This is a guest sermon I gave at Nichols-Bethel United Methodist Church yesterday, discussing the importance of perseverance in writing and in other aspects of my life. Even if you’re not religious, I hope you’ll listen to this message and that it touches a base with and inspires you. Perseverance is vital to life, and for me, praying to God has helped me to keep persevering.
The episode is on Podbean too.
Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to listen to their other episodes!
And be sure to keep an eye out on my poetry and short story pages for upcoming links to the anthologies Fae Dreams and Nightmare Whispers: Madness Echoes from Fae Corps Inc! They’re due to come out at the end of the month! Some links are already available for preorder!
Interesting to note that some of my work that will appear in those anthologies are tied with earlier days of writing. “Crossing the Estuary” was originally a high school creative writing assignment I’d thought lost but rediscovered. “Candlelight” was an assignment in college where we had to write a poem in the style of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” following specific guidelines (yesterday was the anniversary of Poe’s death). I recall I actually started writing it on Halloween!
Anyone who has watched Dead Poets Society remembers the viewpoint Robin Williams’s character John Keating gave regarding poetry, and how it cannot be measured. It was a very touching scene, and so I thought I’d talk about my own experiences with poetry, this being National Poetry Month.
I first began writing poetry when I was a teenager. Back then, one could say I was rather rigid. I didn’t experiment a whole lot, typically using a simple rhyme scheme, unless of course if I was writing a sonnet. I would write sonnets because I was (and still am) a huge fan of Shakespeare. I had even recited Sonnet #XVIII (Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?) at a Poetry Out Loud contest in high school, in which I won third place. But then again, I was rigid there too, because I’d only written sonnets in the Shakespearean format. In a way, looking back, perhaps I was afraid of breaking into new ground.
My rigidness continued for a while at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where I was introduced at a poetry club reading by the club leader as a more traditional poet compared to other members. The professor of an advanced poetry workshop class later made the observation that I liked to express a theme or idea at the end of each of my poems. However, it was through both that class and another poetry class at St. Mary’s that I began to break free and experiment with poetry.
I discovered new different forms that I had to write in as part of my assignments in those classes. More importantly, over the years I’ve broken free of form alone and began to not worry about syllables and rhymes. I’ve realized how poetry provides a way to really experiment with words and phrases, more so perhaps than fiction. I continued to express themes in my poetry, but also turned to showing and portraying emotions and feelings.
Among the blogs I follow are poets who use their sites to share their work, which is amazingly diverse and wonderfully done. I myself read three poems during an open mic at the Annapolis Chapter of the MWA:
Here’s another reading I did online for The And I Thought Ladies:
And another at the Annapolis MWA:
Poetry expresses what’s in the heart and mind. For any poet, and every writer, their work evolves over time, and through experimentation, gets better.
- Community of Literary Magazines and Presses Directory.
- Brewer, Robert Lee. List of 86 Poetic Forms for Poets.
- Guildford, Chuck. Stanza Breaks.
- Hess, Gary R. 55 Types of Poetry Forms.
Beta readers help polish writers’ work in preparation for submitting to publishers. Sometimes they work with one another one-on-one. Sometimes they form critique groups, where members share their work and receive critical but constructive feedback from everyone. What makes them helpful and essential is they aren’t necessarily in the publishing profession. They are people whom writers can trust with their earliest, roughest drafts. They are in effect the first step to sharing work with the world.
Some say it’s not a good idea to share drafts with family. Well, family is the first source of encouragement and support, and sometimes there are relatives that can offer constructive feedback. Nevertheless, it’s important to interact with and receive feedback from people who aren’t family, but who are passionate about writing and/or are seeking publication. Sometimes they’re already published, and can offer insights into the process. They will provide more critical and constructive feedback, which is necessary for growth as a writer.
I’m sorry to say that critique groups don’t always last forever. For different reasons, members leave (usually for personal reasons, which is completely understandable). What’s important is whether the groups and members have something to teach you and make you stronger. I’ve have been in quite a few critique groups since I joined the Maryland Writers’ Association, and even started one of my own. I have found it to be an extremely beneficial and motivating atmosphere.
Good beta readers not only state what they don’t like, but explain why and offer suggestions as to how to improve it. They are fair and respect the submitting writer’s feelings. Writers don’t always have to agree with beta readers’ suggestions, but listening to and appreciating them will benefit them. Those who only say they don’t like a writer’s work—if they put the writer down in their work and/or as a person—they aren’t worth staying with. And they are out there, unfortunately. I’ve encountered such people. But in such cases, the best thing was to move on, learning from those experiences and my mistakes what it means to be a good beta reader.
Writers must remain respectful of beta readers. They too have feelings, dreams, and opinions. They build one another up, which is how they all move forward. It’s best to move on when things don’t work out, especially if you receive negative feedback instead of constructive feedback. If someone doesn’t help, or isn’t willing to give you a second chance when attempting to make amends, don’t stay with them. Find people who will.
- Meghlen, Ari. Why you need to have Beta Readers.
April showers bring May flowers. So this month I thought I’d talk about the herbs that appear in Mystical Greenwood.
Wortcunning is a real term that I found in my research. I liked it and chose to use it in the book. The herbs Saershe employs for medicinal purposes were likewise inspired by real herbs and the treatments for which they were used.
Here they are:
*Photos from Wikimedia Commons.
I’ve discussed before how fantasy can often be rooted in reality, especially when it comes to world-building. Originally when I was conducting research on herbs and plants for medicinal purposes, I chose herbs primarily for their purposes and didn’t give too much initial thought to where they came form. Eventually though I decided I wanted them to all have a generally similar place of origin to make the sense of reality stronger (similar to how I chose trees sacred to the ancient Celts), so some were discarded and new ones came in, specifically Comfrey and St. John’s Wort. Yarrow, wild mint, and red clover were there from the beginning and I’d decided were able to be kept.
Some are referred to by their proper names in the novel. Others are instead referred to by alternate names (which are given for those who haven’t yet read the novel). I didn’t set out to use those alternate names; I found them when I was reading about those herbs. I chose to use the alternate names because I felt their proper names sounded too modern and would not fit in a fantasy world (similar you might say to how dinosaur species in the Land Before Time films were referred to by names such as “Longneck” and “Sharptooth”).
Their healing abilities may be exaggerated for the purposes of storytelling, as Saershe also uses magic when employing them (it is a work of fiction after all), but I did try to make sure their purposes would be mostly authentic, and so the story did not stray out of that feeling of reality.
Don’t forget to order your copy of Mystical Greenwood!
If you enjoy the book, PLEASE post a nice review and spread the word! And if you’re a fan, order your merchandise on Deviant Art!
This is my second guest appearance on Ari Meghlen’s blog. Many thanks again to Ari for this opportunity, and if you’re a writer looking to do an interview, I highly recommend her site.
Watch my talk on the importance of names for characters, settings, and things at the Annapolis Chapter of the MWA if you haven’t yet:
This was my first talk geared specifically towards writers. I had a wonderful turnout that evening, and I’ve been informed that some of those who attended used what they learned in their own writing.
Here’s the handout from the event:
Do elements of my talk sound familiar? Read these old blog posts from which it draws upon:
Many thanks to all of you who purchased Mystical Greenwood! If you haven’t yet, please do so! Plus it’s now available in Nook! Remember, books make great gifts! If you enjoy it, and I hope you do, please post a review! Help spread the word!
And order your merchandise on Deviant Art!
One has a story in mind, and wants to tell it well. It then becomes a question of how you want to tell it. I’ve learned there’s more than one way to write a novel. In fact there are many, and like all details run the risk of being overthought or overdone. Sometimes one can get so worried about them it leads to writer’s block and one cannot move forward, sort of like when when choosing a book title or character name. These are among the first details to choose at the beginning. Yet at other times, they seem to manifest themselves and/or change in the process.
One of the first questions that comes to mind is whether to write in first person or third. I find it often depends on the type of story being told. When writing Mystical Greenwood, I chose to write in third person as I felt it was the right way to tell a fantasy story set in an imaginary world no reader would have personally lived in, but could still observe and imagine. But there are many subdivisions of third person, and that was not so easily defined for me.
I flirted between third person limited and subjective. Subjective is trying to convey more than one characters’ thoughts and feelings at the same time, whereas limited focuses on chiefly one character. After sending Mystical Greenwood to Mockingbird Lane Press, at my editor’s request I made it third person limited throughout because there were originally some scenes with slight POV shifts that caused confusion. While some chapters and scenes are told from the perspective of characters other than Dermot, and there are scene breaks and a change to another character’s POV in others, I still tried to limit it to one character at a time.
I could’ve written in third person objective, but that would’ve left out every character’s feelings and thoughts, which I felt could detach readers from the narrative. Third person omniscient is often used for high and epic fantasy, where all character’s thoughts and feelings are presented. That can sometimes make it hard for readers to attach themselves to the story, as there would be too many characters to choose from to bond with while reading. But that certainly doesn’t mean it can’t work.
I’m presently trying I-narrative with the neglected pets story. I feel first person works best with realistic fiction (as it’s a setting readers and writers live in and understand), mysteries, and thrillers. I would like to try an epistolary format (telling a story in the form of diary entries and letters), perhaps for historical fiction. Some authors have alternated between third and first within the same book (using the latter for their protagonist), which I might also try. News articles could also be used in epistolary stories, and be another way to alternate. Other writers have changed narrative within a series, like the late Stephen J. Cannell did with the Shane Scully books.
With first person, one can also make it plural or use an unreliable narrator. Some novels try to replicate the thought-process, or stream of conscious – third or first could work, but I personally find it hard to follow. Some classic books have had chapters or scenes written in the format of plays; another thing I could try.
I should also mention second person narrative: “You”. It’s rarer in literature, as is writing in future tense. Most stories are in past tense, but some have been written in present, just like plays and screenplays. But there have been some well-told stories written using one or both, most famously perhaps Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss. It’s always good to experiment and try new things with writing. Writer should use whatever they feel is best for your story.
- Writing in Third Person Omniscient vs Third Person Limited.
- Aldridge, Ally. Point of View.
- Wolf, Kalesjha H. First Person vs. Third Person.
They range from misspellings and repetitions to grammar and formatting errors. Some are more noticeable than others. I see Facebook posts all the time about how “errorists” win when there are typos like an unmatched parenthesis. Writers and editors try to catch all of them before publication, but they’ve been slipping past for centuries, even with famous works, to the point where they’ve become the fascination that they are.
Mystical Greenwood it turns out is no exception. I spotted some after going through a copy from my first order. I’ve notified Mockingbird Lane Press and we are working on making corrections for future copies. Certainly there is a benefit of second and third editions and so on: typos can be caught and fixed in between, although the initial copies remain as they are.
Certainly for any writer, it’s a frustrating feeling to see your work in print with errors. But good friends have given me encouragement, feeling typos won’t be a big deal, and the overall story will outweigh them. Well, certainly classics, even modern classics, are still around and people continue to read and enjoy them. To you reading this right now, if you’ve bought one of the early prints of Mystical Greenwood, let me express my hope that you will still enjoy the story.
The simple truth is perfection is impossible, but we still try to get as close as we can. It’s fair to say that future books I will write will no doubt have some typos in their first printing. Lesson learned.
- Ellis-Petersen, Hannah. Go Set a Watchman books missing text from final pages after printing error.
- Heffernan, Virgnia. The Price of Typos.
- Van Huygen, Meg. 15 Famous Typos in First Editions.
Often when works of fiction are discussed, word and/or page count comes up. When you see books on a shelf, one of the first things you’ll notice, apart from the author’s name and book title on the spine, is how thick or thin they are compared to each other. Some people, like J. R. R. Tolkien, enjoy reading long stories. Others prefer shorter works. What is it about length? Does it matter?
Often when you look at a book’s title page, there will often be a subtitle saying “A Novel” or something similar. “A Novella” and “A Novelette” appear to be less common. Instead perhaps you might see “A Short Novel”. Furthermore, when it comes to defining types of writers we have novelist, poet, essayist, playwright, short story writer, and screenwriter. There are no set terms that I’m aware of for writers of novellas or novelettes. I sometimes feel novel is an umbrella term under which any fictional work longer than a short story can be labeled. Often, it seems word count is what it really comes down to, as I’ve seen so many sets of word count ranges that are used to define these works. Or is it?
In my senior year at St. Mary’s College, I took a high level creative writing class called “The Novella”. Some of the books we read felt like novels or long short stories. We each had to write a novella, and I started writing that story about neglected pets. It fit into a novella word count range. However, my classmates and the professor felt it should be expanded into a novel. I admit before that class, I’d first imagined it as a novel. Perhaps a work of fiction is what the author believes it to be, and subsequently calls it.
Writing for the stage and screen can be more restrictive, though it’s by page count rather than words. Once at a meeting of the MWA Annapolis chapter, it was stated a page of a screenplay equals a minute of screen time. Thus an ideal film script should be 100-120 pages. A TV episode script would be 50-60 pages. Plays too it seems have page count limits these days. Audiences, I can understand, would rather not sit in a theater all day.
Some classic plays and films are long. Hamlet is usually abridged when staged or filmed. The 1996 unabridged film version lasted over four hours. Sometimes I wonder what Hamlet’s stage and screen history would’ve been like had Shakespeare written it as two plays, as he did with Henry IV (which has appeared onscreen only as TV films). I also wonder what the movie Gettysburg would’ve been like had it been a TV miniseries as initially planned.
Charles Dickens’s works were first published as a serial (like novelettes or novellas) before being printed as complete books. The serial versions were cheaper, making his novels available to the masses, whom, with a cliffhanger, would be enticed to buy the next installment. The novels of the Brontë sisters were published in “volumes,” but like Dickens’s books, they’re are only published as complete works nowadays. Some people feel novellas and novelettes have difficulty getting published these days, and if they do they are usually combined with similar works.
In the end, it all comes down to the writer. It’s up to the author whether they want to define their work as novels, novellas, novelettes, short novels, or short stories. Length is applied in the public consciousness, but maybe it doesn’t have to. Does length and its description on the title page affect the customers decision to purchase or pass? What do you think?
- Meer, Syed Hunbbel. Differences Between a Short Story, Novelette, Novella, & a Novel.
- Playwriting 101. Chapter 1: The Play’s the Thing.