its been 4 years

Since I made this post.

And while the issue is still here, its getting better. I’m glad I live in an age where the whole Ghostbusters team can be women with a derpy hot dude as their secretary. 

I really like that some of the most interesting characters in the Marvel universe are the women, like Shuri, and we’ve finally gotten past that whole “The worst thing a woman can be is infertile.” (yeah, well the worst a man can be is infantile, and that’s not stopped most of them.)

I need to do better in my writing too. Goes back to that whole Representation theme. I do plan on giving Mirith Hayden her own books; making her face the fact that she’s built her life out of trying to be perfect for a stupid boy and if he’s gone, then what’s left of her?

Colors

When I was little, I lived in Germany.

We lived in a rented house off base, out in a rural area. The whole setting was a study of verticals. We lived on a steep hill that was great for sledding. There were gentle rolling mountains with cattle trails where civilization stepped back to a time before cars. Local farmers would drive cattle up the road every weekend, taking them to market. I remember that my sister told me that the brown cows gave chocolate milk. The house we rented was three-stories; each level was its own apartment. We lived in the middle. The people above us stomped and I was fascinated by how they could be so loud. I think they were a single mother and a couple of little kids. She had red hair and was American.

I remember the fog and snow more than the blue skies or sun. Sometimes the fog would be so thick it could limit sight distance to the length of an arm. It was a white a blanket of muffled isolation that my sister and I still had to forge our way through to get to the bus stop at the top of the hill.

The road to school was long and narrow with fields on either side. I couldn’t talk to the bus driver, but he thought it was funny when I made animal sounds at him. I recall the bus being generally empty most of the time. If it had other children, they didn’t register on my mind enough for me to remember them now. Likely they were children that went to school on the base and generally shunned me because I was weird, or they were German children I couldn’t talk to anyway. The most vivid moments of that bus ride were the ones with an overwhelming color; the bright green of the fields on either side or the heavy fog.

The neighbors were native Germans. I had a memorized phrase to ask if I could play with their children. I don’t really remember playing with the kids there, though. They seemed disdainful towards me. They had rabbits and chickens in pens in the back yard. It was there that I realized that “lucky rabbit’s feet” weren’t lucky for the rabbit. The idea that bones and toenails are beneath that brightly dyed fur bothers me and I haven’t touched one since. This was once a living creature and it was killed for its foot. Likely not just for its foot, but I was doing good at the time to comprehend that it was undoubtedly dead and what that meant.

Bored with my own back yard and solitude, I went to visit them once. I was in a sitting room at the back of the house. My sister hadn’t accompanied me. I was with the man of the house though I’m not sure how old he was, I think he may have been their grandpa. He was a quiet and gentle man, that couldn’t speak English. Maybe if he could, he could have told me not to grab that wasp. His granddaughter was playing piano in another room; laboriously plucking Moonlight Sonata in the Summer heat with all the windows open. She had no interest in me. She was several years older than me and not interested in my sister’s company either, though they got along better than I did with anyone. The window in the room looked out into the dusty backyard chicken coop. Afternoon sunlight streamed in, bright against the shadows of the room. A wasp landed on the window sill; its body jewel-yellow and glistening black. The German grandpa was nice and put ice on my sting, but I didn’t go home even then. 

After all, no matter where I went, I’d be in pain and alone. 

Now that I think of it, perhaps I was being babysat because my sister was at her dance class. She got to do a lot more things than I did. I don’t know if it was because I hadn’t expressed any interest or if I was too young…

I played in the back yard by myself a lot.

Once, I was pretending to be Paul Bunyan. I was pretending to be a giant as I stomped among the overgrown grass and swung a jump rope around like a scythe. I was lonely and not at all entertained by my imagination. The overcast sky suited my mood. I wanted a companion of some kind, and that’s when I found a bright red cardinal. He let me pick him up. I wanted to feed him but I didn’t know what cardinals ate. I called him Peter. Peter was a good bird, he didn’t bite or struggle, so I assumed he was okay with me holding him. I showed him to Dad, hoping that this was the start to my career of being a Disney Princess. Dad took him from me and threw him into the field behind the fence in the back yard. I was devastated and went inside to spend the rest of the day sulking.

There was no point to this post, btw. Just talking about myself.

I’ve been hiding this draft away for a while now. Not sure if I want to publish and expose myself to the world. But I guess now is a good time as any. It will get buried by newer posts and hidden away and no one will ever find it.

I have anxiety and depression and these are some of my earliest memories containing those feelings. I don’t know what caused it, whether it was biological or induced by circumstances. This is just a thing I’ve come to realize will never go away. It may have something to do with why I worry about what others think of me and also have something to do with my outlook on life in general. It’s taken me a long time to get where I am, but in a way I’m glad of the journey and the lessons learned.

Even though thinking back on it now makes me sad because of how lonely and ignored I was. Living off-base in Germany was certainly hard. There wasn’t anyone my age with a shared language I could talk to or play with. I had no friends in school either. Nothing really connected me to anyone there except location. As a result, I talked to myself a lot, made weird noises all the time, and lived in my head during school hours because it was better than getting told to sit down and shut up by an abusive teacher in first grade. When she wasn’t ignoring us, she was yelling at the class. She watched me sit and chew my bangs off with safety scissors one time. 

How to get over yourself

Writers have an ego problem. This one is kind of a pots and kettles situation. I know I used to be like this, (still am in some ways) and I apologize to those I inflicted my Writer’s Ego upon.

How to take criticism is easy. And hard.

  1. Don’t take personal offence to your editor doing their job.
  2. If multiple readers tell you the same thing, fix the problem, don’t be part of the problem.

The human mind is wired to discard positive experiences and dwell on the negative. You need to actively fight against that. Even if all your editor has to say is negative stuff, that doesn’t mean there isn’t positive things in your writing.

We (Writers) spend a lot of time, effort, and tears in creating our stories and we want people to love them as much as we do. We have a tendency to be very self-centered, too, and believe that because we’ve spent all this time on something, obviously it’s got to be perfect. Unfortunately, nothing is perfect.

Just to make sure you got that:

NOTHING. IS. PERFECT.

There’s only “good enough for now.”

The sooner you accept that, the easier it will be to take criticism. It’s sort of a “wu wei” situation in which you do what you can to make sure your story is as good as it can be, but then you have to place it into the hands of someone else.

When you hire an editor, you’ve got to divorce yourself from the idea that this is your precious baby cinnamon roll, perfect and pure. It helps if you have some distance between the time of writing and when you submit it to an editor.

When you hire an editor, you are choosing someone to read your work who has spent time honing their skills to pick out what’s wrong with a story and make suggestions on how to fix it. You have to trust them to let you know if what you thought you conveyed is what you actually put on paper. Situations you thought were harmless are actually a big deal to someone else. Otherwise, why did you hire them? To give you a pat on the back? Your mother can do that for a lot less money and energy.

(Thanks to all the “Mothers” – biological or not – who support their artistic babies with unconditional love and support.)

If you’ve handed your story out to multiple readers, and they’re all saying the same thing, such as: “This sequence of events doesn’t make sense” and you take personal affront to that, you need to step back and breathe. The statement is exactly what they said. “This sequence of events doesn’t make sense.” So your problem is either you didn’t describe the events clearly, or the events leading up to the moment that doesn’t make sense aren’t right. So fix that instead of getting your panties in a twist thinking that your friends hate you personally and think your writing is shite.

If they weren’t interested in you, your thoughts, or writing, they wouldn’t have bothered to read the story and give you feedback in the first place. I’ve had plenty of times where I’ve asked someone to read something of mine and they just never got around to it. This is just something that happens. It isn’t that they don’t love me, or aren’t my friend, they have their reasons for not reading what I sent them and it isn’t meant to be a slight towards me. Same goes for you, Hypothetical Reader/Writer person I’m pretending to talk to.

It is one thing if someone who hasn’t read your stuff says something. It is entirely different when you have ASKED someone to read your work and they give you feedback. Trust them. You’re not a terrible writer just because the story isn’t perfect. Nothing is perfect and while you don’t have to take all their suggestions, you do need to listen to the people you have deliberately solicited an opinion from.

Bottom line is that their criticism of your story is not a reflection upon YOU. So CHILL.

The Holy Grail

The one thing all writers should strive for is an original Voice; something that sets them apart from all other books.

Think about how when you listen to the radio, a lot of the songs sound very similar, but if a song comes on that you’ve never heard before, you know by the voice of the singer and the way the music was put together that this song is by Dave Matthews or Nickleback. You can just _tell_ the difference.

That’s what voice is in writing as well.

How to get there, though…

My journey towards that wasn’t a plotted, thought-out adventure, but more of an accident that I stumbled into. I think a good first step is to write.

Write. Write! WRITE!

Participate in Nanowrimo, not just for the sake of having something written, but because it lets you cut down the walls of your inner editor and just be _yourself_ on the page. Tell the story how you want to, rather than how you think someone else wants to read it.

Also keep in mind that unless you want your narrator to be a character in the story as well, you need to be nearly invisible. That’s not entirely possible. Your perceptions and opinions will be present in the book regardless of how much you think you stripped out. There is no way to be entirely unbiased, but that’s also part of your voice. The trick is to be a voice that adds to the story, rather than distracts from it.

Your voice cannot overwhelm the character’s voices. The story, in the end, is theirs, even if you’re technically the one telling it.

Also, do your research. Look at what’s been done before. If you want to write a non-fiction book, you’re not just going to make up stuff, right? You’re going to go out and read all the histories and studies previously done on the subject and come to conclusions of your own, based on the information you’ve gathered. How this applies to writing is that you need to read books in the genre you want to write. You need to look at how many other Fairytale Retellings there are and consider how you will make yours stand out. Why would anyone read your version of Beauty and the Beast over someone else’s when essentially they are the same as the original version. Unless you’re going back further than Disney’s version and starting from the source then recasting it in a modern setting.

This applies even if you’re writing about a completely original world. For example, Epic Fantasy. You need to generally know the tradition the genre comes from (Tolkien), what sets it apart from any other fantasy (a lot of walking), and where it has gone since then (from dragons being evil to dragons being talking friendly mounts like in PERN, and Dwarves having no women to Terry Pratchett’s version in which they just don’t go broadcasting their gender on a normal basis so everyone just assumes all Dwarves are men because they’re all hairy).

Then you need to research how to write. You need to know the rules to know how to properly break them. I’m going to be honest and admit that I never really studied how to sentences. My scores in grade school English classes were abysmal, partially because I didn’t care about school and I was bored, but also because the structure of sentences doesn’t interest me. Sentence structure is important, but should be co-pilot when it comes to getting your ideas across.

I can get away with having a word missing from that sentence in the paragraph above because it’s humorous and also adds to my point. Doing things like that all the time, however, is just going to annoy your readers because they have to work too hard to understand you.

Research how others have written certain types of scenes. Like action sequences, or epic descriptions of scenery that aren’t eye-wateringly boring. Find authors you think did it well and study how they did it. Salvatore does amazing fight-scenes. His secret is short sentences with a tight POV focus on one character. Mercedes Lackey does heart-breaking scenes exceptionally well. She does this by drawing readers into the character by making them relatable first, then following with the angst.

So do your research.

Your voice can also add to the story as the narrator, such as Douglass Adams and Terry Pratchett do, but there’s more to it than just being amusing by yourself. You can be funny in the narration by arguing with in-world gods, but again, don’t overpower your characters. Terry Pratchett for example is humorous, but his characters are _angry_. Legit. Low-key fury simmers beneath every word written on every page of his books, because Terry Pratchett is angry. He’s angry at rampant injustice and angry at stupid people who rule the world with their BS and lies. That’s his Voice. That’s the message he wants you, his audience, to hear.

Douglass Adams is angry about bureaucracy and BS that goes on in government. His characters have a rollicking good time roaming the universe, but you still hear him screaming about the system.

Anne McCaffery was determined to smash empathy and understanding of our fellow human beings into our heads with her words.

Mercedes Lackey believes in equality and that it is achievable without magic.

These attitudes are their Voice. Their way of weaving that into the story itself, behind the scenes, is what gives their work a depth and originality you notice as a reader even if it’s not consciously.

How to Explain Complicated Stuff

Don’t.

To clarify, I’m talking about information that you spent hours and hours on coming up with, researching, and world building, but these things aren’t directly related to the plot. This information isn’t required for the reader to understand the plot of the story, but helps make the world in which its set original.

Explaining this is a tricky situation, though. You don’t want to go too far and rove into Navel Gazing; where the characters sit and stare at the wall, contemplating how society is structured from top down and how they fit in that place. What normal human being honestly does that? Seriously, even introspective types don’t go that far.

Another option is to make use of an audience stand-in. Such as the Village Idiot. Gourry from Slayers is an example, and he’s used for comedy. He gets told things so the audience knows and then called an idiot since he really should have known this to begin with. But he is an idiot, so its ok.

Another common plot device is “From Another World” wherein the stand-in is from another world for real. They are legit confused about the landscape and what’s going on, which gives the author an excuse to explain. But this can easily be abused. Too much detail can kill your story.

That’s the boring way to get information to your readers.

The more fun way to do it is not to!

I get that you did spend hours and hours on world building, but having your characters simply exist in that world and not question the weird things that happen – to me, that’s fascinating. It’s like light switches. Someone from mediaeval times, reading a story set in our era would be mystified by the idea that someone walks into a room and the light comes on, filling the room with brilliance that was not from a candle? That isn’t something we would question because its so normal.

So let a lot of your weird stuff be unexplained. You know the reasons for it to be that way, and as long as its consistent in how it gets treated throughout the story, then your readers will pick up on it from context clues.

For me, I write aliens and their cultures and biology, by definition, are not Human. I can’t take 3 pages to have Vathion explain what Scent Bonding and Widow Syndrome are since he doesn’t have reason to explain that kind of thing to himself. I would need someone from outside the culture to ask questions about it. However, that’s still not a subject that would come up in casual conversation. The only way to get across the information that Widow Syndrome is a death sentence, fraught with dementia, is to just show it happening.

Writing a book is like constructing an iceberg. Only the tip – the story that ends up in the book – is visible, with all this other stuff lurking under the surface that supports it.

Ambitious:Lazy

I’ve got a gripe. It starts from people on these dating sites and boils down to people being hypocrites.

One category on a specific site lets you list your ambition level. People say they’re ambitious, but I ask them “what’s the first thing on your bucket list?” and their answer is something amazing that would take a lot of work or effort. And so I ask them “what’s stopping you from achieving that?” and they give bullshit reasons. Like money, or no one to do it with. And I’m like, “ok. But why aren’t you making an effort to get the money together to do it? Why aren’t you looking for people to do it with?” and then they just have excuses and no plan.

Its the same level as people who say “Oh, I’ve always wanted to write a book” and then their reason for not doing so is that they just don’t have the time. Yet they act like writing is easy. (there are plenty of rants and essays on the hardships of being a writer etc, so I don’t really need to add my voice to that)

Be the author of your own fate. You can have anxiety and biological things in the way of achieving your dreams, but if you never reach for them how are you supposed to achieve them? You really need to make an effort if you want something. If something you wanted is just given to you, and you didn’t fight for it, then you don’t value it as much. What is the value of something you just found?

Why does it take facing the end of your life to decide that NOW is the time to get working on those goals you had set years ago? Money isn’t as big of a factor as you think if you want to be daring. People go backpacking across Europe all the time.

Blockages.

Writers frequently have them. I am no exception.

There are three types of writer’s block for me. First is the kind where I actually cannot think of anything to write. The second is the kind brought on by procrastination. The third is the kind brought on by listening too closely to my inner editor.

Can’t think of Anything to Write: This usually happens when there’s a problem with my story that needs to be figured out before I can proceed with it. Sometimes, I just need more input from other sources in order to put the pieces together in new and interesting ways. Other times, there’s a logistical problem that I need to work around; such as, my character is smarter than me and I have to come up with a complication or problem he wouldn’t see coming or easily find a way around. When I come across these things, I just set the project aside for a while and work on something else. I give my brain a little time to turn what I’ve got into slush and reconstitute it into something else. My next strategy is to find something I’m actually interested in writing… Instead of beating my head against a wall that isn’t moving, I’ll just do something fun. After all, if writing isn’t fun for me, then why am I doing it? I am the first person I aim to please when it comes to my stories. However, this form of blockage frequently devolves into the second type, Procrastination, if I don’t at least try to write something. Even if it’s garbage or not related to my preferred projects.

Procrastination: This usually happens when I know I should be writing and I have some ideas, but just can’t find the time to make myself write it. It usually ends up sliding into the third type… I currently have it on my projects for Shaxia and Foreseen Champion. They’re supposed to be my next books in the Natan Fleet Show series but while I’ve had ideas on them, I haven’t been able to collect enough together that’s worth spending time writing. Instead, I’ve been working on another project. Procrastinating writing these projects until I have a better idea of what I want to do with them. I will also supplement with finding a good sound track that encapsulates the general feel of the piece I want to write. I listen to a lot of game sound tracks and game remixes.

The Inner Editor Rears it’s Ugly Head Again: This type is the worst. The first two can be gotten around by just finding something I AM interested in writing. However, when the Inner Editor crawls out from beneath its rock and begins spewing poisonous vitriol, it’s a bit harder to ignore. When this happens, I find I have to take better care of myself and take careful stock of what I’ve been allowing myself to think. There’s a time and a place for the Inner Editor. It helps make my stuff better, but not at the initial writing stage. Sure, that scene I just wrote is crap, but that doesn’t mean I should stop writing forever. My go-to strategy to deal with this is to put down the writing for the time being and take some time to myself. Focus on something I know I can accomplish, such as cleaning. Decluttering my surroundings helps remove the trash talk from my brain and gives me the strength to go back and look at my work with fresh eyes.

While I don’t write every day, like I probably should, I write often enough to make me happy.

..

For a chance to win a free physical copy of Playing the Hero, let me know how you get around blockages?

Wu Wei

I have suffered from depression for most of my life. I don’t want to really dwell on how that felt, or what it was like. I feel like there are plenty of people talking about that. I want to talk about beyond. I want to talk about coping. My major tools for surviving were reading and writing. 

One thing that’s always stuck with me was a phrase from the Death’s Gate Cycle. In the last book of the series, the protagonists are being swallowed by chaos and trying to bring balance to a set of interconnected, but dying worlds. The key to doing this was found in the words “Let go, take hold.” As he’s walking a hallway that simultaneously drops from beneath him and crushes him into its walls and floor, releasing expectations of what his surroundings are supposed to be allowed him to find a central point of balance within himself.

In the midst of my depression, I’ve fought against the feeling that I was failing to achieve what I thought I should have been. I was failing to control my surroundings and accomplish my goals. This disconnect between what my actions should have resulted in vs what results I was getting was one of the sources of my pain. The fact that the world kept thwarting me at every turn when I thought for sure I was doing everything right; I’d performed all the correct rituals and steps and side quests. Why was I not receiving the rewards as I’d been told I was supposed to?

“Let go, take hold.”

I’ve wanted to describe what kind of comfort that phrase gives me for a while, but I still don’t know quite how. When I get anxious and feel like I’m drowning, I tell myself that, and it helps me find balance. It lets me accept that things are chaotic, but clinging to my interpretation of what order SHOULD be is only driving me insane. In order to rediscover balance, I have to let things be chaotic for a moment and decide the things that actually need to be held onto.

Recently I came across a YouTube video explaining Wu Wei and it clicked. I’d been practicing this for years without realizing that there was an actual definition. That in essence was “Let go, take hold.” Or at least my interpretation of Wu Wei. 

I know that I get uncomfortable when I don’t know where things are going, and don’t feel stable. I like to have an idea of a path ahead at least. It makes me anxious to leave things unfinished – be that a conversation/argument without a resolution or a story. Thus I annoy people until I’ve gotten what I feel is a resolution to the situation. But life isn’t so clean. Sometimes things just end, or the best option is to leave the mess and walk away. Not everything can be fixed and not everything should be fixed. It’s like being the leaf floating on the surface of a mountain brook. Fighting the current will only exhaust me and is pointless anyway, I haven’t got the power to swim. But I can lean with the flow; I can redirect my path and avoid getting stranded on a rock. Thus taking some of the weight of responsibility and fear off me and placing it in the hands of a higher power. I am just left with the freedom to make my preferences known to Them and otherwise enjoy life.

Some days its hard, though. I still have trouble with anxiety from time to time, mostly because of things outside of my control having power over my immediate health or well being. I’m learning to expand “Let go, take hold” to a broader context of my life. I can’t control everything that happens around me. The world is made of chaos. The interplay between the order I create and the inherent chaos is what makes it interesting. However, to properly enjoy the ride, you have to accept that you won’t always end up in the destination you thought you were going.

School of Life

should i even talk about this?

I have always struggled with depression. 

At this point, I don’t remember everything that was going through my head during the early years of my illness. Mostly it was an overwhelming sense of shame and jealousy. Everyone else was able to function in society on a daily basis, why couldn’t I? I felt like there was just something I was missing; some tool or way of thinking that I couldn’t grasp that would fix my problem. I remember it mostly starting in middle school. I was filled with rage; mostly at myself for being such a failure at life. I was a mess. I wanted to die. I was convinced I was worthless and had nothing to contribute. I was too scared of dying to actually try killing myself for real. I was afraid of the consequences of not succeeding, but in some small way, trying did make me feel better. 

Briefly in high school I was on medications. I wrote a note that landed me in the psychologists office. He read it out loud in front of my parents. He was mocking me. I wondered, why are you a psychiatrist if you hate your patients so much? 

The psychiatrist put me in group therapy. I hated that. The people there were just as depressed as me. I was never offered any solutions. We were just encouraged to talk about our bad days and I didn’t want to admit that all my garbage was self-inflicted; or I thought it was. Maybe some of it was. Mostly, though, I wanted attention. I wanted someone to look at me and tell me “you are valid, how you feel isn’t wrong, you’re just dealing with it wrong.” I wanted someone to actually take the time to show me how to change myself and become a better version of me.

Ultimately, I stopped taking the medication because I was embarrassed to need it for something so simple. I should be a capable, functioning person by now, I thought.

I got along for a while. It was difficult, but I finished college. Then tripped and landed right back into a situation of my own making that destroyed me for several years. You would think that having a boyfriend with a psychology degree would have helped. Apparently they just taught him how to tear me down further. (Seriously, why go into that field of study if you ultimately hate people and just want to see them destroyed?)

Two years ago, I hit rock bottom. I really was going to do something permanent to myself. I had no job and no insurance. I had a house that I loved, but if things continued, I would either have to sell it or rent it out. I felt like a failure. 

I finally went to the doctor. It was expensive and it was money I really didn’t have. Meds were like $40 for 30 pills a month. I’m glad I did it, though. I think back on that as my ultimate triumph over this sickness.

It was a gradual change. I had fewer bad days at first. Then more good than bad days. Now I can count the bad days as once or twice a month. I’m not as jealous of other people being able to keep their lives together now. I still have anxiety issues from time to time, but they don’t ruin my whole day. I can finally extract myself from the situation and recognize what triggered it. The best part, though, is that I finally have control of my life. I am capable of behaving appropriately 99% of the time and disappointments aren’t the end of the world. 

What I’m trying to say with all this, I suppose, is that there’s no magical fix for depression, but there’s no shame in needing medications for it. Much like needing glasses to correct vision, or insulin to treat diabetes, or medications to prevent seizures, anti-depressants can help treat the imbalance in the brain. While it was expensive, treating my illness was worth the money in the long run. The time I spent in bed unable to do basic things like feed myself were hours I could have spent writing or advertising my books. That was time I could have spent generating an income doing something I loved. Now I can afford my meds, because I’m able to get up in the mornings and go to work and do the things I need to during the day.

In a way, I’m glad I hit bottom, because its hard to find solid footing when you’re in a haphazard tumble down the mountain. Turned out this mountain wasn’t so difficult to climb after all. I just needed the right gear. 

Incomplete Memories

When I was little I really liked the Carebears. I don’t remember much of this; mostly scattered bits and pieces. I remember Lionheart. and the yellow one? Shrieky was my favorite, but I don’t remember why other than her terrible noise.

However, despite it having been nearly 30 years since I’ve seen the Carebears, there is one episode that I recall most of the details of. Mostly because it bothered me even as a 4yr old. 

The episode was about a boy, Peter(?), who was at summer camp. The details I remember are:

  • He had red hair.
  • He was acting like a brat and no one liked him.
  • There was something about red light flashing out the windows of his cabin at night.
  • He could fly, I think.

I don’t remember who called in the Carebears on this kid, but I remember that I was most disturbed by the fact that they Carebear Stared the devil out of him.

They, literally, blasted Satan out of him with the power of rainbows.