Monthly Archives: July 2013

A Look Back – Leaves

Here we go again!  Have you read this post?  If not, consider glancing through it so you know what’s going on.  For those who haven’t guessed, I’m going to go over a book I wrote called Leaves.  This book holds a special place in my heart for reasons I can’t begin to understand, and at 93,300 words (about 175 pages, single-spaced on Word), it is the longest book I’ve ever written.  By far.  And that makes me want to cry, because I want to rewrite the whole damn thing.  Alright, let’s get on with this.

INSPIRATION – It was the summer before I was going to start college, and I had a dream that was exactly like a movie.  I was not in it; I was just watching it happen.  There was a little girl with curly hair who lived with her mother.  Her father, I understood without being told, was a bad man who was either dead or just out of the picture.  Then the girl got separated from her mother, and somehow ended up in another world.  She was standing in a forest, in the middle of a hollow, ankle deep in a pile of leaves.  The trees that surrounded her were crooked and black, and leafless.  Cut to a shot over a man’s shoulder.  He has one hand braced on a tree and is peering at the girl from behind the trunk.  The man looks like Jack Skellington if Jack had skin – huge torso, thin, spindly legs, tattered pinstriped suit.  He has skin like parchment and looks like a fearsome thing, but he is actually kind.  I can tell that this man wants to help the little girl, but he is afraid that she will fear him, so he puts an illusion on himself to make him look more friendly.  Cut to inside the hollow – the man approaches from between the trees wearing a suit that is striped with all the colors of Fall – brown, orange, and yellow.  His appearance has changed so that he looks less like a dead man walking and more like a human.  He steps up to the girl, and she quickly looks down at her shoes.  Then he says, “Aren’t you even going to look at me?”  The girl looks up at him and says, “I’m Molly.”  Then the “camera” pans around them, circling slowly.  As it gets around to the back of the man in the suit, a flash of lightning briefly illuminates his true likeness, though Molly doesn’t notice.  (I swear to God I am not making any of this up)

Then…something.  There is some adventure that I could not remember, but Molly is in danger and the man does everything he can to help her.  They become very close.  Then this happens: Molly and the man are sleeping on beds of leaves.  Molly’s mother appears out of nowhere and wakes her to take her away.  I remember feeling like something was wrong.  I should have been happy that Molly had been reunited with her mother, but even Molly looked apprehensive.  Then the man wakes up and sees that Molly is gone.  He searches frantically for her, then he looks up to the heavens and bellows her name.  And I woke up with the heartbroken wail of “MOLLLLYYYY!” still ringing in my ears.  I tried desperately to go back to sleep.  I needed to know how it ended, but, of course, it didn’t work that way.  I was awake for good, and I never found out.  So I wrote a book.

I swear that is the shortest version I can write.  I can see already that this is going to be a two-parter.  Damn.  I’ll tell you the plot of the book I guess and then save the rest for the next post.

PLOT – A little girl named Molly lives with her mother until one day her mother is kidnapped.  As she runs through town searching for help, Molly stops to catch her breath at a fountain and ends up falling into it.  Instead of hitting the bottom, though, she tumbles through some misty portal and ends up somewhere else, standing in a pile of leaves and…well you know this part.  So then Molly and Zan (I named the Jack Skellington guy Zan) have some adventures looking for Molly’s mother, but all is not as it seems and there’s a whole second part to the book which centers around grown-up Molly which is just stupid because I was doing the whole living-through-the-character thing again.  That’s about it.

I’ll spare you for now.  Soon to follow – the thrilling conclusion!

Word of the Day: Amalgamate (v) – To mix or merge so as to make a combination; blend; unite; combine

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Another Quick (Not Really) Book Review

I know I owe you at least one more post about my previously written books, but first…

A week or two ago I was at the movies and a trailer for The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (book written by Cassandra Clare) came on.  I didn’t recognize the plot, but I recognized the title.  I’d passed by those books more than a couple times in the bookstore.  So I decided to go pick up the first in the series to see what it was all about.  I have to keep myself apprised of my competition, after all.

Here are my impressions summed up: It is not a terrible book.  I did enjoy reading it for the most part.  I am not going to go into exhaustive detail on why I liked it, but I am going to talk extensively about what I didn’t like, for educational purposes, you know?  Since I’m most comfortable with lists, I’m going to give you a list [Minor Spoiler Warning]:

What I liked: The idea of demons, vampires, werewolves and the like being real is not a new one.  But I did like the concept of using “magic wands” of a sort that have been re-purposed into “steles” that tattoo powerful runes onto the skin and other things.

What I didn’t like:

1. Confusion – I am very used to reading about new and exciting fantastical worlds with their own sets of rules, and I was still very confused by the book.  Even worse, the main character herself was confused by the explanations she was receiving.  Clare made a point of saying so:

“Forgive me,” he said.  “This must be confusing for you.”

“You think?”

City of Bones, 77-78

What Clare didn’t consider is the possibility that if her “mundane” main character was confused, the reader probably would be, too.

2. Motivation – A lot of times in the book, I found myself doubting the characters’ motivations for doing things.  They seemed contrived, more intent on furthering the plot than staying true to what real people might do.  For example, Clary (the main character) finds herself facing a portal to she-has-NO-idea-where that she finds out her mother would’ve used from time to time.  Her mother has disappeared, seemingly killed or kidnapped.  The idea of her escaping has never been discussed.  Yet this happens:

“I want to see where she would have gone,” she said, reaching for the door.  “I want to see where she was going to escape to -”

City of Bones, 109

She then proceeds to go through the portal.  Note that Clary’s reasoning was she wanted to see where her mother “would have gone.”  Not, “Maybe she escaped.  Maybe if I go through here I’ll find her.”  No, it was just “If she had escaped, which I don’t believe she did and we never talked about her doing, she would be here.  She won’t be, but I just want to see where she would have been.”  It’s worth noting here that Clary has never been shy about asking questions, yet she suddenly decides to jump through a portal she knows nothing about just to see where her mother definitely won’t be.  See what I mean?  I hope so.

3. Clary – I am being harsh.  I know.  But I can’t help it.  Clary is a useless main character.  Yes, she is a fifteen-year-old girl.  Yes, God knows I was useless when I was fifteen.  But Clary is the “special” main character of a book, so one would expect her to be worthy of the title Protagonist.  Instead, she is a character who things happen to and around.  She very rarely actively does.  I can list all the notable things she does do right here: She accidentally kills a demon by throwing her hands out in defense and shoving a magical object into its mouth, she jumps through a portal, she uses two runes – one to turn a picture of a cup into a cup, the other to break through a magical barrier, she throws a knife on a whim and it happens to connect with the target, she throws herself in front of somebody to stop them from being killed.  That’s about it.  The rest of the time, everyone else fights and does things while dragging her along.  Clary even laments the fact that she is useless at one point in the book.

I knew it was there, Clary thought. I should have acted on it.  Even if I didn’t have a ________ like _____, I could have thrown something at it or told Jace about it.  She felt stupid and useless and thick…

City of Bones, 360 (some words omitted to avoid major spoilers)

And don’t talk to me about character arcs.  This is three quarters of the way into the book.  No arc has happened at this point.  My friend was sitting by me as I read the final climactic scene in the book and started screaming at the fictional character to do something.  This happened.  I swear.  She was just standing there as the climax happened.  In the end, I came to this conclusion: It felt as if Clare had read a manual on how to create a Strong Female Lead without really understanding what it meant.  Clary is constantly doing things like refusing to be left behind – “Stay here, you hear me?  Stay here.”  “Like hell I will,” she muttered – but then she doesn’t add anything to the plot by not staying behind.  Literally nothing different would have happened in that scene if she really had stayed.  That was the worst part – almost all the side characters were infinitely more interesting and more competent than she was.  It was a very Bella Swan problem.  (Yes “Bella Swan” is an adjective now)

4. Cliche – Look…everything’s been done.  Everything.  If you’ve thought about it, so has someone else.  The only reason the next generation of Supernatural Boyfriends isn’t going to include some kind of were-weasel is that no one would buy the books…I hope.

were-weasel

The thing is, certain cliches are just tired.  First there’s the “Just get out of here you big, dumb, stupid animal” scenario, in which a character tells Clary that he doesn’t care about her in order to protect her, and she falls for it.  Who hasn’t seen that a million times before?  The one that really got me though was that Clary and Jace fell on top of each other multiple times.  Remember that portal that Clary falls through?  Jace goes after her and falls prone on top of her.  Then on two different occasions the two of them are riding in a vehicle together and the vehicle swerves and Clary falls into Jace.  (I have just now realized what Clare might have been doing given how the book ends, but I still think it was blatantly overused)  Those moments pulled me out of the book each time.  I think she could have done better.  (I didn’t cite anything in this one because DAMN this post has gone on too long.  You’ll just have to trust me.)

Final diagnosis?  City of Bones gets a B- .  Not terrible, but certainly not amazing.  The end.

Word of the Day: Adversary (n) – a person, group, or force that opposes or attacks; opponent; enemy; foe

(I’m working on a comic right now, but it won’t be ready until my next post.  Sorry.)

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A Look Back – Familiar

Chugging right along, here’s a look at one of my books, Familiar.  (If you’re just joining us, you might want to read this post first)

INSPIRATION – You know that archetypal witch on a broomstick that you usually see silhouetted against the moon, her black cat inexplicably riding behind her without falling off?  Usually as a Halloween decoration?

Witch and Cat

I was thinking about that image and decided to write a story from the black cat’s perspective.  But I ended up writing it from both the  cat’s and the witch’s points of view, alternating every chapter.

PLOT – A young woman named Aradia is a modern-day witch who attends college and works a part-time job, and when she’s not doing those things she’s practicing magic with her familiar, a black cat named Kemnebi (Kem for short).  Aradia and Kem soon learn that an evil, immortal shapeshifter has been summoned to do the bidding of an unknown evil mage who has a keen interest in Aradia because of her unusual connection to the elemental spirits – Fire, Water, Air, and Earth.  (Magic, in this book, is created by drawing on the power of the Spirits, which coexist with the real world and are born from strong emotions and feelings and things that cause strong emotions, like Death or a Home.  And also from just…strong things, I guess, since there are elemental spirits.)

PROBLEMS – My biggest problem, I realized after gaining a great deal more experience in the field of writing, is that Aradia is a Mary Sue.  She is beautiful, but doesn’t see herself that way, she acts cute and demure around her friends and her love interest, and she is Special in the way that needs capitalization.  There’s nothing wrong with main characters being Special, of course.  It happens all the time – Harry Potter, Clary Fray, Katniss Everdeen, to name a few – but these Special characters do need to have personalities outside of their Specialness.  Aradia does not.

“Should’ve known better than a surprise party, huh?” I heard Lynn say to Aradia.

“I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have reacted that way, but thank you.  Now that I’m over the shock, I can acknowledge that it was a nice surprise.”

“You certainly know how to make an entrance,” interjected Nameless-Snake-Man.

“Yes, it’s a gift,” Aradia replied. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that you helped replace the bulbs, but I’m afraid I have no idea who you are.”

“Lynn invited me,” was his reply. “I’m Theo, and this is Samson.”

He pointed to the snake around his neck as he spoke the second name, and it responded by turning its fluttering tongue in Aradia’s direction.

“It’s nice to meet you both,” Aradia said politely. “It looks like you’re not the only one to have brought a pet.  Have you met mine?  Come here, Kem.”

So that was the biggest problem I could think of.  Aradia was a Mary Sue who easily fell in love with Sean – the love interest who has a wolf familiar named Circe – in a matter of days.  And he fell in love with her.  And that led to INCREDIBLY embarrassing dialogue like:

“You’re lying to yourself, Aradia,” Sean stated. “Do you understand that?  You’re so afraid of hurting someone, you won’t even let yourself try and see if you’d actually do it.  Deep down you know you can control it, but you refuse to believe it.”

“Sure I can try to control it, but what if I mess up?  I don’t want to take that chance.  It would be too painful, and I don’t think I would ever be able to recover from it.  Would you please just let me go?”

“Well, I don’t mind taking that chance at all, and I’m not letting you go.  If you leave then you’ll be taking my heart with you and then I’ll never see it again.”

Ooey Gooey Schmaltz

Why did this happen?  Because Familiar, as well as a number of other books, was written in a time when I was trying desperately to live vicariously through my characters.  I wanted a boyfriend and a relationship so badly that many of the books I wrote ended up being about a stupid, sappy, romance-novel-worthy relationship with only a shaky plot that was added in as an afterthought.  I also contributed my own self-consciousness and low self esteem, making a character who thought herself plain but was actually beautiful, since that is what I so wanted to be true of me.  I, like many young men and women of a certain age and awkwardness, wished fervently for some prince to come along and tell me how wrong I was about my looks, how I was a beautiful thing to behold and all my self-consciousness was unfounded.  Since I didn’t see that happening anytime soon, I made it happen again and again in my books.  And my writing suffered for it.  So…

HOW I’D FIX IT – By taking all of the above information into account and changing it.  Aradia would become surly and guarded, foul-mouthed and friendless, except for her faithful familiar.  Kem would continue to be his proper, tightly-wound self, with his own love interest – a calico named Trinka – and his own motivations – get Aradia to open up to other human beings, stop the evil shapeshifter, yadda yadda.  This could work.  I think I could do it.  It would just take a lot of effort.  I didn’t leave myself very much to work with when I wrote this one.  But I’ll try my best, because I like the idea.

Next post will be about Leaves (as if that means anything to you).  See you then!

Word of the Day: Demure (adj) – characterized by shyness and modesty; reserved

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A Look Back – The Dreamcatchers

I tried to write this post once already, and it ended up longer than my average post before I was even halfway done.  So now I’m going to try to do the super abridged version of it.

The Dreamcatchers

INSPIRATION – I got the idea in 8th grade Lit class after daydreaming and thinking about how weird it would be if all the things I’d just imagined appeared in the classroom.  Then I thought that bringing dreams to life would be a good book idea and it all went from there.

PLOT (as it was then) – Shauna Clay unwittingly buys a magical dreamcatcher from a hippy named Sunny.  The dreamcatcher transports Shauna into her dreams every morning, and she can’t find her way back to the real world without seeing the dream through to its conclusion.  The dreams challenge her stuck-up ways and cause her to rethink her priorities and learn a huge lesson, etc.

PROBLEMS – Shauna’s name has since been changed to Shaina McKay since I realized that “Clay” seemed like I was trying too hard for literary meaning.  Clay being a moldable, changeable substance.  The real problem was that I did mold Shauna to my liking, making her the person I never thought I could be.  As a thirteen-year-old girl who was teased a lot for being “gross” and “ugly,” I immediately attempted to live through my character:

The three girls visited tons of shops, but Shauna still didn’t see anything really amusing.  They began to talk about her upcoming date with Jason. 

“He is so hot.  I can’t believe your mom said yes,” said Paige. 

“Yeah,” said Carrie, “But I’m not surprised that he asked you out.  You’re, like, the prettiest girl in school.” 

There were two things about Shauna Clay that were undoubtedly true.  One was that she was very pretty.  She had shoulder length brown hair, green eyes, a perfect complexion, and she was in good shape.  The other thing was that she’d never broken a sweat.  She wasn’t athletic at all, in fact it was just the opposite.  Shauna was laid back, and had no interest in sports.  Studying was the only thing she was really good at.

The Dreamcatchers, First Edition (2004)

Beyond the bad writing and the attempt to live vicariously through my character, there was also the plot.  There is a word for it that I didn’t know existed at the time – Formulaic.  The book worked like this – Shauna woke up, lived through an exciting dream, did some stuff, went to sleep, had a dream, lived through the dream, did some stuff, repeat, repeat, repeat.

HOW I’M FIXING IT – Well, first off, I became a better writer.  I learned to Show more and Tell less.  But the book was still formulaic.  In my current rewrite, I’m working more on having Shaina’s waking life be just as important and eventful as her dream life.  That way the two can parallel each other instead of her waking life being filler between dreams.

“Yeah,” said Shauna.  She went upstairs to read. 

Later that night, after dinner, Shauna went up to her room.  She lay on her bed and stared at the dreamcatcher.  After a few minutes, she dozed off because she hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before.  She woke up in the morning, apprehensive, because she couldn’t remember her dream and didn’t know what to expect. 

There are a lot of things I changed in the first rewrite, too, like making Shaina a person who sketches all the time.  In the newest rewrite, her drawings literally wallpaper her bedroom, and they relate to the quirky, crazy dreams she has.  In the older versions, Shaina’s real life affected the dreams she had more than the lives of the other two people she meets – Cady and Eric – even though all three of them share the dreams and learn from them.  In the newest version, I will be attempting to work Cady’s and Eric’s lives into the dreams more, so there’s a balance.

We’ll see how it goes!  If you managed to read along this far, then you deserve a comic as a reward.  One that fits into the post without the need for click-to-enlarge technology.

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Nifty, no?  This new format will allow me to provide you with in-post comics from now on.  Hooray!

Tune in next time for a look back at Familiar.

Word of the Day: Cumbersome (adj) – burdensome; troublesome.

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