Tag Archives: arcana

What I Learned From #NaNoWriMo

Winner-2014-Web-BannerAs I mentioned, I recently won #NaNoWriMo 2014. It was a long haul. I had quite a few nights where I was up until 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning. My back is killing me. I spent several days in a daze, barely able to focus on anything else.

The novel is complete. At 160,484 words, it’s both the biggest NaNoWriMo victory I’ve ever had and the longest novel I’ve written in the series. As you can see by the progress meters on the sidebar to the right, it’s 28,000 words more than the previous novel. This was more-or-less what I expected, and the reason why is the first “thing I learned” from NaNoWriMo:

I learned to better estimate word counts

When I first wrote Manifestation, I had no idea how long it would be. I also didn’t know how the story would shift away from any original plans I had. These shifts can lead to longer word counts on some drafts, since the story expands in places I didn’t expect, then shorter word counts in revisions, when I cut scenes that end up not fitting the new direction the story went in. One of the consequences of these unexpected turns is that the structure of the novel can change.

For example, when I first started the series, I already knew where the third volume, Collapse, would end. I had a scene in mind for the climax and what consequences it would bring. I started writing with that goal in mind from early on, always trying to move Gabby Palladino and Tock Zipporah, the two main characters, in that direction. But at the time that I started writing, I thought that would be the end of volume two, not volume three.

I had originally planned Manifestation to stop in a place that is now somewhere around the middle of the second book, Contamination. I had a story arc planned out for Gabby that would take her through various family dramas, build on her romantic relationship with her main love interest, Callia Gainsborough, and help her grow from the introverted teenage girl we see at the beginning into, well, you’ll have to wait and see what she becomes. But when I was moving past the 100,000 word mark on Manifestation, I realized I needed a lot more time to get Gabby to the point I wanted to take her in. So I devised a new climax for Manifestation, finished the first book, and started the second one.

Then, when I was near the end of Contamination, the same thing happened again. I had a point where Gabby’s relationship with Callia was really just getting off the ground, where Gabby’s understanding of the supernatural changes to the world around her are finally coming together, and where Gabby’s growth as a character was reaching a major turning point. But a turning point isn’t a climax, and I realized I needed another 50,000 words or more to get Gabby the rest of the way down that path. Like with the first book, had I not come up with a different ending, the total length of the book would have been over 170,000 words. Instead, I started the third book, and about halfway through Gabby reached the point of character development I’d originally planned. It was mostly smooth sailing after that to finish the third book, reaching the climax that had originally been planned for book two.

This year, I went into my writing expecting and planning for a length of 150,000. I came up with this number by considering the various story arcs of the previous books, how many main characters had leading roles in each, and how much world building had to be done. When I crossed the 130,000 word mark, I reanalyzed based on the number of scenes left, and adjusted my word count estimate to 160,000. The final total word count was only a few hundred off of that second estimate.

I plan to consider these variables when working on future books as well, so that I’ll have a better idea of how much will “fit” in one book. That way I’ll be able to avoid major restructuring like I went through in the early books.

I learned the difference between a “romance” and a “love story”

As you may have seen by recent blog posts, I’ve been studying romance novels lately. I have a few serious problems with the common romance tropes I’ve seen. Examples include characters who seem to constantly profess their love in the narration without me seeing love in their actions, characters who are too perfect (perfect bodies, perfect hair, flawless morals, etc), characters who fall in love too quickly without enough development of their relationships, and the unrealistic nature of the “happily ever after” ending. I’ve been trying to avoid abusing these tropes in my own writing, by either breaking them entirely, or at least approaching them from different angles in order to avoid being cliche.

However, a new variable was recently brought to my attention. I recently wrote a post about exploring infidelity in romance stories, where I considered the possible roles cheating might play in the development of a story. In particular, I cited novels like The Notebook, where the female lead started off in a relationship then cheated on her fiance with the male lead, who she eventually ended up with. After writing this post, however, one of my romance writer friends directed me to the rules of the Romance Writers of America, and I learned there are some things you can’t do if you want the story to be considered an official “romance.”

According to the RWA, a story is only a “romance” if it has A Central Love Story and An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending. That is, the love story can’t be a subplot, and it can’t have an ending that isn’t in the “happily ever after” category.

A happy ending, according to my friend, means things like no cheating. You can’t do anything to betray the relationship or make the reader stop rooting for the characters to get together. If the reader reaches a point where they wish the characters would break up, it’s not a “romance.”

An interview with Nicholas Sparks has another quote that I found interesting in relation to this idea. He responds to the question:

Q: You once said the difference between a love story and a romance is that “love stories must use universal characters and settings.” What did you mean by that?

“Universal” means you feel as if they are real. You feel like you can know them. I don’t write stories about astronauts or CEOs of Fortune 500 companies or millionaires or movie stars. These are stories of everyday people put into extraordinary events that are also very real in ordinary people’s lives: accidents, a past you want to get away from, a husband that got violent.

Now, I don’t necessarily agree with his entire view here, but what he’s basically saying sounds like “romance novels have unrealistic characters but love stories have ordinary people.” I wouldn’t call this a 100% accurate statement, but it touches on what I mentioned above. Most romance novels I read have people who are too perfect. They’re rich, famous, gorgeous, and flawless. Now, I think you can have a traditional romance novel that has believable, down-to-earth characters (just many of the ones I’ve recently read don’t). But if you go by Sparks’s views, romances are fantasies, while love stories are more realistic.

Even if you disagree with how sparks describes this difference, I do think that the distinction is related to the “no cheating” rule I already mentioned. Characters who cheat on each other would spoil the perfect fantasy of the ideal relationship. But characters who have to struggle to heal and forgive after an affair might better represent the kinds of people we see in real life.

I’ll probably follow up with some more things I learned in a future post. It was definitely a long and educational experience.

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My #NaNoWriMo Excerpt

I was peer pressured encouraged to share an excerpt from my current #NaNoWriMo Project, Arcana Revived Volume Six (currently untitled). The chapter below is an early chapter that introduces Gabby Palladino and her sister, Adrianna.

Be warned, spoilers ahoy. Since this is a sequel, there’s massive spoilers in here for my first novel, Manifestation. Read ahead at your own risk.

Don't say I didn't warn you!
Don’t say I didn’t warn you!


Gabby and the Manifested warped into Evesborough, landing at the edge of the city in a flash of light. They staggered a bit in catching their footing and adjusting to the difference in elevation; Evesborough was in the mountains, high above sea level, so it was a stark shift from the coastal city they’d just left. The air was cooler, the sky was clear, and the mountains around them were covered in fresh evergreens that climbed the slopes all around the city.

Gabby rubbed her temple, fighting off a headache. The pressure around her skull from the ever-present weight of her aura was worse than usual. She was sure it was a mix of not only the stress she was going through, but also of the massive mana surges she’d just witnessed Tock wielding in the City of Arcana. Tock’s power had become immense, far greater than it had been last time Gabby had seen her a couple of months before. It was something she wasn’t sure how to handle, or even wrap her head around.

“What happens now?” Mason asked. He stood off to the side with the others, outside of the range of Gabby’s aura. She was having trouble holding the aura in right now and pulses of mana were leaking through it. The Manifested kept their distance in order to remain safe.

“Gather the rest of the Manifested in the city square,” Gabby said. “We’re going to have to make preparations for tomorrow.”

“Preparations for what, exactly?” Vijay asked. “To fight?”

Gabby shook her head no, but she didn’t know what other answer to give. “We’re going to stop the fighting.”

“How?” Mason asked.

Gabby sighed. “Just get everyone together.” She turned to Jaden. “Send out a city-wide summons. Not just our usual crew. I want all willing volunteers with any kind of arcana to come. We’re going to need everything we’ve got.” Evesborough currently held a few hundred thousand citizens, most of them refugees who had fled from other mountain towns in the surrounding area and come here for the protection offered by a more well-defended city. Out of the whole population, somewhere between ten and twenty thousand were Manifested, though they hadn’t been able to perform any kind of census to get an exact count. Plus, many of the Manifested were children who were too young to fight, or people who were unwilling to join the struggle. Gabby could hope for a thousand, maybe two, but that would be it. Not enough to stand against the entire massed force of the Northern Union army, to say nothing of Tock’s mass-produced golem army.

Jaden raised her megaphone and channeled a stream of mana into it. Translucent emerald light flowed from her fingertips into the gemstones that were encrusted around the device, melding arcana and technology together in a design Vijay had developed just for the telepath. When she channeled her thoughts into the megaphone, they were amplified by the arcanatech and channeled across the whole city. All Manifested willing to help us stop the war, please gather in the city square. Commander Palladino requests all Manifested willing to fight . . .

Gabby gave Jaden a grateful smile. “I’ll see you guys there in a few minutes.” She headed off on her own, walking down the street towards the lodge that had been turned into a makeshift command center. She kept her head held high as she walked, giving professional nods to the citizens and Manifested she passed by. The streets were fairly crowded with pedestrian traffic, though there wasn’t a single car in sight. They hadn’t yet had time to develop any arcanatech vehicles, and gas was a resource that had all but run out in the months since the mana storm. She didn’t think there was a single operational car or truck left anywhere in Evesborough, and in the other cities to the south, the military had taken control of all the gas supplies to keep their jeeps and tanks running.

She headed into the lodge, where groups of volunteers were working to coordinate everything from the details of Evesborough’s defense force, to the management of their food supplies, to the manufacturing of arcanatech weapons and devices based on Vijay’s designs. Several people stopped her with questions as soon as she entered and she was stuck for almost ten minutes making decisions about where to mount the newest arcanatech gun turrets, how to handle distributing food supplies to different parts of the city, and how to settle disputes between different teams who each wanted a bigger portion of their limited manufacturing supplies. She didn’t have the first clue what the best answer was to half of the questions, so she just made her best guess, or delegated the task to someone else. She didn’t really know how to lead an army or be responsible for the lives of others. She’d just been roped into the job because of how powerful her arcana was, and how it made the others look to her as their leader.

As she was moving among the various desks that filled the lodge’s main lobby and central rooms, Gabby spotted her sister seated at a desk in the corner. She arched an eyebrow, curious as to why Adrianna was there. Her doctor, Mahir Pavari, stood by Adrianna’s side. Gabby walked over to the and gave them a small wave. Adrianna looked up from the paperwork she was working on and gave her a tired smile.

“Hey, Sis,” Adrianna said. “How did it go?” Her eyes showed signs of strain and dark circles had formed under them. She was dressed in a hospital gown and slippers, with a fluffy blue robe on top.

“About as well as could be expected,” Gabby said. She decided not to go into detail, not wanting to add to her sister’s stress. “What are you doing here? Should you be out?” She looked to Dr. Pavari.

Adrianna frowned and lowered her head. She pressed her palms down flat on the papers that covered the desk before her. “I’m not an invalid,” she said. “I’m perfectly capable of being out on my own.” She glanced over her shoulder at Dr. Pavari. “I don’t need to be babysat.”

Dr. Pavari pushed his glasses up his nose and said, “We’re giving it a trial run. I think it’s good for her to get out and try to get into some kind of normal routine.”

Adrianna pressed her hands down harder on the desk. “Don’t talk about me like I’m not here.”

“I’m sure he didn’t mean it like that,” Gabby said. “It’s okay.” She paused, chewing on her lip. Then she nodded to the papers. “So, what are you working on?”

Adrianna cast a glare up at Dr. Pavari, the turned back to Gabby. “Food inventory. I used to do this at the restaurant.” She patted the papers before her, then smoothed them out, then patted them again. “I know how to do this. I used to do it all the time.” Adrianna had worked at a small restaurant in the West District suburbs for a few years, back before she got pregnant. She had been planning on going back to work when Dante was old enough. Though his death, and Adrianna’s subsequent breakdown, had prevented that. So had the beginning of the apocalypse.

Gabby opened her mouth to reply, but she was distracted by the way Adrianna continued smoothing out the papers before her. Her movements became rougher and she ended up ripping one of the pages. She held the two halves of the page up and pressed them back together, frowning. “I can fix that,” she said, her voice a bare whisper. “I can fix it. I just need tape.”

“It’s okay,” Gabby said, giving her sister a reassuring smile. “It’s not a big deal.”

“No,” Adrianna said. “No. I can fix it.” She opened one of the desk drawers, her hands shaking. She dug through it, her movements becoming more frantic by the moment. She slammed the drawer shut and reached for another. It stuck and she yanked on it, squealing. “I can fix it!” She yanked the drawer open and knocked it off its tracks. Pens, pencils, and paper clips spilled all over the floor.

“Maybe it’s time we head back,” Dr. Pavari said, touching Adrianna’s shoulder. “It’s been a long day, and it’s time for your pills.”

Adrianna sat stiffly, tilting her head towards him. “I don’t like the pills,” she said. She pressed her hands down on top of the desk again. “I don’t like the way they make me feel.”

Gabby swallowed a lump in her throat, fighting off tears. “Addy, if the doctor says—”

“You’re always taking his side!” Adrianna snapped. She stood up and slammed her hands down on the desk. “Don’t talk to me like I’m a child, Gabby!” She leaned against the desk, shaking.

Gabby held still, not sure what to say. She hated having to treat her sister like this. She’d always looked up to Adrianna when they were growing up; her sister was two years older than Gabby, and she used to teach Gabby about life and love and making friends. But their relationship had broken down during Adrianna’s pregnancy, and fallen apart completely in the aftermath of Dante’s death.

Dr. Pavari touched a hand against Adrianna’s back. “Let’s get back to the hospital. You can get some rest, and we can come back to finish the work later.”

Adrianna turned and glared at him, her fists clenched. Then she turned her glare on Gabby. “Fine,” she said. “It doesn’t matter. Fine.” She swung her hand out and knocked the pencil sharpener off the desk. Flakes of pencil trimmings flew everywhere. Adrianna turned and stalked from the room with Dr. Pavari trailing behind her. He gave Gabby an apologetic look and Gabby responded with the bravest smile she could force onto her face.

When they left, she took a deep, shuddering breath. The rest of the people in the room were staring at her, though most of them were trying to hide it. She held back her tears and pushed down her feelings, then forced herself to get back to work. There were still questions that needed to be answered and concerns that needed to be addressed. She was the one in charge, so she had to keep working.

* * *

mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.


mani_promoClick here to read Chapter 1: Magic, or here to read Chapter 2: Manifestation, or here to read Chapter 3: Distraction. Here you can read the fourth sample chapter of my debut novel, Manifestation, an urban fantasy adventure that explores the revival of magic and mystery in a world that is unprepared for the changes arcane powers will bring. Available in paperback and ebook.


Chapter 4: Staring



Gabby woke up in the hospital with a hard knot of pain in her stomach and a pounding headache. The room was dark but the light coming in from the hallway through the open door burned Gabby’s eyes and made her wince. Her mom sat in a chair across the room. When Gabby shifted in the bed and tried to sit up, her mom got up and crossed over to her. She stood at the side of the bed and stared down at Gabby with her lips pressed together. Gabby stared back, and the look on her mom’s face made her wish that she hadn’t woken up.

Gabby didn’t say anything at first. She didn’t know what to say. She didn’t have any explanation for what she’d done. She hadn’t even thought it through. Though maybe, she thought, her mom would listen now. She lay there in the bed and waited for her mom to ask her if she was okay, or what had happened to push her to such an act.

Her mom shook her head, her eyes wet with tears. “What is wrong with you?” she asked.


“How could you do something like this?” Mom asked. She waved her hands at the plastic tubes and wires Gabby was hooked up to. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done to your family? How scared we were? Your father and Anthony both had to leave work and Frankie is missing class right now because we’re all down here worried about you! How could you do this to us? To your family?”

Gabby stared at her mom, mute. She clenched her teeth together. She wanted to yell, to ask her mom why she should care about what she’d done to them when no one had asked what happened to her. But she didn’t. She turned away from her mom, shifting in the bed as best as she could with tubes up her nose and an IV stuck in her arm.

“Just leave me alone,” she said.

* * *

The baby was crying.

The baby was always crying.

Gabby went about her morning routine, getting dressed in silence, except for the sound of the baby’s cries drifting up from downstairs. In the weeks since he’d been born, the weeks since Gabby came home from having her stomach pumped, it seemed like the baby never stopped crying and her headache never went away.

She clenched her teeth and rubbed at her temples. Dante wailed even louder. She responded to the wails by throwing her hairbrush against the vanity so hard she nearly cracked the mirror. She was sick of the constant noise, and sometimes really wished the little brat was just gone.

“Five minutes, Gabriella,” her mother called out as she passed by her door. “And don’t forget, you’re coming straight home after school. You have an appointment with Dr. Caldwell at five.” Gabby didn’t bother to answer. There was no reason to. It would be her third appointment with the psychiatrist, and she expected it to be as much of a waste of time as the first two had been. She sat and tied her shoes with harsh, tight yanks of the laces. “Gabriella?” Mom snapped, stepping back and peering through the door at her. Gabby stood up and checked herself in the mirror, fixing her hair. She didn’t even glance at her mom. After a moment, her mother sighed and gave up, then turned away and headed downstairs, leaving her daughter alone with her own reflection.

She stared at her mirror image for a long moment. She’d buttoned her blouse wrong. She huffed and started redoing the buttons. She kept messing up the simplest tasks lately. Not only was Dante’s crying interfering with her concentration, but her head felt like it was being crushed under a mountain of stone. Ever since she got back from the hospital, she’d been feeling pressure in her skull. The weight she felt pressing against her head nearly drove her to tears. It got worse with the constant wailing coming from down the hall.

She dried her eyes before the tears started to fall, then headed downstairs. As she stomped down the steps the baby cried louder. “Can’t you make him stop crying?” she snapped at Adrianna. Her sister glared at her, rocking little Dante in one arm and rubbing her head with the opposite hand. Adrianna had been experiencing frequent dizzy spells and migraines ever since Dante had been born, and they’d been growing steadily worse. The medication her doctor had prescribed didn’t seem to be helping any. Gabby didn’t have anything to take for her own headaches; she hadn’t told her parents about the pressure on her skull, since doing so would mean bringing up what she had tried to do to herself.

She’d tried more than once to tell them what happened, but her mother’s attitude about the whole situation made talking to her impossible. The constant badgering and demands for answers had made it too difficult for Gabby to explain what had really happened. Instead of telling her parents the truth, she ended up yelling and arguing with them, and accusing them of not being there when she needed them. Her dad had told her that if she couldn’t talk to them, she should tell the psychiatrist instead. But Gabby didn’t know if she could trust Dr. Caldwell, either.

Gabby headed out the door without another word to anyone in her family. She’d given up on talking to them. All the yelling and attempts to grab attention hadn’t gotten her anything except for being grounded ever since she’d gotten out of the hospital. Knowing that she was being punished for being a victim made it that much harder for her to open up to her parents. Her protests hadn’t gotten the grounding lifted, nor had they gotten her out of the weekly appointments with the psychiatrist. Appointments which usually involved her sitting there and staring at the wall while the doctor tried to get her to talk.

She rode the bus to school without saying a word to anyone. She had no friends left in school since Callia had graduated the year before. Plus now that Callia had moved away for her internship, Gabby never saw her. Her school day was boring, as always. Gabby spent more time writing in her diary than paying attention to the lessons. Math, science, and history bored her to tears, and she had no interest whatsoever in social studies or current events. Her literature class was about the only one that held any interest for her, and even that didn’t seem to draw much motivation from her anymore. As if that weren’t bad enough, she spent the whole day feeling like there was a chain wrapped around her head. The pressure on her skull never seemed to go away, and it drove her to constant distraction.

During gym class that day, as soon as she finished changing in the locker room, Gabby hurried off to find peace and quiet. She skipped running track, and instead hid herself under the bleachers. She leaned against the metal supports and closed her eyes, taking a deep, shuddering breath. She despised gym class. She was no good at running, she hated the uniform sweats and t-shirts they had to wear, and she hated getting changed in the locker room. Not that she had that much reason to be ashamed of her own body; she had nice curves and was very well-developed. She’d blossomed quite early in life, just like her sister. But she thought she needed to lose weight and she couldn’t help comparing her chubby body to the skinny girls with perfect legs and no flab.

She slid down to the ground and buried her face in her hands. It was quiet under the shadows of the bleachers. She had solitude, which she both loved and hated. She didn’t want to be around anyone else anymore, and she didn’t have any friends. Not since Callia left. But being alone with her thoughts brought bad memories back. Memories of things she hadn’t shared with anyone. She had never told her parents why she took all the pills that day. She hadn’t told them how she’d felt wrong ever since. Most days her head throbbed like it was caught in a vice, though it wasn’t a painful throbbing. Just a weight. Pressure.

“Palladino!” a voice called out to her. She moaned and rubbed her hands over her eyes, trying to push past the pressure she felt mounting on her skull. She’d started crying again without even realizing it. “Get your sorry ass out here and run some laps.” Gabby got up, bloodshot blue eyes staring at the gym teacher, wishing she had the nerve to tell her off. She sighed and headed onto the track, then jogged along until she started to run out of breath. It didn’t take long at all before she had to stop from fatigue.

As she came around to the far side of the track, she found her classmate Erica and her boyfriend Charlie hiding behind the second set of bleachers. Her footsteps slowed as she watched them making out. Charlie’s hands roamed over the teen girl’s body, and Gabby wondered what that would be like . . .

“What are you staring at?” Erica snapped when she saw her. “Get lost!” Charlie turned to look at her, a dangerous look in his dark eyes. He was on the football team and built like a tank. Gabby thought he was on steroids or something; every time she saw him, he seemed to be sweating, angry, and aggressive. He stared her down with a vein throbbing in his forehead, and Gabby backed away. Her head pounded and the pressure in her skull built up. The more the pressure built up in her head, the tighter Charlie’s grip on his girlfriend seemed to get.

She watched Charlie for a long moment as she backed away, until Erica smacked his arm and yelped, “Ow! You’re hurting me.” He turned back to his girlfriend and stepped back, letting go.

“Sorry,” he muttered, “I didn’t mean to.” He looked her over with apparent confusion, then glanced at Gabby as if it were somehow her fault. Erica rubbed her waist where he’d been holding her a little too tight. Charlie mumbled another apology, then glared at Gabby again, as if she were doing something wrong by just standing there watching.

Gabby hurried along. She didn’t want to be involved in anything going on between them. When she glanced back, she saw Charlie’s eyes were still fixed on her.

When class was over and she was back in the locker room, she kept her head down and quickly got changed back into her regular clothes. She didn’t like spending much time changing; being in the locker room always made her uncomfortable. She glanced down the aisle between the lockers at Erica and a group of the more popular girls she was friends with. They were all tall and nicely figured, and few of them were cheerleaders. Most of them had perfect, tanned skin, unlike Gabby with her pale skin and freckles. They were all much skinnier than Gabby, who had a more developed chest, more curves, and more flab around her hips and waist. She tried to keep her eyes to herself as she pulled on her shirt and jeans, then leaned over to tie her sneakers.

She glanced back down at the other girls again. She stared for a long moment when one blonde girl, still in her underwear, bent over to pick something up. The girl’s panties were riding up a little, revealing a glimpse of soft flesh. Gabby felt warm. One of the girls pointed at her and laughed, and the others joined in. She tried not to hear their taunts as she quickly pulled her shoes on, grabbed her backpack, and fled.

She ran around the back of the gym, and almost ran headfirst into a group of rough-looking students. There were about half a dozen of them, all dressed in black and smoking cigarettes. One of the oldest, a tall, mean-looking boy named Rick, was playing with a cigarette lighter, passing the flame under his palm as if to prove how tough he was.

Gabby skidded to a halt and they looked up at her, then started snickering at the tears falling from her eyes. Gabby’s heart pounded and her face reddened. The laughter grew louder and Gabby’s head started to spin. The laughter from the girls in the locker room rang in her ears, echoed by the laughter of the boys outside. It made her feel dizzy with shame. The pressure around her skull built up. She turned to run away, but then Rick shouted, “What the . . . holy shit!”

Gabby looked up and saw the grass between her and the boys had caught on fire. Several of the boys dropped their cigarettes and the flames spread. Rick stomped at the flames, then looked up at Gabby with his face scrunched up in pain. Her heart pounded and her face went pale. The flames rose and spread into the shrubs alongside the building. Gabby squealed and backed away. She’d never seen a fire move so fast before.

Shouts came from around the corner. Rick turned to flee with the other boys. Gabby stood there in shock, staring at the flames as they rose up the side of the building. Then a teacher came around the corner with a fire extinguisher, and Gabby fled the scene, hoping she wouldn’t be blamed for the fire the boys had started.

The fire alarm was pulled, the students were evacuated out to the football field. The fire hadn’t spread much farther after Gabby fled the scene, but it had gotten out of control enough that the fire department had to come put it out. The students were led away to make sure no one was hurt. Most of the kids were enjoying the break from classes, mingling in small groups of friends. Eventually the principal announced that everyone would be sent home early for the day and most of the kids cheered. The school buses lined up near the football field and the students were slowly herded in that direction.

Gabby kept her head down as she walked to her bus. Most of them ignored her, anyway. She walked by students chatting with their friends, boys and girls embracing in corners and under the bleachers, and others making plans for after school. She didn’t have anything fun or social to do after school; she’d been forced to quit the school play as part of her punishment, and she wasn’t involved in anything else.

She bumped into someone on her way past, and he yelled and shoved her away. “Ow! Watch it,” he yelled. He clutched at his stomach and glared at her. His face paled and he let out a groan as he rubbed his stomach where she’d bumped him, though she’d barely touched him. “Stupid dyke.”

Gabby stared at him. Her eyes started to burn, and she breathed in sharply through her nose. Why did he have to call her that? She didn’t even know him. He was a transfer student, Jacob-something. He was a goth kid in a leather jacket and with a weird haircut. He held his stomach as if he was sick. He stared at her, sweating. She glanced around and saw everyone else was staring at her too. Her face reddened. Jacob turned and walked away, holding his stomach as though he was about to throw up.

She heard a voice from the side mutter, “Such a freak . . . I swear, she’s always staring at me in the locker room.”

Gabby blushed and lowered her head. Rick and a few of the other seniors were pointing at her and laughing. Some of the other students shook their heads and turned away. The only one who didn’t seem to be laughing was the foreign exchange student, Minori. She gave Gabby a kind smile, but that made her feel worse. She’d never shown Minori any kindness in return. Minori had grown up attending a mission in Tsuchan, and the other students teased her for being a religious freak. Gabby had always been very strong in her religious beliefs as well. She thought maybe she and Minori could have been friends.

Minori gave Gabby a shy little wave. Gabby turned away, afraid to return the friendly gesture and risk being mocked even more for hanging around the exchange student. She hurried in the opposite direction, trying to avoid any more attention.

She made her way around the football team’s equipment building and ran across Erica and Charlie again. They were pressed up against the side of the building, kissing, while the athlete’s hands slid up his girlfriend’s skirt. Gabby stood off a short distance away, trying not to stare, but wondering what it would be like to touch a girl like that. She wasn’t paying much attention to anything going on around her. That is, until she heard Charlie’s voice snap, “What the hell are you staring at?”

“I wasn’t—!” she said, then cut off when she saw he wasn’t even looking at her. He was glaring at the new kid, Jacob. Jacob was staring at Erica, and not even trying to hide it. Gabby looked up at Erica and frowned. There was an odd look on the blonde girl’s face.

“Hey,” Charlie shouted, stepping over towards the new kid. “I asked you a question, freak!” A crowd started to gather around as Charlie advanced on Jacob. A few kids cheered and hollered in anticipation of a fight.

“Fuck off,” the new kid snapped. Gabby held still and watched with a growing sense of dread. The crowd pushed her forward, while many of the students shouted and egged the two boys on. When she got closer she saw a vein in Charlie’s neck bulging and his face turning red. She stared and held her breath. He didn’t just look angry. He looked like he was about to explode. His fists were clenched and he gritted his teeth so hard she thought they might crack.

“What’d you say to me?” Charlie screamed.

The new kid stepped closer. His face was pale, and his eyes had the unfocused, bloodshot look of someone who was high. He would have to be to mouth off to someone twice his size. “I said fuck off. He kept looking past Charlie’s shoulder, over at Erica, who was still leaning against the wall. She hadn’t moved from that spot. Her eyes were locked right on Jacob’s, unblinking. Jacob’s eyes traced over her body and she squirmed under his gaze.

The crowd pressed in closer. Some of the students chanted, “Hit him, hit him!” Gabby looked around, wondering how long it would take a teacher to realize what was going on. Even if one came, it didn’t seem like they would get there in time to break up the inevitable fight.

Before anyone could stop it, the pounding started. Fists flew, and Gabby thought she saw the new kid pull a knife, though it was hard to be sure with all the confusion and the cheering that went on around her. Her heart pounded, and bodies pressed against her from all sides. Her head ached, the pressure building up, and she felt closed in from all sides by the mass of flesh all around her. She screamed and tried to push herself back. She felt trapped, and surrounded without control. She pushed against the students around her, but they all shoved inward, and her small voice was lost among the cheering and chanting.

When the teachers finally showed up to pull the students apart, both Charlie and Jacob were on the ground, unconscious. Erica stood off to the side. Her face was blank and her eyes dull with shock as she watched the teachers attend to her boyfriend who lay on the ground. She rubbed at her temples and leaned against the building as though she was dizzy.

Someone pulled out a phone to call for help. One of the teachers knelt next to the boys to check on them. Jacob was bloody and bruised, but Charlie didn’t seem to have a mark on him. Gabby stepped closer, and the pressure around her skull tightened. She had trouble focusing her vision. She looked down at Charlie as the teacher searched him for injuries, but found none. The only strange thing about him was the way the veins in his neck and forehead bulged and throbbed. Gabby’s heart pounded, and she could have sworn that the throbbing in Charlie’s veins matched the rhythm of her own pulse.

Chapter 5: Therapy

mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

Magic Kiss

I’d like to talk about magic. And kissing.

Image source: http://martinweigel.org/2013/06/10/the-liberation-of-magic/
Image source: http://martinweigel.org/2013/06/10/the-liberation-of-magic/

Magic comes in many forms. There’s the literal magic of a wizard, ala Gandalf or Harry Potter. There’s the metaphoric magic of a first kiss. There’s the trickery and sleight-of-hand associated with stage magic. And of course, there’s Magic: The Gathering (which I was pretty hooked on when I was 14).

I’ve discussed magic on the blog before, but that series (written in three separate blog posts) was more about the rules of magic, and how to develop them and then break them. Today, I’d like to talk a bit about what makes magic really “magical,” and where the line is between magic, tricks, technology, and metaphors.

The idea came to me when I was talking to a friend about the release of my first novel, Manifestation. I mentioned that the book contains magic and kissing, among other things. Which got me thinking about the difference between a metaphorical magic kiss, and a literal magic kiss.

Image source: http://image-ination.ifthisistaken.com/childrens-story-think-about-it/
Image source: http://image-ination.ifthisistaken.com/childrens-story-think-about-it/

The idea of a “magic kiss” is a well-established trope. From Snow White to Sleeping Beauty to the Princess and the Frog, it’s a common idea in movies, books, and other media for a kiss to have the power to save lives, break spells, and make the audience get all misty-eyed. Heck, even The Matrix did it, which bent the perception of reality when Trinity’s kiss from outside the Matrix was able to save Neo’s life inside the Matrix.

So where is the line between the actual magic that alters reality, and the metaphorical magic that gets your heart fluttering? It might be harder to pin down than you think.

I’d like to discuss two specific examples: The Little Mermaid and The Sword of Truth.

Image source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097757/
Image source: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0097757/

The Little Mermaid is one of my favorite Disney movies (despite the fact that I could go on for hours about the poor gender roles being portrayed here). I even wrote an article analyzing the communication practices in the movie, especially with regards to when Ariel loses her voice. But for today’s discussion, I’d like to bring up the “kiss of true love” that is a key plot point in this film.

As I already mentioned, it’s common for “true love’s kiss” to break a spell and save the day. Except that in The Little Mermaid, that’s not quite what’s happening. There’s not technically any literal magic involved in Ariel’s kiss. Though understanding the difference requires taking a look at how Ursula’s spell differs from, say, Queen Grimhilde’s in Snow White or Maleficent’s in Sleeping Beauty.

With both Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, the magic kiss essentially serves as a counterspell. The evil queen discovers in the “fine print” of her spellbook that the spell can be reversed:

“Ah, hear this! ‘The Victim of the Sleeping Death can be revived only by Love’s First Kiss.’ ‘Love’s First Kiss.’ Bah! No fear of that. The dwarfs will think she’s dead. She’ll be buried alive!”

The queen then proceeds to use the poisoned apple anyway, thinking the counterspell will never be possible (it wouldn’t have been, if the dwarves hadn’t put Snow White in a glass coffin and if the prince hadn’t been a necrophile). The kiss in Sleeping Beauty functions in a similar way, except that the counterspell is added in after the fact by the blue fairy’s magic gift.

Ariel’s kiss is different than both of these. For starters, her kiss isn’t a counterspell; instead, it’s the only way to stop the spell from reversing and turning Ariel back into a mermaid. In addition, the kiss in this case is something Ursula chooses to add into the spell. It’s part of her deal with Ariel a condition of the contract that Ariel willingly signs. Ursula’s use of a contract implies that she could have set just about any conditions she wanted. She could have said, “Prince Eric has to brush your hair before the sunset on the third day,” or, “You need to paint a portrait of Sebastian before the sunset on the third day.” This means that, technically, the kiss itself isn’t magic (by the literal, not metaphoric definition of the word). It’s just an arbitrary action that Ursula chose because it was a fitting lure to use with Ariel’s desire for Eric, and one that she was sure she could prevent from happening.

(Ursula, of course, cheats.)

So that’s an example of a magic kiss that turns out to not be as magic as we thought. But what about a normal kiss that turns out to be more magical than we realized? For that, we turn to The Sword of Truth.

Novels by Terry Goodkind
Novels by Terry Goodkind

Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth novels have a set of characters known as Mord Sith. They possess a variety of magics (most of which are used to torture people and break their wills, turning them into slaves). They also look really hot in red leather, especially Cara.

Image source: http://fullhdwp.com/legend-of-the-seeker-tabrett-bethell-cara-mason-desktop-mobile-wallpaper/
Image source: http://fullhdwp.com/legend-of-the-seeker-tabrett-bethell-cara-mason-desktop-mobile-wallpaper/

The thing about torturing people with magic dildos Agiels, the Mord Sith’s pain-inducing weapon of choice, is that if you’re not careful, you’ll kill your prisoner instead of just breaking their spirit. As a result, Mord Sith also need to be experts at providing emergency first aid. This includes using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which is referred to in the books as “the breath of life.” Mouth-to-mouth is also often referred to by others as “the kiss of life.” And while the Sword of Truth books never use the term “kiss” to refer to it, there is definitely an intimate aspect to the breath of life:

A Mord-Sith shared her victim’s breath when he was on the cusp of death. It was a sacred thing to a Mord-Sith to share his pain, share his breath of life as he slipped to the brink of death, as if to view with lust the forbidden sight of what lies beyond in the next world. Sharing, when the time came to kill him, his very death by experiencing his final breath of life.

–“Soul of the Fire”

This almost makes it sound like the opposite of what’s happening in Snow White, a kiss to share the experience of someone’s death instead of just bringing them back from the dead. But, of course, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation isn’t really “magic,” it’s just science.

Or is it?

Image source: http://sot.wikia.com/wiki/Breath_of_Life
Image source: http://sot.wikia.com/wiki/Breath_of_Life

The TV show Legend of the Seeker, based on Terry Goodkind’s novels, had a different take on the breath of life. As seen in the picture above, the breath of life was depicted as an actual magic breath that could be used to infuse life back into the victim. While this isn’t quite a kiss, it certainly is damn close, based on the intimate pose it’s been portrayed in. So in this case, we have a metaphorical kiss that turned out to be a magical one.

So it seems like there can be a lot of blurred lines when it comes to magic kisses. It makes me wonder whether Snow White could have been revived by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, or whether the princess could have saved the frog with a metaphoric kiss instead of a literal one because, eww, warts.

Of course, nothing will ever take the place of the real magic of a first kiss. That’s simply priceless.

mani_promoManifestation is available on:

Createspace in paperback

and Amazon in ebook and paperback.

My Arcane Apocalyptic Writing Process

So a crazy lady with unique ideological views, aka Charlotte Ashlock, the “Crazy Idealist,” has asked me to discuss my writing process, my reasons behind my work, and the various things that make my writing unique. She wrote a similar post about her own work, or as she put it, “Her Crazy Idealism at Work.” It was an interesting read, so I definitely recommend checking it out.

(I was also apparently tagged for this by The Great and Terrible Evey about two months ago, and she never actually, y’know, TOLD me she tagged me.)

Those of you who regularly visit my blog may already know some of these details, but others may not. So I’m going to mix things up a bit and try to keep things interesting.

What am I working on?

Arcana Revived is an urban fantasy series set in a fictional modern day world. The story follows two main characters (and a diverse supporting cast) on different paths as they experience the return of magic to the world after it’s been gone for centuries and is now considered nothing more than myth and legend.

Gabby Palladino begins the story as an ordinary teenage girl, struggling with the usual issues of her place in life, her troubles in school, her sexual orientation, and an unwed pregnant older sister. Before the world begins to change, she is a poet and aspiring actress, living a relatively normal suburban life. Minerva “Tock” Zipporah, on the other hand, has recently recovered from an illness that left her in a coma for months. Her life is filled with chaos even before the world changes as she deals with poverty, an abusive father, and a volatile temper that causes her a lot of trouble. Both girls find their paths cross on a day when the entire world begins undergoing irrevocable changes that see the return of the fabled arcana, which grants magical abilities to some, while others are left trying to cope with things no one understands, and no one can control.

The in-progress series currently consists of five novels (one complete and soon to be released later this year, two that are finished first drafts awaiting revision, one in-progress draft, and one being outlined). There are also fourteen short stories set in the same world and timeline as the novels, but each telling its own standalone tale. You can read two of the short fiction pieces online: Crying and There’s No Such Thing As Monsters, hosted on Ravenheart Press, run by my friend Eve Jacob. I’ve also published one short story ebook, Radiance, and the others are planned for release in similar format after the first novel, Manifestation, comes out this year. In addition to the novels and short stories, I’m also working on a multigenre musical novella, Giapelli, written in the theme of a mix between a prose piece and a Broadway-style musical set aboard an 1850s steam-powered riverboat that is hijacked by bandits. It’s set in the same world as Arcana Revived and thus there are supernatural elements, but let’s just say the story doesn’t follow the expected format. The novella probably won’t be released until after some of the other pieces in the series, due to the complexity of putting together such a unique piece.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

While there are plenty of things that I think make my work unique, there are two main areas that I think are worth pointing out here. One is the way most modern fantasy stories address magic. Almost every story I see incorporating magic into a modern day world uses one of the following techniques: 1) Magic exists but is kept hidden away by a secret society or conspiracy (Harry Potter, Heroes, most vampire stories), 2) Magic is unique to certain individuals or “superheroes” but doesn’t exist elsewhere (think of most superhero movies where other than the main hero and the main villain, the rest of the world is normal), or 3) Magic exists everywhere and everyone knows about it (such as with the X-Men, where mutants are commonly known to exist in the world). While there are surely some exceptions, almost every book or movie I can think of with modern day magic falls into one of these categories. There can be crossovers, such as in the series True Blood where there WAS a conspiracy to keep it all hidden and THEN the conspiracy ended and the whole world knew vampires exist, but that still follows the basic formula.

My series doesn’t follow any of these formulas. There is no conspiracy, because I’ve always found it hard to believe that anyone could keep such things hidden and secret for so long (unless you have something like the flashy thing from Men in Black). There is no unique incident, lab accident, radioactive spider, mutation, or other effect that grants powers to just one or a small group of people while leaving everyone else untouched. The entire world is being changed, and figuring out how and why arcana is returning is an ongoing mystery throughout the novels.

The second main area I feel is different is that instead of avoiding the difficult questions of what happened to the world, I’m exploring them. “Post-Apocalyptic” is a common genre, but in almost every story I see in that genre, the apocalypse is merely a part of history. The Wheel of Time series had “the breaking of the world,” but it took place 3000 years ago. Similar ancient catastrophes are part of the back story of the Sword of Truth series of books, several Final Fantasy games, and movies like the Matrix and Wall-E, where (for very different reasons) civilization as we once knew it has collapsed. There are some movies where we see the disaster that brings about the collapse (Independence Day, Deep Impact), but we don’t see what happens after except to see that humanity survives and there’s hope for the future. Otherwise we enter the story years later after humanity has struggled for a long time to recover. Or then there’s the Resident Evil films, which skip over the main period of the zombie apocalypse between the second movie (where only one city was contaminated) and the third (where the whole world has collapsed).

What’s missing from all of these stories is what happens during the collapse. Humanity’s struggle to survive. The way the new governments and societies form. Instead of skipping from “before” to “after,” my goal is to show what happens “during” this period of struggle. I think that makes for a deeper and more unique story.

Why do I write what I do?

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King described how he came up for the idea for his first novel, Carrie. Pieces of it came from different bits of inspiration he’d had floating around in his head for awhile. One was based on his experience working as a high school janitor cleaning the girl’s locker room where he came up with an idea of teenage girls harassing one girl who’d just gotten her period. The other was based on an article about telekinesis developing in a girl during puberty. Then, as he put it, “POW! Two unrelated ideas, adolescent cruelty and telekinesis, came together, and I had an idea …”

My own ideas came from multiple different sources. Gabby, Tock, and some of the other major characters came from online collaborative writing and roleplaying groups I once wrote with. I developed them in separate, unconnected story arcs, then eventually decided it would interesting to put them together in a new setting and see what happened.

Gabby was partially inspired by Susan Pevensie from The Chronicles of Narnia, along with ideas I first developed for a couple of my old Dungeons and Dragons characters. Tock was partially inspired by the trio of nerd supervillains, Warren, Johnathan, and Andrew, from Season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, along with the MagiTek enemies in Final Fantasy 6, and Agatha Heterodyne from the webcomic Girl Genius. Much of the chaos that develops in the course of my books comes from taking these drastically different characters from diverse sources of inspiration, setting them loose, and watching the consequences of their actions unfold.

It’s also fair to say that I’ve been heavily influenced by many fantasy and sci fi books and movies. I’d say my series is far more fantasy than sci fi, but there are sci fi elements when I get into some of the magitech stuff that Tock gets up to.

How does my writing process work?

I’m a Pantser, not a Plotter. My process goes something like this:

Each “point of view character” in my series (characters who have parts of the story told from their perspective rather than being on the sidelines of another character’s story) has certain goals they want to accomplish, and I have goals in how I want to develop them. To avoid spoilers I won’t go into some of them, but the goals can vary from simple to complex. There may be an immediate goal like “survive the current catastrophe,” a developmental goal like “learn how to control their arcana” or “teach Gabby how to use a bow and arrow,” or relationship goals like “get to their first kiss.” Once I set a certain goal, I then put obstacles in the way (dangers that lower the chances of survival, complications in the arcana that need to be puzzled out, Gabby’s clumsiness with an unfamiliar weapon, or awkward interruptions that prevent the kiss). I then write until the complications are (eventually) overcome and the goal is accomplished. There are also overall plot goals for each book, and the book isn’t done until the complications are overcome and the goals are accomplished.

Sometimes, because I don’t do detailed outlines and plot out each scene, I find myself uncertain how to proceed towards a given goal. I usually address this in one of a few ways. Once simple technique is to assume that if I’m not sure what to do, the characters aren’t sure either, so I write them puzzling through their uncertainty until they decide what to do. This saves me from having to think of a solution because the characters do it for me. Other times I’ll have issues like “this event can’t happen until I get Gabby and Tock in the same city together,” so I focus on events that will lead them to the same place at the same time. In any case, I always have those goals in mind, and each scene is written to move the plot towards them.

So that’s all for now. I hope my writing process proved interesting. Next, you should go check out a few other people who have been instructed to write about their own processes. You can peruse their blogs for now, and if they comply with the instructions, they should have posts about their processes up soon.

Emmy Shine Emily Toynton, also known as Emmy Shine. She blogs. She’s deaf. And I want to kiss her face.




A K Anderson A. K. Anderson. I never remember what the A or the K stand for. She writes books and stuff, and also wrote this comic. But she didn’t draw the comic, the guy who drew this comic did. They’re both pretty cool.


Quip Slinger Quip Slinger. She may or may not also be known as “Cairn Rodriguez” (or not . . . possibly “Cairn Rodrigues”; the world may never know). She is a flower. She may or may not also have a face. Don’t ask.



April Deann April. She scrawls and scribbles. She is not, to the best of my knowledge, associated with any mutant turtles, ninja or otherwise.

Photoshop Experiments: Maelyssa Southeby

Maelyssa “Mae” Southeby is one of the major supporting characters in the Arcana Revived series. She’s also known as “the girl with the belladonna tattoo,” and in addition to her supporting role in the novels, she’s the main character of the short story Belladonna. Her character inspiration is a model I only know by her online username, “Ledabunnymonster.” Here’s an experiment with adding both glowing arcana eyes and the manifestation of Mae’s power pouring from her palm:

Mae with Arcana Eyes
Mae with Arcana Eyes