Times have changed in the last few decades, or have they? With the advantages and perils that the internet brought to our society, what looks to me like an extreme righteous mentality seems to dominate social media. This strict social conscience – a righteous mob – seems eager to point a finger and to burn the victim/person right away. It seems to feed itself, and the power of the mob creates martyrs of social media when guilt is assumed without giving the person the benefit of the doubt, a chance to present truth or facts that will point to redemption/innocence. Sometimes it seems as it is not even about the cause, but of how I ( the me, me, me) fit into it and can also participate in the latest crucifixion.
Why am I bringing this up? Well, as writers we develop characters and we try to portray them as credible and real as the pen allows. This only means that we make use of language, imagery, certain types of words – historical and period appropriate, popular and unpopular views, and even cliches, which might be necessary to create the story’s “environment” in order to tell it as best we can. How does this forced mentality, this “medieval” social mob hysteria affects writers today? Are we faithful to our story without letting the pressure of the times bind the pen, or do we quietly censor it? Do we exercise its free will or are we cautious about being perceived as the personification of our words? How do we separate character from writer without giving in to the righteous mob inquisition? It seems to me that sometimes, people cannot separate one from theother, and this might present a challenge for writers.
Will these medieval social times have an influence on future writers, their minds, and by default the pen? Will stories become diluted? Diluted enough to be politically correct? Historical fiction writers are presented with a challenge. It has been said that books, whether fiction or not, speak of the times when these were written, of the social conditions and atmosphere of the time. It permeates throughout the pages of a book, and many times, it remains alive between the lines.
The other day, I thought about how blessed we are now, at this time. Writers are able to realize their writing dreams thanks to the amazing technology available, much of it at low cost. These are blessed times for writers, whether you write via an independent publishing venue, a blog, social media, or other method. I am very grateful for this. When I was younger I wanted to publish my work independently, but it would have cost so much money, hence why many of us set the dream aside until adulthood. No other generation had the opportunity we have today. However, for me, this also presented the challenge of sorting through all the information/methods available, and keeping up with it all (an impossible task). Everyday, there is more information, technology, venues available so trying to understand it all is plain silly.
Much time went into sorting things out, especially, when the gates of publishing were opened. Reviewing my experience made me think about what advice would I offer myself back then. I thought about it and if I was to put it in once sentence it would be – Find your way. Realizing that “just because everyone is doing something one way, doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to” was not easy, especially in those early days. People tend to follow patterns/trends in new territory; it is human nature, and hence why things go viral. We are social mamals whether we realize it or not. When a new venture/technology or other, is in the early stages we tend to follow and take notes in order to learn. That is a good thing but it could also be confusing, even frustrating, more so when something that “has been proven” to work for other people does not work for you. In hindsight, my advice to myself at that time would have been to slow down and treat information as just that, not as a bible for writers or written in stone. Information serves the only purpose of presenting alternatives, being an aid in learning.
If you are just at the beginning of your writing journey, you will need to learn, and tons of information is available. It is a blessing, however, during your learning/study process you will doubt yourself when that information might not match your reality or expectations. That is all fine. Sort through it, pick up what applies to you as a writer, and keep on moving. Find and do what feels right for you. Find your way.
I have been working on finishing my next book, and have taken a break, which for some reason, I need to do after finishing a story. I am waiting for the proof, and if everything seems right, The Five-dollar Miracle will see the light soon.
While I was on this break, I began to ponder about this new story, and how different it is from my previous novels. I thought about my previous works, and I wondered if my writing is evolving on to another level and even a different style. Of course, I don’t have the answer to that question. I write the book that wants to be written, the one that screams at me the loudest, and that only means that I have to set aside my plans to write the story I thought I would write next. While thinking about my previous books, I realized that my favorite character wasn’t necessary the main character.
As writers, we craft characters, and I believe that characters craft us as well. When writing a novel, we create these imaginary beings to tell a story, but many times those characters reveal themselves to us; they show up. Sometimes, they even write themselves by refusing our pen, our ideas of who they are to become. One of the main characters in Moonlit Valley refused to be written the way I first envisioned him. Jeremy Sandbeck fought my pen from the start. Eventually, I let him be. Initially, I had envisioned him as a methodical, reserved, soft spoken intellectual young man who wore glasses, but he fought me to become quite the opposite. As I wrote him on the first novel and later series, he developed much more, and grew into what he needed to be. Although character development and evolution is expected in a series, this taught me to listen to my characters. In this case, he knew what was best for the story. My original view of him would not have worked as well.
By now, you might be thinking that Jeremy Sandbeck is my favorite character; he is not. My favorite character was introduced in Moonlit Valley, and was intended as a necessary secondary, even tertiary character. Originally, he was not intended by me to make it through the entire story, maybe a couple of chapters. Instead, he stayed through Moonlit Valley, and made it into The Dinorah Chronicles series. It surprised me. His name is Cole Angelou. Although he did not fight my pen as Jeremy Sandbeck did, he grew on me and slowly evolved into a much needed and important figure in the main character’s life. He became a life line.
Cole Angelou is an Anarth. Anarths are highly evolved celestial beings who take human form to fulfill a duty on Earth. Anarths do not age. They posses strength and speed abilities, psychic powers, as well as being capable of traveling between realms in milliseconds. Their senses are heightened and human emotions overwhelm them. Their duty is to live on Earth as sentinels. They monitor and protect key humans who are important in human evolution, and ensure that blue prints are being executed according to the divine plan. They are not angels, and are a few ranks below.
Cole Angelou is the voice of reason, cool, collected, and reserved. He doesn’t interfere in your business unless asked or when necessary, that is without infringing on free will. He is cautious, does not trust easily, and respects hierarchy. One thing I enjoyed when writing this character was to see him get out of his comfort zone and even break a few rules (all for a good reason/purpose).
If I had to question how he ended up staying throughout the series, and beyond my original plan for him, I would say that he did not fight my pen, and he let me write him. However, he creeped in slowly, evolving as the story developed, to the point of becoming crucial, needed, important to it. Did Cole Angelou trick me? I don’t know but he became my favorite character.
Throughout the years, I have discovered what works for me as far as my writing routine and process, as well as likes and dislikes. I think that it is important for a writer to feel comfortable in the process, at home and at peace with your pen. I would like to share some of the things that have become my constants when writing. As time goes by, you will attune to your pen speed.
I have a better disposition for writing in the morning.
I cannot write in my pajamas. I must be dressed and ready, and only after breakfast will I write.
I write a first draft by hand, old school, with paper and pencil. Later on, I will type it, either by chapters as I finish them, or I will wait until the entire manuscript is done and type it. I prefer to write in pencil. I have a collection of vintage pencils for that purpose.
I must print the manuscript for revisions; I don’t like to read and revise from the computer screen.
Many times, the title comes up first before the story is written. Sometimes, the end presents itself first, whether as an image, and idea, or a single line.
I don’t outline. Side notes develop as I write. I consider that my raw outline.
I cannot force the story. It flows freely, and sometimes it surprises me. By that I mean that something unplanned reveals itself, something I had not thought about the story.
I prefer traditional methods of organizing my notes/work than electronic methods – rolodex (some of you might be too young to know what that is), metal box for index cards, and many other things. I tried electronic devices and methods but lost interest. The magic was simply not there for me. I still use a planner or an old ledger to organize my work for the day.
I go through three revisions before a final edit. I must take at least a day or two off (not looking at the manuscript) between revisions.
I can only focus on writing one story at a time; I give it my all. I admire people who can write more than one story at a time.
After I finish a story, I must take time off before starting another. Emotionally, I feel drained a bit. I need time to recharge.
I have learned to listen to my characters and not impose the pen on them.
I have learned to slow down to the speed of my pen and the flow of the story. I will not rush it. Also, I have eliminated the word prolific from my writing process. I dedicate as much time as the story needs; however, I have deadlines in place for my own benefit.
Sometimes, I place an inspirational prop (related to the story) nearby. For Moonlit Valley it was a vintage Shirley Temple doll. For the story I am writing now (The Five-dollar Miracle) it is a sky blue envelope.
My favorite character is not necessarily the main character.
When revising, I need to read aloud, sentence by sentence. It helps me determine how reader friendly the pace is. Sometimes, I may need to rehearse a line.
I don’t find weird anymore if I cry when writing a scene or if I talk with a character; it is all for the story.
Before starting a chapter, I like to say a short prayer. It helps me center.
I learned to accept that sometimes, I must put aside the story I want to write next and write the one that speaks louder (the nagger).
I write better in an organized/neat environment. Out in nature works well too.
I must have a thesaurus and a dictionary next to me when I revise. Sometimes the first or second word I chose is not the best one to use.
I feel my best when I write or when I create something.
These are just a few of the constants that have developed over time. I have tried other methods but this seems to work well for me. What seems to work for you? What are the things you would not change in your writing process.
I wish to share a few pictures of my beloved writing tools. I understand that these might not work for many people, but I love these and they make me happy, and these enhance my writing environment as well. As you write, over time, you will develop your writing nest, an environment in which you feel at peace and at home – your writing sanctuary.
For many years I’ve tried to define my writing niche – my little genre box. The truth is that I don’t have one. For some reason, I cannot box myself in a particular genre. I cannot define myself as a (fill the blank) writer. When asked the question, I cannot say that I am a romance writer, a mystery writer … so I usually answer with “I am a fiction writer” or “I write fiction.” It is not that I won’t commit to a genre or that there is a lack of clarity. It is not that I cannot decide on one particular genre and stick with it, as many experts suggest. I have pondered my reasons for not going inside the box many times. The only answer I can come up with is that I want to be open to write the book that wants to be written.
I labeled my first published novel a paranormal romance for lack of a better genre definition, but truthfully, I don’t feel that I am a paranormal romance writer. The novels are more inspirational in nature than romantic, and they have a supernatural vibe. The current story I am working on – The Five-dollar Miracle – is an inspirational story and very different from my other books. One theme that seems to filter into my writing is that of the divine and the supernatural working together. It is the only thread that seems to give my writing a cohesive element. Other than that, I am open to any story that wants to be written.
So what am I? I guess that when forced to stick on a label, I will call myself an inspirational fiction writer but that feels a bit too boxy for me. Instead, I will let inspiration mold my pen and trace a path. Of course, this is irreverent to traditional publishing/writing and to the mighty pen gods, the omniscient powers that be. I am at peace with that.
This is a short story that came to me this morning, and I decided to include it as today’s blog post. It is a bit grim but not so grim. Eventually, I would like to publish a few of my short stories in an anthology. I hope you enjoy this one.
It was a sunny day; I saw it cloudy. The silence was too loud inside my head. The stillness, a cloak for the raging waters of my soul. I glanced outside my window. The trees moved to the gentle breeze as a dance of death began inside my head. I could hear the deaf sound of loneliness; it had become my lullaby. Isolation became the clothes I wore daily. I searched the empty corridors of my heart over and over; I found nothing. It had morphed into an empty shell of despair, a chamber of hollow beats. There, I found nothing that would justify the next heartbeat.
A chilling breeze danced nearby; Death awaited. I could feel her mutable presence begging me to speed up the process. I was ready. How did it get to this moment? Did it matter? I didn’t require an answer. An answer made things complex. I heard the doorbell. I ignored it. It rang a second time, and a third, until it became noise. I placed the gun next to an empty picture frame. Somehow, I never got to place a picture in it. I counted twelve steps to the door. I opened it. I didn’t bother to bolt it anymore. I had no cares. I forced a smile. It almost hurt at the corners of my mouth. No one was at the other side to return my crooked smile. I looked around; no one was there. I stepped out on the front porch. No one was there.
I saw a splash of red fluttering to my left. A cardinal perched on the Forsythia bush surely made a nice contrast to the bright yellow buds. How did I never noticed that before? Something scurried up the old cedar tree. It was a squirrel, then came another, and they chased each other up and down the old cedar.
“That old cedar must have seen so much,” I mumbled.
I sat on the front steps. A crow marched unpretentiously on the horizon. It almost shimmered as the sun hit its feathers. I felt the warmth of the sun on my skin. How long had it been? A busy party of little brown birds scattered throughout the ground looking for food. A reddish wasp rested atop a chair, as if thawing from a frost or waking from a dream, its wings resting downward. The sun’s warmth felt good on my skin. Everywhere I looked I saw signs of life. Life was everywhere; I could see it if I cared to see it. I felt something fuzzy rubbing my leg in a rhythm.
“Where did you come from, lil’ fellow?”
The disheveled black kitten was skin and bones; I could count its ribs. It kept rubbing against my leg, and I could hear a faint purr becoming louder. It was so tiny. I picked it up and it nuzzled against my arm, then it nestled. I sat out there for a while. The kitten fell asleep in my arms, and I observed the rhythm of life around me.
“What am I going to do with you lil’ fellow? It looks like you will be needing me for a while, at least until you fatten and grow up a bit more.”
The crow restled with a worm until it came out of the ground. The squirrels moved on to another tree.
“What should I name you? Hum, let me think. Aha, you shall be called Rigor, but we’ll leave the mortis out; how is that?”
Rigor became my inseparable friend for the next 15 years. To all, he was a black cat; to me, he was life, and a constant reminder. During that time, I never found out who rang the doorbell.
The other day, I was thinking about previous generations, as well as historical novels. I am not sure what prompted the thought, however, it took me all the way to the Millennial generation.
Usually, there are many generations represented in a story. Writing characters that are defined by their generation is not an easy task. In memoirs, the generational gaps and influences are more easily identified and naturally present than in a work of fiction. Futuristic stories present a challenge when timelines cross, even when a futuristic novel is all made up as far as time, place, and life of the characters, in general. All this made me think about my generation as well as one generation that in my opinion, has been misrepresented – the Millennials.
I am from the later years of the Baby Boomer generation, one of the largest and most talked about generations in the USA. Baby Boomers have met their counterparts in the sense of a most talked about generation, and much has been said about Millennials. Unfortunately, not all positive, and many times disserving.
Millennials were born between 1981-1996. Many points of view describe Millennials in a negative way, from being lazy to overly sensitive, and many other labels in between. Many times, when I hear someone complaining about Millennials they are unknowingly referring to someone who is from a post millennial generation. It seems to me that Baby Boomers and Millennials tend to clash the most. I think Baby Boomers have a hard time passing the baton, especially, to a generation that likes to do things differently.
There are many things I love about Millennials. I love that Millennials are very creative. They seem to enjoy the process of finding new ways, especially when things that were done “the Baby Boomer way” do not work for them. Society has changed so much in the past few decades, and many of our societal rituals and processes have undergone dramatic changes, many times due to technological changes. What worked for Baby Boomers may not work as well for Millennials. Many of them might see our system as broken.
Millennials seem to operate more openly, in general. They seem to view their day as a whole. I find that my generation compartmentalized everything – work, home life, social life … . One of the biggest sins in the “work life” for my generation was to bring your personal life to work. Your personal issues were very private and should remain so. Millennials are not bothered by this, and they do not understand why an older person might be annoyed by this behavior. This wholesome and open approach to living engulfs many facets of the Millennial’s life. I love that they seem to find time to have fun while living. Baby Boomers scheduled fun for a more appropriate time – when they were set in life financially or on a well deserved vacation. Baby Boomers worked hard all their life, many times postponing the joys of living until the golden years. Of course, the times, challenges, and the economy were different those days, and this post only makes a general comparison between these two generations. It is not meant to be judgmental of any generation.
I love that Millennials see the world in a global way, less regional. We are one planet, and that makes sense to me. They love to travel and explore, and see traveling as a way of life, not as a vacation. This view makes them more open to other cultures. I love that Millennials seem to process information differently than previous generations. This fast and focused way might render them insensitive to previous generations sometimes; even labeled as having no good manners. I am not a scientist or in the medical field, but I have read that the brain constantly makes connections and those connections are based in part, on outside stimuli. We can all agree that things have changed a lot in the past few decades. I love that Millennials have a sense of humor, a bit different, and it might render them insensitive to previous generations as well.
Many Millennials are parents by now, others are starting careers, and in a way, one day they will become the Baby Boomers of future generations, and maybe then, we’ll understand each other better.
How do you represent a particular generation in your novel?
I believe we are open books, living stories. I believe that there is a book (the book of life) with our story and name in it, and we are free to fulfill that story or not (free will). Sometimes, it feels as if we are on track, everything goes so well and things flow accordingly. At other times, it feels as if every step we take is met by a struggle, a stumble, or a road block. Sometimes, it may feel as if one cannot move at all. Life block, I call it, similar to writer’s block.
The flow of life may not be smooth at times, but it is always constant. From the minute we open our eyes in the morning (or at night) we are making choices/decisions. From what to wear, eat for breakfast, or even if we will get up at all, get to work … to more complicated choices such as career, marriage, and many other issues. Every time we take a step forward (or backward) by deciding, whichever that might be, we are writing the story of our lives. However, it is not only about “me” because those choices/decisions cross over to other people’s lives. I may think that I am living “my life” but my story is intertwined with the story of others. It is happening right now, as I write this post. Someone out there will read it eventually, and will think about these words – our stories have crossed. “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” – Luke 6:31 Could not have said it better.
As writers, we love to make up stories; its is the air we breathe. However, the most important story we’ll ever write is our own.
“Write what you know.” I’ve heard this advice many times, and have to admit that I did not realize the depth of it until the other day when I was thinking about the past decade, when a lot of changes took place in my life. Previously, I thought that it referred to field of study, work, expertise, and current/past endeavors, the intellectual and methodology areas, for most part. Rarely did I think of all the emotional impact that living brings to writing. Aside from memoirs, DIY/expert books, educational, and self-help books, where the emotional and factual views are strong, other genres seemed to me a bit more “creative and imaginative” as well as less constrained and more freely approachable.
As writers, many of us are observers and draw much inspiration from our environment and practically anything that crosses our path. However, we tend to forget where we have been in life, emotionally, and tend to dismiss our feelings in those life situations as past. This information is permanently attached/stored in us, and ready to be used as inspiration on our next novel. It will serve us when describing a situation , a similar place, a character that is feeling something we already experienced. Yes, we have all experienced life in different ways, at many levels. Have you ever been wronged in some way, betrayed, tricked, taken for granted? Ever suffered the loss of a loved one? Have you ever been through so much that it hurts to remember? Have you been so happy, in love, elated, and/or experienced the most sublime of moments in your life? Have life been good to you? Then you can describe with vivid intent how your characters feel in similar situations, making them as human and real as you can. You are writing what you know, and know well. The rest is up to your creativity, passion, and imagination. For writing what you know goes beyond expertise, it transcend your intellectual knowledge of the physical, it duels in you, forever.
A book can be inspirational, educational, entertaining, instructional, helpful, and so many other things, but it can also be a healing tool for the reader as well as it’s author.
I have done a bit of soul searching. In retrospect, a lot has happened in the past 7 years, including my decision to publish independently. Time goes by quickly. There are so many things I’ve learned that to sum it all in one post is not easy, but what I can do is write about a few things I learned in the process, and how important these became in my decision to continue on this path.
I have narrowed it to four points that represent the most challenging elements during that time.
Timing – I had to learn to recognize my own timing and honor it. This was not easy for me. As a person who likes clarity, does not tolerate drama too well, and likes things straight and to the point, I have to say that timing translated into being patient with myself, allowing the time I needed to learn much of the craft and some of the technology attached to it, as well as weed out information while learning to recognize the pertinent information and disregard the rest. Impatience and rush/speed did not have a place in this process, as it was one of discovery and education. The bulk of it happened in the first two years, and it was frustrating at times. I needed to know many things about the writing process but also discover what was right for me, my working style, my pace, my ethics, and what I wanted from it all. And as we all know, the learning process never ends, but I could figure out where I was headed as far as publishing venues and method. Independent publishing was the right venue for me, as far as fitting my personality, work ethic, and writing goals. For me, timing was one of the most important elements during this process.
Commitment – Once I had an idea of the process, had gone through much of the raw learning steps, and mentally dealt with the immensity of the amoutnt of information that was being put out there by other indie writers (which was all over the place and in a broad spectrum), I was able to make a commitment to myself with some clarity as far as what I wanted. During this time I found it very challenging to not fall prey of the publishing frenzy that everyone seemed to have at one point – to publish volume at a fast pace, inundating Amazon and other venues with electronic books. I had to shake off the feelings of “being behind” and replace them with my own sense of what felt right for me, and at what pace. Once I understood what I wanted out of it, and made a long term commitment that had no monetary value attached to it, it became easier to deal with those feelings of “being behind.” The commitment did not come right away but as a result of going through the timing and education process.
The Others – Not minding the Others. The Others refers to what other people thought about my decision to write and publish independently. From views that were as narrow as the eye of a needle to more aceptable views and opinions, many times not solicited, I had to learn that all of it was inconsequential for me. Questionable motives, hurtful comments, and very ortodox views about the craft, had to mean absolutely nothing to me as far as entertaining them in my mind. The Others had no say as far as I was concerned. Learning to deal with the negative during this process determined the next element – Trust.
Trust – Trust is an ongoing issue when it comes to my writing. Not only do I have to trust my internal process and the pen, but also, the inner me has to let the writer out. If you tend to be demanding of yourself, and a bit hard on yourself as well, like I am many times, then trust doesn’t come easy. If by nature you are a trusting person, I think it will flow a bit easier, but if you are not, trusting may present a challenge when it comes to writing, as well as any other endeavor. Trusting the process, trusting yourself, and trusting God, comes all wrapped in a package that you unwrap many times, over and over. I view trust as the most challenging element on this journey, mostly because it determined if I was to take the plunge or not. Trust also refers to keep the commitment when results do not match expectation, and goes hand in hand with faith. Faith is defined as confident belief, trust, conviction, loyalty, allegiance, and also, as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
Trust is an ongoing element. In retrospect, in the past years these elements have been present in my life and most influential as far as my writing journey. As far as summing it all up to this point, I identify those elements as the most important ones in my experience so far. I hope that if you are starting on your journey as a writer, this post offers a bit of help or at least some clarity. Of course, each journey is unique.