Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Calling Out to Our Shared Inner Adventures



     Jenny Freitag posted on her blog about the value of putting yourself into your stories.  And it's true.  
     You probably have seen stories that were too much of a playground of one self-absorbed author-hero.  You shook your head over it and told your mother it was written by an amateur.
      But you have also seen stories wherein the author bares his soul and it speaks to something deep within your own soul.
     There are parts inside of us, no matter where we are from, that are the same.  That's why we write stories that we would like to read -- because others will want to read it, too.  That's why we write stories from our hearts -- because we give voice to someone else's heart at the same time.  The same amount of your true self that you put into a story will call out the same amount of true self from a reader's heart.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Black Sheep


     You might not be proud of me.  I think I've always been the black sheep of the family, and I'm probably a little blacker now by your standards.  It's been eating at me a little more than I've been willing to admit.
     I knew you were annoyed with me my last year back home.  You thought I was hanging out with the wrong friends.  To be honest, I was pretty irritated with the rules you were always trying to tie me down with.  Things just don't come as easy for me as they do for Harry or Frank or Thomas, and I hated that you wanted me to be exactly like them.
     But that look in your eyes when I signed up with our nation's armed forces -- that's what got me.  There was hope in your eyes.  Not just a surface hope, but a deep, desperate hope.  That's when I realized how much pain I caused you every day.  And I vowed I was going to be a good boy from then on.  I could tell that you figured the military would reform me, and I started to believe it myself.
      Well, guess what.  You know those wild friends of mine that you hated?  There's plenty more of them here.  I don't know where we got the idea that the military was like an intensive Sunday School program, but we were mistaken.  I've picked up some habits that would make all of you cringe.
      I guess I'm a little confused maybe.  What exactly defines good?  The more of the world I see, the wider definitions I run across.  Is it just what you eat or drink?  Whether you smoke or not?  The scars you carry or don't carry?  Is it just how you treat people?  Or how you treat yourself?  Does it matter how you fit into society?  Or what company you keep?  Whether you can be trusted?
      What if I'm not as bad as you always seemed to think? What if you are worse on the inside than our little community back home ever suspected?  What is the standard?  What really matters when you weigh a person?
      I've been doing a lot of thinking lately.  I ran into the chaplain the other day, and we talked for a long time.  He's got his head on straight, and he told me some Bible stuff that made sense in a way that it hasn't before.  I never really thought of that Book as a practical one, but I've got questions and it seems like it has some answers.  I'm kind of hoping I run into the chaplain again tonight.
     It's been good for me to come here, I think, although maybe not in the way you expected.  I'm glad I joined up.
     We're shipping out tomorrow, and I'm going to do my part to save the world.  Then you can change that look in your eyes from hope to pride.  I might not be a quiet little community boy, but I'm out here on the front lines making it possible for all your boys to have their quiet little communities.
     Au revoir...
                                                                                                    JACK

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Mountains. The Wind. The Sun.


     The mountains.  The wind.  The sun.

     They make me feel strong.

     The stone walls of the castle hem me in and make feel as fragile as a bird in a cage.  There, I am trapped by generations of traditions and protocol --- caught in a game ordered by rules that no one fully understands.  The bars and posts at every turn remind me of the expectations placed upon me by an entire nation.  And the whispers caught in the tapestries haunt the throne room that changed hands many times through the intrigue of those who play by a darker set of laws.

      But when I feel myself succumbing to the pressures, I come up here.  The castle looks small and distant, and I realize how big the world is in comparison.  Why would I let myself be forced into such a tiny cage?  From here, I can laugh at its traps.  From here, I can see who I am meant to be -- and it is not what any of them expected.

     The horizon is broad and beautiful.  I can almost feel the pulse of the earth beneath my feet.  This is my land.  I will rule its throne.

     But the throne will not rule me.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Why We Don't "Pants" in Public

     The Mental Ward came to a close this past weekend.  I very much enjoyed writing this story and discovering it along with you all.  Your encouragement made a world of different to me, in helping me finish.  And it was kind of fun to just write without worrying about anything.  There were definitely some motivation-and-pleasure advantages to writing and sharing a story as you create it.

     That being said, there are reasons we plan our stories before releasing them to the public.  If you read over The Mental Ward, from beginning to end, you will find multiple errors, some people speaking or acting out of character, several overused gestures or expressions, a few plot holes or unresolved threads, and so forth.  That's because stories are not perfect the first time through.  Remember, we edit for a reason.

      Writers are often categorized as plotters or pantsers.  Plotters have their novel planned out before they start writing.  Pantsers do like I did with Mental Ward -- we write each scene without a guiding outline, discovering the story as we go.  Either one is a workable method, but, when you fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants in public, everyone gets to see your blunders.  It's a little smoother if you pants in private, then edit, and THEN post your story.

      Add to that downfall the issue of dependability.  I tried really hard to write a scene every week for you guys without fail.  But you will see that there was a gap of several weeks where absolutely nothing was written.  Which is another reason why writing the whole thing ahead of time would have been a great idea.  I could have scheduled it out on my blog and then sat back to watch.

     So I'm entirely arguing against the idea of sharing a story as you write it, but there are definitely some reasons why it could be embarrassing to "pants" a story in public. Lol.

      What do you think?  Can you think of other reasons why you should or should not post as story as you write it?

This is a picture I took on the James River, in the fog and rain.  It was such a fun day, and I loved the air of mystery added by the mist.


     

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Mental Ward - When the Old Chapter Closes (42)



      Mr. Carlisle shifted his gaze hastily to the gardener and back to Emery.  For a moment, he looked defensive and angry.  But then that faded away, leaving a weary, defeated resignation.  "I had hoped that name would never come back to haunt me."  He shrugged his shoulders, a flicker of evasiveness reappearing in his eyes.  "How much do you know?"
      The gardener raised his chin defiantly.  "I know that Clayton was the best gardener you ever had.  I know that he had a wife and children depending on him.  I know that he was the sort of person you could trust.  And I know that you got rid of him the morning after your daughter supposedly died."  His voice grew louder.  "I know that he couldn't find a job anywhere after you fired him.  I know that his family fell into hard times that just grew harder and harder.  Last I heard, he was far away, looking for a job outside of your influence, and his family lived in the city on the brink of starvation."
       Mr. Carlisle winced as the gardener flung each sentence at him.  
      "Whatever happened that night, I know that Clayton didn't deserve the way you treated him.  It was your fear and intense family pride that made you overreact to everything, to take unnecessary 'precautions' against word leaking out."  The gardener shook his head.  "If this girl had wreaked vengence on your daughter, it would have served you right.  But, no, the Claytons aren't like that.  Instead of reaping what you deserved, the very family you ruined were the ones to bring you back from the disaster."
      Mr. Carlisle's face was fixed on the gardener's and his expression was unreadable.
      "You may fire me for saying this," The gardener shifted his weight and his voice lowered to a normal tone.  "But if this isn't God giving you a second chance to make things right, I don't know what is."
      Beth lifted her head, her big eyes pleading with her father.  "Can Emery stay here?  With me?  Please?"
     "I'll do it -- I'll fix this." Mr. Carlisle's voice was soft, almost unrecognizable.  "Emery Clayton, you will have employment here for as long as you desire it, with Beth.  I will bring your mother and siblings here, and they will live in your old cottage again.  My investigators will track down your father and bring him home.  The money he has lost from not working here, I will restore to him.  And, if he will take it, I will give him his position as head gardener.  Everyone..." He reached out, brushing Beth's hair from her forehead."  "...everyone will be home again."
      Emery's mind spun, not quite comprehending this sudden change in situation.  Never had she dreamed such a thing was possible. Not once, when she stopped to help Beth, did she imagine that doing so would bring her family back to their humble prosperity.
      Lady Carlisle snuggled Beth closer, resting her cheek against Beth's hair.  "For so long, this chapter lingered -- painfully kept open.  My little girl was gone, but not gone.  And our whole household was falling apart because of it.  And now that's been resolved."  She lifted her eyes to Emery, smiling at the look of overwhelming shock on Emery's face.  "For the first time in seven years, I am looking forward to tomorrow.  When an old chapter closes, a new one opens.  And this one will be a good one -- I just know it."
      
THE END

Monday, May 16, 2016

How Boyfriends Affect Your Writing

Because, as it turns out, people don't touch your life without causing ripples.

Or cannonball splashes.

So, last fall, an awesome, one-of-a-kind man waltzed into my life.  And it turned my writing world upside-down.

First of all, I was distracted.  Ah-hem.  Yep, that probably doesn't need to be explained.  He was on my brain almost all the time, and I didn't really want to think about much else.
Secondly, I was busier.  Normal writing times were replaced with long phone calls.  My life focus shifted from writing "the best story ever" to building a relationship that would potentially last for the rest of my earth-based existence.
Of course, when I did get a minute to write, I wanted to spend it journaling about him.  Because real life was suddenly more important to me than my imaginary one. Go figure.
So that resulted in several months of very little creative writing.  Which sounds bad.  But really isn't. Because...

...it made me take a break from pouring out and take some time to reflect on who I am and who I want to be.  Maybe not all boyfriends are like this, but mine makes me think.  And I began to see ways that I am odd...and difficult...and unique...and gifted.  I, like a character in a book, am full of both strengths and weaknesses, and there is nothing like a boyfriend to help you see yourself for who you are.  All those months of journaling were as much about looking at myself as it was in looking at him.  And knowing who you are makes you a stronger writer.

But my boyfriend did more than just help me understand myself better.  Because, as it turns out, he also has a passion for epic stories.  And he's a genius.  But in a different way than I am.  We compliment each other.  And he questions EVERYTHING.  Which makes me think about life in a more in-depth way than I have in a long time.

I don't know about you, but my favorite writing times are when I have something to say -- something unique and original, something deeper than plot and characters and yet intricately intertwined with them.  I don't want to write things that I have been taught.  I want to write things that I discovered for myself.  And that means I have to stop and think about how life works and why.

When I am caught up in work and school, that doesn't leave much time for pondering the meaning of existence.  It took someone (who cared enough about me to make me slow down and come up with answers) to reawaken the dreamer that I used to be before life got so busy.

Suddenly I am plumbing depths that haven't been touched in a long time, and my stories are churning up on the inside of me.

And that, my friends, is how a boyfriend affects your writing.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Mental Ward - Just Let Her Wake Up (41)


      "Hush, just let her wake up.  She'll be alright."  The gardner gave his advice in hushed tones and then drew back into the shadows with Emery.
       Emery covered her mouth with her hand and tried not to cry as the scene soaked into her very soul.
      They were upstairs, in the nursery where Beth had played as a little girl.  The opulance was overwhelming, with it's soft carpets, lacy curtains, and fine furniture.  Lady Carlisle sat in an overstuffed chair, cradling Beth.  Her rich gowns and elaborate hairstyle contrasted with Beth's white hospital shift, bare feet, and short-cropped hair.  But the look on Lady Carlisle's face was tender and teary-eyed, and she clutched her little girl as if she would never let her go again.
     Beth's eyes blinked and then slowly opened.  Every one in the room held their breath.  Beth's eyes roved over her mother's face, up to the ceiling, around the room, and back to her mother.  Slowly she lifted her hand and ran her finger over Lady Carlisle's chin and cheek.  "Mama?"
      Tears swelled in Lady Carlisle's eyes and splatted onto Beth's face.  "Yes, darling?"
      "MAMA!" Beth shrieked, her face lighting up as she threw both hands up around her mother's neck.
     And suddenly Lady Carlisle wasn't Lady Carlisle any more.  She was just Lola, a mother.  She wrapped Beth up in her arms, burying her face in her little girl, and sobbed.
      Downstairs a door slammed.  "Lola!"  Mr. Carlisle's voice preceeded him as he rushed in the front door and bounded up the stairs.  "Lola!  Where are you?"
      Lola's face emerged with a quavering look that wanted to cry and laugh at the same time.  "Here!  Andrew, here!"
      Mr. Carlisle appeared in the door, and his wife held out his hand to him.  He hesitated for a split second and then stumbled across the floor to throw his arms around his family.
      "You're here!  You're here!  You're alive!  You're okay!" His words rushed out, almost intelligible.  He stopped and pulled Beth's chin to face him.  "Are you okay?"
      Beth reached up, gingerly rubbing the knot on her head, and nodded.
      Lady Carlisle bristled.  "The policemen are waiting downstairs.  I'm sure you have a few words for them."
      "They can wait," the gardner murmured, just loud enough for Mr. Carlisle to hear him.  "Take your time.  We'll wait outside."  He inched toward the door.
      Mr. Carlisle raised his head, gratitude flooding every feature.  "Thank you...for this."
      The gardner shook his head.  "Don't thank me.  Thank her."  He nodded pointedly toward Emery.
      Emery shrank back, wishing she could hide behind something.
      Mr. Carlisle focused his eyes on her and slowly dipped his chin.  "Thank you, Miss..."
      Emery opened her mouth to answer but the gardner beat her to it.  "Clayton.  She's old Clayton's girl."

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Mental Ward - But You're Wanted at Home (40)


     Andrew felt like a shadow of a man.  A body with no spirit left.  For hours he sat across the street from the asylum, staring at the force amassing against his daughter.  And he felt his life crumpling away from him.
      The team outside suddenly moved, rushing toward the asylum with their weapons drawn.  Someone brought him word that a maid on the inside had finally been able to open the doors.  It wouldn't be much longer.  Andrew hated that maid.
     Life was very confusing.  How had it come to this?  What had he done to deserve a lunatic daughter?  To lose his baby girl?  To be forced to hide her away to protect his family name?  And now to have her taken away from him all over again?  No one could ever know -- the disgrace of this night surpassed any he imagined over the last seven years.  It was one more burden he would have to bear alone, in secrecy.
      He tried not to think of the rescue team, shooting his daughter.  Every time he did, he could only see her as a tiny four-year-old, holding out her hands to him as he put her into the arms of the asylum worker.  Her face, pleading with him.  That little whimper she made.
     It seemed like an eternity before the rescue team started to re-emerge from the building.  They carried multiple people out but no little girls. Andrew left his hideaway, his legs carrying him reluctantly but forcefully toward the miniature rescue base.
     People were scrambling around, too busy for him.  He tried to ask what was going on, but nobody seemed to have an answer for him.  Finally someone told him that all the open floors had been searched, but neither Beastly nor the control box had been found yet.
     "Don't worry, Mr. Carlysle, sir.  We have it all under control." One man grinned from ear to ear and puffed his chest out.  "My name is Edwards...Jim Edwards..."  He shoved his hand under Andrew's nose.  "Let me know if there is anything I can ever do for you, Mr. Carlysle."
      Andrew ignored the man and the wheedling smile.  He despised people who envied his money and position.  They wouldn't be so eager if they knew the pain and emptiness that came with it.  Andrew curled his lip.  He was barely surviving and he was a Carlysle.  Did those little Jim-Edwards-and-such think they could handle power?  Ha.
      But the spark of pride in his heart died out almost as soon as it was lit.  Like a candle in a tornado.  And he was once again staring at the looming asylum and feeling that the end of everything was at hand.  And he was alone.
     "Sir?"  Antrin's voice sounded in his ear.
     Andrew spun to face his butler.  "What are you doing here?"  Tears sprang unbidden to his eyes.  It was a weak moment for him, and the thought that, in his loneliness, he at least had a faithful butler by his side was a sweet one.  "You weren't supposed to follow me."
      "I realize that, sir, and I apologize, but..." The butler picked at his coat button, and Andrew realized for the first time that Antrin's attitude was more uneasy than supportive.  "But...you're wanted at home."

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Time-Traveler Letter from 2015


Greetings, one and all!  I am writing this letter in 2015, and it will be posted on my blog one year later.  Which means that you are likely reading this on May 1st, 2016.  It's great fun to write something that you will read so much later.  I almost feel that you might could hear me, across this great gulf of time, if I yelled really, really loud.

HELLO! HELLO! HELLO!  GREETINGS, O FUTURE ONES!  I CALL TO YOU FROM THE NOT-SO-DISTANT PAST OF 2014!
Enough nonsense, now.  I thought I would start by responding to some of the things in my last letter.

First order of business: inspiring blogs.
     Rachel Heffington and Anne-girl continue to be inspirational to me, and their blogs will always hold a special place in my heart.  However, I have been especially helped recently by goteenwriters.blogspot.com .  K.M.Weiland's blog and http://thepenslayer.blogspot.com/ have also been influential for me this year.  And I am just started to watch http://anneelisabethstengl.blogspot.com/.

Second: current writing projects.
     The Caver's Kiss is currently being edited and is under proof-reading by two wonderful beta-readers.
     Broken Clouds is being written.
     ToP is in the planning stages.
     And all my other ideas are being instructed to wait their turns.  Except for JW, which not listening.  It wants to be written and it wants to be written now.  I should be scolding it, but I'm secretly proud of it for appearing and insisting on its own creation.  It makes my writing time easier.
     Last year, I mentioned Dungeon and Ariana's Island, which are still sitting in draft forms, and BB, which was filed away unfinished.

Third: my biggest writing flaw.
     I am still putting extra effort into not repeating myself.  And I'm trying to find the right balance in action/reaction scenes.  And I'd like to flow a little smoother and to be poetic without raising ridicule.

Fourth: improvement measurement.
     I'm not sure how to put this into words, but my story writing has improved tremendously.  I'm actually finishing things now!!!  That makes me happy.  I don't know that my blogging has improved, but the stories are better.

Fifth: blog stats.
     Pageviews all time history: 6706
     Highest-viewed month to date: April 2014 - 559
     Lowest-viewed month to date: January 2015 - 158 (I'm not counting October 2013, which was 90).
     Number of published posts: 361
     Five most popular posts of all time:
          Short Story: Becoming a Daddy
          Hideous Creature
          Beautiful People: The Cavers Kiss
          Beautiful People: Willie from BB
          Beautiful People: Hilma
     Number of comments: 270
     Number of followers: 13

Sixth: things I'm learning
     I think I'm learning to finish things -- to be more "end goal" oriented.  It's easier for me to see the end from the beginning now, including the middle.  The middle used to completely lose me.  <chuckle>
     I am not as opposed to help.  I used to think that taking advice from anyone made me less original.  And now, I am eager to get feedback and advice from sources I trust.  The best way to learn quickly is to "stand on the shoulders of giants," right?
     I am less emotionally attached to scenes -- meaning I have less fear over throwing something away.  I used to be so terrified that I would "lose" something.  Even a horrible scene...it was so hard to let it go because I WROTE IT.  Now, for every story that I write, I make a special file for deleted scenes.  Then I cut the unnecessary scene, store it in my special file, and move on.  It's made a huge improvement in my writing.

Seventh: goals
     In this coming year, I'd like to finish Broken Clouds first draft.  I'd also like to write a short story for the Rooglewood contest.  And win!  And it would be lovely to get something published.

So there you have it.  My time-traveler letter from 2015.  I hope your year has been wonderful and that the coming one is even better.

Sincerely,
E.L.Brooksmith