Tag Archives: Writers Resources

On happy and unexpected occurrences

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“Peonies in the Wind” by Sakai Hōitsu (1761-1828), Edo Period.

It’s been 16 days since The Butterfly Crest launched, and I don’t think I’ve stopped for even a second. I knew my plate would be full the second everything went live, but I couldn’t have guessed the full extent of it.

The work is never-ending. I had a game plan, but every time I finish a task three take its place. I’m learning something new with every click of the cursor, and the process seems to reinvent itself every day. That being said, I’ve enjoyed every second of it. The pace might be a little insane, but connecting directly with readers, and other writers, has been a joy. I received my first reader email halfway through the week, and it was from the mountains of Turkey!

I’ve been thinking about what to write (it’s hard to pare down the experience), and the first thing that comes to mind is the incredible support I’ve received from friends and family. I’d given the book to less than a dozen people before its launch (to assist in the revision process), and all of them went out in full force to spread the word. They’ve shared and promoted the book through social media almost as tirelessly as I have. They are fully invested in the book’s success, and I’m in complete awe of them. There’s also the ones who are doing exactly the same thing, without having been part of that peer review group, and the ones who, in spite of not owning ereaders, downloaded apps, purchased the book, and are reading it on their phones (which I can tell you from experience is NOT an easy task) and spreading the news. There aren’t sufficient words in the English language to express my gratitude for their support.

And while I’m on the topic of supportive friends and family, I can’t leave out the unexpected gift I received in the mail. On Tuesday morning, I arrived at the office to find a package waiting for me. The box had the logo of a tea retailer and weighed very little, so I imaged someone had sent me some tea (which for me is like gold). When I opened the box and removed the tissue paper, what I found wasn’t tea. Staring back at me was a white butterfly crest, in a sea of black crepe silk. It was a haori, a kimono jacket, with a singular butterfly kamon at the nape of the neck. Kamon is the Japanese word for a family crest, and the inspiration for the name of my novel. One of my dearest friends had sent me the gift to commemorate the launch of my book. And once again, there weren’t sufficient words in the English language to express my gratitude.

Which brings me to the topic of butterflies. In the email I received from Turkey, the reader described an experience she had with a swallowtail butterfly while she was reading the book. In that moment, I realized how powerful a symbol it can be, that it had resonated with her in the same way it resonated with me. I have to admit that I’ve never quite looked at a butterfly in the same way again, since finishing my book. What’s incredible about it is that I didn’t set out with the intent of the butterfly becoming the symbol for Elena’s journey, or mine for that matter. It was just one of those happy occurrences while I was writing. Now, I can’t imagine this journey without it, and every time I see one (yesterday afternoon in my backyard or the photo of one a friend posted on Facebook this morning) I can’t help but feel completely at peace. The experience of writing my first novel, of fulfilling that dream, and publishing it has been transformative, and the butterfly, for me, has become a symbol of that transformation (in the same way it was for Elena, and in the mythos of different cultures throughout history).

Speaking of Elena, it’s been a huge relief to see the warm reception she’s received as our reluctant heroine. When you’re writing a story with a large supporting cast of divine creatures, who are forces of nature in their own right, you can’t help but worry that the voice of your human protagonist might be overwhelmed. Even in my head, the cast of beasties fight for room on the page while Ele usually just sits back, but it looks like that contrast resonated with readers. Both of the editorial reviews the novel has received have commented on Elena’s strength as the protagonist, and I’m thrilled about it.

Which brings me to the second editorial review—The Butterfly Crest has received another 5 stars! I can’t think of a better way to close out this post.

Reviewed By Kathryn Bennett for Readers’ Favorite:

The Butterfly Crest by Eva Vanrell takes us between the shadows of the human world where a war that is as old as time is raging. A long-told prophecy says one human woman will change the course of the divine war and one day Elena – a seemingly regular woman living a normal life – gets a letter about a deposit box in her mother’s name. This letter and the contents of the box are a cursed inheritance and send Elena on a journey that could only be considered mythical and unbelievable. She must make choices to see where destiny takes her.

This is a great story that merges two different realms almost seamlessly into one another and makes a complex story entertaining and compelling. The action was fast and the pace of the book was perfect. Elena is a fantastic character whom I found to be intelligent and strong, but who has to find her way in an impossible situation, giving her even more depth as well. Eva Vanrell has created a strong story with a beautifully strong female main character, in a world and with a story line that is imaginative and unique. I have read many fantasy style stories that offer a similar version of wars that have been going on for all time, but this has been by far one of the most well thought out and well put together plots. If you are looking for a read for the summer that will have you hooked within the first pages and hold your interest until the very end, leaving you wanting more … then this is your book.

On abstract and out-of-context glimpses

The Heron Maiden by Tsunetomi, ca. 1925

It has been a very busy past two weeks, and I’m happy to report that I have, after much effort, found a rhythm that works (for now *fingers crossed*). I have been waking up to write at 5:00 a.m. every morning, come rain or shine (or protests from the part of my brain/body that continues to hold out). I get up, make a pot of tea, take a seat in my not-so-comfortable chair, and don’t get back up again until after 7:00 a.m. (when I switch hats to day-job-mode).

Now that I’m getting used to the schedule, everything else is falling into place. Every day it gets easier to get up and slip back into writer-mode. Those first few days were very entertaining (for me, at least), with one foot in book world and the other in the real world. At this point, I’m plotting in my sleep. I got some much-needed research done (on cross-cultural similarities for a certain type of myth), perfected (and outlined) my sub-plot, and got a good amount of writing done.

Contrary to what happened two weeks ago (see previous post), I didn’t have any meltdowns. I’ve tried to write without going back to revise, but it’s just impossible for me. If something isn’t flowing right, it sticks out like a sore thumb and I can’t move forward until I smooth the edges out (to illustrate my point, this post is now going on 25+ revisions and counting). I know the second I read it that something isn’t quite right, but trying to fix the problem can be an odyssey in and of itself. The most recent example of this little quirk is my newest prologue for Book Two, and I say “newest” because it is now in its third iteration (and hopefully its last).

But before I get into that, let me give you a little background.

The prologue for Book One wasn’t “written” until I was finished with the book. I had written a prologue initially, but I always knew it wasn’t going to work. (If you’re curious about the details, check out my previous entries on the subject: here and here). I knew that whatever I would write needed to be abstract, yet somehow capture the essence of the book. It needed to be Magic; to give the reader a glimpse of the world they would be stepping into. It turned out in the end that I had already written the perfect prologue, half way through the book (I just didn’t realize it until the end).

With that in mind, I wanted the prologue for Book Two to tell the same kind of out-of-context, abstract-but-essential story. I don’t know why I tried to write it at the beginning of the process (in spite of previous lessons), but I’m going to chalk it up to the glitches in my brain. For whatever reason, every time I sat down to write I kept going back to the empty space between the prologue and chapter one, and felt the need to fill it.

I had about two false starts.

The first attempt is saved on my computer for future use. The second attempt was far better. I was actually really attached to it, so much so that I forced kept it for months (until last week). I knew from the second I reread it that it wasn’t right, but I was having trouble letting it go. It had everything I wanted (third-person omniscient perspective, the right tone and feel, excellent flow), but it didn’t have that temporal element; that abstract, out-of-context glimpse into the essence of the book. So, what did I do? I ignored the issue. I figured I’d do what I did last time; wait for it to magically appear in the middle of the book.

As tends to be the case with most of my writing process, things didn’t go as planned. The prologue magically appeared some time in the middle of last week. One minute there was nothing, the next a well-formed abstract, out-of-context glimpse. It’s only 622 words long (shorter than this post), but it took me days to get just right. Of course, it came to me just when I’d decided to let the issue go, but I’m glad it did; it has done a lot for me process-wise.

For starters, it reminded me that the writing process is always evolving. What might have worked for me two years ago may not necessarily work for me now. The method will be different for everyone, and it shouldn’t be static. I kept comparing my process now to what it had been then, and got in the way of my own progress. I was also reminded to follow my instinct, especially if that instinct happens to be different the second time around; how else can your process evolve? More importantly, the new prologue gave me something to latch onto as I continue to write, because it gave me an exciting glimpse of the world I would be stepping into (as I hope it will for my readers).

Like I’ve said before, I know where the story begins and where it will end, but I have no idea where the journey in between will take me (true of writing and prologues alike).

Regarding the image above, it is a print of The Heron Maiden by the artist Tsunetomi.  The Heron Maiden is a Japenese folk-tale and well known dance role in Kabuki. You can read about the story here. It is the kind of story and imagery that constantly fuels my imagination.

 

On rare moments of free time

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“Cherry Blossom in the Night” by Katsushika Oi (1800-1866)

Very rarely these days do I get a chunk of free time to dedicate exclusively to my writing. Even rarer still is the instance when that serendipitous chunk of free time is devoid of interruption. This morning was meant to be one of those rarest of rare moments. The planets magically aligned and for at least four hours I would have the house all to myself, without any pressing issues that spilled over from the week or housework looming over my head. It was the perfect opportunity.

After seeing the hubby off, I excitedly got down to business. I cleaned up my work space. Turned on the computer. Changed into more comfortable clothes. Prepared my tea. Opened the window shades for light (but not wide enough to be a distraction). Sat down. Found the file on the computer, opened it and began to read. (I usually reread the chapter I’m on before I start writing, if I’ve left it partway through).

Three paragraphs in, I found a little something I wanted to edit; a single (arguably insignificant) word. I’d read the passage plenty of times before without ever concerning myself with it, but for some reason today my brain got stuck on that one word. I changed it back and forth several times, read it out loud once or twice, and then went ahead and committed (after all, I needed to get through another 4,952 words before I could pick up my writing where I left off).

Moving along, I read paragraph four without a problem (cue false sense of security here). In paragraph five, my brain got stuck on comma placement; I decided to leave it alone. In paragraph seven, my sentences started to sound too wordy (a sure sign I was not in my right mind). In paragraph eight, I questioned a descriptor I had painstakingly considered and chosen before for the sake of my narrative voice. By the time I got halfway through paragraph nine (and my brain got stuck again, this time on using the proper name for an important place), I realized something was off (me) and decided it would be best to walk away.

In less than a half hour, my perfect opportunity had been squandered away.

Suffice to say, I’m just a little bit frustrated. Four hours of ideal solitude and I can’t write (I can’t even get past re-reading). Normally, I would advise sitting in front of the blank screen until the words come, but there are times when you can’t do that. I know that if I continue today, I’ll massacre the progress I’ve already made. So I decided to use the free time to write this post instead. Now that it’s done, I think I’m going to do a little gardening. The weather is cooperating (somewhat), and it’ll help clear my mind.

I might not have a rare chunk of free time later, but I’ll be fine with a little inspiration.

On the image for the post, it’s by Katsushika Oi, one of the few female woodblock ukiyo-e painters of the Edo Period. She was the daughter of the artist Katsushika Hokusai. Her identity, of course, is inspiring, but so is the image itself.  A large part of Book One takes place in Japan, and the feeling invoked by the painting reminds me of the setting.

On completing appendices and hoping for spring

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Drum bridge at Kameidô shrine Tokyo, woodblock print by Yoshida Hiroshi.

I am thrilled to report that, after much work, I am at the tail end of completing my appendix. It is far more detailed than I ever considered making it, but I’m happy to say that most of the issues I raised in my last post worked themselves out on their own.

Contrary to my original intent, I did not divide the list by culture or pantheon. Doing so would have required the reader to know in what section to look, which might not always be the easiest task (especially with a ‘miscellaneous’ section). I did, however, compile the list in the divided format, since it made the task much easier for me to keep track of and revise.

The appendix itself ended up being much more detailed than I anticipated, since I decided to be as inclusive as I could rather than just focus on main characters and important places. The most recent draft includes minor characters, terms essential to the storyline (for quick reference), and definitions of non-English words.  I could have chosen to make it a little less comprehensive (middle ground?), but I felt it was important to include anything that would come to bear on the series as a whole later on. Character descriptions were a bit of a toss up; some with only a basic explanation of who/what they are, and others with important details on appearance and personality (surprisingly, the choice came down to pantheon). I’m still on the fence regarding the family tree(s), but I’m leaning more toward adding them from the second book onward (for purposes of not giving anything away).

Right now I’m in the middle of revising and editing. That means I’ll pour over it a million times before handing it off to my husband for the final round. The last decision I’ll have to make will be the page set-up, aesthetically speaking. Seven months after moving, my books are finally out of their boxes and up on their respective shelves (just in time for me to pour over them as reference). I spent most of the weekend looking through a good portion of my book collection to see how they presented their appendices.

If all goes as planned, I should have everything ready to go (and sent off) in the next few weeks. On a side note, Facebook remains on my “to do” list for now (and will stay there until after I send the book off for publishing). My Pinterest account, on the other hand, is alive and well. Since my last post, I’ve created Pin boards for the first three major pantheons in the series and two more characters. I’m currently working on a board for a supernatural character that’s proving difficult to channel (he’s lived for centuries and hasn’t completely assimilated with the modern world), so stay tuned; his board should turn out fun because he can be a little cheeky.

When I started the Pinterest account for the series, I never imagined it would inspire me as much as it has. Pinning as my characters has become another form of expression and exploration. I’m learning things about them that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. Evius, for example, can’t resist Pinning images of animals that his wife or child would like. Mr. Muse is drawn to ceramics. Cataline loves Pinning photos of the artists whose work she just Pinned, and Bryce loves anything fashion oriented and just a little macabre. The easiest board, of course, has been Elena’s, which is where the artwork above has come from. Like me, she’s hoping for spring.

On the perpetuity of my endeavor

Beauty Walking on a Snowy Day, woodblock print by Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III) (Japan, Edo, 1786-1865), Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

“Writing and publishing a book (be it through traditional or self-publishing means) is a perpetually arduous task. It is not as simple a process as just writing, editing, and publishing. It is a multi-layered beast that is ever-changing and exhausting…”

When I wrote those words last month, I was certain that by this point in January I would finally be ready to pull the trigger. The editing was done. The book cover agreed upon (albeit with much less ceremony than I had anticipated). The blog was on its way. Pinterest was becoming addictive. All I needed was a few finishing touches and away we go.

Give or take a holiday or two, and I now find myself knee-deep in constructing an appendix (not at all a simple task) and trying to navigate the inconspicuously convoluted reality that is creating a Facebook presence for authors.

I am a good ⅔ into my appendix, and I’m still not certain how it’s going to ultimately look. Do I divide it by culture/pantheon or make one large list? Do I set it up as a table or in outline form? Do I include definitions of non-English words or just focus on characters and names of important places? Regarding the characters themselves, do I keep the description at a basic explanation of who/what they are or do I add details (about appearance and/or personality)? What about family trees; do I add them and, if so, how far do I go with that (pagan pantheons can be extremely convoluted)? I’d like to think I’ll be done with it soon, but I have a sneaking suspicion this might take a while.

As for Facebook, I left this task for last because I figured it wouldn’t take long to create a page (it took me a half an hour to create the business page for my private practice, not to mention how quickly I set up my personal account years and years ago). I thought I would create the page, send it to everyone I know, and voila! Between that and linking the page to the blog, everything should fall neatly into place, right? Wrong. While creating a page might be easy, choosing the right option for you is not (“What do you mean, I have options?” my brain screams in protest). An author profile vs. a book page vs. an author page vs. everything else I haven’t been able to wrap my brain around, plus the added stress of accommodating the use of a pseudonym (not easy when initially relying on social networking built on your personal identity). I’ll admit that after reading a few blog posts/articles on the subject, I filed it away in my ever-growing “to do” file. We’ll leave that little round of stress for later.

For now, I’ll keep focusing on constructing a kick-ass appendix, getting in a few more blog posts than usual, keeping my Pinterest addiction at a reasonable level (I’ve added new character boards!), and going back to writing Book Two. At least once the appendix is finally done, I’ll be ready to hand over the reigns… I hope.

On the joys of Pinning

After a little trial and error, I am proud to announce, and share with you all, my exploration into a Pinterest account for the series. I won’t lie, the experience was a little tricky at first (certainly not as smooth sailing as my personal account was), but I think I’ve finally found my rhythm. I’m having almost as much fun Pinning about my characters as I do writing about them. Hopefully, the boards will give you a little glimpse into the characters and settings in the series; I’ve certainly learned a little more about them through the experience. I plan to keep Pinning and experiencing as much as possible, so please don’t be shy and “follow” to your heart’s content. Just remember that the Pins are chosen for the feelings they evoke, not particular faces or people. Browse/click the links below, and enjoy!

A look at my character boards:

Elena

Cataline

Mr. Muse

Bryce

Livia Callas

Evius

On allotted time slots, unexpected attachments and disgruntled writing elves

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Jigoku dayū, Hell Courtesan, ukiyo-e print by Kawanabe Kyosai.

It’s been over two and a half years since the first time I sat down to write The Butterfly Crest. It took me five months to complete the manuscript, before I handed it off to my husband for slaughter editing (trust me, that first round of editing, while invaluable, was a thoroughly torturous experience).

Back then, I wasn’t keeping track of my daily word count or writing on strictly allotted slivers of time. I would prepare my tea (in three cup batches), settle into my comfortable little nook, and spend a minimum of eight hours letting the story tell itself. While hardly leisurely, the overall experience lacked any real element of stress (relatively speaking).

Not so, this time around.

Never mind the obsession with meeting my daily word count goals, the stress of having to stop mid-scene because my allotted writing time has ominously arrived, or conveniently forgetting that writing at night makes it absolutely impossible for me to fall asleep at a decent hour in order to be able to wake up the next morning for work. What surprised me today, a day I’m finally able to sit down and dedicate a full day of writing to, is my unexpected attachment to ritual.

Having happily decided this morning to be free of my usual two-hour, heavily constricted time slot, I started to set up shop for a fun-filled day of writing. That’s about the time my brain got in the way.

First, I couldn’t find my tea kettle (it took me a second to remember that it’s at the office), and apparently my mind can’t switch to ‘full-day writing mode’ unless I have three cups of hot tea waiting for me on the sidelines. Next, the writing elves in my brain went on strike because the chair I’m sitting in isn’t very comfortable (looks like they really liked my old writing nook, one I no longer have access to since I’ve moved). My old reference books are nowhere to be found (mind you, I don’t need them for today’s scene, and probably not for this book at all). The dining room table (which has taken the place of my old writing nook) has been deemed too empty and sub-par. The phone rings and I am compelled to answer it; even though I know it’s most likely going to be work related and will destroy any inspiration I might still have at this point. By the time I handle the phone call, Mr. Muse has officially left the building and the two-hour, heavily constricted time slots are beginning to look like pure gold.

That’s when I decided it would be best for everyone involved (disgruntled writing elves included) to switch gears and write this post. Now that reflection time is over (and trust me, seeing in black and white just how ridiculous I was being really helped), I can finally go back to today’s intended purpose (and preparing more tea).

If you’re wondering what the ukiyo-e print above has to do with this post, it’s the image I’ve had up on my browser for several days now, as I write the scene I’m working on.

On flights of fancy

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Portrait of chino Hyogo seated at his writing desk, by Katsushika Hokusai.

There are days when 700+ words come clearly and definitively, all within an hour. Then there are days when 140 words can take me a lifetime. Today belongs to the latter, but for the first time in a year and a half I find myself completely and happily immersed, once again, in the world of my own making.

The writing process has been a little different for me this time around. There isn’t as much structure as there was before. My outlines are looser, as are my ideas. I know where I need to start and where those pivotal stops in the journey must be, but I’m not as fixed on pre-planning as I used to be. That’s probably because Book One set the proper foundation and tone, and I simply find myself easing back into a familiar rhythm filled with friends I haven’t seen or spoken to in many, many months, but that doesn’t take away from the wonder of it.

And it’s those moments of wonder that makes me want to keep writing; that brings me back time and again to the arduous process of trying to give shape and meaning to the abstract. In the end, that’s what writing is—a way to explain, in finite terms, living, breathing ideas that are by definition infinite and intangible.

Neatly tucked within Chapter Ten of The Butterfly Crest you will find a flight of writer’s fancy, added on a whim without innuendo or forethought. A character spoke, the intangible took shape, and then the words made their way onto paper. I would have never guessed that those few words, which were not a part of any grand plan or carefully crafted scenario, would provide the key for the perfect beginning.

That, for me, is the wonder of writing.

On time, tide and the whims of inspiration

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Ukiyo-e print by Hokusai Katsushika

For months I’ve been struggling to put word to paper when it comes to Book 2 (and this blog, if I’m being brutally honest).  I have a list of possible beginnings, but even with that I couldn’t find my way.  Whether it was the timing, lack of availability, Mr. Muse’s most recent disappearing act, or simply a genuine case of writer’s block, the words just wouldn’t come.

To get my mind off of it, I busied myself with other things (and trust me, I can find plenty of distractions).  I found any reason not to face that blinking cursor that had been mocking me for months.

I know what you’re thinking—that I’m obviously not very good at following my own advice—and you’re right. All I can say, quite definitively at this point, is that the writing process does not get any easier after your first book. For me, it’s actually proven to be a little harder.

I can come up with plenty of excuses, like the fact that I don’t have the full 8 hours a day to dedicate to my writing like I did when I wrote The Butterfly Crest, but that’s too convenient. The fact of the matter is that I will most likely never have that perfect storm of circumstance and opportunity find it’s way to me again (at least not anytime soon), and if I keep waiting for it to present itself then I will have nothing but a blinking cursor on an empty page to show for it.

In the universal interest of never finishing a post on a negative note, I am happy to report that the beginning of Book 2 presented itself one hot and muggy late summer afternoon (yesterday), somewhere between unloading and reloading the dryer; and it is such an obvious place to begin that I cannot fathom how or why I had not thought of it before.

The whims of inspiration, like time and tide, wait for no man (or woman, in my case).

To celebrate my happy circumstance, I will be posting Chapter Two of The Butterfly Crest in the next few days. Please stay tuned!

On destroying your work

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“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.”

― Colette (Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette)

Going into this, I was certain that at some point the editing would stop.

I was convinced, by some inexplicable notion, that there would be a magical moment in time when I could flip the switch and go from author to reader; a moment where I would be satisfied and would be able to read my work with the same fervor I read other books.

That magical moment, however, has yet to come.

Every time I think my editing is finally done, something else comes out of the woodwork.

Don’t get me wrong. I knew editing would take time. I knew enough to know that I would seldom be satisfied (I have a tendency to over-think and overcorrect). I also knew that once I handed the manuscript off to my husband for editing, we would probably differ quite a bit in our opinions (he’s far from my target audience, and I’m set in my ways).

In the end, I approached editing in two ways.

First, I edited as I wrote. I know some people are of the opinion that editing while writing is a mistake, but it works for me. I would write a full chapter without stopping, review it, revise it and then send it to a trusted friend (she’d been my only audience for 14 years, so I knew she would be the perfect critic). We would discuss her suggestions, I would make the corrections and then move on to the next chapter.

After five months, I had myself a finished manuscript.

Now it was my husband’s turn. Several weeks after I finished, I handed him the first physical copy of the manuscript. He went chapter by chapter, and as he edited I would revise. Once that process was complete, I would be done.

A year and four months later, my editing is still not done.

My first mistake was editing so soon after finishing the book. You see, I made most of the corrections my husband suggested, but there were several I was unwilling to make that turned out to be absolutely critical. The problem was, I was too attached to what I had just written. Not enough time had gone by, and I couldn’t find the resolve to destroy my work.

In all honesty, I didn’t think I needed to destroy it.

Now, so many months later, I realize I was completely wrong. Somewhere between trying the read the book myself (a long and arduous process, since there is always something, some minute detail, I want to change) and getting feedback from the handful of people I’ve asked to read the book, I ended up making those difficult changes I was unable to make in the beginning.

It was a gradual process, but before I knew it I was destroying my work without feeling guilty about it. As I started trimming the unnecessary parts, and rounding out the parts that were lacking, I started to feel like I was finally close to the finish line.

But that brought with it it’s own set of problems.

With the momentum came the overcorrections. Suddenly, everything was suspect. The things I had been sure of before became uncertain. I started questioning dialogue formats, obsessing about the number of times I used the word ‘said’, and went so far as to doubt the beginnings and endings of my chapters. I became so consumed, that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

Moral of the story? Once you learn to destroy your work, the rub is being able to recognize that almost imperceptible moment in time when destruction becomes complete and total annihilation.

On the in-between

Peonies and Butterfly by Hokusai

Impressions in writing are important.

They are what you are striving to create. What you hope the reader takes with them.

Sometimes they’re the inspiration for something or the reason behind a particular choice. They can fuel the creation of a character, for instance, or unexpectedly bring about their demise.

They have a lot to do with rhythm, tone and instinct. Very little to do with rules, preconceived notions or overly-worked designs.

Recently, I’ve come to realize that they are the cornerstone of my writing process.

I chose to write in third-person narrative because it allowed me the most flexibility in creating the impressions I wanted to evoke. There’s no right or wrong answer in the choice of narrative point of view. It comes down to personal preference, and for me it was easier to create the atmosphere I needed for The Butterfly Crest by using third-person narrative. Elena’s journey is rife with contrasts that could only be elicited in that way; a human’s view of the divine is limited to the human perspective, and I needed the reader to see beyond those limitations.

Impressions also influenced my writing method. I wrote The Butterfly Crest chapter to chapter, each chapter building on the one before. The starting point and the end point of a chapter were clear impressions in my mind that began as images but had nothing in between. The goal was to transition from the first image to the second, the in-between developing on its own. I knew the stages of Elena’s story, so in that sense the starting and ending points of each chapter were planned, but they evolved from images and impressions rather than an overly-worked design. I had an outline, which was pivotal to the process, but the bullet points were concise, and it was the image they conjured that propelled the story forward.

The title of the book was ultimately chosen because of an impression left in me several years ago, when I purchased my first Japanese textile. I bought a haori, a coat that is worn over kimono, made of black crepe silk and decorated with a beautiful floral pattern stitched in silver, gold, blue, green and coral threads. The black crepe has a swirl-like water pattern woven into the fabric, designed to act as the backdrop. The inside lining has a delicate hand-painted design of pink magnolia flowers on pale branches, the petals lined in gold. I fell in love with every aspect of the textile, but the most curious element was the single kamon painted in white on the back panel, several inches beneath the collar.

Kamon are family crests, and in kimono they are used to indicate levels of formality. After seeing the emblem on my haori, I researched the subject and came across a butterfly crest that I never quite forgot. As I developed Elena’s story, the butterfly became a very prominent symbol, and the crest I never forgot naturally became the emblem for her story.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been considering how to begin the second book in the series. It’s been a difficult process because most of my time is being consumed by my law practice. I have an ongoing list of ideas, and as I looked them over this morning I realized they are a list of impressions; experiences like the ones described in my last blog post. Each impression has a link to the story. The front runner is the image of a single red camellia blooming in snow. Believe it or not, the image ties into several aspects of Elena’s journey.

Moral of the story? Structure is necessary but magic happens in the in-between, when a an image or impression evolves into something greater than itself (be it a single sentence, a chapter or an entire book).

On the intention of words and the creation of a journey

What I remember most about a book is where it has taken me, emotionally and metaphysically.

When the words strip the world around me bare, refashion it into something entirely different, and it affects me in such a profound way that it becomes as much a part of me as any step in my own story—that’s what every writer strives for.

It is the intention behind every written word.

In order for me to channel that intention effectively, I have to immerse myself in what I’m trying to create. That can prove to be difficult when what I’m creating only exists in the abstract or, worst yet, when it exists but it’s a place I’ve never been.

Most of Elena’s journey in The Butterfly Crest takes place in worlds that exist only in mythology, and the beginning of her journey is born in a country I am irrevocably devoted to but have, regrettably, never had the pleasure to see with my own eyes.

It is easier to convey an intention when you have experienced it with every sense in your being; when you’ve seen it, touched it, tasted it, smelled it, heard it. Your senses are necessary tools in conveying your intention. But what do you do when they aren’t in your arsenal; when the only experience you have is abstract?

It’s in those moments when I turn to other people’s experience; immerse myself, vicariously, into some else’s senses until they supplement my own. I’m sure it was a much more academic exercise before, but today we have an endless supply of blogs, video, and information to learn from.

I was fortunate enough to have a history with the things I chose to write about—I had years of books and resources I could turn to at first—but it was the “virtual” information that really made the difference. Photo blogs. Travel videos. Endless articles on a particular culture and aesthetic. Information on archeology and myth.

The good thing about writing on mythology is that history already provides you the footprint; you just have to fill in the blanks with a little innovation. Writing about a place that exists is a little more difficult. You have to honor it, be mindful at all times of striking a balance between artistic and ethical integrity.

Blogs like Patrick Latter’s Canadian Hiking Photography were pivotal; photographs that affect me in the same way as a well written book. I’ve never been to Canada, but he makes me want to write about what he captures in his photos (not just scenes, but a visceral expression of something outside of ourselves).

Using blogs like Patrick’s, I researched the places I wrote about – whether real or myth. I studied photographs and videos, searched for as much sensory information as I could, and then wrote with that intention in mind.

By the end of Elena’s journey, I felt as if I had visited all of those impossible-to-reach places; a feeling I hope to have in common with my readers by the end of their journey into Elena’s new world.

Creating a setting is as important as creating a character. It should live and breathe as viscerally as their animate counterparts.

On ambrosia, beginnings, and the inner fangirl

Every year there comes a day, a singular, spectacular day, when you step out of your front door at the exact moment when summer has transitioned to fall. Sure, the process began long before you took that fortuitous step, but somehow you manage to tap right into the flow of it. It seeps in through your skin to the marrow of your bones, ravaging every nerve ending it encounters along the way. In that pivotal moment, the world stops. A massive silence drowns out every sound as one season shifts into the other, before the world takes a thunderous breath and is born anew; recharged, vibrant, and infinite.

Portland_Japanese_Garden_maple
A Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) in the Portland Japanese Garden, photo by Jeremy Reding.

Chosen excerpt ends here; click to continue reading full post…

On facing the blank page

There are days as a writer when you wake up empty. Inspiration eludes you. You may have a temperamental muse. You may find yourself up against a deadline (self-imposed or otherwise). Your mind may be mush because you stayed up working until 3 a.m. the night before. Whatever the reason, the page remains blank.

Today was one of those days for me.

These types of days can be very difficult for a writer. Suddenly you find yourself ruminating on what came before, second guessing every choice you made, rather than looking ahead at the work you should be doing. In these moments it can be really easy to give in, to walk away for the day, but in my case it was always better to force myself to face the blank page.

Some of my best work came in those moments, when I managed to claw my way out of my own head—because that’s what it is most of the time, a case of self-sabotage.

For days now, I’ve been trying to find the time to write. I kept telling myself I was too busy, that there was simply too many other things that needed to be done (there always is) and that there wasn’t enough hours in a day to do them in (there really aren’t), but I realized a few minutes ago that I was just avoiding the obvious – my temperamental muse was eluding me.

I could see him sitting in the recesses of my mind dressed from head to toe in one of his impeccable suits, his right ankle resting gingerly over his left knee, ice blue eyes staring right through me, with a hint of a smirk touching his lips.

He taunts me in a way only he can—striking at my weakest point as if to say, what would you be without me?

But the real question is, what would he be without me? After all, I created him.

Facing the blank page is difficult, but chances are you’ll seldom be disappointed with the result. This may not have been the post I had envisioned a few days ago, but I promise you it wiped the smirk right off of his beautiful face.