the publication.

It is a sucking silencing spiral. As soon as I finish a post or a tweet or a story or a video, these questions form in my mind in rapid succession if I don’t send or publish fast enough. Wattpad has proven to be an anomaly but perhaps it also has the answer. I, for some reason, feel fairly free to post stories there.

Part of that is also driven by my fans and the fact that I know I would let them down if I didn’t finish the stories. But I am amazed that I was able to start writing on there at all. The fact that people are waiting for updates to the stories helps silence the questions and make me realize my mind’s foolishness when I get bogged into this mental quagmire.

Still I often find myself wondering who I am to speak. Particularly in the larger world or even on social media. Constantly measuring the value of what is to be said and then often dropping it for one reason or another.

It becomes easier to see how negative this is when I look at other people. When speaking with fellow heart-792179writers, students, artists, creators, and the like, I find encouragement falls from my lips easily because what I want so deeply is for them to create and share. To pour out and expand. To hone their skills and ply their trades. I want to hear their voices even when I don’t agree with them and even when it isn’t the best. It’s quite hard to have a conversation if they don’t speak because, even when silence speaks volumes, words and creations still have value, and it’s easier to connect when there is a combination of words, actions, and pauses.

I can’t think of anyone I would tell to be quiet forever. (Maybe a few whom I might ask to calm down or at least stop screaming.) Yet so often I shunt my own work into a drawer and decide what I have to say is irrelevant.

Silence can be a choice. It can be beautiful, beneficial, and much can be revealed within it, but we are not meant to always be silent.

No one has stolen my voice except those to whom I gave the power. Far too many times, I am the one who steals my own voice with incessant questions about my own value. I am my cruelest enemy. The harshest things my enemies have said of me reflect the worst fears of myself, and because I fear that it might be true, the words sting and have their power.

In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter much. It’s only in the moment that it seems so massive. Despite all the questions I inflict upon myself, I want to speak and to write. It’s easier when I have a justification, but sometimes the desire alone may be sufficient justification. (Perhaps desire paired with recognition that people are free to respond and further dialogue may be necessary and that no one is required to listen or participate.)

We will never be perfect, but for some of us, there is a need to release our works to the world. And, more importantly, you are the only you that exists, and while you should strive to be your best, you cannot wait until you feel ready or perfect to share that voice with the world.

The fact is that I will always be able to find a few thousand reasons why I shouldn’t do something. Whatever that might be. I had hoped that my other habits and tasks would make it easier. But it hasn’t. What can be done I suppose is to recognize when the questions become irrelevant and then refuse to be silent when silence is not actually the best or necessary course. How well that works, we shall see.

#WriteWeMay May 02 Favorite Dedication

So the second challenge requires that we share our favorite dedications. There’s so many good ones out there. Rick Riordan’s false apology for the cliffhanger and J.K. Rowling’s beautiful commemoration to her readers and C.S. Lewis’s sweet letter to the real Lucy are among the ones I find most inspiring.

But when it comes to favorite dedications, I must confess…I love this one. Funny DedicationIt makes me laugh every time. A dear friend sent it to me, and it is just the perfect dedication, don’t you think?

 

As for whether I will use such a dedication one day, I’m not sure. Somehow I can hear my mother saying, “Oh, honey…I’m sure you don’t have any enemies.” (She sincerely believes that enemies are just people to learn to love. If I brought my theoretical enemies over,  it would go something like this, “Oh, it’s so nice to meet you. Would you like a cup of tea and maybe a cookie? Some banana bread? Maybe a sandwich?”

“Momma…you’re supposed to be giving them the silent treatment.”

“They’re probably hungry, honey. We can give them the silent treatment later. But don’t you think that might hurt their feelings?”

“Momma…”

“Do you know if they have any food allergies? What do they like?”

“They take their tea with tacks and arsenic.”

“No, they don’t. Now,” slipping away from me to stand in front of my enemy. “Do you want anything to eat or drink? If you’re staying for awhile, I’d be glad to make something else if nothing sounds good. What’s your favorite food? And remember if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.” 

“Oh,” enemy says, “I wouldn’t –”

“It’s no trouble. Now have a seat, and let me put the kettle on. It’ll just be a minute.” Then off she goes to the kitchen while enemy looks at me with confusion. I follow my mother to the kitchen and she says, “could you find out whether they’re staying for dinner?”

“Momma, I’m trying to be intimidating. These are my enemies.”

“I think you’re very intimidating, sweetheart.” Of course she says this with the most motherly tender smile and then frowns slightly. “I hope I didn’t embarrass you. Oh, honey, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you. Do you want me to ask them to leave?”

“No, Momma. Just…don’t hug them when they leave.” )

 

Anyway, point being, I’m sure that if I were to dedicate a book to my enemies and threaten destruction, my dear mother would probably want to do something to make sure that everything was all right. (Seriously, she’s pretty incredible. She doesn’t have a vindictive bone in her body, so I don’t know how she wound up with me for a daughter, lol. Aside from the biological explanation, of course.)

What about you then? What’s your favorite dedication? What’s a dedication that you’d like to write in one of your future books?

#WriteWeMay May 01 First Works

2016-04-29 18.58.39#writewemay If you’re a writer, you should consider doing this. I’d love to see what you are all up to, so feel free to share in the comments and even include links to your work if you like. The first question is “your first work.”

Well, on the subject of first works, it all depends. Below is the notebook where I wrote my first stories. My mother made the notebook for me and filled it again and again with reams of lined paper. As you can see, I had a deep affection for cats.
 
When I finished my first draft of the Portal (now Identity Revealed in the Tue-Rah series), I put it in this notebook. So I printed off that front sheet of the story and included it with the rough draft. I may share that first page in full text later.
2016-04-29 18.58.54For the record, this draft was never submitted for publication. As much as my parents loved me, they knew that my writing was nowhere near the quality needed to actually write a good story though they were encouraging in other ways.
2016-04-29 19.01.44My first published in a physical book story was “For Your Eyes Only,” an exceptionally sentimental story involving a wealthy young man, a poor young woman, the unfortunate societal influences trying to keep them apart, and a vindictive dragon who wasn’t as bad as he seemed. Oh and some curse that turns people blind when they get near dragon gold. I wrote the story when I was 13 or 14, I believe. But the story was published when I was a little older.
 2016-04-29 19.02.06
I have debated whether to include this one, but perhaps it does count. My theoretically first published book was actually Darys: A Vampire’s Trial. A limited number were printed as part of my honors thesis project (yes, I actually managed to get my advisors to let me write a historical fiction) and it is part of the university’s collection. I think my sister may have my copy of it (I’m having her work up illustrations for a republication). So I have no picture of that one, but it is a hard cover in a rather odd shade of beige with white lettering.
There were a number of other publications in online magazines as well as ezines and a couple newspapers. But I didn’t print any of them out, and the newspapers are stashed in a box in the attic. I think…I can sometimes get a little careless with my proofs unfortunately.
So anyway, those are my first publications. What about yours? And if you haven’t yet reached that, what would be your dream publication and for which story? And what would the cover look like?
All the best to you, my friends! Let’s write wondrous stories in May! (Please excuse the funky formatting. I can’t figure out what’s wrong with it.)

The Things I Love Most About Serial Fiction

The Things I Love Most About Serialized Fiction

Serialized fiction has been around for quite awhile. It was exceptionally popular during the Victorian era, and it is becoming increasingly popular now. People don’t have as much time for leisure reading as they once did, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have time for stories. While books like the Mysteries of Udolpho reveled in long drawn out descriptions, modern readers want their storytellers to get to the point. Even those who enjoy

immersive worlds such as Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, The Shannara Chronicles, and so on still need stories that can fit into their day. And the time spent on reading is no longer a long leisurely afternoon (though honestly I still look forward to those), but rather 10 – 15 minute intervals scattered throughout the day.

Alexandre Dumas is one of my favorite serial writers. He sometimes wrote several at once, crafting intricate storylines and complex characters simultaneously.
Alexandre Dumas is one of my favorite serial writers. He sometimes wrote several at once, crafting intricate storylines and complex characters simultaneously.

Serial fiction allegedly began in the west during the 1600s in response to the Stamp Act. To save on the tax and cost, writers and publishers started selling smaller sections of stories. And serials became even more popular during the Victorian era with renowned authors such as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Alexandre Dumas, Gustave Flaubert, Leo Tolstoy, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. For Dickens and Dumas, most of their livelihood was based on these serials.

When I read many of these stories, I had no idea that they were serials to begin with. After all, I had the final copies. One thing that they share though are flowing narratives and often large casts as well as multiple story lines. But there are a few other things that stand out from serialized fiction that I love just as much.

Serials Offer Opportunities for More Surprises

In this case, I’m starting with the biggest reason I love serials: they are more surprising. The traditional novel is often structured with three acts and set to fulfill certain expectations and beats, similar to the traditional movie. That can, unfortunately, lead to a certain level of predictability. Stories that follow this must hit certain beats, and once you have read more than a few, you know what’s coming unless the author leaps off the beaten path. For instance, in most chick flicks, you know that there will be a misunderstanding, and if the misunderstanding happens around the 2/3 mark, it’s fairly likely that the couple will be back together. Similarly, if a villain is unmasked too early in a movie or book and other factors are present, you can bet that it’s a red herring and the real baddie has yet to be revealed.

But with serials, it’s harder to do because you don’t know how long the series is going to go or what all it will cover. The covering of the beats may or may not happen. A serial is placed in the main genre that fits it, but the narrative itself will continue to grow and adapt along with the characters, and that may change. As such, you can always guess what you think will happen, but it isn’t quite so easy.

Serials Change the Reading Experience

Confession time. I’m a speed reader, and I retain what I read. I read Game of Thrones in a day. On the one hand, this is great because it means I get to read more books. But on the other, it is quite saddening because I get through the book so quickly I can’t savor the experience. (And please don’t

A hot cup of tea, a good book, a cool place to read...and I am a happy woman.
A hot cup of tea, a good book, a cool place to read…and I am a happy woman.

suggest that I slow down. I’m afraid I’ve tried that, and that doesn’t work.) It’s just a part of me that I have accepted.

But serials do change that up a bit. See, with a serial, I do not have the whole book in front of me. Instead, I have to wait as it is released chapter by chapter. It whets my excitement for the story, and it forces me to continue to come back, wondering what is going to happen and concocting exciting new theories. It only takes me a couple minutes to read most of the modern serial chapters, so I can fit it in at various points throughout the day whether I’m waiting for a representative to take me off hold or a client to show up for his legal consultation. And though it takes only minutes to read, a good serial segment keeps my mind engaged for quite some time.

Serials Are Great Rewards

Maybe it’s just my because I’m a bit cantankerous, but I do need rewards to keep at my highest productivity levels. Having something to look forward to makes it so much easier to deal with a trying client or push through a rough day. And let me tell you, when you have found a great serial, opening up that new chapter is the perfect reward.

Books take us on wonderful new journeys and introduce us to incredible people. It's my favorite way to travel.
Books take us on wonderful new journeys and introduce us to incredible people. It’s my favorite way to travel.

My favorite way to enjoy this reward is curled up in the corner of the couch or in the back corner of a room. (It’s very important to have walls to your

back and sides so that people can’t sneak up on you while you’re engrossed in that fictional world.) Sometimes I brew myself a cup of peppermint tea and other times I just kick off my shoes and start reading.

And while it’s true that you can do this with a traditional book that requires a bit of will power that I don’t have. If I have the whole book in front of me, I will probably binge on as many chapters as I can cram in.  And it’s also quite likely that dinner will be whatever I can whip up or is left in the fridge.

 

A New Player Has Arrived in Serial Storytelling

There are already some great platforms out there for serial storytelling. One of my favorites is Wattpad, which has been the home to some of my best writing friendships. And now there’s a new one called Radish.

Radish is similar to Wattpad in that it offers serialized stories through an app, but it also allows readers to purchase stories through the app and read chapters early. In some cases, the stories are even exclusive to Radish. And I am writing some of those stories! (I’ll tell you about the serials I’m doing and what you can expect in another post, and you can sign up for updates about my work on Radish here: radishfiction.com/?a=JMButler.)

This must be turned into a plushie! It is adorable.
How can you refuse the Radish? He’s got so many great stories to share with you! You should stop by and see if you find a new favorite!

The app is brand new, and it just rolled out into the iOS market first. Now if you can’t find it, you may have to look under the iPhone only option in the app store. You can use it on an iPad and so forth, but it seems to only be showing up under that category. You can go here to check it out.

I’m so excited to see this project take off, and I know that the folks at Radish have been working hard. You can view their landing page as well to see some of what they are offering. While most of the stories on there are romance, I promise that it’s not only romance. There are great non romantic stories on there as well ranging from fantasies to mysteries to horror stories.

As time passes, I look forward to seeing the Radish Team further develop this, including additional rollouts to the Android platform and web app as well as commenting and interaction features. And I am even more excited because I get to read some wonderful new serials. Just in time too because it’s tax season, and lawyer life gets a lot more stressful right about now.

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