Monday, June 28, 2010

My Writing Space

I've always written at my desk.  Anywhere else in my house contains even more distractions.  The desk contains its share of distractions also, but over the years I've so ingrained the mindset of "this is where it happens" that even those inevitably lead back to production.  For some reason I've never been able to listen to music while I write, which is too bad since so many songs remind me of a character or a stretch of prose.  Then again, I can't focus on more than one thing at a time in any aspect of life, so this isn't surprising.

Some of my best pieces have come from being away from the desk, though.  Vacations, especially to the ocean, have always rewarded me with inspiration.  When I was lucky enough to see Paris a couple of years ago, a great deal of the plot line for Aya's Wings almost fell into my lap.  Seeing new things, meeting new people, all of this is conducive to stories.

But it all leads back to my desk (this reminds me of the Harry Nilsson song, speaking of distractions...).  I've spent more hours than I could possibly estimate typing on this same keyboard, staring at my beloved 2003 Mac desktop that still manages to drag itself along for me every day.  Here in the silence of my room, I can connect with the characters and create.

While also checking facebook, of course.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The System

I want to talk to you about women in Fantasy. From the Kick-Ass Heroine of Urban Fantasy to the Strong-Minded Woman of Epic Fantasy there seems to be a vogue on for women that are Taking Names and bucking The System. And it's kind of annoying me.

Don't get me wrong. There's some really great stuff out there of that exact variety. I, for one, love Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson novels. And Steampunk pirate chicks are just plain cool. 

But sometimes it seems like authors create social systems just so their female character/s can tromp on it. Or, worse, they've stuck their characters into a world with the gender roles we've come to expect for no other reason than the fact that its normal for fantasy and have their female characters prance about high-kicking the established system with barely a nod to the fact that this is going on. If you want to have a world where women use swords and curse and do all sorts of what-have-you then do it. It's fantasy. You can make it that way. Really. And if you don't want that to be your world, then how about seeing some consequences. 

I'd like to see some strong voices from female characters who are living in The System. Dealing with it. Hell, even using it. Because, quite frankly, even in our days of Womens Lib and Feminist ideals, that's what most of us do. The System is different for us than it was, say, 100 years ago but that doesn't change the fact that we're still living in it, and, on a day to day basis, doing very little to challenge it. 

There are some examples in this in contemporary fiction, mostly, I think from the epic/machinations of power sub genre. But a lot of these women are either appendages to men or, quite frankly, manipulative witches. I'd like to see a woman of the straight up heroine variety deal with living in The System. I'd like to see what that means for her. And, okay, so maybe she's gonna have to high-kick it a little. After all, isn't that what heroes do?

Monday, June 21, 2010


I am very fortunate to have my job.  I know this, and I am thankful for it.  Most people would kill to get something with nice coworkers, a high salary (for a student), and a reasonable workload.

That said, it’s killing my soul.  Many days I come home fighting both a headache and nausea.  I’m exhausted by seven p.m. or even earlier, making writing almost impossible.  I can’t leave, because I know there’s nothing better out there and I need the money.  Which brings up an interesting point – what do I need the money for?  I still live with my parents.  My expenses are few and manageable.  I’ve always been the sort of person who begrudges spending even an extra nickel.  I need to save, I tell myself.  What am I saving for?

The fact of the matter is, I don’t know.  When I was a child, I was saving to buy turtles (don’t ask, it was just a dream of mine).  Then I wanted to self-publish and figured I would blow it on that.  Now I think maybe I’ll use it on a house someday.  But in my experience, whenever I spend any money at all, I immediately regret it.  I’ll want something so badly – a book, say – and as soon as the money has left my hands, the high of spending it withers and I’m left feeling like a failure.  Did I have anything better to do with it?  Probably not.  All the same, I know that I should have saved.

So I insist on working full time during the summer, and I even worked thirty hours a week last semester on top of a full course load.  But I’m starting to wonder, as the summer looms out endlessly before me: what am I doing this for?

Basically, I’m a wimp.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

My Way of Creating and Developing Characters

My character creation starts in the first (rough) draft of my story.  Often at that level of the writing process my characters will start off very stalk.  In some cases, they may carry many of my own behavioral traits at that level.  While I'm writing, I try putting myself in my main character's body (which is very scant at this level of the writing process) and have the character make decisions in the story that I think they would make in a given situation.  For example, I ask myself, what would J. Doe do if he/she comes home to discover that someone has dismantled the inside of his/her house? 

After I write the first draft, I will create a profile for each character.  In doing this, I will skim over the story's initial draft for each character and, based on their actions and any spontaneously created traits, I will try to determine what that character precisely looks like, and what kind of occupation and past-time interests they are likely to have.  I am sure to write down their main motivation or goal.  Then in writing the second draft, based on each character's profile I will more specifically focus on how they would go about achieving or working towards their goals (this is especially so for the main character(s)), making edits wherever needed in the characters.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

My Characters

A friend asked me: "How do you come up with your characters?"

I fear my answer will be quite unsatisfactory. They just come.

Usually, a story idea starts with a "What if x happened?"
Or, because I mostly write Fantasy: "What if a place existed where X had happened or Y was real?"

Then, usually, I world build. As a person is influenced by their environment, my character is in equal parts dependent on the social structure, ethnic identity (and it's relation to the existing powers and history)and the characters' own psychology, home life. So I start with the world.

The character is a "what if such a person existed in this world? and if they had to overcome this particular dilema, how would it play out?"

Then, I sit back and go for the ride, so to speak. On the page, enhanced by the character's perspective, convictions and so forth, the world and character come alive.

So it is partially conscious, but half of the character comes out in the process of writing. Sometimes the pieces fall together in a completely unexpected way. Then revision becomes imperative. Sometimes the characters take on more qualities and different personalities/complexities in the process of revising than reveal themselves in the first draft.

I know this sounds vague, but it's all that can be said. As Melissa and I discussed last week, the personality of characters is largely affected by the mental state of the writer. Things change day to day, or over time. Like dreams, writing seems to tap the subconscious. So while writing daily can make the "subconscious" easier to tap, the precise interaction between the two is hard to explain. Honestly, i wouldn't be surprised if it worked differently for every writer. Hope this answers the question!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Book Review: Beast

Beauty and the Beast has always been my favorite fairy tale.  One of my first memories of Erica, so many years ago, is her recommending Beauty by Robin McKinley for me to read.  I’m glad I took her advice, because that book soon moved to my favorites list.  I was captivated by the writing, yes, but also by the romance, by the simple humanity of the eponymous character who believes that she is undeserving of her name.  I read McKinley’s other B&TB adaptation, Rose Daughter, and enjoyed it, but not nearly so much.  The breathtaking prose was still there, but the striking appeal of the characters was not.

What had been missing from my collection was the other perspective.  What about the Beast?  What was his story?  Beast, by Donna Jo Napoli, gives a possible answer to this question.

It would be difficult to imagine a writing style more different from McKinley’s that tells a story that is the other side of the same coin.  Napoli’s prose is in the present tense, which adds a sense of immediacy and closeness to the story.  After the first few chapters describing the main character’s life as a Persian prince, there is nothing flowery (pardon the pun) about the writing.  We see Orasmyn’s (for that is his name) life after he is transformed into a lion and all of the harsh, brutal realities he must face.  From Persia, he travels to India, then to France.  The landscape is alternately savage and beautiful.

I suppose I should say ‘spoiler alert’ here, but who doesn’t know how the basic story goes?  I disliked the abruptness of the ending; the spell is broken on literally the last page.  I don’t mind that we don’t meet Belle until the last quarter of the story because this isn’t her book, it’s the Beast’s, but her character comes off flat and unappealing.  Her interest in the Beast seems less romantic than desperate.  The Beast, by contrast, is a fully realized character who must grapple with what it means to be human.  His disgust at his carnal impulses and attempts to master them were fascinating for me.  After all, one of his first acts as a lion is to… well, to mate with a lioness.  So it seems only natural that he begins to view Belle as… meat.  In the hands of a lesser author, this angle might seem tacky or in poor taste, but Napoli makes it seem very realistic.  The author also infuses heavy amounts of culture and religion into the story, which may be appealing for some or off-putting to others.  I thought it made the setting more realistic, but that it could have been used in less frequent doses (the first few chapters of the book use Persian words in almost every paragraph).

My criticisms of the book should be taken with a grain of salt since I raced through this book in just over a day.  It’s a thoroughly compelling read, especially for fans of the fairytale.  Although Beast can’t compare to McKinley’s Beauty, in my mind at least, it deserves a spot on the same shelf.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Silver Mask (or The Ongoing Saga of Revising a MS)

Eight-Nine years ago, I had it down. It was my first semester in college. I signed up for afternoon classes but got up at 7 am every morning. By 8 am I was at the Starbucks on 38th drinking coffee and outlining. Then I headed home and wrote until it was time to pack my bags and hop on the bus bound for Sacramento Community College. Arrelle was what I worked on back then. And the first draft of Traitor Born.

Arrelle, I edited, revised, rearranged until I decided to allow it collect dust on the shelf. Since then, I did start the story all over. Beginning to...well, I haven't found the end yet. The characters began to derail the story and again, it was relegated to the shelf. For now.

So onto Silver Mask. I didn't want to make the same mistake. I wrote it, and had a draft completed 6 years ago. Then I put it in front of a writers' group. They asked so many questions, didn't seem to like subtlety and claimed poetry was ill-suited to fantasy (a point on which I disagree), but I was still so young that it made me insecure. I rewrote the story. Beginning to end. Then I began to revise it. I put iot in front of another group. I revised more.

On the latest attempt to look at it I decided: "Too long." Traitor Born was then chopped into two-- Silver Mask and Traitor Born. That meant more writing. I felt at first that the story was too skeletal. But when I started hanging substance on the frame, it became too detailed (earlier post, why my WIP is Like My Closet???)

So actually, last night, I started a reboot. This time around, I'm trying a new method. I'm going to write the story from Kyr's POV, then Teshen's, then Gellayna's. I'll see if I can tell the story just through their eyes. The incorporation of previous writing I must keep to a minimum. That, like collecting dresses, is where I get into trouble. I have a hard time scrapping things I like. But just because I like them doesn't mean they are suited to what the story has become. My HS thrift store clothes doesn't match the styles I now enjoy.

The characters have changed through the many drafts, making the scenes and chapters clash. It destroys the cohesion of the MS, and I have to restart in order to keep continuity the story deserves. The changes are affected by my changing perspectives, knowledge and mental state. So after working on a MS for about 10 years, the story is much different than it was when it was first undertaken.

Another new technique I started a few months ago, is attempting short stories to flesh out more minor characters. I feel if I am more comfortable with everyone's "past" --not merely in my head, but also on the page--I can do all of the characters more justice. I will also have a firmer grasp of character in context of the world.

As it is, much of my world building has been objective. I've created a timeline and found my characters and plot-lines by pinpointing the individuals, geographic regions, and eras where historical shifts occur. Issue is that I wiggle between plot-driven and character driven as a result, and it's an uncomfortable movement. It needs to be both...and I'm working on that :D But that's for next week!


Monday, June 7, 2010


I let my family read the new short story and received a wide variety of responses.

My boyfriend, who went first, liked it immensely.  He told me that I had written what felt like a polished copy on my first draft and said that the introduction was especially compelling.

My father was next.  He said that it seemed kind of like a Phantom of the Opera rip off and wondered if I had gotten one of the characters' names from an individual in the morning comics.

My mother actually offered me some useful criticism.  She suggested that I explain how the protagonist's fiance would think she knows her ex-lover, since their relationship was a secret.  She also asked for clarification on one of the lines of dialogue.

My father, hearing me thank my mother for her helpfulness, must have felt guilty at this point, because he tried to bring up the topic later.  He said that the story felt like part of a larger work, like we came in at the middle of something.  I asked if this was bad and he said that, no, a lot of stories did that, so it was fine.  I thanked him too.

My sister, who mostly reads nonfiction, was unimpressed by the fact that I didn't explain the workings of the magic in the story.  She said it felt like a cop out.

My grandmother, who reads old romance novels exclusively, said that it reminded her of her favorite soap opera, but then laughed and said that it was very imaginative.

The moral of the story is that I love my family, but this is why I am grateful for Sylvanopolis.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Time's Affect

I liked Melissa's idea from her post earlier this week.  So I'm going to add some of my thoughts on the subject.

I have read other blogs where authors have posted about "why we write."  Oftentimes, it is boredom, intense imagination and the like that spurs the author to pen the first story.  (This is related, I promise, wait for it...) Sometimes it is an inability to find a good book, so a writer turns to their notepad or computer and out comes a story.   For me, it was different.  My favorite story of why I started writing fantasy was because the characters in my favorite books weren't "doing what I wanted them to." But that wasn't when or why I started inventing stories.

You see, a few years earlier, when I was eight, I was introduced to the concept of serfdom.  It unsettled me. My little kid self just couldn't handle the injustice of some people subjugating others.   I had already come to idolize Dr. Martin Luther King, and his preaching of equality had left its imprint behind.  But the world is a far harsher place than I wanted it to be.  This was as true of my home life to my academic questions.   So I came up with a "play" about a serf girl who escapes and finds friends who protect her when her lord comes to drag her back to the lands she, as a serf, was tied to. The whole premise was heavily influenced by Disney battles and such.   I made the other children in my daycare act out the play.   It became so popular I invented another...only to forget all of it a few years later.  But Sara Fay stayed with me.   I had liked the name, thinking it sounded pretty.  Now I know I had unwittingly named my main character "Fairy Princess" with a Hebrew-Celtic fusion of a name.

That said, I think that our state of mind heavily influences how we deal with subject matter.   I know issues of class, ethnicity, and cultural differences have always hit a chord with me.  I know I will always see these themes in my writing. But how I stumbled through these topics a decade ago and how I address them now?  Very different.       

When I was younger, it was Coming to America stories that inspired me.   I believed my friends, whose parents had such dramatic life stories, were a representation of strength and heroism.  They had sacrificed for family, for their children.  They had been persecuted in one place for political, economic and ethnic identities, then found their way here.  I saw them buy their first house.  First ever.  To me, the old-fashioned American dream lived in them.   It gave me hope.

Over my lengthy college career, I studied the process of culture change.  I watched my friends go through some of the first throws of culture-clash with their parents.  My studies and my life complimented each other.  My characters and world began to diverge from its original construct.   And like the slow changes I witnessed around me, my manuscript evolved before my eyes.  But some of the threads belong to the newer, more vibrant and complicated world.  The other is stained with the child's firm lines of right and wrong.

Strength changed in meaning, in my head.  My writing demonstrates the change.

That said, my main female character in my most recent short story is far weaker than most of my characters.  I think she is partially a reflection of my own depression, as being out of work for a year has not had a very positive affect on my mind or writing.

I think what I create now will be influenced by where I've been.  Experience always affects writing.  Time leaves its own stain.   That said -- it isn't always for the better.  Sometimes different is just different. 


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