Pinch Me, I Must Be Dreaming! Received My First Short Story Contract!

Pinch Me, I Must Be Dreaming! Received My First Short Story Contract!

First, I apologize for not posting in a while, but with NaNoWriMo and the Creative Pinellas Grant window open for Professional Artist, I’ve been extremely busy. The deadline for the latter is December 5th and I still have a couple more work samples to upload.

Now, onto more reasons why I should be forgiven.

On my other WordPress blog, www.adaratrosclair.wordpress.com, I reblogged a post, which explains that writing a blog is more difficult than writing a novel. I agree 100%!

So, for almost the past two months, I chose to focus on what would give me the most exposure as an author.

FIYAH Magazine was open for submissions in October and I needed to finish a story that I had a lot of fun writing for their Ahistorical Black fiction theme. I spent weeks researching slave revolts, the lives of slaves, the Civil War, New Orleans, the Reconstruction Era, and most importantly how many Africans died during the Middle Passage, which should be renamed the African Holocaust. Why? Because millions of Africans lost their lives. Anyway, I finished the short story just in time.

And something amazing happened!

I received an email from Fiyah Magazine requesting my story a few days ago. And today, I noticed an email containing the contract! Woo hoo! Yes!

That aside, all of the research for that short story opened new windows of ideas and opportunities for other stories I’m currently working on.

This past year, I’ve submitted short stories, picture books, and novel manuscripts to agents and publishers. Most came back as rejections and some I’m still waiting on because it takes at least 6 months for feedback. Six months. I had also applied for the Creative Pinellas Emerging Artist Grant and unfortunately wasn’t one of the top ten finalists. I not only felt like a failure, but worse, a misunderstood failure and wondered when I’d be recognized for my work. Perhaps more on that at a later date.

So I’m willing to accept failure as something more positive.

 

I’m not going to give up and this moment of sunshine through the clouds of doubt is what I needed to persevere! ūüôā

And on another quirky note, there are quite a few petals remaining on my roses. Now, how about that?

 

 

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Racism? You Don’t Say

A discussion came up on Facebook regarding the apparent lack of diversity in publishing when Martha Boss, book blogger, educator, and model shared her opinion regarding the lack of diversity at book events. She explained that she had no desire to attend any literary events that didn’t have authors from all walks of life. And in the United States of America in 2017, one would think that such an opinion would be positively acknowledged and celebrated. Unfortunately, an uproar of finger-pointing and finger-wagging ensued by some disgruntled readers of her post. On a positive note, the conversation inspired me to write this post.

Before I delve into where I stand on this matter, I will first give some background knowledge and context.

Most of you may know that my husband is white. I bring up his skin color because of the nature of this post. You see, some time ago Marvel was relaunching Spiderman and making the hero that followed in Peter Parker’s steps a young man named Miles Morales, who is¬† half-Black and half-Hispanic.

spider-man-miles-morales-peter-parker

I was okay with this change. And as an advocate for diversity, I’m all about the inclusion of more and more people of color in all social constructs. On the other hand, my husband was concerned about this change. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Spiderman, he’s a young man named Peter Parker who happens to be white, like most of the comic book characters that have become not only popular, but also who have become mainstream due to aggressive marketing and appearances in movies (Batman, Deadpool, Superman, ad nauseum). All alternate personas of these heroes are white males. And all but two of them are filthy rich (yes, looking at you, Deadpool and Mr. Kent.)

Hardcore fans are all about staying true to the “canon”. And there are laws that must never be broken.

Two main “no-no’s” are:

THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE THE COLOR OF THE CHARACTER.

THOU SHALT NOT CHANGE THE GENDER OF THE CHARACTER.

My husband was concerned that the writers weren’t staying true to the canon by changing Spiderman’s ethnicity. My husband’s argument was logical especially when he supported it with this gold nugget: “The market should be actively looking for writers with new fresh faces and cultures to add to the Marvel or DC universe. Peter Parker should keep on being Spiderman.”

I agreed with my husband that the Industry or Market should be looking for new material from different perspectives instead of rehashing the same tripe year after year.¬† Moreover, consumers need to do their job by demanding what they want and if the Market isn’t giving it to them? Well, now. There’s this powerful principle called supply and demand and it’s a beautiful thing. If I don’t like a show, I won’t watch it. If I don’t like a restaurant, I won’t eat there. For example, even if McDonald’s were the last restaurant on the planet I REFUSE TO EAT THERE!

A few months after my husband and I had our third child, he turned to me and said, “I get what you’re saying. You know, about seeing more characters that are people of color. I don’t want our sons growing up not seeing that they’re important. That they exist.”

we need diverse books3

BINGO!

And the cry for diverse books wasn’t enough because then you fall into the bait-and-switch trap that it’s okay for white authors to write books that star nonwhites as the characters. Then, the #ownvoices movement was ushered in to stress how important it is for people of color to tell their own stories in their own voices and not having to fear that they needed to pander to or patronize a white audience or any audience (regardless of color) that didn’t understand where they were coming from.

Too bad these movements aren’t making waves on television. Yet. You see, over the past several months, my husband and I observed a disturbing trend regarding television shows for children. I’ll most likely go into more detail about that in a future post. ūüôā

The conversation that my husband and I shared regarding the necessity for diversity in books and comics inspired me to reflect on my childhood as a reader and where I am now as an author and reader. My reflection motivated me to write this blog post.

Now, back to the main topic.

In one of my previous blog posts I discussed the deathtrap of stereotypes.¬† A common stereotype regarding Black people is that we don’t like to read. It was also one of the arguments that excuses the cold, hard fact that 88% of books reviewed by the New York Times are written by white authors. So, one could ignorantly draw the conclusion that Black people don’t like to write either. Or that they don’t know how to write. But, if they do like to write, they’re not very good at it because they don’t like to read and thus there’s no market for them. And that’s just the way it is.

Uh, no. Just no.

weneeddiversebooksbecause

Yes, indeed. ūüôā

When I purchase books for my classroom I choose them very carefully. I want books that will not only keep my students engaged, but appeal to their gender, not only relate to their own experiences, but challenge, and build onto this foundation. My Black students, as well as White, Asian, and Latino students love reading a good book regardless of what color the main characters are . . . or whether or not the main characters are even human. However, there comes a time when nonwhite students wonder WHY their experiences, their truths, their very essence isn’t proudly shown on the cover of a book or even within its pages. I know because I was once their age and wondered these thoughts: Am I not worth writing about? Are people like me not worth reading about? (Well, unless you’re a slave getting the crap beat out of them). By the way, what is the USA’s morbid obsession with Black pathology? Yuck.)

We Need Diverse Authors

About eight years ago, libraries (some may still practice this, but I’m pleased to say my local library DOES NOT) shelved books based on genre in an obsessive compulsive way that would impress even this guy:

monk-logo

Back then, there were no cross-genres.

mixedupauthor

Dear heart, weep not. Tis 2017 and we live and breathe for literary mashups such as yours. ūüôā

No, no, no. Every little book went into its own boxed off little shelfie-welfie corner. Oh yes, yes, yes.

So books like this:

black romance

 

 

 

or this . . . romance_black

 

 

 

 

 

 

wouldn’t appear in the general romance aisle, but be¬†ghettoized or segregated from that oh-so lucrative and coveted section and placed in the African-American books, Street Lit, Urban Lit, or wherever library’s chose to place books with dark brown to light brown faces on the cover. Think about your local grocery store and how soy sauce, butter chicken, and curry are cordoned off in their own aisle labeled “multicultural or ethnic” away from the other condiments. Even poor sauerkraut and gelfilte fish has its place there. If I hadn’t watched the Food Channel or binge watched “Great Eats Around the World” I would remain culinarily (made that word up) ignorant! Now, regarding the segregated books: Was this practice intentionally racist? *Shrugs shoulders*. Not sure. But, one could see how this limits authors of color from being discovered from readers regardless of their color even though it fit in the “general genre”.

A couple of weeks ago while visiting my local library I noticed a lot of newer authors I had never seen before. I was so impressed that the library had become “integrated” that I had to take a picture of it!

libraryintegration

A Japanese author, a Black author, a White author, and even a Native American author all on one shelf! ūüėÄ And all different genres! Ha! Impressive.

Clearly, people and books don’t belong in boxes. Well, unless you’re dead and boxed in a coffin. Sorry, I digress.

In 2015, Lee & Low, a publishing house that prides itself on finding new authors of color shared the results of the Diversity Baseline Survey, which revealed that overall the Industry is predominantly white and female. Bet you weren’t expecting THAT revelation. But, it’s true. And when I say overall we’re talking about all levels:

  • Executive Level
  • Editorial Dept.
  • Sales Dept.
  • Marketing & Publicity Dept.
  • Book Reviewers

Is this predominantly female white status quo deliberate and thus, racist? Well, if you consider the data . . . the other question is will it be kept this way and by design?

While I hunted for facts regarding the struggle many writers of color — Asian, Caribbean, African, South American —¬†experience trying to get published, I encountered similar stories:

  • Mira Jacob, young author of the critically acclaimed novel,¬†The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, shared a powerful speech about her struggles as an (East) Indian woman dealing with ignorance and prejudice in the publishing industry.¬†A MUST READ!
  • Jenny Zhang shares how a white poet, Michael Derrick Hudson, used a Chinese pen name, Yi Fen Chou.
  • Paul Langan, a white novelist writes popular series about Black students growing up in an Urban setting.
  • Brandon Tensley discusses America’s Problem With Writers of Color.
  • PP Wong, author and editor shares how many times her novel was rejected. One of the reasons is really, really, really stupid. And clandestinely racist.
  • Phenderson Clark, speculative fiction writer of Afro-Caribbean descent draws back the curtain regarding racism against fellow Black authors (and the lack of characters) in the science fiction and fantasy community.

To piggy-back on the final bullet regarding the science fiction and fantasy genre that I write and adore I come to a fork in the road. Lately, several of the Big Five publishers that are located in New York are requesting romance novels from Black authors. I don’t know how to write strictly Romance. I mean, doesn’t it entail, you know, like a “formula” where handsome guy meets gorgeous lady and they don’t like each other at first until he or she does something and then the tide is turned and then they like each other, but not like that¬†and then they fight and break up and then you know — heck, I DON’T KNOW! So, my point that I’m trying to make is do I just “sell out” and go to the “Crimson Wine and Chocolate Covered Cherries Side” of Le Force and write Romance because it’s popular and I’m more than likely to succeed since there’s an open call for it?

Like I said before,¬†I don’t know how to write strictly Romance. I need creepy scenes, an occasional vampire or demon to slay. I need undiscovered elements on the periodic table. I need a nod to the current status quo and how to change it. I need to believe that there are dragons to slay whether they be literal or figurative. I need to hope for windows, doors, closets, basements, or even dreams that lead to alternate dimensions.

I may not write Romance yet, but I could learn, if I feel so inclined, and not because it’s what a publisher wants of me to selfishly benefit themselves. In other words, why should writers of color pigeonhole themselves? We should be able to write what we want.

This scenario brings this excerpt from Rachel Deahl’s Publisher Weekly’s article, “Why Publishing is So White”:

So how does the industry move forward and do better? Right now, publishing seems to be struggling with the difference between words and actions. Take, for example, a situation a publisher at a reputable Midwestern press recounted. Claiming he is ‚Äúalways trying to diversify our staff,‚ÄĚ he brought up a recent editorial assistant search that initially yielded 250 applicants. The press narrowed its options down to eight finalists, five of whom were white and three of whom were people of color. Although all the finalists were ‚Äúexcellent‚ÄĚ in his estimation, the position went to a white woman. The reason? ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs no room for tokenism at [our press].‚ÄĚ

Dude, there’s no need for tokenism! What a cop out!

There’s always going to be a first and you don’t have to stop there. A first — if that’s the intended direction you want to go — will lead to a second and a third.

It only takes one to turn the tide.

The need for diverse books from diverse authors with different stories to tell isn’t a trend and never will be.

I'mnotatrend

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What’s in a Name? More Than You Think!

Disclaimer: The following analysis of characters and their names are solely my opinion and conclusions I’ve drawn from being a wordsmith, character creator, and a lover of names.

williamshakespeare1

Juliet, from the play, Romeo and Juliet, speaks this famous line. She argues that it doesn’t matter that the young man Romeo whom she loves is a Montague, her family’s archenemy.

But Juliet is wrong. Names are important. Especially when it comes to creating names for characters. And on a more mundane note, who the heck would lovingly pen the name, Toilet, on their newborn baby’s birth certificate. Or Virus? Cesspool? Booger?

I read a lot of fantasy and I love when I can tell that an author put a lot of thought into creating their characters’ names. When my oldest brother read the names I had brainstormed for a book we’re working on together, I smiled until my face ached (okay, fine I’m using hyperbole) because I was pleased that he was pleased with my inventions. Creating names is a lot of fun!

Popular Character Names in Book Series

In Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files,¬†the wizard Harry Dresden’s full name is¬†Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden.¬†Not only is Harry’s name fun to say, but his first name is a nod to Harry Houdini, a Hungarian-American illusionist and stunt performer, famous for his sensational escape acts. Dresden’s also named in honor of David Copperfield, an American illusionist and magician who was born in 1956. I’m not sure about the background information on “blackstone” though. I do know that it comes from the Blackstone Group, which is a financial firm founded by two dudes in the 1980s who used the German and Greek parts of their names to create a cryptogram: “Schwarz” is German for “black” and “Peter” or “Petra” in Greek means “stone” or “rock”. Thus, “blackstone”.

HarryDresden

Harry Dresden

Another popular character in urban fantasy, is the one and only Anita Blake. I adored this series and still mourn for the style it was written in over a decade ago. I miss Anita solving crimes, raising the dead, and putting them back to rest. Her full name consists of four syllables. Her first name sounds softer and more romantic to me. Also, Anita certainly had a softer side in the beginning of the series (i.e., her stuffed animal penguin collection). Her name is derived from Sanskrit and means full of grace, mercy, favor, variety, a leader, without guile. In the series, it’s implied that her name is from the Spanish language because her deceased mother is Mexican. Her last name, Blake, is a mystery and where it is derived from is uncertain. According to Mr. Wikipedia it could come from “blac”, a nickname for someone who had dark hair or skin, or from “blaac”, a nickname for someone with pale hair or skin. Another theory is that it is a corruption of “Ap Lake”,¬†meaning¬†“Son of Lake”. I think this uncertainty and duality of dark and pale suits the character of Anita Blake just fine since she has gone from being a character symbolizing justice and daring not to dabble with the dark creatures of her world — vampires, for example — to not only protecting them, but doing the horizontal mambo with them every day, all day.

Anita Blake

Anita Blake

Popular Character Names in TV Series

Olivia Pope’s name is interesting. Her surname evokes images of holiness, righteousness, and power. However, one could argue that the title or word “pope” also conjures images of the exact opposite due to corruption and hypocrisy in the Catholic Church. Likewise, the character, Olivia Pope, in the television series Scandal, is a woman of contradictions.

olivia pope

Olivia Pope

As a crisis manager, her job is to solve problems for her clients who add to the existing drama in her personal life. Her first name comes from Latin and means “olive branch”. Olive branches are a symbol of peace or victory, which fits Olivia perfectly. The fictitious character of Olivia Pope is partially based on real-life crisis manager, Judy Smith. I watched the first two episodes of Scandal and couldn’t continue. There are no dragons and too much mundane drama that I avoid in the daily news. I found it tragic that Olivia, a beautiful, talented, and intelligent woman couldn’t have her happy ending. Granted, it’s her own choices that often keep her from it. Or maybe Shonda Rimes, the show’s creator, wanted to portray a realistic woman who forfeited the search for an impossible “happily ever after” and instead settled for or could be satisfied with “happy enough”? I have no idea. I like Happy Endings. That’s why I often play RPGs and live vicariously through my CGI characters. ūüėõ

Anyway, I predicted that Ms. Pope’s slippery slope into tragedy would continue to worsen and if I became a fan my heart would most likely break. I’m all about keeping my heart intact. ūüôā

Another character with a cool name is Nikita from the series (first a movie), La Femme Nikita, which is French for The Woman Nikita. Nikita. Nikita, Nikita. That’s it. No last name. And that’s all that’s needed.

Nikita

Nikita

Why? This name is loaded with goodies! Nikita is an assassin that is paired with great assets — beauty, intelligence, and the ability to kill with ease and efficiency. Her name isn’t even originally French or female. It originated as a masculine Greek name and subsequently a Russian name exclusively for males.¬†The name has been recently adopted as a French name for girls.

 

 

 

Popular Character Names in Movies

Keyser S√∂ze isn’t the name of a breakfast bagel. And no, I’m not referring to one of Moe’s (Welcome to Moe’s), (Tex-Mex eatery — delicious!) salsa.¬†Keyser S√∂ze is the name of the main antagonistic and driving force in The Usual Suspects, one of my favorite movies. I won’t spoil the movie’s epic and mind-blowing twist ending for those of you who haven’t yet seen this cinematic masterpiece. Traditionally, Keyser is a last name and it’s a development of the early Germanic name “Kaiser”, which was derived from the Roman imperial title “Caesar”. In the criminal underworld, Keyser’s great skill, ¬†ruthlessness, and reputation are of epic and mythical proportions. For example, handicapped con artist Robert “Verbal” Kint describes Keyser as “a myth, a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night. ‘Rat on your pop and Keyser S√∂ze will get you.’ But no one ever really believes.” Poor dears. They should believe.

Keyser_Soze

Keyser Söze

Keyser may be a man of violence and enjoys spreading fear, but like some mega-villains he’s a man of his word. I looked up the meaning of the word “soze” in Turkish and was prompted to look it up in Kurdish. It means “promise“. Keyser Soze is most likely a pseudonym and a small piece of the puzzling, deceptive, and criminal world the “usual suspects” dwell in.

Speaking of the criminal world, how could I not mention John Wick? Before John Wick, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 beckoned action, thriller, and suspense lovers,¬†I didn’t think any movie could bank on the explosions, the mystery, the gunfights, and the gloriously twisted plot that the writers of The Usual Suspects had created. During a heated and no less humorous conversation between a father and son (both elite members to the Russian maffia), important information about John Wick is revealed:

Viggo Tarasov: It’s not what you did, son, that angers me so. It’s who you did it to.

Iosef Tarasov: Who? That fucking nobody?

Viggo Tarasov: That “fuckin’ nobody”… is John Wick. He once was an associate of ours. They call him “Baba Yaga.”

Iosef Tarasov: The Boogeyman?

Viggo Tarasov: Well John wasn’t exactly the Boogeyman. He was the one you sent to kill the fucking Boogeyman.

Iosef Tarasov: [stunned] Oh.

Viggo Tarasov: John is a man of focus, commitment, sheer will … something you know very little about. I once saw him kill three men in a bar… with a pencil, with a fucking pencil. Then suddenly one day he asked to leave. It’s over a woman, of course. So I made a deal with him. I gave him an impossible task. A job no one could have pulled off. The bodies he buried that day laid the foundation of what we are now. And then my son, a few days after his wife died, you steal his car and kill his fucking dog.

The name John is Hebrew and translates to “Jehovah has been gracious; has shown favor”. And the fact that John Wick is unstoppable and for the most part untouchable seems nothing short of a miracle. ¬†Reeves, who plays John Wick also compared Wick’s story to “[‚Ķ] a kind of Old Testament revenge story” adding that, “When someone takes the things he cherishes, violence erupts and John can‚Äôt temper it.” Though the character’s last name, Wick, is a name Kolstad (the movie’s writer) had used as a reference to his grandfather, the founder of Wick Building Systems, as a fellow writer just because something is simply cool isn’t reason enough to do it. So, I did a little digging. The word wick is Old English and related to both Dutch and German languages. The best definition of the word “wick” that I discovered is:

wick1

/w…™k/

noun

1.

a cord or band of loosely twisted or woven fibres, as in a candle,cigarette lighter, etc, that supplies fuel to a flame by capillary action

2.

(Brit,¬†slang)¬†get¬†on¬†someone’s¬†wick,¬†to¬†cause¬†irritation¬†to¬†a¬†person
john wick2

The second definition is symbolic in regard to how John Wick operates in the criminal underground of assassins. Without his wife’s love, he’s like a wick or woven fiber waiting for fire to light it. In other words, there are two parts to John: his need to settle down and find happiness and the wanton desire to kill and blow things up. And the second definition, which is slang for annoying a person is poetic justice. In the first movie, John just wanted to permanently silence whoever messed with him by stealing his car and killing his dog. Cautionary advice: give him what he wants and he’ll return to his quiet self. Word to the wise: don’t bother John Wick and he’s as sweet as a lamb. ūüôā

One of My Own Character Creations

From my vampire series starring the titular main character, Gabriel Lennox, I wanted to make a name that possessed sex appeal, mystery, and a firmness to it. Gabriel_ok
The name Gabriel is Hebrew and means “God is my strength”. The last name Lennox originates from Gaelic and means “lives near the place abounding with elm trees”. ¬†Gabriel Lennox is a strong, sophisticated name and it’s also the surname of one of my favorite singers, Annie Lennox.

Fellow writers, how do you choose character names? What techniques do you use?

Adoring readers, what character names do you love or hate . . . and why?

I love comments, and I always visit back. Blogging is all about being a part of a community, and communities are about communication! Tweet with me @moniquedesir

 

 

 

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Quotes to Write By – Day 4

I remember when I was in middle school and my language arts teacher had us complete a short story assignment and the catch was we had to use a lot of verbs. I mean a lot of verbs! I shoved my verbs in every sentence — sometimes at least three consecutive verbs and utilized commas in between the verbs to describe the characters’ actions. What fun!

Here’s an example sentence: He thrust himself into the forest, leaping, dashing, running, and dodging trees as the wind blew against his face. The thirst for blood burned his insides, it even set his mind into a fever and his temples pounded, matching the syncopated beat of his pounding heart.

Now, why did my language arts teacher have us do that? As a student, I wasn’t exactly sure, but now that I’m in her shoes, I’ve reflected on the activity and realized that she was trying to get us to understand how important verbs are and how these action words (or muscles) interact with nouns (people, places, things, ideas) in a powerful way.

Me: Bruh, do you need a napkin? Handkerchief? Baby wipes?

My short story focused on a vampire consumed with blood lust as he spies on a lone woman. My vampire of course satiates his terrible thirst by preying on the lady, but hey, even as a preteen I was channeling my inner Anne Rice. Way back when –you know — when Lestat was a naughty, pretty playboy and vampires didn’t sparkle. ūüôā

Quote #4

“Nouns are the bones that give a sentence body. But verbs are the muscles that make it go.”

Mervin Block

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Quotes to Write By – Day 3

I read and write fantasy of many different flavors. I relish in the strange worlds, the diverse characters, and the possibilities.

However, just because I write fantasy doesn’t mean that I can break the rules of my own world. Here’s a great quote for fantasy, horror, and science-fiction fantasy writers!

Quote 3

“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.”

Tom Clancy

Write it! Live it! Love it! Share it!

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Quotes To Write By

Me: But you’re writing the first draft of your essay. Do you really need to get up now? Really?

The end of the school year is almost here and my middle school students are becoming . . . unhinged. Heh.

Oh, the talking. And the forgetting. And the out-of-the-seat moments.

So, this week to keep learning at maximum levels students must complete a four paragraph essay on two people’s reactions to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Students have the option to choose from any of the important people we learned about in our Read 180 Workshop: Walt Whitman, Elizabeth Keckley, et cetera, ad nauseum. Blah, blah, blah. For the most part, students are doing well!

No, not this one. The historically accurate one! Sheesh.

I too was feeling a little stressed. Okay, forget the “hedge word” little. I was totally feeling stressed out! So much to do and so little time! I had such goals and it’s funny how plans don’t follow directions and fall in line.

I have struggled with staying focused and keeping myself writing daily. In between writing sporadically, I’ve been reading other authors’ books, hosting a Literacy Night at the middle school where I teach, grading papers, and on and on it goes.

I hope someday I will build a readership that enjoy the worlds I’ve crafted and the characters I’ve developed¬† so that way I can fulfill my dream and write full-time. I tell myself it’s a ridiculous dream, but for once, I suppose I owe it to myself to be optimistic.

Even a little.

Anyway, I was cleaning out my classroom cabinets and found a plethora of items from over a decade ago! One of the items was a stapled packet of writing quotes I used to write on the board to motivate students when I taught second grade.

So, for the next 60 or more days, I’m going to use each of these quotes to motivate myself to write!

I hope this writing exercise will help other writers too. ūüôā

Quote #1

“You can take for granted that people know more or less what a street, a shop, a beach, a sky, an oak tree look like. Tell them what makes this one different.”

Neil Gaiman

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Books Transmit Values

Books transmit valuesI just learned about this event today and wish I could have attended.

The above quote by Walter Dean Myers, a¬†children’s book author and best known for young adult literature reveals a lot about the way I started to feel when I realized that a lot of the books I read didn’t reflect me in a society that claimed to be diverse and tolerant. Myers died on July 1, 2014. And his books are still relevant to the lives of African-Americans. In fact, his YA book, “Monster” is being made into a movie.

xenophile

As you may already know, I’m a xenophile. I absolutely love learning about different cultures, languages, and people! So, it’s no mystery that I grew up loving to read. Reading was¬†(and still is)¬†my gateway to other worlds and food for my ravenously curious mind.¬†One series in particular that I enjoyed reading during my preteen years¬†was “Sweet Valley High”, which focused on two blonde hair and blue-eyed twins named Jessica and Elizabeth. Sweet Valley HighI don’t recall encountering any girls or boys of color within those pages. Besides, the main focal point was on those two twins who were as different as night and day. I loved the often good plotlines. Looking back, some were silly and over-the-top dramatic!

But, come on. It was high school, right?

Yeah, I really did love reading. And when my mother noticed that there weren’t a lot of books that featured characters that looked like we did (dark brown skin) or even came from cultures like ours – (Caribbean/West Indies) she got worried. My mom’s a wise lady. She started giving me books by Mildred D. Taylor. When I got older, she moved onto introducing books with more complex issues. I cried while reading both Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” and “The Bluest Eye”. In¬†my high school’s¬†Honors Reading classes, we were assigned to read “Beloved” and to analyze the characters’ motivations. I had no problem realizing that Sethe¬†couldn’t simply be written off as a villainous character.¬†I was hooked! I continued reading the remainder of Mildred D. Taylor’s series about the Logan family’s struggles and accomplishments. beloved2Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Now, back to Myers’ quote. My mother saw a voracious need in me that I couldn’t see. She saw that I needed characters to relate to. Characters that I COULD relate to. Sure, following the antics between twin sisters is entertaining, but the world of Jessica and Elizabeth from Sweet Valley High was as real to me as Barbie in her Malibu home.

Cast so white -- wait, there's a few token nonwhites for good measure

Sweet Valley High cast so white — no, wait! There’s a few token nonwhites thrown in for good measure. ūüėČ

A lot of my students, Latinos and African-Americans are turned off to reading at a young age, and who can blame them? When you analyze the fact¬†and consider that there aren’t many books that reflect their people¬†in a realistic and beautiful way the reasons aren’t so hidden or hard to understand. And let’s not forget authentic as one of the necessary characteristics for diverse books.

The publishing industry knows that people want more diverse books. The rise in Indie authors who circumnavigated the¬†gatekeepers is testimony to that.¬†However, these gatekeepers choose to give us these “gifts” in a manner that cheats us of good, authentic tales. For example, most diverse books that I’ve encountered and enjoyed reading are written by non-POC people (“Full Cicada Moon” and “Seraphina’s Promise”). Regarding “Seraphina’s Promise”, I wondered how different the story would have unfolded¬†if it had come from a Haitian person’s point of view?

Also, both of these books are written in prose. I love poetry. I truly do. But why do these authors have to resort to writing such deliciously complex stories in prose? Did the editors or publishers think that boxing the story within the often pedantic poetic style¬† would somehow¬†give the illusion that¬†the stories were more . . . dare I use the word — authentic? Soulful? Real? Organic?¬†That prose would magically inject these stories with a¬†je ne sais quoi that often only people who have experienced¬†can personally write. Think of “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker. I find it hard to believe that a non-Black person could write that book with the same results. the color purplefull cicada moonSeraphina's Promise

Now, don’t get it twisted (as my students sometimes say). As a Black woman who has written about a 19th century, peach-skinned (well, when he’s been fed the right amount of blood) British vampire and aristocrat I’m not going to be a hypocrite and say that white women or men can’t write from the POV’s of nonwhite characters.

However, if the publishing industry thinks that¬†this practice of exclusively having¬†white people tell the stories of nonwhite characters¬†is¬†okay or is an answer to the desire for diverse books, then that’s ridiculous and needs to change.

Interesting quote

Revealing facts about the lack of diversity in literature.

It’s almost as if the publishing industry (which is a part of the “media“) want to keep the White Savior myth alive. For example, in the movie Hidden Figures, which tells the true story of three brilliant Black women who were the brains behind one of the greatest NASA operations in history, the director Theodore Melfi fabricated a scene for emotional effect that perpetuates the white savior myth perfectly. You can read more about it here.

White Savior

White Savior complex. Africa today. Asia tomorrow!

Readdressing Myers’ thought-provoking question: What is the message when some children are not represented in those books?

pecola breedlove.jpg

Pecola Breedlove of “The Bluest Eye” Learn more here.

The¬†message isn’t a good one and any answers I have will most likely become another blog post.¬†I live in a country that¬†seems to embrace¬†the message of diversity and inclusion¬†when it suits itself.¬† I’m glad that there has been a rise in diverse books. I’m glad that untold stories and histories of all peoples are being shared. Now I have a question:

What took so damn long?

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Crafting High Fantasy: Setting the Stage

That First Chapter

Writing the first chapter is something I struggle with because I want¬†those first sentences, that first paragraph, that first page¬†to be absolutely fabulous. So, sometimes I’m afraid to write anything at first. I don’t have a lot of time on my¬†hands lately. My three sons, my husband, and my full-time job as a reading teacher keeps¬†me extremely busy!

Since¬†I want¬†that first chapter to draw readers¬†in and never let them go until they’ve completed reading the book, place it down, satisfied or at best, hungry for the next book, I’m overly cautious. And sometimes frozen with fear. Deer-in-headlights-frozen.

Now, I dare not say that I want the first chapter to be¬†perfect because such a place doesn’t exist.perfection and writing

The first chapter is extremely important. Especially when it comes to high fantasy. High fantasy (or epic fantasy) is a subgenre of fantasy defined by its setting in a fictional universe or by the epic stature of its characters, themes, and plot. Whatever that means, right? Thanks Mr. Wikipedia.

Basically, high fantasy, is one of the hardest fiction subgenres to write. I mean, think about it! You’re creating your own world! The continents, the oceans, the seas, the cities, the roads, the people, their cultures, who they trade with, who they fight with, who they may or may not worship. Everything. Single. Blasted. Thing!

It’s overwhelmingly . . . FRACKING-FUNTASTIC!

And the first chapter has the potential to introduce so many things:

  • the mood
  • the tone
  • the main characters
  • the conflict
  • the antagonist(s)
  • what’s at stake
  • the setting

When I originally wrote Prelude to Morning, I didn’t know that it would be a trilogy. I had some ideas that it could possibly be a series. Well, that was only if it didn’t remain a stand-alone novel. After my oldest brother, Serge Desir, fellow author and video game bad-ass and author E. Rose Sabin gave me some brutal and honest feedback on the book’s weaknesses, I realized I had a lot of work to do to make the book as wonderful as it¬†should be. And for a¬† time, an agent was interested. Until, the world-building fell apart. ūüôĀ

So, I searched for help and re-rendered the map (thanks E. Paige Burks) :

Before:

Reath Before Map

This one I doodled over two days in a composition notebooks years ago. In 2013.

After:

Reath After Map

This one I began drawing on poster board. Still not done!

Next, I created a timeline, which I’ll share in a future post.

The timeline helped me to layout the history of the world of Reath (rhymes with death — an anagram for Earth). The timeline included:

  1. The prehistoric era
  2. Past wars
  3. Catastrophic events

All of these events shaped the world as it is now for the main characters.

So much depth. So much culture. So many languages. So many places. So overwhelming like our world, Earth. And how does one condense so much beauty into a single book.

Which put me at an impasse or is it a fork in the road?

One path would lead me to writing a book that would be heavy enough to murder someone with:BIG BOOK

And a third path appeared to me.¬† . . I’d have to break the story into more than one book.

And Then there were Three . . .

Bloodcraft Trilogy — (why the term¬†bloodcraft ?–which I’m proud of coining — more on that in a future post).

However, I loved the idea of music being interwoven into this world and used different types of movement names in each of the three books that echoed and underscored the story’s themes.

*Book 1: Rhapsody of the Gods

A rhapsody in music is a one-movement work that is episodic yet integrated, free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, colour and tonality. An air of spontaneous inspiration and a sense of improvisation make it freer in form than a set of variations.

Book 2: Prelude to Morning

Preludes are characterized by being short and sweet (relatively), with a melodic and/or rhythmic motif that is featured throughout the piece.   This motif will recur throughout the piece, sometimes differing slightly as the music progresses.  A prelude may be played on its own, or as a preface to another piece, usually more complex.

Book 3: Nocturne of Twilight

Nocturnes are generally lyrical and tranquil pieces. The nocturne is known for being expressive above all else. It follows no specific form, but evolves as the music progresses.

To Prologue or Not To Prologue

In the first several drafts of¬†Prelude to Morning, I originally¬†included a prologue in the beginning. After researching prologues and learning that¬†they’re¬†only necessary if the opening is out of time sequence with the¬†remainder of the story. So, I decided to rename the prologue as chapter one.

However, in my paranormal urban fantasy, Forbidden, Book One of Gabriel Lennox Series, a prologue was necessary because it fit that description and helped to create a creepy ending, which I wrote as a near mirror image epilogue. Thus, coming full circle. New Approved Cover 2015_Forbidden

How do you go about setting the stage for your high fantasy novel?

*Cited source

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Getting to Know You

On my desk, I added a “thank you” note, which reads: “Thank you for taking the time to sit down and spend time¬†with us. Signed, Your Characters.”

The act may seem silly, but the note actually motivated me to place my butt in the chair and write. Even when I was tired, pregnant, and just wanted to curl on the couch and rest.

In order to create believable characters, we need to know them inside and out: the good, the bad, the ugly, the unspeakable, the terrifying, their most embarrassing moments, and their triumphant pastimes. We need to get to know all the things about them.

“So, tell me about yourself? Do you dabble in painting? Do you enjoy coloring outside of the lines?”

And though not everything we know about our characters will appear in the story, these pieces that make up a character’s backstory¬†are important. Because honestly, if our imaginary friends (and enemies) aren’t real to us, they most likely won’t be real to readers either.

I’ve used a lot of questionnaires in the past. At this time I’m using Marcel Proust’s character questionnaire in order to learn more about the two main characters,¬†Alexander Brennan and Tierryn Black,¬†of the second book in the Waking Dream series, “Moondust”. They’re both middle school students. I may teach middle school students, but I’m not completely attuned with their adolescent hopes, fears, dreams, desires, goals, secrets. So, even when I will myself to remember what it was like to be a preteen or a young teenager, those moments seem so foreign to me. Both Alexander and Tierryn¬†are both lucid dreamers. I’ve experienced lucid dreaming on many occasions so if write what you know is true, then I’m doing something right when it comes to that piece of the drafting puzzle. And finally, both characters¬†experienced a lot of growth in the first book titled, “Moonstruck”. I want to make sure that that growth is clear in the second book. Also, for new readers who may not start with book one, I want to include significant events smoothly and in a natural and organic way within the sequel’s plot.

There’s a new antagonist to the series, Mary Katherine (Merricat)¬†Komatsuzaki, (a half Black and half Japanese girl). Since she plays such an important role in this second book, I’ll need to learn more about her too. And¬†of all the questionnaires I’ve seen, the Marcel Proust one seems to¬†suit my needs.¬†

Besides being a priceless tool for fleshing out characters, completing the questionnaire for each character is a great writing exercise that I think will brainstorm scenes, advances in the plot, enticing¬†twists and turns, which should all lead to the story’s climax and resolution.

Marcel Proust Character Questionnaire

This questionnaire was invented by the noted French author Marcel Proust. These questions are frequently used in interviews so you may want to pretend you’re interviewing your characters.

  • What do you consider your greatest achievement?
  • What is your idea of perfect happiness?
  • What is your current state of mind?
  • What is your favorite occupation?
  • What is your most treasured possession?
  • What or who is the greatest love of your life?
  • What is your favorite journey?
  • What is your most marked characteristic?
  • When and where were you the happiest?
  • What is it that you most dislike?
  • What is your greatest fear?
  • What is your greatest extravagance?
  • Which living person do you most despise?
  • What is your greatest regret?
  • Which talent would you most like to have?
  • Where would you like to live?
  • What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
  • What is the quality you most like in a man?
  • What is the quality you most like in a woman?
  • What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
  • What is the trait you most deplore in others?
  • What do you most value in your friends?
  • Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
  • Whose are your heroes in real life?
  • Which living person do you most admire?
  • What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
  • On what occasions do you lie?
  • Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  • What are your favorite names?
  • How would you like to die?
  • If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
  • What is your motto?

That’s the goal! That’s the feeling I want readers to express about my books!

I found this questionnaire at writingclasses.com and a Word.doc format can be found here.

What do you think? Is there anything missing from this list that should be included? What other questionnaires do you find useful?

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