Posts Tagged ‘practice’

World Building: Holidays

My niece decorates a gingerbread house for Christmas. Perhaps in your world people decorate cookies for the holidays too!

Last time, I wrote about World Building it was in regards to food, but (at least in America) we are right in the middle of the holiday season, so I am going to continue this ideas with how you might deepen your world with holidays.

Once again, a lot of this will be in your author’s notes, but some of it will make it into the plot.

So the word holiday derives from the word holy day and is defined by Merriam Webster as “a day on which one is exempt from work; specifically : a day marked by a general suspension of work in commemoration of an event.” This idea goes hand in hand with the idea of food since many holidays are also feasts or fasts.

So the question that the author might find useful is “What is holy?”

In Other Systems: the readers see references to birthdays being celebrated and a holiday called Landing Day. Landing Day is commemorated all over the Fleet and on Kipos. It is celebrated on March 29th, the day Jason Potolis landed on Kipos and called it a Garden of the Heavens. Though the story of Jason Potolis is fraught with religious connotations, this is considered a secular holiday. It is celebrated by the giving of small presents or photographs to loved ones and have large family meals. Now the reader never sees a Landing Day event, it is just referred to in the novel.  It adds a layer of depth without much description. In regards to characters if they choose or choose not to celebrate a holiday tells a bit of the type of person he or she is.

Rosemary raised Harden and Helen until they were fourteen and twelve respectively. She made them call Cole each year on his birthday, Landing Day, and New Year’s. She sent him yearly photographs, which seemed to be every few months to him. (Excerpt from page 12)

“…My folks have—or I guess I should say had—a ward. He’s twenty-four, but it doesn’t matter, he’s still my brother. Mom still buys him Landing Day presents and everything…” (Excerpt from page 438 Ben is speaking to Abby in a bar.)

Part of the Independence Day celebration in my house is a BBQ with cupcakes for dessert!

Also since none of the major characters in Other Systems are religious, we don’t see the Kyn holidays (at least not in the first novel). However there is a religious minority called the Kyn who  used to be the Jewish peoples, the Christians and Muslims. They celebrate the secular Kipos holidays as well as have their own celebrations mixed from the very best of their progenitors holidays. The reader will see more of this in the sequel: Other Systems: Kipos. 

Now sometimes it is good to show a holiday or two, because holidays are a way to show quiet moments while still having action and movement. In Faminelands, I speak of the Hunt as holiday. The Hunt is both treated as a holy week with celebration and is practical as well. It is the week that the Ladies, Lords and their Hunters leave the Village and come back with the last meat to keep the village through the Winter. It is a week where the apprentices don’t train per say but are allowed to work beside the Hunters. It is the first time many of the young people leave the village. The day they return is a Feast day.

However another of their feast days is Midwinter (Winter Solstice) and this is described by Brogan in the History of Lady Meadowlark:

“I have little concern for the holy day, other than the preparations for Aster’s security, as it is this time of year which Outsiders come and pay Our Ladies tribute.

Lady Aren missed him dearly, so Galdor went to House Sarralonde. He was either sequestered with his sisters or he took guard duty with his cousins, so we saw little of him. Lark was the only child in the House and a bit lonely, still her spirits began to rise. She began speaking to me at supper and she asked if she might help Roan and I mull the wine which we give to my servants. I was pleased to allow her.

On midwinter’s day, an hour before dawn, I heard the girl creep in. My first reaction was irritation that she had not learned to walk in silence yet. The second was that she dared come into my quarters uninvited. Then I realized, one of my Scouts must have talked her into some holiday prank. “Meadowlark, what in Talamh are you doing?” I growled. “You need sleep more then frivolities.”

Lark brought me what she held in her hands. It was three rolled up socks tied with one of her ribbons. It was not filled with a spiders or a snake. It was however incredibly soft wool and the perfect length for my boot. Lark had heard me complain that my old socks were mostly darning. It is my regret that I had nothing for her but harsh words. Still right before sunrise, I heard Lark sing the song to the Sun as is tradition.” (Excerpt from page 5)

Normally something like this would be in author notes–and if I am honest it originally was, but in this case it is important to the story because we see Lark getting bolder with her great uncle and Brogan softening towards the girl who now lives with him. (For people who have not read Faminelands, the reason there is three socks is because Brogan only has one leg–the other was lost in battle.) This is a simple moment, but the reader garners a lot about their culture by what is happening in these scenes. However, and I can not emphasize this enough, if you plan to show a holiday it must be integral to the plot somehow.

So Happy Holidays!

Productive Research Part 2: Favorite research sources

As I said,  directed research is very important in both novel writing and graphic novels so I thought I would list some of my favorite research sources.


I picked up a copy of the Sears Catalogue circa 1897 when I was working on Lure. Now anytime I am looking for information on wagons, butter churns, etc. I have the perfect place to find a picture of one.

The How to Draw Manga Series. While some of the titles have a bit of drawing instruction, these are mostly design books. They have a book for every general manga subject: Robots, Occult, Ninjas or whatnot. The book on ninjas has information on sword fighting, throwing stars, the correct costuming, etc.  I also like that certain moves are drawn in sequence.

The Big Blue Book of Grammar : this book is a very straight forward grammar rule book.

Websites: : This is my favorite site when I’m going to work on naming characters.


For my current project an epic fantasy novel with the working title of  The Martlet, I am also using these websites.

Castles of Wales

The Medieval Bestiary

The pull of a new story. Or trying to hold back while I finish things up!

I stepped out of my life for four weeks and 3 days. As I have said before, it was like I was in fairyland–though I did have a cell phone and was able to call home. While in fairyland, I heard lots of amazing stories. (Other people call these mystic worlds: Iceland, Scotland, Ireland, England, and Wales.)

Everyone who discovered I was a writer had a tale or encouraged me to go to this place or that place. Of course, nearly every single place I explored had seen  battles or viking massacres, or some other bloodshed. There were plenty of ghost stories. I walked along a path carved out my giants. Pubs and Inns were named after heroes of old– one of my favorites being Gwenllian the Welsh Princess turn freedom fighter.

Of course, In the written novel world: I have at least one more edit of Other Systems. Maybe even more.

And in the graphic novel world: Famineland 3: Mareton’s Curse needs to be finished. Before I left for Fairyland, Maria told me to redraw some panels and I need to finish up some coloring.

However just like my feet were roaming, now my mind is off wandering. It is looking for the next story to tell. I know what my next graphic novel will be. Maria and I discussed it before I left…and my excitement for that project has not waned, but my next written novel is going to be something different from I have written before. When I try to sleep, my mind is beginning to whisper ideas. The ideas were getting loudest in Wales as I neared the end of my trip. It was shouting on the plane ride home.

Still, this is not the time to look at the shiny new projects when I have to finish the ones I am working on.

This is one of the most difficult parts of the process for me. This is why I have a queue system which Maria and I instated while working on Faminelands 1: The Carp’s Eye. At first, it was pretty informal.

It is a file cabinet drawer. Whenever I get a new idea I give myself a five minutes (which honestly ends up being closer to a half hour) to write out every point, maybe do a sketch. Then I put it into a folder and it goes into the file cabinet. Then I go back to my project that I am working on.

After I finish my project, I can go back to the file cabinet and choose the next project. Sometimes projects jump ahead of others. Some are never more than ideas. Some of the ideas are honestly stupid. Some are great or at least good.

Somedays I want to curse the queue, but it is the way I am able to finish books without getting sidetracked. And besides, if I ever forget the queue, I have a best friend who won’t hesitate to remind me.

The first step is admitting I have a problem…so I’m admitting my addiction to the semicolon.

The semicolon. Just look at it. ;

It is just alluring and exotic compared to the comma. I know most of the time a comma will do. Most of the time a comma is correct, but I just can’t help myself.

I know the rules.

I can use a semicolon in place of a period to separate two sentences where the conjunction has been left out.

For example: I love the semicolon; it is beautiful.

I can use it before an introductory words when they introduce a list following a complete thought.

For example: As a writer, I use many tools; for example, the semicolon, a thesaurus, my laptop, and Word.

I can even use one between two sentences joined by a conjunction when one or more commas appear in the first sentence.

For example:  When I finish this blog about semicolons, I am going to walk the dogs; and it is a beautiful day for a walk.

However  I end up using it way more than that. Other Systems was on draft #7 when I decided it was ready to go into the world. That’s not necessarily surprising. My early drafts are very free thought oriented. Then I go back and clean it up. Normally people don’t see anything until draft #3 at least. Draft #5 is often better.

Prior to me sending the manuscript out, I checked for the biggie mistakes I and other writers often make. It’s/its, then/than and the semicolons. I must have pulled out 50 semicolons.

Now that I am in the middle of the editing process, my poor editor has found and cut at least 50 more. I am not exaggerating. There was not a chapter that he didn’t pull out a few. He added two. Microsoft Word’s grammar check keeps trying to add a few, but I will put faith in the editor’s skill, before I trust the computer.

So I admitted my problem with the semicolon.  I also love the em dash, but that is a whole other blog…

Does this get any easier? An author/artist’s guide to utter insecurity.

Someone has finally called me an author. In public. And in the context of differentiating between an author and a writer.

This was true complement to my work. It was not accompanied by a coy smirk, subtle eye roll or adding “she draws comics…” In fact, it was one of the most rewarding words that I heard. Something I have been waiting to hear most of my adult life. It’s true. I am an author.

It’s also true that I am artist. My best friend and I do fantastic in the world of indy comics. We’ve sold out complete runs of books. However beyond the sales, every year, my work gets better. (Practice makes perfect) so I don’t know why my tummy rebels at a word.

Outside, I felt flushed. I was in a restaurant, in a booth, surrounded on all sides by people, so I wasn’t getting away. Still I cannot deny my flight response. I was ready to leap across the table and get the heck out of there. Of course since that would have spilled a few beers, two iced-teas, and coke plus ruined some perfectly good tacos and quesadillas, I tried to act calm. Confident. I casually mentioned my book is under contract and my comics–oh yeah and did some murals. I painted a church ceiling a couple years ago. Blah Blah Blah.

So I considered why I feel this way, beyond that it makes for great blog material…

It might be because I have stood smiling while someone ripped into my artwork, characters, or story more than once, at conventions. I just say, “Well, art is subjective.” (I still don’t understand why people stop if they are just going to be mean. See the great big banners behind me. That’s the artwork, why stop if it not your thing?)

Or it might be that all of my work has faced rejection.

However, in my case: it is more often the quieter slights. They are not my imagination. I have seen the subtle disdain and it’s not a real job attitude from people I care about. I shoved my hurt down deep inside me. It quietly whispers when I feel weak. Sometimes it has enough power to shout: I am not good enough for what I have worked for.

Yet if I turn it around, even my insecurity reminds me how to get past my self-indulgent pity party: Work.  For better or for worse, I earned the right to consider myself an artist and author. I do the work.

First of all, I do consider writing and creating artwork my primary means of employment even when it isn’t making money. So does my husband. Know why? Because I work when it isn’t fun. On the days, I don’t love it. Or am confused about a character. Or find a huge hole in my plot. I work when it is sunny and my feet tell me to wander. I sit down at the computer and write or I sit down in my living room and draw panels. When against a deadline, I work weekends.

Secondly, I still love the work. I love throwing new ideas on the page, slashing out the good and keeping the bad. I love fleshing out characters. I love picking out the perfect word. I love designing page layouts and panels. I even enjoy the other design work. I have created a website, postcards, book cards, and mini buttons to help market the book. I have also created two trailers. I joined Google+ and actually have been paying attention in face book specifically to help Other Systems succeed where the comics have not done so hot. During all of this: I have been lettering and coloring Famine Lands 3: Mareton’s Curse.

Thirdly, I’m never getting a “real” job. When times are hard, I get a part time job that will enable to continue my artwork and writing. Currently, I walk dogs. I have also worked retail.

Fourthly, yes, the rejections can pile up, but if I am not getting them (or acceptance letters) I am not submitting my work. It’s part of the job.

So that’s how I get a handle on my insecurities.

How do other people handle it?

Stretching my writing habit

On Sunday I went to my first meeting of the North Seattle Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Meetup.

There are plenty of writer groups in Seattle, but I chose that one specifically because they do a round-table feedback loop. Ok, technically, it was rectangle shaped table. Plus nearby there is a counter filled with chocolate and caffeinated goodies.

I was so nervous, I wore makeup, I made sure that I looked my best and for the first time in a long time, I wished I could lost 20 pounds instantly. (Hey I am not a teenager anymore!)

There really was no reason to be so scared.  Everyone was welcoming and super nice. I got some great feedback on my short story: unintentional colonists. I hope I gave other people helpful comments too. I tried to be as truthful as possible, but every time I said anything that could possibly be construed as negative my heart was in my throat.

So with the feedback I received I rewrote Sunday night and sent it over to Maria. Once she gives it another look, I am going to send it on to another magazine. Writing is the easy part, but waiting for a response is complete agony. Patience has never been one of my virtues, but I’m working on it.

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