Going Back to the Beginning: A Lesson in Revisions

Hey everybody! On Monday, I finished up my last exam and my last paper, and I am officially finished with my freshman year! I can’t believe this year has gone by so fast. It feels like just a few weeks ago, I was moving into my freshman dorm, and now I’m trying to move out! I swear moving in was a lot easier.

My thoughts are a little jumbled right now due to me being a little under the weather. But I wanted to make sure I put out something solid for you all to read. So, I want to talk a little more in detail about the work I’ve been doing over the last couple weeks on the novel.

Revisions

At the advice of a very handy revision guide (linked here for reference; I will most likely do an article on this later), I decided to break down my novel into chapter summaries. Basically for each chapter, I made notes about which characters were featured, where the scene takes place, and the important plot points. This serves as a really great tool to understand everything that is going on in the book without rereading the whole thing every time you want to make changes. Note: You should still frequently read the whole book when you do make changes; but right off the bat, I’ve found this to be a good first step.

After this, the revision guide provided me with a multitude of questions to identify the main structural edits that my book desperately needs. I really loved working through them. They gave me the best information I needed to identify what needed to be done. Sometimes it’s very hard to formulate these questions on my own without any direction. With these, I made a list of about 25 major/moderate structural changes that needed to be made.

25 seems like a lot to me. The guide recommended listing 20 for your first pass, but I’ve never been able to do anything with limitations xD. Now, once the list is made, the guide recommends to go ahead and start revising. But… I felt like I really wasn’t prepared to do that yet. Two of my biggest fixes were as follows: make character development bigger and much clearer and incorporate more worldbuilding throughout. I didn’t feel like I had all the tools necessary to revise in the best way.

So I went all the way back to the beginning. Back to my ten months worth of research and notes from before I wrote this novel in November. I hadn’t visited them in great detail in a decent amount of time, so it was long overdue. I worked with the character interview questionnaire alongside my character profiles so I could work with both my basic original ideas and have inspiration to build off of them.

I focused on Grace and Aiden for now as they are the most prevalent in the novel. I plan on working with other characters as I revise as they pop up in the story. Grace has become a fuller character: retaining her stubborn and passionate nature while mixing in a few more character flaws, fears, and somewhat of a softer heart underneath. Aiden has completely reverted back to my original intention for the character that did not come across at all in the current draft. He plays a little more fast and loose and is driven by a strong desire for adventure. His regrets in his life will hopefully come more into play as well as he develops.

What Happens Now?

Now that I’m finished with character development for the time being, I plan on working a bit with each of the locations. As much as I talk about worldbuilding, I need to revisit mine and create more descriptive details that can be readily incorporated when I need them. Especially in the Middle Realm: that area has not been as planned out as I would like.

So because of all this, my timeline has shifted significantly. I plan on spending the entire summer in revisions. A second beta read will be pushed to either late July or August, depending on how efficiently I revise once I’m ready. I won’t be querying until potentially September or October. As much as I am a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to start looking for literary agents this summer, it is more important that the book is in its best possible condition before being judged. I believe it will make the process go quicker at the end of the day. I want my novel to be strong. So I will put in the time.

Write Until You Can’t Write Another Word

When I was ten years old, I read Andrew Clements’ novel, School Story, for the first time. For anyone not familiar with his work, School Story is about two twelve-year-old girls who work together to get a book published. Natalie has written a full novel, and when her friend, Zoe, reads it, she is convinced that it’s good enough to be published. Natalie eventually agrees, but she wants the book sent to the publishing company where her mother works. She wants her mom to be the editor, but in order to get the book through to the top of the pile, Natalie and Zoe have to undertake the process through a series of pen names, false names, and a agency started with Zoe’s savings account.

This story struck me very deeply in several ways. First, I was fascinated by the process of getting a book from written stage to published stage. Clements did a fairly good job of running through the various steps and how a book moves through a publishing company. Second, I loved the fact that the girls were young. They were my age. What if I could do that? Get a book written and published at a young age? Could I? Did I have the potential to do that?

I decided I did.

I wrote my first book only a little while later when I turned eleven. It was a silly little children’s story, a story based around my own family set in a fantastical world of princes and battles and magic. It wasn’t very good, trust me; it won’t ever see the light of day. At least not without essentially an entire overhaul. But I loved writing it. See, as a kid, I thought this was fantastic. People my age I had shown it to thought it was good. I felt like I was on cloud nine. Not only had I managed to finish an entire book, I saw series potential. Somewhere I have a couple notebooks with ideas for the next six books. (The best series I had read at the time was Harry Potter, of course, so seven seemed like a logical number to me.) Now the only things I remember are small remnants.

Now almost immediately after editing this book, (yes, even I knew then books needed editing first!) I started to seek out literary agents. I knew it was very important to get one. My mom bought me a book home one day that had a list of literary agents and book publishers for children’s books for that particular year. I spent hours pouring over it. I had someone picked out, and I actually wrote my first query letter. I believe there’s still a copy of it in my email drafts.

But alas, eventually, the book faded from view for me. Don’t ask me why because I really don’t remember. However, my thoughts of publishing never faded. I wanted people to hear my voice. I had a wild imagination, one that many could never understand. Writing would help me change that. I was sure of it.

Fast forward a bit. Over the rest of my middle school and high school years, I attempted many books. Most of them were contemporary romance stories. Some had a couple fantastical elements thrown in. I believe I attempted one contemporary fantasy novel. The thing is, I would get really excited about an idea. I would think, “That’s it. This is the one!” And so I would write for a few months: plan out characters, plan out plots, start stories. But every single time, none of them made it halfway through a draft. I lost interest. I sprang on to the next idea as soon as it came up. I must have eight to ten unfinished stories. Now normally, that would drive me crazy. But these stories didn’t hold up to me. They were easily forgotten.

That’s not what you want when you’re writing something you want to be significant. None of them were “the one”.

Until about halfway through my senior years.

As I’ve mentioned before in a previous personal post, there was an incident the January of my senior year that led to the loss of a very close friend and a brother. I snapped. I was tired of being left behind. I loved him and the good times we had had together, but I was honestly done. This little part of me didn’t want to forget all of the good times though. I wanted to remember the best parts of the sibling relationship while blocking out enough of the bad to make it seem worthwhile enough.

That’s how Chasing Fae was born.

This idea stuck. It was different. It was exciting. It was born out of something real and more passionate than I could have imagined. I spent over ten months planning before I got the courage to write. I wrote character profiles and worldbuilt like a madwoman. I toyed with the details, twisting each one to my heart’s desire. I laid out the plot in front of me, not just the first plot but the subsequent sequels that were born out of how much inspiration I had in my body. In November, I took that leap with NaNoWriMo and wrote my first draft.

It felt so incredibly freeing. I feel like a real writer.

The going is slow. I’ve been working on revisions for almost three months now and am nowhere near done at this point. Some days I feel like it will never get done. That I’ll never get to publication stage. But I think about that little girl, that kid so dedicated to her writing and so inspired that she would stop at nothing to make her voice be heard. I am that girl. She’s still here inside me. I’m still telling our story through whatever means I can. I won’t let either of us down. I will write until I cannot write another word or until the whole story is told with no gaps, no holes, and absolutely no lies.

The Results of A Second Reader

One of the most important parts of preparing a draft for the querying stage is to get another opinion on your work. At a certain point in revising, an author loses sight of the flaws in their own work. When you’ve worked with a story for a long time, it becomes ingrained in your mind. You can’t see what’s clear or not clear.

This is the point where you need to pick a beta reader. An outside perspective that will let you know exactly at what stage your book is at. Whether you’re getting close to a polished draft to start querying on or whether you need some heavy revisions in certain sections. This person can really come from anywhere. It can be someone close to you, a family member or a friend who loves to read. It can be another writer that you’ve connected with through a writing group or social media. The possibilities are endless. You only have to make sure of two things.

  1. Your beta reader is going to be able to be critical about your work without covering their opinion to assuage you.
  2. Your beta reader is available to finish your book in a reasonable time frame.

Two weeks ago, I was ready for this stage of the writing process. For my first reader, I chose my boyfriend. I did this for several reasons. He’d been extremely motivational during the writing process. He’d been asking for weeks to be the first to read it. But most importantly, I knew that he was going to be able to be critical of my work and tell me exactly what needed to be done regardless of whether it hurt my feelings. He’s one of those people who loves to find loopholes in everything.

Spoiler: There were a lot of loopholes that need fixing.

One of the things about the writing process that I don’t think authors talk enough about is their mistakes during drafting. So I’d like to be candid about what the results of having a beta reader were for me:

1. Too much plot convenience in the beginning: Things happen a little too quickly without much explanation of how we got there. My main character, Grace’s strength doesn’t quite match her body type and needs to be adjusted. Speed and agility over strength.

2. Magic system: My boyfriend immediately pointed out to me that certain parts (okay, maybe more than a few) of my magic system were overpowered and needed some sort of system to work out exactly how much power each individual had. We sat down together and worked out a tiered level system that allows for both natural affinity and growth within those affinities without giving everyone a high level right away. As I’ve been working on it over the past couple days, I am finding it to work a lot better!

3. Economy: Can I say no comment here? Because… I just don’t do economics. I had no idea what I was doing. My boyfriend made that very clear. On the upside, we’re gonna work on that together later! (Thank God.)

4. Relationships: The relationship between Grace and Aiden needed to be explored further at a slower pace with more scenes added. See, I was afraid of writing too much, but it seems I wrote too little. Luckily for me, it’s easier to add than cut!

Extra: My boyfriend seemed to guess a lot of things before they happened. I’m pretty sure that’s a combination of the way he is and how well he knows me. I’ll need a second opinion on this.

Now, I get to move forward and revise yet again! But this time, with a much clearer picture of what needs to be done to improve my novel. Overall, an extremely favorable experience. <3

This Week in The Publishing Process: March 16, 2019

Hey guys! Sorry for the short (and late!) post today; I have been super busy doing logistics for next semester and this summer.

For most of this week, I have been lying in anxious wait for my boyfriend, and extremely helpful beta reader, to finish reading my novel. This week, especially on Friday, I have had such a drive to create. Having set aside my novel for almost a week and a half really put me in a creative mood. I kept bugging him to finish so I could get back to work!

During the week, I focused on my magic system. I had been working previously with only categories of magic, such as energy magic, elemental magic, and flight magic. I realized that I really needed to modify this system to make it more specific. More magic needed to be incorporated into my world to make the fantasy feel real. So I broke down each category into specific types of spells, specific magical actions that would fall under each category. After three days, I could see real progress in my magic system.

Feeling like the master of your story is very powerful.

I have also begun to look into literary agents. While it’s a little early for me to be looking heavily into this, I believe it’s a good idea to go into the querying process with your eyes wide open. Working with a guide that I bought a few months ago, I’m working on a master list of literary agencies and agents that I would like to query. I love to make organized lists of details; I’ve got a table going along with details of what needs to go into each submission package.

Something that struck me during that research is how diverse the submission packages can be. Some agencies want a query letter and the first ten pages, one wants a partial manuscript right off the bat; I even found one agent who wanted a query letter, first three chapters, a one paragraph pitch, and a list of similar books that could be comparable to yours. Who knew?! I can’t even fathom where to begin.

But luckily, it’s not quite time for that yet! 😀

Tonight and tomorrow, I’ll be receiving feedback on my book from my boyfriend, who has been incredibly helpful and critical so far. Tonight, as I write this, we’re working on revamping my universe’s economy (which could not hold up, let me tell you; I’m terrible with economics). Every comment he has made so far has gotten me to look at things in a new perspective, and I could not be more grateful for that. I will update you guys with the beta reading results once I sort it all out!

Thank you all again for following me on this wild ride. Much love. <3

Cady Hammer

Revisions, Revisions, Revisions: Part 1

This Sunday, I completed round one of revisions for Chasing Fae. It was a long and laborious process, and while I’m incredibly excited and proud that I made it through, I know my job is far from over. But for now, let’s talk about what round one of revisions looked like, especially for those of you who find themselves in the revision stages of a novel.

Once NaNoWriMo was over, I put aside the book for about two weeks. It’s a little short of a turn around time, but that’s the bare minimum time that you should let a novel sit before attempting revisions. When I picked it back up, I read the first draft all the way through while taking notes. Now, I did this in Google Docs, using comments down the side to make my notes. Most writers like to print their draft out and make handwritten notes. I did not have the means to print out 200+ pages at the time, and I found that working online and typing works faster for me.

I did not hold back in my comments. I picked out everything, large or small, that I wanted to fix or add or revise. Nothing was sacred, and that’s the way it should be. You have to be critical if you want to get anywhere with your next draft.

From there, it was two long months of revising. I wrote about an additional 8000 words. I fleshed out worldbuilding details in various places, trying to make the Three Realms come to life in a brighter way. I wrote two new chapters and reworked nearly the entire middle of the novel to create better flow. I tried to work on my characters by making their intentions more clear from scene to scene.

Eventually, I ended up with a beautiful set of 66,519 words of YA fantasy.

Now, I’m beginning to send this second draft out to my chosen beta readers who I’m hoping can give me a lot more feedback about where my novel needs to go next. I know that there are places that need a lot of work, and I really would like help identifying where those places are. I’m looking forward to seeing what they think!

Until next time. <3

Sibling Bonds

One of the strongest underlying themes in Chasing Fae is the nature of the bond between siblings.

Grace spent her childhood being taught and guided by her older brother, Leo, who she has looked up to forever. He supported her through her pursuit of music and her studies, and he was always there to give her a sense of wonder in life even when their family’s financial situation wasn’t the best. When Leo became a mercenary and began to travel more often, he made sure to write to her every week and when he returned, to bring back something for his little sister. They were inseparable and each other’s best friends all the way up to the end.

I drew a lot of inspiration for this story from the relationship I have with both my little sister and a old friend of mine. My sister and I have been inseparable since she was born. She’s such a little light (or a sprite!). Energetic, passionate, and highly imaginative, my sister inspired the connection that Grace and Leo feel between each other. Whenever I come home, she and I spend as much time together as we can. I like to think that she looks up to me somewhat, but I know for certain that I look to her creative ideas to help fill in the gaps in my own ideas, particularly worldbuilding (She builds many, many worlds of her own for her stories, plays, and just for herself).

Now, I mention this old friend of mine. What he contributes to the course of this novel has been a little more interesting in terms of direct influence. This friend of mine has acted as an older brother to me, for the most part, over an extended period of turmoil in both of our lives. I always felt like he was looking out for me and trying to support me the best he could. He’s not perfect although I know he would have me try to believe so. We’ve had a lot of breaks and re-grouping periods over the course of the last few years. But at the end of the day, the benefit that I have received from our sibling-esque relationship over time outweighs the faults.

It was during one of our break periods that I started formulating the idea of this novel. I was convinced that I was never going to see this man again; things had been going downhill for a while. As angry and hurt as I was, I wanted to remember the good things, the good times that we had shared. So I created this character, Leo, who had all of these good qualities that my friend shared, like protectiveness and drive. From my sister, I borrowed a heavy dose of silly energy and playfulness, and the story was born.

This book started as a way for me to heal, and as things evolved, the story became something even more, something I’m proud to put out into the world.

Today, I’d like to share a short story also relating to sibling relationships that received an honorable mention in Scholastic Writing Awards two years ago. I hope you all enjoy.

Still Healing

“I would run if I were you,” a hoarse, rough voice hisses in my ear. Fangs scrape the side of my cheek as I thrash to get free from the ropes tethering me between two trees. “Now.” With the slice of sharp claws, I fall, and with a harsh kick to my side, I was running deeper into the forest, the darkness pressing in around me. I only vaguely perceive the chaos.

Everything is burning.

Behind me, a swarm of wolves flies over the hill and sprints towards me. I scream and hurriedly change directions in a last-ditch attempt to avoid them. Suddenly, I find myself in an even more horrific section of the woods, the bodies of my past dangling from tree branches. Ellie swaying slowly in a hangman’s noose as her body swung ten years ago from her favorite backyard tree. My parents lying prone on the forest floor from two gunshot wounds to the chest. My heart breaks and I stop in horror as I see my older brother right in the center, a jagged dark red line sliced across his neck. His dead eyes open and stare at me in what I could only describe as a haunting disappointment.

Their voices whisper. “Your fault, all your fault, run Emily, run, run, run”.

Then I am at the edge of a steep cliff with nowhere to turn. The pack of wolves catch up to me, snarling and snapping at my heels. I whimper. Then I am underneath them, being trampled and sliced open and bitten. I feel every claw sink into my skin, every fang take a piece of me with it, and every individual body crush each individual bone. I shriek, though I don’t know where I found the strength. Then, immobile and blind, my body is shoved off of the cliff. When I slam into the hard rock, the sharp points move through my skull and through my chest, and there is pure agony…

“Lil sis.” A voice breaks through my consciousness. “Lil sis, wake up. Wake up Em, it’s me.” Two strong hands pull me off of my pillow and into a hard chest. Even more frightened at the foreign presence in my apartment, I thrash incessantly and scream. “Emily!” the voice cried again. “It’s Liam, angel, wake up.” My eyes fly open.

“NO! No my brother is dead! Liam is dead, and it’s my fault!” I sob and struggle against the body restraining me. A hand forcibly presses my head into a solid shoulder. I buck backwards, attempting to reach the switchblade on my bedside table. The stranger’s hand caught me yet again, this time gripping my wrist with just enough force to keep me from my only defense.

“Angel, it’s me, please, come back to me.”

I collapse in sobs into the figure’s chest. “He’s dead… I didn’t get to say goodbye.” I choke. “Half a world away.. He’s dead..”

The body surrounding me shifts to swallow mine in its embrace. It begins to rock me gently back and forth. “Shhh, shh shh shh, Em. Em breathe.”

My hazy mind recognizes the words. Liam used to whisper them in the early days after our parents’ death, when I would cry and cry until I couldn’t breathe anymore. The voice of my brother… How could I have not seen it?

“Li?” I whimper quietly.

“There you are,” My brother hugs me closer and continue to rock slowly. “Shh, just breathe, sis. ” I cry quietly into his shoulder.

“You’re home!” I whisper in awe.

“I’m here,” he mumbles back.

After a few more shaky sobbing breaths, I manage to look up at my brother’s face. His dark eyes shine with concern. “I’m sorry,” I choke out quietly. “I didn’t mean to fight…”

Liam cuts me off with a finger to my lips. “Shh. Don’t you dare apologize,” he says sternly as he hugs me a little tighter. “You did everything I taught you. I’m sorry I startled you. I just got in; I would have let you sleep, but you were screaming.”

I flush slightly. He chuckles and pulls back to look at me, a thumb running over my cheek. “Tell your brother what’s going on, sis.”

I untangle myself from his arms and lean back against my pillow. He studies me carefully and doesn’t move, waiting on me. That’s the curse that comes with stubborn brothers like Liam; they’re going to sit and wait with you until you’re willing to talk. Especially when you don’t want to. I shift uneasily at his stare and finally draw my knees up to my chest. “It was just a nightmare.” My eyes drift to the floor, the closet, anything but Liam.

I hear another soft chuckle. “I gathered that much, sis. What happened?”

“Wolves,” I reply.

I sense him nodding in recognition. “What else?”

“That’s all.”

“There was definitely more, Em. Tell me.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

I try to harden myself against his probing, but I am still too frightened to keep my walls up. “… You were dead,” I whisper.

Silence.

“There’s more, isn’t there?” Liam prodded.

I chuckle bitterly and blink back tears, tipping my head back to stare at the low ceiling. “Your throat was cut open…” I choke again and curse inwardly for being so weak. “Still.. Still bleeding out. You.. You were hanging from an elm tree in.. In the woods.. You… God, you were so limp Li.”

Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe. Instead of fighting the oncoming panic attack, I let it wash over me like a wave. Unconsciously, I felt my breath quicken and my hands shake, but I had retreated so far into my own mind that there wasn’t any way I could stop it. “Mama… And Dad.. The gunshot wounds… Ellie..” I could barely speak. The memories were too strong, the pain too great. A blanket of heat pressed down on me, pushing me farther into the abyss, but I welcomed its familiarity with trembling arms. My chest tightened.

Two warm hands closed around mine quickly and squeezed firmly. “Emily, I’m right here. I’m alive. Come on, breathe sis. It’s alright.” Through my haze, I detected a hint of something in his voice, something foreign. Not quite exasperation; he could never be that irritated with me. But… Disappointment?

“I’m sorry,” I apologized yet again in a soft whisper. “I’m so sorry…”

“No sis,” Liam pulled me out of my cramped position back into a hug. “Don’t talk like that. I’m not mad; I’m worried about you. Just relax, it’s okay…” He begins humming a vaguely familiar tune quietly, tucking my head under his chin. I silently praise the genes that made me small enough to fit underneath my brother. I feel like a little child again curled up against his chest and while a voice in the back of my head tells me to sit up and stop crying, stop acting like this, the rest of me is too content where I am to move.

When he stops and runs his hand over my hair, I pull back slowly and grant him a tiny smile. “Was that… Mom’s old lullaby? The Sweetheart Tree?”

He sheepishly rubs a hand over his neck. “Yeah, I thought it might help.”

I chuckle and smile softly at his shyness. “Thank you.” I hug him tightly. “Really, thank you.”

“Anytime, sis.” He looks over me carefully. “Em…” He pauses, staring at the patchwork quilt over the bed.

“Yeah?”

“I think it’s time for you to go back to therapy.”

I am immediately on my feet, pacing the floor. “No. I told you, I’m fine, I don’t need to go.”

“Em, you’ve been having these nightmares ever since I left for Iraq two years ago. And don’t try lying, I know you have. Just cause I haven’t been here doesn’t mean I don’t have eyes on you.” His jaw tightens, a sure sign that there will be no argument. “I’m setting up an appointment with your old therapist for next week.”

“No! I’m not going back Liam!” I shout. “It is impossible to talk to her about anything! She doesn’t understand anything. She just wants to evaluate me and fit me into some neat little psychological box.”

He bursts out laughing. “A psychological box?” I glare at him.

“I’m not messed up, Liam,” I scowl. I turn my back to the window, looking down at the city streets below.

“Going to therapy doesn’t mean you’re messed up, Emily,” he replied. “You just need a little help. Don’t you want to be able to sleep at night again?”

I sigh in frustration. He’s right. “Fine… One appointment.”

“Per week.”

“……”

“Every two weeks,” I counter.

“Deal.”

“I’m surprised you agree.”

“Whatever it takes to get you back in there.”

“I should have asked for more.”

He chuckles. “Nice try. That was as far as I was going.”

“Fine.” I teasingly draw out the word and sit back down on my bed. Hit by a sudden wave of exhaustion, my eyes slide halfway close as I crash back down to the mattress. I reach down to tug the blanket back over me, but I’m beat to it by my brother. He pulls it over me with surprising care and tucks it around my shoulders. I flush in embarrassment. He just smiles and taps my nose with a finger. “Shove over, Em.”

I move over a foot or so, and Liam lays down beside me. “What are you doing?” I ask.

“Protecting you.” His hand slides over mine again and squeezes. I smile and close my eyes.

“Love you.”

“Love you too, sis.”

An Overlooked Detail: My Own Work

As I thought about what I wanted to write for posts this week, I began to realize that you, my audience, have absolutely no indication on whether what I say is what I practice.

You have seen no example of my own fantasy writing.

While fantasy is a genre that I recently began writing in, I do have one solid short story in this genre that I would like to share with you. This is a piece that I wrote for my creative writing class last semester with zero prompt and zero direction given. I drew inspiration from the old Greek myth of Hades and Persephone and took a new. more contemporary direction with it. While I had seen this done several times before, I believe I offer a slightly different, slightly darker take on their meeting.

I would love to hear feedback on this piece from all of you, and I would also like to know if you want to see more examples of my work, whether that is solely fantasy or if you want to see some other genres as well. I hope you enjoy!

(I have never written a trigger warning before, so I hope this phrasing is correct.) TRIGGER WARNING: Physical and verbal abuse


Take Me Away

“GET OUT AND STAY OUT!” I landed hard on my back unceremoniously on the back porch, having been thrown from the doorway. Slam. Click. Click. And just like that, I was locked out again.

I sighed quietly and gingerly scraped myself off the wooden slats, stumbling down the back stairs. There was no use arguing with my mother anymore tonight. She wouldn’t remember our fight in the morning. I doubted she would remember anything with all the liquor currently coursing through her veins. No, best to go back to the lake and sleep outside for the night.

It happened too often, the fights, three or four times a week. I can’t remember a week in the last two years where I hadn’t been kicked out at least once. Usually, I would bounce from friend’s house to friend’s house. But eventually, those friendships faded, and I couldn’t keep making excuses about why I came over so frequently. So I finally learned to stock up and retreat into the woods at night. The trees offered cover and protection, the lake somewhere to rinse off and put my hair up before another day at school. It was always there when I needed a place to feel safe.

I learned not to be afraid of the dark.

But tonight, the darkness seemed to draw me in. It was rare that I was kicked out around the full moon. There was too much to be done inside for me to spend time looking up at the sky on the most beautiful nights. But tonight, I had nothing to do but wait until morning. That prompted me to run directly into the woods, down the paths I knew by heart. I headed towards the biggest open area of trees with the clearest view of the sky.

I had no reason to run; the moon would still be there whether I moved fast or slow. But the wind was calling to me. Come to me, the forest whispered. The phantom words resonated within me, and I ran faster.

Little did I know that it wasn’t the wind calling me, but something else entirely.

I reached the clearing within moments. The moonlight cast a pale purple shadow over the sparsely arranged trees. The air stood still. A sense of peace washed over me, prompting me to lay down in the smooth dirt and stare up at the moon.

Heartbeats. Steady and slow. At rest…. At peace.

Another heartbeat joins mine.

I jerked up. I didn’t know if I was imagining things, but I sensed another presence with me. My hand crept to my pocket towards my pocket knife, in case. “Who’s there?” I called out. No answer. I stood quickly and walked forward cautiously where I could still faintly hear the echo of a heartbeat. “Answer me! Who’s there?”

A growl that I could only describe as menacing but playful brought my attention to a dark figure leaning against a tree. The outline of a wide, smirking grin with slightly pointed teeth at the corners glinted at me as the figure stepped into the light. “Look at you… all ready to fight whatever comes your way.” His voice washed over me like the most teasing of breezes. I shivered.

“Who the hell are you?” I asked.

I heard a faint chuckle. “You can call me Infernos.” He stepped out into the light.

Goddamn.

He chuckled darkly. “Glad you approve.” Only then did I realize I had voiced my opinion aloud. Flushing, I took my recovery moment to glance over him. The man loomed over me at easily over six feet with muscular broad shoulders. His hair shined blacker than the darkest of nights with what appeared to be tiny flecks of silver. What intrigued me most though were his eyes: a swirl of amber and black that intertwined so tightly you couldn’t tell which color was more prominent. I was inexplicably drawn to him, to the mystery he carried with him.

He suddenly took a step back and bowed low to me. “The devil at your service, sweetheart.”

I shook out of my reverie and managed a laugh. “You expect me to believe you’re the devil? You’re not in the least bit frightening. Just a man with a habit of sneaking up on young women in the night, right? Get out of here, if you know what’s good for you.”

He laughed. Then everything went black. And I mean everything. I stood in the middle of an eternal night, the moon and stars snuffed out in an instant. Then he was behind me, whispering in my ear. “You give off such an innocent vibe, but you’re rather feisty, aren’t you dear?” The darkness lifted in the next moment, the light returning. I dared to look over my shoulder at Infernos behind me.

“I’ve been watching you for a very long time. I know who you are, Kathy.” My breath hitched as he smirked and slowly began to circle me. “I know how much you fight day in and day out, struggling for purpose, for your very existence. I’ve seen the way your family treats you, no better than the dirt on their shoes. Less than dirt. Every word, every near miss cracks you. I can see it…. so close to breaking” He inhaled deeply, like a predator savoring the scent of its prey. “Such a beautiful… beautiful damaged soul.”

I couldn’t help but be afraid.

“Do me a favor, dear, and consider this. What if I could make this all go away? The abusive family, the loneliness… the nightmares?” He came and tilted my chin up to his eyes.

I rubbed my arm with one hand, stalling for time. “At what price?”

Infernos chuckled before locking an arm around my waist and pulling me against him tightly. I was too shocked to move. My heart sped up, and the echo of his pounded in my ears. “Be bound to me. Give me your allegiance. Not as a slave, but as my queen. I can take you away from everything. You will never be alone again.” A sentiment that would normally make me warm felt heavy and threatening from his lips.

I took a step back. He was making my head spin. “I.. I can’t process this.” My chest heaved with heavier breaths. “How do you even exist? I don’t believe this. I don’t believe in a heaven, a hell… hell! I don’t even believe in a God, yet here you stand… ” I couldn’t bring myself to say the word devil. It would mean having to admit any of this was real.

A calloused hand pressed over my heart, and suddenly I could breathe again. His lips press to my cheek. The imprint seared into me, like a hidden claim against my skin. But it didn’t burn like a brand. It was a deep heat that wrapped around me and consumed me. And to my dual horror and delight, I felt safe there. My vision blurred, and my muscles grew weak. My body tumbled.

Infernos was waiting for me, and his arms caught me and swept me against his chest in one fluid motion. “I’ll be back for you, my dear. You’ll give in to me soon. I’ll be back at your lowest moment, and if you’ll let me, I will protect you.” As I drifted off into sleep, he whispered one final thing. “Just say the words, and I will take you away from here.”

I dreamt of darkness and safety.

I woke up in my tent in the same clearing.

I trudged back home in silence, returning to my mother’s harsh shouting and a long list of punishments for ‘not coming home last night’. The routine is always the same. Life continues on as usual. Well, almost as usual.

I couldn’t stop thinking about that night in the woods. At first, I thought I had imagined the whole encounter, a result of the stress no doubt. But the tiniest part of me wondered if he was real. He felt real. But eventually, I resign myself to the facts of my hallucination and squelch the last bit of hope inside of me that I could be rescued.

Until a week later when everything came to fruition.

My stepfather chased me down the stairs, narrowly missing my head with the glass in his hand. I fled. I nearly made it out the front door when my arm was wrenched behind me.

“Did you think you could get away with it?!” he screamed. “Keeping money from your mother and me?! Writing in that damn journal of yours. What were you doing?! Writing an account to give to the police?! Who would ever believe you?” He twisted my arm further and further, straining the muscles to a point of deep pain.

He threw me backwards. I stumbled, and he came after me again. “Do I need to teach you another lesson, you dumb bitch?” he shouted in my ear. I tried to stand my ground, but I had never seen him this angry. I involuntarily backed away. “Don’t run away from me, girl!” I watched his fist fly at me…. and then nothing. The next thing I knew, I was on the ground, vision blurry and in complete shock. Hot liquid ran down the side of my face, tracing my jawline.

Nothing I had done up to this point, nothing I had mustered and survived up to this point could have prepared me for this moment. When I hit the ground, all I could think was this was it. I wanted out, and I wanted out now.

A clearly defined snap echoed through the room, and instantly, everything went silent. My stepfather moved in slow motion, reaching behind him to grab another glass bottle, presumably to throw at me. My mother seemed to be yelling at the top of her lungs; her eyes bulged out of her head. Whether it was at him or me, I would never know.

Infernos leaned against the wall in my kitchen. I wasn’t even surprised. Of course, he promised he would be there at my worst moment to offer me one last choice. But he didn’t seem as gleeful as he did then. His mouth was drawn in a tight line, and his eyes flared dangerously. He looked pissed. I shivered in the wake of his anger coming off him in waves.

He stood at my side in a flash. I looked up in a daze. I must have looked frightened because I almost notice his anger receding the slightest bit. His hand touched the side of my head, and in a flash of heat, the blood seeped back into my head as the wound closed. It leaves a thin scar, a memory of his actions and a reminder of why I am where I am. He leaned in close to my ear and said plainly, “Say it.”

I looked up into his eyes. Behind the fury and the sternness, I saw something else. Something protective, more human. It was faint, but compared to this… maybe it would be enough.

I had hesitated too long, apparently, because he growled and hissed again. “Say it.” He turned my chin up to him. “Say it. Let me take you away from here.”

“Now,” he commanded with a growl.

Then, the choice became clear. I don’t think there was ever any other choice for me to make. The temptation for somewhere else, for anywhere else, for safety, for protection, was too strong to overcome.

I nodded.

Tu spondeo mi spirit,” I whispered.

In a flourish of his hand, the world sped back up again. The glass bottle flew from my stepfather’s hand to where I had been on the ground. But it didn’t matter anymore. I was already gone. Gone, on my way to somewhere I desperately hoped wasn’t its own trap. I clung to Infernos’ hand as we rapidly spun through space and light and dark, and things incomparable to all that I have seen, plunging down into another realm.

I promise you, my spirit.


My Experience With NaNoWriMo 2018

Making the decision to take the National Novel Writing Month challenge wasn’t an easy one.

Let’s look at the facts:

Pros:

  1. I have an idea! I’ve been mulling over the same concept and world for nearly ten months, narrowing down the plot, finessing an outline, and building a beautiful world from the ground up. I had all of the preliminary work finished. Now it would just be about writing the story.
  2. I wasn’t involved with too much on campus yet. My afternoons were relatively open depending on how much homework I had.
  3. I really, really loved this idea, and I wanted to make it a reality.

Cons:

  1. I’m a college freshman in the middle of my first semester of college. Classes are beginning to pick up with an increased workload before and after midterms. Did I really have the time to put in?
  2. I had attempted NaNoWriMo several years back and failed miserably. I didn’t want to see myself fail again. I knew if I didn’t succeed this time with this story, my motivation for this story would surely fall and it would disappear on the shelf with the rest of the unfinished ideas.
  3. I didn’t know if I could do it. That’s what stops from me trying a lot of new things. I just don’t know if I can pull anything off. Three cheers for anxiety!

The Decision

Eventually the turmoil came to a head about three days before the first of November. I was sitting at the Caf (one of the cafeterias on campus) with my best friend at college, Roger, where somehow, we end up on the topic of writing. He mentions that he’s got a few ideas and that he’s going to take on the NaNoWriMo challenge himself within the week. Then the decision suddenly seemed easy. If one of my friends was going through the process too, maybe I could find it in myself to dive in headfirst.

This was going to be the most I had ever undertaken creatively. 50,000 words looks very far away when you’re sitting with a blank page and a word count of zero.

But on the eve of the first, I surprisingly felt ready.

November: The Process

Let’s just say the month started off poorly.

I missed class the entire day of the 1st because I was stuck in bed with a terrible migraine unable to move. I was so disappointed; I had been psyching myself up to start writing, and now I was unable to look at a computer screen without my head spinning. Had I already failed before I got a chance to start?

Luckily, by the next morning, I was back to my normal self, and after class, I wrote my first 700 words. I know, not much, but it’s what I could put in at the time. And it boosted my mood immensely. Alright! Now I’ve started!
I wrote over 2500 words the next day. Then another 1000. I found myself getting into a good pattern. I would write whenever I had inspiration, even it was jotting down only a single paragraph. If my inspiration stalled for more than ten seconds, I would immediately highlight over the text I had just written and see how many words it was. Then I would go to the NaNoWriMo website and update my word count. Watching the little blue bar rise closer with every update gave me the energy I needed to keep going.

And the story grew with every word I put down on the page. My characters became full fleshed beings who I manipulated through dangerous situations and honestly, put through quite a bit of hell. I began to see the inklings of the world I was creating although I knew eventually I would need to develop it a little more with the research I had already done. Events connected to each other seamlessly, and I found myself taking the story in a slightly different direction from my original outline. But I followed wherever the characters showed me, and it honestly made for a better story.

About a third of the way into the month, I took a little weekend trip to visit my boyfriend in Dallas. Since we hadn’t seen each other in over three months, I spent every last second I could with him and I did not pick up my laptop to write a single word. I don’t regret it for a minute. But when I came back and looked at my word count bar, I was reminded of how far I had to go and how much I needed to make up. I don’t think I was doubting myself yet, but it definitely was beginning to stress me out.

So what did I do? I became a maniac. I wrote about 3000 words each for four days. Don’t ask me how I accomplished that because to be honest, I don’t remember. Low homework days and a bunch of music, I think. Then I was pretty much back on schedule, now only needing to write 1667 words a day to be on target to reach my goal.

The End of the Road

I reached my goal on November 29. I surpassed my goal on November 29. In 30 days, I wrote 53,001 words. And my novel wasn’t even finished! I wouldn’t finish the last 5000 words until after finals in mid-December.

But I had done it. I had written 50,000 words in a month, and I had created something beautiful that I loved. I sat and stared at my computer in awe for a good ten minutes. I was so proud of what I had accomplished, probably more proud than any singular accomplishment in my life.

My Advice

If you’re thinking about undertaking NaNoWriMo, I want to give you the following advice:

  1. JUST DO IT. Commit. Sign up for an account, and put your name on the list. The only thing that is holding back is fear. It isn’t your ability or your inspiration or your idea maybe not being up to par. It is only fear. It is so much easier to figure out what to do next once you’ve made the decision.
  2. Set aside an hour a day to write. Get yourself on a schedule. You are far more likely to stick with the challenge if your phone dings with a reminder at 2 pm every day to write. And actually listen to your reminders; don’t swipe them away, or you will never finish.
  3. If 1667 words a day seems like a lot to you, break it down. I discovered during the month that I wrote paragraphs that were about one hundred words each. Ten of those, and I had a thousand words. Much easier to stomach in smaller terms.
  4. Feel free to write from any point in your story. Don’t feel like you have to write straight from beginning to end. When I lost inspiration for the forward moving plot, I would skip to the end and start writing chapters in reverse order. (And yes, I did actually meet in the middle in the end.) You may find you reach your word count much more easily if you write where the inspiration leads you rather than trying to force it.
  5. Know that there are thousands upon thousands of writers just like you who are going through the exact same process that you are undertaking. Everyone is in the same boat, whether it’s your first or tenth challenge. Go read the forums if you get discouraged. It really helps boost your confidence.

I hope to see all of you join me for next year’s NaNoWriMo challenge!