On Patience

Hello friends!

As a reader, sometimes I don’t want a story to end. But tough luck, there’s only three books in the series and that last one came out years ago and the author has said nothing since.

Until, one day, they do.

I’ve mentioned the book Graceling by Kristin Cashore before. It was a favorite of mine in high school, and when I reread it in college, I still really enjoyed it. In March of 2020, I longed for something familiar and picked it up once more. I found that I still loved it, in so many ways. And I finally decided to read the sequels.

Now, “sequels” is a pretty loose term here. The second book that was released takes place some 50 years before the first book, with an entirely new cast of characters. The third book is set eight years after the first, with some new faces but mostly familiar ones. I didn’t read the sequels in high school because I was being petty over the fact that my favorite characters weren’t in two, and if I didn’t read two, what business did I have reading three?

I read a lot of ebooks, and I check most of them out from the library, because as much as I would love to spend all my money on books, I have to pay bills. Both Fire (book 2) and Bitterblue (book 3) were immediately available from the library, so I read the whole trilogy straight through. I really wish I hadn’t been so petty in high school, because I thoroughly enjoyed both follow-ups. I wanted more! But Bitterblue released in 2012, so I didn’t let myself hold out hope.

And then Cashore announced book four, Winterkeep, that summer. 

I read Winterkeep in February and loved it. It was a winner to me. Sometimes it just takes nine years to find the right follow up.

I’d like to think I’m a fairly patient person. But with books? No, I just want them all, thank you. With Winterkeep I barely had to wait. With something like, say, the Red Rising series by Pierce Brown, I’m anxiously awaiting the next installment and have been waiting years.

Some books are worth the wait. And some are just frustrating.

What I wrote this week: Draft 4 prologue; Draft 4, Kita’s arc.

What I read this week: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones; The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin.

On Branching Out

Hello friends!

As you may know, my current Big Project is a fantasy trilogy. I’m talking magic and castles and the like. However, I don’t write only fantasy. Over the years, I’ve tried my hand at various styles and genres, from playwriting to creative nonfiction. (Poetry and I are not friends, so my forays into that were very brief.) I really enjoy writing short stories, though those tend to be much more realistic fiction. I have experimented with magical realism and horror, and even fairy tales, but despite my eagerness to explore different genres, I remain fairly consistent in tone and style.

When writing, I default to third person past tense. And I use a lot of dialogue (thank you, playwriting). Over the years I’ve tried to combat these defaults specifically and branch out, with varying degrees of success. My short story “Don’t” is written in first person present tense, but also very heavy in terms of dialogue. Conversely, another short of mine, “Post-Mortem,” has only a handful of dialogue while remaining in first-present — but the story is also about memory and nostalgia, so though the narrator addresses her surroundings in the present tense, she’s very much examining her past.

Over the course of my MFA, I took about a half a dozen workshops, and for each one I tried something new. I resisted the urge to present novel excerpts, because while I would have loved the feedback, I felt I’d benefit more by getting feedback on shorter, contained pieces.

Even if some of these stories never go anywhere, and most of them have yet to find homes in publications, they presented good practice for my writing. I probably won’t ever be comfortable writing first person present tense, but it’s not something I’ve shied away from. 

Last October, I planned out three novellas to serve as prequels to Scion of Victory, following major side characters and their stories. I also took this chance to experiment with style. The first novella, following the history of Jekk, begins in third-person omniscient and tightens as Jekk grows older. This novella also uses journal entries, something I hadn’t tried before. The second novella explores the last years of Isanto’s life and is written in first person-present, because Isanto is the sort of character who’s full of life and charm, and I wanted to capture his voice. The third novella, which is yet unfinished, follows the early years of Fahvitt, and while I chose third person-past, I also make use of the letters he writes to his sister to more closely capture his inner conflicts.

I guess in summary, I think it’s important to know what kind of writing you’re most comfortable with and what you default to. And I think it’s important to challenge those boundaries, because you never know what you’ll discover about yourself, your characters, and your story.

What I wrote this week: Draft 4, Ramint’s arc.

What I read this week: Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo; The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones; The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin.

On Revision

Hello friends!

Revision: that oft dreaded step in the writing process. Why is it so much more fun to spew your ideas out onto the page than to rework them until they make sense?

As you’ve likely gathered by now, I’ve been working on Scion of Victory intensely for about three and a half years. I wrote the first draft in four months; everything after that has been revision in some capacity. The second draft was drastically different from the first draft, because I added two new viewpoints (Ramint and Eva). Since then, the major changes have been to the beginning.

Typically, I’m a linear writer. I like to outline in advance, and then I write chapter one, chapter two, chapter three, and so on. But for draft 4, I’m trying something new: I’ve ditched the chapter numbers (but retained the titles) and I’ve sorted them by narrator. From there, I’m revising by arc. I started with Eva (who has the fewest number of chapters), and I’ve moved on to Ramint for this month, and then I’ll finish with Kita. With this approach, I’m focusing more on the character development and their individual beats. 

Eva’s arc, in my opinion, needed the most work. In revising her chapters, I’ve been able to target the roughest areas and strengthen her development. Some of her chapters grew; some got cut entirely. Overall, I feel I was able to focus on her beats more easily and tighten up her narrative. I’m anticipating similar results with the next two narrators.

Once I’ve gone through all three narrative arcs like this, I’ll have to put the chapters back in place and smooth out the transitions. That’s fine. And who knows, I might decide this isn’t the right approach. But after two linear revisions, I figured it was time to try something new.

The hope, of course, is that revising will improve the story. I can definitely see the improvement over the years, and I believe there’s still room for improvement. Even if it’s so annoying to rewrite the same story over and over.

What I wrote this week: Draft 4, Ramint’s arc.

What I read this week: Soulstar by CL Polk; Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo.

On Love and Stuff

Hello friends!

My name is Belinda, and I’m a sucker for a good romantic subplot.

I’m not a big reader of romance, but give me a book of any other genre, with a romantic subplot and I’m set. The moment a potential love interest is introduced, my interest increases.

However, I also prefer a story where the love interests don’t wait until the last second to confess their feelings and get together. I don’t want just tension; I also want to see the romantic leads interact together as true partners. I don’t see this often enough, but that preference has undoubtedly leaked over into my writing.

There are, of course, exceptions for me. For example, two of the characters in Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows have excellent tension throughout the books and clearly have affection for each other, however, they never even share a kiss. Still, I love them as a pairing and think their dynamic is wonderful.

As far as romance tropes go, I have been very over love triangles for a while, and I’d like to think I’m not alone in that. Their persistence, especially in YA, has worn on me over the years to the point where encountering it in a book is a turn off. I think the last time I encountered a love triangle that didn’t make me frown was in Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series, and that triangle is very short-lived and well-done. 

I’m also super done with toxic relationships being portrayed as romantic. The alpha-male archetype is not my cup of tea. If your male romantic lead is possessive and jealous, I’m out. If your female romantic lead is anything like a manic-pixie-dream-girl, I’m done.

Maybe I’m just picky when it comes to my romantic subplots. I know this is reading like a list of complaints about romance in fiction, and maybe I should just shove it and read my damn books. And obviously everyone has different tastes. Some people are all about that insta-love, others want the slow-burn. And those are all valid opinions to have.

I’ll just go sit quietly and write my books with romantic subplots exactly to my liking, instead of rambling. 😀

What I wrote this week: Draft 4, Eva’s arc (finished at last!); Draft 4, Ramint’s arc.

What I read this week: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; Soulstar by CL Polk.

On Authors and Influence

Hello friends!

Like many millennials who liked to read growing up, I found my way to Harry Potter. Unlike a lot of fans, I didn’t read the full series until 2008, when every book was out. (I don’t like waiting!) I fell in love with the story and characters, as many readers before me did. When Pottermore launched, I was sorted first into Hufflepuff, and when the site revamped, I found myself in Ravenclaw. I saw the last movie on its opening weekend. I made friends because of a shared love of the series. As a broke college student in London, I found my way to King’s Cross Station and took a picture at Platform 9 ¾ (this was free, thank god). When the theme park opened at Universal Studios Hollywood, I got an annual pass to the park and marveled over Hogsmeade and Hogwarts come to life. I bought a wand at Ollivander’s. I embarked on the Warner Brothers Studio Tour and took tons of pictures with the movie props. I reread the series every few years and rewatched the movies when I was sad or sick.

King’s Cross Station. London, England. December 2014.

I have a lot of fond memories tied to the Harry Potter franchise. My head is so full of useless lore, and playing HP Trivial Pursuit with my in-laws is a bloodbath. The standing rule is that they get to pair up while I play alone, to even the odds. When the second Fantastic Beasts movie came out, I spent twenty minutes ranting to my partner about how the various reveals upset decades of established lore and the problematic nature of some of those reveals. I fumed and groaned and denounced it.

And this was all before the author started sharing some rather controversial personal beliefs.

Sometimes, it’s easy to separate an author from their work. Ender’s Game is one of the most popular scifi stories, and no one really talks about Orson Scott Card’s homophobic views. An important difference, I think, is that Harry Potter’s author is much louder than Card. She rose to prominence in the age of social media, and once she got started, she did not stop. From her random tidbits about the world to her annual apologies for character deaths, she has found ways to remain in the public consciousness. She continues to produce content in the Wizarding World for a hungry, global audience. It’s nearly impossible to separate her from her work, which is why even though I haven’t written her name, you know exactly to whom I refer. 

She rose to prominence because of the Wizarding World, built her fortune on it, and tied it to herself irrevocably. So when she published an essay last year sharing her belief that transgender women are infringing upon female spaces by being themselves, it felt like a massive betrayal.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios Hollywood. With Alex Bass (left). February 2017. Note the HP-themed jewelry.

I am not a trans woman, but two of the most important people in my life are. When the world shut down in 2020 and my social group shrank to just its bare bones, the two of them remained constant. My love for them both is immense, and I have never once wanted them to be anyone other than their perfect feminine selves.

Reconciling my love of a children’s book series with the author’s toxic beliefs has been a journey. Seeing the author wield her platform and influence to spread hate when her work taught love and acceptance is upsetting. It’s like the opposite of rose-colored glasses: I see my memories of HP tinted with the new perspective.

The stance I’ve landed on? No longer contributing to the author’s vast fortune. I don’t need to buy anymore of her books, movies, products, anything. I can’t change the years I spent attached to the story, and I don’t really want to change that.

On the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank, CA. Me (left), Elana (center), Aragog (right). October 2017.

One of my dearest friends is also a massive HP fan (and, I suspect, one of the few people I know who could go toe-to-toe with me in that edition of Trivial Pursuit), and we have decided to buddy read the series this year. I’m honestly excited to make new memories with this story that has been so important to me. I’m also determined to approach it with a more critical lens this time, and I’m looking forward to lengthy discussions with my friend armed with all the knowledge we have now, both of the Wizarding World and its problematic creator.

What I wrote this week: Draft 4, Eva’s arc.

What I read this week: Caliban’s War by James SA Corey; Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

On Stress, Mental Health, and Productivity

Hello friends!

Let’s talk about mental health.

When you’re giving so much of your energy to a creative project, it can be difficult to remember to take care of yourself, too. Or sometimes you get in a funk and creativity is hard.

For me, being creative has always been a way I destress. Something bad happening in life or the world in general? I write. Something on my mind that I can’t deal with? Time to write!

The best example of this that comes to mind is November 2020. I was participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, which I’ve done on and off for the last decade with a fair amount of success) with the goal of writing a trilogy of prequel novellas. The first ten days I dedicated to Jekk’s novella, and that first week also involved the US Presidential Election. As a queer woman of color in America, I kind of have to care about politics, and when it became clear the race was too close to call for nearly five days, I took all of my stress about that and in the first week of November, I wrote twenty thousand words.

For those of you who aren’t aware, NaNoWriMo is a challenge to write fifty thousand words of a novel in the month of November. And it is supposed to be a challenge. For me, most years, it has been. Finding the time to write fifty thousand words in thirty days is hard! And yet, in the first week of November 2020, I completed almost half of that. Yes, I was finding Jekk’s story to be very easy to write, but I also had more stress than I knew what to do with and I coped with it the best way I knew how: by writing.

I’m not gonna sit here and say this is healthy. And I absolutely can’t advocate writing as a coping mechanism because that doesn’t work for everyone. Hell, it doesn’t even work for me all of the time. In the last month, I’ve been stressed by life and work and instead of channeling that into writing, I basically spiralled into depression for a week and cried a lot while my partner fed me grilled cheese sandwiches. Everyone is different, and every situation is unique. Sometimes stress makes you shut down creatively or need to step back from your work, and you should do what’s healthiest for you.

Take care, lovely friends. Be healthy and well.

What I wrote this week: Draft 4, Eva’s arc

What I read this week: Caliban’s War by James SA Corey; The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

On Group Chats and Found Families

Hello friends!

One of my favorite tropes, in life and fiction, has always been found families. I always found myself attracted to stories that explored that idea, like The Thief Lord and Maximum Ride. As I got older, I found that I was still really into the idea, and I started noticing the trend in my personal life as well.

Though I’ve never been the type to surround myself with an abundance of friends (yay introverts!), I have consistently gravitated to small, tight-knit groups. In middle school, I had a very close group of girl friends. In high school, I found myself surrounded by some of the best and nerdiest folks I could’ve stumbled across. And in college, surprise surprise, I discovered another group of fun, nerdy, and very queer friends.

A very blurry picture of just a few of the aforementioned friends. Circa 2016.
And yes, I am the shortest one.

Though I haven’t been in college for almost five years now, the friends I made during undergrad continue to be some of the best friends I have. We haven’t always been that way. We’ve had our ups and downs and grievances, but when it’s mattered, we’ve always loved each other. Currently, this love manifests as a group chat called “Queer K,” K being the nickname of our alma mater. We’ve helped each other through sticky break ups and drunk nights and so many tears, but we’ve also celebrated birthdays and opening nights and graduations. Though several of us don’t live in close proximity anymore, video chats are a wonderful thing.

So, what does this have to do with writing and storytelling?

Maybe nothing, but maybe something. As I already mentioned, I love reading this trope in fiction. I love seeing it in movies and shows. Give me a group of friends who are ride or die, and I will eat it up. Give me those complex relationships and show me how they grow. Give me a found family, and I’m invested.

I like to write things that I know about, even just a little. I obviously don’t live in a pseudo-medieval world with gods and magic, like Kita and her cohorts, but I do know what it’s like to have a group of friends that feel like family. I do know about human connection and emotion. I love looking at the powerful bonds between women that make them so much stronger than they are alone. That’s an important part of Kita’s story, and I truly hope I do it justice by drawing on my personal experiences.

And if I don’t, that’s entirely my fault and has nothing to do with the incredible friends who have my back.

What I wrote this week: Draft 4, Eva’s arc. Yes, still.

What I read this week: Caliban’s War by James SA Corey; The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones.

On Favorite Books

Hello friends!

I want to tell you all about some of my favorite books. Reading is, obviously, very important to writing. 

Some of my favorite books, in no particular order, are:

Coraline by Neil Gaiman. This was a favorite of mine growing up, and a recent reread made me realize that it is still great. Coraline is a young girl who discovers a door to another world in her family’s new home. On the other side, she discovers a world similar to her own, but better. It’s creepy and features a talking cat, so what’s not to love?

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo. This duology is honestly so solid, and one of the few series I can name where the sequel is every bit as good as the first. Anyway, these books tell the story of multiple heists by a small gang from the streets of Ketterdam. The characters are the heart of these books, and their complicated backstories and motivations cause so much tension and trouble. Both such fun reads.

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson. This is the third book in Sanderson’s famed Mistborn trilogy. It’s a great trilogy overall, but the third book was my favorite. Vin and her friends try to save their world from imminent destruction, a common theme in the trilogy, but the final installment sees the culmination of years of careful plotting and hard work on Sanderson’s part. 

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon. It’s super gay and has dragons. What more could you want in an epic fantasy novel? A stand-alone, this book is honestly just so cool. Ead has a secret mission to protect the queen who stands between the world and destruction at the hands (claws?) of evil dragons.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. This collection of eight short stories was honestly so powerful. Machado’s style shines through in each unique story.

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado. I loved her fiction collection so much, I read her memoir, too. This book shook me to my core. Machado uses various tropes and styles to examine an abusive relationship, from the first meeting to the last encounters. The methods she uses to tell her story are unconventional, and the story is disturbing in so many ways, but absolutely enthralling and unforgettable.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich. I read this book for a class in college, and instantly fell in love with the story and the author. Thirteen-year-old Joe deals with tragedy and adolescence in the 80s, learning hard lessons about revenge and forgiveness. The end is exquisite, and each chapter is titled for an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which Joe uses to cope.

The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl. A play I adore. The visuals (though I have yet to see a live production) are striking and memorable. The characters are layered and complex. At the heart of the show is Matilde, a depressed comedienne, and Lane, a doctor whose husband has fallen in love with another woman. My copy is littered with penciled in notes because I once used it for a directing class.

Red Rising series by Pierce Brown. These books got me excited about reading after a long dry spell. The first book has strong Hunger Games vibes, but in space and with much more violence. The next two follow Darrow’s rise to power and his quest for equality. The sequel trilogy picks up with him ten years later, because the fight for equality is never really over. Brown’s scifi world is imaginative and rich, and I’m eagerly awaiting book six.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore. I first read this book in high school, and since then I’ve reread it at various points in my life, most recently last year. And every time, I’m surprised to find that I still enjoy it immensely. In a world where some people are born with supernatural gifts called Graces, Katsa has been used her entire life for her Grace of killing. However, she’s trying desperately to use her gift for good. Then she meets her match in Prince Po, whose Grace is combat, and the two forge a bond stronger than any she has ever known.

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke. This enchanting tale has been a favorite of mine since adolescence. A small band of thieves calls the streets of Venice home, and they’re faced with the chance of a lifetime when they receive a magical mission. My copy of this is so worn out from the dozens of times I read it in middle school. It’s also one of the books that made me want to be a writer.

Dobby is not a great model to work with. Damn cute but fidgety as can be. 3/10, would not recommend for modeling.

What I wrote this week: Draft 4, Eva’s arc (this is gonna be it for a while…)

What I read this week: Full Moon Rising by Keri Arthur; The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

On the Importance of Writing Buddies

Hello friends!

I think one of the most-widely circulated lies about writing is that it’s a solitary profession. I heartily disagree. If done right, it should not be solitary. Some days it’s hard to get a word out; some plot holes seem too big to patch up. But what can help both of those things? A writing buddy!

I’d tried writing with friends in the past, and it never lasted. And then, during my MFA program, I found myself in more than one class with the same person, and even better? I really liked the first two chapters of the novel she submitted to our workshop. I’m kinda awkward (what even is making friends as an adult??), but my partner encouraged me to message her and ask if she needed a writing buddy. So, before the quarter ended, I finally did.

My writing buddy, it turned out, had an entire completed draft of her novel (like me) and it was the first of a planned trilogy (like me!). I already knew I liked her style, and thankfully she liked mine, too. We were both writing fantasy with strong romantic subplots. We both had been working on our projects for years. We both loved cats (yes, this is important). We exchanged emails, and then chapters, and then ideas, and now, almost two years later, we still do.

My writing buddy and I have exchanged almost five whole books between us at this point. Are they great books? Not yet (I speak more for myself here). But have we helped each other make them better? Absolutely yes. If I have a plot hole I need help with, I ask her. If I’m considering something about my magic system, I bring it to her. If she isn’t sure about a character’s fate, she asks my opinion. If she’s trying to solve a problem, she poses it to me.

One of the best parts about having a writing buddy, though, is that I’ve found someone who not only wants to read my work, but actually looks forward to it. In any creative endeavor, especially after literal years of toil, it can feel like your writing/story/script/art is just…not good. Well, the phrase I’ve used to describe my own work at times is “sucks ass.” Especially when the rejections pile up and far outnumber the acceptances, it can be so easy to get bogged down and want to give up on your art. But having my writing buddy has been great for my confidence. She’s my friend and fan, and I’m inclined to trust her critique when she tells me something works or needs adjusting.

I highly recommend getting a writing buddy who will not only be honest with you, but also enjoys your work. Everyone needs positive reinforcement sometimes, and it can be equally encouraging to cheer on someone else as they struggle along the same path as you.

Writing should not be a solitary act. Kita’s story would be far messier if I didn’t have a reader looking at everything so closely, and someone who knows my world as well as my writing buddy. And on the days when writing is so hard, it’s nice to have a friend who understands the struggle to churn out words. She’s part-time editor, cheerleader, alpha reader, and full-time amazing friend. 

Writing should not be a solitary act, and that’s why it’s absolutely crucial to have writer friends. Find kindred spirits who feel the same drive and need. Help each other when things get tough. And write together! Promote each other! Celebrate successes!

Check out my writing buddy’s website and incredible projects here.

And check out her blog on this topic here.

(Yes, we coordinated this.)

What I wrote this week: Chs 10 and 11 of novella revision; Draft 4, Eva’s arc.

What I read this week: Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore; Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer.

On Setting and Worldbuilding

Hello friends!

This week’s topic: setting and worldbuilding.

I struggle with worldbuilding. I wonder if part of this has been my background in theatre; in playwriting, I put most of my focus on character and dialogue, leaving the set to the designers. Playwriting and novel writing are very different from each other in many ways, but one of the most distinct is that playwriting in itself feels incomplete. The story doesn’t feel whole until it has actors and direction and a set and, most important, an audience. But in novel writing, especially with something like fantasy, the writer has to bring all of that.

I’m way more comfortable creating characters than whole actual worlds. My partner has a great eye for practicality, thankfully, and asks many questions I wouldn’t think of, about economies and exports and government structures. Still, building Kita’s world has been a years-long struggle. I’ve tinkered with so many things and changed details.

Originally, Kita’s continent had 3 nations: Bursett, Kita’s home; Nysse, the country Bursett has warred with for the last decade; and Taulith, a coastal oligarchy. As time went on, I added two more nations in the northwest: Nasan and Wasan, also known as the Twin Kingdoms.

I made other choices about the world over the years. For one, the continent of Endimiento is in the southern hemisphere, so Bursett in the south includes a region of tundra. To distinguish it from our world in a major way, I decided that the sun rises in the west. Additionally, legends tell of people sailing beyond the horizon and never returning.

I’ve tried to distinguish between each nation in terms and culture and religion, but Bursett is the most developed, as it’s the center of the action. Bursett recognizes nine gods in three tiers of importance: the chief gods of Life and Death; the celestial gods of Sun, Moon, and Stars; and the minor gods Home, Wild, Mercy, and Victory. The gods have a tradition of claiming mortals as spokespeople, or scions, and their beloved mortals work to communicate the gods’ will.

In recent memory, the gods of Bursett have been quieter. However, the ruling Toddentry family continues to be blessed by the gods, guiding the people down the right path. The gods play an important role in Kita’s life, as she has a bond with the God of Victory, and as her story progresses, she connects with other scions. 

Kita’s world is always growing and expanding, and I’m looking forward to exploring it more as I continue working in the world. In my opinion, you don’t need to have a fantasy world fully built before you start writing your story. Get the story out and fill in the blanks later.

What I wrote this week: Revision of Ch15-18 of a prequel novella. Draft 4, Eva’s arc.

What I read this week: Working on a Song: The Lyrics of Hadestown by Anaїs Mitchell; Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore.