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

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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.

If I Knew how to Speak, I Wouldn’t be a Writer.

Well, this was an eventful weekend. I attended the PNWA literary contest and I learned several things, mostly about myself but also about the world at large.

The first is… I’m not crazy; I’m just a writer. Having met other writers it has suddenly clicked that all those things other people give me ‘that look’ for…are things all the other writers do too. It was so liberating to stand in a room with people who understood things like ‘I don’t know where my book is going now. My characters refused to do what I wanted.’

The second is… smartphones are really fragile. Like ridiculous. Standing in the bathroom this morning my cell slipped from my exhausted fingers to the tile. Now I am not 80,000 feet tall. It did not fall from the roof of a building. From my hand to the ground. Even if I was holding over my head (which I wasn’t) that’s what? Just a little over six feet? Shattered the screen and I must now make an e-bay trip to see if I can avoid paying $400 + for a new one.

The third is… I’m not nearly as bad a loser as I thought I was. I was really worried that as a finalist in the contest I was going to be super upset when I lost (yes that is how I thought of it.) But when the awards came I found I was almost as excited for several of the other finalists as I was for myself. I found myself calculating the odds that either me or the two others I was rooting for in my category would place. 9 finalists. 2 winners…and discovered it was actually pretty good odds. Well, I didn’t place, but one of the others I was gunning for finished first. And despite my apparently compulsively low opinion of myself I was legitimately happy.

I keep emotionally poking myself trying to dig up some of that gooey self-hatred I expected and nothing’s there. I am just happy to have met the amazing people I did and happy that such deserving people won. Could it be I’m actually not a raving bitch deep inside?

The fourth thing is… I really need to work on my public speaking skills. And by that I don’t mean standing up in front of a crowd and speaking but literally speaking in public. Every agent and editor I talked to at the conference the first thing out of their mouths was ‘Are you nervous?’

And while I guess consistency is good, I’m not sure that I want to be remembered as that ridiculously nervous girl who can’t talk if there are more than two people in the room. And while I know that the spoken word isn’t my forte I probably shouldn’t sound like I have the vocab of a five year old… its just not going to sell me successfully

I intended to take a picture of all the beautiful author and agent/editor cards I got at the conference. But if you’ll refer back to point two, I no longer have a working camera. So Instead, I’ll give you a random picture of my dog running. You’re welcome.

2014-06-24 16.49.38-1

Featured List & Ice Cream: There is no Such Thing as Calories

Ugh, I won’t share the temperatures because most people would just laugh, but it’s ridiculously hot here. It’s my own fault for living in a place so temperate that even small variations seem extreme. But heat added to good news means celebrating with ice cream.

Yes, good news again. This has been a fantastic year for me and I will just have to cross my fingers that it stays that way. I submitted one of my stories, Deprivation, on Wattpad for the featured list, which for those of you who don’t know is Wattpad version of real publishing. The featured list serves to give Wattpad some validity in the writing world by showcasing works that are, if not publishable, close to. It also helps little nobodies like me get my work out where people can see it.

Deprivation

Fantasy/horror novel titled Deprivation

Any of you who are writers know the word ‘platform’ probably with a bit of a shudder. Well…this is fantastic news for my platform.

The actual change in my story from not featured to featured they said would probably happen in about two weeks. Which isn’t in time to use it as more than an aside at the conference but I’m not complaining.

The day I got the e-mail, I took my son to Costco for frozen yogurt. A. Because it’s cheap. And B. because I figured that would be fewer calories (kill me I’m a little vain and want to fit into my summer dresses.)

froyo

But when we got there the little guy saw they had a strawberry sundae and asked so prettily. So I’m pretending that has just as few calories. Because I’m often delusional when I try to diet.

Veryberry

Costco samples also have no calories if you are wondering.

This whole year so far feels like that, ‘calorie free’ enjoyment. Like somehow it’s going to happen that I’m just kidding myself and none of this is real. I do it every time. When my story got published, I sort of held my breath till it actually showed up in the magazine. When I got the call I was a finalist, an illogical part of my brain screamed it was a prank call. And now that same voice is telling me Wattpad could just change it mine be like ‘sorry, we got your story confused with another one… yours is actually kind of gross… why would you write about a severed hand sticking up out of the floor? Sicko.’

But unlike Costco samples, so far all of it really has been ‘calorie free’ enjoyment. Of course, if I’m to push the comparison further I do a lot more ‘working out’ for my writing than I do for my diet. Carrying my son to and from the car counts as cardio you know…even more so if I park in the basement and have to carry him up the stairs.

I think if I wasn’t getting rejections along with the successes I’d have pinched myself a lot. So far I’m making a 25% acceptance ratio, which I’m proud of thank you. Part of me thinks I should hurry and get two rejections in before the conference though…just so maybe I get a yes there.

Additionally, this is a lot more mentions of my son than I usually allow myself since this is meant to be my writing blog, not a parenting one. But as a stay-at-home mom it’s hard to remove the little guy from my stories without way more effort than I’m willing to put in when it’s this hot.

It’s Not Porn

So I’ve been sidetracked from my conference prep by what I lovingly call my ‘porn’ notebook. No, don’t get excited. It’s not porn. Well, unless you like me thought of emotionally exploitative pointless words.
Whenever I start drafting a novel I sit down with my ‘porn’ notebook and write scenes. At least fifty percent of these scenes I’m aware from when I start them will never hit a book. They are all about getting to know my characters, their quirks, their fears, hell even their sexual tendencies. I’ve tried just thinking of these things and writing them down in neat lists, but it doesn’t work. Half the information ends up wrong…nope to get it right I need to ask the characters.
Thus the notebook.
Most of the scenes are just the characters saying quippy things to each other and being clever, drinking contests, bets, gossiping and yes, far more sex than will ever enter one of my books. But hey, I have to know before I start writing if some prissy-pants character likes threesomes or any number of proclivities that I won’t share with you because it would be invading their privacy.
But there is no writing more fun than ‘porn’ notebook writing. Because almost none of it ever sees the novel my inner critic really just shuts up and lets me write. I get to describe what the characters are wearing to my heart’s content, and let my babies talk in long soliloquies or argue over which is a better weapon a great ax or a great sword (I literally just wrote that scene…) or whine about daddy issues for five pages straight.
Of course at some point, I have to reign them and me in and tell them to stick to the plot…but not yet. I forgot how much I love this.
Though the most recent set of characters is refusing to cooperate romantically. I don’t know why they don’t just fall in love with who I tell them to…they are fictious. I made them up. They should do what I say! Right?
I think someone other than me should tell them that. They aren’t listening. Insisting they just want to be friends…
Now that I have made myself sound completely insane, I feel I’ve done my duty for the week. It’s too hot to be in my office anyway. I think I’ll go somewhere cooler and write a scene about a married couple telling each other how wonderful they think the other one is…maybe I’ll start the scene out in the bedroom just in case they get frisky 😉 Or maybe a plot relevant scene just to give my notebook some dignity.

Taglines and Editing

Who knew that writing twenty words could take a week? Well… most author’s doing this longer than me. This week my quest was to write my logline, and to a lesser extent my pitch. Read a couple articles, jumped in wrote it. Read a couple more, rewrote every word (well almost.) Then I shared it with people and those two words that remained from version one disappeared (along with most of version two.)

But after hours and hours of work, and embarrassing myself and imposing on everyone near me in my acquaintance. I have a logline I’m happy with (bets on how long it’ll last?)

On an intergalactic voyage, a devoted mercenary must protect her prince while unearthing dangerous secrets of the galaxies’ godlike rulers.

The pitch was easier in some ways because I had a query letter to draw from. Yay! How often does something turn out to be easier than you feared? Now I just have to memorize it… oh and say it in front of agents and editors… no sweat… right?

Elevator Pitch:
My book is about Taln an insecure mercenary whose greatest quandary in life is whether to sharpen her knives or spy on her beloved employer. That is until her employer is blackmailed into investigating eon old secrets on a voyage across the stars. As forgotten truths about genetic manipulation and slavery emerge, Taln must learn opening her heart can make greater changes than throwing her blade in order to push past prejudice and free a race who has only ever known slavery.

And now back to editing. Ah, the beauty of editing. When I started writing I never thought I’d enjoy ripping my baby apart but I honestly do relish the feeling of a major revision. It’s the little niggling edits that drive me crazy. It’s hard to put creativity and passion into double checking commas and question mark usage.

Anyhow, apologies for the belated and odd ramblings of the week. With fifteen chapters left to comb through I admit my mind is stuck in my novel.

And because I saw it, and its true:

Though I think the artist should try typing with a three year old trying to climb up the back of their chair.

PNWA Literary Contest

My novel has placed as a finalist in the PNWA literary contest.

Sorry, that deserved a paragraph of its own. No sharing for that sentence.

I’ve spent the time since I got the call oscillating between unreasoning joy/overwhelmed by emotion to the point of tears, and petrified with fear. When I decided to come back to writing, my first love, eight months ago I thought that choice was the most nerve wracking decision I’d ever make. Because trying again meant opening my soul to the world and begging for rejection.

Because as everyone is so wont to tell you, “It’s impossible to get published.”

Well, I’ve worked my tail off for the past eight months. My novel has gone through three full revisions and been ripped apart by crit partners who I sometimes swear are out for blood. I’ve been reading books on writing and publishing, reviewing books and teaching myself punctuation rules that make no sense what-so-ever. And from my vantage point now, publication isn’t impossible.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, but the current situation is killing my nerves in ways my previous one did not. Suddenly, I have a possible shot…but it’s out of my hands. No amount of editing or improving my draft is going to change what those judges see. The entire process is moving without me. Even if I sat back and didn’t touch my draft…nothing about that entry would change (it would make a difference if I get lucky enough to have an agent want to look at my full novel.)

I’m a control freak. Not over everything but my sanity requires either to have no stake and no say in things or the first, middle and final decision. My lack of ability to choose a restaurant, or once we’re there choose a meal drives my hubby crazy. But the fact I won’t let him touch the TV remote seems to disturb him more (MINE.) I have way more at stake in my novel than in any TV show.

Judges have my precious (does every writer feel about their work like Gollum felt about that ring? Or is it just me?) and I get to wait a month to know if I get the amazing honor of putting PNWA finalist in my query or (dare I say it?) the earthshattering ability to type winner. Do I think that’s likely? No. It’s a one in eight chance though… which is better odds than I faced in the first round.

And… Thank God I found my perfect songs to repeat or I might literally go crazy. Simon & Garfunkel are sanity savers. With my headphones on, I can sit back and just smile, drink some coffee and enjoy the moment for itself.

Enjoying a moment

I am a Rock

Currently, I’m listening to Simon & Garfunkel on repeat, in specific I Am a Rock. I’ve never met anyone else who does this, that is, listens to a single song on repeat for hours at a time. But for me there is nothing better than finding that single song that speaks to your soul in its current form because when you find that one song that for whatever illogical reason just fits… it’s the most powerful catharsis I know of.

I couldn’t say why it’s one song or another, but I’ll hear a song and it’s like the world stands still, I often break into tears trying to sing along. Most recently it was Lord Huron’s She Lit a Fire and then respectively Ends of the Earth. Before that, Hozier’s Take me to Church and Bleacher’s Shadow.  But it can be all sorts of music, country songs, folk songs, pop songs, a few time numbers from Broadway musicals.

I’m stuck in my work, have been for weeks. I can’t seem to get past all this advice pouring in that basically comes to ‘you can’t succeed, it’s impossible and you aren’t that good.’ Which every writer who researches and works to get better hears. Mostly from well-meaning sources who are trying to stress how hard the publishing industry is.

To ward off disappointment?

But when you know how tough success is, being repeatedly told not to get your hopes up, that your not ready, that this or that or the other isn’t good enough…crushes something inside you.

You get trapped under the weight of everything you ‘need’ to do. Pinned under the doubts and the fear. The query letter, the synopsis, the pitch, the writing books, the constant reworking of your work (which even after revision you can still always find someone who thinks it’s godawful.) And occasionally into all this, the thought creeps ‘Maybe I should just give up. I’ll never do this.’

I’ve spent weeks teetering. Not able to give up or to get anything done. I knew I needed something, anything to lift me, to remind me that even if no one but me (and my mom and husband) believes in me, I can do this.

Getting Little Cracks published gave me that boost for a while, but getting published once feels like a fluke in my heart. Which I know is whiny and silly since so many authors try for so long and don’t even get that far. I read somewhere that the brain tends to disregard data that occurs once as extraneous. Your mind doesn’t let you believe until there is a pattern.

But you don’t need a metaphorical giant to free you from the crushing weight of doubts. A breeze can lift it, if you just happen on the right breeze.

So I’m sitting in this self-made hole of doubt and inaction…and Simon and Garfunkel comes on the radio. I’m singing along and my voice just fails and all these emotions bubble and I know I’m going to be okay. That I can be both a rock and an island. I know that pain won’t kill me…now I know that isn’t the point of the song…but it doesn’t matter what the point is. It only matters that at that moment, that song, that rhythm, those words broke the stasis.

mmm…point of this week’s little rant…music is beautiful and powerful because it touches emotions not logic. It moves past your guards and touches the tender places where even words fail to penetrate. And that I hope all of you find your ‘song’ when you desperately need it. Because no matter what the facts are in your life that make progress feel impossible, a course exists that will bring you to your destination.

And that sometimes it’s not our brains that need convincing but our hearts. I love what I’m doing and writing this for the first time in weeks I remember that. I don’t write this blog, or my novel or anything because I have to. I do this because it’s my music.

The Beauty of Gas Masks

Upon approaching my house, after you passed the salmonberry, blackberry, and huckleberry bushes, you’d see a sign mounted on the corner of the house, next to the fenced yard. You might mistake it for a beware of dog sign, especially if my dog was outside barking. But, no, my sign says: Beware of Werewolves.

Beware

Beware

If you were to enter my home, more artwork in the same vein would follow.

I have on occasion pondered what this obsession with monsters, disease, and death says about me. Recently it was brought to my attention while at Folklife Festival. This is a fair filled with local folk artists (both visual and oral), stalls filled with this-and-that’s and fair foods. I have attended since I was a little girl and my favorite activity was dancing to steel drum music.
Nowadays, I pick up a household decoration.
Last years selection

Dining room art

Dining room art

This years selection

Horns and a gas mask...why not

Horns and a gas mask…why not

Pretty...

Pretty…

As I paid for this years delightful piece, with my mother looking at me like ‘how did I raise this child?’ My husband smiling indulgently and the vendor looking at me with surprise. A picture of me standing there formed in my head- young(ish) white woman in a lace skirt, accompanied by my mother, my husband and with a three year old child on my hip and here I had decided to decorate my home with a gas-masked monster.
Now, at home I have those things one would expect a frilly girly girl to buy, lace curtains, a hutch filled with china but as beautiful as I find those things… I see equal appeal in pickled monster heads and robot bears. Even the occasional Sweeney Todd/Jack the Ripper reference (have one framed in my dining room.)
This fascination with the macabre, the awful, the dark underside drives my own art as well as my purchases which I’ve given up questioning. Still, it must all come from the same root. That part deep down that makes the serial killer’s habits more fascinating than the biology of bunnies (or some such whatever.) For me there is a beauty in the dark unknown, an ecstasy in the shiver down your spine. Something infinitely lovely about death and fear because they are a warped mirror allowing me to look past my own faults, to find an cling to that basic kindness and morality that shimmers at the heart of most of us.
Plus gas masks are cool.

The Know-it-all, the Skimmer, the Ego-stroker, the Drama Queen and the Sparrow Fart

“That’s not how I do it,” I would whine.
“Well, how you’re doing it isn’t working,” my mother/father/brother/ husband responds
“But it does work…it worked before. I don’t know what’s wrong now.”
I’ve had the preceding argument so many times in my life that both my loved ones and I have it memorized. Taking advice has never been my strong suite. No one will admit that faster than me.
My resistance doesn’t extend to professional advice (except when my husband tries to teach me about computers.) I take advice from books just fine. As a teenager, I even took advice from insane quizzes on the internet (those never served me well.)
The crux of the matter is that nothing burns like admitting a loved one is right and I am wrong. Or I thought so until I started taking advice from complete strangers, with no qualifications beyond those I could attach to myself. Yes, for those of you who are any sort of artist this may sound familiar. The idea of a peer group of people who have not made it into the industry all advising each other… and on the internet where certain types of advice seem far more common than in any face to face group.
Recently, I’ve been taking a lot of advice from other would-be authors. At first, the process was productive as I hammered out some of the basics to clear up my narratives. However, over the past few months, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the process.
My issue? Listening to people who from a logical standpoint are in no position to give advice, who don’t seem to realize that the dynamic needed for a peer group to is respect, equally contributing partners and encouragement.
There are four main types of advice givers that grate on me.
The first is the know-it-all. The person who instructs as if they are an agent or editor, with no (orvery little) regard to support or encouragement. These well-intentioned souls only offer criticism. Sometimes, they don’t even give you examples of how to fix things, they just make sweeping statements about your pieces faults. If you question them invariably, their response is ‘An agent or editor wouldn’t tell you how to fix things, you’d be lucky if they even told you what was wrong. I’m just being realistic.’
They aren’t. The reason this method is infuriating- they aren’t agents and editors. Professionals who I solicit can and should be able to give know-it-all advice because I went to them specifically. They have a professional opinion that you as an artist are seeking out.
The second type of well-meaning advice giver is the skimmer. They don’t really look at your piece. Just enough to make a few comments, misunderstand a bunch of stuff and the criticize you for not being clear. What they really want is your advice without taking the time to earn it. In my opinion, the skimmer is the worst because unlike the know-it-all, they don’t want the best for you.
The third type is the ego-stroker. These are usually either people that just aren’t quite as advanced, but sometimes this happens if you stick with a certain partner for too long. They become afraid of offending and get too nice. This is the easiest to take because often it doesn’t happen every critique…and hell sometimes a little encouragement is needed after the other stuff!
Last, is the drama queen. They will find one or two aspects of your story they don’t like, latch on and exaggerate how awful it is, how much it bothers them. They will find a way to claim they are confused about every paragraph because apparently they have no comprehension whatsoever of metaphors. Or they will decide that they don’t like your character and spend the entire time telling you how flawed/irrelevant/non-sensical the characters actions are.
Drama queens are the easiest to take because they are so easily ignored.
All of these types minus the skimmer have one thing in common, they are all legitimately trying to help. And despite my natural proclivity for resisting advice, I listen to them all and take what I can. I’m sure that some people are equally annoyed by my advice. And I know looking back (I never know it’s happening when I’m doing it) that I’ve given critiques in each of these styles at least once.
Now a bonus, there is actually a fifth style of nasty advice giver. These people don’t want the best for you. At best, they don’t give a flying sparrow fart if you succeed. They serve up canned rants, drill how hard the industry is and how you’ll never succeed, they judge you and your work without looking or with barely a glance. I’m not saying these people want you to fail, they aren’t evil, they’re just more concerned with being heard than with helping.
The same way as a child, I was more concerned with being heard than with being helped.
The odd part about all of it though is that learning to give advice and seeing how absurd people who ‘know how it is’ sound when really they don’t… Is teaching me how to take advice. How to listen and try. To put aside what I think because I don’t want to be a know-it-all advice taker.
And hopefully, my new attitude will transition over to when my techie husband gives me computer advice…after all he actually does know more about the topic than me.

For anyone who is part of critique circle who I may have worked with, none of these types are based on any one person.  Despite the frustrations voiced here, I have yet to encounter someone who was truly just cruel or working with malicious intent.