December 28, 2014

Projects (Old and New) for the New Year

It has been about a month since I have posted anything and as I sipped my afternoon tea, I decided that today was as good a day as any to update the world on my writing adventures.

My "book cover" 
In November I won NanoWrimo which is in itself a spectacular feat but I feel all the more accomplished considering I started a bit late and made a remarkable come back with the bulk of my manuscript furiously typed during the last week.

During the month of December I have been working on a new project, a semi-historical dystopian piece which explores the history of political unrest in late 18th century France. I am also drawing inspiration from WWII era Germany and both Soviet and modern Russia. Sound confusing? So far, it is placed in a fictional society with limited technology and I am struggling to decide which direction I want to take it in.

When January hits (in just a few days) I will have to return to revising & editing my Nano manuscript which (though it seemed brilliant at the time) is a bit depressing to see how horribly it all came together. (Hint: It really didn't.) Of course I still have my fantasy novel(s) which are crying out to me - please finish us! It is, of course, a massive endeavor which was nearly impossible on a Word Document.With Scrivener now at my fingertips, I am feeling more confident that it is a project I might actually finish.

So here's the breakdown - I have a (~200 pages) Noir / Crime Fiction piece that is in desperate need of revision and restructuring. I have an elaborate 3- piece fantasy set (totaling at ~300 pages though it should be 1,000) which I have not looked at in over two months (probably also in need of deep revisions). There is something just off with the over all timeline and I am still unhappy with the pace it is unfolding.
A grocery store - dozens of shelves
 and a few spare patrons.(1919) 
And finally, there is my most recent piece which is (yet another) piece of [Libertarian ?] fiction though it certainly does not fit well into genre fiction. It is still evolving but briefly put, the main character is living with regret for her involvement in a political movement (led by her brother) which has overthrown the government and launched the nation into a chaotic Socialist mess. She hides away in the countryside but it is no use, the new political sphere permeates all corners of the nation. The protagonist must decide between trying to stop her brother and escaping with her lover. Of course there's a little more to it than that ... I (hope to) examine the flaws of a variety of governmental regimes ranging from Communism to Totalitarian Oligarchies. I am not writing this with a preachy belief that any particular government form is better than another (though I do hold my own beliefs on the issue), rather, I hope that the piece is something that will make people (if only a single person) to question what they believe about the flaws of humanity and our deflection of these issues onto whatever governmental system reigns at the moment. I believe by the end it will likely be speculative dystopian- with gritty salt and a fresh twist.

A simple wooden cottage. 
To be honest, except for historical fiction, I don't really read a ton of genre fiction. I much prefer authors that take the risk to blur lines and draw inspiration from a thousand different directions than those whose work plays too obviously off of the genre staples that came before them. I think this might be an issue later on when I become more serious about seeking publication (that and my "weak platform"). At the moment I am still writing for myself and as such, I aim only to please an audience of one.

I find myself seeking out strange and beautiful images for inspiration. I carefully collect them, then keep them all around me, imagining life as it has been captured in the image. Of course, this is nothing new and I'm sure that tons of writers do the same. I only mention it because I wanted to include two images that have literally inspired about 50 pages of my new project.

November 24, 2014

Nano Wrimo

November is the National Novel Writing Month - a wonderful little challenge where writers from around the globe participate in the hopes of creating something. The goal is to create a 50,000 word manuscript in a single month.
I decided to put my ordinary manuscript(s) aside for the month and take part. Unlike others (who outline before hand, develop their characters, and gather their research, and inspiring images, or perhaps the perfect playlist) I made the decision just two or three days before November the first. I've been writing pretty much everything as I go, "outlining" with only one or two sentences on the next scene (before I quit for the day). My profile can be seen HERE where you can read more about the novel I am working on and even read a sizable excerpt of my first draft.

I'm very far behind and though I doubt that I can "win" this year, I have certainly learned a thing or two about how I work best and how using different methods affect the way I write. I'm usually a nonlinear outliner (what does that mean?) I outline by scenes, not chapters, and skip around from beginning to middle to end. I then have the extra work of stringing everything together and making it have a decent flow. I have found in my (other) writings that it can be difficult to return to some of those necessary scenes and write them in. There is nothing exciting about it since I know everything that will happen in it. On the other hand, if I do not outline at all, I hit days where I must wrack my brain and figure out- what now? I think this works well for the (Neo) Noir piece
I am currently working on. It keeps the suspense moving. I'm finding it unbelievably easier to write from a single POV rather than a multi-POV.
It's Day 24 and I'm supposed to be at 40,000 words ... I'm nearly at 27,000 (which is 113 pages).

I think I'll finish my new project before returning to my trilogy. We'll see.


October 27, 2014

Progress? Yes indeed!

It has been while since I have updated on my adventures of writing. I am now 242 pages in, almost 79,000 words. I have been dedicating nearly equal time to both the first and second portion (I reluctantly call it portion but it will probably end up being something like 2 separate books). This means that though I am essentially writing Book 1 and Book 2 at the same time, I am somewhere close to the half way mark. If I had taken it one book at a time I might be done with # 1 by now. I'm not. But I could have been.
You may be wondering why I would do this. When one book is difficult enough to finish, why elect to do two at the same time. The answer is quite simple. I initially intended to write a single book following the rise and fall of a political (and religious / cultural) faction and the tension between ideologies which, though portrayed as being connected to religion, actually extend deep into the cultures ... a competition between progress and tradition, tolerance and prejudice. This is of course the practical reason why it began initially. I came to realize that, with as complex of a story as I was trying to tell, it would work better slowed down. But this is not the only reason ... after all ... it could just be a massive 800 pages. I don't particularly enjoy so-called "organic" writing only because I am constantly working all directions, going back and forth, adding in a scene early on to set up for something I have decided to do later.

I have things planned quite generally, but I prefer to write from the middle out. Since my middle has now shifted and split, I am still adjusting but when I get an idea for the second or even third portion of the tale, how can I resist from moving forward and jotting down a few scenes here and there?
I try to alternate between editing a chunk and writing one. I am trying to let go of the urge to go back and correct for grammar and beautiful language, looking instead at the story arcs, character development, ensuring there is a healthy dose of prose in and between scenes and such. I think my family is ready for me to be done and some days I feel the same myself. But overall, I enjoy it, filling page after page with words that create powerful images, interesting characters. Perhaps the most satisfying is being able to see your thoughts come to life on paper. I still have a long ways to go but it is very reassuring to see the length increasing, word by word, paragraph at a time.    

August 27, 2014

Moving Forward by Looking Back ...

172 pages now!!! I've been working on making some of the secondary characters more complex. I now have a detailed outline of their pasts which will help me to decide how they react in the present. I've been working to interweave everyone's story line so that the actions, if not the characters themselves, (in each of the three regions) more deeply affect all of the others.
I've also been working on the love triangle
who doesn't love good drama in a book?  

So far, I believe my female protagonist, Clothilde, is the common link between everyone. Which is why I'm leaning towards using a title that shifts the focus away from the realm itself and towards Clothilde. This is of course not to say that there is not a TON of other things going on with each of the characters (their lives do not entirely revolve around her) but they are certainly linked together by their relationships to her (as father, friend, foe, master, lover, etc.)

I want my book to be complex and so I am occasionally drawing inspiration from history though I hope it is more approachable for a modern audience than actual Medieval Literature.

I just wanted to take a moment and update my progress. I wrote almost 3000 words today (well the day is not over so I very well may surpass that) and I was feeling quite content with that. I believe my last update was at the 48000 word point. Currently, I am at 56,037 words (172 PAGES!). Every day my story changes and it has been such a journey even getting to this point. There have been days that I feel like a literary genius (today is one of those days ;D ) and there are others that I look at what I have and feel like I am barely making a dent. But today I have irrefutable proof - I am indeed moving forward and knowing that is a wonderful feeling.    

August 17, 2014

DIY Middle Earth Map Shoes (Lord of the Rings) FOR FREE

One of my sisters showed me some amazing shoes on Etsy with the Middle Earth map painted on them. They were REALLY expensive (over $100) and we're both pretty crafty so we figured we could make them for free with things we already had on hand.

Here's what we used ...

  1. plain canvas shoes (we used Keds)
  2. Art pens or thin markers (we used Manga [sketch] pens from Michael's - sizes .05, .3, & .8)
  3. 3 bags of black tea (I make sure we always have some on hand, you can try coffee if you're not a tea drinker but it will probably dry differently and will give you a different look)
  4. an old wash cloth (to stain the shoes with)
I wanted to make sure I wouldn't run out
of room for the text so I did this first. 
If you begin with beige shoes you're good to go but we started with an old white pair so we needed to adjust the color to make it more "map-like". We filled the kettle and as we waited for it to boil, we dusted off our LoTR books, found the maps and discussed which parts of Middle Earth should be on the shoes [we decided Mordor was a must]. When the tea was done brewing, rather than dipping the whole shoes in, we more or less rubbed the tea on with a cloth [this gave us a bit more control and ensured that they did not get too dark or discolored]. We weren't going for perfect so the slight variations in color actually enhanced the look we were hoping to attain. 

Here it is (finished). I drew the mountains around it.  
I began with the larger print and basically incorporated the rest around it (beginning at the toe and working my way back around the sides & heel). I retraced the larger words to ensure that they were nice and dark. I initially thought it would be easier to draw it all out with pencil first but I quickly discovered that I was able to script smaller with the pens than with a pencil (it was also REALLY hard to erase!)

It was pretty difficult to draw on the shoes as is so I stuffed four or five plastic grocery bags into the toe (you could use newspaper or some socks- as long as it's stuffed in tightly). I made sure to add a bit of detail [trees on one shoe & mountains on the other] to the tongue of each shoe as well so that when they are on there wouldn't be an awkward empty gap. Finally, I laced the shoes (oh! we stained the laces to match) using a bar lace since I figured a standard criss-cross lace would cover up too much detail on the nave [yeah- sorry ... that's a cathedral term- not sure what else to call that portion of the shoe].  

What? You want more pictures? Okay ... here you go :)

These next few are of the Left shoe. They look a tad less impressive since this portion of the map is not quite as intricate as the Southern portion of Middle Earth. Oh! I forgot to take pictures of the heels before I gave them to my sis (whoops!) Sorry.  

Let me know if you decide to make some for yourself! I'd love to know how they come out! 

August 12, 2014

Fantasy Map and a Book Update

I'm now at almost 48,000 words which is about 150 pages. Below is my new map that I've been working on - most of it is  hand drawn but I went back in with Pixlr to fix a few things. With the exception of Katyanka's story line, at the moment, I'm fairly pleased with how everything is progressing (but that tends to happen after a more prolific day).

This past week I've been working on the (Western) political drama portion and the love triangle/sibling rivalry between the three in the East. Most of it has been in the form of structural changes and hardcore tweaking of my outline. No I'll just have to go back and fill it in. I've also been working on developing the characters more deeply (giving quirks and complex motivations).    

July 29, 2014

A bit about my new book ...

Whoot-Whoot! I'm now a college graduate - an esteemed alumna. Lately I have shifted from writing short stories to working on my novel- thus I have not been posting what I write. I have been playing with the idea of writing a book for awhile now, the idea developed slowly beginning with an interest in high school which (to my genuine shock) remained and continued through college. My exposure to Medieval literature as well as Fantasy film gave me the idea to turn my Eastern European tale into something less contemporary in nature.

Many of the Fantasy elements I am using are inspired by
Medieval texts such as the Aberdeen Bestiary
(rather than) the genre fall backs of dragons, dwarves, & elves
As of late last night, I am now 119 pages into my Historical Fantasy Fiction novel(s). I was originally planning on writing just one but once I got started filling out the blank white pages with those magical little things called words, I realized that my story has become much more complex than I expected and would probably work better if I slow the plot down and allow the characters to develop in a more timely (and endearing) fashion.

There are a variety of characters and personalities including
Vladonik Svanek- the stubborn farmer and former fighter, caring for his own children and those of his wife on the family property in the East
Ivan Svanek- (Vladonik's little brother) - spontaneous & carefree, with a passion for both love & revenge,
Katyanka Kozlov-  the strong independent woman whose greatest fear is that she will be forgotten
[I have to work on developing her more deeply as right now she feels like the Bran of my story who is there but without too much going on (why, yes that is a Game of Thrones reference)] She is of peasant birth but tries to climb the social ladder.
Rolf Thaygrin - an ambitious Western Duke with his eye set on the throne
Mercovena Thaygrin- the multiethnic daughter of Rolf, part of the Ancient bloodline, a (white) witch of sorts, quiet and generally easy going (though feisty). She is of noble birth but accepts a stoic philosophy as she travels East to escape persecution ... [she is one of my favorites and holds a disproportionate amount of focus which I must work to balance more in revision]

These are the primary individuals which (at least the first and second portion of) the book revolves around though of course there are many more characters which appear including nosy and prying neighbors, scheming in-laws a suicidal wife, adopted children, a racist queen, The Guard of Haethon Hall- (Rolf's right hand men who can never seem to agree with one another) both the loyal and honorable Raudavik and the loyal but dishonorable Galerith.
Right now I am writing it in the Third Person Limited point of view - alternating between focus on the main characters listed above. [I am thinking of altering my approach to combine Third Person Limited with Third Person Omniscient but I'll know more once I finish the initial manuscript(s).] Everyone's story overlaps and interlocks like delicate threads which together weave an intricate tapestry of life and struggle within the kingdom.

The themes and messages behind my writings depend on the way the reader views it. In my opinion, it is Historical Fiction with Fantasy elements - as such, it doubles as an allegory for Pagan/ Catholic relations with a range of approaches to Religious conflict from passive tolerance, outright discrimination, Pope St. Gregory the Great's-style of integration and everything in between. I am trying to craft it carefully so that rather than being (Historical) Fantasy Fiction it is instead Historical (Semi-fantastical) Fiction. But to the individual viewing it as belonging to the genre of Fantasy first, the aforementioned historical allusions are likely to be lost and it will likely appear to be thematically Libertarian or else not noticed at all (though really I suspect only the 50 Shades & Twilight crowds would not notice these things when reading).
A very rough preliminary map / geography diagram
I'm currently working on something more detailed & substantial 

The story itself is a tale of ethnic and religious (therefore cultural) tensions in a kingdom where two dominant religions reign (with 2 sects in each - so really 3 or 4 religions) between roughly two to five cultures (depending on how one divides it) each which creates a sort of continuum of political ideologies representing a mixture of both traditional Liberal values (with "big government" policies) and Conservative/Libertarian values ("small government" with an emphasis on municipalities or something comparable to state's rights and of course lower taxes). I am a stoic at heart and so I think some of that philosophy also flavors the text in some places (especially towards the middle).
At the moment I am faced with the task of figuring out how to keep all of the story lines advancing at a somewhat even pace. I am currently trying to avoid huge gaps in time - each chapter takes place over the course of a few weeks (in some cases a few days) but I either need to add a ton to middle of the book or else to jump several years.

Well - that's all I'll say for now. I have quite a bit to work on today - I feel decently motivated today so I'm setting the goal for either 1200 - 2000 words or four pages of outline & some much needed structure work.           

June 18, 2014

Vladonik : A semihistorical fiction short story

This is an adapted and condensed version of the first several pages of a manuscript I've been working on. I was quite pleased with the rough draft but everyone was asked to make "radical revisions" to make it entirely new. I ended up changing it from third person (which I liked WAY better) into alternating first person (which I am significantly less pleased with). I was asked to add another scene (and I did) along with some fine adjustments and a more concrete ending (and I did) but I don't like it either. This is the end result and what I turned in for my Literature final. Commentary is welcome.
            Outside the sun was blistering. With the heat of the bodies, the stale stench of sweat, blood, and wet dirt in the air, the underground fighting rings exceeded the scorching temperatures up above.
            The young man opposite of me was thin and wiry but what he lacked in size, he made up for in speed and precision. A mixture of blood and sweat dripped down my forehead as my long limbs stumbled to regain balance. Today I was fighting Crispin, a new acquaintance I had met just a week prior. I liked him. I knew that in a different time and place, under different circumstances we probably would have been friends. Not today. Not right here. Not now. Another blow landed upon my face before I could manage to raise my hands and block it. The crowd roared.
I could not afford to lose this fight. I had to win or my loan would not be repaid. My family’s land would be lost. My brothers might starve. And for the sake of my pride, even worse, my father would be proven right. My father, Sven Svanek, had warned me not to accept money from the nobles. Father warned me not to fight, too. Of course I would not listen. I had been a fool but there was still time for redemption as long as I could win this fight. I simply could not lose. Not again. 
            For a brief second, Crispin paused to catch his breath. The timing was perfect. I caught him by surprise. A single hit was all it took for Crispin to freeze – a standing target. I struck him in the face repeatedly until the thin boy’s bony nose cracked and seeped scarlet colored blood upon his parted and gasping lips. As the young man’s spidery fingers were instinctively raised to his face, I struck him in the chest and stomach. Finally, he went down. He fell to the floor writhing in pain and struggling for breath. With ruthless bloodlust, the small crowd now riled, screamed “Finish him!” It was already clear that I would win the match. There was no need for me to continue. Reynard Ehkran, my boss, met my gaze and nodded expectantly for me to comply with the crowd’s wishes. There was no place for mercy in the Thuringian Fights—least of all when the crowd begged for more.    
            Reluctantly, I knew what I must do in order to receive my pay. I prayed that the gods would understand and excuse my excess for the sake of the situation which had risen. Peering down at the young man, whose blood had now begun to pool on the damp earth beneath our tired feet, I summoned the will to continue. A fierce cry rose up out of me as I brought my fists down upon his new acquaintance. I hit him over and over again, praying he would give up soon. Finally, Crispin’s body went limp—he had been rendered unconscious. I stood, raising my hands victoriously above my head. I forced my lips to turn upward into a large grin though I would have much rather cried for the throbbing of my face, the bruises covering my skin, the dull pain emanating from my knuckles, and the damage I had savagely dealt to my opponent for trivial pleasure of my boss.  
            Reynard sauntered over and clapped his hand upon my back. He stood there smiling at the crowd as if the outcome of the fight had been his own work. With his fat hand gripping my dirty shoulder, he leaned in and quietly stated “Well done, Vladonik. Well done indeed.” The fat man, a former fighter, the so-called patron and master of the Thuringian Fights, was quite pleased that I had taken the cue and given the crowd an entertaining fight.
            I was filled with an odd mixture of rage and pride. It was said that I was the best of all the newcomers – I was called “Vlad: The Eastern Beast”.
            When the fight was finished and the daily earnings were distributed, I limped back to Reynard’s establishment, the Thuringian Inn, where I had taken lodging all summer. The season was over. I had made as much money in a single season as the farm would produce in two. I was scarcely more than sixteen years of age but, Timofrey, my older brother, had managed to convince our family that I would be capable of making the two day journey from Romavek, our village, to Thuringia, one of the largest cities in the Eastern Lands. 
            Each of my fingers and wrists had been sprained at least once. My knuckles were scraped and scarred. My body ached.
            While other young men fought for fame, an opportunity to move to the Middle Lands and manage slave fights, or to impress a local lover, while I was in the ring, I thought of nothing but my family. Every punch was so my little brother, Ivan, would have something to eat. Every hit blocked was for the honor of my dying mother. Though my father did not condone it, I even wanted to win for him too. I would be devastated if the home of my ancestors was lost without a fight—and so I took to fighting. Every drop of blood and bead of sweat was my sacrifice to prove my love and loyalty to the Svanek family—a sacrifice I was not asked to make but was gladly willing to accept.     

            “Don’t forget the bread. You always burn it” John told me as he leaned against the wall. I rushed over to the stone oven pulled out the little loaves. He was right, I would have burned them. “Mercovena, don’t forget the ale and mead. A man can’t live without it. That’s a fact.” John said from the corner of the room. With one hand on my hip, I waived the rolling pin in the air, pointing directly at him. “Had you gone without it a little more, you’d probably still be alive.”    
            The kitchen door opened and Father came inside, his eyes scanned the kitchen. “Damn it! Are you talking to yourself again, Mercovena? You need to stop that.” I pretended not to notice but I could feel the burn of his judging eyes as they studied me. “Don’t you want to remarry? You know I’m just trying to help” he said. He continued talking. I continued trying to ignore him but I could not. I turned my back to him and began to flour my stone worktable. As I became more irritated the dough I had been rolling was pressed harder and flatter until finally it was too thin to use. I scraped it up and set it aside. It would have to wait until I was ready to start again.
            Tears began to well behind my eyes. The dough looked pathetic and out of place sitting on the table. It was a sad and disappointing lump, limp and lifeless. The table was nice. Much nicer than the one I had with John. But it was not mine. Not really. Nothing here was anybody’s. It all belonged to Father. We all belonged to Father.
            Clothilde, one of the Inn’s hired hands, pushed the heavy kitchen door open. She had been chattering about something but stopped midsentence when she saw I was not alone. “Master Ehkrin,” she bowed, “the boys are getting restless, sir. I promised I’d ask, it being the last day and all, can we serve them supper a bit early?”
            “We’ll finish this later” he told me, completely ignoring Clothilde as he left the room.
            Clothilde helped me with the trays and plates. She lifted the basket of warm bread and peeked inside. “These smell great! And you didn’t burn any this time!” Clothilde said with an innocent smile on her face. We made our way to the banquet room.            
            The fighters, young men from all corners of the region, sat together on long wooden benches. The contracts for next season were being passed around. Even though many of them could not read, a handful of men gathered in cluster arguing over the proper spelling of their names. Some were filled with disappointment as they loosened their purse strings and peered down at the handful of coins they had left. Others boasted of their earnings and plans of brothels and drunken vacations. One young man did not join the others at all. Lost deep in thought, he sat on one of the rough wooden benches which he had moved towards the edge of the room. I heard people called him “the beast” but there did not appear to be anything beastly about him. I had seen him before but we had never talked. I set some bread upon his plate and refilled his cup with ale. “Oh. No, thank you. I’ve probably had more than enough already” he said kindly.
            “Somehow I doubt that” I leaned in close and whispered “Father makes us water it down before we serve it. But you didn’t hear that from me.” He laughed. I sat on the bench beside him. “Your purse looks full. You must have done well this season. So tell me, sir, what do you have to be so sad about?” 
            “It’s not ‘sir’. I’m the son of a farmer. It’s just ‘Vladonik’.” he said as he extended his hand for me to shake. 
            He explained that he wanted to be home, to put this all behind him, he had made enough to clear his debts but he wanted to return next season as well. He was conflicted. The papers made their way towards us.. “You’ll have to make your choice. Every year we get more and more people. Sign up if you want a place to stay.” I told him.
            Vladonik seemed nice, not like the other men in the room. He seemed like somebody I could get along with, a rare thing. “Sometimes your family won’t understand you. Sometimes there are things we have to do just for ourselves” I stated confidently as I saw John standing behind him. The papers were handed to him. He took a deep breath, and smiled at me as he lightly bit his bottom lip and pressed the quill to the paper. Vladonik Svanek he scratched out.  
            I bid him farewell and gathered the contracts to give to my father. My dead husband whispered in my ear “He’s a little young for you. But you might make a nice couple. Reynard wants you married. You’d best choose your own husband before he chooses one for you.” 

            It was not until the second season of fighting that I discovered this profession was not as easy as I had expected. My motivations having shifted from survival to luxury, despite my larger size and increased skill, lacked the passion and adrenaline necessary to relentlessly win without injury. By half-way through my second season, I had won just as many fights as he had lost. Even my victories were bittersweet and not so easily enjoyed as they now came with pain and injuries.

            It was already dark when my eyes fluttered open. I had awoken with that strange sensation that I was home but as my eyes adjusted to the dim light and the strange shapes around the room became clearer, I knew this was not the case. Thus I was faced with the overwhelming disappointment of realizing I was still in Ehkrin’s lodge. It would seem this alone was not enough, for fate also brought me the deep and lasting pain borne by those that have known defeat wrought by the bare and bloodied fists of another. So, as I lay on his little bed in the center of my small, private quarters, with my body aching, my cheek scraped open, my nose broken, dried blood crusted upon my face and chest, and eyes surveying the room, there was a faint knock on the door.
            “Come in,” I instructed. The iron hinges squeaked as the large wooden door to the room was slowly forced open. It was a heavy and stubborn door, one that required a bit of effort to pry open. With some difficulty, I left my bed and pulled the door as the person outside pushed. Suddenly, it flew open and Mercovena was flung into the little room where she landed upon me, heightening my already excruciating pain. She apologized profusely as she helped me off the floor and produced a candle from her apron pocket. The white little stick of wax was lit. Even in the dim light of the candle, I could not hide my injuries from Mercovena. She wrapped my arm around her shoulder, “Here, lean on me,” she told me, “I’ll help you back to bed.” I obeyed.  
            Mercovena disappeared for a few minutes, almost long enough for me to doze off. When she reappeared in the doorway, her arms were filled with a wash basin, fresh white cloths, and a little sewing set. Mercovena calmly sat beside me as she cleaned and sewed shut my grotesque open wounds.
            When she finished, she washed her hands and reached into her pockets to pull out a folded scrap of paper. It was not the thick white pages sewn into books or the brown scraps women used to record their recipes and secrets. It was thin, coarse, and cheap; every letter scratched out onto its surface left thick black blobs bleeding through the backside. She handed it to me. “I found it on my father’s desk. I snatched it before he could open it. I’ve had it few a days, trying to find the right time to give it to you.” she explained.
            The paper would scarcely cooperate as Vlad rushed to untie the twine knotted around it. His brother Timofrey’s handwriting was scrawled across the page.
Father’s health is failing. Mother has not improved. You need not be alarmed. I was going to wait until you returned but Ivan made me promise that I would tell you. It is not fair for me to ask but I must. Please, spend your money wisely, we may need it soon.
Oh! Father says “Make haste and win that woman over already. You aren’t getting any younger!” 
            Mercovena must have noticed my change in expression, she was always good at reading me. She asked about the content of the letter. I looked at the paper once more, debating on how much to reveal. I read it out loud, making sure to omit the last few lines. Mercovena reached for my hand and placed it in hers.
            Together we sat his bed in the dark, holding hands, our bodies close to one another. Together we fell silent. Eventually, Mercovena stood and immediately returned. She informed me that her father, Reynard Ehkrin, wished to meet with me in the private area of the Inn.
            I rose to meet her at the door. As we lingered, in the soft glow of the candlelight, we whispered to one another. I was nervous; I could not help but wonder why her father would request an audience with me. I worried and wondered if I would be sent home early given the extent of my injuries.
            Carefully and slowly, I descended the creaking steps of the wooden stair case. At the end of the hall, light shone from the crevice of the opened door. There Ehkrin sat scribbling numbers in columns of his ledger hunched over the wooden table and a cup of ale.

            “I sent the girl to bring you, what took you so long?” I asked as I glanced up from my book. “It just took me a little while to get down the stairs, sir; that was all.” Vladonik said. He sat on the smooth wooden chair beside me. “Your daughter’s quite beautiful, sir, and sews an open wound well, if I might say so. I haven’t a wife yet,” he continued, shakily, “but I should imagine I’d like mine to be like her.”       
            I stared at the young man suspiciously. “What are you trying to say, boy, my girl’s too good for the likes of you. Ha! A fighter wanting to marry me only daughter. I think not, lad!” Vladonik’s cheeks reddened and his eyes widened in embarrassment. “No, Master Ehkrin, I think you misunderstand me, sir. I said I would like a wife like your daughter, sir, not that I want your daughter as my wife.”
            “Aye, so now you’re too good for her? Is that it lad?” I teased the young man. He looked like he was close to fainting. Unnerving him was almost too easy. He was taking some of the fun out of it.  
            I ignored the farm boy as he rattled on and on without stopping for a breath of air. He was what people would call an “honest man”. Usually I would say a “stupid man” but it would not hurt to have my daughter with a kinder and gentler soul than the last man. I would need a man willing to take care of her, not just marry her. After John’s death I had given only an occasional thought to having my daughter remarry but the local Thuringian men sensed that she was crazy and I generally kept her away from the young men I patronized.
            “Would you want to marry her? Given the chance?” I asked.
            “Oh, yes sir! She is wonderful and I would like nothing more than to do that. I believe we would both like that. If I might be so bold, sir” Vladonik said.
            I berated him “She’s a bit old for you isn’t she? What is this? Who marries a woman their own age? We aren’t savages. You’re a strange boy, you know that?”
            “Yes, sir, I have been told that before” Vlad admitted
“I don’t know if I want my Mercovena with a weirdo” I trailed off, hoping to bait the boy. “Please sir, I’m not that weird. I’m just a little different. Different in a good way though.” Vladonik rambled on in an attempt to redeem his chances.
            I entertained the idea with feigned resistance hoping Vladonik will make an offer without asking for a dowry or inheritance. Fighter or not, the son of a farmer should count himself lucky to marry a woman with a good family.  
            The light in the room began to dim until it faded into utter darkness. The candles on the table had been consumed and they would need more should they wish to see each other’s faces.
I push Vladonik towards the adjoining room and sit near the fireplace with a cup of ale each. Vlad’s cheeks redden more and more with every sip he took. The boy looked as if he knew he should stop but did not have the courage to talk without it. I did nothing to slow him down either. I had nothing to lose from loosening the wits of the young man before him. At last, I had found a young man that I could coax into marrying my crazy, aging, daughter. 
            The door burst open. A tall man just a few years older than Vladonik rushed in followed by a lad a several years younger. Vlad stood immediately and rushed over to them “Timofrey! Ivan! What are you doing here?” he asked. “Father and Mother have died. We’ve come to bring you home.” the tall one explained in a deep voice.
            “You can’t” I protested thinking quickly for an excuse. “He signed a contract, he must pay me if he wants to leave before the season has ended.” I had him.
            “Surely you can waive that rule, he isn’t running away, our parents are dead. We need him home. Now” Timofrey said calmly. “But, if I waive the rules for him I would have to do it for everyone.” I insisted. “There is an arrangement we could make though. Vladonik and I were just discussing his interest in my daughter, Mercovena. I’ll allow him to break his contract only if he agrees to a marriage without a dowry. All the wedding costs would be your responsibility.”
            “That’s fine” Timofrey said without hesitation. He turned to Vladonik and instructed him to pack his belongings, they would leave at dawn.

            In all the commotion, Mercovena had entered the room, unnoticed until now. “Pack your things. You’re going to Romavek where you’ll wed Vlad” I told her before leaving the room.  

June 7, 2014


No new story this week... well I have one but I won't be posting it until later. It needs LOTS of revisions and I am completely and radically reworking it. To keep myself sane I've been doing lots of creative writing on the side (mostly in the form of a super rough manuscript that's only 1/2 done and may take an additional year after that just to edit).

Anyway- for my Lit final there was no prompt (yay!). I decided I would make it easier on myself and use some characters I had already created. I'm taking the first several pages of my book & converting it into a short story. Unfortunately, I missed a few things in conversion (which were explained more explicitly in the manuscript). I now have to devise a new ending, change the POV, "develop" a character which was supposed to be developed in the following chapter, and clean the grammar up. (English is my first language but you'd never guess it by reading through my first drafts!)

So ... a new short story IS coming which is actually not so short [about 5X the length of others I have posted].

I haven't updated my comic this week (again). I was working on a splash page but its taking longer than I thought. Everything should settle down in a few weeks & I'll try to make a few pages ahead of time so this sort of thing doesn't happen so often.     

May 12, 2014

New Comic Page!

NEW COMIC PAGE! Here's what I started with - I ended up putting a bit of color in it & rearranging the bottom panel. Looking at it again I think I actually like it better as black and white - I haven't gotten the hang of color yet maybe I should stop trying and work on developing my other skills first.   

I think I need to use more detail in the larger panels and in general (around the center of the page) - use a greater number (and smaller) panels. I don't really read superhero style comics- I really like Mike Mignola's work with large simple frames that don't distract the eyes or manipulate the story too much. Of course my art work is nowhere near Mignola's and I don't have the incredible Dave Stewart as a colorist so I don't know but I get the feeling that it just makes my stuff end up looking more like an American trying to do Manga.  

In the next few pages I'm going to start trying to work on creating more complex backgrounds - soon they'll be traveling back in time (yay!) or maybe even forward? We'll see - but as soon as they're out of the Church I'll try to put them in more visually intricate places. What do you think- color or no color? To the right, here is what I ended up posting. As always I could definitely have edited it more and made it much better but I get tired, bored, and past my (personal) deadline- I get to where I just want to post it already! [and I do ... even though it may or may not be entirely done]. 
I feel like this bottom panel here was really working well- if only I had though to cut off part of the one above it and include a head- or else to place a shadow on his shoulders from the panel overlapping it ... I Gaussian Blurred the Dalek to the right- can you tell?

May 11, 2014

An Apocalypse Short Story (without zombies)

This one's from last week - I forgot to post it. That's okay though since we don't have an assignment this week... The prompt for this was 2 - 3 pages in the present or future with the topic of the End of the World - a focus placed on Scene and Exposition. [Its a "cult".]

The End Brings New Beginnings
 Lilly sits alone in the bath tub, stretching out like a lazy cat. Her body is wet and so is her face. The water sloshes around as she tries to stand and dry herself, her balance thrown off by her huge pregnant belly. The simple white dress Robert chose for her lay limp and slightly wrinkled upon the white ceramic of the sink. The other women will probably iron theirs, crafting a neat and perfectly presentable appearance but Lilly is eight months pregnant and exhausted. She believes God will understand. 
The dress is long, several inches below her knees, but it is sleeveless. There is a breeze today and as Lilly peeks out the window, she sees that already the sky is turning a somber slate, not blue but not quite grey either it lingers in between as the clouds begin to swirl high above. She will have to wear her sweater. Her sweater is cream, not white. Robert wants the women to wear pure white but it looks cold outside and the dingy discolored sweater will have to do. The dark haired woman pulls the cotton cloth over her mass of wet curls. She has to tug at the lace trim which clings to her wet stomach, refusing to lie properly. She planned on braiding her hair but her baby moves around inside of her and as she looks at her reflection in the glass of the window, wishing she had a real mirror, she decides it does not matter. God will understand.  

It is late in the afternoon, dusk, and the end is near, just moments away. By now, almost everyone is here, outside the tall red barn an acre south of the compound chapel. Some chatter excitedly, others are silent and gazing at the sky which grows greyer with every passing second. 
The wind blows gently through Jennifer’s tresses. She is nearly fifteen years younger than him. The world outside the compound would never understand their relationship but she is convinced that it is true love. Robert is a prophet after all, the holiest man in the compound, probably in the whole world. He is a modern-day Noah, chosen to gather his family before the End. There will be no ark, no dry land or olive branch, no repopulation, but tonight they will be ready for what is to come.
 Robert pulls Jennifer close and kisses her on the cheek. The rough little hairs on his face that normally scratch against her skin are gone. Today, he is not a scruffy homesteader like usual.  Today, her husband is different, like a man from the city, neat and clean with freshly shaven skin and hair slicked back to look his best for when the time came. The End of Time. His lightly wrinkled skin pulls gently over his prominent cheekbones as he smiles with pride. “It’s coming, my love,” he whispers softly into her ear, “just like we knew it would.” A complacent sigh flows forth from his lips as Robert wraps one arm around Jennifer’s hips and clutches the chubby cheek of her older sister, Sara, with his other. “Today, my dear, you shall be with me in Paradise,” his broad shoulders tower over the young women as he leans down and kisses Sara’s forehead. Jennifer looks away. His strong scent of sweat and pine linger in the air and Jennifer is glad to be at his side. Though she struggles to suppress her jealousy, she is grateful for God’s providence that she can share these final moments with Sara and Robert, of course. Of his twenty-something wives, his two favorites, the sisters, cling to his sides. 
Jennifer cannot bring herself to look anywhere but into the eyes and face of the prophet, her lover. Still, Jennifer wishes it was just her and Robert – alone in their final moments together.

            April sits compliantly on the kitchen counter as she waits for her mother June to finish. June is opening and closing cupboards, looking for something, anything that might be useful either to eat or sell. Water flows over the side of the jars and into the sink as June fills a few and stuffs them into her bag. For a few seconds, it sounds as if water is sloshing around. She peeks at the jars but the meniscus is still and the sound continues. Perhaps it was upstairs, she worries, but it is too late, nobody should be in the house. Not tonight. It is nearly dark and she knows, by now, everybody should be dressed in white, standing around outside singing hymns and waiting for Jesus, on the hill behind the barn. She could already see dozens of candles lit in the distance. It will take a few days to notice she was gone. Maybe by then they will know Robert is a phony and they will leave too, she thinks to herself.
Anxiety washes over June in waves. This would be her only chance to leave. She could not shake the doubts that plagued her mind for months. She could feel it, whenever he spoke. It rose up from deep within her, like a tiny voice rising from the pit of her stomach. Robert is not a prophet. She feels it now, and as she tosses a bag over her shoulder and puts April on her hip. The floor creaks. The child smiles and waves. June whips around to see who it is. Lilly.  

The women are quiet. Lilly helps her find the coffee can in the cupboard. She pulls out a few bills and pushes them into June’s reluctant hands. “For a bus, or a motel.” Lilly says as she fidgets with her cream colored sweater. They hug each other tightly before stepping out into the night. 

April 28, 2014

The Anguish of Anxiety - A Swedish Short Story

The prompt for this one was unusual. We were given a list of characters/objects [a nervous teacher, a coal miner with twin daughters, a discredited physicist, an unused musical instrument, a kaleidoscope (etc.)] and a list of places [A broken-down playground, a small-town zoo, a box, a frozen foods factory, a secret underwater lab etc.] ... we had to pick 2 from each list and write a story based on that where Character A tells some sort of confession / conversation about their past to Character B. As usual, we have a 2 page cut-off [roughly 600 words]. 

I got some very confused responses as to where it was taking place- though I hoped it was obvious, in case you are not familiar with the cultural references (names, places, food, inclusion of fathers in assumptions of stay-at-home parenting, language, & even preferred mode of transportation ... I thought this would be enough clues to capture the cultural context but I guess not). It takes place in Sweden.  Enjoy! 

The Anguish of Anxiety
As I sit down at the blue picnic table in the schoolyard, a breeze begins to blow. It pushes against the rusty old swing-set and makes it creak eerily. I was already feeling anxious but the cries of the metal in the wind and the sight of the playground, normally so full of cheerful little bodies throwing balls, sharing secrets, and living without worries, all of it is gone right now. I am done for the day. 
The bell rang nearly an hour ago permitting the children to run into their mother’s and father’s open arms, waving their art projects about, vying for their parent’s attention and affection. By now they would probably be at home enjoying a warm plate of fish and knäckebröd- crispy rye crackers. Wherever they are, throughout the village, the children and their parents, they do not know what I do. They live with smiles and perfect contentment, never knowing the danger I have brought to their quiet little town. Yes, me, Ana Nelson, the local kindergarten teacher- the innocuous-looking, pale woman with thick blonde braids with a past darker than a winter night.
Today, like every day, I smiled, concealing my anguish, and waved to the other teachers as they mount their bikes and disperse in every direction. They don’t know either. Nobody knows but me and Mikel, the little kaleidoscope I keep in my pocket. 
            I reach my hand deep into the pocket of my heavy coat and produce him. As I wipe some smudges off his side I whisper to him softly “They’ll be coming for us.” Mikel does not respond. “I don’t know who will come first but they will definitely be coming.” And nobody will be safe.
            With one eye squeezed shut I peer into my friend and companion, little Mikel. He was a gift from Mormor, the mother of my mother, who told me it possessed both the deepest and simplest of all magic. In a sense this was not entirely untrue, Mikel, could brighten any day. As I look into the little metal tube, I give it a twist, trying to distract myself from my overwhelming thoughts. The tiny shapes dance around inside. It is beautiful and reminds me of the Northern Lights, but today it gives me no comfort so I set it down beside me on the children’s blue table.
            “I’m sorry, Mikel. This whole mess was my fault and now I’m dragging you into it too.” The wind blows and sends a shiver down my spine. “When I took that research job I thought we were going to Stockholm, maybe even London, or Prague. I had no idea there was even such a thing as aquatic subterranean research facilities.” The wind blows harder. Mikel moves across the table, silent and ignoring me, he even rolls over to face the opposite direction.
            Why were we even there? I thought it was just a tech-company. They are known for the controversial testing but what could be so secretive that the researchers themselves are forbidden from leaving on threat of death? Would they really kill me? Just for leaving?
            “Ignore me all you want, Mikel. When they find us I’ll make sure you end up as scrap metal” I tell the little metal object harshly. What if they come for me during class? When I am with the children? When I am sleeping? When I am in the grocery store? Or in the bathroom? Or doing dishes? Or folding laundry?... What about the people in town? Will they be safe? Oh, God! They don’t even know.

“Perhaps we should just go back.” Mikel shines in agreement. 

April 23, 2014

Beauty & the Beast : A Modern Stockholm Syndrome “Love Story”

Our prompt here was to create a retold version of a classic / fairy tale. Naturally I chose Beauty and the Beast but I wanted to make it a little darker (as if it were a German rather than French story). Belle is deluded and reinterprets some of what (we, the audience - aware of the traditional story, know to be true ... such as the fact that she is not there by choice etc.) 

Beauty and the Beast – A Modern Stockholm Syndrome “Love Story”
“Beast” I called him. For indeed that is what he seemed to me at first. Ghastly, and despicable, but time has healed our tensions. Time has transformed my ability to understand the truth- I made the lonely journey through depression to the softer lands of toleration to a love so passionate and pure the sun itself burns in envy. A love like ours will last unrivaled until the end of time itself.
Master’s home is enormous, as big and grand as something you’d see on TV. When I met my love, I had just lost my job and my lease expired- given the choice between being homeless and living with “Beast”, it seems like a pretty obvious choice. How could I ever decide otherwise? Now that I have come to know him, I never want to leave his side!
Initially I thought he was crazy. I eventually came to realize my master is simply eccentric- a man who carries the troubles of world upon his shoulders and the burdens of an artist in his heart. Beast swore the house was magical. He wanted a muse to help him with his art but only one that could hear the voices, see the colors, feel the magic lingering in the air. Confused, I listened, trying to understand. He told me to go to the wardrobe and pick an outfit- whatever “spoke” to me. I didn't understand but I complied. I began to browse and came across a yellow dress – it was perfect – almost as if it was calling my name – I told him this and he was pleased, he stroked his beard as he always does when he is beaming. “I’d hoped you’d picked that one. The voices, you can hear their magic?” There was no voice, just intuition, but I did not want to disappoint him, my master, and so I lied and said I heard it. He was pleased with me that day and most days after that. It was sometime after that I stopped resisting him – if he asked me to wash his paint brushes for him – I’d do it without complaining. Make coffee, change the sheets, clean the dishes, it does not matter to me so long as he remains satisfied with my work.
There’s rules of course, like his soft leather bound journal with the little roses etched on the cover. I’m not supposed to look at it– his words moved me made me crossed into his world- could see it from his eyes. Once he caught me with it in hand, it would have been hard to deny that I was reading it- I didn't even try. My master’s face grew long with disappointment, as if I had committed some heinous act of treason against him and all he held to be dear. He ran his fingers through his long hair. This was my fault. Master told me not to look at it and I disobeyed him. I did not mean to offend him.
           Truly, there was no singular, defining moment. My change of heart was a gradual process- forgetting all I knew and loved, my Saturday morning runs in the park, the opera, Friday night crochet club– and accepting my new reality with stoic contentment. Of course, being with Master, I managed to escape other horrors of the world- like the relentlessly flirtatious Mr. G. Aston across the hall in 32B, girl scouts, and of course public transportation.  
Slowly, as I watched him day by day, at first looking to escape but later for signs of his affection, I felt the ground slip from beneath me- like a cliff eroding, pebble at a time. The taste of the words I used to insult him, mocking him with “Beast” and “Master”, had changed on my tongue from honey to ash. How could I be so cruel to- overlook his love for me and lash out with hateful words against him? I still use these, he has yet to correct me with a legal name, and insists on calling me “Belle” rather than Isabelle. Still, every time these words flow off my tongue I take caution so as to give it a nature half as noble as he, my loving master. I would like to stay with him here— together for all time.    

April 19, 2014

Life's Disappointments- Another Perspective

This week's prompt was to rewrite one of our old short stories from the perspective of another character. I took into account some of the comments made by classmates in workshop and tried to give Megan a more likable personality. [Somehow everyone thought she was racist ...?] It may be interesting to reread the other version first. -Enjoy!

Life’s Disappointments- Megan’s View

How to Make the Most out of Your Life! A Guided Journey through Self Discovery –Part One Chapter One: Appreciation…  It can be easy to overlook the many things in life which are …

The tin bell rings as the door is shoved open. The middle aged lady slides into a booth. Another customer. My book will have to wait. I look around. What a dump. It was never like this when Harold was alive. My dear husband ran this place beautifully, with the delicate precision of clockwork. I’m trying the best I can but can never seem to get anywhere. I’ve just about had it- between incompetent employees, the coffee machine always in need of repair, the broken dishwasher, and the customers. They have no respect. They never seem to care, spilling their coffee and sugar and crumbs in all corners of the little shop, the teens carving their names into my tables and benches or scratching it into the bathroom mirrors. I underline appreciation. I need to work on that. The clock ticks high up on the wall, it is getting late. My feet are killing me. My knuckles are sore and raw from scrubbing.  
            I stuff my cleaning rag into the deep pocket of my apron. It’s dirty again. My apron. “Can I get you something, honey?” I ask politely. She informs me she’s waiting for someone. I miss that, having someone to come.
My book in one hand, my dingy bleach rag in the other, I return to the counters…
On the page below, write a list of the things you are grateful for… 1) I’m alive 2) I’m not dead 3) I’m not a ginger. 4) … this is tougher than I thought. Perhaps I really do lack appreciation.        
The wretched bell chimes again. When will my day be done?  I swipe the pad and paper off the counter and swiftly shove it into my pocket. I toss the bleach-soaked rag onto the counter in its place but the scent still lingers. It clings to my skin, my clothes, my hair. It just clings.
            The machine is broken and the filters hardly filter, I warn. They ignore me and order coffee anyway. With furrowed brows and a silent tongue I fetch their drinks. The customer is always right. Especially when they aren’t.
            The women are somber and hardly speak, except to one another. Each one mid-thirties, they sit together and talk quietly in a mix of Spanish and English.  I retreat to my little spot behind the counter. Like every day, I just want to read and be alone. The old man does not seem to notice. The late afternoon light shines on his greasy head. He leans in over his half eaten sandwich as he speaks. I nod politely as the grouchy old man mutters something about the weather and everything not being like it used to. “Yeah, I hear ya’,” I force a smile. My eyes immediately find my husband’s picture on the wall. “You’re right. Nothing ever stays the same.” I say with a sigh.
            “No, no, no.” he insists, shaking his head fiercely. “I mean that,” he tilts his head, motioning towards the women, “the immigrants. They’ve changed everything!” he rambles between bites. I turn my back to him and roll my eyes. What an idiot. I can see in the reflection of the toaster that one of the women in the booth has raised her middle finger in response. His face is filled with shock and I must suppress my laughter. With a single motion, he stands, tosses a few wrinkled bills on the counter, and heads for the door. Good riddance.
            After a few hours, the women leave too. I shut the blinds, bolt the door, and flip the sign to Closed. One by one, I shut the lights off until my little spot behind the counter is all that is lit.

Chapter Two- Being Patient … It is important to remain patient with others…