Monday, May 26, 2014

Advice from Robert Frost

We're introduced to poems like Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken when we're young and have very little idea what they're about. We admire them for their beauty, their lyrical quality, and the images they bring to mind, but we don't feel them. How can we when we've never experienced what the poet is talking about?

It wasn't until now that I read that poem like a mirror reflecting this part of my life back at me from the pen of another writer who'd been through it. People often take the two lines at the end out of context, told by a man reminiscing about a choice he'd made long ago.

I took the one less traveled by
and that has made all the difference. 

In reality, the poet is looking forward, imagining what he'll say at the end of his road, after he's chosen his path. The bulk of the poem is about the decision, the moment of consideration when he's gazing down these two roads, imagining where they lead. It isn't easy. The two roads look almost the same at that moment, and he knows he probably will never be able to revisit the other road. But he makes his decision, and encourages himself that it was the best one.

What I took from this poem is what most people do: the idea of an individual road, one that someone else hasn't traveled for a long time and that you can make your own mark upon. I also got the impression this road is rough, overgrown and difficult in places. There are briars on this road, muddy holes, fallen trees, but there are also beautiful things you wouldn't have seen had you taken the other road.

Every one of us will come to a place like this and have to choose a road. I was already halfway down mine before I realized I'd chosen it. I've been having so much trouble balancing my illustration and my writing, thinking I had to commit to only one or the other. I don't think I'm going to take the direction I originally thought I was, and I'm okay with that. I'll tell you more when I'm further down the road, but for right now everything is as it should be.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Does This Blog Post Make My Butt Look Big?

not my butt
I've been blogging consistently for four years, and I don't feel any closer to learning what I'm supposed to blog about. I know what's fun for me, but what's fun for me might confuse and disengage some readers (like my post on why Luffy from One Piece is inspirational). I like a wide variety of things, and my blog is filled with a motley array of posts. I like that, but is it hurting me in the long run? What posts would flatter this blog and my blogging style?

One of my goals this year is to figure that out. If you could help me, that'd be great.

Blogs are certainly not 'one size fits all' and neither is some of the advice about them.
Has your blog ever felt like the equivalent of 'fat' jeans: comfortable, but unflattering?
What did you do about it?

And one more question. Does this blog post make my butt look big?

Monday, May 12, 2014

My Writing Process

I hadn't thought much about my writing process until Holli Moncrieff tagged me for this blog hop, and thought even less that other people would want to read about it. After all, I'm not a published author, but when I am one day, I can look back and see how I got there.

Someone once said it's the process; it's the journey that's more important than the destination. If you obsess over a goal, but don't enjoy one minute of getting there, it's a bitter road. You might not be happy with the outcome. If you have the right goal, the journey will be filled with things you also enjoy, like little gifts along the way. Sometimes you have to adjust your goal, change your destination, to have a more fulfilling journey.

I didn't recognize it before, but as I look back on my life, I'm realizing I've always picked the journey, not the destination. I choose paths for the experience. I take the long route on purpose. So, I really should stop beating myself up for not getting there sooner and should stop comparing my road to someone else's. If I'm taking a longer time than I thought I would on something (my novel, for instance), there must be a reason for it. I must need to learn something, do something, meet someone, for the end product to be right.

Believe me, I've learned this the hard way while working on my first novel. Having only written short stories before, I had a lot of learning to do. For one thing, I learned that novels take so much more time than short stories (especially to writers used to working on short stories). And revising one... don't even ask.

So, you know what I did? I not only wrote a novel, but I wrote the first novel in a series! Because, as I said before, I like the journey, I like a challenge, and, apparently, my right brain is a masochist.

This brings me to my writing process.

Trav rescuing the mermaid

What am I working on?

Multiple things.

- I have my YA Victorian novel to revise, and plenty of world-building and planning to do for the novels that come after it. This series begins in Boston in the late 1800s, so it involves plenty of research on that front, as well as research on Irish faeries for the steampunk faerieland I'm building for the second book.

The concept behind this story is the death of childhood and all the things society expects us to give up in order to be 'grown up'. My female MC doesn't want to do any such thing, and her defiance ends up being the catalyst for the story. I threw every childhood tale I love into a blender (Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, etc), sprinkled with a little Brother's Grimm and Tim Burton, to create this. I'm determined to see it on shelves one day, whether that be in the next two years or ten.

- I also do flash fiction, since I discovered how wonderful and brief it is while still encompassing a whole story. Of course, I can't just do one flash with a set of characters. I have to take those characters and make a series of flashes! Thus was born my intrepid Captain Trav and his young airship crew. This is my tribute to Doctor Who, told like a tall-tale and set in a steampunk universe. Did I mention, it's also humorous? (thank you, Terry Pratchett)

How does my work differ from others of the genre?

For one, it's illustrated. I put my MFA in Illustration to good use, pairing most of my stories with sketches, character designs, and spot illustrations.

I've been told I have a quality to my writing that's innocent, sincere, and lyrical - probably due to writing so much poetry throughout junior high and high school. (I've been known to rhyme in prose, because it's lovely and a lot of fun.) Though the genre be Victorian YA, middle-grade steampunk humor, or adult fantasy, I still manage to push my awe and fascination to the forefront, and through it the most unexpected things are painted gold. It's just the way I see things, or the way I'd prefer them to be in the worlds I create. I write the books I want to read. If it's fascinating, adventurous,  a little dark, and reminds me of being a kid again, I'm all over it.

Why do I write what I do?

When I was a kid, my favorite game in the world was make-believe. I would pretend I was so many different people in so many different settings. It's hard to give all that up as you get older, and simply be resigned to one life in one place as one person. I was a storyteller from a young age, expanding to my younger sister the stories my older sister told me. I would take her characters and make up whole new adventures for them.

It was in junior high that the historic moment came. I ran out of Babysitters Club books and I couldn't find anything to bridge the gap between them and adult fantasy. That was when I first started writing YA fantasy. I didn't even know what it was, but I was determined to fill that void and write the type of books I wanted to read. It all began with a story heavily inspired by the movie Labyrinth, with a dark Wish Master and an ungrateful teenage girl.

How does your writing process work?

This is the big question, isn't it? I have come to believe that my right brain (masochistic as it is) is a genius, and I'm not always aware of it until the last word has been written. It constantly amazes me how the bits and pieces of my story work into the larger whole. I don't always draw the connections until I look at it finished and they start leaping out.

My ideas come from something I've drawn or a concept I think is interesting and want to see if I can pull off. I guess you could say a lot of what I create is answering a challenge I've made to myself. Can I write an entire story in rhyming couplets? Yes! Can I create a character similar to the Doctor, without ripping off those so distinct qualities? Geronimo!

 I'm a meandering pantser. The story forms as I type it or write it out. The only planning I do is make notes to myself of things I want to include in the story or plot ideas I'd like to try out. I don't usually have to plan much for short stories, but a novel is a massive undertaking. My roundabout course has halted me more than once when I have to rethink an idea, redraw a character to get a better impression of him, rewrite a chapter to make it clearer. I also minor edit as I write, which I've been told is such a no-no.

I write my novels in chapter sets, a few at a time. I re-read for flow and to remind myself where I came from, then just plow on. I learn about my characters both by writing them and by drawing them. Sometimes drawings inspire stories, and vice versa. The MC of my current novel project was originally designed for a Whitewolf RP campaign.

When I schedule myself, I can finish a novel in a few months. When I don't (like now), I'm all over the place and write when the mood suits me. I'm also in the process of growing my illustration portfolio.

So, in answer to that question, my writing process is as scenic as my approach to life. Am I capable of taking the highway? Of course. It's just not as pretty a drive.


Rather than tagging other writers here, I'll direct your attention back to Holli's blog, where you can pick up the chain from the two other talented ladies she tagged.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Why Monkey D. Luffy Should Be Your Creative Motivator

(You can skip this part if you know who Luffy is already.)
Luffy is the main character and pirate captain with super-stretch powers on an anime called One Piece. One Piece is a long-running series about a young motley band of pirates, all with incredible skills, who follow their hyperactive captain into the most dangerous seas in their world to pursue the One Piece so Luffy can become king of the pirates.

Here's why Luffy is my motivator and should be yours too. Throughout the series, Luffy and his mismatched little band faces insanely impossible and deadly odds. So many people try to kill them, torture them, hurt their friends to get to them, etc. But Luffy and his gang (literally) bounce back. They bounce because most of them are impossibly strong and have gallons of blood to lose without dying, but the key to Luffy's successful progress is his unshakable can-do attitude.

Luffy simply does not hear the words "can't" "won't" "never" or "impossible". When another character tells him he's too ____ for something, he tunes them out. When an obstacle seems too big to overcome, he makes himself bigger. When his dream, a friend, or a friend's dream is on the line, he'll scale a sheer stone wall until his fingers bleed to make it happen. It doesn't matter that someone else believes it isn't possible. He believes it is.

In spite of not being a very mature role-model, Luffy manages to inspire each member of his crew to join him on a vastly uncertain quest. The only thing he promises is that he'll make sure each and every one of their dreams come true as if they were his own. And that's the real power of Luffy. In spite of the odds, he'll do it and he'll help you do it too. That's a leader anyone would follow.

Sure, Luffy might not be all that competent. His crew has to make up for the skills he lacks. But that doesn't bother Luffy or make him feel less confident. He celebrates the teamwork, the reliance, because to him they're all aiming at the same goal. It doesn't matter who does what to help them get there.

As a writer and artist, this is why Luffy struck such a chord with me. In the quest to gain recognition, Luffy puts the dreams of his friends first, because he knows they'll support him in return. None of us is trying to be a pirate king (that I know of), but that kind of community spirit is what it takes to draw people to you, and a positive attitude is what makes them stay.

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