A Writer’s Confessional – Part One

Trying to figure out what process I want to take this year for the Deadwood Writers Voices has been a swirling dilemma for me this past couple of months. And I discovered through my creative process last year writing the meet-cutes drew me away from writing my novels and editing my works in progress. It helped with future story ideas, but my other works got sidelined. I’m striving to balance each piece of my writer’s life, and my artwork—which I’m developing more to open my own business—by using the scheduling process I’ve launched. I’m hoping it will allow me to see how to accomplish everything I want to each week, month, and year.

My weaknesses to this end are reading too much of my favorite genre, romance, and leans heavily on procrastination which is a result of my fear of failing what I’m trying to accomplish. The fear of failure is another reason driving me to schedule things. I can hold myself accountable.

One of the highlights of writing things down has been, aside from the monthly schedule, my bullet journal. I started this along with the scheduling so that I could see my progress. It has helped. I write down every accomplishment. I’ve blocked off six columns which are designated as follows, each day of the month, Hot Blacktop (I needed to fix some grammar and word confusion issues, so I could upload the new content), A New Life (work in progress), Hot Turns (the sequel to Hot Blacktop), DWriters (our blog), and Other (which could be a new story idea or even my artwork). What is exciting about using the bullet journal is I can focus on the accomplishments. If I can see what I’ve done every day, I know I’m progressing even if it is baby steps. It might not be even more than a couple of hundred words, or questions I’ve answered regarding characters and content that will make the work stronger. It’s progress, so I’m going to record it.

Talking about progress, learning more about writing techniques to improve my skills or getting advice from experienced authors on how to be a better writer is on top of my to-do list. Compiling a list of books to read this year has been fun, so I’m sharing the non-fiction list I’ve gathered so far. These are in no particular order, and each is linked back to Goodreads.com.

I hope you would comment and add any books that have helped you in your writing journey, or any book that has helped you in life.

The window into my writer’s life at the beginning of this year has been a short one so far, but insightful. I hope you’ll continue along on my journey and see what happens in the coming editions of my writer’s confessional.

Happy Writing!

Editor’s Log: Brain Training – Commitments not Resolutions for 2018

Have you every wondered why it was so hard to do something that you want to do, but seem to avoid doing it? For example, wanting to write for an hour to get started on that story–suddenly the dishes need hand washing, the trash cans need clearing out, and the dogs need walking. While completing these chores, the plan to write is still present, but never happens.

I listened to a scientist on NPR talk about how the brain builds connections that solidify the habits we engage in. The brain wires and rewires, in part, based on what we focus on doing. Spend lots of time doing the same things in the same way, and the brain records those practices. This might explain why habits are so difficult to change.

There is hope. The brain is adaptable. We just need to plan reasonably and patiently what is to be accomplished, or what new habits to create. Using the above example, writing for an hour in a day might not be where the person’s can find success. Start with 5-10 minutes of dedicated writing. This goal is easier to accomplish than the hour. If you write longer once, celebrate the moment with a fist pump. Then get back to it. At some point, in a week or month, add 5-10 minutes. Again, keep it “easy”–writing is never easy 😉 This repeated practice can lead to the brain recording new habits.

Keep the rules and boundaries simple and limited. Less is more. It’s not important that you write in the morning, use a specific journal or word-processor, or sit at a certain cafe table because that is most conducive to your writing. Those restrictions can be obstacles to the important outcome: Just write. When those conditions are available–great–just do not allow them to get in the way.

Failure is not an end, it’s a growth opportunity. If I write everyday and then I miss two days, stopping is not an option. Reflect on what caused the lost practice. What it just chance or some obstacle that needs to be addressed. Next: Jump back in.

As you create your writing resolutions, what are you willing to do that is already in your habits? What will take some brain growth over time? Be intentional and reasonable so that success will come.

Here are some writing commitments shared:

Wendi Knape

  1. Dive deep into A NEW LIFE, book 1 in my vampire series, and see what needs to be done so it’s ready to be published.
  2. Write on a schedule instead of when I feel like an idea is brewing.
  3. Market HOT BLACKTOP more.
  4. Continue to develop new stories in a loose format so when I’m ready I can start writing the novel.

John McCarthy

  1. Expand promotion of my book: So All Can Learn: A Practical Guide to Differentiation
  2. Read at least 12 books this year.
  3. Write 1-2 short stories.

What are your Writing Commitments for 2018? Share them in the comment section. 

Resident Evil: Tangled Web — Evolution of an Idea

My love of the written word is the one thing that rivals my love of video games. I have been reading and writing as far back as I can remember. While I have yet to get anything published, I have spent years honing my storytelling craft.

The majority of my writing has centered around fanfiction, which began when I wrote an extensive – but mediocre and nonsensical – series of stories based off the Nightmare on Elm Street films. I started these works of fiction just after the fifth movie was released and I made it up to part 21 before it fizzled.

My later stories, based off such mediums as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Transformers: Armada, and a lesser known horror film called Phantasm, improved my writing style by leaps and bounds. While I kept coming up with ideas – all-original stories I formulated or fanfiction based on film or TV franchises – I had neither the time or the motivation to put all those ideas on paper. What’s worse, I fell into a serious dry spell sometime between 2011 and 2014; a Transformers fanfiction piece called Sky Dancer I had been writing failed to get an ending as a result. That particular story is still begging for its last ten chapters.

Inspiration found me midway through 2014, but in a way that proved it can sometimes be a fickle creature. Sometime in August 2014, I joined a writing group called Deadwood Writers, and I started a story based off the Resident Evil game series. I had thought that being a part of this group would get me motivated to finish Sky Dancer, but it is possible I needed a change of pace after obsessing over my long-neglected story for several years.

I never intended to write a Resident Evil story despite being an avid fan of the video games. I didn’t have a plan when the idea for the Prologue came to me. I wrote the rough draft of my opening chapter for Tangled Web pretty quickly. I hadn’t even settled on a name for an original character who would serve as one of the leads and a romantic foil for Claire Redfield. I can’t recall why Elliott was the first name that popped into my head before I wrote it down at the end of the Prologue. I imagined I would change it at a later time. Nevertheless, it stuck.

A cover illustration I put together to go with the story. (photo credits at end)

The premise for Tangled Web was fairly straightforward – Claire had been abducted by Wesker, had been held captive for almost two years, and was having a baby when her brother finally found her. Much of the story is filling in what happened during those two years. But for the first few chapters, I was literally making up the narrative as I went along. This resulted in a few tangents that didn’t really have a place in the story. At one point, I planned for Claire’s cat to somehow mutate into a horrific monster. A friend advised me to keep it simple and get to the abduction scene as quick as possible, but a small part of the mutated feline setup still made its way into the story.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started to conceptualize the ending, but I gained more of a focus as I was writing the first act. Once I had figured out the basis of my climax, I had to go back and rewrite several of the early chapters. This led to the addition of a character known as RogueChild, a mysterious figure who sent Claire a vague email “warning” her of the upcoming kidnapping. I didn’t have a clear picture of RogueChild’s role in the story when I wrote the chapter where the character first appeared, let alone who RogueChild would turn out to be. Some of my early and downright ridiculous ideas were that RogueChild could be either Claire’s unborn child or Claire herself come back from the future. At one point, the character’s name was going to be The_Immortal_One instead of RogueChild.

When it came to the chapter where Wesker informs Claire she was exposed to a mutagenic virus, my initial idea was quite different. I had thought about having her be infected with the T-Veronica Virus even though I had seen that premise used in a number of other Resident Evil fanfictions. Inspiration struck again when I watched the anime film, Degeneration, and gave quite a lot of thought to it. It helped that I didn’t see any other works of fanfiction where someone was exposed to the G-Virus and immune to the negative effects. The idea of tackling an idea that had never been explored before was exciting and helped me figure out the exact direction to go with Tangled Web. A great portion of the storyline and the ending was built around this idea.

My next hurdle was hammering out exactly how Wesker would behave toward Claire and Elliott during their captivity. Before I determined the best way to spin it, the scene where Claire finds out she has rapid regeneration abilities played out quite differently:

Wesker stepped around the desk, tracing the surface with one gloved hand as he moved. Claire tensed at his approach. “I never would have dreamed that you, Chris’ little sister, would possess such a rare genome,” he said. “Unfortunately, studies of your DNA can only reveal so much. It doesn’t tell us if you reap any of the benefits of the virus. Specifically, rapid healing.”

Claire jerked spasmodically once Wesker’s words sank in. A protest was on her lips, but Wesker moved too fast. The combat knife that Jessica had been holding was in his hand, and he had Claire’s wrist in a viselike grip before the latter could even process it.

Elliott started to rise from his seat, but Raymond surged forward, forcing Elliott to stay put by pushing down on his shoulders. The blade was drawn swiftly across Claire’s outstretched arm in the same instant, eliciting a scream from her.

When Wesker released his hold on her wrist, Claire withdrew her arm, hot tears escaping her eyes. She pressed her other hand to the gash in an instinctive effort to staunch the blood flow. Elliott echoed the foremost thought on her mind. “You son of a bitch!” Elliott said. Claire looked over at her companion. Even though Raymond had let go of him, he didn’t seem inclined to get up.

Wesker passed the knife back to Jessica, who promptly sheathed it. He paid Elliott no heed, his gaze remaining on Claire. “My apologies for causing you harm, Miss Redfield,” Wesker said. If his voice hadn’t lacked inflection, she might have considered forgiving him. “But it was necessary. When you feel ready, allow us to see.”

Claire didn’t move her hand. “Go to hell,” she growled before she could stop herself.

Wesker’s hands half-curled into fists. “Do not test me, Miss Redfield. Your friend’s life depends on it.”

Claire closed her eyes. It took everything she had to calm herself. She slowly uncovered her wound, but couldn’t bring herself to look. The blood on her arm and hand was already feeling sticky and made her nauseous. The smug smile on Wesker’s face intensified the ill feeling.

Excella looked pleased as well. “Not even a scratch,” she said. “You are definitely going to be one of our best investments, dear.”

The above scene as initially written didn’t sit well with me. After several days, I determined that Claire would surely be broken if subjected to two years of this kind of torment. And Wesker’s actions contradicted something he stated in an earlier chapter. The revised scene set a far different tone for the story and was one I was much happier with:

Wesker stepped around the desk, tracing the surface with one gloved hand as he moved. Claire tensed at his approach. “I never would have dreamed that you, Chris’ little sister, would possess such a rare genome,” he said. “Unfortunately, studies of your DNA can only reveal so much. It doesn’t tell us if you reap any of the benefits of the virus. Specifically, rapid healing.”

Claire jerked spasmodically once Wesker’s words sank in. When she saw Jessica holding the knife out toward Wesker, Claire shook her head in a panic. “No!”

Elliott started to rise from his seat, but Raymond surged forward, forcing Elliott to stay put by pushing down on his shoulders. Meanwhile, Wesker cocked his head to one side, looking amused by his captives’ reactions. Though Wesker took the knife, he gave no indication that he would use it. “I thought you would know by now that I always keep my word, Miss Redfield. I stated in our initial meeting that I had no intention of physically harming you.” He rotated the knife so that the hilt was facing her. “I leave the choice in your hands. Just know that if you attempt to attack me or my colleagues, there will be serious consequences.” Wesker’s eyes flicked towards Elliott during this last statement to exemplify who would suffer the consequences.

Claire hesitantly took the knife. “And if I don’t heal immediately?” she asked.

“Then I shall see to it you get the necessary medical attention,” Wesker said smoothly.

Claire paused, wondering at the wisdom of playing with fire. “Will I still be useful to you, if this doesn’t go the way you hope?”

Wesker shifted his stance, looking almost bored. She had to wonder if he was being agreeable only to get her to comply. “I will consider sending you and Mr. Gregory back home if you lack any regenerative capabilities.”

Claire watched him in silence for several seconds before casting her gaze downward. She didn’t like the way he worded it, but even a slim chance was better than nothing.

“Claire, don’t,” Elliott said. She looked over at him briefly. Raymond’s grip on Elliott’s shoulders must have tightened; a wince crossed Elliott’s face.

“I have to,” she answered. Claire positioned the blade next to her forearm, her breath coming out in rapid puffs to prepare herself. Before she could lose her nerve, she drew the knife swiftly across her skin. The anticipation didn’t stop her from hissing in pain; seeing her blood welling from the gash made her nauseous. Don’t heal, she thought. Please don’t heal.

Against her will, the wound knitted itself together within seconds. Claire looked away, feeling sick when she realized Wesker was offering her a disinfectant wipe. “To wash away the blood,” he said as an explanation. The smug smile on his face intensified her ill feeling.

Excella looked pleased as well. “Not even a scratch,” she said. “You are definitely going to be one of our best investments, dear.”

As I continued to surge forward with Tangled Web, I began brainstorming the last eight to ten chapters. I eventually had the ending planned down to the last detail, save for one. The aspect that caused me trouble was related to how Wesker would be defeated at the end. I needed him to venture into the caves below his facility, but I couldn’t think of any logical reason why he would go there. Especially if his intent was to take Claire’s newborn child. I can’t go into detail without spoiling the climax of Tangled Web, but I came up with one wicked plot twist in October 2016 that would make the setup work.

If there is one thing I love about fiction stories, it is being surprised by something that you don’t see coming. Plot twists are my favorite thing to incorporate in my own writing. I have at least four or five in store for the final chapters of Tangled Web, all of which have been subtly hinted at throughout the narrative.

Though I have a clear vision of how the story plays out, I still have a good amount of deleted material for it – ranging from bits of dialogue that didn’t work to entire scenes that got cut. I have been saving the deleted material in a separate file, which is currently thirty pages. My plan is to share it with fans of the story once Tangled Web is completed.

I have also attempted to write a companion story to Tangled Web called Razor’s Edge, though I never made it past four chapters on that one. It would have addressed the same two years, but largely through the perspective of Claire’s older brother, Chris. Ironically, I have a detailed summary for how Razor’s Edge would have gone, but I couldn’t find time to work on both stories simultaneously. I haven’t decided whether I will continue writing the companion story or scrap it altogether.

I have one other thing planned. I would like to make Tangled Web the first book in a trilogy. I have some ideas on where to go with the potential sequels. There might even be a chance for Wesker and Claire to become an item. Even if the additional stories never pan out, I will still be happy with what I’ve written. Tangled Web has definitely been a challenge for me between writing a complex character like Wesker and having Claire and Elliott build a believable romance while being held prisoner. Even though one member of my writing group feels that I’m wasting my time writing fanfiction, I’m glad I was able to pull off this type of story.

 

photo credits:

https://ae01.alicdn.com/kf/HTB1Irn3SpXXXXbCXFXXq6xXFXXXf/8-10-Month-hot-selling-font-b-Silicone-b-font-Fake-font-b-Pregnant-b-font.jpg

https://i.ytimg.com/vi/aLunebGZhs4/hqdefault.jpg

https://t00.deviantart.net/9IiC3FV_m2i_U_nqDcywpt6Hh6Y=/fit-in/700×350/filters:fixed_height(100,100):origin()/pre00/fd03/th/pre/i/2015/247/2/b/re5_midnight_albert_wesker_by_captain_albertwesker-d47qypg.jpg

https://pre00.deviantart.net/1085/th/pre/f/2013/282/5/a/albert_wesker_and_jill_by_wolfshadow14081990-d6ptx87.jpg

http://nerdreactor.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Wesker.jpg

https://www.colourbox.com/preview/2580450-with-web-clipping-mask.jpg

Coffee Shop Chronicles: Making friends in coffee shops, Part 2

The Fine Grind, a coffee bar

Little Falls, NJ

March 2017

Now that I have a seat, I’m restless.

It’s March, and far from feeling like winter. I settle into my cushion bench seat and look around the room.  This is still the only place to sit.  I reach for my writing bag when my for-here mug of Columbian coffee is brought to my table restaurant style.  What unexpected service.  Coffee shops are usually more self-serve.  I already know I’ll be back.

Time to look busy.  First thing, set up the tablet.  While it boots, I’ll look even more productive with my Happy Planner calendar on the table.  It has my blog schedule in it.  Next, my yellow notepad, a few colored pens and voila!  I’m all set to do work.

I don’t feel productive.  I feel cluttered.  I’m restless.

I always carry a few distractions in my workbag.  The item I’m craving to use is my Café Bingo game.  It was a gift from my writerly friend, Kelly, who said, “I thought of you instantly when I saw it.”  Yep, she got me right.  The idea is to Bingo with coffee shop stereotypes.  There are 12 cards, but I can play by myself.  I wonder: can I cover the entire board, or at least get a bingo?  There’s 0nly one way to find out.

These cards are reusable.  Cool!  I wasn’t sure how that worked.  When I read “pushing back” the squares on the package, visions of pieces popping off onto the table, never to be replaced again filled my head.  With this, you fold the cardstock squares back while playing and then refold them when you’re done.  I’m set to play with only one rule: I can’t count myself in any of the squares.

— Barista

That’s the center square and a gimme.

— MP3 player

Who carries these anymore?  I amend that to seeing a cell phone with headphones.  I see a hipster guy plugged in over in the comfy chair corner.

— Tip Jar

There’s one at the register where I ordered.  I don’t recall the handwritten note on it, but I’m sure it’s something like “Fear change? Leave it here” or “Tipping isn’t just for cows.”

— Newspaper

Sure enough, there’s an older man in a comfy leather lounge chair in the corner.  He’s reading a real newspaper, buried beneath an umbrella of inky pages.

— Laptop

Uhhh…yeah.  Who doesn’t come to a coffee shop without a laptop?  You have to look hip and trendy and productive.  Okay, I’m two for three right now, but my Surface has a detachable keyboard, so it would count for that square, if I included myself, which I’m not.  I’m still hipster-ette.

— Briefcase

There’s a guy in business clothes–a suit, maybe–with a speckled tan bag next to him.  I can’t see it exactly because it’s sitting on the floor and I don’t have a clear shot.  I count it.  I wouldn’t expect to see one of those hardcover square boxes with a latch and handle, and I’m surprised I think that.

— Cell Phone

This is another gimme.  A more challenging square would be “No cell phone.”

— Reuse of Cup

Remember, I can’t count myself.  A lot of people have for-here mugs on their tables.  Some people don’t.  What a waste.  Unless it’s tea.  Tea almost always needs a disposable cup.

— Date

I’m not sure how to count this.  The square shows two stick figures holding hands with a heart between them.  It’s just past lunchtime, so there are no caffeine kisses here.  There are lots of people sitting together in twos, and I’m sure someone is on some kind of date.  Meeting a friend for lunch, I count that.

— Iced Drink

I don’t see ice cubes anywhere, nor a dome lid cup sitting on any table.  Straight ahead there’s a woman with what looks like an icy blended drink.  It’s a shade color different than the store’s cardboard cups, but that’s good enough for me.

— Bulletin Board

This is a local coffee shop. Of course, there’s one.  Heck, even Starbucks has them.  The Fine Grind has theirs on the back wall between the bathrooms.  I saw that the first time I was here, but I found it awkward to peruse while people pee nearby.

— Spilled Drink

I didn’t expect to see this, but within five minutes of pulling out this game, a patron sloshes something on the floor.  It looks like water, but I feel rude staring at him.

— Meeting

There are no poster-board graphs or carpet swatches anywhere in here.   There’s no table of suits. There’s no cluster of notepad papers.  I bet some of these couples are in some sort of business meeting.  I glance at Briefcase Guy and wonder, can I count him twice?

— Rushed Patron

There’s one person walking deliberately to the door, so I count him.  He’s walking with a purpose not trudging along.

Now even the game is making me restless and bored.  I don’t think I can find the rest of the squares right now.  I can’t see outside the door, so I’m not sure there’s a Dog Waiting, another game square. This coffee shop is smooshed in a strip mall, not stretched on a quaint, tree-lined street among boutique stores, so I doubt I’d ever find one.  The woman at the high-top table against the wall, she may be dressed in All-Black Attire, again another game square, but I can’t tell if those are black pants or dark blue dress pants.

The other items I can’t find now are: Book; Menu Typo; Foreigners; Student; Latte Art; Goatee; Political Debate; Pastry Crumbs; and Artiste Glasses.

What I can’t wait to find is a friend to play this game with.

The Tolstoy Zone

The name, Leo Tolstoy, carries a bit of an intimidation factor. Tolstoy lived in the 1800s, and the world has changed since then. Many writers have come and gone, yet Tolstoy continues to be relevant.

At the library, I find several nondescript volumes lacking flashy colors, fonts and modern graphics. Recognizable titles include War and Peace (1400 pages), Anna Karenina (750 pages), The Cossacks (160 pages) and The Death of Ivan Ilyich (53 pages). I weigh my decision because quite literally my book bag is an unhealthy amount of heavy, and the winner is The Death of Ivan Ilyich. I load the three audio disks for my next commute to work and prepare for an easy week of listening to some old guy’s story about a different time and place. Instead, I discover “a dimension as vast as space and timeless as infinity . . . [that] lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.” It is an area called the Tolstoy Zone.1

Within minutes of beginning this novella, I want nothing more than to continue. Often, I stop and marvel at Tolstoy’s timeless words and characters. I bubble the aspects of theme that intrigued me as shown in the photo.

 

The “D” Word

In this novel [spoiler alert] Ivan Ilyich dies. Death is part one of Tolstoy’s two-part story. The author approaches theme like a shark circling its prey. On each pass, the shark takes a closer look at what it will consume. The Death of Ivan Ilyich begins with the outside view of death. How do the living view the dead? By reading the Gazette, Pyotr Ivanovich sees the obituary placed by the widow, Praskovya Fyodorovna Golovin. The shocking news becomes an opportunity for career advance for some and a relief for others. Ivan has died and not me. The friend, Pyotr, is one of only two guests for the funeral.  Uncomfortable realities exist in this time period when the dead remain in the home slowly decomposing for days; when an untimely and early death jeopardizes a family’s finances; and when illness causes long periods of declining health to a miserable end. Tolstoy leads the reader with Pyotr to the next revelation–fear. Next time, it might be me who dies.

Fear and death are universal themes much older than the 1880s. Biblical passages, such as John 11:38-44, have cultural ramifications of Lazarus’ death for Martha and Mary. Also, Ezekiel 37:1-14 symbolizes Israel’s hopelessness with a valley of dry bones. Death is both literal and figurative and represents aloneness, separation, desperation, destruction, loss of relationships and loss of possibilities. Tolstoy’s study of emotion is intimate, realistic and all encompassing. He writes of what modern readers recognize as the stages of grief published roughly a hundred years later by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her famous book On Death and Dying.

Life after Death

Ivan is dead, and Pyotr scuttles off to resume his card game and find a permanent replacement for his friend’s vacant seat. The circling shark has swallowed the prey. So what does Tolstoy do? He analyzes how the subject tastes from beginning to end and resets the clock to show how this terrible situation occurred.

The story changes narrators and pivots to be about life instead of death. If this sounds religious, it is no coincidence. According to Richard Pevear’s introduction for Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Stories, Tolstoy began a personal religious conversion to moral teachings known as “Tolstoyism,” and eventually published What is Art? to receive worldwide recognition.

If I am to read like a writer, I know “what” happens in this story and “why” this novella wrestles with finding meaning in life. The beauty in the story is “how” this message unfolds through Ivan’s thoughts about his life. It feels like a geometric proof written as poetry. Each statement builds upon the next. The narrator wants to live, but, then again, no; he only now considers the lack of meaning and suffering in his life. Although he has tried to be proper and correct, he lived his life wrong and failed to help the people who needed him the most. The transformation of Ivan’s character with only internal monologue is the key to Tolstoy’s mastery. Very clearly, Tolstoy uses Ivan Ilyich as an example of what not to do. Of course, it is an alert to change, but the final message is comforting. If Ivan Ilyich can find peace, so too can everyone else.

Tolstoy is approachable in this timeless novel. All of my earlier fears were wrong. I may never tackle War and Peace, but I appreciate Tolstoy’s writing.

  1. Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone Series 1963.