Friday, July 12, 2019

Behind the Scenes: Writing "Melody's Crescendo"

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This post speaks to my personal writing process for “Melody’s Crescendo” and it contains spoilers for that work.  For a deeper understanding of the elements included or explained in this post please read my flash fiction (it’s short and free ^_^).

Our writers’ group looks at open calls for submission and all of us write toward one of the prompts together.  We share were we are in process, provide feedback on how each person took the same prompt in a different direction, and encourage each other to submit out completed stories.  

Melody’s Crescendo hatched from a call for action stories. Zach Standfield picked out this prompt.  It’s little surprise since he writes crime themed stories, that he thought a call for a short action story would be ideal. The other writers in my group have their stories from this exercise published.  I felt it was only fair Melody’s Crescendo see the light of day too.

Writing short, action driven narratives is not my strong suit (see what I write instead here).  I ramble and my interests align with themes and ideas more than actions or characters.  But I wasn’t about to admit I couldn’t write a short action piece, so I workshopped some ideas.  Both my mother and my husband had to hear a plethora of pitches and complaints for this prompt.  But I'm not a quitter and no one will ever accuse me of not completing a prompt (though chances are good I'll violate the spirit of the prompt just to be contrary ^_~).

The action genre has a lot of leading dudes.  War and spy movies come to mind first when someone says “action genre” with “crime fiction” a close third. I knew I wanted to subvert those expectations.  So I made my main character female, and I dropped her into college.  

I set the event at a party because I wanted my character to be the 'good guy'.  If Melody hunts out her ex, then she’s looking for trouble.  If she’s in her sorority house enjoying a party and the ex shows up, he’s the asshole.  Because the fight happened in Melody's home turf there's underlying tension to the scene.  If Melody isn't safe here, where can she retreat to?  Is this one bad relationship going to chase her out of college?  

There’s a lot of swearing.  College drinking culture = potty mouth (tell me I’m wrong youth).

The names were the most fun part of this story.  Melody is in my top twenty girls' names or all times, and the plays off the name seemed to flow. Her friend’s name is Robin because we know birds for chirping melodic beats.  

The work itself: Melody’s Crescendo refers to a musical notation that looks like < under a few stanzas of music.  It’s meant to indicate how a song gradually gets louder throughout the marking.  Melody’s story gets louder until she’s thrown in the bathroom.  I wanted to title the work “Melody’s Accelerando Crescendo” because the story beats pick up speed and volume, but that’s not a pretty title.  Plus, it’s a little on the nose.  

Music interests me in relation to an action based story because it has inherent movement without violence. I liked the nod to nonviolent action even if I wrote a story that incorporates a fight scene. I also like music because fight scene are choreographed like a dance.  I don't have to explain the connection between music and dance or how choreographing a fight is pretty much what I did for this story, right?  These were little elements to keep me engaged in writing something I'd usually avoid.

I held onto the Melody’s Crescendo for years without ever submitting it for publication.  My genre niche is in fantasy and there are no fantastic elements in this story.  Melody’s Crescendo leans into my 'feminist agenda,' or feels like it does anyway since the story covers rape, domestic abuse, and female friendship.  It’s a good story, but I didn’t want to be the girl author who writes about women.  More recently, I’ve seen how stupid that is.  I am an author who writes about “women’s issues” (FYI these are human issues not women only ones and I hate that anytime you want to speak about them you have to label them women's issues) and female identity. While I don’t think it’s my primary goal in work, it’s in all my writing.  Melody's Crescendo doesn't have the luxury of fantastic elements to couch some of the issues my protagonist faces, but her story shares more commonalities than different with other characters I've written.  

I hope you enjoyed Melody’s Crescendo and thanks for your curiosity in how it came together.  For more short stories try Halloween Spirit  (an about is here) or our writer’s group round robin with my ending.  

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Melody's Crescendo

Melody’s Crescendo
by Jessica Donegan

Cheers erupt in the cold Beta Girls' basement.  Melody dances uncoordinated, out of time with the music, but with her team.  Loose-limbed humming victory flushes.  This is her flip cup team's 12th consecutive win, and she thinks her girls might catapult her into the Beta Girl's Hall of Fame.  The longest streak this basement has ever seen was 52 games.  Twelve is practically half way there!  Melody never met River or her team, they'd graduated three years before Melody was even applying for college, but she knows those girls had to be light weights.  Only a measly 52 games and they'd puked it all back up.  River's team should have had a longer streak, but they didn’t their liquor.  

Not Melody's team. Through careful selection, she chose girls both competent at the game and able to drink all night without breaking the seal.  These girls could stay conscious through fucking elephant tranquilizers.  And, they were the meanest nastiest girls Beta had ever rushed.  Heavy set, muscled, and squat.  Nobody would flirt with one of these bitches or even pity fuck them.  No wandering dicks to distract them from the game.   

The Beta boys had enough of losing to their sister chapter.  Ready to concede defeat, they shuffled out of the way.  A few of them throw encouraging happy grins at Melody and her team.  Not everyone played to win.  Flip cup is often a social game meant more to pass time and get bored students a happy drunk. 

Pines boys team shuffles up.  In passing, Melody wonders why she and the girls have to run through all the boys' teams first.  Girls are better at flip cup than boys, it's a truth sure as the sky being blue.  But boys will continue to take losses until a girl needs to grip the table with one hand while her spiked heels scramble on suddenly slick concrete.  They'll use the other hand to continue to play and still make that boys' team look like the saddest lightweights ever to grace the hallowed game table.  But the point is—no—really there is no point.  There's only this night and this game.  Melody is going all the way.

And as happens these days, the world shifts around Melody.  The worst thing that could happen to her is right across from her.  Melody's ex, aptly renamed Poop Deck by his Frat bros, is staring her down yet again.  That cocky gaze is stripping her bare.  His half smirk lingers on bruises still healing from their last altercation.  He knows what he did—what he does over and over with whoever he wants.  Melody's terrible luck was that at one point, she was something he wanted.

 Seeing him is like being hit with cold water.  The shock clings as she stares back at that mocking and taunting face.  Everyone around her knows, and no one will do shit about it.   

Her team is shifting with tension.  The boys laugh nervously.  “Is this ok?” the sounds seem to ask even though of course the fuck it's not.

Melody forces numb lips into a smile and she bobs her head and squares her shoulders.  She stands her full 5'2"—no 5'11" in these heels.  Even with the extra height she's still a good head shorter than Poop Deck.  No wonder he thinks he can do whatever.  

Well, not here.  Not tonight.     

The rounds are going faster than before.  Either the Pines boys are terrible or Melody's team is in a rush.  Seems like both.  Melody may avoid eye contact, but she knows his eyes have never moved from her.  Skin crawling, she feels grimy in a way even the dirtiest basement doesn’t inspire.  

 Once they finish the lineup, they can demand the other team to fuck off and let someone else play.  Usually, teams square off till one of them tires of playing, but Melody isn't about to stand here with her ex's eyes boring into her skull for hours.  

 Finally, Melody meets his eyes when it’s their turn to share a hand shake.  He has a big sloppy grin that tells Melody he'd drank his way through a twenty-four rack before even hitting the party.  She remembers how much he likes to pre-game.  Loves to be out of his mind.  The disgusting shit stain can't deal with what he's done to all those women when he's sober. 

Sloppy, he raises his hand for the first part of their shake.  Intros to flip cup rounds can be as complex or simple as the two squaring off make them.  Melody is hoping for a brief touch of hands and she's startled when that strong hand pulls her in. His face locks with hers in what a stupid person would call a kiss.  Melody can hear the cackles and whistles.

Melody pulls back as soon as she has the balance for it.  Even as her face retreats, her left arm is swinging in towards Poop Deck's throat.  The connection hurts her hand even through the numb tingles of booze.  If those bugged eyes and gaping mouth are anything to go on, the punch hurt Poop Deck more than her.  

Right hand free of his crushing grip, red subsumes Melody.  She's lifting the card table and plows it into Poop Deck and the dumbfounded Frat bros. Melody has a hazy sense of her team backing away from the game.  They are circling and closing rank, destroying any chance a saner person may intervene.  Melody spares a moment to admire her team.  Twenty games in and sober enough to back away from the table, definitely the right team to beat a fifty game winning streak.  Maybe next party they'll get a chance.  

Now Melody is swinging at Poop Deck's face.  All her momentum is forward.  She's half victorious and half terrified.  If he regains his footing if he finds an opening—he's going to fucking kill her.  But Melody commits.  If she can, she'll end him first.   

Poop Deck staggers to the side and Melody's forward motion sends her sailing against the unfinished cement basement wall.  She can feel him moving to strike her exposed back.  In a rush, she launches herself to the left and away from where she thinks he’ll next attack.  His hands scrapes against the rough wall Melody once occupied.  He grabs a fistful of her hair.  

Melody screams as he yanks her like a doll.  She tries to back step.  Her heels dig into ancient dirt, trying to keep her from sliding closer.  Her scalp is on fire and chunks of hair pull loose.  It's not enough.  He has Melody against his chest and is forcing his mouth over hers as she pushes and scratches at him.  

Melody is flung from Poop Deck.  Sprawled on the floor, knees, and hands bloody, she takes far too long to realize what's happened.  Lucky, her Beta sister, jumped on top of Poop Deck from behind.  Her legs wrapped around his waist, one arm around his neck choking him, and the other pummeling blows to his eyes and nose.   Melody’s arms sprawl trying to find a weapon as she totters upright.  

The bat rolls out of the gloom.  No time to thank whoever armed her, Melody stalks back towards Poop Deck.  He's busy dealing with Lucky, but not for much longer.  He's squeezing the girl against the wall.  As Melody approaches, his huge hands find Lucky’s head and slam it against the cement.  She slides away limp and unconscious.  

Melody steps in and swings.  A solid connection with Poop Deck's face.  He reels to the side, away from Lucky.  Vicious joy runs through Melody as she steps towards Poop Deck and aims her next blow for her ex's lower ribs.  The crack in connecting is sweet as jungle juice and twice as gritty.  She's panting in exertion.  Sweat beads and steam rises from her.  

Poop Deck is still moving.  Struggling to rise.  Melody leans on the bat like a cane.  She's having trouble getting enough air, but she knows one fact.  She is not letting Poop Deck get up.  Stiletto heels stomp his braced hand.  

Poop Deck howls.  Sweet music in Melody's scarred mind.  Her joy at his pain disgusts her.  Careful of her own balance, she lifts the bat overhead, intent on slamming it down on his unprotected face.  If this doesn't put him down, nothing will.   

Restraining arms wrap around hers and pull her from her prey.  Melody screeches, terrified of the hands.  She struggles.  

"No, no no no no no no no no NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"  she babbles.  Adrenaline's clarity is leaving her, and she's back in flashing nightmares of all the other times someone's grabbed her and held her down.  She kicks. 

Someone behind her swears angry as her elbow connects.  The jolt running through her own body isn't pleasant, but it drives her frenzy.  She tries to bite at hands around her arms, but they shift and adjust.  Flung in a bathroom alone, Melody throws herself at the door and screams murder.  No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no.  

Sick with anxiety, Melody pukes.  She falls to her knees, defeated.  This is the end, and she knows it.  He'll survive and once he has his balance, he'll be back on her.  Why would this time be any different?  Tears slide, there's no one to see and no reason to hide.  She's never hurt him like this, but even the little cuts, he's returned in triplicate.  She shudders at the thought.  Will she be a closed casket?  Eyes swollen shut and nose disfigured beyond recognition.

Someone knocks and Melody shuffles as far away from the door as she can.  

"Melody sweetness,"  her roommate, Robin, queries.  

Melody stays quiet.  She steps towards the door, turns the knob, and opens the door.

Robin stands alone and uncertain.  She shifts from one heel to the other and chews her lip.  

"Hey Hon, I brought you a pair of flats and a jacket," Robin offers, holding a bundle in front of her like a shield.  

Wary for traps, Melody scans her.  Her brain isn't keeping up with current events.  A week ago Robin was with her at a party leaning against Poop Deck and telling him how charming he was.  If she could turn on him, what makes Melody think she won't trick her too?  Critical eyes sweep Robin, but no matter how long Melody stares, she doesn't see the dagger hiding, ready to strike. 

Tears flow from Robin's eyes and tumble down her face.  "I didn't know," she rushes.  

"No, that's not true is it?"  Bitterness darts and her lips draw in.  Melody and Robin share shadows of so many past events.  Little slaps excused as drunken mistakes, large handprints hidden by a series of scarves but no roommate could miss, and mean, cruel, terrible remarks sprinkled across the past year.  Robin knew.  

"I didn't understand and I'm sorry I took so long to get it,"  Robin fills.  

"But," a long hesitation and Robin looks away embarrassed.  "I'm here now.  You don't have to be alone if you don't want to."  

Melody isn't sure what she will do, only that she's moving.  And she's hugging Robin, her best friend again.  Relief is rushing through her thick and sweet like honey.  She doesn't know what will happen, but Melody thinks she can stop carry her terror alone.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Going Through Copy Edits!

My Copy Editor, Kristy Stewart of Looseleaf Tea returned my manuscript this past Wednesday!

As long-term readers and friends may suspect, I’ve been too keyed up to do much new writing (blogging/creative/ect).  But, I committed to post once a week on each of my blogs so let me offer some editing observations.  

1. I am over the moon with excitement.  Didn’t know it was humanly possible to be so energetically happy so long, figured it would burn something in my system out.  

2. It’s taking longer to approve/reject changes than I expected.  Mark up on a word document can be difficult to see if it’s a single comma (and I’m missing a lot of those).  It’s also tedious any time my editor makes a period a comma or a comma a period because I have to approve 3 changes individually (agree to delete the original punctuation, agree to accept the new punctuation and agree to capitalization or lower case of the following word).

3. There're fewer edits than I expected.  Not a knock on Kristy, her work is thorough.  I just mentally set my mind back into English paper mode.  I never scored well on those in school.

4. The recommended edits are a continuation of work I’ve already done.  She suggests a lot of verbs tense change, and I’ve changed a million verb tenses a million times already.  I still missed some or changed them incorrectly.  I would never get these tense right without outside eyes, so that alone is worth my money.

5. There are open-ended comments.  Like “this is confusing for X reason. Consider clarifying.”  

6. I don’t know how/when to hyphen words together.  When I’m done with these edits, I’m rereading those rules.  

7.  Even though she was copy editing, there are little gems that show what a strong grasp of character and plot Kristy has.  So far, she’s made two suggestions to add a line of dialogue here or there that should have been obvious fixes for me, but I needed someone to suggest.

8. She’s suggestion : and ; but I’m rejecting them still.  I’m aware of what grammar says about these things, but I have an ever expanding list of why these two kinds of punctuation do not belong in fictional prose (funny coming from someone who is using a colon in their book’s title). 

9. She’s adding some “that” back into my writing and she’s starting some of my sentences with And or But.  Both elements I culled due to massive overuse.  It’s nice when someone else sprinkles them in.

10.  In a few notable places where my writer’s group asked me to change something, and I held onto it for detailed reason X, Kristy asked for the same changes.  My writers’ group will be happy to know I capitulated.  

11. Even though I use breath and breathe all the time in my stories, I don’t know when to use which. 🙄

12. Toward vs Towards also comes up a lot.  Maybe reread rules with when to use an s?

Talk to me.  Where are you in your writing process?  What kind of feedback do you get from beta readers or writing groups? What kind of feedback do you get from your copy editor?  What’s your best experience with an editor?  What was your worst experience with an editor?

Friday, June 21, 2019

Writing Prompts for Midsummer

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This series of posts has simple goals: provide some basic history on a holiday/event from the past and use that history to spring board potential writing prompts and themes. For some, the history on its own will be enough to come up with some story ideas.  For others, I offered some starting points with themes, scenes, and possibilities I see for the holiday at hand.  

Happy writing and please share a snippet or link to your inspired works ^_^ I’d love to read them.

What is Midsummer/Summer Solstice/Lithe/Litha

For the Northern Hemisphere Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year.  For the Southern Hemisphere Summer Solstice is the shortest day of the year.  For this post, I’m exploring the Northern Hemisphere’s experience of Solstice (sorry southern hemisphere folks).  So today we’ll explore a day where the sun appears to stand still.  The day floats on our calendar between June 20th and June 21st.  

Many cultures knew about Summer Solstice and had varying practices around it.  In the history section I will only cover the smallest bit of information I’ve uncovered.  


Ancient Egyptians marked the Solstice as the beginning of when the Nile would flood.  Floods were necessary for good crops (black is the color of life in ancient Egyptian mythology because it’s the same color as good growing soil) but these floods came on quickly and were life threatening to the people living along the banks.  Solstice signalled a time that could bring great bounty and danger all in one needed package.

General British/Irish/Wales lore has a tradition of lighting a bonfire on the eve of the solstice to greet the coming day.  People would jump the bonfire, and if they got through the flames without a burn, they had good luck for the year.  Others would carry out a “wishing traditions” where they would pick up a pebble, hold it walking around the bonfire three times wishing for thing X and then tossing the stone into the flames.  After the bonfire flames subsided, people had uses for the ashes.  They could make a protective amulet to wear for the year or they could sow the ashes into the garden for bountiful harvests.  

Sunwheels, a wheel lit on fire or a ball of straw lit on fire were also popular.  People would light the wheel and roll it downhill into a river.  The burnt remnants go to a local temple and displayed.  In Wales if the fire wheel went out before it hit the water, it promised a good harvest.

Midsummer is a Faery holiday.  The veils between the worlds are thin at this time and many faeries come to our world to celebrate and make merry.  Some suggestions to see faery folk included: staying up all night on the evening before Solstice, wearing a sprig of thyme so you can see the faeries dancing, or summoning the faery with moonstone, a bowl of milk and/or something sweet.  

There are multiple warnings against dealing with the faery folk.  One such story is of a girl Kathleen who went out on the eve of Midsummer to find the faery.  She dances with them and sought to draw the Fae King’s attention.  The King did take an interest in her, he came to her and embraced her.  Kathleen died that evening.  Her body was recovered by a faery fort with a smile on her face.

There are several suggestions on how to protect yourself against the faery folk.  Some sources suggest wearing a jacket inside out to confuse the faery folk as they come to spirit you away.  Others suggest sticking to ley lines where you can escape quickly.  Some sources suggest wearing rue and others St. John’s wort to repel the faery folk or to prevent the more malicious faery folk from approaching.

Other interactions with faeries are positive.  Some people were known to be “faery doctors” like Biddy Early of Connacht.  In her case the Faery Queen came upon the village celebrating midsummer and politely asked the villages to go home so the fae may celebrate in private.  The village complied and Biddy seems to have been gifted faery knowledge.


Writing Prompts:

1. The focus on fire in what is the day with the most natural light, is curious, why is fire so integral to most Midsummer celebrations?

-Are people obsessed with their own power to create or mimic the natural world?

-Do sun deities only respond to flames?  

2. What does summer mean to you or your characters?

3. Jumping over a Midsummer Bonfire in more modern literature is often used as a bonding ceremony used instead of a wedding—do you have any characters who appreciate this ascetic?  

-Write you version of a Midsummer bonding ceremony.  What do the people promise each other, do they invoke gods and/or fae to witness their bonding or conescrate it?

4. Gods/Goddesses worshipped in Midsummer center around the sun, the fae, and sex.  Write a steamy scene in honor of this day.

5. Write a wishing ritual scene.  What does the character wish for, is this an act of desperation or a common occurance?  Does the wish come true?  Do gods or supernatural beings get involved?

6. Horror often happens in dark places and there is a lot of speculation on 24hrs on night, but what about 24hrs of daylight?  Is this a magical time where no evil can befall us or does the light simply expose the darkness of our souls?  

7. Write about a fae encounter (chance or summoned).  Good, bad, or neutral, just write a scene with the fae on this day where they travel.

8. What happens to fae who don’t return through the veil before midsummer’s close? 

9. Why do the fae travel in our realm on this day?  Do they wait for Midsummer on their side of the veil?

10.Are humans found dead after faery revels gone forever or have they gone back with the fae to the faery realm?  

Looking for more writing prompts?  Try my post on Matralia.

Friday, June 14, 2019

1st Draft Vs 2nd Draft

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Long time readers may recall in 2016, I completed my first draft of Follow Me: Tattered Veils.  Only I didn’t know it was my first draft, I thought my manuscript was complete and began to query agents.  

I did this even though I was not happy with my first chapter and knew it was a bad hook.  

I did this even though I knew the manuscript rambled and barely held together as a story.

I did this even though my main character is unlikeable and awkward. 

How could I call the manuscript complete with these huge flaws?  How could I query?  It’s simple: I’ve always loved Follow Me: Tattered Veils and I had taken the manuscript as far as I knew how to carry it.  Isn’t selling the next step?  

I shudder at my ignorance, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know.  I wrote other stories, and I workshopped Follow Me: Tattered Veils in between.  After letting it rest about a year, I began rewrites.

Where the first draft came out in patches over the course of two years, with multiple deleted scenes only I’ve read.  I finished the second draft in nine months.  My planning and speed increased.  It took a year of thinking, but I knew better than ever what story I wanted to tell.

So what’s different? 

The order, I’ve joined “kick ass first chapter club.”  My plot.  Follow Me: Tattered Veils tells two stories.  The first draft told Gerry’s story, but I needed to develop Roxi’s.  No one liked Roxi because no one knew her well.  The second draft opens up and gives Roxi time to be herself.
I wrote twelve new chapters.  Of the twelve new chapters, eight are Roxi centric.  Sharing more social interactions, scenes, and pivotal moments in her life.  These moments create chemistry in my cast.

 Beyond those eight Roxi centric chapters, two of those chapters are about Gerry discovering new insights into Roxi.  So audiences get Gerry’s twisted narration of Roxi where Roxi would be more tight-lipped.  What Gerry says about Roxi isn’t gospel truth, but it has a certain ring of truthiness.  I’m using the audience’s interest in Gerry to make them interested in Roxi.  *Does and evil victory dance*

These were my “big changes,” but the second draft overhauled everything.  Awkward wording, repetitive phrasing, and verb tense shifts are some elements I tackled.  I clarified each of my character’s voices.  I deleted massive amounts of their “thoughts” and made the few casual insights have depth.  

Why talk about this now?  I wanted to write about my drafting process and insights while I drafted, but I feared pausing the process would derail my work.  Now as I wait on my copy editor I have nothing but time to reflect.  

Talk to me.  What does your drafting process look like?  What are the biggest changes from first draft to second draft?  Are you like me where you believe each itteration is the “final” product or do you have a better sense of when your WIP is done?  

Friday, June 7, 2019

And I Would Do Anything for Love...But I Can't Do This

image from vector illustration found through Public Domain

Hello world!  I am returning to my blogs and Twitter.  Back in January, I posted my writing goals, and they included completing the second draft of Follow Me: Tattered Veils.  

Amazing news: that draft is complete.  It goes to the copy editor today!  

Further news!  I’ve found and am partnering with an artist to create a cover for Follow Me: Tattered Veils.  Finishing the second draft set up all the pieces for me to self publish and I am tentatively planning to publish November 1st.  Words fail in expressing deep my joy is.

With that joy comes doubt.  Not doubt in my manuscript.  To prepare Follow Me: Tattered Veils I’ve recruited beta readers, workshopped the manuscript with my writers’ group, and studied editing advice. The work has undergone major structural changes over its existence and it’s settled into an order I think is best for readers.  I queried multiple editors and settled on one whose resume includes two authors with a similar audience to mine (fan girlinghere but my editor worked with Charlie N. Holmberg and she’s amazing).

My doubt: I can’t draw in an audience or the right audience to my work.  Yeah, I did the Twitter thing back in Aug-Jan.  Yeah, I have this blog.  But what is all this?  Will it help book the visibility of my book?  Am I connecting with a potential group of readers?  I feel very small and like a terrible advocate for my book.

Further, I couldn‘t keep the blog running AND edit at the same time.  I always told people I couldn’t self-promote and write but I was hoping to prove myself wrong.  Turns out I knew those two different areas of my brain cant both fire at the same time.  If I’m writing fiction, I’m not blogging.  If I’m blogging, chances are strong I’m not writing fiction. Boo.

So I will be here and around for the next few months, but at some point, I must fall away and go back to my creative well spring.  I hope you guys understand and stick with me, but I can’t commit to consistent updates.  I will try to pre-write a bunch of blog posts and tweets, and from there I’ll try to respond/interact.  But the balancing act will fall and I’ll abandon you all to write.  

I would do anything to make Follow Me: Tattered Veils as big as a success as I can, but I can’t sacrifice creating more fictional works to market Follow Me: Tattered Veils.  In my dream world I’d either be able to do both or I could hire a stunning personality to maintain a consistent eye on the internet,  but I don’t live in that world. 

Thank you for sticking with me and I will let you know when I need to step back so I can write again.  Until then, I’m back to play and should release a book summary shortly.  

Talk to me.  How do you balance social interaction and writing?  Is it a struggle or do you naturally fall into a good balance?  What extremes has your manuscript pushed you too?  Were there things you thought "of course I'll do that" only to learn you couldn't do them even if you wanted to?  What was launching your debut novel like?  Do you have any tips or advice for me?  

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Personal Goals for 2019

1. I want to finish my second draft of “Follow Me: Tattered Veils.”  I hesitate to announce this because every time I wish something for my novel, it feels like I stop working on it, but I want a 2020 publication, more than I can say.  I have the whole marketing campaign laid out in my head.

                 - Launch book early/late Jan, when the book begins in real world time, further connecting my urban fantasy to a sense of real world time and place.
                - Post blog/deleted material supplements along with the real passage of time during the first year of sale.  Continuing to reinforce that sense of Roxi and the other characters existing in our world and also providing some nice shorts/extra material for people who like the book.
                -Have a huge sale/set of giveaways in Sept leading into October book climax and have a ton of blog/deleted scenes going into the mega holiday.
               -Work more on sequel,  “Follow Me: the Realms of Gods and Monsters,” because I’m super hyped for that book

2.  I want to maintain my blogging habit, but I am rolling back the intensity of posting.  I really focused July-Dec on getting the NAWG blog up and running and returning to this more introspective blog.  There were great results.  I feel more established as a writer in a community.   This has led to more positive feelings regarding my work, it’s helped me become more organized, and it’s driven me to feel more connection to my projects and goals.  Creatively, I’ve had the chance to pitch small ideas and little quips on Twitter.  Marketing wise: I’ve increased my audience and with the time/tools at my disposal, I think I’ve maximized growth.

All this focus meant: little creative writing could happen and this year I want to tear through “Follow Me” and launch it, so the blog work has to step back.

3. Reconnect with esoteric magic and folklore.  My wellspring for creativity comes from melding the fantastic with the mundane.  And I haven’t been keeping my store of “fantastic” elements full.  I spent a few hours looking up ancient Roman festivals and from a few readings I have five new ideas for stories.  Better, I “took a break from research” and edited 3 chapters in “Follow Me”.

4.  Stop making more goals.  Last year, I had a whole spreadsheet of goals. It was awesome, because no matter what direction I went in, I was moving toward success.  This year I want to zero in on specifics, keep my eye on one goal.  It might mean I don’t feel as successful all the time, but I’m hoping it leads me to seeing my novel completed this year and on the road to publication.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Monday Metrics

image from by GDJ

If you are new, today is all about the numbers, not about my plans.   See the action plans I’m using to earn these numbers in previous posts.  My plan and reflects are on 16 Week Review!  and the steps I’m taking are on 6 Steps for Twitter.

Twitter Analytics

I’ve been active on Twitter for 141 days. In the last 28 days I’ve had 171 posts, 525 profile visits, 64 mentions, and 56 new follows.  

Conversion based on profile views is 11%.  A week off Twitter hit my metrics hard, but I needed the time.  

My engagement is 1.8%. Again, there were no posts from the 24th-1st.  I expect drops in all my metrics.

 post about 6 times a day.  My goal is to sit between 6-10 posts a day, so success!

I received views when I wasn’t posting, but they were under 1,000.  This past week, my daily view count is under 2,000 views a day.  I received 171 eyes per post last week. 

Blog Stats

I got 44 views last week spread across 10 posts and 4 pages.  Currently, I’m catching up on my blog work.  My scheduled posts went out without any photos, so I’ve been adding those.  I’m also adding the new posts to my “Best of Jess” page and I’m reading through pre-written posts I wasn’t sure I wanted to post.  

Three posts a week at this blog and a post at NAWG blog may be too much for me.

The North Alabama Writers’ Group blog has 31 views this past week.  Wish I could take credit for these views but it seems like people are stumbling across the blog and checking it out on their own.  I hope to see repeat traffic.

So talk to me!  What are your numbers?  What’s your social media strategy?  Are you counting anything else in your life and what does success look like?

Still need a number fix?  Compare this week to past weeks Dec 24thDec 17thDec 11th,  Dec 3rdNov 12thNov 5thOct 22nd, Oct 9thOct 1st Sept 24th, Sept17th, or Sept 10th.  

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Finding the Right time Postdating and Predating Blogs

image from by JayNick

For the unaware, you can schedule blogs to post in the future, the present, and in the past.  Scheduling blogs to drop automatically is convenient because I can write everything at once, proofread it, gather the images, and set up on the blog all together.  It lets me keep a stack of planned content at all times, and once written, I can forget about it (excluding promoting it).  

Posting content as soon as it’s complete, is what most people assume is the norm.  I haven‘t polled any bloggers, so I don’t know if people usually schedule content out or if they add it each day.  I used to post my “Monday Metrics” blogs same day, but my work schedule no longer allows for this and I have to write them ahead of time.  

The least intuitive of these three schedulers is to predate blogs.  An unscrupulous person may predate a blog so they can say they “posted” first they can claim their blog has been around longer than it‘s been up and running.  I don’t care for either of these uses.  

Still, I like to predate blogs sometimes.  My “Writers’ Blogs” and “Company Blogs” were both post dated for Jan 1st 2018.  I created both posts in October and I update them as needed.  Why are they posted in the past?  Simple: when I created lists of blogs I follow, they were small and I didn’t want the lists to take up the front page.  I thought of these posts as “reference” posts which would become relevant as time went on but held little value in the present.  Once I had more suggested bloggers, once I had a larger following, these posts would matter, but as things stand, I don’t believe they add value.  One can find them under the “Resources” page and readers I hope to gain will one day find these posts helpful.

Why not just keep the content as a draft and publish when it has more value?  First, I have a hard time finding floating drafts. It’s easier to set a date for publication and I don’t know when these lists would be welcome.   Second, I hold the slim hope that some people find suggested blogs to read helpful now.  Even if the list is small, it may help people connect to other bloggers that hold like goals.  Plus, having a published page creates a place for readers and fellow bloggers to recommend more resources I can check out and this may increase my list.  

I may create a list of books I read in 2017, and I would post date the list to 2017, even though I’m creating the list now (using Goodreads for reference).  

If I ever wanted to create a post defining literary terms, if I wanted to write a list of helpful descriptive words for taste/smell/touch, and so on these kinds of posts would become post dated and exist for me to reference, not showcase at the top release of my blogs. If I ever wanted to create a blog post response for Twitter hashtag conversations, I would date the blogs to the day they asked, not the date I answered the question.  

The common factor with all these posts they are references, not featured content.  While they may hold helpful information, it‘s as an aside, not a main article.  I create them more to build interwoven links within my blog than to be the main feature.

Talk to me!  Do you blog and if so do you schedule posts?  How many interconnected links do you create within posts?  Do you go back to older posts and add links when more recent posts may also relate? 

Monday, December 24, 2018

Monday Metrics

image from by oksmith

If you are new, today is all about the numbers, not about my plans.   See the action plans I’m using to earn these numbers in previous posts.  My plan and reflects are on 16 week Review!  and the steps I’m taking are on 6 Steps for Twitter.

Twitter Analytics

I’ve been active on Twitter for 126 days. In the last 28 days I’ve had 256 posts, 720 profile visits, 89 mentions, and 112 new follows.  

Conversion based on profile views is 15%.

My engagement is 3.7%

 post about 9 times a day.  My goal is to sit between 6-10 posts a day, so success!

My daily view count has lowered to just under 2,000 views a day.  I received 153 eyes per post last week.  I haven‘t used hashtags often and Ive been straight retweeting, instead of adding comments.  Work is grueling this time of year, but I plan to do better.

Blog Stats

I got 37 views last week spread across 8 posts and 3 pages.  I can’t infer much from these numbers because the holiday times may either help boost or hinder my numbers regardless of content.

The North Alabama Writers’ Group blog has 22 views this past week.  The detail break out suggests shows people may be searchingauthors pages this week.

So talk to me!  What are your numbers?  What’s your social media strategy?  Are you counting anything else in your life and what does success look like?

Still need a number fix?  Compare this week to last week Dec 17thDec 11th,  Dec 3rdNov 12thNov 5thOct 22nd, Oct 9thOct 1st Sept 24th, Sept17th, or Sept 10th.  

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Top 3 Worst Critiques I Get from Beta Readers

Disclaimer: I appreciate all feedback, and there are known pitfalls for me.  My grammar is lacking, I use adverbs, and passive voice too much.  I expect this feedback and it never bothers/surprises me.  Below, I’m listing the three issues common in my writing that somehow surprise/stump me when I’m reminded of them.

Too much telling and not enough showing.

This one only bothers me when I thought I was showing.  I need to hear it since I tell readers what‘s happening announcer style instead of being the camera for the game all the time. What can I say, I like prose and it‘s easier to use them when telling and far harder while showing.  

Not enough action.”  

I hate this feedback because I don’t know how to fix it.  I come up with characters, but I don’t see myself as a writer who comes up with great plots. A lot of my characters reject standard narratives.  Would person x and y fight?  No, I think they’d have a dialogue, realize everything was a misunderstanding, and move on.  A better world than ours, but not one that entertains.  Is that house haunted?  Most of my character would either come prepared to the home OR they would never step foot in the home.    

This problem relates to “telling instead of showing problem.”  My characters are all in their heads, I write a lot of thoughts and feelings down, since I told you those things, I don‘t always bother to have the conflict that shows.  And yeah, I bet readers prefer to read a conflict, but the writer in me seems to prefer to ramble.

The writing is excellent, I just don’t care.” 

That one cuts deep, but I’ve learned to work past the blood to ask “why aren‘t you invested?”  Hearing this is damning because it acknowledges my strengths and weaknesses as a storyteller in one swoop.  I think creating prose in just the right way will MAKE someone as invested as me.  It’s never true, but I keep falling into that way of thinking anyhow.

**BONUS! ** 

I don’t connect with Roxi/don’t like Roxi.” 

I’m painfully aware my main character is polarizing and may lack a certain something.  Trouble is: damned if I know what that something is.  As I work through my second draft, I have to have more care and thought on who she is and where she‘s going than I‘ve put in to any character to date.

Talk to me.  What the worst/hardest feedback you‘re received?  How do you handle feedback?  

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Books Read in 2018: A Review

image from by j4p4n

Followed By Frost”  by Charlie N. Holmberg.  I had 20 pages left to this book when the calendar year changed.  It counts as 2018 but.  I enjoyed this book.  Unknown, I read “Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet” in late 2017 and was captivated by the same lyrical, fairy tale magic in her first story.  Both books link to traditional fairy tale lore while telling their own unique story.  Both stories incorporate romance without making the works feel like a traditional romance and both stories have action and stakes without gratuitous violence or action scenes.  Holmberg’s style and connection to “Deep Magic” got me interested in their publication, that I read this past summer.

Chris from writers’ group wrote an "The Works of the Apprentice" which features alchemy and is published here.  It inspired me to think of what kind of urban fantasy I could take with alchemy in the mix.  This prompted research, and that lead to reading many books on essential oils.  I thought, “if anything in this world could turn into gold if mixed, it would be these essential oils.”  

Essential oils, for those who don’t know, already make a TON of fantastic claims, and it seems one of the few “new agey” remedies that spark scientific interest. I delved into the lore and science of the oils.  Through this I read: 
Essential Oils For Weightloss,” 
"Essential Oils Natural Remedies: The Complete A-Z Reference of Essential Oils for Health and Healing,” 
"Aromatherapy for Natural Living: The A-Z Reference of Essential Oils Remedies for Health, Beauty, and the Home,” 
"The Essential Oil Diffuser Recipes Book: Over 200 Diffuser Recipes for Health, Mood, and Home (Essential Oils Reference Book 1),”
 "Surviving When Modern Medicine Fails,”
 "Surviving When Modern Medicine Fails: A Definitive Guide to Essential Oils That Could Save Your Life During a Crisis,”
 "Winter Collection: Over 150 Lessons To Stay Warm, Happy & Healthy During The Cold Months,” 
"Baking Soda Power! Frugal and Natural: Health, Cleaning, and Hygiene Secrets of,” 
"EPSOM SALT: 50 Miraculous Benefits, Uses & Natural Remedies for Your Health, Body & Home (Home Remedies, DIY Recipes, Pain Relief, Detox, Natural Beauty, Gardening, Weight Loss).”

My opinions on these books like my thoughts on essential oils is mixed.  Do I still think there’s a wonderful urban fantasy story involving aromatherapy?  Yes, but I need even more research to see where this kind of story would/should go.  Do I want to feature a botanist who grows the plants in just the right way or a distiller or a perfumist who has a natural talent that greater than she understands or an actual skilled alchemist potion expert whose main ingredients are these essential oils?  Who would the antagonist be?  What’s the goal?  

Rounding off my “researchy” 2018 book reads, I read plant based pagan books for the more straight magical system elements of plants.  I read "A Green Witch’s Cupboard” and Martin’s earlier book "Triple Duty Spice Rack.”  I enjoyed both reads.  They gave practical information on how to keep dried herbs and spices and they spoke towards the magic/healing that can come from cooking/eating the right foods at the right time.  This appeals spiritually and intellectually as we know the complex interplay of food we eat determines how we absorb vitamins and minerals and whether our body can use them.  I enjoy melding folklore and traditional uses of cooking ingredients with modern research on the two and these books were more about the folklore portion that inspires my creative cooking and storytelling perspective.  

 My reading also included diet and nutrition books.  This January my husband and I went on the Ketogenic diet.  After I’d looked through tons of internet sites for information and recipes, I turned to books.  Health related reads included: 
"The Keto Diet: The Complete Guide to a High-Fat Diet, with 
More Than 125 Delectable Recipes and 5 Meal Plans to Shed Weight, Heal Your Body, and Regain Confidence,” 
"Fruit Infused Water: 98 Delicious Recipes for Your Fruit Infuser Water Pitcher,” 
"The Wicked Good Ketogenic Diet Cookbook: Easy, Whole Food Keto Recipes for Any Budget,” 
"The Easy 5-Ingredient Ketogenic Diet Cookbook: Low-Carb, High-Fat Recipes for Busy People on the Keto Diet,” 
 "33 Easy DIY Deodorant Recipes: for Staying Dry, Feeling Cool and Smelling Fresh.” 

 My feeling on these readings were mixed.  Leanne Vogel‘s book changed everything I ate and how I considered eating.  While I haven‘t wholesale adopted every detail she recommends, I found her willingness to explore how a person feels and who that relates to a diet very impactful and created a more introspective look at my food choices.  The other recipe books provided inspiration and groundwork for me creating my own meals, but I still can‘t keep to a recipe for long.  

Fruit infused water was a fun, casual read.  I drink about 20-40oz of fruit infused water as part of my new year‘s resolution to drink more water.  The book was a passing curiosity.  

Using more natural products in my life and becoming more waste free was a 2018 goal.  I considered making natural deodorants, but this book combined with online research turned me off from that idea.  Instead, I buy Tom’s brand.

Health-wise I also read “Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World,” and I did the eight-week plan.  The book was a retread of known information but a wonderful refresh course.  I’m also reading “The Highly Sensitive Person.”  No way I will finish this book this year but it’s been a thought provoking and healing read so far.

Most of these books are chosen from the Kindle Unlimited selection.  Nonfiction Kindle books are a strange phenomena because they are often self published and it makes me wonder about the credentials of those who publish the information.  What doesn't help are the links to blogs and websites.  No matter how professional the blog: it's not a scientific study.  I did not care for how many of the same graphics these authors sourced.  On the other side, it did teach me about how a nonfiction book might be used to build a person's name recognition, "personal brand", and sense of authority.  Interesting and scary.

I read and enjoyed “The Book of the Unnamed Midwife” and “The Book of Etta.”  I prefer Etta to the unnamed midwife.  And I will go into further detail in my “Kindle Unlimited” series during 2019.

 “Dragon Ridden” is a wonderful series.  I wrote a post in my “Kindle Unlimited” series that details what I loved and I left detailed reviews for each book on Goodreads.  I’m looking forward to a 2019 release of a fourth book.  Also a cool thing to note: T.A. White writes three series at once and I love how she works multiple projects at the same time successfully.  Since I prefer to work this way, it gives me hope for victory in my writing practice.

I read Sarah Fine’s “Reliquaryseries and while it was a wild addicting ride, I also found the books ridiculous and terrible.  My reviews go into further often spoiler-y detail.  That said, Sara Fine has such a great style in her writing and compelling book summaries I have two of her books in my queue to be read 2019.  At some point, I‘d like to do a deep dive into both what makes her work compelling and what turned me off so much in this series.

I love Annette Marie’s “Red Winter” trilogy I read last year.  This year I read her “Steel & Stoneseries and her “Spell Weaver” series with a more mixed reception.  The first three Steel & Stones are great, but they fell apart after book 3.  There were occasional moments of “Hurrah!” and long patches of missed marks.  I read through “Spell Weaver” because I liked Lyre so much in “Steel & Stone” but this series is a weak step-child in an otherwise much loved universe.  

Marie re-introduced me to the split world urban fantasy.  While I‘ve no intention to write one of these soon, it was interesting to see her take, and it got me thinking about future possibilities.  I appreciate how Marie introduces her fantasy to the modern world across her three series and look forward to scenarios she writes.  

Next, we have “Traitorborn” a follow up read from 2017’s “Secondborn.”  Loved this series and think it may be one of the young adult works for adults to read this year (and next when the third comes out).  Check out my “Kindle Unlimited” write up.  

Continuing in the 2018 trend for series, I finished “The Tree of Ages” series I‘d started in 2017.  One thing I love about Kindle Unlimited is that many authors using this service turn our series books in a fast pace.  I’m never left waiting so long for the next installment so I don‘t have to reread the first book.  I covered this series through my “Kindle Unlimited” posts and it was a welcome addition to my 2018 reading list.  

Cards of Chaos,” is the first book I read because someone recommended it via Twitter.  And it’s an amazing read.  I can not promote this work enough.  It has stunning cover art and complex, deep writing to match.  It’s a shame this work only have 12 ratings on Goodreads with four reviews.  If you like a fantasy with folklore elements please consider picking this one up.  

Jasmin Silvera wrote a sequel to “Death’s Dancer” called “Dancer’s Flame” and it was ok.  I loved “Death’s Dancer” and recommend urban fantasy writers and writers looking to combine magic and motion read the first book because Silvera executes these ideas almost perfectly.  “Dancer‘s Flame” isn‘t as strong as the first book, but it‘s still a good read.  I recommend both as wonderful fantasy escapes.

Matchmaking for Beginners” was a book I read with my mom, and like most books she suggests, it‘s a funny light romp.  I’m surprised I enjoyed it (and I don’t know why since this always happens ^_^). I classify the work as an idea beach read and as a great introduction to fantastic elements seen in more hard fantasy works.

The Last Necromancer” is a book with a lot of promise it doesn‘t deliver on.  I don’t want to go into too much detail here.  Check out my review on Goodreads, or most readers take on the work.

I raced through “Angelfall” and it‘s my favorite book series of 2018 hands down.  I’m looking forward to great things from Susan Ee.  

Elf Killers” is the second book I chose based on a Twitter post and I did not care for it. There is a second book from this author in my queue and I plan to check it out to see if it‘s just the way she went about building a world in this book I didn’t care for or if this is an overall style skip for me.  I can‘t recommend this book, but it has an audience who will enjoy reading it.

I gave up on “Lost in Arcadia” this year and I don’t have a lot to say about that either.  As my review states there‘s too, many characters introduced in rapid succession that don’t seem to have defining traits.  Add to that a slow start, and I couldn‘t make myself care.  

That‘s it, my 2018 reading list.  What did you read this year?  Did you meet your reading goal?  Did you read more fiction or nonfiction this year?  Did you like most of what you read?  Do you have a favorite and a least favorite?  If you could suggest one book for me to read in 2019, what is it and why?