I’ve recently completed what should be the final draft of Manifestation. There’s nothing left that needs to be changed on a structural level. The story is what it is and what I think it will always be. That means that at this point, all that I think is left is fine-tuned proofreading. This is basically going over everything again and again, combing through the words until there isn’t anything left to find.
The interesting thing about this process is how often I find myself going back to earlier chapters and carefully scanning just one more time. I’m about 2/5 of the way through the manuscript now, and I’ll catch something minor, like, say, the right way to format punctuation when you use italics, or a lay/lie mistake. I’ll then remember (or think I remember) three different times in previous chapters where I used the same thing. So I’ll have to go back and check again, and again, and again.
This leads to a sort of “two steps forward, one step back” style of proofreading. But with any luck, I’ll be finished within the next few days. Which means you should stay tuned to hear about cover art in the near future. Probably not in time for Eve’s birthday, like I had planned, but I’ll do the best I can.
In the meantime, I’ve started posting a few new short stories and poems on the blog lately. It had been too long since there had been any stories here instead of just blog posts. So, in case you missed them, here’s a few fun little pieces I’ve put up recently:
Chasing the Scene – A creative nonfiction piece about my writing process. Shadow – A poem I wrote awhile back, now with a YouTube clip of me reading it aloud. Peace – Another poem, also with video. Where There Be Dragons – A very punny story about weredragons.
Also, if you enjoy those free stories, you should also check out Radiance, the short story I have published on Kindle. It’s about a girl who discovers an amazing supernatural power, and it’ll give you a glimpse into the world where Manifestation will take place. Think of it as a preview of the novel to tide you over until I finish combing through it and making everything as perfect as I can.
A lot of people talk about romantic relationships in their writing. Romance is certainly a popular genre, and onea lotof myfriendswrite in. I’ve written about my thoughts on romantic relationships in books before, in particular the question of whether a romance should be followed until death does them part.
Yet there’s another type of relationship I don’t tend to see as many people talking about: friendships. While I’m sure there are plenty of great books out there that are focused purely on friendships instead of romantic relationships, I don’t tend to see them often. Usually a friendship is developed more on the side of the main plot, rather than being the focus.
I’ve been thinking about friendships in writing a lot lately because I’m developing one in my own novels. While the friendship would certainly be a subplot instead of part of the main plot, it’s still an element I’ve put a lot of thought into developing. There’s a few certain specific concepts I’ve been exploring, each of which has different variables worth considering.
The specific friendship I’m talking about is between two of my main characters, Tock Zipporah and Maelyssa Southeby. They’ve got quite a bit in common: they’re both teenage girls who have developed magical powers, they both dislike authority figures, they both roll with a tough crowd, and they both enjoy excitement and wild rides (Mae is a skater and Tock likes to cruise in arcane-powered vehicles of her own design).
Of course, your novel might not contain these supernatural elements. You might write about detectives solving crimes. Soldiers returning home from war. Explorers on an interstellar spacecraft. Llamas procrastinating by drinking coffee. But whatever your story is, the focus should be on the characters.
So what elements will affect the development of a friendship between your characters? One question is “What is the basis of their friendship?” This question can help you know whether the friendship is a key part of your story or just part of another plot element. For example, many romance novels have a friendship story on the side, usually between the female main character and her best friend. These kinds of friendships fail the Bechdel Test, which asks the following:
1. Does the story have to have at least two women in it?
2. Who talk to each other?
3. About something besides a man?
It’s #3 on this list that will make the difference between a friendship that’s there to be a friendship versus a friendship that’s there to support the romance plot. Usually, the best friend in a romance novel is someone for the main character to talk to about her new boyfriend, someone to support her after the inevitable fight that almost breaks the romance up, and possibly someone to backstab her somewhere along the way (such as by revealing a dirty little secret or trying to seduce the main character’s love interest). In a situation like this, the friendship doesn’t have anything to stand on by itself.
I wanted to make sure Tock and Mae’s friendship existed independently. So I made sure to develop it based on their personalities and interests and goals, rather than on any external variables. So far, they’ve never once talked about a man or each other’s love lives (though I’m sure they could in the future, after their friendship has been firmly established). They show genuine, platonic affection for each other. They’ve supported each other through some serious tough times. And they have a really good rapport, so that when you see their interactions on the page, you should really feel that they’re true friends.
Of course, not all my characters have developed as strong of a friendship as Tock and Mae have. For instance, Gabby Palladino and Maria Vasquez are good friends as well, but their friendship hasn’t gotten quite as much development. That might be because there was always a greater focus on Gabby’s relationship with her main love interest, Callia Gainsborough. Which means that Gabby and Maria’s friendship might have a harder time passing the Bechdel Test.
And I think another interesting type of friendship to explore would be a platonic friendship between a guy and a girl. Usually, male/female friendships have some underlying sexual tension and the assumption (or hope) that they’ll eventually get together. Just look at something like the Harry Potter series and how many people ‘shipped Harry and Hermione (including, it later turned out, the author herself). A lot of studies have shown that male/female friendships are rare, and the majority of the time one person or the other is secretly attracted to their friend. Despite this, it could be interesting to explore a legitimate friendship with no romantic or sexual aspects whatsoever. Though odds are, your readers will still ‘ship the characters anyway (just like some will probably ‘ship Mae and Tock, even though that’ll never happen).
There’s probably a lot of other variables that go into a good literary friendship. I’d be happy to hear your thoughts, along with any other examples of well-developed friendships in the books you’ve read.
As I mentioned the other day, I’ve been making plans for Book Five, while Book One, Manifestation is on the path to publication. I’ve also got to start on revisions for Book Two, Contamination in order to start getting that ready. That’s in addition to working on getting a few short stories prepped.
In the midst of all this, I’ve recently quit my day job (the manager was a crude, abusive, sexually harassing such-and-such who responded to my requests of “Don’t curse at me” by cursing at me more). This has given me a sudden surplus of free time. I’m currently semi-employed: I have two part-time jobs, one as a graduate research assistant, one as a professional blogger for the Rowan University admissions blog. I’m also doing freelance work. And, of course, I’m sending out resumes looking for a full-time professional job in some kind of copywriting or editing position. Until I find something, however, I’ve decided that now is the time to get the rest of these books moving.
Did I mention I’m also in a summer graduate course at Rowan? I think I mentioned that when I said I was a crazy person.
So in between 20 hours a week blogging for Rowan, 10 hours a week doing research, however many more doing freelance assignments, and attending a grad class, I’ve decided I’m going to revise Book Two and write Book Five during the next ten weeks.
Why am I doing it this way? (Aside from being a crazy person.) Well, there’s a few reasons:
1. Manifestation is currently mostly out of my direct day-to-day hands. I’m currently waiting to get it back from my editor, after which point I’ll be sending it to be professionally formatted, and hiring the cover artist. All of those things require very little direct supervision from me, leaving me with nothing to do but wait and chew on my nails. Manifestation will, of course, be the top priority over all other projects (after all, I should get Book One out before worrying so much about Book Five), but there’s a limit on how much I can do with it right now. So focusing on other projects makes sense.
2. Contamination is the next highest priority after Manifestation. Book Two is sitting as a first draft right now, untouched since I finished it in the middle of NaNoWriMo last year. I delayed working on revisions for awhile because I wanted to finished up revisions on Manifestation first. I therefore began writing Book Four, Mutation, simply because it was the best option. I could write Book Four while waiting for Book One to be ready, with plans to start revisions on Book Two after the rest was all done. Except I ended up finishing Mutation about a week ago, after a sudden and unexpected surge of productivity. I had planned on working on it all through the summer before things suddenly came to a head and I wrapped it all up. So with Book Four written and complete, and Book One out of my hands, it makes sense to revise Book Two, right?
3. So then why am I writing Book Five now? Why not wait until NaNoWriMo this November, like I originally planned? Well, that grad class I’m in is a class called, wait for it, “Writing the Novel.” I was planning to write Book Four as part of the class, but that plan is out the tubes now, so it’s time to start Book Five. Now, the class doesn’t expect students to write an entire draft during the course of the summer semester. Our classwork will involve exploring ideas, outlining (blegh), developing characters and settings, and so on. We’ll also be expected to write 6000 words which will be workshopped in class, giving us feedback. I’m sure all of the other students in class don’t plan to write much more than that 6000 during the 10 weeks the class is being held. But I’m the crazy one who decided that if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it NaNoWriMo style and crank out the full novel (expected to be 120,000 words) before class is done.
So there it is. I’ve updated the wordmeter status bars over there —-> to show the new progress I’ll be making. While all five novels are up there, Manifestation, Collapse, and Mutation won’t be changing any time soon. However, expect to see the revision bar for Contamination and the writing bar for Book Five both building steadily over the next two months or so. I plan to have Book Five written by July 31st, and have at least a second (probably a third) draft of Contamination done by the same time. While also getting Manifestation and the short story Belladonna published somewhere in there.
Also, if you’d like to support my craziness, please check out the short story ebook I have out, Radiance. It’ll give you a glimpse into these worlds that I’m creating, and it’s a story I’m rather proud of. The Amazon reviews have called it “hauntingly beautiful,” “well-written, intriguing,” and “totally great.” And if you like it, I promise, I’ll have much more coming in the near future!
As I’ve mentioned before on the blog, I’m currently working on a series of short stories that go along with my novels in the Arcana Revived series. I currently have about fourteen short stories written and in various stages of revision. One of them, Radiance, is already published as an ebook that you can download for Amazon Kindle. My plan for this summer, in between getting my first novel ready for publication, is to make some progress revising these stories.
Publishing short stories, however, is a relatively new and uncertain process. A few years ago, the idea of self-publishing a short story was one most people probably wouldn’t have considered. After all, before the ebook revolution, there wouldn’t have been much of a market for individual short stories. You can get short stories published in various literary journals and magazines, or as part of a collection with works from other authors, but that used to be it. A lot of this probably has to do with how impractical it would be to publish and print a hard copy of a 3000-10000 word story. Ebooks make this a whole different game, however, since an electronic copy of a short piece is more practical when it comes to publishing and distribution. You cut out the costs of the physical printing and mailing, which would otherwise make distribution of just a single story impractical and unprofitable.
A lot of authors I know have short works out as ebooks right now. My friend Elisa Knuckle has several short stories available for sale, including a sci fi story about virtual reality and death, and a fantasy story about the dangers of following magical wisps into the woods. I just downloaded these today and recommend checking them out. Drew Chial also has an ebook and audiobook called Terms and Conditions about the dangers of clicking “I agree” without checking first to make sure the fine print doesn’t say anything about losing your soul in the bargain.
Thinking about short stories like this makes me stop to think about what will happen to my current works after revisions are complete. At least one of my current shorts, Belladonna, is just about ready to be released into the world. But getting ready to send it out there makes me wonder how it will be received, and what I can do to try to make some money off my writing. I already have a bunch of free stories available on my blog, but publishing one as an ebook is an entirely different process.
First off, a published short story demands a lot more from me, as the writer. The short stories posted here on the blog don’t go through as rigorous of a revision process. I wrote them and revised them until I was satisfied, then put them online. The short stories I’m publishing for sale, however, go through critiques from my peers so that I can address any issues they might raise. A published story also needs more than just the story itself; the book needs to be formatted properly, including front matter, a title page, and cover art. All in all, it’s a longer and more complex process.
Then there’s marketing and advertising to consider. I mentioned awhile ago that I was experimenting with online advertisements for my short stories. At the time, I estimated that for my advertisements on Project Wonderful, in order to sell 1 ebook I needed to get about 80 “clicks” by people considering it, which took about 24,000 visitors to the advertising sites, and about 120,000 views from all of those visitors. This breakdown is an example of the sales funnel, which is a marketing concept that basically says you need to spread awareness of your product to a wide audience in order to get a smaller percentage of those people interested, then a percentage of those to give actual consideration to a purchase, then a percentage of those to actually make the purchase. In my case, this funnel represents online views leading to clicks leading to sales.
I recently started a new surge of online advertising. In the past two weeks, ads for Radiance have been displayed on hundreds of websites through Project Wonderful. The sites the ads have run on have garnered about 1.5 million views during that time (of course, there’s no guarantee that all 1.5 million of those views included someone looking at the ad on the sidebar instead of just at the website’s contents, but it’s a good number to start with). Those views have led to 171 clicks, which in turn have led to 2 sales. This is fairly consistent with my earlier results; about 1 out of every 80 people who take a look at the sales page decide to make a purchase.
In the future, I hope to continue with more extensive advertising campaigns, especially when my novel is released later this year. When the novel is out, I’ll most likely begin looking into some form of paid advertisements, instead of the free ads available through Project Wonderful. If free ads can lead to a couple hundred people seeing my short story for sale, I’ve got a pretty good idea what to expect in order to get the novel out there to be seen by thousands.
I’m a very open person, but there’s a lot of things I don’t bring up very often. Some of them are because I’m embarrassed about things from my childhood, others because they just don’t fit smoothly into an average day’s conversation. A lot of them, however, had big influences on my development both as a person and as a writer. At the suggestion of one of my Twitter friends, I’d like to discuss some of these fragments of my past and talk about how they relate to my current work.
My parents are divorced. For most people, this is a traumatic experience, as a family is torn apart by tensions that leave the children wondering what will become of them and whether their parents still love them. Everyone talks about how half of all marriages end in divorce, and it’s generally a topic surrounded by little hope and a lot of heartache.
I was glad my parents got divorced.
My parents never should have been married (setting aside the fact that had they not married, I never would have been born). They got married when my mom was pregnant with my older sister. As my mom tells it, when she found out she was pregnant, the first thing she did was go to my grandmother and ask for help. Mom-mom’s answer was, “Well, you’re going to get married.” It was to be expected considering my Irish family’s traditional Catholic ideals.
My parents were incompatible. They cheated on each other several times (and in the years since the divorce both of them have told me stories about all the wrongs the other committed). I remember coming home more than once to find my father’s clothes in garbage bags on the front lawn. What I didn’t know at the time was that the reason was because my mom found out about some affair or another. When they were screaming and fighting at each other in the kitchen at night, I never knew why. I just knew I was scared, and I wanted the fighting to stop.
Then one day they sat us down and told us they were getting a divorce. And my one and only thought was, Thank God, this means there won’t be any more fighting.
After the divorce, the only downside I remember was that I felt a bit isolated. In particular, when I was in fifth grade, I started having trouble with being home alone. I was old enough that I was no longer being sent to a babysitter, but I wasn’t quite old enough to be brave enough to be home by myself.
Around this time, my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Aloi, assigned our class a creative writing assignment. It began with the first page of a story done that was already written to set the scene. Old man Jenkins had died years ago, and his house was abandoned. Yet on this dark night, you see lights coming from the basement of his old, weather beaten home. A slip of yellow paper was hanging out of the mailbox. The shutters were creaking in the wind. And then…
Each student continued the story from that point. I had a blast writing mine. At this time, I was also staying late after school each day. I’d started lingering after class each day because I didn’t like being in the house all alone. Mrs. Aloi, likely sensing my hesitation to go home, let me stay after class to help her with various bits of work. Because of this, I had the unique opportunity to read every single one of my classmates’ Halloween stories. To keep me busy after school that day, Mrs. Aloi had me take every student’s paper and type them all in to her word processor.
It was 1990, and home computers were still a new thing. Few people had word processing programs at home, and my own parents still owned two old fashioned typewriters. This was my first experience using a word processor, which was built like a laptop but could only be used for writing, nothing else. I typed the other students’ papers for no other reason than that Mrs. Aloi wanted to give me something to do, and I quickly realized that I was the best writer in the class. Most of the students had only written about a page or two, without much happening in the course of their story. A few had only written a couple of paragraphs. I had written seven pages.
It was the first story I ever wrote, and I still have it to this day. I wrote an elaborate tale where Mr. Jenkins had faked his own death, and had now mysteriously returned from beyond the grave. I bravely entered the lonely, empty house to find a murder victim with a knife in her back. I had to single handedly bring Jenkins to justice for this crime, Action Hero Kid to the rescue. I confronted Jenkins alone, and knocked him out cold with a baseball bat, only to become trapped in the abandoned home. He awoke and came after me with lethal intent, and I had to find a way to escape. There was a secret passage under the house, and I fled to safety, trying to find the police. Unable to find help, I was forced to return and confront him again, even after being driven off the last time. I confronted him with no fear this time. There was a climactic final showdown that left Mr. Jenkins in jail.
I had so much fun writing it that I asked Mrs. Aloi for another assignment. She gave me two similar ones, a ghost story and a monster story. While neither of them became as memorable of an experience as The Mystery of Jenkin Mansion, I was still already addicted. It was my birth as a writer.
I began writing short stories at home, for fun. My early attempts always fell short of the standards I set for myself when I compared my writing to popular modern authors like Robert Jordan. When I was fifteen years old, I threw a fifty page story in the garbage because I foolishly compared myself to Jordan’s writing, and knew that my own work fell short. I constantly strove to get better, thinking that if I wasn’t as good as the published authors I loved, then it wasn’t worth doing. The more I read, the more I worked to improve my own writing. Even as a teenager, I was already studying writing as a process, and working towards constant improvement.
I received no encouragement after Mrs. Aloi. My high school teachers never gave out fiction assignments, and I was always bored and disengaged when they assigned research papers and the like. I often didn’t bother to write boring school papers, instead opting to continue working on my own writing. I would write stories in class instead of paying attention to the lecture. One teacher confiscated a story of mine once, thinking I was writing notes to pass in class. He returned it when he realized his mistake. I returned to writing the story, even after being scolded for it. I wouldn’t let the story end without reaching it’s climax.
My mother never saw any future in my writing. On dozens of different occasions, she said to me, “If you spent half as much time on your schoolwork as you did on that stuff, you’d get straight A’s.” Yet I didn’t care. Writing was far more important to me than math, history, or even English. Fiction was more important to me than reports and composition. I first took a creative writing class “just for fun.” I never stopped writing, and even stopped paying attention in some of my other classes and instead spent class writing stories in my notebook. One semester I had a science class where I took only ten pages of notes, while I filled two spiral notepads with a story I was working on.
I never really received any praise or encouragement for my writing until I started studying as a Writing Arts major at Rowan University in 2007. Up until that point, my writing had mostly been something I kept secret. I’ve got probably dozens of stories I’ve never shown anyone (though some of the better ones I’ve posted here on the blog). Sometimes I’ve wondered how much further I might have gotten if I’d ever had any encouragement growing up. Instead I guess I’ll have to keep pushing forward from where I am now.
I’m a bit of a Final Fantasy addict. My first and true love in the series is Final Fantasy VI (which is really III, just like IV is really II, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re not a real Final Fantasy fan). Final Fantasy VI follows the story of a mysterious young woman in a world where magic is returning for the first time in a thousand years. If you’ve ever read anything about my writing process, you’ll immediately see the similarities between this and my upcoming novel, Manifestation.
My actual plot and characters are vastly different from anything that happens in Final Fantasy VI, but I definitely drew from it in several key points. One is the theme about the return of magic. Another is the idea of Magitek–machines that draw on magical energies to mix magic and technology. And another is the lovely lady depicted above, Shiva, the Ice Goddess.
In the game, Shiva is a creature you summon with magic to rain down an ice storm on your enemies. She appears in many different Final Fantasy games, and is probably one of the most commonly seem summoned monsters in the series. She’s also usually depicted as the most graceful and beautiful of them all.
Shiva ended up being the direct inspiration for the character Maria Vasquez, star of the short story Radiance, and one of the main supporting characters in the third and fourth books in the Arcana Revived series. Maria isn’t a “summoned monster,” but she is something quite a bit more than human. Radiance shows her transformation from a normal teenage girl into one of the Manifested individuals that wield the newly revived power of arcana.
Collaborative Writing and Roleplaying
In more recent years, I started writing on various collaborative writing and roleplaying sites. If you’re not familiar with them, these sites usually involve post-by-post story writing on message boards, where each writer adds to the story and carries the scene forward. The newly launched writing game, Storium, is based on these same concepts. However, while Storium is designed as a game using virtual playing cards, the other sites I’ve written on are based around writing, plain and simple.
Several of the characters I’m currently writing in the Arcana Revived series were originally developed on these roleplaying sites. Gabby Palladino, Tock Zipporah, and Minori Tsujino were first written in collaborative stories alongside other writers. Not only did I develop their characters and personalities there, I also came up with a number of plot ideas that ended up making their way into my current novels. While I’m no longer writing on these sites, their influence is directly responsible for everything I’m doing today.
What does time travel have to do with any of this? Well, I suppose a better question is, what does my writing have to do with time travel. The answer is my unfinished and unpublished novel, Rogue Traveler.
Rogue Traveler was the first “complete” novel draft I ever wrote. As I mentioned above, I once started a novel at age 15 that I ended up throwing in the trash. In the years after that, I started (and stalled out on) several more novels that would get anywhere from 20 to 100 pages before I lost my focus or got writer’s block. They were all learning experiences, however, and I’ve corrected a lot of the mistakes in my writing process that previously led to all of those dead ends.
Rogue Traveler never hit a dead end in the story, but I had a hard time sticking with it. I started it in 2001, and continued writing it over the next five or six years, barely finding time for it here and there. I never got as immersed into it as I did with Manifestation, my upcoming novel. I think that Rogue Traveler has a strong and interesting story, telling the tale of a teenage girl from the future who gets lost in the past. However, I didn’t give Trish Kerring, the main protagonist, the amount of background development that I gave to Gabby Palladino. As a result, I often struggled during the writing process, and the novel tended to stall out.
I wrote a few short stories and expansions to the Rogue Traveler story in 2007-2008. One of them is posted here on my blog, depicting a bit of Trish’s background life long before her time travel adventures begin. In the long run, though, I didn’t develop the passion and obsession that I currently have for Arcana Revived. To give an example of the difference: it took me 6 years to write Draft One of Rogue Traveler, and I spent another four years or so after that trying to get it revised but never quite finishing it; by comparison, I wrote the first draft of Manifestation in three months, and now here I am, nearly two years after I started it, about to release the soon-to-be-completed novel. The main reason I did so much better with Manifestation is simply because I’m obsessed with it and can’t put it down.
So there’s the five Things You Didn’t Know About Me. I hope you found them interesting. They’ve certainly all had a huge impact on who I am today.
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.
Emily Toynton, also known as Emmy Shine. She blogs. She’s deaf. And I want to kiss her face.
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. She scrawls and scribbles. She is not, to the best of my knowledge, associated with any mutant turtles, ninja or otherwise.
I mentioned in my last post that I would be working on some of my short stories for Arcana Revived in the near future. I’ve also mentioned that I was getting a couple of those short stories critiqued and workshopped by my classmates in my Rowan University graduate fiction workshop. I noticed a common theme during the class workshops, both of my own story and of others from the class, which seems to come up often enough to be worth discussing. It’s the issue of making sure your characters have something at stake.
This seems to be an issue that mostly relates to first drafts and works that are in their early stages of development. The idea is that no matter how interesting the individual events in the story are, the characters involved (most especially the main character) need to have something at stake. If they don’t have anything at stake, anything to lose, anything to gain, or any chance to grow, then their story may end up being pointless.
There’s a few different ways that this issue seemed to come up in the stories we workshopped, so I’ll go over each one individually.
The Stakes Aren’t Apparent at the Beginning
This seems to mostly be an issue with the stories that were actually the early chapters of a novel. The problem occurs when there are interesting characters in an interesting situation but with no apparent reason for them to be there. For example, one of my classmates was writing a story about a character who was being dragged along as a guide/sidekick/partner to the Spirit of Vengeance while they went on a quest to do . . . something.
That “something” part was what was missing. The section we workshopped (which was basically the first chapter of the draft) didn’t give us any reason for the characters to be on this “quest.” The characters were interesting (think Jay from Men in Black meets a ghost who has the same creepy powerful vibe as Agent Smith from The Matrix). The idea of traveling with the Spirit of Vengeance on some kind of quest was interesting. But in the opening we read, we didn’t know what the quest was or why it was important for the main character to be on it.
This mostly seemed to stem from the fact that this was an early opening draft where the author was still exploring the characters and learning what they were all about. It’s a common thing in early drafts. Sometimes it takes a while to explore the characters and learn about them. However, once you’ve done so, it may prove necessary to cut the early “exploratory” sections of the piece before final publication.
The Point of View Character Isn’t the One with Something at Stake
This is a different issue than the one mentioned above, where the “main” character of a story is just along for the ride. Some of the stories we reviewed had characters who were reporting on a lot of interesting things happening around them (happening to friends, family, or others), but who had no personal stake in the events.
As an example, consider what would happen if you took a story like The Hunger Games and told it from the perspective of someone watching the Games from home. You could have them watch every event that Katniss goes through, tell the exact same story . . . except the person watching wouldn’t be the one with something really at stake. Even if it were Katniss’s mother or sister, they don’t have as much at stake in the story as Katniss herself.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that a character has to be the most directly involved in order to be the point of view character. Dr. Watson was Sherlock Holmes’s sidekick, yet he was also the one telling the story. But he was directly involved in events and had a personal stake in their outcome.
The Stakes Aren’t Personal Enough
While my story, Next Spring, was being workshopped, some of the reviewers raised the point that the main character, Callia Gainsborough, didn’t have enough of a personal stake in the conflict as it was being presented. This is something that will be easy enough to fix during revisions, and the central cause was that the story focused a little too much on the supporting character, Ethan. Ethan’s role was meant to be minor, and his interactions with Callia in the story were meant to show how Callia would react to certain events. Yet since most of the story involved Callia merely reacting to Ethan’s actions and behavior, the result was that she didn’t seem to have much at stake for herself, her own needs, and her own character development.
The solution is simply to revise the story with a greater focus on Callia’s thoughts and emotions. There are issues that Callia is struggling with: the changes in her life, her loneliness, her need to find her place, and her as-yet-unexpressed feelings for someone she’s only previously been friends with. Focusing on these issues will give Callia more of a personal conflict to overcome (even if the conflict is mostly an internal one). Then, her interactions with Ethan simply become a catalyst for how she decides to look within herself.
The good news is that the basic structure of the story–the events that laid out from Point A to B to C–are already there. This will allow me to go back and add more depth to the character without having to alter the overall course of the story.
The Character Doesn’t Demonstrate Change
An important part of any story is having a character grow and change during the course of it. During a short story, this can be difficult, since you don’t have a lot of time to work with. However, a character can undergo a significant change in a short amount of time.
Sometimes the change is merely an internal one. For example, as I mentioned when discussing New Spring above, the conflict in the story is mostly centered around Callia’s thoughts and emotions. Simply coming to a decision, revelation, or other emotional triumph can be enough of a change in such a case. In other stories, the change might be more drastic, such as with my short story Radiance, where the main character Maria Vasquez undergoes an actual supernatural physical transformation. Then there are cases where a character grows up in some way by making an important decision that shows an embarkment into maturity. Or a character might make a significant life decision, and in a short story, the reader doesn’t always need to see what happens after that decision. Just knowing that a character is going to quit their job, or move to another state, or try to reconnect with their girlfriend might be enough of an ending (think of the ending to the movie Clerks, where Dante ends with the decision to fix things up with Veronica, but we don’t actually see him do so).
If a character didn’t change throughout the course of the story, it was probably because they had nothing at stake. The stakes of the story should be the catalyst for change. And if you see someone else besides the main character experience growth and change, that’s a good sign that the main character wasn’t the one with something at stake.
There’s likely other issues centered around a character having something at stake. Let me know if you can think of any. Because what’s at stake for me is becoming the best writer I can be.
As I’ve mentioned recently, I’m just about to the end of my current semester at Rowan University. As of today, I’ve completed everything for one class except the final reflection/evaluation (which is essentially an argument for what grade I deserve), and everything for the second class except final revisions of two short stories. After that (all of which is due by next week), I’m finished until the end of May, when my summer course begins.
Being at the end of the semester and realizing I’m about to have a lot of free time available is making me consider what to do next. For starters, I’ve refined my writing schedule with the hopes of finding more time to work in Arcana Revived over the summer. I’ve blocked out a minimum of 10 hours each week to be spent on that work (in addition to 3 hours writing blog posts, at least 4-6 writing paid Rowan University blog posts, 10 hours doing Graduate Assistant work for Rowan, and whatever additional writing I can squeeze in on my phone when I’m away from home [yes, that’s about 30 hours a week of writing in addition to my full time day job]). The question, of course, is how will that minimum 10 hours be used?
First off, I’ll be working on Manifestation in order to get the novel ready for release. Second, I’m continuing to write the first draft of Mutation (as noted by the progress on the red sidebar to the right). In between those, however, I also plan on working on some more Arcana Revived short stories.
I currently have 14 short stories written in the Arcana Revived universe. Two of them, Crying and There’s No Such Thing As Monsters are flash fiction pieces hosted on Ravenheart Press, run by my friend Eve Jacob. If you want to get a taste of my writing, I’d definitely love for you to check them out (along with the other flash fiction pieces at Ravenheart). If you enjoy those, there’s also my published short story ebook, Radiance.
The other stories I’ve written are mostly first drafts. One I’ve mentioned a few times on the blog, Belladonna, is on Draft 6. A couple of others are on Draft 2 or 3. The reason most of the other stories haven’t been revised is because my primary attention has been on Manifestation, since I want to get the novel out before releasing other short stories in the world. Since I’m close to releasing Manifestation now, it seems like a good time to start working on some of these stories. A few of them won’t be released for quite awhile, since they relate to the later books in the series. For example, Questioning Angels actually takes place in between Book 2 and Book 3, so I obviously won’t release that until after Book 2 is complete. About half of them, however, would be fitting to release after Manifestation, and my hope is to release them one at a time after Manifestation is out but before Book 2, Contamination is ready.
So over the next few weeks I plan to revisit some of these stories, revise them, and get them ready for publication. I might post a few samples from some of them, once I think they’re ready. In the mean time, stay tuned for updates on my overall progress on the novels, the short stories, and life as a whole.
I’m a writer. Well, yeah, duh, the blog isn’t called “Writing Possibilities” for my health. But what I mean to say is, I’m just a writer.
I don’t mean that “just” to imply triviality. On the contrary, I take pride in the time, effort, and dedication I put into my writing. I’ve come a long way as a writer during the course of my life, and particularly over the last few years. I’ve graduated from Rowan University with a bachelor’s degree in Writing Arts, I’m currently pursuing my master’s degree, I’ve worked as a professional freelance writer, and I’m working on a novel series that I’m going to publish starting this year.
While I know a lot about writing, however, I don’t know a lot about other creative pursuits, like any kind of visual art (from drawing to painting to photoshop and whatever else you can think of). I have studied visual arts from a philosophical and theoretical point of view. I can analyze a work of art to explain the symbolism, the techniques of visual rhetoric, the semiotics, and the way it communicates its message to the viewer. That’s not the same, however, as knowing how to make that type of art.
Art and writing go hand in hand in a variety of ways, so as a writer I do think it can be valuable for me to learn art. I doubt I’d ever become a skilled enough artist to make my own cover art (I’d far rather hire professionals like Ravven who made the cover for Radiance, and with far more skill than I could hope to achieve). Aside from cover art, however, there are other options, like incorporating images into blog posts. I don’t often include images in my posts, because I’m just not a “visual thinker,” but I do find that images can work really well to make a blog post more interesting. I don’t believe in adding images that don’t add anything relevant to the piece, but they can be properly integrated into a post so that they aid the post instead of just being decoration.
A good example of a blog that makes good use of images is Drew Chial’s blog. He has some pretty amazing photoshop skills (see here, here, and here for some of my favorite examples of his art). While I have no expectations of getting up to that level of skill, I’d like to start practicing in order to develop some photoshop skills of my own. I think it could add an interesting element to my blogging.
I have a free version of photoshop, which you can find here. You’ll need to create a free account to access the download site, and the site warns that the version of photoshop that can be found here is about 10 years old and no longer supported by updates. As a result, it might not run on Windows 8 or some other modern systems, and it’s generally obsolete. However, the main photo editing functions of this older version work just the same as the newer one; mostly what’s missing is features like being able to sync your library online and uploading directly to websites, etc. Of course, a professional artist would surely prefer the most up to date version with its superior image quality and so forth, but if like me you just want to play around and not have to pay $99.99 for the program, this works just fine.
And I suppose I can’t write a whole blog post about photoshop without ACTUALLY posting a photoshopped picture, now can I? So here’s a little “first attempt” practice I just did (following a YouTube tutorial).
Here’s the “before” picture, of Alison Scagliotti from Warehouse 13. She serves as the inspiration for Tock Zipporah from Manifestation:
And here is the photoshopped version, showing how Tock Zipporah would look when channeling her arcana (as described frequently in the novels, the energy flowing through a person’s body makes their eyes glow:
I’m nearly at the end of the spring school semester at Rowan University, so it seems like a good time to make some updates on my writing projects and where they’re going.
First, I’ve got about one week left now before all my classes are complete and I’m off for a month. I’ve got a few final assignments left this week, mostly involving revisions. Two of the pieces being revised are Arcana Revived short stories that I wrote for my fiction workshop class. The stories, currently working under the titles Questioning Angels and Next Spring are both centered around Callia Gainsborough, one of the major supporting characters of the series. When Manifestation comes out later this year, you’ll get the chance to learn more about Callia. She has a major role in the series, but she doesn’t usually get to be in the spotlight on her own, which is why I wanted to write a couple of stories about just her. They provide some interesting character development, giving the chance to see more about who Callia is outside of her relationship with Gabby Palladino.
After the semester is over, the next main project will be finishing up preparations on Manifestation. The manuscript is currently with my editor, and after the edits are complete, I’ll be going over everything to determine if any further revisions are needed. After that the only remaining steps are formatting (to get the manuscript ready for physical printing and ebook conversion) and cover art (which will be the last step after the formatting is complete since the exact physical size of the book needs to be determined). I’ll have a more exact date figured out soon, but for now I’m aiming for “before September” with a failsafe of “before the end of the year” to have the book out and ready to go.
Next, there is the writing of the next book in the series. Manifestation is written, revised, and being polished. The second and third books in the series, Contamination and Collapse are complete first drafts. I won’t be revising those until after I’m done getting Manifestation ready. So while those two are awaiting revisions, I’m working on writing the fourth book in the series, which is being written under the working-title Mutation.
Over the summer, I’ll be in a graduate-level course called “Writing the Novel.” While I don’t yet know the exact course requirements (such as how many pages or chapters of writing will be required as assignments), based on the way past classes go, I expect to be doing a decent amount of creative writing during the course. If possible, some of that writing will be chapters for Mutation, and I’ll also be doing plenty more writing for Mutation on the side of any writing I do for the class. Since the class lasts just over a month (from May 27th to August 1st) I’m planning on treating it as an unofficial NaNoWriMo so that I can finish the book. I’m currently sitting at almost 45,000 words, and the other books in the series all hit right around 120,000 words. If my past NaNoWriMo experiences are any indication, I should be able to finish the remaining 75,000 words before August.
Then, of course, during the real NaNoWriMo this November, I’ll be starting on Book Five.
In the meantime, if you’re curious to see what Arcana Revived is all about, you should check out the first short story ebook I published, Radiance.Radiance is the origin story of a girl named Maria Vasquez, who becomes a major supporting character later in the series. The short story shows you how she gets started in a world where magic is returning for the first time, after centuries of people thinking such things are nothing more than myth and legend.
More updates will come when there’s more to tell, especially over the summer as work on the series continues.