Moving on to the Next Step

Writing an entire book is a challenge, but one I have overcome with Mystical Greenwood. It isn’t finished yet technically as it’s still in the editing phase. But with Mockingbird Lane Press publishing it, it’s more apparent to me than ever that the day will come where I’ll have officially moved on from this one book I’ve worked on for so long. But that means I’m going face a new challenge, which may prove even greater: writing another book. Knowing I’ll have to move on to this next step, I’m already feeling the pressure.

It almost feels as if I’ve never written a novel before. I’ve noticed a similar situation in college: whenever a new semester starts, it feels like I’m back to square one. But in truth, I realize it’s only natural to feel this way, because every semester, like every book to come, will be different. Each new novel will be its own unique experience and journey, but I’ll have to remember the experiences  and challenges will be, to a certain degree, similar to those I’ve endured before. I have to tell myself I did it before, and can do it again. On the other hand, it may be necessary as well as only natural to feel nervous. I cannot become overconfident or complacent with myself. That fear of failure is what enables me to keep striving try hard, and be conscientious.

However, I find Mystical Greenwood as it is now – almost complete – in the back of my mind. As a result, I keep thinking about it, which isn’t a fair comparison because newer projects will be in their earliest, rough drafts. Sometimes I feel people, when reading a novel, don’t consider the earlier drafts it must’ve gone through. Speaking for myself as a writer, I see a similar problem when starting a new novel after finishing the last one. It’s easy to look at a book complete or nearly complete, and fear your next one won’t be as good or well-written. On the other hand, that last book was rough once. What I mean to say is, Mystical Greenwood‘s near-publication should motivate me to write more, but I can’t compare it to other novels as I begin writing them. The books to come will also take more than a few drafts. A well-polished book doesn’t come instantly.

As I have said before, Mystical Greenwood is intended to be the first book in a trilogy. The next book certainly is one of those up front I need to work on. I have some ideas already forming of what I want to include in the second book, including how I want to end it, but it won’t conclude the story, thereby giving me an early purpose for the third book. At the same time, I want to expand beyond this fantasy realm into other genres.

As a matter of fact, I wrote a manuscript for a high-level creative writing class during my last semester at St. Mary’s College. The class was a “novella” class, but others felt the story I came up was more novel-length, which I felt too. Unlike Mystical Greenwood, it was set in the real world, and was about pets that are neglected and abused. It was definitely a first draft that needs rewriting and I want to work on it. We’ll see what happens. I don’t want to overstretch myself by working on way too many projects at the same time, but there are several other ideas I could expand on eventually. I won’t reveal too much just yet, except there is hope. The day will come soon where I’ll be moving on to the next step. I cannot stop at only a single novel. I must write more, again and again.

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Nom de Plume

Nom de Plume, pseudonym, pen name, whichever term you prefer to use, several writers have used one instead of their real names. Like fictional characters, a pen name in itself is a persona created in the writer’s imagination.

Your real name can in essence become a pen name, or what I like to call a “writer’s name” where nothing is made up (otherwise it’s a pen name). There are many options beyond your first and last names. You can include your middle initial, go with your full name, or use initials. If you prefer your middle name, you can use it alone or also include your first initial. If you go by a nickname, have a suffix, more than one middle name, and/or a maiden name, you have even more possibilities. Try saying them out loud, so you can hear how they sound.

There are many sources from which you can create a pen name. You can of course use part of your real name. You could pay tribute to relatives, friends or other people, places real or fictional, something special to you, or maybe it could be an anagram. Samuel Clemens came up with “Mark Twain” from working on the Mississippi River (from a phrase indicating the water to be two fathoms deep). Charles Lutwidge Dodgson took the Latin versions of his first and middle names, anglicized the spellings and swapped them to create “Lewis Carroll”. It could even be one name. Charles Dickens initially used the pseudonym “Boz”.

Usually, a pseudonym is used if a writer feels that he or she has a specific need for one. Some sought to distinguish themselves from someone well-known with a similar name. Others wanted to reflect their chosen genre. It can become a character within the story, like Daniel Handler and William Goldman did respectively with “Lemony Snicket” and “S. Morgenstern”. A writer with multiple works coming out simultaneously might publish some under a pen name and the rest under their real one, which Stephen King did for a while with “Richard Bachman”. If you simply desire privacy, probably your best option then would be something that doesn’t stand out, and even better, isn’t an obvious tribute to anyone or anything special to you.

Perhaps one of the most frequent historical cases has been female authors using male or gender-neutral pseudonyms to give their work a higher chance of success. Some continue to be used, like “George Eliot” (real name Mary Ann Evans). Others no longer are. The novels of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë appear today under their real names. However the sisters first published them respectively as “Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell”. Sadly this trend still seems to continue. Joanne Rowling‘s publisher apparently did not feel the target audience for Harry Potter (teenage boys) would be inclined to read books written by a woman. Rowling subsequently came up with “J. K. Rowling”, when in fact she does not have a middle name (she chose K in honor of her grandmother, Kathleen).

Often, writers become better known by their pen names. A friend who’s a teacher told me of a time when he asked his students if any of them knew who Theodor Geisel was, and no one could answer him. Had he used Geisel’s most frequent pen name (Geisel did use more than one, which you can certainly do), “Dr. Seuss”, they could have answered him right away.

At times I’ve thought about using a pen name. I came up with several possibilities (much like Eric Blair did before he settled on “George Orwell”). I also thought about how my own name could be written in various ways. In the end, I settled for my first and last name, which suits me fine. It’s unlikely, but not impossible, that I might still use a pseudonym for something someday. Whether you use your name or a nom de plume is entirely your choice. If you haven’t decided yet, try not to take too long. Always remember, your creative work is your first and foremost concern.

Fact vs. Fiction

Among the genres I intend to try my hand at is historical fiction. Within this genre, the characters witness actual events from our past. Some could be real figures (or based on them). Often books and movies include the subtitle “Based on a true story”. I’ve noticed with literary and cinematic successes there’s often a subsequent wave of interest and research aimed at separating fact from fiction. For a writer, the dilemma presents itself beforehand. With the goal of telling a story and telling it well, can historical fact get in the way of telling good historical fiction? How far should writers go if they cross the line?

Fiction can actually run the risk, with time and new generations, of becoming thought of as fact. In my junior year at St. Mary’s College, I took classes discussing how literature and history have been analyzed and interpreted. In the latter, I recall us discussing how history has been “romanticized” even in America. People record events with their own beliefs and motivations. It’s human nature. To this day there have been cases where real events and figures were altered, or the truth stretched, to create a better story. Facts are sometimes selectively preserved or obscured altogether.

Fiction being fiction, some lines will be crossed. But some writers, like Rafael Sabatini, believe historical fiction should be kept close to fact. Sabatini used real events and drew inspiration from a number of historical figures when writing Captain Blood. Another novel that has been criticized for historical inaccuracies is Ivanhoe. Though several historical points ARE accurate, compared to some of his other novels it seems Sir Walter Scott took liberties. However, he DID admit he had taken liberties when Ivanhoe was published in the book’s “Dedicatory Epistle”. Some believe he wanted to reflect both his support for British unity and his Scottish patriotism through the book’s Saxon-Norman conflict.

Folktales and legends are a part of human culture and the human psyche. We need something to believe in so we may strive and rise to something better. In America, it has been noted we root for underdogs and rebels as symbols of freedom. Pirates and Wild West outlaws were almost exclusively thugs and killers. Nevertheless they’ve been popularized as romantic heroes. Captain Charles Johnson’s 1724 book A General History of the Pyrates has had a considerable influence defining how we perceive pirates today, along with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. However some believe Johnson used artistic license. Pirates seldom buried gold. More often they sold stolen commercial goods on the black market and spent all their money on vices.

My father pointed out to me a common observation that history is written by winners. This notion is especially apparent to me, together with how fiction can become fact over time, in William Shakespeare’s Richard III. I remember the news story of how Richard’s skeleton was found beneath a parking lot. I subsequently learned there are societies who believe he was wrongfully maligned by history and Shakespeare. In the play, he is depicted as an evil, scheming tyrant who has his nephews murdered after usurping the throne from them, as well as harboring an incestuous desire for his niece.

But was Shakespeare to blame? When he wrote Richard III, he was living under the reign of Elizabeth I, the granddaughter of the very man who overthrew Richard. Henry Tudor, who became Henry VII, had to justify why he took the throne. What better way than by painting his defeated opponent as a villain by playing upon rumors of his nephews’ disappearance or incestuous desire (that rumor Richard had denied)? We still don’t know for certain what befell the Princes in the Tower, although Richard certainly had opportunity and motive. By Shakespeare’s time, this image must have been considered fact. Even if Shakespeare doubted it, he almost certainly couldn’t offend his own monarch’s grandfather without putting his neck on the line.

In other cases however, Shakespeare, who’s living depended upon entertaining the masses, did deliberately ignore fact or simply filled gaps. In King John, the hero is Richard the Lionheart’s illegitimate son, Philip Falconbridge. He did actually have an illegitimate son, named Philip of Cognac. Yet little is known of him, not even his mother’s name. Shakespeare took the name and father then created his own character. In Henry IV Part I, he made Harry “Hotspur” Percy and Prince Hal close in age so they would be better character foils, when Percy was actually many years Hal’s senior.

There are exceptions to the rule of winners writing history. At St. Mary’s I took another class on the Lost Cause. Ex-Confederates initiated the movement after losing the American Civil War to whitewash their image as heroic, conveniently ignoring slavery and racism. Once again, it is a case of people recording events with bias.

As readers, we must bear in mind fiction is fiction. Historical fiction and drama shouldn’t be taken completely at face value. But that doesn’t mean writers should ignore historical fact either. I want to try and reconcile my respect for history and the goal to tell a good story well as much as possible. I know it won’t work in every way, but I’ll do my best to be accurate, particularly with worldbuilding, and any real events or figures should I use them. When I cannot be accurate, I will acknowledge it. Good historical fiction is built upon historical fact. Fiction in turn can inspire a search for the fact.

Further Reading
  1. The Richard III Society.
  2. Higgins, Charlotte. Scotland’s image-maker Sir Walter Scott ‘invented English legends’.
  3. Sabatini, Rafael. Historical Fiction.

Write in Right Now

For those who haven’t seen these yet, here’re some pictures from the event Write in Right Now that I participated in a few weeks ago at the Annapolis Regional Library, alongside fellow writers Lucia St. Clair Robson, Jennifer Bort Yacovissi, Sally Whitney, and Leigh Goff:

I had a really good time there. Some of these pictures might lead you to think the attendance was small. It wasn’t (these were taken near the very end as people began to leave). The turnout was absolutely wonderful.

Click here to read a nice article about the event (where I am mentioned for my “dark gray blazer”). For all those who are participating in National Novel Writing Month, I wish you the best of luck. Keep up the good work!

Social Media

Social media is without a doubt one of the greatest technological advancements in modern times. Gone are the days when the only way to spread word by handwritten letters or word of mouth. Now in the computer age people can communicate with one another in the blink of an eye. For a writer, social media has become indispensable for informing prospective readers of theirs and their work’s presence, especially for the unknown writer trying to establish a foot in the writing world. Yet social media, like the writing world, is a vast ocean filled with fish. Each writer must find ways to make him or herself stand out.

When I first started writing I used word of mouth to talk about it. Still, I was young and woefully unprepared for marketing (I certainly was not ready for publication either). Throughout high school I was not on social media of any kind, and would really not get into it until after college.

In addition to this website/blog, I have a Facebook page and a YouTube channel. In observing site stats, I can see it has gotten far more referrals from Facebook than anywhere else. Several friends from the Maryland Writers’ Association created a public page that anyone can like and follow. I knew at some point I ought to create one of my own, but it was not until my first writing award in the MWA creative nonfiction contest and agreeing to read from it in Baltimore that I finally got around to that. I invited all my connections to like the page, and still do.

Almost instantly, inquiries were made on the page regarding my website. I hesitated to create one because I hadn’t published much, nor had I found a publisher for my novel. Nevertheless, I wondered if I should start early. At a meeting of the Annapolis chapter of the MWA, I talked about it with a friend. She encouraged me to start right away, so I did. Website building blogging, and specifically WordPress, were the topic of discussion at a previous meeting. So I decided to go with WordPress. I started with one visual theme, but another site I formerly followed already used it. Eventually I grew dissatisfied. I knew I needed to find something different. Eventually after looking at many other themes, I chose the one I have now. Like in all aspects of writing and social media, I have continued to learn through trial and error to refine my site’s image.

My site’s domain name was not my first choice. I originally hoped to use my first and last name, like many writers’ professional websites. Unfortunately it had already been taken. My first post appeared the month after I created my site. In future I hope to use my blog to make announcements about and market my work. For now, I have been discussing my experiences and beliefs I have formed about writing. I do sometimes wish there were more likes and comments, but I have learned it is not always easy to catch people’s interest. Sometimes to do so, the old ways like word of mouth are best. Still, not everyone you invite responds. Some prefer not to subscribe. It is something we all must learn to accept. No one can be forced to subscribe or even view a site. All you can do is invite them.

Social media has a dark side too. We all must strive to remain dignified and respectful when many others will not be, which is not always easy. In the past on Facebook I have at times written without thinking, or were distracted or having a bad day. Some friendships were broken as a result, despite my attempts to make amends. Lesson learned; we are all people with feelings, opinions, and flaws. At times I fear I might become trapped within my own creation. I have to do my best to restrict myself sometimes; to know to when to stop. Social media can be like public appearances in that you need to guard your private life outside of them. Sometimes it feels like I spend too much time on it, and I have to be mindful there too. It is good to unplug sometimes and get away from it all, to enjoy life and discover true inspiration.

As mentioned earlier, I am also using YouTube. I uploaded my first video back in April from the Open Mic I participated in that month. There have not been any more at the moment. In the future I hope to change that, with more appearances, book trailers, and other videos. I have created a presence on social media and acquired a following. I sometimes fear I will run out of ideas to blog about before a publisher accepts my manuscript. I can only hope this platform will continue to grow, and that I will continue to learn new ways to market my work and presence so they stand out.

Building Worlds

Writers create more than stories and characters. They create places, sometimes within the world of today or the past. There are also places, and whole worlds that never existed, except within the imagination.

I find the key to worldbuilding is how believable it feels. A good setting, however fantastical, must feel real to the writer and reader (with satire and comedy you can get away with this). A few times on the British sitcom Are You Being Served? when the characters would put on theatrical pageants, senior saleswoman Mrs. Slocombe was going to (or wanted to) play a character far younger than herself. Someone would remark that it was “make-believe” to which there were responses of “We’re going to have to stretch our imaginations” and (to Mrs. Slocombe’s chagrin) “Not to the point of incredibility.”

Many considerations are necessary. Every detail must harmonize with the story, style, and themes. Otherwise that sense of reality will shatter. The reader will be left questioning why a certain little thing is the way it is rather than enjoying the story. The Writer’s Circle once posted this list to their Facebook page:

World Building (Writer's Circle)

A contemporary setting, whether fictional or not, is usually pretty easy. With a historical backdrop, I recommend doing research into what life was like back then. Or perhaps the world is science-fiction, set several years in the future like Star Trek, or like Star Wars in a galaxy far, far away. There I suggest looking at the present; not just science and technology but the whole world. Imagine where it could all go in the future. Or it could be an alternate reality: what it would the world like had the past been different?

In fantasy, where the greatest amount of world-building undoubtedly occurs, I find it best to begin by looking at history, or even mythology. Suppose your world could have existed. Where and when would it be? Perhaps there’s more than one possibility. If so, perhaps you can merge them. J. R. R. Tolkien drew on myth, religion, and his own life experiences, from childhood and World War I, to create his stories.

Early on I envisioned my story as an epic adventure that would’ve taken place long, long ago. As a child I’d always been fascinated with knights. So I researched medieval life and society. However when it came to symbolism, names, and other details, initially I didn’t pay as much attention. It was a mix from various sources.

With new drafts of course came changes and the need to make everything fit together. As I mentioned before, I renamed characters, places, and things to strengthen my story’s feeling of “Gaelicness” which came out of a lifelong love for nature. I added details and symbols inspired by Ancient Celtic life and Irish myth. But I was careful not to take them too far so they didn’t feel out of place with what I already had. I looked again to history and symbolism to help refine the “map” of my world. It is at present no longer a purely medieval setting but a mixture of different periods, which thereby makes it more its own unique world.

When it came to magic, rituals, and beliefs, I looked at myth and folklore, as well as numerous books and articles on Wicca, Neopaganism, Neo-Druidism, natural magic and spirituality. This research helped me reinforce the atmosphere I wanted. I’ve found that bridging ideas and sentiments from the modern world with ones from the old helps readers connect with themselves more.

When it came to the environment, I ultimately looked to the flora and fauna of Ireland and Britain. Brian Jacques, the late author of the Redwall saga, once said that he chose creatures native to his homeland for his anthropomorphic characters, rather than trying to use every animal in the zoo. I considered the latter once, until I realized many would never survive outside of a habitat not their own, and it would be too crowded. One or two exceptions won’t hurt. Still, they shouldn’t be too out of place. Herbs were researched for medicinal purposes. Some were later discarded as they were either not native to those lands if not found in a temperate climate. Many trees were chosen for being sacred to the Celts.

In addition to real creatures, I tried cramming in mythical ones too. Earlier drafts of my book included gryphons, unicorns, dragons, elves, dwarves and centaurs. The latter three were dropped as it again was a problem of overcrowding. With too many details, places and characters, a story becomes lost in itself. As a writer, you have to know when to stop.

If you write a series of books with an imaginary setting, I strongly advise you do NOT map out the entire world at the very beginning. Otherwise you’ll be trapping your story (and yourself) in a box from which if you try to expand out of could lead to contradiction or dead ends. Without a complete box/map, you can add newer details with much more freedom. I found it very relieving, as I was able to concentrate more on my plot. Thus the world and characters could grow in conjunction with it.

I will continue to build this fantasy world I’ve created as the trilogy progresses. Other, completely different worlds will no doubt follow with future projects. As in all aspects of writing, worldbuilding is undertaken with trial, error, patience, passion, and dedication. It is all part of a writer’s evolution.

Off the Page

Writers must play a role in marketing their work, so that prospective readers will know about it, and them as writers. Central to that role is taking their written words off the page by reading aloud. Sometimes there are full-length reads in person, or short clips meant to entice readers to want more. Writers also speak publicly about their experiences as writers. In all cases, it is important to give a strong presentation.

Before stories were written, they were told aloud. We still read them aloud today. As a child my parents read to me before bed, which I hope to do someday when I have children of my own. Some of my favorite TV shows were essentially narrations of the stories they were based on, from Beatrix Potter’s tales to The Railway Series by Reverend Awdry (these were narrated by George Carlin and Ringo Starr). The narrators I remember did an excellent job. I watched them over and over again. Those stories stuck with me. In recent years when I volunteered at a library annex on Ft. Meade, once in a while I read aloud to visiting children. Listening to and telling stories are a way we can connect to each other.

In school I read my work aloud, which continued at St. Mary’s. I listened to writers talk as part of the college’s VOICES reading series. Back in high school I participated in the drama club, where I had to memorize lines. Public readings and talks are themselves a dramatic performance. Therefore the writer is an actor playing a role. Charles Dickens gave numerous readings of his work (notably A Christmas Carol). He actually considered becoming an actor before he started writing. Nevertheless, he was a master of vocalizing characters. It has been sadly noted his time was before voices could start being recorded, so we can never hear what he sounded like.

My mother told me I could once recite Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat from beginning to end. I have no memory of that sadly, but I certainly have been able to quote works I have read. At work I’ve done so when people check out those works, such as Shakespeare. In my junior year of high school I participated in a Poetry Out Loud contest where I recited Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet XVIII: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”. Although I froze near the end, I managed to save my performance and ended up winning third place.

The first time I read from my work that was published was back in September at the Baltimore Book Festival, for my creative nonfiction essay on Asperger syndrome. In analogy to King George VI, that reading could be considered my Wembley speech. Though I dressed the part of a writer (someone there even commented so) right down to the Tweed jacket, I did not prepare well at all. I had to select which excerpts to read then and there. Also, in choosing I could see parts I felt could have been written better, and in the end I rushed through it, flustering.

People still enjoyed it, but I knew it could have been better. Pictures taken that day show me looking frustrated. To the superstitious, I guess it did not help that a black cat crossed the road as I was preparing to leave for Baltimore (no joke; that really happened). That day was a lesson to never be totally unprepared. The next reading I knew had to be better. When I agreed to participate in an open mic event back in April, I repeatedly recorded myself reading using an app on my iPhone. I listened to myself, noting where I needed improvement. After the final reading it and watching the video recording of it, I felt satisfied. I hope the next public reading will be better, and every one to come.

Author, teacher, speaker and voiceover artist Izolda Trakhtenberg discussed the importance of speaking well at the Annapolis MWA meeting last week. She showed us different exercises to help in preparation for reading aloud. In many ways they reminded me of Geoffrey Rush’s portrayal of Lionel Logue in The King’s Speech. She showed us a writer needs to have good vocal presence, posture, balance, breathing, and must connect with the audience by maintaining eye contact. Regulated breathing helps you speak better. Eye contact has always been difficult for me, with my Asperger syndrome.

I and others at the meeting read a few lines of dialogue from published or unpublished work. In my case, I read from an early scene in my novel, during the protagonist’s first meeting with his eventual mentor. Izolda mentioned I started strong but went softer and mumbled. Would that not have happened had I practiced? Perhaps. Still, I was complemented for using a lower pitch of voice for my mentor in contrast to my protagonist to show who was more confident and self-assured. She suggested to all of us that we record samples of different vocal tones so to remember them for specific characters.

Public appearances are important. Now I don’t want my presentation of myself to become my life. I hope to live a private life away from public eyes, so it in turn can truly inspire my work. Nevertheless I hope to do more readings, so people will know me and my work. I’m sure there will have mistakes, but I accept that. Everyone makes mistakes, including me. The best I can do is minimize them as much as I can.

What’s in a Name?

So asks the heroine of Romeo and Juliet. Her new boyfriend’s name is hated by her family, whose own name is hated by his in turn. Names are an integral part of our identity, which Juliet acknowledges. Their families’ names define the feud, while their individual names have become symbolic of tragic forbidden love. As a writer, I have come to believe choosing the right name for a fictional character, or even a place, thing or title, makes a big difference.

Initially I paid little attention to those I chose and/or created for my novel. One beta reader who read early drafts said there was a “Gaelicness” to my story, which was what I wanted. Soon after I looked at the names more closely, and decided they didn’t reflect that feeling. With my characters, several felt too modern; a greater number didn’t feel like the kind I’d expect to find in a story set within an imaginary “Gaelic” world.

A few old ones have survived (and were moved around) as I felt they could still reflect that feeling. Nevertheless, most were changed. For my characters, the new names chosen were predominantly of Irish and Welsh origin, with a few Scottish and Celtic ones intermixed as well. At the same time I wanted to make sure most would be easy to pronounce. Several of the ones I looked at I knew might be hard to say. So for some I went with the Anglicized spelling. And every once in a while there is a “modern” name which originates from ancient history or myth. Places and things were given names created using actual Gaelic words with specific meanings. Like the book title, I won’t reveal any just yet. I have learned when you change them on beta readers, it causes confusion. Once they grow accustomed to a name, it sticks. And they could still change.

Genre I feel is a key factor to consider. Some I feel are stricter than others. Fantasy can be, often depending on the setting. Science-fiction in contrast, especially if futuristic, is very liberating. Historical fiction is perhaps the most strict. I recommend making sure most names are at least semi-common, if not known, in the chosen time period. For instance, I would be cautious giving a character in an 18th century setting a first name that didn’t come into use until the 19th century. Some stories, like mine, have names meant to reflect a theme or another aspect about them. Comedy and satire are others, where you will sometimes find “silly” names. William Goldman used that word to describe some he chose for characters in The Princess Bride.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against using uncommon names, nor creating either new names or new variants of existing ones. I created such a variant for one of my novel’s characters. A few more may certainly follow in the sequels. Sir Walter Scott and Oscar Wilde respectively gave us Cedric (derived from the Anglo-Saxon name Cerdic) and Dorian (possibly taken from an ancient Greek tribe, the Dorians) in Ivanhoe and The Picture of Dorian Gray. All I will say is, depending on the story you’re writing, be careful not to overuse them.

Even my novel’s main mythical species has variant spellings: griffin, griffon, and gryphon. The first, undoubtedly the most common, is also a surname (perhaps the most famous literary example being the title character of H. G. Wells’s The Invisible Man) and occasional given name. The second is also used for certain dog breeds. I was introduced to the third in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I chose that spelling because it not only seemed the most fantasy-like to me, but some feel it is the one to use when portraying this creature as noble and intelligent, much like the one in Lewis Carroll’s novel.

Often names come down to the characters themselves. Any combination of a number of factors can have an influence (or be influenced), such as ethnic background, religion, social status, family traditions, nicknames, or a change of name (if so, why?). Perhaps there’s something about their personality or appearance you want to reflect, or the opposite. Many comic book superheroes’ alter egos have names that sound common, meant to not draw attention. But some are unique too. Some could be inside references. The classic film Halloween contains several, to both people and places.

In his book Your Screenplay Sucks!: 100 Ways to Make It Great, William M. Akers offers some helpful tips which I find very helpful and can be applied to all forms of fiction writing. He recommends varying up the beginning letter, ending rhyme, and letter length to lessen the likelihood of confusion.

It all seems a lot, and certainly can run the risk of being overthought. All those factors previously mentioned do not have to have influence, nor need to. Not every fictional character, place, or thing even needs to be named. In the end, we all have different tastes. We writers must choose names because we want them. But remember, these fictional creations are our children; the children of our mind. Those of mine whom I name, I want names which suit them.

Here are links to some websites I refer to when searching for character names (some of them are interlinked):

First names
  1. Behind the Name
  2. Think Baby Names
Last names
  1. Behind the Name: Surnames
  2. House of Names
  3. Scottish Penpals
  4. Surname Genealogy Search
  5. Surname Origin & Last Name Meanings at Ancestor Search
  6. Last Name Meanings & Origins at Ancestry.com

Prologues

The novel I’m trying to publish includes a prologue, which I recently read at an open mic. Prologues I’ve discovered are tricky. It would seem they are generally discouraged in publishing. However, I’ve seen books, including bestsellers, which have them. Even in movies you’ll find them. There are different kinds of prologues too. Lital Talmor and Louise Lilley have created lists of different categories, good and bad (see Further Reading below) .

This particular prologue I have furiously tried to keep as many beta readers and fellow writers in critique groups (all of whom shall remain anonymous) gave their opinion of it and the rest of the manuscript. Why you might ask did I want to keep it so much? Was it even worth it?

I’ve learned if a prologue is going to be written, it must have a specific purpose. In order to draw readers in, the first few pages, with or without one, must hook them. If the prologue doesn’t do that, it ought to be discarded. At the beginning, what I wanted mine to do was show what is at the heart of the story, which is the beauty and importance of Nature. Throughout the manuscript and especially the prologue, when it came to Nature imagery I got a bit poetic, which at the time was what I wanted.

One of my first beta readers liked it for the juxtaposition of Nature’s beauty with its destruction, which shows what is at stake. However, as I would later learn from other readers, that was not enough. In the earliest drafts of my novel, the entire prologue was a dream sequence. However I soon learned that was a big no-no. Furthermore, it was, as Maeve Maddox (see Further Reading below) would point out, largely atmosphere. Lilley herself advises against such a prologue. Maddox says if your prologue feels “boring” then readers will want to go straight to Chapter 1. Those who read my earliest version felt it was too “detached” from the plot, and the style “wordy”. Clearly then if changes were not made it would have to go, or at least be broken up within the main plot somehow. Maddox herself offers that solution in the case of backstory.

So in an attempt to keep my prologue, I made only the second half a dream sequence, with the protagonist describing it as he was looking back on past events. So I sort of made it a cross between what Talmor calls “background” prologue and a “future protagonist” one (the idea had come around because I have considered an epilogue at the end of the trilogy where he is a young man reflecting on the story’s events). I chose to withhold his name, hoping to make readers wonder who he was and want to read more to find out. Even then, critique group members still felt it was too detached from the story.

I found inspiration from the first Iron Man film. It has a “prologue” showing Tony Stark attacked and wounded, then after the movie title shifts back to 36 hours prior. So instead of having my protagonist years later, I had it set in the main plot, with Chapter 1 beginning some days before the prologue’s events and the early pages build up to that moment, which occurs before the first quarter mark. I added dialogue between the protagonist and another character, so it would not be mere atmosphere anymore, but still there are no names included. One beta reader who read this version liked it and described it as “intriguing”. While even acknowledging publishers do not always like prologues, she felt mine “worked”. So perhaps I am on the right track. I also believe that beginning with Chapter 1 as it is now, it would feel too sudden a start.

Some still thought it too wordy, and I have continued to try to find a balance. Recently, listening to myself reading it out loud helped me simplify it even more. In the end, I am reminded of my father’s advice: the important thing is to tell a story and tell it well. He has also told me less is more, especially with writing. In the end I have come to finally accept that I maybe I did get carried away with the “poetic” feel, and it certainly could get in the way of delivering the message and drawing in readers. So perhaps a poetic style was not the right fit for a young adult audience after all.

Will this prologue be discarded before publication? Will it become something different than it is now? I cannot say. I can say not every book I write will have a prologue, nor need one, but I’d like to try it a few more times, perhaps using Talmor’s categories. If the day comes that I try screenwriting, it will be the same. But I will make sure I want it in a story, and that it will serve a purpose, or I won’t have one at all.

Watch my reading of my prologue here:

Further Reading
  1. Lilley, Louise. 6 Prologues I’m Tired of Reading.
  2. Maddox, Maeve. 3 Reasons to Ditch Your Novel’s Prologue at Daily Writing Tips.
  3. Talmor, Lital. Where to Begin? When, Where and How to Write a Prologue at Writing-World.com.

The Tide of Technology

In the fall, I’ll begin studying for my master’s degree in library science at the University of Maryland. When I applied, I wrote about libraries connecting the past with the present and future. They preserve our written past, as well as offer the latest technologies. I have worked for the Anne Arundel County Public Library for over two years, where I bore witness to an evolution in technology available for patrons. The tide of technology making services more efficient is reflected in my thoughts when I think about publication and marketing, as is the relationship of the past, present, and future.

I grew up after the age of the typewriter, so I never used one. For that I’m glad. I am thankful for the computer. A typewriter to me would be a novelty, something to try out for the fun of it. However I could not imagine writing and editing an entire novel on a typewriter. Nevertheless there were those who did so once. There were once those who didn’t have the internet, and had only physical books to conduct research. When I was at St. Mary’s College and had to write papers, I was able to find sources digitally thanks to that library website and its resources, as well as books. It made life much easier.

It is clear to me that the internet is now becoming the main market for selling and buying books. Nowadays Amazon and other vendors offer greater convenience. You no longer need to go out to a bookstore to search for what you want. You can find it and order it and it comes to you. Even at the library you can find what you want to check out online, place an order, and pick it up at whichever branch you choose rather than browse the shelves. I see many patrons do this all the time. Bookstores it would seem are becoming a thing of the past. I’ve watched several close their doors. While you can still preview books online, for me it isn’t always quite the same as holding it in my hands. Still, I find it very convenient. The internet is essential now to marketing books to as wide an audience as possible. I had to start early and build a following with this blog and website, and other forms of social media.

Even books themselves are embracing technology in new forms. eBooks are now available. They weren’t years ago. I’ve seen them at the library, along with audio books. Once again, to market and sell books as much as possible, I must accept that people prefer different forms of book reading even if I may never use them personally. As a writer, for me nothing will beat the feel  of a printed book, to flip through its pages and know I wrote those words. In addition, I find it easier to concentrate with printed page. But yes, others have different tastes. I’ll have to understand these new forms regardless, especially if I continue to work in a library. Some people drive a lot and love listening to audio books. When I was little, before bed I listened to a few children’s books on audio cassette (another technology now a relic of the past), including The Polar Express and The Tale of Peter Rabbit. So perhaps there is a chance I may try other forms of books in my personal life.

Who knows now what the future will bring? Who knows how my future novels will be received? Who knows where this library science master’s degree will take me during and after my studies. I’ll do my best to be ready in the present, but always remember the past. Libraries to me are a community center where people can have access to technology but also walk through a museum preserving our written past. Having studied history, I treasure the past, for it shows how we came to be where we are now. So while embracing the tide of technology, I mustn’t let it wash away the past altogether.