The Dreaded Rewrite: Challenge Accepted

dread

Writing is fun. At least, for me it is. I first started trying to write stories when I was 3 years old. Granted, my “writing” consisted of a bunch of illegible squiggly lines accompanied by pictures of disfigured people, flowers, horses, and mosquito larvae (don’t ask), but I tried. Occasionally I would get my mom to write the words under the pictures. That helped a little bit.

By the time I was 8 or 9, I had moved to typing stories on my grandmother’s computer. My friends and family still talk about some of those old stories, particularly about the one with a bunch of kids living in a tree. (Sound familiar to anyone?) The “chapters” were only about a paragraph, and little if any of it was believable.

When I was 12 I wrote my first complete story, a 32-page “book” about wild horses and evil wolves called Romanzarnon and the Defeat of Jawmandarna. To this day I have no idea where those names came from.

I continued to write fairly prolifically on into high school. I tried my hand at fan fiction (which, by the way, was an utter fail as the fan fiction I was writing was about a TV show I had never actually seen), and I had stacks, binders, notebooks, and computer files overflowing with half-done stories. I was so prolific with my writing, in fact, that when a group of people came to inspect our school, my teacher told them that while she had trouble getting the other students to write a paragraph, she couldn’t get me to stop writing.

When I was 14 or 15, I started work on my first actual book, a 70-some-odd-page kids’ book called Random. It was cute enough, and I enjoyed listening to my cousin read it aloud whenever she, her little sister, my little brother, and I all rode home from school together. I had, by that point, only barely discovered self-publishing, and I was very excited to try my hand at it. Using Microsoft Works (the only writing program I had at that time), I typed the story up and began trying to make it look like a book.

At the same time I was doing that (I was 15 or 16 by this point), I had also begun work on The Four Stars, the first book in my Star Trilogy. This would later be followed by The Secret of Erris, Rebirth, and Ancient Vengeance later on down the line.

The Four Stars first draft
The Four Stars first draft

Some time around the beginning of last year, I asked my mentor if he would read The Star Trilogy and give me feedback. You have to realize, at this point my trilogy was, to me at least, my crowning achievement. So you can imagine how I felt when my mentor returned the book to me with a 2-page list of pros and cons, (one paragraph pros, 1 3/4 pages cons), and he hadn’t even finished reading. Needless to say, I was very disappointed. I set the book aside and did little more than mope for the next several days. I eventually overcame my little depression and continued writing my stories, but in all honesty I have avoided The Star Trilogy like a disease ever since.

Well, I should say that I used to avoid it. Recently, I’ve had quite a few people ask me about my books, and I always feel bad when I have to tell them that there are none currently available, because the truth of the matter is that it is entirely my fault. I hate rewrites; in fact, I dread them.

There is nothing more painful to me as a writer than to become so intimate with my creation, only to have to tear it apart and try to reassemble it. Perhaps it’s because I have so much ego invested in it. Perhaps it’s that I’m afraid I’ll make it worse if I mess with it. I don’t know. What I do know is that the last thing I want to do is rewrite my book.

rewrite

There is definitely a plus to publishing the traditional way. As a self-publishing author, I have to worry about book design, cover art and design, editing, marketing, and everything in between. Furthermore, I want to know that my writing is good, and I can’t say I have a lot of friends who are good in the criticism department. That’s one thing I appreciate about my mentor. It was painful to know that my books were so bad he couldn’t finish reading them. But on the flip side, it gave me incentive to try again.

And so last Saturday I picked up a pen and notebook and began drafting a new prologue for The Four Stars. As of last night, I am up to about 2,000 words total for this new edition, and already I can see the improvement. The story may never be perfect. I get that. But I have learned so much since I first began writing it. (How long has it been? 5…6 years maybe?).

I must say, it hasn’t taken me long to get back into writing my trilogy. Though hard at first, I soon discovered that rewriting was not so much messing up the story as it was like getting to know a friend. I started out knowing almost nothing about my characters and their world. Four books later, I know so much more than I did back then, and not just about writing. I know the characters, and rewriting gives me the opportunity to breathe new life into the old stories, making the characters just as real and intimate to my readers as they are to me.

I’ve still got a ways to go, as I am working out kinks and expanding the stories. So I will just leave it at this for now: The dreaded rewrite? Hah! Challenge accepted!

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A Hoot in the Dark

Owl at night

I woke up the other night to a sound I have hated since childhood: the hoot of an owl. Actually, I should say the hoots of two owls.

It was about 1:30 in the morning. I had gone to bed about 10 o’clock the night before and I needed to be up early that morning for my 7:30 AM class (an ungodly hour if you ask me). So you can imagine I wasn’t crazy about being woken up at 1:30. Furthermore, the sound that woke me up was what I call “the sound of my nightmares”. Now, granted this has more to do with a scary movie I saw as a kid than it does the owls themselves, but the very sound of an owl hooting…at night…outside my bedroom window just gives me chills. I tried to go back to sleep, telling myself I really had nothing to fear, but that mantra only worked for about half an hour before I woke up again…to two owls hooting outside my bedroom window. I swear they were conspiring against me because they continued their obnoxious shouting match for at least another hour, and by this point I was so disturbed I could hardly sleep.

To most people nowadays, my intense phobia of owls in the dark might sound a little strange, but there was a time when many people feared owls. And I happen to know for a fact that I’m not the only one afraid of the dark. Or, rather, as a speaker I heard once put it, “I’m not afraid of the dark…I just move really fast in it.”

Fears, particularly when associated with things such as owls and darkness, reach back into humanity’s deepest psychology, and it is to this psychology that most writers turn to, with or without realizing it. For me, I do not view owls or darkness just as what they are. There is meaning behind them. Because of the movie that scared me so badly as a kid, and because of the nightmares that movie caused, I associate owls not with animals but with separation, danger, and anxiety. However, this was triggered primarily by nightmares, at which point I would wake up alone in the dark and terrified. Thus, I fear owls in the dark, but I don’t mind them much in the light.

In fantasy, the most basic of symbols are light and darkness. Light, in most cases, represents good; darkness, evil. Though many people complain that this light vs. dark symbolism has become cliche, fantasy is not the first to use it. The Bible itself makes great use of this and, some say, may in fact be the origin from which fantasy first acquired this convention. It is one of the oldest types of symbols and one that most people can identify with.

Light vs dark

Beyond fantasy and the “cliched” light vs. dark symbolism, many other authors use variations of symbols to foreshadow or emphasize important aspects of their stories. Charles Dickens inundated his stories with symbolism. A Tale of Two Cities, for instance, is riddled with symbols, (shadows, wine, knitting), all of which mean something beyond what they seem on the surface.

Though many people readily argue with the Jungian theory on symbols in dreams, there is, I believe, at least a small amount of truth to his theory. Whether through society, experience, culture, or some other influence, groups of people tend to associate certain things with alternate meanings. For instance, I once did a little “study” of sorts where I first asked people I knew what their favorite colors were. Once I had written that down, I gave them a list of colors and asked them what they associated each color with. Generally speaking, they would say that they associated a color with an object, to which I would ask them what they associated that object with. Almost without fail, they would associate the objects, and thus the colors, with certain qualities or emotions. Though I can hardly call this a scientific study, as the people I asked were no more than a handful of friends and family, I did notice something very interesting. More than one person associated certain colors with the same or similar objects. For instance, red was frequently associated with blood. Likewise, certain objects were associated with common feelings. It is this commonality that makes literary symbolism work.

As a writer, I have often wondered, “What makes a book a classic? Why is it that those books and not others manage to stand the test of time and move into the next generation?”

I still haven’t quite figured it all out yet, but there is one thing I have noticed. All the classic books that I have read use symbolism incessantly throughout their work, whereas many of the modern books I’ve read tend to be rather straightforward. The symbolism in the classics add depth to a story, not only drawing the reader in but leaving them wondering afterwards, “Did I actually get it all?” The stories, at least in my opinion, are eternal because there’s always a little bit more.

I’m sure there is more to it, but I think that, if nothing else, perhaps the use of symbolism can be viewed as a stepping stone building up to a truly great story. I guess owls have their uses after all…

Prism World: Chapter 14 Excerpt

Though I am no longer posting whole chapters of Prism World, I thought I’d share a little snippet of my most recent writing. (Note: Leif is Mr. Covent. By this point in the story, Lightning addresses him by his first name.)

——————-

Chapter 14 excerpt…

I could hear the faint voices of the news reporters coming from the radio in Leif’s room as I darted down the hall. Without so much as blinking, I grabbed the door handle and threw it open.

“Leif!”

It was as though everything moved in slow motion, as though no matter how fast I was, I could not move fast enough.

Leif turned as I threw open the door. Apparently he had just come back from showering, for all he wore was a pair of pajama pants as he rubbed a towel against his sopping wet hair. I could see a look of surprise on his face, but neither one of us had time to think about it, for just as I shouted, and just as he turned, a blur of black and ghastly white appeared from behind a sofa nearby. I didn’t even have time to pull the trigger of my pistol before I saw a dagger blade glint in the lamplight, sliding deep into Leif’s back.

No! Not Leif, too!

I pulled the trigger, but the assailant darted out of the way and my bullet struck a vase across the room instead. The Phantom made for the window looking out on the garden, but this time I managed to move fast enough, putting myself between me and him. He skidded to a stop, and for an instant we both froze in shock.

“Blade,” I growled, my eyes narrowing.

He straightened up slightly, one of his daggers still stained red with Leif’s blood.

“It was you?” he questioned. “The one who killed all those men at the prison facility?”

I glared at him.

“I wouldn’t have if the govs had just left my people alone.”

“Your people?”

“My people.”

“Master Covent? Was that a gunshot just now?” came Charles’ voice from down the hall.

Before I could blink, Blade darted past me, shoving the window open and darting out into the night. I wanted to go after him, to confront him, but then I turned back to Leif. Was he…?

Quickly I rushed to his side, checking his pulse. He was unconscious, but he was alive. Because he had turned at the sound of my voice, the dagger had missed his heart. I checked to make sure he could breathe, then grabbed the towel he had been using to dry his hair and pressed it to the wound. I didn’t want to move him any more than I had to.

A movement caught the corner of my eye.

“Charles!” I commanded as the man, I had learned that he was called a butler, shuffled into the room. He froze at the scene before him, but I gave him no time to ask questions.  “Call a doctor, and tell Amos to come here now.”

Now thoroughly shaken, the butler hurried away. A moment later, Amos appeared with a pistol in hand, followed closely by Patski.

“Was it a Phantom?” Amos asked, kneeling down beside me.

I nodded.

“Where did they go?”

“Out,” I replied, motioning with my head toward the open window. “I didn’t want to leave Leif like this to go after him.”

“How bad is it?”

“He should be alright if we can get him treated in time,” I said. “Here. Hold this, but stay alert. The Phantom’s probably gone by now, but you can’t be too careful.”

Amos nodded, then reached for the towel. A moment later, I darted out the window in search of Blade. For a moment, I paused in the garden, trying to think of where they might have been able to park the car in secret. If Blade was already gone, maybe I could at least find where they had come in.

“Took you long enough,” came a familiar voice from off to the side.

I turned quickly, pistol cocked and ready to fire. Blade stood about five feet away, eyeing me up and down.

“I should have known it was you. The Fates said that man was working with a woman who was a skilled gunman. How did you escape the compound fire?”

“I don’t answer to you,” I snarled. “And if you so much as move, I’ll put a bullet through your skull.”

“No you won’t,” Blade replied. “If you were going to do that, you would have done it by now.”

I swallowed hard. He was right, really. Why did I hesitate? Was it because some part of me still belonged to the govs…to the masters?

“I see your gunhand has been injured,” Blade continued, beginning to circle around toward me. “You’re weaker than you used to be.”

I turned to face him, but he continued to circle closer, ever closer.

“And your words from earlier reveal the truth. You’ve become attached to these people who wish to destroy the peace of our country. You’ve found new masters who make you put them first, breaking you, putting you in danger, putting your very mission in danger.”

“They’re not my masters,” I argued. “They’re my friends.”

Blade came to a stop in front of me, the barrel of my pistol pressed to his chest. Before I could decide what to do, he grabbed me by the wrist, pushing my gun away from himself and pulling me up against him. He grasped my chin in his other hand.

“Friends?” he questioned, looking down into my eyes. “That isn’t a word I know.”

“There are a lot of things you don’t know,” I replied, staring up into his cold, coal black eyes. “Friends protect each other and take care of each other. They give me a reason to live and to fight.”

“What do you mean, they give you a reason?” I could feel Blade’s grasp tighten on my chin. “The masters gave you a reason to live and to fight. They gave you the ability to live and to fight. Do you know how many people you killed the night you attacked the prison? Do you know how many more people will have to die because of your actions?”

“Do you?” I asked.

He paused and looked at me questioningly.

“Do you know how many people you have killed? Can you even count them anymore? Can you count the number of families you have broken? Do you know how many more will die by your hand before this comes to an end? Do you know if it will ever come to an end?”

“Families?”

“Yes, families. The people who share the same blood, the ones who protect you more than a friend would, and certainly more than the masters ever dreamed of protecting you.”

Blade lowered his face toward mine until I could feel his warm breath against my lips.

“We’re not like them. We’re not people. We’re Phantoms. Our sole purpose is to protect the masters. That is why we were created. That is why we will continue to be created.”

He pressed his lips to mine.

In a heartbeat I brought my knee up between his legs and he stumbled backward. So maybe my attachment to the rebels made me weak. Maybe the loss of my gunhand hindered my ability to fight. But what I had learned outside of the Phantom Legion had made me stronger in other ways.

“Have you ever looked at the people you kill?” I questioned, shooting a bullet at Blade.

He only barely managed to dart out of the way.

“They are us,” I continued, shooting again. “We are people, too. Phantom is what the masters call us, but that’s not what we are.”

Blade drew his daggers and rushed at me from the side. I blocked his attack with my gun and he sprang back.

“Maybe I am weaker now than I was when I was in the Phantom Legion,” one of my bullets grazed Blade’s shoulder. “I am weaker because the masters took my gunhand from me, and at any moment they could send a bastard like you to take away what little I have been able to gain.”

For a moment, Jack’s face flashed through my mind. I could feel a great energy welling up inside of me. A surge of power like an electric shock raced through my body and I bounded toward Blade, grabbing him by the front of his shirt and shoving him up against a nearby tree, my gun under his chin. I was angry, and I was indignant. I wasn’t even so angry at Blade as I was angry at the people who controlled him. Angry at the people who had taken Jack away. Angry at the people who had made Amos cry.

“Serve the masters, and they will beat you, maybe even kill you, if ever you dare to fail. If that’s the life you want to live, you’re welcome to it,” I released Blade and stepped back a few paces, my pistol still pointed at his head. “But while you’re so determined to live your life in a tiny, dark room serving people who will throw you away like trash the moment you make a mistake, tell the masters this: ‘You have taken almost everything from me, but know that with each thing you take, I grow a little stronger. I will tear down your little hell hole brick by brick and unless you can kill me, there is nothing you can do to stop me. Take your best shot. I’ll take mine.’”

And with that, I turned and walked away. I should have killed Blade then, but I couldn’t. For all my brave words, I could feel a powerful force inside me, preventing me from taking the shot I so desperately wanted to take. I was afraid. Afraid of what would happen if I killed Blade. The masters’ voices still echoed in my mind, daring me to challenge them. Even though I wasn’t with the Phantom Legion anymore, I had no doubt that the moment I challenged them, they would do everything in their power to make me regret it. I was Lightning, the Phantom…the woman who had dared to leave the Legion behind; but I was also still You, the nameless little girl hiding in the corner, hoping against hope that the masters wouldn’t find me, wouldn’t hurt me, wouldn’t see the tears that I was crying.

Welcome, 2013!

Happy New Year, all! Ok, so maybe I’m a few days late, but whatever.

In light of the new year, I thought I’d just share a quick quote while I gear up for some more work on my writing projects and prepare myself for my 18-credit-hour classes, 19.5 hours-per-week work schedule, club president stuff and who knows what else I’ll be doing in the coming semester.

“I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of.”
― Joss Whedon