Wattpad Summer Blockparty III

As I approach another promotional event with the other wonderful writers on Wattpad, I realize I never shared on my blog that I was part of the Winter Block Party…let alone that I was intending to revisit the experience in summer.

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This is a lovely event where a ton of authors band together and support each other. This time around there are just under 100 authors contributing (many of whom offer giveaways).  Mainly though, it seems to be a great way to build up the community and build bridges between authors.

In winter, I wrote a short based in the world of my Watty Award winning book Spider’s Game. I’ll come back to that, in fact, I may even post the story for you lovelies at a later date!

For the summer Block Party, I’m writing an article on writing dialogue. It will be called “Dialogue, Tightropes and Tentacles.” And yes, I discuss all of those things at variable lengths. Tentacle high five!

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This lovely even will take place in August and I hope to update with the date of my feature (each author is given one day to post their work and interact with those who respond.) Tentatively my date is set to be Friday August 4th.

As much fun as I had writing the short last time, I wanted to do something more constructive this time. The short was fun…but if you hadn’t read any of Spider’s Game not super inspiring. Thus, this time around, I’ll drop a little know-how ;p

Oh and my hair is now blue. Its fun, and also discussed at length in my article!

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Accepting a Knife to the Kidneys (With a Smile)

Taking a knife to the kidneys with grace is an art form. And by knife to the kidneys I mean, of course, taking a critique. I’ve ranted before on the different type of critiquers and how some of them honestly just aren’t helpful and I still believe that. Critiquing is an art that’s learned, (a talk for another time.) Unfortunately for all of us who spend gratuitous amounts of time giving thoughtful critiques, accepting criticism is also an art form.

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So, what not to do when receiving a critique (some of these are obvious, some less so.)

  1. Never argue why you’re right and they are wrong. There is no need to change for their opinion, but they took the time to give it. Calling them out on being incorrect is unappreciative, rude and shouts to the world that you think you know best already (and if that’s true why did you ask for a crit?)                                                                                                                woman-315006_1280
  2. Don’t Insult or depreciate the critique in any way. Even if they are downright rude to you. Starting a firefight won’t help you. Realizing they are wrong and you don’t have to listen… that will help. But you don’t need to tell them that, in fact, you shouldn’t.
  3. Don’t take advice by the letter. Guess what? If you are getting peer critiques, chances are they don’t know any more than you do. So if the advice doesn’t gel or disagrees with the advice of others, ponder it, tuck it away for later and then forget it. And it’s just fine to take pieces of advice and not others.                                                                             book-730479_1280
  4. Don’t inform them what other critiquers think. I’ve noticed a trend of authors defending themselves (not saying they are right, but holding up a shield) saying “my other critiquers didn’t think this.” Okay… fine… What’s your goal in telling your critiquer this? Either you make the critquer feel bad because you’ve essentially just told them their opinion is wrong. If they choose to crit again, they will feel self-conscious and not do as good of a job. Or you’re insulting other critiquers to them by calling them unobservant. Which makes your critiquer wonder what you say about their crits behind their back. Point is, yes a little complaining about crits is okay, but you don’t do it in direct response to a comment in another critique.
  5. Remember that everyone is in a different stage in their writing and critiquing abilities. Don’t assume because something is short it didn’t take effort. Or discount all their advice because they quoted grammar rules incorrectly. They may not be grammar geniuses, but I bet they know how a piece of work makes them feel.

Now, if I do a list of don’ts, there must be a list of dos, so here goes.

  1. Do say thank you. Even if you didn’t find a single thing of use (you may when you look back, or you may not. Still thank them.) And take the time in your thank you to let them know you read the crit and heard what they said (unless you have a prior relationship established and feel it isn’t needed.)
  2. Keep in mind that writers helping each other is reciprocal. Does that mean you need to crit for crit? No. But it does mean that as a member of the writing community you should try and honestly give back as good or better than you receive.
  3. Expect it to hurt. Yup. Even glowing kind crits… hurt. Especially if they are good. The pain doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer or that they are critiquing badly. As writers, words are your babies… It’s going to hurt having someone tell you when they are wrong.                                            woman-801711_1280
  4. Appreciate quality partners. I know I have a good crit partner when for two weeks they’ll send me rave reviews on chapters (notes on punctuation, repeated words, a sentence that didn’t flow, reminders about paragraph breaks but overall wonderful.) Then on the third week they’ll rip the chapter to shreds. It means that they aren’t looking to tear me apart, but they also aren’t throwing marshmallows at me. I would swim upstream the Nile river surrounded by crocodiles for these folks.                                                       girls-926784_1280
  5. Be clear when requesting critiques what you want help with. If you have done this and people ignore your requests, put the advice you didn’t ask for aside. Use the advice you did ask for. It is that simple.
  6. If someone goes above and beyond for you, let them know you appreciate it. I put this separate from basic thank yous because it is. I had a crit partner online pick up my story when it was halfway through on the website’s cycle. She took the trouble to go back and read (and do light crits) on the first ten chapters in order to give better crits going forward. Again…Nile River and crocodiles. These people are irreplaceable and hard to find and should be treated that way.
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That is my take on receiving a blade to the gut. I know that there will be points of dissension. A lot of that comes from each writer appreciating different things. I will try to go into that more when I talk about giving critiques- it’s all tied in together.

Halloweeeeeen is coming

Suddenly life got insanely busy 🙂

Over the past few weeks, I finally figured out where to go with the sequel to my novel and finished the first draft. On the opposite side, I got a few of my short stories in condition to start sending out and *crossed fingers* maybe not only get rejections. My son started preschool throwing off my entire schedule. I’ve also been working on a few Halloween shorts including one for an awesome collection on Wattpad- https://www.wattpad.com/story/8256175-thirteen-days-of-halloween

My story for the collection will be posting on October 20th 🙂 And the rest of the lineup is amazing.

Also my fifth wedding anniversary (and 10th year together) with my husband is coming up. In honor of that, my story for the Halloween collection is based in part on our zombie wedding costumes (this is what happens when you get married on Halloween!)

horror wedding Jesse spraguedress Jesse Sprague zombie bride

Covers, Covers, Covers (and a dose of Nano)

I despise making covers. Hate it. Seriously. Anyhow… for my nano novel this year I’m planning to do the second book in a series. The first book being Spider’s Game.

Spider's Game3

The upcoming book is Spider’s Gambit. Its all outlined (as much as I ever outline). Now I’m starting the part I like least. Making myself a cover. So far I have three options. And I’d love opinions on what works best.

Spider's Gambit 2 Jesse Sprague Spider's Gambit 3 Spider's Gambit

I also have been experimenting with new covers for my fantasy novel Kingdom South. Two options there…

Kingdom South option 2 Kingdom South option 4

Now that I’ve spent all day playing with pretty pictures… Perhaps I should get back to the real work.

Family & A Tiny Terror

This week has been a scramble and I admit, I’m not entirely prepared to blog. Things with the family have just been so busy. My dog needed surgery (which in Seattle is unaffordable. I had to go down to Oregon) and before that it was camping.

Me, my baby boy, and one of his three grandmothers out camping

Me, my baby boy, and one of his three grandmothers out camping

Not only have I not thought through an adequate blog entry… I haven’t been writing. So… I’ll post the little bit of writing I have done. A short horror story I call- Laura’s Smile (its still unedited at this point. This is mostly to keep me motivated!)

Horror, Laura's smile

Jesse Sprague Author Laura’s Smile

The worst nights plunged me into the dream, always the same dream. Picturesque but somewhere under the layers I always knew, right from the start, that it was a nightmare. I step out the patio door onto the worn wood deck and drop my backpack at my feet. Heavy with books, it clunked down and at the sound they both looked up at me.

Laura had a plum tree in her parent’s backyard and the summer had been a hot one. The limbs still sagged from the weight of forgotten fruit. She sat in its shade, only her painted toes sticking out into the early September sun. Her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail fell in an untidy mess down her back. She wore his sweatshirt despite the heat, but I hardly noticed because her smile outshone it all. An expression of pure joy that eclipsed the sun and inside I screamed at myself to look away. She lifted a hand and waved at me, motioning me over.

My eyes fastened on her smile, on the slight gap between her teeth, the crinkles at the corners of her eyes.

Next to her, he was a shadow, unimportant to the dream though at the time he’d seemed all important to me. This boy who sat beside my Laura, held her hand, gave her his sweatshirt.

I smiled back at her as my heart splintered into pieces. That happiness scalded me and internally I writhed under the weight of her joy.

A scream ripped me from the familiar dream. On the bunk above me my cellmate grumbled and turned over. The bed creaked blending in a cacophony with my erratic heart. Her smile followed me from the dream, painting itself on the night. A smile she gave to me.

I kicked free of my blanket and rolled off the bed turning to the wall where her face stared back at me. Most of the face was vague, forgotten with time but the smile was perfect, joyful and it accused me. Underneath the image were my words: Live for Laura. I fell on my knees and pressed my hands together in the only sort of prayer I knew.

I couldn’t undo that night. I’d come to terms with that. I’d come to terms with my actions and the iron finality of them. I had to own them and no action I took could ever undo what I took from her. Fifteen and with a single hour I’d defined my life, killed my future and hers. But I was still here and as I gasped sucking air into my lungs, I repeated my familiar mantra to myself.

Earning back her smile was impossible and I deserved the torment of the dreams. Seeing her smile and knowing I’d destroyed it and that I was only witnessing a reflection. But every day I could live in her honor, try and do her memory proud. Perhaps, was it possible I could someday outweigh that single act and meet her in heaven? No. That was beyond me, but perhaps I could earn a quiet peace.

When I’d caught my breath, I stood up again. Tomorrow I’d have a chance. Parole was the brightest hope I’d had. I was so young then, I’m a different man now. But I should try and be rested.

So I crawled back beneath the blanket. Laura’s smile never haunted me twice in an evening so I closed my eyes in peace. Sleep was foggy on my brain when a soft wind stroked my cheeks. Cold as graveyard wind, my first instinct was to turn away but my body was heavy. A smell like meat left out too long in the heat swamped my nostrils.

“Joey,” she whispered. Her voice was hoarse and wet. More of a gurgle than a human tone but still I knew her.

Laura. I squeezed my eyes closed.

“I don’t want you to live for me,” she said. Hands slipped under the blankets, fingers thin as bone stroked me. “You touched me, Joey, after you stabbed me. Did you like me better dead?”

“So sorry Laura. I can’t take it back.”

Her grip on me was tight and something slimy and cold slid from my ear to my mouth. Against my will my eyes opened. Her mouth was next to mine, lipless and rotted. She grinned, no longer a gap tooth smile. One of her front teeth was missing. I felt a phantom pain in my knuckle, remembering the punch to her jaw that had dislodged tooth, sending it spinning into her throat. Blood had spurted from her mouth as she coughed and gagged.

“Sorry? I don’t want sorry.”

She wasn’t there, couldn’t be there, but the smell blocked out all reason. And my body responded to her touch in ways I didn’t intend. Her flesh against me was spongey and slick. The nightshirt was torn at the neck, falling open to reveal sunken, rotted breasts in a blood-caked bra.

“Stop,” I said.

“There’s only one thing I want from you.”

I shoved her but she was stronger now. She held me down and even as I heard her finger bone’s snap I couldn’t so much as budge her. She laughed and black saliva dripped to my face. And then she was gone. I gagged and turned on my side, next to my head was a blade.

I picked it up reverently. A gift from Laura. The blade shone in the sallow light and I stretched a finger toward the gleam. The steel burned cold, far colder than the room around me. Even in the dim light, I recognized the blade.

Ten years ago, I’d bought this same weapon. Meant for hunting, it had an odd weight unlike that of the military knives my uncle kept in a locked cabinet or my parent’s kitchen knives. The impressive size impressed me at fifteen, made it seem destined, a sign I was acting out some sort of divine will not just a deluded teenage urge.

I slid a finger down the edge half-expecting her blood to coat my fingers, drip down my wrists. Half dried blood became sticky, like honey coating my skin… but the only blood was the warm, wet trickle from my finger. Laura’s gift seemed to drink the liquid leaving the blade pristine.

My finger lifted to my mouth and the sharp metallic taste brought a flood of memories. Her blood spurted up, spraying into my eyes, my nose, and my mouth. My hand fell away and I grinned, for a moment I might have walked on air.

Was this what she wanted? Could it be that my blood would pay the price, earn her forgiveness? I was willing to devote the rest of my life to honoring her, but I was aware nothing I did could bring her back. If my death could earn me true clemency…

I recalled her blood warming my thighs as I plunged the blade through the hand she used to shield her face and then again into her chest.

I lifted the blade to my throat. Fitting for a hunting blade, a quick pressure across the throat and the animal died. Cold steel settled against the hollow of my throat. My eyes closed, and I took in a deep breath, her scent still lingered in the air, abrasive and angry.

My grip tightened.

My cell-mate let loose a loud rattling snore and my eyes flew open to the dreary cell and the picture of Laura’s smile on the wall.

No. My death would solve nothing. It would not balance the scales. I’d already wasted one life, wasting another wasn’t the answer. That was why I’d tried so hard for parole. The best way to earn my soul back was to live. But if Laura wanted me to suffer, perhaps parole wasn’t the answer either.

I stood and pivoted, staring my grizzled cell-mate in the face. I lifted the knife and held it over his neck. So simple, I kill him and I’d never get out. And I’d be taking out a fiend. My grin broadened thinking of the deluge of blood. Thinking of how his hands would raise to his neck, trying to hold the life inside him. Power ran in me and I was a god. Life and death were mine.

Again the blade fell. No, it meant nothing if I enjoyed it. Would I have enjoyed it…No. It was only thoughts of earning Laura’s forgiveness that were confusing me. I wasn’t a killer. It was just a mistake.

I tucked Laura’s gift under his mattress. I was getting out tomorrow and I was sure she’d understand I couldn’t’ be caught with a hunting knife. I settled back into my bed. Yes, tomorrow I would be free.

** This story was inspired by a documentary I watched on mandatory life sentences for killers who committed crimes while under 18. While the central idea (the horror of the smile) was from a specific person in that documentary, the crime is not. I don’t like the idea of fictionalizing real people’s pain. Laura is purely fictional and not based on any real victim.

https://www.wattpad.com/159844646-12-01-and-other-tiny-terrors-12-01-laura%27s-smile

The Lost Path, Found

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to give up. As an author, as a girlfriend, as a student, as an employee…it’s the same urge. Just bone-aching tiredness inside and knowing that I’ll never get to what I want. Even if I got there, the goal would move and leave me grasping.

I’ve had enough nights lying awake regretting something stupid I said or did to last me until eternity. And sometimes, I have given up. I want to write down a particular moment in my life this week. I don’t know if anyone will read, but it means so much to me that I feel like I have to get it down.

After graduating college, getting a job…all that junk. I finished my first series of novels. Sent them out. Got turned down. Gave up. I didn’t have the time, energy or hope to succeed. So I let it go. And as the years went by I wrote a bit here or there but it was only because I couldn’t ‘not write.’ I didn’t finish anything and I never tried to get published or show my work to anyone.

My mom kept pushing for me to keep trying. My husband never pushed, but he always encouraged, even a whisper of that dream. My dad would ask every time I talked to her “You writing anything.” But I wasn’t.

Then my mom, god bless her heart, apparently decided she was going to take things into her own hands. She contacted a man she knew at church who happened to be a published author and own a small publishing house. She asked him to talk to me.

That is how I met Nathan Everett. We talked about nothing in particular, my goals, my writing, all those things I thought I had buried. He asked me to send him some of my writing to look at and we set up a coffee date to talk. So I sent him my novella Shopkeeper.

When I met up with him, mind you this was only to talk, I had not sent him something to be published, just so he could see what I wrote. He sat me down, told me how much he loved it. Said that he wanted to publish the piece. He said that if I needed he would pay all the costs. That he’d only ever offered this to one other client, but he thought this little story of mine should be seen.

Well, things didn’t work out that way, but I will be forever thankful to him for that moment.

Sheesh, I’m crying again thinking about it, and I cried then. After giving up on myself. Completely. Admitting–this won’t happen. This can’t happen and dreaming about it hurts too much. After living that emptiness for so long, to have someone (who wasn’t family…was in fact, part of the industry) believe in me just broke down all those walls.

And I remembered how badly I wanted this. I remembered how alive I felt when I wrote. And I wanted that, I wanted it so badly it hurt. Not to get published, though I wanted that too. I wanted the dream back, pain and all. Because that’s who I am and without it, I was living a half-life.

That’s not who I want to be for my son. It’s not who I want to be for me.

So I picked back up the metaphorical pen and I wrote. I started to do my research. Joined a critique site to learn to do it better. I did Nanowrimo. I entered a contest. I wrote short stories. I tried. I tried every day and I knew that this time I couldn’t give up.

One person believed in me and that was enough. It was like a shield against all the doubt.

And no, I’m not a bestselling author now (ten months later…) but in the past year I’ve had a short story published, been a finalist in the PNWA’s literary contest and have a featured story on Wattpad.

And that’s because I decided to live. But more importantly I decided that no matter what it took I’d do it. I learned to use commas for god’s sake… I finished a degree in English Lit without bothering to know how to do that.

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So this is me saying thank you. Thank you to Nathan for believing in me when he had no reason to. Thank you to my mom for using her magical mom powers of knowing everything 😉 And thank you to my husband for supporting my dreams completely, never even complaining that I am not at my computer 100% of the time. I have so much in my life, and its not just writing.

I Put Words on Paper (or Computers) so I Write Words

A question I’ve been hearing a lot of recently is “So what do you normally write? What is your passion?” My auto response has been that I write science fiction with an eye to fantasy, but the more I think about it, the more that isn’t true.

The truth is I write a lot and I’ve always discounted my horror writing as being my slack off pieces. But that’s not what horror is to me at all, it’s just a different sort of release, a different style of imagining. Most of my short stories are horror and many novels have a bent towards that. But these aren’t slack off pieces or throw away bits. They just come from a different part of my psyche and refuse to conform to rules. In trying to make them fit for traditional publishing, I do feel like I’d have to sacrifice the integrity of the story, but that doesn’t mean are any less worthwhile to me… just that I won’t be querying them. So I feed them to the ravenous beast that is Wattpad, where they meet a few appreciative eyes.

Horror Novel Cover

Horror Novel Cover

The reason I think I see my sci-fi/fantasy as being “what I really write” is that those are the works I am willing to go through a gazillion drafts. They are the babies whose basic nature does not seem averse to traditional publishing.  I recently tried to put a fantasy novel up on Wattpad, or the beginning to one, and there is this horror in me that I’ve now killed this novel’s chances for publication. But it’s a tight spot. Having only horror and horror sci-fi visible means that any agent considering my sci-fi/fantasy works is going to say “Wow, she doesn’t really write what she’s pitching.”

In conclusion, this is one big vent. I write prolifically. I write because I must. I write because I’m inspired whether that inspiration be a shiver that crawled up my spine while darting across a dark parking lot, a fascination with gothic heroine’s and their kidnappability, a desire to build a world to suit a spiffy MMO character (Yes…this is how several of my characters have come to me…don’t judge.)Felix

I write how I read. My bookshelves became acquainted with Christopher Pike when I was twelve. They met their first fantasy heroine when I was eight. Science fiction came later but in a rush as I drank in old classics and newer gems. Telling someone which of these genres I read would be impossible because the truth is I read them all. I’ve even been known to sneak in a steamy romance when no one was looking…saved some of those too…they are all missing covers. I read and write fantasy because the world we live in can feel like a trap. A release has an exotic beauty to it. I write sci-fi because I like to play god, toy with worlds, universes, cultures. I read sci-fi because I like to be part of other authors playing the same god games I do. And I read and write horror because the dark undercurrent of fear makes me feel alive.

fantasy horror author

Sexy Lamps, Roses and Villainous Rodents

Rabbits! My next novel will feature one of these nefarious beasts asthe villain. Yes, a fluffy, hippity-hoppity devil monster.

For two years now, I’ve been trying to regrow some rose bushes the previous owners of our house cut down. I spray them (to keep the bunnies off.) It rains. The bunnies eat them. I spray them again, water them…the bunnies eat them. This year I bought chicken wire and caged the roses, sprayed them, watered them…the bunnies ATE THEM.

I should take solace that at least they made it through most of the summer this round and my raspberry bushes are not completely destroyed. I don’t.

One of these days, I’m going to aim for one of those furry beasts in the driveway and hit it. This will be followed by a maniacal laugh. I swear this time I will not be stopped by the “aw, it’s cute” reflex or the “it’s only acting on its nature trying to survive,” hippy morals I was raised with. Bunny is going down.

Both on and off topic does anyone remember the Buniculla books? My bunnies aren’t like that. They are pure evil. Thought I’d clear that up.

The novel with a bunny as the villain will also have a sexy lamp in place of the female protagonist. You’re welcome.

http://sjwiki.org/wiki/Sexy_lamp_test#.VcQlZ_lVhHx

Kingdom South- New Wattpad story

I’ve finally worked up the courage to branch out on Wattpad and post a little fantasy. In its current incarnation, the piece is called Kingdom South. The novel is a tale that weaves a dark tapestry of fairytales together.

Kingdom South

Cover for fantasy novel by Jesse Sprague

It was a lot of fun to write and I hope it will be as much fun to read. If you are at all interested:

https://www.wattpad.com/152166383-kingdom-south-part-1-let-down-your-hair-chap-1

Lost to time Vayle waits, her hair in a pool around her. A single door leading from her tower. A door she dares not take. Magic has passed from the world, banished and feared but still Vayle abides. She sleeps until the voice of the third son of a king ignited the silence. Surrounded by a graveyard of time and trees, everything around her shouts of death but Vayle dares to hope for something else.

What happens to the maid with the long hair if the witch never returns to the tower? What happens to Snow White if the king is more wicked than the step-mother?

Part one Cover

Cover art for part 1: Let Down Your Hair

The Best Writing I’ll Ever Do

You know what the worst is? No? Well, how could you there are a bazillion answers to that. At the moment, I’m talking about rewriting. Now let me be clear, there are different kinds of rewriting. Most of them are not awful at all. Like:

When you decide a scene doesn’t work and cut it. Then you have to rewrite

When you decide a scene no longer makes sense because of other changes so you rewrite parts.

When you decide a scene isn’t adding enough so you cut it and add in some sort of one line transition.

Now all of these don’t suck. They aren’t always fun, but they don’t suck. I have a magical folder on my computer called ‘deleted scenes’ in which I hold these little gems. I never look at them again but having them there keeps there from being a little hole in my soul.

What sucks is when you LOSE your work and have to rewrite it. For me what happens then is whatever I wrote becomes the best writing I ever did, will ever do. It is impossible I can ever write that so well again. In fact, I might as well give up writing because to write that again would only be a shallow imitation of real art.

Why do I feel this way? If you know, I’d love to be educated. All I know is logic doesn’t have any part of the madness.

This week I lost one of my notebooks, in which there were several scenes I had not yet transferred to the computer. I obsessed. I turned the house upside down. I sat at my computer and pried approximately five words out of myself over a solid hour before quitting.

This morning I found that notebook and read the scene. It’s awful. Terrible. Just… I don’t even want to put it on the computer.

On the upside, since I couldn’t get any real writing done last night I got a huge laugh out of doing character interviews with some friends on CC. And did a final edit of my synopsis before sending out some queries today.

But I think I’ll frame that awful scene. Literally frame it on my office wall and stare at it next time I lose/delete something I can’t retrieve. Maybe I will believe tangible proof that just because it’s gone doesn’t mean it’s good.

Oh and my phone is still broken so now I get to decide if I’m going to dredge up some internet pictures of find some highly inappropriate picture from my personal stash to tack onto this.