For most of my life the way I viewed the writing process was destructive to my ambitions. To write freely and learn from my mistakes, I had to jettison beliefs that had blocked me and made me dread writing.
One attitude that fortified my block for many years was a terrible fear of bring trite. To call my work trite was the ultimate weapon of my inner critic; it shut me down completely.
I thought that if a cliché appeared in my work, even in a rough draft, it must mean I was a human cliché myself: a dull, unimaginative, and lazy thinker. So many books I had read about writing denounced cliché users as lazy; in general the authors condemned not just expressions like “dead as a doornail,” “fit as a fiddle,” or “It was a dark and stormy night,” but almost universal real-life situations like a cheating spouse or even themes like good versus evil.
I have never understood the emotion of admiration; but then, I am a cat. Cats feel a lot of things, including pride and affection, but at our very essence lies independence, the source of all dignity. If I ever need a mentor, I will be my own. Admiration is a color of feeling I will never see.
But I have glimpsed its ghastly reflection in humans enough to sense what a trap it is. I have seen it lurking in their star struck eyes, and that alone is enough to make my spine curl and my tail fur bristle.
I especially used to cringe at the looks the young women gave Michael when he brought them into the apartment we shared, the sickly-looking glazed-eyed expressions that a male friend of his later explained by saying, “Look how much they admire you. I wish I was you.”
As a kid, what enticed me to become an author was the way fiction could sweep me into other places. Through reading I could experience through words what I could not experience in real life; I could even become other people. It was sorcery.
However, words were imperfect. Reading could only transfer experiences to me if I had some personal frame of reference for them. As an adolescent I had trouble relating to books with military settings, for example. They were so far removed from my experience, I struggled to create a vivid picture of them in my mind.
I was painfully aware of how my patchy store of personal experiences could limit me in writing. I scrounged for anything that I could use to make up for the gaps, so as a sheltered adolescent, I seized upon one of the most reviled technologies of the age as a way to broaden the scope of my experience for my writing: video games.
I have some great news: My novel Paw will be free for electronic download from November 7 through November 11. If you have not downloaded it yet, now is the time. Here is the description on my Amazon page:
When Mitalla turns three, she learns that her mother has kept a dark secret from her: Mitalla is a slave. Being a member of an intelligent feline species, she has never seen a “pink and furless” human until a cruel overseer takes her and her siblings from their seemingly safe home and into a life of bondage.
Even though Mitalla has struggled to survive as the runt of her litter, she is unprepared for the harsh world of the desert where her enslaved species is forced to mine a precious mineral collected by the human king of her world.
As Mitalla comes of age, she constantly seeks ways to escape with her siblings into “the greater world,” a place her mother once described as having lush green grass and an abundance of food and water. To her advantage, her early struggles have honed her persistence and wit.
Despite her strengths, cruel guards, barbed wire fencing, swords, whips, and constant hunger make escape seem all but impossible.
Frustrated desires finally erupt in a tragedy that forces her to make a decision: to stay and suffer or risk her life and the lives of her family to escape. Either way, she will need all the cunning and courage she possesses to survive.
The novel, which has a five star rating on Amazon, is the first installment of a three-part series. I am currently at work on the second book of the trilogy. Thanks to all of you who have bought my books and kept up with my blog! There will be more stories, blogs, and novels coming soon!
Pain was almost a myth to him, something he could no more fathom than he could see an atom. He had never felt the stinging, stabbing, burning, or aching that could come from courting danger.
He only knew how the dogs of his neighborhood whimpered when injured, but he could not imagine what was going on inside of them. His siblings could not imagine it either, but unlike them Brand loved being alive, loved it enough to keep on living.
He had known moments of heightened awake-ness when the world had leapt into full color. He had enjoyed the tangy sweetness of a ripe strawberry, the contemplative view of a night sky, and the wonder of his shimmering reflection in a pond. He enjoyed chopping firewood, the blunt sound of impact, he loved shivering in the cozy warmth of a fireplace on a cool night, and he liked to write about them in his journal, how they sounded, how they felt, how they smelled.
When I write a rough draft of a story or novel, I am constantly looking for its pulse, the raw energy of a story, the point of transition in which the story takes on a life of its own and seems almost to write itself.
That being said, there is nothing wrong with writing rough drafts that lag. I write them all the time because I have to start somewhere. In fact, sometimes my story does not come to life for me until after I have written my self-conscious, plodding. uninspired rough draft. But after having been through the process many times, I have learned some things about making dead prose stir to life.
In fiction, a problem that I have grappled with, which can be solved early on, is the strength of character motive.
Exciting news: My novel The Ghosts of Chimera, which I began to write over ten years ago, is now available on Amazon for electronic purchase.
It is 558 pages, but I have reread it dozens of times, and it has never seemed that long to me, to the point that I have at times questioned the veracity of my computer.
The novel was accepted by a traditional publisher a couple of years ago, but my experience was not good. I strongly disagreed with the content edits and backed out of the deal. I would have done any amount of work, gone to most any length, to make changes if I had believed they would strengthen the novel, but I refused to make any changes that I thought would weaken it.
I have written all my life, but it was only in college that I discovered the thesis statement. My professors prized them highly, selling them as magic wands of clarity to wave over fuzzy prose. There was nothing like a thesis statement to unravel tangled thinking. Every essay, they insisted, should have one, to be worthy in their eyes.
A thesis statement meant taking responsibility for all that I said. I had to say in the first paragraph what I wanted to prove, such as “Little Red Riding Hood is Gullible,” then I had to back up my general claim; I had to prove it, preferably again and again, using as many supporting details as possible.
I was a skeptic, and I was all for thinking clearly. I even became a writing tutor who explained how to write, and develop, thesis statements. As a student, and nerd, I could not have respected them more.
The boy coughed. He knew he was dying. He had watched many other children die before him, suffocate over a period of months even as they breathed. With each new day, the synthetic air seemed to feel grittier, heavier. But he was only nine. He could not let himself die yet, not if he could help it.
He had dreams. Lately he had been dreaming of a place he could call home, a place of rolling waves on starlit seas and dreamy, iridescent mountains made of ice. He had never seen the lost home his father had described, a casualty of a dying sun that had sent them space borne.
Aerrie had often asked his father about the lost world. His father had said his home had been far more than its physical features; it had been governed by something called principles, which was the only part of his home planet the natives had been able to carry with them. Unfortunately, Aerrie could not feel or see principles like water, snow, or sand.
I once had a college professor who derided video games as the curse of the century and a deplorable waste of time.
Maybe he would have been surprised to know that playing video games inspired me to write all three of my novels.
The games may have appeared silly and inconsequential, yet they engaged my imagination. My creative impulse could not resist a colorful virtual playground.