The Importance of Community

In all of the advice I’ve seen given to aspiring authors and writers working on their craft, the one I would have sneered at most as a teen is the suggestion to find a writing circle and interact with other writers and their work in a constructive way. I spent so much time with completely un-fit minds to deal with writing in a constructive way that the thought of turning over my work to the minds and red pens of others terrified me. I got into a habit of ignoring about 95% of all advice so-called ‘peers’ gave me about even the most menial of work. Sure, I showed a friend or two the occasional poem, looking for someone to stroke my ego, but that was the extent of it.

I finally understand what it means to be a part of a writing community. It’s not signing up for a creative writing class, although that can be fine. It’s not even necessarily joining your local creative writing club. These can be useful tools, but it’s not the same thing. From my experience, having a writing community is to have a group of people, mostly writers, who are willing to read your work no matter how long it is and give you their honest, specific opinion about it, looking for ways to improve it. These are people you trust, not only not to steal your words but to neither hold back their true opinions about your work or try to impose their own writing style upon you.

It can take years to assemble a quality writing community. I’ve been fortunate to get a workable (albeit small) writing community in less than a year. E. M., my co-author, is so familiar with my writing style at this point that she can work incredibly well with my work. We almost never argue about anything and we know how to work well with shared work as well as our own separate pieces. Natalie, my lovely friend and editor, has yet to ask me to look into her work (although I’m more than thrilled to do so when that day comes), but she’s done a fantastic job of giving excellent, objective input on my work. The second she worked her magic on a short story of mine for the first time, I knew we were going to have a very long-term writing relationship.

From there, most of my readers are friends, family…. But my friends are incredibly intelligent, critical readers. It’s useful to have non-literary readers look over your work, because the majority of the readers who will pick up your book will not be sophisticated writers, trained in their craft. That’s my friends S and A. And then, my family. My mother, my sister, my brother…. My brother is probably more in the ‘friend’ category in that he is a bit too young to have much of a sophisticated opinion of literature, but he’s very creative and knows what he likes. That’s valuable. My mother and sister, apart from being incredibly well-read, are incredibly familiar with my writing, having edited and worked with me on pretty much every essay I’d written until I reached college. Nobody knows my writing better. What’s more, my sister is working toward her PhD in English, so she’s sort of the authority on literature as far as my writing circle is concerned.

Right now, I’m sort of dominating the attention of the people in my circle. I’m doing quite a lot of work at once. BUT, I know that E. M. will require my attention very soon, as will Natalie. The important thing is that no matter how much help you get from others, you are willing to do everything you can to help others, because you never know when tables turn and they’ll need you.

Just something to think about. A writing community doesn’t have to be a cookie-cutter experience. It can be the group you make it into. In fact, it’s probably more effective that way. But no matter what your writing community looks like, it’s important to have one. You don’t live in a box. You shouldn’t write in one, either.

Cheers,

C

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Camp NaNoWriMo: Round Two

The first time around, I had a head start on my novel and finished in a couple of weeks. It was the easiest thing I’d ever done, really. However, my dear friend and co-author E. M. McBride, says that’s cheating, so with respect for her views on what’s ‘fair’ when it comes to NaNo, we’ve decided to do a bit of friendly competition.

E. M. and I have agreed to race to 50,000 words. We’d thought about racing to the finish of our novels, but we have no idea how many words that would be for either of us and my classes start up at the end of August, so we decided that the 50k mark was much more reasonable.

As the day of beginning approaches, I’m getting nervous. I’ve got an outline. I know what I’m doing with the story. STILL, I’ve got work, I’ve got school, I’ve got responsibilities this month. June, I had nothing to do but write. E. M.’s got work, too, but she works less hours than I do, and I don’t think she’ll be back in school by that point.

Then I realized, it’s that sort of psyching myself out that is what kept me from finishing works before. I finished almost 100k words in less than twenty days in June. Why couldn’t I do it again? If I’m pacing it like that, I could finish my 50k in less than two weeks, with plenty of time to spare for work, and classes wouldn’t have even started yet!

I’ve got a huge inspiration in reading the Martin books. I just started reading Game of Thrones a few days ago, and while I’ve not made FABULOUS progress, as I’d hoped, I’ve made progress, and that’s the main thing. No, I shall never be as fantastic as Martin or Robert Jordan. But I can draw on the excited, creative energy that reading that gives me and I can use that to beat E. M. at this 50k challenge! I could use your encouragement as well, dear readers, but wish me luck!

If I win, I’ll post the first chapter on here as a treat for my readers, so it’s in your best interests to encourage me! 😀

Cheers,

C

New Story Idea!!!

All right, if you haven’t figured it out about me by now, you’ve probably realized it by this title, so I may as well admit it. One of my biggest obstacles as a writer is sitting down and writing it, not because I can’t do it, but because I’m CONSTANTLY coming up with new concepts.

To combat this, I’m keeping a little list of my concepts and trying to tackle the more or less one at a time with bits and pieces here and there.

The other day, it hit me. Well, sort of. A few things hit me. Firstly, I’ve been toying with the idea of some sort of superhero or supernatural thing for a while (like magical creatures, magic in general, or even comic-book-esque superheros and villains). The problem is, either I think of something that’s just TOO BIG to sustain itself with all of the other projects I’m doing (like, I want to include EVERY type of magical being I’ve ever heard of), or I think of my superheros in serial, like comic books, but I’m seeing them WAY down the road, so when I sit down to write out the back story I realize just how big of a project it really is and I don’t want to do it anymore.

Let’s just face it: I’m never going to be a comic book writer, as awesome as that would be. I’m just not cut out for it. I’m also never going to be Tolkien or Robert Jordan or someone who creates a beautiful Otherworld with a BAJILLION creatures they’ve either invented or recreated or tweaked for their own reality. I just can’t pull that off. Most people can’t. That’s part of what makes those who can so incredible.

But there are two three things that have ultimately influenced my decision for my latest project. I will explain.

1. Robert Jordan – Okay, so I’m not him and will never be him, as badly as I want to be him. His worlds I will never be able to emulate, but that doesn’t mean I can’t look at his characterization and exploration of gender roles and interaction and use that and sort of expand on and toy with those lovely elements. So I’m planning on that.

2. Fan Fiction – Yes, I know, it sounds crazy, but literally, this idea hit me as I was rereading some of my favorite horror-romance Harry Potter  fan fiction. I think the world of fan fiction just creates this lovely atmosphere where authors can interact with each other’s work, as well as the original and discuss their interpretations. I mean, you can have whole dialogues with other authors JUST through the work you do. Authors used to do that a lot. Now there’s super-intense copyright laws and whatnot, so that beautiful form of creative discussion is pretty much limited to the fan fiction world and unpublished email interaction, so far as I can tell. It’s sort of a shame. Anyway, there were characters that spoke to me, and if I look at them through the other lenses described here and make the archetypes my own, I think I can pull this off and pay slight homage to some incredible fan fiction authors.

3. Laurell K. Hamilton – Several years ago, my friends introduced me to this series about a half-faerie called Merry Gentry. And I loved it. Until the very last book, where I read it and said to myself, “Wait, what was that crap?” Literally, ALL the other books were the most deliciously wonderful horror/erotica/fantasy that a human being could ask for, and I won’t give it away because I feel like everybody should judge for themselves and read it, because it’s an otherwise excellent series and very well-written and researched. BUT, the ending felt like a cop-out, like a…. ‘Let’s make all our characters get exactly what they want and totally disappoint EVERYONE who thought the political drama made the story, because it did’. JUST saying. Basically, I want my story to be what the Merry Gentry stories out to have been in that respect.

Basically, I’m calling it my Romance/Horror/Supernatural story. The superpowers will be somewhat magical, but someone inborn, like telekinesis, waterbreathing, reality warping, and x-ray vision. I haven’t decided yet if I’m actually going to call them that, or if I’m going to come up with my own terminology, but we’ll see!!!

So far, I’ve got seven major characters. It’s going to cover about a three-generation timeline, but that might even be just a book, maybe a book and a sequel, depending on how much page space this ends up taking me. As is typical of my work, lots of death and tragedy, but also some uplifting moments. I’m not sure I can point at any one character and say, “He’s the bad guy”, but maybe my readers will be able to. We’ll see!!! 😀

What projects are you guys up to? Share your enthusiasm!

Cheers,

C

Progress Report

Hey, all! Here’s a quick update on how things are going in my writing world!

Those We Trust: Still trying to figure out that silly cover while familiarizing myself with all things Smashwords. I’ve finished the formatting guide, which was lovely and helpful and wonderful and now I’m looking at the marketing guide and the book of secrets to e-publishing success. I highly recommend checking both out (they’re free!), no matter who you decide to publish with. They’re just packed full with general tips.

To the Death: I’ve put it through it’s first official round of editing. Natalie is putting it through the second (or she’s supposed to be…. I’m not entirely sure it’s happening quite as quickly as she’d like, but I’m pretty patient). Since I’m still waiting on ways to earn my copyright fees for Those We Trust, I’m not too particular.

But What Can I Do?: E.M. and I have decided to wait until our Camp NaNoWriMo experience for the year is well over before cracking down on our adaptation, and even then it will be brainstorming and figuring out details, not doing the actual work involved because we’ll both be in classes and whatnot. This is pretty much on hold, sadly, but it’s not like we’re ditching it for good.

Morrison Girls: The outline is completely finished (okay, so that’s been that way for a while) and it’s just waiting for August  1st so that I can start writing it. E.M. and I are racing to 50k words this time, so as much as I don’t care about getting a head start on this sort of thing, it wouldn’t be fair in this instance. I’ve got a couple of the poems written, but that doesn’t really count. I basically had those written YEARS ago. It was more tweaking than writing, and I’ll probably change them again before I actually put them in the novel.

Whatever I’m Calling This Princess Thing: Yeah, I’ve finished the prologue of the first book, anyway, and started the first chapter. I’ve been writing it by hand, but as I have an internship now three days a week I’m suddenly exhausted ALL THE TIME again and I literally fall asleep about five minutes after getting into bed and don’t have the energy to write then like I did before. That should change at Christmastime when I’m not doing work or school or anything but making and eating fudge. Gosh, I miss Christmastime already and it’s not even here yet….

To the End of the Earth: This is the so-far title of the sequel to To the Death. I’ve got the first five chapters outlined, but I’ve only written a chapter. I’m trying to outline a chapter for every third of a chapter I write so I don’t get ahead of myself in writing. I might hit a moment of inspiration and just take off, but I’m trying not to do that. With such a piece as this where it needs to be structured right or it’ll fall apart, I need to keep myself focused and not take to flights of fancy too often. Which is really too bad in a way because I just LIVE for flights of fancy in my writing.

Fan Fiction: I’ve basically gone on a fan fiction writing spree because I finished my chapter obligations for the MONDO collaborative project Natalie, E.M., M.N. and I are working on, so now I have time for all my OTHER fan fiction obligations, like finishing stories I’m writing for people (requests and things that people fell in love with), and in some cases STARTING stories I’ve promised fans I’d write. I had a request for a Severus/Hermione pairing…. I really don’t know how I feel about it, but this reader is a great regular reviewer (albeit a newer one) and I’d like to keep them happy. So we’ll see how that goes. AH, this isn’t for the faint of heart or the under-18, but Mark of Mark Does Stuff (great blog, btw, check it out!) read aloud a fan fiction I wrote on YouTube. My friend Meg (who he errantly says is the author a few times in the video, but I promise it’s not hers) got him to do it, I guess by paying for it. Apparently you can do that now. I wish I could pay him to read all my stories, it’s great advertising because he calls me a genius a few times in the video even as he’s squirming in his seat. Just search Mark Reads The Forbidden Fruit and it should come up. Enjoy!

Work: So, as I mentioned above, I have an internship now, which means I can’t just sit on the couch and write all summer… OR DOES IT? In actuality, I’m an intern for public relations/communications at the local theatre, but what I’ve ended up doing (rather than the budgeting project I was started on) is writing a MURDER MYSTERY. Yes, that’s right, I get legit experience in public relations for my resume and I get to sit around and write one of those interactive murder mysteries. They’re usually dinner theatre, but this is downtown, and people get to walk around and ask the characters questions. Think like if they did a murder mystery at Williamsburg or something like that where they have people doing period acting. I mean, I’m writing the mystery and whatnot, but I’m also doing a press release for a call for actors and working on promotional materials, so I AM getting PR experience, it’s just not in the way I originally thought. Best boss ever.

That’s it for me for now! What are you all up to? Tell me what sorts of projects you’ve got going in the comments! Let’s get some conversation going, guys!

Cheers,

C

Revisiting my Youth

Since The Hobbit films are coming out in the ever-approaching future, I decided to recruit someone to go to the movie with me (my little brother) by making them watch the extended versions of The Lord of the Rings with me. That sparked an interest in rereading the series for the 165th time (not kidding), but the first time in six years.

When I first read The Lord of the Rings, I was ten years old. I was already reading Dickens, Poe, and Shakespeare on a regular basis. I’d also already becoming a Harry Potter devotee. At that time of my life, not only was Tolkien a genius but The Lord of the Rings was the greatest piece of literature of all time, and since it only took me a few hours to read in entirety, I read it 164 times in four years.

I read other Tolkien works, of course. I’ve read nearly everything he ever wrote at this point. And Tolkien is still a genius. However, with more practiced literary eyes, I can honestly say that while the creation of Middle-Earth and it’s tale is one of the greatest feats of all of literature, The Lord of the Rings is not the greatest piece of literature of all time.

Rather than my 3-4 hours it used to take me to read the trilogy, it took me an hour and a half this time. The style is appreciated, elaborating things through dialogue, where the characters themselves often describe events or places. The narration is relatively bare. This isn’t a flaw, though. It’s a very common tool, and one that those of us who read a lot of plays certainly appreciate. But Tolkien didn’t mean for these tales to be great pieces of literature, they were folk tales. The characters work things out by saying them aloud, even when it’s neither realistic nor necessary for them to do so, for the audience to understand. It’s an effective tool, one he uses on purpose, but it’s a far cry from the narration-heavy work of Dickens and Tolstoy.

The language is simple. And, take this from someone who has read the books in multiple languages, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But when you’re sitting a high school or middle school student down and trying to increase their knowledge of vocabulary and complex sentence structure, you’d be better off having them read Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books, which I’m actually starting my brother on instead of Tolkien’s works.

I started reading those two series at the same time, actually. The more I reread Jordan’s work, of which the final book has yet to be released, the more I see how it’s taken that world-creation Tolkien began and taken it to the next literary level, beyond the world of folklore (and the Kalevala’s by my bedside, so I’m not dissing folklore) and into the world of grand, intricate literature as it was really given to us for the first time by Charles Dickens so artfully, so many years ago.

Am I never going to reread Tolkien again? Of course not. Am I saying never read Tolkien? Absolutely not. But don’t go into reading these great books thinking it’s akin to the classics you’re reading in school. It’s got a different sort of value, a rebirth of a long-lost tradition. If you want leisure reading that will prepare you for the SATs, this probably isn’t it, and you’d be better off with Jordan. Maybe this is just the literature major in me, but this re-visitation of the literary love of my youth (other than Dickens) has left me wondering how I ever saw it on the same level as Shakespeare and Poe. The only explanation is that rough, unpracticed readership is more ready to recognize greatness as greatness, and not compare and categorize.

Perhaps I was wiser then.

Cheers,

C

My Latest Big Idea

When I was a little girl, I loved reading about princesses.

Okay, so I still love reading about princesses. Historical princesses, fictional princesses…. What girl doesn’t find the idea of royalty a little bit fascinating? Marie Antoinette and Anastasia were always my favorites, but then I loved tragedy from a young age, and I was in kindergarten when the Anastasia animated film came out. It was pretty much my favorite thing for years, and I still say some of the best movie music ever was in that film.

The point is, my nightly reading recently has consisted of the various Royal Diaries books I had in my special collection, The Two Princesses of Bamarre (a lovely little book by the author of Ella Enchanted that I read every time I stumble across it, literally just drop everything and read it on the spot, it’s that good), and the Wheel of Time books (Robert Jordan, rest his soul, although the final book comes out in January and I realized I’m missing books one and three, so I’ll have to go find those so I can have the complete set). On top of that, I’ve been putting my younger brother through watching Peter Jackson’s films of Tolkien’s masterpiece so that he can go see the Hobbit with me in December. He’s a bit older than I was when Lord of the Rings was released in theaters, so it’s kind of exciting.

With all of that fantasy and princess-ness bouncing around in my brain, I was bound to come up with a novel ideal.

Or rather, an idea for a few novels. I arranged the life stories of the princesses I was reading about (the real ones, not the fictional) into a large family tree and thought about how to twist and rearrange things to make it all work out smoothly in a single plot line. Should come out to at least four or five novels when I’m done. I’m working on the Prologue of the first one right now, setting up the beginning of the story. The hardest part is picking out names that feel like a fantasy setting, like a LotR setting.

I don’t know what I’m going to call it yet, but once I get a title idea under wraps, you’ll be hearing me referring to it quite frequently, I think. It’s exciting, having something else to chip away at while other things are slowly falling into place.

Cheers,

C