25 April 2020

Writers #Ask, No. 43 - 53

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All right, you've reached the end of the tunnel! I hammered through 53 writing questions in the epic Ask Game for writers on Tumblr from author R. Meisel. I divided them into four parts: 1-15, 16-31, 32-42, and now this last post for the finish. Thank you for sticking around and looking into the window of my writing life. Let's wrap this up!

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43. BEST PIECE OF FEEDBACK YOU HAVE EVER GOTTEN

Author Jennifer Loring was my crit partner in graduate school and she taught me so much about writing and was very, very kind and honest in her feedback. But there was one gem from her that was so good, I'll take it to my grave. It is in regards to this specific piece of writing from The Name and the Key: 
If there's no difference between Above and Below, and All and One are exactly the same, then anything is possible. 
Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash
She described it as "the most beautiful description of magic" she'd ever heard. ❤️

Then there was some commentary from literary agent Suzie Townsend, who passed on The Name and the Key but kindly took the time to give me some advice on where it needed tightened up. From her partial reading she told me, "I really love your premise" and "the prose is lovely." This was my first agent submission, guys. I thought I was going to die of happiness when I heard this. It confirmed that I did have talent, and that although it didn't make the cut, I was close. It made things seem less impossible for me and showed me that if I take the advice given, I can make it. 

My mentors Tim Waggoner and Scott A. Johnson also gave me valuable feedback with The Name and the Key, and while they had a lot to say to fix it, once again I heard my writing described as "beautiful" and "very good" and a great deal of positive response to Andresh. I was also complimented on how quickly I made improvements between term writing projects, which made me really happy.

It may not seem that special, but simple words of encouragement or positive feedback can nestle in your heart and keep you company for years to come. When I feel down about writing, I will always remember these moments from these talented people and it helps me push through the dark times in writing.

44. WORST PIECE OF FEEDBACK YOU HAVE EVER GOTTEN

Hooray! I get a chance to vent (and maybe be a little petty) about my absolute best and simultaneously worst workshop critique ever from Seton Hill...and it happened to be my very first one, so I was terrified. It came out really well, but there were moments that made me twitch because people tend to do pile-ons in workshops, even though they're meant to be safe spaces for feedback.

I submitted an excerpt of Stolen Fruit, my retelling of the Persephone myth that was intended to be a novella (this, by the way, is on a very long pause at the moment). Anyway, I was under the impression that the writing we submitted for the workshop were rough drafts, which meant mistakes were to be expected. So, I submitted a rough draft knowing that one of the sections was riddled with errors: where Charon, the Ferryman, sings opera in Italian (I have him as a Venetian gondola man in this version of the underworld). 

Guys. I do not know Italian. But I put Italian in the rough draft anyway, knowing I would have to come back and have it professionally checked later if I wanted to keep it. I thought it would be ok to have it like this in a rough draft, because ROUGH DRAFT. 

How did I come up with Italian? I wrote out the English, then I fed it into five different translators online, checking each translation against the other and looking up words online in the dictionaries as well. If there was zero consistency among the machine translations, I knew something was very wrong, so I would rewrite the English, refeed it into the translators, and once they matched each other, I put it in my manuscript. This took hours to do, by the way. I did not "search one and done." 

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So low and behold, someone who actually knows Italian is at the workshop critique, and she lets me know that I accidentally used negation in a sentence when it should've been positive, and she asked me point-blank if I knew Italian, and I said no. I was so embarrassed I blurted out that I had used Google translate and you guys THIS WAS THE WRONG THING TO SAY BECAUSE PEOPLE ACTED LIKE I KICKED JESUS. I didn't properly explain my process, and I didn't have time to, because then came the heap of criticism. 

I was so nervous and embarrassed, I didn't defend myself. I did not mention how much work I had put into trying to find a translation - it seemed the people who piped up assumed I put five seconds into writing this part when I definitely hadn't. I also did not mention that because it was a rough draft, the Italian there was a placeholder and of course it would not be the same Italian for the final draft. I thought that would've been obvious to people, but instead, they treated like it I had set it in stone. People didn't back off of it until I mentioned I had a coworker who knew Italian and I would check it with him and people were like, "Yes, do that, because you can't use Google translate to write." 

WELL, DUH. I already knew all that.  

Why did you need this preamble? Because I need you to understand that apparently if you commit one faux pas at a critique workshop that makes people think you're stupid, they're going to think you're stupid for the rest of the workshop. So here's the actual bad feedback I got from the same session. 

Stolen Fruit takes place in an apple orchard, before Cora (a play on Kore, one of Persephone's names) is taken into the underworld by Hades. Cora stole three apples from the orchard and she kept them in her apron during her time in hell. If you know the myth about Persephone, Hades tricks her into eating a pomegranate and that keeps her trapped in the underworld with him. Since my story is a retelling of the Persephone myth, apples are a stand-in for pomegranates, and they are literally part of one of the twists in the story because I AM SUBVERTING A MYTH.

The Lady Who Speaks Italian asked me, "Why did you choose an apple instead of a pomegranate? It's a pomegranate in the myth."

I responded, "Pomegranate means 'apple.'"

And reader, she shook her head at me and told me, "No, no it doesn't." 

Again, I felt attacked and nervous and embarrassed so I didn't stick up for myself. But reader, I'm fucking right

Screenshot Source


I had done my research, but because I made *one* mistake I lost credibility in that workshop classroom and certain people decided I didn't know what I was talking about anymore. 

The only other rough feedback I got in that very same workshop was a complaint from a different author that she thought it was clichéd I had a skeleton ferryman in the underworld. I stuttered quietly, "It's..it's Charon." Mind you, I had Charon dressed up in Venetian carnival attire singing opera in Italian, rowing a gondola through the River Styx, and pulling his skin off like gloves to reveal his bones underneath, but...whatever (my mentor came to my defense for that one, thank goodness). 

Despite those snafus I still walked out of that workshop feeling like a million bucks because the rest of the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, but ouch, those moments.

Photo by Creaslim on Unsplash
Anyway, workshops are always squirmy experiences for me, because they are always immensely amazing, helpful, and awful...and because I'm always nervous during them, I screw them up. I actually botched feedback I gave to another writer, freaking award winner Stephanie Wytovich, and told her her work was "too literary" which was NOT what I meant but I garbled that so horribly I got the stinkeye and rebuttals from soooo many other writers for blurting that out. Luckily I was able to pull Stephanie aside after that workshop and apologize and try to reexplain what I meant. She said she understood what I was trying to say, but holy crap, INSERT FOOT IN MOUTH. 

And my last story didn't happen to me, but I witnessed it in another workshop in the same program. Did you know that when you call someone a "child," it can be a term of endearment for an adult? Well, in this workshop, the author wrote a dark fairytale with a bit of sexy times happening and the sexy monster force called his prey "child..." and the person critiquing it did not read it that way, thought it was literal, and pretty much reamed the author for something like pedophilia (she did not use that word, but she used strong words like "disgusting"). That was the most uncomfortable workshop I've ever sat in on, and when the author had a chance to rebut her, she did so in a very dignified, polite way, unlike the critiquer, who looked like a smokestack would blow out her ears. 

Workshops are weird, people. 

45. WHAT WOULD YOUR STORY LOOK LIKE AS A TV SHOW OR MOVIE? 

I want my books to be animated so freaking badly, but I think The Name and the Key could be live action (though I prefer it to be a big-budget television series as opposed to a movie).

The book that would be best as an anime is Son of the Siren. I always dreamed Kyoto Animation would do it (I like their character aesthetic) and I would cast Yoshimasa Hosoya as Lirien, because not only is he a good voice actor, but this man can sing:



46. DO YOU START WITH CHARACTERS OR PLOT WHEN WORKING ON A NEW STORY?

Characters. They are my favorite part of writing, and the story comes from them.

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47. FAVORITE GENRE TO WRITE IN 

Fantasy. This is what I've settled on writing for the rest of my life. Horror is my runner-up genre, but I haven't written straight horror yet. I just like to put horrific moments in my fiction.

48. WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT TO WRITE - BEGINNING, MIDDLE, OR END? 

The beginning! As much as I struggle with plot, and plot is so important to the middle of your manuscript especially, my main issue is with the beginning. I can't balance the pacing or exposition most of the time, and so usually once I wrap up my draft I have to actually go back and cut the first couple chapters, because it turns out my natural story start occurs later than it should. That's a pain in the butt to fix. 

49. WEIRDEST STORY IDEA YOU'VE EVER HAD

So, I used to write musicals, and after I wrote Melancholia I came up with an idea to do some French/Southern Gothic "necrophilia musical" (my nickname for it). It was going to be reanimated corpses in love with each other wearing 18th century French fashions; it was going to have voodoo and dark magic and necromancy; and its lead characters were Doc Carrion and Marie Tourniquette. ...But then I swore off theater, so this idea, which is probably my weirdest, has remained an idea only. 

50. DESCRIBE THE AESTHETIC OF YOUR STORY IN 5 WORDS
SEA ○ GOLD ○ BLUE ○ BIRD ○ SHIMMER

51. HOW DID WRITING CHANGE YOU?

I don't think writing has changed me. I've changed my writing, and that has only come from embracing good health, stability, compassion, and maturity over the years. 

Photo by Riz Mooney on Unsplash
52. WHAT DOES WRITING MEAN TO YOU?

It is my life and who I am.

53. ANY WRITING ADVICE YOU WANT TO SHARE? 

Don't give up, don't fight your process, and keep what has always worked for you.

~*~

Congratulations! You made it through AAALLLL the posts. Thank you so much for your kind attention and I hope you enjoyed this closer look at what I have done, what I do, and what I will do. ❤️

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