Writing Advice #14

GO TO THE PLACE YOUR BOOK IS SET!

…okay if you’re in the US and your book is set in Paris and you have no money, don’t go bankrupt for it…watch as many documentaries and street walk about on YouTube as you can.

This piece of writing advice has a personal anecdote.

This past Monday I drove down to the Mena, Arkansas area and planned to spend the morning hiking at Queen Whilamena State Park and the afternoon exploring the little, teeny-tiny towns surrounding the state park.

The drive down was really pleasant. But then it started raining. Thankfully, by the time I got to the Queen Whilamena Lodge and Restaurant the rain had stopped BUT there was fog EVERYWHERE!

I had not checked the weather app on my phone. I didn’t even think about the possibility of anything but clear skies and humid air (summer in Arkansas, y’all). But that is not what I got.

There was a fleeting moment where my heart sank and I thought, “I drove all this way and now I have to go home…”

But then I took another look at the fog, which was literally getting thicker by the minute and I thought, “HOLY SHIT THIS IS PERFECT WEATHER FOR A HORROR NOVEL!”

I mean look at that! That’s amazing!

If I’d gone on a “normal” day I’d have hiked, got some nice pictures of trees and buildings, and gone home with nice things to think about but this–the fog, the rain–gave my setting character. Or my setting looked at me and said, “Acknowledge that I am a force of nature!” while slapping me in the face.

And there was this really nifty fungus on the trail that was all glistening and fleshy. I almost walked face first into a MASSIVE spider webs trying to photograph it.

A new beginning to one of my books bloomed in my mind. I got to make rough stage blocking for an action scene and took pictures of this one specific outcropping from multiple angles for reference later. I was so inspired IT WASN’T EVEN FUNNY!

So the moral of this story here is think about what your setting is like in bad weather. You never know what will happen. But also, it’s important to visit, if you can, where your book is set because you’ll get to think about concrete details you may not have considered from your chair at your writing desk.

And I learned that my main character’s favorite food is not pizza like I thought it was, but fried green beans.

You never know what’s going to happen when you go out on location.

Good luck and happy writing!

Character Consciousness

This is an example of one of the ways I think up characters:

Me: (recording poems for my audiobook)

Icharus: I want to be a character now.

Me: But you already are.

Icharus: In a book.

Me: …what?

Icharus: I want to be in a book. I didn’t die when I fell. And I love Orpheus.

Me: You do? Ok just hang on a–

Icharus: And I want my book to be like every James Baldwin novel but with more sex.

Me: I don’t know if I can be that brutal.

Icharus: And it’s going to be a trilogy.

Me: Really?

Icharus: Yep.

Me: Well you’ll have to get in line behind Regina, all the Echos, Helen, and everybody else.

Icharus: Did I mention I love Orpheus? And maybe one of the gods too. Apollo could be very metaphorical.

Me: Take a number and get in line!

Icharus: I really, really want a book-trilogy.

Me: You’ll get one just shut up and let me work!

Icharus: I don’t trust you.

Me: It’ll happen! You’re in the queue. I promise!

Icharus: You’re going to have to do a lot of research. Geography is really important.

Me: I know!

Icharus: …maybe Achilles…

Me: Don’t push it.

*

And on and on it went and that is how I made the decision to eventually write a gay romance. A character popped into my head that wouldn’t shut up. But really this character has been in my head since 2012 and didn’t find his voice until day before yesterday. Before that he was a shadowy idea floating around in my brain meat.

It happened during a writing exercise I did back in grad school (see how long ago). The exercise was to look at a book cover and write the synopsis on the back. No influence from the real synopsis or any other information from the book. Just write something based off the cover. You should try it, it’s super fun.

When I read my little blurb the girl sitting at the table directly across from me lit up with a smile and after class she told me I had to write that character, that his voice was so clear to her.

At the time I wasn’t writing fiction but I thought she was super nice to say so, so I put the suggestion away and now almost 7, count em, 7 years later here’s that voice again.

But this time I am writing fiction and I don’t want to tell him to go away. So I guess I’m adding another project to my publication schedule.

*

How do your characters come to you?

Or, if you’re a poet, how do poems happen?

Going to Work

Mr. J (opens the door to go to work): Hey there’s a new cat outside!

(We live in an apartment complex with lots of stray cats.)

Me: Yeah.

Mr. J: Yeah!

Me: Yeah (Not the happy, enthusiastic “yeah” but the uncomfortable, defeated “yeah” of a person who all cats know will do anything for them and will ultimately suffer the displeasure of her inside feline overlords because the outside cat made big eyes at her yesterday and she doesn’t know how long she’ll be able to go without paying homage to the outside cat by giving him/her the inside feline overlords’ treats. And once they find out I’m giving an outside cat treats there will be HELL TO PAY!)

Me (again): Yeah.

Decomposition

A body says, “Hello.”

Another body does not reply.

A body says, “Hello.” Again.

Another body does not reply.

A body walks into a bad joke. A body feels like a bad joke.

A body tries to tell a bad joke to another body and another body walks away.

A body has breakfast alone.

A body skips lunch alone.

A body has coffee alone.

A body has dinner alone.

A body says, “Loneliness is not the unyielding force but the soft buoyancy of humid air that no one else can see.”

A body says, “Loneliness is not the story locked in the past but the inability to explain what happened.”

Or the inability to find someone who will listen.

A body says, “Loneliness is trying as hard as you can but still failing because (insert your beliefs about failing here).”

A body sees.

A body tastes.

A body touches.

A body feels the memories a body doesn’t want to feel. A body blocks them out. A body smothers them with a crashing wave. A body pounds them into the ground and refuses to let them breathe even for one second. A body can’t let them breathe for even a second.

A body hears a body’s fist connect with what a body cannot kill.

A body smells a body’s blood.

A body wonders how a body got hurt when a body was supposed to be inflicting all the hurt, all the punishment.

Why can’t I write Part 2

So I just had an epiphany.

I was writing an email to a friend, I like to let her know what I’m working on even though sometimes I feel quite intrusive because she’s made of awesome and does all the awesome things (more on confidence and conversations with other creatives later). I wrote sometimes I get discouraged or find things hard because a project feels too big for me to handle. And then I thought about that.

Havoc’s Moon, my work in progress, feels too big for me to handle.

In a way, that’s kinda cool. I feel like I just got a positive diagnosis or something because I’ve identified something I can work with.

I’m not going to shorten my book. One of the things that made writing Past Life, my sci-fi novella, fun was its smallness. So I just need to figure out how to translate that into a longer thing.

I’ve got way more characters in The Slaughter Chronicles and many plot lines. Whenever I think about my story I feel like I’m looking at a huge world map, my scope is so wide I can’t see any of the topography clearly.

So now I’m going to work on zooming in.

Why can’t I write?

Writing as a person who has a “day job.” I’m not an entrepreneur, I’m not a business person. I can’t afford to just write and make money off of my writing. I have zero expectations that writing will make me financially stable. But writing isn’t a hobby for me, writing keeps me alive. Writing gives me the strength to go outside my apartment and exist as a human being in a society filled with other human beings. Sometimes being human is scary.

But I’ve found, more harshly than previous bouts of writer’s block, in the last few months I haven’t been able to write. I haven’t found myself capable of putting the ideas forming in my brain onto the page. I have several works in progress and several ideas for how to make them awesome but when I turn on my iPad to write I can’t make the words happen.

So what do I do?

Continue reading Why can’t I write?

Retail for Introverts

Sometimes existing as a human being in the same space with other human beings is hard.

If the grocery store is too busy I get scared. I get headaches and nauseous, the noise and general press of people are so overwhelming that the only way I can successfully achieve grocery shopping completeness is to bury my face in my love’s shoulder and have him steer me through the aisles and hand me things to carry.

Things to carry=distraction.

Sometimes we have to force ourselves to interact with people when we really don’t want to.

One of those sometimes is if you’re an introvert, you need a job, and the only job you can find is in retail.

So if I have that bad of a reaction to being around people in a store, why would I subject myself to working in a stressful environment?

I need money to pay my bills. Living as a successful human being=compromise.

Similar compromise=wearing a uniform (I hate uniforms) instead of the clothes you love, etc. in order to achieve the end game. End game=you get to keep your car.

Out of the wide variety and varying severity of overwhelms, I have found one of the common discomforts for introverts is just being around people. The people aren’t threatening or doing anything out of the ordinary, they are just existing. Existence isn’t a problem, being around the existing is.

Working retail has stressed me out in ways that I never thought I would be stressed. When I first started working retail (I did a brief, 2-month stint in 2009 in a lingerie shop but I don’t count that anymore) I would bring all my discomfort and stress home with me and I wasn’t always the most pleasant person to deal with. Stress influenced my diet and sleep in negative ways. I felt bad all the time.

And then I recently (10 months of stressful environment did this to me) decided that I couldn’t cope with any of the stress anymore and I said F*** IT. And I let it go. Some people might call this the “head in the sand” effect but I don’t care, I’m making a conscious choice NOT TO BE STRESSED by the retail or the people.

This doesn’t always work, sometimes the stress comes and the overwhelm comes and there’s nothing I can do about it but push through and then cry later BUT for the times when I say “go away” and the stress actually goes away, I experience the best feelings of relief and not-discomfort.

So I made a list of things that help me to not get overwhelmed while working retail.

Most of this advice comes from my interpretation of the Buddhist teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh.

These are all things that I have struggled to do and at some point, I have managed to successfully do at least once and found that, yes, even if it sounds stupid it really does help.

HOW TO MAKE RETAIL WORK FOR AN INTROVERT:
(you do not have to do these in numerical order)

1 Allow yourself to feel stress but don’t acknowledge it forever. Allow yourself and move on, into the next moment.

2 Try looking people in the eye, the nice people. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, look at their teeth or their hair, something on the same level as their face and accomplish whatever task you need to accomplish.

3 Remember there are no universal rules, not everything will work 100% of the time.

4 Have a good support structure at home, don’t stop talking to friends and family about how you are feeling even if you think your thoughts are worthless or if you feel like you are a burden to them. You aren’t.

5 Find the humor in every negative interaction.

6 Breathe to breathe, don’t breathe to calm down; focus on a basic task instead of people and/or the stress.

7 Observe your thoughts but don’t get caught up in them. It’s okay to say, “I wish I wasn’t here.” But don’t make yourself more stressed by obsessing over being in the negative space.

8 Don’t try to predict everything that will happen on your shift, keep an open mind and don’t imagine bad things that could happen.

9 When stressful situations arise, remember to slow down and take your time completing your tasks, that way you can focus on what you are supposed to do and do it correctly.

10 Listen to everything and think about your response before you speak. Some people might get frustrated that you’re taking too long to answer them but don’t let that discourage you and don’t feel that you have to speed up just to make someone else happy.

11 Always have something fun planned for your break or go somewhere quiet and enjoy existing in a quiet space.

12 Be the person you want to be, not the person you think other people need to see.

13 You aren’t responsible for making your customers or your co-workers happy, just do your job and don’t take on the responsibility of worrying about the emotional fulfillment of other people. If you do your job correctly that is enough, if someone gets upset when you’ve done everything you’re supposed to do, that person is going through something and you have no control over how they react anyway, so don’t expend the energy worrying about them.

14 If you have a uniform and can’t express yourself with what you wear, invest in a pair of nice shoes that you enjoy wearing, that also fit within the uniform guidelines and find small ways, like jewelry or an undershirt, to make yourself feel like you are yourself and not an automaton.

15 When you’re off work, try to stay off work, don’t think about what will happen on your next shift or replay negative interactions from your previous shift. Instead, focus on something small that you enjoy, ex: listen to your favorite song.