Tag Archives: writing

On a break from the madness…

‘Peony flower and butterflies’, hanging scroll by Itō Jakuchū, ca. 1757.

My apologies for the radio silence of late, but quite a lot has been happening behind the scenes and I’m trying my best to keep on top of everything.

First thing’s first, I’m thrilled to announce that The Butterfly Crest will be at an ebook retailer near you in May. The official publish date is May 16th, but the date could vary depending on the retailer. It will be available through iBooks, Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Copia and a slew of others, so please stay tuned for those updates. The book will also be available on print in the next few months.

If you’d like to stay up to date on the latest news, please join my new mailing list to receive that information via email, as well as exclusive sneak peeks, promotions and bonus materials. You can sign up here. Rest assured, your contact information is safe with me!

If you look around the site, you’ll see a few new additions. The theme this week was ‘social media’. After a little trial and error, I have officially joined Twitter (@EvaVanrell) and started a Facebook Page. I’ve added Follow and Like buttons to the sidebar on the main page, and links to the accounts themselves on the menu above. It goes without saying that your support is greatly appreciated. 

The proof for the book arrived mid week and I’ve been knee-deep in review. It’s been a struggle to stop myself from reading the thing word for word, so I handed it over to my husband this morning. As of right now, the format looks amazing and we haven’t seen any major problems.

Book Two is coming along, and I’ve somehow managed to find a little time to write in all the madness (when I’m not woking on social media, streamlining the website, setting up the book promotion, or at my day job). I’m really happy with how the story is developing, and I can’t wait to be able to focus all of my energy on writing (and telling you all about it)!

Today’s image is ‘Peony flower and butterflies’ by Itō Jakuchū, ca. 1757. I would say I chose it, but it was really Mr. Muse while we were on Pinterest two weeks ago. He’s quite fond of butterflies, and it seemed an appropriate image for today’s post.

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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 flights of fancy

Portrait_of_chino_Hyogo_seated_at_his_writing_desk
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

Femenine_wave
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

Image

“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 beginnings

I’ve been thinking a lot about beginnings lately. My days are full of beginnings.

It’s the same for everyone, no matter where your chosen path might have taken you.

Waking up in the morning. That first reluctant step you take out of bed. That second before you start getting ready, where for a brief moment the idea of diving back into bed for five minutes is the equivalent of absolute freedom. Starting your car. Turning the key to get into your office. That first hello. Your first cup of tea (or coffee). The first entry in the never-ending list of things you need to do today (a list you somehow never manage to get through, no matter how hard you try). The first file you open during the day. That first phone call that interrupts you right when you started getting into the groove of things.

The same thing happens when you write. That first moment when you finally make the choice to put thought into action. When you finally sit in front of your computer and choose to begin, you inevitably ask yourself “Where do I start?” The first pang of panic you feel when you stare at that blank screen. The first key you strike. The first word you type. Every character and chapter is a new beginning. Every Act in the journey, your character’s and your own, is a giant leap of faith. Then when it’s all said and done, that second after you’ve typed the last word, you once again find yourself at the beginning. Now begins the editing. Once that’s done, it’s “Where do I start?” all over again, except this time it’s no longer about writing—now it’s about publishing. What do you do then? Where do you start? How do you make submissions? What’s a query letter? What’s the best way to approach an agent? Your first rejection. Your first foray into blogs. The first time you hear the word Platform (with a capital P).

Even before those beginnings are done, you might find yourself diving into your next book—which starts a whole new cycle of beginnings. My general story outline is done. I have a list of ideas of where to start, but somehow I haven’t managed to begin. I even have a title, but I have yet to write a single word.

Where do I begin?

Having been there before, I know the answer. We begin at the beginning. Open your writing program, have your favorite cup of tea in hand, put your fingers on the keyboard and just start.

I’ll get there soon, but for now, in honor of these many beginnings, I’d like to share with you the first Act in my journey as an author—Chapter One of The Butterfly Crest. It’s mostly in the same condition it was when I first wrote it, with just a few stylistic changes. It’s a little on the short side, but there’s a reason for that!

Happy beginnings reading!

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).