Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Creative Writing Course in Book Form

In my last post, I promised to write about a couple of exceptional writing guides I read recently. Today I'm going to focus on one of those books. It's called Mastering Fiction Writing by Kit Reed.

This morning I went over to Amazon to grab shopping links for this book, and the reviews there are an even 50/50 split. I'm truly surprised there aren't more reviews for this book overall. It used to be a college text book, and it's incredibly afforable, so I'm not sure quite what I was expecting. However I'm going to throw my gauntlet into the ring and tell you this is quite possibly the best, most helpful writing guide I've ever read. I truly mean that.

I read a sample of this book online, and I was sold within the first few pages. The author talks about how she spent years searching for the secret tricks, the paint-by-number set of rules for sucessful writing, and even after she knew better, she still kept searching for them. Talk about relatable. She
might as well have been writing about me.

Most writers, unpublished or published, have at some point heard other writers talk about "writing from character". This book covers that topic, explaining it from a primordial, developmental standpoint.

Ms. Reed suggests drawing character from our "alluvial sludge". In other words, she suggests forming them from our childhood experiences, and the personal triumphs and tragedies throughout our lives that have shaped us into who we are as individuals.

She further discusses how to create characters from those experiences, and from there, she explains how the first lines of a story propel the characters forward, guided by their own unique "inner logic" that hints at the direction the story will unfold.

This is invaluable information if you've ever created a character you love, but can't seem to get them to "do" anything on the page. And that is just one helpful facet of this guide.

Other chapters in Mastering Fiction Writing that I found especially helpful include:

  • Development 
  • Rewriting to Complete your Thinking*
  • Plot, Or: The List of the Lucky Seven
  • What to Leave Out and What to Put In
  • Audience
  • Discipline  
Mastering Fiction Writing gets my highest recommendation. It's basically a creative writing course in book form for as little as 1¢ (used, plus shipping) on Amazon. (print copies only, no digital) At 136 pages, it's a quick read with an absolute treasure trove of helpful writing advice packed in from cover to cover. If you'd like to buy a copy for yourself, you can find the book here: Mastering Fiction Writing / Kit Reed / Amazon 

*P.S. One more thing before I go... My favorite chapter in Mastering Fiction Writing is Rewriting to Complete Your Thinking.  If you read the book and find this section helpful, or if you're simply looking for books that focus on rewriting and revising, I recommend an additional book by Kit Reed called Revision, which is part of Writer's Digest Books' classic The Elements of Fiction Writing book series. You can buy a copy here: Revision / Kit Reed / Amazon 

Next week, I'll be discussing the other book I recently read that turned out to be a great writing guide. Until then, I'm sending you lots of happy wishes. •

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there. I'm going to visit my parents in the morning to check in on them and give my Mom a big hug. I didn't have the cash for fancy gifts this year, which kind of sucks, but I was able to buy cards...yes, cards, plural. Dad is a Mother's Day baby; he was born on the 10th, so each year we celebrate his birthday in tandem with Mother's Day.

I feel a little empty handed because I didn't bake them a cake this year, but Dad's diet has changed so drastically since he lost his kidney I've been afraid to attempt it. A friend of the family brought him animal crackers while he was in the hospital (there's significance behind that, but it's a very long story), and anyway, dad ate the animal crackers and it shot his blood sugar through the roof. The nurse had to come in and give him emergency insulin. Mercy.

I don't want to inadvertently take something over there food wise that might hurt him, so I've left the edible treats up to Mom. I think she planned to bake him a diabetic safe coconut pie, so that will be the birthday trimmings. Whatever works. For Mother's Day, just a long visit with my Mommy, and some pictures. I know all the above doesn't sound very exciting, I'm just glad I still have both my mom and my dad to spend the day with. That in itself is worth celebrating.

In writerly news, I'm finally closing in on the end of a short story. I'm actually very eager to finish this thing, and I'm trying not to rush it. I've gotten the bulk of it down on paper, and now I'm going back and filling it in. So far, so good. Hopefully it won't take me much longer to wrap it up, but at the same time I don't want to zoom through it and make a lot of mistakes, either. At any rate, once it's finished, I can move on to the next story in the cue.

One more thing before I go, I picked up a couple of writing guides recently that really resonated with me. I found them over at OpenLibrary.org and bought print copies to keep in my home office. Combined, they've managed to pry me out of non-writing shell and get me back to work again. In next post I'll write a little bit about them. If there's any chance they might help someone else, I'd love to pay it forward.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

A Creative Mess = Progress

Image by Kablam at OpenClipArt.
I just realized I need to clean my office. I don't usually let it get this far. It's a complete mess. Like, I'd close the door to hide this disaster zone if we had sudden visitors. It's that bad.

On the other hand, a sign of a messy office is a sign of progress being made elsewhere. I wrote a little more on my latest story this morning. It not only has legs, it now has a title! A title I'm keeping under wraps to keep from jinxing myself, but I will say that I'm extremely relieved that the idea fairy decided to sprinkle a little title magic over this one. I haven't had this much trouble coming up with a title since Dominant Territory.

Anyway, toward noon, Hubz, Mini, and I took a break and went to eat at Panda's. On returning home, I took some more cold meds, made a pot of  licorice root tea to try to tame my cough, and went back to work. I wrote a little more, and when the well dried up, I made two tester covers for the next release. I'm satisfied with one of them, so this week I'll be buying stock images for a new release. Woot!

So that's the latest. I'm back to the writing cave, and I'm  -t h i s-  close to wrapping up another short story. I'll post again when I have something more to say. Sending lovely vibes to everyone for the week ahead.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Hello Again

Hello, again!

I just checked the calendar, and I can't believe it's already nearing the end of April. I guess I've been away from the blog for about a month, although it really feels more like it's been six months. Seriously. It feels like a big chunk of time is missing and I don't know where it went.

I've been keeping up based on events rather than actual dates: Dad was hospitalized at the end of March, and it's been three or so weeks since they removed his kidney. Mini has testing all this week, and beyond that, he has roughly 3 weeks of school left to go. Hubby has four more work days before his shift rotates, then he's off seven days again. That's how my clockwork brain works lately. Stop, start. Stop, start. Event to event, unceasing.

Somewhere during all this, I decided to pick up the pen again. Or rather, I decided to collect some disjointed words in a Scrivener file, which has since morphed into a story. I won't go into details and risk jinxing it, but I should have a new story up on Smashwords soon.

That's really all I had to say. I haven't been very active on social media, because...well, after everything that happened in March, I can't think of much to say. I especially can't think of much to say without repeating myself, and I've decided to spare everyone. I check in with a few friends on twitter still, reply to tweets here and there, and reshare pictures, but beyond that I struggle to make even basic conversation these days. I'm drained, verbally, emotionally, etc. I decided to bow out for a while, because I keep having to apologize when every conversation seems so awkward lately (because of me!). I'd rather do that than say something else that sounds like I've been dismissive or short with someone when that wasn't my intention.

So there it is. A much overdue blog update. Bear with me while I get my blogging groove back. ♥

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Using Tarot Cards to Aid in Character Creation

I've been meaning to write a not-so-serious blog post about using tarot cards as a guide to character creation, but I always find myself complicating the topic whenever I start writing about it. It's not a complex process, so I'm tossing my cards in the air, so to speak, and letting them fall where they may, because using tarot to sculpt your characters is easy, and it's an interesting way of digging into who your characters are on a sub surface level.

Let's dive right in and get started...

Chosing a deck to work with.
I have dozens of decks, but my favorite is The Halloween Tarot by Karen Lee and Kipling West, so that's what I'm going to use. I love the symbolism of the Halloween deck, but you can use any Rider Waite based deck you like, or even Leonormand style decks. The choice is yours.

If you aren't familiar with the meanings and symbolism tarot cards use, feel free to use the little white book included with most new packs of tarot cards to help you. Using the LWB (little white book) works, because the underlying meaning of the cards are what you're going to use to help build your characters' personalities and personal histories.

Shuffling, Drawing, and Laying out the cards.
Take your deck and shuffle the cards. When I lay out the cards, typically I like working in threes - three cards / three characteristics per character. I like to do this because it mimics a past, present, future tarot reading. I also do this because I read somewhere (long, long ago in a land far away) that our brains are hardwired to process threes.

Another reason I like to draw three cards per character, is because you can create a character arc with three cards, each card representing a shift in character persepective, but I promised myself I wouldn't bog this blog post down and make it more complicated than it needs to be. For the purpose of this blog post, I'm going to do a one-card draw and put it face up.

The card I drew is the World card. (shown above) This is the card I'm going to use to flesh out my character, which I've already decided is female, in her early 20s, and from a small Romanian village north of Bucharest. Other than that, I really don't know much about Stella (Stela). The rest of her traits I'll develope based on the World card.

Choosing character traits based on the cards you drew. 
I knew I wanted to create Stella before I ever reached for my tarot cards, so starting out I had a vague idea of a slim, brunette woman in mind for a central character. However, I didn't have her personality nailed down at all. Her personal and family history is even more vague for me. I need to know these things about her before I start writing her story.

To add meaning to her as a character, I'm going to look at the meanings, themes, and symbolism found in the The World card. In the Ryder-Waite deck, some of the typical themes for The World card are about expanding energies, embracing all the elements of our nature (a potential theme for my dear Stella), and completion. The card holds many other meanings as well. After I've drawn a card, the next step it to sort through that card's themes and meanings to find the ones that best apply to the character I want to create.

The LWB that comes with the deck can give you more clues about the meaning of the World card: success, feeling at one with the universe, cycles. If you don't have a little white book with your tarot deck, you can find individual card meanings listed both at Keen and Biddy Tarot. They're both excellent resources that I highy recommend.

The image on the card, which differs from deck to deck, can also be used as inspiration to add to the personality of your character. In The Halloween Tarot, the world card shows a black cat in the middle of the card instead of a woman. Maybe Stella is intensely superstitious, self-centered, or a crazy cat lady. Maybe she's someone who loves her cat more than she loves her husband or siblings. That's an interesting idea. I'm going to write that one down. I'd definitely riff off that idea to find out why Stella is the type who loves her cat more than her family. What happened in her life to make her feel that way? Did her family do something to her? If so, what and how does this affect her life now?

While going through the character creation process, I usually make a list of all the possibilities that I come up with based on the card in hand, and then go back through the list and choose the ones I like best.

Back to the character in question, maybe Stella is a vet, who has a knack for dealing with stubborn cats. Or, maybe the people in Stella's life view her as a 'black cat' type...whenever she comes around, they're sure something bad/unlucky is about to befall them. That's yet another interesting option I'd want to add to my list...and I'd probably turn over another card to answer the question: Why do people feel Stella showing up brings them bad luck?

Whatever card I turn over to answer that question, I'd mine the meanings of that card to come up with possible answers. For example, if I turned over the 3 of Swords, the answer might be: People view Stella as bad luck, because she brings sorrow, bitterness, and bad news with her whenever she shows up. Or maybe Stella is a heartbreaker. That could work well in a romance. All of those meanings: sorrow, bitterness, bad news, and heart break are meanings attributed to the 3 of Swords card.

Bonus: The Underlying Theme
Sometimes, when I'm stuck for a theme for a short story or novel, I turn to the tarot. I shuffle the deck of my choosing, but instead of turning over the top card, I set the deck down and then flip it over to reveal the card on the very bottom of the deck. For some people who read tarot, the card on the bottom of the deck can represent "the underlying issue" of a situation or problem.

When brainstorming your story, if you're interested in writing and developing a singular theme, seeking out "the underlying issue" can be a good way to generate ideas. Look at the card on the bottom of the deck and riff themes off the symbolism of the card the same way you would for creating a character.

Have fun with creating characters. 
As with any creative process, you'll get some good results and some stinkers. The point is to have fun while letting the cards lead you to new possibilities you can riff off of. If you get stuck with a personality trait that doesn't seem to fit, or if you're just not sure what to do with a card you drew, you can always return that card to the deck and draw another one, or you can turn over another card to add to the overall picture. The key is to look broadly at the cards symbolism, meanings, and key themes to help you paint a picture of who your character is and how they behave within your story world.

If you like this post, or would like to know more about using tarot to create characters, leave a comment or let me know via social media. I'm reachable at all the usual places, including here at the blog. I hope to do more creative, writerly posts like this one in the future.

Stress Rollercoaster

I haven't written about it yet on the blog, because I've been busy and stressed out, however I've already announced it on other social media so I feel I might as well own up to the fact that my dad is in very ill health. When we first took him to ER a few days ago, we didn't think he'd ever be coming home again. It looked that grim.

His diagnosis has swung from cancer, to not being cancer, and back to cancer again - just not as imminently life threatening as the initial diagnosis led us to believe.

Tomorrow morning, Dad goes in to have his right kidney, a tumor affecting the tube that leads from the kidney to the bladder, and a portion of the bladder removed. After the surgery, we'll find out if he has to go through chemo as a follow up. It's all I've been able to think about for the past 24 hours. It's enough to drive a person crazy.

We're all stressed out and anxious. We all just show it in differnet ways. Oldest hasn't spoken barely a word in the past three days. With mom, she's a chatty type, and I can tell she's nervous because I can't get in a word edgewise. Hubz is brooding and grumpy. On top of the panic, rapidly shifting news and emotions, my body decided to hit me with the worst sinus infection of all time. I can't smell or taste anything, and my ears feel like they're packed with cotton. Even when someone is talking to me directly, I can barely hear a thing!

The real waiting begins tomorrow, but in the meantime, I've been obsessively cleaning house, organizing devices, culling and moving things around, and updating all manner of things... the typical worrywart way of trying to control one's environment when absolutely nothing is under control. My nerves are shot, but my house is cleaner than it's been in the past six months. ♦
 

Wicked Obsession - A Brief History of the Mal Vampires

I received a question recently from reader Jennifer F. about the mal vampire, Julian, in my novel Wicked Obsession, so I thought I'd take a moment to give some details related to that character which might help explain what a mal vampire is exactly.

In Wicked Obsession, during Julian's youth, he was in a house fire, and his body was left scarred. Because the damage was caused by fire, he could only heal from it to a degree. Vampires in my universe are creatures who pride themselves on their strength, good looks, and immortality - which is tied to their ability to heal. They consider scars of this nature to be a terrible flaw, and often, something to be ashamed of.

Before Eleni's arrival at his chateau, Julian had remained closed off from the world because, in his opinion, he is flawed due to his extensive scars. It is his love for Eleni that brings him out of his shell and allows his heart to heal.

Where did the term mal vampire come from?  I made up the term to describe vampires who had suffered some kind of misfortune that made them "less desirable" in the eyes of vampire society.

On its own, the word mal in French, means "poorly", "bad", "wrong", but is typically used to describe a verb. Mauvais vampire would be the term I'd use if I was simply trying to convey that Julian is a "bad vampire". But that wasn't my intention. The term mal (the way I'm using it) was loosely inspired by the Malheur (misfortune) card in the Oracle De La Triade. (Edited to add: a similar card would be "misfortune" in the Leonormand Gypsy deck.)

In my novels, vampires who have suffered physical traumas, whether by fire or other means, are mal(heur) "misfortune" vampires. However, because they are a globalized society of vampires, with Russians living in America, and Americans living in France, I felt that over time, the vampires probably would've simply shortened malheur to mal and embraced the shortened phrase mal vampire as a sort of double entendre. I hope this helps explain the origins of the mal vampire.

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The first book in the series, Wicked Temption, is still out of print. Thanks for your patience.

Wicked Obsession is available online at Smashwords, and is available in print on Amazon.