Showing posts with label The Name and the Key. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Name and the Key. Show all posts

29 August 2020

Today's Writers #Ask

Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash

Today's post prompts come from the tumblr of author Amanda Witow


The Basics

1.     Do you listen to music when you write?

Not all the time, but when I need to build atmosphere I listen to film, anime, and video game soundtracks. 

2.     Are you a pantser or plotter?

I was always a pantser but I have since graduated to plantser -- a plotter that allows opportunity to pants a text where needed. That's my personal definition of it, anyway. 

3.     Computer or pen and paper?

I do research with pencil and paper in a notebook and then I draft with my computer. 

4.     Have you ever been published, or do you want to be published?

I have published a few poems in literary magazines. I want to publish my novels. I keep going back and forth between self-publishing and traditional publishing. I think my eventual goal is to be a hybrid publisher where I do a little of both. Honestly, though, self-publishing to my personal standards is really freaking expensive, and I'm poor. So I think starting out trying to get traditionally published first is the way to go. 

5.     How much writing do you get done on an average day?

Ha. Ha. HA HA HA. According to Pacemaker my average is 1300+ words a day but I can tell you right off the bat this is skewed. More days that not I write nothing. Here's a graph of my progress since I started drafting...and the first day was my logging of the total amount of words I already had, so this is driving up my number.

My lack of progress via Pacemaker

6.     Single or multiple POV?

In terms of reading, there were a couple books that had multiple POVs that I thought pulled it off really well. My first encounter with it was with Susan Kay's Phantom, and she labeled each chapter with a character name and then you got their first-person POV. I really enjoyed it. But as far as writing goes, this strikes me as pretty difficult to pull off, so I'm going with single POV. Maybe when my skills develop in the future I can try multiple POV, but it seems like you have to be a master plotter to pull it off, pulling all the character threads together, so I probably would be reluctant to do more than two or three in a single book. 

7.     Standalone or series?

Overall, I'm going with standalones. Publishing in any form can be fickle, and with writing a series there's always a risk that due to low sales or other issues beyond the author's control, the continuation gets scrapped. As a reader (or sometimes viewer of TV shows), it always bummed me out to be left hanging with a compelling story getting cancelled. As a writer, I don't want this to happen to my readers, so I want to write standalones. However, The Name and the Key has a companion novel, The Step and the Walk, but my goal is to write both as standalones so anyone can come into the duology without having read the other book and still be able to follow what is happening. I had an idea for a third book, The Eye and the Storm, but I don't think that's going to happen anymore because I can't come up with a plot to justify a third book.

8.     Oldest WIP

Officially? The Name and the Key. I decided to rewrite it from the ground up. Its first completed form as a graduate thesis was in 2013, but now that I'm doing the whole thing over again, that makes it my oldest WIP at a whopping ten years... because I first started writing it in 2010. Yikes. The problem is I've paused it in order to write Son of the Siren so this baby is probably going to be a fifteen-year draft or so. I could give up on it but I created a character I love and Andresh needs his story, dammit!

Page 1 of the 2013 iteration of Son of the Siren.
9.     Current WIP

My current WIP is Son of the Siren. It's at 126 pages...but this WIP has also been going on for quite a long time because it started out as a comic at first around 2013. I got through the cover and the first page and found it way too difficult to continue in its iteration as a graphic novel, so I gave up and decided to rewrite it as a novel. Making it into a novel started around 2017. I write SO SLOWLY. 😭

10.  Do you set yourself deadlines?

I tried to do monthly deadlines with Son of the Siren and failed. I have an overall deadline of October 29, 2020 for me to finish my first draft but at the rate I'm going, I don't see this happening, especially with some upcoming issues I'm seeing with the plot. I have a plot outline but I'm not sure how to get to these key pieces in the story, and that's what's taking forever. 

The Specifics

11.  Books and/or authors who influenced you the most

I've answered variations of these questions in different #ask posts, so I'm just going to single out one author. Juliet Marillier wrote Daughter of the Forest, a retelling of the fairy tale "The Wild Swans." In fact, listed it as a notable retelling in this article here complete with four other notable versions. Anyway, I read this novel when I was a freshman in college. I want to adapt fairy tales, the stories that shaped my life and my love of fantasy, and how she did it made me count Marillier as writing role model. 

12.  Describe your perfect writing space

A beautiful desk with room for books and pieces of art and knick knacks to inspire me. My desk in Japan is very much my perfect writing space, except the desk is too low (as in I'm too tall) so my knees bum into it a lot. I alternate between my writing shrine and my folding table I use to eat. 

13.  Describe your writing process from idea to polished

OMG. I don't think I know how to do this. I'll try to talk you through the process for Son of the Siren. The general idea pops into my head at first: "A fairy tale that combines elements of other fairy tales and weaves them together." Then I make a list of my favorite fairy tales, including some lesser-known stories. In no particular order, I've got Donkeyskin, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, the Wild Swans, and in the process of writing even more may come up in the rest of the text. Then I started coming up with names of characters and places, and then had to come up with my own cosmology/mythology to explain the magic system in the story. Then I start drafting, doing additional research along the way. 

The most difficult part for me is writing beginnings, so I do get beta readers to look at the opening, then I try to knock through the rest of the book without having additional readers until it's done. With Son of the Siren, though, I've been a bit more self-conscious with it and have some self-doubt, so I've asked for more people to read it before it's finished than I usually do. After I finish drafting Son of the Siren I'll sit on it for a few days to a few weeks, print the whole thing out, directly write changes on the manuscript, and hop into the post to retype. I have a crappy memory so I often edit as I write if I know bigger changes are needed. Every single writer manual says that you should not do this, but I can't help myself. Anyway, after I make my changes, I plan on hiring a beta reader or two before submitting to agents for representation.

14.  How do you deal with self-doubts?

OMG #2. I'm embarrassed to say this but I need to seek validation from outside sources. Writing this all out, I see a lot of unhealthy behaviors in my process, especially caring so much about what others think, but this is how I've always operated and I don't know how to change myself. 

15.  How do you deal with writer’s block?

To be honest, I do stop writing, as you can see from my Pacemaker progress. But when I'm really desperate, I try to watch TV that looks and feels like my own writing (especially if it's heavy on costumes and set design), or I immerse myself in music that makes me think of the story I want to tell. For example, Son of the Siren isn't clearly set in a specific time period, but I'm taking a lot of clothing descriptions from the reign of Henry the VII and Queen Elizabeth. So if I'm blocked, I pop on The Tudors or Lady Jane or Elizabeth or Wolf Hall and let myself get sucked into the designs of the period. I don't think my readers will be able to tell that I'm talking about a pseudo-16th century unless they are very, very familiar with clothing terms, but as long as they are able to see that the story is "once upon a time, long ago," I'll be happy. 

16.  How many drafts do you need until you’re satisfied with a project?

I will write as many drafts as it takes until I'm happy. I save all original versions in case I need to go back to something I previously wrote, but I basically am running at version 11.4.2 ...and I just realized my numbering system doesn't exactly make sense, but oh well. 

17.  What writing habits or rituals do you have?

Back in America I used to stick a hat on my head while I was writing, most commonly one of those sea captain/cadet caps. In Japan I don't have a neat writing hat like that (my sun hats are ginormous) so I often just tie my hair back. I wonder why I do this.

18.  If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be, and what would you write about?

Knowing my personality, I realistically do not think I could collaborate with anyone. I'm really picky and sometimes a little pushy if I have a specific outcome in mind, and I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings or take away what they want, so I think it's better if I just work alone. 

Lirien from Son of the Siren (c) Lauren Walsh.
19.  How do you keep yourself motivated?

It's pretty much the same answer to the writer's block question...but I also do an extra step, which is hire authors to make character art. The work they produce intensely motivates me. For example, Lauren Walsh's art of Lirien for Son of the Siren will motivate me for months to come. She really went above and beyond with an absolutely beautiful piece and I can't thank her enough for her work. 

20.  How many WIPs and story ideas do you have?

Including Son of the Siren I have five books in my head or on paper. 

The Favourites

21.  Who is/are your favourite character(s) to write?

Andresh from The Name and the Key and The Step and the Walk; and Lirien from Son of the Siren has been an absolute joy to work with. I also have a lot of fun writing siblings and showing their loving relationship with the lead characters.

22.  Who is/are your favourite pairing(s) to write?

Lily and Andresh are my power couple. 

23.  Favourite author

If I had to single it down to one, it would be Juliet Marillier for writing Daughter of the Forest. 

24.  Favourite genre to write and read


25.  Favourite part of writing

Character creation

26.  Favourite writing program

I've been using Novel Factory to help me plot and that's been pretty fun! 

27.  Favourite line/scene

"If there's no difference between above and below, and all and one are exactly the same, then anything is possible." -- Andresh from The Name and the Key

28.  Favourite side character

In The Name and the Key it's Lily's sister Lainey; in Son of the Siren it's Kitra. 

29.  Favourite villain

In The Step and the Walk I created a villain named Sebastien Arvensy and he's been fun to write. 

30.  Favourite idea you haven’t started on yet

Kill It With Fire, which is clearly influenced by my love of Japanese anime, about demons from the Lesser Key of Solomon and similar demonology books summoned to fight a great, apocalyptic evil. 

The Dark

31.  Least favourite part of writing

The plot! It's sooooo difficult to come up with enough things for my characters to do!

32.  Most difficult character to write

In Son of the Siren, it's Kitra. Kitra is a fox spirit who shape shifts and I am having a hard time justifying why they change forms aside from a generic "I just feel like it 'cause it's fun." Plus, it's the whole thing with plot -- giving them enough stuff to do for reasons that are reasonable.

33.  Have you ever killed a main character?

In my play In the Hands of Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll kills himself. This will probably be the only time I kill a main character. I don't like doing it. 

...Maybe in Kill It With Fire it would happen, but at the moment I'm really not pushing for it.

34.  What was the hardest scene you ever had to write?

In The Name and the Key, it was this stupid accident with a horse bucking and throwing my characters from it. I had watched videos of people getting up from being thrown off a horse, and some even being rolled while still attached to the saddle, but even with all this, the scene was not convincing enough for my mentor and crit partners in terms of the injuries sustained and how it even happened. I think I rewrote that scene four or five times. It was so difficult!

In Son of the Siren, I'm in it right now. I have my characters transported to a mysterious castle in the middle of nowhere overrun by thorny vines (sound familiar?) and I'm trying to combine elements of Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast with this castle while at the same time making the scenes creepy and enticing at the same time, and wow, this is challenging!

35.  What scene/story are you least looking forward to writing?

In Son of the Siren, I know I'm going to struggle with the last act of the story...not just the ending itself but the penultimate task the characters have to face in order to solve their problem. There's a big reveal during this part of the story that I'm not sure how to pull off or again, justify. I'm not looking forward to this section even though I mostly know what should happen. The getting there is the hard part. 

The Fun

36.  Last sentence you wrote

"The armor the guards wore looked old; likewise, the remains of tattered clothing that poked out of each seemed dated by a hundred years or more."

37.  First sentence or your current WIP

"Late on the night of Lirien’s eighteenth birthday, his father walked into the sea."

38.  Weirdest story idea you’ve ever had

I came up with an idea for a Southern Gothic necromantic musical with characters named Doc Carrion and Marie Tourniquet. It was basically about reanimated corpses/ghosts putting on a carnival-like show. No real plot whatsoever; just a big danse macabre.

39.  Weirdest character concept you’ve ever had

In Kill It With Fire the main demon is Pruflas and his "human" identity is Lucien Pruflas. He has memories of being flame outside of Babel and I acknowledge his many animal/hybrid versions of himself. I also plan on having him being a seductive romantic lead. The only problem is his name is similar to Lirien from Son of the Siren, gahh! But I really like how "Lucien Pruflas" rolls off the tongue (if I'm even saying the name right. My head says it like Looshie-en Proof-luss and that might not be how you pronounce the demon's name. If it's something like Pruff-luss I'll scream). 

40.  Share some backstory for one of your characters

Lirien is a bastard son of King Neven, and his mother is a mysterious siren who, after eighteen years, calls his father into the sea. Lirien uses the siren song to try to bring his father back, but as he is half-human, the magic backfires, and he accidentally bewitches the first person who hears it -- his stepmother, the Queen. The Queen will stop at nothing to possess Lirien, even if it means sacrificing the ones she loves most.

...This became less of a backstory and more of an elevator pitch, lol.

The Rest of It

41.  Any advice for new/beginning/young writers?

Do what's right for you and don't worry about how everyone else does it. To paraphrase my mentor Tim Waggoner, "don't fight your process."

42.  How do you feel about love triangles?

Mehhhhhhhhhhhh not a fan. I have something close to one where Lily's sister crushes on Andresh, but it's a youthful crush and the feelings are definitely not returned. So it's more like two lovers with a third party trying and failing to invade. 

43.  What do you do if/when characters don’t follow the outline?

I let them go where they want to. 

44.  How much research do you do?

Tons of research ALL THE TIME, even in the middle of drafting.

45.  How much worldbuilding do you do?

I do as much as needs to be done to appear in the story. I don't want to overdo it (like creating encyclopedias or tons of maps or anything like that) because I don't want to infodump. It's important that readers only know just what they need to know for the story to make sense.

46.  Do you reread your own stories?

Yes. Obsessively. It's how I find out what's wrong with them. 

47.  Best way to procrastinate


48.  What’s the most self-insert character/scene you’ve ever written?

I'm super embarrassed but the character Emma in my musical Melancholia was supposed to be a bit of a self-insert's just so wrong. I look back and she's not even me. She's more like a bit of what has happened to me and she was my way to process that. 

...I never want to do self-inserts or "based on real-life" plot points ever again. I didn't realize at the time that using my writing to process such things can actually be harmful.

49.  Which character would you most want to be friends with, if they were real?

When I was a ballet dancer growing up I wanted to be friends with the girls from the Bad News Ballet books. These were from the 1990s and was kind of like the babysitter's club in terms of girls being friends in a group with different personalities. My favorite book was when the girls were cast as dancers in the musical The King and I. I just wanted to be friends with this group so badly -- they seemed like so much fun!

50.  [Other question—ask me anything]

Feel free to comment, or answer some of these questions yourself below!


07 May 2020

Writers #Ask, the Sequel

Original photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

Tumblr is a compendium of fun writing #asks, and today's comes from The Republic of Letters. Some of these I've answered before, but many questions are new, and my goal for this ask is to answer these questions without rambling, as I often do! Let's keep these answers short and sweet, and thanks for reading!


Is there a specific drink you like to have when you’re writing?

I switch between the ever-so-healthy water and the poison known as soda, and unfortunately soda tends to win out because of the caffeine and sugar. Booooooooo.

What time of day do you think is the best to write?

Between 6pm and 10pm.

Where do you write best?

At my writing desk!

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash
Do you do word sprints? If so, for how long do you do them, and what’s your average word count?

I don't participate in word sprints because I don't like that kind of pressure.

Do you write when you travel? If so, where is the farthest away from home that you’ve written?

I don't write when I travel because I can't concentrate on writing -- not when there's so much exploring to do!

Do you share your work before it’s finished?

Yes; primarily the opening chapters because they are so difficult for me.

Which character that you’ve written is most like yourself?

Years ago it was Emma from Melancholia. From fiction, Laney from The Name and the Key.

Which character is your favorite to write? Why?

Andresh from The Name and the Key because he's a charming, sexy boy with a penchant for dark magic.

How long is your current work in progress (words or pages)? 

According to Pacemaker I'm at 16,936 words; according to Microsoft Word I'm at 53 pages.

Do you have a specific philosophy that you go by when you write?

Don't fight your process and try not to compare yourself to other people (particularly using other writers to gauge your own success). 

What were your favorite books as a child?

All of these are series: Choose Your Own Adventure, Goosebumps, Fear Street, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, our old World Book Encyclopedia set, and the Step Into Reading book series with titles on Tutankhamen, Pompeii, and others. 

From Amazon

Do you read while writing, or try to split it up?

This is an ambiguously worded question. If it means I read my own writing while I write, yes, I do it all the time and I can't help myself. If it means I read someone else's fiction while I write, no, I don't do it because I can't concentrate. 

Which authors or styles do you try to emulate in your writing?

I don't want to emulate other authors! I want to write like ME!

Would you want your books to be made into a TV show or movie?  

I think The Name and the Key could be a good TV series on Netflix or HBO or Showtime or a similar streaming network, while Son of the Siren would be a dream come true if it was made into an anime.

How do you plan your writing?

I usually write by the seat of my pants but I wanted to change things with Son of the Siren because my productivity when I impulse-write is awful. I used Notebook a.i. for worldbuilding and The Novel Factory software to construct the outline, premise, and story skeleton. It was the first time EVER I was able to fully plot a book before writing it, and I am so pleased with this change in me. Productivity has shot up!

Do you write on a computer or on paper? What program, or what type or paper/pen?

I write on my PC in Microsoft Word. But when it comes to research or note-taking, I will write in a standard lined notebook or yellow legal pad and I'll use a mechanical pencil with 0.5 lead (0.7 can suck it. Fight me!) 
Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

Is there a specific category or genre your writings generally fall into? Which?

My fiction definitely qualifies as fantasy. I also want to write horror but for now I just include scary things in my fantasy. I wouldn't go so far as to call it dark fantasy, though, because I still like happily ever afters in my stories.

Would any characters from one of your works go well with your others?

I think Andresh from The Name and the Key would be a great older brother figure to Lirien from Son of the Siren. Lirien could use that kind of support and love from a male figure who isn't a disappointment.

Do you write multiple works at the same time?

Images from Google Image Search
Nope. My brain can't handle it.

What color scheme is your current work in progress?

Whaaaat? Ok...I guess it's dark blue, teal blue, and rust orange because these are the colors I picture Lirien wearing from Son of the Siren. It's the colors I think would go best with his hair (dark indigo) and eyes (sunset orange).  I looked at a bunch of photos of tropical fish to determine how he and other sirens should look, so that's why his coloring is a bit...unusual.

Do you create aesthetics for your writing, ie. on pinterest or tumblr? If so, what’s the board or tag?

I have several, but I'll link to the one for The Name and the Key and Son of the Siren.

Do you listen to music when you write?

Yes. Scores to film, TV, video games, and animation, mostly.

Do you make playlists for your works in progress, characters, or scenes? 

Yes! If there's a scene with a lot of dialogue, anime scores work really well because most songs are a minute or so in length.

Do you prefer first or third person? Why? 

I wrote The Name and the Key in first person because it felt natural to, while Son of the Siren is in third person because it's definitely a fairy tale that requires a storyteller narrative voice. If I had to choose between the two, third person is the top choice.

How do you defeat writers’ block?

By working on other art projects related to the one I'm writing, whether it's making mood boards on Pinterest, drawing pictures of the characters, designing costumes, etc. I'll also watch movies set in the time period or in a world like the one I'm writing in, and that'll inspire me, too. Playlists also help!

How often do you write?

It's all over the place. I can conclusively say NOT everyday. 

The original image comes from USL Newsletter
Have you ever done NaNoWriMo?

Multiple times, and I have failed every time. I can't handle that kind of pressure. 

What’s your inspiration for writing?

I try to write the stories I want to read. 

Which style/era of writing do you most fit in with?

I think I have a lot of carryover habits from 19th century writing. I don't address the reader in my sentences or break the fourth wall when it comes to writing fiction, but I do favor long sentences, semicolons, and asides. I try not to overdo it but sometimes I can't help myself!

What’s your favorite part about writing?

Naming and character creation! I can't get enough of both. 

06 May 2020

#52writing cards: Prompts from Shaun Levin's Writing Maps - no. 7

A version of this prompt appears on the Write Around the House Writing Map illustrations by Stephen Longwill.
I. Full-Length Mirror

I have only two mirrors in my house in Japan! I have a self-standing mirror made of wood that the previous occupant gave to me so I can do a full-body check of my appearance before heading out the door. I keep this in my closet and then pull it out when I need it just to save on space (Japanese apartments run a little on the smaller side).

I do a lot of cosplay fittings in front of this mirror. Cosplay (dressing up as a character from books, comics, games, movies, television, anime, or manga) is one of my hobbies. I started getting into it around 2012, long after I stopped doing theater, because it still gives me a chance to step into a character, but on my own terms. I don't make a costume entirely from scratch -- I don't have a sewing machine or that kind of skill. What I do is take preexisting pieces and add to them, or alter them, into the character I wish to portray. There's no real rhyme or reason to the characters I select to cosplay except that the qualification is to be a cool outfit that I can figure out how to make.

In front of my mirror I have tested out Jack Sparrow, Bellatrix Lestrange, and The Count(ess) of Monte Cristo. Two are from movies and one is from an anime. I hope I can try on future costumes in front of it soon. I'm currently working on Lucifer from Obey Me!, a cell phone otome game. They really made his demonic form look sharp and debonair and it looked simple enough for me to figure out. The event I was to wear it to -- Anime Japan 2020 -- was cancelled because of coronavirus. I can only hope it will resume in 2021, or I'll be heartbroken.

A quick perusal of my portrait in front of the full-length mirror: I'm not wearing makeup and my face is shiny; my hair is simultaneously frizzy and oily thanks to the humidity and heat; I'm wearing glasses because I ran out of contacts and my replacements are taking forever to arrive; and I realize I will never be able to wear the tank top I have on now in public in Japan because all you can see is cleavage (Japan is a conservative country when it comes to exposing your chest). I also can't stop appraising my very large gut because I've gained so much weight from being depressed for about nine months.

It's 12:14 pm in Japan right now and it's already 82 degrees, and I look sweaty and gross!

II. Washroom Mirror

My other mirror is in the shower/laundry room area right above my sink. It is quite large and I have to clean it all the time because I tend to have toothpaste spatter and soap spatter when I brush my teeth and wash my face. πŸ˜…

The sink is quite deep and wide, and there is a special attachment in the sink that allows you to "shower" whatever item you put in the sink. When I first got here I kept thinking it was for washing hair but now I think it's for spot treating clothing since my washing machine is right there.

I have never used this attachment except on accident when I've turned the handle the wrong way and sprayed myself in the face or hit the wall. The handles move in the opposite direction from back home so I can't tell you the amount of times I've blasted myself.

Besides washing my face and brushing my teeth, I'll do my hair here, whether it's blow-drying it or pinning it up or dyeing it because it's gone prematurely white. I'm lucky because the hair dye colors here have a wide variety of black and dark brown shades, so it's fun to make subtle changes. The only downside is that I always make a huge mess dyeing my hair and have obliterated so many towels when I've stepped out of the shower and there's a bit of washoff for the couple days after I've colored it.

Another thing I do in front of this mirror is pluck my eyebrows, so for my self-portrait assessment here, I'm going to talk about my eyebrows. They have always been big and bushy and for that I am so grateful because we've had thick eyebrows on trend for a few years now, yay! They are a pain in the butt to pluck (I always do it myself) but I'm never in danger of overplucking...

Except back in the late 90s and early 2000s, when pencil-thin eyebrows and fishhook eyebrows were all the rage. Yuck!

Anyway, today's eyebrows show some growth after I had plucked them two weeks ago, and the number one annoyance is how many white hairs have come in. They are too numerous to pluck and would cause some funky shapes -- like Swiss cheese eyebrows! -- so I've started to dye them when I color my hair.

III. I'm too lazy to do this last part, lol!

There was supposed to be an original story about a character looking into a mirror and then somebody watching them do it. Well...I wrote a scene like this in my graduate thesis, The Name and the Key, and I thought about including an excerpt of that scene but didn't have the book on hand to do so. And I'm once again spent mentally so I'm leaving off the most difficult part of this prompt...oops. πŸ˜…

23 April 2020

Writers #Ask, No. 16 - 31

Photo by RetroSupply on Unsplash

Welcome back! I'm continuing the epic Ask Game for writers on Tumblr, courtesy of author R. Meisel. There are 53 questions total, and if you need a refresher, you can read questions 1-15 here. These questions cover everything from writing advice, personal manifestos, the process and craft, and also lets you provide some sneak previews. Read on!


Compulsion. I don't know how to explain this all that well...but writing is something that I've always done and always have to do. I was always ambitious with it from an incredibly early age on. I don't know how not to be writing. It feels like my world would fall apart if I had to stop. Writing is so wrapped up in my personal identity that if it were to come to an end, I'd cease to be me somehow.

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash
Other motivating factors include the desire to write the things that I personally would like to read. I also want to create characters that fill a void in the world somehow, or fill a void in readers who would like to see themselves in what they read.

I am also motivated to become the type of writer who can make a living from writing. As much as I enjoy teaching, it drains me, and teaching does not allow me to live comfortably. Adjuncting led me to poverty, and assistant language teaching has doubled that paycheck, but by American standards, I'm still on the lowest level of middle class. It's not even class or wealth that matters to me insomuch as I'd like to be able to make student loan payments, have healthcare, pay bills, and afford to live independently.  Writing on the whole doesn't pay, either, but there is a small (teeny tiny) window of opportunity for people who can do this, and I'd love to be able to write fiction full time and do research and teach writing workshops for fun.


The problem is I don't (and can't) write everyday, so the numbers are all over the place. Maybe in one weekend I'll knock out 13,000 words because my brain is on fire, or spend seven hours writing a 2000-word article for Speculative Chic, or only get 300-500 words completed in a single day. This is probably the most consistent amount I've written, and again, this is not everyday. I know that if I want to write for a living I need to work harder to create daily output, but I've struggled with this for years and I don't think I have the capacity to make this kind of change. 😫


Cut the beginning. Starting a novel is the hardest part for me, and based on previous experience I can see that sometimes the novel's true start - where its natural rhythm picks up - is around the third chapter. This is usually because I haven't shown the inciting incident immediately enough. I will reread the manuscript and look for the story's natural beginning, and that usually means cutting the first two-three chapters completely.

Then, the primary things I scan for are errors with pacing, clarity, mood, tone, and continuity. I want an emotionally fulfilling page-turner, and if it's not quite there yet, I have to go back and find a way to speed things up. I also continue to cut whole sections or chapters if the need arises.

In the end, I proofread the manuscript 947 times, whereupon I still find errors after a work has been finalized and printed out. Aaaargh.


From Son of the Siren:
Late on the night of Lirien's eighteenth birthday, his father walked into the sea. 

From Son of the Siren, one of the songs Lirien sings:
Photo by Ivan Bandura on Unsplash
It took you on a blust’ry day.
The wind was cool, the sky was gray.
The cold waves that brushed ‘cross your skin,
the tide’s embrace that drew you in –
the ocean dark, it was your end.
I took your hand but could not keep
you from the bitter, drowning deep.
Like the moon enclosed by cloud,
a veil of foam became your shroud.
The ocean dark, it was your end. 
A voice unheard called you to sea,
and stole you far away from me.
So my own words are what remain.
I sing it now, a sad refrain:
The ocean dark, it was your end.
Farewell my dear, my love, my friend.

From Son of the Siren, a speech Queen Aurinda gives to her subjects:
My husband long desired to see his firstborn legitimized, but in his love for me, he suppressed his wishes in deference to mine; the feelings of loss have not left my heart, and the weight of my shame for what I’ve done to Lirien, to Neven, has brought me to this moment. 

This is so difficult for me as a writer and editor who suffers from obsessive tendencies. I don't consider something done until it's received multiple passes, revisions, and proofing. Deadlines force me to stop over-correcting and get something turned it, but as I mentioned before, I still find mistakes after the fact, so sometimes, even when a work has been printed, if there are typos or formatting issues I'll consider the work unfinished. I suppose something isn't done until it's without error...but the thing is, mistakes happen all the time, even when there are already several eyes on a manuscript; so this perfectionist tendency of mine needs to be nipped in the bud because as long as I keep feeding that beast, I can only see it becoming more harmful over time.


Single. I just don't have the skill or focus to pull off multiple points of view. I did read one work aaaages ago, Susan Kay's Phantom, which was my first introduction to alternating POV with first-person narration. The name of the chapter was the name of the character speaking. I thought this was so interesting and she pulled it off well, but given this was the era before my bipolar disorder, I was able to keep up with the character swapping. For about fifteen years now I've been treated for mental illness, and I have to tell you that while I've been stable for quite some time, my ability to read and write quickly, as well as process more complicated narrative styles, isn't what it used to be. Because single POV is easier for me to read, it's also what I choose to write. If ever in the future I try my hand at multiple POV, I will probably only alternate it between two characters. Ambitious, right?


Prose. This is my preferred method of telling a story because of how you can play with narrative and dialogue. It just feels more complete to me.

That being said, I love poetry. I'm old fashioned and love the meter and rhyme of poems - this is why I prefer writing songs, as this seems to be the last acceptable realm for rhyming poetry. It bums me out to no end. There are so many poetry journals I've researched that strictly say "no rhyme" in submissions because they consider it artificial or contrived. That's the fun part about it, though - of course people don't speak in rhyme or a specific pattern of syllables on the regular! You're deliberately playing with structure and sound -- which is exactly what prose poems do, too, by the way.

I am so relieved that Lirien is the titular Son of the Siren and that he sings. I don't want to overdo it, because I know many readers skip over songs in fiction, but I love that I have the opportunity to write lyrics for him to sing in the novel. It's filling the void where my musical theater writing used to be.

Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash
Standalones. This all hearkens back to my special bipolar brain and its (in)ability to concentrate and keep track of things. If the series has books that can function as standalones, in that you can read them out of order or don't need to know about what's happened in other books, then as a reader I'm more apt to give a series a try.

I'm also particular about books, and if they are part of a series, I have to buy all the books in the series or else my library feels incomplete. Too many series have a great first book and lackluster follow-ups which have made me regret my purchases; or the series is awesome but there are so many volumes, so I get discouraged and don't want to part with my money.

I also don't feel comfortable with the idea that if a first book doesn't sell well enough, and you've set it up for a sequel, trilogy, or more, that those follow-up books can get cancelled by the publisher if they see it as too much of a financial risk. Then the narrative feels incomplete and readers are left hanging, and if the first story was good, cancellation of the rest of a series is so painful!

It's my goal to write only standalones for these reasons, especially making sure readers have a complete story and no cliffhangers. But when it came to The Name and the Key, the character of Andresh was so freaking awesome that I didn't want to part with him, so he got his own book, The Step and the Walk. I supposed they're a series because they are set in the same universe with connected characters, but it's written in a way that you can read the books out of order and independently of each other, without them feeling incomplete in any way. I flirted with the idea of a third book, The Eye and the Storm, but I don't see that materializing because I think the third book would have to be dependent on The Name and the Key, and I don't think I want that. If I only get one shot to write in this universe, I'd better make that shot as heavy and complete as possible.


I share excerpts of my rough drafts. This all came about thanks to my graduate school program, where every month we had term writing projects with a mentor and two critique partners who gave you regular feedback on your work. That spoiled me. It was so helpful and encouraging to bear their advice in mind while writing, and their feedback helped guide the story to better places. It actually helped me propel through a draft!

Now, I don't have that kind of attention available to me, so I don't really share drafts anymore, with some exceptions.


Family and friends. Everybody's really well read and can be quite critical (in a good way), so I don't have the "my daughter is the bestest writer in the world!" syndrome going on. My brother is really freaking blunt, sometimes painfully so, which is what I need. My sister and mother give me more balanced criticism and ask me a lot of questions that help me probe my story further. I have two friends, Drew Brigner and Nate Zoebl, who are incredibly creative people with their own writing chops as well, who have given me amazing advice when I worked on my thesis.

I've been a bit more stingy with my draft of Son of the Siren, though. I've only shown the beginning to my brother and sister (although my sister kindly showed it to her family) because I needed a confidence boost -- I had officially halted work on The Name and the Key and The Step and the Walk and was scared to start something completely new, and they both encouraged me, which was just the fuel I needed to propel myself into the next chapter. I'm going to try holding off sharing the rest of the work until I'm finished.

I do want to get back into the habit of properly hiring beta readers that include fellow writers, though. As much as I want to participate in critique groups, that's a reciprocal agreement where you exchange each other's work for feedback, and given how much editing I do for Speculative Chic, I just don't have the time to give back like that. It looks like hiring beta readers will be the only solution there. 


Myself and my audience. I write for myself first because I want to write the stories I would like to read. But I can't deny that I also write because I want to be read by others, which happens to be as many people as possible. If I look at my tastes and style, though, I think my most popular readers will be the geeks, the fantasists, and the dreamers; particularly female readers in the older YA/New Adult range. I'm not deliberately trying to write YA (not that that's a bad thing!) but I've been given enough feedback from writers who've told me that my work would be good for that audience, so it is what it is. I just hope my writing is good enough for them!


Photo by Emre Γ–ztΓΌrk on Unsplash
From The Name and the Key. Andresh explains magic to Lily:
If there's no difference between Above and Below, and All and One are exactly the same, then anything is possible.

Queen Aurinda. She's my villain in Son of the Siren, and she is so difficult to write because she does such evil things to Lirien and will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Yet at the same time, she's a beloved queen to her people and her husband, and a fiercely devoted mother to her children, who all love her dearly.

I call this the "Cersei Lannister" problem. How do you make someone awesome and awful at the same time? How do you pull off that cognitive dissonance in a satisfactory way? Essentially Aurinda is simultaneously a good person and the worst person, and I'm having a tricky time pulling her character off. We'll see how it goes as I progress through my draft!


Andresh. I've mentioned him sooo maaaany times in these #Ask posts but I suppose when you love a character and he pops fully formed in your head, he becomes easy to write. Having fun makes the time pass quickly, and Andresh is such a fun character!


Thanks for reading, and I'll see you next time for another batch of writerly questions!

21 April 2020

Writers #Ask, No. 1 - 15

Photo by RetroSupply on Unsplash

Today's post comes from a special Ask Game for writers on Tumblr from author R. Meisel. There are 53 questions total, so I'm breaking them up into three posts. Join me with lot to commiserate, get advice, and see some sneak peeks of my work; please stick with this project until the end! ❤️🀞


Benzaiten, the goddess of all that flows. Source
My writing nook in Japan. It's basically a home writing shrine. The desk is a fantastic size, and it has this industrial, modern look to it with its white metal and light blue plate glass. My desk lamp, mouse pad, and mouse all look like they're from the future, too. Plus, Daiso is the most amazing store ever (100 yen shop!), and that's where I got the majority of my office supplies and decorative knick knacks. I also have extra-special handmade works I got through Etsy (wooden "Writer at Work" sign; paper roses made from the pages of books I love), various Writing Maps, commissioned character artwork, and photographs of some of my favorite writing buddies from graduate school. I also have little touches of Japanese culture from Shinto shrines for good luck: a giant gold daruma doll for wealth, and the boar from Sumiyoshi Shrine for good fortune. I also have Benzaiten's white snakes and a water dragon from Takachiho Shrine to summon all the inspiration and prosperity from writing I can. Let the words flow out and the money flow in, please! 


Making characters. I mentioned in Never Have I Ever that names are some of the first things that pop in my head - story titles, character names, places - and I tend to build around that. If the name doesn't appear first, then the character will, and the name immediately afterward.  Once I get a picture of a person, then I come up with what to do with the characters, and I do this in a very weird way. I am a visual and emotional person, so those are the key aspects to how I think stuff up (and how I learn and interact with the world). When a character appears in my mind, they're already fully formed in terms of how they look and sound. I see them at different angles and I imagine them with different facial expressions (kind of like how animators make style sheets for their characters), and I can hear their individual voices clearly (but it's not like they talk to me or anything). Anyway, when I look at their faces and see the full range of emotions, I ask myself, "What happened to you to make that expression?" And that's how I come up with things to do to the characters...i.e., plot. 


Plotting. The problem is I may have awesome characters that I love, but giving them enough to do is a huge source of hardship for me. Part of the issue is my pantser tendencies...I tend to write where the mood takes me, or go where the characters and dialogue lead me. This makes sitting down to write a thrilling surprise every time (woo!), but writing on a tight schedule, keeping to deadlines, adhering to a structure, and having a clear (if even albeit general) outline very difficult for me. When my characters are created, I may have 2-3 things that will happen to them. But how do they get there? What brings them to that point? How do you make the journey from point A to B in a way that's coherent, consistent, cohesive, and most importantly, not boring?


From the Met's Costume Institute.
18th century tricorne, CC
Hair or Hat! Apparently I have a subtle ritual where if I'm going to write, I've got to put on some kind of hat, or I have to put my hair back in a bun on my head. I don't know if I have literally trained myself to "put on a thinking cap" or what, but I've done it for years. Back in America, I had plenty of hats, so this was really easy for me to do. But in Japan, I only have one hat, and it's a tricorne from my Jack Sparrow costume that makes my head really hot and putting my hair back is the next best thing. 


Here's the thing... If "style" here is being interpreted as "voice," I don't want any author influencing me. My voice is my own. The words I choose, the punctuation I choose, how I arrange sentences and paragraphs, how I build a text...this is all a part of my voice. But, if "style" means something a bit more here (like types, trends, tropes, or tastes), then I can say that Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest, N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Patricia McKillip's The Riddlemaster of Hed, Ursula Le Guin's Wizard of Earthsea, and Cecilia Dart-Thornton's Ill-Made Mute are all novels that have had a huge impact on me in terms of what I want to do and be as an author. Manga, manwha, manhua, and comics influence me, too - particularly the works of Sui Ishida, Junji Ito, Jun Mochizuki, Mingwa, EZ, GyaGa, Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, Harada, Byeonduck, and many, many more.


Andresh and the Guardian © Dawn Shue
Andresh. He was originally supposed to be a bit character in The Name and the Key, being a friend to Lily and then marrying her sister Lainey, but then he was just too fucking cool to be relegated to the sidelines. He was a fully formed visual and voice in my head, but his purpose was a gelatinous idea - he was a side character to give another side character something to do - but then when I actually started putting him on paper, and his dialogue just started writing itself, he essentially staged some sort of revolution in my heart and I made him the male lead. He is also the first character I ever wrote that people genuinely (and universally) seemed to love. Because of Andresh I decided to make The Name and the Key into a trilogy (and I am mostly anti-series as a writer); and it's because of Andresh that I won't shelve The Name and the Key despite it needing a massive rewrite. I miss working with Andresh, and once I've got Son of the Siren completed I will jump back into Andresh's arms wholeheartedly and give him all my time.


Ursula Le Guin. Back in 2004 I was going to university at Trinity St. David (then Trinity College) in Carmarthen and enrolled in a Science Fictions class, and we were assigned to read The Dispossessed. That was my first encounter with Le Guin. I like sci fi, but it's not really my jam, so when my professor said she also writes fantasy, I went to the library and found The Earthsea Quartet. It wasn't so much the stories by themselves, but all of the big ideas and philosophies humming like an electric current beneath the words that made me fall in love.


Friends-Turned-Lovers, The Mark of Destiny, and The Quest. In terms of my fiction writing, these seem to be my top three.

I cannot write a single story without some element of love in it - it's just not possible for me. It doesn't have to be romantic or erotic, but the presence of love (finding it, keeping it, growing it, returning it) is always a major component in my work. If we are going the romantic route, then I am a sucker for love blooming naturally out of a friendship. This is not the same as unrequited love in a friendship, where one friend pines for the other and it goes unreturned until there is a Big Realization of some kind that unite the two - I actually hate that trope (see #9). I think friendship is already a type of love that people with this trope, my two characters are already committed, but want to give more of themselves to each other, and naturally (and mutually!) their friendship blooms into something greater and more passionate. I enjoy this trope so much because it feels safe and comfortable to me - it is a relationship between people who are already devoted to each other, just leveled up. 

Lily's scar, from the sketch
of  Butterfly Touch © Dawn Shue
I've written about the Mark of Destiny before, and usually it's something visual and therefore glaringly obvious to indicate that the person who bears the mark is Special and Important.™ I'm not so much a fan of the "destiny" part of it - I like to think we all have hands in making our destinies - but on the most base level, scars, marks, moles, freckles, and tattoos just look COOL. Lily from The Name and the Key has a spider-web type scar on her forehead; Andresh has one on his lip from biting it during an accident; and in my current WIP, Son of the Siren, Lirien has a teardrop mole close to his right eye that's actually a pale, shimmery fish scale. There are no prophecies or predetermined fates for any of these characters - their destinies are apparently to be the leads in my books.

The Quest is the oldest trope in fantasy, and honestly, this has trickled into my real life. The home world is safe and comfortable. To grow, you have to leave it. You have to set out on your own, cast your net wide, learn from the new people around you, and come back - if you come back at all - stronger, fuller, smarter, and more compassionate. The Quest figures in heavily in The Name and the Key and The Step and the Walk. It makes up the middle of Son of the Siren. And when I've gotten stir crazy and felt too safe or stunted, I've left the home nest, too, in whatever capacity I could. Sometimes you have to get out to find yourself.


If I don't like a trope, I try not to write it unless I plan on subverting it or spoofing it in some way. I'll go ahead and use this section to complain about I Love My Friend Who Doesn't Love Me. 

You already know that I like the Friends-Turned-Lovers trope, but the Unrequited Love version of that gets a "nope" from me, because too often I've seen it go from "I know we're friends but I've always loved you" to "YOU OWE ME." I've seen it in the form of Nice Guys complaining about being stuck in the friend zone (also referred to as the "Entitled to Have You" trope). 

If I consider my definition of friendship as a type of love, then it must also be considered that as soon as conquest, ulterior motives, possessiveness, or any sort of manipulation or power imbalance figures into that relationship due to unrequited feelings, it's not a friendship anymore. Or maybe (gasp) it was never one in the first place. 

In a similar vein, I hate that men and women can't be friends with each other because apparently one of them must want to fuck the other (and of course it's got to be one-sided). This is perpetuated through fiction so often that people in real life are suspicious of these friendships and often seek ulterior motives in an opposite-gender friendship pairing.

I also hate the other bad behaviors that come out of this trope. I hate it when the heroine's best guy friend pouts and tries to sabotage the heroine's chances with anyone who isn't him. I hate when the object of affection "must be stupid" for not seeing he's the best guy there. If I flip genders, it's basically the main conceit of a Taylor Swift song.

I could ramble on forever about this trope, but I'll just say this: ENTITLEMENT IS NOT SEXY.


I'm going to reveal something awful about myself: I'm a control freak, and because of this, I don't know if I could ever co-write a book, and I would be terrified of a lack of unity of voice in a work. But if I eventually work through that hang-up and improve myself, I would be curious to pump out something with Neil Gaiman or Tade Thompson. With Gaiman it would be something related to fairy tales, and Thompson, something akin to what he does with his Molly Southborne books, which are cool as all get out. I also wouldn't mind doing something with Ellen Datlow, also relating to fairy tales somehow.

11. Describe your writing process from start to finish.

  • Generating ideas. This is where I do my thing of thinking about cool names, visualizing  characters, and (as a new tidbit for you) picking time periods and settings based on fashion. When it came to playwriting, I literally based shows around the costumes I liked and imagined people wearing. That has carried over to a certain degree in my fiction. If you haven't figured it out yet, I love costuming, and I'm a fervent believer in "clothes make the man."

    Photo by hannah grace on Unsplash.
  • Character creation. I come up with a basic character template, sometimes filling out character interview worksheets just because those are fun; I do the thing where I picture emotions on the characters' faces and try to come up with reasons for them to feel the way they do, and that informs the plot.
  • Come up with a couple major plot points. I suck at this. Maybe I come up with a total of three vague points as a general checklist of things to hit, with zero promise that I'll actually hit it.
  • Pants the manuscript and simultaneously do research to make sure the ideas are plausible and sensible.  I'm not exaggerating when I say I do lots of things as I go and on impulse. And sometimes you can get great ideas for your story when you go down the research rabbit hole!
  • Have an existential crisis or block during drafting. Yup. The crisis point comes from me not knowing what my characters should do, or from some sort of dilemma that I can't work my way out of while writing.
  • Show people the beginning to make sure I'm on the right track. I don't like to go too far off in manuscript land, so when I'm stuck, I check the groundwork laid in the first chapter or two with someone else, and if I get positive feedback, I try to build the rest of the plot from that. Plus, validation can fuel me for months!
  • Have a couple anxiety attacks or sleep disruptions. This has always been par for the course, unfortunately.
  • Character dialogue or a sudden slide into a different situation derails original plans and something new and better comes along. This is one of the joys of pantsing a novel, but the downside is it makes deadlines, or time management, all the more difficult.
  • Finish the rough draft and cry from relief.  This has only happened to me once, as I've only finished a book once. I'll get another one done at some point - my WIP is looking pretty good, and I'm actually taking time to plot it out to see if that helps me finish a work at a reasonable time despite being a slow writer.
  • Get more feedback, especially on scenes that gave me trouble during drafting, and revise several times. Multiple drafts are definitely a thing, and I always save multiple files of the same work in case I want to go back and splice an old draft with a new one.
  • I did not do this with my first book and I should've, but I'd like to run passes through sensitivity readers going forward. This is to make sure I'm respectful and not culturally appropriative or problematic when I "write the other." I'm also veering into some dark topics with my WIP so I want to make sure what I write is not overly triggering for readers. My work in the past (playwriting) unfortunately was, and I am still embarrassed about that to this day.
  • Once I clear all those passes, I move onto the proofreading stage. To help with proofreading (beyond simple line edits), I have recently started feeding my writing into a text reader to hear it out loud. I use one in Word, an American male voice, and then TTS Reader online to hear it in an English female voice. It's nice to check the cadence of words and sentences, but it also helps you catch mistakes like duplicate words, or where you've left out a word. As a fun tidbit, I notice that the American voice in Word mispronounces my character and setting names all the time, but the British voice does not!
  • After proofreading is cleared, I prepare for submission to agents. This means preparing writing synopses, log lines, back cover copy, and the query letter. I hate all of that, but if I want representation, it's a necessary step. 

Photo by niklas_hamann on Unsplash
12. how do you deal with self-doubt?

Get feedback. I seek out fellow authors, family, or friends to get a boost of energy from their words, and a sense of validation that I know what I'm doing. I also try to look back at everything I've accomplished in my life, and that helps me calm down. Usually self-doubt comes from not being published yet - along the lines of "I''m getting older. I'm approaching my 40s. Who knows how much time left I have to make it? When will I have my books out?" I could self-publish, of course, and that is very appealing to me, but I'd like to go traditional first. Plus, I cannot afford to self-publish to my high standards, so I'd rather not have a work out at all if it's not good enough.

13. How do you deal with writer's block?

Get artistic. I like to make things that inspire my WIP. I will make playlists of soundtracks that seem appropriate to my current writing. I will watch movies with awesome costumes or settings to get charged up. I will make Pinterest boards and go crazy. I will commission artwork of the characters to put me in the mood to write. 

14. what's the most research you've ever put into a book?

Three years of research for The Name and the Key. Since this was my graduate thesis, and I like to research to brainstorm and while the manuscript is being written, this is the duration of how long I was in graduate school. I started writing The Name and the Key in 2010 and finished in 2013.

Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust
15. what inspires you?

Fairy tales.  There are tons of things that inspire me (you can read about it in My Favorite Things), but fairy tales have always been the love of my life when it comes to stories. They were my first introduction to fantasy. I love the symbolism and how fairy tales play with archetypes. I love that they are a global phenomenon and a part of the collective unconscious. I love that images recur throughout every country and culture, even if the story itself is different.  I love the enduring legacy of fairy tales and how they continue to appeal to the masses after so many centuries. Thus, most of my writing is in one way or another inspired by (or a love letter) to fairy tales. 


Thanks for reading all the way through! There are tons of more questions coming up, so stay tuned for part two of Writers #Ask!